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Michigan State mailbag

Sep 19, 2013, 11:42 AM EDT

TJ Jones, Taylor Richards AP

Another week, another mailbag.

I’ve been enjoying the camaraderie in the comments section. It’s starting to feel like our big, dysfunction, happy family is starting to get along. Maybe 12-win regular seasons really help the spirits!

As usual, I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Feel free to correct me in the comments (also as usual).

@dickasman: Will Tuitt and Nix breakout this game? How’s MSU OL?

Ah, Dicky. A football question! So nice of you. I think this is one of the more interesting match-ups going because the offensive line for the Spartans has been pretty shaky. Just a quick glance through their depth chart and you’ll see five underclassmen in their two deep, including starters at left tackle, center, and right tackle.

So if there’s a game for the Irish to get some pressure on a young quarterback who up until last week was 12 for 27 for 74 yards, this might be the game.

@JoshHyde: Why does the o-line look worse than last year?

Are you sure it does? This group has only given up one sack in 112 passing attempts. While the rushing average is a meager 4.1 yards per carry, I think it’s a product of the running backs trying to find some rhythm while looking to establish “the guy” and work through five ball carriers.

Let’s turn back the clock so you can remember where this offensive line was at the same time last year. After beating Navy like a drum and running all over them, the run game ran for 1.4 yards a carry against Purdue and 3.6 yards a carry against Michigan State. And through three games, the Irish gave up a whopping eight sacks last season while breaking in Everett Golson.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I disagree with your assertion.


@JCirba: Does Tuitt, Shembo, or anybody reach double digit sacks this year?

Can I tell you after Saturday? I think you’ve obviously hit on the two guys that can do it. But we’ve yet to see Shembo get on track, even though he was mighty close to three or four sacks against Temple. (That said, his sacks come in bunches.)

This weekend looks like it could be a favorable match-up for both guys, but you might see a bunch of max protect looks to make sure this doesn’t happen. Before the season started, I thought both Tuitt and Shembo could get to double digits. We’ll know better after this weekend.

@mfmitchell88: Do you think it would be beneficial for Kelly & co. to eval. their own tendencies? We seem to be very predictable/scouted.

Every coaching staff self scouts. Brian Kelly’s does too. (Bill Belichick came in during the offseason and did some evaluation of how the Irish systems ran, so it’s not for lack of brain power.)

That said, I think the one criticism that’s been valid so far of the offense is that it’s been a bit predictable with some of it’s formational looks. Now Oregon is mighty predictable with its formations and tendencies, too. Stopping it is another story.

The offense will likely continue to add wrinkles as the season progresses. They did against Michigan and opened things up in the second half against Purdue. But yeah — I get that when you see Daniel Smith and Troy Niklas spread wide with TJ Jones in the slot that the Irish are likely throwing a screen to Jones. And the Irish’s screen offense wasn’t all that effective against Purdue. So a few change-ups are probably necessary.

don74: Of the following what group is most likely to “break out” this week: The coaching staff (BK, CM, BD), the ILB’s, the secondary or the RB’s? OL not mentioned, if the RB’s break out they did their job.

I’m going to say that the inside linebackers could have a nice Saturday. It’s going to be a physical match-up between the front sevens, and I think Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Jarrett Grace should log quite a few tackles.

One thing to keep an eye on: Connor Cook. He’s an elusive kid and that’s given this defense some pains. A big play free secondary performance would also be very nice, and could spell victory for the Irish.

BlackIrish23: Looking beyond Daniels and Jones, who else do you see as having the potential to create additional match up problems from all these teams daring Rees to beat them with his arm?

I think this is the best personnel Notre Dame has had at wide receiver since the early Weis days, and probably much deeper. Forcing any team to look past their best two receivers is a mixed bag, but I think ND feels confident that a guy like Chris Brown can do some damage against defenses, especially as a third option. And just because we haven’t seen much of him yet, Corey Robinson is a guy that’ll be a real headache to defensive coordinators.

What about Troy Niklas? A 6-7, 270-pound Thor lookalike doesn’t seem all that fun to cover. And we’ve seen James Onwualu and Will Fuller get their chances as well. And CJ Prosise had a big catch after having a nice spring in the slot.

