Notre Dame Football: Providing Answers to All the Tough Questions

Matt MattareCorrespondent IIIApril 29, 2011

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 16:  A general view is seen as the Michigan Wolverines run an offensive play against the defense of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish September 16, 2006 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
Chris Chambers/Getty Images

All around the internet, Notre Dame websites partake in Q&A's throughout the year. They're meant to make columnists think about different angles on topics and allow readers a clear opportunity to see where different sites stand on different issues. It's like the Presidential Debates, only there's no vote and no extreme animosity between fans of different sites. 

Today I'm going to dive right into the current slew of questions that have been posted following spring practice. If there's a good response I'll continue doing this whenever a site releases a batch. If feedback is lukewarm, then this will be a one-time feature. 


1. The biggest story of the spring was the quarterback competition between Dayne Crist, Tommy Rees and—to a lesser extent—Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson. Crist and Rees donned the red jerseys while the youngins were fed to the wolves with live contact. How would you rate each signal caller's performance in the scrimmage? Then put on the Swami hat and predict what we should expect from each of them this fall and in the long term.

I won't sugarcoat it: I was very disappointed with Dayne. I expected something along the lines of Brady Quinn's 2005 spring game, which essentially acted as a coming-out party. Instead, I saw a quarterback who still has miles to go before he's considered "elite." Yes, it was a crummy day in terms of weather, but I wanted to see more progress than I witnessed in the Blue & Gold Game. Crist's Grade: D+

Tommy Rees moved the ball a little better than Crist did, but he also threw an interception and should've been picked off on at least two other occasions. He did nothing to change my opinion that he's a great backup, but he lacks the necessary ceiling to be a top-level quarterback at the collegiate level. Rees' Grade: C

Andrew Hendrix started out slowly but got in rhythm as the game wore on despite the deteriorating conditions. On the ground, he bulled his way to a pair of touchdowns and showed that he's more than capable of being an effective runner. The vast majority of people speculate that Golson and he are battling for touches in red zone packages. If that is true, then Hendrix put himself in a great position to win that job because of his surprisingly physical running style that would be perfect for grinding out an extra yard or two near the goal line. Hendrix Grade: A-

The early enrollee Everett Golson had a nice debut in Notre Dame Stadium. He showcased a surprisingly lively arm while flashing an ability to make defenses pay with his feet. There were plenty of mistakes made in coverages and overall technique, but he's got a bright future at Notre Dame. Golson Grade: B

What I see happening is Dayne Crist winning the starting job and Tommy Rees being his primary backup. While I'd like to see Golson red-shirted this fall because he clearly needs to bulk up a bit (and he's not someone who will leave to go pro early), I believe he'll earn the nod as the first man in for the change of pace packages that involve more running.

Common logic says if that's the case, Hendrix will likely look elsewhere. Eventually, I see the winner of the Hendrix-Golson battle passing Rees on the depth chart once he's clearly comfortable with the entire scope of the offense.

2. Freshman defensive end Aaron Lynch burst onto the scene with seven tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. His hype and expectations are so high right now, you might as well have attached them to an Apollo rocket and launched them into orbit. Is he that good, or should Notre Dame fans temper expectations like Brian Kelly keeps saying? 

Aaron Lynch is that good. He's an elite talent unlike anything Notre Dame has seen in decades. I don't think that 10 sacks in the first year is a reasonable expectation, because he won't beat out upperclassmen. Ethan Johnson or Kapron-Lewis Moore for a starting spot.

Lynch still has a long way to go in figuring out what his roles and responsibilities are as a defensive end in coordinator Bob Diaco's defense. Right now he's relying strictly on pure, raw talent and ability to win battles at the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback. He just has so much of it that he's still able to be dominant, despite the fact he still has a lot to learn. 

The bar of expectations is set high for a reason—he's the best pass rushing presence to step foot on campus since Ross Browner. I realize that it's borderline blasphemy to mention anyone, let alone a freshman who has never played a down, in the same breath as Browner. But trust, me, there's a reason for the comparisons.

I'm not saying he's the second coming of Ross Browner, but mark my words—this kid is bound for greatness at ND. 

3. Pick two players that surprised you this spring—one pleasantly and the other unpleasantly—and explain yourself.

The pleasant surprise was the combination of Prince Shembo and Danny Spond. The DOG linebacker position was the only position where there wasn't a lot of experience returning this fall, so I was a bit worried about who would fill the role. We still don't know who the starter will be, but what we have learned to this point is there are two more-than-capable replacements for the graduated pair of Kerry Neal and Brian Smith. 

There was some fear that Shembo was a bit of a "one-trick pony." All he was asked to do last season was go after the quarterback. He shifted outside this spring and showed some surprising fluidity as a drop backer while still maintaining the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield when the situation called for it.

Spond was probably an even bigger surprise than Prince, because many hadn't paid much attention to him last season. He's a great athlete that's a capable pass rusher (though not quite as good Shembo) and very adept at dropping into coverage. No matter who wins this competition, Notre Dame will be in a good shape. That's a pretty surprising conclusion considering how big a question mark the position was entering spring.

