After a sluggish and uninspiring performance at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, the Notre Dame football program led by Brian Kelly appears to have a great deal of work ahead of them if they hope to improve on a 9-4 season and make the postseason next year.
Reflecting on the 2013 season, Tommy Rees took much of the blame for the disappointing season. Rees did of course play a part in this frustrating season. His 13 interceptions often came at the most inopportune times and may have cost his team two very important games, specifically against the University of Oklahoma and Stanford University.
However, if one were to look at the 2013 FBS overall rankings, one would see that the Irish were quite average or below average in many areas statistically.
The Irish offense finished the regular season 68th in total offense out of 123 FBS schools. Rees and company finished 41st overall in passing yards despite ranking second in the country in terms of sacks allowed. Even with a talented offensive line, the Irish finished 80th overall in rushing yards.
It is imperative that Kelly and his staff find ways to improve the running game in 2014. Irish fans have heard over and over again about the relationship between a good rushing game and winning consistently. Kelly regularly shared that the 2013 Irish offense left too many points on the field and that was reflected with their ranking of 76th in the nation in points for, and the red zone woes continue to plague them.
The numbers were a little better defensively, but were still not good. The Irish finished 32nd in the nation in total defense. They were 28th in the country for points against. They registered only 21 sacks on the year, giving them an overall ranking of 82nd in the country, and they had only 13 interceptions.
This was a far cry from what was expected of an experienced group that returned a number of players from the previous season. Injuries did play a part, but even in the Temple game, one could see that the Irish would struggle on defense.
The Irish continued to perform poorly on special teams. They found themselves at the end of the season near the bottom of almost every special teams category. They ranked 121st in the country out of 123 teams in kick return defense, 105th in net punting, 84th in punt return defense and 80th in punt return average. This is an area of the game that has been neglected during Kelly’s tenure and going into 2014, it is essential to the success of the program that the Irish improve dramatically in this phase of the game.
Given these numbers, it really is quite surprising that the Irish did finish 9-4. Looking ahead to 2014, Kelly and his staff must do a much better job at coaching almost every phase of the game if they hope to earn one of four possible playoff spots. Considering where they will probably rank in the preseason, it will be a very tall order for the Irish in 2014.