Alabama Comes Up Roses

Heisman Trophy finalists Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith combined for three touchdowns to lead top-ranked Alabama to a 31-14 Rose Bowl victory over Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide displayed their superior athleticism to jump out to a quick 14-0 lead before the Fighting Irish settled down and made a game of it. Ultimately, Notre Dame lacked the offensive firepower to keep pace, and Alabama was never seriously threatened.

After stopping the Irish in the opening possession, Jones swiftly moved the Tide into scoring position. He got the ball to Smith in the flat, and the fleet receiver blew past the secondary from 26 yards out to open the scoring.

Notre Dame could not answer, and Jay Bramblett punted the ball to the Alabama three yard line. That was not a problem for the Tide, who rode a spectacular 53-yard run by Najee Harris into scoring position. Jones hit Jahleel Billingley for a score moments later for a 14-0 lead.

Najee Harris hurdles Nick McCloud in the first quarter

The game could have easily deteriorated into a blowout, but credit goes to Notre Dame for fighting back. A screen pass to Chris Tyree and strong running by Kyren Williams highlighted an eight minute, 75-yard drive to pull the Irish within 14-7.

Alabama was not fazed. Jones continued to make excellent decisions in the run-pass option to keep the Tide rolling. The Irish safeties were moving forward to stop the run, so Jones would pull the ball back and deliver it to his playmakers on the perimeter. He hit Smith for 24 yards before finding him again for a 34-yard touchdown midway through the second period.

The Irish had a chance to add points at the end of the half, but a long field goal attempt by Jonathan Doerer had a low trajectory and was tipped at the line.

Notre Dame’s defense amped up the pressure on Jones in the third quarter and stopped Alabama’s opening drive. Ian Book began to move Notre Dame, but threw an ill-advised pass on the run that was picked off by linebacker Christian Harris. This clearly deflated the Irish, who quickly gave up a back-breaking scoring drive that ended with another pass to Smith.

The Tide added a field goal for a 31-7 advantage as the game moved into the fourth quarter. Book was able to engineer a last-ditch scoring march in the final minutes, but the issue had long been decided.

Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions:

  • Can the Irish generate meaningful yardage on the ground? Yes, at least in the first half. The line was physical and the backs ran with determination. It was the best part of the day’s effort for the Irish.
  • Will Notre Dame’s faster but little-used receivers give the offense a boost? None of the players I named in the pregame article caught a pass in the first 55 minutes. Lawrence Keys and Avery Davis each grabbed one in the waning moments.
  • Can the Irish pass rush force Jones out of his comfort zone? Not very often, but more than Jones has been used to all season.
  • Will Book find room to extend plays if his receivers are initially covered? Book had some positive scrambles but also had to throw it away a few times. He took a bad 14-yard sack and was briefly knocked out of the game.
  • Can the Irish avoid turnovers and special teams breakdowns that lead to cheap points? Book’s third quarter interception was a back breaker. Alabama scored to take a 28-7 lead and the game was over.
  • Which defense will be able to get off the field on third down? Both sides were respectable here. Alabama was six for ten and Notre Dame was eight of 16.
  • Can Notre Dame convert scoring chances into touchdowns rather than field goals? The problem was not enough scoring chances. The first half touchdown was positive, but losing a second half score to a motion penalty was ugly.
  • Is there a vaccine for losing big games? Yes, it’s called recruiting.

As expected, the difference in the game centered around the skill positions Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines acquitted themselves well, but the Irish secondary could not match up well with the Tide receivers. Conversely, Alabama’s secondary controlled Notre Dame’s receivers most of the night.

The Irish held the Tide to 31 points against their average of 50, and 437 yards versus an average of 544. Smith, Harris and Jones were the difference makers for Alabama. The trio showed why they are Heisman finalists and were clearly the best offensive players on the field.

The path for Notre Dame could not be more clear. While they have an excellent pair of backs in Williams and Tyree, the quarterback and wide receiver positions need to get better. Defensively, the back seven lacks elite speed and physicality. Linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will depart for the NFL and safety Kyle Hamilton will probably make 2021 his final college season. The team could also use an upgrade to the pass rush.

This team gave us many fine moments and accomplished about as much as the talent and coaching allowed. Long time Irish fans, however, can’t be blamed for wanting more.

114 thoughts on “Alabama Comes Up Roses

  1. I hate to say it but it could have been worse. All in all a good season and a bit closer to Alabama & Clemson. I guess this passes for an objective analysis. The secondary was over matched and that was what kept this from being a decent match up.

  2. Yet again Kelly and Book can’t win the big game. Kelly is the best ND coach that will never win a NC. Time to move on.

    • If ND wants to compete with the likes of Alabama ( and other schools ) it must drop the academic standards that keep the best players at schools like Alabama. I would bet there are players at Alabama who are struggling to spell their own names, much less legitimately pass required classes. I’m not saying all players at Alabama. but a large number. If you listen to interviews after the game you would think they are talking to elementary school kids. not college age kids. The difference in intelligence is very telling where priorities lie with ND and Alabama. ND graduates for the most part go on to live productive lives while a large number of Alabama kids go on to either spend time in jail or get killed standing on a street corner while dealing drugs. Sore loser, you betcha!

      • This line of lazy bullshit analysis is tiresome and insulting to both ND and AL players. Oh dear, everyone else suddenly is cheating. Weak.

