Tag Archives: Bob Diaco

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.

DTT Reviews ND Insider’s Season Preview Magazine

-Sgt Shamrock

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So by now I would assume that most of you have read at least one of the many season previews out there as the beginning of the 2014 Notre Dame Football season draws close. While I really hope you all check out our Fall Camp Primer, which you can find it HERE, there are plenty of other very good season previews out there. The amount of quality Notre Dame websites and blogs is truly amazing and really gives fans a vast amount of Notre Dame coverage. I recently was able to read ND Insider’s 2014 Season Preview Magazine powered by The South Bend Tribune and I was very pleased with the product. It was very well put together and was packed full of content. 

The magazine immediately catches your eyes once you see Jaylon Smith and Everett Golson, two of the premier star players on the Irish roster, on the cover. Once you flip past a few advertisements and the table of contents you find the season predictions from Eric Hansen, Al Lesar, Tyler James, and Bob Wieneke. Not only were the regular season records predicted by the South Bend Tribune Crew, but also things like “Hottest Tangent Topic- Field Turf, Mustaches, or Publix Crab Legs?” and what game is the yearly “Trap game”. The responses are pretty funny and should play well to all the ND interwebs folks who have plenty of laughs about the typical hot sports topics.

Following the predictions, the magazine transitions to the feature articles. The first Irish player was Everett Golson. Now from when Golson was dismissed from school in the spring of 2013 to his return to to the team and preparation for the upcoming season there have been countless articles and features written about Golson and his time away from Notre Dame. However I can say without a doubt that this article written by Eric Hansen is by far the best I have read. Not only does the article contain a great account of Golsons time in San Diego with quarterback guru George Whitfield, but also the events surrounding Golson immediately following his dismissal. Hansen also sheds light just how involved Notre Dame was in the decision of Golson to train with Whitfield and how the university had the possibility to nix the entire idea. During the time that Golson was away from Notre Dame, message board posters on multiple sites would always ask site mods if there was any update on how or what Golson was doing. Now those same posters can read this fantastic piece by Hansen and know what Golson was doing during the entire time away from the University.

Immediately after Hansen’s piece on Golson, Bob Wieneke follows it up with another very well written piece on Jaylon Smith, the star sophomore linebacker. Not only does it give great insight on Smith as a football player but it also gives insight on Jaylon Smith as a player off the field. Wieneke really sheds light on the switch from outside linebacker, where Smith played his freshman season under Bob Diaco, to inside linebacker this season under new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco. The piece does a great job shedding light on Smiths work during the off-season training at AWP Sports Performance and his preparation for his much anticipated sophomore season in a new scheme.

Eric Hansen finishes off the feature article section with two well written and very informative articles on new defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder and Brian Kelly and how he is approaching his fifth season with a new perspective along with bits of advise from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Also you can find out what Brian Kelly does and does not like about the recruiting process and what coaching decision he would change from his first 4 seasons at Notre Dame.

Following the feature articles, the magazine goes into an in depth analysis of each position on the Irish roster including position battles, depth chart, and players to watch in each group. Its a great section to read as this years team is missing a lot of big names that Irish fans have been accustomed to seeing the past few years. I really enjoyed the Linebacker Analysis section and how it described Brian Van Gorders history with linebackers, how he uses them in his scheme, and the experience from the NFL that he brings to South Bend.

With a new football season always comes a new batch of players and for those who dont follow recruiting very closely throughout the year it can be difficult to learn all the new names and faces. Dont worry though because ND Insider and the boys at South Bend Tribune have you covered. They put together freshman profiles on each new addition to the Irish roster this season complete with rankings from various recruiting sites, fun facts, when they knew they were going to commit to Notre Dame, and who the hardest school/coach it was to say no too. It really gives the fans a good look into the new batch of the players that will suit up for the Irish this season. The magazine also looks at which incoming freshman have the best chance to excel and look at the “It” factor they bring to campus.

