Duranko’s Digest – What Did We See Against Michigan?

31-0. You seek eloquence? This is eloquence: 31-0. Analysis? Analyze this: 31-0. You desire numbers? Try ZERO. Notre Dame ZEROED in on Michigan , won 31-ZERO, has ZERO losses, committed ZERO turnovers and has ZERO turnovers for the season. Au Revoir, Bleu! And don’t call us, we’ll call you. But don’t wait by the phone….

The Irish were amped up, requiring Kelly to administer two sedative doses of timeouts to Golson and the Irish in the first three minutes of the game. Then the Irish proceeded to expose the massive pre-game lie of the sports media:, the equivalence, the “Match-Up” of Elegant Everett Golson and Devin “The Non-Road-Warrior”

Gardner. Read my lips: Gardner and Golson are not synonyms, they are antonyms. While Golson was craftsmanlike in leading the Irish to a comfy 14-0 lead, he orchestrated an Eroica of a two minute drill (compressing it to 50 seconds), with the crescendo Fuller’s TD catch for a daunting 21-0 lead at halftime.

Michigan was amped up also, and the Irish absorbed the Blue’s early blows with some key plays. These type of plays are vital while the issue is still in doub. Most pleasingly, some of these plays came from other than the usual suspects:

Farley stuck Dennis Norfleet for a two yard loss on 2d and three, the anti penultimate play to the missed field goal. Farley, wondrously, is not the guy who played in 2013.

Koyack blocked beautifully on McDaniel’s touchdown run.


JAMES ONWUALU – sheer brilliance and hustle. With the game 7-0, and still in doubt, Michigan punted and Cody Riggs fumbled the punt at the ND 14. But Onwualu was James on the spot, right there, having Riggs’ back and grabbed that “oblate spheroid covered with pigskin” and even got six yards. As hard as this kid works, his reward was just, and he will always be there with the right play at the right time Funchess? In the first three quarters he had only one big play, when Okwara’s unsuccessful pirouette on a drop led to a big play.

What did we LEARN on Saturday?

Well, 2-0 is better than 1-1. Before you can have an outstanding season, you have to avoid a bad one. To paraphrase George Orwell, all victories are equal, but some are more equal than others. Many good teams decline to beat themselves. Make the opponent defeat you, do not hand it to them. Through two games the Irish have committed NO turnovers and a measly 5 penalties. And the fifth was just a bit of uncivilized disobedience by Mad Max Redfield.

In the first real test of 2014. the Irish erupted early on offense using great skilled players, a dreadnought offensive line (one sack allowed per game), balance, and an Everett Golson who was vastly better than his Michigan knock-off, Gardner.. That was hoped for, expected by some. Before the game, we established a litmus test for the Irish

offense, scoring 6 times and amassing at least 425 yards. However, Kelly did what he always does, calling more conservative plays once he has a big lead and victory is “assured.” So when the Irish moved to a 28-0 lead, it was time for slowing tempo, running the ball, and getting Zaire some snaps. So the total Irish yardage of only 280 yards is understandable. Someday, when you get the chance, ask Greg Mattison if his defenses have ever given up a more nettlesome 280 yards.

The Irish displayed their remarkable ordnance on offense. Every one of the starting skilled players can make plays, but the depth is unprecedented in this millennium. Bryant takes a blow and Folston, who we often forget was recruited by Gus Malzahn at Auburn, steps in and is equally effective. then McDaniel comes in and keeps pressing forward. Our second string receivers appear to be Robinson, Prosise and Brent, while we still wait for Hunter. If they were the starters we would be in fine shape, but Fuller, Carlisle and Brown are the starters. Koyack, Luatua and Smythe are different players, but each individually contributes something special to the tridentine assault from Tight end.

