Thursday, October 31, 2013
Ordinarily an NBA legend would not be mentioned on a Notre Dame blog. But David Robinson is going to be a really interested observer when Notre Dame and Navy renew their annual rivalry this Saturday. It will be his son versus his alma mater. He went to Navy, but his son Corey is an emerging freshman receiver for Notre Dame.
I am sure there will be some mixed emotion for the Admiral. Navy will always be in his heart.
But at the end of the day, blood is thicker than water.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
In a recent interview with SI, Everett Golson admitted that he cheated on an exam and that is what led to his suspension from Notre Dame. I was very impressed with the way he did not make excuses or blame anybody else. He took ownership of it. That really showed maturity.
He also said that he didn't play at a junior college this year in transition to transferring to another school because he has unfinished business at Notre Dame and feels the need to right a wrong. Based on his demeanor, I can tell that he is sorry for what he did and is determined to redeem himself. Based on that, I think he definitely deserves another chance to be the quarterback at Notre Dame.
Now he should not just get the job handed back to him. He should have to earn it back by competing with Malik Zaire and whatever freshman recruit comes in. But at the end of it, I expect Golson to win that job and be better than ever.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
At the same time Notre Dame will be playing Navy, two of it's early season Big Ten rivals will play against each other in a game that is a rivalry in it's own right. That is Michigan and Michigan State. They will hold their traditional battle for state bragging rights.
These two teams annually play Notre Dame just before opening the Big Ten season. Traditionally, a victory over Notre Dame by either team was a big momentum boost heading into conference play while a defeat generally has derailed them for the rest of the season.
That is generally the pattern but this year has had a surprisingly reverse effect for both teams. Michigan had a great game against the Fighting Irish and looked to be the class of the Legends Division. But a week later they barely survived against Akron and then had a very sloppy win at Connecticut. Those are two teams that Michigan should have dominated. Then in conference play, they beat Minnesota convincingly and appeared to have righted the ship only to go down in triple overtime to a Penn State team with a freshman quarterback and loads of sanctions. Most recently they needed record setting performances by Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon to beat Indiana. While Michigan is 6-1, they have really struggled since that great game against Notre Dame. Most concerning has been Gardner's turnovers and a very suspect defense.
Michigan State on the other hand has looked very impressive since their loss in South Bend. Their defense is the best in the Big Ten and possibly in the nation. They have the most defensive touchdowns in the nation with 5. They give up an average of only 12 points per game. Max Bullough and Shilique Calhoun have been the defensive standouts. The offense led by Connor Cook has gotten better each week to. Most recently they hung 42 on Illinois. The Spartans are also 6-1 but it looks to have more momentum.
When they play this weekend, the winner will be in prime position to contend for the Legends division. Both teams will also have to play Nebraska shortly after. This game does have significance for Notre Dame because the loser will fall behind them in the polls provided the Fighting Irish take care of business against Navy.
I wish this game was not on at the same time as Notre Dame because it will be a good one to watch. A dominant defense against a dangerous offense. As is often the case, how the other units perform will likely be a huge impact on the result.
Monday, October 28, 2013
With Notre Dame's recent turnaround and return to the BCS top 25 poll, the team looks to make a late season run. There has been one area that has been a bit concerning. That is the running game. More specifically two players, Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson just haven't lived up to the hype. the season was set to have those two guys be the playmakers while Cam McDaniel, the tough white boy from Texas, would be the muscle in short yardage situations.
The way Carlisle opened up with a big 40 yard gain against Temple gave us reason to believe he would be the next big runner in South Bend. But that carry accounted for about a quarter of his yards as he has only 193 for the year and no touchdowns. Atkinson has had moments particularly a 90 yard touchdown against Oklahoma, but he also hasn't put it together consistently and has just 381 yards and only two touchdowns.
The reality is that the tough white boy from Texas has outperformed both of them. He has 412 yards on 91 carries and two touchdowns. Those numbers would be better if he got even more carries.