Finally Tyler James, the recruiting writer for the South Bend Tribune, gives fans an inside picture into what happens on campus on official visit weekends on campus complete with an itinerary of events. Not only that but Tyler really paints the picture of just how much planning goes into the big official visit weekends that most fans never see or would never even know would go on behind the scenes. Tyler provides some first hand experiences from current Irish player KeiVarae Russel and what occurred during his official visit to Notre Dame.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading ND Insiders Season Preview Magazine. It provided great insight into this years squad, the expectations, and some of the key players that will ultimately decide the success of this years team. The magazine did an outstanding job of not only focusing on the overall season preview but also the in depth analysis of the position groups, the new coaching additions as well as a good look into the world of recruiting for Notre Dame Football.

I really recommend that you purchase the ND Insiders Season Preview Magazine. You will not regret the decision. If you do want to get your own copy you can order either a printed copy or an iPad version at the South Bend Tribune website. The printed version is $12.95, which includes shipping, and the iPad version can be downloaded from the App Store. I really hope you guys will consider purchasing this outstanding preview. Its more than worth it.

You can purchase the printed version at https://www2.southbendtribune.com/ndannual/index.php

You can purchase the iPad version at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/notre-dame-football-preview/id890206389?mt=8

January 2014: The Preston Jackson Smack-Talk-O-Meter

January can be a dark, dark time.  For those of us who set our clocks by the college football season, it’s the equivalent of Midnight:  You just sit around in your own head dwelling on the trivial, inane, and fantastic.  Far too much time gets spent on the three-second sound bite….just ask Richard Sherman.  With that in mind, I’m here to introduce my new offseason barometer:  “The Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter”

For those that don’t remember the diminutive cornerback, here’s his official UND profile.  Some of my good college buddies (BH and C-Plan to name a couple) and I grew to love P-Jack.  He didn’t let the little things, like size or talent, get in the way of a great opportunity to jaw with the opposition.  Few players have shown the resolve of getting burned off the line only to recover in time to make an (assumed quality) yo’ mama joke at the end of the play the way P-Jack could.  He definitely put the “Fight” into “Fighting Irish” in the early 2000’s.

Of course, as that brief anecdote makes clear, the play wasn’t always worthy of the talk, which is how I feel about many of the topics that invade college football offseason.  Much like P-Jack, that doesn’t stop us from talking, but is there merit to the conversation?  The Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter is here to help!  The way I see it (and since this is my scale, the way it is), there are five distinct categories to the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter:

Freshman P-Jack:  Sadly, P-Jack saw no game action his freshman year.  Deep down inside, I’ve got to imagine he was out on the practice field perfecting the insults that made him a force for years to come.  However, I’m not one for conjecture.  Or am I?  I’ll just let that stew…much like the topics that fall into this category.  On a more general level, this means I get why people are talking, but everyone’s just speculating without any real knowledge into the matter.

P-Jack Island:  While “island” usually connotes a place where receivers go to die, when it came to P-Jack Island, it was more similar to an all inclusive resort with a private beach.  P-Jack was the cabana boy as the gifts rained down from above.  Despite giving up a horrendous play, the chatter continued.  Topics in this category are the same.  Lots of talk without anything to back it up.

Action Jackson:  Sophomore year on P-Jack saw himself on the field a quality amount and peppered each appearance…each quarter…each snap of relevance as an audition on “American Idol.”  Let those vocal chords soar for better or worse!  Hey detractors, dude was playing football for the Fighting Irish.  STOP HATING.  In other words, some chatter’s deserved regardless of the result.

Tacklin’ Jackson:  38 of P-Jack’s 41 tackles came Junior and Senior year when he finally installed himself as the “go to” nickel back.  38 tackles may not seem like a lot (Jaylon Smith had 41 this year alone), but nobody, and I mean nobody, relished each opportunity to lay the smack down the way #15 did.  During those brief moments where Jackson lay atop his defeated foe, the words were decisive and swift.  These moments are worth talking about….even if some of them are just the inevitable end to folly; say after giving up a 25 yard reception.

