What occurred in Raleigh, North Carolina, Saturday afternoon hardly resembled football. The data shows that's actually what it was, but it was just so hard to tell through that driving rain.
So here are five quick observations from Notre Dame's 10-3 road loss to North Carolina State:
1. Smarter heads should have prevailed
It was obvious by the opening kickoff this game shouldn't have been played in its original time slot. A slip here, a splash there, mud puddles quickly forming everywhere on the Wolfpack's natural grass field. Notre Dame made arrangements to fly back later on Sunday in the event of a rescheduling, and head coach Brian Kelly said the program was willing to play whenever from noon Saturday to noon Sunday. The smartest move seemed to be to play it a day early on Friday to make sure there was no effect on either team's preparation for next week. Moving the game wasn't only in the players' best interest, but the fans as well. Even in a down year, a visit to your home stadium from Notre Dame means something, and this one was washed away for the Wolfpack faithful. Somehow the ACC decided it was best that the show continue as planned, and thus we got the 10-3 snoozer we did.
2. Irish coaches dropped the ball
It doesn't take a wealth of football knowledge to know it's more difficult to throw and catch the ball in rain. And this wasn't any ordinary rain, rather the peripheral effects of a hurricane. Yet Kelly and his offensive staff stubbornly continued to call passing plays no matter how bad the aerial attack looked. Notre Dame finished with 26 pass attempts and 38 runs, which is far too close to 50-50 for those conditions. And quarterback DeShone Kizer's nine completions only gained 54 yards. When the Irish needed to run the ball and physically overwhelm an opponent for the first time all year, they were unable to. The Irish running game has been lacking all year, but Saturday was especially bad because the environment prevented Kizer's arm from bailing them out.
3. DL is trending up
After a listless start to the season, things might be looking up for Notre Dame's defensive line. Defensive tackle Daniel Cage was the first to break out with a strong showing against Michigan State, and he has maintained a solid level of play since. Defensive end Jay Hayes burst onto the scene last week against Syracuse, showing power and versatility unlike his peers at the position in his first extended action of the year. And Saturday it was Jerry Tillery who was a force from the interior of the line, finishing with a team-high nine tackles, including one for loss. Senior captain Isaac Rochell has been steady all year, and it's about time other players around him elevate their games.
4. Special teams lack consistency
Kicker Justin Yoon, punter Tyler Newsome and return man C.J. Sanders, the centerpieces of Notre Dame's special teams, all have shown the ability to excel at their respective jobs throughout their careers. And that makes some of the special teams gaffes this year all the more puzzling. The Irish lost Saturday's game on a botched punt that was returned for a touchdown by the Wolfpack, and there have been eyebrow-raising blunders in each of the three games before that. Against Syracuse, Yoon missed a 39-yarder. Against Duke, the Blue Devils racked up an average of 36.8 yards per kickoff return. And against Michigan State, Sanders' returned the opening kick to the house only to have it negated by a flag. Notre Dame isn't good enough this year to overcome lapses on special teams.
5. No confidence boost in sight
While the Irish have taken small positive steps since firing defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, this team remains flawed in multiple areas. And a quick glance at the schedule shows relief might not be coming any time soon for the reeling Irish. Next week they'll smash bodies with Stanford at home, then a bye week against a Miami team that was ranked 10th before a narrow loss to Florida State on Saturday, then a neutral site tilt with Navy and its tricky triple-option offense. Navy obviously seems like the safest bet for a win out of those three, but after the Midshipmen knocked off Houston this weekend, that game is no longer a gimme for the Irish. Notre Dame might not have a shot at really working out some frustration and pounding out a feel-good win until Nov. 12 at Army. And by then the Irish would only have two more regular season games to play. How much would it matter?
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