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.

Pregame Six Pack: Into the storm

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 04:  DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs with the ball as Malik Jefferson #46 of the Texas Longhorns attempts to tackle him during the second half at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on September 4, 2016 in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As Hurricane Matthew hits the Southeast, the Irish head to Raleigh. And after a week of contingency plans and storm tracking, the focus now changes decidedly—winning a football game that’ll present a new set of challenges for the Irish.

We’ve seen monsoon conditions. We’ve seen must-win weekends. And we’ve seen the Irish try and play good football in hostile environments. And even if nobody is going to confuse Carter-Finley Stadium with Clemson’s Memorial Stadium, the 50-year anniversary of the home of the Wolf Pack will have the NC State faithful ready to make things difficult.

A week after moving on from Brian VanGorder and emergency installing a game plan for Syracuse, Brian Kelly and his young team face another big challenge. Finding a way to even their record to 3-3 on the road against a team with plenty of talent.

Let’s get to the pregame sick pack.


Can the young Irish secondary play mistake free and still challenge Ryan Finley and the NC State passing game? 

Notre Dame’s secondary made some sweeping changes last week, a relative youth movement in effect with Troy Pride, Julian Love and Donte Vaughn sliding in at cornerback. And after a tough start against Syracuse, the unit settled in and played solid football, re-emerging as a basic-concept unit that went back to the basics to beat an offense that moved quickly and challenged vertically.

But that type of tweak won’t be enough against NC State. Not with Ryan Finley completing 72 percent of his passes and the Boise State transfer still to throw an interception. Not with Eli Drinkwitz’s tweaked scheme.

So after making it out of intro-level installation, the big question will be Notre Dame’s ability to make progress while also guarding against mental mistakes—not to mention an advanced offensive scheme.

“They’re a spot-passing team. They’re really good at getting into open spaces. They have really good concepts that stress your defense,” Kelly explained this week.

“You can’t be a vanilla coverage team. You have to show them different looks. Or they’ll just wear you out. You can’t get off the field. You can’t just line up like ducks or you’re going to be on the field all day.”

Last week the Irish were pressed into a tight situation when freshman Devin Studstill was ejected for a controversial targeting call. That forced Nicco Fertitta onto the field for his first substantial playing time, the diminutive sophomore holding up as a two-deep safety.

But if the Irish want to take their next step forward defensively, they’ll need to incorporate a few strategic wrinkles while also protecting the freshmen that’ll inhabit just about every high-leverage position on the field.

Julian Love thinks they’re ready.

“I think our confidence is growing each day,” Love told CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz. “At first we were nervous but now when we step on the field, we feel natural and it’s something that we’ve all worked for and we’re building off each other.”


Don’t tell Brian Kelly that his offensive line is struggling. 

While Notre Dame’s struggle in the trenches against Syracuse was noticeable, the results were never in doubt. That’s because the Irish posted 50-points, moving the ball at will through the air as DeShaun Kizer had the school record for passing yards in his sights before taking his foot off the gas.

It was easy to ignore some inconsistency in the ground game when Josh Adams and Dexter Williams broke long runs. So when Kelly was asked what’s ailing a running game that most expect to be more dominant, Kelly didn’t just look at the five starters up front, he looked at the massive roster turnover on the offensive side of the ball.

“We got seven new starters. There’s a lot of new pieces,” Kelly said.”I guess there’s definitely inconsistencies, but I wouldn’t throw it on the offensive line. I’d throw it on perimeter blocking, I’d throw it on decision making; coaching. There’s a lot of factors there.

“The right side is evolving. Half or two-thirds there are still coming together. They’re getting better. Those are two really good players on the left side, I think everybody knows that. One guy or two guys don’t make an offensive line.”

Colin McGovern will be back in the starting lineup, his high ankle sprain healthy enough. And while there’s certainly credence to the moving pieces that Kelly references, a tough war in the trenches will be on display as the Wolf Pack’s defensive front is the most disruptive the Irish have faced this season.


DeShone Kizer, from an opponent’s perspective. 

