Friday, November 20, 2015

Week 11 Preview: Notre Dame vs Boston College

The 2015 edition of the Shamrock Series will get underway tomorrow night when the 4th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (9-1) travel to historic Fenway Park to take on the Boston College Eagles (3-7). In the past, Boston College has spoiled some of Notre Dame's better seasons, but can the Eagles derail the Irish once again?

Here's what to look for tomorrow night...

1. Can the Irish run on Boston College? Despite their poor record, the Eagles have one of the best defenses in the country, particularly against stopping the run. We all know the Irish have had sort of a boom or bust rushing attack by gouging defenses with big runs, yet struggling to even gain positive yards on many occasions throughout the year. So, pay attention to the trenches early on. If the Irish can consistently gain positive yardage against the Eagles' stout defensive line, then it will be a long day for Boston College. However, even if the Irish can't run the ball effectively on a consistent basis, you can rest assure that Brian Kelly won't completely abandon the run given Notre Dame's tendency for explosive runs.

2. Kizer time. Considering how well Boston College has performed against the run, it will be up to DeShone Kizer to lead the Irish with his arm and his legs. When facing quality defenses like Temple, Clemson, and Pittsburgh, Kizer had some of his best performances of the season, and I expect that to continue tomorrow night. I'm asuming that the Eagles will load the box to take away the run, so look for Kizer to have opportunities for big plays in the passing game.

3. Complete defensive effort. The Irish defense has played great at times, but they have also struggled at some point in every game. Boston College has one of the nation's worst offenses, so now would be the time to shut down, or even shutout the opposition. Notre Dame's front seven appears to have a huge edge in skill, athleticism, and size, so let's see if they can take advantage of that mismatch. It is always hard to shutout any team in college football, but it should be a realistic goal to keep the Eagles out of the end zone.

This one could look similar to last week versus Wake Forest, but I think the Irish offense will fare a bit better if the time of possession isn't drastically skewed like it was last Saturday.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Boston College 6

-Eric Tichelbaut
Twitter @etichel07

Friday, November 13, 2015

Week 10 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest

Tomorrow is Senior Day in South Bend, and the 4th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (8-1) will host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-6). While the Irish are ranked 4th, I firmly believe that they do not control their own destiny on their quest to the college football playoff. There's no doubt the Irish will need help, but that will be all moot if they don't win their final three games. On paper, this match-up looks like a blowout in favor of the Irish. Will that prove to be the case?

Here's three things the Irish can do to make that happen...

1. Give Josh Adams some work. Even if C.J. Prosise suits up, true freshman Josh Adams has proved that he is capable of handling some of the workload. There is no doubt Prosise has been a workhorse, but that's probably part of the reason he's banged up. Since the Irish have a great offensive line, they should continue to lean on them regardless of who is the running back.

2. Start fast. Whenever it is Senior Day, there's always a worry that the home team will come out sluggish given the emotions. I don't expect this to happen, but it needs to be brought up. I actually expect a few deep balls early, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Irish up 14-0 in a hurry.

3. No big plays. The Achilles Heel of this defense has been allowing the big plays, and the secondary has been most to blame. If the Irish want to run the table, which includes beating a terrific Stanford team, and knocking off two teams in the playoffs, they simply can't afford these lapses in coverage.

The Irish are a superior team, and I really don't expect Wake Forest to be competitive.

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Wake Forest 13

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, November 6, 2015

Week 9 Preview: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh

In a rare occurrence, Notre Dame (7-1) will kick-off at 11am when the 5th ranked Fighting Irish travel to Heinz Field to take on the Pittsburgh Panthers (6-2). I don't think I have to remind Irish fans that Pitt has historically played Notre Dame tough, so expect another hard fought contest.

Here are three things to look forward to tomorrow morning...

1. Get Prosise going again. C.J. Prosise had a tough time last week versus Temple, and he faces another good defense tomorrow. Nevertheless, I fully expect Brian Kelly to make an effort to get Prosise going early and often. By doing this, one of two things will happen. Either Prosise will run it down Pitt's throat, or we will find out if Pitt will load the box to take him away like Clemson and Temple did. If that becomes the case, Kelly has shown he'll let DeShone Kizer take over. No defense has been able to stop both the run game and the passing game, so I don't expect that to happen tomorrow.

2. Be efficient in the red zone. Ever since Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame, the Irish have struggled in the red zone. I think a large part of that was the immobility of Tommy Rees, and turnovers were an issue with Everett Golson. This season, I feel the red zone efficiency hasn't been brutal, but it could have cost the Irish last week. Touchdowns are obviously more important than field goals, but avoiding careless turnovers and getting points is main key. I'm hoping for a flawless performance (TD or FG) in the red zone tomorrow. If that happens, then Notre Dame shouldn't have much trouble leaving with a victory.

3. Complete performance from Russell. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell has had an up-and-down season, but he has produced two of Notre Dame's biggest interceptions of the year. Still, Russell can and should be playing a more consistent level of defense. Pitt doesn't feature an explosive passing game, so now would be the time to play like a shutdown corner.

Pitt's defense will keep them in the game, but the Irish offense will be too hard to completely stop.

Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Pittsburgh 20

-Eric Tichelbaut
Twitter @etichel07

Friday, October 30, 2015

Week 8: Notre Dame at Temple

The undefeated and 21st ranked Temple Owls (7-0) will host 9th ranked Notre Dame (6-1) tomorrow night in a match-up that carries both playoff and New Year's Six bowl game implications.

What do the Fighting Irish need to due to survive this unexpected, yet crucial battle?

1. Get ahead early. While Notre Dame has shown an ability to score quickly, they have struggled, (particularly on defense) in some games out of the gate. If the Irish can get on the board early and play well defensively, then they could jump out to an early two-score lead. If they do that, then Temple might have trouble keeping up with the Irish when you consider that the Owls' offense isn't built to come from behind.

2. Dominate the trenches. Usually when a big time program faces a Group of Five opponent, the difference in size and skill is most noticeable in the trenches. I expect Notre Dame to lean on their massive offensive line all night, and force Temple to load up the box early on. In turn, that should open up things in the passing game later on. Having watched Temple play against Penn State and East Carolina, I was not impressed with their offense. I think Notre Dame's front seven should be very aggressive and expect them to try to pressure Temple all night long, making it hard for the Owls to withstand long scoring drives.

3. Avoid the big plays. Based on what I just said about Temple's offense, I think they need several big plays to win this game. Whether that comes from gadget plays, a blown coverage, or missed tackles, Temple likely needs at least three big play touchdowns to keep up with the Irish.

Temple has a very good defense, but they haven't faced a team that has the speed and power of Notre Dame. I think the Irish will be too much for the Owls.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Temple 17

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, October 16, 2015

Week 7 Preview: Notre Dame vs USC

Emotions will be high when the 14th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (5-1) host their hated rival, USC Trojans (3-2), under the lights tomorrow night. Last year, the Trojans took advantage of a depleted Irish defense, and manhandled Notre Dame, 49-14. But, this is a new year, and now the Irish will look to knock off the Trojans who just fired their head coach. What do the Irish need to do to come out on top tomorrow night?

1. Start fast. In their only loss to Clemson, the Irish spotted the Tigers a 14 point lead by playing sloppy and missing several tackles. After the game, players and coaches said the team had trouble adjusting to the speed of Clemson after facing Massachusetts the prior week. Considering that the Irish just played Navy, it is safe to assume that the difference in speed will be noticeable once again. And like Clemson, USC is still too talented of a team to be playing an uphill battle against.

2. Finish tackles. The Trojans have elite skill players and playmakers across the board, so tackling them in space is never easy. The Irish defense needs to fly to the football and successfully tackle the ball carrier on their first attempt. Missing tackles will allow USC to break off big plays all night, which will make Notre Dame's job on defense a lot harder than it already will be versus a prolific offense.

3. Pressure Kessler without blitzing. Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler torched the Irish secondary last season, due in large part to having all day to throw. Notre Dame was very depleted up front, with Sheldon Day being the most vital missing component. Day is healthy, but USC center Max Tuerk is not. This should allow Day to disrupt the middle of the Trojan offensive line, and allow others to put pressure on Kessler. If Notre Dame is able to get in Kessler's face with four or five defenders, then the Irish secondary should be able to contain the USC receivers. If not, it could be another big day for Kessler and company.

The Irish will score against the Trojans, but I think USC will make some plays as well. Despite the supposed turmoil in Southern California, I expect the Trojans to come to South Bend fired up, and ready to wreck Notre Dame's season. It'll be very heated and close throughout, but I think Notre Dame finds a way to get it done. This year's team remembers how last season derailed after the Florida State game, and they won't let that happen again.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, USC 27

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, October 9, 2015

Week 6 Preview: Notre Dame vs Navy

After last week's heartbreaking defeat at Clemson, the 15th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (4-1) will look to get back on track against the Navy Midshipmen (4-0). Although Notre Dame's playoff hopes took a devastating blow last Saturday, there still might be a shot if they win their remaining seven games. And, tomorrow afternoon's contest might prove to be one of the toughest assignments left on the schedule. What do the Irish need to do to avoid an upset in a trap game?

