August 28, 2015

Rakes Report #9: Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things



Before we dive in, congratulations to Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Matthias Farley, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day on being named captains for the 2015 season. All very much deserved, and I encourage you to watch Farley’s interview last night after he found out. “I freakin’ love this place” indeed, sir.

One other note: For the last edition, a few people told me the e-mail went to their promotions folder. Now I don’t know if this one will go to the same place, but if you get today’s (#9) but didn’t get #8 on Wednesday, please check your various filters and folders. It is surprisingly difficult to communicate with a group of people about e-mail being filtered when your only means of communication is another e-mail that could potentially be filtered.

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Apologies for driving everyone into a depression with the last edition. “I just hope we go 8-4” and “Now I’m thinking 6-6 is a realistic season” were just a few of the reviews, so you’re welcome. Also realizing I should have removed the “Did you enjoy this?” part from the bottom because, well, no one enjoyed it.

Hopefully the video board news cheered everyone up, but in case it didn’t, now it’s time to turn those frowns upside down. The Irish will have as much total talent as every team on their schedule save for possibly USC and have a tremendous chance of winning every game. Here are some flaws with every team on the schedule that will allow the Irish to get to 12-0.

Texas, September 5: Texas is starting two true freshmen on the offensive line and another at middle linebacker, the position generally reserved for the quarterback of the defense. Their tight end depth chart was hit by a missile. They’re probably going to play two quarterbacks, which will allow neither to adjust to the blitzes pouring through their offensive line starting two true freshmen. They’re installing a new no-huddle spread offense because Charlie Strong realized he should maybe try the system every high school in Texas is using to help with recruiting, so it’s questionable how it’s going to work in the very first game in which they try it. Helping matters will be the fact their most experienced receiver returning had 27 catches for 313 yards last year

They lost their last two games by a combined score of 79-17, getting thrashed so badly by Arkansas in the bowl that Bret Bielema called the experience “borderline erotic.” Six of their top seven tacklers are gone, including anchor linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond (178 tackles combined, 17 for a loss). Senior tailback Johnathan Gray was an all-world recruit but averaged just 4.3 yards per carry last year. I did a Twitter search for presumed quarterback Tyrone Swoopes last week and the results were…well, the bar was pretty low for Swoopes coming into camp:

So you have two okay quarterbacks with no receivers and a young offensive line in their first game in a new system. This team has the potential to be very solid by the end of the year. I don’t think that potential will be reached in week one.

at Virginia, September 12: Their coach should have probably been fired the last two offseasons and the fans are rooting for the third time to be the charm, especially when you consider that ticket prices are just insanely low for a Notre Dame road game. They were 90th in total offense last year and are projected to finish 74th by FEI. Junior five-star Taquan Mizzell hasn’t played anything like a five star, averaging 4.4 yards on only 64 carries last year. The heart of that defense – the three starting linebackers – are gone, taking with them heaps of tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and general havoc. Five of their top six tacklers have departed, and after Greyson Lambert’s* transfer, it’s Matt Johns or bust at quarterback. Jon freaking Tenuta is their defensive coordinator, so look for plenty of defenders lost on islands. (Tenuta has actually done well with the Cavs, but never forget.)

* This is a very good prep school movie villain’s name.

Georgia Tech, September 19: While the offense is nasty, the defense wasn’t great last year (51st in defensive FEI) and while they’re more experienced, they’re still pretty small up front. Bill Connelly, go:

The top five returning ends average 6'3, 237. Including Hunt-Days, the top three returning tackles average 6'4, 286. Leading tackler P.J. Davis is 5'11, 218.

Mike McGlinchey is going to be four inches and eighty pounds heavier than the guy he’s blocking. The offense also loses their All-ACC guard and most of the receivers and backs of note, although in a triple option I’m not sure how much that second part matters. Prior to last year’s 11-3 campaign, the Jackets had averaged just seven wins a season between 2010 and 2013. Bob Elliott’s entire life is currently dedicated to stopping the triple option.

UMass, September 26: I know I’ve written about how much UMass throws the ball, but I buried the lede a bit as they don’t necessarily throw it well, clocking in at just 60th in passer rating last year, between Illinois and Navy. The talent gap here is just monstrous. SBNation has the Minutemen at 114 in their preseason ranking. FEI projects 104. F+ says 119. This is one of the worst teams Notre Dame has played in some time. Even if Georgia Tech wipes out every single starter on the Irish roster, the back-ups will win by 20.

at Clemson, October 3: Clemson had the best defense in the nation in 2014. It is no longer 2014. Their entire front seven is gone, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables declared their linebacker depth an “emergency” earlier this month. Speaking of coordinators, offensive wizard Chad Morris is now the head coach at SMU. It is hard to overstate how much the defense lost and the amazing variety in which they lost it (graduation, supplemental draft, graduate transfer, injury, stepping away from football for personal reasons). They return just two starters on defense, must replace four starters on the offensive line and will likely be starting a true freshman at left tackle. Their kicker will be coming off a suspension for DUI and cocaine possession.