If Michigan State tries putting their secondary on an island with the Irish receivers, it could be a long day if Tommy Rees is accurate.

(Speaking of Tommy…)

@dudeacow: Tommy Rees would have passed 1000 yards already if not for a few drops. If he plays like he’s been playing for the rest of the season, his stat line will look like this: 4200 yards, 61%, 28-8 td/int. too early to include in an all-America conversation?

I believe the stat I saw this week is that Rees is leading all quarterbacks in the country in yardage against FBS teams. Project out those numbers for a full season and indeed — Rees will be having a very nice senior season, though I think it’s too early to talk about things like All-American awards.

I’m cutting this answer short until after this weekend. Then we can take another look.

andy44teg: How much stock do you seriously put into MSU having the top ranked D in the country this early in the year? Before last week Alabama had like the 115th ranked offense and we all saw how they spanked TAMU’s D.

Ah, good old sample size questions. Of course, there’s a big grain of salt along with that stat, but it sure sounds good. (Kind of like beating Michigan State when they were a “top ten” team last year.) No, they haven’t played anyone. But they’ve got really talented personnel and the defense has scored almost more points than the offense.

So underestimate them at your own peril.

@mtflsmitty: Based on your experience reading posts from the characters over the years, please write a short, fictional bio for:
– Historian
– Bern
– Dick
– Nude

I am staying so far away from this question it’s ridiculous. But I’d probably end up asking my mom for the answer to this one, as she spends quite a bit of time reading through the comments, asking me about the crew and worrying about all of you when skirmishes erupt and naughty things are said.

(Perhaps I’ll put her on the job and get back to you guys next week. But don’t get your hopes up, she’s a busy lady!)

I only step in once in a while. Most writers stay out of the comments section for their own mental health. And because, well — we’re writing the articles.

sm29irish: I know Prince and Ishaq are ahead of him but do you think Romeo Okwara could be used situationally to put more pressure on qb haven’t seen much of him this year? Also, what happened to the leprecat formation where Slaughter was successful. I think Shumate or Jaylon would really flourish in that position if it was implemented again at times.

This question was right on the brink of being too long to answer. But here goes: I don’t think Okwara is necessarily the answer as a situational pass rusher. He’s always the guy that swings over to the field side, which says more about his athleticism than his pass rush abilities.

What the leprecat Slaughter? I thought that was ND’s version of the Wildcat, which was used sparsely early in the Kelly era. What you’re likely thinking of is when Slaughter dropped down to play outside linebacker, taking over for Prince Shembo when he was at the Drop position. This was more of a product of personnel deficiencies, and Jaylon Smith is the answer there.

Smith’s been put in that spot already and done a nice job. As for Shumate, I think he’s finding life a bit more complicated than last season, where he covered slot receivers and let his athleticism take over. Don’t give up on him yet though. At this point in Harrison Smith’s career, Irish fans were ready to run him out of town.

sweetnd: 1) How much longer will Kiffin be coach at U$C? Forever (I hope). Or if he loses four games this season, until about December 1, after they get beat by UCLA again.
2) Why does Zahm suck? Why is the sky blue? (Love dorm rivalry questions…)
3) If Tommy throws for 4,000 yards and 28 td’s will he get drafted? If so what round? Good question. I don’t think so, but he’ll find his way to a training camp.
4) what’s your prediction? Will ND cover the spread? Predictions aren’t my thing. But if the past two seasons are any indication, this game will feel closer than the score is.

onward2victory: Coach Kelly won’t come out and say it, but do you think TJ Jones is healthy? He got banged up against Michigan and didn’t seem like himself against Purdue.

He looked pretty healthy making that circus catch near the pylon last week. I think Jones is fine, though he was a little banged up after the Michigan game. (I spoke with him then and he said he was fine, only that he got a pretty bad stinger, something he hasn’t had since high school.)

If Jones ISN’T healthy, you’ll probably see him come off punt return first. And if it’s an upper body issue, that’s far better than an ankle tweak or a sore knee. Let’s remember, Jones only hit 50 catches in a season for the first time last year. He’s already got 19 catches through three games.

lambda02750: Do you anticipate an increase in carries for the freshman backs this weekend?

