Tag Archives: Rice

Grading Out the First Three Weeks

-Sgt Shamrock

The first quarter of the season is complete and with this week being the first bye week of the season, now would be as good a time as ever to look back at the first three games of the season to see just where the Irish stand. Record wise nobody is complaining with the Irish being 3-0 with wins over Rice, Michigan, and Purdue and the outlook of the entire season looking much brighter than it did a few weeks ago. Even with the academic investigation not complete and dragging into the season, the Irish have been able to plug and play players to fill in the holes and have so far done a pretty good job of it. Lets take a look at some interesting statistics from the first three weeks and also give out grades for each position group for the first quarter of the season

Stats and Notes:

  • Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in their first three games of the season, the first time that has happened since Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame
  • Through three games Notre Dame is converting 47% of its third downs while holding their opponents to a 37% conversion rate.
  • Notre Dame has been in the red zone fourteen times so far this season. The Irish are 14/14 in those trips in scoring with ten touchdowns and four field goals.
  • The Irish have intercepted six passes by through three games. Those six interceptions were intercepted by six different players
  • Notre Dame has scored 13 touchdowns in their first three games while only allowing opponents into the end zone four times.
  • Notre Dame has won each of its first three games by at least 16 points. The last time an Irish team did that was in 1987
  • Notre Dame ranks 4th nationally in scoring defense allowing only 10.3 points per game.

Quarterback 

There is really not a more impressive way for Everett Golson to start of the season. After sitting out the entire 2013 season, Golson has quickly put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation. After the first three games, Golson is 62 of 96 passing for 780 yards, seven touchdowns and ZERO interceptions or fumbles. Notre Dame ranks 51st nationally in Passing offense averaging 260 yards per game. Even with a receiving corps full of new faces, Golson has had pretty good chemistry with his receivers and has looked very crisp and comfortable in the pocket. Irish fans can only hope that Golson keeps up this performance because if he plays at this level, the wins will keep piling up. Grade: A

Running backs

The running game has been a bit underwhelming in the first quarter of the season. After a strong performance against Rice, Notre Dame had two lackluster performances running the football against Michigan and Purdue. The Irish are currently ranked 70th nationally averaging a very average 158 yards per game. Greg Bryant leads the team in rushing with 119 yards while Tarean Folston is a close second with 110 yards. Those types of numbers are what we were hoping these guys to have in one game, not three games. With the amount of talent in the Irish backfield it is vital to get the running game going in order to keep defenses off balance to open up the passing game for Everett Golson. Grade: C

Receiving Corps

With Davaris Daniels still being held out as the academic investigation continues, Will Fuller has been the breakout star in the Irish receiving corps early on this season. While he has had some drops early on, he leads the team with 19 receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He has really shown the speed that we all expected. Amir Carlise and CJ Prosice have been very effective in the slot and are adding even more speedy weapons to Golson’s arsenal. Torii Hunter will return to the lineup next week against Syracuse to make his Notre Dame debut which should add another weapon to the offense. Chris Brown has been disappointing thus far, being very inconsistent and really not playing to the level that many thought he would. There have been some miscues in terms of communication with the receivers in terms of routes and play calls as well as a couple drops. That is going to need to get cleaned up quickly. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

If there was one part of the offense that has not looked impressive through the first three weeks it would be the offensive line. There have been some major issues in both run and pass blocking that are real concerns for the Irish. The offensive line along with not really opening running lanes to allow the running game going, they have also given up six sacks in the first three games. At times the offensive line has had real trouble maintaining blocks in the passing game, especially against Purdue. Brian Kelly said following the win over Purdue that he was going to talk to the coaching staff about possibly moving some players to different positions along the line. After the first three games performance that is a pretty good idea. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

So far this season the defensive line has really been Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They looked not bad against Rice, played a fantastic game against Michigan, but then look to take a step back after a fairly lackluster performance against Purdue. The line had a hard time getting any pressure on the Purdue quarterback this past weekend and that is not a good sign with much tougher opponents looming on the schedule. Sheldon Day however has played very well so far this season and is really looking like he is turning into a dominant force on defense. Jarron Jones has also shown some flashes of brilliance which is a reason for some optimism. We saw that the defensive line can play very well in Brian VanGorders scheme in the Michigan game. Now we have to see if they can get back to that level and stay there. Grade: B-

Linebackers

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way. Jaylon Smith is a beast and is without a doubt the best player on defense. Other than Jaylon Smith the linebackers have had a pretty season so far. Joe Schmidt is playing far better than people expected him too and he looks nothing like a former walk on. VanGorder has shown he is not afraid to mix up the blitz packages and bring linebackers from all areas of the field to get pressure on the quarterback. While we have not seen much of Ben Council, expect that to change once Stanford comes to town in a few weeks as Brian Kelly will bring him in to help against the physical offense of the Cardinal. Jared Grace is still out with an injury however he is getting closer and closer to playing time. He will not play against Syracuse but I don’t think its out of the realm of possibly he could return for Stanford. The group hasn’t been super flashy early on but they have not made many mistakes either. Oh yea and Jaylon Smith is a beast. Grade: B+

