Delay ‘Save Our Season’ Distress Calls

When it was announced Notre Dame’s starting cornerback Lo Wood ruptured his Achilles and was lost for the season, the first word that came to mind was “devastating”, which is a much cleaner word than I may have actually used (sorry, Mom). Being forced to seek out a replacement amongst a bevy of players with essentially no game experience is far from ideal. Almost equally as surprising as hearing of Wood’s injury was the reaction from many ND fans.  The most prevalent theme was the Irish season had now arguably ended before it even began. While I don’t deny a redshirt freshman quarterback with no experience facing the number one ranked schedule in the country – coupled with a green secondary that just became significantly greener – is definitely cause for concern, there are plenty of things to keep your eye on as an Irish fan in 2012.

Kelly Finally Has His QB Mold

Dual-threat Everett Golson was recently tabbed as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback this fall, meaning in year three Brian Kelly will finally possess a quarterback athletically capable of running his offense. The Kelly QB mold involves a signal caller who has the ability to run but will only do so when every possible passing target is no longer viable. The best instance of Kelly’s prototype to date has been Central Michigan star Dan LeFevour, or the “Wee Tebow”.

LeFevour was a Rivals 2-star with offers from the likes of Eastern Illinois and Ball State. In his first season LeFevour racked up a 63.7% completion rate with 3,031 yards and 26 TDs (not to mention his 521 yards and 7 TDs on the ground). By career’s end, LeFevour had set the NCAA record for most touchdowns with 150, besting quarterbacks such as Matt Leinart, Phillip Rivers and Notre Dame’s own former Heisman candidate, Brady Quinn.

While Golson is unlikely to match LeFevour’s numbers right out of the gate due to the Irish’s brutal schedule, watching Kelly finally get his “guy” at the QB position will make it worth tuning in.

The Hiestand Boys

I’ll admit it. When I first heard Brian Kelly hired former Tennessee Vols offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, I donned my armchair analyzer cape (there’s nothing wrong with a man in his twenties wearing a cape his mother made him while reading the news, by the way) and literally scoffed aloud. Hiestand had almost no experience with lines protecting mobile quarterbacks and his background was in pro-style offenses, not the spread. Well, I’m man enough to admit I had to fold the cape up and put it back in the closet.

Hiestand shut critics like me up by hauling in arguably the best offensive line recruiting class in the country within a few months of his arrival, and word coming out of ND camp is Hiestand has brought physicality to the line, something ND has sorely lacked in previous years. I’m not one to believe every little buzz word coming out of training camp (I mean, what guy is going to say he hates his new coach to the press? If a player did, I’d have to go get my cape out of the closet again), but there’s enough positive buzz that this will be worth watching. And with ND falling 209 yards short of having two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time in school history last season, there’s a very real possibility that, with strong line play, the Irish rushing attack will be even better than last year.

Has ND Hit the Jackpot in the Slot?

It never seems to be talked about but Brian Kelly has an eye for receiving talent. When Kelly arrived at Cincinnati, Mardy Gilyard was a Rivals 2-star running back with only one scholarship offer, not to mention Gilyard had been moved from running back to cornerback. Kelly flipped Gilyard’s position for the hat trick, this time to wide receiver. Fast-forward a few years and Mardy Gilyard finished his career with 204 receptions, 3,003 yards and 25 touchdowns. Oh, and I guess his being named an All-American, as well as Offensive Player of the Game at the 2010 Senior Bowl, didn’t hurt his cause when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams.

Enter true freshman Davonte Neal. Neal is a Rivals 4-star wide receiver with speed and shiftiness the likes of which Notre Dame hasn’t possessed in a long time. If you haven’t watched his highlight film, do so immediately. I’ve watched it more than I can count, and every time it’s given me the vapors (and dirty looks from my girlfriend for saying “vapors” while watching a teenager’s highlight reel).

