Maize n Brew
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Notre Dame got blown out in an extremely important prime-time road game against a good opponent. That makes four times (three in the last three years) under Brian Kelly- 2012 against Alabama, 2017 against Miami, 2018 against Clemson, and now 2019 against Michigan. And though it’s tough to say right now without more context and time to digest, this one feels like it might have been the most embarrassing to date.
Everyone knew that 5’11” 200 lb. Ian Book was never going to be the most physically gifted QB in the country, but it absolutely baffles me that Ian Book has somehow gotten significantly worse at reading the defense and managing the offense in his second season as the starting QB. Time and time again Book fails to recognize defensive sets, see pressure, and hit open guys. There were multiple times on Saturday where Notre Dame had a wide-open target and Book didn’t even see him. You’d think Ian Book would have enough experience to make the simple plays in his 22nd start for Notre Dame, but you’d be wrong. Not only can Notre Dame not seem to be able to find the right talent to play QB, but they cannot develop that talent in the slightest. If I’m 2020 4-star Drew Pyne or 2021 4-star Tyler Buchner, I’m seeing what Notre Dame has done to countless QB’s and I decommit to look elsewhere.
Nothing new here. Notre Dame’s skill position players are still miles behind every other top program in the country. Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet were the only two skill players who belonged on the field on Saturday. The same issue we saw against Clemson and Georgia was present on Saturday, only this time it was against a program that hasn’t shown that they have elite skill players either. Let’s pray that incoming guys like 5-star WR Jordan Johnson and 5-star RB’s Chris Tyree and Will Shipley can change this narrative, because it needs to happen soon.
The Notre Dame defense that we saw on Saturday looked like what many feared coming into the season. The defensive line got pushed around and the linebackers couldn’t make up for it in the run game. After solid performances thus far, many thought that this defense was better than expected, but the Wolverines ran all over the Irish racking up 303 yards on the ground, the third most Brian Kelly has ever allowed.
Defensive and Offensive Schemes:
Probably the most frustrating part of this entire game was the defensive scheme for Notre Dame. In a game that was played in a monsoon against a team with a QB who has proven he can’t dominate teams with his arm, the Irish decided to keep two safeties high the entire game. And despite the fact that Michigan continued to run it over and over (57/71 offensive attempts were rushes), Notre Dame refused to adjust. How unintelligent do you have to be to not realize that Michigan was going to run the ball every play? And on offense, it’s tough to know where to pinpoint the blame for their struggles, but the fact of the matter is the Irish could do nothing on offense through the air or on the ground.
Notre Dame has seven captains this season- QB Ian Book, WR Chris Finke, RT Robert Hainsey, DE Julian Okwara, DE Khalid Kareem, S Jalen Elliot, and S Alohi Gillman. Not a single one of those players (with the exception of Alohi Gillman who made a few plays despite getting hurt in the first quarter) showed up on Saturday night. Where is the leadership for this team? Book and Fine both stunk per usual, Elliot and Hainsey made costly mistakes, and Okwara and Kareem disappeared again. The disappointment from this group is tough to put into words.
I don’t know what to think about Brian Kelly anymore. On one hand he has done a lot of good things that has resulted in a lot of wins over the last few seasons, but on the other hand he almost always fails to prepare his team for a big game on the road. Every time this happens it’s always the same answer in the post-game press conference: “I need to do a better job of preparing our guys”. THEN DO IT. What are you waiting for Brian Kelly?! It seems to become clearer and clearer that the fact of the matter is Brian Kelly is not capable of winning these big games away from home. There seems to be a trade-off with Brian Kelly- he will win a lot of football games especially at home, but he will almost never win a major game away from home. So then the question becomes, is that good enough? For me, it’s not good enough, and the only hope I have left for Brian Kelly is these next two recruiting classes. They both appear to be as good as any Notre Dame has seen in the last couple of decades, so I want to see how Brian Kelly does with them in the building. Unfortunately, this will take a lot of patience, but I don’t see any other way to truly figure out Brian Kelly than to wait for these players. If in four years (when the 2020 players are seniors and the 2021 players are juniors) we still have this same narrative, then Brian Kelly must go no matter what.