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Spartan notes: Diaco, Cousins, Narduzzi, and more

Sep 15, 2011, 8:18 PM EST

Capital One Bowl - Alabama v Michigan State Getty Images

Sometimes you just need to get a column out there, and purge some of the fun facts you’ve been storing up for the week. After spending a lot of time watching and re-watching last Saturday’s debacle, getting up to speed on the Spartans, and reassessing where this team is, you tend to forget that just because the Irish started 0-2 doesn’t mean they have the luxury of packing it in and not paying attention.

Here are a few assorted thoughts:

Last year, Bob Diaco took a ton of heat for the candidness he showed after the Irish’s loss to Navy. With a fourth quarter collapse that have a lot of people grumbling about the defensive coordinator, Diaco took his lumps appropriately, without giving the kind of insight that got him skewered last year after the Navy loss.

“If we talk specifics than we hinder ourselves going forward, but I will say that we’ve identified and addressed the fourth quarter as a team, from Coach Kelly right on down to the assistants and the players,” Diaco said. “Everyone in the organization takes accountability for that time frame and we’re going to move forward.”

The question was asked to Brian Kelly who essentially said the same thing, but Diaco was asked why the Irish didn’t roll to dime coverage in those last 30 seconds.

“At that particular point we’ve repped in practice that particular call and it was poorly executed,” Diaco said. “And at the end of the day, I’m responsible for execution so I take full accountability.”

Diaco has a slight pause after “poorly executed,” and a reporter used that as a window to get in another question. But Diaco was sure to finish his sentence making it clear that any breakdowns by players ultimately fall on him.

That includes senior cornerback Gary Gray. Diaco joined Kelly in defending Gray and picking him up from an obviously disappointing game.

“Gary is one of the best players we have on our defense. We love Gary. I’ve got a massive amount of respect for him,” Diaco said. “Like I said, I take responsibility for that play, I take responsibility for all those plays. No one in this organization is interested in placing blame on any of the players, that’s for sure.”

It’s up to Diaco, Chuck Martin and Kerry Cooks to get Gray ready to answer the bell. If you’re Michigan State, you’re clearly going to take aim at the senior. If Gray has his head in the right place and irons out some of the technical mistakes he’s making, he could have a big day.

***

Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins likely knows how Gray feels. It was Cousins that had the Spartans deep in Irish territory back in 2009 when he threw an ill-advised interception to Kyle McCarthy that sealed a 33-30 victory for Notre Dame.

Cousins comes back to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since that game and he’s assuming the Irish defense that played well against USF and for three quarters against Michigan will be the one showing up, not the group from the final 15 minutes of last Saturday.

Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal has more:

“I view them as the first three quarters,” Kirk Cousins said. “I don’t pay a lot of attention to the fourth quarter. I think a couple of those balls, if No. 4 turns his back around it’s an interception. So it’s great for Michigan to win the game but I don’t view it a whole lot as their defense is terrible and Michigan’s offense is amazing. I view it as, if that guy turns around, the game’s over long ago. So I expect them to be a very, very tough defense.”

No. 4, by the way, is senior cornerback Gary Gray. He’s getting the Jaren Hayes treatment, circa 2004, in South Bend. Reporters are coming up just short of asking Brian Kelly if he plans to sit Gray in the corner for a two-week timeout. Here’s what Kelly said Tuesday about Gray:

“It’s unfortunate that people look at that one position because it’s not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of situations. If we don’t turn the ball over, Gary Gray’s name is not even brought up.
“Gary is going to be fine. He’s a senior. He’ll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he’s been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State.”

Cousins obviously saw the Gray mistakes and is aware of the criticism, but he’s not looking at Gray like a weak link. Really, he isn’t.

“It’s unfortunate for him, I think he’s a very, very good corner,” Cousins said of Gray. “He’s played a lot of football for them. So when you’ve played that long, I feel like he’s gonna be ready. And obviously he had an off night last week, but he’s right in position. It’s not like he’s getting beat deep.

“I mean he’s right there to make the play, so that shows he’s in position and has the athleticism to cover people, and I think it’s probably a little undeserved criticism on his end. And I expect him to come back this week and play at a much higher level. So I don’t think it’s something where we’re saying, ‘Let’s pick on him, we think he’s weak.’ I think that across the board they’re a much better defense than maybe that last quarter showed against Michigan.”

Cousins is an impressive guy, a good quarterback and a much better leader, but you’d be foolish to think the Spartans won’t try and take their shots at Gray, either with B.J. Cunningham, the Spartans’ all-time leading receiver or with other guys that could be match-up problems for the Irish.

***

If you’re looking for a fun personality, check out defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who likened keeping an eye on Irish receiver Michael Floyd to finding Waldo.

“Obviously, you do something special against him but nothing extravagant,” Narduzzi said yesterday to the assembled Spartan media. “The big thing is to know where he is all the time.”

