Notre Dame Blog

Navy Preview
This Season:  4-3

 
Offense
The Good – Navy is 10th in country in rushing offense at 292 yards per game.  While that ranking is a bit low when compared to past Navy teams, the yards per game is right where the Middies have been at over the  past five years.  Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is a major threat running the ball.  Fullbacks Chris Swain and Noah Copeland get a lot of carries and tough yards.  Navy rotates liberally at the running/wing back positions.
 
The Bad – Reynolds, like most Navy quarterbacks in the recent past, is not a big concern as a passer. He has completed just 53% of his throws and has four touchdowns against two interceptions.  The leading receiver is DeBrandon Sanders and he has just nine catches for 176 yards.  The offensive line suffered a big loss when left tackle Graham Vickers season was ended because of a concussion.  Despite dropping back to pass just 103 times this year, Navy has still allowed 13 sacks on the season.
 
Defense
The Good – Navy is #21 against the pass so far in 2013.  Linebacker Chris Johnson leads the team with three interceptions and he also has made 48 tackles.  Inside linebacker Cody Peterson is averaging over 10 tackles per game the other inside backer in their 3-4, D.J. Sargenti, has 55 total stops.  Parrish Gaines is a solid cover corner and is not afraid to put his nose in on a tackle.
 
The Bad – Navy is 90th in rushing defense, giving up nearly 189 yards a game.  Much like Air Force, they are small up front, but that is the case every year.  Despite their success against the pass, they have done so without a pass rush, mustering only six sacks on the season.
 
Special Teams
The Good – Pablo Beltran is a good, experienced punter and the Midshipmen cover his kicks well. They do a decent job covering kickoffs, too.
 
The Bad – Kicker Nick Sloan has never converted a field goal longer than 41 yards and he has been inconsistent in close, as well.  Neither return game provides much of a spark.
 
Analysis
You look at the stats and see that Navy is susceptible to the run and is tougher at defending the pass, so you would expect Notre Dame will run the ball at the Middies.  Yeah, right.
 
Air Force is worse against the run than Navy and the Irish struggled putting together a competent ground game last week in Colorado Springs, especially early on.  The difference this week is that Navy has a better pass defense than Air Force, though I don’t know if that will matter much.
 
Notre Dame gets 136 yards per game on the ground and I expect that they will be somewhere around that number again this week.  And though Navy is pretty good against the pass, the Irish will do what they do best, which is throw the ball.  Navy has seen some teams that can throw, but they don’t rush the passer and that spells trouble for a secondary that will have to cover the Irish receivers.
 
It took some time, but the Irish defense seemed to get a handle on the Air Force option last week and that should prove beneficial against a similar (though not identical) Navy scheme this week.  One thing that is different is that Navy will use the fullback much more than Air Force. While the Falcons tried to gain the edge right from the start, Navy will also pound it up the middle in a true triple option attack.
 
Reynolds is a dangerous player and he looks like eventually he could develop into a passing threat, but he is not quite there yet.  One thing to watch for is the big strikes through the air.  Four different Navy receivers have caught passes of at least 47 yards.  They will bring defenses in with the ground game and then try to hit them over the top with a pass downfield.
 
Navy is a better team than Air Force, but two solid weeks of preparation against the option will help the Irish.  Offensively, Notre Dame has too many athletes to be stopped on many occasions.  I don’t think it will be as easy as last week, but the Irish should emerge with a comfortable victory.

Air Force Preview
1-6, 0-5 in the Mountain West Conference


Offense
The Good – Air Force, with their option offense, always runs the ball well.  This year is no different as they are 12th in country in rushing offense.  Five players have rushed for more than 200 yards on the year, so there are plenty of running threats.  Fullback Broam Hart is the leading rusher and Anthony LaCoste had over 100 yards in their last game against San Diego State.
 
The Bad – Air Force, with their option offense, always struggles throwing the ball.  The Falcons rank 123rd out of 125 FBS teams in passing offense.  Karson Roberts is listed as the starter going into the game after Kale Pearson tore his ACL and Jaleel Awini was kicked off the team.  The receivers are not great and the offensive line, though it has four seniors starting, is not all that experienced.
 
Defense
The Good – The secondary has two returning starters from 2012 and a couple other players that saw significant action last year.  Inside linebacker Joey Nichol can make plays and leads the team with 68 tackles.  
 
The Bad – They are bad at stopping the run and not good against the pass either.  That leads to a total defense ranking of 118 and the 115th scoring defense.  Like all of the Academy teams, they are small up front.  Nose tackle Dana Luebbe is listed at 245-pounds.  They play a 3-4 defense where the inside linebackers should be bigger to take on blocks on the second level.  They are not.  The Air Force defense has been carved up by everyone except Colgate.
 
Special Teams
The Good – Kicker Will Conant is very good.  He is 9 for 11 on the year and his only misses are from 44 and 50 yards out.  He has a long of 52.  Punter David Baska is averaging 42 yards a kick.  LaCoste returns kicks and is okay.  The Falcons are 9th in the nation in kick coverage and cover punts well too.  Special teams are a clear strength for the Falcons.
 
The Bad – They are not strong at returning punts, ranking 123rd in the nation.
 
Analysis
This is not a good Air Force squad.  Injuries have hurt as did the loss of Awini.  But last year’s 6-7 team was not one of the school’s best and a lot of talent was lost from that group.  
It starts at quarterback. There is a reason that Karson Roberts was #3 on the depth chart when the year started and it is the same reason Andrew Hendrix was #3 for ND in the spring.  Nate Romine replaced Roberts in the San Diego State game and was 5 for 11 for 111 yards.  Roberts is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart, but Notre Dame will have to prepare for Romine too.
 
It is hard to see how Notre Dame will have much trouble covering the Air Force receivers.  Sam Gagliano is the leading receiver with 11 catches.  There are three players with 7 catches including last year’s top pass catcher Ty McArthur.  But there is no one the Irish defensive backs should really stress over.
 
The running game is always a concern with Air Force, but even that is a bit muted this year.  If they were to finish season 12th nationally in rushing offense, where they currently stand now, is not their usual spot in the Top 5.  Couple that with a dismal passing attack, and Air Force has plenty of offensive concerns.
 
But those problems are not nearly as bad as the issues on defense.  The Falcons cannot stop the run giving up 221 yards per game.  Usually when that is the case, opponents pound it on the ground and the passing numbers look better because of the lack of attempts against.  However, the Falcons give up 267 yards per game through the air, which is 105th nationally.  So no matter what other teams do, Air Force can’t stop them.
 
I expect Notre Dame to run the ball a lot in this game.  The offensive line is so much bigger than the Air Force defensive front and they are probably no less athletic.  Brian Kelly will probably rotate liberally at running back with Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, and Tarean Folston, if he is healthy, all getting touches.
 
Tommy Rees is expected to play and coming off his injury, it would be wise to put the ball in others hands as much as possible.  But Rees will throw.  Air Force doesn’t generate much pass rush and the Irish receivers should have time to get open.
 
The only real advantage Air Force has is their special teams.  They are very good in this area.  But when you are losing on offense and losing on defense, there is not a lot the special teams can do.
 
Notre Dame should win this game handily even if Hendrix plays the majority of the time at quarterback as Air Force appears to be the weakest team on the Irish schedule. Notre Dame sees option football every year and will see it again next week against Navy, so they shouldn’t be spooked by Air Force’s formations and game plan.  Offensively, Notre Dame should have their way with the porous Falcons D.
 
There is a fear of a letdown after the USC high, but Air Force is so bad that Notre Dame should win not playing it’s A game.  Even a B showing would result in a blowout win.

USC Preview
By Jon Kinne

4-2, 1-2 in the PAC-12
 


Offense
The Good – The Trojans have averaged 544 total yards in the past two games.  They ran for 247 yards against Arizona State and 249 against Arizona. Tre Madden, Silas Redd, and Justin Davis are all capable backs.  The line is a veteran group led by senior guard John Martinez.  QB Cody Kessler threw for just under 600 yards with four touchdowns against the Arizona schools.  Nelson Agholor is a good receiver and I have yet to mention Marquise Lee.
 
The Bad – Despite all that has gone right for the offense during the past two games, they still rank 69th in total offense because the first four games were ugly.  In a 10-7 loss to Washington State, the Trojans had 193 yards of total offense.  The Utah State and Hawaii wins were not that much more impressive. Kessler did little early on and the Trojans passing attack still ranks #89 nationally.  And that Marquise Lee guy is coming off a knee injury.
 
Defense
The Good – This unit is 19th in total defense and they are 15th against the run. Hayes Pullard is a solid middle linebacker and defensive tackle Leonard Williams is hard to handle inside. Williams 36 tackles are especially impressive considering he is a defensive tackle.  True freshman Su’a Cravens is already a star at safety.  The Trojans have plenty of guys along with Williams that can bring pressure including defensive end George Uko and linebackers Devon Kennard and Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks in 2012.  USC’s 18 sacks currently rank 12th in the country.
 
The Bad – While USC was getting their offense in gear against Arizona and Arizona State, the defense slipped back.  ASU scored 62 and had 612 total yards.  Arizona scored 31 on 508 yards.  Breslin missed the Arizona game with a hip injury and though he is expected to suit up against the Irish, his health is uncertain.  
 
Special Teams
The Good – Lee generally handles both return duties and is dangerous whenever he steps on the field. The Trojans coverage teams are pretty good.
 
The Bad – Whether Lee returns kicks coming off his injury is up in the air.  It’s not like USC doesn’t have other good athletes, but Lee is special. Kicker Andre Heidari has been inconsistent so far this year as has punter Kris Albarado.
 
Analysis
USC is a tough team to analyze.  It’s USC, so there are great athletes all over the field.  But the lack of depth caused by the sanctions is problematic, especially on both lines and at receiver.
 
They looked like one of the best defensive teams and one of the worst offensive teams in America over the first four games.  In the next two, the roles flipped with the offense generating a lot of points and the defense struggling to get off the field.
 
It is a team that is in such disarray that head coach Lane Kiffin was fired after the loss to Arizona State. But interim coach Ed Orgeron has been around the block a few times and the Trojans responded to his leadership against Arizona.
 
When Notre Dame has the ball, I expect the passing game will take center stage.  USC can rush the passer, but Notre Dame has allowed only four sacks in six games and Breslin is hurting.  Meanwhile, when USC doesn’t get to the quarterback, they are 68th in pass defense at 233 yards per game.  
 
There is some hope for the Notre Dame rushing game, though.  USC was dominant against the run in their first four games.  Even Arizona last week, though they ran for 145 yards, was held way below their average on the season.  But Arizona State, which gets 154 yards a game on the ground, went for 261.
 
One reason for their success is that the Sun Devils passing game led by Taylor Kelly softened the USC defense.  The Trojans had fewer guys in the box as they tried to defend Jaelen Strong and company. That is something that ND can work on as well.  However, 79 of the Arizona State rushing yards came from the mobile Kelly.  That is not to be expected from Tommy Rees.
 
Therefore, I think Notre Dame will throw more often than it runs early on in the game.  The running game should develop as a result of the defense being worried about T.J. Jones, Davaris Daniels, and Troy Niklas.
 
The Notre Dame defense will have its hands full, assuming USC’s offensive trend continues.  One thing that must be noted is that Arizona State and Arizona are not teams with weak defenses that everyone knew USC would bully around.  ASU ranks 45th in total defense and Arizona is 47th.  Tucked right in between the two is Notre Dame at #46.
 
The Trojans have showed considerable balance in their last two games, running for nearly 250 yards in each game and throwing for almost 300 in both contests.  The Irish game plan, though, may be determined by the health of Marquise Lee.
 
Lee will play and if he is close to 100%, he must get special attention.  Last year, Lee put up silly numbers and though his stats have dipped a bit this year, he is still the best receiver in the country.  On the other side, Nelson Agholor has developed into a major impact player and provides a dynamic complement to Lee.  Last week, in Lee’s absence, Agholor had seven catches for 161 yards and a score.
 
Former Penn State back Silas Redd has returned from injury and had 80 yards last Thursday night. Tre Madden had been the primary back until he injured his hamstring last week against Arizona.  He is averaging 102 rushing yards per game, but is questionable for this week.  Justin Davis, with his 6.8 yards per carry, gives the Trojans three capable running backs.
 
The key to this offense, though, is quarterback Cody Kessler.  Early in the year, when he was still competing for time with Max Wittek, Kessler had his problems.  In his first four games, Kessler went 46 of 75 for 537 yards, four TDs and two interceptions, which is basically a good game for a Baylor quarterback.  But as stated many times, things surged forward in the two games against the teams from the desert.
 
Has the USC staff become comfortable enough with Kessler that the training wheels are off and he is able to run the entire offense?  Or, in a road game in a hostile environment, will they revert back to being cautious in their approach with the young signal caller?
 
I believe that it is the former.  At this point in the season, especially with what is looming on the USC schedule after ND, they need Kessler to be a focal point in this offense.  Stopping the run is always going to be the most important thing for the Notre Dame defense, but USC will not be the ground and pound team they were against Hawaii, Washington State, BC, and Utah State.
 
Also, the USC line, while experienced, has given up 13 sacks which ranks 82nd in the country. This despite throwing just 156 times, the 102nd most in 2013.  Notre Dame has not been great at getting pressure, though they made giant strides in the win over Arizona State.  
 