Secondary 

In my opinion even without KeiVarae Russell playing right now, the secondary is the strength of the Irish defense at this point in the season and I believe it will stay that way all year long. The Irish have already intercepted six passes through three games and the entire unit is really thriving in VanGorder’s scheme. Mathias Farley, a player that after a lackluster performance last year, has really thrived and is playing his best football in his new nickel corner position. Both Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are doing more than enough in coverage at the corner positions. Redfield and Shumate have played really well at the safety positions and Austin Collinsworth should return to the lineup soon after missing the first three games with a strained MCL. The only issue with the secondary that worries me going forward is depth. Going on the assumption that Russell will not return this season (I dont know that is the case I am just assuming) and Nikki Barrati being out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, Notre Dame can not afford any more injuries. Grade A-

Special Teams

In years past this is normally where I would be talking about how the special teams is a mess yet again and trying to figure out what to do due to fix it. However that is not the case this season. Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant has finally provided and successful punt return unit and Amir Carlise has looked good on kickoffs as well. Kyle Brindza is a valuable weapon in all facets of the kicking game especially on kickoffs. Forcing your opponent to start on the 25 without a chance at a return is always good and is a big part of Notre Dame’s success. Grade: A-

One Last time. A Michigan Preview

-Sgt Shamrock

Even with as much as its been talked about leading up to this game, its still hard to believe that this weekend’s matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan will be the last one for the foreseeable future. Notre Dame has played Michigan almost every single year that I have been alive to watch Irish football and while they are not our BIGGEST rival (that is Southern Cal and if you don’t think so you may want your head examined) I always views them as a big rival and a big time game. But here we are, the last game in the series upon us and per usual it is a big game for both teams. Fresh off their demolishment of Rice last Saturday, the Irish welcome the hated Michigan Wolverines (who I will refer to as Skunkbears from here on out) into Notre Dame Stadium for a early season, marquee matchup that will shape the outcome of the entire season for the Irish. While Brian Kelly has been very successful at Notre Dame since his arrival in 2010, he is only 1-3 against Michigan with his only win coming in the 2012 season. This is the last crack at the Skunkbears for Brian Kelly and while he may not publicly come out and say it, you can tell my his body language and rhetoric this week that beating Michigan in the final meeting is very important to him and the Notre Dame Football program.

The Skunkbears come into this game fresh off their own season opening thrashing of Appalachian State. Devin Gardner looked pretty good passing the ball and their running attack was gaining yards by the handful. But lets be honest. It was Appalachian State, a program that is in its first year in FBS and has nowhere near the amount of talent of the 2007 squad that pulled off the historic upset that we all remember so clearly. Bottom line is that Appalachian State is not a very good team and is going to really struggle this season to win three or four games. Now I can hear Notre Dame and for that matter Michigan fans screaming, “But Notre Dame played Rice! Its the same thing as playing Appalachian State!”. My response is this. NO ITS NOT. It really isn’t anything alike. The only thing similar between the two teams was that they were both supposed to get blown out in their first game of the season (which they did). Other than that they could not be more different. Rice was the Conference USA Champion last season and while they did lost a lot of starters, they still had talented players on the roster and will be in the mix to repeat in Conference USA this year. Appalachian State on the other hand is a brand new FBS program that will be lucky to win a few games this year. But hey don’t tell Skunkbear fans that. They are convinced that they will beat Notre Dame this weekend handily. Let them think that. It will just make all the Skunkbear tears taste that much sweeter this weekend. The bottom line is that Notre Dame has superior talent at the key positions and, baring a complete collapse, should win this game. 

Offense:

Everett Golson looked fantastic last week in his return to the field for the Irish. Actually the entire offense looked fantastic last week as it was clicking on all cylinders. While the Skunkbears defense will be a more formidable unit than the one that the Irish faced last week against Rice, I don’t think it is anything to be scared about either. Over the last few years the Skunkbear defense has been nothing to write home about and that could spell trouble to Brady Hoke this season. Golson will be one of the best quarterbacks that the Skunkbear defense will face all season. As we all saw last weekend, the receiving corps is loaded down with speed. Hot, nasty speed. It was glorious to watch. However part of the reason why the Irish receivers were able to get down the field so quickly was due to Rice’s odd game plan of playing off of the Irish wideouts. I fully believe that the Skunkbears will not make this mistake and play tight and physical on the line of scrimmage. A huge key to this game is going to be if the Irish receivers can break the press coverage. If they can its going to be a long day for the Skunkbear defense as there are so many weapons in the Irish passing attack. The Irish running game also had a big game last week and all three backs played well. However Greg Bryant really stood out to me as a type of back that is truly a game changer. I expect him to get a few more touches this week and I fully expect him to take advantage of them. Bottom line about the offense is that if they continue to play clean and mistake free football like they did last week, than they should be able to drop a lot of points on the Skunkbear defense. 

