Categories
Sports

Tunney: The Brian Kelly experience

On Sunday night, at about 11:15 PM, Brian Kelly held up a single finger. It proved to be a decision he may come to regret. Quarterback Jayden Daniels had just led the LSU Tigers on a miraculous 99-yard drive with just 80 seconds left in the game, culminating in what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown as time expired.

It had been a tough game for the Tigers. But they now stood an extra point away from taking a shell-shocked Florida State Seminoles team into overtime. Then, special teams reared their ugly head. A Florida State player burst through a hole in the left side of the line and blocked the extra point try, sending it careening off the bottom crossbar. Game over. Seminoles win.

A blocked extra point in itself is indicative of a terrible game for a special teams unit. But this was not the first mistake that the unit had made in the course of the game. Returner Malik Nabers fumbled two punts, twice setting the Seminoles up with amazing field position. Fortunately for LSU, the defense stiffened. On the first possession, the Tigers forced a turnover on down. On the second, they recovered a poorly executed pitch to kickstart the 99-yard drive.

However, the Tigers also could have won the game had they not let a previous field goal attempt also get blocked by Florida State. Kelly said a “switch in personnel” was made after the first block. But the issue was not corrected. If you compare the two blocked kicks, they look remarkably similar. Both tries resulted in the left side of the line caving in, allowing a defender to step in and get a hand on the football.

To add further insult, Florida State’s special teams unit was ranked 106th in the country last season. To put it simply, it could not have gone worse in the kicking game for special teams coordinator Brian Polian, who has seemed to be Kelly’s right-hand man. When Kelly left South Bend for the Bayou, Polin was the only assistant coach who followed.

For Irish fans, Kelly’s loss on Sunday had many familiar overtures. Special team woes seemed to strike the Irish at unfortunate times throughout Kelly’s tenure. One only has to look back to 2016 to see multiple similarities. In what Irish fans now call the hurricane game, Notre Dame lost 10-3 to NC State. The culprits? A blocked punt and (predictably) bad snaps. Or you could go back to Kelly’s first season in 2010. A blocked extra point returned for two points and punt return TD helped to doom the Irish against a markedly inferior Tulsa team.

Apparently, bad snaps also followed Kelly down to Baton Rouge. On LSU’s first possession they looked destined for the end zone until a bad snap at the Seminoles’ five-yard line eventually led to a field goal. LSU’s slow start versus the Seminoles allowed them to amass a 17-3 lead. Again, for Irish fans, it seemed eerily similar. Just look back to 2020, when the Irish amassed a total of seven yards in a win against Duke in the first quarter.

What was not similar (and even worse for LSU) was offensive line play. Throughout Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish prided themselves on quality offensive line play. Just look at the NFL, it’s littered with Notre Dame linemen. For the Tigers last night, their offensive line got handled at the line of scrimmage. LSU was able to run for 139 yards last night. But the vast majority of the yards were on scrambles from Daniels after the line had broken. Having your quarterback lodge 16 rushes a game is not going to be a healthy proposition.

Furthermore, the decision to go for the extra point requires close scrutiny. Perhaps Kelly had bad memories of the Irish playing Northwestern in 2014. Kelly decided to go for two up 11, a call that failed and eventually led to Northwestern winning in overtime. Could that have been the reason why he took the ball out of the hands of the player who had willed his team to that point? One can only speculate.

The old saying goes that a leopard can’t change its spots. Maybe that’s true for tigers, too. Welcome to the Brian Kelly Experience, LSU.

Joseph Tunney

Contact Joseph at jtunney@nd.edu

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

Leave a Reply