1. Come ready to play. Navy looks at this game as their biggest game of the year, and will bring intensity from the opening kickoff. On the other hand, the Irish just had their dreams of an undefeated season end, and could be looking ahead to their rival USC. Notre Dame can't afford to come out sluggish and sloppy against Navy. If they do, Navy can easily rip off a couple long scoring drives by gashing the Irish defense. Thus, giving themselves more motivation and putting more pressure on the Irish.

2. Get ahead. If Notre Dame has the option to receive, I would take the ball and try to get a touchdown on the opening drive. Much like Georgia Tech, Navy is not built to play from behind. Judging by the previous four seasons, and the success of the Irish offense this season, Navy should have a very difficult time defending the Irish offense. But, the key will be extending the lead and not swapping score for score with Navy.

3. Expect a better option offense. With no disrespect to Georgia Tech, they weren't ready for the Irish defense to play that well. Having said that, the Yellow Jackets offense hasn't looked good the last two weeks either. With a full game of film to study, a disciplined team, and a great head coach, I expect Navy's offense to play much more efficiently and effectively than Georgia Tech's. Also, Notre Dame's defense needs to be ready for plays they may have not seen before. I can guarantee Navy has found a few holes that they can exploit, so it'll be up to the Irish defense to adjust on the fly.

I expect this game to be very close and very competitive early on. Ultimately, I think Notre Dame's offense will score too much, and their defense will adjust to Navy's offense in the second half.

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Navy 31

-Eric Tichelbaut

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Week 5 Preview: Notre Dame at Clemson

Two undefeated teams will be looking to keep their playoff hopes and national championship dreams alive when the 6th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame head into Death Valley to take on the 12th ranked Clemson Tigers. The winner of this game becomes a legitimate favorite to land a final four spot, while the loser might be all but eliminated. Who will come away with the signature win?

Here's what Notre Dame needs to do to be victorious tonight.

1. Pressure and contain Watson. Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson is an elite talent, and could wreck havoc on the Irish defense if he has time to throw or room to scramble. I don't think Notre Dame's secondary can shut down the Clemson wide receivers on their own, so getting pressure from the front seven, particularly the defensive line will be vital. Sheldon Day figures to play well as he has all year, but the Irish will need pressure and containment from their ends in order to stop Watson from making big plays.

2. Run, run, run. The forecast is calling for rain throughout the night, so the field will likely be a mess. I believe Notre Dame can run the ball on any team in the country, and they will need to tonight. The Irish won't win this game unless the have at least 150 yards rushing, so running it early and often will be necessary.

3. Take some deep shots. While Notre Dame should have success and needs to pound the rock, they also need to open up the playbook and let DeShone Kizer sling it. I believe the only way Clemson can stop the Irish rushing attack is if they crowd the box with eight men fronts. If that proves to be the case, dailing up a few deep balls to Will Fuller or Chris Brown should result in a few big chunk plays.

I expect this to be an extremely close game and the difference could be turnovers with a slick football and sloppy track. Despite the unfavorable weather, I still expect a relatively high scoring game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Clemson 27

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, September 25, 2015

Week 4 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Massachusetts

The 6th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (3-0) will welcome the Massachusetts Minutemen (0-2) to South Bend tomorrow afternoon. After last week's impressive performance, the Irish are four touchdown favorites over UMass. Here's what to look for Saturday.

1. Finish drives. With all due respect to Massachusetts, Notre Dame should have their way with the Minutemen defense. The Irish are simply too big and too athletic, so scoring points shouldn't be a problem. However, the main focus on offense should be finishing drives and getting in the end zone. The Irish have left some points off the board the last two weeks with stalled drives, and it should be a realistic goal to finish every scoring drive with a touchdown tomorrow against a lesser opponent.

2. Build a big early lead. The last thing any team wants to do is give a huge road undrdog any confidence. To prevent this, the Irish should look to score early and often. With a crucial match-up looming at Clemson, and a difficult schedule ahead, it would be nice to be able to put this one on cruise control in the second half.

3. Get the freshmen some experience. If everything goes as planned, the Irish should be up by a substantial margin in the second half. If that proves to be the case, then the Irish will have a prime opportunity to give some freshman and inexperienced players some playing time. Considering all the injuries that Notre Dame has had thus far, it is important to get the underclassmen ready for game action. I'm hoping that quarterback Brandon Wimbush, running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, tight end Alize Jones, and others receive a bulk of the snaps in the second half.

Prediction: The Irish won't get caught looking ahead to Clemson, and they take care of business rather handily. Notre Dame 45, Massachusetts 10.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, September 18, 2015

Week 3 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Georgia Tech

Notre Dame (2-0, 8th ranked) will look to build off of last week's thrilling victory when the 14th ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-0) come to South Bend tomorrow afternoon.

How can the Fighting Irish prevail without starting quarterback Malik Zaire?

1. Win on First and Second Down. Notre Dame's defense will have their hands full trying to stop Georgia Tech's triple option attack, but forcing the Yellow Jackets into 3rd and long would make things easier. Getting as many stops (2 yards or fewer) as possible will allow the Irish to force the Yellow Jackets into obvious passing situations. If Georgia Tech keeps seeing 2nd or 3rd and short, then Notre Dame's secondary could be susceptible to deep passes via the play fake.

2. Sustain Long Drives. When you face a triple option team, your defense will be gassed. Because of that, the Irish offense needs to control the line of scrimmage and withstand longer scoring drives in order to give the defense a breather.

3. Step Up in Competition. Georgia Tech has played Alcorn State and Tulane, while the Irish have faced tougher opponents in Texas and Virginia. Because of this, I'm not sure Georgia Tech will be ready for the speed, athleticism, and talent that the Irish have on both sides of the ball.

I'm confident in Notre Dame's ability to score points even without Zaire under center. The offensive line and skill players that surround DeShone Kizer will be enough for the Irish to reach the 30s. On defense, Notre Dame's front seven is a strength and I believe Jaylon Smith will have a monster day. If the secondary stays disciplined enough to stay on their men, then the Irish defense should play well enough to win. Barely.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Georgia Tech 31

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, September 11, 2015

Week 2 Preview: Notre Dame at Virginia

Notre Dame's season continues tomorrow afternoon when the 9th ranked Fighting Irish (1-0) travel to Charlottesville to take on the Virginia Cavaliers (0-1). The Irish are coming off of a dominant victory over Texas, while the Cavaliers return home following a tough loss to a very good UCLA program. What will transpire this Saturday?

1. Start off fast. The Irish did this last week by jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, and they would like to do that again. Virginia probably doesn't have the talent to hang with the Irish for four quarters, but a sluggish start could get the crowd going and fuel some momentum for the home team.

2. More work for the freshman. With starting running back Tarean Folston lost for the season, the Irish will need other players to step up and fill the void. Last week, C.J. Prosise showed that he is capable of being the lead back, but he can't be asked to do it all throughout the season. True freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams showed great upside in their debuts, but their workloads need to increase starting tomorrow.

3. Get the tight ends involved. Durham Smythe hauled in the unit's lone catch for six yards last week, but the potential is there for much more. True freshman Alize Jones dropped his first target early on, and that was about it for the Irish tight ends. As deep and talented as the receivers are, Notre Dame needs to establish a passing game to the tight ends as the season progresses. This Saturday should present another opportunity for them to get involved as Brian Kelly might dial up some shorter, underneath routes for quarterback Malik Zaire's first road start.

The Irish appear to match up well with the Cavaliers, and they should control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Virginia 13

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, September 4, 2015

Week 1 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Texas

The 2015 season begins tomorrow night when the 11th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame host the Texas Longhorns. The Irish are coming off of an 8-5 season, while the Longhorns are looking to rebound after a 6-7 campaign.

For those that have read my previews and recaps the past two years, I'm going to be doing things differently moving forward. I'm looking to shorten the time I spend on doing these and will now provide three keys to the game in the preview and three takeaways in the recaps. Also, there may be times where I just tweet my thoughts instead of making a post. So, be sure to check my Twitter page before, during, and after the games. If I feel the need to elaborate my thoughts for a big game or story line, I'll do that as well.

With that being said, here's my keys to victory.

1. Pound the Rock - Brian Kelly knows he has a big, talented offensive line and I expect him to lean heavily on them starting tomorrow night. This should allow the Irish to control the tempo of the game, and ease Malik Zaire into action.

2. Don't get Beat Deep - Texas doesn't appear to have the talent offensively to withstand long drives and hang with Notre Dame. As long as the Irish safeties don't allow the Longhorn receivers to get behind them, the defense should play well enough to win.

3. Breakout Performances - This is more a prediction rather than a key, but I expect several players to have bigger impacts this season, and that begins tomorrow night. Offensively, look for more production from running back/receiver C.J. Prosise, receiver Torii Hunter Jr, and tight ends Durham Smythe and Alize Jones. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Isaac Rochell, defensive tackle and true freshman Jerry Tillery, and safety Max Redfield will be key contributors in 2015.