Defense:

While there were a few instances of miscommunication in the secondary last week, the defense as a whole played really well in their first game in a completely new defensive scheme. Add in the fact that the unit was missing some key defensive starters due to the ongoing academic investigation (Russell and Williams) and another to injury (Austin Collinsworth) only makes the effort even more impressive. Brian Kelly’s game plan was not to really to rush the passer but to keep him in the pocket and to make him throw. The defensive line played pretty well and were able to get some pressure throughout the game. However this week the defensive line is going to really need to step up and take advantage of a Skunkbear offensive line that is full of new faces and that also is missing some depth. Devin Gardner has never played well or made good decisions with the football when he is under pressure and I don’t see that changing in this game or even this entire season. He is an average quarterback at best who really only has one true offensive weapon to throw to, Devin Funchess. Its going to be up to the secondary to contain Funchess Saturday. Looking back at last week, the Skunkbears seemed to really like the “just toss it up to Funchess” strategy in the passing game. The key is for the front seven to put pressure on Gardner and force him to make bad throws. Its really hard to judge the Skunkbear rushing attack because of just how bad the defensive line was that they played against last week. They were literally pushing back the defensive line 5-10 yards on almost every play. However the Skunkbears will not have the same fortune this week against an Irish D-line that while young, is very talented and showed some promise last week.

Prediction:

Notre Dame is favored in this game and they should be. They have the better quarterback, better receiving corps, and more talented backfield. The Irish also have the best defender between both teams in Jaylon Smith. In the past the game with the Skunkbears has always had funny bounces and the Irish have been unlucky. That will not be the case this season. Notre Dame is flat out more talented than the Skunkbears and it will show on the field on Saturday night. Notre Dame 34 Skunkbears 21

Other Games This Weekend:

7 Michigan State at 3 Oregon- A lot of people think that Sparty has a good shot in this game since they play a similar brand of football that Stanford plays and Stanford has had success against Oregon in recent years. However I am not one of those people. Oregon is dangerous on offense and the Michigan State defense lost some key players from last years team. Michigan State is going to need to score points and they wont score nearly enough. Oregon 38 Michigan State 17

14 USC at 13 Stanford- Speaking of Stanford, they continue to play the brand of football that they have become known for in the last decade. They take on a USC team that beat up on Fresno State last week. While it may have looked pretty on TV the Trojans are up for a much tougher challenge as Stanford is going to be way more physical on both sides of the ball. The lack of depth will end up being the killer for USC Stanford 31 USC 24

Michigan Week Press Conference Recap

-Sgt Shamrock

Bwiv4IFIUAAAXGq 

Its Michigan week and Brian Kelly met with the media today at the Gug to give his final thoughts on the victory over Rice before diving into this weekends big time showdown with the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium. Of course we all know that press conferences are notorious for being full of coach speak so we will do our best to sift through it and provide all the pertinent updates as the Irish prepare to take on the Wolverines.

Key Points:

  • Brian Kelly kicked off the press conference with a bang by channeling his inner Rodney Dangerfield, wearing a sport jacket that was SNAZZY 
  • Kelly mentioned the great starting field position for ND against Rice as a huge factor in the success of the offense
  • Kelly really gave a lot of praise to the special teams unit. Stated they put in great effort and that if the special teams unit can continuously provide that type of production the team is going to be in a very good position to win football games
  • Gardner and Funchess are a one-two combo that provide a touch matchup for anyone. Kelly also brought up that Gardner has had great success against Notre Dame in the past.
  • Kelly stated that he had no updates on the “Irish Five” and their status as of today but did say that the situation could change rapidly should he receive updates. Should he get information mid-week that some/all the players were able to return to the team he wouldn’t rule them out for the weekend.
  • In regards to the communication with the safeties (or lack thereof) Kelly said that VanGorder was very vocal with the safeties. He than proceeded to say “I was in the quarterback meeting room and I could hear them ‘communicating’ VERY well during film study.”
  • Having the all-time winning percentage is important to Brian Kelly as it shows the elite nature of the program and helps on the recruiting trail, however it does nothing to help this years team
  • Torii Hunter has made great progress in his recovery and will be participating in some individual drills this week. Depending on how it goes he could be available next week for Purdue
  • Jared Grace has made significant progress but is still not 100 percent and is still a few weeks away. Kelly is confident he will be able to help the team this season.
  • Corey Robinson’s hand held up well following a minor surgery. The hand was a little sore after catching a laser of a pass from Golson but overall it held up really well. 
  • Kelly points to the new playing surface as a contributing factor in the success of the special teams
  • The plan now is to continue using both Greg Bryant and Cody Riggs on punt returns. Kelly pointed out that Riggs is too valuable to lose and wants to make sure he doesn’t get hurt.
  • James Onwualu was the special teams player of the week for the Rice game
  • Kelly pointed out that while its not good that the series with Michigan is ending, that the silver lining is having the ability to play top notch programs like Georgia and Texas

Stay tuned to Down the Tunnel for all your Michigan week coverage. 

Stat Sandwich: Notre Dame/Rice Team Breakdown

It feels soooo good. Football’s back, and this weekend did the things from a pleasure standpoint that certain religious sects swear is a one way ticket to the bad lands. (side note: these same groups probably don’t like swearing, but whatevs). Catholics would at least feel the need to go to confessional. The lusting. The coveting. The want for more. If this is being bad, then I don’t want to be good.

