Sunday, November 30, 2014

USC Flat Out Embarrasses Notre Dame. It Was Ugly.

Not a lot needs to be said about this one. I am not going to say I told you so because I have never wanted to be wrong more than for this one. Everett Golson is officially in Brian Kelly's dog house. He was so ineffective against USC that he was pulled in the late 2nd quarter. Would he have been pulled if the game wasn't already out of reach? Only Kelly knows. Kelly said after the game that he is not sure if Golson will be the starting quarterback going forward. That can mean a couple of things. He could be pulling the plug on Golson or he could be trying to light a fire under him.

Kelly should do what Lou Holtz did with Steve Beurlein. Beurlein threw a lot of interceptions his junior year. Holtz sat down with him and simply said, "I guarantee that you won't throw 7 next season." Beurlein said, "Okay." Holtz said, "That's because as soon as you throw 6, I am taking you out." Beurlein responded with a great senior season.

Malik Zaire did look alright in relief. He led a couple touchdown drives. He was 9 of 20 for 170 yards. Those stats would have been a little better if the receivers didn't have some drops. Zaire also didn't turn the ball over. But let's not get too excited just yet. He game in with the game already way out of reach and much of his action was against back ups. I would guess that because of the sanctions many of them were not even on scholarship.

Defensively, this depleted unit seems to every week break a Notre Dame record, but not the ones you want to break. It was no different this game as Cody Kessler became the first quarterback ever to throw 6 touchdowns against Notre Dame.

After dominating this rivalry for nearly a decade, the Trojans had slipped and lost 3 of 4 and two straight at home. But they took back the bragging rights in this rivalry. What is really frustrating for Notre Dame is that the sanctions for USC are now done and they get all their scholarships back. On top of that, next year this game is the week after Navy. We all know how that works.

Notre Dame has some decisions to make in the coming days on whether to go to a bowl game or not. That is not an easy decision and tomorrows blog will cover that.

Friday, November 28, 2014

I Hope I am Wrong, But I See No Way Notre Dame Beats USC

I have never wanted to be wrong more than I do now. I despise USC more than any other school in the nation. A win over them would definitely make those other late season losses more forgivable. The Trojans do lack depth on defense because they still have the scholarship reductions. So by running the ball a lot, the Irish can wear them out. USC is also coming off a really bad loss to their other big rival UCLA. So they may have a bit of a "hangover." With both of those factors in mind, I still see no way Notre Dame can go into the Coliseum and get a victory.

For starters that loss to UCLA could and probably will be a motivator to USC. They will not want to lose to rivals in back to back weeks. Another motivating factor is that Notre Dame has won 3 of the last 4 and two straight in LA. There is no doubt they will want to take their house back.

I mentioned earlier that Notre Dame can commit to the run and wear this thin defense out. But I am not sure if Brian Kelly can help himself. Even with all the turnovers, Everett Golson is one of the most exciting players to watch in college football. The fast paced game is what is natural to Kelly instead of keeping that defense on the field and wearing them down.

But the most important factor why I don't see Notre Dame winning is because of USC's offense. Probably the most underrated quarterback in the country is Cody Kessler. His numbers are just sick. He is completing almost 70% of his passes. He has thrown for 3133 yards with 30 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. With those numbers he should be in the Heisman talk and why he isn't is beyond me.

Nelson Agholor is Kessler's favorite target. He has 85 catches for 1103 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Trojans also run the ball well behind a really good offensive line. Javorius Allen is the leading runner with 1244 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Just being real with all the injuries Notre Dame has had on defense and all these freshman forced into duty, how can we realistically expect them to stop this Trojan offense when they couldn't even stop Northwestern. Even before all the injuries, this defense has not had a good game since Stanford.

I feel that for Notre Dame to win this game, they almost have to score on every possession and have no turnovers. How realistic is that?

I would be happy to be eating crow Saturday night.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Rivalry That Just Doesn't Feel The Same This Year

Notre Dame and USC is among the greatest rivalries in all of college football. It is right up there with Michigan-Ohio State, Army-Navy, Alabama-Auburn, etc. But this year, it just doesn't feel the same. In years past it has been a rivalry where the winner could possibly be playing for a National Championship.

Notre Dame has lost 3 straight and are already locked in to a non-championship bowl. But it would be nice if USC still had the chance to make the playoff so Notre Dame could at least spoil it for them. Michigan will have that chance against Ohio State and Florida can do the same to Florida State. But Notre Dame and USC are both 7-4 and headed to a bowl game that has no relevance to the playoff committee.

Heck, even Illinois and Northwestern have more on the line. They are both 5-6 and the winner is bowl eligible and the loser is home for the holidays. It would be nice if there was something on the line here but there really isn't.