Not really. But if one of the guys gets hot, they’ll keep getting the rock. But I just don’t think this is the type of game where you go out and force a ball into the least experienced guy on the team’s hands.

Let’s not turn this into another one of those only-at-Notre-Dame self-fulfilling prophesies, where fans get so upset that it turns Greg Bryant upset, and he starts looking around for better opportunities. We routinely saw Charlie Weis’s teams wilt down the stretch when the negativity just overwhelmed them.

(That and a lack of a defensive front…)

  1. irishinmich - Sep 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    Hi, Mrs. Arnold! Your son is a great writer. Have a great weekend :). Haha

  2. almoose - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Hi. Well I think its always fun to watch the Irish. Great to go the Campus and be part of the experience. I do believe they will win 8 this year. Down from last year but they don’t have the breakout Runner QB, or Tight End they had. The defensive line is OK strong but not the NFL caliber that is needed. The guys are Big but the NFL type are big without the huge bellies that go with the ND line. Being strong does not mean fat and strong. Look at the NFL and you see big but much less fat then on ND. Why do I say this? Well for the guys to do the pass rush they have to move! They get no inspiration for Coach Kelley. I am worried he is not in great shape, The belly gives a bad example to the guys you want in shape. The good side they are trying and since they are they will win 8. Lose to at least Michigan ST, Stanford, and OKC. Good luck in trying to figure it out. The Kelly distraction hurt the team when the prospects thought he was leaving and so they decided to go elsewhere. .

    • don74 - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:24 PM

      Alrighty then………………..Dick, keep an eye on almoose. He may need your help.

    • ibleedirish - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      Now that’s what I like: a good, focused comment to compliment Keith’s fine writing.

    • NotreDan - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:40 PM

      uh…. what?

      So, let me make sure I understand your “logic”

      Kelly’s Belly makes Jelly Jiggle and defense Smelly?

    • goirishgo - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:32 PM

      Welcome to the group, Borat!

    • mayo1010 - Sep 20, 2013 at 12:09 PM

      c4—is that you? LMFAO!!!! Put down the crack pipe dude you seem to be somewhat touched.

  3. alsatiannd - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    Will H.R. Puffinstuff and Teddy Ruxspin be coming to South Bend this weekend? I hope so.

  4. NotreDan - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    OMG! KA, your Mom reads these?

    OK fellas, clean it up. Nude, remind me; no posting when I’m drunk.

    • nudeman - Sep 19, 2013 at 12:50 PM

      Dude, that’s when you’re at your very best. I can’t in good conscience stop you from that.
      That would be like asking Koufax to throw only change-ups

      • ndgoldandblue - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:38 PM

        nude, what’s with the metaphors lately? You’ve turned into ITI’s version of Jesus. I swear there’s a missing Bible verse somewhere in which an apostle says, “Will you just quit with the parables already, and just give me a straight answer?!”

      • NotreDan - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:41 PM


        I love metaphor, not only does it make the author looks smart, it’s a very subtle way to insult people.

      • NotreDan - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:44 PM


        I kill me. Looks smart.


      • nolanwiffle - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        That’s actually a simile.

      • NotreDan - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:43 PM

        only on a Notre Dame board.

  5. sdemp - Sep 19, 2013 at 1:28 PM

    Tommy Reese will never be an All-American QB, stop looking at stats and start watching the games.

    He can not win a big game, looks scared and confused against “good” teams, and does nothing to make those around him better.

    • don74 - Sep 19, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      Can we reserve judgment until the Sunday after the ASU game.

      BK says TR is different.

      We’ve seen flashes

      He spits the bit against Michigan

      Plays clean against the weak sister of the Big 1X Purdue

      Michigan State, OK, ASU. All quality teams

      If TR plays all 3 clean we can start with the famous restraint we ND fans have when it comes to one of our own

      2 out of 3 clean….better than we thought

      1 out of 3…..130 comments on the Good, Bad and Ugly

      0 out of 3… will be cheap for USC

      The statement might be better said “he hasn’t won the big game and other than everyone saying he is different there is no evidence he can but there are 3 big ones coming up, let’s see what he can do.”

