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Eyes on the Irish

In the end, we’re all a little bit culpable

Only one thing is for certain at this point and that is the fact that the tale of Manti Te’o’s inspired play in the wake of the death of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua was built upon a lie.

Whose lie it was exactly we may never know and even if the truth does come out, some of us may not believe it. Regardless of that, only one other thing remains evident – we all had a hand in making this lie reality.

Certainly the biggest amount of blame depends on what story you believe.

If you believe that Te’o is a hapless victim of an elaborate and insidious hoax, then clearly the brunt of the responsibility lies with the perpetrators. However, in this scenario, Te’o is still responsible for continuing the lie after coming to know the truth and likewise, the University of Notre Dame, and the Te’o family share some blame for not getting in front of the issue and letting the truth be known.

If you believe that Te’o was complicit in the events that occurred in an attempt to boost his campaign for the Heisman Trophy, as has been suggested, then the blame is his. In that scenario, it is unclear exactly how much Te’o’s family, or the university was involved, but the argument could be made that if they weren’t involved directly, they shirked the responsibility of examining the story Te’o was selling because, hey, it was the best publicity possible.

Meanwhile, the situation pointed out that in general, we in the media have fallen complacent. What makes us the vilified muckrakers of the world is the fact that our reputation says that we would approach a romantic kiss from our wives with a degree of skepticism, let alone a story being told by someone who was essentially an acquaintance with no proof to back it up.

But that’s exactly what we did.

We bought into it.

The story was too good not to be true. And who was going to question the validity of a guy’s claim that his girlfriend had tragically died of leukemia, especially when it happened around the same time as his grandmother?

A true journalist would, and that’s the sad truth.

Instead, we the members of the free press, whether we were covering the story directly or not, forgot to do what we were taught to do – verify the information with facts. No one did that. We all just bought into it.

All except the folks at Deadspin, of course.

While Deadspin didn’t present a case riddled with fact, it provided enough concrete information along with its heavy dose of hearsay to blow the lid off of the truth that Lennay Kekua was never a real person.

In the football world, the words “Notre Dame” are as polarizing as the terms “abortion,” “immigration” or “gun control” in the real, much more important world. College football fans either revel in the Fighting Irish’s successes, or relish in their failures. Deadspin, of course, falls in the latter category, which may have been their primary motivation for digging deeper into Te’o’s story, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The fact remains that they did far more than anyone else in the media even dreamed of doing and for that they should be commended.

And while the media may have told us the story of Te’o and Lennay, in the end, it was the general public who ate it up and made it all the more real. If perception truly could become reality, then  birth and death certificates for Kekua would have materialized. Hospital records and police reports from her supposed car crash would be found in public records. Her picture may have shown up in the Stanford Quad, the yearbook of the college she supposedly attended. Heck, a pair of bronzed baby shoes may have appeared in someone’s attic.

The American people bought it because we are so desperate to find our heroes. With realities such as public officials’ approval ratings at staggering lows, continued poverty, unemployment and economic uncertainty, violence both overseas and within our borders, hitting ever so close to home with incidents like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even the reminder of great adored athletes of the past now shamed, we are desperate for something to believe in.

Something good.

Something pure.

Something that could support the belief that there is still good that happens in this world.

We wanted it, the heartbroken Manti Te’o gave it to us.

We never questioned it.

We simply didn’t want to.

Eyes on the Irish: Miami in the Sun Bowl will test Notre Dame’s progress

It is now official. Fans will not have to wait until 2012 at Soldier Field to see Notre Dame and Miami do battle in a resurrection of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry.

In terms of exhibitions – and that is what bowl games are – this game has the makings of being truly entertaining. But more than that, for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish, it is one more opportunity to establish itself, especially offensively, in Kelly’s system.

Notre Dame has had its struggles this season, both on and off the field, and those have been well-documented. But one thing the Irish have shown, with the exception of an awful performance against Navy, is progress.

