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Irish Blogger Gathering: Beat Cardinal Edition

Oct 11, 2012, 9:30 AM EDT

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The Irish are 5-0, College GameDay’s coming to town, and it’s going to be a memorable weekend in South Bend. We’re less than 48 hours away from the start of ESPN’s live broadcast, but before you make your sign and find your spot on Library Quad, check out our weekly Irish Blogger Gathering.

You can find my answers over on Subway Domer, but first, here’s a look at my questions and what Twibby (@HLS_Twibby) from Her Loyal Sons had to say about the Irish this week. (Don’t forget to check out Inside the Irish too, as Keith Arnold is the fourth blogger participating in this year’s IBG).

So here we go with IBG: Beat Cardinal Edition

An excerpt from the Heisman Trust Mission Statement reads, “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.” In my opinion, Manti Te’o represents everything that’s right with college athletics, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a student-athlete that better exemplifies the above criteria. Not to mention, aside from Geno Smith, I’m not particularly blown away by any other individual stat lines this season. Does Manti have a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman? Or should we resign ourselves to the fact that the Heisman is an offensive award?

There is no doubt that, if the voters followed the description of the award quite literally, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that anyone other than Manti Te’o and Geno Smith would be in the conversation for the award 6 weeks into the season. As much as I would absolutely love, love, love to see Manti accept that award in New York, I just don’t see it happening. Manti is the unequivocal leader of what has been one of the nation’s best teams so far this season, and has done it by continuously changing the way the game is played while he is on the field. Nonetheless, it is nearly impossible for an inside linebacker to have the same type of measurable effect on the game as a quarterback or running back can simply because quarterbacks and running backs are considerably more likely to be involved on a given play.

West Virginia’s Geno Smith has put up numbers that you probably couldn’t even pull off in a video game, and I believe the trophy is his to lose at this point. Kansas State’s Collin Klein has also had a fantastic season to date while pulling Kansas State into the top 10. The most important element in Manti having a shot at the award is for the Irish to keep winning. If the Irish were to pull off a miracle undefeated season, we may very well see Manti as the second defensive player to win the Heisman. That being said, at this point I think it is much more likely that Manti will make the trip to New York but won’t end up taking home the trophy.

Going into the season, I think a lot of people did not know what to expect from this Irish team, but it seemed as though most “experts” were suggesting an 8-4 or 7-5 finish. There’s a lot of football yet to be played. Still, how surprised are you by Notre Dame’s 5-0 start?

Well, let’s just say that not everyone who predicted 8-4 is a complete and total idiot. At least I’d like to think that, since I was one of those people. Today I think (and hope…badly) that I will be very wrong with that prediction. Nothing surprises me about beating Navy, Purdue and Miami, and the Michigan State and Michigan wins don’t surprise me on their own. But, while we may be better than each of those teams in a vacuum, putting together five wins in a row when you go into each game with a target on your back is unbelievably impressive – especially when you consider the physical challenge of starting the season in Ireland. For the same reason, looking forward, I think the Irish may be stronger than every team they will face the rest of the way. That certainly doesn’t mean they will win every game, though. The beauty of the college football season is that it takes not only incredible talent, but a never ending will to win and a little bit of luck to pull off an undefeated season, no matter how talented you are.

You absolutely hit the nail on the head when you said that most people did not know what to expect from this team going into the season. Most viewed the front seven as ND’s strength (and have been 100% accurate), but if you told someone that an already questionable Irish secondary would be playing without Jamoris Slaughter and Lo Wood yet wouldn’t at all be a liability five games into the season, they might think living downwind from Gary had finally taken its toll on your sanity. At the same time, what if someone told you that Everett Golson would be pulled for Tommy Rees in two different games…yet Golson would continue to be starter and the Irish would still be undefeated? Crazy pills, right? I’ll tell you what – barring any type of major collapse, it sure looks like this Brian Kelly guy knows what he’s doing.

Against Miami, Notre Dame had a huge game on the ground, rushing for 376 yards. On Saturday, the Irish will face the #6 rushing defense in the nation, before the top-ranked rushing defense (BYU) comes to town on Oct. 20. How do you think the Notre Dame offense will fare against these teams? Based on his solid performance in Chicago, do you think Everett Golson has the confidence to carry the offense if Cierre, GA3 and Theo have a tough time getting things started?

Yes, Stanford has not let teams run on them. But they have played teams with the following offensive rushing rankings: 45, 70, 87, 97 and 103. Sure, BYU has not let teams gain a lot of yards on the ground. But they have played teams ranked as following in rushing yardage: 64, 78, 112, 114, 123 (and Weber State, an FCS program without a ranking). More than anything, I think this simply means we don’t know how good these defenses really are. It undoubtedly takes a strong front to have the type of defensive rankings that Stanford and BYU do no matter who they’ve played, but we shouldn’t be fooled by their weak competition, either. Notre Dame will have the strongest rushing offense either team has played this year, and it will be interesting to see whether the Irish can win the battle in the trenches. I think the Irish will put up just under 200 yards on the ground against Stanford on Saturday and will eclipse the 250-mark against BYU.

I was very impressed by the way Golson played in Chicago, particularly with some of the plays he made with his feet in the first half. I think the biggest takeaway from his performance is that teams will now need to further game plan for him as a running threat, which should open up the rest of the offense. Similarly to the games against MSU and Michigan, I don’t think Brian Kelly will ask his quarterback to do too much unless the Irish face a big deficit at any point in the game. At some point in his career Golson will be forced to carry the offense, but I’m not sure he’s prepared to do it quite yet.

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