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Ohio State Review: Notre Dame's Major Bowl Losing Streak Lives On

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Winning the Fiesta Bowl just wasn't in the cards for Notre Dame.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you're reading this it's been at minimum 63 hours since Notre Dame fell to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. So you've had some time to digest the loss. Here now is a look back at the final Irish game of the 2015 season.

Play-Call of the Game: 4-yard Fade Touchdown from Kizer to Brown

The red zone proficiency will likely get washed away in the loss, but more on that later. The Irish found themselves back near the Ohio State end zone thanks to a nifty little fake speed option reverse to Amir Carlise that went for 20 yards a few plays after the interception by Joe Schmidt.

In typical Notre Dame fashion--and a source of frustration this year--the Irish went for the kill shot on 1st down from the 12-yard line ultimately seeing Kizer air-mail a pass across the field. Then a beautiful tight end shovel pass netted 7-yards setting up the touchdown pass.

Fiesta 1

I've included all 3 nice plays in the GIF to highlight how important this drive was for Notre Dame. They finally got a turnover out of the defense, the offense scored back-to-back touchdowns including the drive right before half, and at this moment sitting at 28-21 was in the game more than ever.

Armchair Quarterback

It was a bit of a weird game for Kizer. The offense didn't come out on fire but he did start the afternoon completing 4 out of his first 5 passes, as well as 9 out of his first 12 throws. Unfortunately, those 9 completions only netted a modest 66 yards through the air.

More to the point, Kizer would finish the game completing 13 out of his last 25 passes (52% completion) and for some reason seemed to get more inconsistent from the late 2nd quarter on--never really shaking that bug the rest of the Fiesta Bowl.

After spending the entire season throwing really sharp and precise deep passes he was really erratic against Ohio State. He also threw a couple of other short passes into the turf.

I wouldn't call this a bad performance from Kizer, it's just he never seemed to get locked in and able to take over the game in a way that was necessary to pull out a win. His pocket presence has always been really advanced for his age, and I wouldn't say he was jittery, yet there was a lack of calmness dealing with Ohio State's pressure and making throws on the run.

Fiesta 2

As a runner Kizer was really strong again netting 68 yards on 11 carries. That was a nice workman-like production on the ground with only a long of 14 yards, too. However, the Buckeyes notched 4 sacks and some of those were enough of Kizer's fault not feeling pressure and taking some big hits--especially the fumble late in the 4th quarter that basically sealed the game.

Turning Point: Back-to-Back Sacks Late 4th Quarter

This was really a game at 28-21 but even in the 4th quarter with 6:04 remaining the Irish took over trailing by just 13 points. I know I wasn't the only one thinking a quick touchdown, defensive stop, and game-winning touchdown drive could maybe happen at this point.

Except, the bad side of the Notre Dame offense showed up on this drive. On first down Kizer overthrew Brown (see the second-to-last play in the above GIF) and then didn't throw on time on second down instead deciding to escape all the way across the pocket to be dragged down for a sack.

On third down, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard ripped past left guard Quenton Nelson to get in Kizer's face for another sack. Notre Dame scored on Fuller's 81-yard touchdown reception on their prior offensive series but bracketed this series with a pair of field goals by Ohio State that chewed up 7 minutes of precious time in the final frame.

Surprising Stat: Ohio State 10 for 18 on 3rd Down

The Buckeyes weren't a great offense at picking up third downs this year, then again they spent most of the season trying to be a weird pro-style version of the Urban Meyer offense with Cardale Jones at quarterback.

The Irish defense didn't do many things well this year but was better than most at getting off the field on third down. Yet in this game, especially early on, Ohio State was converting their chances at an impressive rate.

Perhaps most bothersome were the Buckeyes' 12 first downs via the pass game, including 5 conversions on 3rd down from Barrett's arm. This game might have been much different had Barrett not started out so hot through the air, although Notre Dame did seem to adjust and clamp down on this as the game went on.

Nick Watkins also played admirably in his first career start, although I'd stop short of much more praise. He played most of the game well off his receiver but did have one pass break-up.

Unheralded Star: Andrew Trumbetti

The sophomore is going to be counted on to be a huge part of the defense next year and played his best game of his career on Friday. Trumbetti finished with 4 solo stops, 2 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 quarterback hurries.

