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A fair and balanced look at the state of the ND Football Program

  • This is likely a long post, so I apologize in advance.

    Many are standing near the ledge after yesterday's squeaker. To quote ESPN's resident curmudgeon, Lee Corso (minus his unforgettable F-bomb yesterday): "Not so fast, my friends."

    Brian Kelly is 16-8 - a .667 winning percentage (not that long ago, I recall published articles that his winning percentage had fallen below Weis, Willingham, and Davie). We are nearly two years into the Kelly era, and this is an attempt to analyze where we are.

    At QB, Tommy Rees is 12-2. Tommy excels at game management - he is often changing the play at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees. He is very adept at seeing where the pressure is coming from (how many times have you seen a blitz coming from the left, and he changes the play to a counter run to the right, neutralizing the blitz?). He is a sophomore, and yet he is changing plays at the line. How many NFL QBs do that? Tommy is a great leader, and he wins.

    But... he is not a great physical QB, nor is he the ideal fit for Brian Kelly's system. A QB who was a threat to run would have lead this team to a 2 TD win yesterday... but with Rees no threat at all, BC was able to play nickel and dime all day, and it made for difficulty in the passing game. Many of his throws are not zipped, and receivers have gotten clobbered waiting for passes. His accuracy numbers appear pretty good, until you realize that it is falsely inflated by the number of sideline passes and 1-yard tosses, that allow more YAC.

    Most importantly, Coach Kelly is adapting his playbook to the talent, not the reverse - a hallmark of the Charlie Weis era.

    At RB, we are seeing the work of Ed Warriner as running-game coordinator. Cierre Wood has been an excellent back this season, and Jonas Gray had one of those great one year careers (a la Kevin McDougal). The number of runs > 5 yards this season is astonishing - and frankly, it has carried the offense. The running game is so vastly improved over the Weis era, it's hard to find the correct words. Just ask yourself this question: could we have gone smashmouth and beaten USC like we did in 2010 under Weis?

    WR is an interesting study in the Kelly era. Michael Floyd has developed into an All-American; the guessing here is that he is so naturally talented, he was headed there under Weis (as did Samardzija and Tate). Theo Riddick has been largely a disappointment at WR and is there due to a lack of depth. TJ Jones has been OK for the most part, but one would like to see more development and him being a bigger part of the offense. Robby Toma is beginning to flourish. John Goodman has never developed; depth behind him is nearly non-existent. While I am encouraged by the incoming 3-4 freshman WRs (i.e. recruits), DaVaris Daniels couldn't make the field this year. WR development remains a work in progress.

    TE has again flourished. Tyler Eifert has made the most of his opportunity and we did not miss Kyle Rudolph like we expected. Should he go pro next year, we can only hope for big things out of Ben Koyack and Alex Welch (who has more penalties than receptions so far in his ND career).

    The OL has played much, much better under Brian Kelly. This was clearly one of the trouble spots under Weis - but they continue to improve. Think about how well Zack Martin (who toils in obscurity, which is a good thing for a left tackle) has played... and consider the audacity of starting a sophomore with no game experience to open your career at ND. He has been brilliant, as has Braxston Cave and Trevor Robinson (one of the all-time great interior lineman at ND, in my opinion). Big improvement and a key reason why Tommy Rees is 12-2 as a starter. No sacks for 5 games? Unheard of!

    The defense is so much better, it's hard to have enough space to describe it. Our D-line play is still not BCS-caliber, but light years better. Still not getting enough sacks. Louis Nix shows a ton of promise at the nose. Lynch and Tuitt will be studs. Troy Niklas is exciting as a prospect. KLM was having his best year before he got hurt. This will be a fun group to watch next year, losing only Ethan Johnson.

    Manti Te'o is one of ND's all-time greats at LB. He should be an All-American this year and one can only hope he comes back next year (please!). Darius Fleming has been steady and played great at times. Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox have been a mixed bag at ILB. The Cat LB spot has also been a mixed bag - while Prince Shembo is exciting as a pass rusher, he has been disappointing against the run. Give the staff credit for moving Jamoris Slaughter there when needed.

