I’ll attempt to make this my final post on the Michigan game.
I haven’t been able to watch a replay of the game just yet, and I’m guessing that I probably won’t get around to it this week. And it’s probably for the best. Everybody needs to turn the page.
It’s been interesting (and a little disheartening) to read much of the reaction amongst Notre Dame fans about the game on Saturday. I’ve received more than a few emails from people questioning Weis’ head coaching abilities, play-calling abilities, even his motor-function abilities after the excruciating loss. As much as the loss frustrates and still shocks me, I’m still firmly aboard the Charlie Weis bandwagon.
The man is the coach of the Notre Dame football team.
There is nothing easier than second guessing coaching decisions from the comfort of our couch or office seat. Did Weis have his A game on Saturday? Absolutely not. I’m sure that Weis would like to have that final series on offense back, just like Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown would like to go back to halftime and do a better job preparing their troops for Michigan’s offense.
But they can’t.
I can’t help but thinking about the devastating 2005 loss to USC. If you’re trying to gauge how Weis will handle the game-week preparations for this week, you can look back at his comments from his press conferences following the game four seasons ago:
“First thing I said was get your heads up because everyone is feeling
bad. And they got their heads up and I very matter of factly said that
I was proud of their effort in the game. Because how could you not be
proud of their effort? I thought the preparation was good. It wasn’t
like we didn’t have errors throughout the game; we had plenty, okay.
But I thought that they played a game that put themselves in the
position to win and they expected to win.
“I was actually pleased that they were that disappointed,
because if they weren’t disappointed, then you really have a problem.
But I wanted them to know that you know my party line, that it’s not
okay to lose, ever, especially when you have that many opportunities to
ice the game.
“But at the same time I wanted to let them know that I was proud
of their effort and I also wanted to make sure they understood that BYU
represents the first opportunity for the second half of the year. And
it isn’t like you just played a game for the National Championship and
your season’s over. You hit the halfway mark, so it’s time for us to
regroup and that’s what we’ll be doing today.“
During his Tuesday remarks three days later, Weis’ first comments echoed the same sentiments:
“As we begin the second half of our season, we’re approaching it that
way, the message to the team this week is this is the start, it’s the
first game of the second half of the season. As you talk to our players
and coaches this week, they’re only going to be talking about the
second half of the season; they’re not going to be talking about the
first half of the season. So don’t bother asking the questions on that
because they won’t be talking about it.”
The Irish went out the next week and behind 467 yards of passing from Brady Quinn, rolled BYU 49-23 at Notre Dame stadium. It was a much needed victory that helped reestablish the Irish’s confidence and salvage a BCS season.
That’s the approach the Irish need to take if they want to be successful against a Michigan State team that had a devastating loss of their own to Central Michigan. And for fans of the Irish, it’s probably the best way for all of us to keep our sanity.
Notre Dame fans likely remember the last time the Irish visited Boston College’s campus. John Goodman caught a touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone to put Notre Dame up three possessions early in the third quarter, setting up the Irish to move past Alabama in the polls thanks to the Tide’s loss earlier that evening.
A week-three matchup will not provide such an opportunity for dramatics this season, but a loss would certainly diminish the trajectory of Notre Dame’s season.
Boston College finished 7-6 last season and 2-6 in the ACC. That overall record was greatly aided by a three-game winning streak to close the season, including a 30-0 drubbing of Bob Diaco-led Connecticut, arguably sealing Diaco’s ouster at the end of the season. The Eagles also topped Wake Forest 17-14 before beating Maryland 36-30 in the Quick Lane Bowl, the program’s first bowl game victory since 2007.
Before that closing burst, Boston College not only lost games, it lost them by egregious margins. The Eagles faced three ranked foes last year, losing to Clemson, Louisville and Florida State by a combined score of 153-24, yet that does not even include their ugliest loss of the season, falling 49-0 at Virignia Tech in the season’s third week.
As was the case with Temple, taking a look at how Boston College’s offense fared against Wake Forest seems applicable, considering then-Deacons defensive coordinator Mike Elko now leads the Irish defense. None of the Eagles’ offensive numbers last season came close to stellar, but the overall performance against Wake Forest marks something of a nadir.
