Irish Blogger Gathering: Off the Snide

I join the IBG and the Irish start 0-2.  I host the IBG and Notre Dame gets their first win of the season and their first multi-possession win against Michigan State since 1993.

You’re welcome.

This week, our SBNation representatives at One Foot Down have hosting duties for the IBG.  The pressure’s on boys, let’s keep this winning streak going.

The host post is in the link above and my answers to their questions are below.

1. For the first time this season, Notre Dame was outgained in yardage by its opponent.  Some have expressed concern that Notre Dame maybe doesn’t beat State without a kick return for a touchdown and an 82-yard interception return.  Still, Notre Dame won for the first time this season.  What does this win say about this team?  Did we see progress on Saturday? 

Well, it depends on how you wish to look at it.  It’s hard to outgain an opponent when you do get a kickoff return for a TD and get a 82 yard INT return in just offensive yardage.  That stat alone doesn’t exactly tell the whole story.

That’s one of the reasons why I came up with my NTY metric for the NDtex25.  If you’d like to check out the whole formula, you can do so here, but the basic gist is that you take all sides of the ball into account to see the Net Total Yardage for the game (only thing not taken into account is fumble/INT return yards as I have a turnover margin metric as well).  Obviously, you want that number to be positive and if you happen to dip into the negative, you really got your ass handed to you.

However, this stat doesn’t do ND any favors either.  ND’s NTY for the game was 43 and Sparty’s was 222. Even if I include the INT yardage, ND’s number would only be bumped up to 125, still greatly lagging behind Sparty.

So with all that in mind, how do I feel?  Just fine.  Even in my own rankings, I don’t put too much stock in NTY or even TO margin, the big factor is simply: “did you win the game?”.  Every thing else, in my mind, is how I try to separate teams with similar records.  I love stats, but they aren’t everything.

Sure it wasn’t pretty, but we still managed to win the game while not playing our best football and turning the ball over three more times.  Three turnovers are less than five, so there’s improvement there.  The defense didn’t collapse.  And most importantly, there’s a 1 in the win column instead of a 0.

This game says the same thing the last two weeks did.  This is a team that still isn’t playing to it’s potential and has some things that still need fixing.  The turnovers are still too high and the offense needs to step on the throat of our opponent to put games out of reach.

The Irish are still a work in progress, but are no means a bad football team.  I’m still waiting for everything to click because this team will be damned scary when that happens.

2. What three facets of our game do you focus on in practice this week if you’re Brian Kelly? 

1) Ball Security – Obvious facet is obvious.

2) Rees – Unfortunately, Rees threw an INT that was a absolutely horrible mistake, locking in on Floyd and throwing directly into coverage.  Several of us at the IBG have noticed this tendency and it needs to stop.  Yes, Floyd can make amazing plays happen and he should be fed the ball, but even he can’t prevent INTs when awful decisions are made.  Rees is getting better and will continue to do so.  Kelly has mentioned several times that he works with Rees personally, so staying the course there should pay off.

3) Sweep the Leg – The offense needs a killer instinct.  Michigan should have been buried by halftime two weeks ago and Michigan State should have been beaten by much more than they were.  Kelly got aggressive to try and put the game out of reach, but the offense just couldn’t execute.  It’s like some weird mental block that needs to stop and fast.

3. Grade the coaching staff and position groups through three games.

  • Quarterbacks: C
    • Let’s be honest, week 1 was just awful and both of our QBs made some bad decisions.  After taking the reigns full-time, Rees is still far from perfect.  Locking onto receivers and throwing into coverage that should be obvious isn’t helping matters.  There are still flashes of brilliance, but the consistency just isn’t there.  If we compared it to an exam, it’s like Rees will work out the most complicated problem on the test and will immediately get the next gimme question wrong.
  • Running Backs: B
    • This grade would be higher if it weren’t for short yardage failures and fumbles.  Both, however, are showing signs of improvement and the running game is a legitimate weapon for the Irish.
  • Wide Receivers: B-
    • This is a grade that suffers thanks to a very poor week 1 performance by everyone not named Michael Floyd.  Yes, the performance was that bad.  Since then, everyone is starting to click much better and is playing like the weapon we all thought they would be.
  • Tight Ends: C+
    • Again, bad week 1 hurts and Rees is just now getting our TEs back into the game like they should be.  Blocking has been a mixed bag as well.
  • Offensive Line: A-
    • I haven’t had to bitch about the line yet, which means they are doing their job.  Only thing keeping this from an A is the short yardage issues.  Other than that, there isn’t much to complain about at all.
  • Defensive Line: A-
    • It’s been night and day in our defensive trenches compared to last year.  The run defense has been solid all year and the only thing keeping this from an A was the fact that we haven’t gotten great consistent QB pressure…that is, until we actually started Lynch for a change!
  • Linebackers: B
    • Solid play against the run, but struggling a bit in coverage.  I also am slightly sad Te’o hasn’t killed anyone yet.
  • Defensive Backs: C+
    • Thankfully week 3 and Robert Blanton save this grade.  Beyond that, it’s been some awful play to say the least.  Gary Gray is the obvious dog, but no one, Harrison Smith included had stepped up until the matchup with Sparty.
  • Special Teams: D
    • Holy hell has this been awful.  Mr Perfect led the season off by missing a FG and punting is an adventure on both sides of the ball.  Thankfully, Ruffer didn’t let his first miss of the season mess with his head and is back on track.
  • Coaching: C
    • While I have all the confidence in the world that Kelly and our staff is great, they sure haven’t shown it to start the season off.  Turnovers, penalties, mistakes, and everything else in will eventually fall at the feet of the coaching staff.  Much like the rest of the team though, I expect this to get back on track very soon.

