Notre Dame football suffered a brutal loss at the hands of Clemson on Saturday. Where do Brian Kelly and the Irish go from here?
The lead-in to the College Football Playoff felt different than the lead-in to Notre Dame’s berth in the BCS Championship six years ago. The result, however, was almost the same. Reeling after a difficult loss, the way the Irish respond to the latest embarrassment is of the utmost importance.
After the game, Brian Kelly mentioned how his perception of his team’s performance Saturday was different than Notre Dame’s performance in the title game in 2013. Talking to reporters, Kelly said “This felt so much different, like we gave up four plays that we uncharacteristically don’t give up.”
And while Notre Dame fans don’t want to hear that, it seems like Kelly is right.
Notre Dame hung on through most of the first two quarters, even as they had to overcome some unfortunate bounces and calls. Even when it seemed like Notre Dame was barely hanging on in the middle of the second quarter, backup defensive end Adetonkunbo Ogundeji came up with a sack of Trevor Lawrence on 3rd and 7. Clemson missed the ensuing field goal attempt, and once again, the Irish found a way to hang around.
But, unfortunately for the Irish, the offense wasn’t able to take advantage of the plays the defense did make. Outside of the first quarter, the Irish were pretty well stymied and unable to change field position to aid a defense that looked worn down the longer the game went.
For the Irish, the next step in the development of a program comes from the continued development of depth.
Taking a look at Notre Dame’s depth chart, the Irish have the talent to compete with teams like Clemson in the starting lineup. But when the injury bug bites, the Irish have shown they haven’t been equipped to deal with the loss of key players. Shaun Crawford’s injury in the week leading up to the Michigan plagued Notre Dame’s nickel package all season. Julian Love’s injury in Saturday’s game ultimately made Clemson’s life much easier on offense.
Depth was a major difference in Clemson’s throttling of the Irish and it became glaringly obvious as in the game’s final minutes. Notre Dame lost one player (Love) and its defense was exposed. Up 27 points, Clemson removed its starters, yet there was no noticeable drop-off in talent.
If Notre Dame wants to truly compete with the Alabamas and the Clemsons of the world, they need to develop depth. The good news for Irish fans is that the consistency of recruiting and the revived strength and conditioning program under Matt Balis seem to indicate that Notre Dame is on the right track to doing just that.
While it’s hard to feel any sort of optimism following Saturday’s defeat, it’s not impossible to look at the program where it is on December 30th, 2018 and where it was on January 8th, 2013 and say that the program is better off.
For more on the state of the program and what could lie ahead, check out the most recent episode of the Under the Dome Podcast: