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Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Army

Nov 21, 2010, 12:25 AM EDT

IrishTD1

NEW YORK — As the Irish started their jog for the Yankee’s dugout after the game, strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo gave defensive coordinator Bob Diaco a very large bear hug. This was one of those jubilant celebratory embraces, the byproduct of both men’s work culminating in another absolutely dominant defensive performance and a 27-3 win for Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.

It was Diaco’s defense that won the game for the Irish, stiffening after giving up a 17 play, 78-yard drive on Army’s opening drive that culminated in a field goal and a 3-0 lead for the Black Knights. But Diaco’s troops countered, playing inspired defense and answering any questions posed by the doubters who wondered if Diaco had the chops to stop an option attack that was similar to the one that carved up an Irish defense just 28 days ago.

While Diaco produced the scheme, it was Longo’s work that allowed the Irish to dominate the line of scrimmage and out-physical an undersized team that frankly should have been pushed around. This Irish defense, still missing missing two key cogs on the interior with nose tackle Ian Williams out and Carlo Calabrese incredibly limited, has given up only one touchdown in the last 13 quarters, none in the month of November, and came up with their own score for the first time since Robert Blanton ran back an interception against Purdue in 2008.  Here is the Irish defense that Brian Kelly promised Irish fans that Longo would deliver, a group that would physically win the battles and play better in November than they did in September, something Irish fans haven’t seen in a long time.

With six wins, the Irish have officially qualified for a post-season bowl game, and now head to Los Angeles for an intriguing finale against Lane Kiffin’s USC Trojans. Before we turn the page to Southern Cal, let’s take a look at the five things we learned in Notre Dame’s 27-3 victory.

1. Tommy Rees is the perfect triggerman for Brian Kelly’s offense.

Before the game, Irish quarterbacks Nate Montana, Andrew Hendrix, and Tommy Rees took turns throwing patterns to the Irish receiving corp. Montana spun relaxed spirals that reminded you who his father was. Hendrix looked like the impressive athlete with the quick release that Irish fans drooled over during last season’s recruiting. And Tommy Rees looked like an 18-year-old kid slinging the ball around North Quad with his roommates.

But the pride of Dillon Hall is the perfect fit for Brian Kelly’s spread attack. Since taking over the reins of the offense, Rees has piloted the Irish offense in a way that Dayne Crist couldn’t, and it’s a testament to Rees’ preternatural football IQ, not his physical prowess.

Rees throws a wobbly football with not a particularly strong throwing arm, but he’s quick with his decisions, calm in the pocket, and most often very smart with his reads. Throw out Rees’ interception on the game’s opening drive, and the true freshman played a wonderfully efficient game. He bought time in the pocket, opening up the crossing routes needed to beat Army’s man coverage. He showed touch on deep throws to Tyler Eifert, moving the offense vertically. He even showed savvy when things went wrong, eating the ball on a low snap and taking the occasional negative play instead of compounding the error trying to do too much.

Rees has a week to prepare for the two-headed monster of Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron, and skill and speed at defense that he hasn’t seen yet. But Rees seems truly like a freshman that won’t come unglued steering the Irish offense, even if you question if he’s old enough to legally drive it.

2. Bob Diaco has turned this defense around.

While his largest challenge will come next Saturday, it’s been nine quarters since Bob Diaco and the Irish have given up a touchdown. The last time that’s happened? The 1988 National Championship team. That’s a downright shocking statistic, and if you asked Irish fans if that was possible using personnel that remained largely unchanged from the S.S. Tenuta, they’ve have laughed at you.

But Diaco has turned this defense around stressing the simplicity of the message, and his defense has stopped thinking and started reacting.

After five first downs on their opening drive, Army was only able to get three more for the rest of the ballgame, with the Irish defense holding the Knights offense to less than 100 yards for the remaining three-plus quarters. The defense held Army fullback Jared Hassin to just 23 yards on eight carries and quarterback Trent Steelman to just 24 yards on 14 carries before knocking him out of the game. How dominant was the Irish’s performance stopping the run? Consider that the two longest plays on the ground for Army — a Steelman run of 16 yards and backup quarterback Max Jenkins’ 18-yard scamper — came on broken pass plays, with both quarterbacks forced to run away from a stout pass rush.

