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IBG: Taking stock

Dec 5, 2013, 2:14 AM EDT

ibg_nokelly3

With bowl scenarios still shaking out, and a coaching search potentially under way, it’s a good time to take a look at some relatively big picture questions in this week’s IBG. As usual, the crew has supplied some topical questions.

Participate down below, where there’s been some “lively” discussion the past few days. And head over to the other blogs and check out some of their answers.

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
UHND
Strong and True

With that, I’ll hang up and listen:

Bayou Irish, Her Loyal Sons: Does this 8-4 feel any different to you than Brian Kelly’s previous 8-4′s under the Dome? What I mean by this question is this: did this team under-, or over-, perform in your eyes, or did you get what you expected from the 2013 Fighting Irish? Does the loss of Coach Martin change your outlook on 2014? Does the “gain” of Golson?

Not all 8-4 seasons are created equally. During the 2011 season, many Irish fans were thinking that perhaps nobody could fix this program. Between the ridiculous opening game against USF, the gutting against Michigan, laying an egg against USC and Stanford and the ugly stinker against Florida State in the bowl game, a lot felt left on the table. (Especially when you look at what the team did statistically… it was essentially a 10-win team.)

By the end of this season, it just felt like the roster was decimated. I think it’s safe to say that the Irish underperformed, but you can understand why they did. It also helps that Notre Dame is coming off an appearance in the National Championship game.

Martin’s move doesn’t change my big picture outlook on the season, though I do think he’ll be missed. But the gain of Golson is big. How big? Brian Kelly called Golson his best five-star recruit Tuesday on the media circuit.

Aaron Horvath, Strong & True: Now that the 12-game regular season is done, give me the player who surprised you the most this season and the player you are most excited about for next season?

I’ll give you one on each side of the ball. Defensively, it’s Kona Schwenke. I sincerely think Schwenke can end up having a nice career in the NFL, something that seemed fairly improbable when Brian Kelly targeted Schwenke late in the recruiting cycle. While he was hurt at the end of the season (who wasn’t?), Schwenke is a big bodied, active, combination defensive lineman.

Offensively, Tarean Folston has to get your vote. (Although maybe Ben Koyack secures runner-up.) Just about every Irish fan was dying to get a look at Greg Bryant, but Folston ended up looking like the running back of the future for the Irish.

(It’s worth mentioning that back around Signing Day, I hinted that the staff believed that Folston was the top back on the Irish board, and they believed he was a home run threat. Maybe he doesn’t have the long speed, but he certainly did have the explosiveness.)

As for next year, I can’t decide yet. Perhaps it’s DaVaris Daniels, reunited with Golson. (Heck, maybe it’s Golson.) If Stephon Tuitt is back, then that’s easy. Or getting a look at a healthy Greg Bryant.

Frank Vitovitch, UHND.com: What position where Notre Dame will be replacing starters in 2014 concerns you the most heading into the off-season.  Additionally, what position where Notre Dame returns starters in 2014 needs to see the most improvement for the Irish to get into the playoff conversation next year?

My biggest concern/question is inside linebacker. People liked to pick on Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, but both guys have played a lot of football. And it’s not as if we saw tremendous things out of Jarrett Grace, though he did show some good improvement as the season went on before going down against Arizona State. While Joe Schmidt did a nice job taking advantage of his opportunities and Kendall Moore played himself back for a fifth year, it’ll be good to see what Michael Deeb can do.

As for returners needing to take the next step, let’s just look at every safety on the roster. It was a disappointing season almost across the board, with the Irish really missing the big game presence of Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter. While Eilar Hardy took a step forward, Matthias Farley took a step back. Austin Collinsworth seems to be closing out the season strong, but Elijah Shumate all but lost a year due to injuries.

The depth chart battle next year should be fun to watch, with Nicky Baratti healthy, Max Redfield up to speed, and a few big names still on the recruiting board.

Mike Coffey, NDNation.com: As Brian Kelly searches for a new offensive coordinator, what direction do you hope he’ll go?  Should he promote from within, or should he look outside?  Either way, what name is on top of your list?

 Hope? Well, I think most hope he goes and hires a guy that makes everybody happy. A name you’ve heard of, that scores points on the national stage, who runs the ball efficiently and effectively, but also throws the ball down the field and scores points in a hurry. Basically the offensive coordinator version of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy rolled into one. (Or Jon Tenuta.)

