Tag Archives: brian kelly

Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 1)

The powers that be must have read my complaint about last year’s Week 1 schedule because there are a lot of big games kicking off the 2018 campaign.  Here’s what you should know about each one going in:

Continue reading Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 1)

Total Coaching Overhaul Gives Kelly Fresh Start

On Monday, DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced Special Teams Coach Scott Booker would not be returning for 2017. On Wednesday it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford would be returning to Western Kentucky University to serve as head coach. Defensive Coordinator Greg Hudson is entering his first full year as Irish Defensive Coordinator, and Brian Kelly has a brand new team ahead of him for next season.

The pressure will be immense for him, and his seat may be starting to get warm. He must succeed next year, and I think for him that means winning a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum. He’s got the coaching ability to do it, and he’s proved it before. In 2012, with brand new starting quarterback Everett Golson, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the National Championship. In 2015, behind a brand new starting QB in Malik Zaire, the Irish won their opener against Texas and then a combined effort from Zaire and Kizer following the former’s injury earned a win against Virginia. Kizer won 9 of the next 11 games, and the Irish played in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2017, Brandon Wimbush will take over. Kelly knows how to coach a first-year quarterback and Wimbush has been touted as more talented than all the aforementioned shot-callers.

Despite the disappointing 4-8 season, the Irish did not play bad football. According to S&P+ rankings, the Irish were 25th in the country. Ranking top 40 in both offense and defense, it was mental mistakes and big plays that killed the Irish. Despite 7 losses by 8 points or less and a tough loss against Adoree Jackson and USC, and not once did the Irish lay down, quit, or throw a temper tantrum.

The offense will be good again next year. A standout receiver core will return all key playmakers, with the exception of Torii Hunter, Jr. Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will look to run through holes created by an offensive line that hopes to be much improved from last year.

Defensively, after the tumultuous beginning to what was the end of Brian VanGorder’s reign as Defensive Coordinator, Greg Hudson took over and reformed the defense. Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Te’von Coney return to lead the Irish linebacker core, and a young and beat up Irish secondary will be healthy and experienced next year.

On the Special Teams side of things, mistakes killed Notre Dame. Kickoff returns, punt returns, missed field goals, bad punts, all cost the Irish precious points on both sides of the ball. Kickoff man John Chereson is graduating, thus leaving an opening for new specialist playmakers, such as fellow walk-on Jeff Riney, Riney spent this season as the backup to Tyler Newsome, but with a new coach and player turnover, Riney may find himself taking the weight off Newsome or field goal kicker Justin Yoon.

A brand new Notre Dame team will take the field against Temple next season, but there is one key consistency: this team still believes in Brian Kelly. Despite the fairly large outcry against him, Kelly has the backing of the players, the donors, and the Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. While there is a lot of time before the 2017 season kicks off, the Irish squadron is looking primed to succeed. I should know, I already wagered they’d finish 11-1 or better. Go Irish, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Notre Dame Basketball is What Football Needs to Become

After a disappointing 4-8 campaign this year, Brian Kelly and the Irish football program are under an immense amount of pressure to succeed next year. Rumors are circulating every day about the future of Kelly, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, backup quarterback Malik Zaire and more.

Just a few steps east of Notre Dame Stadium, however, things are going just fine for Mike Brey and the Irish basketball squad. Sitting at 7-0 and coming off of a big win against Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Brey’s ragtag bunch of hustle players are still exceeding expectations.

Against Iowa, the Irish seemed to be cruising heading into halftime, but with 3:30 left the Hawkeyes turned it on. Iowa finished the half on a 13-0 run, cutting the Irish lead to two.

Coming out of the break, the two teams were evenly matched until Matt Farrell buried a three-pointer with 14:36 left in the second half. That shot won the game for the Irish. Of course, there was much more game to be played, but for the next 5 minutes of the game, the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center was rocking. The Irish were invincible, as they went on a 17-4 run and took physical and emotional control of the game before winning 92-78.

The point is that the environment in the arena was everything these past few years have not been for the football team. Notre Dame has historically been a very welcoming place, where traveling fans feel respected and accepted. However, in the past few years, the atmosphere has declined greatly.

