Tag Archives: Big East

Worried about the Irish defense? NOT SO FAST!

-Sgt Shamrock

Even before the recent investigation into possible academic dishonestly that led to four Irish players being removed from team activities, the major concern of Irish fans headed into the 2014 was on the defensive side of the ball. With the losses of Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, and Bennett Jackson to the NFL draft and Carlo Calebrese, Dan Fox, and Kona Schwenke graduating, Notre Dame is only returning five starters from last years team. And due to the academic investigation KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams future for the season is in doubt and Brian Kelly announced today at his weekly press conference that all of the “suspended” players would be missing the Rice game as the investigation continues. So that leaves the Notre Dame defense with just THREW returning starters in Jaylon Smith, Sheldon Day, and Austin Collinsworth. That is enough to make Irish fans everywhere have very large doubts in just how the defense will perform this season. While it is very easy based on all the losses  on the defensive side of the ball to worry about the defense, all hope is not loss. Recently there was another team that faced this very same dilemma. What team is that you ask? Well its none other than the 2009 Cincinnati Bearcats coached by Brian Kelly.

In 2008 Brian Kelly led the Cincinnati Bearcats to an 11-3 overall record, a Big East Championship, and an Orange Bowl appearance that ultimately concluded in a 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech. A BCS bowl for Cincinnati got the Bearcats and Brian Kelly national recognition that was the start of a long series of events that led to Kelly being hired by Notre Dame in 2010. However headed into the 2009 season, there was doubt across the nation whether Brian Kelly and Cincinnati could replicate the success from 2008. The Bearcats defense lost Big East sack leader Connor Barwin, All American defensive tackle Terrill Bryd, Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, and Brandon Underwood to the NFL draft. They also lost five other defensive starters from 2008 due to graduation. That left ONE returning starter on defense. Cincinnati was introducing a new defensive scheme brought in by new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. And to make matters worse, the Bearcats were forced to start a former quarterback at linebacker. Does the name Demetrius Jones sound familiar? Well it should. He started the first game of the 2007 season at quarterback for Notre Dame. After Charlie Weis handed Jimmy Clausen the reigns following the season opener, Jones didn’t want to stick around and transferred to Cincinnati. After sitting out for a season, Brian Kelly than moved Jones to linebacker for the 2009 season.

Now all of that sounds pretty doom and gloom for the prospects of the 2009 season for Cincinnati right? Well I have always been a pretty good proponent of the “Numbers don’t lie” line of thinking so lets compare the defensive stats from the 2008 Bearcats team to the 2009 team. In 2008 the Cincinnati defense allowed an average of 206.9 yards through the air, 115 yards per game on the ground, and an average of 321.9 yards of total offense per game. The following season the 2009 squad, that only had one returning starter from 2008, allowed an average of 230.2 yards through the air per game, 143.8 yards per game on the ground, and 374 yards of total offense per game. So basically the 2009 Cincinnati defense gave up roughly 25 more yards per game through the air, 30 more yards per game on the ground, and roughly 55 more yards of total offense per game. However looking at yards allowed is only one piece of the pie. Another really important stat to look at is sacks. In 2008 Cincinnati’s defense had 40 sacks as a team. In 2009 Cincinnati’s defense had 35 sacks. I don’t know about you but if a Notre Dame team only returned one starter on defense and only gave up slightly more offensive yards per game the following season and only had five less sacks than I would be pretty damn thrilled.

This years Notre Dame defense has a lot in common with Brian Kelly’s 2009 Cincinnati defense that should give everyone a little bit of hope that the defense may not be as big of an issue as you might think. Both the 2009 Cincinnati team and this years Notre Dame team lost big time defenders to the NFL draft and both teams also are returning very few starters from the previous season. Also both the 2009 Bearcats and this years Irish team are under the first year of a new defensive coordinator (Bob Diaco for Cincinnati and Brian VanGorder for Notre Dame) that brings a new scheme.