But it is still Notre Dame and USC. Notre Dame has won 3 of the last 4 and the last two at the Coliseum. The Trojans will definitely want to change that. They are also coming off a bad loss to crosstown rival UCLA. Losing to two big rivals in back to back weeks is a hard way to go into a bowl game. The Irish will not want to go into a bowl game on a 4 game losing streak. That is really all that is on the line.

But with all that, bragging rights for this rivalry are always nice. But it is a whole lot nicer when you can go on to contend for a championship or be able to say you cost your rival that opportunity.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kelly's 5th Year Looking Very Similar To Weis's

I remember Charlie Weis's last season like it was yesterday. Here is the guy who came in and did a lot of great things early. He totally transformed the direction of Brady Quinn's Notre Dame career. He also found a diamond in the rough in Jeff Samardzija. That was good enough to lead the Irish to BCS Bowls in his first two seasons, only to get beaten soundly in both of them. After that the trouble began for Weis. He now had to coach the players he recruited. Jimmy Clausen was the new quarterback and their first year together was a struggle. They won just 3 games that year. The next season was a little better and ended in a Hawaii Bowl triumph.

The momentum from that win carried over to the next season. Early on the Irish looked great. They were sitting at 6-2 and looked primed for another BCS run. Then in came Navy and shocked the Irish. That loss stung and Notre Dame ended with a 4 game slide. Notre Dame elected not to go to a bowl game that season although they were eligible and Weis was gone.

Brian Kelly was hired about a week later. Now here we are 5 years later and just like in his predecessors 5th year, the team is sliding late in the season. It is amazing that this team was once at 7-1 and looked primed for a spot in the first playoff. But once again, a tough game with Navy has resulted in a losing streak. Although Notre Dame did defeat the Midshipmen this time, the game took a lot out of the defense and a 3 game losing streak has followed.

These two teams have a couple of similarities. That is an offense that can score against anybody and a defense that can't stop a junior college team.

Looking at the 5 year stretches for both coaches, you have to wonder if the team is better under Kelly than it was under Weis. Weis actually led Notre Dame to more BCS Bowls than Kelly did. Although Kelly didn't lead them to a BCS Bowl but to THE BCS Title game. But neither coach fared very well in those games. Both coaches had many key contributors on those BCS teams who were recruited by his predecessor.
Special teams were never really good under Weis and may have even regressed under Kelly. Based on those factors, it doesn't look on paper like the team is better under Kelly than it was under Weis.

But even with all that, Kelly will probably survive the late season slide even if they lose to USC and the Bowl game. One reason why is because there really isn't a proven winner who will be available. But the main reason is that Kelly has a better win-loss record than Weis had. In five years, Kelly is so far 44-19 while Weis was 35-27.

That record combined with the fact that Notre Dame has a really young team will be what saves Kelly and gets him his 6th year. I can see how that is fair, but next season is the season that will define Kelly. If he manages only another 7-8 win season, the school has a decision to make. But there is one thing that I do have to question. I keep hearing all the talk about how many freshman are playing. Why is that happening in year 5? That is an excuse for the 1st or even the 2nd year. You would think that in year 5 he would have had enough of his own recruits who are upperclassmen.

Just something to think about.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Louisville Runs All Over Depleted Irish Defense

With a freshman Reggie Bonafon starting at quarterback, Notre Dame was totally focused on stopping the running game of Louisville. That makes the fact that the Cardinals were able to pretty much run at will hurt even more. The team gained over 200 yards rushing against the Irish defense. Brandon Radcliff gained 136 yards with a touchdown. Former Auburn runner Mike Dyer also pitched in 61 yards. Bonafon also gained 35 yards and 2 touchdowns.

To be fair, the Irish defense has been depleted with injuries. Losing Joe Schmidt seemed to have hurt the worse. Sheldon Day is also a huge loss. Against Louisville, Cody Riggs and Jaron Jones also were added to the list of injuries. Notre Dame at times had 9 freshman out there playing.

Having said all that, this unit has given up 30+ points in 6 straight games. Over that stretch, they have given up 242 points. That is awful. This unit started the year so strong too. Against Michigan and Stanford, fans believed that this defense was among the best in the nation. But now, I am not sure there is an offense in the country that this defense can stop.

Say what you want about Everett Golson and all his turnovers. The offensive line has also been a problem. Heck, Notre Dame cannot even get a guy to hold kicks. But even with all those factors, Notre Dame's lowest offensive output over that same 6 game stretch was 27 points. That was against Florida State in that controversial game. Their average scoring over that stretch is 37.5. If I were a head coach and had an offense that scored that many points, I would expect to win. I certainly would think that 40 would be enough to blow Northwestern out.