Ten of Boston College’s 17 points came on two drives totaling 32 yards, the short fields provided by an interception and a recovered fumble. Nonetheless, the 17 points fell short of the Eagles’ otherwise average of 20.7 points per game. Boston College rushed for 93 yards (on 39 attempts) and threw for 74 more (on 23 attempts), both drastically below the averages against all other opponents of 153.8 rushing yards and 149.6 passing yards. The Eagles typically managed 4.55 yards per play. Against Wake Forest, that figure fell to 2.69 yards.
All those single-game figures are significantly lower than what the Deacons usually allowed, with an emphasis on significantly.
WHAT BOSTON COLLEGE LOST
The Eagles lost notable pieces on all three levels of their defense, perhaps none more vital than safety John Johnson (a third-round NFL Draft pick). Johnson finished second on the team last year with 77 tackles and notched nine pass breakups, all while manning the role of defensive playcaller.
Matt Milano (a fifth-round NFL Draft pick) led the way for Boston College’s linebackers, finishing fourth on the team with 58 tackles while making 6.5 sacks. Rising junior Sharrieff Grice was expected to step in for Milano until he unexpectedly retired earlier this month citing medical concerns.
Furthermore, the Eagles lost two dominant defensive linemen in end Kevin Kavalec and tackle Truman Gutapfel, combining for 99 tackles, six sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
On the offensive side of the ball, one would usually note when a team loses its starting quarterback as Boston College did with Patrick Towles, a graduate transfer from Kentucky. Then again, in his one season in Chestnut Hill, Towles managed a 50.5 percent completion rate and threw 12 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His departure should not much further limit the offense.
WHAT BOSTON COLLEGE GAINED
Signing 21 recruits to the No. 66 class, per rivals.com, the Eagles may need a number of those to be immediate contributors. Two running backs stand at the head of the line in four-star AJ Dillon and three-star Travis Levy. While Boston College returns its top two rushers from 2016, it did lose Myles Willis, who finished with 301 yards on 49 carries. It seems rather likely either Dillon or Levy picks up that slack.
Steve Addazio enters his fifth season with the Eagles. Not much else needs to be said here, aside from the coach has long favored a physical style of play, focusing on a rushing attack as often as not.
Addazio was a Notre Dame assistant coach from 1999 to 2001.
In a twist, Boston College may consider its offense its strength this season. That would seem to imply a leap from its averages of 20.4 points and 293 yards per game last season, but it is also a bit of an indictment of how the aforementioned losses could affect the upcoming “Defensive Summary.”
The offensive line returns four starters, adding West Virginia graduate transfer Marcell Lazard to round off the unit. With two experienced running backs carrying the ball behind that line, the Eagles may be able to ease in whomever starts at quarterback. Senior Darius Wade and sophomore Anthony Brown continue to compete for that gig. A year ago, Towles’ transfer likely saved a year of Brown’s eligibility, while Wade finished the season 9-of-19 for 100 yards and one interception.
To be repetitive, though, either quarterback option will not need to clear a high bar to exceed Towles’ contributions. Add in a receiving corps returning its top-six options and perhaps Addazio will be tempted to stray from his power running game trademark.
That may not be the worst idea for Addazio. The offense has sputtered for two seasons now, averaging 17.2 points and 276 yards per game in 2015.
Setting aside the team awaiting Addazio upon his arrival at Boston College in 2013, last year’s defense allowed the most points of his tenure, 25.0 per game. Frankly, that is a rather low total to include the descriptor of most in front of it, and that is a credit to Addazio as much as anyone else.
Continuing that trend will be only more difficult this season after losing Johnson, Milano, Grice, Kavalec and Gutapfel.
Somewhere it should be noted how strong of a pass rush Addazio has had in each of his seasons with the Eagles. Beginning in 2013, they have totaled 36, 33 and 34 sacks before topping out last season at 47.
Boston College will struggle to reach the win total over/under of 4. In order to get that to even a push, the Eagles may need to win their season finale at Syracuse. If they do cruise past that figure, it will likely trace to the defensive not losing a step AND the quarterback starter exceeding expectations.
Even if Boston College goes 4-8 this season, Addazio has a contract through 2020 and last year’s bowl game victory likely earned him a bit of a cushion.
