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IBG: Questions before Pitt

Nov 7, 2013, 11:19 AM EDT


Another week, another IBG. But this week we’re shaking it up a bit. Tip of the cap to Tex, who thought things were getting a bit stale after the loss of the Subway Domer, and this is a pretty cool way to do thing.

In the spirit of collaboration, everybody submitted one question to the group. We all answer everybody’s questions below, and be sure to check out our partners at:

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
Strong and True

Play along in the comments, as I think a few of these questions might spur some (clean) debate:

From NDTex at Tommy Rees has very quietly put up some rather impressive passing numbers. His 22 TDs and 8 INTs are surprisingly not far off from Heisman candidate QBs such as Jameis Winston (24 TD, 6 INT), Johnny Manziel (26 TD, 8 INT), and Marcus Mariota (20 TD, 0 INT). While “Rees for Heisman” is an obvious stretch, especially since he isn’t a dual threat like the previously mentioned QBs, I’d wager tied 8th in the nation for TD passes is a lot more than most Notre Dame fans were expecting. Should we all be making a much bigger deal about this or should we wait and see how he ends the season?

I know people hammer on me all the time for this, but these are the types of numbers I expected from Rees. Tex kind of answers his own question when he mentions the whole dual-threat thing, as Mariota, Manziel or Winston wouldn’t be the weapon they are if they didn’t have big time wheels as well.

The best benchmark for Rees in my mind is Tony Pike. Brian Kelly’s veteran quarterback at Cincinnati put up big numbers in his final season, leading the Bearcats to an undefeated regular season. One look at his stats and you see a line that’s more similar to Rees than many would expect.

While Pike’s completion percentage is better at 62-percent, Rees is throwing for more yards an attempt and is just a few points behind in QBR. Adjust that for the schedule Rees has faced? You’re seeing a similar season (maybe even superior), something Irish fans didn’t think possible when looking at things on paper.

From Frank Vitovitch, Tarean Folston broke out in a big way against Navy last week with 140 yards.  How big of a role do you think the freshman back will play in the final three games and what level of production are you expecting from him down the stretch after his break through performance last weekend?

 The game against Pitt will be a nice barometer. I don’t think this turns into just the Folston show, but he’s going to certainly get the first chance to be the leading man, with George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel likely fitting play calls that better work to their skill-sets.

It won’t be easy sledding for the Irish ground game. We should keep an eye on Chris Watt and his injured PCL. Add to that that all three teams have a better statistical rush defense than Notre Dame (Pitt is 64th, BYU is 42nd and Stanford 11th) and if Folston does break out, the Irish have a great back on their hands.

From Mike Coffey, NDNation: Lots of comments after the game concerned the poor condition of the turf in Notre Dame Stadium and what can/should be done about it.  One of our number has contended the BYU game on November 23rd will be the last with the current grass in the Stadium.  What kind of a playing surface do you believe the Stadium should have and why?

I think Mike’s talking about me here. I just don’t think grass is the answer in Notre Dame Stadium, though the stadium renovation could be the key to making a hybrid surface like the one in Green Bay work.

As Brian Kelly mentioned, it isn’t just rolling out sod and tamping it down. Laying down multiple surfaces a season is expensive stuff, and so are the consultants and grass gurus that Notre Dame has brought in to help.

Part of playing in the house that Rockne built is dealing with the original plot of land and the drainage that was build all those years ago. Here’s an interesting article on the work that went into making the hybrid grass surface work at Lambeau. Not quite as simple as it seems.

The biggest reason I think getting rid of natural grass is important is that Notre Dame finally personnel that has the edge from a quickness and athletic perspective. This isn’t a team that’s going to grow the grass long when a visitor comes to town. The Irish practice both inside and out on FieldTurf. They’re playing a very large portion of their road games on the same surface.

I’m all for tradition, but when that tradition continues to include watching Irish ball carriers slip and fall in the backfield or linebackers fail to get traction as they cut back after an option quarterback, it’s time for a change.

 Aaron Horvath, Strong and True ( Due to the immense amount of injuries during the past few weeks to the Irish defense, do you think that playing both option teams on our schedule in back to back weeks was a good idea? And… Due to the thin defensive depth chart, what player who saw little playing time in the first nine games will breakout in the final three?

