Tag Archives: Virginia Tech

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 go Panther hunting. A Pittsburgh Preview

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By Sgt. Shamrock

Another college football weekend is upon us. This week Notre Dame travels to play the Pitt Panthers at Heinz Field Saturday night. But don’t tell Pitt that, since they are oddly treating this game like it’s being played at Notre Dame. Confused? Don’t worry, if you missed Pittsburgh and their ultimate derpness I’ll catch you up. To start things off, Pitt TE JP Holtz said this gem to the media,

“I don’t like Notre Dame at all…I just think they’re really cocky and their coaches are really cocky. It’s awesome up there, but just not somewhere I would want to go to school.”

So somebody says they don’t like Notre Dame. IM SO SHOCKED!!! What I find really hilarious is that Pitt is going to need a lot of help from the Irish to win so they really had to hope that Notre Dame would come out flat in this game. Safe to say these comments won’t help their case there. Thanks buddy. Now I know what this kid said was probably pretty stupid, but what Pitt did next really takes the cake. During practice this week, the Panthers, were actually blaring the Notre Dame Fight Song over loud speakers during their practice AND had a student manager dress up as the leprechaun. You can’t make this stuff up. Not only is this game at Pitt, but the Irish band isn’t even traveling for the game! To quote ESPN 8 the ocho dodgeball announcer Pepper Brooks, “It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for ’em.”

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The Irish are coming off of a very sloppy win over Navy last week where the defense played their worst game of the season against the triple option. With the triple option behind them and a hopefully healthy defensive line, I expect the Irish defense to have a much better game against Pitt which ranks 103rd in the nation in total offense. I guess you could say that the Panther passing attack, lead by quarterback Tom Savage, is the strength of the Pitt offense, but that only ranks 70th in the nation while the running game is an abysmal 104th nationally. This bodes well for the Irish as they matchup well with the Panthers passing game with the 23rd ranked passing defense. The Irish defense has struggled against the run last week against the triple option but that’s a completely different animal than most teams rushing attacks. With Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and Sheldon Day all expected to play together on the D-line, the Irish defense should start looking like it did against USC again.

The Irish offense however could be in for a tougher road. While Pitt may being having an bad year on the offensive side of the ball, their defense has played pretty well at times. Their defense is ranked 34th in total defense and is anchored by stud defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who Brian Kelly called a “one man wrecking crew”. The Panther defense specializes in defending the pass, ranking 18th nationally, while having trouble defending the rush ranking in the bottom half of the country at 63rd. The Irish running attack, led by Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston, had a breakout game last week with the help of tremendous offensive line play, so look for the coaching staff to again work to running game on the road early and often.

Overall Notre Dame SHOULD win this game by a pretty good margin. There is just too big a talent gap and to be quite frank Pittsburgh is just not a very good team. They are coming into this game at 4-4 and riding a two game losing streak including a loss to Navy. The Panthers best win this season would be over Duke (yes Duke), 58-55 earlier in the season. The two best teams they have played to date have been Florida State and Virginia Tech, which were both losses. But as I do recall, I said a lot of the same things last week about Navy, and we all know how that turned out. Pittsburgh has always played Brian Kelly coached teams very well. Since losing to Pitt while coaching at Cincinnati in 2007, Brian Kelly has beaten Pitt five straight times but all by 7 points or less including last years 3OT thriller in South Bend. Pittsburgh always plays Notre Dame very well, and this year will be no different. However, no matter how many times Mark May picks Pitt this week, Notre Dame will be too much for the Panthers.

Players to Watch

Offense- After facing two straight defensive lines that were undersized, the Irish offensive line gets back to going against a more normal sized front seven. The offensive line played very well last week and contributed to the breakout game for the Irish rushing attack and I am eager to see some consistency this week against a much tougher defensive line.

Defense- With the recent injuries to the defensive line, Jarron Jones found himself on the two deep for the Irish this week. A former 5 star recruit, Jones was recruited as defensive lineman but many believed he would play offensive line at Notre Dame. He will get a sufficient amount of snaps this week and I am very eager how he plays.

Prediction

Notre Dame 31 Pittsburgh 21

Other games around the country

2 Oregon at 5 Stanford- This is a battle of two completely different styles of football. Stanford plays a hard nosed old school brand of football based on a strong running game and tough physical defense while Oregon spreads the field and uses their speed. Stanford won the matchup last year but this years Oregon team is better on both sides of the ball. Oregon 35 Stanford 20

10 Oklahoma at 6 Baylor- This is Baylor’s first big test of the year and it comes at home on Thursday night. Bryce Petty has placed himself in the Heisman race and could be looking at a possible invite to New York at the end of the season. Baylor has not had much luck against the Sooners in the past but this time they pull it off. Baylor 41 Oklahoma 28

13 LSU at 1 Alabama- Pretty much the first big test for Bama this season unless you count their win over an overrated Texas A&M team that lacks defense. LSU will be a much stiffer challenge and while most don’t give them a chance, I do. LSU 20 Alabama 17

Upset Special

Virginia Tech at 11 Miami- Miami came crashing down to earth after being embarrassed by Florida State. Even worse for the Canes, star running back Duke Johnson was lost for the season. Virginia Tech is coming into this game following an awful loss to Boston College and will be eager to get back on track and their defense will help them do it. Virginia Tech 21 Miami 20