While Notre Dame Stadium has never been on the level of Death Valley, Doak Campbell, or the Big House, it has historically been a difficult place to play. When visiting teams took the field, there was a climate and culture of “Welcome to Notre Dame, we’re going to destroy you.” Teams visiting Notre Dame for the first time struggled to establish themselves and win in South Bend. Teams that were used to playing there, like Michigan, USC and Stanford, didn’t expect to come in and win easily. That has definitively changed.

Teams tend to assume the persona and attitude of the coach. Mike Brey, the energetic, hyped, motivational coach has charged this basketball team and propelled it to exceed expectations year after year. Brian Kelly has transformed from explosive, volatile, purple-faced monster to emotionless, resigned, disappointed coach. The team has transformed into the same. The Irish teams since the miraculous 2012 run have been lacking a spark, a fire that is essential to a culture of winning.

Since Kelly has taken over, eight teams have ventured to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time: Virginia Tech (L – 2016), UMass (W – 2015), Louisville (L – 2014), Temple (W – 2013), Wake Forest (W – 2012) South Florida (L – 2011), Tulsa (L – 2010), Utah (W – 2010). A .500 record is not a culture of asserting dominance and winning at home.

Now, don’t take that to mean that I think he should be fired. Notre Dame cannot upgrade from him right now. With that in mind, it’s better to choose the known evil with a possible upside than to dive headfirst into the cesspool of head coaching vacancy. So, the Irish are in the undesirable position of being stuck with an underwhelming head coach instead of being behind him and fully supportive of him. Kelly has underperformed in almost every way as head coach at the University of Notre Dame: He hasn’t won a title, he’s been the focus of two academic scandals and he’s had a losing season (three, technically, if you count the two seasons of wins that were vacated). He must succeed next year, and I think that means winning at least 11 games, whether that be 11 in the regular season or 10 games and a bowl game.

The atmosphere surrounding Notre Dame football will improve as the team starts winning – that’s just how it goes. But even still, it’s difficult to improve when the traveling fans out-cheer and sometimes seem to outnumber the home faithful. Until next year Irish fans, keep your heads up and remain hopeful. 275 days, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander, or via email: [email protected].

Flickr: Eric Fredericks

Special Teams Causing Special Problems for the Irish

Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami was precisely the type of game that sends my emotions every which way before finally settling in one of two places: complete and total jubilation, or utter, gut-wrenching heartache. Luckily for everyone sitting near me in section 32, it was the former.

A 41-yard Josh Adams touchdown tied the game with 5:53 to go, and after a quick defensive stop, a 34-yard, soul-sucking drive saw Brian Kelly and the Irish milk every bit of the clock, though not intentionally. After efficiently marching down to the 7-yard line, a short dump-off to Durham Smythe looked sure to score the go-ahead touchdown. I leaped with joy as he seemed to cross the goal line and then screamed in terror as the football popped out of his arms.

Much to the dismay of the Miami player who came sprinting out of the pile, fist pumping exuberantly, the referee signaled that the Irish retained the ball. That set up a 23-yard chip shot for which I was far more nervous that I should have been (for no reason at all).

If Justin Yoon hadn’t made this field goal, if Notre Dame didn’t recover that fumble, this would have been a much different article. Instead, the Irish are 3-5, and with 2 games against the military academies coming up, they will hopefully be back to .500 by the next time there’s a kickoff at Notre Dame stadium.

But there was a deeply concerning factor in the game against Miami that has reared its ugly head over the course of this season: special teams errors.

Brian Kelly has come under fire over the past few seasons regarding his special teams decisions. He went for two against Clemson last year and failed, which forced him to go for two later in the game, which the Irish also failed to convert. This year against Stanford, Kelly had DeShone Kizer punt the ball on 4th and 8 from the Stanford 37; later in the game, he went for it on 4th and 7 from the Stanford 38, during which Kizer’s pass was intercepted.

But aside from poor special teams play calling, the specialists’ unit has made plenty of mistakes, including crucial mistakes in four of the five Irish losses.

Against Texas, a Justin Yoon field goal was blocked in the third quarter. Punter Tyler Newsome shanked a punt for 24 yards, which gave the Longhorns excellent field position late in the game, and they wound up scoring on that possession.

