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Talking Irish: Can the defense do it again?

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Before he takes off and braves the elements, CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz chats with me about Notre Dame’s chances in Raleigh this weekend. 

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KA: How much rain gear did you pack? And are you bringing rations in case of travel delays?

JJ: I have an umbrella ready to go and some stuff that will hopefully keep me dry, but with about 3 inches of rain expected…I’m not expecting to actually stay dry.

But thanks to Southwest (#brandloyalty guy here) I was able to switch my flight to an earlier one into Raleigh on Friday for free, so hopefully I actually make it to the Triangle area.

KA:  Boom. That’s good living. Now the real question: Do you think Notre Dame’s revamped defense shows up in Raleigh? (See what I did there?)

JJ: Physically they’ll be there, but man, NC State looks like a really bad matchup for this defense. NC State ranks 9th in success rate, ND’s defense ranks 105th. That’s a pretty wide gap.

KA: For those not fluent in advanced stats, explain please.

JJ: Success rate tracks a team’s ability to gain 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. So basically, NC State’s offense is really good at setting up easy-to-convert second/third down tries, and is converting them pretty frequently.

(Shout-out to fellow Mizzou grad Bill Connelly for S&P+, by the way).

What do you think, Keith? Where can ND’s defense find some success on Saturday?

KA: For some reason, I think monsoon conditions could actually help, though bad tackling doesn’t usually get better in the rain. But I do think there’s some momentum being built. And I do think that the simplification of the scheme — and the changes in personnel have me slightly more bullish that I was pre-coaching change.

So I’m excited to see a defense with basically a completely reformatted secondary — especially with Donte Vaughn getting a start and Cole Luke moving inside.

JJ: That’s certainly fair. I’m with you on being more optimistic about this group post-VanGorder, but until I actually see it in a game against an offense that’s more about operating with success than operating with speed, I’m going to be skeptical. Also re: Tackling. It’ll be tougher in the rain, but maybe we’ll see forced fumbles in back to back weeks!

KA:  That’s a really good point. Was Syracuse good at anything more than just going fast?

JJ: …no?

KA: Let’s talk about ND’s OL. Big news about McGlinchey coming back. But can this crew get it together as they get ready to face one of the more talented defensive fronts they’ll face?

JJ: So part of it is getting this group to play a little more cohesively, but I thought it was interesting that McGlinchey said the biggest deficiency for this group was maybe not taking advantage of opportunities when the opposing defense gives Notre Dame the looks it wants, i.e., doesn’t have an extra hat in the box. It’s hard to effectively run the ball with any consistency when teams are putting that extra guy in the box.

That’s not excusing the OL play, which still hasn’t been as good as I think we all expected it to be, but it is worth nothing for some of the run game deficiencies ND has had.

Also, this line next year? Holy crap. If the same five start, that’s 87-92 career starts. And that doesn’t even factor in the potential for Tommy Kraemer or Tristen Hoge to earn playing time.

KA: Yeah, next year will be great. But I thought it was telling when Kelly talked about wanting to get away from using Kizer so much in the running game, and then Syracuse — minus Dexter’s big run and a 28-yarder for Josh Adams — was stuck in the mud.

I think this game — if the defense can continue to take baby steps — will probably be in the image of what BK thought this season would be all along.
A very good offense carrying a defense that gets a few stops and doesn’t just completely stink.

JJ: That’s definitely the best-case scenario for the rest of the season. So far, Kizer has done a great job holding up despite having to play about as close to perfect as possible for a college QB, but at some point, he’ll need help. Whether that’s from the RBs/OL or the defense or special teams, we’ll see.

KA: Let me float a few crazy thoughts by you:

The first, not too crazy: Equanimeous St. Brown is the team’s No. 1 receiver.
But I think Kevin Stepherson is out-playing Torii Hunter at the X. Do you expect to see Torii float around inside and out as a match-up guy, because it’s clear — at least to me — that Torii doesn’t scare anybody vertically, and that seems like a prerequisite to the position, especially out on the wide side of the field.

