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Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

Month

October 2010

Eyes on the Irish: Personnel problems curse Kelly’s season two fold

Anyone with any kind of sensibilities had tempered expectations for Notre Dame this season. The personnel Brian Kelly had to work with was a major reason why. However, after rattling off three straight wins, fans’ expectations began to soar again, despite the fact that the teams the Irish have beaten have a combined record of 13-15. People lost sight of the fact this season is part of a greater process.

Kelly and everyone else knew that the vast majority of the players on offense were not ideal for the spread offense. Certain players, such as Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudloph, were physically gifted enough to adapt, but there were serious flaws in other key positions, specifically the quarterback.

Dayne Crist is the prototypical pro style pocket passer – 6-foot-4, 235 pounds and lead in his feet. While he has improved his mobility and seems to have some better vision when it comes to running, he still oftentimes looks more like a lumbering Sasquatch than anything else while running the football.

Kelly also knew he didn’t have a good Z receiver opposite Floyd and consequently had to convert running back Theo Riddick to the position. He has done well there, but the team’s running back corps lost a promising component in the process.

The offensive line is the exact opposite of a typical Kelly offensive line – big and slow. No doubt their inability to get out and block in space has been a problem within Kelly’s system.

Defensively, people had made the argument that the team is learning a completely new system, including a switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense and that the personnel is not right for such a scheme. While there is truth that it takes time to learn the ins and outs of a new system, people forget that the team’s defense was largely a disaster last year because they didn’t have the personnel to run the 4-3. The year before, they had run the 3-4. The problem with Kelly’s defensive personnel heading into this season is simple: With a few exceptions, they just aren’t very good, regardless of the system.

All this was evident before the injury bug hit Notre Dame harder than bed bugs in New York City.

The newest injury came to one of the most talented players on the defense, nose guard Ian Williams, whose season is not over, but a sprained MCL will probably keep him out for about six weeks.

That is on top of injuries to key players, such as Rudolph is out for the season with a hamstring injury that required surgery. Floyd also has been hobbled by a hamstring ailment. Riddick has a severely sprained ankle that has kept him out and will continue to do so.

Four of the Irish’s most potent weapons all are dealing with some kind of setback. Kelly knew he would not get the maximum effectiveness of his offensive and defensive schemes with the personnel he had heading into the season. Now key cogs are missing, which not only hurts his chances of gaining a win on Saturdays this season, but it can stunt the development of the program and his quarterback, who he’ll have for one more season next year.

Expectations should have been tempered for this season anyway, but now there should be no expectations at all.

Condolences

For those of you who haven’t heard, a member of the Notre Dame video department, Declan Sullivan, passed away after the tower he was standing on while filming a football practice fell. According to the Huffington Post’s Ellie Hall, Sullivan tweeted shortly before his death that he was terrified as gusting winds blew through South Bend.

This was a terrible tragedy that most likely could have been avoided and I would like to extend my prayers and condolences to Declan Sullivan’s family.

Follow Chris Maza on twitter: @Mazasmusings
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Weekly Poll: Who’s going down?

Seven undefeated teams remain in college football and a few of them face tough tests this week. What team is most likely to suffer its first setback of the season?

Maza’s Monday Mailbag: Why is Notre Dame on my TV?

Big games shook up the BCS and college hockey this week, prompting questions from the readers, but one annoyed frequenter of the site first has a serious question he wants answered.

West Springfield, MA rages: Why the (expletive) do I have to watch Notre Dame on Saturday? We have basic cable, so I only get the network channels and I know to avoid NBC on Saturdays, but then they’re on CBS this week, playing a team that nobody cares about. Why does a team that hasn’t won ANYTHING as long as I’ve been alive keep getting so much play?
Well, my friend, you’re not going to like my answer, but here it is. I’m going to throw out a number: 75,614. That’s the number of people that packed the Meadowlands to see this game. Notre Dame still matters to a lot of people in this country. There are very few 4-3 teams that could pack that stadium. Notre Dame is one of them. You may not like it, but that’s the way it is. And if you don’t care about Navy, then you don’t care that much about football. Over the past decade, Navy has been one of the most consistently underrated football teams in the country. They have been to seven-consecutive bowl games, have won three of them and two of the games they lost were by less than a field goal. While not quite as rich as the Army-Navy game, the game that was played Saturday was one of the oldest rivalries in college sports. As for why it was on CBS, the network has a contract with Navy and broadcasts Navy’s home games against Notre Dame, which always fall on even-numbered years.

