I just wanted to interject with some quick thoughts to get the blog caught up on the season so far. Things have been busy at OC Domer HQ, as the OC Son has started his senior year of high school and is smack in the middle of the college applications process with all the essays to write, letters of recommendation to procure, meetings with clueless guidance counselors to attend, etc... In fact we will be taking a road trip to look at a few more schools VERY soon, so I won't be able to blog much in the next several days either.
In my last post I dissected the brutal loss at Michigan, and hammered the defense pretty well for its 4th quarter collapse. I am very happy to report that the "D" has taken that criticism to heart and deserves the bulk of the credit for the Irish wins over Sparty and Pitt. These past two games played out much more like my pre-season vision for this team:
As this season unfolds, I expect the signature unit of the team to be the aggressive, stifling defense, rather than the efficient, potent offense. There will be weeks when the offense sputters a bit, but the defense will be consistently good and will key Irish success in 2011.The impressive 31-13 defeat of the Spartans was NOT the result of brilliant offense, as the 31 points would lead one to believe. It was sparked by a defense that completely took Michigan State out of their preferred game: rushing the football. MSU was held to just 29 net rushing yards, for an average of 1.3 yards per rush. Even though MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins put up some decent numbers throwing the ball, he was harassed enough by an aggressive Irish defense to blunt his effectiveness. Cousins was sacked twice and intercepted once, and Sparty scored just one touchdown (and one field goal) in five Red Zone possessions. That's terrific defense. Add in a Robert Blanton 82-yard interception return, an 89-yard kick-off return for a touchdown by George Atkinson III (where has GA3 been all my life?), and some efficient offense, and you have the recipe for a win.
Kudos to Robert Blanton for a most impressive game: In addition to the INT and return, #12 had an 11-yard sack, two other tackles for loss, six total tackles, and three pass break-ups. Dominant.
Perhaps we should add "total offense" to the list of irrelevant statistics in Coach Kelly's system.
The Irish outgained USF 508-254, and lost. They outgained Michigan 513-452, and lost.
Notre Dame was out-gained by Sparty 358-275, and whipped 'em.
And ND outgained Pitt 398-268 and barely escaped with a win.
I Tweeted after the Pitt game: "Better to win ugly than lose ugly. But make no mistake - it was ugly." Poring over the stat sheet, I don't see anything to change my initial impression. A sack/fumble by Rees that results in a Pitt 3-0 lead. On First & 10 at the Panther 24, Rees throws an interception at the 4-yard line, squandering yet another scoring opportunity. Mrs. Domer wonders aloud "What must Dayne Crist be thinking?" He was benched for throwing a single interception against USF, and Tommy has thrown six interceptions and lost three fumbles since then.
I was very worried by the success Pitt had in confusing Tommy by disguising the coverages until just before the snap, and I was even more worried by how long it took our coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments. The Irish were very lucky that Rees didn't throw more interceptions, as he threw several balls right at Panther defenders that were dropped. I was very unhappy that Tommy (and Kelly) kept trying to force the ball to Michael Floyd. As much attention as #3 was getting, surely Riddick and/or Jones were wide open. How about a pump fake to Floyd to draw the safety and a lob down the field to TJ Jones? That should loosen the defense up. But instead we kept throwing those maddening horizontal passes into tight coverage. It was a flashback to the worst tendencies of Charlie Weis' offense. Throw it down the field!!!
Or run it. Maybe with Jonas Gray - who took his second carry of the game 79 yards to the house and was promptly placed in the Federal witness protection program. What was up with that? Against Sparty, Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray split the running load 14 carries to 12. Jonas goes off for 79 yards on one carry against Pitt - was I the only one shocked by his speed? - and gets only three carries against Wood's 23 carries. Did Jonas pull a hammy?
Fortunately, while the Irish "O" was stumbling around, the defense was putting in a very solid day, holding the Panthers to just 2.7 yards per rush and just 3.8 yards per offensive play. Pitt QB Tino Sunseri was sacked FIVE times. He threw for just 165 yards, with 18 yards as his longest completion. Pitt only got into the Red Zone twice, resulting in one TD and one field goal.
Eventually of course Coach Kelly and T. Rees figured something out and Tommy put together the game-winning drive which clearly illustrated why he remains the starter despite his rookie mistakes. Down 12-7 in the 4th quarter, Rees and the "O" take over at the Irish 15-yard line. Tommy goes 8 for 8 passing on the 85-yard TD drive, and tacks on a 9th completion for the 2-pt conversion. I think the word Coach Kelly likes to use is "moxie." Nice job by Rees, and by Riddick and Eifert who keyed the drive with multiple receptions each.
State of the game: The 15 points scored by Notre Dame was the fewest en route to a victory since Sept. 2, 2006, when the Irish slipped past Georgia Tech, 14-10.
Bottom line: For the past two weeks the Irish defense has kept the opponent almost completely in check, while the offense has been just efficient/productive enough to get the win. I think this is the formula for Irish success this year.
Up next is Purdue. According to the Sagarin rankings at USAToday.com, the Boilermakers (2-1) are the 88th-best team in D-I football, having played the 181st-toughest schedule in the country. Notre Dame slots in at #25 according to Sagarin, and have played the 5th-toughest schedule in the country so far. Nobody ranked above the Irish by Sagarin has played as tough a schedule as Notre Dame.
It's a prime-time ESPN game under the lights at Ross-Ade though, so you know the crowd and the Boilers will be jacked up. Back-to-back roadies for ND. I expect Purdue to put up a good fight for about a half, then reality will set in and the Irish will win comfortably. I do think Coach Kelly will put a premium on taking care of the ball, so we might see a lot of ball control runs on the offensive side that will keep scoring down a bit as we rely on the defense to overpower the Boilers and win the game.
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