Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame running game still running on empty

8 October 2016: Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams (33) runs the ball against the NC State Wolfpack during the second half of a football game at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, NC. The Wolfpack defeated the Fighting Irish 10-3.(Photo by Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire)
Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire

It really happened. Notre Dame and North Carolina State really played in those weather conditions Saturday afternoon in Raleigh.

The official box score of a college football game includes things like start time, time of the game, temperature, and weather conditions. The officially listed “Weather Conditions” on N.C. State’s official web site’s box score reads “Hurricane Matthew.”

The two teams didn’t play a football game Saturday as much as they engaged in a Slip ‘N Slide battle of attrition in driving rains accompanied by winds of up to 41 miles an hour. By the time it was all said and done, the National Weather Service reported a total rainfall of nearly 5.5 inches Saturday.

“Atrocious” was how Brian Kelly described center Sam Mustipher’s snapping during the monsoon (Kelly backtracked Sunday, saying the weather conditions were atrocious and Mustipher struggled in those conditions). The Irish center had trouble thrusting the water-soaked pigskin to quarterback DeShone Kizer about half a dozen times.

Notre Dame fans reserved plenty of social media ire both for Kelly’s remarks as well as his offensive game plan in the 10-3 defeat that kept the Irish (2-4) below .500 in 2016. Specifically, they felt he allowed too much passing and did not call enough rushing attempts.

From the get-go, Kelly’s Irish came out slinging the football. He referenced earlier in the week that going to the air was the way to go if the weather was bad.

The plan worked for the Irish in similar weather conditions (remnants of Hurricane Joaquin) last year in a 24-22 loss at Clemson. Notre Dame trailed that game 21-2 going into the fourth quarter and almost exclusively passed the ball to score 19 points in the final 15 minutes to come up just short against the Tigers.

This Saturday’s stat line shows the Irish ran the ball 38 times, while passing it 25 times. The number is deceptive though, because they were sacked five times (plays designed to be passes), which drops the actual planned run-pass numbers to 33 rushes and 30 plays designed to be passes.

That run-pass balance isn’t totally out of whack, but the Irish got caught in a vicious cycle in which neither passing nor throwing seemed to work.

Consider this: Kizer passed for a career-low 54 yards in the loss just one week after his first pass attempt against Syracuse went for a 79-yard touchdown. It’s one thing to keep throwing the ball, but it’s another thing to keep doing it when the center misfires with the quarterback one out of every six times and when the yards-per-catch average is just 6 yards when the passes were completed.

On the other hand, there’s the woeful rushing attack. The Irish managed just 59 net rushing yards (43 yards lost on sacks) and Josh Adams was the team’s leading rusher with 51 yards on 14 carries for a 3.6 average.

On the other hand, N.C. State, while playing in the same horrible weather conditions, was able to run for 157 yards on 51 carries (3.6 avg.). Like the Fighting Irish, the Wolfpack never found the end zone offensively, but they were able to move the ball on the ground.

The lack of a consistent running game has dogged Notre Dame all season. The disheartening part is the team set a school record with its 5.6 yard-per-carry average just last season. This year’s team now has just a 3.9 average (No. 98 in the FBS).

N.C. State’s defense didn’t shut down a Notre Dame offense that was averaging nearly 40 points heading into Saturday’s game. Hurricane Matthew was the best defensive coordinator on the field at 50-year-old Carter-Finley Stadium, but the running game has been the most “atrocious” part of the Irish offense to date.

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