Saturday did many a thing for the Notre Dame collective morale. Everett Golson began the process of changing ND fan vernacular from “Tommy, NO!” to “Tommy, who?” by flashing some sweet skills in a 48-17 dominating performance of Rice at Notre Dame Stadium. The modern-day (selective memory) version of the 4-Horsemen – Golson, Bryant, McDaniel, and Folston combined for 223 yards on 40 carries. Grantland Rice – You’re on the clock to get a new lede. I assume famine and pestilence will be replaced by Ebola and Miley Cyrus, but there’s still room there for creativity. The defense in an uneven but somewhat encouraging performance mandated that the Internet’s collective snark put their dumpster fire memes on hold for at least another week. All and all, it was a good week.

However, I’m not here to bludgeon you over the head with reminders of how awesome Saturday was. Your hangover Sunday should have done that. In addition to bringing shenanigans, tomfoolery, and a charming southern accent to the ladies, one thing I wanted to provide to Down the Tunnel was some fun (pronounced: “enjoyable” to “horribly tedious” depending on your particular lean) statistical breakdowns of the games just passed.

A couple of caveats: Yes, this is just Rice. No need to lose our damn minds over the performance. Lose your mind over something worthwhile, like how Greg Bryant packed two pythons who just ate a baker’s dozen of bowling balls into his arms. Secondly, in the stats world, one game is the proverbial “small sample size.” Percentages, usage patterns, [something] per [something else] are still subject to fairly large variances week-to-week. As the season progresses, things stabilize, benchmarks become more apparent, and we gain a more realistic picture of where the team stands compared to the sprawling array of college football. But don’t go joining reality yet. There’s plenty of time for shattered dreams and references to sipping on Clorox. For now, sit back, and have fun numerically recalling Saturday (Yes, I’m aware your ability to count was ahem “impaired” on Saturday.)

Let’s start with the team stats. Notre Dame’s Overall stat line looked like this:

Points:                       48

Plays:                          72

Points per Play:       .67

Passing Attempts:   22

Rushing Attempts:  42

Penalties:                   2

FG Attempts:            3

Punts:                         3

Total Yards:               576

Rushing Yards:          281

Passing Yards:           295

Yards per Point:         12

Penalty Yards:            10

Turnovers:                   0

Field Goals:                 2/3. Makes: 29, 36 yards. Misses: 39 yards

Punts:                         39 yards (fair catch), 50 yards (touchback), 55 yards (touchback).

Punt Average:            48

Net Punt Average:     35

1st Downs:                  23

3rd Down Converts:  6/13 for 46%

Red Zone Atts:           6

Red Zone TDs:             4

Red Zone FG’s:           2

RZ Score %:              100%

RZ TD %:                   67%

Notre Dame’s offense functioned at an obviously high level. The balance was there from the get go. The general trend is not uncommon for those that have watched Brian Kelly over the previous few years. Versus weaker opponents, the offense will typically skew run as BK attempts to exploit size/depth advantages. Think of Brian Kelly as Gumby. He can stretch himself as needed, but he does have a system he reverts to at the end of the day.

The offense, most importantly, was more efficient than years past. Points per play and yards per point are both rough measures of efficiency. Offenses are inevitably measured by how many points they can score. Points per play gives a rough measure of how explosive an offense is. More points on fewer plays being the natural ideal. Notre Dame’s 0.67 points per play would have ranked second in FBS last season (#1 – Florida State – 0.749). Notre Dame’s Points per play last three years: 2013 – 0.404; 2012 – 0.375; 2011 – 0.412, all middle of the pack.

Yards per point is an efficiency metric. Not perfect by any stretch, and much of the criticism is that it lacks predictive power. However, as a descriptive stat, it tells you how good the team was at converting offensive production to points. I find it to be generally superior to red zone stats in measuring efficiency. The fewer yards per point, the more efficient the offense. Notre Dame’s 12 yards per point would have been sixth in the FBS last season (#1 – Florida State – 10.1). Notre Dame’s yards per point the previous three years: 2013 – 14.9 (75th nationally), 2012 – 15.8 (88th nationally), 2011 – 14.1 (53rd nationally).

The point here is simple. What we think we saw on Saturday was an offense finally clicking, and the stats confirm that to be the case. From an explosion and efficiency standpoint, this is what a good collegiate offense looks like. It would also be a marked improvement from previous years if this continued week over week. The defenses will get tougher, no question about it. The framework is there for consistent performance. Quarterback and runningback are both deeper and more skilled than in recent years past. While the wide receiving corp is young, there is a lot of potential for development. More importantly from a schematic perspective, Brian Kelly has a multitude of options at his disposal to mix and match as he sees fit.

Notre Dame Offensive Play Breakdown by Quarter:

First Quarter Second Quarter Third Quarter Fourth Quarter
# Plays:

17

20 20

15

Runs:

10

8 11

13

Passes:

5

9 7

1

Penalties:

0

1 1

0

Punts/FG Att:

2

2 1

1

Touchdowns:

2

2 1

1

Rushing Yards:

38

70 47 126
Passing Yards:

98

124 45

28

Rush:Pass Ratio*

2.0 0.89 1.57

13

Rush Yds/Car.