After going 1-8 the past two seasons in November, the Irish are 2-0 this month, playing their best football as the season comes to a close.

3. The Irish have guaranteed themselves that the season doesn’t end next Saturday.

It’s still far too difficult to determine where Notre Dame will be playing during bowl season, but the Irish have guaranteed that they’ll be playing somewhere, something that didn’t seem all that possible a few weeks ago when Irish fans wondered how Notre Dame would be able to win two of its final three football games.

(Consider that the Irish might also be facing USC without the services of quarterback Matt Barkley, who was carted off the field after suffering a high ankle sprain.)

Still, while a pre-New Years bowl game was hardly the goal, the Irish getting to the postseason guarantees something far more important: 15 more practices.

“As you continue to develop your program, those 15 practices are very important,” Kelly said after the game. “Now, if I brought that up in the locker room, my players don’t want to hear about 15 more practices. They want to hear about what’s the bowl destination. but as you continue to build and develop your program, those are important, but also getting to a bowl game and continuing to build off of the month of November.”

It’s not hard to see young talent developing before our very eyes as the season progresses and the Irish battle multiple injuries. Fifteen more practices — the equivalent of another spring season — will mean the world to the 2011 Fighting Irish.

4. Brian Kelly understands the importance of stability, depth and development.

Nobody should jump to conclusions after stirring victories over Utah and Army, but if Brian Kelly is going to succeed at Notre Dame, it’s because he understands that three critical facets of playing winning college football are stability, depth and development.

In a calendar year that’s seen incredible upheaval, consider the steady hand that Kelly has used to guide this program. While fans have questioned his gambling mentality and his refusal to change on Saturdays, Kelly and his staff have remained consistent.

“It’s a culmination of just the same message,” Kelly said after the game. “I know it’s boring and it’s not a great story for you. But it’s just a consistency in our approach every single day. Guys are really understanding where they fit and how to play the game.”

If stability is paramount, Kelly’s ability to develop depth is something that Irish fans should be very happy about. Consider Robby Toma. The proverbial Little Mac of the Irish roster, Toma made four catches for 63 yards, continuing to make big plays in place of injured slot receivers Theo Riddick and TJ Jones. Here’s a low-star player, a recruiting afterthought, putting together big games for the Irish, when it’s usually the Irish getting less with more talent than just about every major program in college football.

5. Another neutral site game, another success for Notre Dame.

There are still those that think giving up a home game is stupidity defined, but if tonight’s game in Yankee Stadium proved anything, it’s that these neutral site games are a huge positive for the University of Notre Dame. With thousands of Irish fans invading Manhattan, Notre Dame’s game in Yankee Stadium took on the  same barnstorming feel that helped create the Irish brand to begin with. While ESPN decided to focus its attention on a game being played in one end zone at Wrigley Field, tonight’s event at Yankee Stadium was electric.

“A night like tonight reinforces our goal of continuously bringing memorable, meaningful events to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx throughout the years to come,” Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner said. “We want to thank and commend Notre Dame and Army for their dedication and desire in bringing a historic night of football to Yankee Stadium. We can think of no two finer educational institutions to christen our new home with the great game of football. Their impact on the landscape of our nation — scholastically, athletically and through service — cannot be overstated enough.”

While tonight’s game didn’t amount to much on the football field, the atmosphere surrounding Yankee Stadium reminds everyone that Notre Dame is still the premium brand in college football, and the 50th meeting between Army and the Irish was one to remember.

 

 

  1. greynraney - Nov 21, 2010 at 2:14 AM

    What we learned is that Notre Dame football still sucks. ESPN didn’t care about this game because it’s Notre Dame, and because NBC still can’t help but suck the dried up teat that is Notre Dame football.

    • Slim Charles - Nov 21, 2010 at 9:36 AM

      apparently you care enough to register an account and post on the blog for a team you don’t like, at 2:14 AM on a Saturday night. I take it you didn’t have any other plans. Don’t worry, you’ll find someone eventually.