My expectations are high for the 2015 season, and the push towards the playoffs begins with a strong performance tomorrow night. 

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Texas 13

-Eric Tichelbaut

No More Excuses for Kelly and Irish

The 2015 season of Notre Dame football gets underway tomorrow night when the Texas Longhorns come to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish under the lights. The Irish open the year ranked 11th in the country, which is admittedly a bit high after coming off of an 8-5 campaign. That underwhelming performance was preceded by a disappointing 9-4 record in 2013 after appearing in the National Championship the year before. In all, Notre Dame is 45-20 under head coach Brian Kelly, but just 33-19 if you take out the 12-1 showing in 2012. Simply put, eight wins a year is not what Kelly or Notre Dame had in mind when he was hired prior to the 2010 season.

To say the Brian Kelly era has been a disappointment would be unfair. Kelly took over a severely damaged program and has returned the Irish to relevance and respectability. But, Notre Dame fans expect championship level teams, and Kelly hasn't delivered that the past two years.

Coming off an historic 12-0 regular season, Notre Dame fans expected more success in 2013 and 2014 even after Alabama dismantled the Irish on the biggest stage. Prior to the 2013 season, the Irish received devastating news when quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the season due to academic violations. As a result, expectations were not as high as they would have been and an "excuse" was in-place to explain their struggles. Golson returned last season and the Irish coasted to a 6-0 start, only to lose to the defending champion Florida State Seminoles in the final seconds. After that, injuries and turnovers plagued the 2014 season and the Irish limped to a 7-5 record. The biggest loss was linebacker Joe Schmidt, the unquestioned leader of the defense. Schmidt's value to the team was evident by the way the defense played in the final five games, and quotes from players and coaches further lamented the negative impact without having Schmidt on the field. Yet again, another built-in "excuse".

As the 2015 season is set to begin, it is time for the "excuses" to end and for the all the so-called talent, depth, and athleticism to be proven on the field. I'm optimistic as anyone heading into the season for several reasons.

1. Quarterback Malik Zaire will bring more stability and efficiency to the offense. Zaire won't turn the football over nearly as much as Golson did, and he'll add more to the read-option attack.

2. I expect Brian Kelly to lean heavily on his experienced and talent offensive line. With an inexperienced quarterback and talented runners in Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise, the Irish should be able to run the ball on all their opponents. Look for game plans similar to the one we saw in the Music City Bowl versus LSU.

3. When the Irish throw the ball, Zaire has a slew of weapons to choose from. Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown, Torii Hunter Jr., Amir Carlisle, and others give the Irish one of the deepest receiving corps in the country.

4. The defense should improve simply by being healthy and with another year under defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. One positive from all the injuries was that plenty of younger players gained experience last season. The biggest reason I believe this defense will be much better is the return of Schmidt, and cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

Schmidt rejoins a linebacking crew that is highlighted by Jaylon Smith, giving the Irish a formidable trio. I also expect Smith to utilized a bit differently this season, with VanGorder looking for ways to utilize his athleticism. Russell is widely considered one of the nation's top cover corners, and he should help solidify the secondary. The safety positions are probably the weakness of this team, but I'm hoping that another year of experience should help improve the performances of Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate. Redfield was pretty impressive in the bowl game versus LSU, so hopefully that will carry into this season. If the safeties can hold their own, this defense can be very good.

With all of that being said, I believe the Irish can win 10-plus games. Actually, I have Notre Dame going 11-1 with a loss to either Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, or Stanford. If for whatever reason the Irish stumble and win 7 or 8 games once again, I believe that it would be time to consider a coaching change.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Thursday, September 3, 2015

2015 College Football Playoff Prediction

The 2015 College Football season begins this weekend, starting with several games this evening. This season figures to be much more wide open than last year, so it will be interesting to see which of the top teams fail to meet expectations and what sleeper teams emerge as the season progresses. Ohio State opens the year as the clear favorite to make the playoffs again, but who will join them?

My Final Four - Ohio State, Baylor, Auburn, and Notre Dame. Auburn over Ohio State in the finals.

Ohio State - No matter who is at quarterback, the Buckeyes are too talented and too deep not to make the playoffs. Running back Ezekiel Elliot is my pick to win the Heisman Trophy and defensive end Joey Bosa might be the top defensive player in the country. I think they survive the season undefeated, with close calls versus Virginia Tech and Michigan State.

Baylor - I believe one playoff spot will come down to Baylor and TCU, and I'm picking the Bears because they are the more complete team. Bryce Petty is gone, but Art Briles has developed a system where quarterback Seth Russell should be able to step in without much of a drop in production. Furthermore, Baylor's defense should be tougher than TCU's due to being more experienced, and that will prove to be the difference on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Auburn - There doesn't seem to be a dominant team in the SEC, but I believe Auburn has the best chance at reaching that level. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson should add a vertical passing game to an already potent offense, while defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will improve the defense enough for Auburn to come out of the SEC with only one loss.

Notre Dame - Quarterback Malik Zaire should provide more stability and he has one of the nation's best offensive lines and deepest receiving corps in the country to help him out. Defensively, the Irish should improve with the return of linebacker Joe Schmidt and cornerback KeiVarae Russell to go along with linebacker Jaylon Smith. Being an Independent could hurt Notre Dame, but the Irish have four tough games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, USC, and Stanford to convince the committee.

Why Notre Dame over a PAC 12 or ACC team? - If Notre Dame goes 12-0, they will undoubtedly make the playoffs. But, with two top ACC and PAC 12 opponents, it is possible that Notre Dame could go 11-1 while defeating two conference champions. If that were the case, and the only blemish was a close loss to a tough opponent, the Irish will remain an attractive option to the committee. Also, due to the depth of the PAC 12 and the parity in the ACC, I believe both conference champions will have two loses on their resume.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Thoughts on the White Sox' Horrific Start

After taking two games from the Kansas City Royals just over a week ago to improve to 8-9 on the season, the Chicago White Sox seemed to have rebounded from an 0-4 start to the season. However, things have officially hit rock bottom after being swept away by a mediocre Minnesota Twins team this past weekend to culminate a miserable 0-5 record last week. The White Sox are back in Chicago to open up a three-game series versus the division leading Detroit Tigers, and the season is already in jeopardy. After a flurry of promising offseason acquisitions, why are the White Sox this bad?

The White Sox can't hit, pitch, field, or run the bases, so there aren't many positives through the first 22 games. The White Sox rank 11th in the American League in batting average, dead last in home runs, RBI, runs scored, and stolen bases. In other words, this is the worst offense in the American League to date. The White Sox also rank 12th in ERA and WHIP, and are currently dead last in opponents batting average. The good news is that those numbers can't get much worse, but will they get better?

Yes, but it remains to be seen by how much.

Among the everyday players, Jose Abreu is probably the only one producing numbers close to what is expected. Leadoff man Adam Eaton is batting just .192. Melky Cabrera is homer-less and on pace for about 45 RBI. Avisail Garcia is batting .342, but is on pace for about 7 home runs and 45 RBI, Adam LaRoche is hitting just .211 and on pace for only about 65 RBI. Conor Gillaspie, Alexei Ramirez,Tyler Flowers, and Micah Johnson are collectively hitting around .215 with just one home run and 21 RBI. The White Sox offense is off to a historically bad start, but I'm still betting on them heating up and producing close to what is expected. Unfortunately, if it doesn't turn around immediately, it could be too late to make a difference in the standings.

The starting rotation had mixed expectations with Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana projected to be one of the more formidable threesomes in baseball. Obviously, there were concerns with the back end of the rotation with John Danks and Hector Noesi, but the thought was that the top three would be good enough to make up for it. After 22 games, that has not been the case as each member of the rotation is hovering around or above the 5.00 ERA mark. I don't have much hope for Danks or Noesi to turn it around, and strongly believe that Carlos Rodon should and will replace one of them (probably Noesi) by the end of the month. That move should help strengthen the depth of the rotation, but Sale, Samardzija, and Quintana need to be more consistent. Sale's ERA is skewed by one bad start, but he hasn't been dominant yet. Samardzija and Quintana both have had 3 good starts and two bad starts which has not allowed them to get on a roll yet. I still believe in the top three and Rodon should help, but time is running out if the White Sox have intentions on contending this season.

If this team is going to start winning more consistently, they need to start playing better defensively and being smarter on the basepaths. I'm not sure what else can be done to improve this, other than just executing better. This team isn't full of rookies. This are mostly veterans and they should understand the fundamentals of baseball. It can't be taught to them at this point.

The one positive with this team might be the bullpen. David Robertson, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, and Matt Albers have been terrific, but Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka have struggled out of the gate. Based on their performances last year, I expect Putnam and Petricka to be much better going forward, and honestly believe that the bullpen will be a strength for this team. The question is, how many leads will they be asked to protect?