Against Michigan State, C.J. Sanders muffed a punt in the second quarter and the Spartans scored to take an 8-7 lead. Then Michigan State scored 28 more points.

Against Duke, Justin Yoon missed a 42-yard field goal attempt (the Irish lost by three) and the Blue Devils returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown.

Against NC State, the lone touchdown of the game came off of a blocked punt which the Wolfpack returned for a touchdown.

Stanford was the only loss in which the Irish did not have a special teams execution mistake, but as I mentioned earlier, Kelly’s decision making when it comes to punting versus going for it on 4th down is ambivalent.

This weekend against Miami, a short punt from the Canes bounced off of Troy Pride Jr.’s hand, which allowed Miami to score. Miami surprised the Irish with an onside kick, and Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked. C.J. Sanders also inexplicably tried to recover a punt that he had already tried to let go, but instead, he fumbled it into the endzone, where it was recovered by Miami.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Irish have had three blocked kicks, three muffed punts, and a kick return for a touchdown. That’s not great.

The good news for the Irish is that the two upcoming games against Army and Navy are chances to clean up mistakes and prepare for a tough senior day matchup with the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Go Irish; beat stupid mistakes.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Brian Kelly’s Seat Is Quite Comfortable, Actually

Notre Dame is bad this year. If you’ve been living under a rock since August, a Notre Dame team composed of four top 13 recruiting classes and a top 10 preseason ranking now sits at 2-5, in danger of missing a bowl game for the first time in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

However, Notre Dame is talented. Notre Dame has a bunch of good players and a good coach, but it’s having a bad year. The players are behind coach Kelly, and coach Kelly is behind his players. Despite all of that, this Irish team has dropped 5 games out of 7 by a combined 28 points. The Irish have put themselves in a position to win every game, but for whatever reason, they haven’t been able to do it. That’s not an attempt to rationalize the bewildering disappointment that I’ve seen on the field, but rather a statement on the current situation of Notre Dame football.

Each week, I hear the griping about how Kelly should be gone before the end of this season, and even read a blog post about why Notre Dame should never have hired Kelly. Those people must have forgotten that Kelly is responsible for recruiting and managing two of the best teams Notre Dame has had in the last 20 years (2012 and 2015).

Why, all of a sudden, are Notre Dame fans’ memories so short? For a fanbase that endlessly harkens back to the “good old days” and the last championship in ‘88, the Irish faithful seem ready and willing to forget that just last season the Irish were two plays and four points away from an undefeated regular season. Successful two-point conversions against Clemson and Stanford paint a very different picture for last season.

Yet many still insist that Kelly should be out of a job right now. I wholeheartedly agree that Kelly had made a slew of bad decisions and has mishandled this season in general. However, those are in no way grounds to fire him. He’s a great football coach, and as things stand right now, he’s the only available coach who can handle this job.

I’m strongly opposed to perpetuating the superiority complex that permeates the Notre Dame football community and fanbase, but the Notre Dame head coaching position is radically different from and more challenging than any other job in the country. There is no available coach who can fill that role successfully right now. Who can replace Kelly with success? Nick Saban isn’t leaving the SEC, let alone Alabama, and while Urban Meyer has said that he would be interested in the Notre Dame job, why would he take it when he has the momentum he does at the school in Columbus? Bobby Petrino is objectively a stellar football coach, but Notre Dame would never risk alumni donations by hiring a coach with such a checkered past. Other coaching options are Tom Herman from Houston, Kirk Ferentz from Iowa, or Bob Stoops from Oklahoma. Not to take anything away from any of these coaches, but right now, they wouldn’t be a better coach at Notre Dame than Kelly is right now.

The head coaching position at Notre Dame is an entirely different animal. The constant scrutiny and borderline unrealistic expectations put the head coach of the program in a perpetual ultimatum: win or be fired. And that’s just with regards to the football. The head coach of Notre Dame is also supposed to be a certain way, talk a certain way, act a certain way.

For instance, Kelly came under fire early in his tenure for being too angry and explosive on the sidelines. “Purple Face Kelly” was mocked and criticized nationwide, and soon after we saw a new Brian Kelly. The 2012 coach was more relaxed and seemed less inclined to curse out and berate his players. Kelly was now a coach and mentor, no longer a drill sergeant, and it paid off. Kelly and the 2012 Fighting Irish went undefeated and contended for the National Championship for the first time in 19 years.

