3 Keys to a Successful Season

As the Brian Kelly era begins in South Bend, a remodeled program will be looking to reclaim the top spot in college football. As new offensive and defensive systems are put in place, three factors will be most critical in delivering a successful season in 2010.

QB play

First year starter Dayne Crist will be replacing Jimmy Clausen, who opted for the NFL after his junior season. Crist, a junior, is coming off an ACL tear, and after healing much faster than expected, Irish fans everywhere will be looking for him to learn the new system equally as fast. Brian Kelly brings to South Bend a spread offense, one that is much different from the pro style Charlie Weis ran, and better suited to Crist’s mobility and strong arm. Unfortunately, the quarterback position has changed dramatically from strength to a weakness. Last season the Irish had two quality quarterbacks, Clausen and Evan Sharpley, as well Crist. Now, behind the untested Crist is Nate Montana, arriving at the Dome after a stint at a junior college, and two freshmen, Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix. Needless to say, Notre Dame will need consistent play from Crist if the Irish will have the successful season many are hoping for.

Wide Receivers

After the loss of last year’s Biletnikoff award winner Golden Tate, the Notre Dame receiver corps will be looking to replace his productivity and playmaking ability. While they still have one of the nation’s premiere wide outs in Michael Floyd, the depth behind him is unproven. Senior Duval Kamara, freshmen Tai-ler Jones and others like Shaquelle Evans and Deion Walker will all be fighting for playing time and the chance to prove they can step-up and be the No. 2 wide receiver. After a very successful spring, it seems like Tai-ler Jones will be a starter, assuming the underage drinking charges do not sideline him. Kamara has played heavy minutes since arriving to Notre Dame, but hasn’t been able to top his freshmen year productivity, and will be looking to end his career on a high note. Evans and Walker both saw a bit of playing time, with a combined 8 catches for 76 yards, but both came to Notre Dame as highly touted receivers and both will look to live up to that hype this season. Along with these receivers is junior tight end Kyle Rudolph, who like Floyd is considered one of the best in the nation at his position, and should be a big threat down the field in the new offense.

Secondary Play

With an unproven defensive line that isn’t known for sacks, the Notre Dame secondary will need to improve from last season. Luckily Notre Dame is very deep at cornerback, with three experienced starters. Senior Darrin Walls and juniors Robert Blanton and Gary Grey all have the talent and ability to improve the secondary to an elite level. But like quarterback, there is not much experience behind them; so staying healthy will be a necessity here. Behind them are two new safeties, Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith. Slaughter saw a bit of playing time last year, and Smith started a few games at safety but was so dismal, he was switched back to linebacker. The new 3-4 defense should put some more pressure on the quarterback as Cincinnati was ranked 10th in the nation in sacks last year, which would help this secondary immensely.

All in all, as Brian Kelly looks to kick start this program, these three keys will prove essential throughout the season. Along with the home advantage (only three real “away” games this season), the Irish seemed poised to return to glory.

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  1. Hey Drew. You can honestly say there were still reasons to support Weis until last years Michigan game? C’mon dude, the losses to Navy and Syracuse the year before didn’t do it for you? They didn’t plant a unremovable seed of hate for that FAT bastard? If you are gonna say something at least make sense. As I recall that ND-UM game was decided by the refs so what was it about that particular game that makes you say it did it for you as far as Weis? Just trying to understand your logic on that statement. ??????????????

    1. lol, those refs were giving ND the business last year. Even the replay officials. God, I didn’t want to think about that game again..thanks.

  2. Why the hell are we bumping and debating in a couple year old topic?

    Hindsight is 20/20. There were still valid reasons to support Weis…up until the Michigan game last season.

    Let this subject die.

    1. Cause Charlie rubbed me the wrong way, lol. It’s like a dog with a bone dude. I was ready to bring back Bob Davie over Weis.

  3. Chapman you still don’t get what I am saying, I am not a Weis supporter. All I said was why the names? That is it! As far as the SC people in SoCal, my reference has nothing to do with their wanting Charlie to stay, I was refering to their treatment of ND fans and other teams fans in general. Maybe I am to sensitive to that, I just hate when people result to name calling, inparticular when you direct toward a current or former ND person.Could be too many games in the Coliseum when horrific language has been directed at me and my girls. I wasn’t aware I was trying to make you feel bad, come on are you serious? I just had a point of view that obviously didn’t allow us to have a debate. One last parting shot.. Scram already? come on you can do better than that.