The unpleasant surprise was Jonas Gray. He had a colossal opportunity to step in and earn a serious chunk of carries, but he didn't do much to impress before or after the injury he sustained. He's an incredible specimen that's built like a brick house. However, for how strong he appears, his running style is relatively soft and indecisive.

The Irish depth chart at running back is non-existent, meaning Gray needed to step up not just for himself but also for the good of the team. That didn't happen this spring and unfortunately, I'll be surprised if it suddenly does this fall. 

4. Over/Unders for 2011

Cierre Wood Rushing Yards: 1000....UNDER...I don't buy that there will be enough devotion to the run game to get him up over 1000 yards. Expect more in the 850 range.  

Jonas Gray Rushing Yards: 300....UNDER...My faith in Jonas Gray has just about bottomed out. There's nothing that I see (or have seen) that leads me to believe things are about to click either. 

Games Michael Floyd Will Miss: 1.5....UNDER...Kelly will suspend him for the opener, but he'll be back for Michigan.

Dayne Crist Passing Touchdowns: 19.5....OVER...I do think he'll improve from last season, and in 2010 he averaged 1.9 touchdowns per game. He'll be around 25 this year. 

Games Started by Tommy Rees: 3.5....UNDER...This is if Dayne stays healthy, which is a monster, MONSTER if. I do not believe Crist will get the hook unless he's injured. 

Combined Games Started by Golson/Hendrix: .5....UNDER...Their time will come, it's just not this year. 

Aaron Lynch Sacks: 5.5....OVER...I've got him penciled in for six.

Victories in ND Stadium: 5.5....UNDER...They haven't finished a home slate undefeated since 1998. They should run the table at home, but frankly I need to see it to believe it. 

5. This offseason, athletic director Jack Swarbrick added two teams to future schedules—Temple and Northwestern. There's a chunk of people who are outraged about the Temple games, but the vast majority approve of Northwestern. What are your thoughts on each of these scheduling moves?

Personally, I liked them both a lot. Temple isn't the most glamorous opponent by any stretch, but it's in a major metropolitan area where ND has a huge presence. It should be a nice cream puff game amidst some brutal upcoming schedules. Who knows, maybe Steve Addazio will pick up with Al Golden left off and the Owls may be a legitimately tough team by the time the Irish face them. 

For as much as I like the Temple series, I love the Northwestern one for a couple reasons. First of all, it's nice to see a new Big 10 opponent on the schedule. We haven't faced off since that ill-fated upset in 1995 which catapulted the Wildcats to a Rose Bowl. More importantly though, it debunks another huge myth about how Notre Dame survival if major conference realignment occurred. 

One of the biggest sources of leverage people thought the Big 10 had in trying to lure Notre Dame was the fact that the Irish were going to have a very tough time finding opponents moving forward, especially late in the season. I called that bluff last spring and it took just one year for a team from the Big 10 to cave and play Notre Dame in November.

Why would Northwestern stick the Irish on the schedule so late in the year despite being right in the thick of conference play (much to the chagrin of commissioner Jim Delany)? Because Notre Dame would sell out Northwestern's stadium, something that happens—on average—once every 10 years. It's all about the Benjamins, and whenever Notre Dame is involved, there are plenty to go around. 

6. Irish Illustrated senior editor Tim Prister, one of the most respected and longest tenured journalists in the Notre Dame community, had this to say in article following the Blue-Gold Game:

"How would's Keith Arnold know that "there's a different feeling around Notre Dame" when he's rarely at Notre Dame to report on its football program? Reporters have a feel for the program because they are immersed in it; bloggers take the feelings/opinions formed by those on the scene and make it their own."

You're an esteemed member of the Irish blogosphere. What are your thoughts on Prister's jab?

I've read Prister since my Dad started subscribing to Blue & Gold Illustrated in 1995 after our first trip to Notre Dame. He's probably one of the two most respected journalists in the ND community (along with Lou Somogyi) and certainly the most tenured. He knows his stuff, and I've always enjoyed his insights. 

I don't understand why he felt the need to take a shot and belittle bloggers, especially one like Keith who does such a great job at Inside ND. I feel like he is—or at least should be—above that. 

My guess is he never has—and never will—read a blog. He discredits them as useless on the topic of Notre Dame (at least to him) because he's one of the utmost authorities on Irish Football. As he points out, he has "a feel for the program because (he's) immersed in it." Hell, it's his job to follow Notre Dame Football and report on it. 

Because he discredits them, he completely dismisses the notion that some could actually be packed with worthwhile insights and quality writing. I bet he's never read one of Keith columns, and I guarantee he's never read mine. He may be pleasantly surprised if he did, but there's also a chance he'd still completely blow them off. 

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Prister or interacting with him via email, because he's never responded to anything I've ever sent him. As a fellow alum that I admired growing up, I had hoped he would help steer me in a direction to help me pursue a similar career path to what he's done over the past 30+ years.

While the rest of the ND journalistic community was incredibly responsive and willing to offer advice and opinions (Jake Brown, Pete Sampson, Lou Somogyi, etc.), Prister never gave me the time of day and most likely deleted my correspondence far before he reached the part where I thanked him for all his hard work and articles through the years. 

In summation, I think the jab was unnecessary and classless. There's no need for someone who is so respected among the Notre Dame Football community to lower himself to that level.