Sep 20, 2012, 12:03 PM EDT
Who’s ready for Saturday?
The Irish Blogger Gathering returns this week, and I think I can safely say, all four participants are ready for the Irish to crush the Wolverines.
..And now, Keith’s answers to my questions, which were sort of similar to the questions he asked me.
We all know the history. Denard Robinson has torched the Irish for nearly 1,000 yards of offense over the past two years. On the other hand, the play of Notre Dame’s defense has been one of the biggest stories of the young season. Coming off of the big win in East Lansing, is this the year the Irish finally stop “Shoelace”? What’s the key to keeping #16 in check?
If there is such a key, it’ll be something like, “relentless, assignment correct, team defense for 60 minutes,” (said in Bob Diaco’s voice). The Irish had a great plan last year for 85% of the game before the wheels fell off and everybody panicked. They also weren’t half bad after Robinson gashed the Irish on the ground in the first half of the 2010 defeat.
The one thing that should have Notre Dame fans feeling fairly comfortable is that they’ll have their entire defensive line ready to get after Robinson. Last year, neither Stephon Tuitt nor Aaron Lynch played against Michigan, as it appeared that Kelly and Diaco weren’t sure the young freshmen could play assignment correct football. You can guess that ND will have all their weapons on the field up front, and try and mirror the success Alabama had keeping Robinson in the pocket.
I tend to think if the Irish can play their B+ game on the defensive side of the ball, they’ll be just fine.
Aside from the result on the scoreboard, last season’s night game against Southern Cal seemed to be very successful for the rest of the university. Nice weather, no out of the ordinary incidents in the tailgate lots, etc. Should Notre Dame host night games more often? One per year against a major rival? Or do you think Irish football belongs on Saturday afternoons?
I’m fine with one per year. Any more and you’re asking for trouble and making it seem less special. (I’d also be fine with playing night games once every couple of years.) One of the things that I’m really looking forward to is trying to create a truly electric atmosphere. One that creates confusion for an opponent and gives a true home field advantage.
Of course, it’d help if the Irish don’t lay a complete egg and spot the opponents 17 points before they start playing. It’d also help if the PA crew gets Crazy Train under control and the rest of the stadium joins the student section wreaking havoc and screaming at the top of their lungs.
You don’t need to have moonlight to make Notre Dame Stadium a madhouse — it was plenty crazy during that fateful Bush Push Saturday in 2005. But it sure helps to set the scene.
With the news of Jamoris Slaughter’s Achilles injury, the Irish have lost three key secondary members to season-ending setbacks. It’s amazing to think that three of the four starters – Bennett Jackson, Matthias Farley and KeiVarae Russell – have converted from the other side of the football. Along with Zeke Motta and Elijah Shumate, this group looked pretty good against the Spartans. Can the combination of athleticism and great coaching from Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks carry this assorted crew throughout the season?
Doesn’t seem like there’s much of a choice, is there? One thing I noticed when looking at this Irish schedule was that the secondary was going to have time to grow into their roles. Navy, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, and Miami aren’t great passing offenses, so the youth at the back-end of the defense was always going to have some time to get adjusted.
But it’s certainly been a pleasant surprise to see the Irish passing defense play really well against Purdue and Michigan State. For those cynics that have been waiting to see Brian Kelly show some of his player development chops flipping guys from offense to defense or vice versa, it’s tough to argue with what the staff has done now. Troy Niklas to offense has already produced some exciting early results and Jackson, Farley and Russell all look really smooth in the secondary, not bad for two wide receivers and a dual-threat running back. (They’ll welcome back Austin Collinsworth, another converted wideout this spring.)
Maybe the most important hire of the offseason was safeties coach Bob Elliott. Bringing back a coach and mentor of both co-defensive coordinators, Bob Diaco and Kerry Cooks, to help teach an inexperienced position group was a great move. It’s helped push a consistent message, unify the defense after losing a big personality like Chuck Martin, and clearly get some young guys ready quickly.
This weekend will be their biggest test to date, with Robinson’s ability to keep plays alive and Favre-like nature to throw the jump ball up for grabs. If Zeke Motta can get everybody on the same page, and the cornerbacks can remember their jobs AND look back for the ball in coverage, there are going to be interceptions there for the taking.
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