As far as the whole "fire Robin Ventura" thing goes, I'm not sure how much that will help. Robin Ventura isn't the reason veteran players are struggling. However, I can't argue with the decision if the White Sox decide to let him go just to shake things up. This team's performance is simply unacceptable and it needs to get better somehow, someway.

Lastly, I have decided to stop blogging for I no longer have the time necessary to post multiple blogs a week. Going forward I will continue to blog here from time to time, but most of my thoughts on the White Sox will be shared via Twitter. Be sure to follow me @etichel07.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Monday, March 2, 2015

White Sox: Three Things to Watch this Spring

With the Chicago White Sox set to begin Cactus League play on Wednesday when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers, it is time to look at three storylines to watch as Spring Training unfolds.

1) The battle for second base. The only everyday position up for grabs this spring is at second base. Youngsters Micah Johnson and Carlos Sanchez are the leading candidates, but veteran Gordon Beckham will compete for the job as well. At this point, I’d say that Beckham’s chances of landing the starting gig are extremely low, but you never know if Johnson and Sanchez both struggle. It is no secret that the White Sox would love to see Micah Johnson win the job this spring with his offensive potential, but he must also prove to be above-average in the field. Johnson brings elite speed and athleticism to the lineup, and could he hit at the top of the order in the future.  During his three seasons in the minors, Johnson has shown promise with a career .297 average, .366 on-base percentage, and 125 stolen bases. If the White Sox aren’t convinced Johnson is ready yet defensively (career .958 fielding percentage), then they will likely turn to Carlos Sanchez to begin the year. Sanchez provides solid defense with a career .973 fielding percentage in the minors, and he committed just one error in 28 games last season with the White Sox. While Sanchez is considered the batter fielder, his offensive ceiling is not nearly as high as Johnson’s. Sanchez owns a career .284 average and .353 on-base percentage with 74 stolen bases in 6 seasons, which suggests he’s more of a .260 to .270 hitter with the ability to add about 15-20 steals across a full season. Either way, it would be nice to get more speed and athleticism out of the position than the White Sox have had the past several season.

2) Carlos Rodon. The White Sox selected left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon with the 3rd overall selection in last year’s draft with the expectation that he could reach the majors quickly. Rodon will prepare to be a starter this spring and he is now slated for more starts while Chris Sale is sidelined the next three weeks. It will be interesting to see how well Rodon performs and if he forces the White Sox to let him start a game or two during the first two weeks of the regular season before Sale is ready to return. Rodon pitched a combined 123 innings between college and the minor leagues, so I would expect him to be limited to a maximum of 150-160 innings. My gut feeling is that Rodon will spend the bulk of the 2015 season working out of the bullpen, but he should see some starts as well. Assuming the White Sox are in contention around the All-Star break, don’t be surprised to see Rodon sent down to the minors to be stretched out as a starter for the final two months of the season.

3) Bullpen Roles. The additions of closer David Robertson and left-handed reliever Zach Duke should solidify the back-end of the bullpen, but there are still 2-3 holes that need to be filled. Zach Putnam and Jack Petricka had solid rookie seasons and should be reliable mid-to-late inning options once again, but the White Sox need more than four quality arms in the bullpen to be legitimate contenders. Prior to last season, I was pretty bullish on Daniel Webb by predicting that he would lead the team in saves, but control issues (42 walks in 67.2 innings) limited his success. Webb did finish 2014 with a 3.99 ERA, but a 1.49 WHIP shows that he needs to have better command to reach that next level. Francellis Montas is the player to watch and could be the wildcard in the bullpen. Montas was acquired from Boston in the Jake Peavy deal, and he has been a starter in his minor league career. Last season, Montas shined with 1.44 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 80 strikeouts in 81 innings across 15 starts, but many scouts believe his future is in the bullpen with a two-pitch arsenal that features a fastball that can top 100-mph. The White Sox feel that Montas can be a starter in the majors, but the need for another power arm out of the bullpen might force the White Sox to hold off those plans for another season or two. If Webb and Montas can reach their full potential and make the type of impact I believe they can, then the White Sox could have a dominant bullpen in 2015.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Should White Sox Fans Be Optimistic in 2015?

After a disappointing 2014 season that resulted in a 73-89 record for the Chicago White Sox, many fans were eager to see what changes would be made in the offseason.  Having said that, the flurry of moves made by general manager Rick Hahn were not expected even by the most optimistic White Sox fans. The White Sox had several holes entering the offseason, and Hahn was able fill as many as he possibly could, considering the organization’s budget and resources. The White Sox added a proven, power-hitting left handed bat in Adam LaRoche, the top closer in free agency in David Robertson, an ideal two-hole hitter in Melky Cabrera, a legitimate number two right-handed starter in Jeff Samardzija, and a quality left-handed reliever in Zach Duke. Those five impact transactions added to an already improved roster in 2014, have many White Sox fans dreaming about the postseason again. But, should they be that optimistic heading into 2015?

To reach the playoffs in 2015, the White Sox would likely need a 15-20 win improvement to either win the American League Central Division, or secure one of the two wild card spots. While the White Sox seem destined to be drastically improved in 2015, I’m not yet convinced that they are prepared to make that big of a leap in the win column. Yes, Rick Hahn and company have filled many of the team’s needs this offseason, but there are still several question marks that have me concerned.

1. This team does not have a starting second baseman. Prospects Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez and veteran Gordon Beckham are expected to compete for the job this spring, but none are clear favorites at this point. While the second baseman will likely bat 8th or 9th in this year’s lineup, the White Sox still need someone to provide some sort of offense at the position.

2. The back-end of the starting rotation is worrisome. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana give the White Sox one of the more formidable threesomes in the American League, but they need more than that to reach the playoffs. Veterans John Danks and Hector Noesi both had ERAs over 4.70 in 2014, but they did provide some stability by eating up valuable innings.  If either Danks or Noesi can’t get the job done, then top-prospect Carlos Rodon may be called upon to provide the depth needed to reach the postseason. In my opinion, the White Sox need their fourth and fifth starters to post ERAs closer to the 4.00-4.20 range if they want to be serious contenders. At this point, I’m not convinced that either Danks or Noesi are capable of doing that.

3. The White Sox failed to upgrade at catcher and third base. Conor Gillaspie has been a fine player since joining the White Sox prior to the 2013 season, but he doesn’t put up the type of numbers you’d expect for a starting third baseman. Gillaspie does provide a decent batting average and on-base percentage, but his lack of power is a real concern at a corner infield position. Tyler Flowers is considered an above-average defensive catcher by his teammates for his ability to call a good game, but is inconsistencies at the plate can’t be ignored. Flowers got hot at certain points in the season to finish with decent numbers, but he has been an offensive liability and “automatic out” more times than not during his career to date.

4. The bullpen seems improved, but will that be good enough? Adding David Robertson should do wonders for the White Sox bullpen as he has been one of the most consistent relievers over the last five seasons. Zach Duke is coming off of a career year with the Milwaukee Brewers, but can he sustain that success considering it was his first quality season as a reliever? Both Zach Putnam and Jake Petricka made great strides in their rookie seasons pitching in late-inning situations, so hopefully they will continue to progress now that they will be pitching in less-pressure situations. But, outside of that, I’m not overly excited about the bullpen. The White Sox will need another quality arm or two to reach the playoffs, and it remains to be seen if that player exists on the current roster. It is possible that one or more could emerge out of intriguing group of young arms that includes Daniel Webb, Francellis Montas, Javy Guerra, or even Carlos Rodon, but I’m not sold on the bullpen until that happens.

5. My final concern surrounds the durability of Adam Eaton and the development of Avisail Garcia. It is hard to pick a team to reach the playoffs when they have question marks with their leadoff hitter and a player expected to hitter in the heart of the order (likely fifth), and that’s where the White Sox stand right now. Adam Eaton was a terrific player and provided some spark to the offense when he was completely healthy, but his reckless style of play forced him to miss nearly 40 games last season. The White Sox need to have Eaton in the lineup more often than that to have a consistent and balanced offense throughout the season. Avisail Garcia’s suffered a fluke injury last season that resulted in him only playing 46 games, thus delaying his development. Although Garcia has shown some promise in limited play, I have no idea what to expect from him if he plays 150-plus games. If both Eaton and Garcia play 150-plus games and reach their full potential, then the White Sox offense should be good enough to compete with the top teams in the American League.
Overall, the White Sox seem to be vastly improved heading into 2015, but I’m not sure they are ready to make the 15-2 jump in the win column that would be required to make the playoffs. As it stands right now, I would place the White Sox in the 83-85 wins range, which would likely leave them outside of the playoff picture. However, if certain players can take a step forward and eliminate the remaining holes and question marks this team has, it would not shock me to see the White Sox approach or even exceed 90 wins. We’ll see how it all plays out, but either way, I’m excited to see this team take the field and compete in 2015.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Monday, January 5, 2015

Final Thoughts on Notre Dame's 2014 Season

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame wrapped up the 2014 season last Tuesday with a thrilling 31-28 victory over the 23rd ranked LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl. As expected, Malik Zaire and Everett Golson spilt the quarterback duties with Zaire getting the bulk of the snaps. Both quarterbacks played well with Zaire running the read option and the short passing game, while Golson was called on in obvious passing situations, particularly on the final drive to set-up the game winning field goal attempt. Although Zaire came away with the game’s MVP honors, the biggest story of the day was the performance of Notre Dame’s offensive line. The Irish offensive line practically dominated the line of scrimmage against the talented LSU front seven, allowing Notre Dame to control the ball and the pace of the game. That style of play kept the Irish defense off the field which was a key to winning the game given LSU’s big play potential. Even though the Irish defense struggled at times, they came up with enough big stops late in the game that gave the offense a chance to win. All things considered, it was an impressive performance for the Irish, and one that could lead to more success in 2015.

