Plenty of nightmares and dreams for Notre Dame's Kelly to mull

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —If Brian Kelly had ascended to the point in his household hierarchy that honey-do projects were no longer part of his reality, he may have wanted to reconsider this past weekend.

Anything to block out thoughts of both the last time Notre Dame played Syracuse in football and the last time Notre Dame played a football game in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The renewal of two of the most hideous losses of the post-Gerry Faust Era (1986-present), and perhaps inclusive of that, merge Saturday night in the Meadowlands as No. 8 Notre Dame (3-0) takes on Syracuse (2-1) in an off-site home game for the Orange (8 p.m. EDT; ABC-TV).

The fifth-year Notre Dame head coach was personally connected to only one of those forgettable past events, a 35-17 bludgeoning from Navy back on Oct. 23, 2010.

In that game, Alexander Teich and the Mids ran for a series-high 367 yards in a game in which the only fear Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo may have felt was being accused of running up the score.

Kelly was nursing a Cincinnati team into its first-ever BCS appearance with three different starting quarterbacks and five total in 2008 about the time then-Irish head coach Charlie Weis coached 20-point favorite Notre Dame to a 24-23 come-from-ahead loss to a Syracuse team playing with a former walk-on QB and a lame duck head coach (Greg Robinson).

The Orange’s QB, Cameron Dantley, son of former Irish star men’s basketball player Adrian Dantley, was promptly demoted to third string the following season.

Weis was nearly demoted to unemployed because of that loss, a fate that was deferred to after the 2009 season.

Among the lowlights on that Nov. 22, 2008 Senior Day, was ND rushing for 41 yards on 28 carries against a team that ranked 107th nationally in rushing defense and had given up 200 or more rushing yards to eight of its 10 previous opponents.

Even lower, more than a handful of people in the Notre Dame Stadium crowd opted to throw snowballs at an NBC cameraman and at their own team.

Some good came out of both those debacles.

Five-star linebacker prospect Manti Te’o was so cold in the 28-degree weather that he watched the second half of the Syracuse game indoors and eventually committed to and signed with the Irish. He later become a transformative defensive player that carried well into the Kelly regime.

Another defensive shift came from the Navy loss. Including that game, the eighth of the Kelly Era, the Irish had given up 14 rushing touchdowns, but allowed just one over the final five games of the 2010 season.

In fact, in the 47 games since the 2010 Navy loss, the Irish defenses have yielded a total of 26 rushing touchdowns. Only Alabama, with 24, has allowed fewer over the same time span.

In 2014, the Irish are one of only two of the 125 FBS teams that has yet to yield a rushing TD. Texas A&M is the other.

Here are a handful of other post-bye week thoughts Kelly could choose to distract himself with:

1. How real is this ND team’s strong defensive start? It depends if/when ND’s opponents can find cracks in it. But to this point, it’s doing what it was purported to be designed to do, create turnovers and, along with the obvious, hold down the points.

The Irish ranked 17th in turnovers gained, up from 103rd in 2013, and are third in scoring defense, up from 27th last season.

You could argue ND hasn’t faced an offensive juggernaut to date, and Rice’s No. 45 ranking in total offense as the best the Irish have gone against would back that up.

But only one team on ND’s remaining schedule is producing more yards per game than Rice — Arizona State, which ranks 13th in total offense. Saturday’s opponent, Syracuse, is next best among the nine future opponents at 46th.

The Orange lost a key piece to their offense Saturday in a 34-20 home loss to Maryland. Leading receiver Ashton Broyld,a 6-foot-3, 216-pound junior, will miss at least the ND game and possibly more with a lower-leg injury.

The two best signs that ND’s defense can and will hold up over the season? In each of their three games, the Irish held their opponents to what still stands as season lows in both rushing yards and total yards.

And this: ND opponents are averaging 4.75 yards a play. The 2012 team that finished seventh nationally in total defense allowed 4.78.

2. Maybe ND freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti didn’t need to trade away so many tickets to teammates for future Irish games in order to secure 20 for friends and family to make the 20-minute drive from nearby Demarest, N.J.

Not only are tickets for ND-Syracuse still on sale, they’re on Groupon! (http://www.groupon.com/deals/gl-met-life-stadium-11)

Fans, or Trumbetti’s family/friends, can pay $59 for one G-Pass for reserved seating on concourse 300 in sections 305–306, 321–322, or 330–331 ($87.05 value) or $69 for one G-Pass for reserved seating on concourse 200 in end zones ($107.45 value) — but only until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.

