Thursday, September 16, 2010

IBG: the Aftermath of DRob

Almost the entire emotional narrative that was the Michigan game can be retold through the quarterback position. There was the authoritative first drive by Crist before his bizarre injury. There was the flea-flicker by Reese followed by an obviously inexperienced Nate Montanta. The second coming! More points by Crist! But in the end, the talented Denard Robinson dismantled the Irish entirely by himself.

So where does that leave us heading into the weekend? Was it a game of flukes with a strange injury and freakish opponent? Or are the echoes being woken similar to those of recent rather than historic coaching regimes? We Never Graduate helps tackle the Michigan State week of the Irish Blogger Gathering.

1)Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan? I could argue that Crist's injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans.

In two words, I’d say that loss was ‘soooooo deflating.’ Every offseason stirs up a lot of hype and high expectations, and last Saturday unveiled some ugly aspects of this year’s squad that might be hard for some to swallow:

•We have NO depth at quarterback. Many people said this during the offseason, but the point was proven last weekend.
•Theo Riddick has not come as advertised. A phenomenal player, Riddick has not shown promise in the slot yet, and he or someone else needs to step up to take pressure off the other receivers.
•We can’t run the football effectively. Well, at least not when the defense doesn’t respect our passing game.
•Notre Dame still lacks crazy speed. True, Robinson is special, but the inability to slow Robinson down offered more evidence that the Irish lack elite speed on defense.
•Worst of all, Brian Kelly isn’t perfect. Not kicking field goals and failing to adjust defensive schemes at key points in the game are mistakes that led to the downfall of the last regime.
2) How critical is this Saturday's game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend. Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?

Sorry for all the negativity, because with all that being said, MSU offers the Irish a great chance for a bounce back win. Like I said earlier, Robinson is a special player, and MSU doesn’t have a quarterback capable of taking over the game with his arm and legs. Our defensive line and inside linebackers have shown enough skill to give me confidence that they can stop a pro-style offense similar to what MSU will be running Saturday, and if Crist can stay healthy, we will score enough points to get the W.

3) Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?

Firstly, it’s tough to hate everyone. USC has been despicably shady for the past decade, and Pete Carroll is just about as scummy a football coach as Lane Kiffin or Rich Rodriguez. Secondly, while MSU is a tough game every year, the Spartans have averaged exactly 6 wins per season over the last 8 years. Even when they won 8 and 9 games, they beat just 1 ranked opponent, failing to win the crucial games to get to a Big Ten championship. MSU and ND have historically had a great and intense rivalry, but recently these two reasons may explain why the rivalry doesn’t get as much respect as some others.
4) It's hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

Notre Dame always plays Michigan State at a difficult time in the schedule. While the Irish have usually played two quality opponents and are coming off the emotional Michigan weekend, Sparty typically is building momentum after rolling a few cupcakes. As such, I am expecting MSU to come into this weekend with a lot of confidence and play Notre Dame tough and down to the wire like they do every year.
5) Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish's record after the first six games.

Best case: 5-1. Why not?
Worst case: 1-5. You saw our offense without Crist…
Most likely: 4-2. Like I said in the season’s first IBG post, this is a reasonable record after the first six games. It would be tough to pick who the Irish might lose to, but with a six game slate as tough as ours to open up the season, it would have been remarkable to make it through without some bumps and bruises. If Notre Dame makes it out with 1 or 2 losses, the back end of the schedule is set up to allow them a fairly good chance of a BCS birth.

6) Let's leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

I’m going to go with Theo Riddick. The kid is too great of an athlete to be as unproductive as he has in the first two games. As a slot receiver in Kelly’s offense (and with guys like Floyd and Rudolph to distract the defense) the guy should be able to make some plays. If Crist stays healthy, the development of a third wideout is perhaps the position where improvement can most correlate to success in the win loss column.
Hopefully the Blue and Gold pull out a much needed win this week... Go Irish!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

IBG: Season Preview Edition

At first glance, the future looks nothing but Kelly Green. There’s a proven winner blowing the whistle, All-American talent at several offensive playmaking positions, and competition and experience on the two-deep for the first time in awhile. Even off the field, talk of training tables and intense workouts on Longo Beach have fans excited to see an extra burst late in the season where the team has recently struggled.
…But Notre Dame just lost a near-Heisman candidate quarterback, a Biletnikoff winning wide receiver, two NFL caliber linemen, and their leading defensive tackler. It’s possible that the losses in the offseason aren’t too far from the talent drop-off that led Notre Dame to their worst season in school history. 2007 saw a new quarterback with a O-line experiencing turnover growing pains, and a defense that looked slow and even soft as opponents routinely pummeled the Irish.

