Irish Blogger Gathering: Now with 100% More Twitter

It’s time for another round of questions in the Irish Blogger Gathering.  This week’s edition is hosted by the ND football think tank known as the Irish Round Table.  Make sure to head to their site and check out their host post as well as the rest of the responses from the IBG that will be linked there.

1) Excluding Aaron Lynch, who is your top newcomer of the year thus far (freshman or player that hadn’t seen much playing time in prior seasons)?

Mr. Irish Chocolate himself, Louis Nix.  The 340 pounder has been a large (hey look a pun!) reason why the Irish run defense has improved so much.  The Irish now rank 25th in the country in rushing yards given up per game at 93.  The only rushing TD they’ve given up is the freak fumble scoop by Denard Robinson.

The battle against the run starts up front.  In the 3-4, you need your line to fill in as many gaps as possible, suck up O-line blocks, and let your LBs make plays.  The nose tackle is right at the point of attack for nearly every inside run, making that position absolutely vital to the 3-4’s success.

Without Nix’s contributions, there is no way this defense would be where it is right now.  He’s done a fantastic job and the scary part is that he will get better.

2) We asked our Twitter followers for questions to use in this week’s IBG. Here’s a sampling of what we got. Choose ONE and answer:

Yeah, I’m totally going to cheat here and answer all of them.  Some of these are just begging for a response.

@TheSubwayDomer: If the #NDFB quarterbacks were female super models, who would they be? What would they endorse? #IBG

Ok, I lied, not answering this one. The hell kind of question is this? I expect better, Subway Domer.  Shame on you!

@PerrasW01: Why has the #NDFB program gone to hell since Holtz left?

Bob Davie and Ty Willingham. I’m dead serious. Davie started us on a decline and Ty did so much damage to this team by just failing to recruit (and coach, run a practice, stay away from the golf course…) that we had such gaping holes that Charlie Weis simply could not plug up in time nor could he have hoped to.

Regarding Weis, he just didn’t know how to transition from a pro coordinator to a college head coach.  And, really, you can’t “schematic advantage” your way out of having no offensive or defensive line among other nice talent gaps that Ty left behind.

Now we have been to three BCS bowls since Lou.  Granted, we’ve won zero, but considering we are showing signs of recovery (yes there are signs), I wouldn’t call that completely going to hell.

If you want to talk about going to hell, I’d take a nice look at Miami. It could be a lot worse.

@rpleary: You know that sign that says “Play Like a Champion Today”? What does our offense have against the sign?

Is this a serious question?

Sure the offense isn’t perfect; in fact, we are far from it, but I haven’t seen this team quit.  Despite continuing to shoot themselves in the foot, they come back out and make a game out of it and in the case of Sparty, they won comfortably and in the case of Pitt they won a game they should’ve lost.

Maybe they aren’t playing to perfection, but I don’t believe that’s what the sign asks for.

@chadros: Based on our offense’s performance to date, is the current play calling mix(run vs. pass) the right one? Should we be running the ball more?

126 runs and 155 passes is our current spread.  Considering college football counts sacks as rushing plays, I’ll go ahead and change that to 121/160 run/pass since we’ve given up five sacks total.  That’s a 56.9% pass inclination.

Let’s also remember that the second half of the USF game was pass, pass, pass, and pass some more.  So let’s remove that as a statistical outlier since that’s obviously outside the game plan.

That removes 6 rushes and 35, yes, 35 passes.  We are left with a run/pass of 116/125, resulting in a 51.9% pass inclination.

That sure looks like a balanced offense to me.  Can we finally put this argument to rest? Please? For my sanity?

@yetiisready: Will this be the week we see the “change-up package” AKA “the Leprecat?”

We saw this week one, I believe. I think Kelly is more concerned with Rees getting his act together rather than throwing in additional packages like the wildcat.  Honestly, I wouldn’t expect to see it.

3) If you could have 1 play back this season, what play would you want a do-over? How would that have changed a game’s outcome? Are you sure your do-over would work in ND’s favor?