I understand that Carlisle and Atkinson are the prototypical runners where McDaniel is built for a role. But the fact remains that McDaniel has consistently outperformed them all year. Even last Saturday when Coach Kelly made it a point to get those two going, McDaniel still outperformed them.
The situation is similar to the quarterback situation, Andrew Hendrix is the more prototypical quarterback for Kelly's system, but Tommy Rees has consistently out performed him.
Based on that, it is time to commit to McDaniel as the starter, at least for the rest of this season.
After a dominant performance against Air Force, Notre Dame put itself in position to make a run at the BCS and landed at #25 in the second poll. From what I understand, if the Fighting Irish are ranked #8 in the final BCS poll, they get an automatic invite. But they can still get an at large invite if they are #12. But being honest, if Notre Dame is eligible somebody will take them. They are Notre Dame after all. So that means that the Fighting Irish need to move up 13 spots.
While that may seem difficult they do have about six weeks to do it. Provided they take care of business the next two weeks, they will keep moving up due to many of the teams ahead of them playing each other. For sure either Michigan or Michigan State will lose as they play each other this week and that will put the Fighting Irish ahead of the loser. They will both likely lose out to Ohio State eventually which will move Notre Dame up even further.
I am not sure why Wisconsin is one spot ahead of Notre Dame considering they lost to Arizona State. But they don't have a schedule left that will give them a statement win. They do play BYU, another common opponent, in a couple weeks.
Central Florida has been tough with wins over Penn State and Louisville. Their only loss was by 3 points to an SEC team in South Carolina. But they still have tough games with Houston, Rutgers, and SMU left. It is likely they slip up somewhere.
Louisville also has tough games left with Houston and Cincinnati. They can fall in either if not both.
UCLA has been tough but with two losses they will definitely fall with another loss. They have a showdown with Arizona State and even if they are successful, they probably go down to Oregon again.
The SEC (Schedule Easy Competition) always finds a way to have many teams in the top half of the poll. This year is no exception with South Carolina, LSU, Texas A & M, Auburn, and Missouri all ahead of Notre Dame. I left Alabama out because we don't need to catch them and won't. But of those teams, only Auburn and Missouri have just one loss. LSU will likely lose another to Alabama in a couple weeks. Auburn will play them at the end of the year while Texas A&M and Missouri play each other meaning one has to lose. South Carolina still has tough games with Florida and Clemson.
Based on all this, Notre Dame should get a BCS bid if they win out because many teams in front of them will fall due to playing each other. It is inevitable. So the best thing Notre Dame can do is just keep getting better like it has in recent weeks.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Notre Dame needed to make a statement against a struggling Air Force team and they did with a 45-10 blowout. Most impressive in the win was Tommy Rees. He threw for almost 300 yards and a career high 5 touchdowns. He actually had the highest rating of any quarterback in FBS play this weekend. What was really cool about the five touchdowns was that they were to five different receivers. Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, and William Fuller all had their first career touchdowns. Reserve tight end Ben Koyack also had one and finally Rees couldn't leave his favorite target TJ Jones out. Jones had another big day with 7 catches for 104 yards.
Rees' 5 touchdowns now gives him 15 for the year and he also has 1660 yards. Jones now has 37 catches for 527 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Defensively, it was another solid effort after giving up a touchdown on the first drive. But once the Irish got settled in to defending the triple option, Air Force could do nothing. They did not score another touchdown. The defensive star was Jaylon Smith who had 8 tackles and a fumble recovery. This freshmen is getting better every week and on his way to be the leader on defense for the next four years.
If there was a disappointment in this game, it was the running game. George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle have not lived up to expectations all year and this game was no exception. Both have been outperformed by Cam McDaniel all year and it is time for Coach Kelly to commit to him as the number one runner. He had 61 yards on only 10 carries against Air Force.
