Jul 27, 2010
Irish Blogger Gathering: Let's Get Offensive
Irish Creed is pumped up to participate for the first time in the Irish Blogger Gathering, a feature in which ND blogs respond to the same set of prompts. It's like an essay test for a Mendoza student, only harder. The six-question format works perfectly for us to split the responses evenly among our three resident writers. Thanks to Matt from We Never Graduate for writing the questions this round to get our brains working just in time for August camp. Did we nail this exam?
1. First, before officially shifting focus to what matters most, let's take a moment to offer a way too early evaluation of Team Kelly's recruiting efforts. They've got verbals from some highly touted prospects (Hegarty, Koyack, Prestwood) and are in the hunt for quite a few more (Aaron Lynch, George Atkinson, Justice Hayes), but it seems like this class lacks the flair and star power of Charlie Weis's classes. We're not even in the hunt for a Rivals five-star rated prospect and we've already taken as many three-stars as the '07 and '08 classes combined. Sure, Kelly can transform two-stars into seven-stars, but the numbers of the last ten years don't lie--championships are won with teams chock full of four and five star talent. Are you at least a little worried at this point or still in the RKG Honeymoon period?
The reason the honeymoon is alive in my mind is that our commits almost all hit on their position-respective “profile” for size and speed that Kelly likes so much that he dropped the word six times last signing day. Hegarty and Prestwood are perfect spread tackles with an emphasis on agility over bulk. At 6-4, Grace matches the inside backer profile. 6-6 defensive ends Springmann and Carrico might not be as good overall, but they at least meet the profile height that that you can’t teach.
The disappointing lack of Rivals five stars isn’t as bad as it seems because they’ve only named 11 fives so far. It’ll finish around 30, which might include now-No. 32 Matthew Hegarty. The bigger picture problem with the new recruiting is potential de-emphasizing California. While Florida recruiting has picked up, it looks like ND is now involved with only three Californians: the Atkinson twins and Niklas. Nonetheless, this class is on pace to finish strong in addition to current commits potentially moving up the national boards. The staff should probably offer the next tier at safety in order to not get shut out of a position of need, but ND is otherwise getting “profile” players to transition schemes with sound scholarship distribution and a couple of underrated commits to boot.
2. The Irish switch from a pro-style offense to the spread this season. We saw it unveiled in the spring game and it is (understandably) a work in progress. That being said the Irish have a veritable bevy of talent, size, and speed at the skill positions. In general, what's your take on the switch to the spread and how high or low should expectations for the offense be going into the year?
Expectations should be moderately high for the offense because of—not despite—the new scheme. Upon installing the spread in his first season at CMU and UC, Kelly oversaw increases in total offense and scoring offense from the previous season at each school, including a huge jump in UC scoring offense (No. 82 to No. 16 nationally). These stats show that he can turn players recruited for another system into quality producers in the spread.
While Kelly plans to run extensively to help the new QB, using arguably the nation’s top WR and TE as a crutch can also ease the scheme into form. His public criticism of the offense’s work rate and struggle to practice at hyper speeds reduced my expectations slightly, but there’s enough perimeter speed to spark the spread. Kelly’s first-year output probably won’t match the yardage of the ’09 Irish. Nonetheless, he’ll push the right buttons to finish with a comparable points-per-game average in the top third nationally in 2010.
3. Three-year starting quarterback Jimmy Clausen has loaded his mom, dad, and free-loading brothers into the family stretch Hummer and taken off for the greener pastures of professional football. Dayne Crist is tasked with stepping into the big, 28 TD, 7:1 TD to INT ratio shoes Jimmy leaves behind. How are you feeling about him taking the reins to Kelly's vaunted spread offense? Do you see there being a significant drop-off with the Great Dayne at the helm or is he going to come out guns a-blazin' a la Brady Quinn in '05?
I have no doubt that DC will eventually prove that Crist is King at Notre Dame. He has a great head on his shoulders and he understands what it means to be the starting quarterback at Notre Dame. He recently talked with ESPN’s Bruce Feldman about leaving a positive legacy behind him, and I believe that when his reign is over he will be remembered as a great role model for future leaders of the Fighting Irish to follow.
During the few chances we have gotten to see him play, Crist has already shown us glimpses of greatness. More importantly, he has exhibited the type of toughness and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team win that the Fighting Irish are going to need from their leader in 2010. He put both of these traits on display in his often overlooked but crucial performance during the 2nd quarter against Purdont in 2009 when he took over for an injured Clausen. Without hesitation, he stepped right up and led the Fighting Irish on two straight touchdown drives to take a 17-7 lead into halftime. Without that heroic effort, Rudy never would have caught his famous game-winning touchdown from Clausen as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
I probably speak for most of the Fighting Irish Faithful when I say that I felt like I got kicked in the stomach when I watched his knee buckle on the turf of the Alamodome. He has shown nothing but resolute optimism since then, however, and I am more than excited to watch him become our leader. Beyond his athleticism and his familiarity with a spread offense which he ran in high school, I think the qualities that make him a good person and a good leader will stand out the most as the main reasons #10 will once again become the best selling jersey at the bookstore.
