Keith Arnold

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal carries the ball against the USC Trojans during the first half of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

McCaffrey questionable for Saturday


Stanford may be without Christian McCaffrey.

The Cardinals’ Heisman runner-up, a consensus All-American and the AP College Football Player of the Year in 2015, left last weekend’s lost to Washington State and didn’t return to the field in the lopsided loss. And now his status for Saturday night’s game against Notre Dame is up in the air.

“He’s pretty beaten up,” Shaw said on Tuesday. “But we’ll see where he is.”

Without McCaffrey the Stanford offense is without an identity. Carrying a heavy load for the Cardinal throughout September, McCaffery’s numbers haven’t been as dynamic as they were last season, though he’s still been the engine of the offensive attack.

McCaffrey leads Stanford will 520 rushing yards through five games, down significantly from last season, but still posting a 5.3 yards per carry average. He leads the Cardinal in catches with 18, as well as punt and kick returns.

Last year, Notre Dame held McCaffrey to 94 rushing yards and just 3.5 yards per carry in their last-second 38-36 loss. It was the first game McCaffrey was held under 100 yards since early September, in a season where he broke the 2,000 yard barrier.

Kelly playing for both present and future

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Donte Vaughn #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish intercepts a pass intended for T.J. Rahming #3 of the Duke Blue Devils during the second half of a game at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  Duke defeated Notre Dame 38-35. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

As Notre Dame’s season takes on water, Brian Kelly looks for solutions. And balancing the challenges of winning now and developing for the future is a precarious scenario, and one nobody saw coming this season.

Yet that’s where the Irish find themselves. Because a young roster really only features a handful of veteran contributors—with Isaac Rochell, James Onwualu, Jarron Jones and Cole Luke the only mainstays who’ll run out of eligibility after the season. So that leaves Notre Dame’s seventh-year head coach in an interesting conundrum.

Can you really build for the future when you’re coaching your way onto the hot seat?

Kelly was asked about that proposition as the Irish prepare to face Stanford on Saturday, another game that looks like a coin flip, even with Christian McCaffery questionable. And Kelly brought us back to a familiar refrain from his early days in South Bend,

“I’m doing everything to build the winning identity for this football team for right now, and for ’17, ’18 and ’19,” Kelly said. “Because when I talk to the group there is a row of upperclassmen—not many—and then there is a bunch of young guys. So everything that I direct at them is being absorbed for right now and in the future.”

We’ve seen the lessons as they’ve been learned on the fly. They’ve certainly come with their fair share of lumps as well. So as freshmen like Devin Studstill and Donte Vaughn step into the starting lineup, as Julian Love and Daelin Hayes become more and more a part of the defensive look, Kelly is doing all he can to turn the tide while also building for a rebound season.

“So I’m in the present and we’re coaching the win right now, but everything we do is to return us back to the top,” Kelly explained. “And we want to stop the slide.

“That means start winning again. So everything we are doing right now is to stop right now losing games, and winning games and keep building on that for the future.”

BK postgame: ‘I couldn’t find a way to win that game for you.’



As they shovels come out to bury Brian Kelly, the stories keep writing themselves. A coach—often times too headstrong for his own good—struggles to look in the mirror.

These aren’t new headlines. Nor are they unfair.

They’ve existed as long as Kelly came to South Bend promising change, often times force-feeding it when the status quo could’ve probably done well enough (and maybe even clawed back a few victories in the meantime).

But Kelly has done things his way since showing up seven seasons ago. And in doing so, he’s won a lot of football games and completely changed the culture of the football program.

No, he hasn’t won as many as the guys with statues outside Notre Dame Stadium. But he’s had the Irish playing for a national title, and last year had the Irish a handful of plays—and maybe one or two less season-ending injuries—away from an invitation to play for another.

But Kelly is in hot water for committing a cardinal sin of coaching—losing games.

(Wait, you thought I was going to say, criticizing his players, right? Get serious.)

Kelly’s willingness to shoot straight may ruffle more than a few feathers. His postgame stubbornness has gotten him into trouble perhaps just as often as some of his ill-conceived strategic blunders.

His latest, daring to acknowledge that Sam Mustipher was terrible snapping the football in a hurricane, got some people up in arms. Never mind that it was objectively true. (Mustipher’s single-game grade was the lowest PFF assigned to any player on Notre Dame’s team this season—by a wide margin.)

Yet Kelly’s postgame comments went viral shortly after he made them. And perhaps more glaring than the coach’s unwillingness to reassess his decision to throw early and often in a hurricane were his comments about Mustipher, perceived (by some) as Kelly blaming his players for a game his team should’ve won.