Monday: Temple Yesterday: Georgia Tomorrow: Michigan State Friday: Miami (OH) Saturday: North Carolina Sunday: Bye Week Monday, the 21st: USC Tuesday, 22nd: North Carolina State Wednesday, 23rd: Wake Forest Thursday, 24th: Miami (FL) Friday, 25th: Navy Saturday, 26th: Stanford (The same day as Stanford’s opener vs. Rice in Australia.) Sunday, 27th: Six days until Notre Dame kicks off. You can make it that far, right?
Notre Dame’s season will get an early litmus test when the Irish host Georgia. Undoubtedly, plenty of commenters here will rush to say Notre Dame does not stand a chance against the Bulldogs’ rushing attack, and while that ground game does warrant a heap of respect, implying Georgia will cruise through South Bend on Sept. 9 is too simple of a summary.
The Bulldogs went 8-5 last year, including 4-4 in the SEC. In nearly every respect, it was a disappointing debut season for head coach Kirby Smart given the expectations for what was supposedly a team ready to break through. Even that .500 conference record paints a prettier picture than the reality, as Georgia was outscored by 25 points in conference play.
The Bulldogs started 3-0, but that record was built on a house of cards. They needed to come from behind in the second half to win each of those games, including squeezing by Football Championship Subdivision-team Nicholls State 26-24.
Ole Miss handed Georgia its first loss in the form of a 45-14 walloping, leading 31-0 at halftime. There would be no second-half rally, to say the least. The defeat started a five-game stretch in which the Bulldogs fell four times, including a 17-16 loss at home against Vanderbilt. No matter how well Derek Mason may be doing with a slow Commodores rebuild, that was a bad look for Smart.
Few teams could have two prospective NFL starting running backs and a highly-touted quarterback, yet manage only 24.5 points per game.
More notably, the Bulldogs saw 60 percent of their offensive line graduate, and the remaining 40 percent does not make up one side of the line to create a reliable half of the field. (Think of Notre Dame’s offensive line and its trust in its left side with fifth-year senior left tackle Mike McGlinchey and senior left guard Quenton Nelson.)
Rather, Georgia is looking to replace both its offensive tackles as well as its center.
WHAT GEORGIA GAINED
Speaking of replacing offensive linemen, Georgia’s top 2017 recruit could fit the bill. Isaiah Wilson, all 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds of him, has reportedly seen some first-team action in preseason practice. He was the centerpiece of the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, per rivals.com. That rating was boosted by sheer numbers: Of the Bulldogs’ 26 signees, two were five-stars and 14 ranked as four-stars. Yes, that 26 figure exceeds the NCAA maximum, but that mandate kicks in only upon enrollment.
Receiver Mark Webb was among those four-stars and could quickly find himself playing time amid a deep but unproven receiver corps. (Sound familiar, Irish fans?)
Kirby Smart enters his second season away from Nick Saban’s watchful eye with one primary goal: Meet Saban in December. The former Alabama defensive coordinator will need to get past Florida to reach the SEC Championship game.
The encounter against Notre Dame could serve a genuine role in that task: Aside from last year’s loss in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, the Sept. 9 contest will be the truest test yet of Smart’s head-coaching tenure, partly due to it being on the road as it is. Suffice it to say, Georgia rarely travels north, let alone within range of the Great Lakes’ winds. Obviously, the weather should not matter in early September, but it is not absurd to think the time in flight could alter some routines.
As will be discussed below in the “Season Outlook,” the Bulldogs will need to win on the road this season if they have hopes of reclaiming some SEC glory. Notching an away victory in the season’s second week could lay a foundation for that pursuit.
The entire week leading into Georgia facing the Irish, expect to hear repeated mentions of senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (pronounced like Michelle). It is hard to overstate how good each is. To have both defies typical collegiate comprehension.
Yet, the Bulldogs attack will go beyond the rushing game. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason has arm strength to rival Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s, and Eason will have a number of receivers to target, ones he is certainly more familiar with than he was as a freshman.
Georgia returns its top-five tacklers. Eh, maybe that is not as impressive as it first seems.
Georgia returns 14 of its top-15 tacklers, losing only No. 6 in that count, cornerback Maurice Smith and his 50 takedowns.
