Chat Transcript: How fixable are the shortcomings of Ian Book, Brian Kelly and the lines?
Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Virginia Tech week. Just a reminder to include your name and hometown with your question(s). And a plea from me — I don't mind a little venting, but please go easy on the outright whining. The queue is loaded. Let's get started.
Dan from Beantown:Awesome forum, Eric! Thanks. Ian Book hit rock bottom Saturday night. I feel for him. It must be devastating. He needs to get out of his own head. Can uptempo get him just playing ball rather than trying to be a football chess player?
Eric Hansen: Dan, thank you. I think Notre Dame can and will do that in stretches, but they've invested a lot in Book in terms of getting him adept at pre-snap reads and his ability to check out of an unfavorable play. If offensive coordinator Chip Long abandoned that completely, I don't think you'd see progress. I like your suggestion, though, just in smaller doses.
John from Indy: Lou Holtz was 59 when it was "time" (or perhaps forced out). I have not looked at all past ND coaches, but it seems like upper 50s is a limit for demands of ND job. Brian Kelly just turned 58. Is it fair to have a "it's just time" discussion?
Eric Hansen: Before I answer the question, here is Brian Kelly's age and the ages of the other Notre Dame coaches when their respective regimes came to an end:
Lou Holtz 59
Brian Kelly 58
Dan Devine 56
Charlie Weis 53
Hugh Devore 53*
Ara Parseghian 51
Ty Willingham 50
Gerry Faust 50
Bob Davie 47
Joe Kuharich 45
Frank Leahy 45
Knute Rockne 43
Elmer Layden 37
Hunk Anderson 35
Ed McKeever 34
Jesse Harper 34
Terry Brennan 30
* Age at the end of Hugh Devore’s second tour of duty. He was ND’s interim head coach twice.
I don't think it's time to have that discussion, and I think it would be unfair to solely base that on age when it is time. Nick Saban is 68. Can you imagine what Alabama would have missed out on if he was pushed out in his late 50s, because someone didn't think he could handle the demands of the job?
Clancy from Sheboygan, Wis.: Hi Eric, I'd like your thoughts again on Javon McKinley. Seems he would have played more against Michigan given his physicality, the wet conditions, the trust Book has with him, plus the departure of Michael Young. Second question: We were in the game down only 10 (7-17) deep into the third quarter. Did Chip Long not make the halftime adjustments he's famous for? What are your thoughts on Chip Long's role in the offensive stagnation?
Eric Hansen: Clancy, Brian Kelly said earlier this week that Young's departure means more opportunities for McKinley, Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy. I like what McKinley brings, and I would use him situationally, but Lenzy is the player of those three who has the best chance to help transform the offense now and in 2020. So I would invest in him and see what I have in him if I were Long/Brian Kelly. As for Long, the way Ian Book and the offensive line were playing, I'm not sure what he could have drawn up that would have given a jolt to the offense. Bigger picture, I'm not sure Long is necessarily part of Book's regression, but I think he can be a big part of the solution.
Andrew from South Bend: Regarding the defensive ends' pass rush, I know Louisville and New Mexico were getting rid of the ball really quickly and a three-man front vs. USC limited opportunities, but our pass rush still feels underwhelming vs. expectations. Do the defensive ends' pressure rates disagree with the eye test/foggy memories of last year? Are they just getting double-teamed that much more without Jerry Tillery in the middle? Or is something else going on?
Eric Hansen: Andrew, I think we have a full enough body of work to answer that question, and my answer is I think you touched on every layer of the answer: Teams scheming to avoid the rush; the absence of a dynamic inside presence like Tillery; ND's decision to play so much three-man front against USC; and not playing up to expectations — yours or theirs. In the Michigan game, the Irish defensive line should have been the best position group on the field that night. They weren't close.
John from Marlborough Mass.: Hi Eric, love the chats. Interested in knowing what Kelly’s record is against teams ranked in the top 10, home and away? Also, wondering what ND’s class recruitment ranking is during his 10-year reign? Thank you.
Eric Hansen: OK, first part of your question: Notre Dame has played one team at home that was ranked in the top 10 at the time of that meeting in a decade of Brian Kelly-coached Irish football. That was last year, vs. Stanford, and ND won that game. By my count he's 2-7 against the Top 10 in away games and neutral-site bowl games.
As far as recruiting rankings: (All per Rivals) 2019: 14th; 2018: 11th; 2017: 13th; 2016: 13th; 2015: 11th; 2014: 11th; 2013: 3rd; 2012: 20th; 2011: 10th; 2010: 14th. The current class (2020) is ranked 13th. The 2021 class is ranked is No. 1.
Frank from Canton, Ga: Do you think Book should run the ball more to set up RPOs?