But Kelly’s postgame media comments came after he addressed his team. And while national headlines and hundreds of message board threads across the internet focused on the comments aimed at evaluating the play on the field and ignored the coaching from the sideline, Kelly’s postgame talk with his players showed the message he sent to his team.

And that wasn’t a coach unwilling to be be critical of his own performance. It was a head coach who point-blank apologized to his players.

“You were ready to play, you were excited to play. You were energized to play. And I couldn’t find a way to win that game for you,” Kelly said, as you can see in the Inside Notre Dame Football episode. “And I apologize. I’ve got to look hard at how I’m doing it, to figure out a way to get a win for you guys. Because you deserved it.”

Any worry that Kelly is mentally checked out can probably be thrown out the window. Because Kelly didn’t speak to his team like a coach already planning an early December vacation. He didn’t sound like a guy ready to look at job openings, if only to consider a fresh start.

“All I can tell you is that I’m just going to work harder,” Kelly said. “I’m going to coach harder. I’m going to commit harder. I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that we get all three units playing, and ascending, to the level that we’re capable of.”

None of this means Notre Dame is going to win on Saturday. None of it means that everything behind closed doors is happy and worry-free. That’s the cost of losing.

But before we run away carving the assumed into tablets, Kelly’s actual postgame comments—at least the ones that matter—shouldered the blame. And while you wonder why the coach doesn’t want to show that type of truthfulness to the hordes of reporters that cover his daily moves, at least credit Notre Dame for at least counterpunching, utilizing the embedded cameras and commitment to social media to get out both sides of the story—even if one will likely be ignored.






The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina State

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 08:  DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is forced out of the pocket and tackled by Kentavius Street #35 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the game at Carter Finley Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

The tar and feather crowd has their ammo. They watched Notre Dame’s seventh-year coach stick to his guns as a literal hurricane blew through town.

They watched a coaching staff with so much offensive acumen—the assistant strength coach has 20-plus years of offensive coordinating experience—fail to make any adjustments during an extended halftime lightning delay that featured swaying stadium lights and biblical rains.

But that’s the kind of season it’s been.

Change the defensive coordinator, the offensive breaks down. Insert a “safer” punt strategy, watch it cost you the game.

With the cyber-mob circling the gates, inside the Gug a search for answers continues. So with Stanford just days away, let’s get to the good, the bad and the ugly.



The defensive improvement. Notre Dame’s front seven held its own in the slop. The trio of Jarron Jones, Jerry Tillery and Daniel Cage had strong games against the run, with Tillery played the game of his young career with nine tackles.

Again, this feels like a GOOD* considering the weather acting as a 12th man, but you’ve got to credit this group for taking another step forward. Greg Hudson’s rebuilt crew did all they could to limit NC State, giving up zero offensive touchdowns for the first time since last season’s opener.



Everything Else. Let’s just get that out of the way now. Pretty much everything else we watched—the offense, the special teams, the adjustments, the trenches, fit in here. (So does the decision to play in the eye of the storm and not delay the start of the game.)

But, since that’s not going to do, let’s get to some of the others:


Run-Pass Mix. No, the Irish offense shouldn’t have been chucking the ball non-stop.

New paragraph.

But Kelly all but hinted at the thought-process behind the decision—his team wasn’t going to win in the trenches—when he said this postgame.

“I think it was pretty evident to me that we were in need of throwing the football,” Kelly said. “When we did throw it, we just weren’t as effective as I thought we could be.”

That’s the part of the quote that should accompany Kelly’s bizarre statement that he didn’t second guess the run-pass ratio. Notre Dame’s head coach knew that his offensive line wasn’t going to win a fight in the slop.



Lack of adjustments. As we mentioned in the Five Things, as we mentioned in the lede, and as we mentioned just above, there were no offensive adjustment.

That’s a bad. That’s tragically bad.

Because we saw NC State get creative. We saw the Wolfpack use their dynamic running back in a variety of ways. We saw them use their backup quarterback as a wildcat runner. And Kelly acknowledged postgame that they probably should’ve tried something different, though a dose of Malik Zaire as a run-first wildcat likely wasn’t the answer.

“The offense could have been tweaked in that regard. But [Zaire]’s not really a wildcat guy… It was never a thought that we’d go strictly into that kind of offensive structure.”

So the Irish offense stuck with the plan. And the trio of Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford likely spent the flight home and ensuing evening kicking themselves, underestimating the impact that Hurricane Matthew would have.

“I will say this. It was much more difficult throwing the football than maybe, I can’t remember many games where it was this difficult,” Kelly said. “But it was difficult for both teams. We don’t have any excuses, we were atrocious offensively.”



