SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Robert Blanton of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns an interception 82-yards while playing the Michigan State Spartans during the second half September 17, 2011at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan State 31-13. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
One Foot Down hosts this week's Irish Blogger Gathering. The Mouth Of The South discusses what the Irish have to learn from Alec Baldwin.
Please stop by and check out the other IBG members' responses:
(1) For the first time this season, Notre Dame was outgained in yardage by its opponent. Some have expressed concern that Notre Dame maybe doesn't beat State without a kick return for a touchdown and an 82-yard interception return. Still, Notre Dame won for the first time this season. What does this win say about this team? Did we see progress on Saturday?
Too early to tell. We looked like essentially the same team, minus a few turnovers. We still got up early, then took a nap on our lead. We still lost focus in the second quarter and tried to give the game away in the fourth. We still failed to put the game out of reach when we had the chance. We just got away with it this time. Sometimes that will happen and sometimes it won't. I would think that a veteran team should be able to focus for 60 minutes, but the advantage of being a veteran team lies in experience. This team is not experienced in focusing for 60 minutes, or in closing out games. They have had a very up and down time at Notre Dame, so it makes sense that they are still learning what it takes to play winning football. To begin a theme, this team is still learning and must continue to learn how to CLOSE.
1. Ball Security
2. Ball Security
3. (a) Closing; (II) coming up with a 3rd and short play; and (D) Ball Security
(3) Grade the coaching staff and position groups through three games.
Quarterbacks: C. Rees has run the offense pretty well, but is still turning the ball over and missing open receivers. He's also making some beautiful reads and throws. He's only a true sophomore with only 6 starts under his belt, but these grades are purely performance-based.
Running backs: B-. The running backs have done very well when given a hole or some space. C-Dub and Jonas are both running just like we need them to. They've struggled to pick up the short yardage-though you could also blame this on the line, tight-end injuries, and playcalling. Fumbles are the main reason for the low grade. You run the ball for a lot of reasons, but in large part because it's safer than throwing the ball. The running backs negate that advantage when they fumble. Our running backs have lost two fumbles in three games. On top of that they don't appear to be holding the ball high and tight. Watch how Trent Richardson holds the ball. It's always high and tight, and it barely moves when he's running. This is what I don't see from our backs.
Receivers: A for Michael Floyd. Incomplete for other receivers. Floyd is just... well, Floyd. He's in full beast mode.
Tight Ends: B. Eifert is just a weapon on offense, but we've had mixed results with our tight ends' blocking in the running game.
Offensive Line: A. They've opened the holes and protected the QB. They've been penalized very little. When we haven't been unable to run, it's appeared to be the result of playcalling mishaps by the coaches or quarterback. It's hard not to like what we've seen from these guys.
Linebackers: B. They've given us the steak, but where's the sizzle? They pretty much shut out South Florida except for 1 drive. They missed some tackles but overall played well against Michigan. They struggled early in coverage versus State, before recovering to tighten up on State's short and intermediate passing games. The inside backers mostly taken care of business, and the outside backers have been doing a good job of setting the edge, something I definitely worried about before the season. They just haven't made the game-changing plays, the big hits, the forced fumbles, the quarterback sacks. We had high expectations from this group coming into the season. So far they've played well, but we, the editorial we, have not been WOW-ed.
Secondary: B. This would be an A, but for ONE QUARTER OF FOOTBALL.
Defensive Line: A. They haven't been harassing the quarterback-with notable exceptions-or racking up scores of tackles, but I think they've done very well at what a 3-4 defensive line must do. They've controlled the line of scrimmage and shut down the run. We saw last week what they can do against a more traditional offense. The thing is, so few college offenses are "traditional." We'll see how they do this week against a spread with a non-mobile quarterback.
Special Teams: D+. The highs have been high, but the lows have been low. George Atkinson's kickoff return and Kyle Brindza's kickoffs salvaged this grade from an F. We have ZERO ball security and very few lanes are opening on our returns. We do not seem concerned with blocking the gunner on punt returns, we field punts at the worst times, we run backwards when we do field them, we call fair catch for no reason, and we don't call fair catch when we should. We can't punt PARA NADA. We missed a chip shot field goal. Oy. Actually that should be the grade: "Oy."
Coaching: C. The team has not been motivated to put games out of reach when given the opportunity. They have not played focused, purposeful football for four quarters. You could blame this on the players, but the buck stops with the coaching staff. Kelly thought the boys were focused, but they have not played focused, purposeful ball.