Eric Hansen: I have been studying Book's planned runs (vs. scrambles and RPOs) but haven't written about it yet. I do think there's some merit to that when the traditional running game bogs down. Last year's Michigan game with Wimbush, and the 2015 game with Kizer against Temple are a couple of examples where having that capacity and using it worked well. I haven't formed my conclusions yet, but I think it's a good question that that coaching staff should be asking itself.
Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, is it possible that a senior does not know the rules regarding a blocked/partially blocked punt and believed he had to recover the punt?
Eric Hansen: I think he got caught up in the emotion of the moment, and it was unfortunate.
Steve from Hillsborough, N.J.: Eric do you think there is a chance that Notre Dame buys out Brian Kelly’s remaining years on his contract? He has been a good coach, at best, nothing great. After all, after the 2016 season, when he had the exit interviews, it sure sounded like he didn’t have his hands on the steering wheel of the program for a few years prior. And now he says the preparation may not of been what it should have been the last couple weeks? The last complete embarrassment like against Michigan was either 2012 Alabama or against Miami with Jimmy Johnson in 1985. Thank you.
Eric Hansen: I think it's extremely short-sighted to base Brian Kelly's future on one game. Look, it was a bad loss. So was Ohio State's 49-20 thumping at Purdue last season and its 55-24 dismantling from Iowa the year before, each of which kept OSU out of the playoff. If this is the beginning of a downward spiral, then you have to look at it differently. For someone who has a 27-6 record since the start of 2017, Kelly deserves better than a knee-jerk reaction.
Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Good Morning/Afternoon Eric. Even though Notre Dame is neither, can you please clarify for me what exactly the analysts mean when they talk about the playoff rankings in terms of teams being "The Best" vs. "The Most Deserving?" I have been watching this process now for almost six years and I understand "Best." That's a pretty simple concept and criteria (and should be the only criteria if you ask me). But what exactly is "most deserving?" It seems to me the four best are logically — and therefore — the most deserving. What else could "deserving" be based on if you are not one of the four best? You are either one of the four best or you aren't. Nothing else should matter. This argument makes me crazy!!!!! Help!!!
Eric Hansen: Tim, I'll untangle the semantics for you. Let's look at 2012, a pre-playoff season. Until some upsets in week 12 that season, Alabama wasn't going to play for the national title. Most observers felt they were easily the best team, but they had a loss. Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame did not. Let's say only Oregon lost in week 12. K-State and ND would have played for the national title. No one objective would have thought K-State was better than 'Bama, but they were most deserving, because they took care of their business. Now you can apply that to the four-team playoff race. Oklahoma is probably a better team right now than some of the teams ranked ahead of it, but the Sooners lost to a then-unranked K-State team.
Ed from Palm Beach, Fla.: Eric, thanks for the chats. The complete body of evidence during Kelly's tenure cannot be discarded . After coaching over 30 years I am shocked to hear his comments after 'Bama, not ready for Miami, crowd noise at Georgia, then stating his team was not prepared for the Skunkbears. Please tell me where I have strayed.
Eric Hansen: I think Michigan stands alone in that conversation. In Alabama 2012, you had a Crimson Tide team that was clearly better. With Miami, you had an Irish team that had expended so much energy coming back from a 4-8 season, I think they got worn down. Miami was NOT better. The Georgia crowd noise issue was bad, but if it's the QB who is contributing greatly to not dealing with that correctly, do you throw him under the bus if you're Kelly. I think not. Now to Michigan, in my opinion, given the context (having extra time to prepare among that), it's the worst loss of the Kelly Era. I'm still trying to wrap my head around what happened. If you want to bang on Kelly for that game, it's warranted.
Bill H from Orlando: You wrote in a column after the disaster at Ann Arbor: What is there left to play for? Baylor? Yawn! How about pride, teammates, university? As an alum whose first two years at ND coincided with our last two non-bowl years ('67-'68), we experienced two losses before the end of October. I don't recall Ara (God bless his soul!) asking Moose Krause to cancel the rest of the schedule. Instead, he issued the same types of platitudes we are hearing this week (which get Kelly pilloried) and moved on, figuring out ways to get improved play. Now my question: I am more concerned about the recent regression of our defense than about Ian Book's flaws (second half against USC; four quarters against UM). Do you have a good fix on what is going on there and how it can be fixed in the short term?
Eric Hansen: My question was rhetorical in the sense, I wanted to find out from Brian Kelly what HE was going to use to motivate his team. I also wanted to show the gravity of the loss as it pertained to the big picture, so I wasn't suggesting in any way that the season be canceled or compromised. There' no question the run defense was alarming. And I pointed that out. No. 81 nationally is worse than any of the VanGorder years, but we've seen that unit get better quickly earlier this season. Sometimes progress isn't a straight line. I think it's an easier fix than what's going on with the QB.
