Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Fear the Cardinal?

1. After suffering through back to back heart breaking losses how have your expectations for this season changed? Has the rough start affected your expectations for the Brian Kelly era?

Expectations for the season have changed somewhat. I still believe this is a pretty darn good football team, but they haven't quite developed that killer instinct necessary to close out an opponent when they get the chance. There's still a sense that the team waits for the other shoe to drop, as it has so many times in the past couple of years. I'm hoping that eventually these kids will get sick of losing close, last-second games and finally come out and beat the ever-living shit out of someone.

Until they do, though, the quality BCS teams on the schedule will continue to give us fits. Does anybody else wish we could swap the Western Michigan and Stanford games right now?

As far as the Brian Kelly era, my expectations haven't changed. We haven't gotten blown out of any games, and the fundamentals of this team continue to be strong. I am concerned about the number of turnovers we've had, but that's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a young inexperienced offense. Once we start taking care of the ball, these games should start to take care of themselves.

2. Our defense has given up 28 points in both of our last two games. But our defense has also forced a few three and outs and has looked fairly stout out times. So on D, are we Jekyll or Hyde? Or are we just a work in progress?

The biggest issue I have with the Brian Kelly system is that by de-emphasizing time of possession, the defense is on the field a lot. There are going to be more possessions in a game, and more opportunities for the opponent to score, thus resulting in more total points (on both sides). The biggest issue I've seen on defense is that we still occasionally make boneheaded plays that cost us the game.

3. I've heard that Bill Walsh believed that if he saw a player make one great play, he and his staff could coach that player to consistently make great plays. The Irish offense clearly made some great plays against State. Our Offense also unfortunately disappeared at critical times. Are we just witnessing the process of Kelly and his staff teaching the lads to consistently make great plays?

This question pretty much hits the nail on the head. This is a work in progress, and we're still crafting some of the pieces we need for this machine to run smoothly. For example, Theo Riddick finally learned how to play receiver, and that's another piece of the puzzle that we have put into place. We need the quarterback to do a better job of reading coverages and progressions. We need our #1 receiver to stop fumbling the ball in the end zone. We need to develop some depth at safety so we don't get beat by the occasional big play. We need to learn how to limit turnovers generally.

4. Where would you rank Stanford among the Irish opponents? Would a defeat of the Cardinal be the biggest win of the last six years?

I don't know if it would be the biggest win, but it would certainly be a big confidence booster for this program - especially if we find a way to do so convincingly. The problem with so many of the wins the last several years is that they have been close wins over what turned out to be over-rated opponents. If we can go out on the field and beat a top 15 Stanford team by two touchdowns, then it will be the biggest win in the last 6 years. It will inject some confidence into the team heading into two other big games against BC and Pitt. I think Stanford is the third best opponent on the schedule, behind Pitt and Utah, and slightly ahead of USC. A win would be very very good for this program.

5. While many outsiders and a contingent of fans have cited ND's academic standards as a hindrance to football success, many Irish supporters consider Notre Dame's unique combination of strong academics and big-time football (and faith) as an advantageous niche in the college football world. With stricter admission standards and far-less football notoriety, Harbaugh's Cardinal have burst onto the national recruiting scene to again prove that plenty of really good football players welcome academic challenges as long as they come with a chance to compete at the highest level. Could you foresee sustained excellence by Stanford Football and would you perceive a perennially strong Cardinal program as any kind of a threat to Notre Dame's niche?

I think that Stanford is capable of building a very strong perennial program, but I don't see them getting to the elite status of Notre Dame of years past, or the Florida,
Texas, Southern Cal and Ohio State teams of the past decade. Sure, they can compete for the Pac-10 crown year-in and year-out, but I don't see them as perennial national title contenders. Notre Dame's uniqueness comes from a history of overcoming the challenges presented by maintaining your academic integrity while fielding an elite football team. Stanford does have some ancient history of elite football success, but they aren't built to sustain it, due to the unique nature of the college football beast compared to the Olympic sports programs.

If the Cardinal find a way to compete at that elite level, they will certainly present a challenge to Notre Dame's niche, but the Irish also have the Catholic identity, which comes with the infamous "parietals" governing student behavior. Stanford is a good academic institution, but they hardly have the restrictions on student life. Parents love Notre Dame not only because of it's football tradition and strong academics, they also know that their sons will become Notre Dame Men.

6. Let’s talk statistics. Will they matter this weekend?

a. Coming into the game, Stanford has the #3 ranked Scoring Offense nationally (51.67 pts/gm) with the 14th ranked Rushing Offense (242.33 yds/gm). Notre Dame's Scoring Offense ranks 73rd (26.00 pts) with the 99th ranked Rushing Defense (197 yds/gm).

Will the Irish be able to contain Stanford's rushing attack?

This is really the key question to this weekend's matchup. Last year, Toby Gerhart mowed us down en route to nearly winning the Heisman trophy. This year, sans Gerhart, the Cardinal are still rolling. We let Denard Robinson make us look like fools, and Michigan State ran for over 200 yards against us.

However, there are signs of improvement. In the fourth quarter, Michigan State only ran for 11 yards. And in OT, they were -4 yards. So, our defense got stronger as the game progressed. If we can avoid giving up the big play, we may be able to stop this Stanford rushing attack.

b. Notre Dame's Passing Offense is 8th nationally (318 yds/gm) and Stanford's Passing Efficiency Defense is 3rd nationally (74 yds/gm).

Will Stanford be able to contain the Irish passing attack?

No. This offense is growing every week, and Stanford hasn't seen anything like the talent that Notre Dame has at their disposal. With Riddick starting to play like a complete receiver, Floyd will get more touches, TJ Jones will sneak out some good plays, and you know that Kyle Rudolph can be counted on in a pinch. This should be a high scoring game for the Irish, as long as we don't turn the ball over.

c. Stanford gave up 170 yds rushing to UCLA and 265 yds rushing to Wake Forest. Notre Dame has averaged 133 yds/gm so far.

Do you expect Kelly to utilize the Irish rushing attack more?

I do. With the tape Kelly has on Stanford, I expect to see a lot of Armando Allen until they bring a safety down in the box. I expect to see some explosive pass plays as a result if the Irish can move the ball on the ground.

d. Stanford is ranked 4th in Red Zone Defense (50%) while the Irish have the 65th ranked Red Zone Offense (82%). Stanford's Red Zone Offense is tied for 1st (100%) in conversions and the Irish Defense's Red Zone conversions allowed is 36th (75%).

Will the Irish be able to stop Stanford's RZ conversions and improve theirs? How would you do that?

Notre Dame will stop Stanford in the red zone on Saturday. And the Irish don't need to worry about their red zone offense, they need to worry about ball security.

7. 1-2 is pretty tough to deal with for a football team still trying to find its identity. Meanwhile, Stanford is looking like a well-oiled machine thus far. Do you think this Irish squad can really bounce back from another heart-breaking loss against the Cardinal? What if it's not all that close?

I tell you what, if this game gets out of hand and the Irish get spanked by the Cardinal, my confidence in Kelly will be badly shaken. I still think that the Irish are better than MSU and Michigan, but their own mistakes (blown coverages and turnovers, specifically) kept them from winning the game. If Stanford beats us soundly, then that means that we will have regressed as a team, as I think we are fully capable of going toe-to-toe with Stanford.

Will we win the game? I don't know. The Cardinal offense has put up some pretty sick numbers so far. And I thought we'd be able to contain Denard Robinson, so I'm not exactly perfect here.

In the end, though, I think that this team is frustrated because they know they are better than their record says. And they want to get out there and prove it.


Notre Dame 45
Stanford 42