I’m going to steal Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s answer, when he said that playing back-to-back option games benefitted both teams. It was clear that Navy had a very good idea of what Notre Dame wanted to do. And it was also clear that the Irish made some changes after Air Force, like keeping Stephon Tuitt and the defensive line in a two-point stance.

There were reports that Notre Dame is likely getting out of the potential 2015 game with Air Force. If that’s the case, I don’t expect to see them on the schedule any time soon, especially with ACC games still trying to be crammed into a schedule that’s bursting at the seams.

For your bonus question, I think asking any defender to “standout” in these last three games is probably a little bit much. But I’m driving the bandwagon for Justin Utupo, a guy that’s going to play a lot of minutes down the stretch with the injuries up front.

Utupo was the LA Times lineman of the year, the same award that went to Troy Niklas. He had elite offers. He just doesn’t quite “fit” in this Irish defense, a bit of a tweener that’s bounced from defensive end to linebacker back to defensive line. But he’s been productive against Air Force and Navy and is the next man in for Bob Diaco.


Here’s the question I posed to the rest of the IBG and to you all:

From Keith Arnold, Inside the Irish – With the defense so beaten up, is winning out still possible? Would you prefer a lopsided match-up in a BCS bowl or a potential bowl win and possible 11-win season? Would the offseason narrative be better if ND won a second-tier bowl or lost a BCS bowl?


  1. getsome99 - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    BCS or bust!

  2. getsome99 - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    Even shorthanded, we should be able to pull out a win this week, although I expect it to be a tough game. Then we have a week off to get some players back to 100% for BYU (also winnable) and then Stanford, which would be our one game playoff to get in to a BCS bowl. We can’t win a BCS bowl game unless we play in one.

  3. ndgoldandblue - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:28 PM

    You gotta’ go with the BCS bowl. Just getting there would be a victory with a team this banged up. I know that I’ve been quoting a lot of movies lately, but here’s just one more from The Natural. Pop Fisher-“I didn’t care nothing about the Series. Win or lose, I would have been satisfied.” Same here. Just get there. Then, anything can happen.

  4. viktory2013 - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    I don’t think we can take out Stanford at Palo Alto or a top ten team in a BCS bowl. Not being negative; unfortunately, simply don’t think we’re quite that good.

    • tedlinko - Nov 7, 2013 at 3:07 PM

      Well here’s the thing. Stanford IS a legit top 10 team. If we do manage to win, then I think we can compete in a BCS game (especially w/ a month to prepare and get guys healed up).

      If we don’t beat the Cardinal, well then it’s all a moot point anyway because we won’t be in the BCS.

      • nudeman - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:13 PM

        Did you watch Stanford last night?
        Barring some form of divine intervention, no chance we beat them.

        Sorry, thumbs down just below

  5. ndnphx - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:37 PM

    I take the win out. We’re NOTRE DAME, for god’s sake.

    And then we show up for the bowl game too…

  6. North of Denver - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    1) Traditions: Playing USC and Navy are traditions. The alma mater at the end of the game is a tradition. Gold helmets are a tradition. Rubbing Knute’s nose in the Rock is a tradition. Grass fields are not a tradition… get rid of it.
    2) BCS definitely… and I don’t think we’ll lose.

  7. frostedluckycharms - Nov 7, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    An Irish prayer for PITT:

    May the Irish defense confuse you.
    May her linebackers and safeties bust you.
    May the offense of the Irish engulf you.
    May the plays of Brian Kelly befuddle you.

  8. nducsb - Nov 7, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    All CFB Teams have to push for a BCS bowl. Even if you do not win, the act of getting there puts you higher in the polls for the next season — and with us getting our QB back, that would boost us up even more.
    Also, with the way some of these “elite” SEC teams look this year, I think we would have a lagitimate chance at beating an LSU, a Mizzou. Heck, AUBURN is ranked 9th. AUBURN! I also would gladly take Miami, OK State, etc. You never know what a month off would do for the health of the team, either.

  9. goirishgo - Nov 7, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    Play to win every week. Otherwise, don’t keep score.

    Then bring on the best team available for the bowl game. Can’t beat the best if you’re afraid to play them.

  10. michaelcollins8 - Nov 7, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    To further the discussion on Tommy Rees, his passing efficiency in wins against FBS teams has been 163.31 with a 18-3 TD/Int ration. In losses, he has a 101.75 rating with 4 TDs and 5 Int.