Jeff from Wellington: The trick befell us last Saturday, hoping for treats today. Do you agree with Paul Finebaum that the best move for ND is to buy out Kelly's contract and go get Urban Meyer to coach? If not, why not?
Eric Hansen: Jeff, sorry, but ugh. I'm not sure I've ever looked at Paul Finebaum as a voice of reason. He lost a lot of credibility, including with his ESPN colleagues, when in 2016 he said Brian Kelly was a miserable human being and then admitted later to never having met him. I'm glad you brought Urban Meyer up. Outstanding coach, and likely will coach again. But there's a reason he's on the open market, doing TV. Do you really think the Zach Smith chapter at OSU and the Florida arrests are going to fly with the Notre Dame administration? It likely will be OK with other administrations, but not Notre Dame's. I don't see it happening.
RC from Albany, N.Y.: Well Eric this was the disappointing/frustrating loss in a while. Not sure which one hurts more this game or the inexplicable Miami loss. So many questions for you after that loss, but i’ll pick just one. Given some of the issues we witnessed earlier in the year, the poor performance on offense was less of a surprise (unfortunately). However, the defense’s poor performance was really surprising. I really felt like coach Clark Lea had moved the team beyond this type of performance on defense. What insights can you provide regarding what caused Saturday night’s meltdown? What gives you confidence that it was a one-time event. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: The inept offense didn't help the defense when it finally started to find its rhythm in the third quarter. Michigan's offensive line dominated, and the Irish defenders made it worse by getting away from their assignments and playing undisciplined at times. Remember, this is the first time a team scored more than 30 points against a Clark Lea defense. It was the longest active such streak in the FBS. Let's see how they respond against a balanced Virginia Tech attack with a very young offensive line.
Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Appreciate you taking the time for your readers. First of all, I am not a Kelly hater. I believe overall he does well with what he has. The two glaring weaknesses in my opinion are his inability to get championship-level QB play and the inability to win big games on the road. I believe the latter is a direct result of the former. He is the only common denominator in this pattern of behavior for the past decade. At which point does the powers-that-be address this, or are they content with this being how it is? And secondly, isn’t the fact Phil Jurkovec isn’t ready to help this team win another example of how poorly the QB situation continues to be at ND? You can replace Jurkovec’s name with Crist, Wimbush, Golson, Book, etc. Sorry for the dissertation! Thanks again.
Eric Hansen: Alex, if I ever need to take a sick day, I know now where to turn. That was extremely well put. Those two things absolutely need to be the next step in Kelly's coaching evolution and the program's evolution. The 2020 season is real opportunity to get back to the College Football Playoff. That team should be better than this one. If it's not, it's going to be largely because of QB play. You're absolutely right about the development of the No. 2 QB. I'm not advocating Jurkovec replace Book, but if his development is lacking, either something is wrong with the developmental model or he was a swing and a miss in the evaluation process.
George from El Segundo: Eric: While stepping back from the ledge after the "embarrassing no-show," it occurred to me that the biggest problem is trying to make Ian Book into something he isn't — and never will be. He is not a "dropback" or "pocket passer." However, he has an uncanny ability to run and throw on the run. The two best drives of the year (opening drive vs. Louisville and last drive against Southern Cal) are the best examples of these strengths. I suspect Kelly and Long are so intent on making him be something that isn't in his DNA that the team is ignoring his demonstrated strengths. Your input, please! Also, did Tommy Tremble miss the bus to Ann Arbor? Thank you.
Eric Hansen: George, when we had Evan Sharpley on the Pod of Gold podcast this week, he brought up similar questions and concerns. The example in which he went into depth was Brandon Wimbush, and trying too hard to make him a pocket passer instead of playing to his strengths. I'm not sure that's the case with Book, but I think it's worth exploring if we don't see some significant and swift improvement. As for Tommy Tremble, there were a lot of players and coaches who had similar Saturday nights.
Michael from Whereabouts Unknown: Regarding ND’s football coaching hires at all levels, it seems ND is always reactive rather than proactive. If you want to be elite, you hire elite and that takes elite $$$$. You don’t nickel-and-dime your way to a national championship. ND is flat-out cheap when it comes to being proactive. The Michigan game is an example. They gave out towels to anyone willing to reach in a box and grab as many as they wanted. ND has a “green out” and the fans get NOTHING!!!
Eric Hansen: Michael, if that's your biggest beef coming out of the Michigan game, you are having a wonderful life.
