Brian Kelly's Notre Dame football team took a step backwards last week when the Irish were spanked by Stanford, 37-14, in South Bend. After an opening win over a now suspect Purdue, and heartbreaking losses to Michigan and Michigan State, the Irish performance against a very good Stanford team has many wondering what's going on.
The ND defense did not look bad considering the final score, but could not stop the Cardinal on third down plays. But the biggest problem, and one that dogged Charlie Weis in his final years, is a lack of a running game.
Kelly was known for an explosive offense while bringing Cincinnati to national attention while he was head man there but last week the offense was stuffed by Stanford. The offense could manage only 44 net yards rushing and scored just one touchdown. QB Dayne Crist had his worst game to date as the starter, but admittedly, he was up against the number one ranked pass defense in the country in Stanford.
The performance indicates the Irish program still has a long way to go. The lead headline in the South Bend Tribune last Sunday might have said it best, "Irish don't measure up."
Responding to questions concerning his players still believing in his system, Kelly said, "They've taken ownership. This group, they want to be remembered for something. They want to be remembered for being the team that turns this program in the direction that we all want it to go. They want to be part of that."
Of course wins will shutup a lot of critics and it will make the faithful feel more comfortable with where the program is going. If anything, I think Kelly needs a victory tonight against Boston College to get his program back on track and have the Irish faithful believe that he is the man for the job. I predicted a nine win season for the Irish this year. I guess I got caught up in all the hype for Kelly. I can still see five or six more wins this year for a possible 6-6 or 7-5 season. I also have to admit that Kelly needs time to get his program in place and that could take one or two more years. After all, Lou Holtz was 5-6 his first year and in his third season was 12-0. Jim Harbaugh, Stanford's head man, started slowly too. He was just 9-15 after two years and last week's win makes him just 21-20. But his team this year is challenging for the Pac 10 title.
I'm still trying to figure out Kelly and this team. The opening win over Purdue got the expectations high. Then heartbreaking losses to Michigan and Michigan State still kept hopes high for a successful season. But last week's one-side loss put a real damper on the high expectations.
Today the Irish are at Boston College facing an Eagle team that is having a lot of problems too. Although the Eagles are 2-1 entering the game, head coach Frank Spaziani benched starting quarterback David Shinskie, the 26-year-old starter, and plans to use either 6-4 and 210-pouund sophomore Mike Marscovetra for freshman redshirt Chase Rettig, 6-3 and 210 pounder. Shinskie, as you might remember, played his high school ball at Mount Carmel. Shinskie's late entry into college football was due to the fact he played minor league baseball for several years.
A report in the Boston media on Thursday indicated that Rettig will start tonight. Whoever starts for the Eagles will face a ND pass defense ranked 103rd in the nation giving up 434 yards a game. BC can run the football with Montel Harris leading the way at fullback with 102 rushing yards a game average. ND has allowed a runner to surpass 100 yards in each of their three losses this season.
BC does have problems to. Its offensive line allowed six QB sacks last week against Virginia Tech, which was the Eagles' first loss of the season, a 19-0 whitewash. The Eagels' wins have been over Weber State and Kent State, two teams that don't exactly have top caliber programs.
ND leads the series, 10-9, with ND winning last year in South Bend, 20-16. In 2008 at BC, the Eagles prevailed, 17-0.
The game will be televised regionally by ABC-TV. Kickoff is set for about 8:10 p.m.
IRISH NOTES:The loss to Stanford was the 11th straight to a ranked team by ND. The Cardinal entered the game ranked 16th in the AP poll. BC and ND are both unranked today so that factor won't count for the game....Stanford's Harbaugh said a key for his team's victory was the fact the Cardinal had the Irish inside their own 24 yard line on seven of nine kickoffs....Many still believe Kelly is the the right guy and just needs time to get his program installed, and some of the type of players he needs for the program to come to South Bend. Kelly's 19 years as a college coach will eventually have him restore the ND program to national recognition many believe....Kelly has experienced two four-game losings streaks in his career, both at Grand Valley State, preceeding his two Division II national titles at that school. He has never lost five in a row. He has been 1-3 three times before. Once at Central Michigan in 2005 then won four straight; in 1999 at Grand Vallely then won the next four; and in 2000 at Grand Valley and won 20 in a row....Stanford's defense really put a stop to the Irish offense. New defensive corodinator Vic Gangio decided to drop eight defenders in coverage on pass plays and rush three, something the Cardinal had not done so far this season. Kelly could have used Crist as a runner more in that type of situation but the Irish could not afford to have their starting QB get hurt and running the ball a lot makes that a real possibility....Concerning the run offense. Kelly has moved senior running back Robert Hughes up to be Armando Allen's backup. Hughes, at 5-11 and 245-pounds, will give the Irish more punch in short-yardage situations. On the other side of the line BC is ranked sixth nationally in run defense....ND's time of possession continues to slide. ND is now 117th in the nation in that category....Backup running back Jonas Gray suffered a groin injury in the Stanford game and is doubtful for tonight. Junior TE Kyle Rudolph appeared to re-injury his hamstring Saturday but is still listed to play.....ND is now ranked 64th best team in the country according to the Sagarin computer ratings. BC is ranked 60th. Future ND opponents' rankings include Pitt 51, Western Michigna 136, Navy 56, Tulsa 71, Utah 14, Army 91 and USC 10....Kelly said sophomore Cierre Wood should take the move up of Hughes the wrong way. Kelly said he is still high on Wood. "I think he's going to be a really, really good player. He just needs time." About Hughes moving up, Kelly said, "One of the things that Robert can do and utilize against BC is he's a big, strong, physical kid and he may be able to help us a little bit in pass protection."....Kelly knows the area around BC. He was born in Everett, Mass., grew up in Chelsea, Mass., went to high school at Danvers, Mass, and college at Worcester, Mass, all within reasonably short distances from the BC campus....No Irish quarterback has thrown for more yards in his first four starts than Crist. In four games he has thrown for 1,155 yards....Manti Te'o had 21 tackles last week, a career high, and tied him for fifth most by a Division I-A player against a Division 1-A opponent since 2005....Frosh Bennett Jackson will be used on kickoff returns tonight. Kelly hasn't decided if he will use Allen or junior John Goodman for punt returns....ND got its 20th verbal commitment to its 2011 recruiting classs. WR DaVanis Daniels, of Vernon Hills, Ill., made a verbal committment this week. The 6-3 and 190-pounder is the son of Washington Redskins defensive end Phillip Daniels...In my preseason picks I took BC today. The Eagles still deserve to be the favorite but I also think that Kelly and his staff will put an extra effort into the preparation for the game because of it being a homecoming of sorts for him.