Who do I think will get the job? Mike Denbrock. He’s been with Kelly a long time, knows just about every job on the offensive staff, and is a sneaky good Xs and Os coach that can run the room and quality control as needed.

While others have pointed to Tony Alford as the guy on staff to move up, I just don’t see it happening. Alford’s a great locker room guy, an excellent recruiter and a wonderful man, but putting him in that position isn’t necessarily the best thing for his skill-set.

We can all throw darts at the board and guess if Kelly will snipe an offensive coach from another program, but that doesn’t seem his style. Also, he’s already hired Ernest Jones in a non-coaching position, so it might be pretty easy to slide Jones in at running backs coach, a job he’s done under Kelly both at Cincinnati and Central Michigan, and then slide everybody back up the ladder.

***

And finally, my question to all of you:

With the Irish not playing in a top-tier bowl, how do you treat the practice and run-up to the game? Is it best served getting young players practice and game reps? Is winning the game most important? If you’re Brian Kelly, what are your priorities?

  1. tedlinko - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:16 AM

    OK. This is probably a cop out, but the answer regarding the bowl game is “both.”

    This is Notre Dame. Any time you step out on that field you’d better be all-in to win. When you represent this university, anything less doesn’t cut it. Beyond that, we’ve had too many seasons in the last decade + that have ended on really sour notes — need to go into the offseason with a strong performance.

    At the same time, BK obviously understands the importance of the extra work to next year’s squad and will make sure that the guys coming back get plenty of work.

    Fortunately, I think this is a bit of a false choice. With a few obvious exceptions, the strength of this team really is with the youth anyway (think, Folston, Jaylon Smith, Day, Koyak, the whole WR corps except TJ) so in a lot of cases, playing the young guys and our best guys is pretty much the same thing.

  2. irishpuma - Dec 5, 2013 at 3:18 AM

    I think at this point the priorities should focus on next year and full impact sessions not worrying about injuries because we are thin. I am hoping the lack of tackling this year was due in part that we could not go “hard” at practice. Although I was not at practice I heard that full contact was very difficult especially late in the season.

    Keith is that true?

    How about some MZ first team reps with Golson? TR can get used to sitting back and coaching.

    My biggest hope was for as late a bowl game as possible like into January but that does not seem possible now.

    As for BK he just wants to win baby!!

    BK needs to stick to his strengths and pull some more recruits!!

  3. notredamefaithful - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:15 AM

    There’s a lot of seniors on this team that really want to redeem the Stanford loss and go out with a win. Also, when was the last time we won a bowl game? I think it was the Sun Bowl vs Miami 3 years ago. This is an important win for the Seniors, the program and recruiting. Recruits want to win big games! Bowl games are inherently big! I think practice will be focused on preparing best for the win but also being very mindful of safety/health with an already thin depth chart. Can’t wait for us to win this bowl and get to the offseason where these guys can get healthy. I think we have some great young talent that will be coming to the forefront next season! GO IRISH!

  4. ndirish32 - Dec 5, 2013 at 7:09 AM

    1. Herm Edwards said it best: You play TO WIN THE GAME.

  5. bearcatirishfan - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:27 AM

    I hope it’s during th eek of Christmas. Not real reason other than I’m off work that whole week and it’s nice to watch the game enjoy a few beverages and not have to work the next day. That day after the champs sports bowl was not fun at my desk.

  6. 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:57 AM

    to win 10 or 11 games next season, you have to take care of first things first. this means squeezing all the juice out a bowl win to carry you into next year’s brutal schedule. it means giving the bowl game meaning beyond just a nice trip somewhere to thank the seniors for their hard work.

    this doesn’t mean going no-contact, giving reps to guys who won’t be contributing until next year, or juggling line-ups and position groupings just to see who might fit where next year. it means practicing hard, deliberately, training with a purpose and game-planning to make sure whatever bowl game they end up playing in ends up with ND laying an a$$whipping on somebody. the kind of message-sending performance that helps next year’s pre-season ranking and gets the talking heads thinking watch out for ND next year. the kind of decisive win that makes david shaw and flounder (brady hoke) shudder to think about coming back to south bend, gets jaylon smith looking forward to decleating jameis winston (assuming winston isn’t breaking rocks next fall) and even gets jack swarbrick thinking about how field turf can make fast guys even faster even if it rubs some alums the wrong way. lastly, the kind of win that establishes denbrock as the definitive OC and gets the troops rallying behind him as the man with the plan.

