Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Notre Dame and Stanford Battle In a Game That Doesn't Mean Much On Paper

For the first time since the Sugar Bowl, Notre Dame will be on FOX Sports. FOX has a contract with the PAC 12 for home games and this week Notre Dame goes to Palo Alto. When the schedule came out, I am sure both the Irish and the Cardinal circled this one as a match up that could be between two undefeated teams for a trip to the BCS Title game.

And both teams have had impressive wins, The Irish had signature wins over Michigan State, Arizona State, and USC who are all ranked teams. Stanford's signature moment was Oregon of course but they also had huge wins over UCLA and Arizona State.

But both teams have also had disappointing losses. Notre Dame lost to Michigan and Oklahoma in games where the losses look a lot worse now than they did at the time. Then the Pitt game was just a dark spot on the season. Stanford had an inexcusable loss to Utah who won't even make a bowl game. They also lost to USC  and not to discredit what USC has done since the coaching change but the Cardinal should have taken care of business in this one.

Based on that, that makes this game somewhat irrelevant on the national scale. Stanford will not play for a BCS title, but they will play in the PAC 12 Championship regardless of the outcome. The game is a little more relevant for Notre Dame because as I said in my last blog, they are not mathematically eliminated from the BCS, but it will take a lot of help. So being realistic, whether the Irish are 9-3 or 8-4 probably won't affect too much what bowl they get.

But whether or not the game matters nationally, it is still another huge rivalry for the Irish. It is not a rivalry like USC, Michigan, or Miami where the two teams just don't like each other. It is more of a rivalry like Navy where the two teams have a mutual respect for each other and how both teams build a strong program while still maintaining tough academic standards. But make no mistake of it, both teams want to win bad.

And this will be another physical battle. Stanford is a really tough team who loves to play smash mouth run the ball style. We all remember the overtime battle last year in which it took a Tommy Rees to TJ Jones touchdown followed by a signature goal line stand. That gave the Irish an 18-9 series lead.

What will decide this game this year is who runs the ball most effectively and on paper that favors Stanford. They have a senior in Tyler Gaffney who has rushed for 1296 yards and 16 touchdowns. That will be a tough battle for Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, and Jaron Jones. Notre Dame's leading rusher on the other hand is Cam McDaniel with 608 yards and 3 touchdowns. Having said that, the Irish do have a little more depth at that position because George Atkinson has 554 yards with 3 touchdowns, and the late emergence of Tarean Folston has added more to the running game. Outside of Gaffney, Stanford's next leading rusher has 262. So while both teams want to run the ball, the Irish have to basically prepare for one guy while Stanford has to be ready for a committee who all have different running style. That could be a slight advantage for Notre Dame.

The quarterbacks have had similar seasons but Notre Dame has a clear edge in the passing game. Kevin Hogan has thrown for 2052 yards with 18 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while Rees has thrown for 2739 yards and 25 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. Hogan's best receiver is Ty Montgomery with 50 catches for 822 yards and 9 touchdowns but the next highest receiver has 22 catches for 396 yards. Rees on the other hand has Jones who has 59 catches for 986 yards and 8 touchdowns. But Jones is not the only weapon. DaVaris Daniels has 41 catches for 641 yards and 6 touchdowns while Tight End Troy Niklas has added 26 catches for 398 yards and 5 touchdowns.

It is safe to say for both offenses that this is one of the more physical defenses they have faced. Unfortunately  for Notre Dame though, Stanford's defense has stayed healthy for the most part. This will be a battle and I am glad that the players will have some time for the bowl game. They will need it to heal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

BCS Is Not Mathematically Dead, But........

Believe it or not, Notre Dame is still not mathematically eliminated from the BCS. It will take a victory over Stanford and a lot of help. Plus, the voters never seem to be on the side of the Irish and tend to point out Notre Dame's failures rather than their successes. I will break my TV next time I hear a commentator say, "I don't know how Michigan State lost to Notre Dame." It never even enters their mind that maybe Notre Dame is a pretty damn good team. But enough about that, let's explore just how Notre Dame can still pull off a trip to the BCS.

They are currently ranked #25 and need to be at least #15 in the final poll to be eligible. That means we have two weeks to climb 10 spots. we are off that last weekend, but that can actually be a good thing.

