The Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter their bye week at 2-5, looking for answers to their heap of problems.
But with one of the worst records in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision, solutions aren't so simple. Several issues are compounded with another mistake...and another...and so on.
This piece will highlight a few of Notre Dame's biggest problems, but it's not a comprehensive list of what the Fighting Irish need to address during the week off.
Like head coach Brian Kelly has said, it starts with the staff.
"We've got to do a better job coaching," he said following the loss to Michigan State, according to JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago. "That's on me, (it) starts with me."
However, the coaching struggles have mostly continued, and they flared up in a big way during the recent loss to Stanford. Kelly pulled quarterback DeShone Kizer from the game in hopes of a spark despite Kizer being the only offensive player actually producing.
Kizer threw his first interception where he still made the correct read. Equanimeous St. Brown had an inside release on a post route. Kizer was slightly late on the throw, and Quenton Meeks took advantage. During the next possession, Kizer launched an arm punt on fourth down because Hunter Bivin and Alex Bars whiffed on a double-team, allowing immediate pressure.
Bad plays? Sure. Worth getting pulled over? No way. Nevertheless, Kelly yanked Kizer and inserted Malik Zaire, who failed to pick up a first down on three drives and watched one terrible snap sail over his head, resulting in a safety.
Kizer wasn't perfect, but this season, he's had no other choice than to try to do everything for Notre Dame.
Heading into the 2016 campaign, the offensive line was expected to be a strength. That hasn't been the case.
According to Football Outsiders, the Irish are averaging a meager 2.55 yards on standard-down runs, which ranks 114th out of 128 offenses Additionally, the 11.8 percent standard-down sack rate is the third-worst mark in the country.
Kizer being second on the team in rushing isn't necessarily a problem. Considering he's averaging 40.7 yards per game and is less than 20 yards behind the No. 1 runner (Josh Adams, 59.4), however, that's a major issue.
So not only does Kizer not have time to target a batch of young receivers, but the running game also isn't helping. Notre Dame shouldn't expect much more from a quarterback who has accounted for 71.1 percent of the team's offense.
And Kizer should be able to expect he'll stay in the game, but he can't.
On the other side of the ball, the Irish have showed a few promising signs since the dismissal of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. After an awful opening half against Syracuse, the unit has allowed 17 total points, which is both respectable and misleading.
Hurricane conditions stunted both Notre Dame and North Carolina State, while Stanford was without 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey. The Irish limited points, but the starting running backs for both teams averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry and helped seal the wins.
|Notre Dame Remaining Schedule|
|Nov. 19||Virginia Tech||4-2|
The run defense hasn't surrendered many big plays, so it's gone from "really bad" against Texas to "simply average." Although that may be encouraging for Fighting Irish fans, it's a problem that a mediocre run defense is the best part of the unit.
Shane Buechele (Texas), Tyler O'Connor (Michigan State) and Daniel Jones (Duke) picked apart Notre Dame's secondary. Each of those players is talented, but the trio hardly compares to what's coming next in Brad Kaaya (Miami), Jerod Evans (Virginia Tech) and Sam Darnold (USC).
The issues start up front but aren't limited to the pass rush. Only five teams have fewer than the Irish's six season sacks. While the lack of pressure doesn't help men in coverage, the secondary has the seventh-worst havoc rate, per Football Outsiders.
Mike Vorel of the South Bend Tribune noted Notre Dame had one sack during four games with VanGorder but already has five sacks in three games under Greg Hudson. If you're an Irish fan looking for a silver lining, that's probably a good one.
Although Notre Dame's championship dreams are a distant memory, a 4-1 finish followed by a bowl victory would provide a calm period in South Bend. But that's not going to happen without significant improvement during and after the bye week.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.