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Lorton: What’s the cause of all these mistakes by Notre Dame?

| Sunday, November 16, 2014

Irish junior receiver Chris Brown coughs up a fumble near the goal line during Notre Dame’s 43-40 overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.Michael Yu| Observer
Irish junior receiver Chris Brown coughs up a fumble near the goal line during Notre Dame’s 43-40 overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
The highest paid member of the Notre Dame football program next year should be a new team psychologist.

Despite the apparent talent of the Irish, they continue to make “critical mistakes” that cost them games. And yet, no one seems to know exactly why.

According to Irish coach Brian Kelly these problems come from the Irish being “inexperienced on defense” and “prone to making mistakes on offense” and not “eliminat[ing] those things on Saturdays.”

Kelly said, “We’re giving ballgames away, and that obviously is why we’re ending up on the wrong end of the win-loss column. What I like is that everybody is accountable, coaches and players alike. We all have to understand that we’ve got to coach better and play better. But it’s pretty clear what our problems are. It’s not like it’s a mystery.”

Yes, Notre Dame is making turnovers on offense and getting gashed on defense, but why are these things happening? It does not seem as clear to me, and it definitely does not seem like it isn’t a mystery to the Irish or their coaching staff because they have been consistently bad in the past five games and would have made the changes to fix these mistakes. It seems like this is a recent mental block the Irish can’t seem to move past.

Through the first three games, Everett Golson did not have a turnover and Notre Dame was undefeated. The offense was clean and efficient. People were praising Golson for his calm demeanor and good decision making. Since then, Golson has thrown 12 interceptions and lost seven fumbles, and people are asking when Malik Zaire is going to take over.

Through the first six games, there was no way Cam McDaniel would ever fumble a ball late in the game, or at any point in the game.

Kelly said, “I mean Cam McDaniel doesn’t fumble the football, especially when we’re closing out games.”

At the beginning of the season, wide receivers were making the catches they needed to, the kicking team looked like it knew what it was doing, and the coaches were calling good games. Since then, it seems as if the ball is slathered in grease when the Irish run it and is on a string straight into opponents’ hands when they pass. The Irish have 23 turnovers on the year now.

Through the first five games Notre Dame was still undefeated, and the story up to that point was the young defense playing beyond its years. Notre Dame’s defense was giving up only 12 points per game. Even after the 50-43 Notre Dame victory over UNC, the Irish were giving up only 17.2 points per game. Kelly talked about how the young guys were playing well and had enough experience to compete. What happened? In the past five games, including UNC, Notre Dame has given up 42.2 points per game. Now all Kelly can talk about is how the inexperience is hurting the Irish.

“There’s a lot to [our struggles on defense],” Kelly said. “I mean, you know, we’re obviously playing a lot of young guys that, you know, that are struggling and they’re doing their best but, you know, too many young guys on the field. That’s probably the biggest issue right now that we’re just trying to fight through, and we can still win games if we weren’t as sloppy as we are offensively.”

“We’ve just got to eliminate the mental mistakes on defense, and that’s the hard part with a bunch of young guys,” he said.

So, ultimately it seems to be the mental game of the Irish that is holding them back. The quarterback has 82.6 percent of the team’s turnovers, veteran guys are fumbling in the worst moments, the line can’t seem to get it together, the defense isn’t wrapping up or finishing tackles, and the secondary is getting burnt.

So if the coaches can’t seem to fix all of these problems, maybe a psychologist could.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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