Just ahead of Notre Dame is Duke. They play North Carolina this week and if they win as expected, they will play Florida State in the ACC Championship in which the Seminoles will likely make them sorry they were ever born. So passing Duke should not be a problem.

Ahead of Duke is USC and UCLA. The best value that has to the Irish is that they both play each other this week. This will be an interesting game to watch and much of the focus will be on whether or not Ed Orgeron will get the job as Head Coach on a permanent basis. Since taking over he has only lost once but it was to Notre Dame which is a big loss to them. He can get some redemption with a win over their other big rival, but a loss will make it hard for Pat Haden to ignore the fact that Jack Del Rio is out there. Expect this to be one of the best games in this rivalry in a long time. The good thing is that one of them will lose.

Ahead of these two LA rivals is Texas A & M led by Johnny Football. They play Missouri this week who with a win will advance to the SEC title game. I expect the Tigers to take care of business. So passing the Aggies seems to be very realistic.

The next team at #20 is Louisville who has the week off before ending the year against Cincinnati. I think Coach Kelly's old team is underrated and has a real chance in this one. The game is in Cincinnati.

Ahead of Louisville is Central Florida and it might be hard to pass them because they have two games left against two teams that tackle like wimps. But SMU is always tough with that Run and Shoot offense so maybe they can pull off an upset. This one may take an act of God.

Next up is Oklahoma who has struggled since their win over Notre Dame. They have one game left against in state rival Oklahoma State who is currently #7. The Cowboys will win the Big 12 with a win which will make it even tougher for the Sooners. That is good for the Irish.

#17 is LSU who has one game left against Arkansas who has only 3 wins all year. Ouch, this one will be tough.

Next up is Fresno State who plays San Jose State before playing either Utah State or Boise in the Mountain West Championship. I don't see them losing this weekend but there is potential in the title game.

At #15 which is where the Irish need to be is Wisconsin. They have one game left this weekend and it is against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are a tough team but I am not sure they match up with the Badgers and this will be their Senior Day. This one will be tough.

Just ahead of Wisconsin is Northern Illinois who won't lose today against Western Michigan, but the MAC Title games are always exciting and either Bowling Green or Buffalo will give the Huskies all they can handle.

Another game of interest to Notre Dame is the Big 10 Title game with Michigan State and Ohio State. This can be good either way. If the Spartans pull off the upset, our victory over them looks even better. But if the Buckeyes win, Michigan State will potentially fall far enough.

Oregon seems to have lost a lot of momentum and a loss to Oregon State would help. Also, Arizona State plays an emerging Arizona team this week, but I kind of want the Sun Devils to win because it makes our win over them look better.

Of course Notre Dame can help it themselves with a win over Stanford who is #8 but will fall many places with a loss to the Irish. Of course, Stanford will play Arizona State the following week in which one of them has to lose.

The thing that does hurt us though is that our losses are bad ones. Neither Michigan nor Oklahoma lived up to expectations and Pitt is well Pitt. So there are a lot of things that do need to happen in the Irish's favor and it will be tough. So the best thing Notre Dame can do is have a great week of practice, play the game of their life against Stanford, and let the rest take care of itself.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Notre Dame Lands Back In The Top 25 After Physical Win Over BYU

My apologies for the lateness of this blog. I was indisposed this weekend and was just able to see the game film now.

Things always look better after a win. Fans were really questioning the direction of the program after the Pitt loss. But now things are looking a lot better. The team is now 8-3 and not mathematically eliminated from the BCS. Although they do need a lot of help to make it there. But let's not go there just yet.

On Saturday, the Fighting Irish finally played the kind of game they should have been playing all year. That is a physical running game and play action passes off of it. The first drive was symbolic of that as emerging freshman Tearean Folston ran effectively for the whole drive until Tommy Rees hit a wide open DaVaris Daniels for a 61 yard touchdown.

That was the theme all day as Folston along with Cam McDaniel just ran it down BYU's throat. McDaniel gained 117 yards on 24 carries and Folston had 78 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown. George Atkinson also pitched in with 42 yards on 6 carries. The USC kid never saw the field.

There was enough balance in the passing game as Rees finished with a respectable 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Daniels finished with 6 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown while TJ Jones had another solid day with 5 catches for 95 yards.