Interestingly, Kessler was sacked four times in the Trojans loss to the Sun Devils, but he still managed to put up good numbers.  Arizona State does blitz all the time leaving open spaces in the secondary, which Kessler exploited at times.  ND will look to get pressure with fewer rushers, leaving more protection on the back end.
 
Rain could be a factor in the game Saturday night and that is another element that could affect the sophomore quarterback.  The conditions of the USC games so far (Hawaii, Los Angeles, and Tempe) will not be replicated in South Bend in this weekend.
 
It will be a fun atmosphere on Saturday night.  The Irish have not beaten USC at home since 2001, which was Bob Davie’s final season and Pete Carroll’s first.  Notre Dame has taken care of USC out in L.A., but now they need to get the home monkey off their back.

Arizona State Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 

Last Year:  8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-12
Returning Starters:  Offense – 7   Defense – 8   
This Year:  3-1, 1-1 in the Pac-12
 
Offense
The Good – The Sun Devils are 15th in the country in total offense and 11th in scoring offense, so there is a lot of good here.  Quarterback Taylor Kelly has thrown for 1,370 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions and has an efficiency rating of 145.3.  He is also a threat running the ball.  Wide receiver Jaelen Strong is Kelly’s favorite target, catching 31 passes for 431 yards this season.  But the most dynamic weapon for ASU is running back Marion Grice.  The senior leads the nation with 12 total touchdowns, eight rushing and four receiving.  The line has done a decent job protecting Kelly, as he has been sacked just six times.  They are 12th in the country in turnover margin and have lost just one fumble.
 
The Bad – Despite Grice’s explosiveness, he is more of an all-purpose back and Arizona State is not a really strong running team.  They rank 85th in the country with 146 yards per game.   While the Sun Devils’ turnover margin is good, Kelly has thrown it to the opposition four times.  
 
Defense
The Good – Notre Dame will know where defensive tackle Will Sutton is at all times.  The 2012 All American has 13 tackles and a sack so far in 2013.  There are Sun Devils with better defensive stats this year, but Sutton is the man that drives the bus.  The high turnover margin ranking is a result of ASU forcing 10 turnovers, six interceptions and four fumble recoveries.  Arizona State ranks 36th in pass defense.
 
The Bad – The Sun Devils are weak against the run.  They are 93rd in America giving up 192 rushing yards a game and the ranking is that high because they held Sacramento State to just 51 yards in week one. Wisconsin had 231, Stanford had 240, and USC 247.  They are also allowing 5.16 yards per attempt, 108th in the nation. While their pass defense has been solid and they have forced turnovers, opponents have only thrown 101 times against ASU because they can run the ball so effectively.    
 
 
Special Teams
The Good – Kickoffs, both ways.  Grice returns kicks and he is always dangerous.  The Sun Devils also cover kicks very well.
 
The Bad – Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez is 6 of 9, but has not made one over 40 yards.  Three different punters have seen action for ASU and none have been all that effective.  Kelly will actually punt out of a shotgun formation when Arizona State looks to pin teams deep.  The ASU punt return team is worse than ND’s, which says all you need to know, and the punt coverage unit ranks 96th.  
 
 
Analysis
After two consecutive sub-par performances by Tommy Rees and a 222-yard rushing effort against Oklahoma, running the ball at Arizona State’s porous rush defense would seem to be the first part of the Irish game plan.  George Atkinson ran for 148 yards and freshman Tarean Folston broke off a big run against the Sooners.  The Irish hope to build on those successes this week.
 
Brian Kelly will throw the ball, we know that.  But the ASU defense can force mistakes in the passing game and, as we have seen, Rees will give the ball away at times.  The Sun Devils do not have big sack numbers on the year, but they have some guys that can get pressure on opposing QBs.  
 
As mentioned, Will Sutton is their best defender and was one of the best in America in 2012.  Sutton had 13 sacks last fall but he has only one so far through the first four games.  In the Phil Steele 2012 preview, Sutton was listed at 271 pounds.  On the Arizona State website, Sutton is now listed at 305.  Some believe that he has lost some quickness and explosiveness as he has added size.
 
Carl Bradford, who plays a hybrid OLB/DE position they call the Devil, had 11.5 sacks last year and he has two this year, so Sutton is not the only person Irish linemen have to worry about.  Linebacker Chris Young was the leading returning tackler and he heads that department this year too with 29.  But four of the top six tacklers on the team are in the secondary, meaning that opposing teams are breaking through the first and second lines of defense.
 
The defensive problems, especially last week against a struggling USC offense, are a bit surprising. With Sutton and Bradford, Phil Steele ranked the ASU defensive line the 4th best in America entering the season.  He also had the secondary, led by cornerback Osahon Irabor and safety Alden Darby, ranked at #18.
 
Obviously, the DLine has not played at that level and the linebacking group, which was not ranked by Steele, has not progressed either.  Irabor and Darby, with a combined three picks, have played well and Notre Dame would be wise to go in a different direction.
 
Not only would a good running game exploit an Arizona State weakness, it would also keep Kelly and his mates off the field.  The Sun Devils rolled up 612 total yards against a USC defense that was giving up 230 yards per game coming in.  Kelly is a dangerous pass/run quarterback and he does his best to get the ball in the hands of Grice.  
 
The running back has 256 yards rushing and 183 yards receiving along with the aforementioned 12 total touchdowns.  At 6-foot-0, 199-pounds, he has good size and is both fast and shifty.  D.J. Foster is another weapon out of the backfield that Kelly also incorporates in the passing game.  He is second on the team behind Strong with 22 catches and 258 yards.  
 
The offensive line has seen some shuffling, but left tackle Evan Finkenberg has done a great job leading a front that has protected Kelly pretty well.  However, with talented backs like Grice and Foster, you would think ASU would be able to muster more than 4.0 yards per carry.  
 
Tight end Chris Coyle was 2012’s leading pass catcher, but he has just 11 so far this year.  Still, he is someone that can make an impact at any time. ASU does not have a deep group of receivers behind Strong, with the other wide outs catching just 18 balls total.
 
The Notre Dame defense has had its moments this fall: moments of good and moments of bad.  As stated, ASU doesn’t have a potent running game, so it is the pass defense that is most important.  Oklahoma burned ND with short passes and ASU may do the same, with an even greater emphasis on throwing the ball to the running backs because, essentially, that is what they do best.
 
Getting a pass rush would be nice, but if Arizona State is throwing quick screens and other short routes, the ball will be out of the quarterback’s hand well before any rush would arrive.  It is more important that the Notre Dame linebackers are able to anticipate and move quickly on the backs in passing situations.  And that is an area where Notre Dame has seemed to struggle early in the season.
 
So it comes back to running the football, grinding the clock, and keeping Kelly and company on the sidelines.  Notre Dame’s experienced offensive line should be able to open the holes that Atkinson and company needs.  Most importantly, Notre Dame cannot turn the ball over and give ASU extra chances and kill their own drives.
 
This is also a rare occasion where Notre Dame may have a special teams advantage, or at least they are on equal footing.  Perhaps this can make the difference in a close game.
 
This certainly looks like a high scoring game with the team that wins the turnover battle getting extra shots and coming out on top.  Tommy Rees, I’m looking at you.

 

Oklahoma Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 

Last Year:  10-3, 8-1 in the Big 12
Returning Starters: Offense – 7   Defense – 4   Kicker
This Year:  3-0    
                     Beat Louisiana-Monroe  34-0
                   Beat West Virginia  16-7
                     Beat Tulsa 51-20
 
Offense
The Good – Four 2012 starters returned on the offensive line.  Center Gabe Ikard is a contender for All American honors.  The line has led the way for running backs Damien Williams, Roy Finch, and Keith Ford, resulting in the nation’s #16 rushing offense. Like at running back, there are several options at wide receiver with Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders leading the way.  Fullback/H-Back/All-Purpose guy Trey Millard has not done much so far this year, but he is someone they look to in key situations.
 
The Bad – Trevor Knight started the year at quarterback but was replaced in week 3 by Blake Bell, supposedly because of a knee injury.  Bell responded with a solid performance, but it was against Tulsa.  While four of the five offensive line spots are solid, problems at left tackle have caused some issues.  Junior Tyrus Thompson began the year as the starter but hurt his ankle against West Virginia, resulting in shuffling up front.
 
Defense
The Good – The Sooners rank fifth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just nine points per game. They are 18th in rushing defense and 20th in total defense.  Linebacker Corey Nelson spearheads this unit and leads the way with 20 tackles.  Safety Gabe Lynn has two picks on the year and Frank Shannon has had a solid start at middle linebacker.
 
The Bad – The three teams Oklahoma has played consist of two teams that are tied for 103rd in scoring offense and another ranked 109th.  They only returned four starters from last year’s team, which was not all that strong defensively.  The Sooners’ pass defense has not been as strong as the rush defense and they only have three sacks so far this season, ranking 106th.
 
Special Teams
The Good – Kicker Mike Hunnicutt is very reliable, making 8 of 9 field goal attempts this season. Nick Hodgson has a big leg on kickoffs and 15 of his 22 kicks have not been returned.  Jed Barnett is averaging 44 yards per punt.  Jalen Saunders does a good job returning punts.  
 
The Bad – Only two punts have been returned, but they have resulted in 75 total yards and the 37.5 yards average is last in the FBS.  
 
Analysis
While Notre Dame comes into this game having faced challenges from Michigan and Michigan State (along with an unexpected battle with Purdue), Oklahoma has not really been threatened.  West Virginia did get up on the Sooners early, but the Mountaineers offense did not seriously threaten again until the final seconds of the game.
 
This is also the Sooners first road game of the year and it will be quarterback Blake Bell’s first career road start.
 
Bell took over for Trevor Knight after Knight struggled against West Virginia, though Knight supposedly had an injured knee.  Bell was 27 of 37 for 434 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa, so he clearly passed his first test.  Much of his yardage was the result of the quick Oklahoma wide receivers turning short passes into big gains.  At one point late in the first half, Bell had 233 yards passing with 205 of the yards coming from yards after the catch.
 
Late in the first half, Bell did hook up with Shepard on a long pass down the middle of the field. After sucking the Tulsa defense in, the Sooners effectively hit them over the top, something the Irish will have to be wary of this week.  But we all know that the Notre Dame defense is considerably better than the one fielded by Tulsa.  
Last year, Notre Dame stifled the Oklahoma running game, holding the Sooners to 15 net yards rushing. It is unlikely they are that effective again, but with Bell in at quarterback instead of the veteran Landry Jones, the passing attack should not be as potent.
 
A poster on the Irish Sports Daily message board listed a statistical comparison between the 2012 Irish through four games and the 2013 Irish.  While the defense has given up more yardage, the biggest difference is that at this point last year Notre Dame had forced 13 turnovers while this year’s squad has forced just four.  
 
Much of that has to be attributed to the defensive line play.  Last week, Stephon Tuitt was more active and his presence is key in pressuring opponents into mistakes.  The uncertainty along the Oklahoma offensive line due to the loss of Tyrus Thompson may give the Irish front an opportunity to again be a factor this week.
 
Of course, while Oklahoma is stepping up in competition, the Oklahoma offense is light years ahead of the Michigan State group.  So while stopping the Spartans is a nice start, holding down the Sooners will be a different animal.
 
Oklahoma’s defense has played very well so far and ranks very high in many statistical categories. But one has to wonder if they are really that good or is it simply due to the poor quality of the offenses they have faced.
 
Oklahoma has stopped the run very well so far in 2013.  That’s okay, Notre Dame hasn’t run it effectively anyway.  The Irish will try to establish the run, but the passing game could make some noise once again.
 
If Tommy Rees is given time to throw the ball, he can hurt opposing defenses.  T.J. Jones, Davaris Daniels, and the other receivers are difficult to defend, and when there is no pressure, Rees will find the right guy.
 
Oklahoma opponents have dropped back to pass 116 times and the Sooners have just three sacks.  Notre Dame has allowed just three sacks to Temple, Michigan, Purdue, and Michigan State on 150 pass plays.  This would seem to indicate that Oklahoma will have a hard time getting to Rees, allowing his receivers more time to get open.
 
The Irish defense is facing a stiffer challenge this week in the Oklahoma offense, but the Notre Dame offense is not going to be challenged like they were by the Spartans last week. Michigan State clearly has one of the best defenses in the game and while Oklahoma may be improved, they are not up to that level.
 
I expect Notre Dame to open up the running game by passing the ball.  The Sooners Gabe Lynn is a ball hawk and must be accounted for.  But the Irish can move the ball on Oklahoma.
 
Special teams always play a role in close games and it could be the same this week.  Oklahoma has a solid kicking game and a couple of return guys that can make plays.  Notre Dame’s special teams have not been great, but the two big punts by Kyle Brindza late in the Michigan State game switched field position and put Michigan State in a tough spot at critical times.
 
Oklahoma will be looking to atone for last year’s loss in Norman, so Notre Dame has to expect Oklahoma to come out of the tunnel flying.  Matching the Sooners’ intensity from the start will be important for Notre Dame and the Irish have struggled early in games the past three weeks.
 
