Duranko’s Digest: What Did We See in Ann Arbor?

Notre Dame - Michigan
Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (21) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

We saw a frustrating end to a 13 game regular season winning streak, as the Irish fell 41-30. During that streak we had grown comfortable relying on a defense which was always stout and had yielded as much as 20 points in regulation only to Pitt. Otherwise the defense shouldered the burden and asked only enough of the offense to win.

That confidence and reliance ended along with the win streak. Notre Dame never led in the game.

The Irish defense yielded 41 points, 460 yards, seven scores and an excruciating fourth quarter drive.

In the next four weeks, we will learn:

  • (1) Was this a fluke?
  • (2) How much weaker is the 2013 defense is than the 2012 defense?
  • (3) How much will be asked of the offense?
  • (4) Can the offense, in 2013 return the favor the D granted in 2012a and rescue the defense to ensure victory?

With 9 minutes gone, the Irish combined a trio of mistakes on one horrific play:

  • (1) Assignments were garbled as two defenders fled to a non-threatening tight end, while the best receiver was allowed to run free, unimpeded, in the secondary.
  • (2) Bennett Jackson, captain and senior,. missed a tackle.
  • (3) In a scene that would have been comedic had it not happened to our Irish, four defenders channeled the Three Stooges and crashed into each other then into a forlorn heap, allowing the receiver to run unimpeded into the end zone for a 10-0 Irish deficit.

The offense had some moments but could not fully capitalize on the advantage the Irish had on the offensive line and on precious red zone opportunities. But the offense is closer to fruition, a conclusion for which we will provide some evidence below.

Defeat stings, but in both 2011 and 2012 the Irish improved mightily after the first two weeks.

The coaches know what must be done. If the Irish can match the improvement rate of 2011 and 2012 for the rest of the schedule, we will not feel as nauseous as we do today.

There is one other difference from 2012. In practice, the defense is not working against a quarterback with outstanding mobility, as they did against Golson. Thus on Saturday, the opposing QB seems strangely fast. The next three weeks provide an opportunity to improve.

When we face ASU’s Todd Kelly in Arlington, we will face a quarterback more experienced, more accurate and more ominous than Connor Reilly or Devin Gardner.

We will rate the units by the BCS Bowl level, New Year’s Day Bowl level, Bowl level grading system after next Saturday. 2 games is not enough.

But here are some preliminary notes:

Defensive Line – probably the best front three in America. Nix and Tuitt are first rounders unless they play or act their way out of it.

Sheldon Day is a rising star. The concern: the non-arrival of Vanderdoes, the injury to Hounshell in Spring and the Fall injury to Springman put a lot of pressure on Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell to bring their level of play up. Rochell and Jones played little in Ann Arbor, but then again, Lynch and Tuitt did not play in 2011. They will be in the crucible for the next few weeks.

Our second string DL, even factoring in the part time work of improving Ishaq Williams as a DE in the 3-4 is not at the level of the top programs.

Linebackers -remarkable experience with Fox, Calabrese and Shembo. They are battle tested.

There is not another combination of personnel, coaching and opportunistic quarterbacking that will test them until we play ASU in the Shamrock Series. Jaylon Smith grows before our eyes and Councell is acceptable as a backup.

Grace is solid when he gets to the ball carrier, yet unvarnished in finding his way there.

The linebackers held up, but for some containment issues, in Ann Arbor. They were competent when blitzing.

Cornerbacks  -Well, Gallon had a record day. They must be able to play man without committing penalties. Elliott and Cooks have work to do.

But depth here can be stronger than last year.

Safeties – Farley tackles better than he covers receivers, and that may be a permanent condition. Shumate must adjust to the different angles and requirements of the position.

Eilar Hardy picked up a number of snaps in Ann Arbors and Redfield will get some time the next few weeks.

Overall on defense, Diaco has them blitzing more and playing man more than a year ago and they are still adjusting.

This can be a strong defense by mid-October, but everyone, coaches and players, must reboot.

Wide Receivers – player development at its best. Neither TJ Jones, nor Davaris Daniels, nor Chris Brown is the player the were last September, in a good, very good way. The kids behind them will begin impacting the rotation in October.

But we are close to being able to put the kind of pressure on secondaries that our DL did on offensive lines last year.

Tight ends – How many tight ends in America are better than Troy Niklas? But Koyack and Welch must contribute.

Quarterback – Is he a mobile quarterback in the modern definition? No.

Is he hyper-accurate? No

Does he have a howitzer arm? No.

But Tommy is wise, experienced, can call the right play, identify the right receiver, and Rees is still more careful with the ball, at least outside of the red zone.

Hendrix is better than before. Our coaches are smart enough and know Tommy well enough that they do not ask him to do what he cannot. That is not trivial.

Offensive Line – a far cry from a year ago. To be honest not yet at the level of that “Thing” Alabama put on the field as an OL last year, but we have started the climb. Sure, Ronnie Stanley got played by Frank Clarke on the first third down of the game, but Harry won’t let that happen again.

Any injury would hurt, but we have the beginnings of functional depth, and our line depth should improve for at least through 2015.

Running backs – Carlisle is a gamer; Atkinson is at a tipping point. If he can not catch the ball coming out of the backfield he will not play, despite his improved running skills. McDaniel is solid. Bryant and Folston are not the first two running backs in college football history or Notre Dame history to be brought along slowly. They will see a lot of action in the next few games. They’ll be ready by October.

This offense is not far away. The rise of Bryant and Folston will help. Rees needs to improve his accuracy with the running backs and on the sidelines and fades.

But this offense will be a force by mid-October.

Way-too-early ranking of our opponents (overall strength, not the difficulty of our game with them)

(1) Stanford – a consistent settled team, as shown by two BCS wins and an OT loss to Gundy’s Cowpokes in between. Huge and tough defensively. More adept at grinding it out than explosiveness on offense, but they generally score enough given their defense.

No fall off with Shaw, SO FAR! Year three (cf. Larry Coker, Bill Stewart) is when it will happen, or not at all.

They are much, much stronger in both trenches than Michigan.

(2) Michigan – It is not assured that Ohio State will be the big Ten champion.

(3) Oklahoma – while they have yet to demonstrate that they can play physically OU has the best set of receivers we’ll face outside of USC, and some speed on defense. Still don’t play defense as they did early in Stoops reign.

(4) Arizona State – you can dislike Todd Graham, but don’t underestimate him, and this is the blend of coach, quarterback and receivers who can probe our underbelly at linebackers and in the secondary. They strike fast and all over the field. Kelly is BY FAR the best quarterback we will face in the first six games.

5) Michigan State – consistent. It is arguable that they are the third best program in the Big X. Wisconsin’s better, you aver? Really? Then how did Michigan State compile a 5-3 record against the Badgers in the last decade? This is a great annual litmus test for Notre Dame.

(6) USC – most NFL players of any roster we’ll face, but coaching matters. Enjoy this. Pat Haden made a GREAT decision on his new basketball coach, and he will make an alum-worthy, Rhodes Scholar-worthy football hire. You heard it here first. The defense still plays hard, but the offense produced 193 yards against Washington State. Really, Lane?

(7) BYU – helped cement (shoe) the legacy of Mack Brown who should retire the “I always do less with more (talent, money, pay) Award” Cougs got 550 on the ground against the Longhorns of Scott Appleton and Tommy Nobis. Hill can run, but he cannot pass.

(8) Pitt-don’t be misled by the margin of loss to FSU. FSU is in the conversation for the best non-SEC BCS team. In the conversation. Pitt should fare well against the bottom third of the ACC.

(9) AFA – typical academy, which benefits because a career in Air is more attractive than one in the Navy or a lifetime career as an infantry grunt.

(10) Temple – Matt Rhule may be a little more like Al Golden than like Steve Addazio.

(11) Navy – our beloved rival, but they are decades and levels away from Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino.

(12) Purdue – The school that broke Leahy’s winning streak and won three in a row over Ara has fallen on hard times. More below.


(1) The effects of demographics on football. The Boilers made their bones recruiting in Chicago’s Public and Catholic Leagues and Da Region.

Those mines have been stripped. Indiana has little quality football, and when it does guys like Zach Martin, Nick Martin, Tyler Eifert, Tony Springmann, Sheldon Day, Gunner Kiel, John Turner and Jaylon Smith head to South Bend. Draw a circle with a radius of 150 miles around West Lafayette and see how may prospects you find.

