An old tradition around here was to team up with a blog that covered the team we're about to play, ask each other some burning questions about what they see in themselves, and wait for the respective message boards to blow up about how tinted that guy's glasses must be. This week I meant to bring it back by interviewing ND's puppet quarterback depth chart, however when we got there we learned they had all been poisoned by Blazing Sea Nuggets. So, second choice: we now bring it back with founder of the very large blog/message board for ND fans (the ones who aren't psychopaths, or at least the good kind), Frank Vitovich of UHND. Part 1, where I answer his queries, is here.
Let's peel this right away, (CUCK-CUH-CAW!): Where does Michigan stand in the pantheon of Notre Dame rivalries and how do the fans feel about [CUH-CHEE-CHAW!] pulling out of the series? Was this really necessitated by the [COO-COO-CA-CHAH!] ACC or was that an excuse? [A COODLE DOODLE DOO]
That depends on who you ask. Some Notre Dame fans will down play the rivalry because of all of the gaps in the series and some of the early history and controversy. I am not one of those fans. I am going to miss the series because of the genuine dislike fanbases of the two schools have for each other.
|If we're not rivals then why is your band
clearly worshipping our former punter /
space emperor? [Upchurch]
I am not saying that as a bad thing either. Quite the contrary. Part of what has made Michigan and Notre Dame games so much fun over the years is the fact that each teams fans really don't care much for the other institution. That might actually be putting it mildly.
Yes, it is true that Notre Dame has played schools like Michigan State and Purdue more times, but those games rarely, if ever bring with them the hype, excitement, and intensity of a Notre Dame - Michigan game.
USC still have to be considered Notre Dame's top rival given the deep history of that series just as Ohio State would be considered Michigan's top rivals, but after the Trojans, it's hard for me to thing of a rivalry I've enjoyed watching more over the years. Part of that could be because I grew up in the 80's and haven't lived through the large gaps that a lot of older Notre Dame fans have, but all I know is that the Michigan game is one of the games I circle every year and there isn't a single opponent I have seen Notre Dame play more times in Notre Dame Stadium than Michigan.
I do see the rivalry coming to an end because of Notre Dame's new ACC commitments and not simply wanting to get out of the series. Hopefully something gets worked out and the two are back on each others schedules in the near future.
[Rest after the jump]
So last year: what percent was luck of the Irish, crazy Kelly genius, or that good? [ed: I meant the season but he went into the game]
Last year's game was one of the weirder contests I can remember between Michigan and Notre Dame. I don't think it was luck on Notre Dame's part at all though. It was just a combination of heck of a defensive performance and Kelly playing things very, very conservative because he was a little gun shy from the 2011 game. Kelly saw his defense playing lights out football and went ultra-conservative offensively so as to not risk any turnovers such as the ones that made their trip to Ann Arbor a year earlier so ill-fated.
|"A good battle plan lasts until the
first shot is fired," –every general
in every Robert Jordan novel.
If anything, call it Kelly genius since he managed to guide his team to a victory despite having to pull his redshirt freshman quarterback who looked lost after a couple of turnovers and essentially scrape his entire offensive game plan.
With Manti Te'o gone this year, Kelly won't be able to play things as conservatively so if the Irish are to make it two in a row, it'll have to be more Kelly genius. Notre Dame has the playmakers on offense to allow Kelly to loosen the reigns: TJ Jones looked as good as we've seen him in the open field and DaVaris Daniels scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the season after not scoring a single one last year. Amir Carlisle finally got to see the field after injuries kept him off of it last year and his first carry for Notre Dame went 45 yards. Notre Dame can't count on another turnover fest this year so Kelly and Chuck Martin are going to have to find a way to manufacture more than 13 points of offense.
Speaking of that defensive line of yours. Do they really eat people? Which one is the eat peopleiest? Other than "play with five Barrett Joneses" is there a strategy you've seen work against those guys?
Louis Nix would be the "eat peopleist" of the bunch. He is a massive human being in the middle of the Notre Dame defense and should require the most attention from offensive line because he can collapse a pocket at any time. He and Stephon Tuitt were first or second team All Americans on just about every pre-season watch list for a reason. They are a couple of bad dudes.
When it comes to the Notre Dame defensive line, the strategy Temple used last week was actually pretty sound. Double Tuitt and Nix and use a lot of three step drops and have your quarterback get ride of the ball quickly. You can negate their ability to collapse the pocket with the double team and you can negate open lanes to quarterback double teaming them creates with the short drops. Doing so requires a quarterback with good accuracy and patience as such an approach means a lot of dinking and dunking.
|Sadly, Keivarae Russell isn't Gary
Temple pulled it off pretty well last week, but Notre Dame also kept things pretty vanilla on defense against the Owls.