        • At the end of last season, Doug Flutie said in an interview, “a lot of these football players at Alabama and Clemson should not be in college”. I agree with Don – the academic standards at SEC, and ACC schools like Clemson, are down in a valley compared to those at ND, and schools like Vanderbilt, and Northwestern. It’s not bullshit, Mike, it’s reality…….wake-up and smell the coffee!

        • Irish in the South says:

          Must admit that ND’s standards are higher. Lou Holtz got sideways with the administration on this subject and it contributed to his departure. Also note that when Lou left, the cupboard was bare.

          Stanford has the same issue. It is one issue that kept Urban Myer from accepting the job (of course, $$$ was a factor too). Agreed we can recruit harder for the 5 star prospects that meet the criteria. But the coaches cannot bring in those that don’t.

          • Kelly is getting a lot more admissions leeway than people realize, the most since Lou Holtz. Plenty of players on the top teams that ND was in on and/or got offers.

    • Westfield Domer says:

      Great! So who does Notre Dame hire who will guarantee national championships, and don’t say Urban Meyer because that ain’t happening. My strong hunch is in ditching Kelly, the odds of hiring another Davie, Willingham or Weis are infinitely greater than securing our next Rockne. If you want to take that chance, fine … I would not.

      • Urban actually let ND know he was interested in the job last year, and has not taken another job as yet. The problem is a matter of timing and a lack of will by Jenkins and Swarbrick to aim higher. Kelly will probably stay for another three years, and by then Meyer will have moved on.

        So the next time you make a grand pronouncement like “That ain’t happening”, you might be better served to just STFU.

        • Westfield Domer says:

          I’ve heard nothing about Meyer expressing an interest in the Notre Dame job, so that’s good to know and I really appreciate you informing me about that. However, you also said: “Kelly will probably stay for another three years, and by then Meyer will have moved on.” So exactly how wrong is my statement that Meyer isn’t coming to Notre Dame? If Meyer ever takes the head coaching job at ND, I’ll be happy to fall on my sword and apologize for my “grand pronouncement.”

          • Kelly could leave tomorrow if enough stakeholders at Notre Dame are tired of being a second tier program. If they are ever going to win another championship, they are going to have to take a calculated risk on an up coming coach or grab Meyer while he’s willing to come. It’s not going to happen with Brian Kelly. I suspect if the current revenue stream is threatened by unhappy major donors, they’ll have to make a move. Absent that, the current leadership seems too weak and timid to take the initiative. If it were me and Meyer wanted to come, I would thank Kelly for his 11 years of service and give him a silver (not golden) parachute.

        • Irish in the South says:

          Meyer has made damaging mistakes at Florida and Ohio State. To ND, he is damaged goods. Too much of a risk.

          • That is so much baloney. None of these coaches are saints. Meyer coached at ND previously and would obey the rules if he came back.

            Apologists like you are a big reason why ND is stuck in second level mediocrity.

    • Don’t you think being rated in the top ten every year is an accomplishment? It turns out that maybe they don’t get the quantity of top recruits each year because the athletes get better offers from other schools. I think this coaching staff does a hell of a job with 3 star recruits. I was always under the impression that Notre Dame was a university with a football team and not a football team with a University.

      • Now ask the next question — why are they only three-star recruits. Plenty of players on the top teams ND made scholarship offers to. Think if those players thought they’d be properly prepared for an NFL career they’d have considered ND more strongly?

  3. Agree to your final point in that recruiting is the key. As of now, it looks like the gap will continue as the 2021 recruiting class is as follows: Alabama 5 star (7), 4 star (15), and 3 star (4) versus ND 5 star (0), 4 star (12), and 3 star (15). Bama gets more of the 5 star Athletes and ND gets more of the 3 star Athletes. We are a top 5-10 team with a few great players but still far behind the big 3 schools in the CFP that have many great players. Great season but another disappointing ending, leaving Irish fans wondering when it will be our year. Go Irish, and never stop believing!

      • Bob, if my son was a five star athlete I would choose ND as my preference for him because you should never underestimate the importance of an education.

    • Art Armento '61 says:

      Can anybody explain how Northwestern played Ohio State very tough with 3 star recruits and less overall talent than the 2020 Irish? I’m sure all will agree that Northwestern’s academic standards and requirements equal or surpass those at Notre Dame. Can anyone explain how Lou Holtz was able to function on the level that he did while working under the same academic requirements and standards as Brian Kelly? Can anyone explain how we’ve been hearing the same academic standards excuse for the past ten years to explain our failure to be even be competitive against the elite programs? Last question … Can anyone explain how Indiana U this year had a very good chance to upset the Buckeyes this year with a team that had far less talent than we had? Maybe they have abetter head coach … maybe the I U head coach is a reincarnation of Ara when he was at Northwestern.

  4. Even though they lost the game, I am still very,very proud of this team. They has an outstanding season and the future looks bright for Notre Dame!! Like you said Johnny, they need to recruit a little more speed!!

    Heck, any coach could win at Alabama with the talent they get every year!!

    Again, awesome year by the Irish, both coaches and players!! I am sure going to miss Ian Book not being the quarterback next season!!!

    Hey Johnny, any chance Book comes back next year!!! Happy New Year and already looking forward to the 2021 season!! Go ND BEAT FSU!!!!!!!!!!