With the win, the Fighting Irish clinched bowl eligibility and set themselves up for a run at the BCS. Losses by #24 Nebraska and #25 Oregon State should be enough to get Notre Dame into the BCS top 25. Notre Dame would ultimately have to finish in the #12 to be eligible for a BCS bid. To be honest, I am not sure what bowl they will get an invite too. The Big East is now defunct and Notre Dame doesn't start it's agreement with the ACC until next season. That means there are no bowls that have any kind of Notre Dame clauses except the BCS. In other words, if Notre Dame does not get a BCS bid they could get an invite to a bowl that is well below Notre Dame standards just due to circumstance.
Friday, October 25, 2013
Now here we are this week against an Air Force team that is 1-6 from a second tier conference in the Mountain West. From what I understand, they have already started 4 different quarterbacks. So going into this game, Air Force doesn't scare me at all. Notre Dame does. The Fighting Irish often do not get up for games like this and allow an inferior opponent to be closer than it should be. On paper, Notre Dame should blow the Falcons out. But they need to blow them out on the field. Notre Dame has looked good the last couple games and some of the pollsters have noticed. But an uninspired win will not help rally new ones.
But not only for purposes of moving into the polls, games like this are how you are supposed to build programs. These games should feature extended playing time for backups and give them game experience. But the coach can't do that if they keep it closer than it should be. What happened with Andrew Hendrix last week is a perfect example. Had he got game experience against Purdue and Temple, he might have been better prepared and done a little better. The fact is that he is the back up and may be called upon again in a key situation. That is why getting him and other back ups in this week is vitally important.
So Go Irish and blow this team out. We have no interest in an exciting game.
Monday, October 21, 2013
A day after defeating USC at home for the first time since 2001, it was really disappointing to see Notre Dame not ranked in the first BCS poll. I certainly don't think Fresno State, Northern Illinois, or Central Florida play a level of competition that makes them better than Notre Dame. I even want to scratch my head on Louisville. But regardless, I can understand that in the Fighting Irish's first 5 games they were not impressive even in the games they won. But since then they had a great game against Arizona State and the defense dominated USC. The offense was solid in the first half but after Tommy Rees got hurt, the offense did nothing. But if the team keeps playing like they are capable, I have no doubt that Notre Dame will be in position to clinch a BCS bowl with a win when they travel to Stanford at the end of the year. It would not hurt if one of the Michigan teams made it to the Big Ten title game, Oklahoma wins the Big 12, and Arizona State wins the PAC 12 South.
All that talk is mute though if the Irish lose even one more game. With the Rees injury, that is definitely now a concern considering just how bad the offense was without him. Let's just put this in perspective how bad it was. He had two touchdowns in the first half and was well on his way to having close to 400 yards passing. The offense had 269 yards with him and just 26 without him. Keep in mind that this is a defense that has given up well over 600 yards in the last two games. They are notorious for wearing down in the second half and gave up 63 second half points the previous two games, and yet our offense could generate nothing without Rees. That is quite disturbing honestly.
I don't want to beat up on Andrew Hendrix, but you would expect a guy who has been in the program have a better knowledge and honestly have more hunger than he showed. This was his one shot at glory after being behind Rees and Everitt Golson for so long. And look what he did with it. He was 0 for 4 passing and they honestly weren't even close, nor were they difficult passes. Then another ball fell out of his hands when he tried to pass. I understand he is a good kid and is probably trying his best, but this is Notre Dame, not Pop Warner.
Rees's injury does not appear to be serious as he is day to day and expected to practice Tuesday. He has a sprain in his neck. This week, the Fighting Irish have to prepare for an Air Force team that is 1-6 against competition that does not compare to Notre Dame's schedule. I mean no disrespect to the Mountain West conference by that statement because a few good programs got their start in that league. But facts are facts, Air Force is struggling against lesser competition and from what I understand are down to their fourth string quarterback. Given those conditions, I would normally say just sit Rees for this because we should be able to win with a back up. But with as bad as Hendrix was against USC, I have no confidence that Notre Dame can beat anybody with him. We certainly don't want to remove the red shirt from Malik Zaire, not for Air Force. I almost want to say give Charlie Fiessinger a chance. I am sure he can throw a bubble screen to TJ Jones or DaVaris Daniels which is really all he would be expected to do. But then again, there is a reason why he is behind Hendrix.