    1. Ya know what Twig, we are both ND fans, different personalities. Big time. When ND loses, or my Chicago Bears lose, it DESTROYS my weekend, like literally alters my mood for 24 to 48 hours. Sure, I use profane language on occasion as it ties in to my emotions, but I don’t direct it towards strangers at games or people in general. I repeat, it was and is my view of Charlies performance in south bend. I don’t hold the same reverence towards him that you do because he attended Notre Dame. People are people, wherever they are from. It’s unfortunate people would swear at you and your children at what is supposed to be a good time, but the world isn’t anywhere close to having a shortage on a**holes. I live about 30 minutes outside of southbend, were you originally from around here? Just wondering how there is an ND fan in SO CAL.

      1. My family are Catholics from Anderson, Indiana. The greatest memory from my childhood is listening to ND football on the radio with my dad and three brothers when I was quite young. My parents moved to Sc before I was born.
        Sorry for comparing you to SC fans, that is worse than being called a a_ _ hole. I can swear with the best of them, I just go off when someone lets ND have it. By the way my mom is from Chicago, and my daughter went to DePaul, so I love Chicago, great sports town. I will be in ND for the Stanford game. If you are around I will buy you a drink

      2. Thanks for the offer, though I doubt I will be there. I am 36 years old and have managed to get there 3 times in my life, lol. It’s a special place, real unique atmosphere. When I was a teen my first college experience was at the bighouse in Ann arbor with a couple of my friends who happened to be wolverine fans and had an extra ticket. It was MSU vs Mich. and it was a nailbiter, michigan lost on the last pass that bounced off of desmond howards chest. I am so psyched up for this season, I can’t wait. I really feel Kelly will get the job done, he seems different than previous candidates, his track record sure is. Enjoy the game, if I get tickets I’ll let you know.

  4. Its really cracks me up when I click on these sites and see people out there supporting Weis still. What part about his departure leaves a bad taste in your mouths? Was it the embarrasing loss at home to a laughable 1-9 Syracuse team? Or perhaps it was losing to a Navy twice who we had beaten for 40+ years consecutively prior to his hiring. Any arguments you all have for him in his defense collectively, get shot down by those things stated above. I could go on and on about why his firing (albeit 2-3 yrs late) was justified but have no need to.

    1. For me it wasn’t just the losses to cupcakes, it’s quite a bit. 1. Arrogance, Lou Holtz was anything but, he actually talked up the other teams to instill a fear of failure in his squads. 2. Responsibilities, as a headcoach you are responsible for every detail portaining to your team, not just the offense. 3. Decision making- using 4th downs like he’s playing a video game, reluctance towards substitutions, and being blind towards in game adjustments until it’s too late. 4. Maturity- When you win, everything is great, jovial mood at press conferences, never shy about explaining why they won. Enter losing and the exact opposite occurred. Close doesn’t cut it, even if they had narrowly won against navy, syracuse, uconn, etc. That was still a measuring stick for where the program was standing. Weis was upset he was not retained and decided not to grant any post firing interviews, took his ball and went home. He would have gotten more of my respect had he at least taken the time *along with the money* and assumed responsibility for his dismissal. And telling Jimmy and Golden it was a good time to go pro was real classy, like that thought would have EVER crossed his mind had he been given another year. Yeah, Charlie loved notre dame alright.

  5. Ok, question time:

    At the beginning of the Diaco interview he’s talking about a player coming in 35 pounds heavier than expected. Anyone know he was talking about? He mentioned Nose tackle.

  6. Teo you are absolutely correct. The ontly way you can be consistently successfull is with good line play on both sides.With a good offensive and defensive line we win 10 games last year and Charlie keeps his job.Offensive lines sustain drives, and defensive lines stop drives. Notre dame has great athletes at skill postions(Floyd,Allen,Christ.etc..)now we need the beef to make them more productive and consistent not just get a 50 yard bomb to Floyd.

  7. The key is to control the line of scrimmage. The offensive line and the defensive line are absolutely critical to the success of the program. I loved Jimmy Clausen and thought he was a great college quarterback. But, I can live with an inferior quarterback if the linemen are quick and strong and can block for the backs.

    We’ve had decent safeties (Zbikowski) and quick cornerbacks (Gray, McNeil) over the last several years. But, for the last five years we have had an offensive line that was inferior — in strength and speed — than most teams on our schedule. And, the defensive front, too often, was pushed around by opponents’ offensive lines. When was the last defensive stand we made against a quality opponent?