(2) It’s a let down spot, deny it or not. It’s human nature.

(3) A quarterback, Rob Henry who, at a minimum, is the most experienced of the first three we face.

(4) A coach, Darrell Hazell, who built soundly at Kent State, and he will, if given the chance, improve the Boilers over the next several years.

(5) The importance of the unsung heroes on the offensive line. But this is not the 2012 offensive line. Elmer may get his first significant action, and he will be very important over the next three years.

(6) Zaire, it’s this week or not this year.

(7) Bryant and Folston. Kelly and Martin will want to see what they have.

(8) Time to start another winning streak.

Go Irish!

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  1. guys,

    Kelly did the opposite of lou holtz. He downplayed the importance of the game, motivated the other team and got out coached.

    He thinks ND is exceptional.

    We need to earn our victories…not just walk on the field.

    Let’s buckle the chin straps and kick some @$$!


  2. Great read !

    I see the following problems:
    1. We are passing the ball too much! We have a fine O-line and we been getting yards on the ground. Why does Kelly panic so soon and start Air-Rees. come on Kelly, do you honestly think Rees is going to win a game by throwing 40 times like Peyton Manning ?

    2. Tommy Turnover again. 2 INT this time. What else is new ! I also saw Tommy missed several open receivers, or he threw high.

    3. Disorganized defense. I blame this one on Diaco. What the whole year to prepare for this very important game, we started off playing chicken, soft, and no heart. I have always though Diaco is over-rated. Without Manti, now I want to see what he’s made of this year !

  3. We simply found out that Manti Teo was indeed the 2nd best player in America last year, and yes, leadership does matter. And Tuitt and Nix need to drop 20 lbs. each. Why talk about Rees? He is so far from being the problem.

    1. Indeed, Manti not being there is most noticeable thus far. And we have MSU, OK, $C, Pitt, BYU, and Stanford ahead, all with better defenses than either Temple or Michigan.
      So Unless our D improves dramatically, in the above games mentioned, our offense must score more, beyond all the yards,especially against teams who can score (e.g AZ. St.), and quit leaving numerous scoring opportunities on the field; or we’ll have to strap up for tight games that will go down to a big defensive play or three late in each game, and still without Teo, one of the best LBs and play makers in our fabled history. Without a more productive scoring offense, those key “D” plays late will determine whether we win 6 or 10. We’ll get better, but so will most of our opponents.

  4. Are you serious? Rees wasnt the reason they lost! The defense giving up 41 points and 600 yards is the reason. Michigan was the better team that night period. Gardner drop 10-15 yards back to throw. The blitzes just couldn’t get to him and when they did he just rolled out,sometimes he hung in there and took the hits. He threw the ball even before the receivers broke on the ball. Dude your looking at the replay and seeing receivers in the open as Rees is throwing OF COURSE THEY LOOK OPEN AFTER THE THROWS, DUH. hendrix cannot throw consistently.

    1. How often did Gardiner escape for a key gain, or complete a key a pass under pressure on the run? Today’s elites have a QB who can run and pass. We might, by maximizing what we have. But we’ll not find out. Tommy is a drop back old school QB with great command and understanding of the game. His performance, limp and all, showed guts and poise. Unfortunately, a contemporary QB must throw on the run, escape when blocking breaks down, and run when the D gives you the opening. Even Bart Starr wouldn’t excel in today’s football world. This is 21st century football, and this year’s offense at ND is out-of date.
      Tommy should start at QB and play substantially more than anyone we have. But his physical limitations make it easier to prepare against; Hendrix has never been given a chance, and, barring injury to Tommy, apparently never will. There has to be packages that Hendrix can run more effectively than TR, with his stronger arm and running ability, and could provide a change of pace and more preparation causing opponents’ confusion. Use Hendrix occasionally in the red zone, or when you choose to primarily run the ball, throwing in an occasional QB run. And it’s not like Hendrix can’t pass! But that ain’t gonna happen at ND. Why not? Northwestern uses the strengths of their two QBs effectively; NW can do it, but we can’t?
      When ND plays against stronger D’s than Temple or Michigan, Tommy’s limitations could require a heroic effort from our D to win. I appreciate Tommy Rees. He just is not in the right century to be able to play QB every down against contemporary schemes from elite athletic defenses, and was never overly productive against them, ever. And we have MSU, $C, Pitt, BYU, and Stanford ahead, all with better defenses than either Temple or Michigan.
      The Light will shine again soon on ND football, overcoming the seemingly endless darkness of this night at the Big House. But someday, before my celestial consciousness ceases, for just a few ND games, I dream of watching an ND offense that can match score for score with elite opponents. I’m no Cubs fan, but I hear “wait until next year” deferring that dream, echoing again below from Lucifer’s vile lips, while I “wait again until next year” for one of those offenses. Someday, may it be! O Happy Day!

