Tag Archives: Dan Fox

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.

Irish win one for the Seniors. A weekend in review

– Sgt Shamrock

Notre Dame vs. Brigham Young

In what was one of the coldest games to ever be played in the Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish were able to play with a spark and pulled out a 23-13 win over the BYU Cougars to improve their record to 8-3. While the snow was falling and the temperatures were dropping, the Irish played the type of football that Brian Kelly said they should be playing every single week. And I agree. It was one of the few times this season that the Irish played well in all aspects of the game. Well maybe not the special teams but lets just forget about that. The defense made big plays when they needed too and the Irish offense moved the ball effectively and did their job of keeping BYU off the field and limiting their scoring chances.

The Irish defense set the tone early against the Cougars and really stood out to me during the entire game. BYU was coming into this game as one of the hottest offenses in the country, yet the Irish defense only allowed one touchdown and 13 total points. Dan Fox led the team with 9 tackles and the Irish front seven played inspired, even with out the big man Louis Nix who is out for the remainder of the season. What really impressed me with the defense however, is how they responded following a horrible loss to Pitt. Following the loss, a lot of people, including me, were concerned how the team would respond after their goal of a BCS Bowl game appearance was dashed. The defense played one of their worst games of the season against Pitt and I honestly did not know how they would respond. The defense responded by having one of its best performances of the season.

BYU came into the game against the Irish as one of the toughest defenses in the country led by superstar Kyle Van-Noy, but on Saturday afternoon the Irish offense amassed almost 500 yards of total offense including over 200 yards on the ground. As I stated in my preview for the game, the Irish needed to establish a steady and effective running game to open up the passing game and provide balance to the offense. Notre Dame did just that. On their first offensive series, ran multiple running plays in a row before Tommy Rees went play action and hit Davaris Daniels deep for a touchdown. The running game was effective throughout the entire game thanks to the tough running from Cam McDaniel and some ridiculously shifty moves from Tarean Folston, who continues to get me excited about his potential. Folston is clearly the most athletic running back on the Irish roster and his ability to make defenders miss is something Irish fans have been waiting to see out of the backfield. On multiple occasions in the stadium you could hear the excitement and awe in the moves that Folston was able to make to shake Cougar defenders.

As Saturday was Senior Day, I was really happy to see many of the seniors play very well in their final home game. Tommy Rees finished his career in Notre Dame Stadium the way he deserved. Being one of the most polarizing figures for Notre Dame football in recent memory, Rees was able to win his final game at home. While he did throw yet another awful red zone touchdown, Rees played an otherwise good game. Rees made multiple nice throws to TJ Jones, and minus the interception, made good decisions through out the game. Jones finished the game with 95 yards receiving and Dan Fox and Carlo Calbrese played very well making multiple key tackles and keeping the BYU offense in check. Austin Collinsworth was able to haul in an interception on the final play of the first half and Zack Martin helped anchor an offensive line that allowed zero sacks, and opened running lanes that led to over 200 yards on the ground.

Overall it was one of the most complete games the Irish has played all season. While the offense did leave some points on the field, they still played a very good game and the defense stepped up and took over allowing the Irish to pull out the victory. With the win, Notre Dame clinched a fourth straight eight win season under Brian Kelly with the chance this year to win 10 games. With the losses this team had on defense due to the NFL draft and injury this year, and playing with a backup quarterback due to Everett Golson being suspended from school, Id have to say the Irish did more than people expected of them. Even so its easy to look at the losses to Michigan and Pitt and wonder how much better it could have been if the Irish had been able to pull out those victories. One final game remains before the bowl season begins as the Irish travel to Stanford this Saturday.

Other Observations

– The field conditions were again abysmal and embarrassing. I really think the turf led the game in tackles and Im surprised more players were not injured as we say against Navy. I even heard some of the older crowd, who normally are reluctant to call for change, calling for field turf. Its time Notre Dame. Make this happen. If I were you I would start installing it Monday morning.

– Lost in the spotlight of Senior Day, Jarron Jones played an outstanding game filling in for Louis Nix making multiple tackles around the line of scrimmage and also blocked a field goal late in the game that helped preserve the Irish victory. While many, including myself, are concerned about depth on the defensive line its nice to see Jarron Jones start coming into his own.

Oh you silly Pollsters

Notre Dame gets back into the AP Top 25 this week placing 25th. Yet again its another week its another instance of a team that Notre Dame beat ranked ahead of the Irish. USC has the same amount of losses as the Irish and yet are ranked two spots ahead of the Irish at 23rd. Sure that makes sense. USC lost to Washington State, Arizona State (another team Notre Dame beat) and of course Notre Dame.

Louisiana-Lafayette is ranked 21st this week in the AP. Wait what? Yes this is not a typo. I really have no idea what the pollsters are thinking here. The Cajuns have not beaten a single ranked team this year and have two losses. They play in the Sun Belt. Plain and simple this is not a top 25 team.

Arizona State is ranked 13th this week while Oregon is ranked twelve. This needs to be switched. The Sun Devils are going to the Pac 12 title game and the Ducks are not. That alone should place ASU over Oregon.

Three loss LSU is ranked 15th this week. Why I have no idea. They are ranked ahead of an undefeated Northern Illinois and Fresno State. I don’t care if you play in the SEC or not, three losses are three losses and that does not make you worthy of a top 15 ranking.

What is Texas A&M still doing ranked? They got blown out by LSU this weekend and now have three losses. The Aggies have not beaten a ranked team all season long.

Heisman Rannkings

1. Jameis Winston (Barring an arrest)

2. Jordan Lynch

3. Derek Carr

4. Kadeem Carey