You’ve been missing the blogger Q&A, haven’t you?
Sadly, Middle Tennessee State and Nevada don’t have dedicated blogs on SB Nation, so we haven’t done this for the first couple of weeks this season. Notre Dame does, however, and we asked Pat Rick (hey, I see what he did there) of One Foot Down, our sister blog covering the Fighting Irish, a few questions about Notre Dame.
(Also, you really should check them out. They’re one of the more fun SB Nation blogs we’ve interacted with, especially for a blue blood fan base.)
1. I wasn’t paying much attention to Notre Dame’s game against Ball State on Saturday, then I looked up and saw the final score was 24-16. Ball State is not very good. Was this just an instance of Notre Dame not taking the game seriously, or were there deeper issues revealed in that game?
The most accurate answer is probably that it was both. Notre Dame was coming down from the high of beating a ranked rival in prime time on opening weekend, and then had to play Ball State, a MAC team who went 2-10 last season. The Irish marched down the field and scored with relative ease on their opening possession, so it’s likely that the Irish did not take Ball State very seriously from there, and figured they could coast.
At the same time, there are some glaring issues that are really beginning to show themselves in this Notre Dame team. Obviously QB Brandon Wimbush threw 3 picks and his decision-making can be an issue, but the play-calling putting him into so many situations where he was trying to beat Ball State with his arm is preposterous. With All-Americans at center and left guard and with Wimbush’s legs combined with a couple very capable backs in Tony Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong, it doesn’t make sense that Wimbush would throw 31 times against a team like Ball State.
2. Brandon Wimbush’s completion percentage is not that good, but he’s thrown for a lot of yards. Is he missing a lot on deep passes, or does Notre Dame throw a lot of short passes?
ND probably does more in the short-to-intermediate distance than going deep, especially with Wimbush at QB, but the Irish also usually take a few shots deep per game to try to stretch out the defense and take advantage of some big targets at receiver and Wimbush’s strong arm.
So, Wimbush has been inconsistent on throws of all varieties, but has managed to connect on some really nice passes as well, explaining his low completion percentage but decent (definitely not exceptional) yardage through the air.
3. What should we expect Notre Dame to do offensively?
Short answer: Hell if I know.
Longer answer: They’ll certainly try to establish the run, and you have to assume they’ll alter the game plan from last week and go back to something a little more conservative/geared toward Wimbush’s strengths, as they did for the Michigan game.
So, I’d expect a lot of hand-offs to TJ Jones Jr. and Jafar Armstrong, a good amount of run-pass option plays that end with Wimbush keeping it and running, some short passes to guys like Chris Finke underneath the secondary, and a few shots downfield to ND’s big receivers (Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, Alize Mack) just to keep the Vandy DBs honest.
4. Who are Notre Dame’s playmakers on the defensive side of the ball? What should we expect from the Irish defensively?
The big four names to know are Khalid Kareem, Jerry Tillery, Te’von Coney, and Julian Love.
Kareem is the team’s best pass rusher and although he’s battling a couple injuries is certainly the guy most likely to get into Shurmur’s face. Tillery, meanwhile, is the man in the middle on the defensive line -- a 6’6” senior behemoth who wreaks a ton of havoc himself and is very tough to move off the ball.
Coney is a senior middle linebacker who will almost certainly lead the team in tackles, as he does in most games. The guy is a great mix of fast/athletic and super strong, allowing him to shed blocks, run down ball carriers, and rarely give up yardage once he hits them and wraps them up.
Love is a potential All-American corner who has a knack for breaking up passes and who has shown the ability to take a pick to the house on more than one occasion.
Another name to look out for is safety Alohi Gilman, who is a Navy transfer that flies all around the field and has already proven to be a major playmaker in the ND secondary.
In terms of what to expect from the Irish defense: you’ll see a fairly simple defensive scheme that relies on veteran guys executing their assignments and making plays. They’ll be pretty stout against the run, and they now finally have the pass rushing talent and secondary depth to force turnovers in the passing game.
This unit is easily the strength of the Notre Dame team, so if Vanderbilt’s offense is able to move the ball on them, the Commodores are looking great for the upset.
5. Many Vanderbilt fans traveling to the game are apparently staying in Chicago. Is this normal, or do out-of-town fans regularly stay in South Bend or closer to it?
It’s fairly normal. South Bend only has so much space, and more importantly it might make more sense to stay in a city with more to do (if you’re making a whole weekend out of the trip) and with more flight options than the South Bend airport.
I always prefer to stay in South Bend for sure, but I’ve heard of plenty of people, especially those who aren’t in driving distance (I live in Chicago) staying in Chicago when they come to games.
6. What is there to do in South Bend before and after the game?
I’d like to direct you to this wonderful summary of what to do in South Bend on game day that our site manager Joshua Vowles published a couple weeks ago.
My personal recommendations:
- Bars: The Linebacker (shitty, wonderful dive bar), Corby’s, Finny’s
- Restaurants: Expensive places like LaSalle Grille, Corndance Tavern, and Cafe Navarre; less expensive places like Fiddler’s Hearth (Irish place, live music), Crooked Ewe and Evil Czech (breweries), JW Chen’s (Chinese), Bruno’s/Rocco’s/Barnaby’s (all pizza places), Cambodian Thai (Thai...), Yats (Cajun Creole), Nick’s Patio (late night diner)
- Sights: Everything you want to see is on campus --The Grotto, The Basilica, Admin Building (Golden Dome), Touchdown Jesus/Reflecting Pool, etc.
7. Prediction time: who wins, and what is the final score?
Notre Dame will win this game, but like last week, I think Vanderbilt exploits a few key weaknesses and makes this one closer than Irish fans would like. ND at least scores more than 24 points this time, which will be slightly more exciting.
I say Notre Dame 33, Vanderbilt 20
We thank Pat for stopping by. Also, we would like to point out that at Brian Kelly’s last two coaching stops, this man has succeeded him as head coach:
That’s right: if you get rid of Brian Kelly, you gotta hire Butch. Them’s the rules.