Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct.10, 2016

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

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4 OCT. 10, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED R ock bottom and judgment day arrived for Brian VanGorder on a Sunday morning just hours after a freshman Duke placekicker named AJ Reed hit a 19-yard field goal to complete one of the most dis- appointing upset losses in Irish foot- ball history. Mighty Notre Dame wasn't sup- posed to lose at home as a three- touchdown favorite to an opponent known much more for its basketball successes than anything it has ever done on the football field. But mighty Notre Dame did lose, falling to Duke 38-35 in a sickening ending to what was supposed to be a get-well game after a disappointing loss a week earlier to Michigan State. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly wasted little time launching his restoration project by firing the maligned defensive coordinator and vowing to finally take a keener inter- est in improving an Irish defense that has dragged down his program for most of the last three seasons under VanGorder. "We look to do that in very short order," Kelly vowed of a quick fix. From youth and fatigue to substi- tution and scheme, Kelly provided a long list of reasons to explain the defensive deficiencies. However, the biggest disconnect between Kelly and VanGorder — and the primary grounds for why Greg Hudson is now the interim DC — centered on player substitution patterns, or a lack thereof. "There are too many good football players that haven't been playing, in my estimation," Kelly explained. "… And they have to get in the game." Junior defensive lineman Jay Hayes and sophomore linebacker Asmar Bilal both earned lots of reps, rave reviews and big playing-time projections throughout spring ball and fall camp. Yet, both have played sparingly this season, and neither took a single defensive snap against Duke. Meanwhile, defensive linemen Isaac Rochell and Jerry Tillery, along with cornerback Cole Luke and oth- ers, routinely have taken the lion's share of snaps. By November, the long-term effects can take hold. "You can see the disparity right there," Kelly explained. "It then be- comes a one-dimensional football team, the haves and the have-nots, and that does not do well with morale." Kelly believes that tired legs be- cause of "overexposure" slowed safety Devin Studstill against Duke and contributed to a missed sideline tackle by the rookie defensive back that allowed the Blue Devils to score an easy 64-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game and set up the upset win. "Devin Studstill had 67 plays in him when he missed that play, and that was a simple play on the side- line," Kelly said. "He's a true fresh- man. Fatigue was a part of that." All of the events from early this season are reminiscent of last year when VanGorder became so substi- tution averse that physically chal- lenged senior linebacker Joe Schmidt was on the field for just more than 95 percent of the plays while healthy standout sophomore Nyles Morgan followed a promising freshman sea- son with only mop-up duty. "What we can start to do," Kelly said, "is put a depth chart together that gives a young man a look at say- ing, 'I got a shot here. I'm part of the solution.'" All of which begs the question as to why it took so long for Kelly to address a problem he admitted to tracking back in 2015 when substi- tutions were few while opponent points were many in consecutive losses to Stanford and Ohio State to finish last season? It's a question Kelly offers no clear answers to, but presumably a coach- ing dilemma that must've crossed his mind long before he fired VanGorder just four games into this season. Kelly took full responsibility ver- sus Duke for the defensive deficien- cies as well as his team's overall pas- sive approach, even when so much remains out there to play for. After entering this season with a top-10 ranking and playoff prospects, Notre Dame fans aren't overly inter- ested in chatting about the second- and third-tier bowl options the Irish are left to chase. But with so much confusion, chaos and change running through this program, securing those 15 postsea- son bowl practices may be more im- portant than any of the wins or losses that will come the rest of this regular season. ✦ A Change In The Defensive Approach UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Junior defensive lineman Jay Hayes was among a group of players that saw little to no defensive action against Duke, a situation head coach Brian Kelly said will be different going forward. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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