      • For the last 11 years there is only one person that has been back, with the same results!

        Read what Einstein says about that.

          • Kelly cant coach will never rise above C minus coach Kellys post game rant was the real embarrsment – incoherent rambling of a psyshoid – our beloved Notre Dame with great men grest football players is coached by a deficentleader
            like watching a huge alley cat maul a bird with a broken wing or better analogy ”bull baiting”
            chain a bull to a tree and let a pack of wild dogs attack the bull kelly
            if a young student takes then college board every year and each year has a sub standard score- the kid will blame his high school teachers ”they are faster on the edge just a few more plays and WE WILL GET THERE” KELLY WILL NEVER ADMITT ”I AM A SUBSTANDARD FOOTBALL COACH FOR NOTRE DAME”

        • When Nick McCloud ducked and hid while Najee Harris spring boards over him I just wanted to vomit. Clearly he had no intention of even trying to stop him. It was simply embarrassing. Holtz would have pulled that coward out of the game. That ended it for me. Look there is way more to Notre Dame than just football but if guys are afraid to get hit or tackle on defense the end will always be the same. Like all loyal Irish fans this constant sting of loosing is just too much to bare and I was left to tears. Brian Kelly has no right what so ever to bitch at a press conference when he fields players that fear getting hit.

          • Irish in the South says:

            In defense of Nick Cloud, he was not afraid to make the hit or he would not have been in front of Najee in the first place. He was in perfect position, leaning his body into the runner. Harris made a super athletic move to avoid the tackle.

          • Philip L Russo says:

            Are you kidding? McCloud was right where he should have been on what was essentially an open field tackle. That, in and of itself was athleticism on McCloud’s part. Under current rules, he cannot lead with his head, so he had to put his shoulder into the player. He was not going at his feet, rather at Harris’ midsection. Harris just high hurdled McCloud. Ask anyone who has played football and they will tell you that McCloud played it well. Harris just used Olympic vaulting ability and balance to avoid the tackle.

          • McCloud afraid of getting hit or making a tackle? LMAO!!! Yeah, this is what happened… Put the booze down! McCloud was in perfect position to make the play, Harris just made a play of his own to counter it. Any idiot could see that McCloud was trying to make a play.

          • Irish in the South says:

            What if Pyne puts on 20 pounds and more strength before Fall? Can he be developed by Rees? Need great receivers and OL. Pyne is a pro style QB, different from Book. He will stay in the pocket and I understand he has a very quick release, unlike Book. It would be a different offense with him at QB.

          • Pyne is shorter and less physically gifted than Book. Another 20 pounds will just make him round. He will never be an elite QB. If he becomes the starter at ND you will know the program is in deep trouble.

        • Broken record, and the worst part is the offense was giddy and congratulating itself for scoring 14 points against a defense which gave up over 40 points to mediocre Florida in their last game!

          Kelly has no game plan coming in as an underdog, and Book is his usual nervous Nelly, can’t make a decision headcase self, who doesn’t care if he loses. The one bright spot was Williams at tailback, he looked like he wanted to compete, but the rest of the offense is pathetic. As usual, there’s no leadership at QB, and that’s because Kelly isn’t a leader. If you’re completely satisfied with another embarrassing loss, the second in a row, you don’t really plan on getting better because you have no self confidence. Kelly is not a coach that can win at the highest levels, I think he served his purpose, but if you want no National Championship and endless excuses, he’s still your man!

          • That is a mistake made by the staff. Kelly and Rees should have turned over the reins to Jurkovec last year after Book shit the bed against Michigan. The team would have been better today and next season. As it stands, they were more concerned with winning ten games last year, which was entirely meaningless, instead of developing their future QB.

  5. It is time to clean house and get rid of Jenkins, Swarbrick, and Kelly. Until that happens, it will be more of the same.
    John, any thoughts on who could be the replacements for these three?

    I am very frustrated!

    Happy New Year. 2021 is picking up where 2020 left off. Not good!

    • Spot on. Ever wonder why the Brits did not lead most of the troops in Operation Overlord? Leadership makes a difference. Watch the movie, IKE. Not only has ND not won a NC since ’88, academically they have been stuck with a rating in the mid teens for years. Where are the folks on the board of The U. of ND? Sucking up all that juice?

  6. Now that college football is dominated by Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio state with the invited annual guest, is college football worth watching anymore? Serious question here. Their locked in top 5 recruiting and locked in power 5 conference play leaves little guessing to the end result. Nice to see ND somewhat competitive in there but still eons away from being a realistic contender.

    • I said the same thing on a different page, the same 2-3 teams dominating, no upsets, remember in the 90s any top 15 team could upset a number 1 on any given week? Plus they don’t even play defense any more; that’s the most pathetic team about Kelly and ND, he brought the spear but executes it like a closed offense, and he hasn’t developed one decent QB, they’re all head cases after one season with him!

  7. Same movie with the same ending. Tired of losing, and not being competitive.You cannot blame it all on recruiting, at some point, you have to look at the coach, especially the position coaches.