This is Oklahoma, but no one really knows how good this Sooners team is just yet.  Interestingly, the Irish have played four times, with two of the games being against quality opponents, but Notre Dame has not forged their identity either.  This should be a tight game, probably played in the 20s, and by Saturday night both teams will get a clearer picture of where they stand.

 

Michigan State Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne
 

Last Season:  7-6, 3-5 in the Big Ten
Returning Starters: Offense – 7   Defense – 7    Punter
This year:  3-0, 0-0 in the Big Ten
                     Beat Western Michigan 26-13
                     Beat South Florida 21-6
                     Beat Youngstown State 55-17
 
Offense
The Good – They are averaging 34 points a game, including 55 in their last game.  The Spartans are running for over 200 yards per game.  Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill have developed a nice running back rotation.  They have a lot of experience along the offensive line.  
 
The Bad – The 541 yards put up against Youngstown State really skews the stats this early in the year. The Spartans quarterback situation is unsettled, with Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook, and Tyler O’Connor all seeing meaningful action so far this season.  None of the three has taken charge.  They rank 107th in passing offense.  The line has done some shuffling due to injuries.  
 
 
Defense
The Good – Seven starters are back from a unit that ranked 4th in total defense in 2012.  So far this fall, the Spartans are #1 in the nation in that department, giving up just 177 yards per game.  They are 4th in rushing defense and 5th in passing defense.  Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, and Taiwan Jones may be the best linebacker group in the Big Ten.  Safety Kurtis Drummond, whose interception against Western Michigan made every highlight package in America, leads the team in tackles and safety Isaiah Lewis and corner Darqueze Dennard have all-league ability.  Their nine sacks are good for a tie for 10th in the nation.
 
The Bad – Again, the level of competition has to do with a lot of the stats.  Youngstown is an FCS program, South Florida is anemic offensively, and Western Michigan is not strong with the ball either.  There is some inexperience on the defensive line and Trae Waynes is trying to fit in at cornerback.
 
Special Teams
The Good – Nick Hill is a solid kick return guy and Andre Sims does a nice job bringing back punts. Mike Sadler is a good punter and the Spartans do a good job of covering his kicks.
 
The Bad – Kicker Kevin Muma is new and though he is 4 of 5 on the year, his longest attempt has been from 30 yards.  Kickoff coverage has not been great.
 
Analysis
Last week Notre Dame played a Purdue team that was sluggish on offense and decent on defense.  The Irish opponent this week is similar in the respect that their defense is much better than their offense.  But the Spartans are better than the Boilermakers on both sides of the ball.
 
With Michigan State, you have to start on defense.  Whether or not their lofty defensive rankings are due to the weakness of the teams they have played is irrelevant.  The Spartans have nasty players all over the defense.
 
Middle linebacker Max Bullough is a star.  He is the leader of the defense and had 111 tackles in 2012.  Denicos Allen is also very good and though Taiwan Jones is a first time starter, he has a lot of experience.  Throw in converted safety Jarius Jones, who leads the team with two interceptions, and this is a not only a talented set of linebackers, but deep as well.  Coming into the season, Phil Steele ranked the Michigan State linebacker group as the 5th best in the nation.
 
The secondary lost star corner Johnny Adams to the NFL after last season, but the back level of the defense is hardly a weakness.  Lewis missed last week with an undisclosed injury, but will be back on Saturday.  Lewis’s replacement in the starting lineup last Saturday, R.J. Williamson, had six tackles.  Dennard has been disruptive, breaking up five passes in the three games.
 
Coming into the season, the defensive line was considered the most vulnerable aspect of the defense. Lawrence Thomas played fullback as well as defensive tackle as a freshman in 2012 and was projected as a starter at nose tackle this year, but has been out with injuries the first part of this season.  He is expected back this week, though where he will play is a question.
 
That is because Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds have handled the inside very well.  Hoover has two sacks and Reynolds leads all MSU defensive linemen with 10 tackles.  On the outside, Marcus Rush has all kinds of ability and it is now starting to take surface. He also has two sacks on the year, as does the other defensive end, Shilique Calhoun.
 
Offensively, the Spartans are not strong.  The quarterback situation must be resolved before any progress is made.  Connor Cook has started the last two games and has looked the best among the three contenders, but he is not lighting the world on fire. It doesn’t help that there are no game changers at receiver, though Aaron Burbridge has a lot of potential. Guys like Burbridge, Bennie Fowler, Macgarrett Kings, and Keith Mumphrey would be decent secondary options if Michigan State had a couple top receivers.  The problem is that they don’t.
 
The longest pass reception on the year is 26 yards and that is not good enough to soften up a quality defense.  Also, the MSU pass catchers have had drop problems over the past two years, another issue that does not boost a quarterback’s confidence level.
 
The line, despite the injuries, is fine and Langford and Hill have done a solid job of chewing up yards on the ground, which has been important considering the state of the Michigan State passing game.  
 
From a Notre Dame perspective, the Irish defense matches up well with the MSU offense.  Notre Dame has done a pretty good job stopping the run this year, but they are 91st in pass coverage.  While the Spartans running game is okay, it is difficult to see them moving the ball effectively without throwing it somewhat.
 
Then again, the Purdue passing attack was dismal until the Irish rolled into town.  While MSU will find it hard to run without at least some aerial yardage, Notre Dame will have a difficult time stopping the run if Michigan State is throwing the ball with some success.  So to me, shoring up the pass defense is the top priority for the Irish this week.
 
Flipping sides, Notre Dame has not run the ball well this season.  At times it seems that they haven’t really tried.  Reason suggests that if the Irish had trouble running against Purdue, it will be a big problem against the Spartans.
 
For that reason, and given Brian Kelly’s track record, I expect Notre Dame to throw early and often. Michigan State’s secondary has been good, but they have not had to cover receivers like Davaris Daniels, T.J. Jones, Chris Brown, Troy Niklas, and the rest.  
 
Likewise, the Michigan State defensive front is facing their stiffest test to date.  Notre Dame’s offensive line has not played great so far in 2013, but they are considerably more talented than the Western Michigan, South Florida, and Youngstown offensive lines.  It is imperative that the ND line wins these battles because a lack of a running game coupled with pressure on quarterback Tommy Rees would spell doom.
 
Also, Michigan State has created eight turnovers in the three games played.  ND cannot give the Spartans extra chances by fumbling or throwing interceptions.  Not only have the Spartans created opponents miscues, they have turned those into quick points.  
 
Against WMU, the Spartans D scored two touchdowns, recovered a fumble at the Western Michigan 28 to set up a score, and intercepted a pass at the Broncos 12 to set up a field goal.  The first touchdown against South Florida was a fumble recovered and taken in for a score.  The second touchdown was an interception returned for six. Really, with the exception of one long drive against Western, all of the Spartans points in the first two games were either scored directly by the defense or came from field position created by the defense.
 
A low scoring game is likely considering the quality of the Michigan State defense and the struggling Spartans O.  Brian Kelly talked last year about hitting Michigan State with big plays and his philosophy on attacking Michigan State probably has not changed in the past year because the Spartans defense hasn’t changed much in that time.
 
Obviously, this should be a close, hard fought battle.  Will the real Notre Dame team finally show up?  Or is the real Notre Dame team the one we have seen in the first quarter of the season?

 

Purdue Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne


 
Last Season:  6-7, 3-5 in the Big Ten
Returning Starters: Offense – 5   Defense - 8    Kicker & Punter
This Season: 1-1,  0-0 in the Big Ten
                Lost to Cincinnati 42-7
                Beat Indiana State  20-14
 
Offense
The Good – Purdue has some experience on the offensive line with three returning starters and two seniors as first time regulars.  Wide receiver Gary Bush is a solid player.  Quarterback Rob Henry has been around the program a long time.
 
The Bad – In their two games so far this year, the Boilermakers have neither run the ball nor passed the ball well at all.  They are currently 118th in total offense.  While Bush is a nice player, he is not a vertical threat outside and there is no one else that can stretch the field.  Tight end Gabe Holmes, this year’s leading receiver, is out with a wrist injury. The running game has averaged 2.9 yards per carry.  This is not a very good offense and that is being kind.
 
Defense
The Good – Eight starters are back from last year, headed by defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, who leads the team with 12 tackles.  Strong safety Landon Feichter was the leading tackler in 2012 and he has eight so far this season.  They have given up 130 rushing yards per game, good for 50th in the country. They also are 16th nationally with six sacks, with two each by Gaston and defensive ends Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips.  
 
The Bad – Despite the sack numbers, they are 71st in pass defense and while their overall 2013 numbers against the run are okay, rush defense was a weakness in 2012.  The #50 ranking is skewed by shutting down Indiana State’s running game last week.  Kawaan Short was a special player for Purdue last fall and his presence will not be replaced.  Corner Josh Johnson, who terrorized ND last year, is also gone.
 
Special Teams
The Good – Punter Cody Webster is averaging 49.9 yards per punt, which leads the nation.  The punt coverage team is minus five in total yards, making the punting game Purdue’s most dangerous weapon.  Starting running back Akeem Hunt is second in the nation in kickoff returns at 47.7 yards per return including a 99-yarder for a score to open the Indiana State game.
 
The Bad – Kicker Paul Griggs was the long distance kicker last year and he has been inconsistent as the main guy this year going two for four so far.  Their kickoff coverage has not been great.
 
Analysis
All the early season stats are nice to look at, but they have to be considered in relation to the Purdue schedule.  The Boilermakers lost 42-7 at Cincinnati, who this past week was drilled by Illinois. Meanwhile, Purdue struggled with FCS Indiana State, who lost to Indiana in week one 73-35.
 
Purdue is 118th in the nation in total offense and in week two played a team that gave up 75 points in their opening game.  Notre Dame’s defense has suffered some deserved criticism after two games, but Purdue should do nothing offensively against the Irish this week. If the Boilers show any signs of life, if they move the ball with any success at all, panic should set in for even the staunchest Notre Dame defenders.
 
But Purdue won’t have success on offense.  There is no Jeremy Gallon out wide and Rob Henry is a long way from being Devin Gardner. Notre Dame should be able to bring more pressure and Bennett Jackson and the rest of the secondary should have no trouble shutting down this receiving corps.  
 
At the same time, Purdue is not running the ball well either, so it is not like Notre Dame will have to stack the box to stop the run.  This seems like a game where no matter how coordinator Bob Diaco wants to play it, load up the front or sit back and cover, the Irish will dictate the game defensively.
 
The Notre Dame offense will not have to score a lot of points and that is a good thing because Purdue has some players on defense.  Gaston is very good.  Russell and Fleichter and Phillips and linebacker Will Lucas and corner Ricardo Allen and a few others are all solid defenders.  This unit played Notre Dame very tough last year in South Bend.
 
But this group also gave up 221 yards rushing and 42 points to Cincinnati.  It is well known that Notre Dame did not run the ball nearly as often as they threw it last week, and also seemed to abandon the run early in the game against Purdue last year, but I would think that the ground attack would be more of an option this week.
 
Purdue can rush the passer, but if Notre Dame establishes the run, it should open up the play-action game for Rees.  The Irish offense may not light up the scoreboard all night long, but they will certainly have their share of scoring opportunities.
 
New coach Darrell Hazel built a strong program at Kent State and he looks to do the same at Purdue. But the first step is reshaping the culture of the program and recruiting better athletes.  They are really just beginning that process.
 
After absorbing that bitter defeat to Michigan last Saturday night, a trip to West Lafayette is just what the doctor ordered for this Notre Dame team.

 

Michigan Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne


 
Last Year:  8-5, 6-2 in the Big Ten.  Lost 14-7 at Notre Dame.
Returning Starters: Offense – 6     Defense – 6    Kicker
Last Week:  Beat Central Michigan 59-9
 
Offense
The Good – Obviously, scoring 59 points against anyone is very nice.  The Wolverines have a very strong tackle combination.  LT Taylor Lewan would have been a Top 10 NFL pick but chose to return to Michigan.   Jeremy Gallon is a nice slot guy and Devin Funchess could emerge as a top-level tight end.  QB Devin Gardner performed pretty well at the end of 2012 and is a threat throwing and running.
 
The Bad  - Their best runner by far in 2012 was Dernard Robinson and he is gone.  The interior of the offensive line is brand new.  Running back is a question mark, though Fitz Toussiant is back and had a solid week one, as did touted freshman Derrick Green.  Gallon is good, but there are no big, experienced outside receivers.
 
Defense
The Good - First, Greg Mattison can coach defense. Desmond Morgan is a productive middle linebacker, Thomas Gordon is a good safety, and Frank Clark can play up front.  They allowed just 66 yards rushing and 210 yards of total offense to Central Michigan.  There are a lot of guys returning that have seen playing time and the young guys are very talented.  
 
The Bad  -  But, boy, they lost a lot from last season.  Leading tackler Jake Ryan tore his ACL in the spring. Linebacker Kenny Demens, 2012's #2 tackler behind Ryan, is gone.  Safety Jordan Kovacs and corner JT Floyd were very good players and are gone.  DT William Campbell underachieved, but he was decent as a senior and is a big body that needs to be replaced.  DE Craig Roh was a consistent contributor during his time in Ann Arbor.
 
