Duranko’s Digest: What did we see in Soldier Field?

soldier field
Oct. 6, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Fireworks explode over Soldier Field after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Miami Hurricanes 41-3. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Beside the ghosts of Dick Butkus, Sweetness Payton and Dave Duerson, still a Notre Dame man!

Blending a seemingly improved offense with the front seven led defense, the Irish first shut off Miami’s recently successful offense, then added scores regularly, then cruised to victory over the Canes. The Canes, unbeaten in the ACC, are no less than cofavorites to win the ACC Coastal Division, and play for a BCS bowl game.

Initially, the Irish defense struggled adjusting from the slow-of-foot Big X to Miami’s speed. but caught up by the end of the first quarter.  The Canes had 79 yards total offense in their two drives in the first quarter, then  a total of only 191 for the rest of the game.  Like a python, Notre Dame first made contact with Miami, encircled it, then choked the Hurricanes.

The Irish offense was crisp and efficient. On the first three drives the Irish held the  ball for 37 plays for 223 yards (just over six a play) for thirteen points.  An offensive identity was established and set the tone for the second half.

For the second time in five games, the Irish did not commit a turnover.  And they had many fewer penalties than the young Canes.

Game Balls

  • Phillip Dorsett (Yep, I’d rather be lucky than good, thank you, Mr. Gomez) OOPS! here Phillip I picked this up for you, you dropped another one.
  • Replay camera and official integrity-sure, justice was done, but it seemed that every replay call went Notre Dame’s way.

Woof, Woof award – Cierre Wood, enjoying his release from a labyrinth of dog houses.

How you like me now? Award – Harry Hiestand, a real pro of an OL coach

October surprise

Golson seemed confident, fluid and  brought the offense along with him. The offense was efficient, if not spectacular, in the first half, and for the first time since Navy gave the defense some help.  In the second half we saw a case study in why time of possession (apologies to Chip Kelly and Oregon) can be important, as the Irish just wore down the Canes.

October non-surprise.

The Notre Dame Front Seven. This space is supposed to be objective, analytical, cold-blooded.  But its adjective time. The Magnificent seven, The Seven Samurai (Is Hattori Honzo really the coach of the front seven?)

Ask yourself, when is the last time you moved from the back of your seat to the front of your seat when the Notre Dame defense came on the field? And this is the fewest points given up in the first five games since the ’76 Irish, featuring Brown, Bradley, Golic and Fry.

How good are the Irish?

Ratings the units.

BCS Bowl Level

Front Seven – one of the sweetest things in sports is when you move beyond competing with your opponents and primarily compete with your own potential.  These guys like W’s but they are even more motivated by being all they can be.  Tuitt and Te’o continue to perform at the level of first team All-Americas,  and now Shembo and Nix are performing at the level of honorable mention All-America’s. Day is one of the better freshman DL’s in the nation. Riddle me this: where is the weak spot where an opposing OC attacks our front seven?

CAUTIONARY NOTE: Elston and Diaco have a real challenge. Bill Walsh said that they key to winning big football games was to be able to maintain a fierce pass rush in the fourth quarter.  Here is the conundrum which faces Diaco and Elston.  To have fresh legs for your best pass rushers in the fourth quarter, they must be rested in earlier quarters, especially the second and third.  This can be mildly uncomfortable for coaches and fans as you have to play people like Schwenke and Springman during crucial drives in the middle of the game while a better player, still fresh, waits on the sideline. However, fatigue, like father time, is unbeaten, so playing the depth is important to a GREAT fourth quarter pass rush. That’s coaching, and why Elston and Diaco make well into six figures. We have yet to face Landry and Barkley.

TES – almost boring in their excellence, especially in juxtaposition to the front seven.  But even though they are just three, with an emergency backup, probably the nations’s best. It will be fun to watch Niklas grow the next two years. He several times took out two defenders at a time.  Koyack is third in line, and has issues at times,but mostly suffers by comparison with Eifert and Niklas.  Except for SC, who has a better third TE?

New Year’s Day Bowl Level

OL – steady, and have sheltered the young QB.  That bad outing against Purdue is a month behind them.  But the tipping point is Saturday against the stalwarts of Stanford. They are bigger than anyone we’ve faced and are very experienced. Since Navy, the second teamers had not played much until yesterday,  and the young’uns got much needed game experience.  Yet we remain hyper-vulnerable to an injury.

