With a 2011 season ending with a winning record, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team seem solid on their face. However, fans know that the last few games of the season created more questions than it answered. Going into the April 21 Blue Gold Game, these questions need to be answered if the Irish plan on returning to glory.
The annual spring scrimmage for the Irish will take place at 1:30 p.m. on April 21, 2012 at Notre Dame Stadium. This scrimmage will hopefully shed a little light on Coach Brian Kelly’s third full season as Notre Dame Head football coach and the ability of the Irish to play as a national championship team.
Quarterback Controversy: With Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix fighting it out for the starting spot in the final few games of 2011, many people believe that Hendrix will give Rees a run for his money in 2012. The coming of Gunner Kiel as the #1 recruited freshman in the nation also throws some excitement into the mix. However, don’t be surprised if Everett Golson is taking the snaps when the Irish open up the season.
Michael Floyd Void: The Irish have said goodbye to their #1 wide receiver who will be entering the NFL as a potential first round pick. With Floyd catching many passes that may have otherwise been dropped in 2011, the Irish will need a wide receiver to emerge that will pick up where Floyd left off. Consensus is that homegrown Daniel Smith will step up; however, so far his college career has been hampered by injury before it has even started.
Turnovers: The Irish were 8-4 in 2011. For their eight wins, they had a turnover margin of -.25. For their 4 losses, the turnover margin was -2.75. That means that they had 2 more turnovers in their losses than their wins. They also led the NCAAF with most turnovers. No matter how well your offense plays, turning the ball over will cause any team to put up “L’s”.
Punting: Punting is rarely mentioned as something a team needs to improve on; however, even Irish punter Ben Turk would agree that punting was awful in 2011. Although he finished the season with a 40.3 yard average, there were many games where he was in the mid-30’s. With games coming up against Oklahoma, USC, and Stanford, field position will be essential and can make the difference between a win or loss.
Punt Returns: The Irish were also terrible when receiving punts. They earned an average 1.2 yards per return in 2011. It was to a point that Coach Kelly allowed Michael Floyd to try his hand in returning punts. As field position is crucial, 1.2 yards per return will not get the job done for the Irish in 2012.
Running back contribution: There is definitely no question about who will emerge as the Irish top running back. Cierre Wood has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in each of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. While impressive, the running back contribution to the offense will depend on the number of carries that are given in the Coach Kelly high throwing offense.
Coach Kelly Round 3: This will be Coach Kelly’s third season at Notre Dame. Although he has a winning record, he is on the hot seat with fans and alumni. Notre Dame Head football coach is probably the most scrutinized position in all of college football and Kelly is now finding himself at the helm. He has done great things with Cincinnati and Central Michigan; however, his coaching style seems to have changed slightly since his arrival at Notre Dame and has not translated into the same success as previous coaching positions he has held.