  8. Louis Ciferno says:

    If you read what I said after the Clemson debacle the same holds true after Alabama game. Three star DB’s cannot cover 5 star receivers…Period. Three star wide receivers cannot get open against 5 star DB’s. Period. A 3 star QB cannot compete in a BCS championship. You could see the difference in arm strength, confidence and in his throws. You can’t blame a offensive line that gives him 4 to 7 seconds to throw it. They did their job. Watch Fields from OSU, Lawrence at Clemson and Alabama’s QB and the difference in arm strength, confidence and decision making is glaring.
    Wake up powers to be at Notre Dame! If you want go get back to Notre Dame glory and win National Championships again than relax the standards, just a little. Lou Holtz did it and recruited the likes of Rice and Zorich…Guess what they all graduated and went on to be successful. You want to compete on the big stage the coaches a chance to pick up a few 5 star athletes. Someone on this board made a great point…Next years class has 0-five start, 11 4-star and 14 3-star players. Guess what…You will never win or compete with teams like Alabama recruiting like that. It’s just more of the same above average teams and never as good as the 1988 team. Not even close…

    • Timothy Miller says:

      While I agree with the overall point of a talent disparity, it should be noted that Mac Jones was a 3-star QB.

      • Good point that often gets overlooked. Even with 3 star recruits it seems to me Saban and Dabo do a better job of coaching up the 3 stars to the elite college level in a couple years than the ND coaches. Recruiting is the base, certainly, but don’t dismiss the ability to turn 3 stars into Heisman candidates. I haven’t seen ND do that.

  9. There was good fight in that game. I do not delude myself — Alabama could
    have turned up the offense at any point…that is a Sabin thing…risk balance
    …all they need is a two score lead. But the team was engaged and in it.
    The offense had to be more productive and they just weren’t. I will credit
    Rees and Lea with dancing with the the date that brung ya.
    Sad to end up on the hurdling and dive catch highlight film. Pretty good film.
    Guess in the end both ND and Clemson were overrated.
    The sport needs an 8 team playoff.
    I thoroughly enjoyed this weird season.
    Thanks for the coverage.
    Go Irish!

  10. This constant drumbeat of we can not win because of the high academic standards is beyond sickening and just excuses. Big game, big stage, same result. Congrats we won 10 games again. Big deal. Kelly has solidified the program but can not take the next step. His whining before the game and at his press conference after the loss tells you much about him. Congrats to Bama and OSU as this looks to be a very good game.

  11. Remedy,

    Upgrade: 1) Recruiting
    2) Recruiting
    3) Recruiting

    The difference in talent levels between us and them in the last 2 games is stark
    Lay that at the feet of the HC.

  12. Swarbrick + Kelly = Never Elite. Kingdom preserver Swarbrick loves telling anyone who will listen what great shape the program is in while Kelly loves telling his players they are inferior. Recipe for decades of mediocrity. I grew up a fan of, attended, and have been an alum of ND always believing we had a chance what though the odds be great or small. I never feel that way any more. I continue to miss entrepreneurs like Corrigan/Holtz. Tick, tick, tick…

    • Couldn’t agree more!! ND has enough in the talent department, they just lack elite coaching and completely lack any kind of preparation for the big game ( down 14-0 in the first quarter yet again! )

  13. Sadly, the score of the game did not reflect the reality of the talent disparity. The second ND touchdown game in the last minute of the game (garbage time). The Tide offense seemed to be somewhat lethargic in the second half. If the Tide was at full throttle, the score would have reflected it!

    It was not even close. Let’s hope the Irish can improve recruiting, but this is a well established pattern now. The Irish crush the weeklings during the regular season, then get crushed by the elites in the playoffs and bowl games.

  14. Timothy Miller says:

    I went back and looked at the 2012 BCS game to see if it was the unmitigated disaster of my memory. It was. Down 28-0 at the half, 35-0 early 3Q. 32 yards rushing. No drives in the1H. This game was definitely an improvement. You can actually identify a turning point where it got away. We opened the 3Q with a stop, and we’re moving. Mayer was open, and Book underthrew him by a ton. While obviously you can’t count on scoring there with a completion to Mayer, that flipped a potential 21-14 score to 28-7. Mayer’s TD coming off the board in early 4Q didn’t help either.

    Yes, some woulda coulda shoulda, but there were no equivalents eight years ago. That alone is some progress.

  15. John’s article was spot on. The recruiting gap needs to be closed. It exists primarily in three key areas. The biggest one by far is the QB position. It is absolutely essential for ND to sign 5 or 4 star QBs. Indeed, it is impossible to win a National Championship without an elite QB. As someone else pointed out, just look at Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State, if you have any doubt. Hopefully Tyler Buchner will become the first elite QB the Irish have had in many years, and the first in a long line to follow. The second area that must be upgraded is in recruiting elite wide receivers. I have some cautious optimism here, given that this is an area which appears to be improving with the last couple of classes, but time will tell. The third area which needs to be improved is in recruiting defensive backs, particularly elite cornerbacks. It is elementary that you cannot cover elite wide receivers without elite cornerbacks. The most recent example was yesterday’s game. And there have been opportunities. One that comes to mind was striking out on Minkah Fitzpatrick, a graduate of my high school, St. Peter’s Prep, a few years back. Of these three areas, I am most optimistic about recruiting cornerbacks, as it is improving under the leadership of Mike Mickens. Finally, I am sick and tired of hearing excuses as to why improving recruitment in these three areas can’t be accomplished. Why not, when you consider that Notre Dame is second to none in recruiting offensive linemen and tight ends, and has had success historically in all of the areas that need to be upgraded.

  16. Brian Kelly said that if that dagum Alabama didn’t make so many darn plays on the perimeter it might have been a different game.

