RALEIGH, N.C. — Brian Kelly admitted Saturday he couldn’t “remember many games that it was this difficult,” with the it in that sentence being throwing the ball.
Hurricane Matthew — which made landfall in South Carolina about 200 miles south of Raleigh — brought torrential, driving rain and winds gusting up to about 50 miles per hour to central North Carolina on Saturday. A flash flood warning was issued before the game, and as of 8 p.m. E.T., 4.84 inches of rain had fallen in the Raleigh area on Saturday.
But in spite of those miserable, wretched conditions, DeShone Kizer attempted 26 passes. He completed nine of them for 54 yards with an interception, and Notre Dame lost, 10-3, to N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium.
After the game, a dour Kelly said he was second-guessing some of the decisions he made — namely, only having two players protect punter Tyler Newsome instead of three, which contributed to N.C. State’s blocked punt/touchdown that was the different — but said he didn’t regret throwing the ball so much in such brutal conditions.
“No, I don’t think I would second-guess that,” Kelly said. “We still had 38 carries. I think it was pretty evident to me that we were in need of throwing the football when we did throw it. We just weren’t as effective as I thought we could be.”
Kizer became the first Notre Dame quarterback since Jimmy Clausen — in that disastrous 3-9 2007 season — to attempt at least 20 passes and complete fewer than 35 percent of them. He targeted his top three receivers, Equanimeous St. Brown, Torii Hunter Jr. and C.J. Sanders, a total of 18 times and completed only six of those throws. He didn’t complete a pass in the second half until midway through the fourth quarter.
What’s that hackneyed saying, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? That probably applies to Notre Dame more than anyone in the Irish locker room would’ve liked to admit on Saturday.
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“With the defense that North Carolina State was playing against us, they were putting a little extra guy in the box, putting an extra hat in the box,” Kizer said. “The safety is dropping in. They were throwing some blitzes at us. The best way to combat that is to throw the football, and we stayed true to who we are.”
Kizer can’t be blamed for dutifully running the plays that were called — the redshirt sophomore said he never lost confidence — but it’s fair to question why so many passing plays were called in Notre Dame’s first game without a touchdown since 2008.
Kelly said he “kind of” considered using Malik Zaire in a run-oriented package, though noted Kizer rushed 15 times (he gained 15 yards). Zaire only appeared for one play after Kizer was banged up following a fourth-down conversion on Notre Dame’s final drive.
Josh Adams carried 14 times for 51 yards and had Notre Dame’s longest play of the day — a 12-yard run — while Dexter Wiliams rushed six times for 13 yards (Tarean Folston, still nursing a sprained ankle, participated in warm-ups but didn’t play). Those are hardly great numbers, but given Kizer was also sacked five times, Notre Dame could’ve been better served just handing the ball off inside the 25-yard line and playing for field goals rather than trying to throw the ball.
“It was definitely difficult,” Hunter Jr. said. “The wind in your face plus the rain in your face and all that, it’s just difficult to get something going in the passing game, but we still tried to.”
Kizer’s lone interception came on the N.C. State one-yard line, though Kelly said after the game he was worried — quite fairly, it should be said —about field goal attempts getting blocked because getting any air under them was incredibly difficult: Justin Yoon’s 40-yarder was a twisting line drive that barely cleared the uprights.
Notre Dame’s offensive identity this year has been in its all-world quarterback, but that required a change given the extraordinarily poor conditions on Saturday. Running the ball would’ve risked more turnovers — N.C. State attempted 51 rushing plays and fumbled six times, as opposed to Notre Dame’s four — but it could’ve given Notre Dame a better chance at scoring 10 or more points, or at least averaging more than 1.8 yards per play.
In a normal, non-playoff-contending season, this loss wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Maybe it would only be the difference between seven and eight or eight and nine wins, which in the scheme of things isn’t a negligible difference. But Notre Dame now has to win four more games to become bowl eligible, with its remaining opponents being Stanford, Miami, Navy, Army, Virginia Tech and USC. A difficult path just got more treacherous on Saturday.
“We don’t have any excuses,” Kelly said. “We were atrocious offensively.”