Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Tailgating Hall of Fame Edition

Matt over at We Never Graduate is hosting this week's Irish Blogger Gathering, and with a MAC team on their way to town, we're going to examine some bigger picture issues surrounding the program. Like whose friends are the most awesomest tailgating companions ever. (Answer: mine)

1. The Irish have posted back-to-back victories over teams that have given us fits the past decade to pull back to .500, but when you head to the message boards on ND Nation, Rivals, etc. all you see is unrelenting negativity. Some cry Kelly's in over his head and doomed to fail, others bitch and moan about the run-to-pass ratio, and many more say that even though we've won the last two there's no improvement over last year's team. What's your take on the negativity that's swirling around the program on the internet? What message would you like to convey to ND Nation?

I think that the negativity of many of these posters stems from the roller-coaster ride we've had with our last few coaches.  Almost every true Notre Dame fan has drunk the Kool-Aid with at least one of the last three coaches, and gotten burned as a result. This time around, many people wanted us to hire a proven winner, like Bob Stoops or Urban Meyer, to ensure that we wouldn't have to go down this road again. However, luring one of those coaches away from their top-tier job is easier said than done, while still holding true to our ideals.

What I would like to convey to NDNation is to take a deep breath, relax, and let the season play out.  We're not winning it all this year, so sit back and enjoy the ride.  Coach may make a few mistakes, and we may not be as good as we're capable of being.  That said, a firestorm of negativity won't be good for the psyche of this program.  Give them some leash, and let them go out there an play.  Support your team for once and let these kids have some fun.  We should see improvement throughout the year, and next year this team should be clicking along on all cylinders.

And believe me, whether you like the spread or not, it will score enough points to win every game on the schedule.

2. When Western Michigan and Tulsa were announced as 2010 opponents last fall there was a full-throttle meltdown among ND fans that was surpassed only by The F-Word Incident in April in terms of sheer outrage. Well, if the opinions expressed then are the same now the apocalypse has finally arrived and a MAC squad is about to forever sully our field by stepping foot on it. Have your thoughts on the Western Michigan/Tulsa games changed since they were announced? Would you rather ND Stadium sell out and continue the streak that extends back almost 40 years or see the streak broken so that the powers-that-be know just how disrespected you feel by the audacity they showed in scheduling such inferior opponents?

Honestly, I want the stadium to sell out, beat the ever-living crap out of these teams, and use it to build confidence moving forward.  I'm not a big fan of watering down the schedule, but picture the difference between the team this year sitting at 5-3 heading into Utah versus 3-5 had we scheduled Oklahoma and Miami for those two games.

And for those people that are so pissed at the scheduling, Western Michigan was only added because the deal with TCU fell through - think anybody would be complaining if the #4/5 team in the country were on it's way to town? Scheduling is difficult as an independent, and the transition at athletics director left us with a couple of holes to fill.  At least we didn't slot in any FCS teams.

Swarbrick has done some really good things to improve the schedule going forward, but ultimately this season sets up well for a young and developing team.  These will be confidence games where the team can hopefully find a rhythm on offense, do some spectacular things on defense, and build up the psyche of the team heading into the showdown with Utah.

3. Most people painted AD Jack Swarbrick as the villain when the Western Michigan/Tulsa games were made public. Since then he's made drastic moves in locking down opponents on future schedules, went through the process of firing Weis and hiring Kelly, and navigated ND through the murky waters of conference realignment. Has your personal opinion on Swarbrick been altered over the past year?

I was high on Swarbrick when he was hired.  Too many people were quick to lay the blame on him for trying to fill the holes left by his predecessor.  Indeed, most of the people that didn't like Swarbrick didn't like him because he talks like a lawyer.  He's never going to say that conference membership won't happen, because things could change drastically.  He's not going to throw his predecessor and colleague under the bus, because he may need Kevin White at some point in the future if we wanted to try and schedule a basketball game with Duke.  He's quietly dismantled the 7-4-1 model while not throwing it in Kevin White's face.  He made the best possible decision regarding the coaching hire.  He has shown a commitment to creating a schedule worthy of Notre Dame.  He's a big-time player with the clout to lead this athletics program through the often rough waters of college football independence.  Do you really think that BYU would have gone independent without the support of Swarbrick and Notre Dame?

This guy is a Notre Dame man who understands far better than any of us the position we occupy in the college football landscape.  He has the connections and the leadership ability to put this program back at the top of college football.  But Rome wasn't built in a day.  Give him time, and he'll right the ship.

4. We're at the halfway point so it's a perfect time to step back real quick and evaluate what's happened thus far. What have been your two biggest surprises at this juncture of the season? Choose one positive and one negative.

Positive:  We can kick a field goal.  I talked about this last week, but it's amazing what a decent field goal unit can do for your ability to win games.  Just look at the Pitt game - we went 3-3, they want 1-2. They make that chip shot they missed, and we miss the 50 yarder, and all of a sudden we're looking at an overtime game.  Ruffer is perfect on field goals this year - 11/11.  For the record, that puts him tied for second among kickers that are still perfect, with only the Southern Miss kicker having kicked more field goals without a miss (he's tied with the kicker from Oklahoma State).