Kelly’s job is only made more difficult by the fact that Notre Dame’s admissions standards are higher than most elite football schools. Kelly has to find players who will go to class, take care of business in the classroom, not get in trouble, and at the same time win football games. The University will not sacrifice for the football team, so Kelly has to make sure that his team can win football games, while at the same time being students at Notre Dame.

Kelly is Notre Dame’s coach. And while this season has not gone at all according to plan and the Irish are at risk of finishing 2-10, Kelly will not be fired this season, and rightfully so. He has proven that he can win at Notre Dame, and with the talent this team has, he is capable of winning again. He will be under slightly more pressure come next season, but Kelly is not on the hot seat.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected].

Image from Flickr – Matt Velasquez.

Brian Kelly’s 2016 season, who else can he blame?

Brian Kelly recently came under fire from SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum for his shifting of blame to other people. I hate to agree with anyone who associates himself with the SEC, but Finebaum has a point.

Kelly is a phenomenal football coach. Don’t get me wrong. He’s achieved great things at this great school, and he’s achieved great things at his previous schools.

In his seven years in the toughest coaching job in the country, he’s reinvigorated a Notre Dame team reeling in mediocrity and took it to a national championship. Last year Kelly took a beaten and battered squad to a New Year’s Six bowl. These high points just mask the reality of the Notre Dame situation.

Kelly is, almost without debate, the best coach this school has had since Lou Holtz, and I don’t think it’s time for him to go, in fact, I don’t think he’s on the hot seat yet. He must take responsibility for this season.

First, his equivocation on choosing a quarterback was a hindrance against Texas. I won’t go as far as to say that playing Malik Zaire for that handful of drives cost the Irish the game, but his continued efforts to stick to what he said about playing two quarterbacks, even after Kizer proved he was the guy, was confusing, to say the least.

Second, the defense is a wreck, and it’s not all Brian VanGorder’s fault. Kelly stuck his neck out for him at the end of last year, when there was talk of firing him. Then, when the defense turns out to be more porous than Swiss cheese and the entire student section is bellowing to fire the defensive coordinator instead of cheering on the team, only then does Kelly panic and fire him. It didn’t have to come to that.

Those things are not the coups de gras to a season, much less to a coaching career. What has sunk the ship this year has been Kelly’s unfathomable inability to take responsibility for what has happened on the field. After the Irish fell to Duke, 38-35 at home, he said that he was going to reevaluate all 22 positions. Then he turned around and said that he and his staff “did what [they] wanted in terms of coaching”. Um, wrong. After a loss like that, he shoves blame off on the 18-22-year-olds who follow his every barking order? That doesn’t fly.

Lucky for him, he turned it around and beat Syracuse the next week. Things settled down, and he dodged the spotlight, at least until last weekend. The “football” (I use parentheses because I didn’t know that football was played underwater) game that was played in Raleigh should never have happened. Hurricane Matthew has claimed multiple lives in the state of North Carolina alone and has displaced and affected countless more. Nevertheless, the game was on, and Kelly, as head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, had to adjust his game plan accordingly.

I’ve never coached football before, I only played for a week when I was 11 years old. But I know for a fact that when it’s raining sideways and the wind is blowing at 30+ mph, it’s not a good idea to throw the ball. Yet Kelly insisted on throwing the ball 26 times? I understand that DeShone Kizer is the best player on the team, but that doesn’t mean a team shouldn’t run the ball in a hurricane.

And then, after the game, when given a chance to justify his decisions, he blamed the center for snapping atrociously, in a hurricane.

It’s. His. Fault. And if he just accepts that and then moves forward from there, things can only get better. But instead, Kelly incessantly shifts blame to other people. The fact of the matter is that now the Irish are 2-4 and Kelly has apparently no clue how to right the ship because it’s always someone else’s fault. Oh, and have I mentioned that the Irish are yet to play a good team? The combined record of the Irish’s previous opponents is 17-17, and the only record above .500 in that group is NC State (4-1). The combined record of the Irish’s future opponents you may ask? It’s 23-10. Navy, Virginia Tech, and Miami are all top 25 teams, and the other three teams are no cupcakes (Stanford, USC, and Army).

