Irish Blogger Gathering – Let’s Get Offensive

Welcome to another edition of The Irish Blogger Gathering. These questions were provided by the Matt at boys over there wanted to take a look at some preseason questions that focused solely on the offensive side of the ball.  Lets jump in…

Tunnel1. First, before officially shifting focus to the what matters most, let’s take a moment to offer a way too early evaluation of Team Kelly’s recruiting efforts. They’ve got verbals from some highly touted prospects (Hegarty, Koyack, Prestwood) and are in the hunt for quite a few more (Aaron Lynch, George Atkinson, Justice Hayes), but it seems like this class lacks the flair and star power of Charlie Weis’s classes. We’re not even in the hunt for a Rivals five-star rated prospect and we’ve already taken as many three-stars as the ’07 and ’08 classes combined. Sure, Kelly can transform two-stars into seven-stars, but the numbers of the last ten years don’t lie–championships are won with teams chock full of four and five star talent. Are you at least a little worried at this point or still in the RKG Honeymoon period?

I would say that I am still in the honeymoon period, but for a specific reason. Im tainted by the past. What did 5 star Jimmy get us? Couple of heartbreaking seasons and no where near a BCS bowl. Now I’m not saying that Jimmy Clausen was the demise of Notre Dame football, Im saying that I am more interested in the entire package. What the coach can do with the players he recruits. At this stage of the game I have to stay in the honeymoon period because thats all we have to cling too. We can only hope that Kelly takes a look at what he needs and I think he has done that. Places of need? Both lines and the secondary. Guys like Hanratty, Hegarty, Farley, Burton, Hardy and Councell to name a few all fill the places of need. In this offseason of not necessarily needing a QB or WR, Kelly can afford to be picky and doesn’t need to land that end-all be-all recruit (Again, this is all I have to hang my hat on, hopes and dreams). If he passes on a QB like Justin Worley this year, does that mean he gets a guy like Gray Crow next year. I think Kelly lands a big name still, wether that is Aaron Lynch, Davaris Daniels, Justice Hayes or any combination of the bunch. If that happens this class got its “bigger” names but it also filled the necessary holes. I would love to see what Kelly can do with some 5 star recruits, but a team that is 16-22 over the past three years needs to prove it on the field first.     

2. The Irish switch from a pro-style offense to the spread this season. We saw it unveiled in the spring game and it is (understandably) a work in progress. That being said the Irish have a veritable bevy of talent, size, and speed at the skill positions. In general, what’s your take on the switch to the spread and how high or low should expectations for the offense be going into the year?

Demetrius JonesMy experience with the spread is what Charlie Weis installed in ’07. We recently learned, from Evan Sharpley, that Weis was trying to install the West Virginia style of spread attack at ND. Demetrius Jones was to be our Pat White. What we saw was a pro-style coach trying to install a relatively complex spread offense to his pro-style team in one offseason. We all know how that turned out. Demetrius Jones gets lit up, transfers to Cincinnati where he does well on defense, only to have ND falter over the next 3 season leading to the firing of Charlie and the hiring (of our savior) Brian Kelly. Thats full circle, I think.

So now we sit here with the same situation. Granted Kelly is an expert at the spread. He is trying to install an offense he knows inside and out, which is different than what Charlie was doing, but he still has pro-style players. He has Dayne Crist who has shown mobility in the past, but we all flash back to last Halloween when the mobile Dayne went down with the knee injury. I think the expectations, should be high, but not overbearing. I want to see some consistency from the offense. Completing passes and running the ball. I expect this team will succeed with the talent it has, but I want to see it consistently against all types of talent. Full throttle against teams like Central Michigan and Army just as much against teams like Utah and USC. The offense will be fine, lets hope they build on their learnings every week and that will meet my expectations.

3. Three-year starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen has loaded his mom, dad, and free-loading brothers into the family stretch Hummer and taken off for the greener pastures of professional football. Dayne Crist is tasked with stepping into the big, 28 TD, 7:1 TD to INT ratio shoes Jimmy leaves behind. How are you feeling about him taking the reins to Kelly’s vaunted spread offense? Do you see there being a significant drop-off with the Great Dayne at the helm or is he going to come out guns a-blazin’ a la Brady Quinn in ’05?

