As I posted in the Romper Room, I gave up on the game at 21-0 and went to rake leaves. I lost enough sunlight that I had to stop early and returned to a butchering in the 3rd quarter. While the joke was that I should have gone out to Home Depot to buy some floodlights to enable me to rake some more, I actually kept watching...at least with half an eye.
What I saw was something I haven't seen in a long, long time. Sarkisian forced Notre Dame into conceding the game. He stopped pushing the ball hard up the field, let off the gas, and just handed the ball off, same play almost every time, to run the clock and dare Notre Dame to try to stop him and make a game of it once again. Of course, the Irish couldn't do so...and the game ended.
The Romper Room was full of mirth as always, thanking Sarkisian for not hanging 70 on the Irish. While I guess that there's that point, I'll step back and say that there's a certain power in the gesture of shutting a game down in the third quarter and getting away with it. Not only do you cement the win by shortening the game, you simultaneously empower your team and completely demoralize the opponent.
Plus, you get lauded for doing so. Because you AREN'T running up the score. You're performing a mercy killing of sorts.
I look forward to the day when Notre Dame, once again, can conduct itself in such a manner in a game. Two and a half to three periods of total domination followed by the running of the clock. We used to do that. We don't any more.
But I'm just a cranky 20-year alum. What do I know?
2. GOING FORWARD
Being clear up front, I'm not a Brian Kelly guy. Never have been, never will be. Too gimmicky for my taste. Doesn't scare me in the way that the powerhouse Holtz teams scared me, that Harbaugh's Stanford team scared me, that Coughlin's BC teams started to scare me before he jumped to the NFL. Scary teams are so ridiculously sound on fundamentals that they can impose their will on others. Kelly teams have never been able to do that. But I digress.
It's my guess/opinion that the season's implosion came too late in the season for Swarbrick to make the idea of firing Kelly nearly impossible to pursue. Recall, ND was in the playoff picture after the Florida State game. Why would you consider firing a coach who gets you to the final four...or even to the first or second bridesmaid position? No, you hold onto a guy like that.
Problem is, the 1-5 (!!!) implosion to close the season warrants that type of treatment. That it was capped off by an epic defeat at the hands of a weak (numbers-wise, if nothing else) USC team is icing on the cake. But the breakdown came too late, and firing Kelly at this point is a knee-jerk decision. Swarbrick would be playing from behind in contacting agents/coaches, and that probably wouldn't get the caliber of coach that ND needs in a world where entire teams like Florida State roam the land unchallenged by both academic advisors and law enforcement.
So without firing Kelly, what to do? Lose VanGorder? Perhaps, but look at when VanGorder's body of work fell apart. And then look at when the season fell apart. When was that? NAVY.
Yup, Navy. All of those season-ending injuries pushed the dominos of 2014 over for Notre Dame. All of those knee and ankle injuries, suggested by those who watch more carefully to be the result of illegal blocks. If that wasn't THE key factor in the implosion of 2014, it sure was A key factor...and it's one that can be addressed.
You see, it's one thing for Navy to play to its (perhaps sole) competitive advantage in playing that offense of theirs. It forces teams out of their comfort zones, to scrap their schemes for a week and prepare for the Navy attack. As long as what Navy does is within the rules of football, good for Navy. Telling Navy that they can't run their triple option is like telling Kelly he can't go five wide on first down -- it's legal, so let it be. If you can win while doing it, you'll probably be called a genius.
It's the injurious aspect of the game that is of concern. Navy should be allowed - nay, encouraged - to run their nutty offense, but they should be put on notice that injuries are not part of what ND and other schools sign up for. That's gotta stop, and now.
So here's what I'm going to suggest: In deference to ND's long-standing relationship with the United States Navy, Swarbrick or someone higher up the ND food chain needs to have a sit-down with their corresponding peer at Navy. If that's Swarbrick with their AD, or Jenkins with the head of the USNA, I don't care. Point is, ND needs to be appropriately deferential to the institution that kept Our Lady's University open during some very dark days, but they also need to have that "Come to Jesus talk". Navy needs to understand that this crap has to end.
Specifically, here's the message that Navy has to hear. Navy is welcome to walk away from the ND series with no hard feelings. We're all big boys here, and we understand that things can change over time. ND is OK with continuing the series, but the injuries to ND's student-athletes must stop. To be clear, a single significant injury to an ND player at Navy's hands will end the series immediately. By that I mean that the next Joe Schmidt ankle injury will end of one of college football's longest rivalry series. It's up to Navy to make sure that doesn't happen. We expect hard play, just hard and legal play.
With that out of the way, Swarbrick then has to go back to Kelly and explain that injuries will not be an excuse next season...and that we've had enough of this five-loss crap. Playoff or bust.
3. GOING FORWARD
Swarbrick should put a clause into every coaches' contract going forward that suggests a win-loss threshold where coaches can be fired without any claim to the remaining value of their contracts. Such as, if Kelly loses, say, four or more games, he can expect to get fired without a safety net. Pay the coaches a little more up front as a sweetener and think of all the money you save on the back end by not paying out the balances of the Willingham and Weis contracts!
We don't play this mediocre game at ND - or at least we SAY we don't - and our coaches should live by that standard.