Irish Blogger Gathering: Season on the Brink

Well, when I first volunteered to host the IBG for Michigan State week, I definitely could not have expected being 0-2 in the most frustrating fashion possible.  After such high expectations from pretty much everyone in the IBG, we now face a season on the brink.

There’s no avoiding it, these last two weeks have completely sucked.  My questions to the rest of the IBG are below and we’ll see if we can’t make some sense out of the disasters from the last two weeks.

My answers will be posted in the middle of the week and I will post links to responses as I made aware of them.  Here’s hoping my first ever IBG host leads to an Irish victory this week.

IBG Responses

1. Let’s go ahead and talk about the big pink elephant in the room. After two absolutely horrid, heart-breaking, and downright mind-boggling performances, how do you feel about this team moving forward? Are we simply a bad team or a team that just hasn’t put it together yet? This is your chance to talk Irish fans of the ledge…or push them over.

It is hard to exactly describe my feelings about this team.  Make no doubt, I know this team is unbelievably talented and I firmly believe that Kelly is the right coach for the Irish.  However, I cannot pretend that the Irish turning the ball over 5 times in each of their two games doesn’t disturb me.  I also cannot believe that we allowed Michigan to create a comeback that should’ve never of happened.

Last season, we had another frustrating start, going 1-2 out of the gate and we were telling ourselves that we were one drive (Michigan) and one play (Michigan State fake FG) from being 3-0 out of the gate.  Granted, things are much, much different this time around.  We are much better than last year and we have beaten ourselves.

That’s what makes this all the more frustrating.  I know damned well that this team should be 2-0 with zero doubt and lighting the college football world on fire.  Now, the same usual uniformed people think we are a fraud yet again.  It drives me mad.

I’m not on the ledge, nor should any other Irish fan be; however, I can see its appeal.  I can see why it would make some sense to be there, even though I know it is beyond stupid of me to even think so.

I’m waiting for this team to click.  They’ve shown not just flashes of being good, but flashes of absolute dominance the like of which I haven’t seen from a ND team.

We are good, damned good. It’s time to put it together.

2. It’s time to put on the headset and step into the shoes of Brian Kelly. In the first quarter, it seemed like your message and plan to recover from the USF disaster worked, and then the rest of the game happened. How do approach this week? What message do you give your players?

If I’m Kelly, I stick to the same game plan that I used during Michigan week for the most part.  I can’t completely tear the team apart, despite their frustrating showings.  Now is not the time to panic.

I start by telling the players that redemption starts now by knocking off a Michigan State team that is ranked 15th in the nation.  I remind them that such a victory could indeed be the start of a BCS campaign.  A 10-2 Irish take takes down Sparty, USC, and Stanford won’t be denied a spot in one of the big games.

At the same time though, when it comes down to practice, I am going to be even more critical than ever before.  Minor mistakes can turn into big ones come gametime.  Furthermore, I am looking harder at how my players react to things that happen in practice.  Do they start hanging their head when they drop a pass?  Does anyone seem to care that they blew coverage?  This is the time as a coach to have such a feel for my team that I can notice these signs during the practice week and nip it in the bud before it creeps into game week.

I know my team can win, but I need to make sure they are mentally ready and believe without a doubt they will do so.

3. Keep that headset on, you are still playing Kelly. Based upon what you’ve seen these last two games, do you see players that need to start riding the pine or are you still confident in your depth chart?

I’m not changing any of my starters; however, I am paying far, far more attention to mistakes and reactions from them on the field like I did in practice.  I have always said “next man in” when it comes to injuries, and I will apply that to the mental side of the game as well.

I’ll be ready to yank anyone off the field that seems to be sliding mentally–not to bench them, but to take the time to get them coached up whether it is by me or an assistant.  I need everyone’s head to be right on the field because just one person can affect the other ten.

Furthermore, I will not be afraid to rotate my freshmen freely.  I kept Tuitt and Lynch off the field more than I should have during Michigan.  That’s telling them and the rest of my squad I am deathly afraid of mistakes and I shouldn’t be.

So if Gary Gray seems have issues, I send in Lo Wood for a bit.  I know Gray is good and has proved it to me before.  If Wood gets burned once, so be it.  It’ll light a fire under Gray’s ass and he’ll want to prove that’s his spot out there.  If he (or anyone else for that matter) can’t, I don’t want him out there.

4. Overall, how do you feel about Rees’ performance against Michigan?

Overall, it’s positive.  You don’t lead a team to 500+ yards by completely sucking and he led a clutch drive that should have won the game for the Irish.

However, he still made some head-scratching mistakes and caused turnovers on his own.  He made some bad throws and had a fumble that I still can’t explain.  You just can’t make those mistakes and expect to win.

Finally, as much as people love how much Rees “gets the ball to Floyd”, he locks in on him far too often.  For all the criticism’s on Crist, you can’t deny that he would spread the ball around with no issue.  Floyd is great, but you can’t deny your other receivers that are wide open as well.

But like I said, overall, he did good.  If I were to give a letter grade I’d go B-/B.

5. Let’s talk about something happy: the Irish running game.  After a 198 yard performance by the Irish do you feel that this rushing attack led by Cierre Wood (134 yards) is for real or have we not run into a tough enough defensive test yet?

A little from column A and a little from column B.

Sparty should be the real test as they have the best D-Line we’ve faced yet.  If you remember back to my first responses to the IBG, I said that Jerel Worthy (DT) would be the best defender that we would face all season.  Should Wood and the rest of the rushing attack keep up the current pace, I’ll say the rushing game has definitely arrive.

