Tag: IBG


IBG: The season finale


Happy Thanksgiving. Here’s hoping everybody is spending it with family, friends and loved ones.

The Notre Dame football team is gathering today, with coaches and their families celebrating with the team as a new record for turkeys eaten is attempted. Before I get to work in the kitchen today, let’s get to the IBG (sorry, it’s a day late), and answer this week’s pressing questions.

As usual, check with our fellow IBGers for their answers as well.

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
Strong and True

Play along in the comments, as I pose a final question to you, asking you to play Jack Swarbrick as you negotiate with bowl committees and conferences.

NDTex, HerLoyalSons.comBYU and Stanford are somewhat similar offensively: a strong rushing attack paired with a quarterback that can go mobile. Does the defense’s performance, injuries and all, against BYU make you feel any better going up against Stanford or are we facing a totally different beast in the Cardinal? 

I can see the similarities, but I also think Stanford is a much better offense than BYU, with a quarterback that’s a better passer, an offensive line that’s much stronger and a better running back. You’ve got to feel better after the defense’s performance last week, but the worries shouldn’t suddenly disappear.

That being said — Saturday is as close to a stress-free game as you could ask for. There’s no BCS game in play if Notre Dame wins, but the Irish should have nothing to lose. That won’t help an undermanned front seven hold their own against a Stanford front that’ll try and beat down the Irish, but it should help Brian Kelly and company throw everything but the kitchen sink at David Shaw’s team.

Frank Vitovitch (UNHD.com): It’s been a long time since Notre Dame has won a game it has been as big of an underdog in as they are this weekend.  Where would this game rank in your mind in terms of upsets for Notre Dame and when was the last time you went into a game thinking Notre Dame had no chance and they walked home with the victory.   As a bonus, would a win over Stanford this weekend be Brian Kelly’s signature win up until this point in his tenure at Notre Dame?

Gosh, that’s a tough question. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask, as I usually spend all week thinking about what needs to happen for Notre Dame to win, and then I have a pretty good idea of how it’ll happen. I’ve done that this week, rewatching the 20-13 victory from last year, and realizing that Notre Dame won the football game in spite of three Everett Golson turnovers, including a BRUTAL one in the end zone that turned into a touchdown for Stanford. (Of course, Stanford’s Josh Nunes did his best to keep Notre Dame in the game, throwing two horrible interceptions.)

Maybe the last game I walked into thinking that Notre Dame had no chance to win was the Irish’s visit to the Coliseum in 2008. I don’t think there was an Irish fan in the stadium that felt good heading in there, and the mock applause that came from the stadium when the Irish finally earned their first first down as the third quarter ended was the worst.

I understand why Stanford is a two touchdown favorite, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I think the Irish have to play very good football, but this victory wouldn’t shock me. After all, Utah beat this team. (Utah, that is 1-7 in the Pac-12.) They’ll need to hold on for dear life on defense, make some big plays on offense, and stay error free.

I think any “signature victory” talk can be thrown in the trash can as Kelly ran the table in 2012. That’s as signature as it gets.  

Aaron Horvath (Strong & True): If someone would have told you that Tommy Rees would leave Notre Dame with 7,000+ yards and most likely 60+ touchdowns when he committed out of high school, most people would call that person crazy. Needless to say, he has surprised many. What are your thoughts on what Rees has been able to accomplish during his tenure at Notre Dame and what other Irish senior went above and beyond your expectations during his time at Notre Dame?

My thoughts on Rees are well established. He’s had a great career and if all recruits overachieved like he did, the Irish would be in a very good place.

Taking a look back at the Irish’s transitional recruiting class, you start to see why it’s so difficult for coaching staff’s to get much of anything out of that first shared recruiting group. Of the three star (or lower) recruits in that first class (13), only Rees and Bennett Jackson played a lot of football.

Bad luck and transfers also played a role, with Danny Spond, Cam Roberson and Tate Nichols retiring because of health reasons, Matt James tragically passing away before ever coming to campus, and Spencer Boyd and Derek Roback transferring away almost immediately.

While Jackson’s senior season hasn’t been as steady as people would’ve liked, the fact that he’s been an every down player for two seasons and a defensive captain is impressive. He very well could’ve been a lost player, a guy who started his career as a deep threat, 165-pound wide receiver. But after spending his freshman year on kickoff return and special teams, Jackson transitioned into a key defensive starter, battling serious shoulder injuries to stay on the field these past two seasons.

Kudos to Jackson.

Mike Coffey (NDNation): Which of ND’s strengths do you believe has the greatest chance of getting ND the win on Saturday, and which of ND’s weaknesses do you fear might keep it from happening?

Running the football will be key, but I think Notre Dame’s ability to make big plays down the field will need to come into play if the Irish are going to win. If Tommy Rees is able to make plays down field to TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Troy Niklas, then there’s a chance the Irish are going to score with Stanford. 

Obviously, turnovers will be fatal. But of this team’s official weaknesses, getting off the field on third down worries me, as I think this defensive front only has so many snaps in it, and if Kevin Hogan can continue to move the chains, Stanford will eventually wear this defense out.

My question to you all:

You’ve got your choice of bowl game locations and opponents. Put yourself in Jack Swarbrick’s shoes: Give me the ideal opponent and location.

IBG: USC edition


Is it me, or are we all a little bit subdued about this weekend’s football game? Whether or not Lane Kiffin is still on the sidelines, there’s no bigger game this year (or at least from now until Stanford) for the Irish. The Trojans come to town for their biannual October trip to the Midwest, leaving the cozy confines of Los Angeles for a long weekend in Chicago and South Bend.

Wearing the Cardinal and Gold may not be as easy as it used to be, so the amount of Southern Cal fans trolling the Windy City might be down a bit, but there’s no doubting that Ed Orgeron’s squad will be up for their visit, embracing the role of spoiler as they have a chance to knock the Irish out of BCS relevancy by mid-October.

Joining me this week for the IBG is Mike Coffey of NDNation. If you’d like to visit the rest of the folks, check out the following blogs:

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
Strong and True

Play along in the comments, but here are Mike’s answers to my three questions.

1) Once again, Notre Dame will play USC under the lights. Overall, how do you assess the night game addition these past few years? Do you think it’s been a value-add from a football perspective? How about from the fan’s perspective?

I’m sure from a football perspective, everyone likes it.  NBC likes the prime-time exposure, the players like playing under the lights, the staff likes a charged atmosphere for recruiting purposes.

From a fan’s perspective, it’s going to depend on the fan.  For those of us who grew up on Saturday afternoons in Notre Dame Stadium, it may be a detraction.  Those of us driving in from Chicago have a pretty late night with few (if any) options for a post-game meal.  I can understand if other fans like it, though.

2) Brian Kelly always talks about using the off week to develop some of the younger players that need some work. Give me one offensive and defensive player that you hope takes a step forward down the home stretch?

On defense, the quicker we can get Max Redfield into play, the better off we’ll be.  We need more quickness at safety, and I believe he can provide it.

On offense, I’d have to say Ben Koyack.  While I’d like to see the TE’s in general get more involved, if Koyack is playing better, the offense will be better.

3) I suppose we’ve got to talk rivalry, right? How do you view Southern Cal, the importance of the annual game, and its place in college football?

I’ve always said Notre Dame football has one friend (Navy), one enemy (Michigan), and one rival (Southern Cal).  Even though I attended ND in the midst of the Decade of Dominance, I was raised in an ND house and taught Southern Cal was The Rivalry for us, so the fact we won a lot of games in a row didn’t change that for me.  The losses to SC since 2000 have burned under the skin … I hate losing to those people.  It’s not the same as losing to Michigan (which I also hate) – losing to SC sticks around in the psyche longer, especially the way we lost to them recently.  If ND is going to protect any games on its schedule, it should be SC and Navy and that’s it.

Regarding its place in college football, it’s lost the luster a little bit with ND being down.  However, I believe a matchup between ranked ND and SC teams will always be a draw.  It doesn’t have the casual-fan-interest that a Michigan/Ohio State or Alabama/Auburn has, but college football fans who know the game know the rivalry and what it has meant.

IBG: Shamrock Showdown


Any time you have a first five games that includes Michigan, Michigan State and Oklahoma, the chance for losing football games is there. But perhaps the disappointment for most Irish fans comes from the way Notre Dame lost the games — a series of self-inflicted mistakes that many hoped were behind this team.

