I took the post-football season off to experiment with self-actualization through beer, and am proud to announce my book “Zen – The Way of the Ale” is almost in outline form, although still lacking a few of the basics, like words.
But for now, college football is upon us, so after my summer hiatus I recently climbed little–known Mt. Rockne to consult the Dali Lama of football, College Football Weekly, only to find that ND is the 24th best team in the country without even taking a snap.
Not bad for doing a lot of nothing—and eerily similar to the situation last year when they were actually playing games, but I digress.
This is an article about what the Irish must do to make 2012 a success, and it’s not rocket surgery…
Let Loose the Hounds
The first thing anyone in the Irish camp should wish for is for Bob Diaco to finally unleash the tools that make a 3-4 defense a feared scheme, or put in a conventional 4-3 instead of having the outside linebacker constantly put his hand in the dirt in a pretend 3-4.
Dummying down the 3-4 for the younger personnel doesn’t work—either play balls out or pack it up and play something the kids won’t screw up. Running a high school version of the 3-4 and expecting to be successful against good offenses hasn’t happened, is not gonna happen and will never happen.
And for those of you that are concerned, there's a dearth of talent to work with, don’t blame the defensive shortcomings on the kids—there were plenty of studs on the defensive side of the ball in 2011.
The common misconception is that the Irish defense was too slow last year, which is a big fat lie.
The Irish defense played slow. Whether the player had speed or not, it was rarely used. The greatest tool in the 3-4 is the blitz, yet blitzes were rare, and it was blatantly obvious when they were coming and where they were coming from.
Linemen missed way too many assignments, then became confused, then were so hesitant many grew roots.
The linebackers were slow to react to their reads, and clearly didn’t have a clue about their pass responsibilities other than they were supposed to chase something in the secondary, wherever that is.
A pretty damn good secondary spent most of the year wandering around lost…to the point that by the end of the season the Irish pretty much conceded the five-yard out as impossible to stop and jumping a route was just crazy talk.
There were times when I began to long for the days when Gerry Faust just recruited slow, fat kids on defense in hopes the other team would get exhausted running all the way to the sideline to get around them.
In most games, Diaco’s defense was passive, depending on some really bad offenses to screw up. Unfortunately, playing not to lose does not work in modern college football unless you have tons of talent and the other team is called Maryland or Purdue or has “Academy” at the end of its name.
Trust me, ND lost to Florida State last year primarily because Diaco backed off against a truly lousy offense, and a number of other very bad offenses stayed in the game while the Irish played the most vanilla 3-4 scheme in the history of the 3-4 scheme.
That same approach with the 2012 gauntlet of a schedule is an open invite to a 6-6 season.
If Diaco can actually coach, he needs to start aggressive, stay aggressive and make offenses cry for momma, then make momma cry.
Show Some Discipline For Goodness Sake
To avoid that rush of nausea last year’s game films often caused, I will not recount the number of bonehead penalties, nor the related cost in yards, field position, drives or points.
Suffice it to say it was so terrible that it was, for lack of a better word, terrible.
Now that OLB Carlo Calabrese has shown that his third down stop against USC followed by an obvious taunt and drive-extending penalty is his basic “Idioso Modus Operandi,” it’s time for the coaching staff to get the troops to act like they’ve been on a football field before.
While penalties can be a sign of an aggressive team trying to play to the whistle, last year’s penalties were more often than not just rock stupid.
Notre Dame football will have a very long year if they can’t clean up the mindless penalties, and they have more than enough upperclassmen throughout this roster to play smarter than the circus we saw last year.
In 2010, the Irish under Kelly penalties were not an issue, so it is at least possible Notre Dame won’t play like they’re auditioning for America’s Dumbest CFB Videos in 2012.
Hold Onto the Friggin’ Ball
There is no question that the Irish played every game in 2011 strictly abiding by Murphy’s Law—pretty much everything that could go wrong last year went wrong, and at the worst possible time.
At one point Brian Kelly hired Murphy as an assistant coach just to make it official.
Again, I would give you the numbers, but you’ll get angry again and there might be small children nearby. Trust me, they’ll repeat your words, which will make grandma’s next visit a real fiasco, and we all know with her two-pack-a-day habit, now is not the time to get dropped from the will.
As we all know, ND managed to cough up the ball in so many creative ways, defensive coordinators often just had their team get out of the way so we could just drop the ball on our own.
While much of what happened stemmed from a limited QB that could not deal with pressure, everyone pitched in to toss ball after ball to the other teams, making pretenders like Michigan and South Florida look like they actually were way above average.
Unfortunately, watching the spring game did not inspire confidence that the turnover epidemic has passed.
I, however, have every confidence this area will improve if only for the fact that it is a mathematical impossibility it can get worse.
Special Teams Need to be Less Special
The Irish special teams’ play last season was often special only in the short bus sense.
At times, the punt and kickoff coverage was decent, and George Atkinson made kick returns fun every now and then. Everything else made the last few hours of the Titanic going down look relatively organized.