As of right now though, I say we are close and the rushing attack is easily one of the things that I’m most optimistic about on this team.

6. Looking ahead to Michigan State, how do you gauge them?  Is this the best team that we’ve faced off against yet or is this just an untested team that beat up on two cupcakes in Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic?

Definitely the best team we’ve faced yet.  Yes, they’ve played two cupcakes, but they are consistently tough and consistently play us tough.  They didn’t win the Big Ten last year by pure luck.

This game is always a dog fight and we should expect nothing less.

7. Is the key to winning simply not turning the ball over or do you see other crucial keys to beating Sparty?

If we had five keys to the game, one through four would be “hold on to the damned ball”.  However, I see the battle in the trenches as another key in this one.  As I mentioned before, we will face a stout D-Line and it’ll be a solid test to see just how physically dominant our O-Line actually is.  If we have a big rushing day and are able to protect Rees, I will be very happy.

Another key that I feel I should mention: punting.  For the love of God, if we have to punt can we not put our defense into a hole and win the field position battle?  Kelly has made it clear Turk will be punting no matter what, so I hope he figures out whatever his issue is or I will be screaming at my TV for anyone else to do the honors.

8. Obviously every week should be a must win, but I think there is definitely more of an urgency this week. How crucial is this game for the rest of our season?

To me this game couldn’t be more of a “must win”.  1-2 means that you can recover and start a BCS run, 0-3 means you are praying for a bowl birth.  This could very well end up being a defining game for Kelly.  Should he manage to come out and beat the thorn in our side that is Sparty in any kind of convincing matter and start a complete season turn around, he could be hailed as legendary (instead of the crazies calling for his head 1 year and 2 games in).

With the last two disasters, the Irish will be looking for a fresh start and beating the flag planting bastards that are Sparty is one hell of a start.

  • Jesse (@tricerapops)

    1. Love this team, and will always love ’em. I’m a glass half full kind of guy, so I think this team has had some pretty unlucky breaks/bounces. I don’t count all of the INTs in this bucket however, as some of our TOs have been as a result of bad decisions made by our QBs, but lucky/unlucky breaks can swing the outcome of a game, and we’ve been on the wrong side of that equation both weeks. Mathematical impossibilities aside, the first two weeks made me realize we’re not good enough to win it all, but we can hang still (I’m hoping). You eliminate just one of the turnovers in either game, and we likely are looking at 2-0.

    2. If I’m any of our players, I’d respond well to a staff that’s going to stay on message this week, helping to keep things in proper context, while openly discussing what we need to do as a team to minimize the errors and fix things that aren’t working properly (transparency). So if I’m Kelly, I’m going to reinforce the message that I’ve been pushing all along, cite the fact that there is success if the team sticks to the recipe, but we’ll make some adjustments as we see fit (which are explained below).

    3. We all made fun of Goody on PRs, but we were shitting our beds when Theo coughed them up against USF. I’m happy we went back to Goody, Theo’s ego slam notwithstanding (which I doubt he’s torn up about it). I say we stick with Goody for now, until we’re absolutely certain someone else can step in. Other than that – I stick with the roster.

    4. Ice in his veins, I’m convinced he’s our dude. The picks he threw were ugly, and if he can work on his decision making a bit – we can have a really good QB on our hands. His throw to TJ for the TD scamper was a great example of what ‘could be’ in a Rees offense, with him looking the D off of TJ.

    5. Saturday’s performance, while sweet at times – finished sour. I think we all know what I’m talking about here. 3 and 1 and we need a critical 1st down. We line up under center and the play unfolds as if we’re running at 0.5X speed, and the defense is running at 2X, we fail to convert and we end up punting the ball. I don’t care the stats we put up, if we cannot address the needs of critical ‘production’ (i.e., producing when it counts) we have an incomplete running game. This is an area I would hope Kelly is open about with the team, and issues a challenge to them to step up and really make this work for us here on out – and I’m including Warriner in on this challenge. Edward W. needs to take this on with some gusto and put his reputation on the line.

    6. I throw whatever games they’ve played out the door. I don’t know the exact numbers, but they’re on some level of streak as it relates to beating us at home, so even if they played against the City of Burbank Flag Football team in week 2, and beat them soundly – I don’t discount this team one bit. Dantonio is an old school guy with principles grounded in the trenches, so we won’t be able to push this team around as easily as we did with UM for the first 3 quarters. We’ll need a complete game, and a mistake-free game (relatively speaking). Cousins will be better with his passes, so while he won’t threaten us with his legs like DR, he will make those passes that Denard missed for most of the game (except when he absolutely needed to hit them).

    7. Solid line play – again, Dantonio’s squad will not be pushed around as easy. Need good play here on both sides of our team.

    8. Personally for me, this game is a MUST win, but every game is, so I can’t imagine how it is for the players. I’ll just again speak from my perspective, we need to rid the taste of our mouths from weeks 1 and 2. Lose Saturday and we’re spiraling into 2007 redux (potentially), and we put our team at risk again at mailing it in. BK was able to rally everyone – but can he work magic twice in a row. You need some periods of success to help build the morale and rid the memories of losing, so it starts with our next opportunity. We need to ensure the freshman that they’ve signed on for something that is going to work, and yield results, and we need to tell our current targets that we have a product worth joining in on.
    A critical must win for those purposes, just alone.

    • Ryan Ritter

      There needs to be a “Like”/”+1” button. Well done.

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