4. When a new coach takes over there tend to be a couple of players that haven't seen any significant playing time (or at least haven't made an impact) that unexpectedly emerge as major contributors (see: Samardzija, Jeff in '05). There are plenty of candidates on the offensive side of the ball, but you're only allowed to pick one horse in this derby. Who's it going to be?
I like the horse analogy, because my pick for 2010 Breakout Player of the Year definitely runs with the stride of a stallion. I have a good feeling that lanky 6’3” WR #81 Johnny Goodman will become a fan favorite in the near future. Coupled with his freakish athletic ability, all of the receiving threats lining up around him in Kelly’s spread offense will give him plenty of chances to make big plays.
Goody took advantage of the few opportunities he had to shine during his sophomore season, gaining 104 yards on just 6 catches. You might remember the first touchdown catch of his college career, which he hauled in from Dayne Crist in the Alamodome. Ironically, it was his first touchdown catch and Crist’s first touchdown pass since the duo connected on the very same field in the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
What you might not know about Goody is that he was actually called upon to do quite a bit last year. He showed his willingness to help the team in any way possible not only as a WR but on special teams and even as a QB from the wild-cat formation. The talented product of Bishop Dwenger in Fort Wayne, Indiana, did it all in high school as well, winning awards as a WR before switching to QB as a senior to lead one of the best teams in the state. In fact, he barely left the field during his senior season as he proved to be a skilled punt returner, kick returner, and defensive back as well.
Last season, Dayne Crist told the South Bend Tribune that Goody could out-throw every quarterback on the 2009 Notre Dame roster (including both Crist and Clausen). He now enters the 2010 season focused on refining his athletic abilities and becoming a big-time threat at WR. Look for him to take advantage of any and every opportunity he gets. Before long, the #10 to #81 connection might just become as familiar as the #10 to #83 connection was a few years ago.
5. It's preseason which means it's appropriate for all college football fans to bathe in Kool-Aid and allow themselves to dream of invading Glendale, Arizona this January en route to claiming a national championship. Tears of joy will be shed, flights will be missed, and days--if not weeks--of "sick" leave from work will be utilized. I want that more than that weird, fat lady in Napoleon Dynamite wanted that model ship. What needs to happen this season on the offensive side of the ball for this dream to become reality?
As Brian Kelley said in his interview this weekend, we really need to hope that “the new QB has a break out year.” Dayne-O needs to light it up and everyone needs to be on the same page as him. As we saw in the spring game, our new fast-pace style of play really allows our offense to get a lot of plays off quickly. That means keeping the defense on their heels and unprepared for what’s coming at them, with our quick, speedy wide receivers getting open on short pass plays. That will open the field up for Armando and Cierre to have game-breaking, explosive runs that Cincinnati’s opponents were quite familiar with last season as UC averaged 4.99 yards per carry.
The deep pass won’t be used as often as it was under Weis, but that might make it more effective. After a series of 5-15 yard pass plays, defensive backs won't be prepared for Mike Floyd or TJ Jones to take off and burn past them toward the end zone, allowing Dayne to float one right into their hands. And when everyone’s covered, Dayne needs to be able to tuck it and run for a few yards… no gain is not an option in this offense, and as Connecticut knows: Brian Kelly will put up over 700 yards on you. I am looking for speed guys like Goodman and Toma to come in under the radar and make some catches in the open field and take it to the house.
For the first time I have been watching another team's highlights (Cincinnati’s) to get amped for this season, and I can totally see our guys flourishing in this offense. If we can avoid three and outs and red zone stalls, there's no reason we can't reach Glendale for the title game. Let’s go now Irish!
6. ***BONUS*** The arrival of college football means the arrival of perhaps the greatest American pastime: Tailgating. The assumption is that you're going to be heading to at least one game in the Bend this year which means you'll have at least one opportunity to tailgate your face off. What home games are you planning on attending, where do you normally tailgate when you're out for a game, what's your typical tailgate like (we talking a great spread and a selection of imported beverages or a pack of Bubba burgers and about 20 30-racks of Natty?), and are you inviting your loyal readers?
I am definitely on the offensive during my tailgating. I will be at every home and away game with the grill going, the bar fully stacked, and completely decked out in green. I tailgate wherever I get a spot in the football lot (normally by the row of port-a-johns across from Gate C) and we have chili dogs, sandwiches, wings, Chick-fil-A bites and whatever else I’m in the mood to cook up… I’m going to give breakfast a shot this year. Bloody Marys are a must, along with Molson and Moosehead. Irish Creed readers are always welcome as long as they are prepared to be greeted with a shot. We will tweet our location.