    • baldyscotsman - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:38 AM

      4Horseman–Completely agree. I understand the “Get the young guys some work” angle, but what I really want is a game when where we just dominate the opponent. One where the young guys are excited about next year because of the expectations and hype. Like Miami bowl game–that propelled us(in my opinion) to a good season the next season.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        i was thinking about that miami game myself, probably because it is the one of the two happy bowl game memories from the last 15 years.

        i read that there was something positive about juju smith’s recruiting that came out today but i couldn’t find exactly what it was (damn subscription only sites). any idea what that was?

    • baldyscotsman - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      all i am hearing about JuJu is that ND is sitting in a pretty good place…not a lock by any means but ND is in his mind…..not much–but it is positive.

      • nudeman - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:02 PM

        Not sure where you got the idea the Irish are sitting pretty here.

        I specifically read today that a relation of his (uncle I believe) was hired by USC.

        I dunno. Maybe you have inside info that he and his uncle hate each other?

  7. fish95 - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    Based on Kelly’s history and the fact that Denbrock will be OC for the bowl, it would be hard to imagine him not getting the job … your comment about MD being a “sneaky good Xs and Os” coach is intriguing … any chance you’ll be able to elaborate if he does get the position?

  8. irishaggie - Dec 5, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Winning the game is what matters. At this point it’s a one game season and how much could you truly get out of young guys getting more reps. Spring practice is coming up and they will have more chances. For now play our best players and lets get our second 9 win season in a row. What I like about this December bowl in a down year is BK will have all the time in the world to go to the Under Armour and Army all American bowls and go after all the studs while schools are busy playing BCS games. Not saying I would like that every year but after an 8-4 season with shoes to fill that’s a huge positive.

  9. danl16 - Dec 5, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    Keith,

    BK should prepare the same way he did last year. Dont practice in full pads in case of injuries! Also, BK should have his handlers calling Detroit Lions office in case Jim Schwartz doesnt make the playoffs. This should be done at least one to two weeks in advance of bowl game. 24 hours or less after win/loss, drive to Detroit and as BK would say “I just wanted to go thru the process” Just kidding! Go Irish

  10. newmexicoirish - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    If you’re not going to the game to win, then don’t bother going. A win propels the team into the next season on a high note. It sends the seniors on with another W to their credit. And 9-4 looks and feels better than 8-5.

    As far as the underclassmen are concerned, if I were Brian Kelly I would make absolutely certain that they pay very close attention to what post regular season preparation looks like – because they are going to be doing a lot of it before their respective carriers are over. These guys have to know how to carry themselves, prepare and learn to balance the fine line of having fun going to a bowl game and going to win the game. That may sound overly simplistic, but for 18 and 19 year old kids it’s not.

    Win the game – that’s what’s fun! Losing sucks. GO IRISH!

  11. ndgoldandblue - Dec 5, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    This blog entry is nice reminder that Keith invites opinion and some armchair quarterbacking from those who post comments here. After all, it’s a blog, and the perfect place to voice one’s opinion.

  12. fnc111 - Dec 5, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    No matter how good or bad the team is next year the schedule is a nightmare.

    • domerboyirish - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      Based on what I see for next year, we could be fantastic and still go 9-3. At ASU, USC and FSU?! What the hell?! Home games against scUM, Stanford, North Carolina and Northwestern. Our ‘cream puff’ games include Purdue, Syracuse, Navy, and Wake Forest? Yuck!

    • andy44teg - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      Still positive that BK is going to be the HC for the Detroit Lions in 2014???

  13. michaelcollins8 - Dec 5, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    First, if I were Jack, I’d do some horse-trading with the Big-12 for either the Holiday Bowl (San Diego) if the opponent was Oregon or Buffalo Wild Wings (Tempe) probably against Nebraska. Warm weather, good competition, favorable dates, and good payouts. The impact on bowl practices would be evident.

    In retrospect, high expectations are the norm at ND, but a realistic 8-4 or 9-3 is what most of us expected. The Pittsburgh loss is the difference. This team struggled through adversity and a tough schedule to establish their identity. They can be proud for their leadership and for defeating two teams that will be playing for their conference championships this Saturday.

    Athletically, players and recruits are attracted to Notre Dame’s future with the rise in talent but, perhaps even more so, the continuity of coaching and the proven ability to develop players. A bowl match-up with Oregon or Nebraska and with Golson practicing on the opposing team would be a great start for next year.