    It’s nice to have the talented quarterbacks and receivers. I loved Clausen’s strong arm. I loved Samardzija’s soft hands and his ability to gain yards after a catch. It’s fun to watch Floyd’s explosiveness. But these talented athletes often don’t get the ball without a line. A great offensive line and a strong defensive front are where championships start. And if Kelly’s crew can come in here and move people — get them to think and act bigger, faster, quicker, stronger — we’ll win a lot of games.

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Holtz accomplished all that he did because he made certain that his trenches were stout. It seems simple, but those unsung heroes more times than not determine the outcome of every contest.

  8. Firing Charlie’s sorry ass was the key, 2 years too late. Kelly will have a conditioned team, players not doing their jobs will no longer have jobs, and we will have a fiery leader on the sidelines this season. For any Weis supporters out there, understand this..Weis wasn’t paid MILLIONS of dollars to “try to win games”. ND’s head coach position isn’t an election. True fans of ND football, of ANY football team, don’t care how likeable you are, or if you say what others want to hear. Winning is the ONLY thing that matters, if it wasn’t then football would be POINTLESS. Kelly will not win every game he coaches, but he will break his neck trying.

    1. Chapman,
      Obviously winning at ND is important, but there is much more at work here.
      Like running a clean program.
      Upholding the standards, trditions, and the integrity for which the University stands for.
      Making sure the players take advantage of the educational oppertunities that are presented to them.
      Your dislike of Charlie Weis is quite clear but at least he didn’t dishonor himself or the University like some coaches out in California did.
      He proved that ND can recruit with the best programs in the country. And he treated his players with honesty and fairness, always looking out for their best intrests.
      Like it or not, he laid the foundation for Brian Kelly to come in and be successful right away.
      If you remember, ND wanted the one time ND assistant, and current Utah head coach Urban Meyer. That fell through, as it did with their second and third choices.
      I won’t argue that Charlie Weis should have won many more games than he did, but he make several positive contributions for which he deserves some level of respect.

      1. All of the things you mentioned are important sir, but should go without saying in my opinion. I very much agree that ND should run a clean program, but that’s like saying we expect our police officers to be on the right side of the law. Mr. Weis was given ample time to succeed, yes he could recruit..which made the losses all that more agonizing. Look, the man is not head coach material, at least in college football, that position DEMANDS master motivators. College athletes need stern leadership to reach their full potential, in that aspect we disagree because I think he disserviced many of his players by being so lax. Any level of success or failure in Kelly’s 1st season will rest squarely on kelly’s shoulders. Weis did a terrific job developing SOME of his players, namely the offensive guys, imagine that. I don’t care for the fact that he wasn’t honorable enough to admit that he was indeed the wrong man for the job and subsequently step down. Rather, he would avoid any post firing interview and slink away with millions unearned. I cannot recall one time of his assuming responsibility, just the oft repeated ” I just feel bad for our players” speech. Charlie may be one of the finest human beings on earth, who am I to dispute that? I am just relieved his involvement in the ND football program is at an end. In researching Brian Kelly’s resume and personality, if this guy can’t bring us back, I’m going to be ill, because I honestly don’t know who can.

    2. Why must you call Charlie a sorry a_ _? You want a higher class of coach i.e. Brian Kelly, which I totally agree he is, but why don’t you become a higher class fan. Name calling is childish. Obviously Charlie represented ND well to get the type of talent we now have. GROW UP!

      1. Twig, I am entitled to my opinion and freedom of speech. I meant what I said, and i don’t believe I called him any names. Rather, it was imo an accurate description of him as the head coach of Notre Dame football. Deal with it. You Weis supporters drive me nuts. NUTS. I DO NOT CARE how nice OR crude our coach is as long as they are doing their job. If the powers that be believed he was doing his job, why..he would still be at ND, wouldn’t he? Oh yeah, and give charlie ALL the credit for the talent that we have now, that’s an argument in his defense? Do you tune in on saturdays, or just buy everything that says Notre Dame on it?

      2. Chapman, did I say I was a Charlie supporter? No, Charlie did do all he could for the school, it wasn’t close to being good enough. He loved the school and the kids, he doesn’t deserve smart a_ _. But you have to bring up free speech. Hide under free speech in place of class. I get it. Also I never mentioned his job performance. I love your Weis supporters stuff. So you are a profiler? You tell what I am like. You must be brilliant. Also challenge my watching games on Saturdays.
        You sound more like the SC people I am around in LA.