The Irish also got really gutty efforts out of Schmidt (10 solo tackles), Grace (8 solo), Shumate (9 solo), and Farley (7 solo) to give the defense some hope. It wasn't always pretty, and they were mismatched quite a bit, but these were the players that needed to make tackles. If they struggled with all the other injuries Ohio State might have scored 65 points.

Missed Opportunity: Kizer's Interception

Notre Dame had some momentum after the fade pass touchdown to Chris Brown. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes grabbed it right back with a 47-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott.

Even still, it was only 35-21 with 6:37 left in the 3rd quarter when the Irish took possession of the ball again.

Things looked like they were turning back around following 3 straight carries by Josh Adams for 25 yards then the drive completely hit a wall. Adams was gassed and gave way to fellow freshman Dexter Williams who couldn't gain any yards on 1st down. Then, a slant to Fuller was broken up after some questionable contact by OSU corner Gareon Conley.

The next snap on 3rd & 10 saw Kizer miss a linebacker flying across the zone for the interception. Ohio State actually punted on the next possession but so too did Notre Dame--at this point it was still a game but time was running out and the Irish really needed to turn the tables quickly in a way they hadn't been able to all afternoon.

Flag of the Game: Holding on Cole Luke

This one really hurt. Here was an opportunity to stop Ohio State on downs and take over, down 10 with plenty of time left in the game. In fact, you could call this the missed opportunity of the game.

For all the complaining about schemes and coaching sometimes it just comes down to athlete vs. athlete. In this case, Jalin Marshall really put a move on Cole Luke that left the Irish corner desperate to prevent a touchdown.

Fiesta 3

It's too bad because the pressure got there on J.T. Barrett. To me, this looked similar to the fire blitz against Michigan from a couple years ago that spawned Paint's famous fist-pumping GIF.

Red Zone TD Success: 100%

If someone said before the game that it would come down to execution in the red zone most would've agreed with that sentiment. It's too bad that Notre Dame went 3 for 3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone and still ended up losing anyway.

Adams scored on a tough run near the goal line, Kizer scored on a short run, plus the fade pass to Chris Brown brought us a perfect day inside the 20 of the opponent.

It's especially frustrating because Ohio State only scored touchdowns on 57.1% of their red zone trips but the big difference in this game is that they had 4 more opportunities. Sometimes touchdown percentage doesn't mean that much when you scored 21 points in the red zone and Ohio State scored 37 points. With each side scoring on a long touchdown that 16-point red zone differential explains the final score deficit for Notre Dame.

Schemes n Such

Nothing jumped out to me as egregiously bad play-calling in the game. About the only thing was the feeling like the Irish offense was playing things very conservatively in the beginning and well through falling behind 14-0.

Somewhat shocking is that Notre Dame stayed pretty balanced on offense even after falling behind 14-0 and trailing for nearly the entire game. But perhaps it shouldn't be shocking because there really was a change in this tactic for 2015 and it helps when your quarterback can run the ball like a running back. Notre Dame finished with 38 pass attempts to 32 rush attempts but 6 out of the last 7 snaps were pass plays as they tried to frantically come back and score more points.

Trench Analysis

Notre Dame's offensive line was supposed to have a big advantage over an Ohio State squad missing their starting defensive tackles, and this advantage appeared to be increased once Joey Bosa was ejected for spearing Kizer early in the contest.

However, the ground game got off to a slow start with the first 6 carries going for 15 yards, and opening with 16 carries for 52 yards before the first 10+ run was ripped off.

Additionally, 14 out of the 28 non-sack carries went for 3 yards or less, there was a Run Success Rate on just 5 of 14 carries on 1st down, while the offense was 0 for 3 picking up third downs on the ground--failing on a quarterback sneak and a couple of conservative run calls on third and long.

The pass protection was adequate, although Ohio State's super athletic linebackers really caused havoc at times. Add it all up and I thought this was a real good performance from the offensive line--if Charlie Weis were still the coach.

With the injuries it was hard to get a grasp on the defensive line's effectiveness. After really strong seasons the trio of Rochell, Okwara, and Day didn't stand out. Of course, Day was dealing with a foot injury and the flu, incredibly. As mentioned, Trumbetti was able to put forth the best game of his career.

