1) Grade Brian Kelly's performance to date. We're not interested in how you think he will perform going forward. How has he done through the first five games? Grade scale is A+ to F-.
C...I like the direction the team is heading and I think there's marked improvement across the board from last season, but if you're judging the first five games in a vacuum I'm going to be a harsh grader. Let's get the negatives out of the way and then highlight some positives.
First and foremost, our record is 2-3 and our three losses weren't at the hands of juggernauts by any stretch. We're trying to rebuild a winning culture at Notre Dame so giving pats on the back for coming close is not an option anymore. Three losses in a season used to be a complete failure--three losses in a month was unthinkable. That's where we need to get back to again. The bottom line is we failed three tests and the grades are pass/fail, no room for a gray area. I feel like if Coach Kelly was asked to grade himself he'd express the same sentiment.
I find it hard to believe that Kelly didn't realize the need for a contingency plan in case Dayne went down like he did in the Michigan game. Of course he couldn't have foreseen a freak head injury like the one that happened, but Crist was coming off a serious knee injury that occurred less than a year ago.
The thought of what was going to happen if he re-injured himself had to have crossed his mind and the answer couldn't have logically been "Tommy Rees and/or Nate Montana are capable of coming in and running the offense somewhat effectively." He has since implemented a package for the backups to run in case of emergencies after watching the debacle against the Wolverines which is good, but it's something that should've happened in the preseason.
Against Michigan State there's absolutely no excuse to get burned the way we did on the fake field goal in overtime. God Bless Lou Holtz, but his claim that Notre Dame was prepared and they just got unlucky when some feet got tangled up just doesn't tell the right story. Our defenders wouldn't have been falling down if they hadn't been so flat-footed and unprepared for Dantonio's "all-in" game-ending call.
Against Stanford we looked totally lost on offense and there were no effective adjustments at halftime to turn the tide when the defense was doing everything possible to keep hope alive. It was a listless performance, something I thought Kelly promised we'd never see from one of his teams.
On the good side we took a large step toward reestablishing ourselves as the true big brother in our rivalry against BC. The Eagles are not a good but in years past we've let those sort of teams linger even when we were clearly better and sometimes its jumped up and bit us (see: Syracuse '08).
Dayne Crist and the offense have shown flashes of brilliance (see: third quarter vs Michigan State) but we've yet to find the necessary consistency to take the next step. Our kicking game and coverage units have been superb, a tell-tale sign of the fact that attention to detail is being stressed.
It's going to take time for Kelly's influence to fully saturate the program but it's clear that we're making strides. The team will experience some growing pains along the way and unfortunately our coach will experience some bumps in the road as well. All we can hope for is progress from every person in every regard--from Crist to Floyd to Turk to the head man himself. If that improvement is undeniable at the end of this season then the campaign will ultimately deemed a success.
2) Much has been made of Brian Kelly's sideline rants. Some fans like the excitement and energy others are worried that they are excessive and will wear thin on the players. Where do you stand?
I trust Brian Kelly to know his team and realize what buttons need to be pushed. He's an impassioned guy and these rants aren't something new--they're just far more discussed now that he's coaching the most highly scrutinized and analyzed program in college football.
Could it wear thin over time? Absolutely--even Lou wore people out in South Bend with his tirades by the end of his tenure. But this is just another example of how people feel the need to parse every second, every word, every facial expression and draw some sort of rash, generalized, long-term conclusion.
He's five games into his career at Notre Dame and he's attempting to instill a mental and physical toughness that hasn't existed in South Bend in a long, long time. If he thinks getting in someone's face and tearing them apart on the sidelines is going to hasten the transformation from a soft team to a tough team then I say do it. Hell, supply him with a bullhorn so that the next time Ben Turk walks to the sidelines after shanking a punt Kelly can make his point even clearer.
3) What is the best storyline for Notre Dame football this year? The best storyline in college football?
There are a few good ones to choose from. You've got David Ruffer emerging as our best kicker since Nick Setta, Theo Riddick adapting to receiver and adding a new explosive dimension to the offense, Gary Gray stepping up and delivering far and away the best performance in the entire secondary...but if I had to choose one it would be the evolution of Armando Allen.
This kid has come so far over the course of his career in South Bend. During his first couple years I was convinced that he had the vision of a mole as he consistently ran into his own blockers on runs and screens alike. He wasn't strong enough to block which led to moments like to time when he'd get steamrolled by a defender (see: Ram Vela in the '07 Navy game).
He's always run hard but that didn't stop him from going down as soon as a defender got a paw on him. Every time it looked like he may finally break that big run we'd been waiting for since his arrive on campus he'd get tripped up by a shoestring tackle or somehow lose his balance and turn a 20-yard gain into eight yards.
Not this year though. Allen has been running like a man possessed, consistently breaking tackles and wiggling for that extra yard instead of immediately hitting the dirt. The 30-yard run he had on the opening drive of the Boston College game put on display how vast his improvement has been. He broke a tackle and slipped away from the pile, bounced outside, and threw an ankle-breaking juke on the defensive back who could have stopped the gain at 12-15 yards.
The old Armando would've been taken down in the initial pile. The new and improved Armando has the ability to find the daylight and go after it hard. He's finding a way to maximize every run, squeezing six yards out of runs that should only be three yards. He's also reached Darius Walker's level of effectiveness as a blocker, something that can't be underrated. If he can find a way to stay healthy over the rest of the season--unfortunately he's still not particularly durable--he'll have a fine (and--unfortunately--largely unappreciated) season to show for it.
Best storyline in all of college football? It pains me to say it but the most riveting one is Denard Robinson taking the entire Michigan program on his back and carrying it out of the turmoil that's plagued it since Rich Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor. His team is mediocre at just about every position, but he's been on a level attained by few if any in college football history.
Opponents know he's going to run and he still rips off huge chunks. His passing is greatly improved from last year and at the end of every game the statline next to his name is literally like something out of a video game. He's the hands-down favorite to win the Heisman at this point and each passing week puts more and more distance between himself and the other candidates. If he stays healthy for the entire year he's going to shatter so many records it'll be stupid.
4) We are going to test your prognostication skills with a little IBG prediction contest. Predict the following for this week's Pitt game:
- Kyle Rudolph receptions: 5...Time to get him rolling again.
- Points scored by Notre Dame's defense: 0...Nothing would make me happier than being wrong on this one.
- Carries by Robert Hughes: 5...Jonas is hurt + Cierre most likely entering a new level of Kelly's Doghouse = Crumbs for Hughes
- Points Notre Dame wins by: 6...Right now I'm feeling 27-21.
- Tackles Manti T'eo registers: 9...He's getting better each week.
- Pass attempts by Tommy Rees: 0...Nothing would make me happier than being right on this one (ND win notwithstanding).
- Taylor Swift in Attendance: No...She's got to be busy in the studio pumping out songs I can scream along with at The Backer.
5) What would you like to see in place of the yellow mums on the Notre Dame sidelines?
The mums don't bother me nearly as much as they seem to bother other people. I wouldn't have put them in and when you point them out I'll acknowledge they don't belong, but upon entering the Stadium my eyes aren't directly shifted to the plants behind the sidelines.
The beauty of Notre Dame Stadium is its simplicity. I'd say just throw in another row or two of seats. If they want a different form of vegetation let's just go biblical on everyone's ass and put in genuine burning bushes. I'm talking the type that would stop Moses in his tracks. Anyone doubt that Father Hesburgh has the connections upstairs to make it happen? If burning bushes can't restore homefield advantage nothing will.