Notebook: Second-guessing, second chances or a second wind for Kelly and Notre Dame O-line?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The one corner of the college football world that seemed to be completely unfazed, if not encouraged, by eighth-ranked Notre Dame’s 24-16 absconding from Ball State Saturday was Vegas.

The eighth-ranked Irish (2-0) went from 20-1 odds to win the 2018 national championship before dispatching of the five-touchdown underdog to 14-1 odds after it, per Bovada.lv.

Only five teams have more favorable odds in these week’s snapshot: Alabama (2-1), Clemson (5-1), Georgia (8-1), Ohio State (8-1) and Wisconsin (12-1).

For the record, this Saturday’s upcoming opponent at Notre Dame Stadium, Vanderbilt (2-0), improved its title odds this week as well, after dispatching Nevada, 41-10, on Saturday. The Commodores went from 900-1 to 500-1 — tied with six other squads for the highest odds among the 52 FBS teams still on the board.

Perhaps some of ND’s betting-line love has to do with the Game 2 Blues under Kelly.

Saturday’s skittish win brought the Irish to 5-4 under Kelly in the second game of the season, and none of the four previous victories came against a team that went on to have a winning record. Ball State (1-1) is predicted to join that trend.

Of the four losses, only two (Michigan in 2011 and Georgia in 2017) came against teams that won more than seven games in that particular season.

All of which is probably good news for the 2018 Irish, given how untelling game 2s have been under Kelly. Arguably Kelly’s two best teams (2012 and 2015) struggled to win against far inferior teams in games in which the winning points came in the final 12 seconds.

And in both games, as was the case Saturday, the offensive line flailed in one phase or another.

In 2012, revered former offensive line coach Harry’s Hiestand’s second game on the Notre Dame coaching staff, the Irish ran for 52 yards on 36 carries for a 1.4-yard average, and a Zack Martin-led O-line surrendered a season-high five sacks in a 20-17 otherwise face-saving triumph over Purdue at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Purdue team finished the season 77th nationally in total defense, 78th against the run and amassed just 13 sacks over the other 12 games combined.

The Irish were significantly better in week 3 of 2012, against an elite Michigan State defense. In a 20-3 road victory, the Irish ran for 122 yards on 34 carries (3.6 average) and gave up one sack to a Spartan unit that finished 2012 fourth in total defense and eighth in rushing defense.

In 2015 on the road at Virginia, the Irish had some running success against Weis-Era Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta and his Cavaliers in a 24-17 escape.

Behind Virginia native C.J. Prosise, ND amassed 253 yards on 34 carries (7.4) but were flummoxed on the ground and in air on third down. In a game started by Malik Zaire at quarterback and finished by DeShone Kizer, the Irish were 0-of-10 on third-down conversions.

Kizer came on in relief of Zaire, whose season ended with a broken ankle. A Kizer-to-Will Fuller 39-yard TD pass, and ensuing two-point conversion, with 12 seconds left rescued the Irish from a 17-16 deficit.

Even the Joe Moore Award-winning Irish offensive line hardly looked the part in the 20-19 loss to Georgia in game 2 last season, albeit against the best game 2 opponent of the Kelly Era.

The Irish labored for 55 rushing yards on 37 carries for a 1.5 average and surrendered three sacks for 24 yards, including a strip/sack of QB Brandon Wimbush on Notre Dame’s last possession.

The 2018 group, which features four key members from the 2017 core, heads into Saturday’s first clash with Vanderbilt since 1996 104th of 128 nationally in rush offense (124.5), 11th from the bottom in yards per carry (2.83) and 98th in sacks allowed (3.0 per game).

Most alarming in the Ball State game were seven pressures in which a Cardinal defender went completely unblocked, and QB Brandon Wimbush’s bottom line when the Cardinals rushed just three and dropped eight into coverage —2-of-7 for 46 yards with two interceptions.

“There’s work to be done,” Kelly said Tuesday of his offensive line under the guidance of Hiestand’s successor, Jeff Quinn. “There’s no doubt about that. But I’ve been in it long enough to know where the red panic button is. It’s not even near my desk.

“We have to build continuity, communication, a standard of how we practice, a standard of how we communicate on a day-to-day basis. I’m confident the unit is going to be really strong.”

When pressed about specifics concerning the team’s overall preparation, for which Kelly blamed himself for the third press conference in a row, he offered: “Everything — everything, from tying their shoes to the food that we feed them. Got to control the weather better.”

Upon further review

For the second week in a row the official Notre Dame postgame stats — which are sent to the NCAA, mind you — listed freshman offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson having played in the game for the Irish. For the second straight week, it turns out that he did not.

That means seven true freshmen in the 27-man class have seen action, and not eight as previously reported.

Meanwhile, freshman rover/linebacker Shayne Simon, not credited with a tackle in Saturday’s official stats, now gets his first college tackle in the amended version on a Ball State kickoff return.

Vanderbilt AD resigns

Five days before Notre Dame and Vanderbilt meet in football for the third time ever, Vanderbilt athletic David Williams, the first African-American AD in Southeastern Conference history, announced Tuesday that he will resign.

The 70-year-old Williams, however, said he will stay on as athletic director and vice chancellor until his replacement is hired, then become a full-time law professor.

According to an Associated Press report, Williams said he told chancellor Nicholas Zeppos last October that he wanted to end his tenure as athletic director on June 30 before being persuaded to stay past that date.

Squibs

• Kelly said Tuesday that sophomore tight end Cole Kmet is doubtful for Saturday’s game with Vanderbilt after suffering a high ankle sprain in the win over Ball State.

• Wake Forest, ND’s Sept. 22 opponent in the first Irish road game of the season, has altered the kickoff time of this week’s game between the Demon Deacons and Boston College, due to the threat of Hurricane Florence.

The game, initially slated for Thursday night at 7:30 ET, will now kick at 5:30 p.m. ACC officials are open to modifying that further if conditions warrant it.

• The Irish are 11-7 (.611) at home against SEC foes all-time.

• Notre Dame has been outscored 17-0 in the fourth quarter this season.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks up at the scoreboard during last Saturday’s second game of the season against Ball State at Notre Dame Stadium.

No. 8 NOTRE DAME (2-0) vs. VANDERBILT (2-0)

Kickoff: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT

Where: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

Radio: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1)

Line: Notre Dame by 14½

YearOpponent Result Opp. Record 
2010 MichiganL 28-24 7-6
2011 Michigan L 35-3111-2
2012 Purdue W 20-176-7 
2013 Michigan L 41-30 7-6 
2014 Michigan W 31-05-7 
2015 Virginia W 34-274-8 
2016 Nevada W 39-105-7 
2017 Georgia L 20-19 13-2 
2018 Ball State W 24-16 1-1