Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Defense Has Much to Prove in 2015

Heading into this season, Notre Dame is expected to be a playoff contender. That is in spite having a brand new quarterback. But honestly, Malik Zaire is not one of the question marks I have. There are two that make me a little nervous about calling this team a contender. The first area of question I have is the offensive line. Last year, Everett Golson was given a lot of flack for the turnovers. But honestly, the offensive line did not help him very much at all. About half of his turnovers were due to break down in blocking. Hopefully, seniors Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin can set leadership by example. Although the line is a concern, it is not even close to my biggest question mark.

Last season the defense gave up the most big plays in all of college football. Yes, there were a lot of injuries (13 in fact). And yes, the 5 suspended players didn't help. But looking at last season, the defense really only had three good games (Michigan, Syracuse, and Stanford) and they came early in the year before coaches had a lot of film on Brian VanGorder's blitzing defense.

It seemed that once the other teams figured it out, they couldn't stop anybody. That included Northwestern and Navy. Certainly Notre Dame has players on the defensive side of the ball. Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day are potential All-Americans. KeVare Russell returning from suspension does give the Irish a much needed shutdown corner.

We as fans hope they will be better but we can't just assume they will be. I honestly am not a fan at all of blitzing non-stop. Yes, it is exciting to watch when we get a huge sack. But it is also disappointing to give up all those big plays.

When I think about the struggles of last season, it reminds me of a comment Manti Te'o made right after his great 2012 season. He gave a lot of credit to Coach Diaco for putting him in position to make plays. But when you nonstop blitz, you are not always putting your players in position to make plays. In fact, you are actually taking them out of position many times.

I just have two fundamental issues with VanGorder's style. One, I see a blitz as an element of surprise. But when the offense knows it is coming every play, it is easier to prepare for it. More importantly, a school like Notre Dame that gets top talent yearly should not have to sell out on every play. I could understand if it was Navy, but Notre Dame should have good enough talent to where they don't have to blitz on almost every play.

The defense definitely has the talent. I just hope that they are put in more positions to make plays rather than getting taking out of them.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Should Notre Dame Join a Conference or Play 13 Games?

Coaches around the country seem to have an opinion these days about Notre Dame's independence and whether or not they should be included in the playoff consideration. Coaches from Missouri and Clemson among other places think Notre Dame should be in a conference or play 13 games to be considered.

We all know that if Notre Dame were to join one, it would be the ACC since it is already in in every other sport. The question is should they do it in spite of all the tradition of being an independent? The answer is not if they don't have to. But the problem is that we are not sure how big of an if that is. Certainly, Notre Dame plays a tough enough schedule to where they have a case. The only problem is that the idea of being a conference champion seems to really hold a lot of water with the committee. At least it did in the first year.

The Big 12 did not have a clear champ as TCU and Baylor split the honor in spite a Baylor head to head victory. That combined with the fact that Ohio State had one more victory due to a championship game gave them the nod over the two Big 12 teams.

That does lead to the other part is should Notre Dame play a 13 game schedule? Honestly, I have to say yes they should. The fact of the matter is that if you have two teams with a single loss, 12-1 is better than 11-1. The Irish could solve that problem by scheduling an extra game.

The problem is how are they practically going to do it? No team that has a conference championship game can schedule a game on Championship Saturday since they could have to play already. The only two conferences I can think of that do not have a championship game are the Big 12 and the Sun Belt. No disrespect to the Sun Belt but I just don't see how a late season game against a team like Troy does anything.

So that really only leaves the Big 12 as an option. Since the Big 12 gets screwed over by not having that title game too, it might be mutually beneficial to have Notre Dame play the Big 12 champ every year in AT & T Stadium in Dallas. That really seems to be the most practical option but what happens when the Big 12 adds two more teams and once again gets a title game?

I guess it is possible for Notre Dame to play BYU that weekend every year as long as BYU remains independent. But who knows how long before BYU does get back in a conference possibly the Big 12?

The only other option I see is play all 13 games before Championship Saturday. But that would mean going all year without a bye week and the very thought of that is just crazy.

In conclusion, Notre Dame should not give up their independence if they don't have to but should schedule a 13th game if there is a practical way to do it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Brian Kelly's Legacy at Notre Dame Will Be Defined by Malik Zaire

It's almost here. It is just over a month away when Notre Dame opens against Texas. Coach Brian Kelly is heading into his sixth year as head coach. It is a year in which he has to produce a team that is a playoff contender. His first five years have really been a roller coaster. It has seen it's moments of hope and of great disappointment.

