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Q & A w/ the House Rock Built

Notre Dame is the Football School in America.  Just like UCLA basketball the Fighting Irish football program is in a league of its own. There is no comparison. And unlike some minor league football factories, Notre Dame hasn't had to cheat or sell its soul to devil by having bunch of thugs posing as student athletes, to secure its glorious place in the pantheon of college football.

Just like thousands of Bruin faithful making the trip to South Bend this weekend, we have been looking forward to this match up ever since it was scheduled more than a decade ago. Our Odysseus and Ajax will be at South Bend. This past summer we talked to the folks over at Blue Gray Sky about the Notre Dame football program. This game week we exchanged some Q&As with fightinamish from the House Rock Built, yet another incredible Notre Dame football blog.

Yes the Amish took me to task for misspelling the name of his beloved head coach (hey this blogging thing has been a "growing" experience) but I think you really would love to hear your responses, specially his response to our second to last question. Anyways here is the House Rock Built (HRB). Our responses to their queries can be found here will be posted sometime later tonight or tomorrow:

BN: Half way into the season, Notre Dame is 5-1 with a somewhat shaky defense and a sobering loss to Wolverines. Is Coach Weiss's program meeting your expectations for this season?

HRB: First off, skippy, it's W-e-i-s.  One "s".  Learn it and love it. Should you, by some stroke of luck, defeat the Irish, then you can spell it however you want, but until then, show some damn respect, y'hear?

Right, anyway, about the question.  I think that I'm ultimately pleased with how this year is going.  Despite our irrational exuberance and visions of mythical national championships, every Irish fan knew coming into this year that they would be watching a well-oiled offense that can roll up inferior competition tied to a patchwork defense that would show some maddening inconsistency while struggling to find an identity. Suffice to say, we all proved to be pretty clairvoyant, as that's exactly what we've seen so far.

The bottom line is, we're 5-1 heading into the easier portion of the schedule (no offense), recruiting is going great, and there's a buzz and a level of expectation that this program hasn't seen in nearly a decade. And that's definitely something to be happy about.

BN: While watching some of the Notre Dame games we have seen this year, at times we've had the impression that we were watching our blue and gold defense playing for Charlie Weiss. That is, we saw ND players going for arm tackles or shoulder blocks instead of wrapping up. So, what is going on with the defense?  Have they improved from last season?

HRB: There's no shortage of those little things that drive you crazy watching a game. Linebackers bouncing off of running backs with poorly-conceived tackle attempts, safeties jumping for the ball and giving up 80 yard touchdowns, et cetera.  Ultimately, it comes down to a very inexperienced and undersized linebacking corps.  When your best linebacker also takes snaps as a running back, you can imagine we're pretty strapped in forming a cohesive unit inside the tackle box.

The defense is what it is.  The hope is that they'll be able to play sharply enough to hold off the opposition until the offense can put the game away, but there are going to be times where they will actually need to put together a good game for us to win, and those games scare me.

BN: ESPN college football writer/blogger Bruce Feldman recently put out his own Midseason Top 100 Players list.  5 Domers made his cut but it included one defensive player: Victor Abiamiri. Is Abiamiri the Domer's best defensive player or is Maurice Crum (BGS's mid-season MVP)?

HRB: Abiamiri is by far the best player on the Notre Dame defense. Maurice's leadership quarterbacking a ragtag linebacking corps has been admirable and a big factor in the (occasional) success the defense has had, there's no comparison to what Victor does. When you have a player on the line who demands a double team on every single offensive snap, and even then is able to cause a commotion in the backfield, it helps the rest of the defense in many more ways than what shows up on the score sheet.

BN: Is Tom Zbikowski (Zibby) the emotional leader of the Irish defense or is it someone else?

HRB: It's difficult to quantify what an "emotional leader" is, I think. Zibby is a workhorse who has the great ability to inject life into a game with a sudden bone-crushing play, but he's also a pretty taciturn guy who isn't much of one for big speeches.

Going on charisma, I'd probably give the nod to Travis Thomas.  Going on veteran leadership, I'd probably have to go along with the lads at Blue-Gray Sky and say that Maurice Crum is your man.

BN: Tell us more about Evan Sharpley. Seriously. Obviously, we don't need to find out any more about Brady Quinn. We'd like to hear your thoughts on Notre Dame's back up quarterback should Quinn experiences something similar to Ben Olson or Patrick Cowan this Saturday.

