In addition to the weekly previews that we’ll do to showcase the Cougars match up that week we are going to provide you with an “insider” perspective as well. Each week we’ll ask questions of a blogger for BYU’s opponent that week and post their answers as a post for you to read. We’ll give you some background info and link you to their own site so you can read all the good stuff they are doing while supporting their own teams.
Week 8 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Blog: One Foot Down
Respondant: Eric Murtaugh
Academically Ineligible: What makes Notre Dame’s defense so good this season?
Eric Murtaugh: Pressure and discipline from the front seven, an improved linebacker corps led by Manti Te’o, and a secondary playing way beyond its experience.
The defensive line is disciplined with its gap control and are just as good at power rushing as they are speed rushing. Their presence allows the Irish linebackers a lot of room to make plays and tackles.
Due to this defensive line pressure, the secondary has had a much easier job this season. However, even in the rare instance when an opposing quarterback does have time, the coverage has been very good.
The defense as a whole has been phenomenal at tackling this season as well.
AI: What can the BYU defense expect from Notre Dame’s offense?
EM: Redshirt freshman QB Everett Golson sustained a concussion late in the Stanford game so he is questionable this weekend. If he doesn’t start you’ll see junior Tommy Rees.
With both players you’ll see a lot of power running, mostly out of the shotgun, but sometimes from under center. The Irish offense will use 3 tight ends often as both blockers and split out wide as receivers. They will try to get a mismatch with TE Tyler Eifert and if he gets double teamed the offense will run in the opposite direction given the favorable numbers.
The passing game has been fairly conservative. With Rees he brings a better understanding of the offense and taking advantage of matchups, but his arm strength is limited. With both quarterbacks the throws are kept mostly to the sidelines in safe areas where ND receivers can use their athleticism to get open.
If Rees starts you’ll still see a lot of spread plays with four receivers, but the game plan is bound to be conservative either way. The Irish have three running backs that are very talented and they all see the field. They will be used in motion a lot and are depended upon to split out wide and take advantage of mismatches if BYU leaves an extra linebacker on the field.
If Golson plays you will see a lot more running from the QB position. Rees is incredibly slow and won’t run except for the very rare QB draw. Golson is very athletic and quick and he will be used in the read option and sprint option often.
There’s also a chance that junior Andrew Hendrix plays if Golson cannot. Hendrix has been relegated to 3rd string this season but he’s a tough physical runner that the team might use to get some short-yardage in the same way that Oklahoma used Blake Bell.
AI: Manti Te’o is of particular interest to BYU fans. Talk a bit about him and how the Irish community has rallied around him as a leader on this team.
EM: Te’o has certainly had a great career but before this season there was a lot of quiet chatter that he wasn’t living up to his 5-star billing coming out of high school. He played immediately as a true freshman on quite possibly the worst Irish defense in school history and then had to adjust to a new 3-4 defense as a sophomore when Brian Kelly was hired in 2010. Last year he continued to get better but he was slowed down by a high ankle injury for most of the season.
This year, he’s really taken off and entered elite status not just as a linebacker but as a defensive player and team leader. Just this past Tuesday coach Kelly mentioned that Te’o is the best leader he’s ever coached and it’s not even close.
Of course many have heard about his grandma and girlfriend passing on the same day a few weeks back and that was an obviously trying time for him. It’s been pretty amazing to witness him deal with all that, play at an incredibly high level, and on top of all that receive the most praise of any Notre Dame player for resurrecting and building this program back into a contender.
He’s truly a special player and a person. Like I said, before the season many would say he was really good but not really an all-time great at a storied program like Notre Dame. Right now, he’s solidified himself as one of the greatest leaders in program history and one of the top linebackers to ever wear the blue and gold.
AI: What has Brian Kelly done to get the winning tradition back at Notre Dame and do you think the program will continue to have success under Kelly?
EM: Kelly set about rebuilding the program from the ground up. From routine day-to-day player activities, to strength and condition, all the way to recruiting and accountability. Most Irish fans would tell you he inherited a soft and entitled team that fell victim to the rot of Notre Dame football that had been going on since the late 1990’s.
Kelly came in known as an offensive coach, but he immediately targeted the defense (which was absolutely dreadful in 2009 before he took over) as the unit that needed serious reinforcements. For years it was said that Notre Dame couldn’t recruit elite players on defense and in particularly on the defensive line, but Brian Kelly has gone out and dominated that side of the ball.
What’s more, he’s proving that his experience as a winner and developer of players is worth his hire in South Bend. He brought in a great coaching staff that has stressed playing within the same system and as a result Notre Dame is starting to see growth across an entire roster for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Simply put, he’s just a good coach. He knows what it takes to build a program and he’s even severely altered his spread offense to suit that program building. He and his staff have proven to be great recruiters—both of elite talent, but also cherry-picking some 3-star guys who they know will fit their system—and their hard work is beginning to pay off.
AI: Cougar fans will be invading hostile territory Saturday. What are some sites or traditions for visiting fans to enjoy in South Bend?
EM: First off, it won’t be very hostile territory. There are likely to be some trouble makers anywhere you go, but for the vast majority of visitors you will be treated with a lot of respect by Irish fans and especially from university officials.
The atmosphere inside the stadium has been improving, with the help of an undefeated season and music played over the PA system, but Notre Dame Stadium is typically a very subdued place to watch a game.
If you’re a Cougar fan coming in to South Bend for the game I would suggest you spend as much time on campus as possible. If you can, try to walk around campus on Friday if you’re in town that early—you’ll get a lot more done than on game day.
Some of the landmarks to see are:
Hesburgh Library– Also known as ‘Touchdown Jesus’ due to the enormous mural on the south side of the building, the library faces the football stadium and the narrow quad in between the two is a hot spot on Saturday. The Irish players also walk from their practice facility on the east side of campus down through this quad and into the stadium 2 hours before kickoff.
The Golden Dome– This is the administration building and the symbol of Notre Dame. You can actually go inside and look around too. The trumpets from the band go inside the dome on Friday night and before the game to play the school’s alma mater and fight song.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart– This is right next door to the Dome. It’s beautiful inside and is worth a quick stroll through.
The Grotto– One of the other main symbols of Notre Dame, this sits just below the basilica and is a must-see site if you visit Notre Dame and want to get your pray on and light a candle for someone dear to you.
Hammes Bookstore– It’s large, it’s busy, and it’s full of way too much stuff. Of course you should check it out.
Some other ideas include: Visiting the newly built Eddy Street Commons which is a small chain of restaurants/bars just south of campus. Rub the nose of Knute Rockne’s bust inside the Rockne Memorial gym on the west side of campus. Take a stroll around the two lakes on the north side of campus. Eat Saturday night dinner at the South Dining Hall following the game. The College Football Hall of Fame is still in town, but if you’re short on time just stay on campus. Go inside the Joyce Center (just east of the football stadium) and check out the basketball court and tons of Irish athletics memorabilia and trophies. Friday afternoon they also open the north gate of the stadium and allow fans to walk down the tunnel and close to the end zone. You might even be able to see BYU finishing up their walk-through around this time as well.
Most of all, just take the time to walk around campus and soak everything in. It’s really more about the “experience” than going to any one place on campus. Take a tour of campus, seek out the food from student organizations scattered all over campus, and make sure to check out the high-end tailgating taking place in the parking lots just south of the stadium.
Thanks again to Eric for your time on this.