      I hope the kid plays well. It’s more fun to root for a winner. If he doesn’t most likely ND loses and that sucks. I am rooting for him but not putting any money on it.

      • nudeman - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:03 PM

        Big boy games this year are UM, MSU (borderline), ASU, OK and USC.

        Right now, he’s 0-1 this year and 1-5 lifetime.

        If in the remaining 4 big boy games he goes 4-0, I will file the petition to canonize him.
        3-1, no canonization, but maybe a request for a signed TR jersey for Christmas.
        2-2, start the countdown for Golson’s return.
        1-3 Christmas cancelled
        0-4 When’s Hanukkah?

      • don74 - Sep 19, 2013 at 3:06 PM

        Is the one win USC with the defender falling down? I cant remember another.

      • nudeman - Sep 19, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        The one win was in the rain against USC, 2010
        Barkley hurt
        USC started a QB (Mitch Mustain) who never started another game, before or after.
        USC wide receiver dropped a perfectly thrown long pass with noo ND defender within 20 yds
        Rees threw 4 INTs and fumbled once.

        Calling him “terrible” in that game would be an insult to terribleness everywhere

      • bearcatirishfan - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:17 PM

        You forgot Stanford that’s a really big boy game they got grass feed beef Eatin mofos on those lines. In fact , if it weren’t for the hippy students they were going to start a food science program with a slaughter house to to have fresh beef on sight. Unfortunately, the have to pretend to eat tree bark.

      • ndfaithful - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:24 PM

        Hey Nude,

        You say TR is 1-5 lifetime in big boy games. I think you and I assess TR about the same way. But I’m wondering where you get 1-5 from.

        You gave him USC in 2010.
        Wouldn’t you give him credit for beating nationally ranked Utah in 2010?
        What about the win in the bowl game in 2010 against Miami?
        We could award fractions for the winning score against Stanford last year and winning against Michigan when EG sh!t the bed.

        All in all, I’m with you on the ‘wait and see’ section. I think he’ll end up in the start the countdown for EG’s return category.

        Just two more cents…

      • nudeman - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:41 PM

        I can’t give him a big boy win for Utah.
        They were exposed that year as being not so hot. And the definition of “big boy” is a team that is a major rival and a perennially strong program. Where’s Utah been since then?

        Miami? Borderline, but survey says “no”. Their program was on the way down. They weren’t elite in any regard.

        Fractions? I don’t do fractions

        Michigan, 2013: Yes, EG sh** the bed. But Rees didn’t start and didn’t exactly light it up. Put up 13 points despite the ND defense generating 6 turnovers. That’s the type of thing Putin doesn’t consider “exceptional”. Me either.

      • irish4006 - Sep 19, 2013 at 7:37 PM

        “Calling him “terrible” in that game would be an insult to terribleness everywhere” – LOL.

        He looks much better this year. I will keep being an optimist until I see otherwise.

        We looked even more clueless (if that is possible) against UM than we did against Alabama in the NC. The whole team sucked.

      • North of Denver - Sep 20, 2013 at 1:13 AM


        Knock off the Rees-us negativity, right now!

        He’s much improved this year and you’ll eat your words. No supper for you!


        Keith’s Mom

  6. goirishgo - Sep 19, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    I like his body language, confidence and improved leadership TY. He’ll play better in big games as the season progresses.

  7. steincj36 - Sep 20, 2013 at 12:08 AM

    Whoever is doing our self scouting needs to be demoted… Like now. My wife tells me I should be a D coordinator because I can read every play before the snap. Little does she know that ND is the most predictable offense in FBS. Probably more predictable than the 100% option service academies.

  8. getsome99 - Sep 21, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    So if it’s an ugly win, it doesn’t count? You would seriously give EG credit for the Stanford win last year? Nudeman has every excuse in the book for how Rees got his wins, but then contradicts himself by giving Golson credit for winning ugly. Golson has (1) win against a good team and that’s Oklahoma. But based on the total body of work, I’m convinced Rees would have had similar success. Golson’s performance against Alabama was telling and we would have had a better shot with Rees.

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