Captain’s Corner with Ned Bolcar

Two-time Irish captain has concerns about the play of the Notre Dame secondary, although veteran Matthias Farley stepped up and performed well against Pittsburgh.

We took Pittsburgh out of the game early by coming out and hitting a long one to Will Fuller on the third play. Then we went to 14-3 and 21-3 at halftime. The offense pretty much did what it wanted to the whole game, which was good to see on the road, where we’ve struggled to score consistently.

I was very much impressed with the pass protection and the way DeShone Kizer is now finding his second and third receivers. He showed a lot of patience in the pocket, the ability to run when he has to, and the ability to get down or out of bounds when he has to. He’s really come a long way the last six games from where he was. He definitely looks like a veteran quarterback.

I’ve heard some interviews with Kizer and he’s well-spoken, thoughtful, he thinks things out well, and he has a good understanding of his role as a quarterback and leader. He’s intelligent, and to be a good quarterback and leader, obviously it helps to be intelligent and very communicative. I’ve been impressed by that, too.

On the field, he has a very calm demeanor about him. We do have some weapons and I’ve been impressed with all the receivers. Corey Robinson is starting to get back in the flow. Love to see Torii Hunter catch a few passes coming off a tough year or two. Chris Brown has really come on strong. Amir Carlisle is steady.

Will Fuller undoubtedly is one of the best receivers in the country. This guy gets behind everybody. I’m sure everybody’s asking why Pittsburgh didn’t play with a safety over the top and double cover him because every time he went one-on-one and the pass was on target, it was a touchdown.

Where we’re light right now is at tight end. Aliz’e Jones is really talented, but for now, he’s pretty one-dimensional. The injury to Durham Smythe hurts.

From the beginning of the season when Josh Adams was playing, he looked impressive. He’s a tall, long guy. He’s rangy but he has some strength to him. He seems to be able to deliver some blows. Twenty carries in a game as a freshman is some pounding, and that shows a lot of toughness on his part. It’s good to see he can carry that load. He seems to get better the more he touches the ball.

With C.J. Prosise banged up, Adams will get more opportunities in practice now, which should allow him to get better. With young running backs, pass protection is important. You don’t want to get your young quarterback killed, so they better know their pass protections. Also, protecting the football, which for the most part Adams did.

It was good to see him step up and continue to mature. He’s got a nice burst of speed. Like Brian Kelly said, I can’t wait for each year when he gets bigger and more experienced. The sky is the limit for him. I don’t want to put undue pressure on the kid, but he’s pretty talented. He has breakaway speed. It was nice to see Dexter Williams get in there, too. They’ll need him without Prosise.

Notre Dame’s performance in the red zone was huge in this game. It’s hard enough to get into the red zone, but to come away with three points or no points, it breaks your back and gives a lot of momentum to the other team, and Notre Dame hasn’t been too efficient this year.

But against Pittsburgh, to get the ball in the end zone the way they did, you’re going to win a lot of games. Fortunately, we’ve won a lot of games without being efficient, which says a lot about our offense’s big-play capability. How many plays over 30 or 40 yards have we had? Will Fuller by himself has had a ton of plays over 20 yards. That’s why we’re 8-1, even with an inefficient red-zone offense.

To win in November and to win the big games, the really big games, you’re going to be down in that red zone and you’re going to be tested by a really good defense. Are you going to throw the ball? Are you going to run the ball? I’d like to run it in down there.

Our defensive backs are suspect at times. Whether it was (KeiVarae) Russell or (Max) Redfield, I thought they could have made a better play on the ball.

I love when Matthias Farley gets a chance to play and leads the team in the first half in tackles and comes up with the big pick. I’ve always liked him. He’s a great leader on that team. He’s a class individual. It’s not easy changing positions how many times over five years.

Brian Kelly refers to how tough he is. Team player. He might not have the speed of other guys, but Matthias Farley is a very good player and he always seems to produce. Two years ago, I was tough on him because he missed some tackles. But he was dealing with a shoulder issue and played through it.