      • greynraney - Nov 21, 2010 at 1:22 PM

        I’m on the west coast so it was 11:14 PM – and what does it matter anyway what time it is??

      • mjb621 - Nov 21, 2010 at 3:42 PM

        Greynraney
        you must be USC fan (lol). We’ll take care of you next week. We’ll see who sucks.

    • irishfan2791 - Nov 21, 2010 at 2:05 PM

      Yeah the dried up teat of Notre Dame football, the team that packed Yankee Stadium when they only were 5-5? against Army? on a cold November night? hmm…..yeah they sound extremely unpopular with no following. forget the fact that they are probably have one of the, if not the, largest fanbases in the country. But hey it’s just Notre Dame right? the major team thats going to Europe to play a football game? who else is doing that? NO ONE. Yeah they’ve had a bad couple of years but they are nowhere near dried up. that arguement is a joke man and you know it. The only reason you signed up to bad mouth ND is because your jealous of the national attention the team gets because of its great tradition. Its a little pathetic that you go on to a Notre Dame website and throw stones, seriously you have nothing better to do?

      • imamanim40 - Nov 21, 2010 at 10:54 PM

        Gee, for a “dried up teat” ND football sure has a lot of haters…i thought only good programs had haters…obviously u must have some respect for ND football if you’re going out of your way to bash them, which tells me you’re subconsciously aware of their greatness…GO IRISH!

  2. jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 21, 2010 at 2:45 AM

    5 Things I learned:

    1) The subway ride up to the Bronx was more crowded than the one to the 2009 World Series last year according to the nice guy from Staten Island that I sat next to on the train. Yes Keith I was on that train with you.
    2) Watching Army Special Ops guys parachute in on a full moonlit night and land on a dime was awesome and almost justifies all those taxes we pay.
    3) Rees is the real deal. His 2 throws to Eifert were things of beauty.
    4) This team has shown some real progression since the season began and the arrow is pointing up. I am now excited to see what happens in the next 2-3 yrs of ND Football, notwithstanding the grueling schedule of 2012.
    5) This team has a legitimate shot at being 8-5 on the year because the SC game is ours for the taking.
    GO IRISH…..BEAT USC.
    Your pal,
    Art Vandelay

    P.S. who is the doucher up above talking about dried up teats? That’s just gross.

    • greynraney - Nov 21, 2010 at 3:10 AM

      The same “doucher” that thinks Notre Dame football is OVERRATED – Even if they beat USC, which isn’t anywhere near the same USC team from years past, they don’t deserve a bowl game. They’re an awful team of an average rank of 63rd among the 4 main offensive and defensive categories.

      • tlndma - Nov 21, 2010 at 6:36 AM

        Thanks for the stats, they’re still for “losers” I see.

      • mjb621 - Nov 21, 2010 at 3:53 PM

        Setting up your excuse for next week? I guess when you cheat you can beat anyone. Why do you think Pete left?

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Nov 21, 2010 at 4:32 PM

        Oh, at least you’re the same doucher and not some other idiot.

      • tradertrik - Nov 22, 2010 at 11:47 PM

        Why would ESPN have game day on a game televised by NBC? I’d imagine they’ll be in L.A. rather than Tuscaloosa or Auburn (I don’t know where that little game is played this year.) Having lived in SEC country for a while (hell on earth) I can tell you Mustain will kill you if he’s on his game. He’s a pretty good quarterback; I’m not sure I’d rather have USC’s starter in. Whomever that is.

        We’ve had a trying year with two deaths, a couple of losses we really should have won. If the tight end coverage had not falled down the fake field goal probably wouldn’t have happened, and we have a frosh coach. If he tries a touchdown for the win instead of kicking the sure win field goal I’m gonna write a stern letter to somebody.

        Our stats are lousy in part due to the loss of our starting skill players and trying to put RKGs in starting positions, plus we’re coming out of a coma. I really hope ND comes out with the attitude that this is our game and take it if you can, and play like they can. Because they sure can if they play well. I don’t like USC. I’m relishing the infractions, how really detremental they are to a program (see Alabama.) Plus, they have Lane Kiffen and his Dad.
        Are you kidding me? He was awful at the Raiders, terrible at Tennessee, and is the perfect fit for USC. Built in excuse for failure. Why else would he have been offered the job? Lane Kiffen – hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!! Hope he’s there for decades, or USC gets the death penalty, whichever comes first. What I don’t like about USC is the arrogance, on and off the field. Beat downs, disrespect of other’s campus, disrespectful in the stands, and just bloody jerks. I look forward to another at least 13 year run against those a-holes.

  3. spankyomonkey - Nov 21, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    It was a beat down
    Really really glad
    It was only Army though
    Sure wish we could compete against really teams
    How many tears till we compete on the national stage again

    Sure glad we got a W though
    Utah game was a fluke?
    Can i get a whoop whoop
    Keep up the good work

  4. danno27 - Nov 21, 2010 at 8:33 AM

    Keith you are a blog-warrior for pounding out this post-game article in NYC. I would’ve been dancing a whisky jig in Times Square if I was in your shoes.

    Can’t wait to see what the recruits thought of this game and ND, especially Ishaq Williams.

  5. winkandthegun - Nov 21, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    don’t feed the troll

  6. tommytd - Nov 21, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    While fans have questioned his gambling mentality and his refusal to change on Saturdays, Kelly and his staff have remained consistent.

    His gambling mentality and terrible play call at the end of the Tulsa game cost them the game and probably a better bowl invite! What a lousy loss in a game that was there for the taking! Kick the field goal…win the game!

    • 1notredamefan - Nov 21, 2010 at 12:50 PM

      Hi tom, welcome to Nov. 21, 2010! That was so long ago I barely remember it! And after watching tommy these past 2 weeks it should reaffirm Kelly’s decision to throw that pass! Tommy Rees Is the bomb and Kelly obv. knew that! Only question I have is why he wasn’t starting from the beginning, he is the right man for the job!!!

  7. 1notredamefan - Nov 21, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    “How bout them apples” c4ever

    • c4evr - Nov 21, 2010 at 10:16 PM

      Thanks for thinking of me 1NDfan. I was at Yankee stadium with my 3 yr old son. A few observations:
      A. Best game by Harrison Smith in an Irish uniform
      B. Toma and Eifert are studs
      C. Gary Gray is excellent at jumping in front of receivers routes
      D. Rees has shown great composure.
      I still think the spread is the wrong offense for a ND team. Defense controlled the line of scrimmage nicely. Too bad USC won’t be a good gauge if Barkley is out – hopefully an SEC opponent in the Outback Bowl will give some insight to where this team truly stands.

      • c4evr - Nov 22, 2010 at 8:44 PM

        Correction – it looks like the Champs bowl in Orlando against Miami, Fla.

      • 1notredamefan - Nov 22, 2010 at 10:58 PM

        Hey…..Great to see that, Honestly am really happy you and your boy got to go to the game and enjoy the win! Have a 3 year old myself wish I could have gone with him…. Also glad to see a bit of the “Unbelief” Fading

  8. BurroTrailAlum - Nov 21, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    2 more things we learned during and after the game were:
    1) the value of Tradition for both teams and schools and for the Nation as a whole;
    2) the value of Honor and Respect among amateur athletes.

    I missed the the Special Ops drop-in because our favorite sports bar had sold all other teams out to USC and boxing?? ($10 cover charge for everyone regardless of whether they wanted to see USC and/or a boxer get beat, with only old small tube TVs for all other games!?!?). So, the most significant aspect of the game, for me, was the attention each team showed to each other during the playing of their song at game’s end. That kind of Tradition, Honor, Respect and Class has largely disappeared from college football, certainly from pro ball.

    I do not share the enthusiasm of some of the posters for Tommy Rees’ play. Yes, Tommy is doing a good job, but not great. He is an adequate ball handler, but, not a prime-time QB. I still do not understand why Nate is not getting a lot more play as he brings more tools to the job. Plus, when he’s in, of late, the play calls go to sleep.

