I’ve got two words for you: Feed. Zeke.
That’s what this game comes down to. I knew the best player in CFB, Ezekiel Elliott, would have a good game, but try about 180 total yards and 4 touchdowns. Try to stop that with a battered defense that lost Jaylon Smith, the Butkus Award winner, in the first quarter? Notre Dame wouldn’t have been able to stop #15 with a fully healthy defense out there, it’s really just as simple as that.
Enough praise for Elliott though, because I’ve said all I gotta say about him, and this is a team game, after all. Though the final score was 44-28, this game was closer than it looks. Sure, the Irish were down 28-7 at one point, but they came roaring back, ready to play for a tie. In the end, Ohio State did Ohio State things. Elliott aside, here’s my five takeaways from the action on New Year’s Day between the Buckeyes and the Irish, while also looking forward into next year.
- I talked to my roommate Seth and my friend Eric yesterday briefly after the game and we all agree: “It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of the two best defensive players on the field” (a direct quote, by the way). And this is 100% right. Jaylon Smith went down with a leg injury, never to return to action. Unfortunately, I think this is it for Smith’s career for the Golden Domers. He hasn’t really officially announced it, but it’s a foregone conclusion that Smith will enter this year’s NFL draft. I don’t expect this injury to affect his draft stock that greatly, but that’s also speaking without hearing of any official diagnosis. Speaking of really sad endings to careers, Ohio State’s Joey Bosa was ejected for a targeting penalty on DeShone Kizer early in the game. First things first, it is a shitty way to go out for an unbelievable career for a guy who some of my buddies compare to JJ Watt. He’s utterly dominating on the defensive line, and it’s a crime if he isn’t picked either first or second, depending upon draft order. The other thing I gotta say is that this was a weak call. Yeah, Bosa led with his helmet and hit Kizer after the throw. There wasn’t intent to injure. It was close enough to be a reasonable QB hit. He was trying to slow down but just couldn’t avoid Kizer. Really awful call that shouldn’t have cost Bosa the last game of his collegiate career. I thought Vonn Bell’s hit on Kizer when he was out of bounds near the goal line in the second quarter was worse than that play, but I guess that’s why I write for a blog.
- That was a long first point, so I’ll make this one a bit shorter. CJ Prosise must have really been hurting to miss the last game of his Irish career. I’m not calling him out, but I just want to see all ND players have a real shot at the pros. CJ proved this year that he’s a capable back who could help a team in a variety of ways. He’s raw, but he’s coachable- not many people can just pick up being a running back in one offseason and gain over 1,000 yards rushing. I wish him the best in his injury recovery and in his future post-Notre Dame.
- As far as losses on the offensive side of the ball, I think there’s a lot. Out the door with Prosise will be Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, the #2 and #3 receiving weapons and ultra-reliable players, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley, among others. While Brown and Carlisle didn’t kill it on the stat sheets like some other players, they always made big catches when their numbers were called, and Kizer had excellent trust with them. However, guys like Torii Hunter Jr., Corey Robinson and tight end Alize Jones made some plays which makes me relax about the receiving corps next year. As far as Stanley goes, ND always has a knack for getting big, athletic linemen who come right in and learn the system quickly. I’m sure that the line will be fine next year, too.
- Sticking with the offense, today proved to be an average game for DeShone Kizer. He threw for 284 yards with 2 scores (and a pick), while going to get 21 more yards on the ground, and another touchdown. He finishes the year with 19 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns (a Notre Dame quarterback record). While they lost today, I think Coach Brian Kelly should’ve made his mind up, if he hasn’t already. Bye bye (Prince Zayn) Malik Zaire. As high as I was on Zaire, the Irish have at least 2, probably 3, more years of Kizer. He showed poise and proved to be a more capable passer than Zaire. I think Zaire should and will transfer to somewhere he can start right away (depending on transfer rules). That takes nothing away from #8- I still will root for him from afar, unless he’s playing against ND, and I hope he kills it for whoever he graces with his presence. Zaire is a tough SOB and he’s a leader. I can’t think of many teams who wouldn’t want him as their starter, but if my opinion matters, I’m moving forward with DeShone Kizer. I think Kelly agrees with me.
- Defensively speaking, lots of guys are gone. Smith will bounce for the draft. Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, two excellent players and leaders, will graduate, while d-end Romeo Okwara, safety Matthias Farley, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, and safety Elijah Shumate will all exhaust their eligibility and receive their diplomas. In case any of you at home are counting, that’s 7 starters, and I’m almost certain I didn’t miss anyone. That means next year’s defense will be young and inexperienced. I know that the guys who come to South Bend are highly recruited and definitely capable, but I’m bracing myself for some bumps and bruises along the way. There may be some growing pains with this defense next year.
That’s all she wrote for the 2015 season. Team 127 was an entertaining one to watch. It was frustrating at times, but that’s being a Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan for ya. I was proud of how the team handled adversity and every obstacle as well as they could’ve, and didn’t let the season blow up in their faces. It was a talented bunch that I will miss watching. I’ll see Team 128 in September in Austin.