Notre Dame is 7-2 in season openers under Brian Kelly’s leadership, surpassing Kelly’s overall win percentage but falling short in the “don’t slip on a banana peel and tumble down a spiral staircase and get your foot caught in a mop bucket and get your teeth knocked out by a falling baby grand piano” scale more than one would like. The upcoming trip to Louisville is notable in that it’s being played on the road (the second time under BK) and on a Monday night (that’s new), but unremarkable in the sense that the Irish face an unranked team with the odds stacked against it.
Louisville absolutely cratered last year, finishing 2-10 and swapping out Bobby Petrino for Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield. Regardless of Satterfield’s coaching bona fides, this is going to be a rough year for the Cardinals, who will need years to dig themselves out of the pit that was the 2018 football season. Notre Dame should keep them down there for a bit longer. In honor of BK’s tenth Irish opener, let’s do a quick memory refresher on the past decade’s debuts.
South Florida, 2011
Where to even begin. This was a football game, for at least a fraction of the time, one that made you question whether you’d actually been dead all along and in some super lame version of hell. The Bulls charged out to a 16-0 halftime lead, the prime culprit being Jonas Gray’s fumble at the goal line doorstep that was returned for a touchdown. It was a devastating swing after a commanding opening drive down to the 1-yard line, one the Irish never fully recovered from, even with the two hour halftime necessitated by lightning in the area. A holding penalty to wipe off an Irish score and Dayne Crist’s subsequent end zone interception didn’t help either.
Tommy Rees provided a spark, and the boys did their best to climb back despite another weather delay, but it wasn’t enough. When all was said and done, the Irish had literally doubled their opponent’s yardage, but also managed to exceed USF’s zero turnovers by five. The sheer amount of things that had to go wrong for this to happen the way it did is staggering. It took a minute shy of six hours for a Notre Dame team to lose in its own stadium to an actual Holtz, but by golly did they do it.
@ Texas, 2016
Theoretically, ND escaping this one with a win would have transferred all the “Notre Dame went 4-8” jokes to the Longhorns, another bad football team that ended the year with a 5-7 record. Getting ragged on the internet builds character, and now we’re all nice and strong, so that’s okay. But yeah, Texas wasn’t good, or Back, and an uneasy pregame feeling was emphatically downgraded to a stomach-drop realization that 2016 would be no fun at all.
Devoid of context or rooting interest, this was an entertaining few hours, which is more than I can say about the game above. But to lose to a freshman quarterback a year after demolishing more or less that same team wasn’t, uh, it wasn’t great. It’s amazing that DeShone Kizer had the game that he did (5 touchdowns, 0 picks) with BK waffling about his QB1. It was only a harbinger of things to come.
We Didn’t Lose These
Did you know that Lou Holtz is one of only three Notre Dame head coaches to lose his first game at the helm? Did you know Brian Kelly isn’t one of them? (I swear I’m genuinely not going anywhere with this, NDNation contrarianism is pure muscle memory at this point.) Unfortunately, losing the next three took the luster off of this already ho-hum win over a genuinely bad Purdue team. The Irish coasted to a 20-3 lead before giving up a safety and touchdown in quick succession, but a David Ruffer field goal with four and change left made it a two score game again, and that was that.
Temple, 2013 & 2017
Both these games served to partially alleviate concerns that lingered for months on end — Tommy Rees capably stepped in to fill the void left by Everett Golson’s season-long suspension; four years earlier, just getting an easy win was a breath of fresh air after the ~*bad vibes*~ that lingered from 2016. It took Josh Adams all of 33 seconds to break loose and score in ‘17, and the ‘13 Irish defense, led by a “remember them?” linebacking corps of Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, and Jarrett Grace, totally stifled the Owls. Neither of these were anywhere near as nervy as the 2015 ranked matchup in Philadelphia.
The triumphant return of Everett Golson! He jumped back in without missing a beat, accounting for five scores to set the tone for a sterling first half (:/) of the season. Bombs to Will Fuller and CJ Prosise showcased the offense at its explosive best, while everything else went pretty much according to plan. (Still, the next week was way more fun).
Waking up at ~7am on a Saturday as a college sophomore was absolutely no fun, but worth it just to see Stephon Tuitt rumble 77 yards for a score. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson were nearly as effective on the ground, and the Irish put up 27 straight until the Middies hit a field goal as the first half expired. Golson’s first start went off with only a few hitches, and Manti Te’o grabbed the first of his seven interceptions on the year.
Maybe the best overall performance of the Kelly era? 38-3 featuring big performances from the heavy hitters on the Irish’s best offense in years (except for Kizer, obviously). Sure, 2015 Texas wasn’t “good” or a “worthy opponent” but this was an absolute romp over a blue blood. The Longhorns mustered up 163 total yards! No one on the defensive even had a stat line that really jumps out — everyone just…played really well! This was a cool one.
“To be honest, I’m not really sure where they beat us. Still kind of confused. I came in the locker room and I looked around and kind of confused how we lost that game. Because I didn’t feel like they dominated us.” — Chase Winovich