As we head into the offseason and then spring practices, there are a few comments I would like to make regarding the 2014 season and the upcoming 2015 season.

1) 2014 was a disappointing year for Notre Dame. While many experts predicted the Irish to only win 7 or 8 games, I firmly believed this team was capable of winning 9-plus games. Injuries did play a role in the team’s demise at the end of the season, but they still could have reached the nine win mark if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot several times. Ultimately, this team was better than the 7-5 record would indicate, but they were not as good as we all thought after the 6-0 start.

2) It is way too early to make a decision on who the starting quarterback should be in 2015, but it would be hard to argue against Malik Zaire at this point. Everett Golson has shown glimpses of being great, but his careless play led to way too many turnovers that proved to be devastating to the team’s success. Regardless of who the starting quarterback is, the Music City Bowl was a perfect blueprint as to how the Irish should be playing in 2015. If Notre Dame can limit the turnovers, control the line of scrimmage, and run the football effectively, then this team can be dangerous.

3) The defense should improve in 2015. Notre Dame’s defense was playing well during the first half of the season, but the injuries added up, forcing the Irish to play too many freshman. That formula may have hurt the Irish in 2014, but it should pay dividends next season with so many young players gaining valuable experience. Then when you add in the return of captain Joe Schmidt, the Irish defense should be a much stronger unit next season.

4) 2015 is a big year for Brian Kelly and the Irish. After enjoying a strong 12-0 season in 2012, the Irish have struggled the past two seasons with a combined 15 regular season wins. Simply put, Brian Kelly was not brought here to win eight games a season. With so many young players gaining experience last season, and the vast majority of the starters returning, the Irish have no excuses in 2015. It might be too early to predict a win total because we don’t know what the exact depth chart and what the strength of the schedule will look like, but another eight win season should put Kelly on the hot-seat. The Irish certainly have some tough games on the 2015 schedule in Clemson, Stanford, USC, and Georgia Tech, but it is time to start putting together consecutive 10-plus win seasons if this program really wants to get back into national prominence.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Monday, December 29, 2014

Music City Bowl Preview: Notre Dame vs. LSU

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will try to snap a four-game losing streak when they square off against the LSU Tigers in the Music City Bowl tomorrow afternoon. Both programs are in a less desirable bowl game after having disappointing seasons, so it’ll be interesting to see just how motivated either team is to win. With plenty of youth on both sides, this game could be an opportunity to gain some confidence and leave them optimistic heading into the 2015 season.

As you all know, starting quarterback Everett Golson was pulled during the season finale and replaced by redshirt freshman Malik Zaire. Shortly after the embarrassing loss to USC, head coach Brian Kelly stated that both Golson and Zaire would play against LSU. Earlier today, we found out that Zaire will be the “starting quarterback”. Normally, I hate having a “two-quarterback” offense, but this is one situation where I don’t mind it. While I will be rooting for Notre Dame to win as much as anyone else, it is not as necessary to win a bowl game like it would be if Notre Dame was 6-0 in the middle of October. Because Notre Dame is facing such a tough defense in LSU, I’m looking forward to seeing which quarterback will play better in a hostile situation. Probably the biggest thing to take away from this decision is that the quarterback competition will continue throughout spring and summer practices. As for tomorrow, if Notre Dame is going to win the game, they will have to play mistake-free football. The Irish might be able to withstand the impact of committing one turnover, but if they keep giving the ball away to LSU, this game will turn into a route. LSU owns the third ranked scoring defense at 16.4 points per game, so every possession will be crucial to Notre Dame’s success on offense. While the Irish have had success moving the football all season long, tomorrow will likely be their toughest test as the Tigers are allowing just 305.8 yards of total offense per game. Notre Dame’s biggest strength is the passing game which ranks 16th at 293.8 yards per game, but LSU is fourth best team in terms of passing yards allowed at 162.3 yards per game and first in defensive passing efficiency. In other words, the Irish will need to be able to run the ball to have a chance in this game. The Irish rank just 84th in rushing offense at 150.8 yards per game, but Tarean Folston came on strong during the second half the season, and Greg Bryant showcased his explosive ability in the season finale. With two talent running backs and the mobility of both Golson and Zaire from the quarterback position, the Irish have plenty of options to attack an LSU run defense that is good, but not elite.

For Notre Dame’s defense, the number one priority will be stopping the run. LSU owns the 29th ranked rushing offense at 219.5 yards per game, but a 116th ranked passing offense suggests that they are extremely one-dimensional. Anthony Jennings leads the LSU offense, but the sophomore quarterback has only thrown for 1,460 yards, ten touchdowns, and seven interceptions while completing just 48.8 percent of his passes. Given that, the Tigers will likely lean heavily on their rushing attack that is led by Leonard Fournette, Terrence Magee, and Kenny Hilliard who all average over five yards per carry. If you’ve watched Notre Dame during the second half of the season, you know that they struggled mightily to stop the running game after losing middle linebacker Joe Schmidt and defensive linemen Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones. Schmidt and Jones will not play tomorrow, but the Irish should get a boost up the middle with the return of Sheldon Day. True freshman Nyles Morgan replaced senior and team captain Joe Schmidt at middle linebacker, but the youngster struggled at times due to lack of experience. I’m intrigued to see how Morgan will play after nearly a month off and three weeks of additional practices. I would imagine that Morgan has a much better grasp of the defense and should do a better job of calling plays and lining up his teammates correctly. If Day and Morgan can make a big impact in the middle to slow down the Tigers’ running game, then Notre Dame has a chance to hang with LSU’s offense because I don’t expect much from their passing game.

Notre Dame will play better on defense then they have recently, but Leonard Fournette and company will be too hard to shut down and too much for the Irish offense to keep up with.

Prediction: LSU 30, Notre Dame 20

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

White Sox Acquire Samardzija; Sign Robertson

The Chicago White Sox took a huge step towards contending in 2015 by acquiring right-handed starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and closer David Robertson on the first day of the winter meetings.

To land Samardzija and pitching prospect Michael Ynoa, the White Sox sent infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo to the Oakland Athletics. While Samardzija only has one year remaining on his contract before he becomes a free-agent, this is a good trade considering the White Sox did not have to surrender any of their top prospects to get a top-tier starting pitcher. Samardzija will likely slide nicely between lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, giving the White Sox a formidable trio at the top of their rotation. Samardzija is coming of a 7-13 season in 33 starts, but his record is deceiving. The righty tossed a combined 219.2 innings with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics, while striking out 202 batters and owning an impressive 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. It remains to be seen if the White Sox will be able to work out an extension to keep Samardzija on the south side for several years, but even if they don’t, the White Sox will receive a compensatory draft pick by simply offer Samardzija a qualifying offer at the end of the season.

Robertson comes to the White Sox as a free-agent after agreeing to a four-year, $46 million deal. I’ll be the first to admit that paying $46 million to closer is a hefty price, but if you saw the White Sox bullpen last season, you will agree that they desperately needed dramatic improvements. Robertson saved 39 games in 44 opportunities while striking out 96 batters in 64.1 innings during his first season as a closer with the New York Yankees. While that was the only season Robertson has served as his team’s closer, the veteran reliever has been remarkably consistent over the past four seasons. Robertson has hurled more than 60 innings pitched while striking out at least 77 batters and owning an ERA under 3.08 and a WHIP under 1.04 in each of the last four years. Considering that most relievers are a volatile bunch, Robertson’s consistency will be a welcomed addition to one the league’s worst bullpens in 2014.

With the two moves, the White Sox have fulfilled arguably their two biggest holes on the roster with two of the better options available on the market. Add that to the signings of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche (.259 avg, 26 HR, and 92 RBI) and left-handed reliever Zach Duke (2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 11.4 K/9); the White Sox appear to be going all-in in 2015. Having said that, there is still work that needs to be done if the White Sox want to be a serious threat to make a playoff run.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Week 12 Recap: USC 49, Notre Dame 14

Notre Dame’s disappointing finish to the 2014 season came to a disastrous end yesterday when the USC Trojans pummeled the Fighting Irish, 49-14. The Trojans got off to a fast start and never looked back as the Irish delivered a lackluster performance to close the campaign at 7-5. The only good news to take away from yesterday is that an excruciating season is finally over. Now, the Irish will have a few weeks to recover and prepare for a bowl game.