    The secondary is vastly improved. Harrison Smith - a LB under Charlie Weis - should be an All-American this year (yes, I think Floyd, Te'o, and Smith will all get honors). Blanton had a great season. Gary Gray had his moments, but I'd rather have him than his backups... Jamoris Slaughter had a very solid year. I'd like to see more out of Zeke Motta, but let's give him another year to see how he develops.

    Special teams are up and down. David Ruffer, early slump aside, has been brilliant. Ben Turk has gone from awful to terrific. Kyle Brindza has been regressing. KO returns have been great - thank you GAIII - but punt returns are oxymoronic.

    Recruiting continues to prosper under Brian Kelly, and to be fair, Charlie Weis got this back on track. Granted, Kelly has done a better job of recruiting defense - but this group does great work as a whole (as opposed to Weis' staff, which had 2-3 excellent recruiters), and they target their needs. I expect them to continue to recruit to the system, which can only be a benefit.

    Game management has been iffy at times - Tulsa comes to mind - but I see progress. BC would have been a loss last year. We have come a long way - that game was eerily reminiscient of Syracuse and UConn in years past - but we gutted out a tough win. Call it winning ugly - something good teams have to do from time to time.

    Conditioning also is much improved - the training table is a huge asset (and to be fair, Weis asked for this, and was denied multiple times). The players have maintained their weights, and there is no more hands-on-hips in the third quarter. We are able to win games in the fourth because we are in the condition to do so.

    The other interesting development is the start of the break from tradition. The loud music, the pom poms, the shamrocks on the helmets - all a deliberate attempt to nudge Notre Dame into the current millenium. Don't look now, but field turf, jumbotron, and black alternate jerseys could be coming next. Want to recruit elite kids? Be hip and relevant. At least they are trying.

    I know this sounds overly positive, but I think we are on the right track. There are areas of development that are critical to building a BCS-level team. We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction. The staff is cohesive, the message is consistent, recruiting is solid, and winning is beginning to occur with regularity. If we can build and develop depth, Brian Kelly should be the Notre Dame coach for years to come.

    signature image

    POTW, 11/20/11 - 11/27/11; POTW twice on old BGI board

  • Well said doc. +1

    6-Time POTW Winner, 4 time at BGI and 2 at 24/7

  • jrndmd said... (original post)

    This is likely a long post, so I apologize in advance.

    Many are standing near the ledge after yesterday's squeaker. To quote ESPN's resident curmudgeon, Lee Corso (minus his unforgettable F-bomb yesterday): "Not so fast, my friends."

    Brian Kelly is 16-8 - a .667 winning percentage (not that long ago, I recall published articles that his winning percentage had fallen below Weis, Willingham, and Davie). We are nearly two years into the Kelly era, and this is an attempt to analyze where we are.

    At QB, Tommy Rees is 12-2. Tommy excels at game management - he is often changing the play at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees. He is very adept at seeing where the pressure is coming from (how many times have you seen a blitz coming from the left, and he changes the play to a counter run to the right, neutralizing the blitz?). He is a sophomore, and yet he is changing plays at the line. How many NFL QBs do that? Tommy is a great leader, and he wins.

    But... he is not a great physical QB, nor is he the ideal fit for Brian Kelly's system. A QB who was a threat to run would have lead this team to a 2 TD win yesterday... but with Rees no threat at all, BC was able to play nickel and dime all day, and it made for difficulty in the passing game. Many of his throws are not zipped, and receivers have gotten clobbered waiting for passes. His accuracy numbers appear pretty good, until you realize that it is falsely inflated by the number of sideline passes and 1-yard tosses, that allow more YAC.

    Most importantly, Coach Kelly is adapting his playbook to the talent, not the reverse - a hallmark of the Charlie Weis era.

