Rocket Pep Rally

IBG: Burning the midnight oil


Apologies for the late arrival of this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering. Boarding a United flight out of LAX to O’Hare, I was wondering if I was boarding an episode of Pan Am, as the plane they rolled out for us was from a long forgotten era, and of course… it didn’t have wifi.

So this week’s IBG — hosted by our barrister blogger Domer Law — was done with less than adequate online support. (That’s my disclaimer before you go judging my answers, too harshly.)

Beside: It’s USC week. Save your energy for Saturday night. Finally, just a day away.

Here. We. Go.

I’m taking an old friend of mine to the USC game.  They were born and raised in South Bend near Notre Dame, and developed a dislike for the University at a young age from dealing with the frustrations and messes that come from Notre Dame home football weekends.  She’s never been to a Notre Dame game before (she’s an Ohio State fan).  We’re going to go tailgate and do all the usual tailgating stuff.  Any suggestions on what I could do to help her let go of her animosity towards Notre Dame?

Don’t shove it down her throat. If she has a pulse and she enjoys college football, it won’t be hard to have a good time on Saturday. By and large, Notre Dame fans are a hospitable group, but it isn’t hard to have negative preconceived notions about the school and its alums, especially if you grew up in South Bend and struggled with the divide between the school and the city.

If your friend happens to be Catholic, check out the Grotto, the Basilica, and take a walk around God Quad. If your friend is a football fanatic, check out the changes they’ve made to the JACC, where the Heisman Trophies and past glories are now proudly on display. If they’re neither, make sure you have a good tailgate scene set up with good food and spirits and better company.

You’re not in the business of converting somebody. Leave that to Brian Kelly. Let the game and environment speak for itself. If she doesn’t like Notre Dame any better after Saturday, save your next USC ticket for someone else next time!

On a related note, do you have any suggestions for improving the Notre Dame game weekend experience generally?  Are there traditions lost that you’d like to see restored, or new ideas that you’d like to see implemented to improve the gameday experience?

Having been to about 20-25 different college football stadiums in my lifetime, I think Notre Dame does a pretty great job with Saturdays. After swinging the pendulum too far in response to tailgating behavior, I think the university has done a good job in making gameday whatever you want it to be: a history lesson, a day filled with pageantry, or a nice setting to enjoy a cold one and some Ralph’s Side Door Deli fried chicken.

A lot of people seem to be getting bent out of shape for the changing of the players walk, but if there’s one thing that I really miss, it’s the old pep rallies. Back in the Holtz era, they used to be more exciting than the games. Now they kind of just happen. Whether it’s staged in front of a dorm or outside in the new Irish Green, the closest it’s come to being even close to exciting was when Rocket Ismail was screaming about “Unbelief.”

Getting into the pep rally used to be tougher than getting into the football game. While excluding people that want to go doesn’t make that much sense, I’m all in favor of bringing the pep rally back inside, using that big new video board in the JACC  and some light tricks to get people fired up and add some electricity to an event that’s gotten pretty lame.

(You want proof? Here’s Rocket’s speech from 2009. Even the players didn’t know what to make of it, as they’d been used to mediocre gatherings where they wave to their moms and smile at girls from PW. But Rocket remembered what the pep rallies used to be like. If this were the old days, you’d have students running through walls. Charlie should’ve thrown a uniform on Rocket. It probably would’ve been the different.)


(a) USC is (and always will be) our biggest rival.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  And if you agree, why do you feel that this is such an important rivalry? (b) Rank your top 10 college football rivalries and provide justifications for each.

USC is Notre Dame’s biggest rival. No question. For all the reasons everybody else on the internet has talked about all week. Why is it important? Frankly, because it lets me use the word  “intersectional” in a sentence once a year. It also gives me the opportunity to talk Notre Dame football with all my neighbors in Manhattan Beach, where 90 percent of the population loves the Trojans.

I’m not great at coming up with lists without internet access, but off the top of my head, in no particular order here are my ten favorite college football rivalries:

Notre Dame vs. USC: Whether it’s in South Bend or South Central, it’s my favorite game to go to in the autumn.