Negative:  This offense is still horribly inconsistent.  We turn the ball over too often, stagnate for long stretches of the game, and aren't as efficient as we ought to be at this point.  This offense is loaded with weapons, but they still haven't gotten to that unconscious competence point yet.  You'll notice that the faster the offense plays, the better they do.  That's because we aren't giving them time to think.  Once this team can settle in and stop thinking about it, we can be a very explosive offense.  But thus far, I've been very disappointed. 

5. Which player that hasn't contributed much to this point in the season do you see emerging as a contributor down the stretch?

Michael Floyd.  This may seem a bit disingenuous for a guy that is our leading receiver (in yards), but we all know that Michael Floyd is capable of being one of the dominant receivers in the country.  He simply hasn't been that player yet, and I'm expecting for him to start getting it in the second half of the season, especially as Theo Riddick continues to develop his reputation as a playmaker, and hopefully as Kyle Rudolph gets back to 100%. [Note: Breaking news from South Bend - Kelly says Kyle Rudolph shutting it down for the season]

As far as players that really haven't contributed much, I'm going to go with Prince Shembo.  The kid has shown a play-making ability, as he has 2.5 sacks already in limited playing time.  He'll see a lot more minutes and show his disruptive ability as the season wears on.

6. Scholarships are running thin and some tough decisions are going to have to be made this spring when it comes to offering 5th years to current seniors. If you're Coach Kelly who do you offer and who is left out in the cold to make room for the incoming freshman class?  Here's a link to the 2011 scholarship chart for a list of potential 5th years.

Offered (in order of preference):

Harrison Smith, Safety
Safety depth is a huge problem for this team, and bringing Harrison Smith back for his 5th year would be a great move.  He seems to finally be settling in at the position, and he's really stepped up as a leader for this team.  I fully expect to see him on the field next year for the Irish.

Gary Gray, Cornerback
Gary has shown himself to be a very coachable player with a lot of speed and natural athletic ability.  While there is plenty of talent coming up behind him, I'd be very happy to see him suiting up at corner again next year.

Taylor Dever, Matt Romine, and Andrew Nuss, Offensive line
There is no way you let a 5th year eligible player with significant playing experience go on the offensive line.  Playing time is by far the best single indicator of future performance here, so I think you bring all of them back to compete.  Especially Dever.

Mike Ragone, Tight End
Talented kid who is doing some pretty solid work in Kyle Rudolph's shadow.  He hasn't put himself in the position to be a NFL prospect yet, but he has the athletic ability to cause some pretty big matchup problems next year if he continues to develop towards his potential.

Passed on:

Steve Paskorz & Emeka Nwankwo
Both of these players have essentially been buried on the depth chart, and there is plenty of young talent behind them that can push for starting time in their stead.  Thanks guys, but we do have scholarship limits to deal with here.  At least you'll have that Notre Dame degree to fall back on.

7. *****BONUS***** You've been challenged to a Tailgate Olympiad by some chaunce from Southern Cal and you need to assemble a dream team of your fellow Irish fans to compete in the following events: 
Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team), Beer Pong, Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team), Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It, Individual Case Race, and Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell). Your captaincy role on this team is Ryder Cup style so you'll be monitoring the proceedings rather than actually partaking. Throw some internet love out to your fellow tailgate All-Stars that have delivered through the years and let us know who you'd put in each slot to make sure Troy fell in the parking lot as well as on the field...and while you're at it, tell us what three songs you'd be blasting as you rolled to victory.

Full Beer Flip Cup (four-man team)
Lacey - 30th Birthday flip-cup champion
Libbie (that's right, Wes, I picked your wife over you.  Deal.)

Beer Pong
1. Laura Waechter
2. Chris Waechter
First alternate:  Lisa Waechter
Shout-out to my family, who have proven time and again their ability to focus even after many rounds of beer pong.  The Waechters are unstoppable at beer pong, my friends.  Don't even try...

Hamburger Eating Contest (two-man team)
1. George Kalber
2. Len Kalber
First alternate: Dave Grimm
Second alternate: Tim Kelly (if he can eat hamburgers even remotely like he can eat spaghetti, this wouldn't even be close)
Believe me, if you saw these guys, you would just forfeit on the spot.

Cornhole/Bags/Whatever You Call It
Briege Gish, Good Guys, Team Captain
Brad 'Hoss' Jordan - Oldest and best tailgating partner in crime

Individual Case Race
Any one of the crazy Canadians Hoss and I tailgated with that one time.  They got out of the car, and there were 3 of them.  There were 7 cases of beer.  They invited us to join (we had one case of our own), and there was nary a drop left by gametime. Anything involving cases of beer, I'm going to draft those guys.  Bonus points for also sporting the ND tats.

Thunderdome (one shotgun per minute until someone can't answer the bell)
Andrew LaBreche
First alternate:  Jason Weaver

Three songs
Notre Dame Victory March - Can never get enough of this on gameday, so this will always be on heavy rotation.  That said, I'm not taking away one spot of the precious three for so obvious an answer.

1.  Dropkick Murphys - Shipping Up To Boston

2.  Guns 'N Roses - Welcome to the Jungle

3.  AC/DC - Thunderstruck (Live)