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OFD Bye Week Round Table: Part Two

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Yesterday we published part one of our bye week round table talks, and now we'll finish up with a few more questions before turning our attention to the Trojans of USC.

In this final installment we'll talk freshmen, quarterbacks, bowl games, and Bobby Diaco.

We hope you enjoy it.

Question: What are your thoughts on Bob Diaco's job as defensive coordinator after a year and a half? Has your opinion changed at all after watching the defense give up 565 yards to Air Force?

Whiskey OFD says: Overall I like Coach Diaco quite a bit. I see him as a true up and comer and I think he is coming into his own right before our eyes. At this point he has been the Notre Dame Defensive Coordinator for nearly two years and I think it is very safe to say that the defense is significantly better than it was when he found it.

There have been some notable black eyes along the way like Navy last year, the 4th quarter at Michigan this year and to an extent the total yardage conceded to Air Force last weekend.

As far as Navy and Air Force are concerned I think that he and the staff as a whole are still struggling a bit with defending anything that might be classified as an option. We will likely never know what the issue has been there but we will hopefully see a significant improvement in that category against Navy on October 29th.

I will chalk the Michigan meltdown up as being a freak occurrence with what seems like 100 other inexplicable things that happened in that game.

But overall I think the defense is really coming together and heading in the right direction. I won't jinx it by making any declarative statements as these next two games are huge, but I expect to see a continued positive trend.

Question: What has been your favorite play of the 2011 season thus far? Why is it your favorite?

Eric says: I have two plays that are my favorite---one that is a favorite as in being important to the season, and one that is a favorite as in something that I really like to see.

The more important play would be Jonas Gray's long touchdown run against Pittsburgh.

It was important for three reasons:

1. It turned the tide in the game

2. It has obviously boosted Gray's confidence

3. It's been one of the defining moments of the Irish running game being "back"

Far too many seasons had passed since we saw a long touchdown run like that, so it was kind of a big deal and one of my favorite plays this year.

The second play would be the first sprint option the team ran with Andrew Hendrix.

I just absolutely love this play. It's so simple, yet effective.

Unlike a lot of other option plays, I like how the quarterback just takes off (in the Notre Dame version we've seen that is) and starts running with the ball. There isn't much deception and it's one of those plays that immediately can get you off your feet in anticipation of what's to come next.

In sum, it's a very aesthetically pleasing play that can also do a lot of damage.

Question: Pretend the unthinkable has happened---Tommy Rees is out for the season with an injury. Who do you want taking over as the full-time starter and why?

Eric says: I've thought about this for a while and I've honestly changed my mind just about every single time I try to pick what to do. I'm trying to figure out what would be best to help the team win, but I can't help but to keep coming back to figuring out what would be fair.

Dayne Crist certainly has never played bad enough to continue standing on the sidelines if Rees went down with an injury. But does he give the team the best chance to win? Is it wise to invest a handful of games in a guy who might not come back for a fifth year?

We also have every indication from Kelly and the coaching staff that Andrew Hendrix is not ready to take over as the full-time starter. But would Hendrix' running ability open up the rest of the offense to the point where it would mask his passing defeciencies and decision making? Couldn't the playcalling be slimmed down the same way it was with Rees last year, with just enough downfield passing to open up the running game?

My intial instinct was to go with Hendrix---he's younger, his development is more important for the long-term health of the program, and I think his skills set up perfectly for the offense to run at full speed. I also think he's a smart enough kid who could quickly get up to speed after getting first team reps for a couple weeks and be fairly competent as the Notre Dame quarterback. In case you're wondering, I have pretty high expectations for Hendrix.

I also think playing him is just flat out more exciting.

Still, I'd go back to Crist, especially if the longshot of a BCS bowl is still on the line after Rees got injured.

I just don't think you can bypass Crist in this type of situation. He's clearly been surpassed this year by Tommy Rees, but I wouldn't put it past him to finish his career with some solid play and a bunch of wins if he was under center.

What I would do is put more emphasis on the Hendrix package, and depending on how Crist was playing in any particular series, almost always use the young No. 12 in the redzone.

If Crist really struggled (and I'm talking pretty poor performances through multiple quarters) I would likely just switch to Hendrix full time to finish the year.

Question: We have seen 9 freshmen on the field in the first half of the season. Going forward do you think it would be worth it to get any of the remaining 15 that have yet to play on the field or should the staff preserve those 5th year options?

Burger23 says: The easy answer is no, at this point it's not worth playing any more freshmen. The freshmen that have seen action have played either because they were too good to sit on the bench (Lynch, Tuitt, Williams, GAIII, Brindza), for depth reasons (Hounshell, Niklas, Koyack), or to get them ready for next year (McDaniel, Josh Atkinson).

For the remaining freshmen, if they were good enough to play, they would have - Kelly has pretty much said DaVaris Daniels and Golson are sitting this year. The players we need ready for next year are slowly working their way into the rotation. So I doubt the coaching staff will bother burning a redshirt at this stage in the season.

All that being said, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw another freshman being forced into duty, especially on the offensive line. Our depth at tackle and guard is perilously thin, especially now that Tate Nichols is out for the year.

Christian Lombard is backing up both tackle spots and Andrew Nuss is the backup for both guards. Behind them are true freshmen. If one of those two or one of the starters goes down, Kelly is going to need to get one of the freshmen on the field for depth reasons. We should cross our fingers and hope it doesn't happen, but it is a possibility.

Question: If you had to pick one (realistic) bowl game and one (realistic) bowl opponent, what would you like to see this postseason?

Burger23 says: I'm going to cheat a little and give two answers. There are basically two bowl scenarios for the Irish: win out and go to the BCS, or drop a game or two and end up in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Let's start with the Champs Sports Bowl, where the Irish would play an ACC team. There's a couple of interesting matchup possibilities, such as Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech, but I would like to see Notre Dame play Florida State.

Yeah, the Seminoles haven't exactly lived up to their lofty preseason top 5 ranking, but the matchup would be fun, kind of like last year when ND played Miami in the Sun Bowl. Both teams were coming off of disappointing seasons, but it was nice to renew the rivalry. That's what I think we would get with a ND/FSU bowl game.

Now on to the BCS.

I honestly don't care which game we get in, so let's just talk possible opponents. Even though I would love to see Notre Dame beat Alabama, LSU, or Oklahoma, I don't think our program is at the level where we can compete with those teams just yet. I also don't want to play the ACC or Big East champs because that's just lame.

Let's think about other possible BCS teams - Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oregon, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Stanford. None of those teams really jump out at me (Nebraska is an interesting possibility, but their BCS hopes are as shakey as Notre Dame's) so I'm going to go out on a limb and pick a team that will probably cause a bit of an uproar: Boise State.

Boise State has been probably the most successful program of the past decade and I'd like to see how Notre Dame compares to them. Plus, a lot of people hate Boise (though I'm not among them) and I'm sure they would love to see the Irish knock the Broncos down a peg. ESPN's coverage would probably be unbearable ("Old School vs. New School!") but it would be a good game to watch.