Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 31, 2016

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

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Page 17 of 55

18 OCT. 31, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI I n the aftermath of Notre Dame's 10‑3 loss at North Carolina State Oct. 8, junior quarterback De‑ Shone Kizer could find a little solace. "I can guarantee that we won't have Hurricane Matthew in South Bend when we get back," Kizer said. Unfortunately, the football team's own internal storms began more than a month earlier in the season opener at Texas Sept. 4. It never really sub‑ sided since then while becoming flooded, literally and figuratively, with one issue after another. With a 2‑4 record at the halfway point of the season, the Fighting Irish already have endured a tumultu‑ ous and miserable campaign. They were even treading into an area one thought could not be possible — a repeat of the 3‑9 nightmare in 2007. Black clouds have seemingly hov‑ ered over this program pretty much since the final drive by Stanford last season that resulted in a made field goal and a 38‑36 win by the Cardinal over a College Football Playoff‑con‑ tending Notre Dame outfit. In the same way that Boston Col‑ lege's final drive against the 10‑0 and No. 1 Irish in 1993 led to the game‑ winning field goal as time expired for a 41‑39 victory and left the program under Lou Holtz (and Notre Dame overall) never quite the same again, that march by Stanford put the Brian Kelly era into a tailspin — it's 2‑6 in the eight games since then — from which it is attempting to recover. Entering 2016, from a superficial standpoint Notre Dame seemed to check all the boxes: • Solid recruiting. Check. It was in Rivals' top 15 each season since 2013, albeit with a lot of attrition from the 2013 haul. Definitely not closing the gap on Alabama and Ohio State, but better overall than anyone else on the schedule except maybe USC. • Quarterback experience and playmaking ability. Check. Easily the best in the Kelly era with projected first‑round pick Kizer and senior Ma‑ lik Zaire, deemed one of the "top five playmakers on the team." • Coaching. Check. Kelly is gener‑ ally held in high esteem and annu‑ ally rated among the top 10 to 15 in the business, and his entire staff from 2015 was returning. Continuity shouldn't be an issue. • Schedule. Check. Texas and USC were fraught with instability or in‑ experience, while Michigan State and Stanford were both home games with both undergoing huge attrition, including at quarterback. The 2016 slate might be one of the more "fa‑ vorable" slates, which boosted the high projections. Where did it go wrong? Let us count some of the ways: SENIOR ATTRITION Ideally, wide receivers Will Fuller and Corey Robinson, right guard Steve Elmer, linebacker Jaylon Smith and safety Max Redfield would have been in their senior seasons at Notre Dame. The double‑edged sword of strong recruiting/development saw the loss of Fuller and Smith to the NFL. Rob‑ inson and Elmer were consummate student‑athletes who truly put stu‑ dent first, and on their way to fulfill‑ ing lives beyond the gridiron. Internal Storm How did such a promising-looking team begin the season 2-4? The 10-3 defeat at North Carolina State Oct. 8 marked the sixth loss in eight games for head coach Brian Kelly's Irish, and left them sitting at 2-4 at the midway point of the 2016 season. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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