Notre Dame not only gave a game away last week at Pittsburgh, it also gave away its season and, for the univeristy, millions of dollars. The loss also put a damper on the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame.
Kelly has brought the school close to being back in the elite of college football. But that took a giant step backwards with the loss to a 4-4 Pitt team.
Notre Dame has two games left, next week the home final against BYU, and then a trip to Stanford. The games are meaningless for the Irish as far as a BCS high level bowl game is concerned. The Irish now will have to settle for one of those bowl games few talk about or will remember. It's the type of bowl game that says, your good enough to get in one of "also ran bowls" but your program is not that good.
As I mentioned the loss not only cost the Irish their season, it cost the university millions of dollars. Not playing in a BCS bowl game means you don't get the big payday. The payday for teams in BCS bowl games is $10 million plus to each team. There are many places one can put the blame for the loss. Tommy Rees is certainly one spot and the second is Kelly.
Rees will go down in ND football history with some career stats that on the serface look pretty impressive. But Rees will not have a defining moment in his career at ND as South Bend Tribune writer Al Lesar said earlier this week.
Rees has won some games for the Irish in relief appearances but this year was his year to shine. He just didn't get the job done.
Trailing 28-21 with 9:36 to play, Rees still had a chance to bring the Irish back to at least tie Pitt. But he didn't get it done. He completed just three of 10 passes for 29 yards and also committed a very costly intentional grounding penalty on a second and five at the Pitt 33 with just about three minutes to play.
In an interview with the media this week Rees took responsibility for his shortcomings. But he also missed the point. Rees said, "It starts with me and it starts with our senior leaders. We've got to come back better. There's definitely little things we didn't do to win games."
Lesar was quick to point out that the "little things" were not the problem. It was the big things, like protecting the football and not turning it over, which Rees did this year at crucial times. Many of the turnovers Rees commtted this year were directly responsible for the three ND losses.
Rees said the seniors and the team has to stick together in the final two games to finish with wins. ND is now 7-3. They could finish 9-3, which isn't bad, or 7-5, which is very bad.
Kelly gets a lot of the blame in many areas. He abandoned the run game in the second half. After rolling up 128 yards rushing in the first half on 18 carries, Kelly and his staff only ran the ball six times for 10 yards in the second half. Rees ended up throwing the ball 39 times in the game. Three things can happen when you throw the football, and two are bad. You complete the pass, or it goes incomplete, or is intercepted.
Kelly forgot about the run most of the second half for some reason. He also forgot about frosh running back Tarean Folson, who had a break-out game against Navy. Last week he got only four touches in the game.
After the 2012 season with a 12-0 regular season record and a return to a national championship game Kelly appeared to have the program back and ready to become elite again. Then the losses to Michigan and Oklahoma. Two teams that now appear to be really subpar at best, but two teams that Kelly and company couldn't handle.
The problem for Kelly as he tries to make his mark at ND is this. He is still unable to beat teams like Pitt when he needs the win. When Lou Holtz was coach and brought the program back to national prominence, he beat the teams he should have beaten 99 percent of the time. Kelly does not. He manages to lose to teams he shouldn't lose too. And as long has he does that, he is no better than guys like Charlie Weis and Bob Davie.
IRISH NOTES:Here are some game stats from last week. Rees was 18 of 39 with two interceptions, 318 yards and two TDs. George Atkinson III had 57 yards on six carries, TJ Jones 41 on three, and Cam McDaniel, 23 on nine. Receiving, Jones 149 yards on six catches, Ben Kayock, 76 on four, and DaVaris Daniels, 38 on three. Defensively Jaylon Smith had seven tackles. ND had total rushing yards of 138, with 128 coming in the first half.... ND ends the regular season on Nov. 30 at Stanford. On Monday it was announced the game will start at 7 p.m. EST and will be televised nationally by FOX. Next week's final home game has a 3:30 p.m. start on NBC-TV....Because of the week off Kelly didn't schedule any practices. The team was ordered to be in the weight room for three days this week. Kelly said he wanted his injured players, especially on the defensive side, to rest so they could get back for the BYU game....Althrough today in Nov. 16, 2013, the Notre Dame schedule for 2014 is still not finalized. The only sure games are Michigan and Purdue at home and Syracuse, Stanford, Navy, Arizona State, and USC away. The Purdue game may be moved to Indianapolis as part of the Shamrock series. One has to wonder what's going on....I'll be back next week with the BYU preview.