I do understand how young this defense is and all the injuries. But c'mon, these guys are good enough to get a scholarship at Notre Dame. I expect that they should be able to give up less than 37 points. These woes are due to more than just injury and youth. Brian VanGorder must go. He is a reincarnation of John Tenuta. Sure the blitzing is exciting and has potential to make a big play for a loss or force a turnover, but it also has potential to give up big plays because you leave something open.

Another problem is that it does not teach good fundamental defense. Whenever a player runs through with reckless abandon, he can run right through and miss the tackle. Coach Diaco had nothing fancy, he just emphasized good tackling. His defenses did give up yards but because they tackled well, they could keep them out of the endzone.

You also have to wonder if this style of reckless play might be a contributing factor to all the injuries. What really irritates me about this style of nonstop blitzing is that it defeats the purpose of what a blitz is. It is supposed to be an element of surprise to catch an offense off guard. But when you blitz this frequently, they are ready for it. It is basically the same thing as an offense running a trick play every 2 or 3 plays.

I am not ready to part ways with Coach Kelly yet, but please as soon as the gun sounds against USC buy Mr. VanGorder a one way ticket to wherever he wants to go.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Louisville Is Going To Be Tough

The good news is that Notre Dame is undefeated under Brian Kelly on Senior Day. So whatever Coach has done to get them ready for the senior's last trip through the tunnel has worked. In fact, some of the teams best performances have been on Senior Day. Who can forget Robert Blanton's blocked punt against Utah or just throttling Wake Forest?

The bad news is that this Louisville team is really good. They had a 21-0 lead on Florida State and like Notre Dame came close to beating them. But unlike Notre Dame, they seem to be peeking at the end of the season. 

Louisville is without their starting quarterback Will Gardner, but back up Reggie Bonnafon has seen the field plenty. He has 662 yards passing with 4 touchdowns and just one interception. The good thing for him is that he has a trio of backs in Brandon Radcliff, Michael Dyer, and Dominique Brown who all are near the 400 yard mark for the season. That running game could create problems for the Irish who have given up a lot up the middle lately. With Sheldon Day now out, that could create even more problems.

Their defense has been up and down all year. But with the health of Everett Golson a major question mark, they could create serious trouble for Notre Dame's offense. 

I am hopeful that the streak on Senior Day continues and the Irish get back on track, but I will not lie. It won't be easy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Firing Brian Kelly Is Not The Answer, But There Are Legitimate Concerns

So here we are five years into the Coach Kelly Era and questions about his future in South Bend are coming up. Rumors are that he might leave for the NFL or possibly even Florida. Ironically, if this is his last year at Notre Dame, he would have lasted no longer than Charlie Weis.

There is also a lot of debate all over social media. Many want him fired and others have said that he is the best coach since Lou Holtz. Well the truth is somewhere in the middle there. I agree that he is the best coach since Holtz, but I also believe that that is not really anything to brag about.

Five years in I am no longer interested in what he did at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, or Cincinnati. All that matters now is his record at Notre Dame. If the team wins another game this year which is not a given, he will be the first coach to win 8 games in his each of first 5 years at Notre Dame. That is a good accomplishment, but he was not hired to go 8-4 every year. He was hired to compete for a national title every year. And every time it appears that the Irish are getting close to that level, it comes crashing down.

The team goes 12-0 only to get throttled to Alabama. They go wire to wire with defending national champ Florida State and lost in a very controversial fashion. But since then they barely beat Navy, got blown out to Arizona State, and got embarrassed by Northwestern. So how close Notre Dame is to a serious contender is still up for debate.

Now is Coach Kelly to blame or is he the reason the Fighting Irish were in those positions? Again, the truth is somewhere in the middle. He certainly has won a lot more than his predecessors and teams once again look at Notre Dame as a tough opponent.

At the same time, there are some concerns that have been there since he has been coach. Let's start with turnovers. This season Everett Golson has been turnover prone with 20 in 6 games. While that is on him for the most part, Kelly has had 3 quarterbacks since he has been at Notre Dame. Prior to Golson, both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees both had turnover problems too. That tells me that there might be something in the preparation.

The next concern is special teams. I remember as a high school kid in Michigan going to football practice two days after the Rocket returned two kicks against Michigan for touchdowns. When we were about to begin practicing special teams, coach asked us if we thought special teams were important. Then he told us to ask Michigan.

Since Kelly has been in South Bend, the kicking game has been a disaster. When is the last time a Notre Dame player has had a huge return. Even the 12-0 year, their net return was like 1 yard. This season they can't even get somebody who can hold kicks. That is just one thing that cost the Irish the game against the Wildcats. Special teams is one third of the game and since it has consistently been a problem during the Kelly era, there has to be reason to question whether or not they are spending enough time on it.

The next concern is that every year there is at least one head scratcher game. That game where Notre Dame should have just blown a team out, but instead got upset or let it be closer than it needed to be. Teams like Tulsa, Navy, South Florida, Purdue, Pittsburgh, and now Northwestern should not even give Notre Dame challenge beyond the first quarter. Even the 12-0 season had a couple of games that were closer than they needed to be.

