December 11, 2009, Brian Kelly was introduced as the 29th Head Football Coach at the University of Notre Dame. Moments after the thank you’s and the room grew silent , he said “We hear about academic standards. That is what the mission is of this University. That is the mission of Notre Dame, excellence in academics and athletics, and I wanted that challenge, and I’m excited about that challenge, that you can do it both in the classroom and be prominent in the athletic arena, as well”
Brian Kelly stepped to the podium, looked out into the crowd, and accepted the challenge. Albeit though, this time it felt different, there was a buzz, and almost immediately the embarrassment that was Charlie Weis was forgotten. New coach, new culture, and a new attitude to go with it.
Well, if it’s a challenge he wanted, they don’t come much bigger than this. Coming off of an awful 4-8 2016 season, how does he get the players to believe that the Brian Kelly system is working? Or will work for years to come? That last year was more of a fluke than a precursor to what happens next? Lastly, is winning a National Championship still possible at the University of Notre Dame?
On the surface it appears that there is more questions than there are answers, and last year gave us very little indication as to what this team is capable of doing, outside of losing close games. A shiny new quarterback, with speed, a lively arm, showed flashes last year, but didn’t wow anyone in the spring game. A new defensive coordinator should help, but will it be enough?
Can the defense step up late, and close out games? When the offense needs to get back on the field, can Mike Elko find someone he can count on to get a stop, make a play on the ball, and who knows perhaps get a damn sack? When it’s 3rd and 2 , and the game is on the line, can they fill the gap and hit someone in the mouth to stop the first down? Questions. Questions. Questions.
The Irish had eight losses last year, seven of which came by a touchdown or less, but let’s take a closer look at those games. More importantly time of possession in those losses. In all eight, the Irish lost the battle in time of possession. Meaning the defense couldn’t keep anyone off the field, and thus keeping the Irish offense on the sidelines. 32:42 minutes for Texas, 37:57 for Michigan St., 30:35 for Duke, 32:51 for Stanford, 33:53 for Navy, 32:45 for Virginia Tech, 31:03 for USC, which by the way, also ran for 207 rushing yards. Questions. Questions. Questions.
There will surely be a lot of “well we lost seven games by a touchdown or less, so we’re close” comments leading up to kick off. BUT it’s much deeper than wins and losses. When your defense is giving up 500 total yards, and over 150 plus rushing yards in some of those losses. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s gonna be very hard to win football games, losing time of possession every week. Two things are happening, your offense is off the field and your defense isn’t getting stops.
I would like to think that the 2017 season goes much better for the Fighting Irish. That they rattle off 12 wins, and get into the playoffs. That’s the homer in me. I love Notre Dame, the sound of the band, Touchdown Jesus, the grotto, the sounds, the smells, seeing the team come out of the tunnel EVERY SINGLE TIME, and hopefully the new jumbotron. (Yes it was time for that upgrade).
However, the clock is ticking, we all know 4-8 isn’t good enough, but neither is mediocrity. The Irish faithful are tired, and growing more impatient. You accepted the challenge Brian Kelly, and we want the results, it’s NOW OR NEVER.