by Mike Coffey
The official word is IBG claims no responsibility for Notre Dame’s poor performance this weekend due to our shakeup of format. That’s good, because God knows there’s plenty of that to go around. Like last week, instead of asking five … er, three questions of one of my fellow bloggers, we each submitted a question to the pool, and each of us will be providing an answer to everyone else’s questions. The answers you read below are my responses to their questions, and you can read their responses to my question (along with the others) on their blogs, which will be linked at the start of their responses to me.
Here’s the question I posed to the group:
There are only so many things you can do during the season to correct the larger issues on a team, as most time must be spent on the opponent du jour. Name one issue you hope is at the top of the coaching staff’s list for this off-season and why.
Now for my answers to their queries:
Keith Arnold of Inside the Irish: How much can you learn from one game? If you listen to some, the Irish’s loss to Pitt seems to have erased just about every bit of good that’s happened over the past four seasons. No doubt, the Pitt loss was one of the most disappointing of the Kelly era. But how do you personally measure the game and disappointment final score, and does it change the opinion you held of Brian Kelly at 7:59pm EST last Saturday?
It’s not a question of “one game”. A lot of the issues that cost Notre Dame the game Saturday are the same issues that, while they showed up less often last season, have been problems for the team since Brian Kelly arrived, including the abandonment of balance in the offense down the stretch, mental errors by players at critical times, head-scratching play calls (e.g. fade from the 6″ line) and coaching decisions (e.g. declining a penalty against Pitt after they made a positive-yard play on first down), the disappearance of players who had contributed strongly in previous games, and a game plan set on responding to what the opponent is doing instead of doing what ND has shown they do well.
It doesn’t change the opinion I had because my disappointment at Brian Kelly’s lack of ability to adapt already was present when the game started, and this result only reinforced it. I had such high hopes going into the season, since Kelly seemed much more adaptable last season. But as the results pile up this year, last year is looking more and more like an outlier borne of once-in-a-decade players on the defense. We’ll see what happens the rest of the way.
Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons: Stephon Tuitt’s ejection for “targeting” (and I use that term very loosely) definitely added more frustration to an already horrid game. I’m all for promoting player safety, but I definitely don’t think this new rule is the way to go. Do you agree? If so, how would you change the rule? If you’d like to keep it, what are your reasons for leaving it alone?
Unfortunately, I think the rule is necessary. Too many players are going for the Sports Center highlight hit instead of using good fundamentals, and that behavior has to be curtailed in the interest of protecting the players being hit on those plays.
I do think, however, the rule is being applied too liberally, and officials should be allowed (if not required) to review replay on those hits to determine who initiated the helmet-to-helmet contact before applying any penalty. In the case Saturday, it was clear the quarterback’s actions caused the contact to take place, and for Tuitt to be called for the infraction is ridiculous. I’m all for protecting defenseless players, but let’s make sure the player was defenseless before ejecting someone.
Frank Vitovich of UHND: After running the ball effectively in the first half, Notre Dame all but abandoned the run in the second half against Pitt even they didn’t trail at all until there was less than 9 minutes remaining in the contest. Is Notre Dame’s lack of a commitment to the running game this year as opposed to last the reason the Irish themselves right back where they were in 2011?
I believe it’s one of the reasons. Brian Kelly is a pass-first coach and always will be, and reasonable minds can disagree on whether or not that’s a good thing. What’s not a good thing, though, is Kelly’s tendency to abandon the game plan and default to the pass the minute he’s in a pressure situation. This season, with a limited quarterback, that tendency becomes even more of a detriment, as it pigeonholes Notre Dame into situations where the odds are stacked against them succeeding.
It is for this reason that I (and others on NDN) have called for BK to cede his play-calling (and yes, he’s calling the plays, no matter what he says in press conferences) to his offensive coordinator and, while being involved in the game-planning, stay completely out of game-day signaling other than an advisory role. Unless and until he can prove he can stick to a balanced game plan, his participation only hurts the ballclub.
Aaron Horvath of Strong & True: With two games left before bowl season is at hand there is work at hand to finish off the season strong. What must the Irish do well on offense and defense over the last two games to give themselves a chance to get to 9-3?
On offense, they have to stay balanced. Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel have a lot to offer against both teams remaining on the slate, and they shouldn’t be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch. A strong running game will keep a depleted defense off the field, and Tommy Rees, while gutsy, probably can’t carry this team to two wins on his shoulders.
On defense, everyone needs to keep their heads on straight and try to get (and stay) healthy. Stanford especially will attack ND both on the ground and through the air, so we’re going to need something a lot closer to mistake-free football than we’ve seen.