So as Notre Dame leaves behind a forgettable decade of football, do fans have reason for optimism in 2010, or must we suffer through another 7-5 season of gridiron purgatory? UHND kicks off the 2010 season’s first week of the Irish Blogger Gathering to help us find out.

1. Name one offensive players and one defensive player you are most excited to see in the new systems and why.

With the majority of media coverage calling him the lynchpin of our season, Dayne Crist has to be the player to watch on offense. Thousands of fans are waiting to see how well the highly touted recruit was developed under Charlie Weis and how many points this gun slinger can put on the board with Kelly’s spread. On the other side of the ball, while our success may not depend solely on Manti Te’o’s performance, many fans are equally excited to see this doombringer wreak havoc on opposing offenses at an elite level… as only a sophomore next season.
2. What’s one reason you think Brian Kelly is the right coach this time. What’s one reason you think he might not be?

Fans have to like the plethora of experience that Kelly is bringing to Notre Dame as a head football coach. Achieving his level of success across three programs as diverse as Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati is no easy feat. On the other hand, winning national championships in D2 is impressive, but Notre Dame isn’t a D2 school. Similarly, resurrecting two programs in CMU and Cinci to win conference championships is impressive, but Notre Dame isn’t interested in winning conference championships. Kelly is still missing the BCS win that Irish fans will be expecting… let’s hope he can get it.

3. A lot of people are labeling Purdue, Boston College, and Michigan State as toss up games. Considering Notre Dame beat all three of these teams during the disappointing 2009 season, do you consider these games toss-ups or games you expect Notre Dame to win?

After the first six games, the 2010 season should almost entirely be in the books. There are few schools in the country that open with a schedule of Purdue, Michigan, MSU, Stanford, BC, and 15th ranked Pitt like the Irish will this fall. Even though there aren’t any blow-me-away tough opponents, the fact that all teams are formidable enough to take down a top 25 makes it a grueling slate. Out of the three games listed, it’s likely Notre Dame will drop 1. But Notre Dame faces only Navy, Utah, and USC in the second half of the season (each with a cupcake the week prior to rest and prepare), so taking 2 losses in the first six games would not be a bad scenario.

4. What’s one reason you think Notre Dame could shock the world and pull of another 1964-type season? What’s one reason you’re concerned we might see more of a 1997-type season?

As stated in the answer to the previous question, Notre Dame does not face a blow-me-away tough opponent until facing what should be a beaten, battered, and bruised USC squad at the end of the season. Yes, there are undoubtedly tough games in the beginning of the year (I’m cringing thinking about what Pitts run game can do to us if we don’t get fast and mean on defense real quick), but if the Irish can get through the first six games unbeaten, there is no limit to how they can close out the season. But like I said, that opening schedule is gonna be a grind…

5. Which freshmen do you see contributing the most on the field this year (outside of TJ Jones – that’s too easy)?

Look for Prince Shembo to get some quality reps in at linebacker while athlete Danny Spond may take a Zeke Matta role on special teams this year.

6. Other than Dayne Crist (too easy again) who is the one player Notre Dame can least afford to lose to injury for any significant period of time?

Hopefully the UHND crew doesn’t jinx our season with this question, but I am going to go with Ethan Johnson. The depth at D-Line is a weak point on this team, and the other #9 is a force to be reckoned with. Let’s hope all of our players stay healthy.
7. 2010 Season Predictions
Notre Dame record: 9-3
Bowl game for Notre Dame with opponent: Just outside BCS games
Final ranking: 15
Opponent with the highest final ranking: Pitt
Notre Dame’s offensive & defensive MVP: Offense Michael Floyd, Defense Manti Te’o
Best opponent offensive & defensive player:
Offense: Dion Lewis (Pitt) Defense: Greg Romeus (Pitt)
Best opposing coach: Jim Harbaugh (Stanford)
Game you are most excited to watch: USC 11/27/2010
Game you wouldn't mind watching on DVR: F*** it, we’ll do em all live!
National Champion: Alabama
Heisman Winner: Terrell Pryor
Purdue game prediction: W 30-20