P-Jack Pick:  The rarest of the rare, it’s when the performance, the importance of the moment justifies the talk.  P-Jack gave ND three of these during his career.  I use the term to describe offseason topic-try in a similarly rare vein.

So, we’re all on the same page now?  Good.  Let me take a brief tour of some of the January topics to invade the collective ND consciousness and grade them on the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter.  Keep in mind, I will not be discussing these topics at length.  I’m only evaluating them on their general merit for worthiness of discussing.

1. Golson’s Return – Okay, so as it turns out, “Tommy the Closer” couldn’t convert to starter quite as we hoped.  That hope was admittedly the type that would similarly put me in the same place and attractiveness universe of “The Americans” version Keri Russell, but still, coming off a National Title Game Appearance, it seemed disappointing.  EG’s dismissal was a very tough blow to the program.  Combine all those things together, and you can understand the anticipation around his return.  Not only is it the return of the QB who went 10-1 on the way to a NTG appearance, but well….mobility.  I fully endorse the expectation around his return and am excited to see what he can do.  There’s a reason beyond Chuck Martin’s departure that BK will publicly announce he’s back in the play calling seat, and thy name is Everett Golson.  Let’s couch our talk though in terms of a QB who didn’t put phenomenal numbers in that NTG run and is a year removed from all things ND.

Final Rating:  Tacklin’ Jackson

2. Coordinator Changes – This may be the toughest single category to judge.  Primarily because there are different facets that can be judged.  First, for those disappointed, understand that overall this is a good sign.  When other programs want your coordinators, it means you’re doing something right.  Bob Diaco seemed obvious.  Yes, he’s got his awkward qualities, but somehow that just makes him more endearing.  His departure appeared more a matter of “when” than “if.”  Young, charismatic, and with a healthy distaste of things that sap energy, other programs were bound to find him.  While Martin’s departure wasn’t as obvious, this was a proven coordinator and someone who’d even shown an ability to continue BK’s success at previous stops.

In come the new guys.  Mike Denbrock deserved the job.  He made total sense, and really my only surprise is how long it took.  However, given BK’s background and method of leadership, it’s hard to imagine that Denbrock’s appointment would move the scales at all.  On the opposite side of the ball you have Brian VanGorder.  BVG brings a pedigree better than most people realize, and a ‘stache as good as advertised.  BVG will make Diaco seem like a chatter box, but the intrigue of a potentially more aggressive defense and utilization of more 4-3 alignments is worth discussing.  BK’s already come out saying he has no expectation of abandoning the 3-4 depending on match-up, and while that could be a smoke screen, let’s take a giant, deep breath and realize coordinator changes rarely tip the scales overnight.

Final Rating:  Action Jackson

3.  Under Armour Deal – As I stated on the first @Downthetunnel.com video podcast, I consider apparel decisions to be very much a business decision.  The truth is, this issue matters very little in terms of what it means for the program at large.  Notre Dame’s higher ups have a much better idea of the (business) landscape than the casual fan can possibly have access to, and I trust in that process because I have no reason not to.

Additionally, as Evan Sharpley stated, it didn’t matter much to him when considering schools what the apparel provider was.  It’s an issue that inherently seems to matter more to those of us who have to pay for the merchandise than those that get it for free.  Those that get it for free though are the ones that actually impact the end product that even the merchandise driven fan cares most about.  Hey, hopefully these words sound better than my redneck natty loving NASCAR aficionado voice on the podcast did.  So maybe Jared (@Irishfootball11) will even take note despite the lack of CAPS LOCK.