It’s been a long year for Irish players, coaches, and fans alike, and it has the potential to only get longer. The first step on the road to improvement is to take responsibility for making it better, Coach? That’s on you.

E-mail John at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @John_Horlander.

Flickr: Matt Velasquez

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A Look Ahead- The Impending Coaching Carousel

We’re not even halfway through the college football season, but it’s never too early to start talking coaching moves. Especially this year, as we’ve already seen one high-profile head coached fired and the proverbial hot seat growing increasingly warmer for many more.

Here is a look at the status of a few big-time coaches that will likely be on the move during the offseason (or sooner):

Les Miles- Formerly LSU

Miles has already been fired by LSU this season after an 18-13 loss to Auburn. Many saw it coming. Some thought he would be let go last season, and it wasn’t until late in 2015 that Miles was told by Athletic Director Joe Alleva that he would keep his job and head back to LSU in 2016.

Miles is 141-55 during his coaching career, and 8-6 in bowl games. He’s won one national title, two SEC championships, and three SEC Western Division championships.

He’s expressed interest in returning to coaching soon, leaving no doubt that he will be leading a program in 2017.

Tom Herman- Houston

Unlike the rest of the coaches that will be mentioned in this article, Herman has no chance of being fired from his role at Houston.  However, his return is not likely.

After an incredibly successful stint as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, highlighted by a National Championship in 2014, Herman took over the Houston program in 2015. He led the Cougars to a 13-1 record, American Athletic Conference Championship, and Peach Bowl victory in his first season.

The Cougars were upset by Navy Saturday, but that won’t stop big programs from heavily pursuing Herman. He’ll be the hottest commodity on the market when the coaching carousel really gets spinning.

LSU has already inquired.

It’s very likely Herman will take the money and run when this season ends.

Charlie Strong- Texas

Before Strong took over the Texas program in 2014, Longhorns fans had seen just three sub-.500 seasons since 1990.  In his first season, Strong’s Longhorns finished 6-7.

In 2015, 5-7.

After two straight victories to start this season, Texas has lost three straight games while giving up an average of 48 points to the opposition.

Texas is growing impatient.

However, even though Strong is struggling to find success in the Big 12, he did successfully orchestrate the turnaround of a Louisville program that was crumbling under the Steve Kragthorpe era.

Louisville under strong:

2010- 7-6, bowl win

2011- 7-6, Big East Championship

2012- 11-2, Big East Championship, won Sugar Bowl

2013- 12-1, won Russell Athletic Bowl

It has been tough sledding at Texas, but Strong has a very impressive resume and shouldn’t have a problem securing employment if let go by the Longhorns.

Mark Helfrich- Oregon

After two successful years in Eugene to begin his head coaching career, due largely to the foundation Chip Kelly built, Helfrich’s Ducks finished 9-4 in 2015.  That was a tough pill to swallow for a fan base that hadn’t seen a four-loss season since 2007.

What’s more, it’s been a rough start to 2016.  The Ducks are on a four-game losing streak, capped by Saturday’s 70-21 loss to Washington at home.  Oregon hasn’t given up 70 points in a game since 1941.

Thanks to Nike, Oregon is one of the most recognizable brands in college sports, and that brand is in danger of seeing its first losing season in 11 years. Helfrich won’t last if that happens. With the lack of success on his resume, Helfrich likely won’t be in charge of a major program in 2017.

Notable Coaches on a Cooler Hot Seat

Clay Helton, USC– Helton’s Trojans came away with a tough win against 21st ranked Colorado Saturday night, which threw some water on the fire under Helton.  USC’s athletic department hasn’t been sure what direction they’ve been headed the last few seasons, but they need consistency before they will begin to see success.  You never know what will happen in Southern California, though.

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame– Kelly has had success almost everywhere he’s gone.  Kelly boasts a 228-84-2 overall record as a head coach, and despite a 2-4 start to this season, he’s 57-27 during his tenure with the Irish.  However, Notre Dame is a proud program with a history of success and if Kelly doesn’t get them back on track, he may be shown the door.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn– Malzahn’s Tigers went 12-2 in 2012 in his first season at the helm.  Since then, Auburn has been in decline, winning eight games in 2013 and seven in 2014. This season the Tigers are off to a 4-2 start, including two big wins against LSU and Mississippi State.  Malzahn may be on the coolest hot seat of them all, but if the Tigers don’t finish this season with seven or eight wins he could be in trouble.

