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How we got here: Breaking down 4-2

Oct 8, 2013, 2:00 PM EDT

Rees Kelly

Brian Kelly won’t be joining us for his weekly Tuesday press conference, with the Irish having a week off before playing USC next weekend under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium. Kelly has talked a little bit about what the Irish coaching staff does with its in-season off weeks: player development for younger inexperienced players, rest and recovery for its front-line contributors, and a full self-assessment and scout for the coaching staff. We’ll be doing something similar here, looking over each position group to take stock of where this team is at the halfway mark.

First off, let’s look at some big picture things, comparing them to last season. With the bye week falling after four games last season, we’ve got a more complete picture today than we did after the Irish survived a 13-6 defensive slugfest to beat Michigan. But let’s try our best to compare apples to apples, and look at where this team is at the same point in each season.

2012: 6-0
2013: 4-2

Kelly has talked about the margin for error being razor thin, just as it was last season. Last season, the Irish had its defense to fall back on, giving Everett Golson a learning curve with a little bit of cushion. The defense carried the day for the Irish, holding opponents to just 52 points in the first six games of the season.

Like this season, the Irish faced three ranked opponents — No. 10 Michigan State, No. 18 Michigan, and No. 17 Stanford. Notre Dame won all three games, with only the victory over the Spartans being comfortable. This year, the Irish also squared off with three ranked teams, losing by two scores to both No. 17 Michigan and No. 14 Oklahoma, but beating No. 22 Arizona State.

Like last season, the second half of the schedule looks more favorable to the Irish. Notre Dame played one team ranked in the top ten last year during the home stretch, defeating No. 8 Oklahoma. This year, they’ve currently got only one ranked team on the slate, the season finale against No. 5 Stanford.


Outside of the 50-point outburst against Navy to open the season, the Irish looked average at best for much of the first half of last season. The 41-point outburst against Miami stands out, but it’s interesting that Golson only threw for 186 yards on 22 attempts against the Hurricanes, as the Irish racked up all of their points in the ground game, where they exploded for 376 yards.

That ground game seemed to come out of nowhere, considering the Irish ran for just 52 yards against Purdue, 122 yards against Michigan State, and 94 yards against the Wolverines. As impressive as the outburst was against the Hurricanes, perhaps even more impressive was the ground game the Irish established against Stanford, willing their way to a hard-earned 150 yards on 3.4 yards a carry.

Throwing the ball, Golson’s mark at the halfway point of the season was okay. He had thrown for just four touchdowns and three interceptions through six games, surprising when you look back at a 12-0 season with a filter of success. Even scarier, looking at Golson’s QBR, as equated by ESPN’s rankings, and he played some downright terrible games, with a 1.6 against Michigan a fairly large multiplier worst than Tommy Rees’ game against Oklahoma (a 10.3 QBR).

This season’s offense hasn’t found its rhythm running the ball yet, but they aren’t that far off of last year’s pace, especially when you consider this team will likely put up big numbers against subpar defensive teams like Air Force and Navy as well. The Irish are averaging just 136 yards per game on the ground, still only good for 91st in the country. Through the air they’re doing much better, but still a middle of the road 56th.


This isn’t much of a contest. Last season the Irish were giving up less than 10 points a game at this point, earning victories against Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford almost solely on the back of the defense. This season, the defense hasn’t played much better than mediocre in the team’s two losses, with the effort against Arizona State their best to date.

Last year’s early output was paced by Manti Te’o and a Stephon Tuitt. We all know Te’o’s heroics by now, but Tuitt came out of nowhere and had 6.5 sacks in the first six games of last season. The Irish just got to that number on the season on Saturday, thanks to the efforts of Prince Shembo and Tuitt.

Across the board the numbers aren’t all that close. This year’s defense is less stingy against the run. It’s giving up bigger plays against the pass. They aren’t taking the ball away as much, nor are they doing as well in the red zone.

Of course, that’s not always a fair standard to hold teams to, especially when last year’s defense put together a historic performance. But one look at the box score against Michigan and Oklahoma and see you the very different performances by these groups.

  1. getsome99 - Oct 8, 2013 at 11:22 PM

    Ok. Not that I have everyone’s attention. I just have one question. As a ND “fan”, why does Nudeman despise Tommy Rees so much and harbor so much animosity towards Keith Arnold?

    No childish back talk. Just answer the question.

    • danirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 10:36 AM

      1. You don’t have the authority or grace to decide who is a “fan” or who is not a “fan.” Critiquing the game/players/coach is one thing that fans do, I guess New York has no “fans”. Nudeman, while I don’t always agree has posted (lots) about why he think Tommy Rees is ineffective as a qb – some agree, some to a different extent. No animosity to Mr. Arnold just a frustration with the entire media who seems to think that Rees can’t do wrong.

      2. You actually asked two questions. How’s that for childish.

      3. I don’t know who you are (dickasman perhaps?) but all you’ve done is come on here and spam. Usually there are 40 – 80 posts on the story provided but it seems you’ve decided to control, mock, berate others, and BE the board. It’s like you are Monty Python because you Spammalot! At this time, a rather young article already has 11 posts by you. I shall reply to your spam with Holy Grail quotes. The first:


      • 4horsemenrideagain - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:09 PM

        Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

  2. getsome99 - Oct 8, 2013 at 11:23 PM

    Loadofwash is really Jerry Sandusky.

  3. getsome99 - Oct 8, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    @ winsner:

    We don’t need to go out of our way to appease posers like Nudeman. He may contribute insightful things about ND football, but why does he resent Tommy Rees and Keith Arnold? Is it because he was wrong all along and won’t let it go? And why the condescending posts towards anyone who recognizes that QB play is not the issue with this team?

  4. goirishgo - Oct 9, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    Tough couple of travel weeks and haven’t kept up with the banter until yesterday. Yikes.

    My two cents:

    -empty backfield doesn’t suit the players ND has. The threat of running must be there for Rees to be effective.

    -run the ball. The ground game is improving and should be the strength of this team. Going with the hot runner week to week is fine with me. Rees is clearly more effective when the run game is working.

    -defense played their best game of the year against ASU excepting the final drive. Tackling is getting better. Playing the run better. Clearly a speed issue against top tier teams.

    -I’m good with 9-3 this year. Grad losses, Golson, Spond, and injuries have conspired to make this a very difficult year.

    I’ll stick with Irish football as my topic. The name calling and finger pointing is a little much for me. It’s also not interesting or fun.

    BEAT SC!

    • domerboyirish - Oct 9, 2013 at 9:09 AM

      With TR’s inability to run, empty backfield sets must make opposing Defensive Coordinators giddy. I’d preach it all week. If ND goes empty backfield, audible to drop 8 and or 3 deep shell. Make TR beat us with his arm. Good teams will do it and win all day. Just look at what mobile QB’s have done to us. We set up in nickle or dime coverage, our D-line gets too far up the field, and we get gashed for a first down. TR does not give us that options.

      Please don’t misunderstand, I think TR is a serviceable QB but the offensive play calling must do a better job of playing to his strengths and weaknesses. We must at least have the threat of a draw or RB screen pass to keep defenses honest and passing lanes open.

  5. mtndguy - Oct 9, 2013 at 12:19 PM

    I find it interesting how time changes our view on history. Last year’s offense wasn’t very effective at all. Golson is a good quarterback, and he’s missed. Last year wasn’t a stellar performance for him. He wasn’t one of the top quarterbacks in the country by any stretch of the imagination. Reese has 3 more interceptions to this point in the season than Golson had last year, not good. Reese has thrown for 13 touch downs to this point in the season compared to just 3 for Golson at this same point last season. Yes 3 touchdown passes for Golson at this point last year, not good.

    The real difference this year isn’t the quarterback play. It’s not the play calling. It’s the defensive play. Take emotion out of the equation, and look at the numbers. Numbers don’t lie. Unless I’m missing something in the stat line, the difference between this year and last, besides wins/losses is the play of the ND defense.

  6. getsome99 - Oct 9, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    A good book for some of you on here is Pat Kirwan’s “Take Your Eyes Off the Ball”. It will change the way you see the game and end your obsession with QB talk. I think the Rees issue for some is personal more than objective. I hear myself and others repeatedly stating that Tommy Rees is not a great QB. My issue with Nudeman and friends is he gives too much credit and also too much blame on the QB for why Notre Dame wins and loses. It’s a very narrow point of view as has been proven in the past. Jimmy Clausen was great, but the team sucked. Everette Golson was subpar, but the team was great. Take it for what it’s worth.

  7. hyde - Oct 10, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    “Even scarier, looking at Golson’s QBR, as equated by ESPN’s rankings, and he played some downright terrible games, with a 1.6 against Michigan a fairly large multiplier worst than Tommy Rees’ game against Oklahoma (a 10.3 QBR).”

    I wonder what Tommy’s QBR would have been if he was pulled in the 2nd qtr. like Everett was pulled at Michigan.

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