The Jonas Gray fumble on the first drive of the season. That may not just change the game, that may just change some of the season.  Who knows, the Irish could’ve ended that drive with all the confidence in the world and Crist could be our QB.

I can’t state any of that for certain, but there is no doubt that everyone on the sideline had some thought as most fans did: “Yep, here we go again”.  The Irish have had to rebuild their confidence from drive one and that is no way to get a season going.

4) In 140 characters or less “tweet” a summary of the season so far. Bonus points for hashtags or mentions.

Well this one’s easy: #NDFBIsDeterminedToKillMe

5) Lou Holtz asked 3 basic questions of every player and coach, “Can I trust you? Are you committed? Do you care about me?” In your opinion, which player would every other player give a resounding “Yes” to each of these questions and why?

I would have to go with Manti Te’o.  Just read Eric Hansen’s fantastic piece on him in the South Bend Tribune (and ignore the Creed Lryics).  I honestly couldn’t see any player trying to deny that Te’o doesn’t fit Lou’s questions or that he wouldn’t be the “right kinda guy” that Kelly looks for.

6) Jumbotron. Good idea or terrible idea. What would you do to make it a great idea?

It’s a useless argument that needs to go away.  I am so indifferent on this it’s not even funny.

Sure, it’s great that ND doesn’t have one as far as being super-traditional goes, but in our current days of long NBC timeouts that put the crowd in a lull, I can easily see arguments for it.

Personally, if ND put one up, I wouldn’t be worried about it.  I would have to believe that ND would use it well much like they did in Yankee Stadium.

7) Every week we try to fire up the masses with a “Fire It Up” video. Sometimes these videos are inspirational ballads of kick-ass Notre Dame football. Sometimes they are of a Japanese game show with dudes getting hit in the junk. Submit a video to Fire Up the Irish faithful for the Purdue game.

I’m more or less amusing myself because this is a bit a local sports station does so I expect very few ND fans will get. Oh well, screw it, I’m doing it anyways (along with some bonus inspiration!):

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.

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.

Irish Blogger Gathering: Michigan Still Sucks

With my first ever NDtex25 rankings out, it’s time to put last week to bed for good.  It happened, it’s over, and I don’t want to think about it any more.  It’s time to focus on what really matters, and that’s hating Michigan and remembering that they still suck.

This week’s IBG is focused primarily on that.  Biscuit over at HerLoyalSons, is leading the charge for this year’s slinging of hate.  My responses to this week’s batch of questions are below.

Not to look too far ahead, but I want to drop a quick note that I will be hosting the IBG next week as we take on Sparty, so be sure to be on the lookout for my inaugural hosting post next week.

1) Well that result really sucked. Please describe how you feel about the loss using lyrics from a pop diva (eg Britney Spears, Rihanna, etc) song. Bonus points for video or pictures. (something good has to come out of last week)

I’m not sure what the obsession is with songs over at HLS for IBG questions.  And picking a pop diva? Really?!  You realize this is the kinda crap that opposing bloggers dream of seeing in order to make fun of us right?

Don’t worry, I’ll be a good sport and play along (honestly nothing can be worse than last weekend’s game anyways).  Let’s go with Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again” because, I can’t think of anything else to say when you continuously drop passes, commit awful penalties, and turn the ball over repeatedly.

Well, I’m sure Kelly has a few choice words, but anyways:

Honorable mention: Pink’s “U + Ur Hand” because I’m sure that’s what quite a few Irish players were told that night after screwing that game up so royally.

2) While we all want to move on, last week’s game can teach us many things about the ’11 Irish. After seeing what Week 1 brought us, do you find yourself more confident, less confident, or still confused as hell about our chances vs the Skunkbears? Why?

I’m more confident oddly enough.  I have to believe that the Irish won’t be turning the ball over five times a game and make the other mistakes that plagued the USF game.  When you take that away, you are left with a rather impressive offensive performance and an even more impressive outing by the defense.  The fact ND even had a shot at winning against USF is impressive considering how many points the Irish simply gave away.

