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Notre Dame Football Q&A, Part 4: Reviewing the 1st 6 Games with Ty Hildenbrandt

Bye Week means I’m out here interviewing lots of people: Jessica Smetana, Tom Noie, Pete Sampson, Pat’s Part 4 with Ty Hildenbrandt of The Solid Verbal podcast, getting his perspective on the Irish’s 5-1 start and outlook for the rest of the season, plus more

NCAA Football: Georgia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team doesn’t play anyone today, which means there are no rules and I can do absolutely anything I want.

So, for my weekly Q&A, I wanted to do something special and review the season so far with multiple great interviewees, while additionally asking some ridiculous questions along the way.

Here’s the ragtag crew I set out to interview:

  • Jessica Smetana (Video Producer and occasional writer for SB Nation; One Foot Down contributor) - READ PART 1 HERE
  • Tom Noie (ND Insider) - READ PART 2 HERE
  • Pete Sampson (guy who refuses to answer my amazing questions...also Irish Illustrated) - READ PART 3 HERE
  • Ty Hildenbrandt (The Solid Verbal podcast)
  • Pat Kuntz (former ND DL, current IU football graduate assistant)
  • Mark Proksch (Nate Nickerson in The Office)*
  • Pope Francis (the bishop of Rome)*

*did not return requests for comment

So, today, in Part 4 of this Q&A series, we have my interview of Ty Hildenbrandt, a college football writer and co-host of the wildly popular college football podcast The Solid Verbal.

If you follow Ty at all, you know he’s a big Notre Dame fan who doesn’t get to break down his thoughts on the Irish nearly as much as we all want him to, so we asked him his ND-specific thoughts on the season so far, Brandon Wimbush’s development, Mike Elko’s defense, the Josh Adams for Heisman campaign, and more. This is another must-read for any college football fan, especially if you’ve been following Ty’s coverage of the sport over the years - the man knows what he’s talking about.

Additionally, stay tuned in the next day or two for the final piece in this Bye Week Q&A series, featuring former ND DL and current IU football GA, Pat Kuntz.


ND is 5-1 and was one more field goal away from being 6-0 and having beaten what is now the #4 team in the country. What are your impressions of the season so far? Should ND fans be excited for the 2nd half, or extremely cautious with the slate of ranked teams ahead and the lack of competition (besides Georgia and maaaaybe MSU) in the first 6?

For as fun as it is to see a rout of Miami (Ohio), I think it’ll be fun to see how the Irish measure up to six possible bowl teams from now until the end of the season.

There’s no reason you can’t be both excited to watch games against better competition and cautious, since a loss could be lurking on any given Saturday. So far, it’s quietly been a really good season, and that one-point loss to Georgia is looking better and better.

But, it’s been a lot like going to see a movie for which we have zero expectations — as long as it isn’t utterly terrible, we’ll come away satisfied. That’s what a 4-8 season will do to a fan base.

I don't think any sane person would pick Ian Book over Brandon Wimbush, but Book didn't look hapless against UNC. Do you think there could be any point, maybe next summer, when Book unseats Wimbush?

I doubt it. Keep in mind that we’ve still got very limited data on both guys, though we know a little more about Wimbush.

I also think that Wimbush’s athleticism gives him a much higher ceiling. I also can’t get too excited about Ian Book since North Carolina is utterly terrible.

At a minimum, it’s comforting to know that he can be a capable backup.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

How do you see Wimbush developing as a passer, considering this is still his first year as starter? Do you think he will get to a point where fans won't describe him as a great runner who's inconsistent through the air?

Thus far, I’ve taken the most pessimistic possible angle regarding Wimbush as a passer. Surely this will come back to haunt me.

But, with the exception of his first two drives against Michigan State, when he looked like Joe Montana, I’ve been mostly unimpressed.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think it’s all his fault. My hunch is that it’s some combination of growing pains, play calling, and receivers not getting open down field.

It’s next to impossible to predict how he will or won’t develop, especially after only a few games. The indicators are all positive, and it helps to be in a flexible offense that will play into his strengths. There’s no doubt he has the talent to be a more consistent, reliable passer.

Josh Adams - why no love from the media for Heisman? What does he need to do to insert himself into the convo with Barkley, Love, Mayfield, etc.?

He needs a really motivated PR team, a dedicated website, and some sort of stunt that’ll raise his profile. Can he change his middle name to “Heisman” midseason? Maybe a steamy “Madams for Adams” calendar?

My problem with the Heisman is that it usually turns into a beauty pageant, and Barkley, Love and Mayfield all have more sex appeal. More than anything, he’ll need to overcome that.

On the field, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. Right now, he’s third in yardage among Power 5 running backs despite a significantly lighter workload. If Notre Dame keeps winning as it gets into the meat of its schedule, that’ll help as well.

Looking at stats, Mike Elko's defense doesn't seem ridiculously good, but they've managed to keep all opponents to 20 or fewer points and have been excellent at creating turnovers, rushing the passer, and keeping teams out of the end zone. Is this early success more about the opponents, or will we see these performances continue against the meat of the schedule?

Though the competition has helped, I think this Notre Dame defense is legit.

What I like most is that it seems to be a lot better at the fundamentals this season. Under Brian VanGorder, this was a team that had trouble missing tackles. Mike Elko seems to have cleaned that up in the first half of the season.

Nearly every aspect of the defense feels like it’s in a better place than last season, and that’s a good thing.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Since you watch them both, give us a comparison of Saquon Barkley and Josh Adams. Who do you think should be getting more Heisman hype?

I’m 100-percent in the Saquon Barkley camp.

Adams may have better individual numbers at this point, but Barkley is the most exciting running back we’ve seen since Reggie Bush. His combination of power and elusiveness is a rarity.

*Editor’s Note: I apologize for the long line of Saquon Barkley highlight videos, but he is incredibly ridiculous and there are so many good ones that I do feel the need to include a bunch of them. If you have time, just go search his name on YouTube and spend the next 30+ minutes enjoying an awesome player. Ty’s got a point here in terms of how electric that guy is. I’m all for Josh Adams being a Heisman candidate, but also can’t be TOO mad if Barkley ends up winning it.

Here's something I was told to ask you - does it piss you off that Dan (Rubenstein) won't give up on the Glenn Miller Orchestra? Also, please explain what this question means for those of us who who have 6-minute commutes to work and thus fail to make time for just about any podcast.

Ah, the orchestra music. Yes, Dan’s gotten into the habit of playing old-timey orchestra music whenever we discuss Notre Dame football. This is a long running joke on the show; the implication is that Notre Dame has an aging fan base.

Interestingly enough, it seems like our Notre Dame listeners are the ones who enjoy this joke the most.

This doesn’t bother me at all. Having the constant push and pull of some Notre Dame hate with some Notre Dame love makes our show unique. In the end, it’s all good-natured ribbing.

While we're on the topic, tell me about your podcast, The Solid Verbal. How did you and Dan get started doing it? Do you prefer podcasting or writing for SI more?

The story of The Solid Verbal is weird and unconventional, but it’s worked out. We’ve been podcasting since 2008 and we like to fashion ourselves as America’s college football podcast.

We’re just trying to make college football as fun as we can. During the season, that means previewing and reviewing all the action in a unique way. During the offseason, that means interviewing reporters, coaches, and other experts to give people an idea of how the game works.

We recorded a full history The Solid Verbal earlier this year, which details the entire journey.

Give me a quick prediction for ND's remaining games:

  • USC: I’ve jinxed the result of this game every year since 2005, so I’m effectively recusing myself.
  • NC State: This is a close game decided by a field goal, one way or another.
  • Wake: A close game for two and a half quarters before it opens up and Notre Dame wins 31-17.
  • @Miami: Notre Dame goes on the road and gets a huge 28-21 win.
  • Navy: A horrible sandwich game against a good team. Notre Dame wins, but looks sluggish.
  • @Stanford: Look at how teams have done the week after playing Navy. This isn’t a great matchup.
NCAA Football: Stanford at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Also, one bonus that my site manager insists I ask everyone: burrito vs. taco. Make your choice and give a reason why

I love both, but the answer here is taco because it’s a more versatile food option which won’t fill you up the way a burrito will.


I want to give Ty a HUGE shout out for answering my questions for this Bye Week Q&A series. As you’d expect from a college football writer, he is insanely busy during this time of year and it couldn’t be more appreciated that he took the time to respond to a bunch of questions from some ND sports blogger he’s never met.

I highly encourage you all to follow Ty on Twitter, and also be sure to listen to his The Solid Verbal podcast. He and Dan are a terrific tandem and do indeed approach college football podcasting in a unique and entertaining way.

Stay tuned for the Pat Kuntz interview, everyone, and enjoy not having to worry about anything today as we root against more top 10 teams to join Clemson and Wazzu in the losers column!