Mike McGlinchey has pledged to return for 2017. DeShone Kizer has made no such declaration, an NFL evaluation still evolving, and a choice that might be too hard to turn down.

But as we sort out the superlatives that have come from the mock draft community and an echo chamber that sometime’s runs away from reality, Wolf Pack head coach Dave Doeren had this appraisal of the Irish’s third-year quarterback.

“Well, he’s got really good talent around him, to start,” Doeren said. “They protect him well. He’s only been sacked twice. He’s got an offensive system that is well run. They give him a lot of opportunities to throw the ball down the field and guys make plays for him.

“As far as him personally, I think he’s a very accurate deep ball thrower. He’s tough, he takes some shots, but puts the ball right on the money. And he’s competed on a big stage for a long time, so I think he’s got good poise.”



The defensive basics will start by slowing down running back Matt Dayes

If beating Syracuse felt like scheming against an option attack, stopping NC State may sound easier, but it presents a bigger challenge. Namely, Wolf Pack running back Matt Dayes.

After having a big 2015 season derailed by injuries, Dayes is back. He’s gone over 100 yards in three of four starts and is the focal point of Kelly’s as his defense tries to master its musts.

“They’ve got a really diversified offensive scheme. I think, number one, you can’t give up big play runs,” Kelly said. “I think Matt Dayes is a game breaker. I think he can definitely be a difference maker in this game.”

That means the focus is on Notre Dame’s front seven, and the work we’ll see from Daniel Cage, Jarron Jones, Nyles Morgan and Isaac Rochell will set the tone.

Because slowing down Dayes is the start. The Irish also need to find a way to limit Stephen Louis in the passing game. The 6-foot-2 sophomore has made some big plays, averaging more than 25 yards a touch against East Carolina and Wake Forest and is very difficult to tackle.

“I think those two guys are really key to their offense,” Kelly said. “Finley is very smart and a very good quarterback. But Dayes and Louis are the guys that we have to focus on.”



Can the Irish defense shut down a competent quarterback?

All respect given to Dayes and Louis, but Notre Dame’s defense has made a lot of mediocre quarterbacks look like All-Americans. And Ryan Finley is no mediocre quarterback.

The Boise State transfer came east with offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz, both leaving the Broncos to join Dave Doeren. And after both his freshman and sophomore seasons were ruined by injuries, Finley—who graduated in three years from Boise State—now has three years of eligibility in Raleigh.

“He is a great manager,” Doeren said last week, according to Blue & Gold. “He knows Coach [Drinkwitz], he understands why he does what he does and does a good job managing that part of the offense.

“He puts us in the right place a lot of times. I’ve said it many times. He throws a very catchable ball and he gets it out quick and allows his players to make plays. That’s the best thing a quarterback can do is get the ball to the right people quickly and let them do their thing. He’s done that repetitively and he’ll continue to get better because he’s a critic of himself and he works out it.”

Irish offensive coordinator Mike Sanford knows both Finley and Drinkwitz from his year in Boise, though Kelly downplayed any help that might give the Irish staff. But winning might require the Irish defense to make Finley play down this weekend, something we haven’t seen from an opposing quarterback too often these past two seasons under Brian VanGorder.


Rain + Special Teams + Turnovers = All causes for concern. 

No, that’s not an exact equation. But any time rain—and multiple inches are forecasted—is part of a football game, it’s time to restate the obvious. Mainly, the Irish need to make sure that the weather doesn’t impact their game.

That means taking great care of the football. That means being clean on special teams. And it means making sure that any huge game-changing plays are forced, not suffered.

Rewind back to last year at Clemson and the Irish didn’t get out clean. The Irish had four turnovers, with three fumbles lost, in a game where only two points made the difference.

With Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome off to a slow start, with CJ Sanders making some big plays but Scott Booker’s coverage unit giving up a few as well, the basics are going to be a big part of the story.

Even if Hurricane Matthew’s impact isn’t going to be as bad as first feared, heavy rain is almost guaranteed. And on natural Bermuda grass, expect a sloppy track.

So the Irish, a 2-3 team that has struggled to do the ordinary things well, needs to play cleaner than the Wolf Pack to win.