And how do we know that the offensive line has “arrived?” Because we are already taking them for granted. they operate with a cool efficiency, with a quiet hum (they’re even subbing in Hegarty to give Lombard a few plays off) Sacks not allowed don’t create youtube sensations. Efficient run blocking magnifies the abilities of the running backs, and thus was it ever. There is no greater tribute to an offensive line.

What was mildly surprising was the disruptive effect that the revamped Irish defense had on Doug Nussmeier’s offense. The Wolves attack unit was bewitched, bothered and bewildered, and could establish neither rhythm nor tempo. Nussmeier would have liked to run, but he, this time, did not have two Kouandjios, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack, let alone Eddie Lacy. And Derrick Green, former recruit Justice Hayes, and DeVeon Smith netted only 75 yards in 22 carries.

The rugged Irish front defensive line of Rochell, Jones, Day, Okwara and Trumbetti, aided by subs such as Daniel Cage, a few salads away from being the

next most important sub, and Utupo, were more than a match for Nussmeier’s offensive line. Making the Blue one-dimensional was the key to setting Gardner up to fail, as he always does on the road.

This game meant something. It was a genuine opponent, although not at the level of some we will meet down the line. But it puts the Irish at 2-0 as they embark on a most unusual four week period. Only Purdue and Syracuse and a lot of useful practices stand between the Fighting Irish and the Stanford Cardinal. But remember this: our first true road game is not until October 18th at Doak Campbell. One test of excellence is the ability to beat good teams on the road. The young d has tasted just enough success to see the future, but made plenty enough mistakes to make them listen to Van Gorder, Elliott, Elston and Cooks.


Kyle Brindza – a hidden benefit of his versatility is that it is allowing frosh punter Tyler Newsome to redshirt.  His kickoffs into the end zone create a delicious boredom to our FREQUENT kickoffs.


Amir Carlisle – a tidy 7 for 61- has arrived. Amir can break for the sideline but can go over the middle also.


Elijah Shumate – While we will welcome Captain Collinsworth back, Shumate looked like his potential was being realized. Despite the Chicken Littles in the nincompoopery, all Shumate really needed was some first team practice reps, first rate coaching, accountability and confidence, the yin and yang of what great coaches deliver.


Max Redfield- got his first interception and was all over the field. He will make more interceptions. He reminded us of his youth when his pop on Gardner (somewhere, Rodney Peete remembered being hit by Frank Sams in the Coliseum in ’88 on Stan Smagala’s TD int.) erased Shumate’s TD. But it was understandable and was drug-induced. Adrenaline was the drug.

Kolin Hill – Oh my! The kid can move. Pass rushers are often born, not made, and Hill can get to the quarterback, even enjoying his first sack. He’s only just begun…

Daniel Cage – growing before our eyes. Will someday be a great player for the Irish. And he, in a sense is a symbol of where the program is. He will not start until his Junior year. Daniel Cage. That is a place we have not been since the early 90’s.

Tyler Luatua – it was only one play, but he destroys tacklers. He will be important as our schedule toughens. He will be useful on short yardage and at the goal line.


Phil Steele aficionados appreciate his “Yards per Point” measures of offensive and defensive effectiveness. FSU’s remarkable 2013 numbers were 10.1 OFF YPP, and 23.2 DEF YPP.

So far, after two games (statisticians will note this as too small a sample) the Irish numbers are 10.8 OFF YPP and 38.6 DEF YPP. The Irish are playing highly efficient football.


For the next four weeks, that is. Our schedule is tough but quirky. Only Syracuse and Purdue stand between the Fighting Irish and Stanford on October 4th.

Now, Kelly and Van Gorder will utter coach-speak, but their mamas were not fool-raisers. So while they will talk of Purdue (seriously, it is feasible that our second string, with a full week of first team reps and coaching would beat Purdue, that is how far the Boilers have fallen) and Syracuse. Yet, there will be elements in their thinking and coaching that will regard this four week period as a special traunch of coaching time. It is longer than Spring practice (and has all the frosh) involves more drill, contact and scrimmage flexibility than the June coaching sessions,and is as long as the August camp, but different because seven of the frosh have now played. Kelly indicated that Bonner, Williams and Hayes would play, but they have not yet. But the other seven on defense have tasted, drawn, and shed, first blood.

