Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can The Irish Defense Be Even Better in 2013?

With just 51 days before the Temple Owls travel to South Bend and possibly experience the worst defeat in school history, Notre Dame fans and players just can't wait to start the season. After the team had such a magical year in 2012, all dreams of a BCS National Championship were quickly shattered when the Irish were no match for Alabama.

That loss started a string of events that turned a great season into a terrible off season. That is off the field at least. It started with Coach Kelly flirting with an NFL offer from the Philadelphia Eagles. Then came the much publicized Manti Te'o fake girlfriend scandal. Then it all concluded with Everett Golson being suspended for the season for academic issues.

With all this, nobody has talked about the unit that made it all possible to begin with (the defense). This is a unit that allowed only 9 touchdowns all season. They actually went an entire month without surrendering one and there were no rushing touchdowns until the 8th game against Oklahoma. Only two rushing touchdowns were given up all year. Yet all the media chooses to talk about is the off the field stuff above.

 So if there is any unit that should have a big chip on their shoulder this year, it is the Notre Dame defense. Starting with their coach Bob Diaco, he is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country and yet he got no offers to be a head coach after that great year last year. I was really surprised that he didn't even get interest from Cincinnati where he was the defensive coordinator under Coach Brian Kelly.

The players will also have a chip on their shoulders because in spite of the great season, all the haters talk about is how they were no match for Alabama. In fact, they gave up six touchdowns to the Tide after giving up only nine the rest of the year. The defense is hungry to get back out there to show that the regular season defense was the real defense. While Te'o got much of the attention last year, it was the whole unit that was great. They are determined to show that as well.

As great as this defense was last year, the scary part is that they can be even better this year. They are returning seven starters and really only had three major losses. Te'o is a big loss but the rest of the linebacking unit including Dan Fox, Danny Spond, and Price Shembo are all back. Junior Jarett Grace steps in for Te'o and veteran reserves Carlos Calabrese and Ishaq Williams are back. Therefore, from a playing standpoint the guys should be able to move on without missing a beat. Where Te'o will be missed is in his leadership.

However, I think the guy that can and will fill that role is Louis Nix. The senior defensive lineman looks ready to have an All American season. He is joined by Stephen Tuitt who also had a great year last year. The big loss from this group was Kapron Lewis-Moore who graduated and moved on to the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Sophomore Sheldon Day looks to be the guy to step in. This unit should be able to move on without missing a beat.

The secondary was the unit that was the most scrutinized last year. They had injury troubles early with Lo Wood in training camp and Jamoris Slaughter in the third game. That forced inexperienced underclassmen KeVare Russell and Mathias Farley into action. But both held their own and performed well. Slaughter is now gone to the Cleveland Browns, but Wood is back. Wood and Russell together could be quite a shutdown tandem. Also expect to see more of Josh Atkinson. The big loss is Zeke Motta but like Te'o, I think his leadership is what will really be missed. Sophomore Nicky Baratti appears to be the guy to step in for Motta. Farley is now the veteran safety. Also look for Austin Collinsworth to have a bigger role as well.

I am very excited to see the step that this defense takes this year. With all the guys returning, they are not only more seasoned but even more confident. Success does that. What really stood out about this unit last year is that they tackled really well.I think they missed more tackles in the Alabama game than they did all year. I see this unit dominating again this year and possibly being even better.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Tommy Rees May Be a Better Choice in 2013 Than Everett Golson Anyway

Disclaimer: This is not another Rees is better than Golson article. If I had my choice I would take Golson any day even though I like both of them.

Notre Dame has gotten over the shock of poor academic choices by Everett Golson and is prepared to move forward with Tommy Rees. After taking some time to digest it, I think it could actually be a blessing in disguise. It is not because Rees is better. We have all seen Golson make plays that Rees can't even dream of.

Golson could actually grow from this because this is the kind of thing that will humble him. While that is ultimately positive, that is not what makes it a blessing in disguise.

Looking at the 2013 schedule, Rees might actually be a better match up for Notre Dame against it's opponents that feature a lot from the Big Ten and PAC 12. Those two conferences play a much more old school smash mouth style. Therefore, a traditional read the defense and quick release quarterback is more of a match up problem than an escape the pocket spread offense type. That has traditionally been the kind of quarterbacks those conferences have featured.

Breaking down last season, there were three games in which Rees had to come in relief for Golson and get the win. They were Purdue, Michigan, and Stanford. Even against Michigan State, the offense stalled in the second half and the great defense led the way.

Now you could argue that those games were early in the season and Golson was still developing. That is a valid point but I ask then why did the offense only produce 22 points and one touchdown in the final game against arch-rival USC? So maybe there is something to this idea that it was the traditional smash mouth style teams that Golson has struggled against.

Now let's look at his best games in 2012. They were against the ACC. The offense cruised to a 41-3 win over Miami.  Although he initially struggled against Pittsburgh, he took over in the fourth quarter and overtime. Boston College was no match for him and he absolutely lit Wake Forest up.

What that tells me is that his talents match up better against the fast break style of the ACC and Big East type schools. Since the arrangement with the ACC doesn't start until 2014, it is actually good that he can still have three years of eligibility once the agreement starts.

But looking at the schedule for this upcoming season, Pittsburgh is the only ACC opponent and lots of Big Ten and PAC 12 teams appear early and often. Let's take a look.

They open against Temple from the American Athletic Conference (Big East). Although Golson would be a better choice in this match up, it really shouldn't matter and the Irish should take care of this one quite easily.

Then they play traditional Big Ten opponents in Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State for what is likely the final time. While Golson has struggled against these schools, Rees has actually performed quite well against them. That is excusing his turnovers of course.

After the trip through the Big Ten, Oklahoma comes to South Bend. Honestly, I would prefer Golson in this one considering he really had one of his signature moments with a long pass to Chris Brown and an overall good game. However, Rees had to play a little to due to Golson having equipment trouble and hit Tyler Eifert on a key third and long. Having said that, the Sooners are reloading some key players this season including the graduation of Landry Jones. An offense led by a new quarterback will definitely struggle against Notre Dame's defense.

Next up is a pair of PAC 12 teams with Arizona State in the Shamrock series in Dallas followed by USC coming to South Bend. I like how Rees matches up against these physical style defenses and he did lead the Irish to victory over USC as a Freshman.

Next up is the service academies Air Force and Navy in back to back weeks. Honestly, it should not matter whether it is Rees or Golson. The Irish should handle it easily.

A trip to Pittsburgh follows and I do wish we had Golson for this one. But with a new quarterback, running back, and tight end, the defense should handle the Panthers quite easily.

The final home game for the Irish is against a physical BYU team which gave the Irish all they could handle last year. This year it could once again be a trap game since it is right before Stanford. Rees did actually struggle in this game last year but his style still matches up better against this style defense than Golson's. This will also be senior day for him if he needed any further motivation.

Notre Dame closes the year by going out west to Palo Alto in a match up against Stanford which could be for a trip to the BCS National Championship for both teams. This one would be a tough physical defensive struggle whether it was Rees or Golson. I would take smarts over talent at quarterback in this case. I also like a senior when so much is on the line.

Based on all this, even though Golson has a much bigger upside Rees just might be a better option in this final year before the Irish start their arrangement with the ACC. Then when that day comes, Golson can tear up the ACC for three years.