“You ever read the books, Where’s Waldo? He’s Waldo,” Narduzzi said. “We have to know where he, because he’s everywhere. You can’t find Waldo in the book sometimes, you look forever and the kids can find him but you can’t? Well we have to make sure our kids can find him when we can’t.”

It took a few weeks for the Irish to move Floyd around last year, keeping him mostly on the boundary side of the field opposite Kyle Rudolph. Kelly and Charley Molnar have moved No. 3 around more this year, and with 25 catches in the first two weeks, you can tell the results have been good.

Narduzzi also had a nice assessment of the difference between Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist.

“I think what you see on tape is Rees is a gamer. Maybe doesn’t get rattled,” Narduzzi said. “He just seems like a smooth guy out there, nothing gets him rattled. When he makes checks, he’s smooth. Crist the same but you see Crist get maybe a little more nervous when he’s making checks. Do I have enough time? But I think Crist has got a stronger arm, so he scares you, he’s got a stronger arm I think. And I walked off that field last year going, ‘That Crist will be an NFL quarterback,’ and I think he will be. I think that guy will be a first-round quarterback. So they’ve got two very good quarterbacks that are both dangerous.”

It’s always been clear that Crist has the tools. It’s just a matter of if he can get the toolbox up to speed.

***

Cleaning up some personnel matters:

Danny Spond is out with a hamstring injury. Freshman Troy Niklas now moves into the No. 2 slot at the dog linebacker position, playing behind sophomore Prince Shembo. That’s two freshman in the two-deep at outside linebacker, with Ishaq Williams backing up Darius Fleming.

With Mike Ragone out for the season with a torn ACL, freshman Ben Koyack moves to the No. 2 tight end. Sophomore Alex Welch is on his way back from a foot injury, but is questionable. Jake Golic is back and available.

It looks like John Goodman is back returning punts again this week.

 

 

 

 

  1. brendanunderscoreg - Sep 15, 2011 at 8:28 PM

    I’m nervous about Koyack at #2. He’s going to be an excellent TE for the Irish. I’m just concerned where this puts us from a power rushing persective.

    • nudeman - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:23 AM

      I’m more nervous about Rees and his turnover per quarter offense.

      • joeschu - Sep 16, 2011 at 11:45 AM

        QB Butterfingers kill faster than frosh TE’s

  2. ndfanwabashman - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    It was nice to see Floyd line up in the slot a few times last week. It think it really forces the defense to think about how they want to defend him. The coaches really have been using him well.

    As far as John Goodman, what was with him running backwards last week? Was he tired of reading those press clippings about him being a fair catch machine? With this offense they don’t need a guy to take it to the house. Just make good decisions and don’t turn it over. Put it in the hands of Reese. Put Boobie Miles (Cierre Wood) in, let him spin.

    Finally, some entrepreneurial young ND student should be wearing a #3 jersey with a striped scarf, hat and dark black glasses.

  3. no1ndfan - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    I agree with nudeman.

    We can definitely win this game if we don’t turn the ball over.

    Unfortunately, nothing from the first 2 games gives me any reason to believe that the turnovers will stop.

    Turnovers and penalties are the sign of an undisciplined and poorly coached football team.

    That’s where we are right now….lots of talent, but no focus, and poor coaching.

    Anybody who disagrees either didn’t watch the first two games or is looking through rose colored glasses.

  4. nudeman - Sep 16, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    no1ndfan,

    Bingo. Once was an “aberration”. Twice … we’ll call “very disconcerting”.

    If they cough it up 5 times this weekend, there are some real lasting problems here, and I’ll have trouble seeing where ANY wins will come from this year. I saw Kelly say in an interview yesterday that they worked on ball security all week. I believe that and still believe in Kelly.

    But my confidence in Rees and Diaco is badly shaken. Rees has an undeniable “something”, but maybe he’s just too young to be QB’ing on this stage right now. I’m on record here saying multiple times I still don’t understand why Kelly gave up on Crist so quickly.

    And not having their “dime” D package in last week on the final UM drive was highy questionable. WTF was he thinking? His ass is on the line the rest of the season.

    • Keith Arnold - Sep 16, 2011 at 12:12 PM

      Nudeman, you are definitely leading the pessimist charge. If once was a fluke, twice is certainly very disconcerting, I agree.

      That said, they don’t have to play perfect football to win. They just need to eliminate some of the dumb plays and get a little luckier on the flukes.

      Discipline didn’t make the ball slide out of Tommy Rees’ hands. Nor did it bounce the ball right back to Denard Robinson on the 4th and 1 run-stuff by the Irish defense.

      • nudeman - Sep 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM

        Keith,
        I believe if you read all my posts, you’ll find that:
        1. I am not a pessimist. I have consistently said they have a good (but not great team), am still on board with Kelly, and even like Rees.

