Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

This week’s edition includes a player (and game) for every season, causes for concern, reasons to be optimistic, a weekly prediction, and a situation for which there is no defense.

1 – Name Association: Having trouble keeping your Irish football facts, figures, and past season results in order? Consider the following:

Name Association.

That is, the player or coach (or opponent) that best defined each individual Notre Dame campaign.

For instance, covering only the Brian Kelly Era:

2015 DeShone Kizer – I’m not sure who else could be considered ahead of last fall’s season savior.

2014 Everett Golson – For better or worse, he’s the lasting memory of that disjointed three-month set.

2013 Tommy Rees – His unexpected and extended presence behind center was a direct result of the player named above. The ’13 season will, as a result of Golson’s dismissal and in congress with a fat-cat defensive line, be forever remembered as nondescript.

Neither good nor bad. Neither thrilling nor painful. It merely existed.

2012 Manti Te’o – The player serves as a microcosm for the season, i.e., a fantastic four-month fall joyride culminating in a train wreck January.

2011 – Michael Floyd: From his pre-season arrest, to highly publicized non-suspension, to staggering 133-target/97-catch campaign – Floyd’s last season in South Bend was a one-man show. Just think if he had a guy named Clausen or Golson or Kizer on the other end of all those spiraling footballs.

2010 – Tommy Rees: He had plenty of help, namely a surging defense, and the correct usage of a power running game, but the season’s 4-0 finish would not have happened without the unflappable freshman. 

(If you want to keep playing: Golden Tate 2009…)

2 – One More Association Game: How about a defining game for each season? To be fair, we’ll highlight both sides of the coin:

-- 2015 Clemson is clearly the first that comes to mind but if your glass is half full, Virginia serves as an all-time Irish escape and fan thrill-fest
-- 2014 Florida State, of course, and the 31-0 pounding of Michigan, though LSU is in the running

-- 2013 Beating the eventual 13-1 Spartans and three months later, the nondescript, unsatisfying Pinstripe conclusion

-- 2012 Alabama (bad) and the upset win at Oklahoma (joyous)

-- 2011 Sheesh. South Florida stands alone (and set the tone)

-- 2010 USC (the streak ends) and, ahem, Navy

3 – Hang Your Hat: Eight reasons to be hopeful for 2016…

1. Notre Dame will have the best QB on the field in 11 of 12, or in all 12 games

2. The running backs are pretty impressive in congress with the pair (actually, trio) of mobile QBs. That plus Harry Hiestand = a solid, versatile running game.

3. Cornerback play and depth should be reminiscent of the (healthy) Cody Riggs/Cole Luke tandem of 2014. Depth is finally present.

4. Tyler Newsome and Justin Yoon are two of the best in the nation at their (crucial) positions.

5. Nyles Morgan will bring more of a presence to the middle than did a broken and injured Joe Schmidt did last fall.

6. Shaun Crawford’s Existence – i.e., the Nickel and Dime packages are back in play and will aid the defense.

7. New big play guys are in ample supply (three running backs, Torii Hunter, Alizé’ Jones, Corey Holmes, and maybe a guy named Finke.

8 The youth-filled group has no choice but to be molded in Brian Kelly’s image, and as much as he appreciated the leadership of Manti Te’o in 2012 and the host of veterans last season, I think he relishes the present challenge.

4 – Hang Your Head? There’s also the alternate reality– seven causes for concern heading into 2016:

1. As of now, a pass rush does not exist

2. Red Zone offense has been inconsistent since 2010

3. As of now, there’s no reason other than blind faith to think the safety play will be markedly improved

4. The remarkable gap – floor to ceiling – as it pertains to Jarron Jones/Daniel Cage on the nose vs. Jerry Tillery/Elijah Taylor next door

5. No Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin, or Steven Elmer. In other words, the offensive line could take a step back in its pass protection efforts in September, a month with three challenging Saturdays and in which an upset loss looms

6. There’s no Will Fuller to bail out the offense and no Jaylon Smith to cover up defensive shortcomings

7. The quarterback competition could devolve into a controversy. Neither player is built to be a veteran backup.

5 – There’s No Good Defense for 3-on-1: My wife is out of town for the week, on vacation with her youngest sister. That leaves me with three kids ages five and under.

A wise man (a Notre Dame coach that shall remain nameless) offered of the situation: “I hope you have a guys’ weekend coming to you.”

When I offered that I might turn my LA trip for USC this Thanksgiving Weekend into a much longer Sunday sojourn, he added, “Just remember, use your timeouts wisely.”

There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

6 – Highlight of the Week: I moved from Atlanta back to South Bend in 2007, just in time for the worst season ever. Nevertheless, I began doing freelance work for Blue and Gold Illustrated at the time and put together a few video highlights of former top Irish players, including this one:

As the saying goes, “They don’t make them like that anymore.”

7 – This Week’s Prediction: To date we’ve projected the following for 2016…

The Team’s TD Leader
Defensive Big Play Makers
September’s Record

Now it’s time to have the annual “Close and Late” discussion. That is, the number of games in which Notre Dame and its Saturday foe are embroiled in a contest with a one-score margin at any point in the fourth quarter.

Including bowl games, previous Kelly campaigns have featured *6 (2015), 8 (2014), a record 11 (2013), 7 (2012), 7 (2011), and 5 (2010). Of note, Charlie Weis’ final Irish squad of 2009 played “Close and Late” a whopping 10 times in 12 outings.

(*I don’t include Ga. Tech’s onside-kick-filled comeback last September among the six.)

This year’s candidates can be broken down into three categories:

Likely (7): at Texas, Michigan State, at North Carolina State, Stanford, Miami, at USC, and the bowl game
I would not be surprised (2): Duke, Virginia Tech
I would hope not (4): Nevada, Syracuse, Navy, and Army

Add them up and you can assume at least five among the seven I’ve dubbed “likely,” plus one from the “not surprising,” category, and if *history repeats, one from the final quartet as well.

Thus my final projection: The Irish will play 7 Close and Late in 2016.

(*Each of Kelly’s first six seasons have included a surprise “Close and Late” beginning with Navy and Tulsa in 2010, at Wake Forest in 2011, Pittsburgh in 2012, at 1-11 Purdue in 2013, Northwestern in 2014, and at Temple and Boston College last fall.)

8 – On Tap in ND A to Z: Tim Prister, Pete Sampson and I drafted our own Irish players (essentially stories or profiles we wanted to write) for the summer months, so I have no one to blame but myself for the heretofore, how shall I put this?  “Less than compelling” quintet of players I’ve profiled to date, but the aforementioned Draft Day is about to pay dividends.

Seven of the next eight competitors on my writing docket: Shaun Crawford, Daelin Hayes, Tristen Hoge, Nyles Morgan, new starting center Sam Mustipher, Tyler Newsome and Max Redfield.

Highlighting the next seven days on Irish Illustrated are Te’Von Coney (Pete), Crawford (Me), Chris Finke (Prister) and Tarean Folston (Prister).

Until next week, Irish fans… Top Stories