    2. Hey Rick have a look at the game film. On the pick just b4 half time Rees has one receiver 5 yds in front and one 5 yds behind the guy who intercepted the ball TR stared down the deeper receiver and threw while running to his left which meant not enough zip on the pass and the Michigan back just followed his eyes and moved toward the deeper receiver b4 Rees released the ball result INTERCEPTION. On the goal line pick TJ is in the same photo frame as the target Rees is throwing to at the same time and NO Mich. player is withing 5 yds of Jones while Rees target is surrounded with defenders DUH yourself Quit trying to defend the indefensible. If ND scores a TD on the last drive of first half game is tied despite defensive shortcomings With the pick and subsequent score we go 14 down at half time and BK decides to abandon running game almost totally despite gaining an avg of 6yds per carry in first half. 35pts would have won the game if Turnover does not throw his two picks and instead marches down the field to score 7 each time then the defense would have been seen as “acceptable” holding a very good QB and Big Ten co-favorite to 34 pts and a win. DUH yourself.

      1. Defense wins ball games at every level of football. Asking any offense to score 42 points on any given weekend to hold you in a game is asking too much. Giving up 600 yards and 41 point doesn’t win you many games. If you don’t know that you don’t know football.period

      2. Hey Rick you seem to keep “MISSING” the point. If TR does not turn the ball over and instead marches down the field for 2 scores then they finish with 27pts and we finish with 44 and are probably now in Top 10 rankings rather then 21st. I am sick to death of Kelly and others constantly making excuses for Turnover for last 4 yrs. Bottom line Kelly said he has to TAKE CARE OF THE BALL OR HE IS OUT. Okay he did not do that so Hendrix should start vs Purdue with the first string offense behind him and be given 2 full games to show whether he can get the job done. People keep saying he is not good enough, he doesn’t know the offense, or like you he is not consistent. How do you get consistent when you have never played a full game in 4 yrs with the starting O line and backs and receivers. If Rees goes down with a season ending injury and AH takes over and looks better then Golson then guys like you will be saying Gee imagine if we had this guy in there for last couple of years how good he would be now. It almost makes me wish for a 4 wk hamstring for Rees just to prove the point once and for all Have a good day.

