Notre Dame’s football season continues to spiral into the absurd. A season that began with great expectations has disintegrated with every passing week.
A Fighting Irish a defense that was a punch line while yielding 33 points a game through five games has held two opponents to just 10 points over the past two weeks, but Notre Dame has lost both of those contests.
Opponents have scored 27 total points in the two losses, but one came on a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and the other was on an interception return.
Those losses have been due in large part to an offense that once averaged a smidge under 40 points a week, but has been reduced to a total of 13 points over the last two games.
The numbers are blurred by the offense-grounding rain (from Hurricane Matthew) the Irish and North Carolina State slogged through last week, but Saturday’s 17-10 loss to Stanford was a fade to black moment for the Irish under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.
The expectation coming into the season was that Notre Dame-Stanford could be a showdown with College Football Playoff implications. Those expectations were considerably tempered heading into the weekend, with the teams aching from six combined losses.
The latest twist in a season when the Irish (2-5) jettisoned their defensive coordinator came Saturday: Quarterback DeShone Kizer – still felt by many to be a top-five pick in next year’s NFL Draft – was benched in favor of Malik Zaire in the third quarter.
Kizer rattled off runs of 49 and 32 yards in the first half to give new life to a mostly idle running game. Kizer gave the Irish to a 10-0 halftime lead against a Stanford team that was inconsistent and plodding without preseason Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey (out due to injury).
With no McCaffrey, Stanford’s offense looked like a Studebaker racing Mustangs, while Kizer’s zone reads gave Notre Dame the keys to the ignition.
Two second-half interceptions by Kizer – the first returned 50 yards for a touchdown – were like a tire-deflating knife that ground the offense to a virtual halt.
Kelly hoped to find a spark with Zaire, but the stunt gave Stanford more points (two on a safety) than completions (none on two attempts) mustered by Kizer’s replacement.
The move also drew Twitter backlash from ESPN Radio personalities Mike Golic — “I don’t understand the QB change for ND” — and Mike Golic, Jr.: “This QB change is mind-blowing. I am so impossibly against this.”
Former Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen went even deeper with his criticism of the move:
“If I was Kizer I’d want to go in the draft early,” Clausen Tweeted. “Why would I come back with a HC that has no trust in you?”
If Kelly could take a mulligan on this season, he would likely have started it with a new defensive coordinator and one quarterback instead of two.
He can’t go back in time, though. Now the calls from fans for his job continue to resonate — an absurd reaction to an absurd season.