Final Rating:  P-Jack Island

4.  Recruits De-Committing – This was another topic touched upon during the video podcast, but we as a collective fan base need to give up this ghost.  It’s an exercise in futility to debate the relative merits of players that never even get on the field for the Irish.  I get it.  First off, January/February is the time when anyone can become a recruiting expert.  Fan bases will always want the best players for their respective programs, but let’s all agree to stop talking about the hypothetical players.

Whether it’s an Eddie Vanderdoes, Ronald Darby, or lesser last second de-commits, the ND fans need to come to grips that 17-18 year olds kids are inherently unreliable both off the field and on.  Turning your ire towards these guys doesn’t make it better, and I’m quite frankly tired of it.  These guys don’t owe you anything.  Moreover, we’ve all got more tangible things to concern ourselves with than the players we never actually saw.  DO BETTER FOLKS.  DON’T HOLD THESE GUYS TO A HIGHER COMMITMENT LEVEL THAN YOU DEMONSTRATED.  God knows I was unreliable as an 18 (or 31) year old.

Billis King also brought this up on his radio show.  ND will always be more vulnerable to the “dramatic” de-commit from their recruiting class given the national nature of their recruiting effort.  Being a national recruiter means you also will deal with the fact that you can’t be everywhere at once.  Considering the “what could have been” of recruits you never had is the same as considering what you would do with a million dollars.  If that’s your bag, cool.  But don’t this into a referendum on the integrity of high schoolers.

Final Rating:  P-Jack Island

NFL Defections – Graduation always leads to a certain degree of having to deal with this factor.  There are also certain underclassmen that should be expected to turn pro sooner rather than later.  Nix and Tuitt should have come as no surprise.  Yes, Atkinson was surprising though not detrimental to the program.  Niklas’ decision was the biggest shock, but we shouldn’t be be-grudging him.  Similar to the coordinator situation, it’s not a bad thing that the NFL might want ND’s players.

However, let’s stay “on topic” (whatever that means) as this is about the merits of discussing the issue.  Losses of proven players is always relevant.  The problem with it is that we are always left to speculate and make snap decisions.  As an ND contingent, at what point do we stop worrying about developing tight ends given we’ve done it so consistently?  How big a loss is GAIII given our expectations for Folston and Bryant?  How much would he have even played?

The defensive losses are more tangible.  Attempting to replace Nix and Tuitt is not an easy task, but what might a healthy Sheldon Day add?  How will BVG’s scheme impact the relative values of defensive linemen?  When I have these many questions and don’t consider anyone to be a more competent source than TMZ (on the exact same topic), I’m left to conclude…

Final Rating:  Freshman P-Jack

I’m cognizant of the subtle irony of this entire post.  Can something actually be subtly ironic?  No idea.  Seems like a great topic for another post…on another site.  As that thing called the “season” approaches, things become more relevant, but man, like I said at the outset, it’s a dark, dark time.  I don’t want to detract from the generally entertaining offseason dialogue that takes place, but know where you’re at on the Preston Jackson Smack-talk-o-meter. Offseason – you’re welcome, you’re now self-aware.

– IrishMoonJ

Irish close out 2013 with a win. A Bowl game review

– Sgt Shamrock

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While 2013 has been a season full of ups and downs, the Irish were able to finish off the year off on a high note, defeating Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl 29-16 on Saturday night. While the score was not as lopsided any many Irish fans had expected, myself included, the outcome of the game was never really in doubt. Notre Dame dominated the flow of the game against a Rutgers team who came into the game with a defense that should have had the Irish coaching staff licking their chops. The score of the game was closer that it should have been, but that’s the only aspect of the game that was close. The Irish offense racked up 494 yards of total offense against Rutgers including 319 yards through the air in Tommy Rees’ last start as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.