  5. As usual a “great read” Pete. This game is a wake-up call for season 2013. No Golson means no extending the play scenario, TR throws more “dying swan” passes then any QB at a big time program. He missed WIDE OPEN receivers on both his picks and Jones was standing alone in the end zone on his second pick. If Jones does not catch Atkinson’s drop no TD on that drive. Atkinson not the preferred receiver out of the backfield Carlisle. Please get Robison on the field for any fade route throws in end zone or better still SCRAP THIS OPTION. Do not let Kelly call plays. Every time we drop 10 pts behind he goes “panic stations” and takes over play calling which means 4 passes out of every 5 plays even if we are still in first half. We avg over 5 yds per carry and have “supposedly” one of the great off. lines in the country and we run the ball 19 times?????? Rees gets all the kudos re “play calling and reading defenses” but the fact remains he cannot throw a pass beyond 35 yds in a tight spiral, frequently throws behind receivers and over their heads when they are WIDE OPEN. Hendrix will never see the field to show what he might have done unless Rees blows out a knee. Defnese cannot play man coverage like top teams as our def backs lack the 4.2 speed needed so we are always in zones or 7 yds off the LOS and giving up second and 3 situations. When we blitz we still seem unable to finish the tackle and we are still vulnerable to allowing runners to get around the edge rather then staying disciplined and turning them inside. If we do not put up 50 on Purdue then this could be another 3-4 loss season. Oregon scores 70 as do several other programs even vs poor opposition EVERY game. With Rees we are always going to be in a 10-15 play drive scenerio and without D producing turnovers we will continut to struggle to get to 40 much less 60’s. USC, MSU, and Oklahoma not looking as daunting as first thought. ASU and Stanford may be the yardsticks to determine whether we are a BCS possiblity. Would hate to see us do a Texas vs BYU ground game and lose that one for an 8-4 season. I have been saying for 3 yrs we need to give Hendrix a couple of full games to see what he brings to the table. If Kelly follows his usual Mantra Rees will stay in for all but last 10 minutes vs Purdue as we put up 35 pts and Kelly will say he needed to get TR more reps to establish the teams “RHYTHM” or some such blather. Hey BK why not get up 21 and put Hendrix out there for rest of the game and see if we have an ALTERNATIVE to turnover before we blow another year with TR. Biggest downside of this year is the lost experience Golson would have gotten behind this top OFF Line. Next year if he is back the studs of the O-line will be gone and it will be a run for your life job again. Just my opinion Pete. Thanks for your thoughts. Cheers

    1. Dtrain 65, good post.

      ASU and Stanford may be our biggest challenges. MSU and USC have immobile quarterbacks
      and try to muscle you with the run, which is the best possible matchup for our 2013 defense.

      I will dispute one of your conclusions, about the 2014 offensive lines. Steve Elmer has already caught the eye of Kelly and Hiestand. He will, most likely, get more minutes this year than Stanley did in 2012, and will probably be anointed as a starter at the start of Spring Practice. Then we just need to find a guard out of fourth year (in 2014) players Hanratty, Hegarty or Harrell, or one of the frosh. Stanley and Martin will be more experienced. While Zach and Chris will be missed, my conjecture is that, by mid-October, the 2014 line will be bigger, stronger and better than 2013. Oh, well, at least we have something to debate in the offseason.

      In next week’s post, DTrain, I’ll be rating the units, so I’ll expect your rigorous scrutiny. Don’t leave me hangin’!

    2. Dtrain, good stuff!

      I will register a dissent on one of your points, the 2014 offensive line. (what’s nice is that we’ll have something to debate in the offseason).

      While losing Martin and Watt
      will be significant, I believe that Elmer will be
      outstanding, having already gotten rave reviews from Kelly and Hiestand. He will get more snaps in 2013 than Ronnie Stanley did in 2012, and will probably be anointed as a starter at the beginning of Spring Practice. Then we have to find a guard out of fourth year (in 2014) players
      Hegarty or Hanratty or third year player Harrell or even a Montelus or Bivin or even a frosh (Bars/Nelson). Then, I expect Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin to be much improved in 2014 in their second year as starters, and Lombard to be better. Plus
      the Hiestand effect will get more pronounced each year.

      DTrain, I’m rating the units
      in next Monday’s edition, so I’ll be expecting rigorous
      scrutiny from you, Michael the Archangel, Storespook and others.

  6. We didn’t get away with rolling left not squaring shoulders and still trying to make a play. Same as last year, looked disorganized, poor containment. Yet we were still in the game. Sorry to see us give up on the run so soon. We’ve got the talent, we should have won that game. Next week we will be more deciplined. Go Irish

    Good post Duranko

  7. With all due respect, we stunk it up against Michigan. Our defense gave up 41 points and at times looked like
    A clown show. We also gave up over 40 against Alabama. Time for Diaco to stop reading his press clippings and get to work. This team looks lost and uninspired.

  8. Please do not say that Tommy Rees is accurate with the football. He constantly missed open receivers and on the first interception he had the back wide open on the sideline. It would have been a much easier and safer pass then the one he was trying to make. The loss of Golson is so much bigger than people think.

  9. Was waiting to read your perspective. The only thing I can say is that Michigan seems to be in ND’s head more than any other team on the schedule. They seem to get every bounce, see someone put up a Heisman game and see ND pretty much shit the bed nearly every year. I don’t know what it is, but they certainly have ND’s #.

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