Guest Bloggers: Blue-Gray Sky
The Notre Dame blog Blue-Gray Sky set the template for many of the college blogs you read today. Although they retired the blog in 2010, the ND bloggers are still following their Irish closely. I asked Jay (one of BGS founders) some questions about the game and he answered and also included some of the other writers in the responses. So what follows is a little different. Each paragraph is a different writer, but it still works and give us an idea of where the Irish are and what outsiders think of Spaz. As for the game, Jay thinks the Irish will win comfortably.
1. It seems like Kelly got the offense humming. Do you think the mistakes and questionable calls that plagued the team in the losses are gone?
"I wouldn't necessarily say that they are "gone," but significantly lessened. I think this is for two reasons: 1. The team has a full season under its belt and is improving, and 2. The difficulty of our schedule is getting exponentially easier as we go through the season."
"Part of the increase in scoring is due to weaker opponents, especially defensively. The first 5 opponents of the year are a collective 31-18 with an average total defense rank of 32. The last five are 24-26 with an average defensive rank of 75.
The other major factor has been a reduction in the number of turnovers. Again, 15 in the first 5 games compared to 7 in the last 5. The playcalling hasn't changed that much although there has been a bit more reliance on the run thanks to the emergence of Jonas Gray (and some weak run defenses lately)."
"First, I disagree with many from the ND fanbase that attribute losses, at least this year, to 'questionable calls'. I think that most of what gets defined as a questionable call is really a disagreement between those fans and the ND staff over offensive philosophy. Passing the ball on 1st and goal from the 1 yard line is not a 'questionable call' to any proponent of the spread offense. However its a sin worthy of excommunication to many ND fans who prefer a run-first, power offense. The only truly questionable call in my opinion this season has been in the USC game where we only ran the ball 9 times. That was a real head-scratcher; although it is partially understandable based on our time of possession, situational down and distances and playing from behind. But still, only 9 runs? That's not justifiable. Mistakes have been our undoing. I think the inexperience of Tommy Rees has a lot to do with it. Poor reads resulted in red zone interceptions. Those seem to be coming down in numbers as Tommy's decision-making is improving. He's had some issues with 'pocket presence' that have resulted in bad fumbles as well. Along with the turnovers, mental errors on defense cost us the Michigan game in the 4th quarter. Those errors can be categorized as either not being 'assignment correct' or using poor technique on a number of key plays. Since our first two games, we seem to have done a good job of eliminating those for the most part. It did not seem that we have been caught in many 'bad schemes' this season (although some would argue that spying Denard Robinson so late in the 4th quarter was a 'bad scheme'... and I think that's a valid point to argue)."
"Nope. Not by a long shot. The mistakes are down due to getting into the flow of the season, playing shittier teams, and inherent randomness. The questionable calls are still there, though they get a little less play when we're winning games by 4 TDs. The offense has been adequate -- and the red zone improvements are much appreciated -- but still is prone to go into slumps, especially when the play-calling gets restricted (e.g. a penalties on 2nd down near-guarantee an ended drive because a run down turns into two passing downs with very little threat of run considering situation and Kelly's passophilia)."
2. Everyone raves about ND's young talent on defense. How have they progressed over the season?
"Well, for the most part. Younger players have filled in at many positions, notably DL, but I did notice a slight drop-off when EJ went out. LB scares me for next year, in all honesty, assuming Te'o doesn't come back."
"Most of the young defensive talent playing meaningful snaps are the linemen and perhaps their best achievement is that they haven't appeared to hit any wall yet. With injuries to both starting defensive ends (with one out for the season) the freshmen DL like Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt have had to play more than anyone would have guessed. And while conditioning for big 350 pound Louis Nix was a pre-season concern, he's been very consistent while playing nose tackle in a rotation with upperclassman Sean Cwynar. The young linebackers have had some success filling in earlier in the year although they aren't playing as much outside of special teams now. The defensive backs have all but been invisible as ND has really leaned exclusively on the veteran starters."