USC had no problems against a depleted Irish defense, scoring 35 points in the first half. Quarterback Cody Kessler lit up the Irish secondary with 372 yards passing and six touchdowns. The Trojans also added 205 rushing yards with Javorius Allen (93 yards) and Justin Davis (81 yards) leading the way. I knew that Notre Dame would have trouble against USC’s offense since I predicted the Trojans would put up 41 points, but they made it look even easier than I could have imagined. I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise considering all of the injuries, and it didn’t help with several more occurring during the blowout loss. At one point, Notre Dame had three true freshmen and a 5th-year journeyman in Justin Utupo playing the bulk of the defensive line snaps. Regardless of the injuries, this game should have been more competitive if the Notre Dame offense did its job.

In a game where everyone knew the Irish would have to keep up with the Trojans offensively, Notre Dame laid an egg. Quarterback Everett Golson was very erratic by completing just seven of his eighteen pass attempts for 75 yards and one interception. Golson was also credited with a fumble when he tried to throw a pass while being hit, which would eventually lead to him being benched before halftime. Sophomore Malik Zaire replaced Golson and played well by throwing for 170 yards and rushing for another 18 yards and a touchdown. Zaire showed his inexperience by completing just nine of his twenty passes, but he made some nice throws and at least provided a little bit of a spark to the offense. As promising as Zaire looked, the brightest spot of the game was Greg Bryant. The sophomore running back looked electric at times, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Bryant has been hampered with injuries throughout much of his time at Notre Dame, but it appears that he is ready to breakout. It’ll be interesting to see how much Brian Kelly utilizes Bryant in the bowl game, but his future looks bright. With Cam McDaniel departing, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant should provide a formidable one-two punch for the Fighting Irish next season.

Before I wrap up the 2014 season, I’d like to take a moment to address a couple of things that I read over the weekend. Throughout the years, I have learned how to avoid reading emotionally charged comments from angry fans or Notre Dame haters after a loss, but yesterday the comments found me. I follow several Notre Dame beat reporters on Twitter, and a few of them either retweeted or responded to some fans’ reactions.

First, the idea that Notre Dame should reject an offer to go to a bowl game is moronic. While I am frustrated with how they are playing and don’t want to see another embarrassment, this team desperately needs the extra fifteen practices that you get for going to a bowl game. This team is very young and could use those three weeks to get better and playing in a bowl game against another quality opponent is a valuable experience for such a young team.

Second, the notion that Brian Kelly should be fired is idiotic. Obviously, this season was a disappointment (especially after starting 6-0), but that is not grounds for termination. Realistically, this team was projected to win about seven or eight games (I said nine) by just about every national pundit, so going 7-5 isn’t a shock to most people. I know people don’t want to hear the excuses, but this team was devastated with injuries on defense and were forced to play a lot of young players. With having a young team even prior to the injuries, Notre Dame should be positioned for a good season next year. At this point, firing Kelly would do more harm than it would help this program. Now, if the Irish win seven or eight games next year, then the “Fire Kelly” claims will warrant much greater attention.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 28, 2014

Week 12 Preview: Notre Dame at USC

The 2014 regular season comes to an end tomorrow afternoon when Notre Dame (7-4) travels to southern California to take on their rival USC Trojans (7-4). With both teams out of playoff contention and no chance of making a significant bowl game, this game is all about pride. The Trojans dominated this rivalry for nearly a decade in the 2000s, but the Irish have had the upper-hand in recent years by winning three of the last four matchups. Who will prevail tomorrow?

The story for Notre Dame on offense has become a broken record. They must protect the football and minimize careless mistakes. If the Irish can do that, they will likely win because they should be able to move the football with relative ease against a USC defense that ranks 71st in total defense (402.6 yards per game) and 53rd in scoring defense (24.6 points per game). Like they have all season, the Irish should have success through the air as the Trojans’ defense has struggled against the pass by allowing 267.5 yards per game, good for 108th in the country. Everett Golson will likely throw for over 300 yards, so if he can avoid multiple turnovers, then the Irish should score 30-plus points. Although the Trojans have played poorly against the pass, they have excelled versus the run by allowing 135.1 yards per game which places them 30th in the nation. While that means USC has an above average run defense, Notre Dame should be able to find some running room since I expect the Trojans to be more worried about the pass. Tarean Folston will get the bulk of the carries, but Brian Kelly hinted that Greg Bryant will likely get some carries now that he is fully healthy. It would be nice to see one of them break off a long touchdown run in a game that figures to be very tight.

The Irish defense has been a disaster over the last several weeks, and I do not think that will change much tomorrow. With a number of injuries and many inexperienced players playing significant minutes, the Irish will likely struggle to stop an explosive USC offense. Quarterback Cody Kessler (30 TDs and 4 INT) leads a Trojan offense that is averaging 441.5 yards per contest and 33.8 points per game. Kessler has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,133 yards which places him among the nation’s best passers. Considering that Notre Dame’s defensive line and secondary is very depleted, it could be a very long day for the Irish defense. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, then they will have to create some turnovers to give their offense more possessions to keep up the amount of points USC should be able to put up. If worrying about the passing game wasn’t enough, the Irish will have their hands full trying to stop USC’s rushing attack. Javorius Allen has been a workhorse for the Trojans by accounting for 1,244 yards and nine touchdowns on 231 carries. Allen has rushed for over 100 yards in eight out of eleven games, and I would be shocked if he didn’t rush for well over 100 yards tomorrow afternoon. As you can see, the Trojans should have no problems moving the football and putting up points against a defense that has been lousy for over a month.

Both teams will move the chains and light up the scoreboard, but Notre Dame’s tendency to make critical mistakes will cost them once again. USC wins a shootout.

Prediction: USC 41, Notre Dame 38

Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, November 24, 2014

Week 11 Recap: Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28

Notre Dame’s recent struggles continued last Saturday when the Fighting Irish fell to the Louisville Cardinals, 31-28. The Irish started off slow and trailed the Cardinals 17-6 at halftime, but a nice second half effort made for an exciting finish. In fact, Notre Dame scored 14 unanswered points to take a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, but the Cardinals running game was virtually unstoppable which led to two more Louisville touchdowns to give them a 31-20 lead. The Irish would cut the lead to 31-28 when Everett Golson found Will Fuller for a 28 yard touchdown, and then added a two-point conversion on a Golson scramble. Notre Dame would have a chance to either take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes, but they came away empty when a promising drive stalled and Kyle Brindza missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal. With the defeat, the Irish have now lost four of their last five games to add to a disappointing finish to a once promising season.

Notre Dame’s offense got off to a decent start against a great Louisville defense by converting on two field goal attempts in their first three drives, but the offense struggled for the rest of the first half. After Golson threw another ill-advised pass into the arms of a Louisville defender, it looked like the Irish offense would be plagued by turnovers once again. However, Golson responded quite nicely by playing well in the second half and finishing the afternoon with 236 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Tarean Folston had another impressive performance with 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while wide receiver Will Fuller added 109 yards and a touchdown to his outstanding season. Unfortunately, the Irish offense was unable to overcome their struggles in the first half which ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.

The Irish struggled once again on defense by allowing 409 yards of total offense, highlighted by a dominating 229 yards rushing. The Notre Dame front seven proved to be no match versus the Louisville rushing attack as the Cardinals carried the ball 50 times on the afternoon which contributed to a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. After falling behind 17-6, Notre Dame’s defense did play pretty well during the second quarter and part of the third quarter, but Louisville was able to score when needed as the Irish tried to mount a comeback. If the struggles weren’t enough, the Irish also continue to lose impact players on their defense which led to nine freshman playing significant minutes on defense. Regardless of the inexperience, the Irish need to be much better on defense moving forward. The only real positive to take away from the recent struggles is that a lot of freshmen are getting valuable experience which should bode well for the future.

Unfortunately, many Irish fans are tired of waiting for next year…

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 21, 2014

Week 11 Preview: Notre Dame vs Louisville

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (7-3) will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host the Louisville Cardinals (7-3, 24th ranked) tomorrow afternoon. After last week’s debacle, Notre Dame’s hopes of playing in a prestigious bowl game have most likely evaporated, thus leaving the Irish to play for pride the rest of the season. After two disappointing defeats and losses in three of their last four games, Notre Dame should not need any extra motivation to get a much needed victory, but tomorrow is Senior Day. As is the case every year, the Irish will want to do whatever it takes to get a win and send the seniors off on a positive note.

