December 6, 2013 // Notre Dame Football

IBG: Wrapping up 2013, Looking to 2014

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Brian Kelly - Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly walks amongst players before the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The last Irish Blogger Gathering of the 2013 regular season takes a look back at whether or not the 2013 season was a disappointment, expectations for next year, and what players stood out in 2013 and more.  As we’ve done the last few weeks, each Notre Dame blogger submitted one question for the rest to answer.

My question - What position where Notre Dame will be replacing starters in 2014 concerns you the most heading into the off-season.  Additionally, what position where Notre Dame returns starters in 2014 needs to see the most improvement for the Irish to get into the playoff conversation next year?

Keith from Inside the IrishWith the Irish not playing in a top-tier bowl, how do you treat the practice and run-up to the game? Is it best served getting young players practice and game reps? Is winning the game most important? If you’re Brian Kelly, what are your priorities?

By virtue of all of the injuries that Notre Dame has suffered this year in a ton of young players are already going to get a lot of reps along with several young players who have earned their reps without injuries – Steve Elmer, Isaac Rochell, Jarron Jones, Cole Luke, Devin Butler, Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith, Romeo Okwara, Tarean Folston, Elijah Shumate, and Max Redfield should already receive a lot of reps in preparation for the bowl game.

That said, winning is extremely important for Notre Dame.  After the Irish won the 2010 Sun Bowl, they cleaned up leading up to Signing Day on the recruiting trail.  A year later the Irish lost to Florida State in the Champs Bowl and the class fell apart with defections from Ronald Darby and Deontay Greenberry.  9-4 with a bowl victory looks much better to recruits than 8-5 with a bowl loss.  If I am Brian Kelly, I am pulling out all of the stops and making sure the Irish finish this season on a winning note to build momentum heading into the 2014 season.

Mike from NDNationAs Brian Kelly searches for a new offensive coordinator, what direction do you hope he’ll go? Should he promote from within, or should he look outside? Either way, what name is on top of your list?

As I wrote yesterday, I think Kelly should look to promote from within for the open offensive coordinator position and think either Mike Denbrock or Tony Alford would make fine offensive coordinators for the Irish.  Promoting from within will maintain stability and continuity heading into 2014.  I really don’t think the Notre Dame offense was that far away from being really good next year and with all of the talent coming back at the skill positions in addition to the imminent return of Everett Golson, having stability would make it easier for the Irish offense to play at an elite level.

If I had to choose between Denbrock or Alford, I really don’t know which I would pick.  With Denbrock you get a bit more experience since he has been an offensive coordinator for Kelly before.  With Alford, you have an up and coming coach who the players love and play hard for.  The one thing I would be wary of with tabbing Alford as the offensive coordinator is that you’d need to find a new recruiting coordinator and Alford has the Notre Dame recruiting machine humming pretty well.

Aaron from Strong & TrueNow that the 12-game regular season is done, give me the player who surprised you the most this season and the player you are most excited about for next season.

Nick Martin surprised me a lot in 2013 not because I didn’t think he would be good, but I didn’t think that he would be able to step in and fill the shoes of Braxston Cave as seamlessly as he did.  Cave was a four year starter for the Irish and Martin stepped right in without a whole lot of experience and didn’t miss a beat.  His development this year is a big reason why I feel pretty good about the offensive line next year even though his big brother will be collecting a NFL paycheck next year along with his good friend and linemate Chris Watt.

I am really excited to see Torii Hunter Jr next year.  Before his injury during the All-American bowl practices last January, I thought he had a chance to be an impact freshman.  He’s got a great skillset for the slot and I think he is going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch next fall.

Jonathan from Her Loyal SonsDoes this 8-4 feel any different to you than Brian Kelly’s previous 8-4′s under the Dome? What I mean by this question is this: did this team under-, or over-, perform in your eyes, or did you get what you expected from the 2013 Fighting Irish? Does the loss of Coach Martin change your outlook on 2014? Does the “gain” of Golson?

I actually think this year feels pretty much exactly like the 2011 season did albeit with a couple better individual wins but both were teams that had the talent to be much better than they were but just couldn’t get out of their own way.  I wrote on Sunday that the Stanford game was the same story for Notre Dame in 2013 – fall behind early, battle back, and then turn the ball over at the worst time.  Notre Dame was within one possession of the lead in the 4th quarter of all four losses and yet they lost all four of them.  Bottom line, this team had the talent to be much better than it performed on the whole.

Losing Chuck Martin doesn’t change my outlook for 2014 at all.  Notre Dame replaced an offensive coordinator following the 2011 season and ended up playing for the national championship the next year.  The return of Golson doesn’t really impact my expectations wither since I had figured he would return all along so my 2014 outlook always included Golson.  That said, I think his return could allow for the Notre Dame offense to take the next step we’ve been waiting for because his running ability and arm strength will force opposing defenses to respect both his running and the Notre Dame aerial attack more so than they did in 2013 which should in theory open up the running game like we saw in 2012.

Comments to this Article

  • ChrisJ commented on December 6th, 2013 at 9:43 am

    It’s all about Everett Golson!! The kid is a winner and I’m really looking forward to the 2014 season! Go Irish!!

    [Reply]

    Toulmin H. Brown replied on December 6th, 2013 at 10:27 am

    Hero worship of Everett Golson or Brian Kelly or Charles Weis bewilders me. Notre Dame and its fans, alum, traditions and success should know better.

    I wish the best for all involved as I do every season and I’m not scolding anyone simply pointing out the process to achieve a BCSNC is a long hard tedious affair.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on December 6th, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Chris J,

    It’s never about one player. I will say this, if you think Everett takes this team from 8-4 to a NC again you are crazy. At best he gets them to a 10 win season.