Upsets happen in sports and they are sometimes the most exciting things in sports. But c'mon, these are teams that don't even get half the recruits that the Irish get. I would be surprised if there is one player on Northwestern who was recruited by Notre Dame.  So who is to blame for the team not being ready for these games? I am not saying it is all on the head coach but he has to take a big part of the responsibility.

But on top of all those, probably the biggest concern I have is that Coach Kelly really doesn't take accountability or hasn't been held accountable for his actions. That has happened right from the start. Do you remember Declan Sullivan? He died because of Kelly's negligence. In any other profession that is a firable offense, especially  for a guy in his first year. Yet that got forgiven quite easily.

Then in year two after a disappointing loss to USC, Kelly did something that just totally blew my mind. He publicly stated that he didn't recruit many of the players that were playing at the time. He said, "You know who my players are." He threw a lot of guys who eventually were key contributors to helping him make it to the BCS Title game under the bus.

With all the players that have been caught with academic issues, he needs to look at what he needs to do differently.

Most recently, he threw Golson and others under the bus in press conferences. While those mistakes were huge, a good leader takes accountability for not properly preparing his players.

While I do recognize all these concerns, I still do not think that it is time to part ways with him. For starters, I don't see a home run hire out there this year. Nick Saban isn't going anywhere. His wife is happy in Alabama. I really don't see guys like Les Miles, Bob Stoops, or Jim Harbaugh wanting to leave their jobs for Notre Dame.

But more importantly, this team is really young. The players have worked hard and it would be unfair to them to make them have to start all over when they are close. I, myself, felt that this team was a year away even when they were 6-0. I actually predicted that they would win a lot early but it may get tough later. I didn't expect to lose to Northwestern though. So regardless of what happens the rest of this season, Coach Kelly needs to come back. But next year, Notre Dame better make the playoff or they have a decision to make.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Reality Is That The Irish Defense Is Just Not Very Good

All night I have been trying to tell myself that this loss is not as bad as it looks. This Northwestern team did beat Wisconsin who just beat Nebraska handily. So the Wildcats are better than their record. But then I remind myself of the fact that they just lost to Michigan. They had lost 4 straight. In the previous two games combined, they managed just 16 points. They lost to Michigan.

So there is no getting around it. This was a horrible loss. So who is to blame? Certainly, you can look at the field goal unit. Malik Zaire bobbled one snap which resulted in a two point conversion the other way. Kyle Brindza missed two field goals including one critical one in overtime. Meanwhile, Jack Mitchell was clutch kicking for Northwestern. He nailed both the game tying and game winning kick. So I could place the blame here, but a game against a team who lost 4 straight and lost to Michigan shouldn't be decided on kicks.

I could blame it on the turnovers. That certainly has been a problem especially with Everett Golson this season. But against the Wildcats, he wasn't the only one. Usually reliable Cam McDaniel had that critical fumble in the closing moments. I could place the blame there but I still look at the scoreboard and see 40 points. I also still see 3 touchdown passes for Golson and another 100 yard game for Tarean Folston. That should be enough against a team who lost to Michigan.

Of course there were plenty of questionable coaching calls. Going for two instead of kicking while up 11 was certainly a headscratcher. That point ended up being huge. Then with a minute and a half left the ball on second down and Northwestern out of timeouts. All they had to do was down the ball twice and Northwestern would have gotten the ball back with about 20 seconds left. So why didn't  Coach Kelly just go in Victory formation? That certainly was questionable but let's get back to that later. But again, even if the coaches calls are questionable, I would expect to be able to execute against a team who lost to Michigan.

So although all those things certainly contributed, this loss was primarily due to the defense which was just awful. They are honestly lucky it wasn't worst. They were beat all day and the pass was perfect and the Wildcat receiver dropped it. They did get some turnovers, but come on they gave up over 500 yards and 43 points to a team that scored only 16 points the last two games. They only manged 9 points in a game they lost to Michigan.

That is just awful. Quite frankly this defense has been awful starting in the North Carolina game. Before that game, the team was giving up just 12 points a game. But since that great game against Stanford, that average has gone to 42 a game. What I find really disturbing is that this defense has not really been held accountable for it and excuses for them have been made.

EXCUSE #1-They are decimated with injuries.

This is true and it does happen, but there should be enough players on scholarship to perform. What happened to the "Next man in?"

EXCUSE #2-They lost their leader in Joe Schmidt

So somebody else step up and take that role. Where are you Jalen Smith?

EXCUSE #3-Navy does something different so, we can't judge them based on Navy.

Well that is just one game, but what about the other 4? And yes, Navy does something different and they can throw the defense off for a couple scores, but beyond that the better athletes should prevail.

