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"Taking Inventory" of the Irish

If you want to get to know about the Irish it has to begin and end with reading Blue Gray Sky, one of the most regal college football blogs, which should be a daily read for all college football fans across America. Those guys make it easy, letting us know everything to know about their legendary football program. Luckily for us, the boys over at BGS took a full inventory of the Irish defense and offense this past week.

On the Irish offense, BGS has concerns about the Irish OL:

Offensive Line. It's sad to say, but overall, the OL has been disappointing. There have been too many missed blocks and not enough push in the running game. They can really turn it on and dominate a defensive line at times (see Stanford), but it's rarely a game-long consistency. For such a veteran line, they haven't quite lived up to the lofty expectations set for them, especially the interior of the line. One possible exception is Ryan Harris who has been very consistent and is really doing a solid job in both the run and pass game. At right tackle, the major question mark on the offense coming into the year, Sam Young came out of fall camp the starter and so far he has looked great for a freshman. He has a very, very bright future. Even better is the recent trend of subbing in Paul Duncan for a few series a game, who has more than held his own in competitive situations against Michigan State and Purdue. The dual benefit of not wearing out Young early in the season while at the same time building depth and experience for next year is quality coaching. As for the rest of the backups/freshman, it was great to see Turkovich, Olsen, and Carufel all get in there towards the end of the Stanford game. At this point I think we might have to wait a year to see Bartley Webb and Chris Stewart, whereas I expect to see center Dan Wenger in there once he gets that cast off his hand. Hopefully Olsen and Carufel get some more PT since they just might be starting next season.
However despite concernins about the Irish OL there offense is doing all right:
Bottom Line?:I was surprised at how shaky the offense looked at the beginning of the season, but everything seems to be in fine form now, especially the passing game. Conservative play, "taking what the defense gives you", and dominating the time of possession seem to once again be the hallmarks of the Irish offense. Sam Young and John Carlson have been fun to watch, and I can't wait to see more of Prince and Aldridge. For the rest of the season I see the offense getting better and better as it fine-tunes itself against weaker competition before the big showdown in L.A.
Now it will be interesting to see how Walker's so called top-10 nationally ranked defense fair against the Irish this weekend. If there are legit. concerns about the Irish OL, and our DL is supposed to be much improved from this past season, then you'd expect our defense to put up a fight right from the kickoff this Saturday. Then again, they got dominated/outschemed by the Oregon DL, which was banged up, in the early (deciding) minutes this past weekend.

Now, in terms of defense. The Irish are worried about their front line:
Defensive Line. A sort of "the whole is less than than the sum of its parts" type of year so far. Victor, despite being double-teamed (and held) like no player I've ever seen is having a great year. Landri, with his ability to penetrate and disrupt, and Laws, with his non-stop motor, have increased their impact on the game by more than doubling their tackle numbers from a year ago. At the right defensive end position, Frome has done a good job keeping contain on some of the mobile QBs and Talley was getting better against the run. But as a whole, the defensive line has been slightly disappointing. There just hasn't been a consistent pass rush from the quartet, and oftentimes the opposing QB has too much time to throw the ball. I do expect that to improve as we face more inferior offensive lines -- the Stanford game is proof enough of that -- but I also think that such talented individuals as we have should be able to make a better overall push. The right defensive end spot is still the big bulleye for the opponent running game, and needs to stop being shoved around and start shoving back.

As far as the backups go, Travis Leitko has quietly been having a solid year moving the pile and getting his hands up into the passing lanes during his limited time on the field. Freshman John Ryan has made a surprise appearance on the depth chart as Victor's backup at defensive end. Ryan really hasn't done much yet this year, but the fact that the coaches trust him enough to send him out there when Victor needs a break is a good sign for his future. Classmate Morrice Richardson has the quickest first step of any of the defensive lineman on the roster, and I really hope he gets more chances this year to duck that shoulder under the reach of the opposing left tackle. With the loss of Talley, it will be interesting to see if Justin Brown and/or Dwight Stephenson will finally get onto the field. Derrell Hand has been M.I.A. so far with injuries. Getting him back and some game time experience would be nice for next year.

Linebackers. A big concern coming into the season and, quite frankly, still a big concern. ND has played the nickel or dime in a vast majority of the defensive snaps this year, with an extra defensive back replacing the third linebacker. That alone says much about the staff's faith in the Irish linebackers. Mo Crum still looks undersized playing in the middle, but is having a very productive year. Travis Thomas's lack of size makes it easy for offensive linemen to run him out of the play, but his speed has been a real asset, especially in blitzes. Mitchell Thomas and Anthony Vernaglia have had some guest appearances as the 3rd linebacker but neither have really shown that much during their time on the field. Vernaglia has been getting some more time lately, which I suppose is a sign the coaches are encouraged by what they see in practice. Hopefully his play late in the Stanford game is the first step towards increased production on the field. With more ground-oriented teams on the horizon he'll have plenty of chances to make an impact. Freshman Toryan Smith has had only a small handful of snaps so he's still a big unknown. Will he get more of a chance in the second half of the season? Or will ND stick mainly with the nickel package and Crum and Travis Thomas as the lone linebackers?
Now, if we had a competent head coach and a credible OC, I'd feel good about the matchups between our OL and the Irish DL. But can we really count on them at this point to come up with a decent game plan to take it to the Irish this weekend? Even if we do, what's the use? It is pretty apparent by now that Dorrell will probably be playing for a moral victory, and just trying to keep the score respectable because he probably doesn't have confidence in his team pulling out a victory (and vice versa).

In any event, the only way the Irish will probably lose this game, or be at a disadvantage despite not having a huge talent talent advantage over UCLA, is if they come out unprepared, unfocused, and not fired up about playing UCLA. In other words, if the Bruins even come close to a moral victory this Saturday, the Irish fan may get concerned about their own coaching staff. I don't see it happening.

So, that is what we have been reduced to under Dorrell. The only chance of victory (then again, moral victory is sufficient for some losers in Westwood) in a game like this is when the other team puts up a Lavinesque uninspiring performance (kind of like what Southern Cal did back in 2004 at the Rose Bowl when they were sleep walking (well except for Reggie "House" Bush). Thanks again Dorrell.