Dwight from central Arkansas: I suppose these are more observations than questions: (1) After watching UM's second-half domination at Penn State, I was not surprised how easy UM won last Saturday. (2) ND will lose at Stanford and possibly one more, to finish either 8-4 or 9-3. (3) Many are unhappy with Kelly. However, who do you hire? Only a handful of coaches in my opinion can lead their team to a national title, and ND could never hire them. (Lincoln Riley proved he is a good but not elite coach.) Kelly can lead ND to eight-, nine- or 10-win seasons, and finish in the top 20 most years. I can't think of anyone that ND might hire that will be any better. (4) Michigan vs. OSU should be a great game if Jim Harbaugh coaches/prepares like he did vs. the Irish. (5) Sadly, with the present state of college football, I can't foresee ND ever winning another national title.
Eric Hansen: Dwight, I agree with some of what you have to say, disagree with other statements.
ND Harvey from South Philly: E, like all ND fans we all suffer from a tough loss to Michigan or someone else, as a diehard fan I just don’t understand the negativity toward coach Kelly and the players. My question is how have the players reacted to social media and the negativity. Thank you. ND Forever. Go Irish.
Eric Hansen: It's hard to get a read on genuine player reaction, because they trotted out just two players (Alohi Gilman and Robert Hainsey) after the game and those two again with Cole Kmet and Julian Okwara on Tuesday night. Not a large sample size and lots of spin control. I think it was a disservice to Book not to make him available after the game. Knowing him and what kind of leader he is, he should have been given that opportunity. I don't see him as a guy who shrinks when adversity strikes, but that's what he was kind of made to look like.
Michael from Chicago: Worse offensive game plan: For Clemson or for UM? What would you have done differently? I recall versus Clemson you thought they should have thrown to the TE’s.
Eric Hansen: Michigan was much more worse. Clemson 2018 would maul Michigan 2019.
Jim From Phoenix: Hi Eric, Thank you for your outstanding work. While the players and assistants have changed, the one constant in Brian Kelly's 10th year is his inability to be even competitive in big games on the road. Is it unfair to conclude that is not "fixable"?
Eric Hansen: I would say if Notre Dame was falling flat in recruiting or regressing, perhaps. But I don't believe that's happening. And I do think it can and will get fixed.
Hank from Las Vegas, Nev.: Hello Eric I don't expect you to print this question, but here goes any way: After an abysmal performance against Michigan wouldn't now be a good time to find out exactly what the talent level of your non-starters is? In particular, backup QB Phil Jurkovec. With Book's performance this year, I would expect him to return for his final season. If Book stays, does Jurkovec enter the transfer portal, knowing Kelly's attachment to Book? I think Jurkovec leaves. Go Irish.
Eric Hansen: Hank. I'm not sure why you would consider your question unworthy. I think a lot of ND fans wonder the same thing. However, I am a firm believer you play for the season you're in. The Irish are 5-2 and ranked 16th. You owe it to guys like Shaun Crawford, Khalid Kareem and Jalen Elliott to play for this year. That doesn't mean you won't find answers along the way that will help you for 2020. I think you can develop Phil without replacing Book as the starter THIS season. Only if/when he is the better option would you make that switch. If Book stays and is the No. 1, what would Phil's reaction be? I think there would be a lot of other factors in play, including whether he felt like he was being given a fair opportunity to compete to be the starter.
Joe from Austin: I first wanted to thank Tim, from Wisconsin, on the food recommendation, of Pat O’Neill’s, in Ann Arbor! Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. Go Irish, and here’s hoping they can put last week behind 'em. I’m admittedly a glass half-full guy on many things. I was wondering, Eric, if the criticism on Book, while I know it was a poor game on his and pretty much the whole team’s part was knee jerk, in terms of replacing him as starter, I thought his leading the team against USC, in the fourth-quarter drive the previous game, was a mature and quality performance that couldn’t have gone much better and was similar to what he showed against LSU in that bowl game and the type of play we all thought warranted his starting. Should such recent play be dismissed based on the Michigan game alone?
Eric Hansen: Joe, thanks. Recent play shouldn't be dismissed. And while the late drive from Book was encouraging. the USC game was his third-worst statistical performance since taking over the starting job from Wimbush. He was flat much of the Virginia game and skittish vs. Louisville. His best games were against the No. 126 and 129 pass-efficiency defenses in the 130-team FBS. He needs to show progress this weekend.
Rick from Peoria: Do you think losses like this hurt the ND narrative so much that it eventually leads to another look at joining conference and potentially getting an extra game at end of the season?
Eric Hansen: Absolutely NOT.
Mike from Buffalo: In poor conditions, running the football well is a vital condition for success. Michigan adopted this paradigm. We had difficulty tackling after we slowed the runner at the line of scrimmage. Bilal looked liked he wanted no part of tackling. Why not play Bo Bauer? He is a run stopper and made the only big play of the game for ND. Should we begin to think about him playing against Navy?