Good thing we are playing Air Force this week, but we still need to be able to do something offensively. Coach Kelly will definitely have to earn his pay check this week in how he prepares them.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Defense Dominates While Andrew Hendrix Shows Why He is Not The Starter As Notre Dame Ends Home Drought Against USC
For the first time since 2002 Notre Dame defeated USC at home. The Irish have now won 3 of the last 4 against USC and have retaken control of this rivalry after losing 8 straight to the Trojans. But the win did not come easily or without cost.
The game started with Notre Dame taking the ball all the way to the one before USC put up a goal line stand. The Trojans then took it all the way down for a Silas Redd touchdown. Redd had a big first half with 91 yards. But the Irish defense did get it together and only gave up a field goal the rest of the first half.
The Irish offense was great in the first half. Tommy Rees threw for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. One was to Troy Niklas and the other was to TJ Jones. These plays were set up by great running from Cam McDaniel who had 85 yards in the first half.
At the half, the Irish were up 14-10 and appeared to be on their way to an easy victory as USC was clearly wearing out and star receiver Marqise Lee reinjured his knee. Then on the first drive in the second half, Emerging linebacker Jaylon Smith intercepted USC quarterback Cody Kessler on the first drive. That set up the Irish in great field position and with a chance to take control of the game. But USC linebacker Lamar Dawson busted through untouched and knocked Rees out of the game.
Then came in seldom used junior quarterback Andrew Hendrix. To be blunt, he was awful. He did not complete a pass in 4 attempts and USC totally committed everybody to stopping the run since the pass was no threat.
But fortunately, the defense was awesome in the second half. Kessler was under pressure all night. Leading the way was Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, Prince Shembo, and Ishaq Williams. These guys put so much pressure on Kessler and forced the USC linemen to hold on many occasions.
There was no scoring for either team in the second half so the Irish held on for the win.Going forward though, we have to be concerned if Rees cannot come back. We might beat Air Force and Navy, but I am not sure we can beat anybody else if we have to go forward with Hendrix.
As for Lee, I want to reiterate a point on whether or not it is in his best interests to keep playing for this average USC team. He has such a great future ahead of him in the NFL. He really should consider shutting it down this year to preserve that.
They are not worn very often. The green jerseys are kept for special occasion. The last time I recall Notre Dame wearing them was against Army at Yankee Stadium 3 years ago. We live in a day and age where kids get pumped up by special uniforms. The Fight Irish always plays great at the Shamrock Series that features special uniforms.
These green uniforms are kept for certain occasions. I think trying to beat your arch rival in prime time at home for the first time since 2002 qualifies as a special occasion.
I say lets bust them out against the Trojans.
Friday, October 18, 2013
On paper, Notre Dame should win against USC. They both played Arizona State in consecutive weeks. The Trojans got embarrassed by giving up 62 points and a week later the Fighting Irish had their best game of the year. However, there are a couple factors that still make me nervous on this one. First, this is THE rival and Notre Dame has not beat USC in South Bend since 2002. Getting a monkey like that off your back is never easy regardless of the circumstances. Second, USC looked like a totally different team against Arizona in their first game with Ed Orgeron as Interim Head Coach.
So thinking of all that, it is always important to have a great game plan. Starting with the defense, they need to pick up where they left off against Arizona State. That pressure was awesome and needs to keep up against USC. They have a young quarterback in Cody Kessler who has yet to play a team that has the potential to rush him the way the Irish can. That pressure is key because if he is given time, I don't think either Bennett Jackson or KeVare Russell can cover Marqise Lee. But that is a moot point if Kessler can't get him the ball.
Notre Dame has been solid all year against the run and they will certainly have a challenge this week against Silas Redd and Tre Madden. But I see the Irish defensive line overpowering the Trojan offensive line.