EXCUSE #4-Arizona State kept getting a short field.

That is absolutely true, but a defense is still accountable for playing. They still cannot be giving up touchdowns. Hold them to at least 3.

It seems that it is a different excuse each week. At some point, they have to go play. I am amazed that Coach Kelly has not held them more accountable. He seems to want to blame Golson for everything. I understand that he doesn't work with the defense very much but he is still the head coach for the whole team.

Brian VanGorder brought this attacking blitz style defense to Notre Dame. It can be exciting and it can create huge losses and turnovers. But if you live by the blitz you die by the blitz. When you sell out, you leave a lot uncovered and it can result in a huge gain if the blitz is picked up. That is what causes the huge chunk plays to happen. It is so easy to run right by the play and it looks like a missed tackle. That is not sound defense.

I am of the mindset that a blitz is an element of surprise. But if you blitz almost every play, that element is taken away. It really isn't hard to figure out what happened since the first 5 games. The coaches got a look at the game film and have seen what is left wide open with the blitz packages and have exploited it.

Under Coach Diaco, Notre Dame didn't worry about giving up a few yards as long as it what kept in front of them. They would stiffen up as it got closer and would keep them out of the endzone. They also played good fundamental defense. By that I mean they tackled well. I had way more trust for that than I do with this style.

We will see what happens, but if I were Coach Kelly I would consider ditching VanGorder and bring in more of a Diaco minded type.

They will not beat Louisville or USC without better play from the defense.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Northwestern Is The Epitome Of a Jekyll and Hyde Team

After coming off the worst game of the season, it is a big week for Notre Dame to get back on track to position themselves for the best bowl game they can get. How a team responds is really a reflection of the coaching. We shall see.

This week is the renewal of an old rivalry. It is strange to play a Big Ten team this late in the year. This used to be a regular season opener for the Irish and often was a tune up for Michigan. They haven't met since 1995 but have met 47 times with Notre Dame dominating by winning 37 of them. Although Northwestern did win the last one.

This 2014 version is possibly the most inconsistent team in the country. They began the year with disappointing losses to California and Northern Illinois. Then they went on a three game winning streak. The highlight of that streak was a 20-14 win over Wisconsin. That was big because the Badgers could possibly be the Big Ten West division champs. But now, the Wildcats are on a 4 game losing streak.  Two of those include blowout losses to Nebraska and Iowa.

Their latest defeat was to Michigan. I watched the replay of that game on BTN in 60. Let me tell you, the game was just awful. Both teams looked bad. The Wildcats lost 10-9. They scored a last second touchdown, but instead of kicking the PAT and taking it to overtime they decided to go for two. They failed. Michigan was the only common opponent for the two teams and we all remember what happened when the Wolverines came to South Bend.

Northwestern has a pretty good defense in only giving up an average of 22.3 points a game. But the better offenses they have faced in California, Nebraska, and Iowa have scored 30+. Notre Dame is probably the best offense they have seen yet.

Offensively, Northwestern has very limited capability. Their Senior Quarterback Trevor Siemian has only 1837 passing yards with a dismal 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Whenever a quarterback has more interceptions than touchdowns, that is cause for concern. Compare that to Everett Golson's 2757 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Siemian's best receiver is Kyle Prater who has just 37 catches for 372 yards and only a single touchdown. Compare that to Will Fuller's 52 catches for 694 yards and 10 touchdowns. Even the complimentary receivers in Corey Robinson and CJ Prosise have more yards and touchdowns

Their only real weapon is freshman running back Justin Jackson who has 761 yards and 5 touchdowns. So it seems that if the Irish defense stops him, they got it. They have been really good against the run all year except for Navy, but that is a different animal.

Based on all that and combined with the fact that Notre Dame will finally have a home game after being away for more than a month, the Irish should just dominate. The only concern is the idea of a hangover after such a bad loss.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Coach Kelly Is Wrong, But He Did The Right Thing

In his post game press conference, Coach Brian Kelly pretty much put the Arizona State loss all on Everett Golson. I have already stated that I don't believe any of the 5 turnovers were on Golson at all, but more due to poor offensive play. I stand by that.

Coach Kelly knows that. He saw the game. He also knows that Golson was the driving force in bringing the team back to come within 3. But Kelly had a good reason to go off on that rant. To be a respected quarterback, you sometimes have to take it in the chin even when it isn't really your fault. The players know it is not your fault and will rally around you and go out of their way to make sure they make that block or hang onto that ball next time. My guess would be that that is a lesson he is trying to teach Golson.

This is a big week for the coaches this week. The playoffs are gone. Notre Dame can still play in a really good bowl game. Northwestern is not exactly an opponent to get excited about. That is where it takes a great coach to bring this team together in what can still be a great season.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Time For Notre Dame To Be Honest With Themselves

Going into this game with Arizona State, I had a bad feeling and I am not at all surprised by the result. That was for two main reasons.