    I agree that the talent disparity at the offensive skill positions and in the defensive backfield is what separated Alabama from ND and Clemson from ND and for that matter Ohio St. from ND. The only skill position that ND matches up with other top 5 teams is at tight end.

    We saw what Ohio St’s NFL caliber talent and speed at the offensive skill positions did to the Clemson defense last night. That’s what ND needs but Kelly doesn’t seem to pursue those kids because it’s work and/or always gives us excuses why they can’t be pursued. Maybe ND should hire Weis back for recruiting 4-5 star talent since that was his strong suit. It seems like ND battles middling schools for skill positions talent.

    Congratulations to the seniors and 5th year seniors for a great year.

  17. Just a reminder, high school kids are like lemmings, they go to the hot programs with the flashiest facilities. Bama, Clemson, Ohio State have facilities that would make the Vatican blush. They are football factories. Is that the image Notre Dame wants to project? I honestly believe the Irish have the best of both worlds: a football program that most schools can only dream of and a stubborn insistence on being who they are, a Catholic university.

      • Kids still living in the dorms. I like it, but the “elite” programs have athletic housing that is beyond ridiculous and speaks volumes to their priorities. As to the Irish being mediocre, consider that 99.95% of college programs are worse

    • Let’s not stereotype elite recruits. They can’t all go to three schools, and many of them value their education. ND was able to offer 82 of the top 100 this year, so academics aren’t an excuse. If Kelly and his staff worked at it, they could bring in 3-4 per year that would make a difference. They’ve been lucky to get one per year. It has much to do with effort and it starts from the top.

      • On this, Vannie, I definitely agree. The problem is starts with “Brian” and ends with “Kelly”. He was able to win titles in the second tier and is an overall winner. But, to win in this tier, ND needs a coach name Meyer. Why not grab him while he is interested?

  18. In the end, the problem is multi factorial but it starts with coaching. Kelly is not a big game coach and never has been. This year he beat Clemson and then North Carolina On the road. Those were great wins and not typical of his previous 10 year performance. He deserves credit for that. However repeatedly on the big stage the Irish come up short and even when there is obvious talent disparities there are glaring coaching problems. There’s a huge town disparity between Cincinnati and Georgia but Cincinnati played George’s straight up even. Every now and then an upset would be nice on the big stage. Northwestern‘s recruiting classes Do t natch Auburn but they demolished Auburn this week. The recruiting at Notre Dame has not been at a standard necessary to win a national title. Being ranked between 8 and 15 year after year just not gonna do it. That’s a big part of the problem and a big part of the change that needs to be in made and it needs to come from Jenkins and the AD. Nobody is in favor of allowing any old person into the school but certain concessions could be made for great athletes with great character. Notre Dame’s Arrogance about their academic standards has to change. Many of the athletes we want to recruit come from underserved areas and they may never have the ability to achieve standardized test scores comparable to rich white kids in private schools who also have tutors all four years of school. Why not find kids with potential and character and take a chance on them and allow the standards to be slightly modified for those people. Example Chris Zorich, Tony Rice, Ricky Waters, etc. etc. when we were winning at elite levels.
    Finally, when you’re offensive coordinator is Tommy Reese and your red zone offense is pathetic you aren’t gonna win big games and that’s the fault of the head coach.

  19. Pat Carlevato says:

    Using Rivals Data of the top 100 recruiting classes by school for the last 5 years, there have been 167 5-Star Recruits. More than half ended up at just 5 schools Alabama (22), Georgia (21), Clemson (19), Ohio State (15), LSU (10). These 5 schools have a US News Ranking for National Universities of 94.

    From 2016 – 2020, we got only 2 5-Star recruits. Our US News Ranking – 19. Of the 31 schools that secured at least 1 5-Star Recruit, 7 ranked 30 or higher in US News Ranking: Stanford (6), ND (19), UCLA (20), USC (24), Michigan (24), California (24), Florida (30). After that, it’s a big drop to Texas at 47. The Top 7 ‘Football Powers’ that actually have high academic standards secured 24 or 14% of the 5-Star Recruits – USC (7), Michigan (6), Stanford (5), Florida (4), UCLA (3), ND (2), California (1).

    A few thoughts on this…
    Kelly has been phenomenal the last 3 years as a coach.
    1) To have made the BCS Playoff twice in the last 3 years while ranking 25 in terms of number of 5-Star recruits is quite an accomplishment.
    2) Prior to losing to Alabama, our winning percentage over the last 3 years was equal to the 3 year run from 1988 – 1990.

    The big question to me is how we get just 2 of the 24 5-Star recruits that went to academically competitive Football Powers. We don’t need that many studs, but we need a few at skill positions to seriously compete against Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and OSU. The talent gap at WR and defensive back was wide the last 2 games.

    We CAN compete without sacrificing academic standards. We need to get on the recruiting trail and convince every single academically qualified 5-Star recruit they can get a great education and compete for National Championships. There are no shortcuts to greatness.


    • That’s an excellent breakdown Pat. Over the past five years if we got two 5 stars per year it would translate to the field. Is it that many of the 5 star players that did not choose , Bama , LSU, Ohio St, Clemson or Georgia are west coast kids , chose to stay out west.?
      Also agree with the QB analysis, Book bleeds blue and gold , but need elite talent at that spot.