Defensively, Notre Dame has actually looked to be on this side of serviceable and even good at times. In their past three games – all wins – the Irish held their opponents to less than four yards per play, an outstanding turnaround from a team that gave up nearly seven to Michigan in its second game of the season. They’re also forcing turnovers. Notre Dame is 7-2 when picking off at least one pass and 0-3 when they don’t record an interception.

That could prove to be huge for the Irish in this game, seeing as the offense will have its hands full with probably the most formidable defense they have faced all season. Freshman Tommy Rees, who has done well, will still be kept reigned in by Brian Kelly to prevent mistakes against Miami, which has allowed the second-lowest average yardage through the air in the nation this season and has picked off 16 passes in 12 games. Their seven passing touchdowns allowed is tied for best in the country with Ohio State.

Where the Hurricanes are vulnerable defensively is in the running game. They rank 81st against the run and as Cierre Wood continues to evolve from a runner into a tailback, he will face not greater opportunity to shine than this one. If he can remain patient and allow his blockers to do their jobs, he could be in for a big game, possibly even his first 100-yard rushing effort of the season.

It will truly be a test for a young quarterback against a very good defense and a young running back against one he could hurt, but on top of everything else, it is a test for Brian Kelly. In order to win this game, the Irish must play conservative football, which is not Kelly’s strong suit. He loves being aggressive in going after wins and sometimes that can lead to his demise, as it did against Tulsa. A win there and Notre Dame would head into bowl season with a much better looking – albeit not great – 8-4 mark.

Kelly has to do in his mind what Rees will have to do on the field – take what Miami gives him and not take a lot of chances. If both are able to do that, the Irish will succeed and, more importantly, it will show that the Irish have, indeed turned the corner.

Let the record(s) show…

A lot has been made about the Notre Dame schedule over the years, with nay-sayers accusing the Irish of putting together weak schedules full of pushovers.

As the season draws to a close, let’s take a look at what Notre Dame opponents accomplished this season:

Purdue – 4-8
Michigan – 7-5, Gator Bowl
Michigan State – 11-1, Capital One Bowl
Stanford – 11-1, Orange Bowl
Boston College – 7-5, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Pittsburgh – 7-5, BBVA Compass Bowl
Western Michigan – 6-6
Navy – 8-3, Poinsettia Bowl
Tulsa – 9-3, Hawaii Bowl
Utah – 10-2, Las Vegas Bowl
Army – 6-5, Armed Forces Bowl
USC – 7-5 (Excluded from bowls for two years)

Now I know that this is a less-than-scientific way to go about judging thing, but I have to think a lot of people would be hard-pressed to find a schedule that possesses 10 bowl-eligible teams – 11 if USC was not sanctioned – and 9 teams accepting bids, including a BCS bid.

But just because the schedule was a good one doesn’t mean necessarily that Notre Dame was good. Of those games, Notre Dame only beat one opponent with nine or more wins – Utah.

The combined record of teams the Irish lost to was 47-13, a winning percentage of .783 . The combined records of teams they beat was 47-36, or .566. In order for Notre Dame to truly be considered a good team again, it has to find a way to win big games against ranked opponents on a consistent basis.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

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Eyes on the Irish: Kelly’s first season turning into a nightmare

Halloween weekend was truly frightening for Notre Dame fans.

What should have been a gift win turned into a gut-wrenching loss that now has Notre Dame just hoping to become bowl eligible.

Dayne Crist was lost, maybe for the season, because of what may be  a torn patella tendon in his knee after taking a hit on a scramble for a first down. The worst part about that is it could have been avoided. Crist already had the first down and when the defender closed in, he could have ducked out of bounds and avoided contact altogether. But instead, he allowed himself to get his clock cleaned.

So let’s just take a quick head count. Dayne Crist, the team’s No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 running back Armando Allen, No. 2 receiver Theo Riddick, No, 1 tight end Kyle Rudloph, No. 1 nose guard Ian Williams are all out at least for an extended period of time. Crist, Williams and Rudolph are gone for the season.

Injuries happen and are not the fault of the coach the majority of the time. It’s the nature of the game. But the game was not lost in the first quarter when Crist went down. It was lost with a half a minute remaining in the fourth.