    • baldyscotsman - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:07 PM

      collins,

      I do not totally disagree with you but at the same time I don’t think the Big 12 will be doing ND any favors so I don’t see those bowls happening. I would like the Nebraska matchup, both the game would be good and I have a few friends that are husker fans. Oregon is a different animal, I always want to believe that ND could compete with any team, but Oregon would take us to the woodshed…..we don’t have the speed to slow them down on defense and we don’t have a T.O.P offense (like stanford) to keep the offense on the field so Oregon can’t get going….that would be a perfect storm against ND(IMO).

      I just want a competitive game to propel recruiting and leave me with a good feeling going into the offseason….is that to much to ask?

  14. mediocrebob - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    This is an excellent venue for opinion. It’s also an excellent place to elaborate and not make accusations without facts to back it up.

    The Irish will play to win. It’s a good time to get conditioning and weight room training in. Injuries are obviously the concern with full contact practices so this would be a decision for someone who is involved in the program on a day to day basis like, say coach Brian Kelly and his staff

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 5, 2013 at 2:23 PM

      a place not to make accusations?

      bob i am accusing you of being reasonable and of offering a comment devoid of ad hominem attacks.

      • mediocrebob - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:02 PM

        Accusations without anything to back it up. IE: Kelly uses tr as a scapegoat.
        When has that occurred? I think we as fans have used him as a scapegoat.

        Comments like these, whether you support Kelly or not, are ridiculous and unjust. And that is just one example. Why is this so hard to understand? It’s sad that grown ups come on here using such matter of fact comments when in reality, there is nothing to confirm or imply any of it. That’s all I’m saying. Agree or disagree. I don’t care. Just like you shouldn’t care what I think about the subject. I’m just giving my opinion like you and the rest are.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        bob, just to clarify my remark, it was meant as a compliment to you for your thoughtful, logical comment.

        as it were, i tend to agree with you that sometimes the opinions here (my own included) get overblown and that we take ourselves too seriously for fans commenting on a kids’ game.

  15. glowplugv - Dec 5, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    I have to get this out first. Call me old school, but marquee schools should not drop down and let their reputation sell seats in some crummy bowl particularly if no money is going to be made. Since I am old enough (’66-‘70) I remember the original reason for accepting a bowl bid after all those years: play to increase ND’s final ranking and use the money for general scholarships.
    Now let’s get back to REALITY. When it doesn’t count the ability to get 15 more practices in is what really drives the reason for going. I can understand that and hopefully the team does want to play one more game. The point is that it is absolutely critically that ND wins this game given we should be matched against an inferior (nothing personal whoever) opponent. So your first priority is to win. If you can do that by injecting more of the next year’s team into the game, OK, but don’t lose. A two loss end of season is not the right way to set the tone for 2014. So have fun, learn something, and kick ass on whoever we get in the bowl.

  16. viktory2013 - Dec 5, 2013 at 9:35 PM

    Don’t think we’re in shape to beat an Oregon now, and it would be a miserable way to end a season losing 3 out of 4, especially in some frigid locale.

    Take a pleasant, warm game in the Poinsettia or Hawaii with a very beatable opponent. Everyone goes home smiling with a 9-4. Nobody wants another gut twister in a snow bowl…I’m sure the university can afford a little extra expenditure for the sake of those kids.

  17. schoosier53 - Dec 6, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    Thanks goodneas after one more game Tommy can never play again. If Brian Kelly gives Andrew Hendrix a 5th year then fire Brian Kelly. It will be so different with Golson and any other QB we have in the future.

    This year is so different than the past. We are one position from being a BCS team. Think of all the points we gave up on turnovers from bad reads and a weak arm. Take that away and we loose 0 games. Three years ago we had roster problems and depth problems. Now we need some leadership and an above average QB. Its no comparing three years ago to now. Did you see us stay competitive with all the injuries. We have great depth with little drop off at every position except QB. This year was like Missouri last year with ijuries, but we handled it better.

    Win the bowl game. Five losses sucks. Get Golson scout team reps so he acclimates to the speed of the game before spring ball.

    Tommy sucked and he is almost done.

  18. c4evr - Dec 6, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    To bowl, or not to bowl? That is the question. Win, and you take some momentum into 2014 while getting a few more reps. Lose, and you take that sour taste with you – and probably at the hands of a lesser opponent. It’s hard to measure the risk/reward ratio when dealing with 18 to 22 year old kids. But if ND does play, I’d like to see big Lou line up behind center just once more before he starts playing on Sundays so he can finish the season the way he started it.

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