3.8 8.75 4.27

9.69

  • Rush:Pass Ratio for Game = 1.91; 2013 Rush-Pass Ratio = 1.02

Nothing too exciting here. Notre Dame came out wanting to establish the run, and while it was their least effective quarter on the ground on a per play basis, the team still ended up with 2 touchdowns to show for their work. Everett Golson was so lethal in the first half through the air and on the ground that the Irish only attempted 8 passes in the second half of the game and only one pass in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter’s rushing total and yards per carry were both aided by Malik Zaire’s flamboyant entry to the game. Excluding Zaire’s run, the team still averaged 5.8 yards a carry with a Greg Bryant touchdown.

The uptick in rushing average in both the second and fourth quarters are at least indicative of a situation where one team was just superior in terms of depth and conditioning. While many will clamor for Bryant to be the work horse, it should not be underestimated how important it can be to exploit the ability to send out a fresh back for any series without concern for performance fall off. Bryant, Folston, and McDaniel all averaged at least 5 yards a carry for the game. I have no issue with Brian Kelly continuing to spread the wealth so long as all three backs are effective. Over the course of a game, that advantage shows.

Notre Dame Performance by Down:

1st Down:

2nd Down:

3rd Down:

# Plays

30

23

13

Run:

17

17

8

Pass:

13

4

5

Penalty:

0

2

0

Avg. to go for 1st:

10

6.26**

5.92

Efficiency %:*

53%

39%

46%***

Eff. 3 > 5yds to go

N/A

N/A

50%

Eff. 3 <= 5 yds to go

N/A

N/A

43%

* the folks at http://www.FootballOutsiders.com use a play efficiency metric to decide whether a play was efficient or not. It’s easy to think about in the context of third downs: Did the play result in 100% of the required yardage to get a first down/score? For first down, the metric is 50% of required yardage. Second down is 70% of required yardage. These are my calculations based on their formula.

** Notre Dame never faced a 2nd and >10 yards. Both offensive penalties occurred on 2nd and 3, resulting in 2nd and 8 effective situations.

*** A 46% third down conversion percentage would put you in the top 25 for FBS schools end of year rankings for each of the previous 3 seasons. Notre Dame’s last year? 42%….good for 47th Nationally.

Notre Dame Formation Usage:

The offense ended up using only two types of packages: A 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR), and a 12 (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). By my unofficial count, I only recall 2 plays where the back would shift out of the backfield into an “empty back” alignment. Both of these occurred out of the 11 personnel. Last season, ND shifted to the empty backfield alignment considerably more. It’ll be interesting to see whether the lack of use was just a matter of opponent or whether it’s a philosophy shift. Last year, I speculated that use of the 11 empty backfield was utilized to exploit arguably Tommy Rees’ best attribute, pre-snap reads. In 2012, the offense used the empty backfield more as the season went on to spread the field and create more potential running lanes for Golson. That was different personnel. With the increased skill level at the running back position, my early guess is we see the “empty back” set less this year.

Notre Dame exclusively used 11 in the first half. The first instance of 12 occurred early in the third quarter when the team was deep in Rice’s territory. The two plays leading up to the phantom handoff touchdown scramble were with 12 personnel. The Golson scramble itself came out of the 11. 50% of Zaire’s snaps were with 12 personnel at the end of the game when the Irish were simply looking to run out the clock.

Of the 63 plays in non-end of game/half situations, only 7 were in the 12. The remaining 56 came out of 11. Of the 56, 53 were run with the first team offense. Ben Koyack was the TE on all but one of those snaps. Tyler Luatua made a cameo in the first half deep in Irish territory when Luatua was lined up in H-Back position. That play resulted in a 13 yard run by Greg Bryant up the middle.

Offensive Player Usage:

At the beginning of each season, player usage is always a fun thing to track. The chart below shows how many snaps each offensive player was in the game for (regardless of whether they touched the ball on a given play). There were a total of 66 non-special teams snaps. The percentages will not necessarily add up to 100% for each position since multiple tight ends or receivers were used on the same play. This information is derived from my personal observation, re-watch of the game. My confidence level is about 95% in terms of accuracy overall. Very confident with respect to quarterback, running back, and tight end usage. However, I’m beholden to the game feed meaning there might be a receiver identification or two that is off. The general trends though I believe are entirely accurate.

Player:

QB Use % RB Use % TE Use % WR Use %

Most

Golson 91 Folston 38 Koyack 89

Fuller

82

Zaire 9 Bryant 33 Smythe 18 Brown

71

McDaniel 29 Luatua 8 Carlisle

42

Prosise

36

Robinson

30

Brent

9

Holmes

9

Least Lee

5

While Tarean Folston actually saw the greatest usage of the three running backs, the timing of his use is more telling. Folston was in on 25 plays. Of those 25 plays, only 14 came with less than a 4 touchdown lead being held. In a game dictated by the Irish as much as this one, that may or may not mean anything.