Tommy Rees came out and looked like a pretty competent quarterback. Despite not starting the game, he threw 54 passes, completing 33 of them for 334 yards and four touchdowns. But he also threw three interceptions, the last of which doomed Notre Dame.

Down by one point with the ball on Tulsa’s 22 yard line and 43 seconds remaining in the game, all Notre Dame had to do was run the ball, kill some clock and put the game in the hands of its field goal kicker, who hasn’t missed in 18-straight attempts. It’s true he had a PAT try blocked, which was returned for two points the other way earlier in the game, but the fact of the matter is more often than not,  David Ruffer converts kicks into points.

Instead, Brian Kelly decided to have his freshman quarterback throw a jump ball into the end zone for Floyd. Rees underthrew the pass, negating Floyd’s size advantage and Tulsa picked it off. Game over.

Kelly said he’d do it again, too. According to the Chicago Sun Times’ Mark Potash, he told the fans they’d “better get used to it, because that’s the way we’re playing.”

How are you playing, coach? Unapologetically stupid? I am all for being aggressive. You want to go for the win instead of a tie in some game sometime, you’ll get no complaint from me. But the fact of the matter is in this game, in this scenario, a touchdown was no more of an advantage than a field goal. Three points is enough to win the game. There is no need to go for six.

On top of everything else, Notre Dame’s nosedive, which included Saturday’s debacle has taken Notre Dame from one of the top-5 recruiting classes of 2011 to No. 11 according to Rivals with the mass decommitment of recruited talent. That includes defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Clay Burton, as well as offensive tackle Jordan Prestwood.

Again, Kelly is stubborn, saying ““I don’t really beg any of them to come to Notre Dame if they don’t understand what we’re trying to do here,” according to the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen.

Can you blame them for not understanding what you’re doing at Notre Dame? Let’s face it, at this point, no one does.

Eyes on the Irish: Personnel problems curse Kelly’s season two fold

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.

Condolences

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.

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Eyes on the Irish: Notre Dame regresses

Throughout the season, whether it was a win or a loss, fans and Brian Kelly alike could at least point to the fact that something Notre Dame was doing was in a positive direction.

Saturday’s game against Navy exposed holes all over the place for the Fighting Irish and put a very large exclamation point on the fact that Notre Dame is not ‘back’ as many fans liked to think as the team came into the Meadowlands on a three-game winning streak.

Defensively, Notre Dame not only looked slow, but not nearly physical enough, right from the get-go when they allowed a 99-yard drive for a touchdown on Navy’s first drive of the game. They did not get off blocks and were undisciplined against the triple option. Granted, the Mids run that offense like they invented it, but Notre Dame, who had moved up to 44th nationally in run defense, gave up 367 yards, more than SMU, Wake Forest, Air Force, Louisiana Tech and Georgia Southern.

Offensively, Notre Dame was able to move the ball well to start the first half, but, like the rest of his Irish teammates, was not able to put together a consistent, 60-minute game.

Notre Dame drove on the first possession of the game 71 yards on 13 plays, ate up nearly six minutes, but produced no points, as Notre Dame was stuffed on the one-yard line. Still, the Irish had to feel pretty good about their ability to move the football and keep it out of Ricky Dobbs’ hands.

On their next two drives, Notre Dame scored and were keeping pace with the Mids. Then everything started to unravel. After finding T.J. Jones for a touchdown to make the score 14-10 in the second, Crist completed just one of his next five passes, including two bad interceptions and on a critical third quarter drive, while down by three scores, Crist brought the Irish to the Navy 24-yard line, failed to come up with another first down. Granted, that one wasn’t all his fault, as Jones dropped a pass that would have gotten him past the marker on second down.

You can blame the fact that he didn’t have Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd if you’d like, but this was more just a matter of inconsistency. After starting the game for 11-for-16 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown through a quarter and a half, Crist went 8-for-15 for 66 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Kelly has not been happy with the play of Crist and it’s not all Crist’s fault. However, stupid interceptions, such as the ones that he threw on Saturday surely have to have his coach wondering how much he can trust his junior signal caller. Regardless, he’s stuck with him for at least one season.