HRB: Sharpley was pretty impressive in the spring scrimmage this year, but I will qualify that praise with the fact that he was wearing a red "no-contact" jersey, playing against the second team, and I was analyzing his performance with a fifth of Wild Turkey in my stomach. The best thing about him is that he's an actual scholarship quarterback who was fairly highly-touted in high school, which may not seem like much, but it's a big change from recent years where a certain coach decided to reassign every scholarship quarterback to wide receiver or tight end and have a walk-on fling underhand pick-sixes at Boston College defensive linemen.  (slaps self in face, John L. Smith style).

Right, anyway, he's pretty solid, and he's been in Weis' system for two years, so he should at least survive if he's called upon.  Chances are, he won't see any starting time at Notre Dame with two very talented freshmen on the roster and the spiky-haired second coming of Ron Powlus coming in next year, but that will all be decided at a later date.

Let's just hope he's not forced into action due to an injury.

Seriously, don't choke our quarterback.  I'm watching you.

BN: Jeff Samardjiza or Rhema McKnight?  Who is more money?

HRB: Come on, now.  That's like choosing between free drugs and free sex.  Why choose one when you can have them both?

Anyway, they're both awesome receivers with great hands and an innate ability to make the big play when it matters most.  Rhema has had a little bit of a problem with drops all season, but has showed up when the game is on the line.  Shark is drawing octuple-teams and still having a strong and productive year.  Next year's receiving corps is going to have some enormous shoes to fill, and realistically I don't think it's really possible to step in and take over for these two outstanding athletes.

BN: Going back to a couple of big picture questions. What do you think of Willingham's 4-2 start at Washington before he lost against Oregon State (losing his best player Stanback in that game as well)?

HRB: Typical, typical, typical.  The hallmark of a Willingham team is keeping the slightest glimmer of hope alive before savagely crushing your spirit with undisciplined, unfocused, and ill-conceived coaching. In every one of those oh-so-memorable 31 point drubbings by Southern Cal, the Irish were competitive, if not winning, at halftime.  Right when you think everything's turning around... whammo!  Idiotic clock management. Whammo!  Hairbrained trick play.  Whammo!  Stunning loss to a team that has no right to even be competitive with you.

See, football is a sport that often comes down to lucky bounces or individual athleticism... you know, stuff that's out of any coach's hands.  Willingham has built a career out of a few good runs of ending up on the right end of these.  But in the long run, things even out, and it's easy to tell the difference between coaches who actually put in the effort to come up with good gameplans and maximize their talent and coaches who cruise by and rely excessively on an incompetent staff of assistants.

That's why it always infuriates me when Willingham would always say "This team lacks consistency" after they dropped a humiliating loss to an overmatched opponent the week after pulling off a big upset. "Consistency" isn't a tangible thing, it's the result of having a team that, week after week, is prepared and focused for every game and has assembled a gameplan that will maximize their chances of winning.  What he's really saying is "I wish we could play mediocre football and consistently have all the breaks go our way so we can go undefeated."

Allright, I've come pretty much completely untracked there.

BN: Lastly, given our coaching situation, any advice for Bruins Nation on how to deal with charges of racism when we are criticizing Karl Dorrell based on facts?

HRB: Wow... that might be the best question I've been asked in these exchanges.  That's a hard-hitter, I'm going to have to take a minute to think it over.

The best advice I can give is to expect the worst.  No matter how clear the facts are, there will always be hatchet journalists who will gladly ignore them and hack away at anything that remotely resembles a race issue.  This is not only infuriating because of the assault on the school's reputation, but it's insulting in light of the fact that there is no paucity of real, honest-to-god racial issues that exist in college football that should be getting attention.  For some reason, it's more important to make sweeping allegations of institutional racism for giving a successful coach a contract extension than to take time to look, for example, at the long list of schools who graduate minority athletes at a quarter of the rate they graduate white athletes.  And so on.

Whew ... that was some serious stuff.  Hope that helped you guys out. Any of you guys coming down to South Bend for the game?  If you are, there's a frosty one with your name on it at my tailgate.

Good luck this weekend.

BN: Thanks you. Good luck to you guys as well. Here is to a great game and no injuries this Saturday.