      Proud of this team.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Great analysis, Pat. Just need to work harder on the moms and pops that can tell their 17 year old son that a degree from ND cannot be taken away like a career in football.

  20. Agree with most of the above. My last bastion of enjoyment in sports has been Notre Dame football.
    The NCAA sport has now been reduced to a jumping point for multi-million NFL dollar contracts
    for the elite athletes, and ONLY that. At this point only three universities are benefiting.
    They will continue to stockpile the best of the athletes in the transfer portal as well. We, and a few others,
    Oklahoma logical choice, will be wannabes, but don’t expect a result much different than yesterday.
    I recorded the game just in case, but after ‘the Tide’ waltzed down the field for their first TD,
    the result was the foregone conclusion I feared. So, I turned the TV off and went grocery shopping
    with my wife. The was some joy in watching Clemson’s humiliation, but Ohio State was the beneficiary,
    so who would care? 2020 is gone, thank God, but masks or no masks, this is it!
    As Jackie Gleason used to say, “and away we go”!

  21. Westfield Domer says:

    All of you who are experts when it comes to college football and desperate to get rid of Kelly never state who you would hire to replace him. Please tell me who would be willing to come to Notre Dame and bring with him the key to unlocking national championships. Waiting patiently …

    • I find it hard to believe there are no other Ryan Days or Dabo Swinneys in the coaching ranks. The job of a competent AD is to find them. Your solution of not trying to improve the current state of mediocrity because it might not work is a losing proposition. If more Americans felt that way we’d still be pledging our allegiance to Queen Elizabeth.

      • Irish in the South says:

        ND missed its chance to fire BK after his 4 win season. Now, he is coach of the year in the ACC (not Dabo) and he has a handful of 10 win seasons. He will beat Rockne’s record for wins next year. Just being realistic. ND will not replace BK unless his performance sinks dramatically.

  22. Remember, Ohio State bought LeBron James’ family a new Hummer and faced “0” consequences. How many players at elite SEC schools are driving around in vehicles like that with “no known source of support”? When money is the top priority, and moral character is secondary, you will always come out on top in any race, especially with 18 year old’s who want to “look cool man”.
    But one thing I forgot, the hummer was a gift from James’ mother who was as poor a a church mouse.

    • Irish in the South says:

      ND will not cheat in recruiting. We turned ourselves in to the NCAA with some academic cheating and a whole season of wins was wiped out. This puts us at a distinct disadvantage in recruiting.

      • And yet they got top-ranked recruiting classes as recently as 2007. What’s more likely — everyone else suddenly started cheating better, or there isn’t enough effort being put in?

  23. Just wanted to leave a thank-you John, for the columns this year. I wait for them and believe them to be the best analysis of ND going. Have a blessed New Year!

    • Much appreciated. Some folks would prefer that I just be a cheerleader and a homer, but that’s not me. When the USA hockey team beat the Russians in 1980, there was a reason it was referred to as the “Miracle on Ice”. Unfortunately, true miracles don’t happen very often in sports and certainly not in the college football playoff era.

      Have a great and COVID-free 2021!

  24. Watched game with low expectations and was not as upset as Normal. Especially when ND drove down field and chewed up clock (the best way to beat explosive teams). That third and 7 QB sneak was terrible, and INT even worse. Pick your poison, but need a backer out on the WR screen or someone to jam receiver. CB play needs improvement, but they moved the ball.

    • Louis Ciferno says:

      Imagine this. If Notre Dame could recruit one 5 star lockdown cornerback and three 4 star cornerbacks. One 5 star Will Fuller wideout and three 4 star receivers. One 5 star QB over a two year recruiting cycle. That is all they would need. Tight ends, defensive lineman, offensive linemen and linebackers we usually get our share of 4 star athletes. It’s strange that Kelly always starts out getting those 4 star athletes but as the recruiting season progresses, far more 3 star recruits are brought in. Granted, a 3 star can become a NFL player. But rarely do they ever become good or great NFL players. Not in skilled positions.

      I was really not a Brian Kelly fan, especially after he stiffed a good Cincinnati team before a big bowl game and if true, was already planning a jump to the NFL before beating Alabama in 2012. He has upgraded recruiting in some areas but as far as a big game coach, a complete bust. His picks for assistants has been mediocre at best. Except the last two Defensive coordinators, they have been outstanding, especially Lea. Lea knows how to make adjustments for the second half of a game. Special teams coaches, below average. Offensive coordinators, very little imagination. I believe with what Notre Dame has talent wise now there are some great coaches that would take this job in a heartbeat. They need a few more pieces added and a coach that knows how to win the big ones. Those are the coaches like Lou Holtz and Ara that take a program from 3-8 one year and turn it into a undefeated team that dominates their opponents. It is a sad day to think Kelly will be the winningest coach at Notre Dame, who’s teams had so many title shots to never win a Championship. Not even be competitive. SAD.

      • Irish in the South says:

        I understand the need to recruit elite athletes, but many comments have been made stating that Kelly is not a big-game coach. What specific miscues did Kelly make in the 2 games we lost this year? Was is the overall game plan/strategy? Or the use of time outs, the clock, etc.?

        Give me specifics,

        • Louis Ciferno says:

          Overall game planning to face a healthy Clemson team. Everyone knows Lawrence can and does run. That’s how he extends drives, if receivers are covered he has no problem running and he has deceptive speed. You plan on that. The middle linebacker for Clemson was healthy, he is there QB on defensive. He needs to be dealt with if you want to run the ball.

