August 28, 2014 // Notre Dame Football

5 Things I Want To See From Notre Dame in 2014

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Can sophomore Greg Byrant help spark the Notre Dame punt return game? (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

Can sophomore Greg Byrant help spark the Notre Dame punt return game? (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

We’re two days from kick-off of the 2014 and after another off-season filled with enough drama to script a day-time soap opera, it’s glorious to be able to start watching football again.  As the Irish make their final preparations for the season opener against Rice, here’s five things I’d like to see out of the 2014 Fighting Irish.

1.  A punt return for a touchdown

At this point, I’m past just wanting to see improvement in the Notre Dame punt return game.  It’s time we get a big play or two out of the punt return game.  TJ Jones looked at times like he had the ability to break a long return – a few times he even looked like he had an opening only to be tripped up.  As a team though, Notre Dame had just 106 yards total in 2013 on punt returns.  In 2005 with Tom Zbikowski handling the punt return duties, Notre Dame had 396.

On the first official depth chart of the season Greg Bryant and Cody Riggs were listed as the punt returners.   Considering Riggs didn’t return a punt during his three years of live action with Florida before his transfer, it might be a tall order to expect too many big plays from the 5th year senior.  Bryant on the other hand is a big play waiting to happen.  Notre Dame is loooong over due for a punt return for a touchdown.

2. A high scoring, efficient offense

Remember when Brian Kelly had all of those flying offenses at Cincinnati before he came to Notre Dame and we all thought that defense would be an issue for him not offense?  As he enters year five at Notre Dame, Kelly has yet to produce a dynamic offense that has been capable of winning a game when the defense isn’t really at its best.  Not only has the offense not been a high scoring machine, the offense has had crippling turnovers time and time again in close losses.  Meanwhile two years ago Notre Dame had one of its most dominant defenses in school history.

Notre Dame has all of the components in place to produce a high scoring offense offense this year.  Everett Golson is back and in charge of the offense.  The running back trio of Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant, and Cam McDaniel gives Notre Dame a loaded backfield.  Even with the status of Davaris Daniels up in the air during the academic investigation, Notre Dame still has Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Justin Brent, CJ Prosise, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter (when healthy), and Corey Holmes.  Throw in a Mackey Award cnadidate in Ben Koyack and an offensive line that will be starting 4 upperclassmen and all the ingredients are there for a high scoring offense.

Scoring a lot of points alone isn’t going to cut it this year though.  The offense has to protect the ball better.  No more momentum draining, tide turning turnovers like we saw against Michigan, Oklahoma, Pitt, and Stanford last year.  The offense can’t put the defense in tough spots this year because unlike two years ago the defense isn’t going to be able to walk away from those situations unscathed without a veteran front seven.

3. Jaylon Smith become a star

We all know Jaylon Smith has a world of talent, but to the college football world, the name Jaylon Smith is not yet a household name.  In order for Notre Dame’s defense to put the Irish in a position to have a successful season, that will have to happen this year.  Brian VanGorder is going to lining up the sophomore all over the place in order to get his best player in a position to make plays so the opportunity is there.

The question will be whether or not the sophomore is ready to take the step forward and become a star in just his second season.  All signs point to him being able to do just that. Playing in an inexperienced front seven could impact Smith’s ability to become a star this year though.  I already think Smith is Notre Dame’s most indispensable player on the roster so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he becomes a bonafide star in 2014.

4. A couple defensive freshmen exceed expectations

This one might be more of a hope than anything else because if a few freshmen don’t exceed expectations the defense could really struggle.  Between Andrew Trumetti, Jonathan Bonner, Daniel Cage, Jhonny Williams, and Nyles Morgan; Notre Dame is going to need a couple of them to play prominent roles this season even if just in backup roles.

It’s never a good thing to have to rely on a lot of true freshmen in the front seven, but that is unfortunately the situation Notre Dame is in right now so they need to make the best of it.  In a perfect world, Jarrett Grace is able to come back by the end of September and be a solid contributor in the linebacking corps, but even with Grace coming back Notre Dame needs some freshmen to play above their experience level this year in order for the defense to hold up against the brutal 2014 schedule.  Getting Ishaq Williams back would be a huge boost too, but that will be determined by the on-going academic investigation and so far there’s been no indication of when that might be resolved.

5. Playing time for the reserves… in mop up duty

Notre Dame faces the toughest schedule in the country this year so this one might be a little ambitious, but there have been far too many 17-13, 14-10 type games over the last few years.  Thankfully Notre Dame has more often than not been on the winning side of those since that wasn’t the case with the previous coaching regime, but it’s time Notre Dame starts winning some games comfortably.  It’s great that Notre Dame hasn’t lost to Purdue under Kelly, but the Boilermaker teams he’s faced aren’t exactly the Joe Tiller, Drew Brees led teams.  They have been one of the worst teams in the Big Ten the last few years and there’s no reason for those games to be one possession games in the fourth quarter.

Aside from Purdue, it’s time for the close calls with Navy to come to a stop.  It looked like we were already there in 2011 and 2012 with blowout victories over the Middies, but then we had last year’s nail-biter in South Bend.  Yeah, let’s not have that this year.   Line up, run the ball right at them, and win that one running away.  With so many quality opponents on the schedule, Notre Dame can’t make things tougher on themselves this year.

There’s a lot other things I’d like to see this year too, but if those five things above all happen, Notre Dame can navigate that nightmare of a schedule to at least 10 wins in 2014.  What else would you like to see from the Irish this year?  Let us know in the comments.

