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Champs Sports Bowl Recap: Irish Finish 8-5 Again

After letting a 14-0 lead slip away, the Fighting Irish have finished 8-5 for the second straight season.

Notre Dame gave up 18 unanswered points and put in a rather woeful offensive performance for most of the evening.

After high expectations, the season ends in disappointment.

Unit grades and final thoughts after the jump.

Offensive Line: B

It certainly wasn't a great performance, but the line played admirably against a tough Florida State defense. They did give up four sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 4 quarterback hurries, but not all of the blame can be pinned on them for that.

The pass protection was solid for much of the night, and they did well enough in run blocking to allow the running backs to make some plays.

Tight End: B+

Another very strong game from Tyler Eifert who finished with a team-leading 6 catches for 90 yards---completely re-writing the record book at his position. He's a big time playmaker who needs to come back next year.

Wide Receiver: C+

It's tough to rate this group when the quarterback play isn't doing them many favors, but there were critical drops on long passes by Floyd and Jones too. Toma had a decent game, but we know he's always going to do his thing.

The way the game ended with Floyd injured on the sideline---what am I supposed to say? It sucks every way imaginable is all I can think of. I do know one thing, you'll never see a more impressive 100-catch season than this one by Floyd. He simply willed the offense to move the ball at times this season.

I think TJ Jones might be the first receiver in school history to start his first two years and then become a backup as an upperclassman.

Running Back: B-

I thought Riddick and Wood both looked okay and I would term their performance as acceptable given the circumstances. Florida State bottled them up at times and did a tremendous job closing gaps, but both runners just couldn't quite put it together to strike a couple daggers into their opponent.

Clearly their numbers weren't anywhere near impressive, but I was happy with how hard they ran at times.

Quarterback: F

I'll save my thoughts here for the end.

Defensive Line: A

They cooled off in the second half, but this was a very strong performance by the big guys up front. 5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and limiting FSU to 41 rushing yards at 1.4 per carry is pretty phenomenal.

This was a game where we needed perfection from this group because of others factors, but we were unable to get it. Not really their fault.

Linebackers: B

Pretty solid game from this group with the Dan Fox missed pass breakup being the only major mistake that sticks out. Te'o played really well and this group closed off running lanes, while Fleming and Shembo really got after it on the edge.

Oh, Shembo's roughing the passer was a pretty boneheaded play too.

Secondary: C

This group really needed to make a play, cause a turnover, or intercept Manuel late in the game but they just couldn't make it happen. I don't think they played anywhere close to awful, but as we're accustomed to they didn't make much of a difference either.

Special Teams: B+

In my mind, we won the special teams battle despite the missed field goal and somewhat long kickoff return given up. The punting from Turk and the coverage were phenomenal and really played a key ingredient in keeping Florida State at bay for most of the game.

Final Thoughts

Not that it makes me feel any better, but this game played out almost exactly how I thought it would.

Both teams would play tough up front with their great front seven's and turnovers and Florida's State's advantage at quarterback would result in a 4-point victory.

It's hard to be too upset when I saw this coming.

However, being up 14-0 and seeing three more boneheaded and back-breaking interceptions ruin the game makes this a real gut-puncher of a loss.

I'm not revealing anything groundbreaking, but Notre Dame needs a better quarterback.

This season was disappointing but so much of it can be laid at the feet of the quarterback play. Outside of the quarterback position this program is making strides and that is important to remember in times like this.

Many of us knew Rees was limited. Many of us knew he'd probably run into a handful of opponents that made it painfully obvious that he's not a good quarterback. Many knew there was a good chance this game against FSU would be the final straw---and it likely may be.

Sure it sucks to be 8-5 again, but think about this:

Would you have ever believed a couple years ago that Brian Kelly would have built up the program enough and improved the team and defense to the point where we can control games against teams like Florida State despite atrocious quarterback play?

You never would have bought that scenario looking into a crystal ball.

In a lot of ways, with the poor quarterback play it's surprising that this team is even 6 games over .500 through two years. It's a painful lesson, but there is no more important position in college football than the quarterback and without a difference maker even very talented teams can look like crap.

Just ask Texas.

Of course it's puzzling, frustrating, and hard to make sense of it all sometimes, but I'll take having quarterback problems over having an sieve defense, weak offensive line, and a team that looks pretty inept everywhere except the quarterback.

Yes, it is ironic now that this program is almost the exact opposite of what it was in 2009, but I'll take being where we are now every single time.

So there are some holes to fill next year, but none as encompassing and crucial as quarterback. And you know what, for all of Kelly's head scratching maneuvers (added to the cards he was dealt two years ago), I'm pretty confident that he's going to find the right answer soon.

Many people said Kelly couldn't build a defense or that he didn't care about defense at Notre Dame and that he was all offense.

Funny how it has worked out, huh?

Brian Kelly didn't forget how to be a successful offensive coordinator, nor is his coaching overall the main problem right now. What he needs is someone to step up this offseason and be the quarterback that can flip the script and consistently make plays instead of hurting the team.

When that happens, Kelly has built the team up around the quarterback enough to start winning more games. It's just that simple.

Is that quarterback on the roster right now?

It's probably not Tommy Rees.

It could be Andrew Hendrix.

Just don't sleep on Everett Golson.