We sat down this week and threw some questions at some of the premier Notre Dame bloggers on the internet. Special thanks to The House Rock Built, The Blue-Gray Sky, and SBN's Rakes of Mallow. Thanks for taking time to mix it up this week guys.
I'm watching the ESPN ticker, and Ted Ginn Jr. just scored again in the Fiesta Bowl. Seriously though, what happened there? Was that game a fluke or did it expose a lack of speed on defense? How confident are you the problem has been fixed?
Rock: Well, a lot of galloping around in the secondary uncovered happened. There's not much I can do to defend what happened, but a sober analysis of the Fiesta Bowl shows that the Irish defense played like, you know, a normal college football defense for a majority of the game. The real reason for the high score and the ungodly amount of yardage is because of four big plays that were the results of crucial breakdowns in the defense.
Rakes: If you also notice in the Fiesta Bowl, we got absolutely no pressure on Troy Smith, which allowed the deep routes to develop. We're turning up the blitz and hoping to cancel out some of the big offensive plays with big defensive ones.
BG Sky: We covered our take on the Fiesta bowl with a series of breakdowns of the Buckeye touchdowns. Our conclusion was that while Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes are indeed extremely fast players, the touchdowns were more the result of great Ohio State coaching and communication and positional breakdowns by the Irish defense. Irish defenders were biting on play-action fakes, unable to keep contain, and generally looking like the inexperienced unit they were. I think it's still to early to tell if those problems are fixed, although the play of the defense in the 2nd half of the GT game was encouraging. The key will be to see if they can stop a passing team with multiple quality WR targets like Penn State as opposed to a team like Georgia Tech that really only had one weapon at wide out.
The Irish really struggled to move the ball for much of the game against Georgia Tech. How would you say the GA Tech defense compares to the Penn State defense? Will they get the bugs out of the offense in time for the game this week?
BG Sky: The most obvious thing is the all-out relentless blitzing style of play from Georgia Tech. They brought pressure on just about every play. I realize that Penn State is going to blitz their linebackers plenty and try to get after Quinn too, but the Yellow Jackets do it on just about every play. Just non-stop pressure. Tech's defensive line impressed me and while there is individual talent there, I'm not sure that Penn State will be able to match the consistent pressure caused by the veteran Yellow Jacket line. On the other hand, I suspect Penn State will be harder to run against due to the quality of your linebackers. As for the Notre Dame offense, I think the team will settle down some now that they're playing at home and hopefully not come out as jumpy as they did against Tech.
Rock: Having only seen the Akron game, I can't really say much about Penn State's defense, but I'm sure that their linebackers are as good if not better than Tech's, although I believe that Tech has a more experienced line. Either way, there's plenty of talent back there to get after Quinn and take out the slow-developing downfield passing game, forcing the Irish into a more error-prone dink-and-dunk gameplan that will slow down the game and keep down the scoring.
Rakes: Your secondary is rather inexperienced, and by forcing them to make plays against Rhema and the Shark on the outside as opposed to pounding the middle and playing to your strengths - like the Sweatervest did in the OSU/PSU game last year - we turn the Irish offense vs. Penn State defense advantage to us.
Everybody knows Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, and Darius Walker. Give me the name of a player Penn State fans may not have heard of that is going to have a big impact on the game.
Rakes: Keep your eyes open for John Carlson, who fit in rather well in the Anthony Fasano Rugged Tight End role in the opener. If we go spread, you'll also be seeing a lot more of David Grimes, whose yet to prove much outside of his kick return role, although I'd like to think he'll excel with all of the attention paid to the more prominent wide receivers. Charlie has also been talking up freshman Munir Prince as being one of the fastest players he's ever coached. He entered the game but didn't get a touch against the Ramblin' Wreck, so perhaps Weis is saving him for you guys.
Rock: I posted extensively about Travis Thomas after the game, because he was my personal player of the game. Thomas converted over to weakside linebacker from running back in the offseason, and was a shining ray of hope in an otherwise meh linebacking corps. He has a motor that is always running and really looks like he wants to kill somebody out there.
What's even more amazing is that in addition to his starting role on defense, Thomas played on the special teams unit and, with the game winding down and Darius Walker in desperate need for a rest, he came in on offense and carried the ball half a dozen times. The guy basically played 60 minutes on Saturday and was bowling over linebackers at the end of the game, showing absolutely no sign of fatigue.
BG Sky: On defense, I'll suggest defensive end Victor Abiamiri. He's the best pass rusher on the team and will be lining up against John Shaw. That battle will be very interesting because if he can get in Morelli's face, it could be a long day for State fans. If he can't and Morelli has a lot of time to throw, then I'd expect Penn State to have a lot of success.
