Notre Dame football is 1-3. The sky is now falling. Knee-jerk reactions on the Kelly regime are flying around. I’m sure soon I’ll be reading how ND can’t recruit with the rest of college football and doesn’t have the speed to compete as well. Some people my also be wondering why we can’t have a coach like Harbaugh and a team like Stanford.
Then there are those crazy people like myself who actually take a step back and look at the big picture. An Irish fan that, while disappointed, is far from ready to hit the panic button.
I’ll do the statistical analysis in another post soon, but as far as my personal reaction to the game, the better team won plain and simple. Yes, Stanford is far better than Notre Dame right now and anyone shocked by this fact hasn’t been paying attention to college football the past couple of years. Stanford is a team now ranked #9 in the county, 4th in points for, 12th in points against, 19th in total rushing, and their narrowest margin of victory is 23. They are good, damn good.
The Irish, however, are not that damned bad.
No, I haven’t lost it. Let’s just take a look at the Stanford game for a quick second. Stanford’s narrowest margin of victory is 23 and the team that was against? Notre Dame. The first defense to make Andrew Luck turn the ball over? Notre Dame. Before this game, Stanford was #1 in pass defense giving up only 90 yards/game. After ND: now 11th with their average bumped up to 144.25 yards/game.
Michigan State had to perfectly execute a ballsy fake FG to beat us. Michigan had a last minute TD drive to defeat us (and a half without our best player).
To sum up the Irish’s current situation, it’s time to channel good ‘ol Dr. Lou: “Things are never as good as they seem and things are never as bad as they seem.” We don’t have to look that far back into ND’s recent history to prove this fact.
Of course, the Lou Holtz first year comparisons are obvious. His first year started with consecutive losses against Michigan and Michigan State, a victory against Purude, and a loss to Alabama. Yep, good ‘ol Lou started 1-3 himself on his way to a 5-6 season and much like Kelly, his initial losses are quite similar as far as margin goes: two one score losses, a solid win, and a multiple score loss.
But wait, what about Bob Davie?! He also started 1-3 AND lost to Stanford the following week! Well, that Stanford team was also 5-6 that season and his one win to start was 17-13 against a very mediocre Georgia Tech team that finished 7-5 that season.
Great first seasons aren’t exactly a fantastic measuring stick of how well a coach will do during his tenure. Look no further than Ty Willingham who had a 10-3 first season and Charlie Weis who had not one, but two great seasons at 9-3 and 10-3. The end result of those three amazing rides though were the same: the Irish were on the wrong side of a bowl game ass-kicking. Things weren’t as nearly as great as they seemed then.
For those wondering why we can’t be the kind of running, pound-it-down-your-throat team like Stanford and having such a great coach like Harbaugh, I wonder how many of your would’ve liked his first few seasons. Harbaugh took over a 1-11 team and improved them to only 4-8, which one of those losses coming against the woeful 2007 Irish team that was 3-9. Of course, he did manage to throw in an crazy upset against USC that I’m sure helped to ease the pain. His second season wasn’t much better though. Stanford went 5-7 and USC got their revenge. Last year though, Stanford turned the corner and went 8-5, which included a USC curb-stomping that I will forever love him for.
Now they are 4-0 and #9 in the nation.
Kelly’s starting situation is not nearly as dire as Harbaugh’s was, but he still has quite a bit to overcome. The fact of the matter is that he took over a 6-6 team whose two biggest stars decided to leave early and go play football on Sundays. Dayne Crist’s timetable got bumped up in a hurry and a huge hole was left in the WR corps to start everything off. Both Willingham and Weis had the luxury of not only having upperclassmen as their starting QBs, but also QBs that had at least a full season of starting under their belts. Both Holiday and Quinn also had receivers that stepped up for them in big ways during their great runs.
ND may still have Floyd and a damned good TE in Rudolph, but Crist is still very green and there isn’t much that we can do about that. It’s going to take time for him to get better and not only adjust to Kelly’s new offense, but being a starting college QB in general. I’m definitely critical of his pocket presence and accuracy (or lack thereof), but take a look at Quinn and Clausen in their first year under the helm and the results were not pretty either.
Add on to that with the fact that Kelly took over a woeful defense that could use another ten Manti T’eos. There has been some marked improvement, but this has been a recruiting gap for years that is slowly (but hopefully, surely) getting its holes plugged in.
That’s the current reality that this team is in as of right now. If Crist doesn’t get his head knocked around against Michigan and Calabrese is able to jam his man for a second longer on the fake FG, and we could very well be 3-1 and saying today “damn, we got beat by a good team, that sucks, let’s go get BC next week.”
The season is far from dead. Winning out isn’t very likely, but a chance to improve on last season is definitely well within reach. Sure, it would be a disappointment to many, but you first have to stop the bleeding before the wound begins to heal. Make no mistake, this program has been bleeding since 2007 and even an offense headed by Clausen, Tate, Floyd, and Rudolph couldn’t stop it.
When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you have to honestly ask yourself if the current results are really all that surprising. Sure, we all get swept in by the optimism that a regime change can bring, and we can all be disappointed in the current results that we are seeing, but folks never forget that it could be worse, it could be FAR, FAR worse: