A week after one of the most humiliating losses in recent Irish history it was imperative that Notre Dame come back with a vengeance against Tulsa. After 8 games into Kelly’s tenure, to the dismay of the Irish faithful, ND had posted an average record of 4 – 4. I use that word average because that’s exactly what it was. Not too good and not so bad that they are going to pull the plug on the football program altogether. Average as it is, that is not enough. This past week’s game failed to bring back hope to ND nation that Kelly is now realizing the grand stage that he is on and that to prove the naysayers wrong he needs to show signs of change during the final 4 games of the season. Prior to Tulsa, I said that the true test of Kelly’s coaching ability and the direction of this team will be in how he finishes the season after a less than auspicious start.
To look forward we must first briefly look back at how they got here. This has been a season of inconstancy all across the board. At times the offense looked great and the defense looked respectable. At other times, not so much. They couldn’t put away games against lesser opponents in the third quarter like they should have. Purdue and Pitt were much closer than need be. Kelly and the Irish looked eerily similar to the Weis era and couldn’t close out tight games against Michigan and Michigan State. You can blame injuries, but poor planning and lack of adjustments on defense didn’t give ND much of a chance against Stanford or Navy.
Had the Irish closed out the close games against the top two teams in the state of Michigan and put together a better defensive scheme and shown more discipline on offense against Stanford and Navy, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Notre Dame would probably have been sitting at 7 – 1 or at least 6 – 2 going into the Tulsa game with much more confidence and team unity which would have more than likely led to a victory. Instead of demanding Kelly’s head and wondering when things will change, we would be talking about how he is the savior of Touchdown Jesus and what major bowl game the Fighting Irish are going to play in.
Sadly enough that is not the case. So once again here we are in a transitional period of a difficult season where it’s time to show if we can weather the storm and fight through the injuries and previous miscues to come out of the season with some dignity and a more positive outlook on what will hopefully be Kelly’s legacy.
Coming into the season very few would have thought Tulsa would be a respectable opponent. However, due to a mediocre record and multiple issues on both sides of the ball, ND was only slightly favored come Saturday morning. The test would become even harder when starting quarterback Dayne Crist went down early in the 1st quarter with a season ending knee injury. Freshman Tommy Rees came into the game and stepped up at first throwing for 3 touchdowns before ending the half with two momentum shifting picks (one being for a td). Going into the half ND was only up by 2 points with several questions still unanswered for the Irish.
Now the weight was being put on freshman Rees’ shoulders to step up more than ever in the second half and give the rest of the team some hope that the season wasn’t over. Personally, I don’t know if you could have asked for more from a freshman quarterback who up until Tulsa had only seen limited playing time this season. At times he showed promise and led the team, but only to finish with a game ending 3rd interception in the end zone on a poor thrown ball to Michael Floyd. Possibly the worst play call by Kelly this season. Another devastating defeat leaves the Irish with too many questions going into the last quarter of the season
These last few games of the season will now be harder than ever as the Irish once again try to battle back from another loss. After some tough defeats in a season plagued with injuries, BK and the Fighting Irish have their biggest feat ahead of them if they’re going to have any chance to show the nation that they are still relevant in college football.
Ahead of us now are a tough Utah team, an up and coming Army program, and USC, who has always presented a challenge for the Irish. If Notre Dame is going to have a fighting chance in these final games then they must play at least as well as the team that nearly knocked off highly ranked Michigan State and not like the team that we’ve seen multiple times this year lose close games on poor playing and poor coaching. The defense is still going through their struggles and now so is the offense too. So now you have a new starting quarterback and company that need to attack their opponent every possession. We will ask a lot of our new freshman starter if we will have any chance at all. No inconsistencies. No more mistakes. No more strategic errors. That may be too much to ask.
Kelly said he wanted Notre Dame to be playing their best football of the season come November. Well here we are coach. It’s time. Injuries have plagued the Irish all year. It’s a good argument, but it’s not an excuse for losing in the fashion that they have. I’m not counting Kelly out as this is his first season in South Bend, but I’m still not completely convinced and there needs to be some signs in the last few games if we can hold out hope for the future.