Now looking at the offense, the key is patience in the running game and time of possession in the first half. I know that it is always an urge to go for a big play early, but that is not the correct thing to do this week. The reason why is USC wears down in the second half. The fact is that they have lost a lot of scholarships because of the sanctions and don't have the same depth as most programs.
Just take a look at their last two opponents. In that embarrassing loss to Arizona State, it is easy to forget that it was a tight game at the half. It was mentioned that they gave up 62 points, well 42 of them were in the second half. Even against Arizona, USC wore down. They gave up a touchdown late in the first half and gave up three more in the second half. As good as they looked in that game, the Wildcats nearly rallied to beat them.
What that tells me is that in the first half, George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and Amir Carlisle really need to run that ball a lot. Tommy Rees and TJ Jones need to have patience. They will have their opportunities in the second half, The points will be there but the key early is running the ball and time of possession. That will wear this defense that has limited depth. Then in the second half, open that playbook up. This team has given up 63 second half points in their last two games. If Notre Dame is tied or even slightly behind at the half, they are in great shape for a big second half.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
It is certainly not unusual for a player to transfer schools while he is in college. However, a player going from USC to Notre Dame is almost unheard of. The Irish are not a rival, they are the rival. But that is exactly what Amir Carlisle did. And it got off to a roaring start. His first carry was for 45 yards. After two games he was the teams leading rusher with 132 and appeared to be the guy who would be the featured runner. But in the last four games, he has just 46 yards. That gives him just 178 for the year and no touchdowns.
He is currently listed as the third runner behind Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson. Those two are really built more to be specialists than featured runners. Cam is the muscle while GA III is the speed. The fact that those two have more yards than Carlisle alone highlights how disappointing Carlisle has been since his hot start.
He has shown flashes at times, but has never established himself. Playing against his former team should provide extra incentive for him.There is no doubt he circled this date when the schedule came out. Maybe a big game against his former team can get him jump started for the stretch run. But if he has another game in which he can't even break 20 yards, it might be hard for the coaching staff to keep him in the regular rotation.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Notre Dame and USC is arguably the best rivalry in college football. It is not about conference titles or state bragging rights. It is just about natural hatred. The unique thing about this game is that it alternates when it is played. It is the last game of the year when it is at USC but in the middle of the year when played at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have made it a habit of scheduling a bye before USC on years they play in South Bend. That does make sense on paper. They are the rival and Notre Dame wants to take two weeks to prepare. There is only one problem with this strategy. It hasn't worked.
The Trojans have won five straight in South Bend. The last time Notre Dame beat USC at home was 2001. So while the bye does make sense, the results haven't been good. They game close in the famous Bush Push game in 2005 and Jimmy Clausen fell just short of the endzone in 2009.
That does have to make anyone question if it is a good strategy. While two weeks of preparation is good, it can create rust. That makes me think about how USC has scheduled it in recent years. They actually take a bye one opponent before Notre Dame and then play a softer conference game on a Thursday night. That is good because it does give them extra time to prepare without causing too much rust. I do like that strategy better I think.
Having said all that, the main factor probably is that USC has just had better teams in those years. They were an annual contender when Pete Carroll was there before the program was hit with all the sanctions. But now the pendulum does seem to be tilting back to Notre Dame as they have won two of the last three. However, they still have not won a home game against the Trojans in over a decade. That is long enough. It is time to reclaim our home field against these guys. On paper the Fighting Irish are the better team. They have had one common opponent in Arizona State and we all know the results for both games. USC also doesn't have the depth on defense because of all the scholarship reductions. We just have to hope they are prepared better this time for the game rust.
Friday, October 11, 2013
With both Notre Dame and USC both having very mediocre starts to their seasons. Their upcoming game had seemed to lost a little luster, at least nationally. Even in the games they won neither team really looked that impressive. Then Notre Dame suffered a bad loss to Oklahoma and later that same night USC gave up 62 points to Arizona State. That loss got Lane Kiffin fired.
