2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 138 of 163

biggest recruiting weekend of the year, was canceled and several of the top prospects in the class of 2021 committed elsewhere before making it to campus. On June 9, Notre Dame players were al‑ lowed to return and stay at the on‑campus Morris Inn while under quarantine. Vol‑ untary workouts were slated to commence June 22. Presumably, a season will take place this fall, which may be truncated or adjusted according to the current severity of the pandemic, and the number of fans allowed in the stadium will shrink to meet social distancing requirements. 2. Notre Dame Parts Ways With Offensive Coordinator Chip Long On Dec. 11, amidst preparation for the Camping World Bowl Dec. 28, it was re‑ vealed that head coach Brian Kelly parted ways with third‑year offensive coordinator Chip Long. It was a surprising yet, in retro‑ spect, inevitable ending. In his three years of leading the Notre Dame offense, Long produced scoring aver‑ ages of 34.2, 31.4 and 36.8 points per game, the best stretch of the Kelly era. However, Long's temperament reportedly alienated other staff members and players were worn down from consistent berating by the of‑ fense's leader. That is not to say players and the overall offense did not benefit from Long's tutelage. "[Long is] the one that gave me my oppor‑ tunity," quarterback Ian Book said before the bowl game. "I haven't played a game here without him. I couldn't thank him enough." While the unceremonious ending to Long's time at Notre Dame might taint some perception of him (he is currently an analyst at the University of Tennessee), he played a significant role in helping the Irish rebound from a 4‑8 season in 2016 to 33‑6 the past three years. Sometimes divorce can occur even if from the outside looking in the home might ap‑ pear picturesque. 3. Tommy Rees And Lance Taylor Are Promoted It took weeks for an official decision, but in hindsight the vacant offensive coordinator position always belonged to quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, no matter how "ex‑ tensive" the search was purported to be for Long's replacement. The 2014 Notre Dame graduate and 2010‑13 signal‑caller had a somewhat roller‑ coaster playing career in South Bend, but Kelly from the outset envisioned a superb future for him in the coaching world. "To give back to a place that has given me so much, it's as rewarding as it can get," Rees said after the announcement on Jan. 14. "It's also high risk, though, because if things don't go well, you're probably not welcome back on campus. "You've got to make sure you're putting your best foot forward all the time." Rees will not have to take on the burden of increased offensive responsibilities alone. Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor, who is in his second year on staff in 2020, also received a promotion to run game coordinator. In their still‑unofficial debut together in the Camping World Bowl against Iowa State, the pair established the run early, pounding both sides of the offensive line. This re‑ sulted in 37 rushes compared to 28 passing attempts, allowing Notre Dame to control the pace for much of the game en route to a 33‑9 victory. Given the pandemic, their tenure is off to an uncertain start. The potential short‑term plus is the two coaches leading the offense are already familiar with the program. 4. Back-To-Back 11-Win Seasons For the first time since 1988‑89, Notre Dame produced back‑to‑back 11‑win sea‑ sons (12‑1 in 2018 and 11‑2 in 2019). Dur‑ ing this two‑year stretch, the Fighting Irish have also extended their homing winning streak to 18, the third longest since the open‑ ing of Notre Dame Stadium in 1930. The season was capped off by a 33‑9 rout of a frisky but outmatched Iowa State team in the Camping World Bowl Dec. 28. Yet the end result had a feeling of unful‑ fillment, especially with Notre Dame mov‑ ing up only four spots from No. 16 to a No. 12 finish in the AP poll despite closing with six straight wins, although only one came versus a ranked foe (Navy). Perhaps this tinge of disappointment says a lot about how far the program has come since the 4‑8 implosion in 2016 — but also how the 31‑point loss at Michigan Oct. 26 renewed skepticism nationally that while the Fighting Irish have become a top‑10 caliber program the past three years, it is still not yet deemed championship timber. Still, by the end of the season, the glass was at least half full for Kelly. "Any time you win 11 games, that's an outstanding football season," Kelly said after the victory over Iowa State. "There's only one team that wins a national championship. I measure it by what our kids did at the end of the season. "That is, they got back up, they went out and competed and overcame adversity." 5. Brian Kelly Declares Notre Dame is Capable Of A Top-Five Recruiting Class A statement at a late‑December on‑field press conference rarely draws so much atten‑ tion, but heads turned when Kelly stated that he believed the Irish could garner a top‑five recruiting class. "I do now," he said after a pre‑Camping World Bowl practice in Orlando, Fla. "We're going to change the way we do some things that is going to allow us to do that." This is in stark contrast to Kelly's stance in 2017 when he insinuated that academic and cultural "distinctions" would prevent Notre Dame from exceeding the top‑five to top‑15 range. His change in tune could be because, after three‑straight 10‑win seasons, the coach knows his program must recruit better in order to have a realistic shot at a national title. Thus far, his staff is behind the eight ball when it comes to achieving a top‑five class, but it's unclear if that has more to do with canceled recruiting visits or a failure to im‑ plement the necessary changes. BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 137 2019 Results Date Opponent Score Attendance Sept. 2 at Louisville W, 35-17 58,187 Sept. 14 New Mexico W, 66-14 77,622 Sept. 21 at Georgia L, 23-17 93,246 Sept. 28 Virginia W, 35-20 77,622 Oct. 5 Bowling Green W, 52-0 77,622 Oct. 12 USC W, 30-27 77,622 Oct. 26 at Michigan L, 45-14 111,909 Nov. 2 Virginia Tech W, 21-20 77,622 Nov. 9 at Duke W, 38-7 40,004 Nov. 16 Navy W, 52-20 74,080 Nov. 23 Boston College W, 40-7 71,827 Nov. 30 at Stanford W, 45-24 37,391 Dec. 28 vs. Iowa State* W, 33-9 46,948 * Camping World Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. "Any time you win 11 games, that's an outstanding football season. There's only one team that wins a national championship. I measure it by what our kids did at the end of the season. That is, they got back up, they went out and competed and overcame adversity." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY

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