The decision to kickoff the game as scheduled.  The fact that this game stayed in the window it was played in made zero sense. Other than because it needed to stay in that window to stay on ABC in front of a national audience.

Because safety was a legitimate concern. Field conditions were atrocious from the first quarter on. And the elements had a far bigger impact on this game than anything either team did.

Kelly was asked about the decision to play the game when they did, and he made no excuse.

“There was never a conversation about it not being played,” Kelly said. “I was a little concerned obviously about the conditions, but they were the same for both teams.”

This wasn’t a Notre Dame decision. This was a decision made by the ACC and NC State, with the visitors only providing the suggestions we heard from Kelly on Tuesday, Notre Dame willing to delay the start all the way until Sunday at noon.

Each team did their best to counter the weather. Each team also made critical mistakes—NC State blowing a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line and the Irish not getting anything from a 1st-and-goal of their own, a slick football and horrible conditions wreaking havoc all game long.

But Kelly was quick to credit the work the officials did to keep dry footballs cycling onto the field.

“I thought the officials did a great job of getting dry balls in. We used 36 balls and it’s generally an 18 ball rotation. They gave us 36. I thought from that standpoint it was managed terrifically.”



A 2-4 Football Team. Nothing turns quite as toxic as a bad Notre Dame football season. And with every loss (that’s four losses by a total of 21 points), things seem to get exponentially uglier.

This loss feels different than others. In a vacuum, a hurricane usually requires at least the thought of a mulligan for a coaching staff—acts of god often finding their way into customary exclusions.

But not this season.

Because Kelly himself acknowledged the difficulty of this defeat, a game that falls square on the shoulders of the team’s braintrust—something the head coach pointed out, though hardly anybody noticed.

“I feel terrible we let them down,” Kelly said. “We let them down in the sense that they were prepared for another noon start, they had great energy, they played with great heart on defense.”

He expanded on those thoughts later, a nine-minute media session that reminds you of the toll that this job puts on coaches.

“They were excited to play today. You want to be there for them.  You want to make the right call, you want to put them in the right position,” Kelly said. “You second guess yourself. Maybe we should’ve been in a three-man wall there, instead of rugby. You second guess yourself in games like this, when your team is ready to play and excited to play.”

Those are hardly the explanations that make critics happy, not when Kelly is barking at his center for rifling a shotgun snap past the quarterback with the game on the line.

“He thought he heard something,” Kelly said postgame about that fateful fourth down. “We were trying to scan the play and get a peek at what it was, and he heard something and the ball got snapped.”

But that’s what losing does. It takes over everything.

And after being just two plays away from an undefeated season in 2015, some are calling for Kelly’s head. And that’s before he leads his troops into the meat of his schedule.


Five things we learned: North Carolina State 10, Notre Dame 3

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 08:  Matthew Dayes #21 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack loses the ball as he is hit by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense during the game at Carter Finley Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 10-3.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Mother Nature won.

Technically, the box score will read North Carolina State out-lasted Notre Dame 10-3. But with Hurricane Matthew twirling its way through the Southeast, the Irish and the Wolfpack were the latest and greatest example that sometimes—national television viewing window be damned—an act of god is no place for a football game.

But that didn’t stop the action on Saturday afternoon. And in the end, NC State made one less storm-infested mistake than the Irish, coming up with the game’s biggest play when Pharaoh McKever pushed his way through Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar, blocking Tyler Newsome’s fourth-quarter punt as Dexter Wright scooped it up from the slop and took it in for the game’s deciding score.

Let’s find out what we learned.


Throwing a football in a hurricane is not advisable. 

DeShone Kizer has, and will continue to have, many wonderful weekends throwing the football. This was not one of them.

Kizer completed just nine of his 26 throws, a red zone interception to freshman safety Jarius Morehead one of the few that didn’t end up splashing to the ground. The elements were just too much for Kizer—and at times, his receivers—to overcome, dropped passes and wobbly misses less the exception than the rule.

All of that makes you wonder why Notre Dame’s coaching staff—a group with roughly 50 years of play-calling or coordinating experience—would continue to throw the football. Postgame, head coach Brian Kelly wasn’t willing to second guess the decision to air the ball out, though he did acknowledged the game plan.

“I feel like we let them down,” Kelly said of the staff’s plan for his water-logged team.

Getting behind the sticks didn’t help. First-down success was few and far between, a few runs short-circuited by Sam Mustipher snaps, missed blocks and blitzing defenders. But after building just a little bit of success on the offense’s final drive with the game on the line, Notre Dame’s offense went down with a dropped pass, dropped pass, Kizer scramble and tackle, and the final, fateful, 4th-and-8 blown shotgun snap.

That’s a game plan for the recycling bin.


The special teams nightmares continue. 

For the fourth-straight game, Notre Dame’s special teams have been responsible for an opponent scoring a touchdown. And this Saturday, that proved fatal.

“We give up a flipping blocked punt for a touchdown,” Kelly said. “That’s the difference in this one.”

Perhaps the most startling thing about the punt block was that it seemed almost accidental. An individual effort, not a designed block, was the difference in the game, with McKever powering through Luatua and Weishar before throwing his arm up and getting a hand on Newsome’s punt.

But that’s been life for Scott Booker’s unit. Even if NC State’s special teams battery had far more problems in the elements than Notre Dame’s, the Irish managed to lose on a punt that started with a perfect snap and didn’t feature an opposing team that came after the kick.


The Irish offensive line lost the battle in the trenches. 

Brian Kelly did his best to ignore the offensive line’s struggles last week, talking about the 40-point average and the 500-yards a game. Well, on a Saturday where the battle was in the trenches, Notre Dame’s front five got whipped.

DeShone Kizer was under duress all afternoon. The Wolfpack sacked Kizer five times, Bradley Chubb getting three of them, and totaled eight TFLs on the afternoon. They held the Irish to just 59 yards rushing on 38 official attempts. And stat after stat points to the dismal offensive performance—just 113 total yards, 1 of 15 on third downs, 0 for 2 in the red zone—all start up front.

Sam Mustipher had a horrific day snapping the football, whiffing on a wet ball that led to a turnover, air-mailing Kizer a few times with high snaps and eventually ending the game with a premature roller that sunk the Irish’s final offensive play.

A group that features high-end talent, but features four of five starters in different jobs than the ones they had in 2015, clearly lost the battle on Saturday.


The offense wasted a great defensive performance. 

If we’re looking for building blocks, it’s the performance of the defense. While the Wolfpack had some success running the football, for the most part the Irish defense stiffened when they needed to, Notre Dame losing a football game without surrendering an offensive touchdown.

Of course, give an assist to the weather. And give another to the field conditions. But also tip your hat to the effort the young Irish defense gave, especially a front seven that held its own.

Jerry Tillery had nine tackles, including a TFL. Te’von Coney and Asmar Bilal paired for a dozen more stops. Devin Studstill was active and a secondary that started freshmen Donte Vaughn, Julian Love and Studstill didn’t give up any big plays down the field.

With Stanford coming to town and looking to challenge the Irish defense in the trenches, there’s at least confidence and a performance to build from. And if that’s the silver lining, expect it to be used to turn this team around for another big challenge in a hurry.


With a fourth loss before mid-October, the goal needs to be finding a way to a bowl game.

Brian Kelly’s young team needs a pat on the back, not a kick in the tail. Because this weekend is on the coaching, not the players. And Kelly acknowledged that after the game.

“Kids were in great spirits, great energy. I feel terrible that we let them down,” Kelly said.

Kelly talked about the decision to be in rugby punt, not a standard three-man wall, as one of the major differences. But outside of that one decisive play, it was Dave Doeren that made the adjustments first, not Kelly and his staff.

It was the Wolfpack who went to the wildcat and had success in the running game. It was NC State that had the Irish on the ropes for most of the afternoon. And it was Eli Drinkwitz who found some creative ways to engineer yards when the Irish continued to try and call failed zone-read runs and hitch routes like it was an everyday Saturday out there, not a category two hurricane.

Say what you want about the decision to be play through the eye of the storm as stadium lights swayed, rain torrentially fell, and field conditions became more and more unplayable, but it was the same for both teams. And with multiple scoring opportunities going up in smoke as fumbles and turnovers piled up, a young football team needed a coaching staff to devise a game plan that could find a way to mitigate Mother Nature, if only just a little.

But they didn’t. And now the Irish return home as a 2-4 football team. They stare down Stanford and Christian McCaffrey next. And after a much-needed week off they take on Navy, Army, Virginia Tech and USC, all football games that the Irish could just as easily lose as win.

Notre Dame needs four wins over the final six games to get this program back on track. They need the postseason momentum and the late-season practice that could help jump start spring drills.

Kelly pulled that rabbit from the hat in his first season when he rallied the troops from a 1-3 start. Staring at 2-4, he has an even bigger hole to dig out from.

The odds of doing it look long from this vantage point. But find a way to get to six wins and you very well could find something to celebrate this season.