It is likely that the following players will be significantly better when they take the field against Stanford

  • Andrew Trumbetti
  • Daniel Cage
  • Drue Tranquill
  • Nyles Morgan
  • Grant Blankenship
  • Nick Watkins
  • Kolin Hill

These other three, assuming they play against Purdue. If not, they will redshirt:

  • Jay Hayes
  • Jonathan Bonner
  • Jhonny Williams

We will need to play better defensively for the October gauntlet, but schedules, which can be arbitrary, occasionally bestow a gift. It is perilous to extrapolate from two games’ data. But we will not have a BAD defense. Now we need to ask: How GOOD can our defense be?

When the Irish take the field on October 4th again st Stanford, the ten players listed above, and Riggs, should be SIGNIFICANTLY better than they were against Michigan. Because of the timing and early experience they get it should, even for Riggs, be the most significant four week competence uptick in their Notre Dame careers. Further, Collinsworth should be back by Syracuse, and if Grace will EVER play again, he will play against Stanford. Right now we’re about 6.5 players deep at DL. We give Cage and Utopu about a ,75 each. That number will probably be north of 8 when we play Stanford. Great defensive teams have ten dl ready to go. But our defense on October 4th will be more capable than the one that played against Michigan.


(1) A PAINFUL REMINDER, When Gerry Faust more or less “led” the ’84 Irish to open the RCA Dome, the Boilers upset the Irish 23-21, as frosh Tim Brown had a costly fumble.

(2) The end of an era. After two successive games against Big Ten teams, the Irish turn their gaze to the ACC and we play three ACC opponents (Syracuse, North Carolina and FSU) before we play Northwestern. But our center of football gravity shifts from Chicago to Charlotte. As far as we can see into the future , the Irish will always play many more ACC opponents than any other conference, and there are years when we will play as many Pac XII Teams as Big Ten Team. Our defining moments, our football peers, our self-image, our total football consciousness will now change. We bid adieu to the Big Ten as they welcome Maryland and Rutgers. This change will require adjustments, it always does. It will really hit home next Fall when road trips to Charlottesville, VA and Clemson, SC are two of our first five games.

(3) “When a good manager meets a bad business, the bad business always wins” Warren Buffett. Purdue is a bad football situation. Draw a circle of 150 mile radius around West Lafayette and see how many four stars you find. The Chicago Public and Catholic Leages and “Da Region” are archives, not fertile fields. Darrell Hazell, a Tressel protege, had a nice two year run at Kent State, but he might want to ponder Buffet’s admonition. If your name is Sheldon Day or Drue Tranquill or Josh Barajas, Notre Dame will come calling. From ’67-’69, Mike Phipps and Purdue beat Ara’s Irish three straight times. but that ship has long since sailed…

(4) Danny Etling is a nice young quarterback arguably in the top half of the Big Ten . He works with no skilled players

(5) A great chance to test the passing skills of Malik Zaire.

(6) a chance for the young defenders to get a lot of snaps, deliciously “increasing the ambit of ignorance” as they head into the off week.

(6) an expected letdown. The Irish were sky high and dialed in against Michigan. The same focus will not be there, and the Irish should succeed, but perhaps without the crispness.

(7) you can see the off-week from here. Just win, even if with occasional ugliness, and there will be a week to gather, coach and improve to get ready for Syracuse as the tune-up for the October gauntlet.



Go Irish!

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  1. Love your depth of thinking (and your touch with the words.)

    Still think you drove high school English teachers batty!

    Moved from Chicago area to Charlotte 35 years ago. Glad to see your comments about the territorial shift. Actually ND football got a lot better when focusing on Charlotte-area athletes. Prince. Farley looks so much better. Romeo Okwara and Mark Harrell will help down the road.