With 10 returning starters, including its entire front-seven, having now spent an additional year learning Smart’s 3-4 system, this should be a dominant defense led by linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorezno Carter. The duo combined for 10 sacks and 30 quarterback hurries last year. No matter how generously that latter statistic is tracked, Bellamy’s 17 hurries is a number to notice.
Vegas pegs Georgia’s win total over/under at 8.5. Despite the heralded running duo and threatening defense, that number is quite well-placed. Given their struggles a year ago, putting too much faith in the Bulldogs may be a reach. In order to best that win total, they would need to not slip up in any game likely favored in (such as at Vanderbilt), as well as win at least two of five games away from home at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, at a neutral site vs. Florida, at Auburn and at Georgia Tech.
The SEC East will presumably come down to Georgia and Florida again. Speaking of the Gators, do not be surprised to see semi-frequent Florida updates in this space this fall. The Malik Zaire experiment’s intrigue increases with each update from Gainesville.
Yesterday: Temple Tomorrow: Boston College Thursday: Michigan State Friday: Miami (OH) Saturday: North Carolina Sunday: Bye Week Monday, the 21st: USC Tuesday, 22nd: North Carolina State Wednesday, 23rd: Wake Forest Thursday, 24th: Miami (FL) Friday, 25th: Navy Saturday, 26th: Stanford (The same day as Stanford’s opener vs. Rice in Australia.) Sunday, 27th: Enjoy the sun once more before the season commences in earnest.
Let the changes keep coming. In an offseason filled with three new coordinators and the conclusion of a $400-million construction project including a video board towering over the south end zone, Notre Dame fans will need to adjust to another departure from the Irish norm, though this one is far-from consequential when it comes to how the team plays.
Mike Tirico will replace Dan Hicks as the play-by-play man for Notre Dame games in 2017, NBC Sports announced Monday morning. Tirico joined NBC just more than a year ago and called three Irish games in 2016 while Hicks tended to golf broadcast duties.
“Mike has been an elite play-by-play voice in both professional and collegiate football for more than a decade,” said Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production at NBC Sports. “He is the latest in a line of distinguished broadcasters to call Notre Dame Football on NBC. … We look forward to hearing Mike call the first-ever game at the newly-renovated Notre Dame Stadium.” (more…)
There are exactly two weeks remaining until a Monday arrives with a Notre Dame game awaiting on the other end of the work week. For the second time in five years, the Irish will open against Temple. In 2013, the Owls were entering their first season under a first-time head coach after their previous leader left for a Power Five school beginning with the letter ‘B.’
Admittedly, specifying that Boston College and Baylor open with the same letter of the alphabet may be a reach, but in doing so, everything about that 2013 sentence will hold true for Temple again in 2017.
The Owls went 10-4 last season, including losses to both Memphis and Wake Forest. The season’s highlight came when Temple beat then-No. 20 Navy 34-10 in the American Athletic Conference title game.
Those losses to Memphis and Wake Forest warrant extra notice for Irish fans this season—Memphis’ offensive coordinator Chip Long now holds that role at Notre Dame and the same can be said for Wake Forest’s defensive coordinator Mike Elko.
Long and the Tigers stretched the Owls’ defense further than it did throughout the rest of the season, though Temple still held Memphis to much less than its usual output. Against the Owls, the Tigers managed 34 points, though 14 of those came off a defensive score and a special teams touchdown, lowering the actual offensive production to only 20 points. Temple allowed 17.2 points per game in its 13 other contests, while Memphis averaged 39.25 points per game otherwise.
The Tigers rushed for 149 yards, less than their average across the rest of the year of 160.2 rushing yards, but also more than the Owls’ usual allowance of 129.9 yards. Memphis threw for 174 yards, far short of its usual 315.3, yet more than Temple’s 150.5 average. The Tigers gained an average of 5.6 yards per play, closer to its usual 6.3 yards than the Owls’ standard of 4.6 yards allowed per play.
Against Wake Forest, a quick look at the stats becomes quickly skewed. Temple trailed 31-7 in the second quarter, thus taking to the air, and doing so somewhat successfully, finally succumbing to a final score of 34-26. The Deacons held the Owls to -20 rushing yards on 23 attempts while giving up 396 passing yards and 5.2 yards per play. If removing the bowl game from Temple’s season, the Owls averaged 32.8 points, 191.2 rushing yards, 225.2 passing yards and 6.0 yards per play. Wake Forest allowed an average of 21.8 points, 155.9 rushing yards, 214.2 passing yards and 5.3 yards per play.
