Notre Dame Football: 2013 Grades for Brian Kelly

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2013

Oct 19, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly runs onto the field with his team prior the game against the USC Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame won 14-10. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame's 2013 season is officially in the books, and the numerous performance reviews are arriving in droves.

For head coach Brian Kelly, any meeting with athletic director Jack Swarbrick regarding the Irish's 2013 season should be a pleasant one, as Kelly guided the program to what should be considered a successful campaign, despite a 9-4 record not living up to the fanbase's mountainous expectations.

While a slew of factors contributed to the Irish's underwhelming follow-up of their appearance in last season's BCS National Championship Game, providing a detailed performance review for Kelly will inject clarity in the postmortem of the 2013 season.

Offense: B

As has been discussed ad nauseam since former starting quarterback Everett Golson was expelled from the university in May, Kelly was essentially forced to scale back his playbook and alter the Irish's plan of attack with Tommy Rees at quarterback.

As Kelly would typically prefer, he wasn't able to run the zone read with Rees at the helm but was able to combat that impossibility by implementing elements of the pistol offense, as well as a no-back set on obvious passing downs.

Dec 28, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tarean Folston (25) runs the ball against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the first half of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankees Stadium. Notre Dame Fighting Irish won the game 29-16. Mandat
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

However, Notre Dame's running game significantly regressed from its 2012 form, as the Irish finished the 2013 season ranked 80th nationally in rushing offense, averaging just 151.3 yards per game on the ground. To the average fan, Kelly would be the man to blame but not in this case.

Fair or unfair to state, opposing defenses stacked the line of scrimmage during appropriate down-and-distance situations, making it virtually impossible for the Irish to effectively run the football.

Despite that deficiency, Notre Dame averaged approximately two points per game more than it did last season. Given that impressive feat under the circumstances, Kelly deserves the "B" for the Irish's offensive performance in 2013.

What prevented Kelly from being bumped up a letter grade was his continued difficulty within the red zone. As has been a common theme during his tenure at Notre Dame, Kelly's offense continually sputtered inside the 20s. Simply put, a red-zone offense percentage of 78 won't get the job done.

Defense: C

The best defenses in any league play as a cohesive 11-man unit, with the loss of a single player not having drastically negative effects, but such was the case with the Irish's defense in 2013.

With former linebacker Manti Te'o beginning his professional career with the San Diego Chargers, the spine of the Irish defense withered.

Notre Dame ranked 69th nationally in rushing defense, yielding an average of 168 yards per game on the ground. Keep in mind that Notre Dame returned eight of its 11 starters from last season's dominant unit that carried the program to its first national title appearance in 24 seasons.

Even prior to nose guard Louis Nix's season-ending meniscus tear, his presence along with Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, Jaylon Smith, Carlo Calabrese, Prince Shembo and Dan Fox simply couldn't build on what the unit accomplished a year ago.

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish nose tackle Louis Nix (1) walks to the sideline in the third quarter against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. Pitt won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Their collective regression combined with a wholly unsatisfactory 17 takeaways resulted in what should certainly be considered a porous defense.

Special Teams: D

A grade of "F" could be considered for the Irish's special teams performance during the 2013 season, but placekicker and punter Kyle Brindza brings the grade to "D."

Dating back to Kelly's initial season on the job, Notre Dame has shown time after time that special teams haven't been a priority. 2013 was an especially horrific season for the Irish's kick-coverage unit, as it finished in the cellar of the FBS, ranking 121st nationally (25.68 yards per kickoff return allowed).

Clearly, opposing offenses were allowed excellent field position on a consistent basis due to Notre Dame's failure to execute on that front.

Aside from kick coverage, Kelly and Co. continued to display a failure to piece together even a semblance of an effective punt-return unit. Despite senior receiver TJ Jones' decision to add punt returner to his list of duties, his team saw no tangible improvement, as the Irish averaged an abysmal 7.07 yards per punt return.

The lone bright spot for Notre Dame's special teams was Brindza, who converted 20 of 26 field-goal attempts while also adding on the responsibility of punting with former punter Ben Turk having graduated in May. 


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