The first one is the Navy factor. Mack Brown mentioned it in the pre-game that a team like Navy takes a lot out of a team because of the different style and the cut blocking they do. I don't want to buy into a theory like this but the history speaks for itself. They lost to Tulsa the one year after Navy. Even two years ago during the great 12-0 season the Irish struggled against Purdue, which isn't unusual either. Last year they lost to a bad Pittsburgh team. The Irish are not the only team affected by this. Of the teams that have faced Navy this season, only one team has won the following week. One of the teams who played Navy was Ohio State and they lost to Virginia Tech, who isn't good, the next week. We know what Ohio State has done since then. So there is something to this and I hope Notre Dame is smarter in how they handle Navy in the future. Maybe put them the last game after USC/Stanford, or just schedule a bye the next week.

The next reason is that although they were 7-1, I got the sense that this was a young and inexperienced team who really overachieved. That showed big time. Everybody wants to blame Everett Golson, but that is not fair at all. He really played a heck of a game and threw for over 400 yards. I am not saying that 17 turnovers in 6 games isn't a concern, but none of the five that happened against Arizona State were on him. I honestly felt sorry for him. The offensive line has a lot of underclassmen other than Nick Martin. They have shuffled around all season. Their inexperience showed as they were unable to pick up blitzes all first half. The Sun Devils were coming in untouched. That is what led to 4 of the turnovers. The first was a fumble in which the defensive back got Golson from the blindside and nobody picked him up.

The next two interceptions were both tipped at the line due to the pass rush they were unable to pick up. The next interception was in the end zone early in the second half when he was hit as he threw. The last one was on Corey Robinson. So it was bad play by the line and a young receiver that led to the turnovers, not Golson.

The other area that showed inexperience was the young defense. They were placed in bad positions a lot in the first half and given short fields. But a veteran defense, would still go out there and shut it down holding them to a field goal. They still cannot give up touchdowns. They play really good for most of the second half which enabled the offense to come back. But after the Amir Carlisle score that pulled the to within 3, they let Taylor Kelly lead his team right down the field and score. Again, a great defense would not allow that. Part of that is finding their leader. They still haven't replaced Manti Te'o in that regard.

So Notre Dame really needs to be honest with itself. First, they need to either take Navy off the schedule or be smarter about where they place them. Being honest, they haven't been smart about it. Second, the Irish need to acknowledge that this is a young team that really is a year away from being a team that can contend for a 4 team playoff. That being said, there is still a lot to play for this year. They win out and go 10-2, Notre Dame will still go to a big name bowl game like the Orange, Fiesta, or Cotton.

That won't be easy though. Northwestern is next and although they haven't looked good this year, they did beat Wisconsin. So they do have ability. Louisville is a solid team who was able to build a 21 point lead against Florida State. And of course, the USC game is always the game of the year for both teams. Beating those teams and winning a bowl game would be a great building block for next season.

In closing, I just want to congratulate Arizona State. They came ready to play and showed they are as good as anybody in the country.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Notre Dame-Arizona State Is Among 3 Playoff Games

Make no mistake of it, this is a playoff game. The winner will strengthen significantly their chance to make the playoff. The loser will have to settle for trying to make either the Orange or the Fiesta Bowl which is not a bad place either. For Notre Dame, this is their absolute last chance to get a "quality" win. After this they have  3 spoilers in Northwestern, Louisville, and USC. For Arizona State, they still have the PAC 12 championship to fall back on so it is not quite as critical, but still 2 losses will make it tougher to get in with only 4 teams. Notre Dame has no conference championship to fall back on so this is do or die.

With this new playoff format, Notre Dame fans cannot just pay attention to the Irish. There are other games that impact Notre Dame. The first is TCU-Kansas State. This is for all practical purposes a playoff and a conference championship game. The loser is out and the winner is in the driver's seat to be the conference champ since the Big 12 is the only power conference without an official championship game. The best value is has to Notre Dame is that one of them has to lose.

Michigan State-Ohio State is the other one with the winner practically a shoe in to win the Big Ten East and a trip to the Big 10 Championship. The loser is out for sure. Again, the best value it has for Notre Dame is that somebody has to lose. The Big Ten hasn't really proven to be a good conference this year, but for whatever reason the committee seems to want to forgive Michigan State's bad loss to Oregon and their soft schedule. Notre Dame picked the wrong year to leave them off the schedule.

Other games of interest include LSU can play spoiler to Alabama. The Irish need Florida State to dominate Virginia. Oklahoma can play spoiler to Baylor and if Utah can somehow knock off Oregon that would be great.

Of course, none of it matters if Notre Dame doesn't take care of it's business. So the best thing the Irish can do is play a great game and let all those other games work themselves out.