Five-star sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson is legit, but he was injury prone last year and saw 9 of his 14 touchdowns come against South Carolina State (FCS) and North Carolina (FCS-level defense). He’ll also be playing behind that rebuilt offensive line. They are loaded at receiver and secondary, but trench warfare could negate a lot of those advantages. If Watson gets hurt at Louisville in the game prior to Notre Dame’s visit, the Tigers are screwed.

Navy, October 10: We tend to focus on the bad with Navy because it is so, so bad, but two of the last five years have been blowouts (106-24 in 2011 and 2012) and last year was on the cusp (28-14 in the second quarter on the Navy 33) before a Golson interception gave the Midshipmen some life at the end of the half. There is no conceivable way Navy stops the Notre Dame offense, and with the increase in athleticism across the defensive depth chart, they should have a better chance of slowing down the Navy attack. Not that it really matters when it comes to Navy, but they return just ten starters. The Irish will also have had the advantage of playing a better version of this offense just a few weeks before to help prep.

Southern Cal, October 17: I’m not sure last year’s game matters a whole lot when discussing the 2015 edition. Notre Dame went in with an offense without a shred of confidence and a defense without a shred of depth, and now it’s a night game at home with KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt added to one side and Leonard Williams, Hayes Pullard and Nelson Agholor gone from the other. Cody Kessler had some nice stats last year, but only four of his 39 touchdowns – again, just four - came against Stanford, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and UCLA, meaning he did all of his work against teams with bad defenses (like 2014 Notre Dame, a unit that is dead and buried). Also Kessler thinks it’s very loud in South Bend, probably because the last time he was there he spent most of his time getting his bell rung by Stephon Tuitt.

at Temple, October 31: Offense was an issue for the Owls last year, to put it lightly (117th in Offensive FEI, 120th in Offensive S&P+), and now they must make do without leading receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick, the only player on last year’s team with more than 25 catches or 400 yards receiving. The defense was good last year, yes, but gave up 30 or more points against almost all of the better offenses on the schedule (Navy, Houston, Central Florida, Penn State), a category I believe the Irish would fall under. There will probably be more Notre Dame fans than Temple fans at this game and it’s difficult to see a path to the Owls scoring enough to win.

at Pittsburgh, November 7: Brian Kelly offenses have been effective against Pat Narduzzi defenses, and there’s no reason to expect that to change here as Pitt turns into Sparty South. If Tyler Boyd or James Conner get hurt, they have zero established depth at any of the skill positions (their second best returning receiver had 21 catches for 199 last year) and they have to replace three of their top four tacklers. The Notre Dame game falls in the middle of a brutal nine-game stretch for the Panthers, who have their bye on September 26th then play their entire ACC schedule plus the Irish in consecutive weeks. Their students still have to take school buses from campus to get to the stadium.

Wake Forest, November 14: This team is terrible. They averaged 1.25 yards per carry last year over 12 games. That is not a typo. Every time someone carried the ball and got two whole yards, it was considerably better than the usual effort. Oh, and they were 115th in passer rating, if you were wondering whether the opposition was having trouble shutting down the run and protecting their secondary at the same time. Their leading rusher last year had 240 yards. Their leading receiver had 531. They are replacing both offensive tackles and most of their secondary. Pretty good linebackers, though. This is going to look a lot like the last time Wake Forest played on senior day in South Bend, a 38-0 margin in 2012.

vs. Boston College (Shamrock Series), November 21: Remember how Boston College was a great running team last year, beating USC and giving Florida State all kinds of trouble? Well, they have to replace their entire offensive line and their quarterback who doubled as their leading rusher. They return one receiver who had more than 17 catches last year and just one member of the secondary. The last two times Notre Dame played the Eagles in Boston the combined score was 52-19. The fact they’re the road team in Fenway Park will probably be such a psychological and emotional blow they won’t be able to actually take the field.

at Stanford, November 28: Am I supposed to be scared of Kevin Hogan and his pop-gun arm? I’m going to choose not to be until I see a few Cardinal games this fall that show a drastic improvement over the last couple years worth of data points. Stanford has to replace its entire secondary and also Ty Montgomery, the best player on a somewhat anemic offense in 2014. The last three ND games at Stanford were 2009 (a team with a dead coach walking loses a shootout to Andrew Luck and Toby Gerhart), 2011 (Hendrix and Rees against Luck; cool, very fair) and 2013 (Rees has two opportunities to tie the game against the eventual Pac-12 champions late in the fourth, is intercepted both times). In total, they must replace eight of their top 12 tacklers and are relying on Ed McCaffrey’s kid to save the offense, and I’m just not sure how many times one program can strike gold with a white tailback in the same century. The Irish roll in as the third straight tough opponent in as many weeks, following Oregon and Cal, so if there are any depth issues for the Cardinal, this would be the time to expose them. When in doubt, David Shaw will run it into the center of the line and then complain about the officiating before going to give a completely incoherent TED Talk.

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Thanks again to NDMSPaint for the art today. He is really good at what he does and it’s greatly appreciated.

If anyone has anything specific they would like discussed before real football starts next Saturday, drop me a line. Will attempt to be productive in cranking a few of these out next week before hitting the road for South Bend.

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