Just when it seemed that neither team was going to do much this season. Notre Dame travels to Dallas and shocks Arizona State. That seemed to rejuvenate the Irish heading into a bye to prepare for USC. Being that the Trojans lost to the Sun Devils the week before, you would think that Notre Dame would have the momentum going into the game.
While Notre Dame has good reason to be confident, they cannot assume victory against USC. The Trojans had their first game on Thursday under Interim Coach Ed Orgeron. Let's just say that they just flat out looked like a different team. Granted it was against an Arizona team that doesn't appear to be very good, but don't forget that this USC team lost to PAC 12 doormat Washington State and barely beat Utah State and Hawaii under Kiffin.
Sophomore quarterback Cody Kessler had his best game throwing for 297 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He did it without Marqise Lee too who will likely play against Notre Dame. Nelson Agholor filled in nicely in Lee's absence with 7 catches for 161yards including a long 62 yard touchdown. Having him opposite of Lee can be scary. Also Senior runner Silas Redd was able to play for the first time all year and he gained 80 yards in limited duty. Tre Madden has been solid all year in Redd's absence. To make it short, this team is getting healthy for the first time all year and will be another big challenge for our improving defense.
USC did look a little sloppy on defense in the second half and allowed the Wildcats to get back in it by giving up three second half touchdowns. However, the game was basically over when the Wildcats made their late run.
Now this game next week suddenly has a different feel to it. While Notre Dame-USC will always matter regardless of record, this game suddenly has regained a little national appeal. With both teams at 4-2 and looking rejuvenated after their best games of the year, the winner sets itself up for a possible BCS run or run at the PAC 12 South title.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
It is not often that a college football team fires a coach during the middle of the season, but after giving up 62 points that is exactly what Pat Haden did to Lane Kiffin. For a school like USC, that is unacceptable. That was really the final straw for a coach who really had his program underachieve.They were ranked #1 in the preseason last season and ended up losing in the Sun Bowl to an average Georgia Tech team. Their performance in that bowl game was so embarrassing that star receiver Robert Woods declared for the NFL draft minutes after it was done.
Kiffin didn't help himself in the off season by not being able to choose between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek as starting quarterback. That frustrated many of the players and most vocal was All American Marqise Lee. The team struggled against Hawaii who has not won a game and then lost to Washington State before having an unimpressive win against Utah State. That of course all led up to the Arizona State game which was the end for Kiffin.
The coach for the rest of this season is long time Kiffin assistant Ed Orgeron. Whether or not Orgeron coaches the Trojans beyond this season remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how the team responds as they play Arizona on Thursday night. You just never know how a team will respond to an interim coach. Orgeron will likely be without Lee who was injured in the Arizona State game.
Notre Dame players, coaches, and fans will be watching this game with great interest. It is a bye week for the Irish and they will definitely want to scout their next opponent. That is especially true when you don't know what kind of changes, if any, the new coach will make to the offense and defense.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Lost in all the hype about Lane Kiffin getting fired was the fact that All American receiver Marqise Lee suffered a really bad knee injury in the loss to Arizona State. I watched that game and the way he came down on it looked really bad. It is looking like Lee will miss the game this week against Arizona. His status for Notre Dame and beyond is unclear.
Although he is a Trojan, I do respect him as a player because he is one of the most exciting players in the country. He literally has millions of dollars and an NFL contract waiting for him. That is why he really needs to think long and hard if continuing to play for USC is in his best interests. I understand the competitor in an athlete wants to be out there on the field. But this is his last year at USC in all likelihood and the team is quite frankly not very good.
So based on that, if I were him I would seriously consider shutting it down this season. I know that a football player wants to be there for his teammates, but I really think they would understand here. He is risking way too much by playing. He has given USC all he has and he owes them nothing.
