Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—the Irish lost a close football game.
After jumping out to a quick start, Notre Dame gave away a halftime lead and allowed Virginia Tech to close the game with 13 straight points, a defeat on senior day that wasted good efforts by a handful of players young and old.
The loss guarantees Brian Kelly his first losing season in South Bend. It also takes the Irish to Los Angeles with a Southern Cal team smelling blood in the water and playing better football than just about any team in the country not named Alabama.
Let’s get straight into the good, bad and ugly.
Jarron Jones. It was an impressive home finale for Jones, who was a monster in the trenches against the Hokies offensive line. He had nine tackles, officially credited with five solo stops. He had a TFL and broke up a pass. His PFF Grade was a team-leading +5.5, contributing to the awful afternoon of Hokies center Eric Gallo.
So while Jones didn’t make much of an impact against the triple option attacks of Navy and Army, he played huge against the Hokies. And the good news is that there’s no offense on Sundays that’ll feature a dive, option and pitch man with undersized offensive linemen diving at his knees.
DeShone Kizer. Again, if this was it, it was a gutty effort. If this was it, it’ll be less about the 3-of-15 second half and more about the courage under fire he showed.
If Kizer is indeed as well respected by NFL circles as he is in the mock-draft community, then he owes it to himself to put on a baseball cap and become the future of a team that’ll hopefully find a way to win the games that the Irish couldn’t this year. After the game, he was candid about the decision in front of him.
“I don’t know yet. I think that there’s definitely an opportunity, to possibly play at the next level,” Kizer said. “I think that after next week we’ll evaluate the season and evaluate the situation as a family.”
At this point, this feels like a back-handed compliment, but what an impressive opening drive. Seven play, 78 yards, and seven points. Tough to ask for more.
It was nice to see Te’von Coney fill the stat sheet. Ten tackles for the sophomore in a late-season start. Notre Dame’s linebacking corps is in good shape next season, even as it says goodbye to James Onwualu, who also had a big, big afternoon.
Josh Adams got to 100 yards, courtesy of his big 67-yard touchdown run. But he actually graded out quite poorly, mostly for his struggles in the passing game. (One tell as to where Adams is from a health perspective. He nearly got run down on his long run—something that certainly wouldn’t have happened last season.)
If you didn’t enjoy seeing Chris Finke score a nifty touchdown on a perfect throw on a post route from DeShone Kizer, you’ve lost all joy. (I can understand why.)
The officiating. When Justin Fuente gets an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a five-yarder going the wrong way and Brian Kelly (rightfully) nearly exploded after the ACC officials—both on the field and in the booth—missed multiple targeting and helmet-to-helmet hits on DeShone Kizer, you know it’s a terrible day for the guys in the stripes.
The Second Half. The defense got shredded. The offense hit the brakes. The coaching staff lost the battle of the grease boards and headsets. All in all, it was 30 depressing minutes of football, with the Hokies making all the plays down the stretch.
All of it. At this point, the lines are very clearly—and loudly—drawn. You either want Brian Kelly out, or you have him on very, very thin ice. And whether you think the program is best served by having Kelly atop it next season or not, this much is universal—it hasn’t been a good season for the head coach.
He knows it. His bosses know it. And his team knows it. And as different circumstances play into the same near-weekly result, Kelly seems to be doing whatever it takes to just get through the season, knowing that changes, whether he’s publicly acknowledged them or not, are coming.
“There are some things we’re going to have to do in the off-season,” Kelly said after the game. “There are a lot of inexperienced players that are going to benefit from this. I’m not benefitting at all being in front of you losing this football game. It’s not helping me any. It’s going to help those guys that have gone through it. So we’ll bank on that.”