Special Teams
The Good  -  Kicker Brendan Gibbons is very good. Gallon is okay as a punt returner, but was better in 2011 than he was last year. Dennis Norfleet is solid on kick returns.
 
The Bad - Both coverage teams were poor in 2012 and they must replace a damn good punter in Will Hagerup, though redshirt freshman boomed one 51 yards in his only chance against the Chippewas.
 
Analysis
With apologies to Temple and Central Michigan, the 2013 season starts Saturday night for both Notre Dame and Michigan.  
 
Going to Michigan has not been a fun experience for the Irish in recent years.  Notre Dame has not won in Ann Arbor since 2005 and the three losses have ranged from ugly to exasperating.  There was the embarrassment of 2007, the Tate Forcier show in 2009, and the last minute meltdown of 2011.
 
After last year’s run to the title game, Notre Dame feels better about itself going up to Michigan this time around.  But so does Michigan, who has seen Brady Hoke right the ship after the program veered off course under Rich Rodriguez.
 
When Michigan has the ball, I feel that the key battle will come in the middle of the line.  Center Jack Miller, left guard Ryan Kalis, and right guard Graham Glasgow have little meaningful experience beyond last week’s game.
 
Stephon Tuitt, Sheldon Day, and especially nose tackle Louis Nix have to impose their will on these young players.  No one will confuse Temple’s offensive line with those of the nation’s elite and the Irish front did not push the Owls around as easily as most expected.  The Irish defensive linemen must step up their game this week.
 
If ND can win inside, it will help contain the Michigan ground attack that went for 242 yards last week.  The Wolverines, though, are not the type of team that will abandon the run. Gallon is a very good receiver, but the other options are still, for the most part, in the developmental stage.
 
With no push up the middle and Lewan and Schofield playing their usual strong games, Gardner will have time to throw, allowing for greater opportunities for his young receiving corps to get open.  
 
When Notre Dame has the ball, the same situation holds true.  If the offensive line gives Tommy Rees time to throw, he will be able to find the right receiver.  Michigan was 77th in the nation in sacks in 2012, so pass rush was a problem, though last Saturday the Wolverines had four.  And Mattison was surely saving some looks for ND.
 
Also, the Notre Dame running back situation is unclear.  Five backs saw time against Temple and they may all see action again this week.  Amir Carlisle showed a burst on the opening run, but had just 23 yards on four carries after that.  
 
In my mind, this is the most important game of the year, and not just because it is the next game.  A win against Michigan will give this team a jolt of confidence, much like the Michigan State game did last year.  With a game against a Purdue team that really struggled in week one up next, the Irish would more than likely be looking at a 3-0 start coming home for Michigan State.  A loss does not doom the season by any means, but gives them a much thinner margin of error going forward.
 
This is going to be a tight contest until the end, which is a scary proposition for Irish fans that have suffered through the last two games at Michigan.

 

Temple Preview
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne


Notre Dame begins the season on Saturday by hosting the Temple Owls out of the brand, spanking new American Athletic Conference.  Here are some things to know about Temple.
 
Last Year:  4-7, 2-5 in the Big East
Returning Starters (according to the Temple page on PhilSteele.com):   Offense – 8   Defense – 6  
 
Offense
The Good  –  Having eight starters back is a good start.  The line only loses one starter and this is a group that helped the Owls to the #31 rushing offense a year ago.  They return six of their top seven receivers including leading pass catcher Jalen Fitzpatrick.  
 
The Bad – Connor Reilly was recently named as the starting QB and he hopes to improve a passing game that was #120 in the country last year with just 121 passing yards per game. The running game that was so potent loses 1,000 yard rusher Montel Harris and his back up Matt Brown, who ran for 916 yards in 2011.  There are several position changes, even on the offensive line that returns four starters. Their #2 receiver last year, Cody Booth, will be the starting left tackle.
 
Defense
The Good – Linebacker Tyler Matakevich had 101 tackles as a true freshman last fall.  #2 tackler Nate D. Smith also returns.  The Owls were okay defending the pass last year, allowing 237 yards per game.  Anthony Robey is a nice corner and Levi Brown can makes some plays at nose tackle.
 
The Bad – One of the reasons Temple was able to defend the pass as well as it did was that teams had such success running on the Owls.  The 297 pass attempts against Temple were the fourth fewest in FBS.  They gave up 199 yards a game on the ground, which was #102 nationally.  Other than Robey, the secondary is all new.  Brown is the only returning starter among the front four.
 
Special Teams
The Good – They covered kicks really well in 2012, both punts and kickoffs.
 
The Bad – Just about everything else.  Brown was a very good return man, but he’s gone.  Brandon McManus was a very good kicker and punter.  He’s gone as well.  Albany transfer Paul Layton will handle the punting duties, so at least there is some experience there, but true freshman Jim Cooper is at the top of the kicker depth chart.
 
Analysis
Temple has now been in three conferences in three years.  They were 9-4 in the MAC in 2011, 4-7 as a member of the Big East last season, and now compete in the American Athletic Conference.
 
Though the Owls’ 2012 record fell four games off the previous year’s pace, coach Steve Addazio ended up with an ACC gig at Boston College.  So now Temple is led by Matt Rhule, who was an assistant at the school under Al Golden.  
 
Rhule has to first change the attitude of the team and get it back to where it was under Golden.  He has tried to instill a new sense of toughness and the players seem to be responding in fall camp.
 
But the next thing Rhule has to do is bring in better players.  Matakevich is a good player, but there is no one on this team that will scare any major college opponent.  
 
Let’s get back to Cody Booth for a moment.  Last year he was a tight end that caught 17 passes.  He was 6-foot-5, 250-pounds.  Now he is a 285-pound left tackle.  As a reward, Mr. Booth, is a week one date with Stephon Tuitt.  Good luck.
 
Temple couldn’t throw the ball last year and they have a new quarterback this year, one that has been on the roster for a couple of years but never played.  Granted, he was not a great fit in Addazio’s offense, but the quarterback play was not that exciting last year.
 
Notre Dame has way too much on both sides of the ball for the Owls.  Temple’s offensive line will struggle all day with Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Sheldon Day.  There is no dynamic playmaker outside to test Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell and the rest of the secondary.  
 
The last defense the Notre Dame offense faced was Alabama.  This will be a little easier.  I would think that everything will be based off the run and George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle, and whoever else gets touches at running back should have a lot of success.  Temple’s pass rush capability is not great, so the big ND offensive line should give Tommy Rees plenty of time to throw and he will have open targets.
 
Notre Dame cruised in last year’s opener against Navy and I would expect more of the same against Temple on Saturday.

Camp Notes
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne



 
With about a week to go until the opener against Temple, here is a look at some the developments from Notre Dame’s preseason camp.
 
The Retirement of Danny Spond  -  Just before the start of the 2012 season came word that linebacker Danny Spond had a mysterious ailment.  Rumors circulated that the Colorado native had suffered a stroke, though that was shot down when it was announced that Spond was suffering severe migraines that caused stroke-like symptoms.
 
In what can only be described as eerily similar, exactly a year later Spond  began experiencing the same types of problems and after consulting with doctors and his family, he decided that it was time to end his football career.
 
Spond will continue as a part of the Notre Dame team, tutoring junior Ben Councell and freshman sensation Jaylon Smith at the DOG linebacker position.  The duo should be able to adequately replace Spond’s production (39 tackles, one interception, and solid coverage skills) in 2013 and #13 will still be around to provide leadership when necessary.
 
On Jaylon – Smith is still a freshman, but he has reportedly picked things up very quickly and has flashed glimpses of his potential in practice.  Head coach Brian Kelly also sees the Fort Wayne product’s immense skill and knows that Smith needs to be on the field.
 
In a press conference this past weekend, Kelly said, “When it comes to coaching, if we make it that complicated that I can't get Jaylon Smith on the field then we're not good coaches.”
 
Tuitt’s Weight – There was much discussion early in camp about Stephon Tuitt’s weight.  He reported to camp at 322-pounds and when viewed in the early sessions, he looked a little soft around the mid-section.  Kelly stated that because of the off-season hernia surgery, Tuitt was unable to do much core strengthening.  Kelly said that he was now full-go and would expect him to round back into shape.  
 
Based on what was reported from the last open practice, he has.  Tuitt seemed to have his quick first step back and was a nightmare for the offensive linemen.
 
Sheldon Day – Day has also become a problem for offensive linemen.  The sophomore had a nice start to his career in 2012, but is poised to blossom this fall.
 
Reports out of camp are glowing and Brian Kelly said, “I wouldn’t trade him for anybody on our team right now.”  The Day, Tuitt, Louis Nix defensive line will be fun to watch this fall.
 
Surprising Freshmen – Everyone knew about Jaylon Smith. Because of the graduations of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and the talents of the two incoming freshmen, many expected Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston to make an impact this year.  But a few other newcomers are climbing the depth chart very rapidly.
 
Cornerback Cole Luke is currently running with the second team.  I was convinced that Luke would need to add strength before seeing the field, but at this moment, it looks like his coverage skills will earn him some action. Some believe that the freshman from Arizona will line up opposite the slot receiver in nickel situations.
 
Another big surprise is the play of wide receiver Corey Robinson.  David’s son played for a small school in Texas and was not a recruit with a ton of high-profile offers.  But he shined in spring after early enrolling and is doing the same this August.  At this point, it is very likely that Robinson sees meaningful minutes starting right off against Temple.
 
Another freshman that could see some playing time is Isaac Rochell.  Tony Springman has missed some recent practices and Rochell has stepped in and performed admirably.
 
Offensive Line Shuffle – With center Braxton Cave and guard Mike Golic now gone, Notre Dame has had some offensive line battles this camp.  It looks like Nick Martin has grabbed ahold of the center position, while the right side of the line is a little more vague.
 
The initial thought was that Connor Hanratty would be the starting right guard and Christian Lombard would remain at tackle.  Ronnie Stanley was also in this mix this spring, but he was recovering from shoulder surgery.
 
Now that Stanley has healed, he looks to be pushing his way into the lineup, but not at guard.  The 6-foot-5.5, 318-pounder is now at right tackle and Lombard has been bumped inside.  There are some that feel that Lombard is better suited to play guard and that is where his NFL future may lie.  
 
Hanratty has missed some time with injuries and that opened up the door for Stanley, but at this point, especially if Lombard continues to get reps inside, it looks like Stanley will be the right tackle.
 
Amir Carlisle is all over the place – In the first open practice, Amir Carlisle worked exclusively out of the slot.  In the second open practice, he was featured primarily as a running back.  That tells me that Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin are grooming him for everything.
 
Carlisle looks completely recovered from his ankle and shoulder woes and his burst has returned. He is also part of…..
 
The running backs as pass catching options – Carlisle is playing some slot, so you know he can catch.   Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston both came in with reputations as good receivers.  George Atkinson has showed an ability catching the ball that he has not shown in the past.  And even Will Mahone is seeing time out wide.
 
The receiving abilities of the backs will give Tommy Rees more options in the passing game.  And while we’re on the subject, I’ll close with….
 
Tommy Rees has looked very good – He is never going to beat you with a big arm or nimble feet, so the Irish QB has to be accurate and make good decisions.  So far in camp, he has been impressive.
 
Much of the consternation surrounding Rees has been his propensity for turnovers in the red zone. In the practice sessions that have been open to the media, Rees has been extremely efficient in the red zone, not forcing the issue, but hitting the open targets at the appropriate moments.
 
Of course, we’ll find out about Rees and the rest of the Irish when live action truly begins on August 31st.

 

Players Notre Dame Opponents Lose
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne



Notre Dame’s personnel losses have been well documented.  Manti Te’o is now in San Diego and his defensive teammates Kapron Lewis-Moore and Zeke Motta were both taken in the NFL draft.  On offense, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood leave a hole in the backfield, Tyler Eifert moves his play to Sundays, and two starting linemen are gone.
 
Of course, Everett Golson is also no longer with the team.
 
All of these losses hurt, with some stinging more than others.  But other teams suffer attrition too and here is a look at the players lost by the teams on ND’s schedule this fall.
 
Just a note, this is not a look at those players that are returning or at the players replacing those that are on the way out.  In many cases, as is the case at many of ND’s open spots, there are answers.  Those aspects will be covered in the game previews. This is just a look at those players that the Irish will no longer compete against.
 
Temple

Starters not returning (according to PhilSteele.com):  Offense – 3  Defense – 5   Kicker & Punter
 
On offense, the Owls lose only three starters but the loss of running back Montel Harris is big. The Boston College transfer rushed for 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012, his only year in Philly.  Making matters worse, Matt Brown, who ran for over 900 yards as a junior but was a backup to Harris last season, is also gone.
 
The other offensive losses are minimal:  the right guard and a tight end that caught four balls last fall.
 
On defense, Temple will lose two major cogs in their defensive line, team leader in sacks Joseph Youboty and defensive end Marcus Green, who was the co-team leader in quarterback hits and tackles for lost yardage.
 
They will also suffer on the back end as they lose both safeties, free safety Vaughn Carraway and strong safety Justin Gildea.  Carraway was third on the team in tackles and Gildea was fourth.
 
Temple also featured a solid kicking game in 2012 and they will have to replace Brandon McManus, who handled all the kicking duties and was 14 of 17 on field goal attempts.
 