The Irish defense played well day long only allowing 236 total yards to the Rutgers offense and also forced 4 turnovers. Other than Bennett Jackson getting burned deep a few times, the secondary put out one of their best performances of the season. Russell was outstanding in coverage all afternoon, making multiple pass breakups in the redzone. Max Redfield made his first career start and while his name was not called much, that should be considered a good thing for a first time starter. He did not allow any big plays and played his position very well which should excite Irish fans for the future. The secondary was not the only element of the defense that had a big afternoon. The Irish defensive line was able to get pressure even without Louis Nix which was a key factor to the defense forcing turnovers.

Of all of the good things that I saw on Saturday, the running game really impressed me. Going up against a top 5 rushing defense, the Irish were able to amass 175 yards on the ground. Tarean Folston got the start in the Irish backfield and again showed off some insane jump cuts in the open field. Its no mystery that Irish fans everywhere are excited about him leading the backfield for years to come. Folston finished the game with 73 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown while Cam McDaniel who also carried the ball 17 times ran for 80 yards in another impressive outing for the Texas native. While the running backs earned the yards, it would not have been possible if not for the outstanding play of the offensive line, and in particular senior Zach Martin. Martin, who was the first offensive lineman to win an MVP award for a bowl game since 1959, dominated the line of scrimmage all game long and impressed NFL draft scouts in the process.

The 2013 season is over and now we look to the offseason. Irish fans eagerly await to hear if Stephon Tuitt will return for his senior season, or if he will enter the 2014 NFL draft. Brian Kelly also is going to be making some hires to replace Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin, who both left the program to take head coaching jobs at UConn and Miami of Ohio. While Brian Van Gorder has already been hired as the defensive coordinator, the offensive coordinator position is still needed to be filled. The offseason always seems to cause drama for the Irish, but hopefully this season that will not be the case.

We will have much more here at Down the Tunnel with all of the upcoming offseason news, signing day, and preparation for spring football. Stay tuned.

Brian Van Gorder Hired as the new Notre Dame DC

-Sgt Shamrock

 

Notre Dame didn’t waste anytime after defeating Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl to hire a new defensive coordinator. Multiple media outlets are reporting that Brian Van Gorder will be the new defensive coordinator for the Irish, taking over for Bob Diaco who left to become the head coach at UConn. Van Gorder is coming to Notre Dame after serving as the linebackers coach for the New York Jets under Rex Ryan this past season. Van Gorder has a history with Brian Kelly, working with him at Central Michigan as defensive coordinator.

Before coaching for the New York Jets this season in the NFL, Van Gorder has had multiple coaching stops in his career. In 2003 he won the Broyles award as the defensive coordinator at the University of Georgia. Van Gorder’s defense finished the season in 2003 ranked 3rd nationally in scoring defense, 4th in total defense, and 6th nationally in passing defense. Following his stint at UGA, Van Gorder took a head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He only lasted one season in Jacksonville before leaving to take the head coaching position at Georgia Southern. Following one season with Georgia Southern, Van Gorder took the defensive coordinator position with the Atlanta Falcons from 2008 until 2012 when he took the defensive coordinator position with Auburn University.

This is definitely an interesting hire by the Irish. While most thought the Irish would hire from within, I always thought Brian Kelly would at least take a look outside the program. The hiring of Van Gorder points to a possible move from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense. It does make sense as Louis Nix in enroute to the NFL and the Irish are left without a clear cut nose tackle, which is needed to successfully run a 3-4 defense. Of all the candidates that were out there in the rumor mill, Van Gorder’s name was not mentioned by many. It will be interesting to see the future of the Irish defense with the new hire and if it will bring a change of philosophy to South Bend.

 

A Trip to the Big Apple. Pinstripe Bowl Preview

-Sgt Shamrock

Christmas is around the corner and while we are all preparing for presents, holiday dinners, and eggnog, the Notre Dame Football team is in New York City making their final preparations to take on Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish and the Scarlet Knights will face off in iconic Yankee Stadium on Saturday in the Big Apple. The Irish enter the contest with an 8-4 record while the Scarlet Knights finished their season at 6-6. Both teams have lost key members of their coaching staff in the weeks leading up to the matchup. Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin left the Irish to take head coaching positions at UConn and Miami of Ohio, while Rutgers head coach fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen, as well as the quarterbacks coach, and the offensive line coach. While playing in the Pinstripe Bowl was not what the Irish had planned at the start of the season, they still have a chance to finish the season with 9 wins and carry momentum into the 2014 season.

