Matt Cashore / Irishillustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Stock up, a star down, a sleepy stadium about to awaken, and the absence of an annual refreshing beverage highlight this week’s edition.

1 – A Brutal Blow: The loss of cornerback and top nickel Shaun Crawford to a torn Achilles will be felt the next time the Irish take the field. In less than five quarters of football, Crawford registered an interception to set up a touchdown, a returned two-point conversion to tie the score in Texas, and a pass breakup on the deep ball that resulted in his season-ending injury.

Crawford was beaten on the play, recovered, and broke up the pass (or forced a fumble after the catch, pending your interpretation of the play – technically the pass was incomplete thanks to Crawford’s effort).

He’s among the most competitive, talented, versatile, and smartest players on the roster, and opponents will attack the left side of the Irish secondary as a result. Repeatedly.

2 – Stock Up Since Last Time: Your weekly quintet, pre-film review edition, of course…

  • C.J. Sanders – Brian Kelly told me in the summer that Sanders would be his breakout offensive player. He wasn’t kidding. And his impact on special teams could surpass that of Golden Tate (2009) and Tom Zbikowski (2005) in recent Irish lore.
  • Daniel Cage – He’s Notre Dame’s best nose tackle, great news considering the sometimes dominant, sometimes disinterested Jarron Jones is option1B at the position. Cage is the more consistent presence inside.
  • James Onwualu – Five tackles including a career-high four Stuffs (including two TFL) and a quarterback pressure on third down. In three quarters of work, to boot. The Irish need a repeat effort against the physical, focused Spartans on Saturday.
  • Dexter Williams – Play Dexter Williams. More. Just figure out a way and get it done…
  • Kevin Stepherson – Passing game weapon No. 4 has begun to emerge for DeShone Kizer. The first score of Stepherson’s career was a rocket shot at close range with a hit waiting thereafter.

2A – Stock Soaring: Josh Adams. Did you see those jump cuts in short space? (1:20 mark below):

Regarding the Irish running game: Senior Tarean Folston needs sophomore Dexter Williams to make November matter for the former. Folston’s missing a step post ACL-injury, but can nonetheless prove invaluable, even if he carries less than his young cohorts.

3 – Wake Me For Week Three: Incidentally, if you found Saturday’s atmosphere against the Wolf Pack to be a touch, what’s the word I heard friends use? Oh yeah, “boring,” I’ve unearthed two reasons to that end:

-- Will Fuller doesn’t play for Notre Dame anymore
-- Michigan State is this season’s true home opener for returning alumni.

The House that Rockne Built (and $400 million renovated) will be rocking under the lights on Saturday night.

4 – Can a 9-4 Team be “Good”? I ask because it’s clear Notre Dame gave away its season opener in a disturbing confluence of poor special teams, an ill-fated defensive game plan, and wasted drives in which DeShone Kizer was not at the controls.

Considering there are 11 games remaining, and considering the near certainty that another stubbed toe exists against an underdog foe, could Notre Dame finish 8-3 the rest of the way but be a “good” team, from your purview?

Because I believe the following matchups are headed for crunch time: MSU, Duke, NC State, Stanford, Miami, maybe Navy, Virginia Tech, USC, and I assume, the bowl.

Last year’s Irish were a title contender that lost three games. This feels like a three-loss team, “a good team,” that has to find a way to avoid losing four, because that’s modern College Football Purgatory.

5 – Press Box Vice Denied: For 329 days I resisted. Waited. Bided my time for. Eschewed all cravings along the way. And what happens when I arrive on the 9th floor of Notre Dame’s new press box Saturday?

There’s no fountain cherry coke.

The last time that sweet nectar passed my lips? October 17, 2015, Notre Dame 38 USC 31. (Annually, the cherry coke tap is empty on Senior Day Saturday, so it wasn’t an option against Wake Forest in mid-November.)

I could care less about hot dogs and I’m not a post-game pizza guy. ALL I WANTED WAS ONE ICED COLD FOUNTAIN CHERRY COKE!

First the 3-3-5 in Austin and now this?

Maybe the New Meadowlands can hook me up on Oct. 1?

6 – Kizer on Keepers: The “capable runner” commentary regarding DeShone Kizer has to stop. He’s much more than that at college level, and it’s only because dazzling cuts in open space aren’t part of his arsenal that backup Malik Zaire is considered the “better” runner. Zaire is quicker and more sudden, that doesn’t necessarily mean better as a running threat.

Kizer scored his second rushing touchdown of the season Saturday giving him 12 in what amounts to 13 games played. Included among the 10 opponents against whom he’s rushed for a touchdown are the likes of Clemson (finished #2), Navy (finished #18), Temple (#21 at the time), Stanford (finished #3), Ohio State (finished #4), and this season, (current #11) Texas.

7 – Day of Reckoning: Jarron Jones offered his best Jeff Alm (rest in peace) imitation Saturday when he diagnosed a Nevada screen pass and picked it off in space.

The six-foot-seven-inch Alm not only started for two of the best Irish defenses of all-time (1988-89), but also led the national championship Irish in interceptions (3) for the ’88 campaign.

Apparently Jones dominates Brian Kelly’s screen game in practices as the head coach offered Saturday that they don’t even try to execute a middle screen when he’s in the scrimmage. 

But Mr. Jones won’t be earning his keep this week defending screens against the rough-and-tumble Spartans. Strap it on, big man.

8 – Solid Start – 10 for 20-plus: Notre Dame’s offensive weaponry has already combined for 10 gains of 20 yards or more from scrimmage in its first two outings with half coming courtesy sophomores C.J. Sanders (3) and Equanimeous St. Brown (2). Three of the 10 resulted in Irish touchdowns (St. Brown, Sanders and Kizer vs. Texas).

Seven Notre Dame players have accounted for the 10 gains in excess of 20 yards.

-- The 2015 Irish posted an aggregate 13 such gains vs. Texas and Virginia to open the season with Will Fuller registering 194 yards and three touchdowns among his four entries to the category (from 66, 59, and famously 39 yards out).

Notre Dame will hit for plenty of big plays in 2016 but as Pete Sampson noted pre-podcast today, they’ll most often be of the 20-30 yard variety with the whistle blowing prior to the opponents’ end zone.

Fuller was otherworldly in that regard.

9 – Top 10 Through Two: Not yet ordered, we’ll save that for the end of each month: Kizer, Sanders, St. Brown, Adams, Onwualu, Crawford, Isaac Rochell, Cole Luke, Nyles Morgan and Daniel Cage.

Conspicuous by their dual absence: Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. Both better be among the contest’s top 10 on Saturday.

Until next week, Irish fans – and the most important game for a 1-1 Notre Dame football team since…?


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