Why Notre Dame Should Feel Optimistic

After Notre Dame’s 20-19 home loss to Georgia on Saturday night, the media vultures have been out and swirling around head coach Brian Kelly. The reaction of the fan base seems to be along the lines “we let another one get away.”

I understand the reaction—heck, I wrote a blog post before the season saying that Kelly needed eight regular season wins to save his job and doubted that he’d get them. But I don’t share the negativity about Saturday night. I saw more reason for hope than despair in the way the Irish played.

Georgia can run the ball as well as any team Notre Dame will see all year and I thought the Irish front seven handled it reasonably well—by no means did they shut down the Bulldogs, but I turned on NBC that night expecting to watch Nick Chubb run wild. He didn’t. What I did see was Notre Dame’s defensive line consistently holding its own at the point of attack.

To say that this has not been an Irish strength in recent years is to understate the case. If Georgia really does have one of college football’s really good running games, than the Notre Dame defense acquitted themselves well.

It was the performance of the offensive front that disappointed and was the biggest reason Notre Dame ultimately came up short. The Bulldog defensive linemen routinely beat the Irish off the snap and disrupted offensive rhythm. That’s a big reason the Irish couldn’t finish drives, settling for four field goals and it’s the reason they lost.

But the track record of left offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson is strong enough to merit the benefit of the doubt and to say that their rough performances were more about Georgia’s strength rather than any underlying problem with Notre Dame .

In a nutshell, that’s the heart of the matter—was this result more about Georgia or about Notre Dame? My feeling in watching the Bulldogs is that I was watching the second-best team in the SEC behind Alabama, a team that will make a New Year’s Six bowl game. If that’s the case, then Notre Dame absolutely played well enough to get to the 8-4 season that I consider their benchmark for success in 2017.

The test of this theory is going to come in two weeks at Michigan State. If the Irish can go to East Lansing and deliver a victory, along with avoiding slipups at Boston College on Saturday and against Miami-Ohio on September 30, then ND will escape the first month at 4-1 and be in prime position the rest of the way.