Fairfield, CT wonders: When will Oregon get some respect from the computers? First Oklahoma is way ahead of them in the BCS rankings at number one, then Auburn takes the top spot away from them. What’s up with this? Everyone else can see that they’re the best team in football.
Right now Oregon is in line to be in the national title game, so what does it matter if they’re No. 1 or No. 2? That said, it probably has a lot to do with their schedule and perhaps for good reason. Outside of Stanford, it’s been pretty weak, whereas Auburn has now beaten three ranked teams in its last five games.  Oregon has been laying a whooping on teams, as they should. So has Boise State and people are clamoring that that should mean something. But remember, it was the coaches that rallied to get margin of victory removed from the formula. There’s still a lot of football to be played and a win over USC would be very valuable to Oregon. It’s also very possible that all of this conversation will be moot because Aurburn plays Alabama, maybe the best one-loss team in the nation, in the final game of their regular-season schedule. We shall see.

Boston, MA wants to know: Sure, BC (hockey) lost to Notre Dame (Sunday) night, but is that really going to be enough to drop them out of the No. 1 spot?
It probably will, but I don’t think they’ll be out of it for long. That said, for right now, I think you’d have to say Miami has a right to it. Miami is not undefeated, though the argument can be made that they have played a tougher schedule. Miami split a series with UNH, a top-10 team, beat and tied another ranked team in St. Cloud State and just brutalized Northern Michigan this weekend. So there’s at least an argument to be made.  Boston College hasn’t exactly been playing slouches. They won a conference game in the first game of the season and took two from Denver before losing a one-goal decision to Notre Dame. It also should be noted that they haven’t played a home game yet. So arguments could be made in either direction, but I think the quality of Miami’s opponents on their way to a similar record to BC puts them just a tad above them.

Springfield, Ma says: I think today’s game showed just how much the Patriots need a guy like Randy Moss. What do you think?
I think every team would love to have a guy like Randy Moss. And yes, Randy Moss may have helped. I don’t think there are many rational thinkers out there who think this team is better without him. However, give San Diego their props. The Chargers came into the game as the top statistical pass defense in football and they left the game that way. Sure, they haven’t played a team with a good quarterback AND dynamic receiver and that could have made a difference, but then again, maybe it wouldn’t have. It’s time to get over Randy Moss, folks. He’s gone.

Eyes on the Irish: Notre Dame regresses

Throughout the season, whether it was a win or a loss, fans and Brian Kelly alike could at least point to the fact that something Notre Dame was doing was in a positive direction.

Saturday’s game against Navy exposed holes all over the place for the Fighting Irish and put a very large exclamation point on the fact that Notre Dame is not ‘back’ as many fans liked to think as the team came into the Meadowlands on a three-game winning streak.

Defensively, Notre Dame not only looked slow, but not nearly physical enough, right from the get-go when they allowed a 99-yard drive for a touchdown on Navy’s first drive of the game. They did not get off blocks and were undisciplined against the triple option. Granted, the Mids run that offense like they invented it, but Notre Dame, who had moved up to 44th nationally in run defense, gave up 367 yards, more than SMU, Wake Forest, Air Force, Louisiana Tech and Georgia Southern.

Offensively, Notre Dame was able to move the ball well to start the first half, but, like the rest of his Irish teammates, was not able to put together a consistent, 60-minute game.

Notre Dame drove on the first possession of the game 71 yards on 13 plays, ate up nearly six minutes, but produced no points, as Notre Dame was stuffed on the one-yard line. Still, the Irish had to feel pretty good about their ability to move the football and keep it out of Ricky Dobbs’ hands.

On their next two drives, Notre Dame scored and were keeping pace with the Mids. Then everything started to unravel. After finding T.J. Jones for a touchdown to make the score 14-10 in the second, Crist completed just one of his next five passes, including two bad interceptions and on a critical third quarter drive, while down by three scores, Crist brought the Irish to the Navy 24-yard line, failed to come up with another first down. Granted, that one wasn’t all his fault, as Jones dropped a pass that would have gotten him past the marker on second down.

