[Editor’s Note: Dan has better things to do this week than wax poetic about how this could be a close game. Dan may also be fairly surprised by the relatively small ( -5.5) spread. Does Vegas know something about ND coming off bye weeks?]
I’d really love to roll the dice and pick the upset here, but I do believe that Utah is the better team, and Notre Dame hasn’t beat a “better” team since…boy, I can’t even remember when.
Although I do think that Utah is the better team, I’m not really sure how good they actually are. Their schedule is a joke – the best teams they’ve played have been Pitt and TCU. They needed overtime to beat a lousy Panthers squad, and were curb-stomped at home by TCU. Their lofty ranking for much of this year appears to be related more to their “name brand” than anything else.
That said, ND is starting a true freshman QB who has looked equal parts surprisingly impressive and in-over-his-head during his appearances in games this year. I’m not shocked that Rees had a good measure of success against Tulsa given that he’s got some experience in the spread offense, and given Tulsa’s abominable pass defense. Utah will not allow him to methodically lead the Irish down the field with short passes, and in order to score, I believe ND will have to hit on some big plays, both through the air and on the ground. They haven’t been terribly successful in getting consistent big play production against quality defenses this year.
Two things I’ll be looking for out of this game – continued maturation of Rees and Cierre Wood, and production out of what should be a near fully-healthy Jamoris Slaughter. All three of these guys will play a big role in ND’s success in the coming years and it would be nice to see them all take some steps forward at the end of the year.
Also – big recruiting weekend for the Irish with two QBs in town (Everett Golson and Jacoby Brissett) along with Brennan Scarlett from Oregon, who could ease the pain (at least a bit) for losing Aaron Lynch.
Utah 31 ND 20
The first meeting between these schools should have carried a little more fanfare than this. Senior Day will tug at the heart strings a little, but you can’t say with a straight face you’re going to miss this class on the football field. We all wanted to like these guys. But look over this list slowly. Is it shocking that this collection is responsible for the losingest 4-year stretch in school history? Armando Allen, Brian Smith, Ian Williams, Gary Gray, Robert Hughes, Kerry Neal, Emeka Nwankwo, Matt Ragone, Harrison Smith, Steve Paskorz, Andrew Nuss, Taylor Dever, Aaron Nagel, Matt Romine, Brandon Walker (and early bolters Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate). Yikes – that’s a lot of names that made minimal impact in their careers. And the ones that played generally left fans wanting more.
Hopefully we look back fondly and regard this class as the group tasked with an ugly transition that paved the way for better days by modeling the ND way to recruits. (Just writing that sentence caused my gag reflex to start acting up – can’t believe I’m making excuses for mediocrity). I appreciate the sacrifices and commitment these student-athletes made, but their “legacy” is chock full of underachievement and disappointment.
As for the game itself, I fully expect Utah to channel their frustration from last week’s embarrassment and unleash their full arsenal on an overmatched Irish defense. Things could get ugly fast. Tommy Rees’ first career start is the only real point of interest, outside of a love-is-blind masochistic compulsion to tune in to NBC.
Utah 45 Notre Dame 31
Matt: Notre Dame
I’m back on board. All it took was a bye week and a cathartic week of reflection for me to start taking baby sips of the Irish Kool-Aid. First, this game, then some bigger picture observations.
Utah isn’t that great. They were wildly overrated due to their undefeated record, but their only real test before last weekend came against Pitt, which they barely passed with a win in overtime. Sure, they’re destruction of Iowa State in Ames was nice, but really there just isn’t much there on the resume. Five of their 8 wins have comes against the dregs of D-1 (Wyoming, UNLV, San Jose St, Colorado St, New Mexico are all sub-100 in the Sagarin rankings with New Mexico checking in at a whopping 175. My bank account thanks you Lobos.) And of course they got the doors blown off of them last week at home against TCU. No one will be confusing this Notre Dame team with TCU any time soon, but still, the opportunity is there for the Irish to pull off the ‘upset’ and get the train back on the tracks.
