What is there to even say. I’ll offer up a few scrambled thoughts hastily jotted down in my Notes app in between whiskey gingers and fourth quarter games of Naturday slap cup (verdict on their spiked seltzer: pretty good!). And then we can bury this one in the abyss of our collective subconscious as best we can.
For the first quarter or so, it felt like everything was spiraling as a direct result of that blocked punt/fumble, a play that will live in infamy for the rest of our waking lives and that Jonathan Jones will have a hard time living down. A minor crisis after a genuinely insane mess of a rainy special teams miscue can be excused. An entire game of it cannot be. Brian Kelly and his staff clearly were not able to offer anything close to what the situation demanded. This team needed a horrendous PI call on a would-be interception to get on the board, and was genuinely never all that close to making it a game. (I could go on about makeup calls and all the missed holding penalties, but really, who cares.)
It’s insane that the game turned the wrong way on a punt that we blocked. Absolutely insane. But even with that bad break, this kind of outcome wasn’t likely. It shouldn’t have happened like that. So what’s to blame? How did a transparently ridiculous result come to be? Our head coach doesn’t have answers, and neither do I.
It’s unacceptable that this team gave that team— Michigan— that Michigan team, with that coach— a gift wrapped signature win. Road trip or not. Rain or not. Solid execution on the part of the Wolverines or not. It’s nothing less than unacceptable.
Ian Book did not resemble a functioning quarterback. It’s genuinely hard to imagine being too critical of that performance. As important as he’s been to this very good era of Notre Dame football (and one horrific loss doesn’t negate everything that came before it, as much as it feels like it might), that loss felt at least a little legacy-defining. With all due respect to what he’s accomplished as QB1 (and I could be off base here, but allow me to speculate), it feels increasingly likely that he at least explores options elsewhere after he graduates in the spring. Kelly was right to trust in his previously 14-2 starter, until he was blindsided with whatever that was. There were some big drops, sure, but he was scared to do…anything. I’m sick of yelling at my television as Cole Kmet breaks open downfield while our quarterback runs backwards and throws into double coverage off his back foot.
This excerpt from 18 Stripes’ pregame thoughts on the quarterback situation feels awfully telling now:
A loss to Michigan could weirdly flip things dramatically especially if Book doesn’t play well. Then you could look at his record and say he’s beaten 8 teams from 14 career wins who were .500 or worse (or currently .500 or worse) and his 3-3 record against ranked teams (kindly including the LSU bowl win) doesn’t feature wins against anyone better than No. 15th in the country.
Is it fair to say the Michigan game could be a tipping point for Ian Book?
Win and there will be a lot of good feelings around the program. Lose, and not only do you feel the ignominy of being defeated by Michigan but the Year Two Brian Kelly Quarterback Regression debate likely kicks into high gear for the rest of the season.
But it certainly wasn’t only Ian. The offense was entirely unresponsive, even when given multiple chances by the defense to close the gap. Chase Claypool had a few monster sideline catches, and that was about it. The line had looked like the team’s biggest strength for a few games in a row, and then they couldn’t be relied upon to give any of their running backs any daylight whatsoever.
Part of Kelly’s appeal is that we wouldn’t have to watch this movie again. That Miami 2017 was a late period aberration and that the program had dedicated enough resources to ensure that we wouldn’t bear witness to another total mental collapse on the road again, even in a loss. That illusion is now gone.
In this house we still respect Clark Lea, but my goodness, is that six bad quarters of defense in a row? The Michigan line had their way with the defensive front for a full sixty minutes. Terrible stuff! Michigan’s run game wasn’t anything special, and then they played Notre Dame, and then they were.
The team made two of its seven captains available to the media after the game. Maybe I’m reading too much into that, but maybe I’m not.
Do we care if they win out and make a major bowl game and hopefully get a win there? Of course we do. That’s still on the table, and that’s still the goal. But you’d be forgiven for not caring about it right now, in this moment. And you’d be right to be skeptical that Notre Dame wins out with this version of Ian Book because, spoiler alert, they don’t. You can’t win football games against solid talent with that offensive gameplan and execution. That was nothing short of a locomotive derailment, and it’s no simple task to hop back on the tracks.
Photo via Dustin Johnson