Talking Irish: Can the defense do it again?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01:  DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes under pressure from Kendall Coleman #55 of the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Before he takes off and braves the elements, CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz chats with me about Notre Dame’s chances in Raleigh this weekend. 


KA: How much rain gear did you pack? And are you bringing rations in case of travel delays?

JJ: I have an umbrella ready to go and some stuff that will hopefully keep me dry, but with about 3 inches of rain expected…I’m not expecting to actually stay dry.

But thanks to Southwest (#brandloyalty guy here) I was able to switch my flight to an earlier one into Raleigh on Friday for free, so hopefully I actually make it to the Triangle area.

KA:  Boom. That’s good living. Now the real question: Do you think Notre Dame’s revamped defense shows up in Raleigh? (See what I did there?)

JJ: Physically they’ll be there, but man, NC State looks like a really bad matchup for this defense. NC State ranks 9th in success rate, ND’s defense ranks 105th. That’s a pretty wide gap.

KA: For those not fluent in advanced stats, explain please.

JJ: Success rate tracks a team’s ability to gain 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. So basically, NC State’s offense is really good at setting up easy-to-convert second/third down tries, and is converting them pretty frequently.

(Shout-out to fellow Mizzou grad Bill Connelly for S&P+, by the way).

What do you think, Keith? Where can ND’s defense find some success on Saturday?

KA: For some reason, I think monsoon conditions could actually help, though bad tackling doesn’t usually get better in the rain. But I do think there’s some momentum being built. And I do think that the simplification of the scheme — and the changes in personnel have me slightly more bullish that I was pre-coaching change.

So I’m excited to see a defense with basically a completely reformatted secondary — especially with Donte Vaughn getting a start and Cole Luke moving inside.

JJ: That’s certainly fair. I’m with you on being more optimistic about this group post-VanGorder, but until I actually see it in a game against an offense that’s more about operating with success than operating with speed, I’m going to be skeptical. Also re: Tackling. It’ll be tougher in the rain, but maybe we’ll see forced fumbles in back to back weeks!

KA:  That’s a really good point. Was Syracuse good at anything more than just going fast?

JJ: …no?

KA: Let’s talk about ND’s OL. Big news about McGlinchey coming back. But can this crew get it together as they get ready to face one of the more talented defensive fronts they’ll face?

JJ: So part of it is getting this group to play a little more cohesively, but I thought it was interesting that McGlinchey said the biggest deficiency for this group was maybe not taking advantage of opportunities when the opposing defense gives Notre Dame the looks it wants, i.e., doesn’t have an extra hat in the box. It’s hard to effectively run the ball with any consistency when teams are putting that extra guy in the box.

That’s not excusing the OL play, which still hasn’t been as good as I think we all expected it to be, but it is worth nothing for some of the run game deficiencies ND has had.

Also, this line next year? Holy crap. If the same five start, that’s 87-92 career starts. And that doesn’t even factor in the potential for Tommy Kraemer or Tristen Hoge to earn playing time.

KA: Yeah, next year will be great. But I thought it was telling when Kelly talked about wanting to get away from using Kizer so much in the running game, and then Syracuse — minus Dexter’s big run and a 28-yarder for Josh Adams — was stuck in the mud.

I think this game — if the defense can continue to take baby steps — will probably be in the image of what BK thought this season would be all along.
A very good offense carrying a defense that gets a few stops and doesn’t just completely stink.

JJ: That’s definitely the best-case scenario for the rest of the season. So far, Kizer has done a great job holding up despite having to play about as close to perfect as possible for a college QB, but at some point, he’ll need help. Whether that’s from the RBs/OL or the defense or special teams, we’ll see.

KA: Let me float a few crazy thoughts by you:

The first, not too crazy: Equanimeous St. Brown is the team’s No. 1 receiver.
But I think Kevin Stepherson is out-playing Torii Hunter at the X. Do you expect to see Torii float around inside and out as a match-up guy, because it’s clear — at least to me — that Torii doesn’t scare anybody vertically, and that seems like a prerequisite to the position, especially out on the wide side of the field.