    At RB, we are seeing the work of Ed Warriner as running-game coordinator. Cierre Wood has been an excellent back this season, and Jonas Gray had one of those great one year careers (a la Kevin McDougal). The number of runs > 5 yards this season is astonishing - and frankly, it has carried the offense. The running game is so vastly improved over the Weis era, it's hard to find the correct words. Just ask yourself this question: could we have gone smashmouth and beaten USC like we did in 2010 under Weis?

    WR is an interesting study in the Kelly era. Michael Floyd has developed into an All-American; the guessing here is that he is so naturally talented, he was headed there under Weis (as did Samardzija and Tate). Theo Riddick has been largely a disappointment at WR and is there due to a lack of depth. TJ Jones has been OK for the most part, but one would like to see more development and him being a bigger part of the offense. Robby Toma is beginning to flourish. John Goodman has never developed; depth behind him is nearly non-existent. While I am encouraged by the incoming 3-4 freshman WRs (i.e. recruits), DaVaris Daniels couldn't make the field this year. WR development remains a work in progress.

    TE has again flourished. Tyler Eifert has made the most of his opportunity and we did not miss Kyle Rudolph like we expected. Should he go pro next year, we can only hope for big things out of Ben Koyack and Alex Welch (who has more penalties than receptions so far in his ND career).

    The OL has played much, much better under Brian Kelly. This was clearly one of the trouble spots under Weis - but they continue to improve. Think about how well Zack Martin (who toils in obscurity, which is a good thing for a left tackle) has played... and consider the audacity of starting a sophomore with no game experience to open your career at ND. He has been brilliant, as has Braxston Cave and Trevor Robinson (one of the all-time great interior lineman at ND, in my opinion). Big improvement and a key reason why Tommy Rees is 12-2 as a starter. No sacks for 5 games? Unheard of!

    The defense is so much better, it's hard to have enough space to describe it. Our D-line play is still not BCS-caliber, but light years better. Still not getting enough sacks. Louis Nix shows a ton of promise at the nose. Lynch and Tuitt will be studs. Troy Niklas is exciting as a prospect. KLM was having his best year before he got hurt. This will be a fun group to watch next year, losing only Ethan Johnson.

    Manti Te'o is one of ND's all-time greats at LB. He should be an All-American this year and one can only hope he comes back next year (please!). Darius Fleming has been steady and played great at times. Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox have been a mixed bag at ILB. The Cat LB spot has also been a mixed bag - while Prince Shembo is exciting as a pass rusher, he has been disappointing against the run. Give the staff credit for moving Jamoris Slaughter there when needed.

    The secondary is vastly improved. Harrison Smith - a LB under Charlie Weis - should be an All-American this year (yes, I think Floyd, Te'o, and Smith will all get honors). Blanton had a great season. Gary Gray had his moments, but I'd rather have him than his backups... Jamoris Slaughter had a very solid year. I'd like to see more out of Zeke Motta, but let's give him another year to see how he develops.

    Special teams are up and down. David Ruffer, early slump aside, has been brilliant. Ben Turk has gone from awful to terrific. Kyle Brindza has been regressing. KO returns have been great - thank you GAIII - but punt returns are oxymoronic.

    Recruiting continues to prosper under Brian Kelly, and to be fair, Charlie Weis got this back on track. Granted, Kelly has done a better job of recruiting defense - but this group does great work as a whole (as opposed to Weis' staff, which had 2-3 excellent recruiters), and they target their needs. I expect them to continue to recruit to the system, which can only be a benefit.

    Game management has been iffy at times - Tulsa comes to mind - but I see progress. BC would have been a loss last year. We have come a long way - that game was eerily reminiscient of Syracuse and UConn in years past - but we gutted out a tough win. Call it winning ugly - something good teams have to do from time to time.

    Conditioning also is much improved - the training table is a huge asset (and to be fair, Weis asked for this, and was denied multiple times). The players have maintained their weights, and there is no more hands-on-hips in the third quarter. We are able to win games in the fourth because we are in the condition to do so.