Eric Hansen: Mike, there's a lot there to unpack. Bilal has been one of the most improved players this season. I wouldn't discard him after one step backward. Bo and Asmar Bilal don't play the same position. Bo is a middle linebacker, Bilal a buck and has more coverage responsibilities and plays in space more. Navy's scheme may dictate different personnel on defense, though Drew White seems like the most natural fit among the linebackers for that game.
Chris From Memphis: Is Michael Young’s transfer prior to the UM game as simple as being passed on the depth cart or is this a microcosm of a bigger issue within the program that might help explain last week's performance? Also, does ND now look to extend additional wide receiver recruiting offers?
Eric Hansen: What's been suggested to me is that the depth chart was the biggest issue. I'm still trying to reach out to Michael to get his side of things on the record. Sometimes there's personal stuff going on back home that makes a transfer more inviting. I'm not sure yet if that's the case. As far as recruiting, I think ND likes this 2020 wide receiver class and has a great start on 2021. If ND adds, it's likely going to be DBs.
Dave from Cary, N.C.: Eric if ND is going to go to the next level, why wouldn’t we move on to Phil Jurkovec to see if he is the answer for the long term?
Eric Hansen: Because the coaches see him in practice every day and still believe Book gives them the best chance to win.
Jim from Albuquerque: Hey Eric thanks for the great coverage of Irish football. I have the feeling that Brian Kelly believes that Book will, one of these weeks, return to last year’s performance and that’s why he continues play him instead of benching him. I have to question his judgement in this regard. I would’ve pulled him after the first quarter of Saturday’s game. Your thoughts?
Eric Hansen: I like Phil's potential a lot more than some others on the beat. Having said that, I haven't seen a practice since August and have to rely on Kelly (and others behind the scenes) to tell me what the QB situation looks like. If Book's the best option, play him — and fix him.
Dan from Fort Wayne: With two weeks to prepare for Michigan, how could Kelly and his coaching staff not have his team ready to play physical and at their best in a game that meant so much to ND? He never takes blame for not having them ready or being out-coached! Yes, he has a very good won-lost record, but he never wins the “big game!”
Eric Hansen: I believe he did take responsibility for the poor prep, but that won't make you feel any better, I bet.
Mike from Maine: Eric, I know that ND has a QB issue, and some other individual position question marks, but overall the skill level has significantly improved. Looking at the second half of the USC game and the whole Michigan game, the problem appears to be coaching/scheme/preparation. Against USC, ND was playing two or three D-linemen in the second half, and USC took advantage of the unlimited time to pick apart the secondary. ND's coaches never seemed to catch on. Against Michigan, in monsoon conditions that called for an eight-man box, ND seemed like it was playing against the Greatest Show on Turf in perfect weather. Meanwhile, Michigan was overplaying the run and completely stuffing ND's running game. Is there any question that these are examples of coaching failures?
Eric Hansen: Mike, in the instances you cited, ND flat-out got out-coached. Agreed.
Tom from Toronto: Hi Eric, you probably did not get to see it, but when Brian Kelly was being interviewed on TV right before the start of last Saturday’s game, in my mind he looked more nervous than a thief in church. Deer in the headlights also came to mind. If he was feeling that way, it had to have affected the team. He has had a very difficult time getting his teams ready for really big games. Do you think that he can overcome this challenge? And if so, how does he go about doing that?
Anyway, thank you for your insightful comments and reporting.
Eric Hansen: Tom, I did not go back and watch the TV copy, you're right. Part of not winning a higher percentage of big games is that they haven't happened at home. It took til year 9 to have a top 10 team visit Notre Dame Stadium. But if you aspire to get to the CFP and win games there, you need to do that away from home. It's Kelly's next step. He'll get that chance Oct. 3, 2020 when the Irish play Wisconsin in Green Bay.
Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Is Notre Dame masking an injury? Or is it a case that Book can't make or won't make the deep throws or is too uncomfortable to do so? If you asked the same five people the question about ND winning a national championship in five years, I wonder how many "no" answers you'd get now. My feeling is Kelly is prone to cronyism (VanGorder, ,Rees, Quinn) and that QBs and others wouldn't plateau as much under undetached, fully accredited QB & line coaches. Although Quinn gets recruiting credit. The last eight games, two blowouts and one tough loss. More emphasis in weight room not the answer. Go Irish. Go Hansen, the best objective analyst and writer that covers ND!!
Eric Hansen: Bill, thanks for the kind words. I've seen Book make those throws in practice. He needs to do it more in games. Maybe larger doses of Lenzy in the lineup will help foster that. In terms of winning the national title, I don't do this every week, but with some regularity, asking our podcast guests if ND can/will win a national title in the next five years. We have former ND players on, as well as national media such as Bruce Feldman, Andy Staples and Mike Tirico. Not one of them has said no.