RBS – Wood, at last! He certainly is not worn out yet. Can he stay out of the doghouse??  Atkinson is getting more comfortable, and is learning to be crafty about turning his speed on at the right time. The team might be best served if Riddick is the third TB and stays mostly at slot.  Even with will-of-the-wisp Carlisle apparently saving a year, these guys are good.

Bowl level

WRS – one or more of the three frosh must step up for an upgrade. Again, we’d like to see four WRS with 25 receptions, and that now seems likely (yeah, we’ll count Riddick). Davaris Daniels is on a collision course with stardom. It is a question of when, not if. This is the time of year when frosh step up if they’re going to at all and time is running out.. Ferguson has one catch, Neal one.  That’s it.

QB – Golson seemed more settled, but there are some tough defenses in his future.  Can Kelly have it both ways-building Golson’s confidence, and yet being able to resort to Rees rescue when needed?  Golson seems to make many more risks when he runs with the ball than he does as a passer.  Even with the two stop-the-penalty time outs yesterday, he is getting better at getting plays off on time. Golson was a roller coaster player in September.  Will he get off it and stay off it in October?   Either way,  it sure is nice to have Rees around.

DBS – the safeties have pressure next Saturday with Ertz and Toilolo. Miami’s challenge was speed, Stanford’s  is height-and experience-and hands.  While the CBS get better (Russell is starting to enjoy being a good tackler)  there is danger ahead with Oklahoma and Southern Cal. This unit’s day of reckoning is October 27th. Then in the Coliseum they will face Lee, Woods, Algohlor and the SC tight ends.

Stay Home!

space vacant!

We will rate the Offense and Defense as complete units after the Stanford game, the midpoint of the regular schedule. Clearly our defense is better than our offense, but let’s quantify that after we play the Cardinal. The offense has yet to establish its pattern.  One thing about the algorithm of unit rating.  Sometimes its simple algebra, plus, minus, sometimes its geometric (positive and negative multipliers). Stay tuned.

But here are the defense’s rankings after five weeks

Scoring Defense -2d (Tide is first)
Rushing Defense -17th (That’s with Leveon, Denard and Navy behind us)
Total Defense -17th
Turnover Margin -7th

The Defense, in three of five games, carried the offense.  Which is the real Notre Dame offense, September’s or yesterday’s.  If the offense can keep progressing……

On special teams, you need to first ask if the staff is using them as a “sword” or a “shield.”  This staff seems to be using the latter.  They leave Neal on an island to guard against the fake punt.  Atkinson-Our defense is crippling him.  We just don’t give up enough scores for him to get touches returning kickoffs!

Phil Steele has an aggregated numeric ranking for special teams.  He currently, before Saturday’s games had the Irish rated #33 out of 120 teams. Roughly upper quarter.  Let’ accept that for now.  But remember that one or two big returns from Neal or Atkinson could shoot that upward. Let’s call it Bowl level, for now.

Notre Dame coaches by the numbers

Let’s compare this regime to the four previous after 31 games.  We’ll do it in the mode of baseball standings.

Games Behind
Holtz 21-10
Kelly 21-10
Davie 19-12 2
Ty 19-12 2
Weis 19-12 2

We’ll update this monthly.  As the numbers will show, year three separates the good from the not so good.

Notre Dame and its opponents

(1) Southern Cal – Lane Kiffin? There’s less to him than meets the eye.  D will be tested by Arizona, ASU, Oregon and UCLA. So far, Barkley, Woods and the D are underperforming. However, did Barkley hit his stride against Utah?  But be careful, last year it was in the second half of the season that the Trojans made their bones.  Good BCS shot even if they lose first game with Oregon.

(2) Oklahoma – big day Saturday-corndogs, Big Tex and the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl at the Fairgrounds.

(3) Stanford – stout defense first four games, sieve yesterday. Still a tough foe.  Have been in BCS games last two years.

(4) Notre Dame – only unbeaten team on this list. Unbeaten.  Loss-less. Would move up with a win against Stanford

(5) Michigan – more explosive than Michigan State.  Two years from greatness. Unbeaten in conference, great shot at BCS bowl (Ohio State ineligible)

(6) Michigan State – Andrew Maxwell is getting better.  If Stanford is not the best defensive team we play, then it’s the Spartans.

(7) Miami – unbeaten in their conference, great shot at winning the ACC coastal, putting them in the championship game for a BCS bid.

(8) BYU – good field, no hit.

(9) Purdue – Hope’s best team and they play with the appropriate level of abandon.  Signature win-Marshall?