Another player who has had injury problems but apparently is going to play this Thursday is Silas Redd. He is also risking a lot and should consider just taking a medical redshirt. And no I am not saying this because they are playing Notre Dame in two weeks. I would prefer to beat them at their best. But Lee and Redd really need to think about what is best for their own future's. Is playing for a team that is going nowhere and will be lucky to get any bowl this year, in their best interests? Anybody with any sense will scratch their head on this one.
Monday, October 7, 2013
It is amazing how the outlook of a season can change after a huge win over a ranked opponent. After early season disappointing losses and underwhelming victories, Notre Dame played it's best game against an Arizona State team that may be the best in the PAC 12 South. And while a return to the BCS Title game seems like a pipe dream, a trip to a BCS Bowl is surprisingly not of the question.
Notre Dame is 4-2 meaning that it can finish 10-2. I think a 10-2 Notre Dame team makes it to the BCS. It would make us look good if Oklahoma wins the Big 12 and if Arizona State can at least go to the PAC 12 title game. The Sooners do seem to be the team to beat in the Big 12, but the Sun Devils will fight it out with UCLA for their division. Winning the conference altogether would be even better for the Irish but I am not sure the Sun Devils can beat Oregon.
If one of the two Michigan teams can make it to the Big 10 Championship, that would help too.
But what those other teams do is irrelevant if Notre Dame does not win out. While that may seem hard, the tough part of the Irish schedule is done up until Stanford. After the bye Notre Dame has a series of teams it should beat heading into Stanford.
Next is a trip to Pittsburgh. It seems that no matter what Pittsburgh record is, they always give Notre Dame a hard time. This year should be no exception. The Panthers started this season in a rough fashion by getting blown out to Florida State. Since they responded with three straight wins. However, it was against New Mexico, Duke, and Virginia (not exactly top competition). I am curious to see how they play against Virginia Tech this weekend. We will have a better idea of how good they are. Having said that, if Notre plays like it did against ASU, this is a victory.
These games all lead up to this.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
While Charlie Weis did not live up to the expectations when he was head coach, he did do some good things for Notre Dame. One of them was starting the tradition of the Shamrock Series. It started in San Antonio at the Alamo Dome. Then an old tradition was renewed for a year when the Fighting Irish played Army at Yankee Stadium. It has since traveled to Fed Ex Field in the nation's capital, Soldier Field in Chicago, and finally to AT & T Stadium aka The house that Jerry built in Arlington, Texas.
In these games, Notre Dame just seems to bring their best every time. What is it that pumps Notre Dame up for this game? Is it the special uniforms? Is it the trip to a historic stadium? Whatever it is the Irish are always at their best for this game.
No disrespect to Washington State, Army, Maryland, or last year's Miami, but Arizona State was Notre Dame's toughest challenge for this annual event. Here is a team that was coming off scoring 62 points against USC and they also had a huge, yet a little controversial,win over Wisconsin. Not to mention that Dallas is actually a lot closer to Tempe than it is to South Bend meaning at times it seemed as though the Sun Devils had the home field advantage. Also none of the experts were giving the Fighting Irish much of a chance and even Irish fans including me had serious doubts that they could pull this off.
I had two major concerns going into this game. The first was that this defense has not looked anything like it did last year after losing Manti Te'o among others. They struggled against mediocre offenses so how would they stop this team that has put up 122 points this season against legitimate FBS opponents. But low and behold the defense looked a lot like last season's defense. They were all over Taylor Kelly and sacked him four times. Three of them were by Prince Shembo who has not performed like he did last year. The Pressure also caused three turnovers including a late pick six by Dan Fox to seal it.
The defense did give up three passing touchdowns which would ordinarily not be a good game, but against this offense it is pretty damn good. That is especially true since one of those scores was a meaningless score with 11 seconds left. Hopefully, this is a confidence boost for this defense the rest of the season.
The other concern I had was how confident Tommy Rees would be after two bad games and lots of nasty tweets and lack of support from the fan base. But Rees played a great game. He had 279 passing yards and three touchdowns. He really only had one bad mistake but it was a pick six that could have turned the game around. But he rallied after that and put together two more scoring drives.
