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Here are the elite teams who can teach Notre Dame how to win at football

The Irish have one of the country's worst records. Here's what they can learn from some teams with actual good records.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina State Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

For Notre Dame, things haven’t exactly gone swimmingly this season, despite the fact that Saturday’s 10-3 loss to NC State (4-1) was essentially played under water.

Everyone’s looking for answers in South Bend, as the Fighting Irish are 2-4, but in order to fix what’s broken with the Golden Domers, perhaps we should take a look at some pointers other established programs could offer to Notre Dame.


Firing coordinator Brian VanGorder didn’t fix it. A lot of the issues going forward might be tied to the amount of youth on that side of the ball, but that doesn't fully account for what's already happened. Notre Dame is No. 75 in total defense, and only that high because the NC State hurricane game stunted the numbers.

The Irish have given up fewer than 489 yards of offense twice this season in six games. Once was against Nevada (3-3), and the other was to NC State in a torrential downpour.

The Fighting Irish are a not-so-nice 69th in yards-per-play defense, surrendering 5.8 per game (again skewed by what NC State couldn’t do in the rain).

Who could Brian Kelly turn to in this hour of need? He could go out west and ask the folks at San Diego State (4-1). The Aztecs have the No. 20 defense in yards-per-play allowed and the No. 15 defense in yards-per-game allowed. Adjust San Diego State’s numbers for opponent strength, and they’re not a fraud: the defense is No. 22 in the S&P+ rankings. Kelly could go out and get a tan, enjoy some fun in the sun, and learn about competent defense.

Eastern Washington v Washington State
This guy has a better rushing attack than Notre Dame
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Rushing offense

Kelly might be a bit hesitant to head down to Tampa to learn from USF (5-1), because he once lost to previous head coach Skip Holtz. But times are tough.

Willie Taggart’s USF averages 6.08 yards per rush and 260.5 per game, both good for top-15 marks nationally.

Notre Dame’s attack might not be predicated on running the ball, but whenever the Fighting Irish do go on the ground, the result isn’t great. ND averages 3.9 yards per rush, 98th-best in the country. The NC State game can be explained away, but 59 yards on 25 carries against Michigan State (2-3) can’t.

Specifically, Notre Dame’s running game needs to get more explosive. It currently ranks No. 91 in IsoPPP, used to measure explosiveness. Why not visit former Irish head coach Bob Davie at New Mexico (2-3), whose team has broken 17 rushes of 20 yards or more already, 10 more than the Irish?

If that doesn’t work, I’m sure air raid master Mike Leach can offer Notre Dame some pointers on how to run the ball. Washington State (3-2) might be almost dead-last in rushing attempts per game, but the Cougars are 35th in yards per rush at 4.97, 63 spots ahead of ND.

Indiana v Purdue
Guess who has the best pass defense in the state of Indiana?
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

More defense

The Irish’s biggest problem on defense is against the pass, where they rank No. 110 in S&P+. Indiana (3-2) is 39th in the nation in yards per game allowed, and a visit to the state’s best college football team wouldn’t stretch Notre Dame’s travel budget. The Hoosiers didn’t beat Ohio State, but they did limit J.T. Barrett to 9 of 21 and 93 yards passing on Saturday in a non-hurricane.

Third down conversions

Notre Dame has been horrendous on third down, only converting a third of the time and ranking 111th in the nation.

The Fighting Irish need some Midwestern grittiness on college football’s most important down. The answer might be just a couple hours east on I-90. The Toledo Rockets (4-1) under new coach Jason Candle are converting 56 percent of their third downs, which leads the nation.

Still more defense

Notre Dame’s other big problem on defense: a total lack of big plays. The Irish rank No. 119 in havoc rate, which measures the percentage of snaps that end with a disruptive play like a tackle for loss, fumble, or interception.

One of Notre Dame’s traditional peers, Houston (5-1), might be able to offer some insight. The Cougars rank No. 11 in havoc rate.

North Dakota State v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Beating Power 5 opponents

FCS North Dakota State (5-0) beat Iowa on the road, giving the Bison one win over a power-conference opponent this season. The Bison did it in one try. Notre Dame’s done it only once in five tries.

Beating anyone, really

Notre Dame has a .333 winning percentage. Coming into the season, the Fighting Irish had a .73215 winning percentage all time, which was the best in the history of college football. But history isn’t on Notre Dame’s side in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society.

Notre Dame is 1-9 against top-10 opponents in the last 10 seasons. Navy (4-1) equaled that number of wins just last Saturday.

So who can teach the Fighting Irish to get back to winning ways? Take your pick.

They really don’t even have to go outside of their partial ACC membership to do so. Kelly could have just gone to Wake Forest (5-1) on the way home from Raleigh Saturday evening.

There are currently 98 FBS teams with better winning percentages than Notre Dame. In addition to the ones already mentioned, those include: Memphis (4-1), Akron (4-2), Old Dominion (4-2), South Alabama (3-2), and New Mexico State (2-3).

(Yes, Notre Dame would have the third-best record in the state of New Mexico right now.)

Channeling your emotions

Finally, Kelly has a bit a history when it comes to bad sideline temperament.

Brian Kelly screaming

We’re all a little emotional, and I get that. Kelly’s problem is he typically channels it by laying into coaches on his staff and players on his team.

If he was more like my man P.J. Fleck, maybe there’d be a different narrative around him. He could learn some tips at how to channel zaniness into a winning mentality, because the Western Michigan Broncos are 6-0 this season.