At the wide receiver position, the loss of DaVaris Daniels (for the time being) as well as the hand injury to Corey Robinson, likely led to the high use rates for both Will Fuller and Chris Brown. It will be an interesting trend to watch Fuller’s usage. I expect it to go down as Robinson gets healthier and Justin Brent gets more used to the offense. However, as I noted on the Roughing the Passer vidcast, that Fuller received so much time suggests that he’s more versatile as both a route runner and blocker than perhaps the reports out of spring camp had led many to believe.

So, we’re closing on 2,000 words. So as to not blow your minds in one post, I’ll split up team trends into this post and be back later in the week with some player specific data. If there’s something in particular you’re curious about, please hit me up on Twitter at @IrishMoonJ. We can make this reality whatever we’d like it to be.

 

– Moons

Irish blow past Rice. A Weekend Review

-Sgt Shamrock 

Notre Dame kicked off the 2014 season off with a 48-17 bludgeoning of the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium Saturday afternoon. From start to finish the Irish were in complete control of the game and even while Rice was able to tie the game in the first quarter there was never really a doubt that the Irish would cruise to an easy and impressive victory. The offense looked very crisp with Golson back under center and even though the receiving corps came into the game with little to no experience, they preformed very well (minus a few drops). The three headed monster known as the Notre Dame backfield preformed very well with a solid performance from Bryant, Folston, and McDaniel as they amassed over 280 yards on the ground against the Rice defense. However as good as the offense looked, nothing looking better than Everett Golson. Golson accounted for five touchdowns himself including three scores on the ground and finished the day with 295 passing yards and 41 rushing yards. Even more impressive than the stats for Golson was the throws he was making. His throw to CJ Prosise near the end of the second quarter, that was a sure touchdown had Prosise not dropped it, was an absolutely beautiful pass and the following pass to Prosice that was caught for a touchdown was equally as impressive. Its evident that Golson’s time with George Whitfield was very well spent.

The defense also played well in the season opener. Jaylon Smith again showed just how good of a player he is and can continue to be. He was flying all over the field and making plays. Joe Schmidt led the team in tackles and looked very impressive against the run. While there was a lot of concern regarding the defensive line headed into the season, the unit preformed very well. Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day were able to put pressure on the quarterback and were stout in run defense. The defense gave up a total of 367 total yards however a large portion of that occurred once all the starters had left the field when the game was already won. Their performance in the first half was very encouraging and while there were some missed assignments early on, they rebounded and there is no reason to think that they wont continue to improve as the season progresses (And hopefully they get some players back at some point as well).

Other Observations:

  • It was great to finally be excited about the special teams unit. Amir Carlise, Cody Riggs, and Greg Bryant all had very good returns and were able to set up the offense the entire game. Its much easier to score when you start at the 40 yard line instead of the 20. A great change from the “Fair Catch Approach”
  • Notre Dame only had two penalties the entire game for a total of 10 yards. Thats impressive in any game but even more impressive in a season opener, since teams sometimes come out a bit rusty in a game situation. I can’t remember the last time Notre Dame played that clean of a game and I really hope to see that trend continue throughout the season.
  • Both Cole Luke and Cody Riggs looked very impressive yesterday. They had their receivers locked down for most of the game and looked great in coverage as well as run defense. While KeiVarae Russell is still the best corner on the roster (and one of the best in the nation) should he not be allowed to return to the team, I am very confident that Riggs and Luke can more than handle their own in the secondary.
  • Speaking of the whole Russell and academic probe deal, did you notice which starter remained on the field when the second team defense came into the game in the fourth quarter? I did and found it very interesting given the entire academic suspension ordeal. Cole Luke was the only starter that stayed on the field with the second team. Now why would Brian Kelly keep that particular starter in the game when the Irish were up by so many points? It really makes me think that the staff is at least very optimistic they will be getting Russell back at some point in the future. Cole Luke was originally the backup for Russell and should Russell return, Luke will return to that spot on the depth chart. Just something that really caught my eye.
  • The field turf looks absolutely amazing and I couldn’t be happier how it turned out. It does however make the temperature a lot higher than normal with the rubber that is included in the playing surface. It will be interesting to see if that effects any of the players in future home games in terms of conditioning and hydration.
  • Of all three of the running backs, Greg Bryant is clearly the most talented in my opinion. He carried the ball eight times for 71 yards and one touchdown which is impressive by itself. But even more impressive was his 8.9 yards per carry statistic and that is with his longest run of the game being 17 yards. He was clearly the most impressive of the three backs Saturday and it will be interesting to see if he begins to get more carries from the staff. 

It is now officially Michigan week so make sure you stay with us here at Down the Tunnel for all your Irish coverage in preparation for the showdown with the Skunkbears on Saturday night. 

  

The 2014 Campaign Begins. A Rice Preview.