The Irish caused their own demise last week and they know it.  They’ll be looking for someone to take it out on this week to claim redemption.  We couldn’t ask for a better punching bag in Michigan.

3) Other than QB, which position group pleasantly surprised you this past week? Which disappointed? What player absolutely MUST see more time in Week 2? Again, no QBs.

Save for the Jonas Gray fumble, the running backs pleasantly surprised me.  Yes, I did call for good seasons from both, including a breakout year by Cierre Wood, but calling it and having it proven right (for at least one week) are two different things.  Wood, obviously was the big story here.  He was seemingly unstoppable on every touch, flat out running defenders over.  I’m hoping we can have an entire game of balanced offense instead of needing to scrap the running game in only a half because I think Wood is a serious weapon this season.

For disappointment, I’m going to go with our receiving corps.  You simply cannot drop passes as often as they did, end of story.  When you drop a TD and have an INT bounce off your head in the red zone, it’s inexcusable.  Floyd coming up with a big second half is the only thing that really saved them from looking completely awful all game long.

While they obviously saw plenty of time all game long, I want to see our backs get more touches.  I know we had to go one-dimensional out of necessity and I know “we need to run the ball” is rather cliche, but for once, we have a running game that is a true weapon.  Having to abandon that, even with such a great passing attack, is a disservice.  If we can hold on to a balanced attack, opposing teams will definitely have their hands full all season long.  Here’s hoping we don’t have to panic with another all-out aerial assault tomorrow night.

4) Tommy Rees will lead the Irish Offense this week. Do you agree with Coach’s call? Either way, what part of Crist’s game will the Irish O miss the most, if any?

I’m fine with the call for Rees.  The only thing I didn’t agree with as far as QBs go was the quick hook on Crist.  If Kelly is convinced that Rees is his man, I’m all for it, just stick with it and don’t yank him in a half unless he is throwing picks all over the place.

The main thing we’d miss from Dayne is his speed.  Rees is much less of a dual threat than Crist, but considering that we saw no QB draws and read options, it seems that part of the playbook was put to rest.  So really, I don’t think we will be missing too much to be honest.

5) What’s the key to beating the Wolverines this week? Just 1 thing. Not 2. 1.

Hold on to the damned ball.  We can’t be our worst enemy two weeks in a row.

6) Make your Over-Under Picks:

Over-under on Floyd’s receiving total for this coming weekend: 154
Under.  I am probably overconfident, but I don’t think this game will be close and we will be spending more time chewing clock than giving Floyd more yards.

Over-under on Robinson’s rushing total: 100
Under.  I’m quite high on the defense’s performance last week and I think that last year’s performance against Robinson has to be major motivation as well.

Over-under on ND Number of Turnovers: 2
Under. For the love of God this better be under…

Over-under on Number of Times Kelly is caught Purple Monstering Out: 2
Under.  Kelly shouldn’t have any reason to lose his head this week (hopefully).

Over-under on ND Total Yards: 425
Over. The Michigan defense hasn’t gotten much better and I think the Irish will be able to move the ball quite easily against them.

7) Michigan: Just Another Opponent, Enemy, or Rival? Explain. 1 Bonus point for each use of the word ‘suck’.

Enemy. Hated enemy.

The Blue-Gray Sky wrote a nice letter to Michigan fans in 2005 to remind us why as well.  Michigan hasn’t exactly made their hatred a secret either.

We both have our “bigger” rivals.  Michigan has Ohio State and we have USC.  This game is a road block to a bigger picture, the bigger game that fans are really looking forward to.  A loss here ruins the season, the loser is then driven completely nuts that their season is now sullied by losing to the other.

From Michigan’s standpoint, we are a tougher, unneeded non-conference opponent that gets in the way of their more “important” Big Ten conference games.  Losing to us is just a distraction from the Rose Bowl that they’ll get to once every blue moon at this rate.  Beating us isn’t much better either.  It’d be great for a national title run, but when your recent history includes a loss to an FCS team and firing a coach that helped drive your program into the crowd, title thoughts are far away.

