Irish Blogger Gathering ’13: Let the Kids Play Edition

Brian Kelly - Notre Dame HC
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish Blogger gathering returns this week with Subway Domer kindly answering my questions this week.  SD provides some great insights into why the Irish defense is struggling and why Brian Kelly might not be ready to lean on some star freshmen.

Be sure to check out all of the other Irish Blogger Gathering Posts this week as well:

1. Last year Notre Dame gave up 39 points in its first five games of the season combined. Saturday night they gave up 41 points to Michigan in four quarters. Is the Notre Dame defense missing Manti Te’o that much or are there other reasons for the huge drop-off from the defense?

Subway Domer: It’s both an easy, and a complicated answer. Yes, of course Notre Dame misses Manti Te’o on defense. The guy was the runner up to the Heisman trophy and had one of the greatest seasons as a defensive player that we have ever seen in the history of Notre Dame football. You just don’t replace that kind of productivity without seeing some type of drop off.

However, there is another player that Notre Dame lost from 2012 that is equally the reason; Kapron Lweis-Moore. Kap was one of those players that was the glue of the defense and kept the unit running on an emotional and physical peak. The duo of Lewis-Moore and Te’o, were the cornerstone’s of the defense and it only makes sense that we are seeing some issues now.

My two cents: I agree with SD here that the defense is really missing Manti although the play of the secondary is alarming to me right now because it appears to have taken a step back.  Bennett Jackson had an almost Gary Gray-esque performance in the Big House last weekend and Temple moved the ball through the air as well.  if the secondary can get back on track the defense should improve substantially.  

2. If the old saying of if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks held true at running back, what does that mean for Notre Dame since the Irish don’t have that go to back at this time? Who should get the bulk of the carries this week and who is Notre Dame’s #1 running back when the Irish travel to Palo Alto?

In this day and age of running back rotation’s, that mantra isn’t necessarily true. However, the best use of multiple running backs is when you have 2 “front-runners” sharing the load, or when you have your main guy, and then the guy that comes in as a change of pace for a couple of carries or even a series.

Notre Dame is doing none of that right now. Although I will admit that Amir Carlilse looked very good for the Irish, I must also say that Carlilse, Atkinson, and McDaniel are not “front-running” backs. They are all guys that come in for the guy. There are all good and capable running backs, but should be used as that change of pace running back.

Ironically, I feel that the two freshmen, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, are front-running backs. This is the time when we see Kelly’s massive amount of coaching experience where he hasn’t had five star talent, rise to the surface. I believe there is a large amount of trust that Kelly doesn’t have with freshmen, and, in cases like this, he is reluctant to lean on that talent unless absolutely necessary. Maybe I’m wrong, but that is what it feels like to me.

Answering the question of “who” for the rest of the season is probably pointless. I’m betting that things will remain the same for the next month, and then we will have to reevaluate it once more.

My two cents: Really found SD’s insight on Kelly not being used to having 5-star talent and thus still being reluctant to lean on freshman talent unless absolutely necessary (ie Jaylon Smith this year and Keivarae Russell last year).  Unfortunately I think SD is also right that we won’t see much of a change in the rotation at running back for a few more weeks at least too.  Hopefully we are both wrong and we see a healthy dose of Folston and Bryant this weekend.  

3. It is still really early in the season but… have your expectations for the year changed following a sub-par start to the season from Notre Dame and who are the players that have surprised you the most both in a positive (exceeding expectations) and negative (disappointing) way?

I was never planning on another undefeated season and thought 10-2 was the most likely scenario. I still feel that this team can have that type of season, but it certainly looks a little trickier now, because there are still so many questions after 2 games.


Good: Offensively I am overjoyed at the quality play that we have seen from Daniels, Jones, and Niklas. All 3 have played strong, andNiklas in particular has statistically had the type of start that sees no drop off after losing one of the all-time greats in Tyler Eifert. Defensively, I am surprised at the quality of play that we have got from Ishaq Williams. The potential was always there, but to see it come together as well as it has is surprising. Ishaq’s stats aren’t mind-blowing, but he has been an important part of the defense.

Bad? I won’t call out a player here, but I do think that the offensive gameplan’s have been a little suspect- which leaves the players vulnerable for criticism. I can’t put my finger on the exact reason, but something just feels out of place and mostly that has to do with the running game and how it’s used. Defensively, I thought we would see a lot better leadership from not only a captain in Bennett Jackson, but also from Calabrese, Fox, and Farley. None of them have shown that they are capable to help lead the defense when it’s gut check time.

My two cents:  Again, I agree with SD here on the play of Daniels, Jones, and Niklas.  All three have been great so far this year and Jones is going t play his way into the second round of the draft pretty soon.  SD is spot on again with the offensive gameplan lacking this year too. After leaning on the running game last year, it looks like we are back to Air Kelly this year even though Rees isn’t going to torch a great defense on his own.  Also very excited to see Ishaq starting to play up to his potential. 

