The Irish were by no means perfect on Saturday—three more turnovers, giving them 13 for the season—but they were able to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2007 with a 31-13 win over the No. 15 ranked Michigan State Spartans.
With the convincing win, Brian Kelly may have very well lived to fight another day.
An 0-3 start would have been hard enough to swallow in its own right and the prospect of back-to-back road games coming up would have likely catapulted Kelly to dead man walking status.
Notre Dame has shown flashes of brilliance all season long and the difference between winning and losing against the Spartans was that the Irish were finally able to overcome their turnovers.
Quarterback Tommy Rees had a fumble and an interception on a badly under-thrown ball, and a muffed punt in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter had the Irish faithful wondering why Notre Dame is so set on giving away games.
Luckily for Kelly, his defense stepped up when it mattered and the Irish were spared another heart-breaking loss followed by a week of what could have been.
Although Kelly bought himself some breathing room with this victory, don’t expect it to last.
Fair or not, the expectations at Notre Dame are as high as those at any school in the country. Should the Irish fall next week to Pittsburgh—who blew a 17-point lead against Iowa on Saturday—the calls for Kelly’s head will start-up all over again.
If the second-year head coach wants to keep his fans happy and his office in South Bend, the Irish are going to need to continue their winning ways.
To stay in the win column, Kelly has to find a way to address the turnover problem.
Notre Dame’s inability to keep the football cost them the South Florida and Michigan games, and it should have resulted in a loss against Michigan State on Saturday.
Teams can’t consistently win games—let alone contend for championships—when they are averaging over four turnovers a game.
Brian Kelly is safe, but for how long?
Unless Tommy Rees and the Irish learn to hold on to the football in a hurry, we’ll be having this conversation every week this season.