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Football

McGinley: Kelly should look to the future, reset, regroup and rebuild

| Thursday, October 7, 2021

This weekend sucked. I will not lie about that. To be a student on campus when the home streak broke was not easy. Although, I’m sure it couldn’t have been easy to be a player or even a coach. I just don’t know that the team was fully prepared to face a team like Cincinnati last weekend, or maybe they were feeling too high coming off a big Wisconsin win. Regardless, the weekend resulted in a loss, and there are fixes that need to be made with that in mind.

The Irish need to turn to the future. Winning out almost guarantees a New Year’s Six Bowl and that’s all doable with the weapons on board, so long as Brian Kelly, Tommy Rees and the rest of the coaching staff can use them properly. Kelly said on Monday they know who will be in the backfield to ensure the Irish make the best of the rest of the season and to focus them back in but left it to the media’s imagination as to who that would be.

If graduate student Jack Coan sees the field again for the Irish, Brian Kelly has no foresight. That’s not to say that Coan is any worse than true freshman Tyler Buchner or sophomore Drew Pyne. I actually believe Coan filled his role on the roster as well as he could with the weapons provided to him. He stepped onto the field in the Florida State game and proved himself. He came in clutch in the Toledo game and he’s a strong pocket quarterback whether fans like it or not. To be a pocket quarterback though, you first need a pocket. You need somewhere to wait safely and to throw from. Outside of Coan’s skill, the offensive line could not give him the space to prove himself, so much so he came out of two games injured — against Wisconsin and almost injured against Cincinnati.

Coan’s skills need him to wait for too long. Without that pocket, he’s a sitting duck. That’s not his fault but that is a byproduct of him being on the field.

For the offensive line to see success, they need to be able to work with one set of skills behind them. Whether that’s Buchner or Pyne is again Kelly’s call, but they have to use one quarterback going forward and Kelly knows that, he definitively stated it.

The fear comes in because he hasn’t said he won’t pick Coan. Kelly’s already had a week where Pyne got 40% of the reps in practice. After that, Pyne went on to be the most successful option in the next two games. And, at this point, what Coan can potentially do for this season does not outweigh what having Pyne — or even Buchner — on the field can do for the future of the program. A national championship is farther out of reach now than it was at the start of the season, so far that any practice stats Coan can put up will not sway me to his finishing the season as a starter. His ability to win does not outweigh allowing one of the other two to set their feet. Yet, Kelly picked Coan to have the other 60% of the wraps and start anyway.

I said this when Coan was picked up as a transfer. I said it after the Bule-Gold game. And, I said it over the summer waiting to see what he could do. Now it has come to fruition. This is a rebuilding year. This schedule, to some degree, lent itself to rebuilding and setting the feet of both the offense and the defense under them in order to move forward. In a rebuilding year, the focus should be on a quarterback that is going to grow with his team, not one that graduates right before a season opener against Ohio State.

So now that we have one loss, the time for rebuilding is upon us. Kelly needs to make the call and he cannot pick his graduate transfer. It is okay to admit you were wrong, Coach. Especially if it will prevent you from further making the wrong decision and when, honestly, the “wrong decision” was worth a shot. It isn’t anymore. Take Pyne and get him set to be the star going forward.

What better space to do that than in a game that won’t be very offense-heavy? When you have three quarterbacks with different skills but who are finding results at similar levels, there is no reason not to just play one of them against Virginia Tech. There’s even less of a reason as the game will be oriented around the defense. That way, learning the ropes doesn’t cost as much because any lack of production wasn’t necessarily going to be there anyway. Virginia Tech is known for a certain volume in their stadium that combines with their defensive success to limit scoring to an 11 point average at home on the season. So, heading into Blacksburg this weekend is the perfect space for the Irish to take advantage of this kind of situation.

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