The defense had a nice effort. They did give up yards but managed to keep everything in front. Dual threat quarterback Taysom Hill had 168 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception along with 101 yards rushing. The defense really did a nice job of stopping Jamaal Williams as he only had 43 yards.

Defensive standouts were Jaylon Smith who keeps getting better and better and Jarron Jones who filled in nicely for Louis Nix. I am excited for the careers these young men could have. Jones had a huge field goal block late in the game that would have pulled the Cougars to within a touchdown.

Great win for the Irish and it is now time to prepare for our annual year end trip to California to play Stanford. This year the game may not mean much on paper, but it is another big rivalry for Notre Dame.

Friday, November 22, 2013

BYU Has Had A Season Similar To Notre Dame's

With all the talk about the seniors this week, it is sometimes easy to forget that we have a football game against a really good team. For Notre Dame it has been probably the most up and down season I can remember. For the ups, we beat Michigan State and Arizona State who will both likely play in their conference championships for a chance to go to the BCS. We also beat USC which is always a huge bonus.

But we lost to Michigan and Oklahoma who have both gone really south since playing Notre Dame. The Pittsburgh loss was a low point, but to be fair, our team was really injured in that game.

BYU has had a very similar season in many regards. They open the year by losing to a mediocre Virginia team only to blow out Texas the next week. Then they lose to a mediocre Utah team before going on a winning streak against a soft schedule featuring lots of mid majors. The Cougars to their credit did play Wisconsin pretty tough but I never got the sense they would win that game.

But what I do know is that they played us tough last year. Rees had a tough game but we did win. Their biggest offensive threat is dual threat quarterback Taysom Hill who has 2379 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Hill also has 956 yards rushing with 8 touchdowns. His one weakness is that he does tend to turn it over with 12 interceptions.

Another weapon they have is runner Jamaal Williams who has 940 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Irish defense will once again have their hands full and with Louis Nix out for the year, that will be tough.

It is hard to say how good the Cougar defense is because they have not really played too many explosive offenses.

Nonetheless, the Irish will have another battle on their hands.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thank You Seniors

I already wrote a whole piece on Tommy Rees so this one is dedicated to the other seniors.

TJ Jones

He has been by far the team's best receiver with 54 catches, 891 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Jones was often overshadowed by guys like Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert in his early years. But in his senior year, he has really been the man. I expect to see him on Sundays.

Zack Martin

A rock on the offensive line for years. He came back this year to play with his younger brother 

Chris Watt

Another soild rock on the line.

Louis Nix

There is some debate about whether or not he will exercise his option for a fifth year. But with the money waiting for him in the NFL, it is hard for me to picture him coming back. Nonetheless, along with guys like Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Sheldon Day, he was part of one of the most feared defensive lines in all of college football.

Dan Fox

Prince Shembo

Carlos Calabrese

These three were often overshadowed by Manti Te'o throughout their career. But all three have been solid and will be missed.

Bennett Jackson

He had the tough task of transitioning from wide receiver to cornerback. Although it was not an easy transition, Jackson managed to hold on to his starting job for two seasons.

Austin Collinsworth

An unsung hero in many ways. He has been a special teams star and very good in Nikel and dime packages.

Danny Spond

Another complimentary linebacker to Te'o, but he was unable to play his senior year due to injury. But he showed his commitment to Notre Dame by staying with the team and was very useful in the development of Jaylon Smith.

Thanks to all the seniors and good luck in your future endeavors. You will all be missed.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Tommy Rees Deserves a Standing Ovation On Senior Day

Every year the day that is filled with the most mixed emotions is Senior Day. That is the day that we are sad to see them go but are happy for what they gave to the program and want to wish them well. This year we have a player who will go down as one of the most debated players in Notre Dame history. That is Tommy Rees.

His four year career has really been a roller coaster ride. The first time we saw him was as a freshman against Michigan when he came in for injured starter Dayne Crist. I did not think much of him at that point as he looked very ineffective. But later that year, he came in again against Tulsa when Crist was once again injured. But this time it was for the year. Rees had a good game that day but he came up short with an interception in the endzone at the end. Fans were frustrated as the team was 4-5 and a 4-8 season was staring us in the face.

