Tag Archives: Knute Rockne

5 HOT (and Quick) Takes from Blue/Gold Game

Spring practice is in the books!  Can I use the terms/phrases “practice” and “in the books” for employees? Kidding, kidding…put the pitch forks away. I’ll give you plenty better opportunities to skewer me. While the Sarge continues to lead the DTT Spring game experience on-site, thought I’d provide a few quick observations from the Blue/Gold Game. For full disclosure, I am not of the opinion that a lot can be gleaned from what amounts to a glorified practice. It’s far more special and relevant for those able to make the trip than those of us looking to extrapolate what it means going forward. Nonetheless, people LOVE to extrapolate (even when they don’t know what that word means), so let’s get down to business:

1. QB “Battle”: Unquestionably, the number one “thing to watch” for today was the quarterback position. The return of the prodigal son, Everett Golson vs. the self-confident Malik Zaire. Twitter and Mike Mayock have declared the big winner of the day to be Zaire. I’m critical of Mayock’s analysis though because he did not tell me Zaire’s height and weight. Mayock, when in full lather over a particular player always tells you the size measurements while wiping some drool from the corner of his mouth. He did it for Golson pre-game. He did it for Jaylon Smith. Perhaps I just missed it.

Now to the game. I would *generally* agree that Zaire had the better performance. The stats bear that out. His reads came out quicker, he was more accurate, and most importantly to me….he looked like he wanted to compete for the starting gig. Golson was perhaps most disappointing with his reluctance to cut the ball loose. This issue plagued him at times during 2012, and I think many hoped he’d display a greater command of progressions after a one year quarterback boot camp. It’s important to remember a few things though: 1) This is but one practice. Folks need to realize Brian Kelly will not be making any final decisions based upon this one game. However, that Zaire looked ready to compete may create some intrigue for the inter web-professional-football-analysis-society from the summer months. 2) When you have 2 mobile quarterbacks battling in a “game” where they can’t be hit, it’s difficult to assess their true effectiveness. The refs were generally willing to let the QB’s continue to run around (and eventually throw) in situations where they will not be as fortunate in game situations. Golson’s rushing TD was a clear example. He scored. In a game, he’d have been pancaked between two rather large defensive players. To go along with this: Why in the WORLD was a screen pass run????? It happened early, but just seemed ludicrous to me. QB can’t be touched (and knows it), line comes flying through…Well executed(?) I suppose.

My more general take: First of all, I wet myself just a bit (it was early) to see both of our QB’s scramble, look elusive, and demonstrate plus arm-strength on the run. The Tommy Rees era is over, and I for one (all) couldn’t be happier to have it reaffirmed that it is possible to both run and throw the ball. Both quarterbacks exhibited the arm strength necessary to take advantage of the team’s speed and depth at the wide receiver position. While a function of the flag football game atmosphere, there were many deep attempts and routes down field suggesting a perhaps more vertical passing game while utilizing the TE and RB positions as safety valves.

2. FIELD TURF!!!! OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG: In a super fun troll job by the ND administration, Jack Swarbrick confirmed once and for all that field turf is a-coming to Notre Dame following Spring commencement ceremonies. So many words and blood have been spilled over this topic over the past few years that there’s no need to re-hash it. It’s a business decision, it’s a completely reasonable decision, and it will not impact game play for the negative in any material respect. Something I’ve harped on in the past is that something is not tradition just because it’s been done for a while. Rockne’s teams played on grass because that was more desirable to playing on dirt. ND never jumped the gun to install the horrendous astro-turf surfaces that led to many an injury in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. However, field turf’s come a long way. It’s not tradition to embrace a technological advancement that is more economical, provides greater reliability of playing surface, and doesn’t impact injury concerns. Get with it folks, or tell me why I’m wrong in the comments without mentioning the word “tradition.” I *might* listen then.