WHAT TEMPLE LOST
To start with, Temple lost Rhule. Back-to-back 10-4 seasons put him in position to move on to a bigger gig, and considering the amount of talent leaving the program at the same time, it would appear Rhule made the smart move.
The NFL drafted three Owls, including defensive end Hasson Reddick as the No. 13 overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals and left tackle Dion Dawkins with the No. 63 overall pick courtesy of the Buffalo Bills. Perhaps more notably at the collegiate level, quarterback Phillip Walker was one of six undrafted free agents to sign with NFL teams.
A four-year starter, Walker set the career passing mark at Temple with 10,669 yards. He was only 121 yards away from setting the record in only three seasons before adding 3295 yards in 2016. Joining him among those undrafted free agents, running back Jahad Thomas ran for 953 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
The Owls also lost what seems to be their entire linebacker corps, returning only one of their top-six tacklers.
WHAT TEMPLE GAINED
This category is meant to be about recruiting. So as not to reduce the following “HEAD COACH” section as entirely unnecessary, the incoming coach will be mentioned there. Among recruits, Temple signed a total of 16 players in the class of 2017, including three prospects rated as three-stars by rivals.com. Of those three, linebacker Malik Burns and quarterback Todd Centeio could conceivably see notable playing time this season.
Geoff Collins takes over the program fresh from spending six seasons as a defensive coordinator in the SEC, the two most-recent at Florida. There may not be much else to know about Collins until he leads a program. He has spent his entire career on the defensive side of the ball, including four years playing linebacker at Western Carolina.
Collins tapped a former Fordham colleague to lead the Owls offense, pulling Dave Patenaude from the offensive coordinator role at Coastal Carolina, a Football Championship Series program. While with the Chanticleers, it is hard to underscore how dynamic Patenaude’s offense was, including a 2015 season in which it averaged 37.3 points per game while churning through six different quarterbacks.
At Temple, Patenaude will obviously need to adjust to an inexperienced quarterback. A starter has yet to be named, and it appears there is a non-zero chance Centeio earns the nod. Whoever takes the first snap will have the luxury of turning to a tested running back in junior Ryquell Armstead. Though he was not the starter, Armstead still took 156 carries for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns last year.
For that matter, the quarterback will have Walker’s top-four receivers available to target, led by senior Keith Kirkwood and junior Ventell Bryant.
Formerly the defensive backs coach at Purdue, defensive coordinator Taver Johnson is expected to keep Temple’s 4-3 defense intact. Doing so should allow him to rely on a strong secondary, perhaps the Owls’ most-reliable defensive asset. Senior free safety Sean Chandler, 6-foot and 190 pounds, and junior strong safety Delvon Randall, 5-foot-11 and 208 pounds, lead the way along the back-line.
Rhule left for one of the most-challenging job openings in recent years. He did so in part because his profile would never be higher than it was following Temple’s 2016 season. This year certainly does not have the makings of another 10-4 campaign. The over/under on Owl wins this year is a middling 6.5, and Notre Dame currently stands as a 15-point favorite for the Sept. 2 season opener.
In 19 days, Irish fans should take particular notice of what Temple players wear Nos. 6, 7 and 8. The Owls have a relatively-young tradition of bestowing single-digit numbers upon players deemed “Temple Tuff” by their teammates. Of the names mentioned above, Kirkwood, Bryant, Chandler and Randall all wear single digits and will be expected to contribute heavily. Nos. 6-8 are unclaimed at the moment.
Tomorrow: Georgia Wednesday: Boston College Thursday: Michigan State Friday: Miami (OH) Saturday: North Carolina Sunday: Bye Week (Nice how that works out, isn’t it? Almost like it was planned.) Monday, the 21st: USC Tuesday, 22nd: North Carolina State Wednesday, 23rd: Wake Forest Thursday, 24th: Miami (FL) Friday, 25th: Navy Saturday, 26th: Stanford (The same day as Stanford’s opener vs. Rice in Australia.) Sunday, 27th: One last breath before the season truly begins.