Then after a bye, Rees rallied the team on Senior Day with a huge win over a ranked Utah team. Then the team found new momentum and defeated Army at Yankee Stadium, defeated USC, and triumphed again in the Sun Bowl against Miami.

Then came an offseason in which Rees and Crist would have to compete for the starting job not only with each other but also with freshmen Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. In spite of the fact that Golson and Hendrix were more taylor made for Brian Kelly's spread system, they were way behind Rees and Crist. And although the competition was close, Crist got the nod in the opening game against South Florida. But he was so ineffective that Rees replaced him at the half.

In spite of the fact that Rees was the least talented quarterback, he continually outperformed the competition and was the quarterback for the rest of his sophomore season. He lead the team to an 8-4 record in which his play was very up and down. He had over 20 turnovers that year although he did look good at other times.

Then came an offseason in which he would once again compete with Golson and Hendrix for the job while Crist left for Kansas to be reunited with Charlie Weis. During spring it was close among all three, but Golson clearly look the best in the Spring game.

Then came probably the darkest time in Rees' career when he got arrested for drunk and disorderly and assaulting a police. That cost him a one game suspension and who knows if he would have won the starting job over Golson?

But during that special year when the Irish went to the BCS title game, Rees found a new role that he excelled in. That was a backup and mentor to Golson. Since Golson was so young, there would be games he would struggle in. I will never forget that day when he came in against Purdue with fans booing him and led them down for a game winning score.

Then two weeks later, he once again came in for a struggling Golson to lead the team to victory in an old fashioned defensive battle against Michigan. Later in the season he replaced an injured Golson against Stanford and threw a touchdown in overtime. He started against BYU and wasn't great but good enough for a win.

His role on the field diminished at that point as Golson was beginning to really grow. Although he did get in for one play against Oklahoma, but it was a big play. He hit Tyler Eifert for a long first down on a third and long on a drive that Golson led them to score. That drive grabbed control of the game for the Irish.

Although he didn't play much after that point, he was just as important in his role as a mentor to Golson. The two became friends. Going into the offseason, Rees did not look to have much of a role on the field in his senior season.

Then we all know what happened as Golson made a mistake we know he regrets in which he cheated on a test. Rees once again has had a season that has had it's ups and downs. Fans have been back and forth with each other about him.

My stance is and always has been was that I love the kid but he is a good backup quarterback. And we knew that we would have to play the season with our backup quarterback. So do I blame him for the 7-3 record? The answer is no. When a team knows they are playing with a backup at quarterback, it is up to the defense and running game to really step up and neither have been consistent all season.

Rees was never recruited to be the starter. He was a coaches kid who was smart and picked more for his intelligence. He was a good guy for depth on the roster. It is not his fault that he outperformed the more talented guys and that Golson made a bad mistake. Rees has given all he has to Notre Dame and has made the most of what he has. Can you honestly say the same thing about Crist and Hendrix? Is it his fault Golson messed up? For that reason Rees deserves a huge ovation on Saturday.

Thanks for everything Tommy and I hope Coach Kelly keeps you on as a GA. Otherwise you will be missed and good luck in your future endeavors.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Strong Finish Can Still Save the Season

The Pittsburgh game hurt. That was a game that Notre Dame should have won and it still hurts a week later. But being fair, the team was really banged up on defense and losing Stephon Tuitt who was the only healthy defensive lineman to a bad call really changed that game.

But the season is not done and there are two tough games left. I was very low after the Pitt game but ironically it was a USC win that gave me new life. I thought Stanford was looking unbeatable until that. With a by guys like Sheldon Day and Louis Nix have had a little time to heal and hopefully are ready to go against USC.

BYU is a tough team, but a victory over them will make that Pitt game just a hiccup. Go Irish! Get back on track.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Some Notre Dame Fans Need a Reality Check

Whenever a team suffers a disappointing loss, knee jerk reactions from fans always come. Following the loss to Pittsburgh. We hear them all. Of course a good share of them go toward Tommy Rees. Many hint that they can't wait until Golson comes back. I will be the first to admit that the offense can do way more with him than it can with Rees, but I will not forget that Golson had his moments as Rees has this year. The difference is that Golson had Rees to bail him out in those games. That is not the case this year. There is nobody behind Rees.