3. Hello Running backs: Greg Bryant did Greg Bryant things the way we’d all been Greg Bryant’ing he’d do. See what I did there? I used his name like the word “Smurf” was used back in the day. Bryant, of course, is not smurf. Rather, his speed and agility are more reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog coming out of a 360 degree loop and catapulting up into the atmosphere to claim rings and decimate all obstacles in his way. Take the spring game for what it is: confirmation that all angst associated with the unsubstantiated rumors of Bryant’s transfer were well deserved. I look forward to seeing him decimate all obstacles in his way in an effort to claim another type of ring.

In the meantime, Tarean Folston was quite active catching passes. Again, there’s a limit to attempting to extrapolate that this is a new trend, but he demonstrated good hands and improvisation as a safety-valve pass catching option. This facet was missing from ND’s offense last year. However, with a return to a more free flowing mobile quarterback style, a good pass catching option coming out of the backfield should not be under-appreciated. Theo Riddick was good at this in 2012 when, you might remember, good things happen for the team at large. I like to see things that *could* convert to a new offensive wrinkle in the season to come, and this fits the bill quite nicely.

4. The Defense…Lost? Okay…what does that mean? I have a difficult time really grading anything that occurs on the defensive side of the ball. The inability to hit/sack the quarterback is such an impediment that it’s difficult to consider the defense’s effectiveness.  Add that to the team still learning a new defensive-system and philosophy and the always straight-forward vanilla game plan, and you aren’t left with too many takeaways. I thought Cole Luke looked generally good and made some great plays on the ball in difficult situations. I thought Austin Collinsworth looked severely under-sized and slow attempting to cover the wide receivers, but I’m not going to read too much into that. Perhaps more telling, Brian Kelly during a second half interview explained that he asked BVG to dial back some of the pressure schemes so the offense could get the “looks” it wanted to run plays. Does that mean the line is better than expected? Does it mean the offensive line is a little bit worse? Perhaps a mixture? Yeah….I’ll go with mixture for the day.

5. The BVG: Finally, the most legit thing I saw all day was in fact VanGorder stomping around the sideline. He’s intense, rocks as legit a ‘stache as any in the business, and I give him bonus points for his 1970’s hair dew. I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised in the short-term with VanGorder’s increased aggression. He comes into a great situation where the experience of the secondary may let him get more exotic up front to compensate for the losses of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. We’ve been down the road of a hyper aggressive defensive coordinator trying to make something out of nothing (I’m looking at you Jon Tenuta), but the caliber of athlete BVG has available is superior to what Tenuta dealt with, and the secondary is an entirely different animal. Perhaps grasping at straws, I also enjoyed seeing BVG on the sidelines. Being cerebral and up in the booth fit Bobby Diaco quite well. The same holds true for seeing VanGorder stalk the sidelines.

We now enter the dark days where there won’t be much to report or look forward to for several months. Share your comments or thoughts and feelings about the B/G Game and what you’re looking forward to for 2014 in the comments below. I’m sure Sarge will be back sooner rather than later to fill you in on the Down the Tunnel Tailgate and the reception to our sponsors the Indiana Whiskey Company being gracious enough to come on out this morning.

Cheers!

– Moons

A Cuddly Bear Defense of Field Turf

There’s an axiom out there of “don’t poke the bear.”  It’s a good rule of thumb whether that bear is holding a Coca-Cola or a pic-i-nic basket.  Look, it’s already in possession of a commercialized good, and bears are nothing if they’re not commercial.  The Snuggles bear, Winnie the Pooh, Teddy Ruxpin, etc., they’re all vicious killers just begging for you to poke them.  DON’T DO IT.  The axiom says so.  Just leave it be because the results might just be…cuddly.

I know what you’re thinking:

“Moons, you’re an idiot.”

Fair.

I know what else you’re thinking:

“What the f— is he talking about? These are all cartoon bears.”

Also, fair.  Your second thought is more salient to my thoughts about the ongoing debate about Notre Dame daring to defy tradition by installing field turf. Ugh, field turf again.  I know, just like the axiom of “don’t poke the bear” it just won’t go away.  Despite our best efforts, there still rages a debate about what this means for Notre Dame’s program.

