Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 45 of 47

46 DECEMBER 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED F our days prior to Notre Dame's game at Stanford, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was asked that if had he been told back in January his Fighting Irish would be 9-2 heading into the final game of the regular season … "I'll take it," replied Kelly, with the question not quite yet even completed. "Is it that simple?" the questioner asked in his follow up. "It's that simple," Kelly responded. This exchange sparks compelling debate. On one side, Kelly's response would seem understandable given that Notre Dame finished 4-8 last season. Getting to 9-2 reflected tangible prog- ress — never mind that Notre Dame was favored by the bookmakers in all 12 games (a first in many decades). On the other side, there was disap- pointment in that there are two mis- sions repeated by Kelly ad infinitum in the football operation: graduating ev- eryone and winning a national title. Rebuilding is never talked about as an option. That's why only at Notre Dame can you finish 4-8 and still be projected to win every game the following season. Yet, when the head coach acknowl- edged that at 0-0 he was willing to concede two defeats prior to the final regular-season outing, how can the lat- ter of the two goals not be interpreted as only lip service? I'd be willing to guess, and certainly hope, there was no preseason assem- blage in which the consensus feeling was, "If we can just get to 9-2 …" We've said it hundreds of times: You are not the Notre Dame football coach until 9-3 is a valley, not a peak (espe- cially after eight years). On paper, this 9-3 regular season will be trumpeted to the masses as apprecia- ble improvement. In reality, it actually is status quo for the past 24 years: A fall, a temporary rise, and back to reality. Or, just good enough to feel unfulfilled. • Once again, Notre Dame will not be in a major bowl, meaning an unfathom- able 24 straight years without a victory in such a contest when three dozen other schools have achieved it in that span. In the 25 years prior from 1969-93, the Irish led the nation with 10 such conquests, seven of them against No. 1 and/or unbeaten teams. That was status quo back then; this is now. • For the 23rd time in 24 years, Notre Dame will have lost at least three games. Yet national title contention is bandied about each preseason like it is at Ala- bama or Ohio State. • Notre Dame is 9-12 in November the past five years under Kelly, a sobering stat in itself. Under predecessor Charlie Weis, it was 10-11 in his five seasons during the same period. • Most disheartening, Kelly is now 2-10 in true road games during the regu- lar season against teams ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game. When you're at Notre Dame, you would at least like to be near .500 … maybe even .400. • Once again, we hear "Why can't Notre Dame be at least as good, or pro- gram-like, as Stanford?" which is 7-2 against the Irish since 2009. For 20-plus years now, 9-3 and even 10-3 seasons still left a void, a feeling of wanting. The 1998 Irish under Bob Davie began 9-1 — but finished with back-to-back losses. In 2002 under Tyrone Willingham, they were 8-0 (later 10-1) and No. 4 — but then lost three of the last five games, getting outscored 72-19 in the last two. In 2006 under Weis the Irish stood 10-1 — but then were outscored 85-38 in the last two games. This year's 8-1 start felt "different" — yet here the Irish are again at 9-3 while getting outscored 79-28 in the final two road games versus ranked foes. End- ing Stanford's dominance of the Irish at home and winning in a Big Six bowl versus a top-10 squad would have been truly "different." Notre Dame's football operation the past 24 years has sort of mirrored the Irish quarterback situation the last eight seasons: much early promise from a Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees, Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kizer … and then inertia, or even regression. The 4-8 season last year had its pros and cons for Kelly. The pro was it forced much change, and there was no place to go but up, which did happen. This will be fêted as one of the best bounce-back seasons in school history even though last year's fiasco never, ever should have occurred. The con is what was vastly different in this regular season finish that hadn't been seen in the last 24? With a 68-34 career record at Notre Dame, Kelly is viewed as a "two out of three wins" coach. Not bad to many, but not really fulfill- ing either. It's as simple as that. ✦ With the 38-20 loss at Stanford on Nov. 25, 2017, the Irish dropped to 9-12 in November from 2013-17 under head coach Brian Kelly. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA BEST OF THE FIFTH QUARTER ✦ LOU SOMOGYI ✦ DECEMBER 2017 Status Quo: Good Enough To Remain Unfulfilled EDITOR'S NOTE: The late, great Lou Somogyi possessed an unmatched knowledge of Notre Dame football, and it was his mission in life to share it with others. Those of us at Blue & Gold Illustrated would like to continue to provide his wisdom and unique perspective from his more than 37 years covering the Fighting Irish for this publication.

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