Jim Mora, UCLA– Mora hasn’t had a losing season at UCLA, but he hasn’t been particularly impressive either.  UCLA is another program with a rich history, and after a 3-3 start to this season and the meat of the Pac-12 schedule in front of him, Mora could be in trouble.

Less Notable

Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Steve Addazio, Boston College

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

James Franklin, Penn State

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Also, don’t forget, Jim Tressel’s show cause is up this year. He may not want to get back into coaching, but it’s certainly a fun prospect to entertain.

With just over half of the season yet to be played, some of these coaches may fall off this list and some may hop on before the end of the year.  One thing is for certain, though; we are in for a bumpy, wild ride.

Buckle up.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @skilliter.

Photo: Neon Tommy, Flickr

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The Sunday Morning Notebook- First Edition

What an impressive week of college football. We saw a new Pac-12 favorite emerge from the far northwest, fans rushing the field at Clemson, another top-notch kicker celebration, a not-so-strong performance from Charlie Strong’s Longhorns, and much, much more.

Enjoy a few highlights on the very first edition of The Sunday Morning Notebook.

Heisman Voters will be Watchin’ Watson Again

He may have thrown three interceptions, but Deshaun Watson’s five touchdown passes were enough top Louisville in a 42-36 shootout in Clemson.

This game featured two Heisman Trophy candidates and it didn’t disappoint. The front-runner on most lists is Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who came into the game averaging over six touchdowns per game (combined rushing and passing).  SIX.  He finished the night with a touchdown through the air and two on the ground on 162 rushing yards.

Despite the loss, Jackson is still the Heisman front-runner.

Watson, who had fallen off most Heisman short lists after multiple lackluster performances, played his way back into the picture last night.  Watson threw for 306 yards and rushed for 91 to compliment his five passing touchdowns.

Notes:

  • Clemson’s Deon Cain stepped up in a huge way, catching four big passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.  One thing that Clemson has lacked is a big play receiver, and if they found one tonight in Cain, they’ll be even more dangerous going forward.
  • Louisville had eight different players catch passes tonight. Four of those players caught four or more each.  If any aspect of Lamar Jackson’s game is underrated, it’s his vision and pass distribution.
  • Louisville should have won the game. On fourth and 12 with 33 seconds left, Jackson hit James Quick with a pass. With about six yards to run for a first down, Quick took the ball outside and met a defender a yard short of the yard-to-gain. All he needed was a quick cut to the inside or a forward dive and he would have had the first down. Instead, he put up zero fight and let a small defensive back push him out of bounds. The lack of effort was nearly sickening.
  • Louisville is not out of the playoff picture. If they win their remaining games, which includes a road matchup with undefeated Houston, they’ll deserve consideration from the College Football Playoff Committee.

Kirby’s players weren’t so smart

The second most exciting game of the weekend took place between the hedges in Athens, Georgia. A last second heave from Josh Dobbs lodged itself snuggly in Jauan Jennings’ gracious hands to give Tennessee a 34-31 win over SEC rival Georgia.  The win puts Tennessee in the drivers’ seat for an SEC East championship.

It was a marvelous play that should have never happened, at least not in the way it did.

Georgia scored a touchdown with 10 seconds left on the clock to go ahead 31-28. After a unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on the celebration pushed the ensuing kick-off back to the Georgia 20-yard-line, the Bulldogs made the decision to “sky” kick the ball to prevent a big return.

A sky kick from the 20-yard-line. What could go wrong? Well, a number of things could go wrong, but here are two:

  1. Tennessee’s athletic kick returner Evan Berry could still run up and catch the ball, resulting in a quick return into Georgia territory.
  2. Your kick-off squad could go offside before the kick and add five yards from the spot of the ball.

… Or both.

Berry caught the ball and returned it 20 yards to the Georgia 48. Georgia was offside and the ball was moved to the 43. You already know what happened next.

In his post-game press conference, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart had incredibly harsh words about his team’s lack of discipline. You can’t blame him, really.  Those were two bad penalties and terrible spots to commit them.

“When undisciplined players make undisciplined decisions, that’s what happens,” Smart said.

Nonetheless, Tennessee stayed perfect. Other than back-to-back games against Texas A&M and Alabama, the Vols’ schedule is weak and Kristen Botica’s prediction should come true.

Notes:

  • Georgia runs the ball very well. Even without leading rusher Nick Chubb the Bulldogs were able to rush for 181 yards. Leading rusher Sony Michel averaged 5.7 yards per rush, which played a big part in opening up the passing game for quarterback Jacob Eason, who completed some huge passes.
  • Tennessee’s offensive line has struggled mightily this year. Georgia only capitalized twice with two sacks, but Tennessee is really going to struggle against Texas A&M and Alabama if they don’t get things straightened out.
  • Jalen Hurd gave us his own rendition of “dropping the ball before the goal line”. As long as you aren’t a Tennessee fan, it was pretty humorous.

Kickin’ it with Kenny

Michigan and Wisconsin gave us a show in the Big Ten’s game of the week. The Wolverines came away with the 14-7 victory in Ann Arbor, but the story of the game was Michigan’s inability to get the ball through the uprights.

Kenny Allen missed both of his field goal attempts, one from 31 yards and the other from 43.  Jim Harbaugh decided to give sophomore Ryan Tice a chance from 40 yards, but he found the same result.

Notes:

  • Wisconsin is way too one dimensional, relying too heavily on the run for success. Michigan loaded the box with seven, eight, or nine defenders on nearly every play and Wisconsin didn’t have an answer.  Badgers’ quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed just 9-of-25 passes for 88 yards and three interceptions.  That hard-nosed style may work against most Big Ten defenses, but they’ll struggle to score against Ohio State and probably any team they’ll face in a bowl game.
  • If it wasn’t for the Hail Mary in Athens, the play of the week would have been Jourdan Lewis’ one-handed interception to seal the deal for Michigan.

Washington is for real

Most of the nation hasn’t seen much from Washington this year due to its late, west coast start times.  I finally got my first look at them on Friday night and I loved what I saw as the Huskies smashed Christian McCaffery and the Stanford Cardinal 44-6. 

Washington quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskins are for real and may lead Washington to a Pac-12 Championship and playoff birth.

Notes:

  • Washington was impressive on both sides of the ball, but it’s the defense that the rest of the country should fear.  The Huskies’ defense held the Cardinal to just 213 total yards of offense and limited Heisman hopeful McCaffery to 49 rushing yards (he averaged 145 yards per game going into Friday night’s match up).
  • The Huskies have some real playmakers at receiver.  Nine different players have caught touchdown passes this year.  John Ross caught his sixth touchdown of the season and Dante Pettis caught his fourth.
  • Washington will win the Pac-12

Quick Notes

-Charlie Strong won’t be the head coach at Texas next season.

-Even though he won this week, Brian Kelly will also be out of a job before the 2017 season begins.

-North Carolina’s kicker lived every young man’s dream and chopped his way around Doak Campbell Stadium.

-Derek Mason shouldn’t have punted and Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter@skilliter.

Photo: Lauren Nelson, Flickr

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame’s Playoff Chances as Real as Manti T’eo’s Girlfriend


Notre Dame began the year with both of its quarterbacks on the Heisman watch list to go along with lofty team expectations. Those lofty expectations were based on wonky numbers and the perception of what Notre Dame football should be. There was at least one blogger who was cautioning everyone about placing too much stock in the luck of the Irish. The blogger who was raining on the Irish’s parade was me.

I was one of the few, if not the only, people predicting a Texas victory in game one for the Irish. Sorry, but I just don’t trust Brian Kelly. As for the drubbing that Kelly’s Notre Dame team took at the hands of Mark Dantonio and Michigan State? Ha! Welcome to Michigan State football. The Spartans are an example of a team that is well-coached regardless if the team is stocked with talent or is rebuilding. Playing against a Dantonio team is a tall order for a Kelly-coached team.

The memory of Notre Dame’s appearance in the 2012 National Championship game is a distant memory. To be honest, that season seems about as real as Manti T’eo’s girlfriend. Kelly just isn’t consistent enough to warrant the hype that he or his teams receive.

