by Mike Coffey
The Irish are off to West Lafayette seeking answers to their struggles. Meanwhile, the Irish Blogger Gathering has answers galore. My five … er, three questions were answered below by Frank Vitovich at UHND. I was water-Boilered by Keith Arnold over at Inside the Irish, so check my opinion out over there. Seek edification also at our other participating blogs, Strong & True, Subway Domer, and Her Loyal Sons.
To say the defense hasn’t been setting the world on fire so far this season probably is the understatement of the young century. What’s one thing you think the defense is doing well, and how do you think they can build on that to improve their overall performance?
This is a tough one because honestly speaking the defense has been a major disappointment to say the least. Notre Dame gave up more points to Michigan this past weekend alone than they gave up through the first five games combined last year. They have been playing better in the second halves of games than they have in the first halves though.
Against Temple, the Owls moved the ball very well in the first half and went into the locker room with only 6 points due in part to a missed extra point and two missed field goals. In the second half, however, the Irish defense tightened and the Owls didn’t score and didn’t move the ball well. Against Michigan, the Wolverines put up an alarming 27 points in the first half before adjusting in the second half and giving up 14 – a number that was aided in large part due to a suspect pass interference penalty on Bennett Jackson on 3rd down. If the Irish can build on the strong(er) second half performances and play a complete game they may start to resemble last year’s defense more so than a typical Weis-Era Notre Dame defense before season’s end.
On the flip side, the offense has been holding their own, certainly racking up a lot of yards. What’s one thing you think they need to improve upon to make sure they can consistently hold up their end in games?
From an execution standpoint – ball security. From a coaching perspective – committing to running the football. I know the question said one thing, but since the players technically don’t have a whole lot of say in the play calling, I split up my answer here.
Tommy Rees two turnovers came at pretty much the worst possible times. Rees second quarter interception is simply the kind of mistake a senior quarterback can’t make. It was brutal. Really brutal. Had Rees not thrown that interception and just at worst protected the football to the end of the half, the game is 20-13 at halftime instead of 27-13 with a tidal wave of momentum in Michigan’s favor. His second pick came off a deflection, but it still wasn’t an accurate pass. Rees forced it and the result was a game ending interception.
Even with better ball security though, the Notre Dame offense would be well served if the coaching staff committed to the running game more so than they have the first two weeks of the season. Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson both averaged over 5 yards a carry against Michigan, but Notre Dame ran the ball just 18 times despite never being down more than two scores at any point in the game. Tommy Rees may be slightly better this year, but he is not going to win big games by himself. Notre Dame needs to commit to running the football in order to make last Saturday an aberration instead of the norm for the 2013 season.
Last week much talk was of the rivalry we’ve had with Michigan over the years. This week, we play a team we’ve played much more often than Michigan, and yet they’re not considered a rival. Where do you believe Purdue falls in the pantheon of ND football opponents?
Despite playing the Irish many more times, the Purdue game doesn’t carry the cachet as the Michigan game because the rivalry has largely been one-sided. Notre Dame holds a 56-26-2 edge over Purdue without many meaningful games being played since the 1960’s when the Boilermakers actually somewhat had Ara Parseghian’s number. Ara guided Notre Dame to just a 5-6 mark against Purdue. Since then, however, a loss to Purdue has usually meant a terrible season for Notre Dame. Purdue’s recent wins have come in 2007, 2004, 2003, 1999, and 1997. Five seasons in which Notre Dame went to one bowl game.
The Purdue game every year is kind of like the vegetables on Notre Dame’s schedule. You don’t hate them, realize you need them, and every now and then they surprise you.