JJ: You’re right on No. 1, but I’ll say this — Hunter has tremendous value on passing downs when ND needs 7+ yards for a first down. I’d trust getting the ball to him for a first down more than a true freshman. Stepherson, though — that dude’s taken some big steps forward, and he’s going to be a very, very good receiver at ND.

KA:  I just think Notre Dame is better when they’re making BIG PLAYS — scoring long-range touchdowns. I don’t have any belief that we’ll see that from Torii. Because we haven’t yet and we already have from the two young pups. And that’s already been the big change since looking completely lost against Texas after Hunter was KO’d.

Let’s flip sides of the ball. After our first week of Greg Hudson, can you walk me through some guys you want to see more of?

JJ: I keep going back to Daelin Hayes, but let me copy and paste what Isaac Rochell said about him this week:

“I look at myself from my freshman year to now and how much better I’ve gotten, and I’m looking at him like dang, Daelin’s way better than I was when I was a freshman, so what’s he going to be when he’s a senior. So that’s what gets me most excited and I tell those guys that all the time. Because they look at me and they’re like, he’s doing well, but I was like, I was not good my freshman year. You guys are way better than I was. I love it and I’m excited for them.”

It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think you hope by the end of the year Hayes is getting to the quarterback more consistently. He seems like the biggest key to unlocking whatever pass rushing potential this defense has.

Who’s a guy you want to see more?

KA: I’ll echo you on Hayes, but then I’ll focus on the young secondary. I think seeing how this group plays together — when you have Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn, Jalen Elliott, Julian Love and Devin Studstill all making an argument that they should be playing major snaps, that gets equal parts terrifying and exciting.

I don’t count Te’von Coney as a young guy maybe as much as I should, but boy was I excited to see them use him in a way that values his athleticism, rather than as a guy forced to shed blocks in the box and make run fits.

Let’s get to the dirty part of this: You’ve got Notre Dame losing again, don’t you?

JJ: Before I answer that question, let me pepper you with some positives: I really like Donte Vaughn’s potential as a rangy, athletic corner. It probably can’t hurt to get Studstill and Elliott significant reps as freshmen, since they’re going to be counted on plenty as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

But to answer: North Carolina State 34, Notre Dame 31.

KA: I can’t disagree with you from a logic perspective. But I chatted with a smart kid that covers the team for the Technician (awesome student newspaper name), and he picked Notre Dame. That’s something that usually doesn’t happen. So I’m giving these guys one more chance — and saying Notre Dame 35, NC State 24

And if that goes wrong, I’m done picking games. Or at least picking the Irish.

JJ: If you just put these two teams’ number side by side, you gotta go with NC State. But when you consider how much talent Notre Dame has and how NC State seems to, like, never beat Power 5 opponents, I can see why an NC State student would pick against them.

KA: The ECU game stands out to me.

JJ: But we all thought Notre Dame would beat Duke (which lost to Virginia a week later, with Daniel Jones being baaaaaaad) so everything’s on the table here.

KA: We live in a post-BVG era, so I’m still trying to ride that train. But it might be fleeting. And that’s why they play em!

JJ: *Hopefully play them! **in three inches of rain.

KA: Well said.

JJ: Before we wrap this up… Would you rather have Greg Hudson jump out of your cake or have Bob Diaco bake your cake?

KA: Is Erika Eleniak busy? If so, probably Bobby D. The heart and tenacity in that cake would be tremendous.

(Under Siege. Gotta respect that one.)

JJ:  Though its sticktoitiveness could be a problem with getting it out of the pan.

(I had to Google your last two references, as a #millenial)
*winky face*

KA: Don’t make me feel so old. But yes – That’s the gold standard of Cake Jumping. Let’s give you some travel mojo. Because it’ll be 70 and Sunny from the Inside the Irish HQ and breakfast time. Will be thinking of you over some OJ.

JJ: Appreciate it. Only chance of you getting your clothes soaked is if you accidentally fall into the ocean.

KA: Or my daughter spills her water. Which is a lock.

JJ: Hahahaha. Best of luck. Talk to you next week.