Go Irish.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Problem With The "Quality" Win Idea

Two weeks into the new playoff poll, it is very clear that the committee will be weighing heavily on what they call a "quality" win. But that leads me to the question what is a "quality" win? Is it a win over a ranked team? Is it a win over a team with a winning record? But what if you beat a team that was ranked when you played them but then they fall apart the rest of the way? Is that still a quality win? Case and point is Notre Dame's win over Stanford. At the time The Cardinal was ranked #14 but has since lost two more times. So again I ask, is that still considered a "quality" win?

There are two problems with it as I see it. One, there really isn't a transparent criteria on what qualifies as a "quality" win. Two, the committee is penalizing teams for something they have no control over. Look at Notre Dame's Schedule for example. So far they have beaten Michigan, Purdue, Syracuse, Stanford, and North Carolina. Those are all name schools from Power conferences. Notre Dame has no control over what those teams do against the rest of their schedule.

So the real problem is that a committee is subjectively deciding who they think are the four best teams. The committee should be there to set the criteria and let the teams decide it on the field. For me it could be quite simple. I would only have conference champs and have a Notre Dame Clause.

The clause for Notre Dame is that if they go 12-0 they are in and if they go 11-1 they are eligible. But since they don't play in a conference, they need to have 10 of their games against Power 5 competition and only one service academy a year. I think that's fair.

Now for the conference champs. There are five conferences and only four spots. Three if Notre Dame is in. So how do you determine who gets in of the conference champs? That is where you have clearly define what a "quality" win is. I think a fair definition of a quality win would be a win over a team from a power conference or Notre Dame. Then you say the conference champs with the most quality wins are in. That way you punish a team for what other teams on their schedule do and you also encourage Power 5 teams to schedule from other conferences and maybe only one FCS team.

If it comes out that two teams are tied for that last spot, let them play. The winner is in and the loser gets the first major bowl game out. What is so hard about that?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Arizona State Is Really Good

Of all the one loss teams in the nation, the college football world is just now starting to talk about Arizona State. Notre Dame is well aware of how good they are. It took their best shot to beat the Sun Devils in Dallas a year ago. That was a great game that could have gone either way. From there Arizona State didn't lose again in the regular season. They won the PAC 12 South before running into a road block at Stanford in the PAC 12 Championship.

Arizona State picked up right where they left off this year and are among the 12 teams in the Top 25 with just one loss along with Notre Dame. They have a very potent offense led by Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly. He has 1010 yards with 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. Considering he missed 3 games with a leg injury that is good. Junior  back up Mike Bercovici was solid in those three games with 1322 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. It doesn't matter who is in at quarterback, this offense is good.

They have two really good weapons. Junior runner D.J. Foster has 701 yards with 6 touchdowns. He is also a factor in the passing game with 452 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. The leading receiver is Junior Jaelen Strong with 57 catches for 821 yards and 8 touchdowns.

The Sun Devil defense, like Notre Dame, has had it's ups and downs this season. In the first 5 games they were giving up an average of 31.4 points. They had one really bad game against UCLA in which they gave up 62 points and 580 total yards. But they have improved the last 3 games by giving up just 13 a game.

They have had only one common opponent with Notre Dame in Stanford. While the Irish had the late conversion to pull out a last minute win, the Sun Devils beat the Cardinal convincinly 26-10.

This is probably the best opponent left on Notre Dame's schedule and probably our last chance to get what the playoff  committee will consider a quality win. Let's hope they have a really good week of practice.

The Dilemma With The Navy Tradition

We all know the story of the Notre Dame and Navy and how they became acquainted during World War II. We know that there is a lifetime contract to honor the memory of it. It is a game that Notre Dame has dominated with a 75-12-1 advantage. It is a game of friendship and mutual respect. It is not rivalry of dislike like USC and Michigan.

Having said that, Notre Dame needs to consider whether it is a good idea to keep this game on the schedule. It is a game where the Irish have nothing to gain. If they win big, they were supposed to. If it is close, what's wrong with Notre Dame?

Also, they run a wishbone which is different from all the other offenses the Irish face. Notre Dame has to completely change their defense for one game a year. The fact is that the doesn't give scholarships to kids who help them stop Navy. Those are for the kids who can help them stop USC, Michigan State, Stanford, and I guess you can now put teams like Florida State and Clemson on that list. Yet, these scholarship players who were recruited for these other offenses have to try to stop something that is probably not their specialty. It may be a good idea to offer a couple scholarships for a couple of defensive players who can specialize in the service academies. Notre Dame does play Army and Air Force every now and then.

Honestly, I would be willing to overlook those first two factors if not for the third factor. That is the cut blocking. Now I will not call Navy dirty for doing this. They are undersized to Notre Dame and have to do what they can to gain an advantage. At this point, it is still legal. Whether or not it should be is another debate for another piece. Although it is not with malice intent, Navy puts Notre Dame defenders at risk with this kind of play.