That’s why, before the most recent contract extension between the two of us was signed, there was plenty of noise from the Michigan side that the series could, in fact, end.  One of the funnier things I heard was a statement from Michigan, Bo Schembechler, specifically, that “Notre Dame needs us more than we need them”. Unfortunately, it seems the Detroit Free press has since taken down the article, but there are still some blogs that mention this hilarious statement from Bo who was about as anti-ND as they come.

Michigan fans tend to buy this line, convinced, somehow, that we are their little stepchild.  Michigan fans will make no bones about it either.  I even had one fan go as far to tell me it was harder to get into Michigan than ND…this also happened at a ND/USC game in South Bend.

It’s too hard for Michigan to be convinced that somehow we ever rose above them.  They have no logic behind it, so in steps pure hatred.  Feel free to throw it our way Skunkbears, we will throw it right back.

8 ) It’s Michigan week. Name 1 thing in the world that sucks as much as Michigan, if you can.

Damn, this is a tough on…uh, maybe Ty? Wait, no, even he managed to beat them. Oh, wait, I got this one: Craig James!

Shame one of the five hookers he killed at SMU wasn’t named Ann Arbor.

9) RichRod is back, announcing for CBS. Can’t wait to see how that goes. Bet he’s horrible.

Bet it’s better than Craig James.

Irish Blogger Gathering: It’s Go Time

Finally, the wait is almost over.  My Saturdays will soon be filled with college football, loads of junk food, and far too much alcohol.

My liver is already cringing–all is right in the world.

Of course, now that we are in a game week, it’s IBG time.  This time around, our host is Frank from UHND.com and here are his questions for this week’s gathering with my responses:

1. The big news of last week was Dayne Crist winning the starting QB spot.  Are you happy with the outcome and how comfortable are you with Crist as the starting quarterback for the 2011 season?

I’m quite happy with the predictable outcome.  As far as QB goes, I want experience whenever possible with the only exception being if there is a younger kid with a clear amount of greater talent.  I don’t believe that was the case here as all the other QBs seemed to be on pretty equal footing to a point, so going with Crist seems beyond obvious to me.

The main concern, of course, is injury, especially since Dayne has run out of healthy knees to blow up.  I’m hoping that he has learned how to better avoid injury when he’s out in the open field, but time will only tell with that.  My gut says that he’ll stay healthy for most of the season, but hey, if all else fails, Rees is a solid backup.

In the end though, you can’t worry about injury every snap.  Dayne was a solid weapon on the field and you have to believe that the red zone issues that plagued his game last season would be a thing of the past.  You also have to remember that Crist is a dual-threat at QB as well which fits in very nicely with Kelly’s offense.

Overall, he has the tools to succeed and he is proven (sorry Rees, a handful of wins does not a starting resume make).  There is no sense in benching the senior for another young gun this time around.

2. A lot of people say you see the biggest improvement between year 1 and 2 after a coaching change.  What area do you hope to see the biggest improvement in 2011?

I’m hoping to see dramatic improvement to the running game.  It seemed that the ground attack finally got a little bit of tracking later in the season and I think that starts to carry over in a big way this season.  With a year’s worth of experience under Kelly and several returning starters, we should see much more success this time around.

Plus, if Dayne stays healthy, you have to think that aids the running game as well. Crist should have a much better feel for the option plays this go-around and that will create several holes in opposing defenses.

3. I think we’ve all covered this year’s highly touted freshman class quite a bit this off-season already so instead, who do you see as this year’s Corey Mays?  Mays played primarly special teams for 3 seasons before a breakout season as a 5th year senior in 2005.  Who on the Irish roster can pull off a similar performance this season?

I’m going to go with Jonas Gray (yes, I know, I’m all about the running game this post).  He played some special teams, but has mostly been an afterthought in a crowded Irish backfield totaling only 75 carries and 5 receptions in his career.  Now the backfield will be lead by Cierre Wood, with Jonas seeing significant playing time and touches according to Kelly.  He ripped off a 36 yard run against Utah, so he’s definitely got some potential for some big plays.  I see him as a solid piece in this year’s backfield and considering that he will actually have the ball in his hands this season, I can definitely see some solid numbers from him.

