Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get Offensive

So, the IBG is back, which is good for me, since I've been neglecting my blog for the past month. Apparently, buying a house involves using a lot of your free time for pesky things like moving and home maintenance. Either way, here's my response to the latest set of questions:

1. First, before officially shifting focus to what matters most, let's take a moment to offer a way too early evaluation of Team Kelly's recruiting efforts. They've got verbals from some highly touted prospects (Matt Hegarty, Ben Koyack, Jordan Prestwood) and are in the hunt for quite a few more (Aaron Lynch, George Atkinson, Justice Hayes), but it seems like this class lacks the flair and star power of Charlie Weis's classes. We're not even in the hunt for a Rivals five-star rated prospect and we've already taken as many three-stars as the '07 and '08 classes combined. Sure, Kelly can transform two-stars into seven-stars, but the numbers of the last ten years don't lie--championships are won with teams chock full of four and five star talent. Are you at least a little worried at this point or still in the RKG Honeymoon period?

I'm not too worried at this point. Kelly closed an excellent class last year, considering all of the turmoil around the program with Weis' departure and the poor product on the field. Losing Matt James certainly devalues the class, but that was an unforeseen tragedy that nobody could have helped. This year, we did whiff on Bubba Starling, but the class is solid. I also wouldn't be surprised if Notre Dame gets on the radar of some of the 5 star recruits during the season if we perform above expectations.

As is, though, I think it's a solid class, and it reflects the prevailing wisdom about the Kelly hire - everybody seems to think he'll be good, but they want to see some proof on the field, as Notre Dame's last 4 hires have not performed. Once we start winning games, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see some recruits consider changing their commitments.

2. The Irish switch from a pro-style offense to the spread this season. We saw it unveiled in the spring game and it is (understandably) a work in progress. That being said the Irish have a veritable bevy of talent, size, and speed at the skill positions. In general, what's your take on the switch to the spread and how high or low should expectations for the offense be going into the year?

I generally prefer the more traditional pro-style offense, however I think that the spread that Kelly is instituting will allow us to take advantage of the strengths of this team - namely, speed and skill at the receiver and running back positions. Coach Weis' recruiting has stocked the talent cupboard at the skill positions, and this offense will allow that talent to work in space.

As far as expectations go, I'd expect the offense to be a work in progress as the season progresses. All the practice in the world isn't going to get you completely ready for game situations. However, I do think that as the team progresses through the season, they will find what works for them and by the end of the season, I would expect a high-octane explosive offense. My biggest concern at this point is the trip to Michigan State in our 3rd game. I think that Purdue and Michigan should be wins, as both programs are in somewhat of a state of disarray right now. Both should be improved this year, but I just don't think either team has the horses to run with us.

However, Michigan State is a pretty stable program that has been running their offense and defense for a while now. They've got a solid roster with a lot of talent. That game, more than any other, will tell me how good of a coach that Brian Kelly is. Lose to Purdue, and it's understandable to stumble out of the gate. Michigan is a rivalry game, and Rich-Rod is going into his third year at the helm, so they could find a way to beat us if the offense continues to struggle. However, by the third game of the season, the teaching abilities of this staff should start to show up. I'm not saying the Michigan State is a must-win game (although, aren't they all really must-win games?), but I want to see a team that is confident and starting to gel and understand their assignments.

3. Three-year starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen has loaded his mom, dad, and free-loading brothers into the family stretch Hummer and taken off for the greener pastures of professional football. Dayne Crist is tasked with stepping into the big, 28 TD, 7:1 TD to INT ratio shoes Jimmy leaves behind. How are you feeling about him taking the reins to Kelly's vaunted spread offense? Do you see there being a significant drop-off with the Great Dayne at the helm or is he going to come out guns a-blazin' a la Brady Quinn in '05?

At the beginning of the season, we'll see a significant drop-off from last year - Jimmy Clausen was a hell of a quarterback, regardless of what you may think of him off the field. However, I think that Dayne Crist's learning curve will be pretty steep. I think that as the season progresses, he'll gain more confidence in his knee, himself, and the offense. By mid-season, we should be clicking on all cylinders. I expect this offense, with the level of talent on the field, to really start lighting it up by the end of the season, especially with the confidence gained from feasting on the October schedule.

Should he tweak his knee, then all bets are off.

4. When a new coach takes over there tends to be a couple of players that haven't seen any significant playing time (or at least haven't made an impact) that unexpectedly emerge as major contributors (see: Samardzija, Jeff in '05). There are plenty of candidates on the offensive side of the ball, but you're only allowed to pick one horse in this derby. Who's it going to be?

John Goodman. I think that his versatility will get him a lot of reps this season. He played quarterback in high school, so I wouldn't be at all surprised for us to use him as a runner on end-arounds, which leaves open the possibilities of some trickeration as well. He has good height (6' 3") and soft hands, and we may be hearing a lot of Samardzija comparisons if he shows up like I think he might.

5. It's preseason which means it's appropriate for all college football fans to bathe in Kool-Aid and allow themselves to dream of invading Glendale, Arizona this January en route to claiming a national championship. Tears of joy will be shed, flights will be missed, and days--if not weeks--of "sick" leave from work will be utilized. I want that more than that weird, fat lady in Napoleon Dynamite wanted that model ship. What needs to happen this season on the offensive side of the ball for this dream to become reality?