I like the way Matthias broke on that ball on his interception. I’d like to see that back there from Redfield.

Pittsburgh had one player that was capable of doing something big and that was Tyler Boyd. They got the ball to him in multiple ways and he was there only real threat, but yet they got downfield a couple times, got behind Redfield once or twice.

Against a really talented quarterback or receiving corps, they’re going to make these plays against us. We need to tighten up our coverage deep. Teams have done it all year. That’s the part that scares me.

I’m a Joe Schmidt fan. He’s a leader and mature player out there who knows the defense. He gets people in the right place, which coaches talk about and is very important. When he wasn’t there, we missed him.

I thought he started this season off being productive. I’ve watched him recently and he’s had some trouble getting off blocks. He gets on an island sometimes and he’s not making a play getting on the island.

I don’t know how good Nyles Morgan is. Is Jarrett Grace better coming off a broken leg? Schmidt’s coming off his own injury. I can’t see them practice, so I don’t really know.

Would I replace him? It’s kind of hard to replace somebody that you’re winning with, unless he completely becomes a guy that they take advantage of play after play. He’s having trouble getting off some blocks. He’s not getting to the ball as instinctually as he did earlier in the season and last year especially.

Brian VanGorder gets paid a lot of money. Brian Kelly and other coaches get paid a lot of money to evaluate talent every day, 365 days a year. Their job depends upon trusting and depending upon who they put on the field. They must have enough confidence that he’s the right guy to be in there.

If not, trust me, there would be somebody else playing in his place, no matter how well he’s liked, no matter how well he’s been received by the public…the captain…all those things. They’d replace him if they didn’t think he gave them the best chance to succeed.

So that tells me two things: one, maybe the other guys wouldn’t perform better. They don’t know the defense as well. Two, they think his inefficiencies are more than made up for by what he does well. And he hasn’t hurt them yet. Yet.

Everybody is replaceable. Every player has bad games. At some point you have to say, ‘All right, he does enough well to help us win.’ It’s just the consistency of play and you have to take the full body of work into account. Is somebody bigger and faster? Yeah, but it doesn’t mean they’re a better football player or in the right position to make plays.

I wouldn’t take him out unless all day long, they’re running in his hole and he just can’t get off a block. Teams aren’t having that much success to come to that conclusion. Until then, he’s done a good job.

I think Notre Dame is a playoff-caliber team. They’re going to determine that themselves. Teams are getting knocked off. Who would have thought Michigan State would get knocked off by Nebraska? Ohio State can get knocked off by Michigan. Ohio State is suspect. They were suspect against Minnesota, but Minnesota didn’t have enough weapons, or Ohio State had too many weapons.

Notre Dame deserves to be in the talk. Temple and Navy keep winning. USC continues to win. Clemson is No. 1 in the country. I think we’re as good as just about any team out there. I saw what Clemson did to Florida State, and we should have beaten Clemson. We didn’t deserve to, but we should have.

But when I watch LSU and Alabama play, they look like two powerful teams. Every other team that I watch, I think we play as well as those teams.

Watch Alabama-LSU. Alabama is not fancy. We throw the ball better than Alabama does. But they just say here’s what we do. We’re big and strong up front. We’re technically sound. We’ve got great running backs, and we’re going to do the same to you over and over again. If you can stop us, God bless you.

They wear you down and at some point, they just broke LSU’s back. And their defense…Alabama’s defense was amazing up front.

Do we belong in playoff contention? Absolutely, but I don’t know how we would match up against those two teams. Three years ago, after two series, you knew we weren’t in the same league as Alabama. Two completely different teams out there. They were where we wanted to be.

I think we’re closer to Alabama now than we were three years ago, but those teams have such powerful front seven play. I don’t know that we match up with them. That’s something to consider for another time, maybe down the road this year.


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