Rutgers offense has had trouble running the ball as season long and relies on the passing game to score points. The Scarlet Knights are averaging 242 yards through the air ranking 52nd nationally, while the running game is averaging a measly 133 yards per game ranking 98th nationally. The offensive line for Rutgers has been a weak link all season long. Not only is the rushing game one of the worst in the country, but the Scarlet Knights have also given up 31 sacks this season which ranks them 98th nationally in sacks allowed. Even with Louis Nix unable to play due to injury, the Irish defensive line led by Stephon Tuitt should be able to have a field day with the Rutgers offensive line. With Rutgers struggling to run the football, expect the Scarlet Knights to pass and pass often allowing the strong Irish defensive line to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. The strength of the Irish defense is stopping the pass, as they rank in the top 20 nationally. The matchup between the Irish secondary and the Scarlet Knights passing game could very well be the key this game.

While the Irish offense has struggled at times this year with execution and consistency, they should be able to move the ball and put points on the board against a very shaky Rutgers defense. The Scarlet Knights are allowing close to 30 points per game ranking them as one of the worst scoring defenses in the nation. To make matters worst for Rutgers, their passing defense is flat out atrocious allowing 310 yards per game. Only Troy, Idaho, and Cal are worst at defending the pass in the nation this season. Tommy Rees and the receiving corps should be able to throw the ball at will against this awful passing defense. Rutgers game plan is to try and shut down TJ Jones, so look for Davaris Daniels, Will Fuller, and Corey Robinson to make an impact on this game. The Irish are going to need to pass the ball effectively to win this game, since the Rutgers rushing defense is one of the best in the nation. The Scarlet Knights are ranked 4th nationally in rushing defense allowing only 94 yards on the ground per game. Only Michigan State, Louisville, and Stanford are better at stopping the run this season. Notre Dame has had trouble rushing the ball against quality rushing defenses this season but they are going to need to find some production to keep the Rutgers defense honest.   

Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in this game and they should be. Rutgers is not a very good football team and this year has been a rough one already costing three assistant coaches their jobs, and head coach Kyle Flood is on the hot seat. The Irish have the advantage in almost every key matchup in this game and I fully expect the Irish to come to play in this game. While the season has not gone the way they had hoped, they still have the ability to win 9 games this season following a slue of injuries and without Everett Golson, who has recently been readmitted and will be ready to go for next season. This is the last game for the Notre Dame seniors, who as a group have been the foundation for the improvement in the program over the last 4-5 years. Playing in New York City is always exciting for college kids and you can tell by the reaction of many of the players they are ready to play in this game. While 2013 has been an awful year for Notre Dame Athletics, Irish fans should be able to finish this snake bitten year off with a smile. Notre Dame should win this game and it shouldn’t be close.

Players to Watch

Offense- While Rutgers is going to do everything they can to slow down TJ Jones, Davaris Daniels is due for a breakout game. After some early success to start the season, Daniels has since been inconstant and not producing at the level a lot of fans had hoped for. Look for Tommy Rees to find Daniels running through the Rutgers secondary as they try to double team TJ Jones.

Defense- With Louis Nix officially gone for the NFL we now get to see if Jarron Jones cant carry to load at Nose Tackle. Jones has played well late in this season and now we get a glimpse at what is most likely the future at the nose next season. The Rutgers offensive line has struggled this season so I am excited to see how Jones handles the opportunity.