Kevin from Tampa, Fla.: Eric, good articles after the unexpected meltdown. I had the Irish at 10-3 before the season started. They might end up there or at 9-4, which should be the worst-case scenario, but I have been wrong. A loss to Virginia Tech might send our beloved Irish into another tailspin like 2016. I hope not, but who saw the 2016 disaster coming? Not me.
Anyway, Book is not the same QB we saw last year, not by a long shot. He gets happy feet too quickly and misses open guys way too much. Is it the Clemson hangover?.Hmmm. At this point, why not play the other QBs and see what they have? If Ian is the best QB ND can put on the field at this point in the Kelly Era, this is not good. As a die-hard fan, I (and many others) are willing to see who else can step up and perform no matter what the results. We, the fans, are frustrated watching 'Bama, OSU, Clemson reload consistently with national championship type QBs .Why not ND? Is there an answer? Sorry for being so long, and thanks.
Eric Hansen: Kevin, thanks. One thing that Book never saw last year until the Clemson game was a top 50 defense. He struggled against it and the top 50s he's seen this season — Georgia, Michigan and, to an extent, Virginia. But he's also had flat spots against below-average defenses, in USC and Louisville. I'm not saying stick with Book forever, no matter what. But I think you have to see if you can fix him first, since there's been such an investment in him.
Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Regarding the comments that BK can’t win/never wins big games on the road, I would point them to ND’s win on the road at Norman! Now we all would like to win more of them.
Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric I'm glad to see that a lot of fans are bringing up Kelly's role in all this today. Listening to SportsBeat this week, it's been all about Book, and Kelly has been given a pass. I will say that Kelly has the program in a lot better shape than he got it from Charlie Weis, no doubt about that. But to me he's reached a ceiling, and unlike you I do not see it getting better under him — and I mean "national title" better. He's been there a decade, plenty of time to see greatness unfold and it hasn't.
In a majority of the ABC Saturday Night Football contests against Top 20 teams, they get waxed , not even competitive and there's always an excuse for it. Somewhere there is a disconnect. Where is it? I know he's not going anywhere, although he should. A good start for next year would be to dump Chip Long. His offensive plan is atrocious in these games, and there seems to be few adjustments. You and I have had discussions about him before, but he needs to go join his buddy Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa .
Eric Hansen: Jeff, the standard is a lot higher now than when Kelly arrived, both in his mind and the fans' minds. I see a lot of pieces in place that should help Kelly have a chance to get to the next level. Some of those answers are in the 2020 and 2021 recruiting classes. I am in no way discounting what a stink bomb Saturday night is/was on Kelly's résumé. I would like to see how he and the team respond.
Bob Rodes from Manchester, Tenn.: Hi Eric. Thanks as always for one of my favorite reads for Notre Dame football. I'm wondering whether Book's injury back in the Northwestern game has anything to do with his jumpiness in the pocket. I've noticed that the big drop in pass efficiency stats started after his game out with FSU. Do you think there might be a correlation? There certainly would with me, but like most of us, I'm not the special kind of crazy that is required to play quarterback.
Eric Hansen: I think you're asking if it's a mental thing? Could be, though if it were, I would imagine he hasn't shared it with the coaching staff. It certainly didn't show up in spring or training camp practices, though he wasn't taking hits then. It also didn't show up in the two games against Group of Five opponents, but maybe there's something there. It's worth asking someone who'd know. I plan to do that.
Bill from Illinois: Eric, love your live chats. Why can't ND win a big game on prime-time? Can Kelly not prepare his team? I hate when I hear Kelly say after he game that "we were not prepared." Whose fault is that? I don't like Finebaum, but he also stated that ND should never be on primetime telecasts as they will always find a reason to lose. Lack of preparation, lack of physicality, poor QB play, crowd noise, lack of talent —we have heard all these excuses over the years!
Eric Hansen: Bill, until Brian Kelly has a season like 2012, in which he beats two top 10 teams on the road, that's going to be the narrative, just like there used to be something called "Clemsoning" when Clemson used to fall off the big stage. I do mean this sincerely, because I don't understand it, what is the allure of listening and/or quoting Finebaum?
Jeff from Canton: I agree with you Eric, that this is the worst loss of the Brian Kelly era. As a lifelong ND fan, there isn't a team on the schedule that I looked more forward to than Michigan. Now I'll be a much older man before I see them play again unless ND gets them in a bowl game or the playoffs before 2033. Considering how big a game this was, why didn't Brian Kelly prepare the team? He said as much during the aftermath, that he didn't prepare the team properly. What exactly was the team doing for two weeks? I guess eating cheeseburgers like the rest of us. Kelly didn't really answer the "why" they didn't prepare. Do you have any opinions on why the team was so flat and unprepared for the game?
Eric Hansen: Jeff, it's something that has been very difficult to fathom, given Kelly's incredible record coming out of bye weeks both at ND and before coming here. The level of which the staff got out-coached is stunning. Still looking for answers.
Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Joe from Austin..you are welcome! It was my first time there as well, and it was great. Glad you enjoyed it. At least there we were among friends (for the most part). And it was Conor O'Neill's for anyone else who may want to go there in the future.
Ken from South Bend: I find the discussion from media and fans since the Michigan loss to be frustrating. I'm not an Ian Book cheerleader, but Book didn't allow 45 points to be scored by Michigan. Of the concerning aspects of the performance against Michigan, top of the heap needs to be line-of-scrimmage play. Michigan dominated. They COMPLETELY controlled the line. From there, it didn't matter how the QB played. If we can't compete at the line, we can't compete. So what needs to happen to improve line play? Offensive line was supposed to be a team strength coming into this season. From my vantage point, that has not happened.
Eric Hansen: Ken, you make some good points. There were a lot of things that needed to be fixed from that game. For the short term and the long term. I still put QB play at the top of that list.
Josh from NYC: Perhaps this is too related to Hank's question, but Kelly and Co. didn't think DeShone Kizer was capable of competently running the offense until he was forced in, and he turned out to be a gamer. It seems like Kelly doesn't think that's even a possibility with Jurkovec. Has Kelly discussed Jurkovec at all in the context of what happened with Kizer?
Eric Hansen: Not really, and Kizer did improve in leaps and bounds over the summer before he did take over. Even then, he surprised the coaching staff. To your question, that's actually an interesting thing to throw at BK here in the future.
Ray from Chicago: I was worried on the relative size of our linebackers heading into this season. They have speed and great at pursuing, but when linemen get to the second level, our linebackers can't shake them. USC and Michigan both ran right up the middle for tons of success. USC and Michigan had running backs the same size or bigger than our linebackers. Is this a defensive line issue or do you agree our linebackers are just not physical enough due to their size?
Eric Hansen: Ray, I understand your question. Against USC, Notre Dame conceded the run to avoid giving up big plays in the passing game. Against Michigan, ND got outschemed and outplayed.
Dan from Texas: Do you have initial thoughts on how the NCAA's name-and-likeness rule might impact ND?
Eric Hansen: Dan, I really don't want to take a deep dive into this until we know exactly when it will go into affect and exactly what it will look like. My sense is it's not going to change the trajectory one way or another of ND's program.
Cindy from Parts Unknown: What, if any, effect did Michael Young’s sudden transfer announcement have on the team which contributed in Saturday’s poor performance?
Eric Hansen: I think it had very little effect. That situation had been percolating for more than a week. He was not a cornerstone player on the field or in the locker room.
Fred from Huntsville, Ala.: As half the fan base is ready to run Brian Kelly off, I would suggest maybe trying to get a high-caliber QB coach first. Have we ever had one at ND? Tommy Rees is obviously not the answer, I would assume there is no way he will be around next year. Any suggestions?
Eric Hansen: I wouldn't agree that Rees is on the way out. Like Chip Long, I'm not sure he is to blame for Book's regression, but both should be part of the solution.
Martin from Orlando: I think Trevor Ruhland will do a fine job filling in. Thoughts?
Eric Hansen: Trevor Ruhland knows the offense as well as anyone on the team. Great guy, too. The question, because of a string of injuries over the years, is he physical enough to fill that injured guard Tommy Kraemer's role long term? That's why Josh Lugg is also an option.
Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, Jurkovec had issues with his throwing motion when he first came to ND. He looked like he was throwing the shot put rather than a football, dropping his elbow so low that the ball released by his ear. The coaches have been working with him on it and it looks better. But from the limited throws I've seen in the spring game and spotty action this fall, he still has issues with accuracy. Why do the masses think this inaccuracy is a better option than Book? What basis are people using to say Jurkovec is a better option? Do they have better knowledge than the coaches have who see him every day? Maybe the reason Book is the preferred choice of the coaches is the lack of a better option.
Eric Hansen: I think Kelly raised expectations beyond reason when at his National Signing Day press conference in 2018, he said this: "I think he's the best quarterback in the country. He's somebody that, you know, I could put up against any quarterback that I've ever seen."
Nick from Blacklick, Ohio: Since I live in the 'burbs of Columbus and since you didn't put any restrictions on Urban Meyer questions, how do I interpret his wife, Shelley's, denial that he isn't going to Notre Dame. Since she didn't do the same thing for the USC rumors, does that mean he will be coaching at USC?
Eric Hansen: I'm not following the USC situation that closely. It's really not in my lane at this point of the season. I don't know Mrs. Meyer or what her denials might mean.
Bill from Chicago: Eric, first time question. Why have Okwara and Kareem been so invisible on the edge except for the Virginia game. At the beginning of the season both were projected to be early-round NFL picks.
