This week the boys at Rakes of Mallow have been charged with delivering the IBG questions after the glorious throttling of Utah. Head over there to see their responses as well as the responses of others.
1) Saturday’s result against Utah was a very pleasant surprise, but an unexpected one, to say the least. What was the biggest positive you took from the win over the Utes, and what concerns you most as the Irish head into their final two games of the regular season?
Yes, Utah was vastly overrated and this wasn’t a big or historic upset by any stretch of the imagination…but that doesn’t demean just how important this game was to the psyche of the team and the fan base.
This was a dominating performance over a solid, well-coached football team. The biggest positive wasn’t just the win, it was the manner in which it took place: with smashmouth, tough, hard-nosed football. They smacked the Utes in the mouth from the opening whistle, completely shut down an offense ranked among the nation’s best coming into the game, and decisively won the special teams battle.
Everything finally seemed to click. One would hope this was the team finally turning the corner, but we’ll have to wait awhile to see whether this is the beginning of something great or fool’s gold (see: ND over Pitt in ’82).
Moving forward over the next two (three?) games, my biggest concern is still Tommy Rees. You have to give the kid all the credit in the world for his performance over the past two games. He was very efficient in his first ever start against Utah and showed fantastic touch on the pair of touchdown passes to Duval Kamara.
That being said, I’m not ready to declare him the future of the program—not by a long shot. Obviously I don’t care who is leading the team as long as they’re winning and I wish success upon every last person who steps on the field wearing blue and gold, but I see Rees as a placeholder a la Matt Lovecchio in ’00.
Lovecchio reeled off seven straight victories in the first seven starts his freshman year but was quickly supplanted by Carlyle Holiday the next season. I get the feeling that Rees’ limited physical capabilities with his arm and legs make him a prime candidate to follow in Lovecchio’s shoes—whether it’s Crist who regains his spot or Hendrix or a freshman that usurps the mantle of “quarterback of the future.”
My worry is that Southern Cal will expose Rees in Los Angeles and the Irish will be unable to put a dent in an extremely athletic and fast Trojan defense. Southern Cal is not as invincible as in years past, but in order to beat them Rees is going to have to be great and I don’t know if he’s got the chops for it.
2) The Irish will have to take a completely different approach against the Army option than they did against the Navy attack a few weeks ago. Who do you see playing the biggest role in slowing down the Black Knight attack? Who will be the big performer on offense?
It’s no secret: the key to beating the option is Bob Diaco piecing together a sound, executable game plan. Notre Dame has infinitely more talent than Army and the defense’s confidence is at an all-time high after Utah. If Diaco can put them in a position to succeed—something he completely failed to do a month ago against Navy—then Notre Dame will win this game handily.
My pick for a big offensive performer is Cierre Wood. Kelly is going to continue to try to ease the burden on Tommy Rees and that means a balanced attack with plenty of carries for Cierre along with plenty of checkdowns and screens being tossed his way as well.
The key is going to be the offensive line dominating the point of attack and giving him some lanes to run through. If they’re up to the task I’m expecting Cierre to go over 100 total yards on the day.
3) Should Notre Dame win one of their final two games, they’ll likely be going bowling. There are a lot of tie-ins that may or may not be fulfilled from other conferences that will likely end up deciding their postseason fate, but what bowl do you see the Irish playing in?
I outlined a bunch of scenarios yesterday, but to me the most likely spot is probably in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Nevada. The Pac-10 is not going to have enough bowl eligible teams and the fact that it’s a late bowl game (January 9th) will allow Kelly to use every one of the 15 allocated practices whereas an early game (like the Maaco Bowl on December 22nd) would not.
Also, it may just allow enough time for Ian Williams to sneak back for one last game—something I’m sure the players will take into account if they have a vote.
4) This isn’t a question any of us thought would be an issue at the start of the season, but who do you see as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against South Florida next year?
That’s an unbelievably tough question to answer. The fact that Dayne Crist is going to be out for the entire spring will allow Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and possibly Everett Golson to get all the snaps. Suddenly, there will be an entire slew of young guys who will have caught up to him in terms of knowing and being comfortable with the offense and none will carry Dayne’s injury baggage.
I want Dayne to find a way to win the job. I want him to bounce back and I want him to be great. I think that Kelly will give him an opportunity to reclaim his spot, but Rees will ultimately take the first snap against South Florida. I don’t think Rees will have the job for very long, but he’ll get the first crack at it.
5) We’re all very excited for Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, which is a nice turn towards some pretty exciting neutral site games (Miami at Soldier Field, Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium) after a rather lackluster start (Washington State in San Antonio). What are three neutral site games you’d like to see down the road?
1. Alabama at Georgia Dome (Atlanta)…if Notre Dame ascends over the next few years this would be an epic, stop the presses showdown.
2. Wisconsin at Lambeau Field…This would be absolutely awesome.
3. Oregon at Qwest Field (Seattle)…Fun stadium, fun opponent, fun time.