IBG: The “Must See TV” Edition

Keith over at NBC’s Inside the Irish is the host of this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering, which I don’t really envy. It’s tough to ask a bunch of ND psycho-fans some questions in anticipation of a game with MSU after a loss to Michigan. It’s like following up Friends with Joey.

Hahahahaha… ah, I miss being young, and stupid, and thinking Monica was hot. And thinking that I’d be retired by 30. Thanks, Keith, for taking me down memory lane.

The Questions

1) Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan? I could argue that Crist’s injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans.

From the little-kid-at-heart perspective, it was devastating because that stupid little kid had allowed himself to think that maybe, just maybe, Kelly would get ND over the hump of starting 3-0. Weis never started 3-0, and we hated him for it. Kidding. We didn’t hate him for that. We hated him for the losing.

Again, kidding. We never hated him. We just loved everyone else way, way more.

But seriously, folks, the mature, well-rounded, not-yet-retired adult in me isn’t really deflated by the loss. Unfortunately, that’s got less to do with my hope for the future so much as it does with the dispassionate, analytical perspective I’ve adopted towards the Irish to protect myself from pain. For instance, every time Denard Robinson juked a Notre Dame defensive player last weekend, rather than shouting at the top of my lungs, I’d replay the play over and over again on my DVR until I could discern exactly what went wrong. Psychotic, I know, and I actually finished watching the game hours after I already knew how it ended, but hey, look at me; pain free!

2) How critical is this Saturday’s game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend. Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?

Kelly talks a lot about the process that he’s putting in place at Notre Dame to try and build a championship program, and I think (again, in an effort to protect ourselves from pain) we’ve sort of got to go along with that mentality ourselves. So with that in mind, I wouldn’t really argue that any game this season is particularly “critical.” That said, Kelly spends even more time discussing how the Irish need to start winning “now” and with that in mind, MSU is the next game, so it’s the most critical game of the season – until the next one.

I’m not just avoiding the question. I think there’s a lot to Kelly’s philosophy here. Every week is both critical and, once it’s done, it’s done. There is overall just one goal: Be a championship caliber program. And whatever happened in the previous week has no relevance for how the program should approach that goal in the current week.

3) Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?

Speaking for myself, I just don’t hate them. That’s all. I neither disrespect them or hate them. I’m not really apathetic towards them, as they are historically a relevant team, but if they ever disappeared from the schedule for a 10 year swing, I’d only complain if we replaced them with low-caliber programs. I reserve all hate for Michigan, and I reserve any sense of “rivalry” for Southern Cal, so there’s really not a lot left for MSU. It’s not a matter of disrespect. My heart simply has finite capability for caring.

4) It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

A very confident, very fresh opponent. And that’s worrisome. And it seems like that’s been the case with MSU for the last 5 years or so. Also seems like each of the last few years, the fanbase tries to dismiss MSU’s abilities because they’ve either played lousy competition leading up to the ND game and/or played poorly against lousy/mediocre competition. But frankly I think MSU’s schedule has this uncanny way of giving MSU just the right preparation to allow them to, in a way, “peak” for the ND game. For at least the last several years, ND and MSU have played in the 3rd or 4th game of the season. Something about that seems to enable the Spartans to give us a good shot every time. Of course, after that they fall off a cliff. Every. Time.

5) Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish’s record after the first six games.

Best Case: 5-1, Denard Robinson is well on his way to top vote-getter in the Heisman race, and columnists all over the country are tripping over themselves to get a sit-down with Kelly while some publisher somewhere is pitching a book deal to Kelly to be titled, “Just The Right Kind of Guy.”

Worst Case: 1-5, Denard Robinson doesn’t rush for over 100 yards in any of his next 4 games, and the whispers of doubt over Kelly’s abilities reach “mild roar” levels… unless that record is mitigated by an injury to Crist or some combination of injuries to Floyd/Te’o/Rudolph/B. Smith/Allen.

Most Likely: 4-2. Barring nightmare injury scenarios, I think ND’s going to get a hang of this football thing. When Crist was in the game last week, he was on pace to perhaps surpass Denard Robinson’s own superlatives, or at least earn an honorable mention. And the Irish defense isn’t going to face a QB nearly as mobile as Robinson, or even Marve in the next 4 games. That means fewer matchup/playing-in-space issues for the D. And really, neither BC or Pitt have looked all that impressive. So I’m figuring on 1-1 between MSU and Stanford, and then 2 wins over BC and Pitt. Though 3-3 in the first 6 games wont leave me shocked, or even worried over the long-term prospects for the Irish. I predicted 7-4 7-5 in the first IBG of the season, and I’m not really feeling too flustered to adjust that prediction much.