Michigan

Starters not returning: Offense – 5   Defense – 5    Punter
 
First off, Dernard Robinson is finally gone.  While some Michigan fans are excited by that fact and he did have a poor game in South Bend last September, he killed the Irish in previous years and he did throw for 1,319 yards and ran for 1,266 more in 2012.
 
The Wolverines also lose a solid receiver in Roy Rountree and three members of a pretty good offensive line.  
 
On defense, Michigan loses two of the leaders of the unit.  Middle linebacker Kenny Demens and safety Jordan Kovacs made plays, but more importantly they were smart guys that played with an attitude.  Defensive end Craig Roh’s was second on the team with four sacks and massive defensive tackle William Campbell and his 44 tackles will be attempting to make the New York Jets roster.  Also, honorable mention All-Big Ten corner J.T. Floyd used up his eligibility.
 
Punter Will Hagerup was a weapon for Michigan in 2012, averaging 45 yards a boot.
 
Purdue

Starters not returning: Offense – 6   Defense – 3    
 
Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush split most of the quarterback time for the Boilermakers last fall and neither returns for 2013.  Leading rusher Akeem Shavers and third leading rusher Ralph Bolden are also gone, as is leading receiver Antavian Edison.  On the offensive line they lose a two-year starter at center and a three-year starter at left guard.
 
The defense doesn’t lose as much, but the quality lost is huge.  Defensive tackle Kawaan Short was the centerpiece of the defense and he was selected in the second round by the Carolina Panthers.  Short had seven sacks in 2012, but stats don’t tell the story. He was the player all opposing teams focused on and his presence will be missed in a big way.
 
Departing cornerback Josh Johnson had a huge game against Notre Dame last year with nine tackles, a forced and recovered fumble, and four pass break ups.  Johnson was a second team All-Big Ten performer and is another player that is not easily replaced.
 
The Boilers also said good-bye to linebacker Robert Maci, who had two sacks and 37 tackles in 2012.
 
Michigan State
 
Starters not returning: Offense – 3   Defense – 4   Kicker
 
Like Purdue’s defensive losses, there are not a lot of guys leaving the Michigan State offense, but they were important to the Spartans’ success in recent years.
 
It begins with running back Le’Veon Bell.  The current Pittsburgh Steeler rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Bell accounted for 92% of the Spartans’ rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns in 2012.  In three years, the big back had 33 rushing touchdowns.  He also caught 32 passes last fall and 35 as a junior.  
 
Tight end Dion Sims was also a valuable piece to the Michigan State offense.  Sims had 36 catches for 475 yards and two scores as a senior.  He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins.  The Spartans will also lose three-year starter at right guard Chris McDonald, who is currently in camp with the New England Patriots.
 
Defensive end William Gholston may have underachieved during his time in East Lansing, but he was a specimen that made plays.  He was the team leader with 4.5 sacks, 10 passes broken up, and five quarterback hits in 2012.  MSU also will be without nose tackle Anthony Rashad White.
 
At linebacker, the dependable Chris Norman has graduated.  Norman’s numbers dipped in 2012 due to injuries, but he piled up 197 tackles in his Michigan State career.  Similarly, cornerback Johnny Adams saw his stats go down last year, but that was because opponents targeted the other side of the field.  Adams play was good enough to earn first team All-Big Ten honors.  
 
Kicker Dan Conroy was a bit erratic, but had a big leg.
 
Oklahoma
 
Starters not returning: Offense – 4    Defense – 7     Punter
 
The biggest loss is the guy taking the snaps from center.  Landry Jones threw for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns in his career. That is an average season of 4,162 yards passing and 31 touchdowns.  The Sooners always seem to have the next guy ready to go at quarterback, but it is doubtful the new signal caller will be able to replicate that production.
 
Doubling the concerns in the passing game is that Oklahoma also sees its top two receivers leave. Kenny Stills bolted for the NFL a year early and Justin Brown saw his eligibility expire.  That is over 1,800 yards of receiving yardage and 16 touchdowns leaving for the NFL.  The other substantial offensive loss was second-team All-Big 12 left tackle Lane Johnson, who appears to be in line for a starting spot with the Philadelphia Eagles.
 
While the Sooners lost quality on offense, their defense lost quantity and quality.  Four of their top five tacklers are gone.  Leading stopper Tony Jefferson was Oklahoma’s best defensive player with 119 tackles and two picks from his free safety position. The team’s #2 tackler was strong safety Javon Harris and he has also left Norman.  Corner Dremonte Hurst, who was second-team All-Big 12 in 2011, is no longer around either.
 
The veteran presence of Tom Wort at linebacker will also have to be replaced.  He had 190 tackles in three years at Oklahoma.  The Sooners also lost three of their four defensive linemen, including tackle Jamarkus McFarland.
 
Finally, Tress Way and his 44 yard punting average is gone.
 
Arizona State

Starters not returning: Offense – 4   Defense – 3     Punter
 
While not a starter, Arizona State lost running back Cameron Marshall, who ran for 583 yards and nine touchdowns last year.  The Sun Devils had four running backs gain over 400 yards, so his spot can be replaced, but he was a productive player.  
 
ASU will also have to find answers at two receiver spots.  Rashad Ross had 37 receptions last season and led the receivers with six touchdown catches.  Jamal Miles also had 37 catches but had less yardage than Ross and no touchdowns.
 
The biggest change is on the right side of the offensive line where ASU lost tackle Brice Schwab and guard Andrew Sampson, a three-year starter.
 
The linebacking corps will have to make do without first –team All-Pac 12 selection Brandon Magee, who had 113 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2012.  During his time in Tempe, Magee had 231 total tackles.   
 
The secondary loses second-team All-Pac 12 safety Keelan Johnson, who was second on the team to Magee with 88 tackles, and corner Deveron Carr, who broke up eight passes as a senior and started 34 games in his career.
 
The Sun Devils must also find a new punter and the odds are he won’t be as good as Josh Hubner. Hubner averaged a booming 47 yards a kick in 2012.
 
USC
 
Starters not returning: Offense – 3    Defense – 4     Punter
 
The Irish didn’t face Matt Barkley in 2010 and in 2012, and they won’t play him again.  Barkley’s college career is finished and USC will look to replace the Philadelphia Eagles draft pick.
 
Also gone is one of Barkley’s favorite targets:  Robert Woods. Woods only played three seasons in Troy, but put up big numbers every year and was always a thorn in Notre Dame’s side.  Up front, Khaled Holmes departs and many considered the three-year starter to be the glue that held the offensive line together.
 
Free safety T.J. McDonald will be playing in the NFL, perhaps a year too late.  Considered a sure-fire first round pick after his sophomore year, McDonald slid to the third round despite a 112 tackle, two interception senior season.  Also, second-team All-Pac 12 cornerback Nickell Robey opted for the NFL draft and to his dismay was not selected, though he was signed as a free agent by Buffalo.  And starting strong safety Jawanza Starling has moved on.
 
Up front, Wes Horton has moved on to the Carolina Panthers.  Horton started 23 games at USC and had 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks in his final collegiate season.
 
The Trojans will need a new punter as Kyle Negrete, who averaged 43 yards a boot, is gone.
 
Air Force
 
Starters not returning: Offense – 7   Defense – 5    Kicker
 
Connor Dietz was a respectable passer and fine runner as the quarterback in the Falcons option system. Dietz was the primary starter in just 2012, though he had been in the system for a long time.  Leaving with Dietz was 1,248 yard rusher Cody Getz and reserve Wes Cobb, who had 530 yards on the ground.  Fullback Mike DeWitt had an off senior season but had 567 as a junior.
 
Not that Air Force throws that much, but they lose two of their top three receiving targets from last year.  The offensive line must break in three new starters this year.
 
The Falcons defense must replace their top three tacklers, including outside linebacker Alex Means, who was tied for the team lead in sacks and led the team in tackles for lost yardage and passes broken up.  Middle linebacker Austin Niklas had a stellar senior year, leading Air Force with 128 total tackles.  The other inside backer in the Air Force 3-4 was James Chambers, and he has finished his career as well.
 
In the back end, the team’s third leading tackler, strong safety Brian Lindsay, is gone.  Up front they lost defensive end Nick DeJulio and part time starter at nose guard Cody Miller.
 
The Falcons need a new kicker but Parker Herrington was just 4 of 10 last season.
 
Navy
 
Starters not returning:  Offense – 5    Defense – 4     
 
Navy always has plenty of choices in the backfield, but Gee Gee Greene was a very good player for the Middies. Greene had 877 yards rushing last fall and played a prominent role in each of his four years at Annapolis. They also lose their fullback and a couple of other contributors to the running game.
 
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds throws a little more than past Navy quarterbacks, so losing receivers this year is a slightly bigger deal.   The Middies see both of their top two pass catchers depart, though one was Greene, making his loss even more impactful.  Brandon Turner was 2012’s top wide out and he is out of eligibility. The line will have changes at left guard and right tackle.
 
The defense loses the top four tacklers off last year’s squad.  On the season, Navy had 967 tackles as a team.  Those four had 339 of them.  Outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel, who was third on the team with 79 stops, led Navy in sacks with seven.  Wes Henderson was ninth on the team in tackles, but second in sacks and he has finished his time at the Academy.
 
Pittsburgh
 
Starters not returning: Offense – 6    Defense – 3    Kicker
 
Quarterback Tino Sunseri had an up-and-down career, but last year he was sensational as a senior, throwing for 3,288 yards with 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Notre Dame killer Ray Graham will not be carrying the ball for Pittsburgh anymore.  In his impressive career, Graham totaled 3,271 career rushing yards with 32 touchdowns.  He was also a serious receiving threat.
 
Top receiver Mike Shanahan is off to New Yok Jets camp.  He had 62 catches for 983 yards and six scores last season and like Graham was a very productive player for four years.  The receiving group also loses Cameron Saddler, who was the primary punt returner as well.  The Panthers will also be without second-team All-Big East center Ryan Turnley and third-teamer at left guard Chris Jacobson.  
 
The biggest loss on defense was strong safety Jarred Holley, who started 46 games in his collegiate time and made three All-Big East teams, including a first team selection in 2011. Defensive end Shayne Hale never lived up to his high school billing, but he made some plays as a senior, including three sacks.  Eric Williams had 52 tackles last season as a linebacker, but was dismissed from the program this spring.
 
Kevin Harper missed a big kick at Notre Dame, but he made many big ones in his career.
 
BYU

Starters not returning: Offense – 3    Defense – 7   Punter
 
Quarterback was kind of a revolving door due to injuries in 2012, but Riley Nelson got most of the snaps, including the ones at Notre Dame, and he is gone.  Also out the door is James Lark, who put up decent numbers when filling in for Nelson.
 
Braden Hansen finished up his fine career at BYU in 2012, moving from his guard position to center, then back to guard.  He started 49 games during his days in Provo.  Right tackle Braden Brown started 41 games in his career.  When Hansen wasn’t at center, Blair Tushaus was and he also completed his eligibility.
 
On defense, the Cougars bid farewell to Ezekial Ansah, taken by the Detroit Lions with the #5 overall pick. Ansah was a very good player for BYU, but Detroit selected him for his raw potential more than what he actually produced for the Cougars.  The Cougars will be without nose tackle Romney Fuga and defensive end Russell Tiavlavea, who combined for 62 starts.  BYU plays a 3-4 defense, so they lose all three defensive line starters.
 
Also gone are two starting linebackers.  Brandon Ogletree led the team with 102 tackles, 13.5 of which resulted in lost yardage.  Uona Kaveinga started every game at Brigham Young the past two seasons after transferring from USC.  In the secondary, safety Joe Sampson departs, but the big loss is cornerback Preston Hadley, who was third on the team in tackles.
 
Punter Riley Stephenson is gone and so is his 45 yard average.
 
Stanford
 
Starters not returning:  Offense – 5    Defense – 3    Punter
 
The first thing Stanford must do is find a replacement for running back Stepfan Taylor.  Taylor rushed for 1,530 yards and 13 scores (and almost 14) in 2012.  The Arizona Cardinals draft pick ran for at least 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his final three seasons.  
 
The Cardinal also loses their top five receivers.  Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were match up nightmares for most teams. Taylor was also dangerous in the passing game with 41 catches.  The lone loss on the offensive line was center Sam Schwartzstein, but his departure will spark some re-alignment up front.
 
Stanford returns much of their nasty defense, but linebacker Chase Thomas is not one of the guys coming back.  As a result, Notre Dame fans (and supporters of all the other Pac 12 teams) rejoice. Thomas was difficult to contain in 2012 and was a team leader for the Cardinal.  
 
Nose guard Terrence Stephens did not make a lot of plays, but he occupied space allowing others to roam free.  The only other loss is cornerback Terrence Brown, who was fifth on the team with 65 tackles.
 
Stanford will need a new punter as Daniel Zychlinski is done.  He averaged 43 yards per kick in 2012.
 
As you can see, some teams were decimated in certain areas while others only suffered losses here and there.  But no team went unscathed.  Moreover, every team on the schedule lost at least a couple major components to their success in 2012.  
 
So while experts poke holes in the 2013 Notre Dame team, just know that everyone on the schedule has their own concerns.