-Sgt Shamrock

After a long awaited wait, the 2014 season is FINALLY upon us as Notre Dame begins their journey to gain a berth in the first ever College Football Playoff. Its time to put fall camp and the academic investigation behind us and get excited for some Notre Dame Football. First up on the chopping block is the Rice Owls. David Bailiffs Owls squad is coming of a 10 win season last year but most people remember them for there effort against Texas A&M to begin their 2013 season. Notre Dame and Rice have meet on 4 other occasions with Notre Dame winning every contest. However some look at Rice’s record last season as well as being the Conference USA Champion as a reason to worry about this matchup for the Irish. I don’t see it that way at all and here is why. Sure Rice won ten games last season. But has anyone looked at who they played? Besides playing Texas A&M on the road to start the season, Rice’s second most difficult opponent was Mississippi State in the Liberty bowl and Rice got run off the field in that game losing 44-7. After that Rice’s opponents were awful. So yes they won 10 games but the only two quality teams they played, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, they lost too. Speaking of Texas A&M, many people point to how well Rice played in that game as another reason that Notre Dame could be in for a tough game. But did Rice REALLY play well in that game? Not only did Johnny Manziel sit out the entire first half, but the Aggies defense was absolutely abysmal. I mean really really bad and to compound on how bad it was they were also missing 5 starters on their defensive unit. So basically what I am saying is don’t let the numbers fool you on Rice.

This years Rice team is also very different than last season. They are returning only about half of their starters and have been hit pretty hard by pre-season injuries. Their starting tight end Connor Cella is out 4-6 weeks with an injury and their star receiver Jordan Taylor is dealing with a foot injury that may hold him out against the Irish. Bottom line here is that Rice looked better on paper last season than they really were AND this years team doesn’t have the same amount of talent that that team did. So what can we expect out of Notre Dame against Rice to start the season? Lets find out.

Offense

Obviously the highlight of the offense for the first game and maybe even the entire season is the return of Everett Golson. It has been over 600 days since his last game against Alabama in the 2012 National Championship game. Reports out of fall camp are that Golson has matured as a leader, has grown physically, and has really taken the next step forward in the playbook. That spells success to me and while he may shake off some rust early on, I don’t see it lasting more than one or maybe two drives. With Davaris Daniels still in limbo regarding his “suspension” the only receiver to have ever caught a pass from Golson in a game is Chris Brown with his memorable catch against Oklahoma during the 2012 season. This season he will have a whole new receiving corps to throw the ball too that is not lacking in talent. Corey Robinson presents a pretty sizable mismatch for most defensive backs and Will Fuller’s speed that we saw glimpses of last season should be more up front and center especially against a Rice secondary that normally does not play against that type of speed. The Irish come into this game with a healthy and very talented offensive line led by newly named captain Nick Martin, which should not only give Golson plenty of time to throw the ball, but open running lanes for the three headed monster at running back with Bryant, Folston, and McDaniel. All three backs will present a challenge for the Rice defense led by their star defensive lineman Christian Covington, and they should be able to rack up a large chunk of rushing yards.

Defense

The recent academic investigation has really left the defense short handed with KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, Kendal Moore, and Eliar Hardy all set to be missing the Rice game this weekend for sure and who knows how much longer after that. There is not a lack of talent to fill in those positions however. Cole Luke, who played last year and very well in my opinion, will take Russell’s spot on the field opposite of Cody Riggs. Williams role will be replaced by using multiple underclassmen to help generate a pass rush. Obviously Jaylon Smith is the superstar of the defense and with him now anchoring the middle of the defense this season he really has the ability to be even better this season. Going into Rice the Irish defense’s main goal needs to be to force Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson to try and beat them with his arm. He is a dual threat guy with the ability to run. With VanGorders new scheme being tested in its first game at Notre Dame I fully expect the Irish to put pressure on the quarterback early and often to try to rattle a quarterback who is going to be playing in front of the largest crowd he will face all season. While the depth of the Irish defensive line is a concern throughout the season, I don’t see it playing to much of a factor into this game as Rice’s offensive line is going to have a handful dealing with Sheldon Day who looks to be in line to have a monster season.

Prediction

I am sure most people have either read or seen some of the Harry Potter books/movies. Remember that owl named Heddwig? Now picture that owl. And picture someone picking it up and stabbing it mercilessly to death. Thats exactly what this game is going to be like. Its going to be a bloodbath. I don’t want to hear the whole “Well Notre Dame doesn’t play well in season openers” argument. 2012 Navy says hello. Notre Dame is by far the better team on the field in every aspect of the game and its not even close. Rice is going to put up a good fight early but it will be all for not. Golson will play brilliant in his first game back from his exile, the running game runs the ball at will, and the young defense will play much better than many folks anticipate.