4. Theo Riddick is a player I’ve been touting all off-season and think the is ready to become a big name in college football.  What player on Notre Dame’s roster who hasn’t yet broken out are you expecting to put up big numbers in 2011?

I should’ve just entitled this post “I think our running game won’t suck this season” because my money is on Cierre Wood.  The kid has loads of talent, but is probably better remembered for his fumbles and awful kickoff return decisions last season more than anything else.  However, he managed to put together an impressive rushing average of 5.1 yards on 119 carries (603 yards total) and also had 20 receptions for 170 yards as well.  Toss in his 300 kickoff return yards and you are looking at a total of 1,073 all-purpose yards.  Not too bad for a guy that started the season as a backup and coughed up the ball more than he should have.

Now, Cierre will be the featured back and should have his mistakes down to a minimum this time around.  With the majority of the opposing defensive focus on Floyd and the passing attack, this should open up some major opportunities for Wood to pad the stat sheet.

5. Notre Dame plays a legit opponent in South Florida unlike a lot of teams around the country.  How do you see this game playing out and does it help or hurt Notre Dame that they play a BCS conference opponent this weekend while Michigan plays Western Michigan?

Opening games in college football always scare the crap out of me.  Teams can spend all offseason to plan and figure out how to attack one team.  To add on to that, South Florida is coached by a Holtz who I’m sure would love to create a little bit of his own legend at ND, even if on the opposing side.  I’ll have more on my thoughts for this game in a later post, but the bottom line is that I believe ND is just simply far more talented than USF and we will win; however, I would not be surprised at all to have periods of the game that are just too close for comfort.

As far as playing a BCS conference opponent, I think it’s the best way to go.  Just ask Michigan how that whole Appalachian State thing worked out for them.  While it may seem logical to schedule a cupcake game, and while you might come out on top 99 times out of 100, I’m leery of playing the team that has absolutely nothing to lose and has an entire offseason to prepare for it.  Plus, why delay the season intensity?  If you want to be BCS/NC bound, you have to be ready to play every single game to perfection and not take an opponent for granted.  Starting off your season with a “we’ll destroy that cupcake” mentality doesn’t seem like the best way to start off the season.

And hey, if you happen to lose to a tougher opponent early, you can find so many ways to rationalize it and bounce back the next week.  If you lose to a team you are supposed to wipe the floor with though, kiss your confidence goodbye.

I just don’t see much of a benefit of “starting off easy”.  Give me the team that started their season off in hell any day.

6. Stealing this one from my IBG pre-season questions from last year – who is the Notre Dame player the Irish can least afford to lose this season?  For the sake of getting some different response, you can’t use Michael Floyd or Manti Te’o here.

David Ruffer.

Ok, sorry,  I couldn’t resist another DMQ shot.

In all seriousness, ND, for once, has some quality depth on most of their roster expect for one area in my mind: the secondary.  More specifically, color me terrified if we lose Harrison Smith this season.  Smith had a breakout end to the 2010 campaign and is now a force to be reckoned with on defense.  Dig past him on the depth chart though and you don’t have anything close to that.  Dan McCarthy is the projected backup and he’s seen very little playing time period.  You might be able to slide Zeke Motta over, but again, that’s quite the downgrade.

On a side note, if you had asked me last year at this time if I thought Harrison Smith was this vital of a player on the Irish squad, I would’ve laughed at you.  Crazy how things things in a season.