 

Which Freshmen Will Make an Impact?  -  Defense
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne



 
After touching on the offensive freshmen last week, I now switch sides.
 
Defensive Line
 
Like on the offensive line, it is rare that a freshman defensive lineman is strong enough physically to hold up against older players.  But last year, Sheldon Day earned his way into the rotation at defensive end soon after arriving on campus, so it is possible.
 
It does appear that it is unlikely that it will happen for a second year in a row.  First off, Notre Dame loses only Kapron Lewis-Moore from last year’s stellar front and Day is poised to take his place.  Two key reserves from last year, Kona Schwenke and Tony Springman, also return.  Fifth-year senior Tyler Stockton showed some flashes in the spring and Jarron Jones, who sat out as a freshman last fall, is 6-foot-5, nearly 300-pounds with a year of practice under his belt.
 
Also, the Irish signed just three defensive linemen and only two arrived on campus.  Jacob Matuska is 6-foot-5, 265-pounds and is a project. He played a lot of tight end in high school and now will be asked to focus on just the defensive end position. He will have to add size and strength along with mastering the nuances of defense.
 
Isaac Rochell is a very good athlete that, like Matuska, has a 6-foot-5 frame that will eventually fill out to 290-300-pounds.  But he is not there yet.  He comes in slightly bigger (270-pounds) and more heralded than Matuska, but it is hard to see him beating out any of the returning players mentioned above.
 
I guess it is possible that he could get big enough to unseat Jones, assuming the sophomore does not make the progression that many expect.  If injuries occur, he could possibly see some action.   But at this time, I believe it is Notre Dame’s intention to have him sit, watch, and develop in 2013.
 
Linebacker

This is, without a doubt, the most interesting position to watch from the freshman perspective. That is because space at linebacker is limited, the depth is very good, but Jaylon Smith is coming.
 
Smith is the most decorated Irish freshman defender since the Holtz years, higher rated than even Manti Te’o.  At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, he can add size, but he is already very strong.  He is fast and also quick, making him a presence in the pass rush and even more importantly, a weapon in pass coverage.
 
Jaylon Smith will play. There is no doubt.  He is probably not big enough to be a starter at the CAT and Prince Shembo has that locked down anyway and Ishaq Williams is right behind him.  Smith is probably best suited for the DOG, but the Irish went to the championship game last year and Danny Spond was a big reason.  Would Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco actually move out a starter with Spond’s credentials to make way for a freshman?  There is Te’o’s inside backer spot, but that would not seem to be ideal.
 
The answer is no one knows where Smith will play.  But he will. He is too talented to leave on the sideline, especially in passing situations.  Also, injuries will happen and Smith is versatile enough to move around a bit.
 
Doug Randolph is also very gifted and has some versatility.  However, he certainly falls in behind Smith and would be caught in the logjam of Shembo, Williams, Spond, Romeo Okwara, and Ben Councell even if Jaylon were not around.  If Smith eventually settles at DOG, Randolph probably will play CAT (unless he is moved inside) and there is no way that the Virginia native is ready to challenge those veterans.
 
Michael Deeb is an interesting prospect.  He was not all that highly rated by the scouting services and had decent, though not many truly elite, offers.  But he is a player that many are touting as the most underrated in the class.
 
By all accounts, Deeb is a workout warrior that is in fantastic condition.  He may not be quite where he needs to be size-wise, but he is not nearly as far away as most freshmen.  He comes in at the middle backer position that is starved for depth long term, but has some answers right now.
 
Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox return this fall and Jarrett Grace is ready to step into the MIKE position replacing Te’o.  Kendall Moore also provides depth in his senior season.  Anthony Rabasa and Joe Schmidt round out the depth chart, but it is the top four that are expected to see most of the playing time.
 
It is hard to see Deeb cracking that top four, but of those players, three are seniors.  So while he may not play this season, Deeb better be ready to compete in 2014.
 
 
Defensive Back
 
There is also some real quality depth in the Notre Dame secondary.  Both starters return at cornerback and projected 2012 starter Lo Wood returns from injury.  At safety, Zeke Motta graduated, but Matthias Farley, who started the final nine games after Jamoris Slaughter’s Achilles injury, is back.  There are plenty of options at the other safety position including sophomores Nicky Barratti and Elijah Shumate, and junior Austin Collinsworth.
 
Despite the competition at safety, it is likely that Max Redfield will battle for playing time. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Redfield is an electric athlete that knows how to play the position.  He may also see some time at receiver eventually, but first things first.  He has to learn what it takes to be a safety at the major college level.  I’m guessing that if he picks things up quickly, he will see the field early on.  Perhaps not in a starting role, but he will contribute in some capacity.
 
Notre Dame signed three skilled cornerbacks, though it may be hard for any of them to gain traction in 2013.  Rashad Kinlaw is coming off an injury and was a part time corner in high school, playing mostly offense at Absegami High School in Absecom, N.J.  Devin Butler is relatively new to the game, so while he has good size and athletic ability, there will be an adjustment period at the start.
 
Cole Luke from Chandler, Ariz. is the freshman corner with the best chance to play.  He is a quick, fluid athlete that can change directions in the blink of an eye.  His coverage skills are already very good.  But he is very thin and lacks the physicality that Notre Dame likes in their defensive backs.  He is not close to being strong enough just yet.
 
In a lot of ways, Luke reminds me of former Irish corner Darrin Walls.  As a freshman, Walls could stick with most receivers, but he was so frail that he was ineffective taking on any blockers and was not a great tackler. But by the time he left, Walls was a very good run support corner and a very sure tackler.
 
Luke may be even more gifted as a cover guy than Walls, though remember Walls was a Top 100 player coming out of high school and no one can really say how is career would have developed had he not had the academic missteps along the way.  
 
Under Paul Longo, Luke will get stronger and develop into a fine player for the Irish.  But with Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, and Wood at corner, and with Shumate proving in 2012 that he can handle slot receivers, the Irish may be better served letting Luke sit out this year.
 
There is one caveat to this analysis of Luke.  He looks like the type of player that in four years may be an NFL draft pick.  If the ND coaches believe that to be the case, there is no sense in keeping him out of the lineup simply to preserve a year of eligibility that he may never use.  If Luke can play and help this team, he will.
 
That is the summation of the freshmen on defense.  One final note is that a few of these newcomers will see time on special teams. With Davonte Neal transferring out and John Goodman using up his eligibility, a punt returner (or designated fair catcher) is needed.  Folston or Luke may be asked to help out in that role.  Also, if Atkinson does become the lead running back, they may want to lessen his load on kick returns, opening the door for someone else.
 
There are always freshmen that are on the coverage teams.  It is hard to gauge who those players will be at this time, but Randolph or Deeb seem to have the attributes needed in coverage.
 
With or without the defensive lineman that never made it to South Bend, this is a solid group of freshmen. With camp opening in two weeks, it won’t be long until we get a glimpse of just how special they can be.

 

Which Freshmen Will Make an Immediate Impact on Offense?
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne


 
Brian Kelly has shown that he is not afraid to play true freshmen.  Last season, KeiVarae Russell, Sheldon Day, Elijah Shumate, Chris Brown, Davonte Neal, Romeo Okwara, and Nicky Barratti all made contributions in their first collegiate season.
 
We all realize that there will be freshmen that will help the Irish this fall.  The 2013 recruiting class was rated much higher than the 2012 group by most recruiting experts, so the talent is not in question.  But which freshmen, at which positions, are in the best spot to see playing time?
 
Let’s take a look, starting on offense.
 
Quarterback

With Everett Golson not around this fall, many believed that an open competition in August would determine who the starting signal caller would be for the opener against Temple. Brian Kelly had other plans and quickly announced that senior Tommy Rees would be the starting quarterback.
 
But with Rees’s limited mobility, there could be room for a different, dual-threat type of option in certain situations.  Malik Zaire, who enrolled in January and participated in spring drills, is that type of quarterback.
 
Zaire, a lefty from Kettering, Ohio, spent much of his high school career running the option, so he is a player that can make things happen with his legs.  He also advanced to the finals of the 2012 Elite 11 quarterback competition, so he can also throw the ball.  Finally, many insiders, like Mike Frank of Irish Sports Daily, have heard from their sources that Zaire did a great job learning the offense this spring.
 
All of that is great news for the future, but let’s take a step back for a moment.  Zaire is a true freshman that ran the majority of his high school snaps out of the wishbone.  No matter how skilled he is and how much he learned this spring, he will not be ready to play this fall.
 
I believe that the quarterback position in 2013 will look a lot like the quarterback position in 2011: Tommy Rees taking the starter snaps and fellow senior Andrew Hendrix subbing in for certain packages.  Hopefully it will be a more efficient Rees, one that will cut down on mistakes, rather than the Rees that had several red zone turnovers in 2011.
 
Some fans and media members believe that it would be wise to get Zaire some playing time in 2013 because the experience would be useful in the event that Golson does not return in 2014 and Zaire is the starter by default.  I disagree.  Though one never knows, Zaire does not appear to be the type of quarterback that projects as a high NFL pick in three or four years.  Therefore, he will most likely stay at ND as long as he can and preserving an extra year of eligibility would be beneficial in the long run.  Should Golson return and start in 2014 and 2015, Zaire would able to follow in 2016 and 2017.
 
Also, I am not sure how meaningful a few reps this fall would be.  Not playing in 2011 certainly didn’t hurt Golson (or Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota or Kevin Hogan) in 2012.  As long as Zaire is around the team, in the meetings, and doing his work (and by all accounts he is a committed, driven person), he will be prepared when he is needed.
 
That will begin in 2014, not this year.  Of course, a Rees or Hendrix injury would change the dynamic completely.  But as of right now, I don’t expect Zaire to see any action this fall.
 
 
Offensive Line

Not many true freshmen make a serious impact on the offensive line.  Generally, a player that young does not have the strength needed to compete up front at the highest collegiate level.  There are exceptions, of course, and Notre Dame has seen guys like Ryan Harris and Sam Young work their way into the starting lineup in their first years.
 
It does seem unlikely that a freshman offensive lineman will start for the Irish this year, at least right out of the gate.  But one is already on the two-deep and he could see minutes this fall.
 
We can rule out Colin McGovern and John Montelus right away.  Both are great prospects, but they are recovering from injuries and will spend the year getting their bodies ready for 2014.  Hunter Bivin is being groomed at center and though he played the position at the Under Armour All Star game, it is a new spot for the high school tackle and there will be a huge learning curve.
 
Mike McGlinchey has reportedly showed up at Notre Dame ready to play.  At 6-foot-8, McGlinchey is a big guy.  He will probably need time to pack weight on that frame, but early indications are that he moves very well for someone his size.  It is a big leap up for McGlinchey competition-wise and he more than likely will be held out this fall.  But his future looks bright.
 
Steve Elmer arrived at Notre Dame in January and performed very well in spring drills.  There is certainly a lack of depth up front, which has enabled Elmer to be listed as the #2 left tackle behind Zack Martin.  That is not to say that Elmer did not earn his spot on the two-deep, because he most certainly did, but the limited numbers (which will be corrected by the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes) helped.
 
Elmer is 6-foot-5 and 315-pounds, so size is not a problem.  But size does not always translate to strength and freshmen always need help in that department.  That is exactly why Paul Longo has his job as strength and conditioning coordinator and Elmer and Longo will be spending a great deal of time together this summer.
 
Just because he is on the two-deep does not necessarily mean Elmer is an injury away from starting. If Martin were to go down, it is possible that Ronnie Stanley could be switched from #2 right tackle to the left tackle spot.  Stanley still has a shot at the starting right tackle position if the Irish coaches feel current #1 Christian Lombard is a better option inside, so it is best for Stanley to get as many reps on that side as possible early on in camp.
 
However, Elmer will be a contributor to the Irish in the not too distant future and will probably see playing time to gain experience just in case injuries occur.  Because of how thin the numbers are on the offensive line, at least one of the freshmen is going to have to play in 2013 and the best bet is Elmer.
 
 
Wide Receiver/Tight End

Unlike offensive line, wide receiver is a position where freshmen do make noise every year.  Notre Dame fans got an up close look at Alabama’s Amari Cooper on January 7th.  The Irish do have Davaris Daniels and T.J. Jones returning, but the third receiver position is up for grabs.  Robby Toma did a fine job in the slot in 2012 and Davonte Neal had the inside track on claiming the job for 2013 when he left (or was asked to leave) the program earlier this year.
 
Right now, Daniel Smith is listed as the third starting receiver on the depth chart and he very well could keep the job.  At 6-foot-4, 213-pounds, he doesn’t have the slot receiver build, though it is possible Jones could slide inside and Smith could play outside.
 
One freshman that looks the part of a slot guy is Torii Hunter.  However, his nasty broken leg in January set him way back.  He is recovering well, but it is difficult to see him playing at all this year.  
 
There has been some talk of putting Will Fuller in the slot.  Fuller is really, really thin and will have bulk up, but he is also really, really fast. Many experts believe that he was an undervalued player coming out of high school and could be a high impact player in time for the Irish.  I would not be surprised if he played in certain packages, much like Chris Brown did last year.
 
Corey Robinson is not someone that will contend for the slot position and because of his raw skills, he may not see the field at all this year.  But this spring Robinson showed that he knows how to use his 6-foot-5 body and great hands.  He will also need to get stronger but like Fuller he has a chance to excel down the line.
 