With Cage limited to an ankle injury and suspension of Tillery it was clear the size and strength of the D-line was neutered for this game.

Fiesta 4

Jarron Jones marked his return, and although he would end up playing just a handful of snaps this entire season, he gave us one memorable play. He ripped past the right guard and drove Elliott back with impressive power. His determination to hit Barrett's arm was the reason Notre Dame caused its only turnover.

Freshmen Update

Josh Adams, Alize Jones, Te'von Coney, C.J. Sanders, Justin Yoon, Nick Coleman, Nicco Fertitta, and Dexter Williams were the true freshmen to play in their first bowl game.

It was one heck of a year for Josh Adams, who went from a likely redshirt and questions about him even sticking at the running back position, to setting the Notre Dame school record by a freshman with 838 rushing yards. For the 2015 season, Adams' 7.22 yards per carry was 12th nationally among all qualified tailbacks, and even more impressive, 3rd nationally among Power 5 running backs with at least 100 carries. Only Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Baylor's Johnny Jefferson did better in this regard.

Alize Jones finishes 2015 with 13 receptions, 190 yards, and zero scores. Those numbers will be going up next year.

Yoon stakes his claim as the top freshman kicker in the country finishing the year making 15 of 17 attempts, including his last 12 attempts over the final 11 games.

With the season now finished our Reviewing the Redshirts series will contain the following players:

  • WR Miles Boykin
  • C Tristen Hoge
  • OG Trevor Ruhland
  • DT Brandon Tiassum
  • DT Micah Dew-Treadway
  • DT Elijah Taylor
  • LB Josh Barajas
  • LB Asmar Bilal
  • CB Shaun Crawford
  • CB Ashton White
  • S Mykelti Williams

Also note, quarterback Brandon Wimbush's redshirt was burned after playing 27 snaps this year, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown also lost his redshirt and missed the last 6 games with a shoulder injury, and receiver Jalen Guyton is not expected to enroll for the spring semester.

Final Thoughts

The Irish Guard looking fierce! If you're of the mind that they're supposed to be tall, intimidating students this probably makes your blood boil. Then again, we are talking about a position where college-aged kids play dress up in kilts and funny hats to dance around and march with the band. I can't say I'll ever lose a second of sleep over this.

irish guard

I've tried to come up with the proper words to describe how the Jaylon Smith injury made me feel and react. I honestly don't know what to say. Even now, I feel sick to my stomach. Just look at the picture below. Damn it, I feel like it's required for any Notre Dame fan to stare at that for 10 minutes and contemplate your fandom and life in general.

jaylon fiesta injury

Mark Rebilas, USA Today Sports

I want to remember the great feats of Jaylon. I want to sit here and envision his future of Pro Bowls, financial wealth, and hopefully overflowing happiness. I'm sure that will all come in time. But I look at him and I see so much sadness, disappointment, and anguish. I hate this about college football. No team in the pros will care about Jaylon as much as Notre Dame fans care about him, nor will he mean as much. Yet, we only get 3 years with him and they'll get three times that, at least. I curse everything that Jaylon's career had to end like this just as his biggest game got under way.

Jaylon wasn't the only linebacker injured on the afternoon. Greer Martini messed his hand up (doesn't appear too serious) but Te'von Coney, who came in to fill for Jaylon, looked to have injured his shoulder attempting a tackle not long after taking the field. If it's serious this could be a serious blow to Coney's development and solidifying the middle and weak-side positions during the off-season.

By now, you've surely heard that C.J. Prosise is foregoing his last year of eligibility and heading to the NFL. One of the funny things about this season is that Prosise, Adams, and Kizer just combined for 2,387 rushing yards. Who the hell saw that coming, even as late as the first week or two of the season? I suppose I don't feel too passionate either way about Prosise leaving early--there's some positives and negatives to that decision, I think. What I'm thinking about most was how explosive he was this year, but also how he was on pace to shatter the single-season rushing record. It may not have been realistic for him to actually shatter it, yet it was kind of sad to see just 107 yards over the team's last 6 games because he couldn't get or stay healthy.