His first couple seasons saw the Irish earn great victories over historic rivals USC and Miami. But it also saw losses to teams like Tulsa and South Florida. Then came the magic season of 2012 only to get blown out to Alabama in the Title game. Then last season was really the story of what Kelly's whole career has been. They start off 6-0 and lose to the defending champs (Florida State) in a very controversial matter. Then they lose 4 straight including a loss to lowly Northwestern. Yet somehow they are able to beat LSU in the Music City Bowl. That's the definition of inconsistency.

Now came the offseason which saw Everett Golson leave for Florida State leaving Malik Zaire as the undisputed starter. In what limited playing time he has had, he has looked good but the reality is that he is still unproven. That makes the outcome of this huge in the legacy of Brian Kelly. If Zaire lives up to the hype than that it was the right decision and what Golson does in Tallahassee becomes irrelevant. However, if Zaire does not live up to expectations than it looks bad for Kelly. It will sting even harder if Golson leads the Seminoles to another playoff appearance.

Having said that, Kelly's best success at Notre Dame has come with a first year quarterback, a simplified playbook, and stout defense. That was the case in his first season when Tommy Rees replaced an injured Dayne Crist leading the Irish to 4 straight wins. That was also the case in year 3 when Golson was a redshirt freshman.

I am not sure how simplified the playbook will be here though because Zaire has been there 2 years already. I am also not sure how good the defense will be to help the young quarterback out. That's the next blog.

But one thing is for certain. Kelly's legacy in South Bend is directly tied to Zaire.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How Everett Golson's Decision Is Good For Notre Dame and Florida State

It's official. After deciding to leave Notre Dame following graduation, Everett Golson has decided to join the team in which he had arguably his best game against last season. That of course is the Florida State Seminoles. It is decision that really shapes up to be good for both programs.

Let's start with Notre Dame. Coach Kelly was set to faced with an incredibly difficult decision. Golson or Malik Zaire. It would have been a decision that could have defined his legacy at Notre Dame. It is also one that could have created a divided locker room. On one hand, you have the guy who has thrown for a ton of yards and even helped you go to the BCS Title Game as a Freshman. But he also had his issues with turnovers. Then you have the young upstart who will be there for the next three seasons. In spite of the fact that he has limited experience and is a little erratic throwing the ball at times, he just seems to make plays on the field.

We will never know who would have won that competition as it is now a moot point. But I think that Golson knew that regardless of who won, they would split time. Being that it is his Senior year, you can understand why he would want nothing to do with that. Now Notre Dame can go into camp with Zaire as the undisputed starter and will get all the reps in practice. That in itself is huge in the development of a quarterback.

For Florida State, the departure of Jameis Winston left a huge gap. Sean Maguire  really didn't impress anybody in the spring and they don't want to rush De'Andre Johnson. So it is apparent that they needed a stop gap guy for one year. Technically, Golson and Maguire will compete for the job, but I think it is fair to say that Golson is the front runner by far.

On paper, this makes sense for Golson. His best games over his career has been against the ACC. Who can forget his great effort in a comeback against Pittsburgh, his lighting up Wake Forest on Senior Day, his 39 straight completions against Syracuse, and of course his great game against Florida State themselves. The only issue is can Golson learn the playbook fast enough. But being that they open with a couple of cream puffs in Texas State and South Florida, that might buy him a little extra time.

Notre Dame and Florida State are not scheduled to play next season but that can all change with the new playoff system. It would be fun to see.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Everett Golson Makes The Smartest Decision He Could Have

As much as Notre Dame fans wanted to see Everett Golson come back to Notre Dame for his senior season, deep down very few felt that it would probably be in his best personal interests. With the emergence of Malik Zaire late last season, it was clear that Golson would have to fight to remain the starter after watching Zaire be the MVP of the Music City Bowl.

That's not to say that he would not have beaten Zaire in the competition. He very well might have. But that is a gamble that he knew he just could not take. Golson had a great spring and looked good in the Spring Game. But Zaire was just a little better as he was in last year's spring game as well as the bowl game.

But even if Golson were to have won back the starting job, there is little doubt that Zaire was still going to have an increased role. The question of whether a two quarterback system could work was debated up to now. But a better question would have been would either quarterback have wanted anything to do with that? The answer from both guys was clearly no.

That would have left Coach Brian Kelly with an incredibly tough decision. He would have had to choose from the more experienced and polished Golson or the young phenom that just seems to make plays.

But looking at it from a practical perspective, Kelly was probably ultimately going to go with Zaire. The fact that the two of them were so close almost seems like you have to go with the guy that will be there for the next three seasons. As great as Golson was at times for Notre Dame, he did have his mistakes too and you really would expect a senior to be well ahead of an underclassmen, but he wasn't.

