The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame wrapped up the 2014 season last Tuesday with a thrilling 31-28 victory over the 23rd ranked LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl. As expected, Malik Zaire and Everett Golson spilt the quarterback duties with Zaire getting the bulk of the snaps. Both quarterbacks played well with Zaire running the read option and the short passing game, while Golson was called on in obvious passing situations, particularly on the final drive to set-up the game winning field goal attempt. Although Zaire came away with the game’s MVP honors, the biggest story of the day was the performance of Notre Dame’s offensive line. The Irish offensive line practically dominated the line of scrimmage against the talented LSU front seven, allowing Notre Dame to control the ball and the pace of the game. That style of play kept the Irish defense off the field which was a key to winning the game given LSU’s big play potential. Even though the Irish defense struggled at times, they came up with enough big stops late in the game that gave the offense a chance to win. All things considered, it was an impressive performance for the Irish, and one that could lead to more success in 2015.
As we head into the offseason and then spring practices, there are a few comments I would like to make regarding the 2014 season and the upcoming 2015 season.
1) 2014 was a disappointing year for Notre Dame. While many experts predicted the Irish to only win 7 or 8 games, I firmly believed this team was capable of winning 9-plus games. Injuries did play a role in the team’s demise at the end of the season, but they still could have reached the nine win mark if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot several times. Ultimately, this team was better than the 7-5 record would indicate, but they were not as good as we all thought after the 6-0 start.
2) It is way too early to make a decision on who the starting quarterback should be in 2015, but it would be hard to argue against Malik Zaire at this point. Everett Golson has shown glimpses of being great, but his careless play led to way too many turnovers that proved to be devastating to the team’s success. Regardless of who the starting quarterback is, the Music City Bowl was a perfect blueprint as to how the Irish should be playing in 2015. If Notre Dame can limit the turnovers, control the line of scrimmage, and run the football effectively, then this team can be dangerous.
3) The defense should improve in 2015. Notre Dame’s defense was playing well during the first half of the season, but the injuries added up, forcing the Irish to play too many freshman. That formula may have hurt the Irish in 2014, but it should pay dividends next season with so many young players gaining valuable experience. Then when you add in the return of captain Joe Schmidt, the Irish defense should be a much stronger unit next season.
4) 2015 is a big year for Brian Kelly and the Irish. After enjoying a strong 12-0 season in 2012, the Irish have struggled the past two seasons with a combined 15 regular season wins. Simply put, Brian Kelly was not brought here to win eight games a season. With so many young players gaining experience last season, and the vast majority of the starters returning, the Irish have no excuses in 2015. It might be too early to predict a win total because we don’t know what the exact depth chart and what the strength of the schedule will look like, but another eight win season should put Kelly on the hot-seat. The Irish certainly have some tough games on the 2015 schedule in Clemson, Stanford, USC, and Georgia Tech, but it is time to start putting together consecutive 10-plus win seasons if this program really wants to get back into national prominence.