    If you think he is going to be Johnny Football think again. He is a good player that has flaws. Here are some questions that need to be answered:

    1. How come it took him half a season to understand the offense?

    2. How many times did you see him throw the ball away on 3rd and long?

    3. Ball Security with him is a nightmare.

    Now, I like Everett and think he will upgrade the offense, but if you think he comes in and ND starts to average 40 points a game or he turns this offense into Oregon, think again.

    [Reply]

    JDH replied on December 6th, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Well, he was a true freshman. There’s this thing called “evolution” in sports. The learning curve from HS to college is huge.

    That being said, I agree that he alone will not take ND to the promised land. But without a great QB, there will never be a promised land.

    [Reply]

    ChrisJ replied on December 6th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Jack, I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised to see what this offense does with him back. He WILL be turned loose this year and not held back from playing to his full potential. You’ll see…

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on December 6th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Chris J,

    I think your right, but the problem with most ND fans they get their hopes up and expectations are not reality.

  • Damian commented on December 6th, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Agree

    Bowl win is a must. It will help team morale and most importantly recruiting. Losing never nelps recruiting, it will just be how much will it hurt.

    ND is taking steps in the right direction. This year was a step back I really believe because of the QB situation. I think ND wins at least 2 more games if an experienced EG were there. His mobility alone could have made a difference, and EG allows BK to open up the playbook. ND is close. We are not getting blown out anymore–that’s a big deal that seems to get lost in the 8-4 record.

    No they are not there yet, but they are closer than they ever were under TW or CW. My prediction is having EG back on the field if he wins his job back will be a better record.

    [Reply]

    jeff replied on December 6th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Damian,

    You could easily say this year was a step back because of the Defense. Decimated by injuries, retirements, transfers, poor tackling, and lack of leadership certainly played a part in ND being 8-4. Cant put it all on the QB situation although that played a part also as did poor special teams play. It was a total team effort in Mediocrity.

    [Reply]

    Damian replied on December 6th, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    I agree. The defense needs to play better, as does special teams.

    My main point was an experienced EG at QB could have made a difference in some games. A good defense on top of that, then we’d probably be in the NC talk too because ND would probably be undefeated.

    EG at QB may have made the difference to get ND to a BCS bowl.

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on December 6th, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    “Then came the hiccup of Martin’s departure from Notre Dame. A day after Martin, then Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator and lead recruiter in the Chicago area, visited Morgan on Monday he was named the head coach at Miami of Ohio.” go hire Mark Helfrich’s guy dennis frost

    [Reply]

  • bj commented on December 6th, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    kelly and martin could not deliver a bcs calibre offense, go hire outside a really great offensive coordinator, is kelly so insecure?, get the best, not the fguys who are already here. find an sec offensive coordinator or look to oregon, etc. someone with big school experience.

    [Reply]

    Ron Burgundy replied on December 6th, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Coley O’brien, Joe Montana, the Rocket, Dan Devine, Ara, Holtz, the Bus, Tony Rice to name a few.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on December 6th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    bj,

    I don’t want an SEC offensive coordinator,usually their offenses suck. The SEC produces one thing that makes them great, Defensive Lineman. They control the line of scrimmage. I wouldn’t even say they have speed, they have big fat, strong D & O Lineman. Get me some fat lineman two deep on both sides of the ball and ND will win.

    [Reply]

  • fxm commented on December 6th, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    We don’t need a OC, we need a QB. This offensive line for next year is very strong, TE, WR, and RB are BCS. With EG back this offense will not score less that 20 against anyone and will average over 30. DL depth will again be the achilles. Defense will be better, the team will be better.

    [Reply]

    duranko replied on December 6th, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    fxm, I think you bullseyed the strength of next year’s OL.
    Now, we lose stalwarts Martin and Watt, but we have 6 guys back who have started or got starter’s minutes: Lombard, Nick Martin, Elmer, Stanley, Hegarty and Hanratty. Plus the frosh are chomping at the bit.

    Our biggest off field challenge is on-field. Kelly needs to get field turf and tell the phony traditionalists who prissily sniff about tradition that the sod must be replaced. You better believe that if Rock or Leahy had better playing field alternatives, they’d have it installed.

    Give the whining phony traditionalist a box of Kleenex and a guided tour to the exit.

    [Reply]

    Jack replied on December 6th, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Duranko,

    I heard some scuddle out there that changes are a coming. I heard Field Turf, Jumbo Tron and Luxury boxes. I also heard that ND will be disolving it’s contract with Adidas and going with Nike. Just some things I heard around on the Internet. Not saying everything on the Internet is true, but it is out there.

    I also don’t think the O-line will be the issue, I think it’s going to be the front seven on defense. Especially the middle Linebackers.

    [Reply]

    jeff replied on December 7th, 2013 at 4:51 am

    Jack

    I hear you on the Defensive front seven. Hopefully Tuitt returns. Middle LBs is a huge concern for 2014. Grace will be returning from a broken leg but other than him there is nobody with any game experience.

    Damian replied on December 6th, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    I agree. If ND is really serious about winning, they’ll do some of those things. If ND wins all their games next year, I don’t think anyone will cry about turf.

    I think there’s ways to bring ND into the 21st century, but still maintain tradition too. There should be room enough for both.

    [Reply]

  • Zdelar commented on December 6th, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    I’m not so concerned with the offense next year, my concern is with the defense, specifically with leadership. I think the defense will be plenty talented, but who do we have that will be the leader on D next year with all the potential losses?

    [Reply]

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