You can blame the fact that he didn’t have Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd if you’d like, but this was more just a matter of inconsistency. After starting the game for 11-for-16 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown through a quarter and a half, Crist went 8-for-15 for 66 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Kelly has not been happy with the play of Crist and it’s not all Crist’s fault. However, stupid interceptions, such as the ones that he threw on Saturday surely have to have his coach wondering how much he can trust his junior signal caller. Regardless, he’s stuck with him for at least one season.

After playing teams like Michigan (who has come back down to earth) and  Michigan State tough, it appeared the Irish could at least compete with any team on their schedule. Now fans have to be wondering if that’s the case.

Isn’t football supposed to be dangerous?

Let me make a couple things clear. First of all, I am not one of these nutcases who thinks football should go back to the days of leather helmets and limited padding. I am also never going to argue against severe penalties for hits to the head, regardless of the sport.

Needless to say, our brains are valuable and we have seen more and more the after effects of years of abuse to them in football players. The issue has become public, as it should have. Regardless of intent, hits to the head should be penalized.

That said, not all should be penalized equally. The guy who is lining a running back up for a hit and ends up hitting him in the head because he lowered his pad level should not be held to the same standard as the guy who turns himself into a missile and leads with his head with the intention of doing harm. The helmet is protection, not a weapon. Still, both players should be held accountable as some level.

All that said, the NFL is setting a dangerous precedent with its new “dangerous hits” policy. According the initial Associated Press report, “The NFL will immediately begin suspending players for dangerous and flagrant hits, particularly those involving helmets.”

As I said before, I get the part about protecting players’ heads. But the league is treading in some dangerous waters using objective terms like “dangerous” to describe actions that could lead to suspension.

Football is a dangerous game. Its violent nature makes it so. Players get hurt on a weekly basis and the cause is not only illegal hits. Players get concussions from banging their head off the turf after getting tackled legally. ACLs get blown out because another player falls over someone’s leg during a pile up at the goal line. Heck, Drew Bledsoe sheared a blood vessel in his chest after a completely legitimate hit. Football is a game build upon physical contact and violence. It’s the game’s major appeal. So what is dangerous? Or better yet, what is considered too dangerous?

The NFL did a disservice to its players by having a perceived kneejerk reaction to a weekend of bad hits. Some of them were flagrant, some of them were not. The real disservice is the fact that the league did not take the time to adequately define what a dangerous hit is, instead taking the “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it” approach.

Football is a game that can’t be played at half speed or tentatively. Players who are taking pause on the field in order to determine whether or not the hit they may make might violate some ambiguous rule is dangerous in and of itself and could just as easily lead to injury.

In addition, it seems very convenient that at the same time that the league is looking to expand the schedule to 18 games, more rules are being enforced to protect players. The main grievance the NFLPA has had with the idea is the fact that it’s hard enough to stay healthy throughout at 16-game schedule. It seems more like the NFL saw an opportunity to implement a rule that will protect players, but more importantly, its own interests. The timing of such a rule change is curious and screams ulterior motives.

But regardless of whether the league’s intentions are pure or not, the rule change suggests that the NFL has lost sight of exactly what the game is. Football is a dangerous sport. When did everyone forget that?

Is the path out of Boston opening up for Thomas?

Tim Thomas is playing some really good hockey at this point in the season and a lot of people are wondering whether or not a goalie controversy is in the making in Boston.

But his impressive play just might be helping to clear the way for him to be traded.

Before you turn off the computer, take a minute to think about it. Injuries to Marc Savard and Marco Sturm freed up cap space for the Bruins, who were very much in trouble in terms of the salary cap heading into this season. But by placing those two at long-term injured reserve, the Bruins only postponed the inevitable.

These two are not just throw away players. Savard is still one of the team’s top playmakers and Sturm was the team’s top goal scorer last season. Somehow the Bruins need to clear about $5 million in cap space. Tim Thomas’ cap hit for this season just happens to be $5 million.

Last season, there were rumors about Thomas moving, but nothing came from it. After all, paying that kind of’ salary to a disappointing goalie who had lost his starting job isn’t very appealing. This year, the scenario has changed. Thomas appears to be over his hip surgery and is playing very well.

Tuukka Rask is the team’s goalie of the future and no one will deny that. Trading Thomas would be one way to clear the cap space in order to make a promising offense even stronger and solve a major cash problem for the Bruins.