Michigan vs. Michigan State: It feels really good not to have any allegiances in this one. Lately, it’s felt like watching The Great Outdoors, only this time Chet (John Candy) gets to sucker-punch Roman (Dan Aykroyd) in the face and laugh at him.

Oklahoma vs. Texas: The Red River Shootout is a true experience. The geographical excellence of the Cotton Bowl between Norman and Austin, plus seeing the stadium cut perfectly down the middle between burnt orange and sooner crimson is pretty awesome.

Georgia vs. Florida: Even if it isn’t called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party anymore, I can tell you from experience that it still is. The football is usually okay, too.

Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State: This one gets on my list for the tailgating scene and the co-eds alone.

Michigan vs. Ohio State: The best of Big Ten football. When both programs are good, this game is awesome.

Auburn vs. Alabama: The best of SEC football. When both programs are good, the teams might be over the NFL salary cap.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: My hometown bias is certainly coming out, but these two teams play for the greatest rivalry trophy of all time. Celebrations like this vault it onto the list.

Harvard vs. Yale: If only because it lets me watch a brand of college football I was almost good enough to play. (Plus as a bonus, you can use the rosters to upgrade your LinkedIn profile.)

Oregon vs. Oregon State: Admittedly, I’m running out of steam here, but between the Civil War and the Apple Cup, the two Pacific Northwest rivalries deserve some credit.

Southern Cal is 5-1, with their only loss on the road at Arizona State.  They are unranked, sitting right behind us in the “also receiving votes” category.  How good is Southern Cal this year?  How do you see this game playing out?

We won’t know until after Saturday. For the first time in years, I’ve heard Notre Dame fans feeling outright brazen about this game, and possibly for good reason. USC is young and while they have some good talent on this roster, it’s a shell of what it was back in the Pete Carroll glory days.

That said, they probably have three first-rounders on their offense, and that’s as top heavy as any team Notre Dame will see this year. We’ve seen the Trojans give up a ton of points, look lost in pass coverage and really inconsistent on both sides of the ball.

That said, if you’re a Notre Dame fan and puffing your chest, Slow. Your. Roll. Like it or not, you’re one Ronald Johnson drop away from being in the midst of a really ugly losing streak.

If the Irish handle their business on Saturday, and I honestly think they should, there’ll be over a year to gloat to those Trojan fans you detest. But until then, keep quiet, save your vocal chords until Saturday night, and get ready to see what happens.

It appears that with a win over USC, we’ll re-enter the Top 25 rankings.  Now that we’re halfway through the season and have some actual evidence available to us from real games, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?  Predict:
For the record, I hate playing the predictions game. But since Domer Law is running this week’s IBG, I’m sure there’s some fine print at the bottom of his questions making me contractually obligated to participate. So here goes:
(a) Notre Dame’s final record: Let’s have fun. Run the table until Stanford. Then roll the dice and see what happens.
(b) Notre Dame’s bowl destination, opponent and outcome. Win out? BCS game. Lose one or two: Champ Sports Bowl.
(c) The BCS Championship game and result. Can they match two SEC teams up? I’m not buying Oklahoma yet.
(d) Notre Dame’s final AP ranking. If they win out? Top six. If not? Top 25.
(e) The winners of the major awards, including:
(i) Heisman Trophy Russell Wilson, just so some writer has to ask Tom O’Brien about the decision to let Wilson walk away from NC State for free.
(ii) Home Depot Coach of the Year Bret Bielema.
(iii) Davey O’Brien Award (best QB) Andrew Luck.
(iv) Doak Walker Award (best RB) LaMichael James.
(v) Fred Biletnikoff Award (best WR) Cretin-Derham Hall’s own Michael Floyd.
(vi) Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) Whoever the SEC media decides.

Kelly thinks simplicity might aid offensive production

Notre Dame quarterback Kizer DeShone makes a throw during the Blue-Gold spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
South Bend Tribune via AP

Back to the basics. If there’s a refrain we’ve heard—or one that’s made its way through the echo chamber these past few weeks—it’s that Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are drilling down, looking for any way to pull this team out of their slump.

We saw the changes defensively, a gigantic detour away from the scheme and philosophies of Brian VanGorder. And while that’s helped jump-start the defense, the impact of the move may have hit the offense’s productivity.

