Plamondon: Notre Dame must be more consistent moving forward
Brian Plamondon | Monday, September 28, 2015
On the surface, Notre Dame defeated Massachusetts soundly Saturday, winning 62-27 and out-gaining the Minutemen 681 yards to 450.
Those numbers, however, don’t tell the whole story.
Notre Dame’s inconsistent play against Massachusetts was troublesome, not only because it was against a middling Mid-American Conference team but also because that’s become the norm for the Irish so far this season.
The question of stability, or lack thereof, all starts on defense for the Irish. This unit looked like one of the most fearsome in the country when suffocating Texas, porous against a run-of-the-mill Virginia offense, then stout again when defending Georgia Tech’s triple option last week.
Against Massachusetts, it was a tale of two halves.
The Minutemen put up 20 points on the Irish in the first half, putting a short-lived scare into the Notre Dame faithful. After the Irish forced three consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game, the defense went into hibernation mode and allowed Massachusetts to score on three successive drives in the first half. Although the scouting report highlighted Massachusetts’ quality air attack, it still came as a total surprise when the Minutemen kept pace with the Irish and gained 276 yards of total offense in the first half alone.
With a Clemson offense next on the docket that sports prolific playmakers such as quarterback Deshaun Watson, that’s alarming.
To the Notre Dame defense’s credit, it righted the ship in the second half and made Massachusetts look like the MAC foe it is. They held the Minutemen to just seven points that came in garbage time with Notre Dame’s backups in the game. If Notre Dame’s defense disappears for a half against a different team, however, it will prove much costlier.
On offense, it was quarterback DeShone Kizer that lacked consistency. To be fair, Kizer has been the starting quarterback at Notre Dame for all of two weeks. But Notre Dame can only go as far as its signal caller, and he is certainly experiencing his fair share of growing pains. One wouldn’t be able to tell from his stat line — 15 of 22 passing for 207 yards, two touchdowns and an interception — but Kizer continues to miss a lot of throws. That was something Irish head coach Brian Kelly even admitted after the game, although he balanced that statement by mentioning Kizer’s ability to self-correct.
For a quarterback with only two career starts, Kizer’s decision-making is on its way to becoming his strong suit, as he has demonstrated the poise of a crafty veteran at times. Against Massachusetts, however, he showed the same flaws as he did against Georgia Tech. His execution on certain throws left those watching scratching their heads. Some found the turf well short of his receivers, while others were completions that did not hit receivers in-stride. Kizer has exceeded expectations and done enough to get the Irish comfortably by so far. But his consistency, not necessarily problematic against a team of Massachusetts’ caliber, must be improved upon with the Irish playing more formidable opponents down the road.
Now four games into the 2015 season, Kelly said he knows what the “heartbeat” of his football team is. For a group that has aspirations to play well into January, its time for Kelly and his coaching staff to coax a little bit more out of the Irish. It was an impressive win all things considered against Massachusetts, but in order to compete with the likes of Clemson and USC, the defense can’t disappear for three series in a row and fans shouldn’t have to worry about potentially easy throws finding the dirt.
Both Kizer and the defense have shown flashes of brilliance in recent weeks. It is time for them to perform on a consistent basis. The place they must start is none other than one of the biggest stage in all of college football, under the lights in Death Valley.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.