Crazy as it seems, the Irish are preparing for their final home game this weekend, with Boston College coming to town. As he does every week, Brian Kelly met with the assembled media, who offered some pretty standard fare this week.
But there should be nothing standard about a game against Boston College, a rivalry that has many Irish fans ready to pile on an Eagles squad that’s pretty down and out after a miserable season. Frank Spaziani‘s troops have taken a step backwards this year, and even after beating North Carolina State, the Eagles are sitting at a very ugly 3-7, with their only wins over UMass, Maryland (we saw last weekend where Randy Edsall’s squad is) and Tom O’Brien’s Wolfpack.
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It didn’t take long for Kelly to single out Boston College All-American linebacker Luke Kuechly. The tackling machine once again leads the country in tackles with 168, averaging a ridiculous 16.8 tackles a game, with 89 solo tackles.
Kelly talked about how you gameplan for a player like Kuechly.
“We have to identify him because he’s a savvy player,” Kelly said. “And it’s like when you have that great defensive lineman, you try to put him — you know, sometimes you don’t block him and you option him. Well, in some instances with a great player like that you try to put him in as many conflicts as possible out there. But there’s no denying his ability to play the game and get to the football. So we’ll have to be prepared.”
It’ll be interesting if the Irish add any wrinkles to their running game to slow Kuechly down, all while not revealing too much before playing Stanford next weekend.
Kelly also talked about Kuechly the recruit, a player that came out of Kelly’s backyard when he was at Cincinnati from St. Xavier high school.
“We loved him. Felt like he was the kind of linebacker that has shown to be great instincts, loves the game, great character kid,” Kelly said. “And you know, his interests were from the very beginning, you know, towards Boston College. We knew it was going to be an uphill climb. But certainly St. X is a school that at Cincinnati we had somebody in there as much as we could.”
Kuechly was a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker coming out of high school, with his only official visits going to Boston College, Duke and Stanford. You wonder if Kelly would’ve offered Kuechly if he was coming into college now. He’s was an undersized middle linebacker prospect that doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of a Jarrett Grace, who came into Notre Dame at 240 pounds. That said, I think they’d have probably been able to make room for him, and the idea of Kuechly playing next to Manti Te’o would be a pretty special site.
There’s been plenty of grumbling about Tommy Rees’ accuracy on the long ball. Last week, Kelly talked about how a lot of the things they’re working on were mechanical. When pressed on the subject today, Kelly talked about the ability to ad-lib as a quarterback, adjusting your arm slot on occasion to help put a throw in a proper spot.
“We’re asking him to pull it out when necessary, because we’re not changing his actual delivery as much as — last night Green Bay was playing and I saw a clip this morning of a little screen pass that we run to our backs where Rogers had to kind of almost sidearm underhand it, and sometimes it requires athletic throws that are not necessarily what you have in muscle memory, and I guess that’s the point of his — you know, he has to come outside of that once in a while to make some plays. And he’s doing that. It’s not easy, but he’s starting to develop that.”
This explanation is kind of a head-scratcher to me, as adjusting your arm slot on a screen pass is much different than tweaking your delivery on the long ball. That said, I think I’m picking up what Kelly is putting down.
One of Tommy’s best traits as a quarterback is his quick trigger, the ability to get rid of the ball in a hurry, from a spot that’s best described as a 3/4 arm slot. At that slot, it’s difficult to put a ton of air under the ball and throw one of those beautiful rainbow nose-down moon-balls that Jimmy Clausen all but perfected.
Part of Rees’ inaccuracy on those longer throws could be from adjusting his mechanics, taking the instinctual part that makes Tommy such an accurate thrower on quick routes away by trying to change the ball’s flight path to help give Michael Floyd a better chance at it.
It might be a process, but it’s one that hopefully is closer to being solved in the next two Saturdays.
Bryan Driskell of IrishSportsDaily.com asked an interesting question about the perimeter screen pass game that the Irish have gone to more and more in the past few weeks. Against Maryland, Driskell had the Irish nine of nine in the quick game, and wondered why the added emphasis on the short possession throws.
“It’s the natural progression of our offense when we want to play a little faster. And we wanted to pick up the tempo, felt like at USC our tempo really worked against us, and we tried to really make sure that that’s the point of emphasis. So it’s just been more of a point of emphasis as to where we want to go offensively.”
Obviously that point of emphasis will be on better blocking by the wide receivers, who have swung and missed a few too many times when it comes to getting Floyd some space. But that said, Kelly brings up a really interesting point about picking up the pace, and how that helps the offense dictate terms to the defense, something the Irish didn’t do against the Trojans — and something the coaching staff has accurately self-scouted as a weakness.
If there’s a criticism you can make of this staff this year, it’s that they’ve been willing to sit back and be counter-punchers too often this season, both on offense and defense. If the Irish are going to beat Stanford and win a bowl game against a talented opponent, they’ll need to try and dictate terms instead of playing risk averse football, changes that we saw last week against Maryland.