The light from a single window shines into the darkness of a moonless night. Behind the window a lone figure sits in silence. His mind burdened by the hopes and dreams of others. In an instant, the silence is broken as a single claw traces its way slowly down the smooth surface of the glass. Lurking in the darkness is a merciless killer.
Before the lone figure can consciously react, the primitive areas of his brain spring to life. Adrenaline courses through his veins. The hair on his neck stands at attention. A chill crawls up his spine as he prepares to face a familiar foe.
The lone figure? Brian Kelly. The merciless killer? Expectations. Over the years, many coaches have fallen victim to this formidable hunter. Heading into 2015 expectations for the Fighting Irish football team are sky high. Many believe this to be the most talented team of the Brian Kelly era, and possibly the most talented team since the glory days of Lou Holtz. Yet teams with potential can be a coach's worst nightmare. Sometimes potential doesn't translate into wins and that's when coaches get fired. Let's take a look at 3 things that could expose Brian Kelly to the beast waiting outside the window.
Malik Zaire has been very good in limited playing time so far. However, he had the benefit of playing against defenses that didn't really know how to defend him. This will change in 2015. Zaire will have to face game plans designed to take away his strengths and exploit his weaknesses. It's different being the starter. Not to mention Zaire has pretty much zero meaningful snaps in Notre Dame Stadium. While that might not seem like a big deal, the pressure of being the quarterback in South Bend can be crushing. Playing at home is supposed to be an advantage. Unfortunately for young quarterbacks the extra pressure to perform at home often leads to erratic play. This concern is compounded by the fact that Zaire isn't a proven commodity as a passer. From all reports he has struggled with inconsistency through camp. This inconsistency will be magnified by the pressure of being the starter and extra attention from defensive coordinators.
Bottom line, inexperienced quarterbacks tend to be inconsistent. Prepare yourself for a bit of a roller coaster ride this year.
I know Justin Yoon was the top kicking recruit in the country. I know he has been automatic in camp. I know his mechanics are flawless. I know he has ice water in his veins. I get it. But kicking in practice is different from kicking in a game. No doubt the staff has done everything it can to simulate game conditions in practice, but the only thing that can truly prepare you for kicking in a game is... kicking in a game. It's different under the lights in front of 80,000 people and a national TV audience.
Just like inexperienced quarterbacks, rookie kickers tend to be inconsistent. This inconsistency is often magnified by the pressure of game day. It's one thing to kick well in front of the media. It's another to do it with the game on the line.
The jury is still out on the defense. First of all, let me say that I love the emphasis Brain VanGorder has placed on getting faster in the front 7. But the results have been mixed so far. Injuries obviously played a big role in the demise of the defense last year, but there were cracks appearing in the dam before the rash of injuries. The fundamental question is: Can Brian VanGorder adapt his pro style system to the college game? He isn't coaching pro players. Therefore, he has to use schemes that are exotic enough to confuse opponents, but simple enough for his own players to master.
Another point to consider, the defensive schemes used in the NFL are designed to stop pro style offenses. The Notre Dame defense will certainly play against pro style offenses this year, but they will also play against power running attacks, option football, up tempo no huddle (and everything in between). Last season VanGorder struggled to adapt his system to this diversity. If the struggles continue, it will be a frustrating season for the Irish faithful.
There's no doubt that the Irish have great depth at a number of positions. However, they are also thin in some areas. This lack of depth is especially evident on the interior defensive line and at running back. Notre Dame's depth will be tested this year, especially with a difficult schedule that offers very few easy weeks. Hopefully, our depth will only be tested in positions where we actually have some depth.
This is a dangerous year for Brian Kelly. It's nice to have a team that is universally considered to be talented, however if the team underperforms, there will be no excuses. The beast is hungry and it's waiting in the darkness to pounce.