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Failure: A Notre Dame Retrospective

Written by Liam Gaudet|Senior Editor|Twitter/X: @LiamGaudetIT

Photo by The Tampa Bay Times


I was only 12 years old when Notre Dame football broke my heart for the first time. It was the 7th of January, 2013 when the Irish, a Cinderella story, took the field against an Alabama Crimson Tide team that featured college football's most elite roster. Notre Dame had finished the season 12-0 with marquee wins against Oklahoma, USC and others. Lead by their Heisman finalist linebacker Manti Te'o, they took the field to play for a national championship against a well-established championship roster. From the opening whistle, it was obvious that Notre Dame didn't belong on that field. Eddie Lacy, Amari Cooper and A.J. McCarron proceeded to run the Irish off the field to the tune of 42-14. The game was over before it even started, and I was mortified. How could Notre Dame come this far only to roll over on the biggest stage? I didn't know it at the time, but that would be a question I would continue to ask myself over the course of the next decade.


After the events of Saturday night, which I have decided to coin as "The Buckeye Breakdown", one has to wonder if Notre Dame football is hexed. Outside of wins against Clemson (without Trevor Lawrence) in 2020, and again last season in a down year, Notre Dame refuses to rise to the occasion when the lights are the brightest. The loss to Ohio State this past Saturday almost feels like the culmination of all of the factors that have contributed to this pattern of abysmal performance came to a crescendo for the entire world to see. I'd like to take a moment to break down some of the components which have lead to the same backbreaking results over the last decade or so as it relates to Notre Dame in key games.


Game Planning and Strategy

Photo by Sports Illustrated


One of the biggest, and also most warranted complaints I tend to hear from this fanbase after a loss is how the Irish attempted to win these games. Often times, when outmatched in terms of raw talent, Notre Dame employs the comforting tactic of predictable and safe football. This is largely on the offensive staff, as it's been incredibly common to watch Notre Dame trot out onto the field against an opponent and attempt to halfback dive their way to victory. Spoiler Alert: The only time this has ever worked was against Clemson last season, and teams have figured this out. Now I realize this also goes hand in hand with being outmatched in terms of talent - don't worry I'll touch on that too - but for now, I want to make a point of how painfully predictable of a pattern this has become. In every top 10 matchup, college football playoff appearance or new year's six bowl game - it's been run the ball until the wheels fall off. It doesn't always work - every opposing team KNOWS you are going to do this. Why not attack differently? Keep them guessing early? Spread the ball around and attack the perimeter instead of slamming the rock between the tackles into a front seven that's been practicing stopping this scenario all week in practice. It's tiring. It might be our strength, but no team wins a big time game by playing within the confines of their comfort zone. If it's not working - try something else. It's really that simple.

That leads me into my second coaching quandry. The absolute lack of adjustments that are made during halftime or on the fly. Einstein's definition of insanity is seared into my brain at this point. Go watch the Fiesta Bowl highlights against Oklahoma State from two years ago and see how both teams came out of the tunnel to start the third quarter as a perfect example. Notre Dame couldn't adjust on the fly, and virtually handed the Pokes a 25 point come from behind win. The Navy game from last year might not have been a "big game" but it's another perfect example of what I'm trying to paint a picture of. Does 12 yards of total offense in the second half against a group of 5 team sound like a team or coaching staff that is capable of making meaningful adjustments on the fly? Stop beating a dead horse and have a plan B when plan A inevitably fails. Or better yet, be a little less predictable, and a little more brazen when the time calls for it.


The Talent Disparity


I'll start here by saying that I will never question the effort of Marcus Freeman on the recruiting trail. It's my firm belief that if Coach Freeman was at Notre Dame pre-NIL, the Irish would have a top 5 class consistently based on the effort of the staff alone. However, for NIL or other reasons, the recruiting results still aren't moving the needle. This isn't to say things haven't been better under Freeman, but they just aren't where they need to be in order to compete on the national stage. This was incredibly obvious during this weekend's game at Ohio State. The Ohio state defensive line lead by elite talent J.T. Tuimoloau rose to the occasion on the last offensive drive from the Irish, sacking Sam Hartman and almost intercepting a screen pass to secure a final Buckeye possession - the type of output you would expect from a bona fide 5-star talent like Tuimoloau. On the other end of the spectrum, Notre Dame's defensive line was rather quiet outside of a solid - but not gamebreaking - performance from Javontae Jean-Baptiste. It makes me wonder just how much of a difference a Keon Keeley or Elijah Rushing would have made in this game.

And of course, outside of Notre Dame hitting the lottery in transfer QB Sam Hartman, the talent at this position in previous big games was often the reason the coaches reverted to such rudimentary game management. I will say, however, the staff is absolutely doing their best to change that narrative with the recent pledges of high 4-star talents in CJ Carr and Deuce Knight, but it was still a persistent issue in the past. Having to send Ian Book or Tyler Buchner out to compete against some of the sport's greatest defenses significantly crippled the passing attack - but it also didn't mean the team needed to be one dimensional either, which relates back to my first point.


The Philosophy/Mentality


I'm not entirely sure how you quantify "The Freeman Factor", but for me it hasn't really translated to on the field results in year two. Brian Kelly's "business trip" mindset also never seemed to set the tone for big games in any way, shape or form. The mentality and philosophy the coaching staff at Notre Dame has attempted to utilize in make or break matchups has always missed the mark. Often times, the team comes out completely deflated on offense, or looks entirely lost on defense in the early stages of any big matchup. The importance of a fast start can not be understated, especially with so much on the line in these games. Starting fast is the reason the Irish were able to beat Clemson in 2020 and 2022, and in virtually every other big game the past decade, they've come out the gates completely timid and cautious. This stems entirely from the philosophy and mentality preached from the staff downward, and needs a complete overhaul. Do you know how much of a difference a touchdown on the first drive of the game would have made against Ohio State in both last year's game and this year's game? It's time to rethink the mindset and philosophy, because whatever is being said or done prior to kickoff isn't helping the team start fast and physical.


The Big Picture


The idea that Notre Dame can't compete for national championships, or is irrelevant is completely laughable. The Irish were a yard away from most likely being a top four team in this week's AP poll ranking, yet decided to fold once more when the clock struck midnight on a game where the Irish were the better team through 60 minutes. Cracking down on the items listed above and taking a hard look at the inner workings of the program should hopefully yield more favorable results in the future, but for now - we're stuck in such a familiar and painful situation. Something has to change eventually. The good news? The Irish will have a few more shots under the lights against some serious talent this season, and will look to start mending the wounds of the Irish faithful nationwide. Until that opportunity comes - we must wait patiently and hold firm in the belief that this team is capable of taking that final step forward.

2 comentários


Convidado:
28 de set. de 2023

This column gives voice to the thoughts of decades of zealous Irish apologists. That's what numerous of us have become. Telling ourselves and our mocking opponents why we are chronically a class or a coach,or a player away. Well,34 years is enough of that silly shit. This school has lost plenty in the decades since Coach Lou was here. Since he was, we've suffered an unbroken series of failures, flops,goofs,and industrial strength ineptitude. No one in the athletic department is going to ask me,but until I see the salad days of genuine success....Marcus Freeman is setting up to be the dose of mediocrity we've languished under for seemingly forever. The "Notre Dame Victory March" has lost its' seriousness.

Curtir

Convidado:
27 de set. de 2023

ND is politialy correct. Woke goes broke. They ruined nd stadium now these putrid uniforms. One time nd recruited working class players that were not afraid of getting dirt under thier nails

Curtir
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