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Irish Blogger Gathering: The George S. Patton Edition

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This week's IBG is brought to us by the folks over at Rakes of Mallow, a fine site for any Irish fan. They've been one of the more level-headed sites around through this wacky and wild season, so head over there and feed your fix for Notre Dame football commentary.

This week, Notre Dame heads to Yankee Stadium to play the United States Military Academy, otherwise known as Army. Here are the questions and answers to IBG: The George S. Patton Edition.

1) Saturday’s result against Utah was a very pleasant surprise, but an unexpected one, to say the least. What was the biggest positive you took from the win over the Utes, and what concerns you most as the Irish head into their final two games of the regular season?

Rees’ play was a big positive and so was the toughness displayed by the offense as a whole. But I doubt we’ll be talking about how Rees completed 12 passes and the offense piled up 250 yards when we look back on this game years down the road. The freshman Rees played well in his first career start but there were other more important things that happened.

I’d be tempted to say that the way the team came out and played after two crushing losses in a row was amazing. Then I’d throw a whole bunch of clichés out there like, "they played with passion," "showed a lot of heart," and the like, but I hate doing that.

So, the biggest positive was the overall play of the defense, but specifically holding Utah to only 2.4 yards per rushing attempt. That is a pretty incredible number given that the Utes have been one of the better rushing teams in the country this year.

What concerns me most as the Irish finish the regular season is any large scale defensive break down. If Notre Dame loses to Army, it will likely be due to poor defensive play. And I don’t want to imagine another blow out loss to USC because our defense couldn’t stop the Trojans at all.

I think as long as we beat Army and play average-to-decent defense in the last two games, this year will be a big boost for that side of the ball. If the Irish give up 30+ points and a ton of yards to end the year, it could undo what’s been a fairly impressive turnaround with this defense in 2010.

2) The Irish will have to take a completely different approach against the Army option than they did against the Navy attack a few weeks ago. Who do you see playing the biggest role in slowing down the Black Knight attack? Who will be the big performer on offense?

I’m assuming Diaco will still employ a 3-4 look, but this time he’d better have the defensive ends take care of the fullback. If that is the case then Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore need to have big games.

The biggest performer on offense will be Cierre Wood, who is gaining a lot of confidence and will notch his first career 100-yard rushing performance.

3) Should Notre Dame win one of their final two games, they’ll likely be going bowling. There are a lot of tie-ins that may or may not be fulfilled from other conferences that will likely end up deciding their postseason fate, but what bowl do you see the Irish playing in?

To be honest, I find the whole "which bowl will team X go to?" discussion really off-putting, just because the whole system is a mess, it’s too hard to tell who goes where (even this late in the season), and there’s really not a whole lot to get excited about.

I absolutely want Notre Dame to get the extra practices that come with a bowl game, but I could care less which bowl it is. I’ve said all along that the opponent is more important and even trying to figure that out is impossible in mid-November.

4) This isn’t a question any of us thought would be an issue at the start of the season, but who do you see as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback against South Florida next year?

That is a really tough question, and depending on your outlook, a huge problem or a huge gift for Brian Kelly.

I like the triumvirate we have right now (Crist-Rees-Hendrix) but I’m not sure any single guy is going to just run away with the job in the spring and next fall.

Rees seems to have everything Crist doesn’t have and vice versa, yet both are not very athletic or threats to run the ball. Hendrix has the most upside in this system, but no one has even seen him throw a ball yet.

Let’s just assume Rees plays well the rest of the season…what do you do if you’re Brian Kelly? We’re looking at the number one off-season topic this year for sure.

If you put a gun to my head, I still think Crist is going to be the starter come the South Florida game. He’ll probably be participating in spring drills and play in the Blue-Gold game if he’s lucky, while he’ll have all summer to assert his leadership again.

Rees will have to play off the charts in these last few games for him to really come back in the off-season and lock down the starting role. Maybe it’s not fair but there are two other guys with more upside and skill waiting to get on the field, and I think Kelly is going to have a hard time, especially if someone like Hendrix looks a lot better in practice.

So, I think it’s likely Crist starts and Rees is the backup. I do think that once Hendrix gets a real opportunity to learn the offense that he’ll be hard to keep off the field though, and it wouldn’t totally surprise me if he’s starting next year.

Here’s to an off-season of intrigue.

5) We’re all very excited for Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, which is a nice turn towards some pretty exciting neutral site games (Miami at Soldier Field, Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium) after a rather lackluster start (Washington State in San Antonio). What are three neutral site games you’d like to see down the road?

I tackled this topic during this past off-season and came up with a whole bunch of fun games to consider. I called it the Notre Dame 15-year Barnstorming Schedule, and it looks like this:

Boston College @ Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland

Ohio State @ Wembley Stadium, London, England

TCU @ University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Oregon @ Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California

Penn State @ Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York

Colorado @ Coors Field, Denver, Colorado

Alabama @ Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

Florida State @ Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia

Nebraska @ Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri

Oklahoma @ LP Field, Nashville, Tennessee

Florida @ Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina

Virginia Tech @ Camden Yards, Baltimore, Maryland

Texas @ Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Wisconsin @ Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Boise State @ AT&T Park, San Francisco, California

Some of these games would be hard to pull off (OSU in England), but there are tons of exciting matchups to dream about.

The three that I would pick would be:

Penn State: Selfishly I would want this game because I would flip out if Notre Dame was playing only 20 minutes away from my home. I think it could be a great atmosphere as the Irish have a great following in Western New York and we’re not terribly far from the Penn State sphere of influence either.

Nebraska: Out of all the games I proposed this one feels like it could have the most natural feel to it. There wouldn’t need to be any gimmicky advertising or build-up, just two classic programs with crazy fan bases meeting in the heart of America.

Oregon: This would kind of be the antithesis to the Nebraska game, and this matchup could be full of glitz and glamour. Dodger Stadium would be full of celebrities and you’d have the crazy Oregon uniforms in contrast to Notre Dame’s simple uniforms. There’d be the Kelly vs. Kelly storyline and just a huge game to build up more recruiting bases in Southern California.

Tell me you wouldn’t want to see that?