Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Irish Blogger Gathering: Skunkbear Edition

The boys over at Her Loyal Sons came up with this week's slate of questions so head over there for a look at their answers along with links to the other IBG-ers.

1) You've now seen Notre Dame Football: The Kelly Edition (Vol. 1, Ep. 1). Was it everything you thought it would be? Were characters missing from this episode that you were expecting to see featured? Did it strike you as a carbon-copy of Kelly's Cincinnati teams, or is there something discernible between the 2 programs beyond the colors of the uniforms?

I left the stadium satisfied. I didn't head to my car convinced we were absolutely on our way a special season like I did in '05 when we curb-stomped the Wannstache at Heinz Field, but there were a lot of positive things to take from the preamble of Kelly's first act. This is a team that will be tough, well-conditioned, and sound in their fundamentals. It will take time before things run like clockwork, but Saturday went about as well as I could have imagined it.

There were improvements all over the field: the defense looked like it's on its way to realizing its vast potential, the young offensive linemen exceeded expectations, Dayne's decision-making was good, and the Allen-Wood duo is already emerging as a very dangerous weapon that will only help a potent passing attack that's waiting to be unleashed.

In terms of missing characters, I was surprised that neither Jonas Gray nor Robert Hughes logged a carry. I realize that Allen and Wood were playing at a high level and in all honesty there was no reason to sit both of them, but I didn't think the gap between the backs was so big that Gray and Hughes would collect splinters. Can't say I'm upset about it--because like I said, Allen and Wood looked great--but I was a bit surprised.

I don't think BK will handle this team even remotely like he did his squad at Cincinnati. One of the traits of a great coach is adjusting his scheme to fit his personnel. I thought his comments at a press conference this week revealed that this offense won't be the "GO, GO, GO" that Cincinnati employed last year.

BK described his offensive strategy at Cincy as something along the lines of "we had to launch a lot of threes and hope to outscore opponents." He said in the presser that he'd rather be more conventional and do things like win the time of possession battle, but his plan will be based on the reality of his personnel situation.

People point to the fact that his fast-paced offense led to being on the very wrong end of the TOP battle last year, but that's not necessarily how his teams always work. When he won the D-II national championship at Grand Valley State in '03 his teams held the ball about five minutes longer than opponents on average (32:20 to 27:36). Why? Because the personnel he had dictated the way he called games.

That GVSU squad ran the ball 60% (!!!) of the time and the breakdown per game was 223.7 passing yards and 215.9 rushing yards. Kelly can run a balanced offense, he can run a pass happy offense, and he can run a rush heavy offense. That flexibility and willingness to adapt--something he's shown over time with results, not just lip service--is yet another reason to believe he's going to be successful at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is far more talented than Cincinnati on both sides of the ball. BK will adjust his game plans accordingly to reflect that. The product will be a team that resembles a billionaire's version of '03 Grand Valley State as opposed to the '09 Cincinnati outfit.

2) Pick one positive play, offense or defense, by the Irish from last Saturday that you feel serves as a bit of metaphorical foreshadowing for the 2010 Irish. Extra points if you can stretch the metaphor to fit Kelly's entire tenure at Notre Dame.

Be patient, we're going to set this up with a couple plays before the play I'm focused on. On at least three occasions over the course of the game the Boilers threw a quick wide receiver screen in the flat. The first two times Manti Te'o came flying in and looked like he was going to blow the play up, but he whiffed on the tackle. Even though he didn't make the tackle, how quickly he got there disrupted the timing of the plays and nothing came of them...but he was so anxious that he was a tad out of position and it led to a breakable tackle.

The final time they ran this play--a little bubble screen on the right side to Keith Smith on their final drive--Te'o once again came out of nowhere, only this time he buried Smith for no gain. As the game went on things slowed down a bit for Manti and his timing got better.

I think this is perfect foreshadowing for how the entire team will perform over the course of the year. There will be little things that are off early in the year, but with some tweaks over the course of the season they'll become a finally tuned machine on offense and defense.

A well-coached team shows progress over the course of the year. For the first time in a long time I think the improvement from Game #1 to Game #12 will be undeniable; the days of mid-to-late season regression have come to a close.

3) Pick another play, offense or defense, by the Irish from last Saturday again, but this time, make it a negative play. Tell us how that play serves as a bit of metaphorical foreshadowing for the 2010 Irish. And again, bonus points for stretching it over Kelly's tenure.

I'll go with when Dayne Crist had the ball knocked out of his hand in the pocket by Ryan Kerrigan in the first half. He was careless protecting the ball and though he recovered the fumble, it could have helped Purdue turn the tables in the game.

Dayne, like a handful of players being counted on to contribute big things this season, is young and inexperienced. That inexperience is going to lead to some careless, boneheaded mistakes that will probably cost us a game over the course of the year.

