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Irish Blogger Gathering: Beat Cougars Edition

Oct 18, 2012, 4:58 PM EST

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Less than 48 hours until game time…

For this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering, I traded questions with Keith Arnold (@KeithArnoldNBC), from the NBC Sports Inside The Irish blog.

I was a little slow in getting my answers over to Keith, but make sure to visit his blog soon for a look at them.

You’ll also want to check out Her Loyal Sons and Subway Domer for the rest of this week’s IBG.

But for now, here are Keith’s thoughts on the Irish at the halfway point of the 2012 campaign…

Coming off a memorable victory against Stanford and looking ahead to a big game against Oklahoma, a lot of people are worried that BYU presents a trap game for Notre Dame. This coaching staff does a great job of taking the season one opponent at a time and I have no doubt the Irish will be prepared for the Cougars. Still, BYU won’t be a pushover. What are the two or three biggest challenges that stand in the path to 7-0?

Challenge one is BYU’s defense. They aren’t the physical team that Stanford is, but they certainly make things difficult for an offense, and last I noticed, things haven’t been easy for the Irish O. I’m especially interested in watching how Everett Golson responds this week. The blueprint has been drawn: Relentless pressure on Golson seems to fluster him. It worked for Michigan and it worked for Stanford. There weren’t too many quick decisions being made by No. 5, and I hope the coaching staff has him better prepared and put in better situations for pressure defense.

I’m not willing to call this a trap game, but the Irish need to make sure they match their intensity from last Saturday, no easy task. It doesn’t look like banner weather for Saturday again, so I’m expecting another slog out there, meaning that this football team better be ready for a BYU team that’s desperate for a big win.

Obviously there are a couple of tough games at Oklahoma and USC in the second half of the season, but if the defense continues to play like it has, and the team gets a little bit of that Irish luck, I think Notre Dame has a shot at running the table. Saturday was a perfect example. The defense kept the game close. Everett Golson to Tyler Eifert. Touchdown. Brand new ball game. Can this elite defense continue to lead the Irish to victories?

I think it’ll certainly carry the load, but I don’t think Notre Dame can beat Oklahoma or USC without getting a more complete performance from the offense. It’s simply not sustainable for this defense to shut down running games the way they have, and sooner or later somebody in this secondary is going to get beat for a touchdown.

When I thought about this season and worried about the secondary’s development, I felt like the Irish had six games against young/underachieving throwing offenses to hit their stride. Riley Nelson certainly hasn’t played well this year, but if he’s healthy, he can beat you. And then you look at guys like Landry Jones and Matt Barkley and expect things to get tougher.

So to semi-answer your question, yes — the defense can and will lead the Irish to victories. Whether they can run the table? Well, I’m going to put that on the offense, too.

Besides the 6-0 record, what are you most surprised about through the first half of the season?

Lame answer, but probably the secondary. Seeing KeiVarae Russell at the top of the stat sheet in tackles while playing field corner is astonishing. Watching Zeke Motta turn himself into an NFL safety has been awesome. He is a man back there, and I think you’ll hear his name mentioned quite a bit during the draft’s silly season. I fully expect him to put up some serious numbers in combine testing, though I’m not sure how fast he is.

Other than that, you’ve got to say contributions from guys like Sheldon Day. Any other year, that’s a freshman season for the ages. Watching Dan Fox fly around in coverage and play physical at the point of attack is great, too. And Danny Spond… Now we know what Brian Kelly has been raving about for the past two years.

Lastly, I’ve been really surprised and impressed with the way the QB situation is playing out. That Tommy Rees has thrived in a just about impossible role is tremendous. And Everett Golson has also shown some toughness as well, as he seesaws in and out of the game. On the negative side of things, I probably thought we’d get more from Cierre Wood and Tyler Eifert, though circumstance (for Cierre, one of his own doing) has played a role in that. And while the young freshmen receivers haven’t made a dent yet, I still think we’ll hear something from Chris Brown soon.

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