In my estimation, the receiver that has the best chance of seeing significant playing time in 2013 is James Onwualu.  He is a solidly built kid that can move.  He has good speed but is not a burner.  He is also a smart player that knows where he needs to be at all times.  Because he is probably the most physically ready freshman receiver along with the reps he gained this spring by enrolling early, I give the St. Paul, Minn. product the best chance of the four freshmen receivers to see important minutes.
 
One thing to note, there are plenty of opportunities to fill in the receiver spots after Daniels and Jones. Toma is gone.  John Goodman, who had some very big catches last season, has also graduated.  The freshmen will have a chance to claim those minutes, assuming transfer Amir Carlisle stays at running back.
 
At tight end, Tyler Eifert will be playing on Sundays and Troy Niklas will most likely assume the starting role.  Ben Koyack will see more time, unless Alex Welch rebounds well from his knee injury and becomes the #2 tight end.  I would think that these three would be the primary contributors at the position.
 
Of the two incoming freshmen, Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe, I believe that Heuerman would have a slight edge just because he enrolled in January and has been through a spring session.  In what is a common theme, both of the new tight ends need to add weight to be most effective.
 
Heuerman is listed on the und.com website at 6-foot-3.5, 218-pounds, which is about 30 pounds short of where he will ultimately be.  Smythe is listed as 6-foot-5, 230-pounds.  Both have an impressive skill set with Smythe possibly being a more vertical threat while Heuerman is a good all-around prospect that brings a nasty edge, especially when blocking.
 
An injury could give one of the two an opportunity and, again, I would pick Heuerman based solely on his experience last semester.
 
 
Running Back

This is the position to watch.  
 
Like wide receiver, there are freshman running backs that shine every year.  Notre Dame lost Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and need production from someone.  George Atkinson has shown bursts in his first two years but has not been consistent playing behind Riddick and Wood.  Amir Carlisle has been injury prone and may move around in this offense.  And no one is really sure how much Cam McDaniel can contribute if asked to do more.
 
So the first part of the equation is there:  opportunity exists.  Combine that with the talent of Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston and it is very possible that Notre Dame will have a freshman (or two) help out in the backfield.
 
Making the picture even more intriguing is the different things that each of the two freshman backs can do.  At 5-foot-11, 200-pounds, Greg Bryant looks physically ready to play.  He has good speed, but is also powerful and can catch the ball very well.  Folston is slightly smaller, but at 5-foot-10, 190-pounds he is hardly frail. He has a make-you-miss quality that can’t be taught.
 
It is not out of the realm of possibility that both affect the offense this fall.  Bryant would be more of the every down back while Folston could be a third down guy or be split out to the slot.  
 
Much of Bryant’s time could be determined by the effectiveness of Atkinson.  If the junior establishes himself as the feature back, Bryant will see less time.  But if Atkinson does not seize control of the starting job early on, Bryant would have the chance to claim the lead runner role.
 
Folston’s minutes may be tied to Carlisle.  If the USC transfer cannot recover from his injury (or is injured again) it would give Folston the opening he may need.
 
That is my freshman offensive breakdown.  I will shift to the defensive side of the ball next week.

 

Notre Dame Position-by-Position-Secondary
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne



 
The defensive backfield was a big area of concern for Notre Dame heading into the 2012 season.  The Irish had lost both 2011 starting cornerbacks, Robert Blanton and Gary Gray, and saw safety Harrison Smith get selected by Minnesota in the first round of the NFL draft.
 
To make matters worse, Notre Dame missed on a lot of their top cornerback prospects during that recruiting cycle, signing only Fresno star Tee Shepard, who later withdrew from the university.  Then during the summer, projected starter Lo Wood tore his Achilles tendon and safety Austin Collinsworth suffered a season ending shoulder injury.
 
These problems prompted Brian Kelly to make some changes.  Freshman KeiVarae Russell, who was recruited as an offensive player, was switched to corner and immediately grabbed a starting spot.  Freshman safety Elijah Shumate was trained as a nickel corner and was asked to cover opponents’ slot receivers.
 
Finally, in the third game of the year at Michigan State, safety Jamoris Slaughter, the only returning starter from 2011, also tore his Achilles, hampering the depth and experience of the secondary even further.
 
None of this was ideal, but the Irish obviously made it work all the way to the championship game. Now Notre Dame moves forward with a bunch of players with considerable snaps under their belts and the knowledge that they were good enough to beat every team on the schedule……save one.
 
One of the solidifying forces of the 2012 secondary was junior Bennett Jackson, a converted wide receiver. Jackson was third on the team in tackles, had four interceptions, and eight passes defended.  A shoulder injury kept Jackson from participating in spring drills, but he should be ready to go this fall for his senior season.  
 
Russell stepped in and did a great job at the corner opposite Jackson.  He had 58 tackles and two interceptions, including a big one at the end of the first half of the USC game.  Russell still has plenty to learn but he has all of the skills needed to be a great defensive back for ND.
 
Wood has made a nice recovery and will be ready to go on August 31st.  Many wondered if he had enough speed to cover elite receivers, but the coaches were praising his play before his injury last August and they expect the Apopka, Fla. product to be a contributor over the next two seasons.
 
The re-emergence of Lo Wood should allow the Notre Dame staff to shift Shumate back to his natural safety position.  The graduation of Zeke Motta leaves a hole at strong safety and Shumate is expected to be a prime contender for that spot.  Sophomore Nicky Baratti, who had a big goal line interception against Michigan, also will battle to be Motta’s replacement.
 
The other safety will most likely be Matthias Farley, a junior that filled in admirably when Slaughter went down.  Farley played mostly soccer in high school and saw time at wide receiver before finding a home at safety.  Needless to say, he is still developing, but he is very intelligent and possesses fine athletic skills.  Collinsworth is currently listed as Farley’s back-up.
 
Corner depth behind Jackson, Russell, and Wood will come from juniors Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson. The Irish signed three corners this past February in Rashad Kinlaw, Devin Butler, and Cole Luke.  All three are very good athletes and have exceptional potential, but it is unlikely that any of them, barring an injury to one of the big three, see time at corner this year.  Luke may be the exception as he has tremendous cover skills, but he needs to add size and strength.  
 
John Turner, Eilar Hardy, and Chris Badger are safeties that are not on the two-deep.  But the player to keep an eye on is the lone safety inked on signing day, Max Redfield.  The California native was recruited by everyone and looks like he can make a difference immediately.  It is hard to imagine that he will be able to come in and beat out Farley at free safety, but Redfield will find his way on the field this fall.
 
For all the issues that Notre Dame had in the secondary in 2012, it probably made them stronger in 2013. This is a deep group that played a lot of important minutes last season.  A couple of injured players are making their returns and the freshmen have a lot of talent, though they may need some seasoning.  
 
The Irish should have a strong defense again in 2013 and if they do, the secondary will be a big reason why.

 

The Everett Golson Saga
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 
 
A year ago, Casey Pachall at TCU had a couple of drug and alcohol related incidents.  At the time I said to some friends that it is never good when this happens to a high profile college football player, but when it is the quarterback it is twice as bad.
 
Being a quarterback means a lot more than throwing passes and calling plays.  There is an inherent leadership component that is associated with the position.  Everyone on the roster, everyone interested in the team, is looking at the quarterback. He must do things the right way or a bad message is sent out to everyone associated with the program.
 
We can now add Everett Golson’s name to the list.  And as not only a quarterback, but the quarterback at Notre Dame, you can print his name in big block letters.
 
All through spring practice, coaches and media members talked about Golson’s improved leadership skills.  He was showing greater command on the field and was spending a great deal of time teaching freshman Malik Zaire the finer points of the game.
 
However, that is only a small part of leadership.  Being a great leader actually starts elsewhere, with the little things that only a few can actually see.
 
Bill Belichick has said that one of the best leaders he ever coached was wide receiver Troy Brown, who hardly ever spoke.  But Brown was always early for practice and meetings, he worked extra hard at perfecting his craft, and was aware of what should and shouldn’t be done on and off the field.  Belichick also stated that without those attributes, one cannot be a vocal leader because the words become hollow.
 
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has a saying that to start winning you must first stop losing.  It actually sounds a bit foolish on the surface, but what he means is that in order to prepare yourself to be successful, you must first eliminate the things that hinder your development. There are no shortcuts that will allow you to skate by the negative influences.
 
By both Belichick’s and Kelly’s standards, Golson failed.  This was quickly becoming his team and in an instant it was gone.  This was not some mistake made by a young kid. It was a series of bad decisions that led to his expulsion from Notre Dame.  He came up short in so many ways.
 
But this is hardly a death sentence.  Since the announcement was made on Saturday night, Everett Golson has said all the right things.  He has taken full responsibility for his actions and has vowed to return to Notre Dame.
 
Of course, that is the easy part.  Notre Dame will make Golson jump through hoops if he wants to return to the university. If he is re-admitted, Kelly will make him jump through some more before he is given the starting job again.  And perhaps most importantly, he must earn back the trust of all the guys that wear the gold helmets.  They are the ones that he really let down, his brothers that battled with him 12 times last year and looked to him for guidance in 2013.
 
Through all of this looms a great opportunity.  It will be a long, hard process to be re-admitted to Notre Dame, get the starting quarterback job back, and once again earn the trust of his teammates. There is only one way to accomplish that goal and it cannot be achieved by fooling any of the parties involved. It will involve hard work, determination, and honesty.
 
And if Everett Golson is successful, he will be making a huge step towards becoming a true leader.

Notre Dame Position-by-Position - Linebacker
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 


 
Unquestionably, the biggest loss for Notre Dame as the 2012 season becomes the 2013 campaign is that of Manti Te’o.  His attitude, his leadership, and, most importantly, his play on Saturdays will be difficult to duplicate.
 
The Irish staff is not looking for those on the current roster to become Te’o; there is no one that can do that.  What they need is for those returning contributors to continue doing their part and for the younger guys to fit in to their designated roles.  They do not need players trying to do more than they are capable of doing.  
 
There is someone arriving on campus on June 17th, however, that many expect to have a Te’o-like impact during the course of his career.  He may not play the exact same linebacker position as the former #5, but he could develop into the next truly great Notre Dame linebacker.
 
Disclaimer:  I wrote about the quarterbacks on February 26th.  Shortly thereafter, Gunner Kiel left.  My article on March 13th dealt with the wide receivers.  In a matter of days, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson had transferred.  Most recently, I broke down the defensive linemen.  Now, February signee Eddie Vanderdoes is contemplating not attending Notre Dame.  The moral of this story is that things can change at the drop of a hat.
 
The strength of this Notre Dame linebacking group is on the outside.  Prince Shembo, a player that showed considerable promise as a freshman before stepping back his sophomore year, had a break out junior year at the CAT position.  His 7.5 sacks were second on the team to Stephon Tuitt as were his 10.5 tackles for lost yardage.  He simply took over some games, with the early season clash with Michigan State coming quickly to mind.  He is back and poised to have another great season.
 
Shembo’s primary reserve is Ishaq Williams.  The Brooklyn native was active at times last year and will be counted on for more production in 2013.  Williams may also be asked to slide to defensive end when the Irish need to pressure the quarterback.  Sophomore-to-be Romeo Okwara played in all 13 games as a freshman with much of his time coming on special teams.
 
On the side, as the DOG backer, Danny Spond won a position battle with Ben Councell and had a solid 2012. He had 39 tackles and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.  Spond will be a senior and his back up, Councell, is a talent that will fight for minutes.  A redshirt sophomore from Asheville, N.C., the athletic Councell made a mark on special teams as well as subbing Spond when needed, especially early when Spond was recovering from his migraine problem.
 
Two freshman that will be on the field this fall will be a solid prospect in Doug Randolph and Fort Wayne product Jaylon Smith, whose reputation has all Notre Dame fans excited about his future.
 
It is hard to determine how long it has been since Notre Dame landed a defensive prospect as touted as Smith.  The major recruiting websites only go back to 2002 and no one since then has been as highly regarded as the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder, including Te’o.  Smith was in everyone’s Top 10 and the 24/7 Composite Rankings, which combines the ratings of all of the major services, lists him as the #2 overall prospect in the Class of 2013.
 
He has freakish athletic ability.  He can get to the quarterback.  He covers like a corner.  He is strong and has reportedly already added weight to his 212-pounds.  He will play; the question is, where?
 
Smith seems like a perfect fit at the DOG, but it is hard to push out a returning senior starter that had a big hand in a title game run.  There is no way he will replace Shembo at the CAT.  Even though he has added size, it would seem unlikely that he would be big enough to start out in the middle, especially when the Irish are in a 3-4 and need bigger bodies inside.
 
Smith’s role development will be very interesting to watch.  Spond moving inside on passing downs, allowing Jaylon to get on the field and use his coverage skills, is one possibility.  But in that case, wouldn’t the Irish be better served by putting an extra defensive back on the field rather than another linebacker?  
 
This abundance of talent at the outside linebacker positions is a nice problem for Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco.
 
Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox, who split time at the WILL position, both return for their fifth years at ND.  They will most likely resume those roles again, though it is possible that one of them (probably Calabrese) could move to the MIKE and replace Te’o.  That is not, however, the first option.
 
