Lesar: It's time for everyone at Notre Dame to look in the mirror

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Unfinished. Again.

This one hurts. And there are two weeks to let the pain gnaw away.

A dreadful second half Saturday night has sent the Notre Dame football program to the edge of a free fall that will almost be impossible to avoid.

This was a Stanford team that was ripe for a beat down. It was nowhere near the same one that beat Notre Dame on a last-second field goal last year. Instead, the Cardinal stopped the bleeding after two blowout losses, and left South Bend with a 17-10 victory.

The opportunity was there for the Irish. First down on the Stanford 14, 41 seconds left to play and no timeouts. Notre Dame needed a touchdown.

All it got was frustration. One completed pass for six yards, a sack for a six-yard loss, a spike to stop the clock, and a last ditch effort that didn’t yield a final pass attempt.

Make that five losses with a chance to either tie or win on the last possession.

Anybody else sense a trend?

Not only did the game rile Irish coach Brian Kelly, but a member of Stanford coaching staff lit the fuse after it was over. As everyone was leaving the field, Kelly said the coach said, “Bye, bye,” which wasn’t taken well in the heat of the moment.

OK, who gets the blame this week?

After Notre Dame’s self-destruction, there seemed to be plenty of culprits to go around.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer: two picks, one for a touchdown, before he got yanked in the third quarter, and then re-inserted for the final drive?

Center Sam Mustipher, a couple bad snaps including one that went out of the end zone for a safety?

The entire Irish offensive line, for a quite underwhelming performance that included generating 153 net rushing yards and gave up four sacks?

Backup quarterback Malik Zaire, who failed to generate any sort of a spark during his second-half duty that included three series?

How ‘bout the entire Irish defense? Even though it didn’t have to deal with Christian McCaffery (hip injury), one of the best running backs in the country, it still got torched by Bryce Love (129 rushing yards), though gave up just eight points.

There’s a gaggle of goats after this one.

Certainly Kelly’s handling of the quarterbacks won’t be second-guessed, even though former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen suggested in a tweet that Kizer leave early for the NFL since he has a coach that doesn’t believe in him.

Like all the other games the Irish have played this season, this was winnable. Stanford limped into South Bend as a program in as much – or more – turmoil as Notre Dame.

The next two weeks are going to be miserable for Notre Dame. When 2-5 teams have 14 days to try to put a finger on what went wrong, positive spins aren’t easy to come by.

There was a time midway through the second quarter, when everything seemed right with the world. Somewhere birds were chirping, the sun was shining, and, in Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish were in control of a 10-0 lead. Kizer had two long runs for 81 yards, as well as a one-yard TD.

It had the makings of a rout.

Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina, the same guy who beat the Irish with a last-second 35-yard field goal last year, doinked the top of the left upright with a 35-yarder this time.

Karma seemed heading in the Irish favor.

Then came the pick-six. And another interception. And the safety. And the floundering end to the final drive.

Time for everyone to look in the mirror.

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) reacts following the 17-10 loss to Stanford in an NCAA college football game Saturday, October 15, 2016, inside Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN