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IBG: Snapping back for the Spartans

Sep 15, 2011, 1:47 PM EDT

Kelly Dantonio

Saturday can’t come soon enough for the Irish, who’ll be looking to get rid of a very bad taste in their mouths after last week’s collapse against Michigan. Brian Kelly had the Irish going full tilt in practice yesterday, getting physical in its preparation for a smash-mouth Spartans team coming to town this Saturday.

Before we get heavy into Michigan State, let’s tackle this week’s questions in the Irish Blogger Gathering, hosted by one of the new ND blogs in town, NDTex.com.

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.

I’m more than ready to take the approach the Irish are taking, which is “let’s just stop talking about it.” I’ve talked to a ton of Notre Dame fans, and Saturday night was one of the toughest losses they’ve ever had. It certainly was worse than the 2005 USC game, which for my money was rock bottom as a sports fan.

That said, it’s hard to feel terrible about this football team. I mean, Brian Kelly said the same thing, they’re actually pretty good. I hit on this subject earlier in the week and in movie terms, this is hopefully the end of Act Two. For those of you not up on your screenwriting lingo, last week was (hopefully) the part of the movie where our hero almost gets what he wants but is trampled once again, and things feel their most bleak.

Since this is real life, I can’t tell you there’s going to be a happy ending, but there’s still every reason to believe the Irish can win every game they play. They’ll probably be favored in all of them until Stanford. Not to say the Irish are this team, but Pete Carroll’s 2002 Trojans started with two losses before mid-October. They ended up 11-2 and blew out Ty Willingham’s best Notre Dame team and dismantled Iowa in the Orange Bowl. Say what you want about Trojans fans, but they weren’t throwing in the towel after a tough few weeks.

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?

The plan Kelly and his staff instituted worked fine well into the fourth quarter, although you wouldn’t know it if you were following along on the internet last weekend. A few thousand of you were around for the live-blog last Saturday night and I was shocked at just how quickly panic set in amongst some of the fans following along. It must be hard to watch a football game if you’re constantly flinching every time something bad happens. I checked in over at MGoBlog last weekend, and they were still in “Keep the Faith” mode well into the 3rd quarter. That’s the difference between the fan bases, and really one of the most disheartening things about the current state of ND Nation.

I’m not trying to beat a dead horse, but here’s a newsflash to you all: this current team isn’t the group that broke your heart these last 20 years. Most of the guys on the roster were barely alive and were more concerned with things like nap time, Power Rangers or what was in their lunch box. They know Lou Holtz not from his time on the Irish sidelines, but from his time in the TV studio. Most of them aren’t even old enough to remember the Bob Davie era, he’s just another TV announcer with really good hair.  And while it’s hard to remember that sometimes, Irish fans have done a great job of creating self-fulfilling prophesies in the past. Here’s hoping they don’t do it again with the Brian Kelly era.

Just like he did last year, Kelly is going to approach this game the same way he does every game. It’s that consistency in approach that led the Irish out of some pretty dark hollows last year and will ultimately serve the team better than any about-face. (That said, if you’re looking for a small tweak, like I mentioned above, BK and company had the teams going live yesterday, getting what’s left of the spread concepts out of their system as they prepare for a downhill physical football team.)

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?

Kelly said it best earlier in the week. It’s not as if there are any All-Americans on the bench right now. If there’s been anything baffling this year, it’s that a guy like Gary Gray has taken a step backwards. This early in the Kelly regime, there isn’t the depth at positions needed to have twos that are almost as good as ones. In a year or two, maybe Gray gets the hook after the coverage breakdown. But if I’m Kelly, I’m doing exactly what he’s doing with Gray, Ben Turk, and Theo Riddick. They’re the best ND has. They’ve got to be the ones to get it done.

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

It was good enough to win. Obviously the goal line fumble was one of those things that only seem to happen to Notre Dame and was something I didn’t think Rees had in his arsenal, but he got the Irish out of the gate quickly, then drove them for the win with thirty seconds left. It’s not like he can play in a Cover-4 defense. Do you want those two throws into Michael Floyd back? Sure, especially the second one. But we’ve got to remember Tommy Rees is very early in his football career and he played good enough to win last week.

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?

I think they’re for real, but we’ll find out more Saturday against a Spartans defense that could be really stout. (Don’t forget about The USF defense. They’ll end up a highly ranked unit.) Wood’s performance this year has been great. Jonas Gray has done his job, too. Both guys would like back those fumbles, but all they can do is look forward.

If you’re looking at a key match-up on Saturday, the Irish run game versus the Spartans front-seven could be one of the most important.

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?

Color me skeptical. It’d be silly to dismiss a Spartans team that’s dominated the series with the Irish over the last decade-and-a-half, but I don’t think we’ll have any idea how good these guys are until they get into their conference schedule. That said, I have them as the fourth toughest game on our schedule behind Stanford, USC, and Michigan.

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

Yep. Don’t turn the ball over. With the runner up being: Don’t give up big plays on defense.

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?

Who knows? I don’t think there’s any more urgency this week than last week, but starting 0-3 sounds awfully scary. I think it’s important for the Irish to go out there and handle every Saturday as its own season. Notre Dame can’t go 10-2 if they don’t go 1-2 first. (Color me a philosopher today, right?)

The Irish are too talented to keep losing. For everyone but Michigan State’s sake, let’s hope that trend stops Saturday.

  1. nudeman - Sep 15, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    I agree with the “let’s stop talking about it” mantra. Having said THAT, let me say THIS:

    If Rees comes out and continues his nearly 2 turnovers per half performance, he needs to see the damn bench.

  2. andy44teg - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    Ok..I don’t care about what ANYONE says…the 2005 “Bush Push” game was far more gut-wrenching than the 2011 Michigan debacle. USC was ranked #1 and we were #9 I believe. We had been getting BLOWN OUT every single time we played the Trojans since like 2000. Had them at a 4th and long to win the game and we BLEW IT once again in the secondary. I was a senior in college that year…had my own stuff going on..and that game stuck with me the entire week. We not only lost that game, but a serious shot at the national title. About a half hour after the Michigan game I was fine.
    GO IRISH BEAT STATE!!

    • nudeman - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      Who’d have guessed at the time that would be the closest Weis would come to a “signature win”, and in fact that the USC game would be his jump the shark moment? All downhill from there.

    • txbeej - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:47 PM

      Yes but the agony of that loss was soothed by the (obviously false in hindsight) knowledge of Notre Dame’s coming ascendancy under Weis and the fact that USC was a(n) (il)legitimately great team that year.

    • mattnef - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM

      Completely agree. Last Saturday doesn’t hold a candle to USC in 2005. I might be biased though. My love of Notre Dame is matched by my hatred of USC. Honestly, if we went 1-11 and the 1 was a 49-0 blow out of the University of Spoiled Children I think I’d be fine.

  3. txbeej - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:42 PM

    I’m not feeling any nerves in the run-up this week to the game, which I guess means I’ve crashed through all the stages of grief to acceptance, or apathy. Now I can enjoy the rest of my football season regardless of what result the Irish get. Ah the callous, nature’s pain reliever.

    I do hope Kelly and the boys can salvage something of the season, and that must begin now. Maybe this will be the week of no turnovers in the red zone, stout defense for four quarters, and a competent punting game that would be the envy of most junior high programs.

  4. no1ndfan - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    I too am over the Michigan loss. We just aren’t going to win if we commit that many turnovers and our secondary plays that poorly.

    I just wonder what happens if we lose to Michigan State this week.

    Kelly could easily lose this team. All bets will then be off.

    I am still not sold on Kelly. He seems to get out-coached a lot (see Michigan St Circa 2010).

    • schuey73 - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      If Kelly didn’t lose the team last year after everything, then I doubt he loses it this year. They will not quit on him.

      I am sold on Kelly as a coach, and I mean short-term and long-term.

      If you’re talking about “Little Giants”, then I don’t think he got out-coached. His players had it read, but Harrison Smith fell down trying to cover it. Kelly was not at fault there.

      • no1ndfan - Sep 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM

        I hope that you are right.

        But Kelly’s teams seem snake bit.

        The “loser” psychology has to be at work after last week.

        Kelly did well at Cincinnati, but at ND, he has to recruit athletes who can actually pass classes and earn degrees.

        I think that we are in for a lengthy period of mediocrity with him at the healm.

        If Gruden or Meyer signaled that they would take they job, how fast would you dump Kelly, given all the coaching miscues of the past 2 years?

        The bumbling of the QB position is his fault too. Right?

  5. nudeman - Sep 15, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    no1ndfan … you must be kidding, right?
    He inherited a garbage team from Weis, managed to get them to a bowl last year, by all accounts has had a great recruiting season, and because he’s 0-2 you want to dump him?

    You need to get on a different board. Or at least change your name here. You’re a major bandwagon guy.

    I’ve been as hard on the Irish as anyone here, and have blasted the coaching for being part of the reason. That said, I still like Kelly, still think he’s the right guy, and wouldn’t dump him for anyone right now.

    • no1ndfan - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:45 AM

      I see your point, but we have to face facts.

      Tons of turnovers, stupid penalties, mental lapses galore….

      These are all the signs of a poorly prepared and coached team.

      Feel free to ride Kelly’s bandwagon as long as you want, but you can’t ignore our 0-2 record or the reasons for it.

      We have lost to two inferior teams. Do you disagree? Don’t you think that we are better than Michigan and South Florida?

      As far as the QB position goes, Kelly needs to pick one and stay with him. No QB can play well looking over his shoulder.

      This season is already a disappointment, especially after the optimism that ended last year. If you don’t see it that way, then you are certainly entitled to your opinion. Maybe you will be satisfied with another 8-5 year. I won’t be, and that’s exactly where we seem to be headed.

  6. js69 - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:06 PM

    I really don’t feel the need to win. I would love to win, but need to win? This team just needs to forget about the first two and play football. Whether that be “love of the game” or “pride”, doesn’t matter. Just play the game.

    As far as which is worse? Wow, U$C was way worse just in how U$C won that game.

    If the Irish lose Saturday, they can still go 9-3 which is, shockingly, still better than last year.

    Play the game between the whistles, forget about what you thought this season was going to be and win.

    • papadec - Sep 16, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      Actually, they could go 10-3 with a Bowl win.

      • terryb101 - Sep 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM

        as a fan who has been pulling fo ND for 41yrs, my goals for the team are always . a) win the championship(thats gone this year).. 2). get enough wins to pass texas and michigan for the all time lead ..c)..and the best winning pct…

  7. bostonjan - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    “……Irish fans have done a great job of creating self-fulfilling prophesies in the past. Here’s hoping they don’t do it again with the Brian Kelly era.”

    I read that statement as perhaps the most important point made in the above article by Keith. Unless one of the Irish players are participating in this site under a disguised name (highy unlikely), not one of us can execute and prevent turnovers. We can support the team and be positive. If there’s any truth to the concept of positive energy, karma, believing, intention – call it what you may – contributing to the attainment of our team’s desired goals, that is what we as fans can do.

    The ongoing negativity, talk about dumping the coaches, constant criticism, etc. by the so called ND Nation is bizarre to me. I’m old enough to have lived/enjoyed/supported the Ara Era. The ridiculous criticism of Ara started in 1966 with the 10-10 tie with Michigan State – yes, the year that we WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. Nevertheless, some so called fans, analysts, “experts” continued with the BS that Ara should have thrown the ball up for grabs on the last play of the ND-MSU game. This has got to be the only fanbase in the world with so called members that can’t be satisfied even when the team wins it all!

    By the time Ara called it quits at ND (in 10 or 11 years if I remember correctly), he was exhausted and seemingly sick and tired of the Irish fanbase.

    Let’s not create that self fulfilling prophecy, folks.

    Support our team, period.

    • no1ndfan - Sep 16, 2011 at 11:02 AM

      I am all for positive energy.

      Believe me, nobody would be happier than me to see the Irish win the rest of their games.

      You can’t imagine all the grief I get whenever they lose.

      But, let’s call ‘em as we see ‘em…shall we?

      Before the season started, would you have been happy with an 0-2 start? If someone told you that we would be committing stupid turnovers and penalties and would have already benched our starting QB, would you have believed it.

      What standard should ND football be held to? Are 8-5, 6-6, 9-3 seasons good enough given the athletes that we recruit, our facilities, our tradition, and our resources? Of course not.

      Optimism is good, except where it blurs reality and becomes counterproductive. I hope that all the Irish players and coaches are as angry as I am over the past 2 games. If we go 0-3, watch out.

      • bostonjan - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:47 PM

        So you state the obvious – but I think you miss my point:

        No ND fan (including the players and coaches) is happy with a 0-2 start.

        I believe/advocate that it’s time for ND fans to expect the best to happen (as Keith mentioned of the Michigan fans “……..they were still in “Keep the Faith” mode well into the 3rd quarter. That’s the difference between the fan bases, and really one of the most disheartening things about the current state of ND Nation…..”

        Do you really think statements like:

        ” …Kelly’s teams seem snake bit.

        The “loser” psychology has to be at work after last week.

        ………I think that we are in for a lengthy period of mediocrity with him at the healm…..”

        have any positive impact on the team. I can’t possibly understand how that supports your statement – “I am all for positive energy.”

        Really???????????????

        People criticize Kelly for making the QBs play while looking over their shoulder……and then advocate that Kelly and staff should “play” while looking over their shoulder.

        This kind of fan support did not work with Ara, or with Devine, or with Holtz.

        It seems like you’re already rooting for a 6-6 season to prove that you’ve been right all along. Pretty easy to make that call when there’s a 0-2 record on the board. And do you truly believe that a wholesale change of coaching again would be in the best interest of the team…..Really???????????

        What a no 1 fan.

        We’re two games into this season – the second season for Kelly and his staff ….I suggest holding off the assessment of the season until the full body of work is available to analyze.

        I thank God that the ND admin and decision makers have a longer perspective than some of the Irish fans.

  8. ndfan4ever - Sep 16, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    Ok let me say this we haven’t been beating in a game yet. We have given away 2 games and lost because we beat ourselves. These kids are not going to lie down and quit the have to much heart. Look how they battled back in both games. To help Gary ND needs to put a safty over the top and not let him get into one on one coverage. I think if he can made a big play he can turn himself around. I have great faith in this team they can win the rest of their games. We need a mistake less game this weekend and a victory and we will begin a new again. I still think in situations that Kellys ego gets him in trouble. When you try to run 2 yards when their are 8 in the box twice you need to change your thinking. Heres to an Irish victory this weekend and the beginning of the new season. Fight on ND God bless you.

  9. Huck Finn - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    Nicely written.

    However, I have to say, objectively, it’s tough for me to agree that Michigan, with all their issues and the lesser talent, is an objectively “better team” or “tougher game” than the Spartans, who played in a BCS bowl last season and ran for 200+ yards against ND.

  10. squalo66 - Sep 17, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    There is nothing wrong with this ND team…nothing at all. They are a top ten team without a doubt. But its the same old story regarding coaching. The team didn’t lose the first two games…the coaches did with their play calls and inability to control their own emotions. If as a coach you can’t stay calm and coach a team when they are down then you are totally ineffective. In the loss to Florida Kelly ended up saying it was his fault….and it was. With Michigan he said nothing….no comment. Kelly is yet another bad choice by the ND administration. And I know most will disagree with me until maybe the fourth year when the story is still the same. The next time hire a coach with some humility and one who can relate to the kids who play for him. Getting in the face of the quarterback after every play DOES NOT BUILD CONFIDENCE! I’m one of five generations that graduated from ND and when you have seen a great coach in the ND tradition its easy to see the bad ones….yes, it is that bad.

    • terryb101 - Sep 17, 2011 at 11:46 AM

      if you’re saying that the coaching is the reason that most of the d backs never had a clue as to where the ball was. then i agree..its been killing ND for years, terrible defense, especially the d backs..they were talking about the bush push game earlier on here. remember the 4tha and 9 play? they threw a 60 yard pass.that got them down to 12 i believe..and the fake fg last year. yep that was coaching there about 90% . but the players still should have been ready for a fake regardless.heck all they had to do was just let em kick it. at worst you play another ot.and that number 22, i sure will be gald when he is gone. he fell on the fake,,completly ran by a rcvr last week on the next to last drive of michigans that the rcvr caught,, the boy never saw the ball…

  11. massivedick - Sep 17, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    I don’t have a good feeling about today
    Really really don’t
    I hope we play well
    Spartans are tough
    How could things have one this bad

    Start out strong!
    Unless we show up it could be a long day
    Could we start 0-3?
    Keep up the good work

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