After playing teams like Michigan (who has come back down to earth) and  Michigan State tough, it appeared the Irish could at least compete with any team on their schedule. Now fans have to be wondering if that’s the case.

Eyes on the Irish: Notre Dame trying to overcome injury

As the Irish get set to take on Navy, they are preparing to do so without the help of come key weapons.

The latest in a long line of injuries is the high-ankle sprain sustained by No. 2 reciever Theo Riddick. He’s already been ruled out of Saturday’s game and severely weakens a Notre Dame offense that is already reeling.

After the Irish’s win over Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Kyle Rudolph was deemed done for the season because he needs surgery on his injured hamstring. That news that may mean we’ve seen the last of Rudolph, maybe the top NFL tight end prospect in football, in a Notre Dame uniform.

In addition to Rudolph, Michael Floyd is dealing with a hamstring injury, though it didn’t seem to affect him against Western Michigan, as he hauled in three touchdown passes.

In the backfield, Armando Allen is hurt (surprise, surprise) with a hip pointer and only got three carries in the first half against Western Michigan, failing to pick up a single yard.

Saturdays game will truly test how deep this Notre Dame team is.

Navy, once again, is an underrated team that has overcome a slow start to win back-to-back games on its way to a 4-2 record heading into the Meadowlands.

Defensively,  Navy is ranked ninth overall in pass defense. However, that does not mean they are not vulnerable. The Midshipmen have allowed five touchdowns through the air in their last two games. The  key to this matchup is whether or not fill-ins, such as T.J. Jones and Tyler Eifert can step up and help the passing game.

Both have shown an ability to make a difference, albeit against teams with defenses that aren’t very good. Jones caught three passes, including a touchdown in back-to-back games against Purdue and Michigan, but has had only one multi-catch game since. Eifert caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan.

Can they provide enough support to allow Dayne Crist and Floyd to get it done?

Eyes on the Irish (10/4): Back on track? Not quite, but it’s a start.

Staring a 1-4 start in the face, Notre Dame responded with a 31-13 win over Boston College and hope was restored in South Bend. Sort of.

Notre Dame jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first 13 minutes of the game, which was a terrific effort, but there are 60 minutes in a football game and for most of the remaining 42 minutes, Notre Dame’s offense was strikingly anemic. They were able to add a field goal with just over five minutes remaining in the first half and just once in the third quarter.

On the plus side, Dayne Crist spread the ball around to seven different receivers and scored three touchdowns, including a seven-yard run on the opening drive, showing an increase in his mobility.

However, Notre Dame also gave the ball up three times, including two fumbles. One of those fumbles gave Boston College the ball on the Notre Dame 14-yard line. A better team would have made it a game at that point.

Notre Dame was fortunate enough to be dealing with a team without a quarterback. With Dave Shinskie benched, Boston College started true freshman Chase Rettig, who was able to make some good reads, but rushed throws early and completed just one of his first five passes for minus-one yards. He did settle in and completed four of his next five, including a 58-yard touchdown, but then left the game with a sprained ankle

Mike Marscovettra was ineffective and threw two interceptions that destroyed any chance Boston College had at a comeback.

Notre Dame’s defense was a bright spot, regardless of the Eagles’ quarterback situation. Partially because of the fact they were able to jump out to an early lead, the Irish were able to shut down the Eagle’s running game and force the Eagles to beat them through the air.

While it seems obvious that a team would not run as much when behind, the manner in which the Eagles were shut down was especially encouraging. Montel Harris, who had rushed for over 100 yards in seven of his last eight games, dating back to last season, was held to his lowest rushing total – 28 yards – since a September, 2009 loss to Clemson. As a team, Boston College was held to five yards rushing, the lowest yardage allowed by a Notre Dame team in almost 15 years.