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  1. It was insane to give up on the running game when only losing by 10. They
    were averaging 5+ yards a carry.That would have kept that terrible defense off the field.

  2. I am a huge proponent of utilizing Andrew Hendrix. I think he should have played some during the UM game. But, that’s only IF we utilized a running game for the entire first 3 quarters, which we did not. For the record, I think ND will blow the doors off of Purdue. I’m not sure I agree that we “struggled” that much with Temple- 1- first game bugs to work out / rust shake off 2- The only reason Temple had a touchdown was because of a HORRIBLE pass inteference call on ND that never happened (as bad as the PI call in the UM game) 3- Daniels would have had a 3rd TD had he not pulled up because of a groin pull. That score could have easily been 35-3, which is a blowout.

    I think Rees will have a huge stats day on Saturday night and Kelly will utilize our depth at RB. Do I think he’ll play Hendrix some? Nope. Not unless TH throws/fumbles more than 2 times.

    I’ve already factored in at least 1 Rees interception, but it won’t be enough to really hurt us.

    If we struggle or lose to Purdue, than ND’s problems really are systemic and run DEEP into the coaches offices. I think Kelly’s problems are not “football-related” per se but personality flaws. We’ve all talked ad nauseum about the almost unbelievable/indefensible decisions in the UM game. Running game getting you 5.3 yds per carry? Abandon it even though you have 2 full quarters of play. Get a big holding penalty on UM to make it 2nd and 18? Decline it. (Has this ever been done in the history of football?) He is stubborn as hell and his hubris costs us at times. I still believe in him but he can really throw some WTFs? at us fans.

    Kelly reminds me of an otherwise smart and experienced general who has managed many a battlespace, but then suddenly INSISTS that his troops occupy and fight from the low ground, even though the high ground can easily be had.

  3. In an effort to assist with personal opinion on our QB’s…

    Tommy Rees current QB ranking is 152.6
    That places him 44th out of 123 division I QB’s.
    He has thus far completed 45 passes out of 74 attemps for 660 yards with 5 TD’s and 2 INT’s. (2 SAC’s)

    For comarision, some other noteable QB’s that currenty rank BEHIND Tommy Rees are:

    Connor Shaw – So Carolina
    Kevin Hogan – Stanford
    Tajh Boyd – Clemson
    Marcus Mariota – Oregon
    Logan Thomas – Virginia Tech
    Jeff Driskel – Florida
    Trevor Knight – Oklahoma
    Jordan Lynch – NIU
    A.J. McCarron – Alabama (Currently sits at 110th)

    One noteable QB that currently ranks ahead of Rees:

    Devin Gardner – Michigan (31st out of 123)
    Thus far he is: 31 out of 48 for 456 yards. (Completion % = 64.6%) with 5 TD’s and 3 INT’s, (1 SAC)

    Hope this helps.

    1. Shaz,

      I understand your thinking, even BK brought up Tommy’s record as QB in both 8-5 seasons as well as last year’s help. But as you already know, individual numbers don’t guarantee winning in a team sport. I’ve hit enough fast pitch softball homers to know there is certainly no joy in personal stats when you lose as a team.

      Who is the last guy to crush all ND records and where is he in the NFL food chain? Where’s wonder boy Clausen? He just got cut.

      You know and I know you can have terrific numbers as a QB and still lose the games. TR definately has a great QB record and effiecency numbers. However, the constant game killer among all QB’s is turnovers.

      Everyone can live with lousy numbers as long as we win. Golson’s numbers were just OK. I hope TR comes out and blasts Purdue with 50 points. Yet, if he turns over the ball to negate the great numbers and we lose? I think this debate will continue.

      1. Jeff,

        I am retired from softball and I miss it greatly (torched my throwing arm @ 38). Not going to tell you how old I am now. Hahaha!

      2. JC, Its all good. sounds like we have something in common. Destyroyed my rotator cuff in 03 and havent played since. Fastpitch has kinda died in Calif but im sure its still going strong in the midwest.

      3. Kudos jeff,

        Same rotator cuff problem and yes, fastpitch still strong in mid-west and mid-south. I even tried to DH. At that point, the damage was done. I could not even get past the pain of working out on the jugs pitching machine. Add to that being called “old man” by the young guys, you know your done when your done.

  4. A loss to Purdue this week would rank right up there with those losses to Uconn, Cuse, and Navy. Oh, and Tulsa… I almost forgot. I can’t truly imagine losing on Saturday, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we struggle.

  5. Well, if Kelly is going to live up to his new gold standard as stated: “if your throwing interceptions you won’t be playing.” That translates to: AH will be starting for Purdue with Zaire behind him. That is if his words ring true. But don’t hold your breath!

    So after Purdue, we definitely will know what kind of season we are going to have on the horizon. Not to mention, if the play calling has already come full circle back in BK’s hands. Hmmmm….seems more than a rough start.