(4) The season is 25% complete. If you're Brian Kelly, what is your mantra for the second quarter of the season?
I would never advocate that Coach Kelly change his approach, but it wouldn't hurt to emphatically remind the team that, to quote Lou, "it doesn't have to be close." We've learned our lesson (this is Brian Kelly talking now); no more sleepwalking through second-quarter offensive possessions when we have the chance to put the game out of reach. Keep your foot on the gas pedal. I guess you guys think that you can take a siesta when you're 14 points ahead in the second quarter. And why shouldn't you? That's worked for you. This team has just won back-to-back national championships, hasn't it? Oh it hasn't. Well in that case, we better score every damn time we get the ball. A 14-point lead is not enough. Nor is 21, nor 28. How many times should you score on your brother? Not seven, but seventy times seven. Do you want to be good or great? Oklahoma scored 60 points in 5 straight games in 2008. How many times has this Notre Dame team scored 60 points in the last 10 years? None. Don't worry about what the scoreboard says. Your job, offense, is to put points on the board EVERY TIME you step out onto the field. Defense, your job is to inflict physical and emotional pain and suffering on EVERY PLAY, and to pitch shutouts in the process. All of you must execute on EVERY PLAY. You must destroy your opponent on EVERY PLAY. There is no "good enough." There is no margin for error.
(5) On Pittsburgh. Did Iowa wrest control of the game from Pitt, as was Iowa's custom last season. Or did Pitt just implode?
Why would I come up with this question when I didn't watch the whole game? Just one of those things that sounds nice when you think about it, then when it comes time to actually doing it, you realize that you just have no idea what you're doing. Kind of like trying to re-string your weedeater. Notre Dame fans can hardly laugh at Pitt for a fourth quarter meltdown. Pitt essentially did what we did against Michigan and almost did versus State: they didn't.... they didn't what class? they didn't.... CLOSE. As we saw against State, sometimes you can get away with it and sometimes you can't. But like Jimmy Dugan said, "keep away from the [not closing]." You may get away with it sometimes, but sometimes it's going to bite you. That's why we need to CLOSE. "But how do they close," you say? "They're already doing their best." Yeah, losers are always doing their best while winners are dating the prom-or in my case homecoming-queen. True, losing focus and failing to close may not be purposeful, but keeping focus certainly is.
(a) Do any of Pitt's players or matchups concern you?
No. Why would I come up with such a dumb question? The only matchup that concerns us is our heads versus our hindparts. If we just "get our minds right," Pitt stands no chance.
(b) How does ND vs. Pitt play out this weekend?
See above. We beat Pitt by three scores-let's say 17. They'll probably get one or two big plays out of Street and/or Graham, but we'll control the game, due mostly to our offensive line and defensive front seven. You can cut and paste your Michigan State prediction. We definitely have the talent to beat Pitt by 30, but it is just not yet in this team's mental makeup to drop the hammer like that. Pretty vanilla prediction, I guess, but there's a reason that people only eat the chocolate and vanilla when they get Neapolitan-vanilla is your bread and butter, chocolate is great for a change of pace, and strawberry with the frozen strawberry chunks is straight-up nasty.
(6) With three games in the books, this season is one-quarter done. It's probably no stretch to assume that football writers also enjoy history, and specifically military history. Compare Notre Dame's one-fourth of a season to a one-fourth complete war. Is it World War I--i.e. are we're stuck in a war of attrition, with many, many losses still to come? Is it Grenada--have we already seen the worst, with only relatively smooth sailing to come? Don't feel limited to 20th century warfare. For that matter, no need to limit it to military history--policital, legal, and philosophical warfare is also acceptable.
World War I. We're just kicking off a brutal war of attrition. South Florida invaded Notre Dame Stadium with a flawlessly-executed Von Schlieffen plan and secured a surprise victory due partly to French (Irish) ineptitude and partly to a well-executed plan. The Notre Dame Secondary was decimated in its bloodiest day in history, the Fourth Quarter Battle of the Somme in Ann Arbor. Against Michigan State, we settled in to trench warfare, battling out the game's outcome in the front lines that were the offensive-line-versus-defensive-front-seven clashes. Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, and George Atkinson represent reinforcements by way of American involvement in the war. Things may have started to turn in our favor, or at least we've stopped the hemorrhaging. There does not appear to be a major victory on the horizon. We may vanquish our opponents, but we'll only do so temporarily and only with great difficulty. The conflict by which the Greatest Generation is to be forged-a National Championship season-is a long way off.