But as Brian Kelly has preached, each season is a different team. And while eight defensive starters returned and a core group of offensive players looked in place, the learning curve has taken a bit longer than many hoped.

All that doom and gloom ahead of us, what better way to introduce this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering! I put NDNation’s Mike Coffey to the test, asking him some tough questions that I wasn’t quite sure I knew the answer to either.

As usual, you can check out everybody else’s work below. I’ll be answering questions over at UHND.com.

Subway Domer
Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
Strong and True

Play along and answer in the comments below. (God knows we haven’t had enough venting there in the past couple days…)

1) Let’s try the glass half full approach. It appears that the Irish finally found a running game. Is that the one big positive you can take out of Saturday’s loss?

Not so much the “finding” of the running game but the willingness to stick with it even facing a two-touchdown deficit. I liked that the offense was showing balance in the second and third quarter and wished we’d have seen it a little bit in the fourth.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – operating an elite-level offense based on Tommy Rees’ arm is a complete waste of time. As much as I love the guy and think he’s been a good soldier this season, he’s being used in a way that is setting him up to fail. ND’s best bet in this current situation is a strong ground game and play-action passing. Only problem is this means a lot more Pistol and a lot less empty backfield, so the chances we’ll see it sit somewhere on the slim side of none.

2) After finishing at No. 25 in sacks last season, the Irish defense is sitting at 110th in the country in sacks this year. What’s your take on the problem?

I think it’s a combination of poor scheme and lost personnel.

When you have to game-plan against Manti Te’o, it means other guys are going to get opportunities. Right now, there’s no opportunity-maker on the defense, so everyone has to make his own hay, and the sun doesn’t seem to be shining.

Coupled with that is poor defensive planning by the staff. When two linebackers are trying to blitz through the same gap, that’s either terrible planning or terrible execution. When it happens more than once, the most direct explanation would be the players are executing the planned scheme, which is not good.

3) Sitting at 3-2 after five games and almost a touchdown underdog against ASU, what a successful finish to this season? What needs to change for that to happen?

At the risk of being pedantic, with two losses, we’re already sitting on the precipice of non-success in general. A 9-3 regular season was the minimum success level for me, so for that to happen, we’d only have one more loss to play with. If it comes Saturday, we’d have to run the table, including a win at Stanford.

For that to happen, we need better execution across the board, by players as well as coaches. We need balance on the offense and more effort on the defense. The potential is there, and if it can be reached, even a BCS game wouldn’t be out of the question. But there’s no margin for error, and that improvement has to start now.

IBG: Sparty on!


It’s that time of week where we fly at 35,000 feet and get our weekly status report on the Irish Blogger Gathering. This week, I’m quizzing the godfather of the IBG, The Subway Domer. I asked him to sort out the running back situation, the Irish problems on defense, and hand out his letter grades at the quarter-turn of the season.

As usual, play along in the comments. And if you feel like seeing the other entries into the IBG, check out the usual suspects here:

NDNation (where I answered Mike Coffey’s questions)
Subway Domer
Her Loyal Sons
Strong and True

1) The running back situation feels like a mess. How would you distribute carries if you were the head coach?

That’s a tricky question for me to answer. I don’t have the luxury of being at practice each day to monitor the progress of the 5 running backs. So, to be honest, I have no idea how I would distribute the carries. I will say this; McDaniel, Atkinson, and Carlilse are not “the guy.” They are the “guy that comes in for the guy.” There’s nothing wrong with that, and those players are actually quite valuable, and that’s just who they are. I believe that Folston and Bryant are those lead backs. They are “the guy.” The problem is, is that they are still only freshmen, and they still may not be ready for that role as of yet.

To answer the question… yeah right.

2) With the Irish defense not looking like it’s dominant self, we’re starting to hear people talk about unmeasurable things like effort, heart, and energy — all the things that make me want to bang my head on a wall. 

You’re Coach Bob Diaco. What do you do to whip this defense into shape?

I think you just have to get down to the basics. Preach, practice, and conjure up fundamentals daily. I also think we need to dial down the number of blitzes. They haven’t had the best effect, and it’s putting the secondary and the linebackers in space in bad positions.

I think the effort is there. I think the heart is there. The biggest issue with these intangibles is finding that emotional focus and having that focus directed by a real leader. The Irish had that in bunches last year, but that isn’t the case this year. There’s nothing a coach can really do about it; that’s for the players to figure out.