Kelly talked about some of those aftereffects this week, the changes on one side of the ball leaking over to the other.

“We’re keeping the points down, but we’re limiting possessions,” Kelly explained. “We went from 15 possessions earlier in the season to this past game we had four possessions in the first half. That’s like playing an option team. We’re going to keep the points down, we’re probably not going to get off the field quite as quick as we did earlier in the season.”

Those lack of opportunities have shown up in the box score. Throw away the game played in hurricane conditions and it’s still clear that the Irish offense didn’t capitalize on their chances against Stanford. And whether it was DeShone Kizer’s interceptions, Malik Zaire’s three short-circuited series or a general lack of running game, Kelly is taking a similar approach with his offense that he did with the opposite side of the ball—though not running anybody out of town.

“We have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively. We’re probably doing a little too much,” Kelly said. “When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature. You can play free, you can play fast.

“I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let’s practice what we’re good at and let’s be better at execution in this kind of game.”

Do what you do, but do it better. It’s an approach that’s worked under Greg Hudson’s direction, with a defense mastering the bare essentials as they try to stop the bleeding. Offensively, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this unit struggle. And while pointing in one direction usually takes the focus off of a multi-faceted problem, cutting down the inventory and letting the Irish talent play fast and loose could be a big help for a group that’s still really young.

“I think there’s an understanding now that we have to figure out what we are doing well and put emphasis on that,” Kizer said. “In the first half of the season there were some specific looks that are more successful than others, and we have to put emphasis on those looks.”

Behind the Irish: Leaders eat last


Leaders eat last. As the 2016 season continues to be a struggle for the Irish, holding firm to leadership mottos like the above is more than just lip service or an empty slogan.

In our latest Behind the Irish feature, several Notre Dame players talk about this season’s slogan and how it helps guide the team as they look to stay united through this stretch run.

And in that corner… The Miami Hurricanes


Sure, the high-wattage match-up might have lost some of its preseason luster. But even with both Notre Dame and Miami entering the weekend limping, bringing the Hurricanes and the Irish together—two of college football’s premier programs with quite a bit of history together—is always a game worth watching.

As the Irish return from an off week healthy and looking to rebound after two-straight losses, Mark Richt’s Miami team poses quite a challenge. Especially as the Hurricanes do what they can to stop a three game slide. They’ve got the ammo to do it, with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya one of the best Notre Dame will face this season and a defense that’s done a 180 under new coordinator Manny Diaz.

To get us ready for a very big weekend, Isaiah Kim-Martinez joins us. A sophomore studying broadcast journalism who also writes for the student-run Hurricane (in circulation since 1929!), Isaiah took time away from his busy schedule to answer some questions from on the ground in Coral Gables.

Hope you enjoy.


This season started with a four-game winning streak and gave way to a three-game losing streak—all ACC opponents. What do you make of the season so far, and how do you evaluate a Hurricanes team that has just one win against a Power Five opponent?

I would say that this season has brought what most fans were expecting – inconsistency. The team is just not quite there yet. This season isn’t a failure, nor is it really a success. There was supposed to be growing pains with a new coach and a new system, and we are seeing it now as the Hurricanes have played tougher opponents.


Before we get to the play on the field specifically, what’s the transition to Mark Richt been like? Getting a tenured head coach with connections to the university looked like a coup from a far. Is that the reaction amongst Canes faithful? What’s surprised you so far through seven games?

The transition has been great. The school and the fans have welcomed him with open arms. There is a general understanding that bringing the U back to national prominence would take some time, even with someone of Richt’s track record. So, Canes faithful is generally being patient with the head coach, understanding that this is a process.

What’s surprised me most has been the ups and downs of the offense. Miami averaged over 40 points through the first four games, and that quickly dropped to under 20 for the next three. I understand that the difficulty of the opponent was higher over the last three weeks, but that is more of a drop off in offensive production than I expected.


When we looked at the 2016 Notre Dame season in August, Brad Kaaya looked like the best quarterback the Irish would face. The junior has a big-time national profile and has nice numbers so far, 12 TDs, 5 INTs, completing almost 62 percent of his throws. Evaluate Kaaya’s junior season.