Notre Dame’s offense will get their toughest test since facing Stanford because the Louisville Cardinals’ defense ranks 10th in the country in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game and 5th in total defense by allowing just 285.7 yards per contest. As well as Louisville has played defensively, they have not played many explosive offenses and they struggled to slow down Florida State when they surrendered 42 points. Given that, I believe the Irish can have success as they have all season. Of course, the biggest problem this season has been the turnovers and Louisville’s defense has thrived on creating takeaways. The Cardinals are tied for 11th in the country with 25 takeaways this season, so Everett Golson and company must protect the ball much better than they have the previous weeks. In addition to the turnovers, Louisville’s defense is tied for 9th in the nation with 33 team sacks, so protecting Golson could be an issue. To counter this, I expect to see plenty of wide receiver screens and short passes, so the offensive line must make solid initial contact to avoid a repeat performance from the Arizona State game. I’m sure Brian Kelly will attempt to establish a running game, but that could be difficult against the 2nd ranked rush defense that is allowing a measly 87.4 yards per game. Notre Dame’s success in the “run game” might have to come from less conventional plays such as read-options, jet-sweeps, draws, and the aforementioned screen passes that will essentially serve as a running play. Notre Dame will not be able to line up, and run it straight at this Cardinals’ defense, so Kelly will have to be creative in order to maintain solid drives throughout the game. Based on the expected game plan, I am predicting Will Fuller and Corey Robinson to put up some high reception and nice yardage totals to lead the Irish offensive attack.

To put it lightly, Notre Dame’s defense is an absolute mess right now. However, they have an opportunity to turn it around against a Louisville offense that will be led by a true freshman quarterback. Reggie Bonnafon has taken over the reins after starting quarterback Will Gardner fell to a season-ending injury. Bonnafon has attempted 92 passes while appearing in seven games, so he does have some experience under his belt. The most notable difference between Gardner and Bonnafon is his ability to run, so the Irish defense could be challenged considering their troubles against some mobile quarterbacks this season. Bonnafon rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries last week, so it will be important for the Irish front-seven to stay disciplined and keep containment. In addition to Bonnafon, the Irish will have to deal with a pair of 400-plus-yard rushers in Brandon Radcliff (445 yards) and Michael Dyer (414 yards). For Notre Dame to have success on defense, they must bottle up Radcliff and Dyer on first and second down to force obvious passing situations. If that occurs, then defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can dial up some blitzes and different coverage schemes to try to confuse the young quarterback. As much as Notre Dame’s offense has struggled to hold onto the football, the Irish defense has been opportunistic and I look for them to create a few turnovers tomorrow.

Both teams will likely turn the football over multiple times, but I think the Irish will come out with something to prove and make enough plays to win the game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Louisville 27

Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week 10 Recap: Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame followed up their disappointing loss with another lousy performance that led to a 43-40 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats. With all due respect to Northwestern, this is a game that Notre Dame should have won, but they once again gave it away with too many costly errors and turnovers. The Irish had a 40-29 lead in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to trim their deficit to 40-37. With the Irish trying to secure the game on their final drive, senior running back and team captain Cam McDaniel coughed up the football to give Northwestern a chance to kick a game tying 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining. After the Irish failed to get a first down on their first possession of overtime, Kyle Brindza missed a 42-yard field goal. That miss allowed Northwestern to kick a game winning 41-yard field goal to stun the Irish in South Bend.

Like last week, the offense had success moving the football and scoring points, but the turnovers ultimately sealed Notre Dame’s fate.  The Irish committed four turnovers on the afternoon, with Everett Golson being responsible for two of them with an interception and a fumble. Along with the aforementioned McDaniel fumble, Chris Brown also put the ball on the ground when the Irish were knocking on the door for another touchdown. Considering that Golson’s fumble also happened deep inside the red zone, the Irish literally took 14 points off the board. Couple that with Golson’s interception that was returned to the Notre Dame 5-yard line that set up an easy Northwestern touchdown, those three turnovers were at least a 21-point swing. Add the two missed field goals and a botch PAT attempt that resulted in two points for Northwestern, and that is another 9-point swing. Despite the mistakes, you have to give the Wildcats credit for capitalizing on all of the miscues, but this routine is getting really old, really fast. Notre Dame needs to clean up their mistakes right now before they find themselves sitting at 7-5 at the end of the season. Although it is hard to point out the positives from yesterday, it should be noted that wide receiver Will Fuller had another monster game with 159 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions. Fuller now has 13 touchdowns on the season to tie him for the best in the country. Quite frankly, it is becoming a farce that he has yet to be listed among the 80-plus wide receivers on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.

While the offense is not doing the defense any favors with all the turnovers, Brian VanGorder’s unit has been playing extremely poorly the past five weeks. In fact, the Irish have surrendered 42.2 points per game over their last five contests. While injuries have forced several freshmen and inexperienced players into the lineup, the defense still needs to be better. The most worrisome aspect of the defense has been the inability to stop the opponent from running the football right down their throats. Especially in the past two weeks, the loss of defensive leader Joe Schmidt has proved to be even a bigger than anyone could have ever imagined. Notre Dame’s defense looks lost out there right now, and that was evident more than ever yesterday when they allowed a Northwestern offense to gain 547 yards of total offense and score 43 points. As a quick reminder, these are the same Wildcats that managed to score just nine points last week against a miserable Michigan team. With a pair of 7-3 teams remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule, this defense will have to grow up and improve very quickly if they want to finish the season with a couple of impressive wins.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 14, 2014

Week 10 Preview: Notre Dame vs Northwestern

Notre Dame (7-2) will try to get back on track tomorrow afternoon when they host the Northwestern Wildcats (3-6). While last week’s disappointing defeat eliminated the Fighting Irish from postseason contention, they still have plenty to play for down the stretch. Sitting at 18th ranked, Notre Dame will need to win their final three games to improve their resume in order to reach a more prestigious bowl game. How will the Irish respond?

Notre Dame’s offense can be summed up in one word, turnovers. When the Irish can avoid multiple turnovers, they can probably play with every team in the country. The problem is that they are averaging about three turnovers a game over the last six weeks, and it finally came back to haunt them against Arizona State. Tomorrow’s matchup will be the first chance for Everett Golson and company to improve on the discouraging trend. Northwestern has had rough season, but their defense has been a respectable unit for most of their games. The Wildcats rank 48th in country by allowing 373.7 yards per game (209.7 passing yards and 164 rushing yards); leading to an impressive 30th ranked scoring defense at just 22.3 points per game. As you can see, Northwestern’s defense is more susceptible to the run than the pass, so this should be a great opportunity for Notre Dame to get the running game going again. Tarean Folston was a disappointment last week mainly because the Irish fell behind so big and that he isn’t a great pass blocker, but he should rebound nicely this week. Look for Brian Kelly to try to establish the running game early and make a statement to play physical football against a Big Ten team. Kelly also hinted during his press conference that the Irish will have to take what Northwestern’s defense gives them, meaning that I expect to see plenty of screens, slants, and quick outs on the afternoon. While Northwestern has been good on defense, Notre Dame should have a big advantage talent wise, so hopefully they will be able to move the ball methodically down the field.

The Irish defense has fallen on hard times after starting the season strong, but this week presents a great chance to improve. Northwestern has had a difficult time moving the ball all season by averaging a mere 322.7 yards of total offense which places them 114th in the nation. The Wildcats’ struggles on offense have been both on the ground (109.9 yards per game) and through the air (212.8 yards per game), so there is no reason why the Irish can’t have success on defense. Quarterback Trevor Siemian leads the Northwestern offense, but he has had trouble this season by throwing eight interceptions and only five touchdowns. If Northwestern is going to attack the Notre Dame defense, then running back Justin Jackson would be their best option. Jackson has 761 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 175 carries, so he could find so running lanes against the banged up Irish defense. Freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan didn’t play well last week against Arizona State’s up-tempo attack, but I expect the youngster to play much better tomorrow with less pressure surrounding him. Along with Morgan, the Irish also have five other freshmen playing significant snaps, so now is perfect time for them to get some much needed experience against a less-powered offense.

I think the Irish will come out strong and fast to prove that last week’s performance was a fluke by jumping out to an early lead and never look back.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Northwestern 13

Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 9 Recap: Arizona State 55, Notre Dame 31

In a must win game to stay alive for playoff consideration, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame laid an egg against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The afternoon started off nicely with Kyle Brindza converting on a 46-yard field goal attempt after a 14-play, 59 yard opening drive. From there, a series of mistakes and unfortunate bounces led to five turnovers that would be too much for the Irish to overcome. Three of the five turnovers fueled the Sun Devils to a 34-3 lead late in the first half, but Notre Dame would score four unanswered touchdowns to cut the lead to 34-31 with 6:37 remaining in the game. However, the furious comeback would prove to be false hope as the Sun Devils responded with a quick 5-play, 75 yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 41-31. Arizona State would add two more scores on a pick-six that bounced off of Corey Robinson’s chest, and a Taylor Kelly touchdown run in the final minute. Overall, it was a disappointing performance for the Irish because the turnovers were what ultimately proved to be the difference. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona State deserves all the credit in the world for capitalizing on those mistakes, but the final score was not indicative to how closely matched these two teams should have been.