6) Let’s leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

Anyone assigned to a position typically referred to as “Outside Linebacker.” There have already been far too many moments where an Irish OLB looks like they just might get some pressure on the QB, and yet none of the OLB have registered a sack. Brian Smith played an entire game last weekend without registering a single tackle. And none of them have really show up on my radar, at least the good radar I use to target players with superlatives rather than the bad radar. Here are our OLB tackle numbers through 2 games against relatively mobile QBs…

Player Solo Tkls Asstd Tkls Total Tkls
B. Smith 3 3 6
K. Neal 1 6 7
D. Fleming 3 4 7
S. Filer 1 1 2

Now, granted, some 3-4 defenses play with an emphasis on getting the plays to funnel back to the ILBs, and letting the ILBs get all the tackle stats. And sure enough, Calabrese and Te’o are leading the team in tackles to this point, so perhaps things are going to plan, but we’ve got a hunch that a few of these lower tackle stats are representative of relatively poor play. Our attention was grabbed when the competition in camp for a starting OLB spot heated up, and seemingly changed hands daily, but right now we’re inclined to think that the competition was more muddled than spectacular. Certainly these low tackle numbers coupled with very poor production in the sacks column would indicate it was the former.

BONUS: Dayne Crist. Yep. Seriously. And beyond just the obvious, “please, Dayne, keep the ball in the stadium so that someone may catch it,” request that I and all other Irish fans have this week, Dayne’s effectiveness really takes a hit late in the game. While he sports a 62% completion rate thus far, he’s only getting a 53% rate in the 2nd half (74% in the 1st). In fact, he’s only getting a 40% rate in the 4th quarter (69% in the 3rd). Now, hopefully as the season progresses, there will be less and less need for late-game heroics by Mr. Crist, but you and I both know that at least a couple more games will come down to the wire this year, and Mr. Crist’s completion rate cannot continue to take a 4th quarter swan-dive all season if the Irish hope to sport a “Much Improved” sticker on their report cards this January.

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  • trey

    Keith, we’ll forgive you for being new around here, so this is just a friendly comment. Dont ever call: Mich St, Stan, Pitt, or God forbid BC as a ‘rival.’ we understand that NBC and the other networks need to market it as such to hype the game, but just because EA Sports labels it one, we do not have 100 rivals. The only rivals who are even considered legit(and for guys like mq there is only one) are USC, Mich, & Navy.

  • Fenian Fox

    MSU would be a rival if they didn’t crash and burn every season. How often have you tried to explain to your friends who went to other colleges and don’t know anything about football except what Sportscenter tells them that MSU comes to play ball against ND every year then hangs up their cleats. It is hard to convince anyone that they are worth a damn when they max out at .500 every season.

    • domer.mq

      I really only have the capacity for one true rival – SoCal. I’ve given up on trying to force that view on others, but that’s how I see it. As far as I’m concerned, SoCal is the only team ND must play ever year.

  • the biscuit

    MSU would be a rival if they were called USC. Michigan can’t be a rival bc rivalries are built on mutual respect. There is no respect for their program, as they tried to literally kill the ND program back in the day. They are out. Navy cannot be a rival bc they didn’t beat us for 40+ years. Winning 2 in the last few years isn’t enough to knock off USC. Historically important yes, a rival no. That leaves our rival USC, despite their recent dominance and cheating ways.

    • trey

      Old discussion, but i still hold that rivalries can also be built on storied tradition and absolute vile hatred. Therefore, Navy/Mich are also valid rivals

  • GB

    Am I the only one who cannot read the right part of this blog because the dark right side overshadows the few words on the far right side of the blog? Sorry, but I had to ask.

    • domer.mq

      Probably not, but I’ll bet you’re using a pretty old browser, like IE 6. It’s on the list of things to fix, but I’m sort of hoping IE 6 goes away before I ever get to fixing it.

      I’m really sorry. I just don’t have the time.

      • GB

        Thanks. I usually use Opera but it will not work now. I have been using IE but it will not update for some reason. Thanks for the reply.

    • the biscuit

      And I have the time but no idea how to do any of that stuff. But updating your browser’s pretty easy at least, and is better and more secure for ya anyway…

  • Mark G

    I actually am (very, very cautiously) optimistic about playing MSU. I think our defense mathces up better against a more traditional offense, particularly one that leans heavily on a power running attack, than it does against a spread. If the D line can hold their ground and occupy blockers, then our ILBs can make tackles. Clearly, to win our offense is going to have to sustain drives and keep the MSA clock eating, yards eating machine off the field. Otherwise, our defense will wear down and it will be a sad night. And clearly our OLBs and safeties are going to have to execute.

    I had this pinned as a L before the season began, and am afraid that I am still leaning that way, but at least I like our chances.

  • Erik ’04

    If you still have us going 7-4 on the season, which of our 12 games do you think will get canceled? I’m hoping for Boston College, but for no specific reasons. :)

    Otherwise, good answers.

    • http://www.herloyalsons.com domer_mq

      Holy crap.

      Someone check me for a concussion.

    • http://www.herloyalsons.com domer_mq

      Further, what I’m really saying is I’m expecting 4 losses.

      • http://www.herloyalsons.com The Biscuit

        4 more? or 4 total?

        Funny, i read right over that and didn’t even register it.