Prediction

Notre Dame 38 Rutgers 17

From all of us at Down the Tunnel, we wish you a Merry Christmas. Go Irish

Irish sink Navy late. A weekend in review

 

It felt a lot like 2010 yesterday at Notre Dame stadium. Navy sailed into town to play a game that most believed wouldn’t be close. The Irish were coming off a 45-10 win over Air Force and seemed to have figured out how to defend the option. Tommy Rees was playing possibly his best football of his Irish career and the defense had seemed to have found its swagger after some early season struggles. The Irish just seemed to have started to put everything together just in time for November, when playing your best football is key. Notre Dame was primed for another blowout victory as they continued to play for a BCS berth at the end of the season. Instead what they got was an unexpected shootout with the Midshipmen, a slew of injuries, and a lot of questions as to exactly how Navy was able to almost pull off a win in South Bend.

Navy came to play. Notre Dame’s defense didn’t. That’s really the only reason I can think of how Navy was able to run up and down the field seemingly at will. The Midshipmen rushed for 331 yards and converted 10 of 16 third down attempts against the Irish defense who, even though playing Air Force’s option attack last week, looked like they have never seen the option before. Navy was averaging 4.7 yards per carry. The key to defending the option is to play assignment football and make tackles. The Irish did neither for a good portion of the game, looking confused and making it very easy for Navy to move the ball down the field. Even when Notre Dame was able to put Navy in third and long and knock their offense off schedule, the Midshipmen still seemed to convert every third down attempt they faced. Everything seemed to be going perfect for the Navy offense. Even their passing game, which only attempted nine passes all game, was working for the Mids going for 88 yards including a 34 yard touchdown pass from Keanan Reynolds to Matt Aiken which gave Navy a 34-31 lead with 8:55 left to go in the 4th quarter. Navy was clicking, but in the end it was not enough.

Notre Dame’s offense was the reason the Irish won this unexpected shootout. While the Irish defense could not keep Navy off the scoreboard, the Irish offense kept pace which heavily utilized the running game which was a site for sore eyes. Notre Dame racked up 506 total yards on offense which included 264 yards on the ground. Tarean Folston stole the show Saturday, having a breakout performance running for 140 yards on 18 carries and the game winning touchdown. Folston showed why he was such a valuable recruit for the Irish, showing off his speed, power, and field vision. Multiple times he made moves on defenders that were just silly. Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson split time as the number two back each receiving 7 carries and running for 72 and 54 yards respectively. Moving forward you would have to think Folston will be the number one back for the Irish. His play deserves it. Tommy Rees threw for two touchdowns and 264 yards but also threw two interceptions, which helped Navy keep the game close. Tommy’s first interception could be blamed partially on the horrific field conditions. Tommy was targeting TJ Jones, who looked open on the play, when he slipped on the grass allowing a Navy defender to intercept the pass. The second interception however was all on Tommy as he overthrew a deep ball to Davaris Daniels. Daniels could have fought for the ball but the pass was bad.

After being embarrassed all game long by the Navy rushing attack, the defense finally came up with the stop it needed. Navy faced a 4th down inside Notre Dame territory with a minute and a half left in the game down four. Jaylon Smith showed off his amazing speed running across the field to make the tackle to stop Navy short and put the game on ice for the Irish. The defense played bad all game but when the game was on the line, they stepped up and avoided an embarrassing upset loss. Notre Dame moves to 7-2 on the season and still control their own destiny in their chase for a BCS Bowl berth.

This game showed me a lot of things that need to be addressed both on and off the field. First things first. I know its already been talked about but Notre Dame needs field turf and they need it now. The condition of the field is a complete embarrassment and the fact that it has gotten this bad could warrant someone getting fired. Notre Dame is one of the most prestigious college football teams in the country and yet we seem to be ok with playing on a playing surface that is worse than some high school programs. This needs to be fixed. Having a field in that bad of condition is dangerous and puts all the player on the field at greater risk for injury. I have heard from many people, including my father, that they prefer the natural grass because it slows down our opponents. What an awful reason to keep natural grass. Do these people not realize that this would also mean that it limited the speed of the Irish players as well? Brian Kelly has done an outstanding job bringing more speed to both sides of the ball. Its time to realize Notre Dame has speed and instead of trying to limit other teams speed at Notre Dame, the Irish need to utilize their speed.