Rees got a lot of help from TJ Jones who had a career game with 8 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown. Jones has really become the go to guy on offense. DaVaris Daniels also chipped in with 4 catches for 67 yards. That was good to see after Daniels did nothing the last two weeks. Cam McDaniel was the best runner with 82 yards on 15 carries. This Texas boy showed Texas toughness in his home state with these yards. He fought for every inch he got.
Hopefully, this is also a confidence boost for Rees and the offense the rest of the way. Being fair to Rees, Michigan State has a defense that really looks a lot like last year's Irish defense and Oklahoma looks like they are clearly the best team in the Big 12. So it is not like he struggles against scrubs. He also has all new players around him other than Jones and Daniels. So even though he is a senior, most of the rest of the key players are young.
In closing, I thought Brian Kelly had a great game plan by really working the clock and having an early time of possession advantage. That kept the powerful Arizona State offense off the field and the Irish defense fresh. Going into the bye, Notre Dame has two weeks to prepare for USC who has an interim coach. Notre Dame will certainly be favored and then they have a series of winnable games starting with the service academies heading into the showdown at the end of the season with Stanford. The outlook on the season definitely looks a lot better after a big win like this.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Generally when a team puts up 62 points against USC and gets their coach fired, you would think they are a really good team. However, the Trojans are a shell of the program they used to be. Earlier they lost to Washington State who has been the worst team in the PAC 12 for about a decade. So we can't really tell how good they are based on that game.
So we have to look at the rest of their schedule. They started against FCS Sacramento State and beat them 55-0. That tells us nothing about them though. But like Notre Dame, the Sun Devils then opened up a tough stretch in their schedule. It started with a showdown with Wisconsin. That game ended in a controversial fashion. Wisconsin was in position to kick a makeable game winning field goal but the referees allowed too much time to tick off the clock and the Badgers never got a chance. So the Sun Devils got a very tainted victory on that one. Wisconsin also just lost to Ohio State quite convincingly too, so we don't really know how good they are.
Next up, the Sun Devils got blown out by Stanford. They did score three 4th quarter touchdowns, but that only made it look close on the scoreboard. The Cardinal dominated them.
Finally, they had that great performance against USC. But even in that game, they gave up 41 points to an offense that has been struggling.
So based on a 3-1 record, it is still hard to tell how good they are because one of their wins was tainted and the other two were not against good teams. Their one loss was a really bad one.
What we do know is that they have a very powerful offense led by Taylor Kelly. With their spread attack they have put up 122 points this season against FBS opponents. Kelly has thrown for 1370 yards and 11 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. It is safe to say that the defense will have it's hands full. The guys really under the microscope are Kevare Russell and Bennett Jackson as they have to cover Jaelen Strong.
While the defense will have it's hands full this weekend, Tommy Rees and the offense will have a chance to regain it's early season form. They will be facing a defense that has given up 111 points the past three weeks. I just hope they can keep pace with the Sun Devils. Hopefully, our defense can slow them up enough.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
After last weekend's bad loss to Oklahoma, I watched Arizona State blow out USC to the point to where Lane Kiffin got fired. My interest in the game was due to that these are our next two opponents. In that game I watched Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly throw into traffic all night. But he had great receivers Jaelen Strong and D.J. Foster make great plays for him.
That reminded me of the two guys above. I remember possibly the most overrated quarterback in Notre Dame history Jimmy Clausen throwing into double or even triple coverage but Golden Tate and Michael Floyd would consistently make a great catch and nobody would notice. Tommy Rees even got away with that with Floyd his early years.
The point is that I look at the receivers we have now led by TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels and while they are really good when is the last time we saw them go up and take a ball from the defenders? I tried real hard and I just couldn't remember. Understand that this is not making excuses for Rees but just saying that the receivers won't be wide open all the time and the great ones make plays even when they are covered. It is time for Jones and Daniels start helping their quarterback out if the ball is not thrown perfectly.