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The good, bad, and ugly: Utah

Nov 15, 2010, 2:16 AM EDT

KLMfans

What a difference a week makes.

After two of the more disheartening weeks in recent memory for Notre Dame football, the Irish put together a complete performance, dominating Utah physically on both the offensive and defensive fronts on their way to a resounding victory.

“I don’t think we ever had control on the line of scrimmage,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham conceded after the game.

For head coach Brian Kelly, the victory was the affirmation needed after two weeks of preaching toughness to the football team.

“This was a game where it had to be won up front,” Kelly said about his offensive and defensive linemen. “They knew that they were going to be central to the success today. This game was won up front.”

For the Irish, a victory renews talks of a post-season bowl berth that just last week looked potentially out of reach. But the Irish now head to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium for a chance to get win number six and regain some lost momentum, especially with linebacker Carlo Calabrese and wide receiver Theo Riddick potentially returning from injury this week.

Before we get to that, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s 28-3 win against Utah.

THE GOOD

Whatever skeptics may say about Tulsa and Utah, it’s difficult to say that the last two Irish opponents didn’t have prolific offenses. Yet embattled defensive coordinator Bob Diaco put together two rock-solid game plans, giving up just one defensive touchdown in the last two games.

What’s interesting about Diaco’s coordination of the defensive unit is just how different it is from former coordinator Jon Tenuta’s hyper-blitzing scheme. Diaco stresses simplicity, and great enthusiasm and effort, evident in the 48 assisted tackles recorded on Saturday.

“We couldn’t be the kind of defense we were against Utah unless everybody took that into their own, doing there job,” Kelly said. “One-eleventh of the defense in a sense, and they all were gap conscious they were all doing their job.”

Kelly pointed out the impressive games by Sean Cwynar, Ethan Johnson, and Kapron Lewis-Moore, who opened up the middle of the field for Brian Smith and Manti Te’o to play two excellent games. After the game, Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the difficulty the Utes had running the football.

“If you can’t establish balance in your offense and run efficiently, it makes everything difficult,” Whittingham said. “Credit Notre Dame’s front seven. They’ve got a big, physical front seven. Manti Te’o’s a heck of a ballplayer. Those four down guys, three down guys do a nice job. The kid next to Manti (Brian Smith) is a physical kid as well. And they’ve got a very stout front seven on defense.”

For Irish fans, Whittingham’s words had to sound like a foreign language after watching the front seven of the defense be the achilles heel for just about every Charlie Weis team, and really most Irish teams since the Lou Holtz era. But Whittingham made it clear that the Irish defense was succeeding not by schematic decisions, but merely sound fundamental football.

“They were just playing sound, getting off blocks. The backers were filling holes,” Whittingham said. “The front does a nice job with their technique and staying square. Same things we saw on tape. We just weren’t productive today. They did a nice job.”

THE BAD

It’s tough to find any bad in Saturday’s convincing 28-3 victory, but those who are in the mood to nitpick will certainly question Kelly’s decision to go for it on 4th and 3 at the Irish 49-yard line on the opening drive of the game. While it ultimately didn’t matter, giving Utah excellent field position — which resulted in their only points of the afternoon — was another failed gamble by a head coach that’s crapped out quite a few times this year.

That said, if you’re looking for evidence that Kelly’s maybe more of a players coach than one might suspect, look no further than the confidence Kelly showed in his offensive line on that opening drive. While the gamble didn’t work, Kelly spent the entire week preaching on how the game would be won up front with a physical effort at the line of scrimmage. Given his first chance to prove how much confidence he had in his beleaguered unit, he went right back to the ground game instead of punting the ball away, better proof that he believed in his team than any pep talk could’ve been.While the play didn’t go the Irish’s way, the decision obviously worked on the team’s psyche.

THE UGLY

In the moments following the biggest victory of the season, defensive end Emeka Nwankwo took the time to tweet to his 756 followers “How u like them apples ND nation,” an obvious poke at the incredibly well-read website NDNation and its highly trafficked message board Rock’s House. Nwankwo’s tweet likely was a response to an incredibly vocal faction of posters that have already started to call for the head of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and head coach Brian Kelly.