        2. That said, I was against yanking Crist so quickly, and don’t think he’d have 5 QB turnovers in the last 3 halfs of football. Regardless of the kid’s moxie and how much of a gamer he is (I agree with both of those observations, btw), he’s getting them beat right now. I really don’t care about 500 yards of offense and moving the ball. I care about winning.

        3. I also have said that, althought I believe in Kelly and think this is a team and program on the rise, the 4 game winning streak last year was something people were getting too excited about. Army? An overrated Utah team; a USC team without its QB; and a poor Miami team. Still, they won all 4 so they deserve credit. But I believe that has possibly produced some unrealistic expectations on all of our parts.

        I will always love the Irish and hope they break free this weekend.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Sep 16, 2011 at 2:14 PM

        nude…..couldn’t agree more with your point 3 and would only add that i was confused by everybody saying those 4 wins gave us a lot of momentum coming into this season. There were 8 months in between.. How can that be momentum? Those four wins merely served to sweeten the kool aid we all drank.

  5. ndgoldandblue - Sep 16, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Going into this game, I have absolutely no confidence that the Irish will get the victory. I guess it’s a good thing that the confidence level of the fans plays no part in how the game will turn out. The players sound confident, so thank God for that. If their confidence was as shaky as most of the fan base, then there would be no way that they turn the season around. That said, I still don’t think that you turn around serious mental/psychological problems in competition in one week. If it had only happened once, then it might be considered a fluke, but twice? Then, it seems like more of a trend.

  6. pjm79nd - Sep 16, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    Question for Diaco:

    Nine turnovers in two games and fantastically inept play in the secondary, and nobody wants to blame the players?

    Why not?

  7. no1ndfan - Sep 16, 2011 at 2:19 PM

    I think that there is a big difference between being a pessimist and having justified, high expectations.

    Based on the team’s performance at the end of last year, I didn’t think that we would lose our first 2 games this year. I definitely expect to beat teams like S Fla. and Michigan. Stats are for losers. The final score is all that counts.

    We have highly ranked recruiting classes, great tradition, great facilities, endless financial resources, etc., etc., yet we keep losing to inferior opponents year after year.

    What’s missing? It can’t just be bad luck. Is our schedule too tough? What the heck is it?

    Michigan State at home is a very winnable game. In fact, we should win.

    if we lose, then the season is truly in the tank. Two losses out of the gate is unacceptable. Three losses….season over.

    • ndgoldandblue - Sep 16, 2011 at 4:04 PM

      I like a challenging schedule, but I will say that I would prefer it if Notre Dame did as most (most, not all) of the other football programs do and just schedule a non-automatic qualifier for their first game. Then, they can go crazy, and go up against the big boys of college football. I know that that’s not a very respectable and/or liked opinion, but (and I said this last week) it would be nice to have a game where the Irish can find out what they’ve got, make some mistakes (like 5 turnovers), and still possibly win the game. Plus, playing badly and still winning does a lot more for the psyche than losing in heartbreaking fashion. Imagine the chatter around the the blogosphere if the Irish had won their first game. It wouldn’t have been nearly as doom and gloom.

  8. NDfan1224 - Sep 16, 2011 at 4:39 PM

    http://ndandhuskers.Wordpress.com

  9. 1historian - Sep 16, 2011 at 5:43 PM

    I refuse to believe that this team is as bad as it has been the first two weeks.
    There have been comments/criticism of Kelly for his losing his temper and more than one of them came from me – IMO some of the players are playing scared of Kelly.

    What we need now is someone on the FIELD who scares his teammates more than Kelly scares them. the message – “forget Kelly you screw up and you answer to ME. ”

    We need LEADERS and I haven’t seen any yet.

    We are one play, we are one PLAYER from breaking out of this.

  10. bernhtp - Sep 16, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    While you can look to turnovers, bad coverage, dumb penalties, etc. to explain the two losses, thereis also the quantum mechanics of football. For example, look at just these two plays:

    1. ND fumbles on the USF 1 yard line. The ball bounces perfectly into the arms of a defender moving forward, who then races down the sideline to the endzone for a touchdown.

    2. ND plays great goal-line defense and absolutely stuffs the run causing a fumble, but the ball bounces perfectly into Denard’s arms, who waltzes into the endzone for a touchdown.

    These two quantum bounces are the difference between 0-2 and 2-0. Just think, Notre Dame is 2-0 in a parallel universe. Sadly, I wish I were there.

  11. Huck Finn - Sep 16, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Hey Keith,

    Are you concerned at all about the apparent inability of the coaching staff to make in-game adjustments? Against Navy last year, even if they didn’t know that dive or “veer” was coming, should that have been an issue for four quarters and 200 yards?

    More recently, against USF, they clearly knifed through the defense, but then couldn’t shake off the turnovers and mistakes and get back to playing football. Against Michigan, once the Wolverine coaching staff took the reins off Robinson in the second half, the D had no answer, and didn’t even make any adjustment to try to find the football earlier.

    Anything to that?

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