      3. Hide “under” free speech, oh, that’s what it’s called when you are not politically correct. In your entitled opinion I can only glean from all of your NON-smartass posts meant for me that I am classless, hey, that’s pretty classy! Do you actually hear alot of people in L.A complaining about the job weis did in south bend? I would assume they would have loved for him to stay. Look, whatever you are trying to accomplish, just let it go. You aren’t going to make me feel bad, change my thoughts on Weis, or make me care about your opinions. Have a nice life and scram already.

  9. Delta, jimbo, and Spicey,

    I’d withhold all “predictions”. As Spicey suggests, there are just too many questions all over the place. Plus who can “predict” injuries and such. I’d say this to jimbo, however, if you’re a real ND fan you should preface your “predictions” by saying something like “I hope I’m wrong but….” Why? Because by not doing so you may unconsciously find yourself rooting against ND so you’re “prediction” is right rather than have us slam you later for being wrong. As I’ve said before whenever making a critical comment about ND football: “I hope I’m proven wrong!”

    1. The best statement to make is these are the areas they need to improve on. If they improve the defense and offensive line then ND will win many games. If they don’t improve, they will lose some close ballgames like last season. That is better then saying ND will lose 5 games or they will win 11 games.

  10. It seems to me everyone is drinking the ND new goach kool-ade. I for one do not see a return to glory this year as the article states. I see a 7-5 team that will play better than the last 2 years but the results will be pretty much the same. Questions at QB and O-line and a defense that was sickening last year to me does not add up to a much improved Irish team.

      1. I see 3 losses to USC, Pitt, and MSU with 2 more losses out of these teams BC, Navy, Utah and Mich.

      2. I’m not going to say you are out of line predicting five losses. There are ?s all over the area when it comes to the line of scrimmage. On defense, ND is ineffective producing a pass rush and stopping the run. I know the talk of the 3-4 is getting everyone excited, but still these are unproven players on the defense.

  11. It is time for the D line (which has three players who have NFl potential) and outside backer Darius Flemming to produce some pressure. Flemming has to use his athleticsm this year and get to the quarterback. Everything is easier when he is throwing off his back foot.

  12. I think we can put to rest the idea that Kelly may not be able to recruit on a national level. Scout.com has ND as the #6 recruiting class so far and they are tied for 2nd with Ohio State with the most Top 100 kids.

    The biggest difference from what Kelly is doing and what Weis did is that Kelly will develop these kids into college players. He is going to put the most talented kids on the field, even if that means they change positions.

    I think we are about to see another stellar first year by a head coach, but my gut tells me it is going to be more than a 1 or 2 year wonder.

    1. I think I know what you mean, but I would like to reiterate that I don’t care if the most talented players are on the field as long as the best team is on the field.

  13. Justice Hayes is the #5 rated all purpose back. He catches the ball very well out of the backfield and He played in a spread in highschool, so I think he can step in right away and be a productive runningback for the irish next year.

    I have seen tape on Rabasa as well and he has a very good first step and made a lot of plays as a junior. He plays DE right now but I think he will move to OLB for the irish.With his pass rushing skills I think he will be a very good player.

    Anthony Lynch is 6-6 255 and the 9th ranked DE according to Scout.com.He is a big kid who has a lot of athletic abilty. I think ND puts about 20 lbs on him and he plays a 3-4 DE making the front 7 for the future looking big and athletic, when was last time a notre dame fan could say that. lol.
    GO ND!

  14. The past 24 hours have been great for recruiting, now landing Aaron Lynch. Defensive line questions are answered for the future with Nix, and this year’s haul. Linebacking crew is solid as well with 2010 and 2011 recruits (Rabasa will swing up to OLB). Secondary is getting firmed up as well (need another grab or 2 here for class of 2011 to cement it). This group of coaches know what they are doing!

    Look for us to grab another running back and a couple of top wide receivers over the rest of the year. We have some great quarterbacks in the 2010 class coming in, so don’t expect any more in the 2011 class. That is why they are chasing 2012 (and scoping some 2013 I am sure) quarterbacks now.

  15. The question everyone had was can this guy recruit nationally. I think he has answered that question. I don’t want to be to upbeat, but think the administration got it right with BK. I can’t wait until the fall.

  16. Awesometown is a place I would like to be this fall. I think BK’s attention to detail will take this team to Awesometown.