Brian Kelly made repeated remarks that they were too busy not correcting the QB situation to do anything in-season, and addressed the issue in the off-season by promoting someone to special teams coordinator that has never coordinated anything.
Fear not. Thankfully, I have taken things into my own hands to correct the situation by issuing special team arm bands.
The valuable information on the bands should go a long way toward righting the special teams’ ship. See for yourself:
Running into someone that has recently punted a football – BAD Catching a ball kicked or punted to you by the other team – GOOD Dropping a ball kicked or punted to you by the other team – VERY BAD Running toward your goal line after catching a punt or a kick – GOOD Kickoffs that land out of bounds – BAD Punts that barely clear your O-Line on the fly – BAD Field goals and extra points kicked outside of the two big poles in the back of the end zone – BAD Tackling guys from the other team that are carrying a football while they are still in bounds – GOOD
It’s a lot of things to remember but that’s why I wrote them down and strapped it to their wrists.
Pick a College Quarterback
Tommy Rees’ 14 interceptions and 3 fumbles in 2011 were just a continuation of the 8 interceptions and 2 fumbles in roughly five games of meaningful action in 2010.
I have never understood Brian Kelly’s heated love affair with a slow, limited arm QB that is there because he “understands” the offense while he leads the nation in turnovers.
What I saw was an immobile QB chuck it underneath at his primary receiver underneath when open, at the tight end in a seam route and at Michael Floyd even if he was covered by the entire population of China, six of which are actually taller than Michael Floyd.
Forget about the dumbass “the kid’s a winner” arguments or his supposed masterful grasp of Kelly’s rocket science offense. The alleged mastery of the pre-snap crap is exactly that—understanding an offense is a hell of a long way from being able to run one.
I don’t remember the last game ND won because we lined up way better than the other side, but I did see us lose lots of games last year because of what happened after the snap.
For anyone that has ever read anything I’ve written about Tommy Rees, you know that although I appreciate his efforts in a tough situation, I have never been in favor of him at the helm of the Irish, either in the short term or over the long haul.
I will not argue numbers here—just watch Rees against USC, Stanford, Pitt, Boston College, Michigan State or Florida State and then ask yourself if this kid has any business standing behind center at a college football game.
It is painfully clear that against a real defense, Rees does not have the arm, legs, strength or mobility to run a college offense against a good college defense.
If you need further proof Rees is not the answer, I’m pretty sure every QB in the SEC can have three beers and still outrun any local policeman.
As a matter of fact, I think that’s one of the prerequisites for a scholarship at LSU.
Frankly, I have my doubts about Andrew Hendrix’s overall accuracy and ability to read defenses, but at least he has a college arm and enough mobility to give ND a chance to win.
It’s hard to say how good Hendrix is since Kelly went out of his way to not play him, even in obvious mop-up situations.
From the limited times I’ve seen him, Everett Golson has the right balance of arm, speed, and judgment to potentially shine in a pass-first spread offense.
Whether Kelly will let him make enough mistakes to learn his offense remains to be seen, but he looks like the best bet to take this offense and make it work like it’s supposed to.
Kiel isn’t really an option right now and is a good bet to redshirt.
No matter what, with Tommy suspended for having a worse 40-time than the South Bend police department, a new Irish QB will be showcased in Dublin.
Between now and my first Guiness of the year, Kelly needs to name a new QB and stick with him for more than half a game.
Even Kelly knows that.
Can This Dog Hunt?
Every issue from last year is likely to improve dramatically in 2012, in many cases only because it simply couldn’t be worse if you tried.
Even with marked improvement in every area, however, the 2012 Irish have a lot to overcome.
The schedule is absolutely brutal, with road games at pre-season No. 12 Michigan State, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 1 USC plus a neutral site game against a solid Miami defense.
We also play No. 10 Michigan in South Bend, a tough Stanford team and a pass-happy BYU squad coming off a 10-3 season.
Pitt will be better and Boston College’s defense isn’t going away, even if their offense still won't be any good.
We lose both our starting corners from a secondary that was marginal for much of last year and our most productive defensive lineman took his ball and went home.
Last year’s starting quarterback led the nation in turnovers and isn’t even available for the opener.
So my guess?
I think even with two new corners and Aaron Lynch off to get rid of his tan lines, this defense has enough horses and experience to create havoc on a consistent basis.
I think Notre Dame’s secondary has more speed than last year and two games to learn how to play college football before the big boys come to town.
I think the defense will be more aggressive because they’ll have to be, and that’s a good thing.
I think the Notre Dame faithful will be greatly relieved to see what an offense looks like that isn’t constantly trying to hide the athletic deficiencies of its quarterback, even with a few rookie mistakes sprinkled in.
I think ND’s running game with Cierre Wood will be fun to watch, and that Theo Riddick will also have a good year at running back where he belongs.
I think Tyler Eifert will continue to be the stud he was last year and that without Floyd, a talented group of Irish receivers will all become more involved in an offense that will look like a college offense by mid-year.
And I think ND will win eight games against a rugged regular season schedule and be mad enough to make somebody very unhappy they drew Notre Dame over the holidays.
That’s what I think.
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