Charlie seems to be plugging everyone with two legs and a heartbeat into linebacker. I heard the waterboy is even suiting up this weekend. Is this a concern for you?
Rock: Linebacking is a concern. Maurice Crum is a returning starter and I'm comfortable with him, and so far I'm pretty comfortable with Travis Thomas' performance at Will. As for the CLJLB, well, sigh. The platoon of Vernaglia-Mitchell Thomas was ineffective, not registering a tackle against Tech.
Rakes: If Thomas and Maurice Crum can improve as the season progresses and our defensive line - which should be a strength - plays better than it did in the opener, the run defense should be serviceable. Plus, I'd like to believe we have two of the better run defense safeties in the nation, as both Tommy Z and Chinedum were laying the wood to various Yellow Jackets all throughout the evening. I'd say our run defense is just as good as Akron's, so that is not the facet of the game I'm concerned about.
BG Sky: The big concern for me, as well as just about every other Irish fan, is the play of our strongside linebacker. After the first and second string guy both whiffed on a few tackles early against the Yellow Jackets, ND went to a nickel defense for just about the rest of the game. I don't think that's a recipe for long-term success so I'm a bit apprehensive as to what exactly ND plans to do with their linebackers against Penn State, as well as for the rest of the season.
Waterboy is suiting up just in case.
What part of the game do you think Notre Dame will have success against Penn State?
Rakes: I think we won't have much trouble stopping the run. GT had success, but that was with a mobile quarterback, something PSU doesn't pose a problem with. I also think we'll have a size advantage with Samardjiza on whoever is covering him, which is why I'd wager this game is won on the outside - Penn State's receivers versus the Irish secondary, and vice-versa.
BG Sky: I think Notre Dame will have success throwing the ball. The veteran offensive line should be capable of slowing down the State defensive line and despite being fast and athletic, I think the inexperience of the Penn State secondary will allow for some big plays by Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight.
Rock: Penn State averaging 1.5 yards per carry (after taking out the triple-reverse hook-and-lateral or whatever that play was) makes me think that the DL can put a hurting on the inexperienced OL of Penn State. Hopefully, that will put an added burden on Morelli, which with any luck will lead to some freshman mistakes and turnovers.
What part of the game do you think Penn State will have success against Notre Dame?
BG Sky: I think that Penn State will have success slowing down the Irish running game. Darius Walker isn't the fastest running back so he may find it tough to get many yards against the Penn State linebackers.
Rock: I'm pretty sure we'll see as much pressure put on Quinn as possible, using exotic blitzes and zone coverage to confuse the quick reads. With the gaggle of superhuman freaks in the linebacking corps, I get the feeling they can really get some damage done by getting into the backfield and forcing a change in offensive strategy.
Rakes: I'd imagine we're going to have some difficulty playing the sort of power football we did against GT in the second half against the Lions, as their linebackers are simply too good. I also see you being able to run some receiver screens and trick plays, as our tackling showed signs of not being so hot at times against GT.
Ok guys. You're not quite off the hot seat yet, but I'll give you a softball to wrap things up. For the five Penn State fans that were lucky enough to get tickets and a hotel room in South Bend this weekend, other than go to the game what would you suggest they do to get a taste of the Notre Dame tradition while they're there?
Rock: South Bend sucks. Seriously, don't even bother going. Cancel your hotel reservations and sell your tickets at face value to Notre Dame fans.
Allright, I'm guessing nobody fell for that. Dammit. My advice is to get up at the crack of dawn and start pounding beers. Grab a steak sandwich at the Knights of Columbus, go to the bookstore and buy some Notre Dame paraphernalia (you know you want to), then basically just stroll around the tailgating area soaking in the best damn tailgate atmosphere in the country.
Rakes: Well, you're going to definitely have to take in the Grotto before the game, although I'm unaware of the policy on prayers made for the opposing team is down there. After the game, I either recommend Rocco's or Bruno's pizza - I prefer Rocco's, which has great cheesy bread and salad to go along with the main dish, although you can't go wrong with either - although both of them will be packed.
BG Sky: If Penn State fans get there early enough on Friday, they can spend time at the College Football Hall of Fame downtown. And while you are downtown, find CJ's Pub for the best burger in town. Make sure to walk around campus before the game and check out some of ND's famous landmarks like the Grotto, Touchdown Jesus, and the Golden Dome. Prior to the game, the Band plays on the steps of Bond Hall at 2 p.m. local time and always draws a crowd. For those Penn State fans making the trip, here's a listing of all sorts of activities going on during the game weekend.
Thanks guys. It should be a great game on Saturday. Good luck and Go State!
Black Shoe Diaries took part in a Roundtable discussion with The Nittany Line over on The House Rock Built if you care to read it.