Another quality Q&A on tap, this time with Jon (berger23) from the SBN Notre Dame blog One Foot Down. One Foot Down existed over at Fan Take before SBN merged it with Rakes Of Mallow, and I must say, the results have been very good.
Our answers to his questions are on their site, so hop on over there for the other half of the conversation.
We talk Brian Kelly, the dangerous offensive weapons of the Fighting Irish and how Notre Dame plans to stop Tanner Price after the jump...
1.) Talk a little bit about the season. The USF game had to have left a bitter taste in fans' mouths early on and the USC game probably hurt, but after being brought down to earth a little bit, has the team performed at or around expectations?
Well, this season certainly hasn't gone the way Irish fans expected. Those first two losses were disappointing because Notre Dame was clearly the better team in both games, but just couldn't stop tripping over its own... well, you know. But the Irish responded with a big win over Michigan State, a nail-biter against Pitt, and two laughers against Purdue and Air Force.
With the team still clinging to BCS hopes, a night game against our most hated rival, new helmets, scads of big-time recruits, and all kinds of hype, the team went out and laid a giant turd against USC. That was definitely the worst part of the season. The Irish had a chance to prove that they had turned the corner as a team and Brian Kelly was going to lead us to glory and wake up the echoes and return to glory and so on and so forth. But life goes on (somehow), and ND bounced back nicely against Navy.
Honestly, I'm fine with the way the team has played. The defense is light years ahead of where it was two years ago and Notre Dame can finally consistently run the ball. The problems have mostly been self-inflicted, so with any luck that will get cleared up and the Irish will play up to their potential. When this team isn't actively trying to lose the game, they're pretty good. All the talk online or on ESPN about the players being unhappy with Kelly or the fans being upset is mostly overblown. The players are on-board 100% and the crazy part of the fan base is always unhappy about everything.
So I guess that's a long-winded way of saying this season hasn't gone according to plan, but I'm still happy with the way the team has played.
2.) Assess the job Brian Kelly has done so far.
I love it. This team is so much farther along than it was under Charlie Weis. He's recruiting tough guys on the defensive and offensive lines, something Weis could never do. The players are actually receiving good coaching. The offensive line is no longer a sieve. He's brought consistency to the coaching staff (Weis had three different defensive coordinators in his five seasons).
I might be a bit of a homer because I was pining for Brian Kelly after Notre Dame lost to Navy in 2009, so I'm behind him all the way. Kelly's gotten some negative press this year because of his sideline demeanor against USF and for his comments after the USC game, but I think that stuff got blown out of proportion. If you've ever watched Urban Meyer or Nick Saban on the sidelines, they're just as bad as Kelly was, and I think the comments about the "Weis guys" needing to play better was a ploy to fire up the team, something that I think worked quite well. I don't know if Kelly will be the guy to lead this team to a championship or consistent BCS appearances, but he's certainly an upgrade from Weis.
3.) Give Demon Deacon fans a scouting report on the Irish offense. What does Tommy Rees do effectively? What does he need to work on? How do you plan on attacking Wake on the ground? What makes Michael Floyd so dangerous?
The Irish run a spread that's not too different from what Wake Forest does. In the passing game, Tommy Rees is the source of many fans' frustration. He's your stereotypical scrappy overachiever. He's not the most physically gifted and sometimes makes head-scratching decisions, but also looks brilliant at times. Against Pitt, he looked awful for three and a half quarters and then went 8 for 8 on the game-winning touchdown drive. Rees needs to do a better job of protecting the ball. The Irish are good enough on the ground that Rees doesn't need to carry the team. This offense is deadly when Rees isn't turning the ball over.
On the ground, expect to see the carries almost split evenly between Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood. Both have been outstanding. The Irish typically run out of the spread with a healthy dose of draws, counters, and zones, but against smaller defenses, Kelly sometimes has Rees go under center with two tight end sets and pound the ball. The Irish have a fantastic offensive line that can wear down opponents. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw that early on in the game.
Finally, Michael Floyd. What is there to say that hasn't been said? He's the size of a tight end but runs like a deer. Kelly likes to move him around to give the defense different looks but also likes to use him as a decoy at times. If Wake tries to defend Floyd in single coverage, he may hit double digits in catches.
4.) Defensively, Notre Dame has done a very good job against the run. What's the plan to stopping the Wake Forest offense? How do you see the Irish approaching Tanner Price and the Demon Deacon WRs?
The Irish need to get pressure on Price. The Irish secondary has been flammable at times this year, so it will be important for the line to get in Price's face and make him very uncomfortable in the pocket. If he has time, Chris Givens will get open, I'm sure of it. Notre Dame has already lost one starting defensive end for the year and another is a little gimpy, so the burden will fall on the back of two freshman super recruits, Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch. Both have had their moments, but both have also played like freshman at times. But they're both gifted pass rushers, so hopefully they'll be able to get into the backfield.
5.) Let's play it out. How do you see it all going down Saturday night? What's your final score?
It all comes down to turnovers for they Irish. Wake looked like a pushover coming into the season, but have exceeded everyone's expectations. This is a team that can give the Irish trouble if they keep turning the ball over. If they play a clean game, I think Notre Dame can wear out Wake on both sides of the ball. If not, then I might be feeling very uncomfortable at around 10:30 on Saturday. In the end, I think Wake hangs around but ND pulls away late. I think both teams will but up a decent amount of points, so I'll say ND 38, Wake 24.