Maybe, just maybe, Brian Kelly is on to something. Following the 2nd game of the season, and the first loss of ND, i wrote about the importance of stopping the run, protecting the ball and making good calls with the 4th and short.
While Notre Dame still has to convert on a 4th and any yardage, the ball protection and run defense has certainly improved in the last 2 games, which, coincidentally, also produced to win for the Irish.
At 3-3, there is a silver lining in facing the three weakest opponents on the schedule at this point in the season. Against Ball State last week, the Western Michigan Broncos rushed for over 200 yards and passed for more than 250. Ball State, clearly, is not Notre Dame. If there was ever a time to tweak your defense and offense, it is after having been able to assess where both stand mid-season. The first team ever from the MAC to face Notre Dame has its workload well prepared. Using Sagarin's ratings, the Irish are favored by 11 + 3 for the home advantage, making it a 14 point game. Las Vegas favors the Irish by 24. Coach Kelly has done a tremendous job in getting the message to his players that regardless of what they have done, the Broncos should be taken seriously. In separate press conferences, both Brian Kelly and Dayne Crist quoted the exact same phrase when talking about the danger of being complacent in front of the Broncos: " We're not good enough to assume we will win those games yet"!.
The other silver lining is in the fact that with the best tight end in the country out of the picture, the Irish might want to test what Ragone is really like in pressure situations. From what we saw last week, either he needs better gloves or he needs another assignment. The "go to" guy of Dayne Crist will need to leverage the 3 upcoming games to get set for the last 2 matchups of the season.
With the next 3 games, here is what the Irish need to do:
Protect the ball, keep the opposite run offense under 100 yards and learn to play with a new tight end in place of Kyle Rudolph. Success in all 3 areas and the Irish face Utah with a 6-3 record, and have a chance to finish 9-3. Miss in one area, they get out of this stretch at 5-4 and finish the season at 6-6 after losing to Utah and USC while beating Army.
My call for this Saturday is at ND 40 - WMU 21. Thoughts welcomed, as always.