Not to sound like a broken record, as it seems that everyone is saying the same thing. And to make it even more cliche, I'm going to quote 'The Program' (please excuse the language, the movie is rated R):

Alvin Mack Manti Te'o enters the bar, goes to Joe Kane Dayne Crist's table, plops a copy of Sports Illustrated down in front of Dayne.

Hey, man, you seen this?


(ribbing Dayne)
You must be some very bad-ass motherfucker.

Dayne stares at the cover. He's more stunned than elated.


LATTIMER KAPRON LEWIS-MOORE (Lattimer minus the steroids)
What? You didn't know?

I knew there was gonna be an article. I didn't know it was gonna be on the cover.

Shit, we do all the work. You get all the pub. Too bad we're not allowed to hit you in practice. Be fun to kick the shit out of a Heisman Trophy Candidate.

I guess you'll have to wait till we get to the pros.

(to Darnell Jefferson Tai-Ler Jones)
Beer boy, get me some.

Are you serious?

Does it look like I'm serious?

Tai-ler leaves the table to get the beer. Dayne drains his beer, pours another. Kapron starts to read from the article.

Listen to this. "Notre Dame has a solid nucleus returning, but the fighting Irish, coming off three disappointing seasons, will only go as far as the strong right arm of Heisman Candidate Dayne Crist will take them." That right, Dayne? You gonna lead us to the promised land?

I'm gonna lead... but can you follow?

Muted chuckles, but set faces. The challenge accepted. Dayne chugs his beer, pours another.

That pretty much sums it up.

6. ***BONUS*** The arrival of college football means the arrival of perhaps the greatest American pastime: Tailgating. The assumption is that you're going to be heading to at least one game in the Bend this year which means you'll have at least one opportunity to tailgate your face off. What home games are you planning on attending, where do you normally tailgate when you're out for a game, what's your typical tailgate like (we talking a great spread and a selection of imported beverages or a pack of Bubba burgers and about 20 30-racks of Natty?), and are you inviting your loyal readers?

As a South Bend native, I will of course be tailgating at every opportunity this season. Some Saturdays I will have to work, but I'm hoping to make it to every game, as I get out at 1 pm. Certainly have plans for Purdue and Michigan, the rest are flexible. As far as where I tailgate, that depends on who is in town. I don't usually host my own tailgate, unless you count the pre-tailgate party at my house before walking to campus.

One of my more frequent tailgating stops is with Sarah at Bad Trade , a fellow ND blogger and law school classmate. She sets up right behind the Jamison Inn, just off of the corner of Twyckenham and Ivy Court. It's usually a pretty standard setup - grilling and beers (my beer of choice: Miller Lite - I'm a cheap date). My loyal readers are always invited to tailgate with me, but they'll have to e-mail me beforehand to see where I'm setting up any given weekend. Or, they can just swing by the house early morning, and enjoy the free parking and short stroll to campus.


So, there are my two cents worth. Thanks for reading, and Go Irish!


ND2005inChicago said...

Regarding the first question (and perhaps piggybacking on the current answer), I am a firm believer in 4 and 5 star recruits being extremely over-hyped, especially within the Fighting Irish fanbase. First of all, there are several teams who have built solid programs with primarily 2 and 3 star recruits. Teams such as Utah, Boise State, Georgia Tech, TCU, BYU, Oregon State, Navy, Clemson, North Carolina, the list goes on. These programs do fairly well, and probably/realistically have outperformed ND over the past 6-7 years. TCU, Utah, OSU, Boise State, and BYU have had extremely competitive teams, yet their recruits are usually overlooked by the 'major' programs. When the current goal is to return to NCAA relevancy aka Top 25 year after year, player development trumps number recruiting stars. I am not saying talent is irrelevant. I am saying talent is relevant when making the final jump from a Top 10 program to a Top 5 program. Then, with a little luck , any one of the Top 5 programs can win a national title. Our problem has not been recruiting athletes & talent. It has been player development aka getting players to perform at or above their talent level. It was a problem with Davie, Willingham, and Weis. I believe, and hope B.Kelly will be able to turn our recruits into football players, whether or not they have a certain number of stars attached to their name.

Sarah said...

You know, if you tell everyone where my tailgate is, I will demand that you let my dog stay at your house during football weekends...

Anonymous said...

I am not too big on 'must win' games this early. We have speed and skill guys that can go with the best. They will be in better shape physically and psychologically. The biggest change will be defensive. Mark Mays was correct when he said last year that ND would be much better off if the D just stopped blitzing. Coach Tenuta did not believe in defense in depth and frequently and very predictably created a situation where beating one man meant a TD or major gain. Give the D four games and you'll see significant improvement there. I do think it usually takes a season to get the full benefit of a new offense. We'll probably see some glicks there but, as you note, as the QB gets snaps he'll improve quickly. Another major change is the threat that the QB will run. This holds at least one linebacker and sometimes a corner opening up WR and TE opportunities.
Gutsmo '70

Wacko said...

Sarah - You and Choppy are always welcome in my home, football weekends or not.

ND2005 - I agree that we can return to perennial top 25 status with 3 and 4 star recruits. But that is not, and should not, ever be our goal. To become a perennial national championship contender, we need those 5-star athletes on the roster. That said, we'll get plenty of 5-star talent if we simply start winning games.

Gutsmo - I agree that losing Tenuta's blitz happy philosophy will be very good for this team.