That really left Golson with just one option if he wants a long term future playing football. He had to go somewhere else where he would have a guaranteed opportunity to start. There are plenty of schools that make sense. Miami of Ohio is coached by Chuck Martin and he could really dominate the MAC. He could dominate the Big Ten if he went to Michigan. How about Oregon or Florida State with their big name quarterbacks now in the NFL?

All those schools seem viable but it is looking like he is going to the SEC to play for either South Carolina or Georgia. There he will have a legendary coach in either Steve Spurrier or Mark Richt. I still think LSU is a possibility. But whatever Golson decides, I will root for that team as long as they are not playing Notre Dame.

Good Luck Everett Golson and thank you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Absolutely Nothing Gets Settled In QB Duel at Blue-Gold Game

All the focus on the offseason for Notre Dame has been who would be the starter at quarterback for the 2015 season. We have Everett Golson who in spite of all the turnover problems has shown ability to make big throws with the game on the line. Then we have Malik Zaire who sat most of the year but started the Music City Bowl against LSU and was named MVP. However, Golson also played a big role in that game too.

So the idea of who would be the quarterback is really up in the air. In past years Coach Kelly has said that, but we all knew who it would be. This year we really don't know. And nobody expected to think we would know that after the annual spring game but that maybe we would have a better idea.

But that would not be the case at all as each quarterback really looked good in the first half. For what it is worth, Golson started. I am not even going to get into their stats because it is a practice game and being that both guys had big plays called back due to penalties, and that the only interception came on a gimmick fan called play "The Inebriated Irishman," the stats really give a skewed picture.

What you can say is that both QBs opened up with touchdown drives. Golson had one running and Zaire had a toss to Justin, I like to date porn stars, Brent. Kelly really had Golson work more on the option and Zaire on throwing. Zaire also had a great throw on a long bomb to Will Fuller. Golson had some really nice runs along with Tarean Folston and CJ Proiese.

Really nothing was close to being settled because both were good. I am thinking right now I can make a case for both. Of course, Golson could still use the transfer option and that makes it easy.

If I am making a case for Golson it is this. Yes he had a turnover problem but many were due to poor line play and he really seems to have corrected it and has had a great spring. The line also looks better. This is also a guy that led the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012 as a freshman. It is his Senior year and he is determined to leave his mark at Notre Dame.

But I can make an equally good case for Zaire. Yes, he is a little inconsistent throwing but that will improve with experience. Also, it doesn't really seem to matter if he makes a bad throw because he will get it back with a great run on the next play. Plus, he can be the QB for the next 3 seasons and that is huge as well.

Tough decision for Coach Kelly, I am glad I don't have to make it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Everett Golson To LSU Would Certainly Be Interesting

And so the drama starts. Earlier this week there was a report that Everett Golson was interested in transferring to LSU. As it always goes, Golson and his people denied it. But there will be rumors like this all offseason. Golson along with Ohio State's Braxton Miller could be the missing piece for a team that is otherwise looking ready for a title run. LSU certainly fits that profile as they have arguably the best defense in the SEC and an outstanding young runner in Leonard Fournette. But they are weak at the quarterback position. It's no wonder that both Golson and Miller have been rumored to go there.

With all the schools out there, the odds of him ending up at LSU are probably slim. But let's just humor ourselves for a little bit. I can certainly see why LSU would be interested in Golson. He made some big passes in the Music City Bowl despite limited playing time. He is on the one who engineered the late drive that led to the game winning field goal. That was after taking a vicious hit that required a shot at halftime.

I can also certainly see why Golson would be interested in LSU. He will have a great line which will help with the turnover problem. He will have a great defense and an explosive back. The Tigers would immediately be set up to be a contender in the SEC and also for the playoff. The only problem is that they would be set up for one year as that is all Golson has left. That would require Golson to learn a new offense in a very short time. That is not easy.

It would also place a lot of attention on Notre Dame and Brian Kelly. Although Malik Zaire was very impressive in the Music City Bowl with the plays he made, he really was more of a running threat than he was passing. He had less than 100 yards passing and most of his throws were safe. Kelly would be letting a big name like Golson get away for a prospect who has a lot of potential. Zaire certainly has potential but potential means you have done nothing yet. That is definitely a risk.

Can you imagine if LSU makes the Playoff with Golson and Notre Dame is in another Music City or Pinstripe Bowl? Kelly would certainly have a lot to answer for there. At the same time, if Golson were to struggle at LSU and Notre Dame made the Playoff or even New Year's Six with Zaire, Kelly would look like a genius.

Golson to LSU probably will not become a reality, but it certainly would create drama if it did.