In the 2012 preview book I said Notre Dame's defensive backfield was a mess of nobodies and last minute position switchers, but that Michigan lacked the passing firepower to take advantage. Now considering Te'o isn't there to cover three zones and Gardner is a savant at extending plays, can the defensive backs hold out, or is pass defense still mostly a matter of generating pressure from the front 7?
The Notre Dame defensive backs should be able to more than hold their own. Bennett Jackson and Keivarae Russell are probably the best starting cornerback tandem since Shane Walton and Vontez Duff in 2002 and Matthias Farley is a pretty athletic safety. The fourth spot in the secondary is still a bit of question mark after sophomore Elijah Shumate had a rough opener in coverage. Austin Collinsworth plays a lot as well, but Shumate was on the field in a lot of obvious passing downs and was taken advantage of at times.
The secondary, however, is not what worries me in the coverage for Notre Dame this year at all though. It's the linebackers. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese started next to each on the inside at linebacker and looked lost in coverage at times. Jarrett Grace played more in the second half on the inside and looked better but it's a three man rotation for two spots right now and that is an area that Michigan and other offense are going to be able to exploit unless the Irish improve in a hurry.
|After one game it's hard to tell if
Calabrese and Fox are lost or just
"Not Te'o." [Upchurch]
I wouldn't be worried about Gardner hurting the Irish down field when he extends plays either. Notre Dame's contain defense was non-existent last week and a Temple quarterback making his first career start was able to pick up multiple first downs on them when he avoided the rush and found in himself in wide open space without a linebacker in sight. If Notre Dame rushes Gardner and doesn't get him, it'll be his legs that burn the Irish, not his arm.
From the last two games we saw Tommy Rees, he seems like a guy who could put the ball just about anywhere (including on the ground directly behind him), or win the game with his legs. How does Kelly plan to use Multi-Threat Rees from the pistol formation, and was his performance last week more a sign of him being good(?) at quarterback, or Temple being awful at football?
The only time Rees did much with his legs last year was against Michigan. Other than that, Rees isn't going to be winning any foot races and isn't going to escape much pressure. He's gotten better at moving around the pocket and finding lanes to throw in the face of pressure, but if the pass rush is barreling down on him, he isn't going to escape it. Notre Dame isn't going to call many - maybe any - designed runs for Rees either.
Last week we saw an improved Tommy Rees because he was really accurate and had time to pass. His performance last week was probably a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B. He looked accurate and sharp because Temple couldn't generate any pressure on him and he was able to hit his receivers in stride and let them make plays after the catch.
|Yes, in fact, Rees does seem to turn
the ball over for random reasons,
and not just against us. [Robin
Alam/Icon SMI via UHND]
That is going to be make how Michigan decides to defend him really interesting. Do they drop 8 into coverage like defenses have in the past or do they bring some pressure. Brian Kelly has had all summer long to work on ways to combat that exact defense since it was used time and time again against Rees previously.
The real key for Notre Dame and Rees though is going to be ball protection. Rees will never live down that fateful rumble in the Big House in 2011 barring another miracle season this year, and last week was one of the few times Rees made it from start to finish without turning the ball over a single time. I'm hopeful that's a sign of improvement from Rees, but at the same time it was at the end of the day Temple. On a positive note, Rees didn't have any of those plays that we saw all too often in 2011 where you just starred at the TV and yelled, "whyyyyyyyyy?!?"
What is so special about Notre Dame that so many great recruits from all over the country want to commit there, then commit somewhere else?
Notre Dame has really elevated its recruiting over the last few years and unfortunately, that comes with territory. A lot of elite recruits these days simply change their minds and while Notre Dame has been on the short end of the stick recently with Eddie Vanderdoes, they have been on the opposite side as well. In fact the current roster would look much different if Notre Dame didn't pick up a number of decommitments from other schools.
|Sometimes the defections re-defect,
as Tuitt did when he learned GT
only used fake gold in their helmets.
Stephon Tuitt committed to Georgia Tech briefly before recommitting to Notre Dame. TJ Jones originally committed to Stanford - so was injured freshman linebacker Doug Randolph. Greg Bryant and Max Redfield, two 5-star recruits from last year, were at one time committed to Oklahoma and USC respectively. Starting center Nick Martin was a Kentucky commitment. Amir Carlisle transferred to Notre Dame from USC.
Most of the decommitments and transfers were for programs closer to the players homes too. Eddie Vanderoes went back to his home state, Hood recently committed to his home-state UNC, and Davonte Neal transferred to Arizona in the spring to be closer to home and his infant son. As long as Notre Dame continues to recruit nationally as it has been this will likely continue to be an issue.
I think the Notre Dame defense will look better this weekend than they did last week against Temple, but Gardner is going to create a couple big plays when he eludes pressure. I see Notre Dame scoring enough points and protecting the football well enough to sneak out of Ann Arbor with a 31-27 victory.