The fact is that Rees was probably never figured to be the starter by the coaches when he was recruited. Guys like Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, and Golson all had more talent. But Rees outperformed all of them consistently. Don't be mad at him for that. Golson did have the job last year and Rees was his backup, but this year Golson messed up and we had to go with the backup.

Another common comment I hear is that this is the most frustrating season ever for a Notre Dame fan. I say Wow! You must have a short memory if you don't remember the Weis and Clausen years. Here we had a coach flashing his Super Bowl rings and a young man showing up in a hummer promising 4 National Titles. That of course was after he made his announcement at the NFL Hall of Fame. The farthest they went is the Hawaii Bowl.

To compare this year to that is ridiculous. I predicted 8-4 at the start. We lost way too many guys. Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Kapron Lewis Moore, Zeke Motta, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and Danny Spond are all gone. And we have played this whole season with our backup quarterback. What did we really expect? I predicted 8-4 and that is looking like what we will get.

We will end up with a decent bowl. Don't get me wrong I am still disappointed with the Pitt loss, but to compare this season with others in recent years is ridiculous.

I have faith that Coach Kelly will have them back next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Rule That Must Be Changed

Whenever you lose it is always tough. But it is easier to accept when you play a good game but lose to a team who is better than you. It really stings when you lose to a lesser opponent. It is even worse when there is controversy surrounding that loss.

That is the case right now with Notre Dame. If there was a player on defense that the Irish could not afford to lose last weekend it was Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt was the only healthy defensive lineman on the Irish roster. Louis Nix and Sheldon Day did both play but they clearly were not the same recovering from injuries.

But early in the second quarter, Tuitt was ejected for targeting on Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage.

The targeting rule is as follows:
• No player shall target and initiate contact vs. opponent with the crown of his helmet.
• No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent.
That all sounds good but looking at the photo above, it is clear that both players have their heads down. It actually looks like Savage went in with his head down and that Tuitt was just trying to get lower than him. If you watch the hit live, you will see that Tuitt actually made contact with his shoulder pads even though his head was down.
To me, it seems that the rule is designed to protect the quarterbacks and that is not right. If a quarterback goes in head first like that, he should get flagged too. 
The controversial part of the rule is the ejection part. What makes no sense is that the ejection can be reviewed but the penalty can't. So if he did not target and is not ejected, why wouldn't you pick up the flag. That is absurd. In Tuitt's case, the ejection was upheld and nobody in South Bend understood what they were looking at.
That call changed everything. Pitt's offense did nothing prior to the call. But after it, our already banged up and thin defense now had it in their head that they couldn't hit the other team a certain way. Yes it was Pitt but I don't care if it were an Ivy league team. If you're already banged up and your one healthy linemen goes down, that will affect the outcome of the game and it did. 
And yes, our three turnovers on offense did affect the outcome too, but Pitt would not have scored without that penalty.
That rule cost Notre Dame not only the game, but any chance at the BCS. It needs to be changed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bad Officiating and Three Turnovers Cost Notre Dame Any Chance Of BCS

Not a good night for the Irish as their BCS hopes were shattered with a loss to Pittsburgh. This was a team that on paper was outmatched by the Irish. And the way the game started, that is exactly how it looked. Tommy Rees had an early touchdown to Davaris Daniels and the Pittsburgh offense could do nothing.

Then it happened. Stephon Tuitt had a vicious hit on Panther quarterback Tom Savage. Although it was in bounds and it was Savage who lowered his head, Tuitt got a targeting penalty which got him ejected. That totally changed the game as Pittsburgh exploited that hole in a line that was already thin before the Tuitt ejection. The defense was not the same after that and could not stop a mediocre offense. Along the way there was a really bad pass interference call that led to a touchdown.

Having said all that, the defense should have been able to overcome the Tuitt ejection as he is not the only playmaker they have. Giving up three second half touchdowns to this offense who has a bad line is inexcusable.

Offensively it was another big day statistically. Rees had 318 yards passing with two touchdowns and TJ Jones had six catches for 149 yards and an 80 yard touchdown. But it was those two guys who had crucial errors that cost the Irish points. Jones had a long catch in the second quarter but fumbled inside the five. Rees just fell apart in the 4th quarter with two interceptions. One of them was in double coverage in the end zone.

