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Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Education of Brian Kelly

Well the 2010 season is in the books and the ink is now dry. A lot happened. Some arm pumping YES! But way too much wailing and grinding of teeth over lost opportunities. It could obviously have been better, but could have also been a lot worse. The injuries both season ending and nagging game-to-game took their toll on the team. Coaching and playing mistakes cost Notre Dame two games. However, the last four games made us all very proud. What was learned? What did Kelly take away from the season? What did we learn as well?

There is reason for excitement in 2011 with the battle over the quarterback position. Maybe even two QB’s sharing playing time befuddling the opponent’s defensive game plans? Many football pundits turn their noses up to that proposition but with a huge stable of quarterbacks with different styles, strengths and weaknesses it makes sharing huddle time very attractive. A special package of plays for two quarterbacks including some Leprechaun type shenanigans is very appealing.

The Irish are obviously on a roll with those four straight wins. With some young quality players returning this year (2011), some good looking, exciting recruits and everyone else being a little smarter. Including Coach Kelly.

ND 23 Purdue 12 – As soon as the game ended, you could smell it. Purdue kind of stunk. The season bore out the odor of  a 4-8 record with lackluster wins over Western Illinois, Ball State, Minnesota, and Northwestern and an embarrassing loss to Toledo. It should have been a wakeup call that things were not right in ND Nation. We should have blown them out of the stadium yet we struggled with a two touchdown win. Whatever adjustments were made for Michigan did not appear to work.

Michigan 28 ND 24 – Michigan was/is a one dimensional offense centered around QB Denard Robinson. Take away the short pass in the flats and put a spy on him to stop the scramble and QB draw. If that was the Kelly game play, it did not work. No quarterback should amass 258 yards rushing. Nor should he be able to connect at will on short passes to the sidelines. The next man in philosophy that was much talked about was smoke and mirrors as neither Rees nor Montana were prepared to take over the offense for a groggy Dayne Crist.

MSU 34 ND 31 (OT) – If coach Mark Dantonio had known his call for a fake field goal would end up costing him a heart attack you wonder if he would have called it. The Irish should have known better. It was beyond the range of the Spartan field goal kicker. Two ND defenders fell down and the OT loss hurt worse than the one against Michigan. Would a full-time Special Teams coach have made any difference? Probably not.

Stanford 37 ND 14 – This one really hurt. Stanford outplayed the Irish this year. Jim Harbaugh is a very good coach who gets his teams ready in late August. They play old Big Ten smash mouth in your face mask football. They were licking their chops knowing the Irish were on the ropes after two loses. It was a simple mismatch. What could have ND done to change the outcome? The coaching, game play and talent level were in a different league.

ND 31 Boston College 13 – A nice on the road win against the 'Other Catholics'. Notre Dame was written off as tanked coming into the game. The coaching staff was instrumental in turning around a disheartened team and deserve a lot of credit for the win. The coaching and play was exacting what the doctor ordered. The game was not even close.

ND 23 Pittsburgh 17 – Although ending up 7-5 like the Irish, Pittsburgh like Purdue is another team Kelly should have put away easily. Notre Dame struggled all year trying to put together four quarters of solid football. Where was the high powered spread offense Kelly preached?

ND 44 Western Michigan 20 – Thank you for scheduling a cupcake Mr. AD. Nothing wrong in playing a Michigan compass school at home to help boost the morale and give playing time to the bench, the Big Ten does it all the time. Thank goodness it wasn’t another lackluster Purdue or Pitt game.

Navy 35 ND 17 – To say that Notre Dame had a worthless defensive game plan is being polite. How can you let the first option (fullback handoff) of a triple option gain 210 yards? Navy never had to execute the quarterback carry (except on short yardage touchdowns) or pitch to the trailing back. Navy was stoppable, ask Maryland or Duke. Coach Kelly mentioned that 20 minutes of every fall practice was dedicated to Navy’s and Army’s triple option. That in itself is kind of scary admission and watching the blowout.

Tulsa 28 ND 27 – If a lack of a game plan was evident in the loss to Navy, the decision to allow a freshman quarterback to throw for a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal was worse. The loss of Dayne Crist to injury really hurt (no pun intended). Yes a touchdown would have forced Tulsa into a situation where they could not have kicked a field goal to win, but of course that was not necessary because of the pick. It was surprising that Kelly had that much confidence in Rees coming off the bench instead of a steady David Ruffer.

ND 28 Utah 3 – In probably one of the most amazing turnarounds in recent memory, Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco earned their paychecks in holding together a very discouraged football team. Give credit to the seniors as well. Kelly pushed them to rally the underclassmen. The defense rose to the occasion. The boost of defeating a ranked team, not allowing a touchdown and Tommy Rees earning his first victory were the start of something big.

ND 27 Army 3 – Another scheduling and also a great recruiting coup for Notre Dame. Army in Yankee Stadium at night, what a neat concept! What did Kelly learn? Don’t kick an inferior opponent when they are down. Live with the distractions of a nationally televised game and the media frenzy before and after.

ND 20 Southern Cal 16 – This is THE GAME. This is the season. This is security in your job. Beat USC. Yes Ronald Johnson wide open dropped a sure touchdown pass, but after Michigan State and Tulsa, Coach Kelly earned a break and learned in the process. He had a defense. He didn’t need to score quickly and often.

ND 33 Miami 17 (Sun Bowl) – Coach Kelly picked up immediately about this dormant rivalry. You just don’t have these at Grand Valley State or Cincinnati. His control of the 15 practices, fitting in final exams, preparation, game plan, setting the mental aptitude and gauging the team peaking physical were simply outstanding. Miami never had a chance.

2010 was the turnaround year for Notre Dame. You wait, watch and see. Lessons were learned and the education was exciting although rough and bumpy.

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