Evaluating the Irish: Army Black Knights
Win six games and become bowl eligible—this was now the goal for the Fighting Irish football team. In what has become a somewhat underwhelming inaugural campaign for head coach Brian Kelly, his team adopted a desperate undertaking: making the postseason. Long gone are the days of yesteryear when Notre Dame was at the forefront of college football’s greatest powers. Will Brian Kelly make that happen once again, relieving the now 22-year drought of college football’s highest honor? That remains to be seen. But, as it stands right now, you take what you can get.
Johnny Lujack was just one of the former greats on hand at the new Yankee Stadium to witness a throwback match between two of the most historical and, at one time, greatest football teams in the country. As the Irish fan base let out a collective sigh when the Irish charged out of the tunnel in their “kelly” green uniforms, the uneasiness didn’t subside until later in the game when Notre Dame finally turned in a performance against the triple option that resulted in an unfamiliar feeling to settle in—boredom. But that’s a good thing, right?
“Redemption is a collaborative activity.”
Notre Dame arrived in the Big Apple poised to face an Army team that, like its fellow service academy brethren, boasted a formidable ground attack. In a surprising turn of events, Notre Dame’s defense is what has turned out to be the strength of this year’s Irish squad, but the question still remained if Notre Dame could stop Army’s rushing game, especially after they struggled mightily against Navy’s version of the triple option.
After Notre Dame’s offense took the opening kickoff and promptly trotted down the field and turned the ball over in the end zone, it was time for Notre Dame’s defense, and Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco, to show that their performance against the Navy Midshipmen was a fluke and that they could stop the option attack. After one series, Notre Dame fans were still left in doubt. On their opening drive, the Army ground attack promptly took the Black Knights down the field on a 78 yard opening drive that stalled near the goal line and produced a field goal.
As fate would have it, that field goal turned out to be the only three points that the Black Knights would score that day. Throughout the rest of the day, the Irish would hold Army to just 96 yards and three first downs. As adjustments were made and Robert Blanton got some help on the perimeter of the defense, the Irish put on a dazzling display of defensive toughness that included an interception returned for a touchdown by senior Darrin Walls. Unsurprisingly, the Irish were led in tackles by sophomore middle linebacker Manti Te’o who tallied nine.
At the end of the game, it was clear that the Notre Dame defense achieved some sort of redemption from the poor performance they turned in against Navy. And Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco showed that he can learn from his mistakes as well as make adjustments during the game to maximize his unit’s success. As the Irish, and their defense, are poised to take on a familiar opponent next week in USC, it will remain to be seen how well the defense can finish out their season. Fortunately, USC may be without the services of their starting quarterback Matt Barkley, allowing the experienced backup behind him in Mitch Mustain to get the start. If ever there was a time for Notre Dame’s defense to peak, it would be this Saturday.
Depth we didn’t know we had…
When Dayne Crist, Armando Allen, Kyle Rudolph, and Theo Riddick were ruled to be out for a considerable amount of time, the outlook on Notre Dame’s offense was bleak, to say the least. However, in their absence other members of the offensive unit have started to become consistent contributors. Led by freshman Tommy Rees, who got a rude introduction to college football against Michigan, the Irish offense has been very consistent as of late. Players like Cierre Wood, Duval Kamara, and Roby Toma have done their part in recent games to ease the drop-off that’s usually felt when one, or in this case many, starting players are sidelined for the season. This week, however, one player was added to the fold: Tyler Eifert.
In the absence of Kyle Rudolph, who is still undecided if he’s headed for the NFL, Tyler Eifert provided freshman quarterback Tommy Rees with something that most tight ends do not: a down-field threat. While Army’s defense seemed to be keying in on Michael Floyd, Eifert, who is a mismatch for nearly any defender, exploited the Black Knights’ secondary and led all receivers (and tight ends) with 78 yards and a touchdown.
As former Notre Dame quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen know, trial by fire is never a way you want to introduce a new player, quarterback or otherwise, to the speed of the college football. However, in the absence of Dayne Crist, Armando Allen, Kyle Rudolph and Theo Riddick, Tommy Rees, Cierre Wood, Tyler Eifert, and Roby Toma have done a serviceable job in producing for the Irish. Even though the Irish aren’t as potent on offense as they could be with their starters, combined with a defense that has been surprisingly stout and that has held opposing offenses to zero touchdowns for more than 11 quarters, the Irish are exceeding expectations.
The Best Worst-Case Scenario
This coming weekend, the Irish face a familiar foe in the University of Southern California. Even though the Trojans don’t have much to play for, including a post-season bowl game, the matchup will be as important as always and a key moment for this Notre Dame squad. Because the Irish have met their “last-ditch effort” goal of becoming bowl eligible, it would be easy for the players to ease up and coast through the last game. However, nothing is more paramount than the team finishing the season strong and heading into their respective post-season bowl game on a roll. Those extra 15 practices that a bowl game gives a team are essential to this squad to build more experience at key positions. However, a win on Saturday against USC will give the team something that’s more important than experience and something that Notre Dame hasn’t had in a long while: a strong finish to a somewhat complicated season, making the best of a worst-case scenario.