IBG: Bring on MICHIGAN! (Loud Noises!)


Quite a week. A rivalry that’s not a rivalry brought out some original storytellers, and added even more focus to a football game that looks like it could be a great one. We’ll break down some match-ups that are worth watching as we lead up to the game, but now’s the time for our weekly Irish Blogger Gathering.

I had the chance to ask Notre Dame’s new resident blogger, Aaron Horvath, some questions about the big game under the lights. I answered some questions from NDTex over at HerLoyalSons.com. Frank over at UHND joined the IBG as well, so things are getting crazy.

For more IBG, check out the following updates:

Subway Domer
Her Loyal Sons
Strong and True

Let’s get down to my pressing questions. Give your answers below in the comments:

1) So much of the talk this week has been about things that don’t matter. Let’s talk about some things that actually do. For Notre Dame to exit Ann Arbor victorious on Saturday night, name the one thing that both the offense and defense MUST DO?

To leave Michigan victorious on Saturday (or early Sunday morning) the Irish must do a few things well.

First off, on the offensive side of the ball, the Irish must develop the running game early. I think this goes without saying and there hasn’t really been any games in which we have seen Chuck Martin as the offensive coordinator that the Irish haven’t attempted to run the ball early. You may retort that against Temple we didn’t, but you need to remember that the Irish did run the ball and gash the Owls in the early downs before throwing over the top to DaVaris Daniels for the two early scores.

On defense I am going to channel my inner Kory Minor for the key to winning this contest – BIG PLAYS. Kory says that in any big game, the team that makes the big plays (game changers) is the team that will give themselves the best opportunity to win. We didn’t see any big plays from the defensive this past week outside of one sack from Stephon Tuitt, but from watching the game, it didn’t seem like the scheme defensive coordinator Bob Diaco put together was focused around creating pressure. Look for that to change this Saturday.

2) Last season, Notre Dame managed to force Denard Robinson into a career worst game by bottling him up in the pocket. (Up until that point he had become one of the all-time historic villains in Irish football lore.) Last weekend, Connor Reilly(?!?) shredded the Irish defense by scrambling his way to chain-moving first downs. What does the defense need to do to slow down Devin Gardner?

Between the opening weekend win against Temple and this weekend many things will change in the defensive scheme. First off, the Temple game really reminded me of the Nevada season opener a few seasons back that Notre Dame won 35-0. The scoreboard looks like the defense played lights out, but in reality they were gashed for some yardage at times and allowed the Wolfpack to drive down the field.

The Temple game was very similar.

One thing I expect to change is the pressure being brought by the linebacking corps. Additionally, watching the Temple game, it seemed like the secondary was playing a lot of shell/umbrella coverage, keeping the receivers in front and being happy with Temple nickel and dime’ing them down the field.

In short, look for more man coverage from the secondary with a cover two look over the top with safeties and the outside backers responsible for coverage in the secondary.

3) Ever fiber of my being wants to stop talking about this rivalry, so don’t answer what this rivalry means to a guy that didn’t attend Notre Dame. Instead, tell me about a mismatch that the Irish need to exploit on Saturday night.

What rivalry? From my point of view the biggest rivalry between the state of Indiana and Michigan is from the “gum-throwing game” between the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan … With the Hoosiers down 36-33, they were driving with around a minute left, then this happened… Watch the video, I am still livid to this day.


(KA Note: You know that Indiana football fans take things seriously when the best video Aaron could find looks like this. But that was a terrible call.)

Now that I just took a few minutes to throw koosh balls at plate-glass windows I feel much better …

The mismatch that Notre Dame must exploit is up front. All season long this will probably be a common theme for every Notre Dame football game. Honestly it comes down to the point of attack and if Louis Nix can take two Wolverines with him on every player that will open up lanes for ‘backers to either blitz or get to the running back. Michigan’s all-american tackle will probably minimize the impact of the defensive end on his side, so the rest of the line will need to step up.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”