Will Fuller is also off to the NFL. Seems just like yesterday that he was that quiet, skinny freshman who made one big sideline catch in the upset over Michigan State in 2013 among a meager 6 total catches on the year. No big deal but Fuller finished his career with 138 receptions, 2,352 yards, and 29 touchdowns over his final 26 games. We just went two full seasons counting on him scoring at least one touchdown in every game.

***

Had we played Iowa instead of Ohio State we're probably 11-2 right now. Sure, we wouldn't have tested ourselves against the best in the country, or learned a whole lot, or been able to judge how much closer to elite status we've become. Deep down, I think most knew we wouldn't beat Ohio State and knew we weren't a dominant team in 2015.

I'm not here to say 'told you so' but to lament that college football is often just a big, dumb sport where you're typically better off taking what you can get and running away. I can't lie, once Zaire went down I thought this team might go 8-4 at best (I predicted 9-3 pre-season), but instead they were a slightly different decision from the committee to bagging 11 wins. That should make me pretty satisfied, and in a way it does.

The problem is that we were really, really close to one of college football's greatest gifts: A happy, content, and maybe even fun, off-season. Rather than experience that we've swung rather hard in the other direction after a 10-1 start. Prior to the trip out to California to face Stanford there were a handful of things that needed to happen to NOT have this type of off-season and unfortunately we checked off most of those boxes.

Here are 8 off-season topics all heightened and inflamed by the ending to the season:

Quarterback Controversy

This will be fun. A lot of "it's a good problem to have" talk. Key word, problem. Some are absolutely certain Zaire will start. Others, that Kelly will use a two-quarterback system. Kizer had a very productive redshirt freshman season, wildly above nearly everyone's expectations but Zaire will get a chance to compete and some don't believe Kizer did enough to keep the job.

Lack of Big Game Victories

Some of the biggest arguments arise when there's some truth to both sides. Did Notre Dame distinguish itself enough by losing to the "only" top teams it played in 2015? Or was this an admirable season with a bunch of injuries and 3 losses to Top 10 teams by a combined 20 points?

Why can't Kelly win the big game? He has some big wins but are they big enough?

Offensive Line Not Dominant

Notre Dame faced three defenses that finished in the Top 10 of FEI: Boston College (5), Clemson (7), and Ohio State (10). In those games, the Irish averaged 119.6 rushing yards at a clip of 3.6 per carry.

There probably won't be much talk about firing Harry Heistand but that won't hold back the floodwaters that scheme/play-calling/whatever aren't cultivating a "championship-level" offensive line.

Just a Good Season

Notre Dame has had at least 11 'good' seasons since I've been alive (1982). Led by 1988, the 2012, 1993, 1989, and 1992 seasons round out the top 5 best seasons in some order. In the next tier would be 1990, 1991, 2002, 2005, and 2006.

Posting a 11-2 record, even with a win over Iowa, consigns the 2015 season to the bottom of that first tier, and I'd argue with the injuries, much further away from the second tier. Now, with a bag of okay wins this season will unfortunately get the 'good' treatment a lot more than it probably deserves.

Not Close to Elite Status + Kelly Fatigue

The circling sharks of critics will be busy this off-season doing two things: 1) Blurring the lines between 3 losses and 4 or 5 losses and 2) Telling the world we're wasting our time because the program isn't at a championship level.

Of course, the sharks will always be there now they have a louder megaphone. It's the greater middle of fans who will begin to wonder what the ceiling is for the program after 6 seasons.

Injuries + VanGorder

No other topic will be at the forefront as much as Notre Dame's defense. It's hard to believe we're less than 25 months from some believing Bob Diaco was a failed coordinator. After 2 years under Brian VanGorder the results have been worse.

The injury situation will only serve to embolden VanGorder's critics who will now have to double down on their dislike for the DC's results.

Sub-par Recruiting

The Irish currently sit in 12th in the Composite rankings. Sweeping up Caleb Kelly (23rd player Composite), Jeffrey McCulloch (83rd), and Javon McKinley (107th) will help lock up a Top 10 class. If the class ends up 12th or 14th expect a bunch of loud moaning this off-season.

Same Record as Michigan

Do I need to say anything further?