(10) Pitt – has Chryst settled in?  Have a big win over VA Tech

(11) BC – Spaz, why you squirming, is it the hot seat you’re now on?  Rettig is no gimmee.

(12) Wake – alas, poor Grobe, Hard to believe, but they played for the ACC championship in ’06.  Signature win over North Carolina

(13) Navy – alas, poor Middies, but they do approach the soft part of their schedule now.  What will we see this Saturday?

A flashback or two.

In 1990 the Irish were unbeaten when Denny Green brought in a 1-3 Stanford team.  the Irish lost 36-31.

In 1992 the Irish were unbeaten when Bill Walsh brought in a 3-1 Stanford team.  The Irish lost 33-16. Remember Walsh had been a color man for NBC in the early years of the contract and he had gone to school on Holtz.

These were both gut-wrenching losses. Really painful, emotional seppuku. Ignore Stanford at your peril.  Hopefully, the team will not.

(1) Can the offensive line protect Golson from a ferocious front seven?  These guys can get to the QB, even more than last year.

(2) Can the offense and Golson build on the apparent improvement they showed against Miami?

(3) Can our speed lead to 5 big plays of 20 yards or more?

(4) Can our safeties and Fox hold up against Ertz and Toilolo?

(5) In 2010, Stanford handled us physically.  Has the Longo-led change and effort taken hold so we can reverse the verdict and win, not just stand off, the physical battle?

(6) Can the D meet the Stepfan Taylor litmus test? Fewer than 20 carries, less than 100 yards rushing.

This is a BIG game.  Not a “MUST” game.  That was Michigan. But a 6-0 Notre Dame team “in the hunt” is much different from a 5-1 team that’s “improved,” and grouped with a bunch of other one-loss teams.

Mid-October in South Bend.  Foliage.  When you walk the campus your shoes sift noisily through Autumn’s first fallen leaves.

Remember the words of John Scully from “Here come the Irish”:

Well I remember the leaves a fallin’
And far off music like pipes a callin’
And I remember the golden morning
I saw the long ranks as they were forming
And there’s a magic in the sound of her name
Here come the Irish of Notre Dame

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  1. Michael the Archangel-you’re right about the “sandwich” or “trap”
    game on the 20th. It’s almost a textbook definition. I am further
    concerned that it’s at home. Since September 15th, the Irish have been
    in South Bend and the friendly confines in Chicago… I fret about the backslapping effect, and having too many eager underclassmen wishing
    them good luck in Norman a week early.

  2. Stanford will be a monstrous test for both Golson and the pass “D”.

    I’d prefer if they choose to run at us than pass to their TEs.

    We have to pressure their QB. All Stanford do all this week is practice picking apart the 8 man zone “D”.

    Might be the best “team” (Barkley and the receivers are awesome, but Stanford might be the best all-around of any team) on the schedule.

    Byu between Stanford and OK can’t be overlooked either- a real trap game.

    If Golson continues to improve, and the young DBs do also, ND will be able to compete with anyone they play on any day. GO IRISH!

  3. Dick Butkus, for you, I can think of no greater honor than that
    the dog in Rocky (the original) was named Butkus.

    Also, in the days of driving from Chicago into South Bend, the view of
    Chicago Vocational on the south side of the Skyway always brought a commemorative smile, first for you and later for our own Chris Zorich.

    as for mzipprich, congratulations. The Digest is about football, not habardashery, so you win the award for majoring in minors. And don’t curse on my thread, son. As for your threat to send “hate mail” to Swarbrick, well, his shredder is faster and more powerful than your pen.

  4. Hated the uniforms, if they ever disgrace the Golden Dome homage in the helmets again, Jack will receive plenty of hate mail from myself. Liked the green shamrock last year, but none of this 2/3rds shit again. EVER.

  5. I watched Stanford / Washington. The “trees” are just that, enormous! Example 1: Stanford’s collective D line overall size, weight & speed matches the San Francisco 49ers.
    Example 2: The “Sequoia sempervirens” O line generally and especially their gifted tight end is 6’8″ 250 and is equivilent in gameplay to Mr. Eifert.
    I foresee the Cardinal testing Notre Dame in the air however their “MO” is to pound their running attack at opponents D wall much as UF did LSU Saterday in the 2nd half. Stanford is the largest squad physically in The PAC 12.

    ND earns an – A Saterday night. Shamrock Series Uniforms were the finest in history.

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