Notre Dame is in danger of going from bad to historically bad.
Each week the Fighting Irish are finding different ways to lose. The defense started the season unable to hold most opponents to fewer than 30 points. Special teams have made big plays but have given up bigger plays. Now the offense is struggling so badly that DeShone Kizer, listed in some mock NFL drafts as the No. 1 pick, was yanked against Stanford after throwing two interceptions to start the second half in a 17-10 loss Saturday.
Just snapping the ball has suddenly become a challenge for the Irish as center Sam Mustipher had three bad attempts in remnants of a hurricane against North Carolina State and two more in dry conditions against Stanford, including one that sailed past backup quarterback Malik Zaire for a safety.
The offense, which was averaging 39.8 points through the first five games, has one touchdown and two field goals the past two games. Coach Brian Kelly said Kizer is not the only reason the offense is struggling.
“This is collectively and entire offensive issue. It’s not just one thing,” he said Sunday.
A problem all season long has been the offense going stagnant for long periods. Texas scored 17 unanswered points in the opener. Michigan State scored 36 straight points. Duke scored 21 in a row. Stanford outscored the Irish 17-0 in the second half.
“We look good the first couple of drives, then we stall out,” Kelly said.
The Irish are 2-5 heading into an off week, one of the worst starts in 128 seasons of playing football at Notre Dame.
Three times Notre Dame has started seasons 1-6 — in 1956, 1960 and 2007. The first two teams finished 2-8, while the 2007 squad under Charlie Weis finished 3-9. Three other teams started seasons 2-5 — in 1963, 1997 and 2003. The only team to finish with a winning record was the 1997 one that won its final five regular-season games before losing to LSU in the Independence Bowl.
The difference between worst Notre Dame teams and this year’s team is the margin of losses. All the other Irish squads that started 2-5 or worse were blown out of games. This year’s team hasn’t lost by more than eight and has outscored opponents 202-177.
“To be 2-5 and to outscore your opponents has got to be one of the craziest stats in America,” Kelly said.
Irish players say they still believe they can turn things around. The captains spoke in support of Kelly last week, saying the team was solidly behind him. But Kelly was asked Sunday about the Twitter account for defensive lineman Jerry Tillery, who is from Shreveport, Louisiana, liking three tweets saying former LSU coach Les Miles should be the next coach at Notre Dame.
“I don’t make much of it,” Kelly said. “Jerry’s been a committed player. I’ve got a great relationship with Jerry. So I haven’t seen anything from him, nor has he said anything to me that he’s not committed to playing here at Notre Dame and for me, for that matter.”