Evaluating the Irish: Boston College Eagles
Prior to Notre Dame’s matchup against the Boston College Eagles, opinions about Brian Kelly, and the direction of the football program, ranged from cautious optimism to utter dismay. And while some of the most extremely pessimistic views of Kelly’s ability to coach at a “high profile” school still haven’t been stifled by Notre Dame’s 31-13 win over the struggling Eagles, for most fans, the win allows them to embrace some sense of relief—for now.
Sure, the Irish were fairly dominating against a hapless Boston College squad, but reservations remain as the team wasn’t especially spectacular in their victory. While the defense played a great game, it should also be remembered that the Eagle’s offense doesn’t exactly have the same amount of production and “wow factor” that the upcoming offenses possess.
Additionally, while the Irish offense managed to score 31 points, it was a fairly inconsistent performance from a squad that is still learning the intracacies of Kelly’s offensive philosophy. Until the entire team can progress to that elite level that everyone associated with the program expects—fans, coaches, and players included—it’s clear that the identity of this team going forward is that they are a jack-of-all-trades. They do many things proficiently and few things spectacularly.
As Dayne Crist progresses, so does the offense.
It’s tough to nail the inconsistencies of any unit, offense or defense, to one particular player. But, in Brian Kelly’s offensive scheme, production stems from Dayne Crist’s continued ability to progress in his understanding of the offense and the role of the quarterback in that offense. And while Crist has shown flashes of brilliance, he has also been fairly inconsistent through five games, often times having a great offensive series followed by a three-and-out. Additionally, his ability to recognize opposing defensive schemes and counter those schemes has taken on the same personality.
While the offense started the game at an extrmely rapid and productive pace, scoring on three of the first four drives of the game, it subsequently regressed—turning in an underwhelming performance throughout the rest of the game which saw the Irish produce points on only two of their final 13 drives (which also included two fumbles and an interception). And Kelly understands the need for continued determination to turn Crist from a pro-style quarterback into the spread-style variety that Kelly’s offense needs:
“We’ve begun to build on that process of developing him as a spread quarterback. He’s not there, yet. But he’s developing. He’s showing signs, and I think we’re going to get better each and every week with him.”
And while Notre Dame’s remaining schedule is positioned to ease up a bit, there are still a few teams in Pittsburgh, Utah, and Southern California that will look spoil any confidence that the Irish offense has or will gain from playing teams like Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Army. As it is with multiple underperforming areas of this current Irish team, the quicker the offensive unit can gel to produce a cohesive, competent attack, the better. Unfortunately, that progression will rest on Crist.
Pulling the ol’ switcheroo…
While it’s obvious that Boston College’s offense wasn’t exactly a stellar unit heading into Saturday’s game, the defense, which has traditionally been the weaker unit of the Irish team, turned out to be its strength. Good for a ranking of 103rd in the nation, Notre Dame’s defense was giving up an average of 433.75 yards per game before their outing on Saturday evening. However, following their contest with Boston College, the Irish rushing defense, which was fairly pedestrian against Stanford a week earlier, turned in a spectacular performance that allowed the Eagles to accumulate only five total yards on the ground.
Just like last week, when Notre Dame’s poor showing on defense was, in large part, due to the fact that Stanford’s offense was among the best in the nation, it’s important to remember this week that Boston College’s offense is certainly not their strongest asset and contributed in large part to how dominant Notre Dame’s defense was on Saturday. However, if Notre Dame can continue to progress in proper defensive fundamentals, the unit, which has played spectacularly at times this season, could turn out to be a pleasant surprise when the Irish take on more compentent offensive units in the future.
A problem of miscommunication.
In a recent article on Clashmore Mike, there was a comment regarding Notre Dame’s football team seeming contradiction of the “5-minute plan” that Kelly professed when he was hired as the new coach at Notre Dame. When pressed with the thought of “rebuilding” a team, Kelly responded,
“We don’t get a five-year plan. This is a five-minute plan. We’ve got to do it right away.”
This excited most Irish fans. Instead of having a coach who insists that building a program takes time and patience, Kelly had a different mindset. But, what exactly does this “5-minute plan” entail, and why, when Notre Dame turned in a sub-par performance against Stanford, are Irish supporters so quick to point out Kelly’s self-professed plan? And does this win against Boston College aleviate these concerns?
Simply put, Kelly’s notion of a 5-minute plan is based on the fact that, at Notre Dame, people expect results right away and in no way is this sentiment more apparent than the outrage by fans following Notre Dame’s somewhat embarassing loss to Stanford. But what would Irish fans rather have: temporary success that satisfies immediate needs for a skilled football team, but sub-standard performances throughout the rest of the coach’s tenure (see Willingham, Tyrone and Weis, Charles) or a natural and steady progression of fundamentals, technique, and the ability to consistently win that puts more emphasis on sustained success (Holtz)?
In an ironical contradiction, some Irish fans who were so upset with Notre Dame for firing Ty Willingham after three seasons, citing a lack of patience to produce results on the field, have been vocally displeased with the first five games of Kelly’s inaugural season. Those fans would have a semi-legitimate foundation for their argument if it had been clear over the past five games that the Irish weren’t becoming more competent in nearly every aspect of their play. And while the next seven games will be a better indicator of the overall direction of this program than the previous five, I think Brian Kelly will prove many people wrong.
In the meantime, give the guy a break.