Notre Dame all schlep, no pep? Can’t be all VanGorder’s fault

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Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly had a brutal 2016 season, but he bounced back with a strong 2017 recruiting class. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP)

We didn’t make it through September before the first batch of pink slips arrived. Rough business. Takeaways from Week 4 of the college football season:

1. Notre Dame’s firing Sunday of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder undoubtedly was justified. The Irish “D” was lit up early and often by opposing offenses throughout VanGorder’s tenure, which began in 2014. This season’s group — which allowed a rather amazing 124 points in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke — has been appallingly bad.

According to coach Brian Kelly, the unit lacks “some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you’re playing on defense.”

No energy? No fun? When half the team is all schlep and no pep, it’s a clear indication the big boss must be part of the problem, too.

That would be Kelly, who, only eight months ago, received a six-year contract extension.

Kelly promoted defensive analyst Greg Hudson to handle VanGorder’s former duties. Why Hudson? Among other things, because he’s a high-energy, rah-rah kind of guy. Maybe when Hudson is finished firing up his players, he can do likewise with the big boss.

2. Les Miles averaged better than 10 victories per season at LSU. He won a pair of SEC titles and a national championship. And now he’s history, fired by the school after an excruciating last-second defeat at Auburn.

The Tigers were ranked No. 5 in the preseason. A month later, they’re handing the reins to Ed Orgeron on an interim basis and, well, we’ll see how swell things go from here. LSU could hit a home run with its next coaching hire, but it’s probably not going to find another Nick Saban. Finding a worthy successor to Miles will be hard enough.

3. The top seven teams in the new AP Top 25 — Alabama, Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan, Clemson, Houston and Stanford — remained unchanged from the previous week. Bet you the farm that doesn’t happen again this season.

4. Led by its defense, Wisconsin — which went on the road and hammered Michigan State 30-6 — could be as strong a team as Iowa was in 2015. Yet the eighth-ranked Badgers, unlike those Hawkeyes, are dealing with a decidedly hostile schedule. Saturday’s game at Michigan will be extremely hard to win. Then comes Ohio State. In a nutshell: Don’t mistake a terrific 4-0 start for playoff contention.

5. Remember when Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was on the hot seat? Sumlin looks a bit safer now — the Aggies are 4-0 and in the top 10 after an impressive victory over Arkansas — but one wonders where he’d be without John Chavis. The second-year defensive coordinator is doing outstanding work.

6. Anyone who watched Clemson’s 26-7 victory at Georgia Tech last Thursday knows the Tigers’ defense is formidable. At one point, Clemson had 23 points on the scoreboard and the Yellow Jackets offense had 23 yards in the stat book. But coordinator Brent Venables’ “D” still has a ton of first-year starters. The real test will come Saturday at home against Louisville.

7. Illinois had a bye week. Did anyone notice?

8. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson threw two interceptions — one of them in the end zone — in a 24-13 defeat against Nebraska. Kicker Jack Mitchell missed from 27 yards and doinked a PAT. The Wildcats twice benefitted from drive-killing Nebraska fumbles near their goal line, yet they lost by double digits on their home field anyway.

It’s bad. It’s real bad.

9. It seems Northern Illinois has yet to recover from its one-sided loss to Bowling Green in last year’s MAC title game. The Huskies were destroyed 55-7 by Boise State in their bowl game. They’re off to an 0-4 start in 2016, which is looking more and more like Rod Carey’s final season as coach. The losing streak is at seven overall. Morale has to be an issue.

10. Wake Forest getting to 4-0. Colorado winning at Oregon. Tennessee fans calling for coach Butch Jones’ head at halftime of the Florida game, then celebrating a Vols comeback for the ages. Don’t stop being you, college football.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com


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