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.

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