4. The season is 25% complete.  If you’re Brian Kelly, what is your mantra for the second quarter of the season?

Forget the second quarter of the season, that’s already looking too far ahead.  The mantra is the same as Kelly has been preaching all season: “one week at a time”.  Kelly has made it a point in every presser to say the previous game is behind them and done.  I expect nothing less.

5. On Pittsburgh.  Did Iowa wrest control of the game from PItt, as was Iowa’s custom last season.  Or did Pitt just implode? 

Let me put it this way, if ND blew a 17 point lead for any reason, how would you react?

Comebacks of that magnitude simply don’t happen without a little bit of help.  Pitt did just that.  Pitt’s three drives in the fourth quarter: Turnover on Downs, three and out, INT.  They allowed Iowa to score on four drives in a row, totaling 261 yards on 26 plays.  Yes, Pitt gave up a little over 10 yards/play.  That’s just awful.

       a. Do any of Pitt’s players or matchups concern you?

Not really.  I mean, sure, if Sunseri gets hot he can put up points, but they’ve played no one impressive.  They beat Buffalo, barely beat freakin’ Maine, and blew a game against an Iowa squad that doesn’t seem so hot themselves this season.  They’ve also allowed 12 sacks.  That’s 4 sacks/game.  They gave up 7 to Maine.

Forget about Sunseri getting hot, if Lynch can replicate last week, Sunseri will be lucky to leave the game in one piece.

Oh and yeah, they kind of completely blew the Iowa game too thanks to a very, very awful defensive effort.

Their TO margin is about as bad as ours as they are ranked 105 in the nation right now with a -1.33 average.

So yeah, not scared.

       b. How does ND vs. Pitt play out this weekend?

Should be a complete blowout for us.  Pitt looks completely overmatched on paper.  However, the Irish love to make things interesting so as usual, the question is: “will we screw ourselves again?”  Getting out of our own way will be key once again and if that happens, it won’t be pretty for Pitt.

Bonus. With three games in the books, this season is one-quarter done.  It’s probably no stretch to assume that football writers also enjoy history, and specifically military history.  Compare Notre Dame’s one-fourth of a season to a one-fourth complete war.  Is it World War I–i.e. are we’re stuck in a war of attrition, with many, many losses still to come?  Is it Grenada–have we already seen the worst, with only relatively smooth sailing to come?  Don’t feel limited to 20th century warfare.  For that matter, no need to limit it to military history–policital, legal, and philosophical warfare is also acceptable.

I’ll take the Civil War.

Kelly is William Tecumseh Sherman and the Irish are the soldiers under his command.  USF was our Bull Run, just simply an awful defeat.  While Kelly put on a strong face, I’m sure he had several thoughts, much like Sherman did about what he got himself into; however, thankfully for the Irish he didn’t take a leave like Sherman did.  Sherman still ran into some issues with his other battles, much like the Irish against Michigan; however, then the battle of Shiloh happened.

At Shiloh, Sherman and the Union were caught completely unprepared, but still somehow managed to pull out a victory, much like the Irish managing to beat Michigan State despite some issues of their own.

What we are waiting for though, is our Atlanta.  That big victory that pushes us over the edge and leads to the Irish going scorched earth on the rest of college football immediately after.  Bonus points if we finish our fiery campaign against an SEC team in the Sugar Bowl so this can actually happen against the South in their own backyard.

  • Mouth Of The South

    Nice.  Bryan Driskell and Mike Frank said in this week’s Power Hour that maybe the offense stalls because the script runs out.  We all think it’s lack of focus, but maybe it’s lack of familiarity with and practice in the offense.  They execute the script well, then that runs out and they struggle.  Something to think about.

  • Mouth Of The South

    I hope we pull a Sherman, except without the raping and pillaging and whatnot.  I’m okay with committing figurative atrocities on the field, but we need to eschew the literal ones.