Guest Blogger: The Return of Blue-Gray Sky
Blue-Gray Sky was an innovative blog that served as a template for many you see today. The crew there did a great job of mixing analysis, humor, and the passion of being a fan into a daily read. Sadly they hung it up earlier this year. Fortunately one of their founders, Jay, agreed to answer a few questions regarding this year's Notre Dame team. My questions and his answer below.
ATLEeagle: I've been very surprised by how much Kelly is passing. To me it seems like he is putting a lot on Crist's shoulders. Do you think there will be more emphasis on the run game this week or will Crist chuck it 40+ times again?
Blue-Gray Sky: Much of that is predicated on talent at hand. We have a novice, but capable quarterback in Crist, a very good tight end in Rudolph, a potential All-American wide receiver in Floyd. Add in a couple of exciting younger receivers in Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones, and it's natural to play to our strengths. Also, we're transitioning from a pro passing attack into a pass-first spread, so I think the continuation of passing is somewhat expected, no matter what Kelly might have claimed in the preseason.
I think the biggest issue right now in achieving balance is the precarious backup quarterback situation. We have no credible replacement for Crist, and after he got hurt against Michigan the backups promptly started throwing interceptions. I don't think Kelly wants to expose himself like that again, so he's erring on the side of caution in not running with Crist. The read option/quarterback keeper is an important cog in his offense, so the lack of a credible running threat at QB is definitely putting the kibosh on the running game.
ATLeagle: The Irish seem to have real problems stopping the run. Is it the new scheme or is it a talent issue? How do you think they will adjust this weekend?
Blue-Gray Sky: I know we're not doing a good job statistically, but keep in mind that Michigan, Michigan State, and Stanford are all top 20 rushing teams this year (especially Michigan), and in each game we held them to lower than their rushing average. Cold comfort, I know.
But I actually think we are improved -- or, improving. On runs up the middle, I think we look very stout, with hard-nosed sophomores Carlo Calabrese and Manti Teo cleaning things up. (Teo, by the way, had 21 tackles against Stanford. He's everywhere.) It's with the outside runs that we're having the most problems: we don't get to the edge fast enough, we take poor angles, and we don't get off our blocks well.
ATLEagle: You are only four games into the Brian Kelly era. How are you feeling about things? Are there any signs of what the future holds?
Blue-Gray Sky: I farmed this question out to some ND friends. Here are some selected quotes.
"I think it's way to early to make too formulate any feelings. We aren't that far away from 3-1, in fact we probably should be but can't say that I would feel much different. I am a little concerned that Kelly wasn't able to put MSU or Michigan away but that happens. I think how the team responds will tell us more about how Kelly's tenure turns out than the first 4 games."
"I don't think anyone can watch the last four games and come off with positive feelings about where our program is right now. Given that we're in a different offense, I hesitate to make comparisons on that side of the ball - although I think Dayne Crist looks good for a first year starter - but defensively, I think tackling is much improved from previous years. You don't see a lot of "throw the shoulder into the guy" type tackles anymore - the players wrap up and take them to the ground. That bodes well."
"Personally I think its far too early to make long term judgments on Kelly at ND at this point. History shows that even elite coaches need a year or two for their systems to take root. Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe at home with a Crimson Tide roster that had their opponent outmanned at every position. Afterwards, he lamented, "I can't play my defense". It takes time. Carroll went 6-6 and had USC fans screaming for his head as well as Garrett's in 2001 for another failed hire."
"What comforts me is that unlike previous ND coaches, Kelly has done this before. He's not a rookie learning how to be a coach. He's a guy who has 20 years of experience at the CFB level. He knows the pitfalls, he knows what he wants to do, and he's been successful everywhere he's been. All we can do is sit, watch, and hope that his plan of action works."
ATLEagle: What is your prediction for the game?
Blue-Gray Sky: After hanging up my BGS jersey, and having been a front row witness to the last five years of Irish football, the only thing I can predict is that the game probably will not go according to any predefined script I have rattling around in my head. On paper, you'd have to think Boston College is the weaker squad coming in. I think ND should win the game, but as always in this series, it's best to chuck any expectations out the window.