    1. Won’t know what we have until, at the earliest, the bye week between Az.St. (3rd road game over a four week period) and $C. Will this team be “road warriors” like last year’s edition? 0-1 thus far on the road. Purdue is down, but MSU ( which will be the best “D” we play until Ok.) could be a serious test for our offense, while Az.St. should be a good measuring stick as to how far our “D” has come. We do need Jackson, Fox and Tuitt to step up as leaders on “D”, and try sending in an occasional Hendrix (or Zaire) into the rotation at QB to offer a run threat and some variety and 21st century options to a predictable outdated pocket passing attack.

      1. Loosing to Michigan is certainly alarming and without question a tumultuous start to the season, considering we actually struggled against Temple.

  6. Was there any confirmation of whether Kelly “took back” the play calling duties on Saturday when we dropped behind in the first qtr?? If so then so much for giving up that task so he could focus more in “game” on some of the other challenges that arise. Also his Press Conf re Purdue game sounded very much like in the 8-5 seasons with lots of “Kelly speak” re why we lost Michigan game. I noted how he became “testy” when reporters kept grilling him on how come we lost a game that we could have won and instead he wanted to get onto Purdue which an Oregon, Baylor, Texas A&M, Alabama would run up 60 pts on but I am guessing it will be more like 31-10 with Turnover being left in for the entire game to establish his RHYTHM with this new offense rather then putting AH on the field so we could be in a position to run up 60 and see what the Irish are capable of when you have a kid who can RUN and THROW at QB position. This Purdue team in not the 2012 version who at least had some talent on both sides of the ball.

  7. “Ironically, I feel that the two freshmen, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, are front-running backs. This is the time when we see Kelly’s massive amount of coaching experience where he hasn’t had five star talent, rise to the surface. I believe there is a large amount of trust that Kelly doesn’t have with freshmen, and, in cases like this, he is reluctant to lean on that talent unless absolutely necessary. Maybe I’m wrong, but that is what it feels like to me.”
    Folston looks like a AA back to me. “Play them” is all I’m going to say about it.

    I concur with your opinion entirely & would like to add that were I head coach Brian Kelly I’d have seriously considered inserting Andrew Hendrix into the Michigan game. AH is a franchise NFL QB in appearance (height & weight). I feel that improvement was evident in his leadership & passing skills in the Temple game. My conclusion is this is CFB which is in a perfect world is a learning experience for these young athletes. (we hope)

    1. I agree with putting AH into the game. We should have made a counter and let him roll with it. AH could have loosened the Mich D up to help free everything up. Even if we blow out Purdue this week, we can’t learn much about the team. I agree with the Bryant and Folston playing time comments too. We’ve got to blow out Purdue to get those guys in the game so BK feels better about playing them. To me, Cam McDaniel should be our #1 back while we groom GB. Blocks, catches and runs really well. On D. PLayers have to be coached up better, every play fake Gardner used, it seemed the receivers were wide open. Lastly, I was really disappointed with B Jackson in the Bama game, and I also saw the same last week. Cept for that awesome pick that got called back. We def got outplayed last week, but we still could have won, which is promising. Go Irish!

  8. “My two cents: I agree with SD here that the defense is really missing Manti although the play of the secondary is alarming to me right now because it appears to have taken a step back. Bennett Jackson had an almost Gary Gray-esque performance in the Big House last weekend and Temple moved the ball through the air as well. if the secondary can get back on track the defense should improve substantially.”

    It is an issue which must take a “top priority” status coming into games with the Sun Devils, the Sooners, BYU & USC.

  9. The question marks are abounding with this Irish team and unless they are answered quickly there will be a lot more than 3 losses. the defense has, so far, been disappointing, to say the least. Giving up 41 just cannot continue to happen. I agree the loss of Teo, Kap, and Everett has caused most of the problems. They offense has been barely ok. Losing a QB like Golson has seemingly slowed down the offense. His ability to scramble and make good yardage can not be discounted. You lose that with Rees, his ability to run is pretty much non-existent. They better get the problems straightened out very soon or they could be looking at 7-5 or worse by seasons end.

  10. Well, I’d agree with the RB of three really means you have no RB at all. None can find a rhythm, ever. Included with that the OLine doesn’t get a feel for who is the ball carrier either and that may play into opening up holes to run through (conjecture I know). Looking at this you’d have to say any reason Kelly might have in not pushing the two freshmen out there might end up being Rees is the QB who needs that security blanket of RB’s knowing the system better. When a RB misses a blocking assignment Tommy has no ability/mobility to recover, hence you won’t see the freshmen in until the game is out of hand or in hand.

      1. The more players you play the harder it is to defend because each player plays with a different style. That also gives the opposing team more to prepare for.

      2. You must go with the player who is doing the best until he is stopped. If a player is playing well, don’t use him but continue to use many players as possible.

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