"I think they've done a good job. The fact that you can have true Freshmen defensive linemen come in and make any contribution to a decent defense is testament alone to what they bring to the table. We shouldn't be in the position that they should even be seeing the field, but that's a depth issue that was a hold-over from the previous regime. I'm not sure any of that 'young talent' was ready to move ahead of Ethan Johnson or KLM on the depth chart had they not been injured. But at the end of the day they're getting valuable reps and experience that will help make them major contributors in future years."
"I'm much more bearish on our young talent than most, at least in part due to seeing our 2nd team D look like absolute dog diarrhea every time they come in at the ends of blowouts -- even when playing against other second teamers, also in part due to looking at all the upperclassmen they're playing with to hid their flaws and realizing how much we lose this year. The linemen have gotten in more, but partly due to attrition and due to the older guys not fitting the scheme at all. Lynch looks good, though it's hard to tell because he hasn't actually made that many plays, we just assume he's really good because we see offenses having to hold him every play (note: this is pretty worthless in general, because ND doesn't draw holding flags. Ever. See also: how Victor Abiamiri should have been an all-American, but was merely average because he was allowed to be molested every single down). Tuitt looks to have the bulk to play inside, which is a pleasant surprise for a freshman; can he continue to gain weight and keep his athleticism? Nix has been a space eater, but isn't a playmaker at this point in his career. Houndshell looks overmatched at this point, and there's no reason he shouldn't have redshirted. The young linebackers who have played look absolutely lost, with the exception of Moore, who only plays in garbage time. They're athletic and promising, but not even close to there yet."
3. BC is having a terrible season that is somewhat reminiscent of the down years you had with Willingham and Weis. Although I would like a change, I think Spaz is back in 2012. Based on what Notre Dame has gone through, do you think a coach is forever damaged by a terrible season?
"I think this is the wrong question to ask. A coach isn't "forever damaged" by anything--rather I think that poor seasons merely highlight their shortcomings. Weis had 0 development skills outside of offensive skill players and recruited the lines horribly, and that showed in '07. His final two seasons were merely reflections of his actual coaching prowess, i.e. teams that could score at will and yet couldn't stop a high school team. In all honesty, this BC team reminds me of the terrible years Maryland had with the Fridge, simply because they had no quarterback. BC's QBs are awful, in my opinion, and it's holding their team back immensely, because I don't think their defense is half bad."
"A coach can survive a terrible season as long as it can reasonably be shown to be an outlier, whether due to overall youth, last minute coaching changes, or the like. But when the bad year is part of an overall negative trend, it can be pretty hard to reverse course. A terrible season preceded by a slow decline will make recruiting even harder and a drop in recruiting success only makes it tougher to dig out of the hole. But one season by itself usually isn't a killer. For example, Charlie's problem wasn't so much the horrible 2007 season as much as failing to show much improvement over the course of the 2008 and 2009 seasons (1-8 in November) despite plenty of talent on the roster."
"The issue I see with Frank Spaziani is not that he's having a 'down season', its the direction that the program has been going since he took over. 8-5, 7-6 and 3-7 is not a direction that I'd be comfortable with."
"No. Especially not at a place like BC, where program continuity is the name of the game. A single year, even one that tanks recruiting, doesn't really matter, because the recruits don't come in and play anyway ... every year promises a new group of seemingly 20 5th years who have been in the program forever and either have starting experience or are ready to contribute, so that class won't come home to roost for 4 years and you have several years to regain momentum. Even if 4 years later that class ends up being a bust it means that you have a year or two of "catch up" but the load shifts down to seniors and juniors, not freshmen and sophomores. Also beneficial of being BC not ND is that a single bad year doesn't forever turn the fanbase to looking forward towards the next coach no matter what happens for the rest of your tenure. Again, that helps level things out and means that a single year isn't going to be unrecoverable."