I guess it’s best to start with the “argument” against, which is best summarized as tradition.  Want to avoid discussing an issue…particularly one you don’t have a reasonable leg to stand on, invoke the word “tradition” and watch the opinion divide.  This line of reasoning increases in effect at a school like Notre Dame that is constantly chasing its own shadow. Sometimes the detractors mask their arguments in “injury potential” or “aesthetic appeal,” but I’m still waiting on the concrete evidence of either.

Tradition is not a bad thing. However, it should (and does) mean something more than “we’ve done it for a long time.”  Once we associate “tradition” with “we’ve done it for a long time,” we might as well give up on the notion of progress.  I don’t mean to be hyperbolic on this point as I think that degrades it.  However, when I see people espouse the point of we can’t change in the name of tradition, I can’t help but think we’re poking Winnie the Pooh.  Of course what I mean is we’re anti-honey.  Of course what I mean by that is there’s no merit to the notion of poking the bear.

The “traditionalist” sentiment is a fair one.  For many fans, “tradition” is something that binds them (like honey to Pooh) to the University of Notre Dame.  I tend to recoil a bit when I hear this, as what is traditional is a fleeting concept.  That’s a problem of a greater magnitude.  No need to poke the bear. For something like field turf, the equation should be much simpler:  1.  Does it make economic sense?  2.  What’s the impact on the on-field product?

Not to get Snuggles’ fur up in a bunch, but there’s probably a fairer argument against the jumbotron than there is against field turf.  The jumbotron quite directly invites additional commercialism into the stadium by giving an increased opportunity for ads to invade the mums.  I’ve been to my share of college football stadiums, and I’ll admit that this can be an annoyance.  For the record, I’m not opposed to a jumbotron.  Hypothetically alive in the 21st Century Knute Rockne would agree with me.  Even if you’re not willing to join our club on that issue, field turf poses no such issue.

The notion of having a reliably consistent, much more easily managed playing surface should be welcome. What about tradition begs that players be subjected to inadequate playing surfaces? What about tradition begs that Notre Dame not embrace highly improved 21st century technology? We’re not talking about the horrid Astroturf surfaces first introduced in the 70’s and 80’s. To paraphrase the great Allen Iverson:  “We’re talking ‘bout [field tuf].  We ain’t talkin’ about the game.  We’re talkin’ bout [field turf]. A competent argument will have to do more than point to what we’ve done prior to the technology existing.

Lest I be accused though of completely ignoring the “traditionalist” point of view, let me pop open Teddy Ruxpin’s tape deck (seriously, this is what proponents of natural grass are hanging their hat on?  A tape deck wielding bear in the age of iTunes?) and broach the topic of tradition.  When I think of ND, I think of many things:  The National Championships, the Heismans, a sense of community, a sense of academic rigor, and a sense of uncompromising standards.  The question is:  Why would we then compromise standards just to maintain the illusion that natural grass (from time to time) contributes something to the game?  What does natural grass over field turf add that leather helmets over modern helmets didn’t?  Technological advancement, and embracement thereof, is not the same thing as abandoning the ways of Notre Dame. I’ve seen no study to suggest that injury risk increases, that it’s more difficult to maintain, or that there’s any inherent advantage to natural grass over modern field turf.

I’ll admit that I’m posing a whole bunch of rhetorical questions, if you (proponent of natural grass) admits that you don’t have any grounded reason to deny progress.  That you’re just worried that if you poke the bear, you’ll find it to be just as benign and adorable as I do.  It’s okay if you don’t want to do it now.  You’ll probably have to in the near future anyways.  What’s funny is you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between now and then.

I write this because I care.  I care about what the word “tradition” should actually mean.  I love all the things that truly embody Notre Dame and refuse to degrade tradition by suggesting that something like natural grass versus field turf belongs in that definition.  I’m open to good, reasoned arguments, but please don’t tell me to avoid poking the bear on this one.  Tradition is Smokey the Bear armed with a semi-automatic when he sees a car recklessly flick a cigarette into a forest.  What you’re talking about amounts to Yogi choosing between a pizza and a foot long sub.

– Moons