Anyone with any kind of sensibilities had tempered expectations for Notre Dame this season. The personnel Brian Kelly had to work with was a major reason why. However, after rattling off three straight wins, fans’ expectations began to soar again, despite the fact that the teams the Irish have beaten have a combined record of 13-15. People lost sight of the fact this season is part of a greater process.
Kelly and everyone else knew that the vast majority of the players on offense were not ideal for the spread offense. Certain players, such as Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudloph, were physically gifted enough to adapt, but there were serious flaws in other key positions, specifically the quarterback.
Dayne Crist is the prototypical pro style pocket passer – 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and lead in his feet. While he has improved his mobility and seems to have some better vision when it comes to running, he still oftentimes looks more like a lumbering Sasquatch than anything else while running the football.
Kelly also knew he didn’t have a good Z receiver opposite Floyd and consequently had to convert running back Theo Riddick to the position. He has done well there, but the team’s running back corps lost a promising component in the process.
The offensive line is the exact opposite of a typical Kelly offensive line – big and slow. No doubt their inability to get out and block in space has been a problem within Kelly’s system.
Defensively, people had made the argument that the team is learning a completely new system, including a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense and that the personnel is not right for such a scheme. While there is truth that it takes time to learn the ins and outs of a new system, people forget that the team’s defense was largely a disaster last year because they didn’t have the personnel to run the 4-3. The year before, they had run the 3-4. The problem with Kelly’s defensive personnel heading into this season is simple: With a few exceptions, they just aren’t very good, regardless of the system.
All this was evident before the injury bug hit Notre Dame harder than bed bugs in New York City.
The newest injury came to one of the most talented players on the defense, nose guard Ian Williams, whose season is not over, but a sprained MCL will probably keep him out for about six weeks.
That is on top of injuries to key players, such as Rudolph is out for the season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. Floyd also has been hobbled by a hamstring ailment. Riddick has a severely sprained ankle that has kept him out and will continue to do so.
Four of the Irish’s most potent weapons all are dealing with some kind of setback. Kelly knew he would not get the maximum effectiveness of his offensive and defensive schemes with the personnel he had heading into the season. Now key cogs are missing, which not only hurts his chances of gaining a win on Saturdays this season, but it can stunt the development of the program and his quarterback, who he’ll have for one more season next year.
Expectations should have been tempered for this season anyway, but now there should be no expectations at all.
For those of you who haven’t heard, a member of the Notre Dame video department, Declan Sullivan, passed away after the tower he was standing on while filming a football practice fell. According to the Huffington Post’s Ellie Hall, Sullivan tweeted shortly before his death that he was terrified as gusting winds blew through South Bend.
This was a terrible tragedy that most likely could have been avoided and I would like to extend my prayers and condolences to Declan Sullivan’s family.