Comments to this Article

  • HJ Prendergast commented on August 28th, 2014 at 11:12 am

    I would like to see a good turnover differential . In our favor of course.

    [Reply]

  • jimbasil commented on August 28th, 2014 at 11:15 am

    As far as return game – my expectations of something better went out the window when Kelly said, it wasn’t the scheme that needed improving but the speed element. Oh well!

    I’d like to see a real good DLine happen capable of stuffing the run game.

    I’d like to see the promise of a well oiled machine and ND not give in for a full 60 minutes scoring at will from 1st a run game then an electric passing attack. I want to see ND finally break the Vegas line week after week.

    Go Irish!

    [Reply]

  • Blake commented on August 28th, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Don’t be surprised if the d-line is one of the best units this year. Sheldon Day, jarron jones, Rochelle, okwara, mixed in with some talented freshman, could really surprise people. And having jaylon smith behind them and redfield, shumate, farley Collinsworth… The defense I believe as a whole will exceed expectations

    [Reply]

  • ahn2844 commented on August 28th, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    I’d like to see us play smart football. We may have the athletes on offense to get away with sloppiness but we certainly do not have that luxury on defense. As America’s professional leagues are increasingly dominated by teams that rely on sophisticated personnel and tactical strategies to beat more “talented” opponents (Oakland A’s, San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots), why hasn’t a college program emerged that can do the same.

    Let’s turn the whole notion of “ND can’t compete because its academic requirements are too strict” inside out.

    Or, at a minimum let’s find some kind of an identity and forge it across recruiting classes – there is value in continuity even in today’s fast-track-to-the-NFL game.

    Stanford’s done it with the best offensive line and running game. Steve Spurrier’s done it with Run ‘n’ Gun. Mark Dantonio is doing it with physical, man-to-man defenses (except when PI happens to be called). Chris Peterson is doing it with his player dev skills and offensive mind.

    What are we as a program really known for? Over the last five years, we’ve been defined by playing down to the opponent (worked out in ’12, didn’t work out in ’11 or ’13) and relying on good fortune and close calls.

    The worst strategy is no strategy. “RKG” is a nice story for the boosters but it’s not a football story.

    [Reply]

  • Jack commented on August 28th, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I would like to address the following that was mentioned above.

    #1. Punt return has been an issue. One thing I have seen is the returned running east west and not north south. If you watch the great ND punt returners, (Rocket, Zibby) they went North South and could break a tackle.

    #2. High powered offense. If you look at the statistical numbers put up by the ND offense last year they average around 500 yds a game. The problem was defense’s inside the 20 didn’t respect Tommy’s ability to run. BK didn’t go power eye and jam the ball down other teams throats. Also Turnover Tommy didn’t help by throwing a pick at the wrong time.

    #3. Jaylon Smith will need to be a star. He is the playmaker on defense. They need offense to focus on him to let younger players on the front seven get one on one attention.

    #4. Freshman defensive lineman need to step up and play quality minutes. The scary thing is the one defensive lineman that has the ability and experience hasn’t played a full year at ND without being injured. Defensive tackles, Defensive Ends need to step up.

    #5. I don’t think is an issue. ND isn’t going to blow out to many people on their schedule.

    My final statement is that this offense needs to score about 35-45 points a game. If they stall or have problems scoring points it will be a long season. I don’t think the defense is horrible, but I don’t think it will keep an offense in the game that settles for field goals. To many times in the past ND offense run like a well oiled machine between the 20’s and stall in the redzone. If they come out on Saturday and kick field goals instead of TD’s I predict a 6-6 season. If they score Td’s but give up a lot of points 8-4. If they are able score and get ahead and the defense holds Rice around 17 points than I predict a 9-3 season. Usually by the end of the first half I can get a read on the season.

    [Reply]

  • Michael the Archangel commented on August 28th, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    1)TD’s, not just FGs , ( the result of Frank’s #2 above)
    when arriving in the red zone, leading to . . .
    Scoring 31,
    And still the Irish aren’t done
    Would be much more fun

    2) Steady improvement, especially among the young D’
    (which will happen more likely if Frank’s #3 and # 4 above happen)

    3) Pressure D’ (like Buddy and Rex Ryan showcased) from BVG.
    May the contain and react D’ of Diaco R.I.P.

    4) More fourth quarter leads to a) play more back-ups (frank’s #5 above) from:
    b) an offense that will pound and wear out most opponents by the fourth quarter.

    5) Fewer dehabilitating injuries to our stars that we sustained last season ( Grace, Nix, Tuitt, Day, et.al.)

    [Reply]

  • Brad Sinclair commented on August 29th, 2014 at 8:34 am

    I’ve mentioned this before but I would love to see Jarron Jones step up and force offenses to work around him. I really like what I’ve seen of him so far – limited though that exposure might be. My fingers are crossed and I’m hoping for a breakout season.

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on August 29th, 2014 at 10:23 am

    “…there’s only one reason for doing anything that you set out to do. if you don’t want to be the best, then there’s no reason going out and trying to accomplish anything.”

    Joe Montana

    [Reply]

  • Ron Burgundy commented on August 29th, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Less academic suspensions would be a start.

    [Reply]

  • bruce johnson commented on August 29th, 2014 at 11:45 am

    AND THEN THERE WERE FIVE, THIS IS A GD DISASTER.

    [Reply]

  • Rick commented on August 29th, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    You don’t know if they’re guilty.Why you don’t you wait for all the facts to come in first.

    [Reply]

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