Eric Hansen: I kind of answered this earlier, there's a lot of layers to it, and Julian and Khalid are still highly regarded at the next level. Julian especially needs to play at a higher level.
Joe from Reno: Was at the game and it was very wet, limiting passing game to some extent. What bothers me is a lack of adjustments by the offense. Same formation every series. Same. Same. Same. I haven’t watched the tape, but it seems nothing was done to adjust to the weather? Please explain.
Eric Hansen: Once ND got behind and couldn't control the line of scrimmage, they were kind of cornered into passing ... and as you know, it didn't end well.
Adam Bisogno from Parts Unknown: Do you think Jonathan Jones will be sat the rest of the year after he tried to jump on the ball from the punt block? How does he get punished for something he should know growing up playing football. If it was his job, he probably would have been fired.
Eric Hansen: I think he watches the film with his teammates, learns from it and makes the most of his second chance.
Keith from Piedmont, S.C.: I'm 66 and a lifelong ND fan. I bleed Blue and Gold. When Ian took over, I really thought that we had found something with the offense under Chip Long. The one thing I've noticed is that Ian hasn't been the same (consistent) since suffering the injury against Northwestern last year.
I've heard numerous stories about what the exact injury was (broken ribs, punctured lung) but not definitely. What was the injury and do you think this might have something to do with his regression? He's tough as nails, but he's still human. The biggest difference I see is his unwillingness to stay in or move up in the pocket.
At the start of the season, with this personnel, I saw a 10-2 or 9-3 team. I did not want them to make the playoffs, because I believe the same thing would happen as last year. Kirk Herbstreit was wrong when he said this year's team is better than last year's. Thanks, I listen to SportsBeat every day. By the way, I was the one who sent you the picture of the Blue Hose sign.
Eric Hansen: Thank you for the Blue Hose sign. That was awesome. I did answer the injury question earlier, but I can add it was a rib and back injury. The effect it might have is something worth digging into. I know Dayne Crist's second knee injury adversely affected him.
Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Hi Eric. Hope you find your favorite Halloween food this evening.
Eric Hansen: Me too. Thanks.
Matt from Augusta, N.J.: As bad as book was, I’m really shocked how our defensive line got pushed around, especially in the second half. Was if effort, scheme, or was Michigan just that much tougher along both lines?
Eric Hansen: All of the above.
Michael from Charleston, W.Va.: Can we get a coach who coaches on the sidelines and shows some emotion? Why does BK just stand there stone-faced for three hours?
Eric Hansen: Wait. What?
Joe from Reno: ND can’t run the football. Period. They haven’t been able to all year. Oh yeah, an occasional big running play but even against Bowling Green and New Mexico, they couldn’t convert some third- and fourth-and-shorts. Am I crazy in thinking this?
Eric Hansen: You are crazy, Joe. They ran for 311 yards against USC the game right before this one!
Irwin Connelly from Flagler County, Fla.: Hello, Mr. Hansen. I'm a long-time reader, and like so many others an admirer of your insightful and informative articles. My question (and comment, I suppose) is this: It seems like this past week, most of the focus on the Irish has been on last week's game. Not, much on the upcoming, tough game against a good Virginia Tech team. Do you see this as a situation where the Irish loss last week significantly contributes to a second loss?
Eric Hansen: If the team is thinking like we (the media and fans) are, yeah it could. Brian Kelly even said "No more Michigan questions" in his Monday presser.
Marty from Sylvania, Ohio: Do you think Brian Kelly can win a national championship before his contract expires? If he doesn't, do you think ND will look elsewhere for a coach? You're well-respected as a logical and down-to-earth ND football reporter. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: Marty, I think we'll find out together next year. His contract runs out after 2021, though AD Jack Swarbrick told me he plans to extend it.
Jeff from LaPorte: With all the misguided chatter about replacing Ian with Phil, do you get a sense that Ian is handling this well or do you think the negativity is going to affect him. I feel BK can shed the "bring in Urban Meyer" silliness easily. However Ian seems to be locked up in his own world mentally already this year even before the pounding at Michigan.
Additionally, how do you feel the team as a whole has responded this week in practice? BK has mentioned a good maturity level for this team, but it seems they were easily rattled last weekend. Honestly, to me as a fan in the stands that night, it looked to me like most of them did not want to be on that field. No fire. No sense of urgency, just flat and going through the motions.
Eric Hansen: I talked to Joe Theismann about Ian's challenges with the negative chatter. It's real. And that's why I said Rees and Long can be part of the solution. As far as the players and how they're processing this, we used to get a good feel for that with BK on Thursday nights. We don't have that access anymore.
Eric Hansen: OK, I've got to cut it off there. Thanks for all the great questions and for keeping the whining to a minimum. I enjoyed this and I'll be back to do it all over again next Thursday at noon EST.