I remember last season when Notre Dame was 7-2 and setting up for a BCS run until a not very good Pittsburgh upset Notre Dame. While that was a bad loss for the Irish, there certainly were factors that contributed to it. The week before they played Navy and suffered a lot of injuries from the cut blocking. At the Pitt game, Notre Dame had one healthy lineman Stephon Tuitt and he got ejected early on a questionable targeting penalty. That definitely contributed to that upset. Now this year Joe Schmidt the former walk on and now starter is out for the year. He was a great story for college football and now his season is done. Now the Irish have to prepare for a really good team in Arizona State without a key player and Jaron Jones is also banged up. This is a playoff elimination game for both teams. Notre Dame needs all their players healthy.

So with that in mind, is keeping Navy on the schedule in Notre Dame's best interests? I am all about honoring lifetime commitments. However, that agreement was made at a time when a college football playoff wasn't even a thought. The fact is that Notre Dame will not only be competing for a playoff spot every year and I would hate to see an injury to a team like Navy.

Navy needs this game more than Notre Dame does. It is one of only two games that lands them on national TV, while Notre Dame is on TV every week. Jack Swarbrick  definitely needs to sit down with whomever makes the football decisions for Navy and explain that the Irish want to honor the agreement. At the same time, the concern over cut blocking is legit. Not only will it make them less healthy for the playoff run, but also a kid who has a bright NFL career ahead of him get ruined because of a dangerous block in a game against an opponent like Navy. Swarbrick needs to tell Navy to cut the cut blocking or it will be removed from the schedule because we don't need this.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Navy Game Much Closer Than It Needed To Be

This is why. This is why. This is why Notre Dame doesn't get the respect nationally. This is why so many doubt Notre Dame. On a day when other one loss teams (Georgia, Ole Miss, East Carolina, Utah, Arizona) all went down, the Irish where in a position to make a statement against Navy. They got the win, but this was no statement at all.

The way the game started, it looked like Notre Dame would just dominate. They got off to a 28-7 lead and the one touchdown the Midshipmen scored shouldn't have counted because of a penalty. Then the team just got sloppy and allowed Navy to score 10 quick points to end the half. Navy then took half the third quarter to score a touchdown to pull within 4. After a stop, Navy scored again and took the lead to end the third quarter before Notre Dame would take care of business in the 4th.

Looking at the two teams and Notre Dame just has more talent and should just dominate a team like Navy. I mean no disrespect to those who protect us at home by that. But the reality is that it was Notre Dame who kept it close and not Navy.

Let's start with the kicking game. Notre Dame had two chances to put this one away but Kyle Brindza missed two field goals late in the game. Being fair, both were from beyond 40 and into the wind. However, a really good kicker makes those tough kicks.

Now on to the offense. For the most part the offense was solid in this one. Everett Golson threw for over 300 and had 6 total touchdowns. Tarean Folston went over 100 yards for the third straight game. But the offense still made critical mistakes that they cannot make against the tougher opponents. They were moving right down the field at the end of the first half and could have easily added another touchdown to go up by 3 touchdowns at halftime. But Golson threw an interception that gave the ball back to Navy so they could get a field goal to end the half. Then the offense had two chances late in the game close it out. But they could not get a first down. That is what led to those long field goal misses. Yes the play calling was a little conservative at that point, but Notre Dame's line should be able to handle Navy's line.

Now for the defense. I was a defensive coordinator at the high school level. One team we played ran a single wing similar to Navy. We did not design our defense to stop this kind of offenses. For one game a year we would have to change everything. Plus we had to deal with the cut blocking. I know how difficult it is to prepare for an offense like this with all those factors. But that cannot be an excuse. A great defense finds a way to stop them anyway. The fact is that the Irish defense gave up 39 points. And let's just be honest with our selves, do you really think teams like Alabama, LSU, Oregon, etc. would give up more than 14 points to Navy? In fact, Ohio State only surrendered 17. Two years in that magic season, that great Notre Dame defense gave up just 13 against Navy. The point is that a great defense finds a way to stop them any way.

Notre Dame has been great against the run all year, but against Navy they gave up over 300 yards. The worst was allowing Navy to keep the ball for half the third quarter.

Sometimes I wonder if it is in Notre Dame's best interests to keep this rivalry. I know it is a lifetime contract and all the World War II history behind it. But it is really a game where Notre Dame has nothing to win. They are supposed to dominate and anything less than that leads to questions and criticism. But at the end of the day, Navy does not have anywhere near the players Notre Dame has.

Moving forward, Arizona State is next. That was a great game last year in Dallas. This year both teams have just a single loss so for that reason, this is really a playoff game.