  17. Great pickup with Justice Hayes to add depth to ND’s running backs. But even more importantly Anthony Rabasa, the four star DE from the sunshine state has made his verbal commitment to ND. Great job BK and team, keep it up.

  18. Nice, Running back Justice Hayes from Grand Blanc High School (Mich.) announced today that he will play his college football at Notre Dame. Hayes is the No. 16 ranked running back in the nation by Scout.com.

  19. I disagree, like WR, the d-line is filled with young guys who havent had the chance to perform. tyler stockton, louis nix are talented players who just need the chance to play. Kapron, and Ian can be huge play makers on the d-line. along with kerry neal and others, i believe that the d-line can be a strengh. run stopping shouldn’t be a problem with manti and others behind them. WR seems to have 1, maybe 2 proven play makers so i see that as more of a weakness

  20. Interesting points, but I don’t see WR as near the level of concern that I see the D-Line. I honestly think the O-Line is going to be fine. I mean, the way I see it there’s 2 big changes.

    1. The offense is going to a spread. This should help the O-line, but A new system can be hard on a QB, especially one with limited experience coming off an ACL injury. We have receivers, we have guys that have performed, and we have guys that will perform.

    2. The defense switching back to the 3-4. I think this switch is a really good idea. ND has 3-4 personnel, they were improving in 2008 under Corwin Brown. But still, there’s 2 questions on the Defensive side of the ball. The D-Line and the secondary. The linebackers should not be an issue, in fact they should be a strength. I personally think they’re the group most helped by the switch back to a 3-4. But there are questions over how well the D-line can play. If they play well, it will help out the Secondary immensely. and if the Secondary can play well, ND can really cut down on some of the scoring. Unfortunately last year, both units were pretty poor.

    That said, it’s a new year, a new staff and a new direction. I’m very excited and I just can’t wait for them to get started.

    1. Bill,

      I think the d-line will be okay if they play a rotation and keep guys fresh. I think between Newmann, Cawnyer (SP), Nwenko (sp), Stockton and Williams that we can have a great rotation behind the starters. It will be intersting to see if we can have a pick NT to stop up the middle.

      1. I just mean that they’re a Key to success. If that key doesn’t work, we’re screwed, but if it does, it opens the gate to Awesometown. Awesometown is a gated community.

  21. Sorry Frank but I got to go with the defensive and offensive lines as the most important. Without those dominating it won’t matter as much what the receivers and secondary do. For Notre Dame to return to dominance they have to get great line play and control the line of scrimmage.

    1. I agree. Defensive line is the No. 1 key to success for this team. Defensive line is pretty much the key to success in football base on the fact that if the d-line underperforms then the defense is staying on the field for a long time

  22. Agree with the O-line comments. Strong secondary play will allow the d-line a bit more time to penatrate the QB. the first Weis years had Zbikowski, ndukwue, lambert, all of whom gave the trevor laws and abiamiri’s time to get pressure

  23. All great teams are built on the lines. If you have a dominant line that controls the game on both sides of the ball you will win a majority of your games. Look at what BK is recruiting o-lineman. The biggest problem with CW was he didn’t recruit or develop good d-lineman and he didn’t stick with one scheme that suits his players. Looking back I though the hire of Tenuta was excellent, but it wasn’t. He should have stuck with the 3-4 scheme under Corwin Brown and rotated more d-lineman in the game. The 2004 team had a good d-line, there achilles heal was LB’s and D-backs. Now if BK wants to be successful on Defense this year he needs to develop the O-line and hybrid backers.

  24. Interesting choices.
    I would have gone with the offensive and defensive lines and perhaps the QB posisition in reguards to Crist staying healthy.
    I have no doubt that Dane Crist will do a fine job. He might not have a lot of experience, but he was under Charlie Weis’s guidence. The one thing that CW did very well was develoup top level QB’s.
    I was a little concerned with all the flip-floping Brian Kelly did with his O-Linemen during the spring. I hope he has it figured out. There is not much time left in which to build contenuity. Every practice from here on out will be critical.
    We all saw what happened with our defense last year. The D-Line got no penitration, no pressure on opposing QB’s, and couldn’t stop the run. It has to start up front in the trenches. If that happeneds, everything else will fall into place.
    If I was to add a fourth key, it would be strenth and conditioning. We can’t be runningout of gas in the second half of games any more, and we have to finish strong in November if we are going to be considered a serious contender.
    This stuff isn’t rocket science. I think BK will acheve these goals and ND will have a great year.

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