While Robby Toma is the starting slot receiver for the Irish, Neal is far too talented to redshirt and should receive (Why not? Pun intended) plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. It may be too early for him to become a dominant player but he has the ability to eventually lead Notre Dame down a path to the 4th best passing attack in the country, a feat Kelly accomplished his final year at Cincinnati.

A Sack is More Than a Bag at the Grocery Store

Let’s face it: if you’re a Notre Dame fan, you’re just not used to seeing sacks unless you watch former ND great Justin Tuck for the New York Giants play on Sundays. The Irish had 25 sacks last season, earning them a 59th national ranking. To make matters worse, recent USF transfer Aaron Lynch was responsible for 22% of that sack production.

The good news is former Rivals 5-star linebacker Ishaq Williams seems poised to have a breakout season his sophomore year. With Williams admitting he held himself back last year with his lack of aggressiveness, I cannot adequately describe the pleasure I derived from watching Williams hit a player a country mile out of bounds during ND’s Spring Game, nabbing him his first career personal foul. Sure, it was awkward I was standing up and cheering for a personal foul in a family-friendly atmosphere like a Spring Game, and maybe it did take me a bit too long to stop cheering even after the looks from mothers and children. But if a player is known for being laid back, watching him absolutely tattoo the opposition after a play has ended shows he’s definitely changed his attitude. Now all Williams has to do is find that happy-medium of aggression, and his quest to find it is well worth a watch in 2012.

In summary, yes, Lo Wood’s injury was crushing. My advice to you is to grab a paper bag to breathe into, have your mother make you a cape and enjoy the season.

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  1. Yeah, I think Golson is just the better player for the system BK wants to run. I would like to see more backup QB play however (AH, GK,& TR) if ND gets a big lead in any games this fall. That was something that should have happened more often when there was opportunity last year and I believe, contributed to AH not being fully ready to assume more because he saw so little back up time which would have given him a little more experience. I feel sense of excitement this year because I do think we have some good young talent coming up, something we haven’t had in awhile, and waiting to see what they can do. I get tired of seeing other “traditional powers” playing young phenomenal talent and doing well. I do not feel doom nor do I feel as unsure as I did last year at this time.


  2. Was Hedrix really that bad and that far from Kelly’s prototype? I dont think so. He only played about 2 games sparingly. Im not saying he should start but he was plenty mobile enough to run

    1. @chi-town copper:

      I don’t think Hendrix is bad at all, and I would have been content with him as our starter (I’ll admit I was hoping for Golson to step up and take the spot, though).

      I personally believe Golson is just the better fit. Hendrix definitely can run — I was at the Air Force game where he busted a huge one. The thing is Kelly wants a QB who is mobile, but mobility comes second to accuracy. That’s where Golson had the edge, at least in my opinion. Golson can run and is also accurate (at least that’s what we’ve been told from the reports from camp).

    1. @deweyfields:

      No love for the cape? Maybe that’s why my girlfriend doesn’t let me wear it outside.

      Thanks for the comment.

    1. @IanY77: Thanks for the compliment, and I agree. I truly appreciate Frank and Kyle giving me an opportunity.

  3. I have to admit that when I first started reading this article I was thinking “Here we go again, another guy trying to sell the Irish winning the National Championship this year despite all of the setbacks”. Before I finished reading though I found myself laughing and enjoying each word. Yes, there are good stories to each season but I find myself more upset with the weak suspensions, than the loss of the actual player. We have real depth this year at every position but QB and CB but that shouldn’t matter to a university that prides itself on it’s academic and moral high ground. Calabrese, Floyd, Reese, Wood and Utupo are players that I want to see play every Saturday(with the exception of Reese). Why are we still handing out some of the weakest suspensions ever? If this keeps up watch the Academic standards fall next so that we can compete with the LSUs and the Bamas. I hate the direction that we’re moving…

    1. @Wake up the Echoes: Thank you for the kind words, sir. ND sure has had its fair share of suspensions the past two years.

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