JJ: You’re right on No. 1, but I’ll say this — Hunter has tremendous value on passing downs when ND needs 7+ yards for a first down. I’d trust getting the ball to him for a first down more than a true freshman. Stepherson, though — that dude’s taken some big steps forward, and he’s going to be a very, very good receiver at ND.

KA:  I just think Notre Dame is better when they’re making BIG PLAYS — scoring long-range touchdowns. I don’t have any belief that we’ll see that from Torii. Because we haven’t yet and we already have from the two young pups. And that’s already been the big change since looking completely lost against Texas after Hunter was KO’d.

Let’s flip sides of the ball. After our first week of Greg Hudson, can you walk me through some guys you want to see more of?

JJ: I keep going back to Daelin Hayes, but let me copy and paste what Isaac Rochell said about him this week:

“I look at myself from my freshman year to now and how much better I’ve gotten, and I’m looking at him like dang, Daelin’s way better than I was when I was a freshman, so what’s he going to be when he’s a senior. So that’s what gets me most excited and I tell those guys that all the time. Because they look at me and they’re like, he’s doing well, but I was like, I was not good my freshman year. You guys are way better than I was. I love it and I’m excited for them.”

It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think you hope by the end of the year Hayes is getting to the quarterback more consistently. He seems like the biggest key to unlocking whatever pass rushing potential this defense has.

Who’s a guy you want to see more?

KA: I’ll echo you on Hayes, but then I’ll focus on the young secondary. I think seeing how this group plays together — when you have Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn, Jalen Elliott, Julian Love and Devin Studstill all making an argument that they should be playing major snaps, that gets equal parts terrifying and exciting.

I don’t count Te’von Coney as a young guy maybe as much as I should, but boy was I excited to see them use him in a way that values his athleticism, rather than as a guy forced to shed blocks in the box and make run fits.

Let’s get to the dirty part of this: You’ve got Notre Dame losing again, don’t you?

JJ: Before I answer that question, let me pepper you with some positives: I really like Donte Vaughn’s potential as a rangy, athletic corner. It probably can’t hurt to get Studstill and Elliott significant reps as freshmen, since they’re going to be counted on plenty as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

But to answer: North Carolina State 34, Notre Dame 31.

KA: I can’t disagree with you from a logic perspective. But I chatted with a smart kid that covers the team for the Technician (awesome student newspaper name), and he picked Notre Dame. That’s something that usually doesn’t happen. So I’m giving these guys one more chance — and saying Notre Dame 35, NC State 24

And if that goes wrong, I’m done picking games. Or at least picking the Irish.

JJ: If you just put these two teams’ number side by side, you gotta go with NC State. But when you consider how much talent Notre Dame has and how NC State seems to, like, never beat Power 5 opponents, I can see why an NC State student would pick against them.

KA: The ECU game stands out to me.

JJ: But we all thought Notre Dame would beat Duke (which lost to Virginia a week later, with Daniel Jones being baaaaaaad) so everything’s on the table here.

KA: We live in a post-BVG era, so I’m still trying to ride that train. But it might be fleeting. And that’s why they play em!

JJ: *Hopefully play them! **in three inches of rain.

KA: Well said.

JJ: Before we wrap this up… Would you rather have Greg Hudson jump out of your cake or have Bob Diaco bake your cake?

KA: Is Erika Eleniak busy? If so, probably Bobby D. The heart and tenacity in that cake would be tremendous.

(Under Siege. Gotta respect that one.)

JJ:  Though its sticktoitiveness could be a problem with getting it out of the pan.

(I had to Google your last two references, as a #millenial)
*winky face*

KA: Don’t make me feel so old. But yes – That’s the gold standard of Cake Jumping. Let’s give you some travel mojo. Because it’ll be 70 and Sunny from the Inside the Irish HQ and breakfast time. Will be thinking of you over some OJ.

JJ: Appreciate it. Only chance of you getting your clothes soaked is if you accidentally fall into the ocean.

KA: Or my daughter spills her water. Which is a lock.

JJ: Hahahaha. Best of luck. Talk to you next week.