by Mike Coffey
After a warm-up week to get our legs under us, the IBG has returned for another year and another format change. This year, each of the participants will pose a question to the group, and each of us will collect our answers to all the questions and link the other ones. To read the answers the guys had to my question (which appears at the end), follow the links in their names below (which will appear when their articles are posted).
Aaron Horvath, ND blog: Let’s compare two games during the Brian Kelly era – the USF game and the Rice game. Does the way that the Irish systematically blew out the Owls show how far the Program has come since Kelly took over? What has he done to create a consistent winning environment? What does he still need to do?
Well, let’s start with my disagreement that Brian Kelly has created a “consistent winning environment”. He’s done a lot to get the program on a firm footing, and anyone who thinks otherwise is nuts. But there’s still a ways to go until the word “consistent” can be applied, unless you want to consider 8- to 9-win seasons the level of consistency you seek.
To get to the championship level, ND needs to take the kind of performance they showed last week and bring that kind of intensity every week. I think the return of Everett Golson helped a lot — last year, that would have been a 13-10 game in the fourth quarter and I’d be looking for the Maalox. But a lot of other players like Will Fuller and Greg Bryant showed strong performances also. Players who made mistakes early in the game seemed to learn from them later (e.g. CJ Prosise). Overall, there was a confidence I liked a lot. Now they need to bring that confidence to the Michigans of the world.
Frank Vitovich, UHND: What must the Notre Dame defense do on Saturday to prevent Devin Garder from having another career performance against Notre Dame similar to what we’ve seen happen in the past with both Gardner (last year) and Denard Robinson (2010, 2011) before him?
Three words: Containment, containment, containment. And pressure — four words.
Gardner looks like a world-beater when he has the time to think. When he doesn’t have that time, that’s when the mistakes come, and they tend to come in bursts. ND needs to keep Gardner in the pocket, and if they can put pressure on him, he’ll implode. That’s what the defense did in 2012 and if they can do it again, ND has the offensive firepower to make this a not-close game.
Edit: In my prior paragraph, I was referring to the performance of the defense in general, not against Gardner specifically. I know Robinson was the QB in that game. I should have been clearer.
Subway Domer: Regardless to any historical or personal interest in this game, rate the level of importance this Saturday night’s matchup has for this season. What will define this season more, a win or a loss?
At the risk of sparking the usually “negativity” accusations, a loss will define the season more than a win. This game is crucial not only for the short-term (positioning for playoff participation) but also the long-term (all-time win percentage, no more scheduled games vs. Michigan). A win would be huge and I’m not about to downgrade it. But if ND wins, it’s four weeks until the next huge game, then an even bigger one two weeks after that. A loss has more impact.
Going back to Aaron’s question, if Brian Kelly is going to move more in the direction of the Devine-Holtz strata of ND coaches and away from the Layden-Brennan level, it has to start with wins in games like this. A win will show it’s possible he can move up, but a loss will be much more solid evidence he’s going to move down because, outside of 2012, that’s what we’ve been seeing.
Ryan Ritter, Her Loyal Sons: Everett Golson certainly put on quite a show against Rice. Should we temper optimism because it was just Rice or can we dare to dream of Heisman campaigns?
I go with the latter. While the Owls certainly weren’t world-beaters, Golson showed an ease and confidence I didn’t really see a lot in 2012 and was worried I wouldn’t see with the year-long layoff. As Mike Frank pointed out, a lot of EG’s long throws last Saturday were strictly via his arm — no step-in — and if his receivers had held onto a couple more balls, it might have been an even bigger blowout.
I said on WT&K this week wins like the one available Saturday are what successful Heisman campaigns are made of. I’m pretty optimistic we’re going to see that kind of performance and a big Irish win.
Bonus: Michigan hate rant or favorite series memory
While I have no small hate for the Wolverines, I choose to spend my time on pursuits more worthy of higher life forms. So I’ll settle for my favorite memory, that being the first Notre Dame game I ever attended in person — September 20th, 1980, when the late Harry Oliver kicked the football right through the uprights (and the Maize and Blue right in the fruitstand) for a 29-27 win. Our seats were just to the right of a big Michigan section, and even at the tender age of 10, I realized their shitheeledness. They went from ecstatic to eviscerated in a matter of seconds. The only place you’ll see a bigger group of assholes clam up that fast is an Immodium test facility.
Now, my question to the group (and to you):
Given that this is the last scheduled game, how do you feel about the series with Michigan ending, and what priority should ND put on getting them back on the schedule?