Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2015

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

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UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE lar season and national title game ap- pearance in 2012, which seems forever ago. And as Kelly closes the book on his fifth season, the coach needs to reflect on himself and his coaching staff as much as he needs to evaluate his play- ers, and that starts with showing the flexibility it takes to make some neces- sary change. With only 16 victories in the last 26 games heading into the Music City Bowl, Notre Dame is winning at a 61.5-percent clip the last two seasons, meaning it is losing at a 38.5-percent rate, an obvious cause for much angst and wonderment among the Irish faithful. Critiquing any coach's specific sys- tem or strategies is left to more knowl- edgeable football minds than this one. But there are a couple of broader areas that Kelly needs to examine closely with a crossroad season on the hori- zon. Keep in mind, as we look ahead to 2015 — Kelly's sixth season here — that Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian are the only two of nine former Notre Dame coaches in the last 61 years to last more than six years on the job. And with Jim Harbaugh now taking over as the head coach at Michigan — along with Urban Meyer at Ohio State and James Franklin at Penn State — Kelly's work as a recruiter becomes even more difficult. Kelly is the right man for the Notre Dame job, but with pressure mounting after a 1-4 November record, a couple critical areas need to be addressed — quarterback play and general coaching strategy. When the Irish defense played well early this season, it played very well, in large part because of the confus- ing packages and aggressive coaching style of first-year defensive coordina- tor Brian VanGorder. But as game film was being pro- duced week by week, North Carolina was the first to crack the code with a fast-paced attack that piled up 43 points and 516 total yards. And in a copy-cat coaching world, Notre Dame surrendered an average of 41.6 points in its final seven regular-season games. Renewing respectability and confidence within this unit will be vi- tal to start next season. Offensively, confusion reigns. Kelly has always been lauded as one of the best quarterback coaches in the country, yet he has not shown it here. Dayne Crist wasn't the answer, nor was Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Luke Massa or Gunner Kiel. The verdict remains out on senior Everett Golson, but with a fresh quar- terback competition and sophomore Malik Zaire taking the starting job for the bowl game, uncertainty is the only sure thing. Again, Kelly is the right man at the right time for Notre Dame. But if re- cent coaching history is any teacher, adaptation from the coach needs to come next season before a coaching change does. ✦ Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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