The trip to Chestnut Hill was the start of a much easier stretch for the Irish, who played three teams in their first four games that are currently in the top 25. Pittsburgh is 2-2, but the two wins came against FCS New Hampshire and Florida International. Against quality opponents, the Panthers are 0-2, including a 31-3 drubbing at the hands of Miami. After that, Notre Dame plays Western Michigan and a struggling Navy team, then Tulsa. Those three games should give the Irish more time to work out the wrinkles as they continue adapting to a new offense and defense  as they gear up for a difficult end to the season that includes ranked teams in Utah and USC.

Eyes on the Irish (9/30): Don’t sleep on Boston College’s freshman

A team in a position like the one Notre Dame is in right now cannot afford to take anyone lightly, even if that someone is a true freshman quarterback starting his first game. That’s the first of my five things to watch during this week’s prime time game between Notre Dame and Boston College.

1. Notre Dame must treat true frosh Chase Rettig like he’s any other quarterback.

While BC coach Frank Spaziani is keeping his mouth shut regarding his quarterback situation, someone else spilled the beans. According to a source talking to the Boston Globe, true freshman Chase Rettig took 80 percent of the first team snaps and will start at quarterback on Saturday. Rettig may be green, but he’s a highly-touted recruit who snubbed the likes of Tennessee and USC for Boston College. Considered a 3-4 star recruit by most outlets, he features a big body with a big arm to go along with it. Where he still needs work is with his accuracy, which scouts have pointed out since his high school days. Outside linebackers, such as Darius Flemming and Brian Smith, have to put him on the run and let the secondary clean up his mistakes.

2. Will a hobbled Kyle Rudolph get shut down again?

Say what you will about how well Theo Riddick is adapting to the slot receiver position. There are still two go-to guys in the Notre Dame passing game and one of them is tight end Kyle Rudolph. Most likely, Rudolph will be lined up against former ACC Defensive Player of the Year Merk Herzlich, who two years ago was tied for the lead nationally in interceptions by a linebacker. Especially given his hamstring situation, which no doubt factored into his one catch, one yard performance against Stanford last week, Rudolph could be in for another sub-par performance.

3. Michael Floyd may be in for a big day against the BC secondary.

Floyd will be one of the tallest men on the field when the Irish offense lines up against the Eagles’ defense. Herzlich is Boston College’s biggest defender in terms of height at 6-foot-4 and as athletic as he is, he’s not going to see himself covering Floyd, who stands at  6-foot-3. Boston College’s top corner is DeLeon Gause, who has the speed to keep up with Floyd, but at 5-foot-11, 184 pounds, it’s questionable as to whether or not he can handle a guy like Floyd, who bench presses 250 pounds and has close to a 40-inch vertical leap. Floyd’s size is greater than that of anyone in the defensive backfield for Boston College and that, coupled with his ability, could mean good things for Notre Dame.

4. Montel Harris will have his first touchdown since the season opener against Weber State.

Notre Dame’s defense ranks 98th in rushing defense, allowing 189.75 years per game and have had a really hard time wrapping up small, hard-running backs who bounce off tackles the way Harris does. Nose guard Ian Williams needs to continue improving and take up multiple blockers to open opportunities for Manti Te’o and company to have a chance at filling the running lanes.

5. Notre Dame will end its three-game losing streak.

Notre Dame certainly has enough troubles of its own, but ultimately, it has a much more potent offense than Boston College and that could be the difference. Overall, Boston College’s weaknesses on offense could mask some of Notre Dame’s defensive problems and offensively, especially if Rudolph manages to find some space and Brian Kelly is able to get the running game going again after last week’s setback, then the Irish should win what could be a very interesting contest, matchup wise.

Really a rivalry?

While people tend to think the “Holy War” is an age-old rivalry, the two teams have actually only played 19 games against each other and despite the fact both programs have been in existence since the 1800s, they never played each other until 1975 in a game at Foxboro Stadium.