  2. It was youthful exuberance and enthusiasm. He’s no Doug Plank.

    Max is sharp, he won’t do it again. The way Mad Max and Shumate have responded since Collinsworth went out is commendable.

  3. When Max Redfield laid out Gardner, I was visualizing that pompous ass, Dan Dierdorf, crying in his beer.

    That win was sweet!

    Great article Duranko…thanks!


    1. Good point. I was not at all disappointed at Max. It was a penalty, sure. But I will take the aggressiveness ALL DAY LONG. You could see his (Max’s) confidence growing as the game clock ticked on.

  4. The best antidote for potential “letdown” at Purdue is the sheer number of freshman begging to get on the field, screaming for reps, and dying to show that they, too, can deliver. This is, indeed, a beautiful youth movement. I am still basking in the afterglow of Saturday night.

  5. “don’t call us, we’ll call you. But don’t wait by the phone….”

    That’s a pretty Good one.

    But I personally prefer … “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass… or what’s left of your ass… on the way out!

    And while the Michigan faithful most certainly had their moment with the playing of “The Chicken dance” at the end of last year’s game, I believe the ND Nation had so much more of a euphoric and impressive final few moments with their finishing off the Dazed and Blue in such Dramatic Style.

    Only Michigan and Brady Hoke would leave their starting QB in a game (in only the second game of the season) that had been a long, tough, painful night, that was quickly winding down, and where the outcome had long since been decided.

    Call it day Brady.

    Give your starters, your 5th year QB, your student athletes a break.
    Put in your back ups, run out the clock, eat your humble pie, acknowledge the better team, and move on.

    Do that and your team doesn’t have to suffer that final pick-6 play, your starting QB doesn’t suffer that final slobber knocker of a hit, and half your team isn’t trotted back out onto the field like sacrificial lambs only to suffer the Notre Dame curtain call where a mercifully “knee” is provided to the overwhelming approval of 80 thousand cheering fans!

    Live and learn.

    Class dismissed.

    1. Perfect. Down by 28 in the 4th and your 2 best players, one hurt and one staggering, are still playing…it really showed the desperation of BH. His time is short.

  6. duranko

    a great post- I feel your optimism and, more importantly, I see its logic.

    Anxious to see if this is another “road warrior” team. As we get more notoriety,
    the Purdues, the Syracuses, Navy and Northwestern will have “nothing to lose”
    and our schedule offers many chances of letdown, (beware NC and Louisville) which are part of any season
    with such a challenging number of opponents. Just find a way to win, and we have
    in place those ingredients to maintain what we have shown so far.

    The key is our depth, and a coaching staff determined and energized to bring ND back into the discussion
    as to why we’re among the ‘elite” with such elites among us as Everett, Sheldon, and Jaylon and others.

    It’s early- but it’s good to be closer than we’ve been for quite some time.
    My heart soars like a hawk with anticipation. The lights will be shining more brightly,
    but I don’t see this group shunning its glow.
    The future is luminiscent, and the present is a treasured gift already in place.
    As this ND team grows, more will see and more will know!

    Onward ever- loyal sons of Notre Dame.

    1. Archangel, sometimes the Irish perform counterintuitively on the road.

      By October, we will have played outside of Indiana just once, in the Meadowlands against Syracuse.

      That means the team will be in the student body, getting slapped on the back, all the stuff that can let overconfidence seep in. I think it’s particularly insidious at Notre Dame.

      Then you get on the plane to Tallahasee, and it’s just the team They bond, reinforce “Count on Me”
      and come together apart from the student body. It can be a unifying moment. Go back to 2012, and this will punctuate the counterintuitive part.
      We struggled AT HOME against Purdue, BYU and Pitt but on the road we were stellar, outstanding against Oklahoma and USC.

      Just sayin…….

      and have fun watching the development of depth, especially on the defense.

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