Full disclosure: NDNation is a website that funnels a lot of traffic to the Inside the Irish blog, and it’d be terribly dangerous to group an entire membership — especially at a place with over 9,000 registered posters — as one collective voice. Yet the fact that in the celebratory hours that followed the Irish’s victory on Senior Day, a member of the graduating class thought to take a well-aimed swipe at a message board that purports to support his own Notre Dame team, well — that’s certainly saying something.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a groundswell of positive support for the Irish football team growing quietly among the widespread discontent. It’s been embodied by a website and Twitter feed that refers to itself as the “New ND Nation.” They’ve already caught the attention of several players, with Sean Cwynar, Ben Turk, Kyle Rudolph, Barry Gallup, Lo Wood, Tyler Stockton, Chris Stewart, Armando Allen, Duval Kamara, Brandon Newman, Carlo Calabrese, Ryan Kavanagh, Bennett Jackson, Tommy Rees, Kerry Neal, Braxston Cave, Jake Golic, Darrin Walls, Ian Williams, Trevor Robinson, Gary Gray, John Goodman, Mike Golic, Brian Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Dayne Crist and following their Tweets, with former players like Jimmy Clausen, Sam Young and Golden Tate right there as well.

This isn’t an indictment on the website that boasts Notre Dame Magazine‘s endorsement as “the preferred social networking venue for Domers” or the Chicago Tribune‘s kudos calling NDNation the “most ardent, unflinching and at times uproariously overcaffeinated Irish fan website,” in all the land. But the acknowledgment that a senior football player feels the need to poke the proverbial bear, in this case, the most popular ND fan website on the internet, after pulling a shocking upset certainly points to an ugly truth and negative current that’s developed over the past 15 years of the Irish’s struggles.

(This is why they play the game.)

  1. danno27 - Nov 15, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    I don’t know if that’s ugly or just an indicator of the struggles of the past decade and a half for a team with an extremely vocal fanbase. (I know, you had to come up with something for the “ugly” bit and that probably wasn’t easy this week [sweet]).

    It does serve as a reminder that our players are young people who definitely read online blogs – maybe it’s time for the conversation to start about how to support a college team as a fan on the internet. As in, think it over before you vent your vitriol on your keyboard.

    Anyway, Emeka Nwanko just moved up a few notches in my book. Thanks for the piece KA. On to Army!!

  2. martyks55 - Nov 15, 2010 at 10:32 AM

    The ugly? The first quarter offense (or complete lack, thereof). It was kind of nice being up 7-3 in spite of the fact that we had not posted a first down, but that was a bit ugly. Things got rolling after that, but the first quarter’s offense was bad AND ugly.

  3. c4evr - Nov 15, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    THE GOOD – College football is alive and well in 2010.

    THE BAD – College football is BIG business in 2010

    THE UGLY – College football as big business has ruined the spirit of the game.

  4. schuey73 - Nov 15, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Fun story from the game. If you were there, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    Late in the 4th quarter Utah’s quarterback went out for a couple of plays. On the second play that the backup was in, he went back to pass and got pressured, so he took off running to his left. There was only one ND player on that side, Manti Te’o. As soon as the crowd realized it was Te’o, you could feel the excitement of what was about to happen. Just about everybody in my section started saying, “oooooohhhhh.!” I said to my buddy, “oh boy, look out!” And then Te’o ran him down and put his a$$ in the grass! Of course we all went crazy.

    It’s just the kind of player Te’o is. He really brings energy, enthusiasm, and excitement. I’ve also heard from many who’ve met him that he is just an outstanding human being as well, which is more important. It’s going to be so much fun watching him and the rest of these great young players get better and better.

  5. vegasirish - Nov 15, 2010 at 2:12 PM

    KA, DaNation is crazy. That’s why I look to TheIrishHammer for all my ND news.

  6. jimkress - Nov 17, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    Emeka Nwankwo hasn’t earned the right to mock ND Fans. His performance is mediocre and as has been demonstrated for the past several years. Our edge defense and pass rush are terrible.

    He’s all talk and no results. He should wait to gloat until the Irish are 10 and 0 and ranked as the best defense in College Football. Otherwise, his comments are just BS.

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