3. For all the talk about what the College Football Playoff selection committee might have done had Florida State fallen in a Jameis Winston-less game Saturday against Clemson, the Seminoles have plenty of work to do to impress, including and beyond their newly reinstated quarterback.

Their defensive numbers are shocking – run defense ranked 79th out of 125 in the FBS, pass-efficiency defense 82nd, total defense 63rd, scoring defense 30th, sacks 117th and tackles for loss 91st. Last season the Seminoles didn’t rank below 30th in any of those categories (18-2-3-1-30-22).

Offensively Florida State is 108th in rushing offense, down from 28th last season; 21st in passing offense (14th in 2013), 65th in total offense (third), 62nd in scoring offense (second) and 53rd in passing-efficiency (first).

FSU struggles on third down on both sides of the ball — ranking 108th in third-down conversion offense and 110th in third-down conversion defense. And on special teams, the Seminoles have gone from first in the country in kickoff returns to 117th.

Florida State needs a strong Notre Dame team before and after the Irish visit on Oct. 18. Currently, ND is the only remaining opponent ranked in the AP Top 25.

4. Speaking of reinstatement, when Kelly is asked about a status report of the Frozen Five Tuesday at his next press conference, it will mark Day 57 into the academic fraud investigation and hearing process.

5. Former Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel’s reign at the top of the national pass-efficiency ratings lasted a week, with the now University of Cincinnati junior tumbling to a still-impressive 10th after UC escaped 29-point underdog Miami (Ohio) at home, 31-24.

Maybe more impressive was the quarterback he was going against, former ND QB Andrew Hendrix, given the Miami starter was playing behind a patchwork offensive line.

Hendrix was sacked eight times, but still threw for 262 yards on 13-of-26 accuracy with one interception and two passing TDs. He had Miami (0-4) first and goal at the UC 1 late in the fourth quarter, but the RedHawks couldn’t push across the tying score.

Hendrix stands 89th nationally in passing efficiency, two spots ahead of the QB Notre Dame will face Saturday, Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt.

Kiel was 25-of-39 with two picks and four touchdowns with one sack against Miami. Saturday he’ll play in his first road game as a starter, a date in Columbus with Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are seventh nationally in pass-efficiency defense and 13th in total defense, a big step up from Toledo’s 103 and 120 rankings, respectively, the team Kiel debuted and built his big numbers against.

According to the Associated Press, UC (2-0) earns an $888,246 payday from OSU for playing road warrior without a return visit.

Coaching Miami Saturday was former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, whom Kiel sort of took a verbal jab at when he transferred out of ND. Kiel will later this season face ND’s former defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco, when UC visits Diaco’s UConn team on Nov. 22.

6. Martin, meanwhile, faces another former Kelly offensive coordinator in Jeff Quinn Saturday, when the RedHawks try to break their 20-game losing streak, at Buffalo.

Kelly’s offensive coordinator between those two was Charley Molnar, now the receivers coach at Idaho. He was purged after two seasons as the head coach at UMass after going 2-22.

7. Former Notre Dame head coaches Bob Davie and Charlie Weis won on the same day last Saturday. And it happens more often than you think, even though Davie is 8-20 in his third season at New Mexico and Weis has won six of 27 games at Kansas.

Saturday was actually the third time it’s happened.

Davie’s New Mexico team (1-2) edged underdog New Mexico State, 38-35, while Weis’ Kansas team (2-1) took down Central Michigan, 24-10.

8. The Syracuse team’s Sunday routine included yoga.

9. If you had Greg Bryant, Will Fuller and Joe Schmidt in the quarter-poll leading rusher/leading receiver/leading tackler pool before the season kicked off, it’s time to buy a real Lottery ticket.

The most stunning ND individual stat, though, through three games is linebacker Ben Councell with zero tackles.

10. Recruiting was a big part of the bye week. And for those frustrated by decommitments and near misses by Notre Dame recruiting in California, here’s a strong reason why the Irish coaching staff should and will persist:

Per NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, here are the states that produced the most talent on NFL opening-day rosters: 1. California (213), 2. Florida (200), 3. Texas (172), 4. Georgia (97), 5. Louisiana (50), tie for 6. South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey (each with 55).

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Notre Dame's Joe Schmidt, here celebrating after an interception during the ND-Purdue game Sept. 13 at Lucas Oil Stadium, is ND's leading tackler through three games. (SBT Photo/SANTIAGO FLORES)