3) We’re 1/4 of the way done with the season. Let’s get a Subway Domer report card:

QB: B+
RB: C-
TE: B-
OL: C+
DL: B+
K: B
P: B
Brian Kelly: B
Chuck Martin: C
Bob Diaco: C

IBG: Bring on MICHIGAN! (Loud Noises!)


Quite a week. A rivalry that’s not a rivalry brought out some original storytellers, and added even more focus to a football game that looks like it could be a great one. We’ll break down some match-ups that are worth watching as we lead up to the game, but now’s the time for our weekly Irish Blogger Gathering.

I had the chance to ask Notre Dame’s new resident blogger, Aaron Horvath, some questions about the big game under the lights. I answered some questions from NDTex over at HerLoyalSons.com. Frank over at UHND joined the IBG as well, so things are getting crazy.

For more IBG, check out the following updates:

Subway Domer
Her Loyal Sons
Strong and True

Let’s get down to my pressing questions. Give your answers below in the comments:

1) So much of the talk this week has been about things that don’t matter. Let’s talk about some things that actually do. For Notre Dame to exit Ann Arbor victorious on Saturday night, name the one thing that both the offense and defense MUST DO?

To leave Michigan victorious on Saturday (or early Sunday morning) the Irish must do a few things well.

First off, on the offensive side of the ball, the Irish must develop the running game early. I think this goes without saying and there hasn’t really been any games in which we have seen Chuck Martin as the offensive coordinator that the Irish haven’t attempted to run the ball early. You may retort that against Temple we didn’t, but you need to remember that the Irish did run the ball and gash the Owls in the early downs before throwing over the top to DaVaris Daniels for the two early scores.

On defense I am going to channel my inner Kory Minor for the key to winning this contest – BIG PLAYS. Kory says that in any big game, the team that makes the big plays (game changers) is the team that will give themselves the best opportunity to win. We didn’t see any big plays from the defensive this past week outside of one sack from Stephon Tuitt, but from watching the game, it didn’t seem like the scheme defensive coordinator Bob Diaco put together was focused around creating pressure. Look for that to change this Saturday.

2) Last season, Notre Dame managed to force Denard Robinson into a career worst game by bottling him up in the pocket. (Up until that point he had become one of the all-time historic villains in Irish football lore.) Last weekend, Connor Reilly(?!?) shredded the Irish defense by scrambling his way to chain-moving first downs. What does the defense need to do to slow down Devin Gardner?

Between the opening weekend win against Temple and this weekend many things will change in the defensive scheme. First off, the Temple game really reminded me of the Nevada season opener a few seasons back that Notre Dame won 35-0. The scoreboard looks like the defense played lights out, but in reality they were gashed for some yardage at times and allowed the Wolfpack to drive down the field.

The Temple game was very similar.

One thing I expect to change is the pressure being brought by the linebacking corps. Additionally, watching the Temple game, it seemed like the secondary was playing a lot of shell/umbrella coverage, keeping the receivers in front and being happy with Temple nickel and dime’ing them down the field.

In short, look for more man coverage from the secondary with a cover two look over the top with safeties and the outside backers responsible for coverage in the secondary.

3) Ever fiber of my being wants to stop talking about this rivalry, so don’t answer what this rivalry means to a guy that didn’t attend Notre Dame. Instead, tell me about a mismatch that the Irish need to exploit on Saturday night.

What rivalry? From my point of view the biggest rivalry between the state of Indiana and Michigan is from the “gum-throwing game” between the Indiana Hoosiers and Michigan … With the Hoosiers down 36-33, they were driving with around a minute left, then this happened… Watch the video, I am still livid to this day.


(KA Note: You know that Indiana football fans take things seriously when the best video Aaron could find looks like this. But that was a terrible call.)

Now that I just took a few minutes to throw koosh balls at plate-glass windows I feel much better …

The mismatch that Notre Dame must exploit is up front. All season long this will probably be a common theme for every Notre Dame football game. Honestly it comes down to the point of attack and if Louis Nix can take two Wolverines with him on every player that will open up lanes for ‘backers to either blitz or get to the running back. Michigan’s all-american tackle will probably minimize the impact of the defensive end on his side, so the rest of the line will need to step up.