There isn't a team on the schedule other than Southern Cal that has more talent than us. That means if we lose it will most likely be because we did something to beat ourselves. It's going to make coaches and fans alike pull their collective hair out, but you better start bracing for it now.

The key will be to eradicate the carelessness as the season progresses. If they do the damage will be limited to only one or two games and a BCS berth becomes a realistic possibility; if they don't then it'll be another December bowl for the Irish.

4) You know us, we're stat geeks. Give us a stat that we should be watching this season that will A) Tell us something enlightening about the 2010 Irish and/or B) Tell us something enlightening about the average Top-5 teams at the end of the 2010 season.

Here's a simple one that will indicate how well Notre Dame will do: red zone productivity. We were inexcusably terrible inside the 20 yard line last season--especially given the fact we had so many ridiculous weapons at our disposal (Clausen, Floyd, Tate, Rudolph). We were 75% in terms of coming away with points upon entering the red zone against Purdue and a paltry 25% for a touchdown conversion percentage.

Both of those figures need to rise not steadily, but immediately. In this particular instance I don't care that Dayne is young--he has a glut of Red Zone WMD's to lean on. Execute and PUNCH THE BALL IN THE ENDZONE.

5) Notre Dame is currently a 4 point favorite in the coming Michigan game. You get 3 points for being at home. The AP poll actually ranks Michigan higher than ND. ND is 1-4-1 in the last 6 games with Michigan in which the Irish were favored and 9 and 6 in the last 15 games in which Michigan was favored. Does any of this worry you? Why or why not?

Let's throw some more stats out there: Michigan is 2-8 in their last 10 road openers, they've lost in 4 of their last 5 trips to South Bend, and went only 4-4 against Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis this decade. Notre Dame has covered only 18 of 47 games as the home favorite over the past decade, hasn't covered as a favorite at home against a school from an automatic qualifying conference since Stanford in '08 (six straight games), and has made it out of September without a loss only twice since Clinton took office ('93 and '02).

And you know what? None of that information is relevant this week. I'll tell you three things that are significant though:

1 - Brian Kelly is Notre Dame's head coach, not Charlie or the Molder of Men
2 - Rich Rod has one foot in the grave and at least 40% of Michigan fans throwing dirt at him hoping he falls in
3 - Michigan's secondary is some adjective two degrees beyond depleted (Crater-ous? Barren? Deceased? A craterous, barren, deceased wasteland?)

The Irish are on the rise, the Skunkbears are on the verge of another coaching change when they finally stop lying to themselves and admit Rich Rod is a horrific fit in Ann Arbor. My only hope is they poach Les Miles and not Jim Harbaugh.

6) Last week, Frank at UHND put the Gathering on the spot with our predictions for the season. After week 1, are there any of those predictions that you'd like to alter? Any upon which you'd double down?

One to alter is the opponent that will end up ranked the highest. I went with Boston College. They really are a good squad and perhaps that pick was more a reflection of how I think most of the teams on our schedule are frauds at heart (see: PITT), but I somehow forgot the fact that Dave Shinskie is still their quarterback.

Shinskie beyond a shadow of a doubt ranks as one of the three worst passing quarterbacks I've ever seen play against the Irish (#1 would probably be Bethel-Thompson from UCLA) and there isn't a chance in hell Backup College is going far with him at the helm.

Pitt is a fraud. Southern Cal and Sonja Henie are out...we'll take Utah. The Utes have a brutal five-game stretch to end the year (at Air Force, home vs TCU, at ND, home vs BYU) but they could be up in the top 12 or 13 entering November.

I'm all about the double down, but the dealer dealt me 18 and he's showing 11 so I'll sit tight for now.

7) Describe in no fewer than 30 words why you hate Michigan.

There are a million reasons, starting with their fans' irrational admiration and adoration of Bo Schembechler despite the fact that he choked in more big games and lost more Rose Bowls than any other coach in history, continuing with their yapping about how irrelevant Notre Dame is and the Skunkbears are the greatest program ever--conveniently forgetting the fact that they've won exactly .5 titles since Eisenhower took office--and ending with the combination of Tate Forcier and Rich Rodriguez as one of the most easy to hate combos in sports.

I don't think anything I can write here can sum up why ND fans hate Michigan quite like this letter from Blue-Gray Sky to Michigan fans before the 2005 contest. It's probably my favorite entry in the history of BGS.

We're in a similar position to last year when I wrote about how Notre Dame has a chance to put a potentially fatal dagger in the Rich Rod Era. Go out there and bury that snake, BK...and make sure Tate is in the grave with him.

(Bonus points to you if you caught the Caddyshack reference hidden above)