Another factor in this game was that I felt the offensive game plan was poor. Tarean Folston had a breakout performance last week but he only got four carries against Pittsburgh. That is just inexcusable. The running game was completely abandoned in the second half in spite of the fact that it was working in the first half. And although that was a bad throw by Rees in the endzone, I was puzzled why they couldn't pound it in when they only needed a couple yards.

All these factors combined created a bad loss to a team they should have beaten. Now that the BCS is gone, it will be a long two weeks before BYU comes to South Bend for Senior Day. Notre Dame still needs to finish strong in hopes to get a decent bowl.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It Doesn't Have To Be Pretty, Just Get A Win

There are two teams that Notre Dame annually plays that always make me nervous because it seems no matter what their record is they seem to play the Irish tough. They are Purdue and Pittsburgh. We all remember what happened last year and this year should be no different. While the panthers are only 4-4, they do have a quarterback in Tom Savage who has thrown for 1779 yards with 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and a running back in Isaac Bennett who has rushed for 543 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Granted six of Savage's touchdowns came in one game, but that one game was Duke who is better than they normally are. Also, 240 of Bennett's yards came against Old Dominion. But having said that, the Irish defense is banged up after two straight weeks of service academies. The cut blocking that goes on in those games takes it's toll and Notre Dame should think about whether it is in their best interests to keep playing them. They have to play Navy, but no reason to ever play Air Force or Army again.

Among the wounded for the Irish are Ishaq Williams and Kona Schwenke who are out. Sheldon Day is questionable. Ben Councell was lost for the year against Navy. The good news is that Louis Nix is returning this week. The defense needs is thin though and guys like Stephon Tuitt and Jalen Smith need to continue to play big as they have.

The good news is that the offense is not only healthy but got a real spark last week with freshman runner Tarean Folston. I am so excited to see what he can do for a follow up this week, but if las game was any indication he and Cam McDaniel can be a great 1-2 punch. This can only help Tommy Rees as TJ Jones, Troy Niklas, and company will be more open. This is a Pittsburgh defense that is giving up an average of 26.75 points a game and it is really against soft opponents other than Florida State and Duke. Expect Rees and company to have another big game.

But again, on paper this appears to be a big win for the Irish. However, this does have the makings of a trap game. Notre Dame has a bye with two weeks to prepare for BYU and Stanford. With all the injuries the Irish have, I say it doesn't have to be pretty. Just get a win.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Notre Dame Up To #23 With BCS Hopes Alive and Well

With their shoot out win over Navy, Notre Dame climbed two spaces to #23 in the latest BCS poll. With three games left, it means that the Fighting Irish still can make a BCS Bowl but they have to win out and they need teams in front of them to lose. That will happen because many teams in front of Notre Dame will play each other.

It starts this Thursday with a couple of big games. #3 Oregon and #5 Stanford play. That means one of them will lose. They probably won't fall enough but Notre Dame does play Stanford at  the end of the year. But being brutally honest, if Stanford beats Oregon I don't see how Notre Dame can beat them.

Another big game on Thursday is  #10 Oklahoma at #6 Baylor. The greatest value to us is that one has to lose, but if Oklahoma can win it does make us look better.

There is only one other top 25 match up but it is a big one. #1 Alabama hosts #13 LSU. Now Alabama will not fall anywhere near enough with a loss. But LSU just might with a blowout loss since that will be three losses.

Hopefully, somewhere along the way somebody knocks off Central Florida and Fresno. Arizona State was ranked one spot ahead of us which is strange since we beat them. But that is not a huge concern because they have a late season match up with #19 UCLA. Again the greatest value to us is that somebody has to lose.

Having said all of this, none of it matters if the Irish don't take care of their business. It starts this week with Pittsburgh whom we know always comes ready for Notre Dame regardless of their record.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Notre Dame Wins Shoot Out With Navy

If you wanted to see a defensive struggle, you watched the wrong game. Unlike the Michigan State and USC games, it was the offenses who ruled this day. Notre Dame and Navy accounted for over 900 yards of offense in this game.

For the Irish, Tommy Rees had another solid day with 242 yards passing and two more touchdowns. Hid did have two interceptions but only one was really on him. The receiver fell down on the other. TJ Jones had another big day with 4 catches for 111 yards.

