I know basketball season is closing in, but we're not yet through with the oblong ball yet, so stick with me here. Maryland gets a shot at some much-needed momentum - and a win for Randy Edsall to point to in the off-season to fans and recruits - when they
host uh, technically play at Notre Dame in FedEx Field on Saturday. To get another perspective on this week's opponent we traded questions with the network's resident Notre Dame expert blog, One Foot Down. They'll publish the other half of this tomorrow, so make sure to head over there on Friday and read up.
Until then, check out what they have to say about Brian Kelly's demeanor, the concept of Notre Dame in the ACC, whether Danny O'Brien or C.J. Brown poses a bigger threat, and much more. Read on.
Maryland is probably outclassed across the board by Notre Dame in all but two areas: penalties and turnovers. It seems those two have come back to haunt ND a few times throughout the year. Have the Irish become more disciplined, or do you expect those areas to hurt them again?
I'll answer that with a definitive "maybe." Notre Dame isn't turning the ball over five times a game anymore, but Rees still throws the occasional head-scratching interception and penalties are still a problem. The one positive (I guess) is that the penalties and turnovers are no longer happening at back-breaking moments. Personal fouls on third down in the red zone and turnovers in the endzone seem to have worked their way out of the team's system. That said, I still would expect at least one pick from Rees and at least one stupid late hit or taunting penalty of some kind. I'm just hoping they don't happen at terrible times.
Knowing what you know about Notre Dame's defense, do you think defensive coordinator Bob Diaco would prefer to face Danny O'Brien and his arm (likely in a more pro-stlye attack) or C.J. Brown and his legs (likely in a more spread-based attack)?
Definitely O'Brien. Notre Dame hasn't done a terrible job of stopping mobile quarterbacks, but they've struggled at times. BJ Daniels always seemed to slip past tacklers, Denard Robinson broke contain a few times, heck, even Tanner Price picked up a few first downs with his legs. Meanwhile, Kirt Cousins is probably still having nightmares of Aaron Lynch bearing down on him and, even though the defense as a whole struggled against USC, there were players chasing Matt Barkley at times. Additionally, the Irish will be playing two true freshman at defensive end. They're both very talented pass rushers, but not as stout against the run and not great at filling their running lanes. If O'Brien is in, they'll be able to let it loose going after him, but if Brown is under center then there's always the possiblity of giving a big play.
Notre Dame is, of course, stacked with talent and big names: Tommy Rees, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Manti T'eo, Robert Blanton, and Harrison Smith (*catches breath*) to name a few. What's a name we might not know who will have a big impact on Saturday?
On offense, I'd look out for Robby Toma, who will be getting his first start of the season at slot receiver in relief of the injured Theo Riddick. Be prepared to hear Mike Mayock call Toma "quicker than fast" at least 47 times during the NBC broadcast. He's not a guy who's going to take over the game and catch a dozen balls, but he could chip in 5 or 6 catches for 50ish yards. He's a fan favorite because he was a high school teammate of Te'o's and came over with him three years ago. He's a little guy but he runs hard and is fearless in the open field. I've been waiting for him to see the field more often outside of a few plays here or there to give Riddick a breather, so I'm excited to see him play on Saturday.
On defense, I'd look out for the entire defensive line. It's a very young unit, made up of the aforementioned true freshmen ends, Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, and sophomore nose guard Louis Nix. The three of them represent the future of the Notre Dame defense, which has arrived a little early thanks to injuries to seniors Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore. Lynch and Tuitt are the two defensive line super recruits Charlie Weis could never pull in, so expectations are sky high for them, and the fanbase has fallen in love with Nix because of his personality and his nickname, Irish Chocolate. Those three will play a critical role in the defense on Saturday. If they can't get after the QB (whoever it is), the defense will struggle. So expect to hear their name, for better ot worse.
I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about conference realignment. It looks like things are settling down, but of course Notre Dame, as always, has the potential to turn the world upside down. There've even been some rumors about the Irish settling down in the ACC. Where do you think ND will end up? How would you feel about a potential landing spot in the ACC?
There's no way Notre Dame voluntarily gives up independence. No way, no how. The school will fight to the bitter end before joining a conference. Independence is what makes the Notre Dame football program unique and it allows the school to schedule games against its assorted rivals without running into the limitation of conference games. Combine that with an exclusive TV contract and a sweet deal with the BCS and it's easy to see why Notre Dame would cling to it so closely.
All that said, if conference-geddon becomes a reality and the options are "join a conference" and "get left out," I actually hope the Irish end up in the ACC. The Big Ten may seem like it makes sense, but there's bad blood between ND and some of the other schools, both internally and among the fanbases. There's also a sense that joining the Big Ten would turn Notre Dame into "just another Midwestern school," which, as a small Catholic school in Nowhere, Indiana, is not a viable position. The ACC, however, opens up the entire East Coast to the school, a region where Notre Dame has surprisingly good ties (NY, DC, a little in the Carolinas) and is a big, wide open market. It just feels like Notre Dame could stay Notre Dame more easily in the ACC.
Many have drawn parallels between Randy Edsall and Brian Kelly's media style and their penchant for making easily-misunderstood remarks (to be nice) or consistently putting their foot in their mouth (to be more blunt). Some Maryland fans have taken to calling this the Throwing Players Under the Bus Bowl. Do you mind Kelly's remarks or, uh, fiery sideline persona?
Eh, I don't care that much. I didn't mind the comments after the USC game because I didn't think they were as bad as members of the media were making them out to be. Honestly, I love that he's in their face on the sidelines (though he's calmed down since the USF fiasco) and is critical of the players. Frankly, he inherited a soft team. Charlie Weis liked to baby the players and that led to losses to Navy, Syracuse, and UConn when the other team came out swinging. I think Kelly is trying to work that out of the team's system. He even started this from day one, calling Michael Floyd an average wide receiver last spring. Floyd responded by working harder than ever to prove him wrong and is now statistically the best receiver in Notre Dame history. Kelly's background is in politics, so he knows exactly what he's saying and what his public image is, and I have a feeling he's just trying to motivate a team that has serious lapses that past several years.
We'll finish it up with this: who are you picking on Saturday, and what's final score?
I'm really hoping for a nice, easy win for the Irish. With the team's injury situation, it would be nice to have two big wins over Maryland and Boston College so the team can rest up a bit and get over some nagging injuries before a huge game against Stanford to close the year. I see the offense coming out running the ball with Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood and mixing in some easy passes to keep Rees's confidence up. I doubt the Irish defense will shut down the Maryland offense, but I think they'll make stops when they have to. I would bet the game will be relatively close at halftime, like 17-10 or something like that, but the Irish wear down the Terps in the end. I do think the 21 point line is a tad generous, though, so I'll say the Irish win with a score 34-20.