Eyes on the Irish: Notre Dame trying to overcome injury

As the Irish get set to take on Navy, they are preparing to do so without the help of come key weapons.

The latest in a long line of injuries is the high-ankle sprain sustained by No. 2 reciever Theo Riddick. He’s already been ruled out of Saturday’s game and severely weakens a Notre Dame offense that is already reeling.

After the Irish’s win over Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Kyle Rudolph was deemed done for the season because he needs surgery on his injured hamstring. That news that may mean we’ve seen the last of Rudolph, maybe the top NFL tight end prospect in football, in a Notre Dame uniform.

In addition to Rudolph, Michael Floyd is dealing with a hamstring injury, though it didn’t seem to affect him against Western Michigan, as he hauled in three touchdown passes.

In the backfield, Armando Allen is hurt (surprise, surprise) with a hip pointer and only got three carries in the first half against Western Michigan, failing to pick up a single yard.

Saturdays game will truly test how deep this Notre Dame team is.

Navy, once again, is an underrated team that has overcome a slow start to win back-to-back games on its way to a 4-2 record heading into the Meadowlands.

Defensively,  Navy is ranked ninth overall in pass defense. However, that does not mean they are not vulnerable. The Midshipmen have allowed five touchdowns through the air in their last two games. The  key to this matchup is whether or not fill-ins, such as T.J. Jones and Tyler Eifert can step up and help the passing game.

Both have shown an ability to make a difference, albeit against teams with defenses that aren’t very good. Jones caught three passes, including a touchdown in back-to-back games against Purdue and Michigan, but has had only one multi-catch game since. Eifert caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan.

Can they provide enough support to allow Dayne Crist and Floyd to get it done?

Weekly Poll: Who’s the best team in college football?

We know what the pollsters and the BCS think. Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Who’s the best team in college football?

Maza’s Monday Mailbag (10/18): Is Branch better than Moss?

An eventful week in the world of football and the release of the first BCS rankings of the year leads to some intriguing questions in today’s Mailbag.

Chicopee, MA poses the question: Deion Branch looked great (Sunday). Is he the Patriots’ new No. 1 receiver? I think he’s better suited for this offense than Moss ever was. What do you think?

I think Branch and Wes Welker are going to continue to be Tom Brady’s top wide receiver options, with some Brandon Tate mixed in. And yes, Branch did look very good in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Patriots’ win over Baltimore. One thing that Branch does have over Moss is his ability to run crisp routes and create separation that way. Still, let’s remember that the Patriots’ passing game was shut down for most of this game. Also, a guy like Moss would have been helpful in the case of that jump ball in the end zone at the end of regulation. It was a great game for Branch in his first appearance back in Foxboro, but I’d be interested to see if he performs next week when he doesn’t have all that emotional fuel.

Albany, NY fumes: Is this some kind of joke? Oklahoma at No. 1 in the BCS? They barely beat Utah State!

I am not a fan of the BCS and really think Boise deserves a little more love, but it is hard to argue with Oklahoma at least being in the conversation. Yes, they had a rough time in their tune up game against Utah State, but they came back the next week and absolutely dismantled a very good Florida State team, beat Texas in Dallas and beat an extremely underrated Air Force team on their way to an undefeated record. Style points don’t count in the BCS. Winning against quality opponents does and Oklahoma has been able to do that.

Manchester, CT once again asks: What do you think of Boise State’s chances at a BCS National Championship NOW?

This email was sent after Ohio State’s loss to Wisconsin and our friend from Manchester might not have sent it if he had waited to see the first BCS rankings released Sunday. With Boise State in third place, I don’t like their chances at all. It would have been tough, even if ESPN had been right in their projections that had Boise State in first, as other teams with more difficult schedules were expected to claw their way above Boise. Now at No. 3, the schedule alone will hold them out, especially with Nevada falling out of the rankings with the loss to Hawaii. Once again, Boise could be left out of the party, even if they go undefeated.

Springfield, MA asks: Will Oregon be the next No. 1 to fall, or are they going to hang on?

Oregon controls its own destiny at this point, but that’s not to say there aren’t teams that are capable of knocking them off. With an away game at USC. a home tilt with Arizona and another way game against Oregon State coming up in the season finale, there are still opportunities for the Ducks to slip up. Oregon is the better than all the teams I’ve mentioned, but given the way this college football season has gone, nothing would surprise me.

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