Where is the confidence for Notre Dame?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Confidence may be at an all-time low during Brian Kelly’s five years in charge of the Notre Dame football program.

Not just because the Irish suffered the worst loss in the Kelly era Saturday at Southern Cal.

Not just because they have lost four straight to teams that, on paper, they should have beaten.

It’s because, right now, there is no semblance of consistency in terms of performance or execution.

There’s nothing more unnerving for a coach, five years into the development of his program, than to have to face that reality.

When a coach says, “All jobs are available,” like Kelly did after the 35-point loss to the Trojans, that’s a cry for help and an indictment of the development process of the program.

That’s the challenge staring back at Kelly right now.

Take the injury-depleted defense out of the equation, even though someone needs to be accountable for the big-picture number concerns on that side of the ball. Can’t just shrug the shoulders and chalk it up to bad luck. Every team experiences injuries. The key is to build a program to a point where it is collapse-proof.

The offense, though, has hardly been ravaged.

Everett Golson started every game at quarterback. Six weeks ago, he was a top-three candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Today, given the “what have you done for me lately” philosophy of college football, Golson isn’t even a favorite to be the Irish starter for whatever bowl game they play.

Twenty-two turnovers over the course of the season, and a very unemotional showing against Southern Cal, was too much for Kelly to stomach. Unlike Golson, Malik Zaire played like he wanted to be there. It would be hard to snatch the job from him, given those circumstances.

Notre Dame’s offensive line play has been puzzling. Line coach Harry Hiestand has proven to be a top-notch recruiter of talent, as well as a guy who knows how to put together a cohesive unit.

But, for whatever reason, this line never worked.

It got so bad that it had to be completely retooled three games into the season. That should have been the first sign that something was seriously wrong.

The Irish run game never seemed to come together. Out of 64 snaps Saturday, Notre Dame tried just 21 runs. Of course, trailing 21-0 in the first quarter can have an impact on play-calling. On the other hand, an effective running game probably could have kept 21-0 from happening.

When a veteran right tackle (Christian Lombard) is yanked mid-game in favor of a redshirt freshman (Mike McGlinchey), the red flags get hoisted. There’s a problem there.

And, the receivers?

“I was just praising our receivers group (last) week, and they came in and dropped too many balls,” Kelly said after the Southern Cal loss.

Kelly’s proud and competitive nature took a seismic hit Saturday. When he has to sit in front of the media and say that Southern Cal coach Steve Sarkisian “was very generous today, running the football to keep the score where it was,” that had to hurt him to the core.

Anybody else wonder what Lane Kiffin would have done?

Kelly appeared sullen and somewhat shell-shocked during his post-game meeting with the media. He was hardly the fiery, combative guy that made post-game after Arizona State so interesting.

Anyway, the next few weeks should have a profound impact for the Notre Dame football program.

This is an Irish crossroads, if there ever was one under Kelly.

This project doesn’t include construction, like the one going on outside the stadium now. This is more a demolition of the current problems with the hope of a re-birth.

Two courses of action seem logical: Check out; lobby hard for the brass at the University of Florida or any number of NFL teams that happen to fire a coach, to look past four very mediocre seasons and allow Kelly to bail from Notre Dame. Or, go to work on a major overhaul – attitude and performance – to try to rebuild a broken program from the ground up.

Confidence is the place to start.

Notre Dame’s Everett Golson exits the field following the the 49-14 loss to USC on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, at the L.A. Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)