A win’s a win, but there is no doubt that the major theme this week is how the Irish have struggled this season. With this in mind, I thought this topic would be a good direction to take this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering.
Today, we interrogate Frank Vitovitch of UHND.com and see how he feels about the current state of the Irish. You can find my answers over at the official ND blog, Strong and True. And make sure to stop by The Subway Domer, NDNation, and Inside the Irish for the rest of the IBG’s questions and answers.
1) To put it lightly, the defense has been struggling. What do you think the Irish need to do in order to cure their defensive ails and look more like the 2012 defense instead of a Weis-era defense?
It starts in the red-zone. Purdue had four trips into the redzone last weekend that ended with three touchdowns and one missed chip shot field goal. In fact, so far this year, opposing offenses have only failed to score in the redzone on the Irish when they’ve missed chip shot field goals.
Last year the Notre Dame defense allowed points in the redzone just 68% of the time with a touchdown rate of 34% (and that includes the BCS melt down against Alabama). Compare that to this year’s 73% touchdown allowed rate and it’s easy to see why the defense is underperforming this year.
The defense is definitely giving up more yards than they should but the bend, don’t break style of defense that the Irish thrived under last year is bending and breaking in half whenever they reach the redzone this year.
Against Purdue the Irish didn’t take chances down the field to loosen up the Boilermaker defense. They tried to pass to set up the run, but the problem was the passing game revolved around short passes which the defense was able to stuff out with so many defenders close the line of scrimmage. In the second half the Irish took more shots down the field and DaVaris Daniels had a breakout performance and suddenly the Irish found a little bit of running room.
The other problem so far is that Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin haven’t found a go to back and as a result, none of the Irish backs have really gotten into a flow in any game this year. Notre Dame has to find that go to back whether its George Atksinon, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel (who has been the most consistent and toughest runner so far), or maybe even one of the freshmen.
If Notre Dame can come out and hit a couple deep shots downfield this weekend early on, it’ll force Michigan State to respect the deep passing game. Tommy Rees’s 82 yard bomb to Daniels that traveled over 50 yards in the air last week might not have only changed the course of the Purdue game, but that play could also be exactly what the offense needed to get defenses to back off.
I never expected the Notre Dame defense to regress this much. After losing Manti Te’o, Danny Spond, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Zeke Motta, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone to see a step back at the start of the season but I don’t think anyone could have reasonably expected the defense to fall back this much.,
If the Irish can come out and shut down a weak offense from Michigan State, I’ll start to feel better about some of those upcoming tough matchups against teams featuring much better offenses.
I expected Notre Dame to run the ball better this year, but honestly, I think the offense has played about as good as I expected it to scoring wise. If you had told me in August that Notre Dame would be averaging just under 30 points a game at this point, I would have expected them to be 3-0.
If the defense doesn’t start to improve in a hurry though, I don’t think anyone will be feeling too great about this season once the Irish hit the stretch of Oklahoma, Arizona State, and USC.