    In the losses, Rees had a 101.75 rating with 4 TDs and 5 Ints.

    Mariota, Manziel, and Winston average 26-30 attempts per FBS game. In our wins, Rees has averaged 27. In our losses, Rees averaged 37 attempts.

    An improved rushing attack and lower scoring defense should contribute to lower averages and improved passing efficiency. We’ve had 5 games where our rushing averaged less than 4 yds per attempt and scored only 5 rushing TDs prior to the Navy game. The scoring defense is giving up 11 more pts per game than all of last year.

    Comparing longer passes completed against FBS teams:
    Manziel has 73 passes > 15 yds, 32 > 25 yds.
    Winston – 65 passes >15 yds, 22 > 25 yds
    Mariota – 58 passes > 15 yds, 29 > 25 yds
    Rees – 54 passes > 15 yds, 24 > 25 yds.

    How many losses would we have this year without Rees? Certainly we would not be talking about a possible BCS bowl.

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Nov 7, 2013 at 2:24 PM

      how many losses without rees?

      the better question might be how many wins without rees? maybe 2 wins, 3 tops.

    • viktory2013 - Nov 8, 2013 at 3:08 AM

      I could arrange numbers to compare my I.Q. to Albert Einstein’s, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. To compare Rees to those qb’s is fairly similar. To anyone that has seen all of them play, even mentioning them in the same breath is embarrassing.

      • nudeman - Nov 8, 2013 at 12:24 PM

        We owe Tommy Rees a “thank you” for his service and being a loyal ND guy.
        Just like we owe about 30 – 40 other guys who’ve contributed the same thing.
        Why he’s always being cited as some sort of savior, standing tall above all the other ND players escapes me. How many wins without Lou? Jaylon? Tuitt? Z. Martin?
        How many wins last year without KLM, who started because Lynch left?

        If you watched Mariota last night, even on an off night you can see how deficient Rees is.
        Mariota can get out of the pocket, evade rushers, throw on the run and run for 1st downs
        I believe he’s draft eligible this year (RS soph/true junior), and if so he’ll go in the 1st round.
        ND has to game plan around Rees’s inability to do any of this and it badly limits the offense

        Tommy Rees will be an UFA, make it through a couple preseason games then go do something else
        He’ll have been a starting QB at ND, have an ND degree, and be in great shape to have a great life

      • getsome99 - Nov 8, 2013 at 7:46 PM

        Nobody ever compared Tommy Rees to Notre Dame legends. The Rees debate was about Rees versus Hendrix. I think it was settled by unanimous vote.

  11. charlie617 - Nov 7, 2013 at 2:59 PM

    Would I prefer to go to a BCS bowl, even if it’s one in which we’re incredibly outmatched? Absolutely. You want to measure yourself against the best, even if you end up losing.

    Would a win against NIU or Boise State in the Pinstripe bowl lead to a better offseason narrative? No question. Last year’s blowout cast a pall over the entire offseason. No reason to think this year would be any different. A win, even if it’s against an inferior opponent, gives us positive momentum heading into next year.

    • mcirish27 - Nov 7, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      I concur on both accounts, but don’t pencil us in for an easy win over NIU or Boise. Playing NIU would mean facing the best QB we’ve faced all year. Jordan Lynch is prolific – and more than mobile. Scary. And no one needs me to remind them of the traditional powers that Boise has consistently beaten over the last decade in big games, with a ton of eyeballs on them.

      If we’re talking Ball State, then yes, that might be a different conversation. A school best known for Brady Hoke? The guy with the mutiny on his hands (although he’s also the guy who’s 2-1 against the Irish….ugh):

      • mtflsmitty - Nov 7, 2013 at 9:27 PM

        No need to besmirch the good name of Ball State by reminding us of Hoke.

        Did you see the Cardinals last night? Nice to have a good team in Muncie. That RB is really good. But jeez there are run of the mill high school stadiums bigger here in TX.

  12. irishaggie - Nov 7, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    Definitely a BCS game. We can compete with good teams we just play down to the level of lesser teams, that’s why the resume doesn’t look very impressive. I would rather lose to FSU then beat NIU.