The second thing might not be a popular sentiment with a lot of Notre Dame fans but for me it has to be said and should be addressed in the offseason. Bob Diaco needs to go. What happened against Navy is a complete embarrassment. This same Navy team only scored seven points against Duke and Western Kentucky. There is no excuse as to how the defense can allow 34 points and over 300 yards rushing. Notre Dame should never be in close games with a team like that. Ever. I’m tired of the conservative play calling. I’m tired of the defense under achieving with the amount of talent and skill it possesses. I’m tired of continuing to allow inferior teams to hang around because the defense cant get off the field. Last year was great but Diaco has been here for four years now and even last year there were games that the defense just didn’t step up. There is no consistency. Last week the Irish faced an option attack on the road and only gave up 10 points, yet this week at home they faced an almost identical option attack and gave up 34 points. There is no excuse for this. Its time to move on.

This weeks polls

Notre Dame finally cracks the AP poll and comes in 24th. The Irish remain 25th in the coaches poll.

Oh look Arizona State is ranked ahead of Notre Dame yet again in the AP poll. This makes no sense. Notre Dame beat ASU on a neutral field head to head and hold the exact same record. Michigan State moves up to 18 in the AP poll ahead of Notre Dame but with the Spartans only having one loss compared to the Irish’s two, this is no surprise.

More SEC garbage in this weeks polls. The AP has two loss Texas A&M and two loss LSU ahead of one loss Oklahoma. Uh what? Again it makes no sense. LSU has yet to beat anyone of merit and Texas A&M’s best win is Vanderbilt? Having these teams ahead of the Sooners is a complete joke.

How the hell is Miami still in the top 15? Miami is still overrated even after being embarrassed by Florida State and exposed as a pretender instead of a contender. Other than the loss to FSU, Miami has yet to play a team of any merit. No guys Florida is not a quality win. Just because they are in the SEC does not mean anything. They are awful. Miami doesn’t belong in the top 15 and is a borderline top 20 team especially with Duke Johnson now out for the season.

Get Texas Tech out of the polls. They have lost their last two games, which were the only two games they have played against quality opponents. This team cant stop the run and are not a top 25 team. They have not beaten anyone worth while.

Observations from around the country

It was a pretty dull weekend of games with not many good matchups but here goes:

Florida State is really good but Miami was very over rated. I am not doubting that FSU is one of the best teams in the country or that they can contend for the National Championship. I’m just not ready to claim the win over Miami as a huge win. Miami was ranked way to high to start with. Second Florida State was the first half decent team that Miami had played. No Florida is not a half decent team. They are awful. Florida State is defiantly one of the top teams in the country this year but their weak schedule could come back to haunt them. What’s even worse for FSU is they will probably play this same Miami team in the ACC Championship in a few weeks and the result will probably be even worse for Miami.

That Michigan State win earlier this season is starting to look pretty good now isn’t it? Michigan State dismantled Michigan this weekend using their elite defense to smother the Shunkbear offense. Michigan State moved to 8-1 on the season with their lone loss being to the Irish and look to be headed to the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State.

Texas Tech is doing exactly what I expected. The Red Raiders benefited from a ridiculously easy schedule to get to 7-0 but have now lost two straight games to ranked opponents last week to Oklahoma and this week to Oklahoma State. They have fallen out of the Big 12 race and don’t be surprised to see them lost one or even two more games this season.

My Heisman rankings

1. Marcus Mariotta

2. Jameis Winston

3. Johnny Field Goal

4. Derek Carr

5. Bryce Petty