7. Obligatory pre-season prediction question:

  • Notre Dame’s final record (noting the losses): 12-1, lose to Stanford (I cannot believe I am predicting a record like this), and yes, I think we win the bowl game
  • Notre Dame’s bowl game and opponent: Fiesta Bowl against Big XII Champ Texas A&M (let me dream, this will be hilarious), ND wins the bowl game and we can claim we beat an SEC team
  • Final ranking for Notre Dame: 4
  • Best opposing offensive and defensive player ND will face in ’11: Offense – Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford, Defense – Jerel Worthy, DT, MSU
  • Best opposing coach ND will face: Skip Holtz
  • Notre Dame game you won’t miss for anything: ND vs USC (helps that I will be there)
  • Notre Dame game you could watch on DVR: ND vs Purdue (thanks to the fact that someone decided to HAVE A FALL WEDDING)
  • National Champion: Alabama (/vomit)
  • Heisman Trophy Winner: Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Irish Blogger Gathering: Preseason Response Goes Metal

Alright, DMQ at HerLoyalSons has kicked off the preseason edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering, so it’s time to get this thing rolling.  I honestly don’t have much for an intro here, and really, it isn’t needed, so let’s just jump straight to the questions.

1. Go to youtube, pick a song that a) applies to your life in some way and b) will serve as the unofficial 2011 Fighting Irish Football Anthem. Extra points if you entirely avoid any band with members born in Ireland. Disqualification for any use of Freekbass. Embed the video for that song in your answers and explain why it’s so fitting under both qualifications A and B.

If I’m picking a theme for the season, I want it to pump me up and have an edge.  After much thought and several different contenders, I’m going metal with Killswitch Engage’s “Starting Over”.

Why the song has to apply to my life is beyond me (pretty sure DMQ is looking for ammo here with music choices/reasons), but I’ll roll with it.  There’s always points in life where it’s time to hit the reset button or at the very least want to.  I’m not going to go all LiveJournal in here with details (seriously, not metal), but that should qualify for part A.

As far as the Irish, 2011 comes on the heels of what was a rather crazy 2010 season.  We definitely ended on a serious high, taking down Utah, USC, and a bowl win against Miami; however, there were some very, very frustrating lows: giving up a Michigan game winning drive at home, losing to Sparty on a fake field goal (by tripping over ourselves no less), a defensive collapse against Navy, and a WTF coaching decision against Tulsa.  It doesn’t take much to see 2010’s glass as half-empty or half-full.

We’ve been caught hook, line, and sinker before by a new coach and and yet another “return to glory” only to watch everything crumble before us.  The relationship with ND football has been a constant cycle of high hopes and crushed dreams to say the least.  We are damn near programmed at this point to brace for our eventual fall.

Here we are again having plenty to be excited for and even have landed in the preseason top 25 once again, but this time around, Kelly is adamant that this 2011 squad hasn’t done anything yet.  The Irish know that they have to get back in the BCS picture, that’s the goal.  This isn’t the year for silver linings or “could have been” situations, it’s the time to start winning again.

Whether it is our previous national titles, our previous failures, or even 2010, the past is the past.  It’s time to start over and get Notre Dame back where we all want it to be.

2. Now that you’ve got your unofficial anthem rocking the home office, predict the single biggest play, positive or negative for the Irish, that will occur this season in a Notre Dame football game. Color this prediction with situation, players involved, opposing team, and even weather conditions. It’s the pre-season. Let’s see what your imaginations are doing.

The situation is all too familiar for the Irish.  Once again the Irish took a late fourth quarter lead against Michigan, and once against Michigan has mounted a last minute drive and the Irish defense has their backs against the wall.

Trying to protect a 24-20 lead, the Irish defense finds themselves line up on their own 6 with just 30 seconds left in the game.  It’s 3rd and goal and every Irish fan has the “here we go again” sinking feeling and I’ve plastered about 10 different #NDFBIsDeterminedToKillMe tweets as Denard Robinson seems to have the Irish defense figured out in this drive that started inside the Michigan 20 after ND failed to get a first down to run out the clock.

Denard sits back in a 4-wide shotgun with a single back and takes the snap. Carlo Calabrese fires through the gap on the blitz only to be picked up on a cut block by Denard’s RB protection.  Seeing no immediate hot-route, Denard panics and scrambles to his left.  Manti T’eo, serving as spy on the play, decides he has an angle and goes full speed at Robinson who has his eyes upfield. Robinson sees an opening for a TD pass, prepares to throw on the run, only to be hit so hard by ND’s favorite Hawaiian that, somewhere in San Diego, Tate Forcier falls flat on his face.