Notre Dame 45 Rice 17

 

Other Games Around the Country

1 Florida State at Oklahoma State (Arlington, TX)- The defending national champs and defending Heisman trophy winner open the season taking on a Oklahoma State team that doesn’t seem like it will be as competitive as years past under Mike Gundy. The offense should still do pretty well in the Big 12 but they won’t fare all that well against that FSU defense. This game may still be close at halftime but it wont end that way. Florida State 41 Oklahoma State 24

16 Clemson at 12 Georgia- In probably the best matchup of the weekend, we get to see how Clemson and Georgia respond with new quarterbacks at the helm with Taji Boyd and Aaron Murray both gone to the NFL. Georgia still has a very strong stable of running backs with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshal and that will be the difference in this game. Georgia 28 Clemson 21

14 Wisconsin at 13 LSU (Houston, TX)- If any team outside the SEC has the scheme and skill set to play with and beat LSU it would be Wisconsin. The Badgers love to run the ball and have a couple of very talented backs. But playing them the first game of the season is tough and LSU’s defense should be even tougher. LSU 24 Wisconsin 17

UPSET SPECIAL

5 Ohio State at Navy- With the loss of Braxton Miller at quarterback the offense for the Buckeyes, that was already replacing a huge chunk of their offensive line, is going to be under a large amount of pressure to score a lot of points. Carlos Hyde is gone to the NFL so the ability of a running back to step up and fill that void is very important. Navy is a running machine and Keenan Reynolds runs the triple option attack to perfection. The Buckeyes defense wasn’t great last year and they lost some key playmakers. Ohio State realizes very quickly that life without Braxton Miller will not be a good one. Navy 31 Ohio State 30

 

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.

Rice Week Press Conference Recap

-Sgt Shamrock

Rice week is in full swing as Brian Kelly met with the media today at the Gug to talk about the Irish football team as they head into the season opener this weekend. In a new feature for our audience and fans, we will have a recap of each weekly press conference here on Down the Tunnel as we know that most people are unable to watch the press conference live. Of course we all know that press conferences are notorious for being full of coach speak so we will do our best to sift through it and provide all the pertinent updates.

KEY POINTS:

  • Brian Kelly as well as the team has a great deal of respect for Rice. He praised their season last year in which they finished 10-4 and were the Conference USA Champions. Talked about the defense that plays a lot of man coverage and are very aggressive. Cited they finished top 30 in defense last season.
  • The players focus changes a bit once game week arrives. Classes are beginning and the excitement for the first game is out there. The key is to keep players focused on Rice. Unlike camp the team is preparing for a single opponent.
  • Brian Kelly approached the Unity council about the possibility of bringing back the Alma Mater after every game regardless of the outcome. The members voted and decided they wanted to go back to it. Kelly wants to make sure the voices of the players are heard.
  • Andrew Trumbetti will be starting over Romeo Okwara but both will play significant time
  • Jared Grace is ahead of schedule and recovering well but will not be available for Rice. Tori Hunter is also ahead of schedule. Kelly is going to try and have him run a bit next week and reevaluate.
  • Kelly has still not named captains but anticipates that being done within the next 24 hours. It is possible that Kelly could have game captains each week. He also stated he is not ruling out having one or two year long captains as well as week to week game captains
  • Keivare Russell, Ishaq Williams, Kendal Moore, and Davaris Daniels are officially ruled out for this weekend’s game. Brian Kelly has not received any updates and week seek some next week if he has not received any from Swarbrick. Kelly also stated that it is possible that SHOULD certain players be cleared in the middle of a week that they could be available for that Saturday’s game.
  • Kelly mentioned that the defense is both the most inexperienced but also athletic defenses he has coached throughout his career
  • Corey Robinson had a minor procedure last Friday for a fractured finger and a pin was placed in his hand. He was back practicing yesterday and will start against Rice.
  • Chris Brown has been impressive in camp and Kelly expects him to make big plays. He has great speed and can get off press coverage. He will get open.
  • Unlike seasons in the past there will not be as many offensive substitution’s when the offense is playing at a fast pace.

 

Make sure you check back with Down the Tunnel on Thursday to catch our first “Weekend Preview” of the season. We will break down the game against Rice this weekend, have players to watch, predict the score, as well as making predictions on other big games around the country.

Stephon Tuitt to enter the 2014 NFL Draft

– Sgt Shamrock

 
untitled (2)

Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated is reporting that Notre Dame’s star defensive end Stephon Tuitt will forego his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. It was reported last month that Tuitt received a second round grade from the  NFL advisory board but most believe he will be a first round draft pick along with fellow defensive lineman Louis Nix. Tuitt, who was a first team All American in 2012, finishes his career at Notre Dame with 20 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as well as an interception returned for a touchdown against Navy last season.
 
With Tuitt gone, it will be interesting to see what the Irish defense looks like next season when they open the season against Rice. The Irish have been recruiting the defensive side of the ball very well however star defensive lineman are hard to come by and with Eddie Vanderdoes leaving Notre Dame at the alter post signing day last season, the Irish are a bit thin on the defensive line. Sheldon Day has shown he can play very well but next season will be his first season playing without Nix and Tuitt next to him. While the defensive line may not have the star power it has had the last few seasons, the future of the defense is still very bright. Jaylon Smith was one of the best freshman in the country this season and he will only get better. While Irish fans have gotten used to the defensive line being the strength of the defense, I really feel that that strength will begin to shift to the secondary next season. Notre Dame has recruited some very good defensive backs in the past few years and Irish fans should be very excited to see them on the field.
With Brian Van Gorder as the new defensive coordinator, I am very excited to see how he is able to use the young talented players on the defensive side of the ball that we were able to get a glimpse of this season. Obviously it would be nice if Tuitt returned, however the defense is still full of talent and I have a feeling we will see it on the field next fall.