But the story of this game was the running game. George Atkinson opened the game with a 41 yard touchdown run. Cam McDaniel was also solid running with 7 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. But they were both outdone by true freshman Tarean Folston who had a breakout game. He rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown.

Navy really had no answer for the Irish offense. Notre Dame did not punt all day. It was only the two interceptions when the Midshipmen escaped without points and even on one of those a touchdown was called back because of a really questionable holding call. Notre Dame scored touchdowns on all three of it's second half possessions.

Defensively it was a struggle though. To be fair, the Irish had some key injuries for this game, most notably Louis Nix aka Irish Chocolate. The referees also did not do the Irish any favors. There was an illegal use of hands penalty on Stephon Tuitt that kept a drive alive early that looked like a good play. Then Mathias Farley had a hit in bounds with his shoulders first that would have forced a punt. Instead he got flagged for unnecessary roughness.

But even with that, Notre Dame should have had enough talent to overcome what Navy had. As it was Keenan Reynolds and that triple option attack gave the Irish nightmares all day. Notre Dame actually only stopped them three times all day.

The first stop was the Mid Shipmen's second possession in which they did the Irish a favor by trying to pass when their option attack was working. The second stop was the first possession of the second half in which the Irish earned and made them punt. The third stop came on the final possession of the game in which the Irish actually got a little lucky. Navy was marching but a fumbled pitch on a first down put them in 2nd an 16.  They gained part of it back and set up a 4th and 5. That is when Navy tried a trick play with a reverse off the option only to have emerging freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith waiting for them and made the tackle. Honestly, I don't know why Navy tried that trick play when Notre Dame hadn't stopped their base option all game. The regular option probably would have worked.

But with the win Notre Dame improved to 7-2 with BCS hopes still alive. The problem is that not too many teams ahead of the Irish in the poll actually lost. #21 Michigan did get destroyed by #22 Michigan State. I am not sure if that helps us or hurts us. #15 Texas Tech went down to #18 Oklahoma State. #7 Miami fell hard to #3 Florida State. It will be interesting to see how far those teams fall in the poll.

Notre Dame must be #14 to be eligible and #8 for an automatic bid.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Notre Dame In a Scary Familiar Position

The date was October 31, 2009 (Halloween Night). The Place was San Antonio, Texas. It was the first ever Shamrock Series game against Washington State. The Fighting Irish destroyed the Cougars  40-14. The victory moved the Notre Dame to 6-2 and in a position to contend for a BCS bowl with four games left.

They had four opponents who were beatable but also tough enough to lose to if they didn't play their best. But Irish fans were confident they would go through Navy easily and then go to Pittsburgh and triumph. Connecticut was tough but it won't happen on Senior Day. Finally, Stanford would be a tough test, but Notre Dame owns this series.

Things were really looking up for Notre Dame and fans were talking about what BCS Bowl we would play in. Then it happened.  The Irish hit a wall against Navy and fell 23-21. Then proceeded to hit three more walls and lost the rest of their games. Charlie Weis was fired while Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate bolted to the NFL.

Does this sound at all familiar? Notre Dame is coming off a dominant performance to Air Force and guess who is coming to South Bend? That is right Navy. Then once again the team travels to Pittsburgh and a trip to Stanford is the last game. Maybe because it is Halloween I am paranoid, but this is way too familiar. The only difference is BYU is the Senior Day opponent.

The point here is not to scare anybody, just to remind them that any given Saturday you can win or lose depending on how ready you are. It is very easy for Notre Dame to be overconfident against Navy. They have completely dominated the last two meetings including last year in Ireland. Notre Dame actually went 43 years without losing to Navy. However, there was a span in recent years in which the Mid Shipmen won 3 of 4 and as it stands now they do have the number one rushing offense in the nation. However, it is against inferior competition.

Their leading rusher is quarterback Keenan Reynolds with 546 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he has only 667 yards passing with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions as Navy is one dimensional as it always is. And this defense doesn't match up on paper. So Tommy Rees should have another big day throwing to TJ Jones and company.

So if Notre Dame comes out like they have the last three games and plays to their ability, they will help their BCS cause, but if they lose a repeat of 2009 is a real possibility.