    The other interesting development is the start of the break from tradition. The loud music, the pom poms, the shamrocks on the helmets - all a deliberate attempt to nudge Notre Dame into the current millenium. Don't look now, but field turf, jumbotron, and black alternate jerseys could be coming next. Want to recruit elite kids? Be hip and relevant. At least they are trying.

    I know this sounds overly positive, but I think we are on the right track. There are areas of development that are critical to building a BCS-level team. We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction. The staff is cohesive, the message is consistent, recruiting is solid, and winning is beginning to occur with regularity. If we can build and develop depth, Brian Kelly should be the Notre Dame coach for years to come.

    +1 good analysis. The only thing I disagree with is Motta. I've seen enough to say hopefully he doesn't get much PT next year. Highly unlikely with Smith graduating. Also would have loved to have seen Teo make a few game changing plays FF, INT, or more tackles for loss. I have a feeling Teo is gone after this year after seeing Cave and Jones suffer serious injuries the last couple of weeks, wouldn't blame him a bit.

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  • Great overview Doc. I have a feeling this recruiting class is going to have a handful of surprises as well. If we continue to recruit like we did last year, we're going to be very difficult to keep out of the BCS for years to come.

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    poster of the century status-irishnd966/The Ohiosupergenius has spoken-Norberg/2D6 is always right-floridacarpenter/4/5/04 13,000+

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    I may not be pretty, but I'm fast..... POTW 1/31/11 - 2/6/11

  • Well Done!! My book is still open on Brian Kelly but I agree with your analysis. Thanks!
    Jim C.

  • really nice...

    No down-vote please - thank you! No down-vote por favor, gracias ! Gringo Mafia ~ amigo el número cuatro

  • Like Ham said welcome back.

    Agree on Motta , but we all said the same thing about Harrison the last 2 yrs. Agree on Rees but just does not have the tools . He made a perfect audible and overthrew Floyd by 10 yards. Kelly said in his presser that he is afraid to put Hendrix in a situation where a turnover would kill us but I saw Rees throw 3 perfect passes to players in white jerseys yesterday that were dropped 2 of which were in our red zone and the game would have been lost

    POTW - Last year and 2/20/11

  • I mostly agree with the Rees analysis, but you can't start Hendrix if he doesn't have a command of the playbook yet. My guess is that they get equal play time or close to it next year. I just wish Hendrix got more time this year to get him more comfortable on the field.

    I see BK's rationale of Rees being the answer until one of the spread QB's is ready to step up.

  • Nice summary. Let's hope BK can show real progress in years 3 and 4.

  • Simply one of the best summaries of the season to date. Thanks jrndmd. The time to post such a well stated reflection is most. appreciated.

    Keeper of the Count to Resurrection II: the Kelly Era begins - - POTW: June 2010 & August 2011 - - member since 2004

  • Thanks so much to all of you.

    I agree on the black jerseys by the way, and I think Coach Kelly quelled that rumor by stating that we would only wear uniforms in our colors, "Blue and gold... and also green".

    egastro is right on about Rees; BC stinks and that's a major reason why we won. Still, it says something about the character of this team to do what it takes to win... and that is a development that was sorely needed.

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    POTW, 11/20/11 - 11/27/11; POTW twice on old BGI board

  • Great post, well said!

    Two time Poster of The Week, 2011 and 2013.

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  • Nice summary Doc.....Let me say first that I am madly in love with BK. Hands down he is the guy that I want at the helm for now for a long time to come.

    Having said that, there is one issue that has been gnawing at me. I hate to deadhorse but the QB situation bothers the shit out of me. I just think BK bailed WAY to quick on Dayne, after BK annointed him the starter, and then he gave Tommy all the opportunites in the world. Physically Dayne is the better fit. Sure, he is not Tebow, but he can run. He has the better arm, and I think always did a better job of going through his progressions, where I see Rees locking in on one guy and every once in a while he check down, but its rare...I'm just having trouble getting past that one because it really affected the rest of our season....