          Alabama, no pressure on defense against Jones who is a 4 star QB. I read on here that he was a 3 star but he was a 4 star from Jacksonville, Florida. If you want to disrupt a QB’s rhythm, you blitz and confuse him. They could have jammed the receivers at the line especially Smith. On offensive the best way to slow a great offense down is control the ball and you do that by running it right down their throat. Bring in 3 tight ends and pound it. Our receivers weren’t getting open anyway. You can use the tight ends to throw too. Notre Dame had nothing to lose in that game. We become so predictable on offense it’s sickening. That’s my take on planning. If you watched the Ohio State game, they came into that game with a chip on their shoulder. If anyone should come into the game with a chip on their shoulder it is Notre Dame over the last 25 years. Coaching promotes that.

          • Please explain how would you expect the front four to apply pressure on a QB that was getting the ball out of his hands in under three seconds much of the time. Only Houdini would have been able to apply pressure in this case. Watch the game again. Sarkisian’s game plan was to eliminate ND’s defensive front four using quick strikes and perimeter plays. That is why most of the passes were quick screens, slants and to the perimeter. He knew that ND had no answers on the perimeter in terms of speed matchups and that the front 4 couldn’t apply pressure if Jones didn’t have the ball in his hands long. With no perimeter speed, once any of Bama’s receivers had the ball they were down the field quickly for chunk gains. ND’s offensive game plan was sound once it got going. The 8 min drive was huge in the 1st half and cut the lead to 7. Had Book not thrown that INT in the 3rd Qtr, they potentially make it 21-14 on the heels of another long, clock-killing drive. At this point, the entire game would have changed and ND could have kept it closer.

  25. John Vannie, how about you write a letter to Jenkins about terminating Kelly (and Swarbrick?) like the one you wrote to Kevin White in 2000/2001 about terminating Bob Davie? It was outstanding, and I know you’d do at least as good of a job this time. I still have the letter if you need a copy. I’m sorry if you’ve already done this and I missed it.

    • Such letters no longer have the desired impact unless they are sent by donors with significant financial clout. A lot has changed in the last 20 years, especially as it pertains to money in college sports and the growing number of very wealthy people who exert real influence (to good and bad effect).

      For an example of the bad, look at Texas. Their program is a dysfunctional mess because of the undue influence of wealthy donors and the unwillingness of the university administration to tell them to back off.

      • What’s the most influential step you recommend a non-wealthy donor like most of us take to influence the outcome?

  26. Louis Ciferno says:

    Scott, read my post again. I didn’t say the front four only had to put pressure on Mack. The way you beat a offense like that is you have to confuse the quarterback. You challenge the receiver at the line of scrimmage not 10 yards down field. You bring different blitz packages. He keep him always guessing. Notre Dame had nothing to lose in that game.
    I don’t know if you remember or were around, but along time ago Miami had a quarterback by the name of Vinny Testaverde. He was all everything, the cream of the crop. Penn State played Miami for the National Championship. Joe Paterno and his coaches designed a defense that confused him. They brought blitzes from every angle, dropped 8 guys in the secondary, challenged receivers at the line. They had nothing to lose. They beat Miami that day and Testaverde was so confused he didn’t know where he was. Worst college game of his career.
    As far as Book’s interception, your dreaming if you think by not throwing that interception would have made one bit of difference. Notre Dame was not going to play any better on defense and surely not any better on offense with such poor planning and no imagination.
    Notre Dame will never win another Championship until they recruit better and hire better coaches.

  27. I know we are all frustrated and want ND to win a National Championship!!!! But why all the bashing towards Coach Kelly. I think he has done an outstanding job so far as the Head Football Coach at our beloved University!!! I know, I know but he did not win a title yet!!

    Let’s see what he has accomplished so far as ND’s coach…..

    – 3 undefeated regular seasons
    – 2 college football appearances in the last 3 seasons
    – 4 straight 10+ wins in a season ( 6 total 10+ wins in a season)
    – 10 bowl game appearances
    – wins against…..LSU (twice), OK, Mich, USC (6), Clem, NC, Stanford ( 4, not sure), TEX, FSU, Miami, etc…..
    – coach of the year awards
    – developed All – Americans players
    – took over programs ( Central Mich, Cinn ) and made them into winning programs
    – took over a ND program that was struggling since Holtz left and made them into a top 5-10 program now and did all this with his hands tied when it comes to strict academic requirements and recruiting

    Yes, ND needs to recruit more talent and speed at certain positions. But I feel Coach Kelly is doing the best job he can since he does not have as much lee-way as the coaches from AL, Clem, OSU, OK, TEX, etc…. do!!!! Why do you think Urban Meyer did not take the job at ND when he had a chance!!! Simply because he knew he would not be able to get the talent and ND not willing to ease up on their academic requirements. So that’s why he bolted to go coach the Gators because he could get anyone he wanted and not worry about academic restrictions. For crying out loud, his own father told him to coach Florida because he would have a better chance to win a title!!