Rees played competently two weeks ago against Tulsa, and I think Kelly will have coached him up so that there will be no noticeable dropoff from Crist. Armando Allen is done for his career, but in comes Cierre Wood to see if he can live up to his lofty hype. Again, not a lot of dropoff in pure talent there, maybe even an upgrade. Of course Armando brought the intangibles of pass protection, receiving…but let’s see what Cierre can do. On the defensive side, Utah’s QB Jordan Wynn is ok, but was dreadful against TCU. I think ND has seen much better QB’s already this year, so I’m really not too worried about him. In their two real games to date against Pitt and TCU, the Utes rushed for only 170 yards combined. Again, not quite the juggernaut that everyone would have you believe leading into last weekend. I think ND can handle Utah and get back to the winner’s circle.
As far as big picture, I really think the bye week helped put things in perspective for me. Maybe that was because there wasn’t an opportunity for another L to be tacked onto the record, but a few things:
- It’s Year 1 of the BK era people! He’s not going anywhere, no matter how many chuckleheads on NDNation clamor for Gruden or Stoops. He has made his living as a player development guy, and that can’t really happen overnight. He didn’t win with 2 stars at UC and no stars at Central by accident. Let’s give him a chance to get a season under his belt, a recruiting class in the pipeline, and then maybe we can start handing out grades.
- It’s Year 1 of the BK era people! Can’t say it enough. Perspective. Lou Holtz was under .500 his first year at ND. Pete Carroll inherited a mess at USC and wasn’t great right out of the gate. Nicholas Saban lost to Louisiana Monroe during his first season! That’s ten times worse than losing to Navy or Tulsa. Now, if the same things are happening in year two, then we have problems. But I don’t think they will. Kelly is too good of a coach with too good of a track record, no matter how ‘small timey’ it may be, to just flame out at ND.
- Injuries. Ok, never an excuse, but in this case, it’s just reality. What other team in the country has lost its starting QB, RB, TE, WR2, a starting safety and a myriad of other dings and dents along the way? It’s just been a tsunami of injuries. Again, I’m chalking it up to one of those fluky years, but if it’s happening again next year then some fingers will have to be pointed at the strength and conditioning program. Perhaps the most damaging injuries of all have been at safety, the position of least depth right now on the roster. With Jamoris Slaughter basically having been out for the year and Dan McCarthy right next to him on the sideline, Harry Smith and Zeke Motta have had to be ironmen. Not to mention it severely limited the defenses ability to play nickel etc.
- Crazy circumstances. The Tulsa game was played under a black cloud and one can only imagine the mindset of the players and coaches after experiencing such a tragedy. The Navy game was a fluke to the 10th degree, with a complete butcher-job of the defensive gameplan (Assistant coaches are not off limits for the one and done treatment, so BK needs to do a thorough examination of Diaco’s ability to lead the defense next year) and Michigan was just a one man show (admittedly better talent or scheme on defense should have won that game as Michigan has proved to once again be a fraud.)
Bottom line is, there are two big games left to show the country that Notre Dame is not fading into Bolivian and is still somewhat relevant on the national landscape. Utah is not a great team, merely a good one, and USC is similar and will have nothing to play for. I want to see this Irish team circle the wagons and win out, which I don’t think is unreasonable. Let’s finish strong on the field and in recruiting (this weekend could be big) and go from there. IF, there is any sign that the players are throwing in the towel or going through the motions, that would be extremely alarming. I haven’t seen it yet, the writers who cover the team daily haven’t seen it, and honestly I don’t expect to see it. The leaders on this team are all young guys who haven’t proven anything, and I think they can see the opportunity in front of them to bring the program back. That starts on Saturday. The students will not be storming the field as the losingest class in ND history.
ND 37 Utah 31
PS, if ND gets blown out on Saturday, forget I ever wrote this. I’ll be right back in line with everyone else questioning everything about the program from the Adidas on the jersey to the head coach, athletic director and president of the university.
Utah is coming off an embarrassing home trashing at the hands of TCU, but the Utes have too much firepower for Notre Dame to handle. With an extra week to rest and prepare, I expect ND to play somewhat better than in weeks past. Given ND’s deficiencies on defense and an offensive game plan which should feature about 80 passes from a true freshman quarterback, “better” will not be good enough. Look for Utah to move the ball with relative ease and to score another special teams touchdown. For Irish supporters, this season cannot end fast enough.
Utah 37 Notre Dame 27