While there are a ton of similarities between the two teams there is one key difference that can not be overstated. Notre Dame has hands down better defensive players on the roster than Cincinnati had on its 2009 roster. Notre Dame recruits better and attracts better athletes on defense. Notre Dame is also returning two bona fide stars in Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day (it would be three but as well all know Russell’s status is up in the air), something that Cincinnati did not have in 2009.

All those stats and information tell a good bit of the story but there is one key piece that I left for last. That is WINS! And in 2009 Cincinnati had a whole lot of them. Twelve wins to be exact. Cincinnati finished the regular season 12-0 before losing to Florida in the Sugar Bowl 51-24.

So basically my whole point here is this. If Brian Kelly could lead Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season in 2009 while only returning ONE starter on defense, than there is no reason to think that Brian Kelly can do something very similar with this years Notre Dame defense that only returns two starters but has WAY MORE talent on the entire defense than Cincinnati did. Now am I saying that we should expect Kelly to lead Notre Dame to an undefeated season like he did in 2009 at Cincinnati? No of course not. As much as we would all love that it is probably not going to happen. The schedule that Notre Dame is playing this season is much more difficult than what Cincinnati played in 2009 and thinking that the Irish should win every game is just not smart. But what I am saying is that before you start pulling your hair out over the thought of a young and inexperienced defense, it still has the potential to be a very good defense. Brian Kelly said himself that this defense is, “Both the most inexperienced as well as the most athletic defense” he had ever coached. Brian Kelly has shown that he can work magic with a young group of players and I don’t think its crazy to think he can do it again.

BCS is ALWAYS the goal for the Irish

So this week has been a pretty slow week of work so far and thanks to technology I’ve been able to peruse the usual ND message boards to kill time. After what I saw, I really wish I hadn’t. There are actually people, and more than just a few, that actually prefer going 10-2 and NOT going to a BCS game to avoid getting blown out. That’s not a typo. Fans would actually rather the Irish go and play in some low tier Maxipad Bowl to try and get an easy win instead of playing on the national stage against a quality opponent. This is wrong. Very wrong.

Part of what makes Notre Dame what it is, is that the Irish always play one of the toughest schedules year in and year out all over the country. To put it simply, Notre Dame is never afraid to play anyone, anywhere. It’s always been that way and it damn well better stay that way. It’s part of the Notre Dame way.

Now don’t get me wrong, watching the Irish get destroyed on national TV is never fun. It sucks and I know over the last two decades fans have seen their fair share of it. I’ll never forget having to watch LSU and Jamarcus Russell, NFL bust of the century, destroy Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl as I watched on a small TV in a government paid for hotel room the night before leaving for basic training. And watching the Irish get clocked in the mouth by Alabama in last years national championship game while watching in Afghanistan this past January was pretty damn awful too. But in no way shape or form do I ever regret playing in those games because you never know what can happen. It’s why you play the game.

Last season Louisville played Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Obviously Florida is in the SEC and obviously everyone thought they would roll over Louisville, who played in the lowly and now disbanded Big East Conference. In 2007 Boise State played Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl which projected to be a blowout win for the Sooners. Both of the underdogs, which nobody gave any chance to win, won their respective games shocking the college football world. Underdogs always have a chance, especially during bowl season.

Make no mistake, getting destroyed by Alabama was horrible. I couldn’t stand to watch and it made me sick. But in the darkness there is also light. Brian Kelly, his staff, learned that they had to have a different approach than what they had against Alabama. That loss, as bad as it was, showed the staff that changes needed to be made and a new plan for big post season games was needed. I’m not saying that Notre Dame will not ever lose a bowl game ever again, because that is not realistic. But I will say that I don’t think we will see a defeat of that margin again while Brian Kelly is the football coach at Notre Dame.

So to all Irish fans out there, who would rather play in a measly no nothing bowl instead of one last shot at a BCS bowl win, grow a pair. We are not the Big Ten, we are not the MAC, or any of these other lower tier teams and conferences. We are Notre Dame and to be the best you have to beat the best. Not by playing teams beneath you and declaring it a moral victory. The path to greatness is never easy but the taste of victory at the end is that much sweeter. Have some faith ND fans. You may just be pleasantly surprised.

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