    • ndfootballfan4life - Nov 21, 2010 at 1:30 PM

      agree. Rees has played well considering the situation he has been thrown into as a freshman. however, i think it is still early to label him as the future of the notre dame football program. he still makes too many mistakes and bad decisions. for example, throwing into triple coverage in the end zone instead of throwing to Kumara who had about 3 steps on the corner trying to defend him.

      One other thing that has really bothered me, why aren’t we getting to ball into Floyd’s hands as much as possible? He is an allamerican with 3 catches against Army?? Kelly needs to take more deep shots to Floyd in one on one coverage situations.

      And can we please get someone besides John Goodman returning punts?? PLEASE!! I know we have to have someone more athletic and quicker than him to return punts. Hell put Floyd back there, he is probably going to be gone after this season, might as well get him as many touches as possible while we got him.

      • irishfan2791 - Nov 21, 2010 at 1:54 PM

        Well Rees was looking for Floyd all game long i.e. the first interception in the endzone and you could see the Kelly was trying to get Floyd open when he was sending three wide on one side and Mike wid e on the opposite side. Army though kept the safety over the top on Floyd’s side no matter what. I think they used Floyd enough with multiple crossing routes to use his athletism against the Army corner and having him run after the catch. So, Rees made good decisions not forcing the ball to Floyd in double coverage. I miss Dayne Crist’s ability to make plays with his feet as well as his arm. Thats why I hope Crist is the starter next season, even though that is not the most popular opinion, he has the most skill overall out of all the quarterbacks Kelly has at his finger tips.

        I completely agree with you on the whole John Goodman thing though, I believe that if Theo, Armando, and/or TJ was healthy any one of those super athletes would be back there returning punts and kicks, I think John Goodman back there is a product of injuries. Even though I would like to see Cierre Wood or Robbie Toma even back there. They both have Speed (Wood) or Quickness (Toma) and the ability to make some things happen. But, overall I think the Goodman really didnt have a chance to make anything happen last night especially because Army punter was awful at best.

      • goirish1 - Nov 21, 2010 at 8:34 PM

        Hey Keith Arnold… get it together. Dillon Hall is on the South Quad…so Tommy Rees would not be tossing the pigskin there… Go BIG RED….

    • c4evr - Nov 22, 2010 at 9:35 AM

      We sat and watched the 2 hour pregame at Yankee stadium that recounted the history of the once great rivalry. It was sobering to see where these 2 great institutions once stood in the national psyche. It’s quite an indictment on progress when you look at where society is now – it’s all about money. A hot dog and a coke at Yankee Stadium costs 10 bucks, for crying out loud. That’s why in my earlier arguments I stated that ND will have a hard time competing in the future – because they are holding to values and traditions that society as a whole no longer values. In some ways, I am glad… It’s sort of like the captain going down with his ship. Don’t get me wrong, I hope the program is restored to it’s former glory, but at what cost. Look at Army, they once ruled the college landscape, now they are a relic in terms of the top 10 conversation.

      As for Rees, he manages the game very well and plays nicely within the system. One thing I’ll say about the spread, anyone at any given time can have a big game. Hamada lit up Utah… Eifert had a career game at Army. Nice to see others have the opportunity to shine.

      • c4evr - Nov 22, 2010 at 9:39 AM

        Sorry, that should read Kamara – darn iPhone corrected when it shouldn’t

  9. ndfootballfan4life - Nov 21, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    one thing i would like to comment on is the play of Harrison Smith. Up until this game, Smith has been average at best. I thought it was going to be a long game when after the first Army drive, he was assigned to the pitch man and was slow to make the tackle play after play. However, Smith eventually got the speed of the game down and actually played fairly well. I am usually the first person to criticize Smith for his terrible pass coverage and lack of speed and athleticism, but kudos to him for stepping up against Army.

  10. BurroTrailAlum - Nov 21, 2010 at 2:24 PM

    2 more things we learned from the last 2 games are: how improved the Offensive line is, even with injuries and how the Defense has been reborn.

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