  13. lambda02750 - Nov 7, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    I would take the BCS bowl…by that time, we would potentially have more rested players than we would if we had to play before Christmas. I really hope they can win out, but my gut feeling is that we will find a way to win this week and then drop the games to BYU and Stanford. The BYU game could go either way, but I do not see us going out to Palo Alto and coming home with a win. I can guarantee one thing though…I will be cheering my ass off every step of the way…GO IRISH!

  14. fnc111 - Nov 7, 2013 at 4:53 PM

    Let’s go Irish!!!

    Block out the injuries.

    Forgot about the idiot head coach.

    Beat Pitt and make Mark May cry.

    • scottatnd - Nov 7, 2013 at 9:14 PM

      Once again, who is your coach of choice for ND?

      • nudeman - Nov 7, 2013 at 10:26 PM

        He has no answer there. Maybe he’ll say Saban, or something ridiculous like that.
        He and c4 just like to bitch.

  15. mtflsmitty - Nov 7, 2013 at 9:30 PM


    Is the point of the questions to “borrow” a question posed previously by your readership? Your question seems curiously similar to one posed in your mail bag (or another comment section) from last week.

    Imitation is the best compliment.

  16. nudeman - Nov 7, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    I don’t normally like the comparisons that go like “well, A beat B and B beat C; and we beat A so we’re clearly better than everyone”. As a cousin of mine once said “That’s how you end up with Army being better than Alabama”.

    But there have been so many data points this year regarding ND’s stature, it just can’t be ignored.

    ND looked lackluster against Temple. Temple is … well, they’re Temple.
    ND struggled against Purdue, couldn’t run the ball at all. Then Wisconsin ran for something like 500 yards against them.
    ND was dominated by OK, who has looked miserable of late, including tonight.
    ND barely beat Navy, who lost to W. KY and Toledo.
    ND lost to UM who has been awful this year. Almost lost to Indiana and another clown team (Akron?)
    ND offense looked ridiculous against USC in 2nd half, and they gave up 62 to ASU.

    There’s something to be said for the fact that won these games. And these are games Weis would have lost. But man … the signs are there that ND is a team that is slightly above average at best.

    The Stanford game (beating the hell out of Oregon tonight) could be brutal.
    Gaffney running against a patchwork D line. Ouch.
    I might need my blankie.

    • viktory2013 - Nov 8, 2013 at 3:18 AM

      Unfortunately, very true. Watching Stanford pummeling Oregon tonight made me cringe. Even when Oregon stacked 9 men in the box and Stanford made no effort to conceal their intentions, they couldn’t stop Gaffney. They had a team averaging 53 points a game shut out for 3 quarters. This was the #2 team in the nation. We couldn’t stop Navy. Come on guys, time for a reality check.

    • getsome99 - Nov 8, 2013 at 8:16 PM

      True, but it’s about the progression of the program. We’ve cleared the necessary hurdles in just 4 years and the next step is to be elite – like Alabama. Pivotal next two years to determine if we’ve closed the gap from the BCS championship game.

  17. rocket1988 - Nov 7, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    I agree with Nude. ND would have to play like they did against Oklahoma last year times two to compete with Stanford. Then have to turn around and replicate it again in January. But that’s why we play the games.

  18. deaconjack - Nov 8, 2013 at 5:50 AM

    The time for a reality check will come soon enough. I have been surprised many times as this is still a game played by kids. I have raised four and remember well how difficult that was. Coaching them must be be just as difficult. Perhaps the young men Notre Dame recruits don’t have the same animal instincts as those recruited by other schools but I think our product is considerably better prepared for life.

  19. domer61 - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    I think Stanford answered the “win out” question. Ain’t gonna happen. Indeed a 7-5 season is still a real possibility. ND against the BCS teams would not be wise even if they win the three remaining games.

    • nudeman - Nov 8, 2013 at 10:39 AM

      A harsh reality but exactly right.
      Pitt plays ND tough EVERY year. Should have lost to them last year.
      BYU is very good.
      Stanford could be very ugly for ND. I think Gaffney could run over a school bus.
      10-2 is possible; 10% chance
      9-3 …. 40% chance
      8-4 …..30%
      7-5 ….20%

      Anyone who watched this game and Baylor/OK last night and thinks ND is a BCS team … wrong.
      It’s the Body Odor Bowl against NIU, coming to a channel near you.

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