by Mike Coffey
Week Two of the Irish Blogger Gathering kicks off with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons answering my five … er, three questions for the week. I, in turn, was queried by Frank Vitovich at UHND. The other exchanges can be sampled at Strong & True, Inside the Irish, and Subway Domer.
The big debate the last couple days regarding the defense concerns intention. Did Diaco and company go into their shell after the early two-touchdown lead to try and keep Michigan from getting anything useful, or is ND’s seeming inability to get the defense off the field for three quarters of the game a major cause for concern considering the quality of opposition? Which side of the debate do you come down on and why?
ND wasn’t exactly setting back in a soft zone once they got their lead. They played a lot of man and press coverages, mixing in blitzes often, throughout the entire game. Even when the defensive play calling did get more conservative when the game was well in hand, the Irish were often blitzing and bringing five or more rushers on third downs to force Temple to punt.
Saying they had issues for three quarters doesn’t add up either. Now, that isn’t to say they played perfect because they certainly didn’t. The second quarter was especially bad, giving up 155 total yards, the most out of all four quarters, and Temple had two sustained drives against the Irish, one of which ended in a TD and another which should have ended in an easy FG.
Beyond that, the Irish only allowed two other drives that went for more than 6 plays (missed FG and a turnover on downs in the red zone). Statistically, the Irish gave up yardage totals of 81, 53, 73 in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th quarter respectively.
Digging a bit deeper into the play calling, the Irish ran man coverage almost exclusively in the first half. This seemed to work out fairly well initially, but Connor Reilly settled in and started making the Irish pay. He made the right hot reads and made the Irish pay with his feet, scrambling away from the Irish pass rush and finding nothing but open field against man coverage.
In the second half, the Irish adjusted and ran majority zone and kept the man coverage and blitzes to a minimum. After that change, the overall performance picked up.
Based on all of this, I think ND was trying to shuck the “bend, don’t break” claim to fame a bit and tried to force more pressure with blitzes and single man coverage and it backfired. They had no spy on Reilly and were getting beat repeatedly on quick routes that turned into 5-10 easy yards.
So I’m not really sold that it is either of the two initially presented options. However, if the Irish try to run mostly man coverages against Michigan, yes, there is cause to worry.
As well as the offense moved the ball, they seemed to have problems on third down, going five for 13. What will they have to do differently against Michigan to get that number up?
I think the 5-13 number is a bit misleading.
Firstly, Hendrix was responsible for three attempted third down conversions (went 1-3). That’s junk time, so I feel it’s safe to throw those numbers out, bringing us to Rees leading the offense to 4-10.
Secondly, the Irish offense got ultra conservative right before the 4th quarter when the Irish went up 28-6. At that point it was run, run, and pass if it was third and 5+. In fact, after the final TD, the Irish faced 3rd & 5, 3rd & 7, and 3rd & 9 and only converted one (3rd & 5, short pass to GA3). So I’d feel somewhat ok tossing those, bringing us to 3-6.
Finally, DaVaris Daniels pulled up lame on an attempted 3rd down conversion that should have been a TD which could have bumped the number to 4-6.
That leaves us with two of Rees’ worst passes in the entire game on 3rd & 11 and 3rd & 7. On both these plays, Rees had receivers open, but he completely missed them both. So really it appears that the errors on third down could really be chalked up to two bad passes.
However, if we go a step further, and decide to include all of Rees’ third down attempts, we get the following:
• 3rd & 1-3: 3-4 (excluding 4th Quarter: 3-3)
• 3rd & 4-6: 1-2 (excluding 4th Quarter: 1-2)
• 3rd & 7-9: 0-3 (excluding 4th Quarter: 0-1)
• 3rd & 10+: 0-1 (excluding 4th Quarter: 0-1)
Putting all this together, it appears the key to converting third downs could very well lie in the success of first and second down. The Irish were simply not good when the situation came to third and long situations.
The strategy against Rees has been to drop eight defenders into coverage and make him beat you with his arm. If the Irish end up in third and long, I would wager Michigan would try to apply the exact same formula and I am going to assume Rees will continue to struggle in such situations until he proves otherwise — especially since he had receivers open in these situations against Temple.
So for success on third down, I’m looking for the Irish to put a balanced attack together to keep any third down distance manageable. If it isn’t a third and short, it’s all on Rees to execute properly.
In his Sunday presser, Brian Kelly talked about Michigan not being a “historic, traditional rival”. Is he correct?
I think Brian Kelly is absolutely correct and I wish he hadn’t gone back on this quote in his Tuesday presser.
Sure Michigan is a hated opponent and, yes, they are our oldest opponent, but those two things don’t equate to a rivalry. It also doesn’t help that the series has seen some gigantic gaps in it, and the reason for practically all of them have come from Michigan’s side (including the cancellation of the 2018 and 2019 games, which has conveniently been forgotten).
I honestly like the ND/Michigan game. I’m sad to see it go. It’s been nice that the game has been an annual event for about a decade or so now. However, even that decade was full of Michigan wondering if this game was ever worth it to them and their goals of Big Ten Championships and Rose Bowls.
Hoke and Michigan have made this a big deal because, for once, ND got the jump on Michigan, a school now handcuffed by their own conference scheduling, the same conference they blackballed us from joining back in Yost’s day.
ESPN is fanning the flames because this is their last chance until at least 2020 to have a prime-time ND/Michigan ratings grab so they will happily invent games their on-air personalities grew up watching that never happened.
I’m sure the series will be revived once our series with Texas comes to a close and the ACC scheduling becomes easier to deal with in future years. Or perhaps we renew the Texas contract and give Michigan the finger again.
Either way, Michigan will still suck.