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Bye-week Six Pack: Enjoy the rest

Nov 15, 2013, 2:32 PM EST

Bob Diaco hat

The week off couldn’t be coming at a better time for Notre Dame (and its fans). Brian Kelly gave his team a break from practice this week, letting bodies mend before a very important date with BYU. It also gives everybody else a chance to catch their breath and enjoy a weekend of stress-free football.

The point of our headline is two-fold. Enjoy the week off. And enjoy the rest of the season. Because we’re inching closer to the abyss, when we’ll have nine long months to talk about what next season will look like.

With that, here’s your bye week six pack.

Time to get healthy. 

Nobody wants to complain about injuries. But the reality of any critique of Bob Diaco’s defense should include the fact that Diaco has been without some key contributors for much of the year.

If the off-week is kind to the Irish, getting back Kona Schwenke and Ishaq Williams would be a huge help to a front seven that’s going to need to bring a hardhat next weekend against BYU. It’ll give Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix and Sheldon Day a much needed (and productive) back-up in Schwenke, and allow Williams to take some of the crossover snaps at defensive end and Cat linebacker.

Can this team get off the mat like Brian Kelly’s first three?

It’s hard for some to remember just how dark it was before Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season. The loss to Florida State kicked off a toxic offseason where even the most sensible Irish fans started to wonder if Brian Kelly was the right guy for the job.

A Herculean schedule awaited. An unproven quarterback was thrust into play. And a group that disappointed the previous season galvanized and put together one of the most unexpected seasons in Notre Dame history.

There is a mental toughness that’s been instilled in Kelly’s first three seasons. We saw it early, when the Irish rallied after a heartbreaking loss to Tulsa and came out of a bye week to stomp No. 14 Utah 28-3. We’ve seen in the past few seasons, spearheaded by leaders like Manti Te’o and Tyler Eifert.

Will this team take the emotions of Senior Day and channel them towards putting together a complete performance?

Will a leader emerge on the field in these final three games?

The Irish are in desperate need of a leader to carry this team on their shoulders. That’s not to say that the three captains on this team, Zack Martin, TJ Jones and Bennett Jackson, aren’t carrying their weight in the locker room, but this team is in desperate need of a leading man. 

TJ Jones has played the best football of his career these past few weeks, catching touchdowns in last seven games. But Jones wasn’t sharp against Pitt (even if he was prolific), opening the game up with a drop on a screen pass, then fumbling a ball deep in the Pitt red zone.

Martin’s play along the offensive line has been what it always has: rock solid. But the unit hasn’t carried the offense the way they’re needed to, especially late in the year when a running game is at a premium.

Jackson has had an up-and-down season. He’s been exposed some in coverage while missing some tackles after a very physical and clean-tackling year. Part of that is playing in a secondary with safeties still learning their jobs, but taking away the football is at a premium this time of year and the Irish are the only ones doing the giving.

These three guys should have the best opportunity to lead, but if the Irish want to turn this season into something more than just average, a dominant performer will need to emerge on both sides of the ball. It could be a veteran (Tommy Rees, Prince Shembo) or a newcomer (Tarean Folston, Jaylon Smith). Whoever it is, they’ll need to step up.

With the week off, the Irish staff gets a jump-start on the final push to recruiting. 

A nice benefit to the off-week is the ability to hit the recruiting trail. Irish coaches have scattered across the country, checking in on prospects new and old, and extending some offers at positions that still seem like needs for next year’s roster.

Mike Denbrock hit the West Coast. Kerry Cooks was in Texas. Our friends over at Irish Illustrated have the scoop on a busy week, but expect to see some moves sooner than later on the Big Board.

While it might not be possible to watch BYU, get an early peek at Stanford this weekend. 

There’s not much to learn this weekend from BYU, who will be battling Idaho State, a FCS team with a 1-6 record in the Big Sky conference. But last weekend gave a good blue-print for beating the Cougars, as Gary Andersen’s Wisconsin Badgers beat BYU 27-17 in a game that wasn’t really that close.

But if you’re looking for another chance to watch Stanford, they’ve got an intriguing matchup with USC slated for prime time Saturday evening. A week after storming out and dominating Oregon, then holding on for dear life, it’ll be an interesting test for David Shaw’s team against a USC squad that’s got plenty of talent, but more than a few deficiencies.

Enjoy the weekend. 

After a few stressful football Saturdays, forgive one writer for getting away from the keyboard this weekend. (Unless something big happens, of course.) With Thanksgiving around the corner and the season coming to a close, it’s a good reminder that this crazy game we all follow is a lot of fun, but can be a bit too all consuming.

As I finalize my trip to South Bend for the final home game of the year, it’d be great to get started on an Inside the Irish meet-up, with a few friendly watering holes in South Bend likely to welcome any/all of us for a few cold ones.

So if anybody plans on being in South Bend next weekend, drop a note in the comments or hit me up on Twitter and we’ll find a place for Friday evening.

  1. viktory2013 - Nov 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM

    Honestly think giving the bowls a pass this year might be a good idea. There was a time when ND only accepted bids to one of the then big four (Orange, Sugar, Cotton, or Rose). The only prospect worse than playing in the pizza bowl in Detroit against Ball St. is losing to one of these glorified high schools (which unfortunately is a definite possibility) and having to hear a year’s worth of ridicule. It’s a no win scenario. As blase as this team has been, it’s highly unlikely they will put any effort into a game of this level, I can’t see it providing any recruiting use, and even a win will be met with a yawning “So what?” by pretty much everyone. You really don’t want to pull an SC in last year’s Sun Bowl and get whipped by some city college team. Just finish up these last two and get on with next season.

  2. yllibnosredna - Nov 18, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    Still smarting from that Pitt loss. Haven’t gotten over it. Inexcusable. Sorry you don’t like the word Keith, but that’s exactly what it is. Paul Chryst sucks. Pitt sucks massively. Not acceptable no matter how you slice it.

    However, I gotta say that IF ND was somehow able to win out–and that completely depends on which Stanford team shows up–it would be hard to see this season (without Golson) as a failure. Don’t think ND will beat Stanford, but I am not so sure they’ll get blown out either. Furthermore, I think a win over BYU and a Boise St. or whoever else they play before New Years is fairly plausible. BK’s teams have shown a bit of resilience following bad losses. And this team would have gotten waxed in a BCS game (even with Golson) so a 10 win season (even with a win in a no-name bowl) is about the best this team could have hoped for…Point being, there still seems to be a lot to play for.

  3. oxnardpat - Nov 18, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    The Pitt loss was a tough one, kind of like Stanford and USC losing to Utah. Losing to Oklahoma, OK, wish we would have played better, but they are pretty good. We didn’t play that bad against Michigan, but Gardner was fitting passes into shoebox sized targets all night. Career game for him. So, to quote Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes, “Cool it with the negative waves!” Has anybody else beaten three top 25 teams? The Irish are capable of beating anyone on a given day, with a couple of exceptions (Alabama, maybe Florida State), but geez, why does everyone think we suck when we are 7-3. We can’t beat Northern Illinois? Really?!? I know where my money would be (with the guys with the gold helmets). Hey, I hoped for a better year too, but it isn’t like we are lousy!

    • mayesdays - Nov 18, 2013 at 10:48 PM

      Ox well put. Tired of the negativity.

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