The ball flies backwards 5 yards, a clear fumble, T’eo pops up and dives on the ball.  The Big House is stunned as the visiting ND band’s drumline busts out “Metallica” and the scattered Irish fans in the stands go nuts.  As the booth reviews and delays the inevitable, Herbstreit eats crow on national TV saying that ND’s defense is what made the last stand and won the game, giving the Irish defense scary loads of confidence to carry over into the rest of the season.

3. I’m a fan of the cinematic hit, “Kicking and Screaming.” I know, it’s a film you all love too. So naturally we’d all like to re-live that moment when they’re playing “Would You Rather.” So let’s do so: Would you rather suffer a humiliating loss to Michigan this year, or a humiliating loss to Southern Cal? Why? And stop eyeing that chicken across the street, perv.

Good God, this is like asking whether I’d like a bullet to the brain or heart, either one will kill me.

Michigan is rebuilding in a scramble with a new head coach and a defense that is still full of holes.  Add on to that, you have College Gameday on campus filled with the ESPN talking heads that are just oh so ready to call the Irish frauds at the drop of a hat and Desmond Howard can give us all a shit-eating grin as he breaks down how he told us so as we rage post game from the loss.  Oh yeah, and the rest of the nation will see it, as it is an early season night game on ABC.  Prepare to be the national punchline again.

USC is still reeling from sanctions.  Beating them can always carry this excuse, but losing to a crippled USC will have the sanction talking point beat across all our faces.  And then it happened at home, oh joy, we get to see USC celebrate on our home turf again.  It will be the first night game in ND in 21 years, meaning we will all go into the game raging drunk and exit the game just raging once our football and alcohol buzz wears off.  Oh, and NDNation will just explode citing everything from off colored gold helmets, breaking tradition by playing a night game, to irrational Kelly hatred for the reasons why we lost.

What a great pair of choices DMQ.  You are a bastard.

I’ll take the Michigan loss, only because I will be personally attending the USC game and it will be my girlfriend’s first experience of ND football.  God help her if she has to experience ND fail live on top of a pissed off boyfriend.

Neither one of these scenarios better happen, WHY DID YOU PUT THIS IN THE UNIVERSE MUCH LESS IBG, DMQ?!

4. Great teams require leadership, and with Notre Dame being the only truly national college football program in the country, a great Notre Dame football team requires national leaders. So pick one. Name a player on the Irish roster in 2011 who will lead the nation in a particular, official NCAA category. Also specify how much he’ll lead the nation by indicating his national rank in that category. Note: You must be predicting this leader to finish at least as high as 10th in the nation in your chosen category. Bonus Points: Don’t pick David Ruffer – the best player on the Irish Roster.

Oh look a Ruffer reference!

The obvious picks are either Floyd for receptions/TDs or T’eo for tackles.  Honestly, I could go either way here, but seeing as how Floyd’s health gives me pause (and Crist seeming to have red zone accuracy issues), I’m going to take T’eo with tackles on this one.  I’m not sure if he’ll take top rank here, but I would not be at all surprised to see him in the top five.

With a season under his belt, I think T’eo’s scary natural ability will be even more refined leading to far less bad angles and less unneeded knockout attempts.

5. You’ve already done more parsing of Brian Kelly’s words than is healthy since he first took a podium in this pre-season. What’s the single most surprising thing he’s said in that time?

Honestly, the whole “top 25 t-shirt” thing shocked me.  It probably shouldn’t have in hindsight, but I remember it sticking with me.

Maybe I’m still too used to the Weis bravado since I worked under him as a student manager and saw far too many of his pressers.  I wouldn’t have begrudged Kelly at all if he said he expected his team to be there and stay there this season.

So much of ND is usually defined in my mind as expecting to be one of the best.  I have no doubt Kelly has this expectation, but he’s brutally honest with the fact that the brakes need to be tapped before we start partying over an early ranking.