    Let’s be real, if Coach Kelly had the talent like AL,Clem, and OSU, he would win a championship at ND!!! Heck, when Saban was at Michigan State, his records were 6-5-1, 6-6, 7-5, 6-6, and 9-2! Why didn’t he win a title? Because he wasn’t a great coach? NO of course not!! He simply did not have the horses at MSU that he has now at Bama!! Look at Ed Orgeron from LSU has a title why, because he had superior talented players and guess what happened this year, finished 5-5 why because he lost a lot of his players from last year’s team!

    Did you know that it took great coaches like Tom Osbourn and Joe Pa 20 years to win their 1st national championship!

    I know its hard to be patience and we all want ND to win it all ( 1988 is a long time) but I feel Coach Kelly is doing a fine job and can lead us back to the ” promise land “

      • I am not making excuses Mike……I am simply stating the facts……you just have a hard time being objective because you are a Coach Kelly ” hater “…….

        • No, I’m simply more informed than you. Brian Kelly has been given more admissions breaks than any coach since Holtz. If he asks for anything, he immediately gets it. If he worked harder at recruiting and demanded the same from his staff, the classes would be better than they are.

          • Irish in the South says:

            Mike, so you narrow it down to recruiting. Kelly has improved in this. The incoming class has a top 10 ranking from the analysts. We are not moving backwards in recruiting. We had a very good year and I believe we will be in the NC conversation next year and beyond.

          • Meanwhile, the teams against which we’re competing are all ranked higher and, unlike this class, have significant five-star skill position talent. Yes, there was improvement, from the mid-teens to #9. Still not good enough.

          • I can’t believe how anyone could be so clueless, but you and your rose-colored glasses take the cake. The elite programs once again out-recruited ND, so the talent gap only grew wider this winter, not smaller. ND needs difference makers at quarterback, wide receiver, edge rusher and cornerback. Notre Dame has average to below-average players at these critical positions.

    • Joe. we’re not going to the Promised Land under Brian Kelly. With the help of softer scheduling, he has raised the floor of his performance in the last couple of years. His ceiling, however, remains far below championship level.

      • Mr. Vannie, do you honestly think that Coaches such as Saban, Meyer, and Swinney could have won a national championship at Notre Dame with the same players that Coach Kelly had for the past several years?

        Also, I disagree with your take about ” softer scheduling “. Until this year, ND has played the likes of USC, Stanford, Clemson, Michigan, FSU, Miami, etc… year in and year out!!!! Their schedules have been one of the toughest for many years!! Did you know that ND is the only 1 of 2 schools that never played a IAA school in football!! I think that speaks volumes. Schools like Bama, OSU, Clem, Mich, LSU, etc….can’t state that claim. Let’s face it every school has their cream puff teams they play every year. However, at least ND’s cream puff team is a IA school.

        • You’re wrong from top to bottom. First of all, who got the “players Coach Kelly had”? Yahoo didn’t autodraft them, he recruited them, so he’s responsible. Second, ND hasn’t played those schools “year in and year out”, they play one or two of them a year. I enjoyed watching this season, but let’s remember five of ND’s nine regular season ACC wins came against the teams that finished in the bottom five in the conference. This wasn’t 1993 FSU, this was 2020 FSU, and they were terrible. The Michigan team that blew ND’s doors off in 2019 was middling at best.

          • Irish in the South says:

            SI ranks our 2021 recruiting class at No. 7. BK is focusing on QB. Brought in the Wisconsin grad for coming season and recruited a top HS senior QB. No question our QB play has been sub par compared to the elites, but BK is addressing this in a big way. We will compete again for the NC next season.

          • Ok Mike, I will give you this year’s schedule was not as strong as previous years……but then explained to me how Coach Kelly and ND were able to manage undefeated 2012 and 2018 regular seasons while beating ranked teams such as MSU, Mich (twice), Stanford (twice), OK, VT, Syracuse and also beating their old rival USC (twice)…….come on Mike, be objective and give some credit to Coach Kelly for those undefeated seasons ……take away your dislike for him out of the picture…..

          • In 2012, MSU was ranked #10 at the time of the game. They finished 7-6 and unranked. Michigan was #18 at the time of the game, they finished 8-5 and #24. Always good to beat Michigan, but…. Stanford and Oklahoma that year definitely were good wins, no doubt about it. But when you get depantsed in front of the nation at the end of the season and then spend two weeks holding ND hostage while you talk to an NFL team, you lose credit if you’re being “objective”.

            In 2018, Michigan was a good win. But Stanford and VaTech finished the season unranked, VaTech under .500. And “old rival USC” was a collective .500 in those seasons and were horribly coached. I doubt Pete Carroll gets credit from SC fans for “beating their old rival ND” under Willingham and Weis.

            I do take my dislike for him out of the picture. He’s never wanted to be at ND, resents the alums and fans who try to maintain a championship standard, and it took the wretched 2016 season for him to realize he’d never be an NFL coach so he may as well put some effort in at ND. That’s not me talking, that’s people who cover the team a lot more closely than we here at NDN do off the record.

  28. Now Tommy Tremble is bypassing his senior year for the NFL draft. Wish him the best. I loved watching him play. I’ll stick with the opinion of many; college football is dead, nothing more than a primer for the NFL, pure and simple. This was the logical conclusion, the obvious finality. And with it goes the last semblance of the “college football spirit”; the university, dedicated amateur athletes who played for their school and the love of the sport. As General MacArthur summed it up so valiantly; “duty, honor, country”. Oh well, what am I talking about, anyway. Democracy is gone as well, dead as the Dodo!