Kaaya has played well, but has clearly not met the expectations that most fans had set for him prior to the season. The numbers look fine on paper, but what is misleading about stats is that they don’t tell you when the touchdowns and interceptions happened. In the biggest games of the season, Kaaya’s touchdowns have mainly come with the team being down, which to me, negates some of the luster of them. Many of the touchdowns have not been that impactful. Kaaya hasn’t buried any team over the past few weeks with a series of plays he has made. He has also already thrown more interceptions this season than he had thrown all of last season.

That being said, it is not all his fault. The offensive line has not been good, so Kaaya has not had the adequate time to consistently throw in the pocket. It seems that part of the reason for the struggle has been the adjustment to the new system and the play-calling of a new coach, which is perfectly understandable. Once again, it is not all on Kaaya, however I do not believe he has taken a legitimate step forward to this point in the season. He has been good, just not great.


Defensively, Manny Diaz has done a stellar job, the Hurricanes defense taking a huge step forward from 2015. What’s the strength of the unit? And how will they attack an Irish offense that looks in a bit of a slump?

The strength of the unit, especially early on, has been the defensive line. It is getting pressure to the quarterback. I expect the team to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, thus forcing him to make errors.


On the other side of the ball, Kaaya’s struggled with protection and the ground game isn’t necessarily putting up great numbers. What are the keys for the Hurricane offense, especially with Notre Dame finding its footing on the defensive side of the ball?

The key is the offensive line giving Kaaya the time he needs in the pocket to be effective, and making holes for running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby to rush in between the tackles, which they have not been able to do effectively since before playing Florida State.


This is a rivalry with some history, though not many games against each other. Neither team is playing particularly good football, but it still was a game Irish fans circled on the schedule. How big of a game is this for the Hurricanes and their fans?

Indeed, it can be agreed upon that both teams expected to be in better situations come this matchup, so the implications are quite different. However, this is a huge game for the moral of the Hurricanes’ team and fans. Miami may have lost three straight games, but all the losses have come to opponents with records over .500. UM as a whole is being patient with the program, but I doubt there will be much tolerance if the Canes lose to a team that is currently 2-5.


Any prediction on how this game goes? Any keys that’ll determine a victor in your mind?

The Hurricanes defense is dealing with the injury bug, but I expect it to come out with a vengeance after allowing Virginia Tech to drop 37 points on it. The defense will hold the Fighting Irish to fewer than 25 points, and the Canes run game will finally see some day light and have a big day.

Keys to the game:

· Establish offensive presence early (strike first blood)

· No big plays allowed on defense

· Offensive line must play strong

Score Prediction: Miami 31 – Notre Dame 21

Kelly stays in the moment

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Coming off a bye week, you could excuse Brian Kelly if he started looking ahead. To his impending hire at defensive coordinator, or his shifting focus to a recruiting class that suffered its first defection since Blake Barnett bolted for Alabama.

But the seventh-year head coach has his hands full fixing his current predicament, leaving any planning beyond Miami to the weeks after the regular season.

“My time is spent on the present right now. I don’t look too far ahead,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I’ve stayed with very similar thoughts about not mortgaging the future, not dwelling too much on the past, but living in the present right now.”

That commitment to right now hasn’t translated into wins yet. But it’s the best way to beat Miami, a talented football team with what might be the best quarterback the Irish will face, coming in on a three-game losing streak.

So while Irish fans wonder how this team will find a way to straighten out and win four of their next five to qualify for a bowl game, Kelly talked about the internal motivation this team has, playing for each other more than any postseason bonus.

“All these kids, they come to Notre Dame because they want to be challenged,” Kelly said. “They have incredible intrinsic motivation every day to get up, to go to class, to want to succeed. It’s why they come here. There’s an immense amount of pride. They want to freakin’ win. They want to win. They really don’t care whether they get a Visa gift card in the bowl game.

“They want to practice more. They want to be with their teammates. They want to be with their guys. They want to win football games. They want to be successful in the classroom. They want to be successful on the football field. That’s why they came here. That’s why I’m here. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we do every day, is think about how we can be more successful.”