They met in the 1983 Liberty Bowl, then played again in 1987. It wasn’t until 1992 when they started playing on a regular basis. In 1991, Boston College decided to shed its independent status and join the Big East. When the Eagles jumped ship from the Big East to the ACC, the series was put on hiatus for a couple of years. Notre Dame has a handshake agreement with the Big East that it will try to schedule at least three Big East teams a year. So doesn’t it make sense that the marketing departments of Notre Dame and the Big East manufactured this “rivalry” between the two teams in order to market a game people otherwise wouldn’t care about and that Boston College wished to continue the series after it joined the ACC, knowing how much money they get from the game?

The fact that a game between a 2-1 team that just got easily handled by a Virginia Tech team that lost the James Madison and a 1-3 team that just proved it can’t compete with quality ranked opponents is a prime time game further illustrates why Boston College would want this game. This series is a lose-lose situation for Notre Dame. If they win, well, they’re Notre Dame. They’re supposed to win these games. If they lose, they get ridiculed for losing to an inferior opponent.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been an intriguing series. Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Boston College, 10-9, winning last year’s game 20-16. That win broke up a string of six-straight Boston College victories. Since the team’s started playing regularly in 1992, eight of the 16 games have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Notre Dame is 2-4 overall at Chestnut Hill and hasn’t won on the Boston College campus since 1998.

Eyes on the Irish (9/27): Notre Dame not nearly ready for the big time

The score was not indicative of the game. In fact, Notre Dame played far worse.

The Irish’s 37-14 loss to Stanford marked the lowest point in a season that has seen plenty of them thus far. However, the last-minute loss to Michigan and the overtime loss to Michigan State that led to both teams being ranked afterward had Notre Dame fans believing they could at least play with good, ranked opponents.

Saturday’s loss proved them wrong.

The defense, which has been called into question in recent weeks, actually had a game in which the box score does not reflect the effort. Until the fourth quarter, the defense held one of the best NFL quarterback prospects to one touchdown and the Irish were still within striking distance, even when down, 19-6.

But eventually, the defense got tired because of the offense’s ineptitude. Manti Te’o had an impressive 21 total tackles on the day, but that signals the larger issue: Why did Te’o have to be on the field long enough to accumulate 21 tackles?

It’s because Stanford knocked the Notre Dame offense out of rhythm the entire game and shut off any chance of Dayne Crist getting Kyle Rudolph involved in the offense. Rudolph, who started the game leading the nation in receiving by a tight end, was held to one catch for one yard on the day. Michael Floyd got his with over 100 yard receiving and Theo Riddick also once again impressed in the slot, but overall, the Irish were not able to sustain drives and were unable to run the football effectively enough to free up some receivers downfield.

Kelly’s teams have been known for their ability to pile on the points, but through four games, Notre Dame is averaging 23 points per game, which is worse than Utah State. Credit does have to be given to Stanford, who proved their early-season success on defense was not just a mirage created by playing Sacramento State, UCLA and Wake Forest in its first three games. What was most impressive was the Cardinal’s ability to shut down the pass without allowing a big day running.

People seem surprised that the team is losing games, even when early in the season they predicted the Irish would lose 3-4 games. It almost seems like fans said that simply so they did not seem overconfident as they had in 2009, but fully expected Notre Dame to be in the hunt for a championship. Anyone who expected that not only drank the Kelly Kool-Aid, they bobbed for apples in it. This is a coach who is in his first year trying to run his spread offense with pro-style personnel that he didn’t recruit. On the other side of the ball, he’s trying to transition to a brand new style that requires different responsibilities that players are still trying to learn. It wasn’t going to happen overnight.

The season is not over for Notre Dame. Far from it. It’s not time to pack it in and say there is no hope for a bowl game this year. Let’s face it, this has been a very difficult stretch of games for the Irish, including three teams that are currently ranked. Now the Irish now begin a stretch of very winnable games with Boston College (just shut out by Virginia Tech), Pittsburgh (recently embarrassed by Miami), Western Michigan, Navy and Tulsa.

The Stanford game proved Notre Dame is no where near ready to be called elite yet. Still, they have enough talent to win more than they lose.

Check back on Friday to see my five predictions on the Irish’s matchup with Boston College this Saturday.

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