Obviously, the big story on offense was the turnovers. Everett Golson has flirted with disaster several times this season, but this time it finally came back to end Notre Dame’s playoffs. Golson committed five turnovers on the afternoon, and those mistakes proved to be the difference in the game. Even though all five turnovers were not entirely Golson’s fault, the bottom line is that these mistakes need to stop. Golson has committed 17 turnovers in the last 6 games, and Notre Dame will not be a playoff contender next season if the trend continues. With three games remaining, I’d like to see if Golson can limit the mistakes and prove that he actually understands that he can’t be careless with the football. The two batted balls and the Robinson bobble were mostly fluky plays, but the fumble and the interception in the end zone were inexcusable. Those are “freshman mistakes” and ones that can’t continue to happen. It seems foolish to consider making a switch at the quarterback position considering how many touchdowns Golson has been responsible for, but there needs to be some accountability for his actions. Personally, I’d love to see Brian Kelly bench Golson next Saturday for a series if he commits another unacceptable turnover. With the playoffs no longer a possibility, Golson needs to learn that he can’t continue to play sloppy and careless football.

When the other team scores 55 points, it is hard to make a case that the defense played well, but I will give them credit for keeping the Irish in the game during the second half. Considering the Sun Devils had touchdown drives of 13 yards, 23 yards, 8 yards, and two pick-sixes, Notre Dame’s offense basically handed the Sun Devils 35 points. Having said that, Arizona State deserves credit for playing up-tempo and forcing Notre Dame to make quick adjustments at the line. I thought that Notre Dame had trouble stopping the run up the middle, demonstrating how important the loss of Joe Schmidt will be moving forward. The Sun Devils rushed for 188 yards on 45 carries and really moved the ball with ease at critical times of the game. Notre Dame’s defense played their best football during the third quarter and for half of the fourth quarter when they forced four punts and an interception during a span of five Arizona State drives. That stretch allowed Notre Dame’s offense to mount a comeback, but in the end they dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Friday, November 7, 2014

Week 9 Preview: Notre Dame at Arizona State

When Notre Dame (7-1, 10th ranked) travels to Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils (7-1, 9th), it is essentially an elimination game. Both programs would have to win out and need some help to make the playoffs, but the loser is definitely out of contention for one of the final four spots. Last season, the Fighting Irish defeated the Sun Devils 37-34 in the Shamrock Series, but who will prevail tomorrow afternoon?

Notre Dame’s offense has been one of the better units in the country by averaging 35.4 points per game (30th ranked) and gaining 458.3 yards per contest (33rd ranked), and they will look to continue that success against an improving Arizona State defense. The Sun Devils have allowed 24.1 points per game (50th ranked) and 385.3 yards per contest (58th ranked), but they have not allowed more than 16 points in their last three games. While the Sun Devils’ defense is trending upwards, they have not faced an offense like Notre Dame’s in recent weeks. Everett Golson has been responsible for the majority of Notre Dame’s scoring this season, accounting for 29 touchdowns (22 passing and 7 rushing) on 2,311 yards passing and 272 yards rushing. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, Golson will have to shine once again while also limiting his turnovers to zero or one. In what figures to be an offensive game, the Irish must score on most of their possessions and they can’t help the Sun Devils out by giving them a short field. Although Golson should play well, the key to this game could be the running game led by Tarean Folston. Arizona State has struggled against the run by allowing 180.9 yards per game, which places them 88th in the country. In addition, Folston has been on quite a roll lately by rushing for 367 yards in the past three games, so I expect him to have another big game by easily eclipsing the 100-yard rushing plateau for the third consecutive week. If that happens, the Irish have a great chance at winning this game.

The Irish suffered a huge blow by losing their linebacker and defensive leader in Joe Schmidt last week. Schmidt is out for the season after dislocating and fracturing his ankle, so Notre Dame will need to move on quickly. True freshman Nyles Morgan will start and take over the play calling duties on defense, so we’ll find out real quickly how he and the Irish will respond to the loss of Schmidt. There is no doubt that Morgan has the talent considering he was a “blue-chip” recruit, but his discipline, knowledge, and maturity will no doubt be tested tomorrow. I expect Morgan to play well, but the pre-snap alignment for the entire defense might be a step behind if the Sun Devils play up-tempo offensively. Notre Dame’s defense got off to a great start to the season, but they have struggled mightily during the past three weeks by surrendering a combined 113 points.  Despite the recent struggles, Brian VanGorder’s defense still ranks 29th in scoring defense at 21.6 points per game and 40th in total defense by allowing 359.1 yards per contest. Arizona State possesses a balanced attack offensively by averaging 291.1 yards passing and 192.5 yards rushing per game which has led to a scoring average of 34.4 points per game. The Sun Devils are led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back D.J. Foster, and wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Kelly missed three games due to injury, but the senior has played well this season by passing for 1,010 yards and rushing for 230 yards, while accounting for 11 touchdowns (nine passing and two rushing). I think that VanGorder needs to dial up the blitz early and often to force Kelly to make early throws and to see how well his healing right foot responds to the pressure. Another reason to bring the blitz is to limit the amount of time the Irish secondary needs to cover Jaelen Strong. Strong is one of the top receivers in the country and he poses serious matchup problems with his 6-3, 212 pound frame and explosive speed. Strong has had a fantastic season so far with 821 yards and eight touchdowns on 57 catches, so limiting his big play potential will be another key for the Irish. If worrying about Strong wasn’t enough, Notre Dame also will need to focus on stopping D.J. Foster. The junior running back has 1,153 yards of total offense with 701 yards rushing and 452 yards passing, so shutting him down completely will be a difficult task. Notre Dame’s rushing defense has been great all season, but last week’s contest against the run-heavy Navy Midshipmen has dropped the Irish to 31st in the nation by allowing an average on 131.9 yards per game. Based on their success the first seven games, I think that the Irish have a great shot of holding Foster to under 100 yards, and they might have to in order to win this game. Arizona State will likely need to match Notre Dame score-for-score, and it appears they have the talent to do so.

This game should be a shootout, but I think Everett Golson will prove to be the difference. Golson has an ability to make plays in the clutch and he has thrived in big-game situations.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Arizona State 34

Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Week 8 Recap: Notre Dame 49, Navy 39

Notre Dame started off fast last night versus Navy by jumping out to a 28-7 lead, but the Midshipmen fought their way back to score 24 unanswered points to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. However, the Irish responded with two touchdowns to start the fourth quarter and they added another score late to seal the 49-39 victory. It wasn’t the prettiest game for the Irish, but they got the win. Unfortunately, a close win against a service academy will likely not impress the playoff committee. Regardless of what the committee thinks right now, Notre Dame just needs to keep winning and they will probably be hard to leave out of the final four come December.

Other than the third quarter, Notre Dame was terrific on offense last night by racking up 533 yards of total offense and scoring seven touchdowns. The Irish were led by the impressive performances of Everett Golson and Tarean Folston. Golson threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns while adding 33 yards of rushing and another three scores. Folston enjoyed his third consecutive outstanding game with 149 yards rushing and 38 yards receiving. Folston has totaled 367 yards rushing and 109 yards receiving over the past three weeks to solidify his case as the lead running back. Right now, it is hard to imagine that there are many quarterback-running back duos playing more effectively than Golson and Folston, so the Irish offense should continue to cause problems for the remaining four teams on their schedule. While the offense was successful for most of the night, there was one error that changed the momentum of the game. Whether it was a bad play call, wrong route, or just a bad throw; the interception thrown by Golson right before the half was simply inexcusable. That turnover, followed by an unacceptable cover bust, led to a Navy field goal that cut the Irish lead to 28-17 at halftime. Since Notre Dame was driving and appeared capable of scoring again before the half, the costly miscue resulted in a likely 10-point swing and wiped away the probability of a commanding 35-14 lead at halftime. As a result, Navy was able to continue playing their game offensively and they gave the Irish all they could handle for four quarters. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s talent would prevail, but it was another frustrating game in this historic series.

Notre Dame’s defense had plenty of difficulties stopping Navy’s triple option attack by allowing the Midshipmen to accumulate 454 yards of total offense. Of course, most of the success came on the ground with 336 yard rushing on 60 attempts, but Keenan Reynolds completed a few big passes to help Navy keep up with the Irish offense, including a 42 yard completion and two touchdowns. Reynolds also added 47 yards on the ground, but the big threat in the running game was Noah Copeland. Copeland scampered for 138 yards on 16 carries and gashed the Irish defense for a 54 yard gain on fourth-and-two. That long run set up a Navy touchdown on the next play to give them a 31-28 lead. Everyone knew what Navy was going to do offensively, but the Irish couldn’t stop them. Part of Notre Dame’s struggles on defense was the injuries that forced the Irish to play even more of their younger players. At one point, I believe the Irish had five true freshmen and four sophomores playing together on defense. That combination is not ideal when you need discipline and knowledge to effectively stop Navy’s triple option. With or without the injuries, Navy’s offense just executed better than Notre Dame’s defense and the Midshipmen deserve all the credit for playing such a great game.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07