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    LET'S GET IT ON!!!!!

  • I totally agree with you and please no Black jerseys. Tradition is tradition but I'm all for now grass and jumbotron atmosphere, GO IRISH.

  • Regarding the black jersey/jumbotron/music/field turf...The only true tradition at ND is evolving, changing, and being innovators. Our jersey's and helmets have changed multiple times throughout our history. Rockne would jump all over the jumbo-tron, field turf, AND alternater jersey's....As a matter of fact I believe that Knute would've made ND among the first schools to jump all over these knew innovations/trends.

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    LET'S GET IT ON!!!!!

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    Irish legend CMC Quote Master and Director of Football Related Discussions 5 Time POTW & 2 Time WPOTW Winner Joined 09/17/05


  • we should be much better next year as BK will have HIS recruits playing while not having to wait for the rest (CW's) of them to catch up.

    way to go coach. nothing like speaking directly from the anus.

    Run the ball. Stop the run. You win, or lose, up front.

  • ND will be better next year because it is the 3rd year in the system and hoepfully because the QB can run a true spread offense. The issue over whose recruits are playing is a load of BS and very insulting to some of the real good players who I have enjoyed watching. Its hard for me to think of a scenario that makes ND a better team without Teo,Floyd, J Gray, H Smith and a few others. Many of the next key returnees are not Kelly's recruits and success next year will depend on players lie Wood, Hendrix, Nix, Martin, Moore, Cave, etc. Next year's team is at best a 50-50 mix. The players weren't ND's biggest problems these last few years and I am not sure there is a real difference in the types of kids Kelly is recruiting. The difference is that Kelly is committed to his blueprint. Not sure a blueprint really existed before.

  • I think we all agree, even Kelly fans like me, that he made a serious blunder in the press conference the week after USC. The team seems to have gotten past it, can we give it a rest?

  • Still a large of amount of work to be done before ND is back in the BCS picture (2 years away) but beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

  • jrndmd said... (original post)

    Still a large of amount of work to be done before ND is back in the BCS picture (2 years away) but beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

    The only reason we are 2 years away from the heart of the BCS picture is, this year we had 2 bonehead losses to start the season, and next year Alabama would have a hard time going .500 with our schedule

    POTW - Last year and 2/20/11

  • So to answer some of the above...

    I am hugely in favor of a Jumbotron at the south endzone (i.e. not the TD Jesus) side.

    Very iffy on Field Turf - I marched on that field for four years, and grass is just... tradition, I suppose.

    Like the alternate jerseys (big green jersey guy but liked it better when it was a surprise), hate the black.

    As for Hodges questions...

    QB battle? I doubt it. Rees has one and a half seasons as a starter. The competition will be for who replaces him should he get hurt. That said, it will be interested to see if a) Gunner Kiel commits, b) enrolls early, and c) gets a shot at the job.

    Cierre's backup? I'll take GAIII and 10 lbs of muscle in the offseason. Will Mahone could see meaningful minutes as the big back, a la Hughes last year and Gray this year.

    Replacing Floyd? I think some combo of a freshman, DaVaris Daniels, and TJ Jones.

    Garyfh - thanks for the compliments; I have shied away from recruiting stuff this year as this is now a 247sports.com site and they do it. (Also, I haven't had the time.)

    Paddy, from what I have heard, BK went with Crist over his gut instinct (with some outside pressure to do so). I don't agree that physically Dayne is the better fit - he had two seasons end with knee injuries. Tommy (so far) has been healthy.

    As for Coach Clancy, I agree that Kelly made a PR mistake and I think he intended it to be motivational to his upperclassmen... but it backfired in this age of instant, on-demand media. Lesson learned.

    Good stuff, guys!

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    POTW, 11/20/11 - 11/27/11; POTW twice on old BGI board