Whew, that was close.
Notre Dame’s nail-biter against Arizona State was an escape it had to pull off. A loss there and the season would, most likely, have gone up in smoke. Three losses in six games would have put a mighty ugly face on the 2013 Irish campaign. Nosing out the Sun Devils was an absolute season-saver.
As it is, the Irish record of 4 and 2 is nothing to boast about but, at least, it keeps the Domers in the BCS hunt. For now. And yet, one more stumble and they’re dead on arrival. After frustrating losses to Michigan and Oklahoma, the Irish have no more wiggle room. They must now win out from here in order to take a seat at the BCS table.
But don’t expect this version of the Irish to do so. They’re just too undependable, spotty and inconsistent. There’s not one phase of this team you can count on to be productive, game in and game out.
Four years into the Brian Kelly experience, this writer expected much more from the Irish. Sorry, but those aforementioned games against the Wolverines and Sooners were there for the taking. But, in so many ways, the Irish beat themselves. That shouldn’t be happening at this point in time. If you get outplayed that’s one thing but to self-destruct is quite another. At this stage, the Irish should never be their own worst enemy. But in 2013, they’ve done some serious self-inflicted damage.
With six games remaining, it’s hard to see the Irish going unscathed to reach the BCS-required 10 and 2 mark. Stanford will be a clear-cut favorite to get the best of ND and it would come as little surprise if the Irish, given their current state, falter against either USC or BYU. This team has convinced no one that they’re for real or are all that legit. The fact that the Domers reside outside the Top 25 validates that they’re not highly regarded. The perception is that this team is just a shade above ordinary or mediocre. Nothing about it suggests anything special.
In reviewing the season so far, the only player who has been consistently good has been the ultra competitive wideout TJ Jones, who leads the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (481). But beyond him, nobody has constantly produced.
As predicted by this reporter, Tommy Rees hasn’t exactly shined. Yes, true to his previous pattern, he’s enjoyed some spurts of good play but his propensity for committing the big mistake is still quite prevalent. His costly interceptions versus Michigan and Oklahoma were game-changers and game-killers. Even at this advanced stage of his college career, Rees remains an accident waiting to happen. And his inferior completion percentage of 51.7% is a strong indicator that accuracy isn’t his strong suit. It’s not surprising that Notre Dame is ordinary because that perfectly describes their quarterback.
And while Rees hasn’t set the world on fire, neither has the Irish running game, Too many times, ND has had difficulty moving the ball by land. Ground chuck it hasn’t been. The big uglies on the offensive line have been unable to consistently carve out holes upfront. And while backs like George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have had their moments, no one has emerged as that go-to guy. The running game must show a significant upgrade in the season’s second half, if only to lessen the reliance on Rees, who seems incapable of lifting a team without lots of help.
Coming into the year, it was assumed that ND’s defense would be stout and a rock upon which to build. But alas, that rock has too often crumbled. Repeatedly, the Irish “D” has struggled and failed to deliver key stops. The problems have been many and varied.
Lack of containment on the outside and perimeter has been a glaring weakness. So has allowing a disturbing number of third-and-long conversions. The inability to generate any semblance of a dependable rush has also created plenty of stress. And opposing quarterbacks have struck gold by scrambling from the pocket and thereafter, finding huge expanses of open field staring them in the face. Breakdowns have been commonplace across the board.
Down lineman and preseason All-American candidates Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt have made some impact but their level of play hasn’t been quite comisserate with the high expectations attached to them. Overall, the linebacking corps has been decent but nothing more substantial than that. And the secondary has been burned at an unacceptable rate with cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell, predicted to be stalwarts on the back end, not playing up to that standard.
Put it all together and this is a defense still in search of an identity and devoid of any sort of swagger. If the defense doesn’t begin to immediately tighten things up, the Irish are going to be in for a world of hurt.
Under Kelly, Notre Dame should be beyond just tolerable or passable seasons. At the bare minimum, what constitutes very good years must become the norm. And that means, including a bowl game, at least a 10-win total. Under none but the most extenuating circumstances, should ND ever lose more than three contests during the course of a campaign. Anything below that threshold must be considered a major disappointment and clear underachievement.
At 4 and 2 and with a team dogged by unpredictable tendencies, this Notre Dame season could go in almost any direction. It’s anyone’s guess where the Irish head from here. Really, is anyone confident enough in this group to trust them to come through when it matters the most? The ASU getaway provided the Irish with a reprieve. but will it be a springboard to more promising things to come or merely a stopgap that only delays an inevitable letdown?
A season hangs in the balance. It teeters this way and that. Will it end up standing on its’ own merits or will it topple over and fall? The year’s final six games will determine whether Brian Kelly has constructed something reliable and strong or a program that hasn’t yet shaken the regression gene from its’ DNA.
Source: www.und.com-Football-Stats-Cumulative Season Statistics/ Individual Statistics.