Spring GameDayne Crist is the man but he definitely faces a challenging offseason. Dayne has been studying the pro-style offense learning the ins and outs of coverages and perfecting the fade routes Jimmy was known for. Two years into the system, he has to start over. New schemes, new terminology and its a whole new ballgame. Dayne has the talent to fully excel this year. The spread is about getting the ball to the open man in space. Seems simple enough, but it should be easier switching to this offense than switching from the spread to the pro-style attack. As we saw in the spring game Dayne has the talent to make the laser throws to a man in space and let his talented receivers make the plays. I think we see a drop off from Jimmy, 7:1 TD to INT is ridiculous but if Notre Dame can establish a run game, then the play action pass should free up the secondary for Dayne to make the throws. We shouldn’t expect to see record numbers happening this year in the passing game, but we should see quality play from the quarterback in Kellys spread offense like in the past. Minimize mistakes and Dayne can carry this team. Oh yeah, lets hope the knee holds up.

4. When a new coach takes over there tend to be a couple of players that haven’t seen any significant playing time (or at least haven’t made an impact) that unexpectedly emerge as major contributors (see: Samardzija, Jeff in ’05). There are plenty of candidates on the offensive side of the ball, but you’re only allowed to pick one horse in this derby. Who’s it going to be?

DuvalI wanted to say Barry Gallup but I’m not sure if he can crack the WR depth chart. That means I’m going with Duval Kamara. He showed great promise as a freshman but hasn’t lived up the the hype since. Kamara has the size, 6-4, 240 and the speed, 4.6 forty, to provide headaches to opposing secondaries. He needs to step up and lock down the outside receiver position. Kamara should thrive in the spread offense, getting him the ball on slants and in space instead of the fade routes that he has struggled with in the past couple season. If Kamara can find his game again under this new regime and return to his freshman form, then the Irish receiving corps can be one of the best in the nation. Just think of the size of the receivers that the Irish can employ.  6’3″ Michael Floyd to the left split wide with 6’6″ Kyle Rudolph. The other side has 6’5″ Duval Kamara flanked with 6’3″ John  Goodman. Good night thats a big bunch of receivers. With Allen out of the backfield, this will provide plenty of targets for Dayne Crist. Lets just hope this change in offensive philosophy is exactly what Kamara needs.

5. It’s preseason which means it’s appropriate for all college football fans to bathe in Kool-Aid and allow themselves to dream of invading Glendale, Arizona this January en route to claiming a national championship. Tears of joy will be shed, flights will be missed, and days–if not weeks–of “sick” leave from work will be utilized. I want that more than that weird, fat lady in Napoleon Dynamite wanted that model ship. What needs to happen this season on the offensive side of the ball for this dream to become reality?

ArmandoIt’s simple. Balance. The Irish need to become a better rushing team on offense to mesh with their passing game. To many times last year we needed to attempt a wild cat run with Golden Tate on 3rd and short because we had no rushing attack. Tate was our rushing attack. If this Irish can establish a run game early in the season, it will make Crist’s job drastically easier. Opposing defenses will stack the box against a new QB trying to force him to throw over the top. If The Irish are able to combat this with a solid running game, then the offense will be able to succeed. Guys like Armando Allen and Jonas Gray need to have a breakout year in the backfield. Allen has shown flashes of greatness in the past but now this spread offense will be used to get him the ball in space. The stable of backs we have talked about in the past needs to show up and take some of the pressure of the passing attack. If that happens, the offense should be able to compete week in and week out.

6. ***BONUS*** The arrival of college football means the arrival of perhaps the greatest American pastime: Tailgating. The assumption is that you’re going to be heading to at least one game in the Bend this year which means you’ll have at least one opportunity to tailgate your face off. What home games are you planning on attending, where do you normally tailgate when you’re out for a game, what’s your typical tailgate like (we talking a great spread and a selection of imported beverages or a pack of Bubba burgers and about 20 30-racks of Natty?), and are you inviting your loyal readers?

This is a great question. This years annual trek from sunny San Diego will be taking place in November to see the vaunted Utes of Utah. As a Catholic native of Utah, I was obviously a Notre Dame fan growing up. I never was a huge Ute fan but after seeing many of their games in the past and having nearly all my friends attend their university, I pull for them to win some games. What better game then to see this fall besides this one.

My typical tailgate in South Bend is weak, I must admit. It usually starts with a drive in from somewhere far, last year happened to be Benton Harbor Michigan. It then entails doing the things you do when they come to Notre Dame for the first time (usually bring a ND Virgin with us every time). Team march from the basilica, band on the steps, trumpets in the Dome, Brats on the quad. Not as thrilling has a 30 bomb on Natty Ice but thrilling nonetheless.

This year we are hoping for something special. The Subway Domer has mentioned that he would also make the trek to the Bend that weekend to have a serious tailgate, one that legends are made of (Typical to what the boys over at WeNeverGraduate speak about). Plans are still in the works for these shenanigans but we will keep everyone posted. Until then, keep reading and keep cheering for the Irish.

39 days until kickoff…