I’ll say it. Kelly and Notre Dame are frauds. His first year in South Bend was 2010 and Kelly has averaged 9 wins a season in that time with Notre Dame. Not bad, but not great when you consider the constant Irish hype and the smattering of 8 win seasons for Kelly.

Perhaps Kelly isn’t the coach that everyone thinks he is. He’s solid but not great. His teams are more likely to win less than 10 games a year than they are to win 10-plus games a year. Do you want to know who Kelly and his track record remind me of? He reminds me of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.

Yes, Ferentz. Mr. Lifetime Contract himself. Both Kelly and Ferentz win double-digit games once every 5 years or so and then step back into relative obscurity.

Their playoff chances are shattered and the prognosis for the rest of the season appears to be another 8 win wonder for Kelly. With losses to Texas and Michigan State already notched, the Irish still have games against Stanford and Miami. I didn’t believe the Irish would win either of those games before the season started and I have no reason to believe that the Irish will beat either of those teams now that we’ve seen the product Kelly has coached up.

Kelly is the best coach Notre Dame has had since Lou Holtz, but the program hasn’t won a championship since 1988. This championship drought hasn’t stopped the nation from treating the Irish as if they’ve dominated college football for decades. Kelly has established the credibility that was lost with coaches like Charlie Weiss, but Kelly hasn’t brought the sizzle back to the program. He’s no Nick Saban or Urban Meyer and Notre Dame isn’t Alabama or Ohio State, but that doesn’t stop people from treating them as if they are on par with the beasts from the SEC and Big Ten.

 E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

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Former Notre Dame Quarterback Makes His Pick to Lead Irish Offense

Former Notre Dame quarterback and FS1 analyst Brady Quinn joined Bruce Feldman on The Audible podcast to discuss the quarterback competition at his alma mater. In sitting down with Feldman, Quinn discussed his choice for the Notre Dame quarterback position.

Quinn chose to side with last year’s game one starter, Malik Zaire, in lieu of his eventual replacement, Deshone Kizer.

Much of Quinn’s decision has to do with seniority. Zaire can graduate in the spring, but still has a year of eligibility left. Under the graduate transfer rule, this would give him the ability to transfer without sitting out a season. Giving Zaire the nod to start this season would likely eliminate this as a possibility.

According to Quinn, if Zaire gets the nod to start the season, the Irish will be better suited in the long-run. Should Zaire falter, Kizer would replace him, much like he was able to do last season. Zaire would then be free to transfer with no hard feelings and the Irish would move on with Kizer as the starter.

However, should the Irish start Kizer on opening weekend, there is greater chance of instability at the position. Should Kizer falter, Zaire would undoubtedly replace him. Zaire potentially could feel slighted enough to transfer at season’s end if he is not given the job to start the season. This would leave the Irish with a shaky Kizer and an inexperienced Brandon Wimbush to start 2017.

Whatever the decision is, Quinn highlighted the importance of making a decision early in the process. Quinn’s “X-factor” is the fact that Zaire is left-handed and Kizer is right-handed. According to Quinn, “Your entire team has to adjust to a different spin of the football and the fact that the plays are going to be formatted a different way. Teams are going to attack you differently based on the arm of your quarterback.”

Quinn certainly has valid points. One idea that seems to be conventional wisdom is the desire to name a starter sooner rather than later. Zaire seems to be the safe choice, while giving the Irish the most flexibility going forward.

Many will argue that the experience factor gives Kizer an edge. One must consider if that argument matters, given the number of players the Irish are replacing from last year’s team. Neither Zaire nor Kizer gives the offense much as far as chemistry with returning players is concerned. Of the many newcomers, many will come at the wide receiver position. Whoever wins the starting job will need to develop chemistry with a nearly-brand-new group of receivers.

One area of optimism carrying over from last season is the emergence of the running game. Even with the injury to Tarean Folston, the Irish were able to plug in ball-carriers with great success. Folston will return from injury and will split carries with promising sophomore back Josh Adams. The Irish may need to lean on their running game while the passing game develops continuity.

Zaire is the better of the two runners and can add an element to the running game that Kizer cannot. For Brian Kelly, the best decision may be to go with Malik Zaire to start the season.