Jarrett Grace, who will be a junior with three years of eligibility remaining, will get the first crack at the starting MIKE job.  Grace played well on special teams in 2012 and he hopes that translates to successful defensive play this year.  Also fighting for time will be senior Kendall Moore.  Moore has also been a solid special teamer during his time at Notre Dame.
 
Michael Deeb of Plantation, Fla. is the lone true middle linebacker signed by Notre Dame this February. Other players in the mix at linebacker this year will include junior Anthony Rabasa and junior walk-on Joe Schmidt, who is another valuable special teams member.
 
There is certainly no one that will be able to step in and replace Manti Te’o at the MIKE spot.  But there is plenty of talent and experience both inside and outside.  With Shembo, Spond, Calabrese, and Fox returning for their final seasons, Grace looking to seize his opportunity, and the super-talented Smith making his arrival, linebacker play should be solid again in 2013.

Notre Dame Position-by-Position  - Defensive Line
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 

I started with my offensive position analysis prior to spring camp.  Now, following the completion of the Blue-Gold game, my attention shifts to defense, starting with the defensive line.
 
The best news Notre Dame coaches received this off-season was that nose guard Louis Nix would return to school.  The 6-foot-3, 326-pound (maybe) nose guard was a dominant force during the 2012 season and this spring he looked to be in as good of shape as Louis Nix could be.  His presence in the middle will make life easier for all of those around him.
 
One of those around him is defensive end Stephon Tuitt.  The 6-foot-6, 303-pound junior-to-be got off to a torrid start last fall, then slowed down at the tail end of the year.  What we learned later is that Tuitt suffered a sports hernia during the season, but continued to play through the injury.  Surgery slowed his play this spring, but he recovered well enough to participate in the Blue-Gold Game.
 
A healthy Tuitt, along with a returning Nix, is a good building block for a Notre Dame defensive line that loses a leader at the other end position.  Kapron Lewis-Moore was never an All American, but he was a player that was very important in changing the culture of Notre Dame football.  His work ethic, combined with his physical abilities, made him a valuable member of the Irish defense.  But his leadership skills, especially his mentoring of younger players like Nix and Tuitt, were most important.  Those traits will be sorely missed.
 
But the Irish have physical talent that can replace KLM.  Rising sophomore Sheldon Day gained valuable experience and showed immense promise this past fall.  At 6-foot-2, 286-pounds, Day is a different player than the longer Lewis-Moore.  But he has a strong base and is very quick off the ball.  If Day progresses the way most Irish fans expect, there should not be much of a drop off in production at this defensive end position in 2013.
 
Day, Tony Springman, and Kona Schwenke provided depth for Notre Dame last season and Springman and Schwenke are both back for 2013.  Springman is listed on the depth chart as the #2 defensive end behind Day and has the versatility to play all along the line.  Schwenke does too, but his primary responsibility is, and was, to give Louis Nix a break when needed.  
 
Schwenke’s value was never more apparent than in the goal line stand against Stanford last October. When Nix got banged up on the first down play, Schwenke came in and held his own while Nix had to leave the game for one snap.  It was just one play, and Schwenke played more often and had more impact at other times, but that may have been the biggest moment of the Irish season.  At 6-foot-4, 290, Schwenke is not Nix.  But he is a solid reserve that understands, accepts, and performs well his role on the team.
 
Justin Utopo will be a senior this coming year and his chances are fading away.  Hovering size-wise between line and linebacker, Utopo has never really had a chance to contribute.  Currently on the two deep behind Stephon Tuitt, his opportunities may decrease even more as young players develop and the incoming freshmen arrive on campus.
 
Tyler Stockton is in the same boat as Utopo.  The 6-foot-0, 285-pound Stockton was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the university, a move that surprised many.  The Linwood, N.J. product has not made an impact during his four years and may get passed by this fall.  But he had a very good spring and performed very well in the Blue-Gold Game, leading some to believe that his veteran presence may be a benefit during the upcoming campaign.
 
One of the younger players that many experts expect to emerge is Jarron Jones.  Physically, Jones is a big man at 6-foot-5, 299-pounds. But he has to work on getting strong enough and nasty enough to play at the highest level of college football. Coming from Rochester, N.Y., Jones did not play against the best competition in high school and has had to lift his intensity at Notre Dame.  If he can develop a nasty attitude, he has the skills necessary to be a solid college player.
 
Another player to watch at the defensive end position is Ishaq Williams.  Yes, he is a linebacker, but in passing situations he will probably be inserted as a fourth lineman whose job will be to pressure the quarterback. The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Williams has contributed a bit in his first two years at Notre Dame and many expect him to make a serious impact as a junior.
 
Then there are the incoming freshmen.  The Irish signed three defensive linemen in February and the most decorated of the group is Eddie Vanderdoes of Auburn, Calif.  The 6-foot-3, 285-pounder was recruited as an end in their 3-4 scheme, but he has the ability to play the nose tackle position as well.  He was a top ten overall prospect on just about every recruiting list and will be competing for minutes as soon as he arrives in the Michiana area.  
 
Isaac Rochell of McDonough, Ga. is another prospect that was coveted by many major programs.  At 6-foot-5, 265-pounds, Rochell is a true end. He will probably use a redshirt year to bulk up to the 280-290-pound range, but it is possible that he is able to challenge for playing time this fall, though the Irish depth at his position may make that difficult.  Rochell had offers from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and many others, so his talent is such that he will probably be a mainstay for the Irish at some point in his career.
 
The third defensive line freshman is Jacob Matuska of Columbus, Ohio.  Saturdays in 2013 will most assuredly be wait and watch time for the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Matuska.  He has athletic skills and some programs were recruiting him as a tight end.  But he is a developmental guy that will see scout team reps this coming fall.
 
Overall, this is a very gifted and deep group.  There are two All American candidates in Nix and Tuitt.  Sheldon Day is a young, talented player that saw considerable action in 2012.  Springman and Schwenke give the Irish experienced depth.  Jarron Jones has vast potential and can come along at his own pace because of the talent that is in front of him.  And the incoming freshmen have enormous upsides.
 
The defensive line was a strength for the Irish in 2012 and, most likely, they will be even better in 2013.

 

March 19, 2013
Notre Dame Position-By-Position-Offensive Line
By Jon Kinne @JonRKinne

 

As spring practice opens this week, one of the more interesting areas to watch will be the offensive line.  There are three starters back and the all-important left side of the line will be returning, but center and right guard are open and there are several candidates for those two vacancies.
 
Looking back at 2012, the offensive line was a big reason for the Irish success.  As stated in the running back piece, Notre Dame rushed for over 213 yards per game, their most since 2000.  While a lot of the credit should go to Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, and the other backs, the offensive line should get at least equal credit.
 
One thing that was very impressive was how the line developed under first year coach Harry Hiestand.  After a dominant performance against Navy, the Irish averaged less than 90 rushing yards per game against the three Big Ten teams that were up next.  
 
But in the season’s fifth game, Notre Dame ran for 376 yards against Miami and that game became a springboard to a more consistent running game.  For the remainder of the regular season, Notre Dame ran for at least 150 yards in every game, with the 150 yard effort coming against Stanford and their #5 rush defense.
 
Of course, Alabama totally shut down the Irish ground attack, proving that despite their great strides, Notre Dame still has some progress to make up front.
 
In terms of pass protection, Notre Dame allowed 18 sacks, which was good for 31st in the nation.  Granted, Everett Golson could make plays with his feet and avoided some would-be sacks. At the same time, he was a first year starter that was still learning when to stay in the pocket and when to run.
 
Notre Dame received great news when left tackle Zack Martin and left guard Chris Watt chose to return to ND for a fifth year.  Martin was a captain in 2012 and will most assuredly resume those duties in the fall. Watt is a tenacious blocker that has a lot of experience and the two know how to work with and for each other.
 
Christian Lombard was the starter at right tackle in 2012 and he returns for his senior season, though he will have a fifth year available in 2014.  Many people feel that Lombard is best suited to play guard and with an opening one spot to the left, it was speculated that perhaps Lombard would move inside.
 
While that still may be an option, it is more likely that Lombard stays at right tackle.  The biggest reason is that the options to take the tackle position are limited.  Sophomore-to-be Ronnie Stanley seemed like a natural fit, due to his size and his impressive athletic ability.  However, Stanley had surgery on an injured elbow and that has obviously set him back.  His weight training had to have been limited which would therefore hinder his strength development.  He most likely will be limited this spring, as well, and if Lombard were to switch positions, the Notre Dame staff would be best served starting the process sooner rather than later.
 
Tate Nichols has had a chronic injury problem that ended his career and the only other real option is early enrollee Steve Elmer, and it is unlikely that a true freshman would be advanced enough to make a Lombard move to guard worthwhile.  
 
That is especially true when there are several solid options inside.  The first order of business is to replace Braxton Cave at center.  While Cave may not have been an All American candidate, he was an experienced player at a position where the knowledge to sort out line responsibilities is important.  
 
For a quite some time, the Irish staff has been grooming Matt Hegarty to be Cave’s replacement. But they received a scare in November when he developed speech problems the week of the Boston College game.  It was diagnosed as a mini-stroke and Hegarty had to undergo surgery to repair two small holes in the heart.  It was a similar procedure to the one performed on New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi in 2005 after a much more serious stroke.
 
Hegarty will be ready to go this spring and will have the first crack at the center position.  If there is some drop-off in his performance it will probably open up an opportunity for Connor Hanratty or Nick Martin, who will battle for the starting right guard position.
 
Some expected Martin to be the right guard in 2012, but Mike Golic’s experience won out in the end. But Zack’s younger brother still did see action last year and has three years of eligibility remaining.  The same is true of Hanratty, who came in the same class as Martin and did not see action his freshman year.  
 
Hanratty has worked out more as a center than Martin, so if Hegarty is not up to the task, Hanratty would probably be next in line at center.  But regardless of who plays where, the duo will both play valuable minutes in 2013.
 
Another option inside is Mark Harrell.  The Charlotte native has four years of eligibility left and though he may be behind Hanratty and Martin right now, he has the versatility to be able to play multiple line positions, which will be valuable to the Irish this season because much of the depth behind Harrell will be provided by true freshmen.  
 
Bruce Heggie will be a senior next fall and though he has not seen a whole lot of action in his career, he is like Harrell in that he can fill in at all of the inside positions.  
 
Along with Elmer, the Irish brought in four high-profile recruits on Signing Day.  In what sounds repetitive, one key aspect is the versatility of the prospects.  Mike McGlinchey is specifically a tackle and John Montelus will be a guard or a center going forward, but Colin McGovern and Hunter Bivin can essentially play anywhere along the line.  Both have tackle size but they also have skill sets that would allow them to play guard. Bivin even played center at the Under Armour All Star Game and performed very well.
 
In all reality, Notre Dame does not want these freshmen to see meaningful time in 2013.  It will mean an injury or two to the core group and that would not be good.  
 
This offensive line group could actually be better than they were in 2012.  Hegarty is not ever going to be as strong as Cave, especially coming off of his illness, but he has better mobility than Cave and he can be just as good once he gets his feet wet.  Golic did a solid job last year, but Martin and Hanratty are both more skilled and whoever wins that job may be an improvement.
 
The problem this coming year will be depth.  Stanley is the primary back up at both tackle spots and he is coming off the elbow problem. Nick Martin could fill in at tackle, but he could win the starting right guard job.  Inside, I’m not sure if Harrell is quite ready for serious playing time and Heggie is not someone that Notre Dame fans want to see on a regular basis.
 
Behind those guys, it is the freshmen.  Talented freshmen, but rookies all the same.
 
Things to watch this spring include Hegarty’s progress, the Hanratty/Nick Martin battle, and to see who emerges as the next man in at the tackle positions.  
 
But by far the most important aspect of spring is to stay healthy.

March 13, 2013
Notre Dame Position-By-Position-Wide Receivers
By Jon Kinne


 
Notre Dame went into the 2012 season with a question mark at the wide receiver position.  Gone was Michael Floyd and his 100 catches for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns.  Also, Theo Riddick was moving to running back and no one knew for sure whether he would be able to equal his 38 catch, 436 yard season coming out of the backfield.
 
Tyler Eifert was back at tight end, but improving on his stellar 2011 campaign would not be easy to do, especially with no one like Floyd on the outside to take some pressure off. Needless to say, the Irish needed some younger receivers to make giant strides forward in 2012.
 
As things turned out, the lack of a proven, explosive receiver was part of the reason for a nearly 400 yard decrease in total passing yardage from 2011 to 2012.  However, that was not the total story.  An improved running game offset that yardage total and much of the play calling was designed to protect a young quarterback and to force the opposition to go the length of the field against a stifling defense.
 
But the Irish did see considerable growth in their wide receivers as T.J. Jones stepped his game up and redshirt freshman DaVaris Daniels was a solid contributor when he was healthy.  Eifert had a good season, though he did not have the same stats as the previous campaign, and Theo Riddick put up almost identical numbers despite his more versatile role.
 
Jones and Daniels return in 2013 and will be counted on to be the main cogs in the Irish passing game. Jones will probably be the same, solid player he was in 2012, but Daniels has much more upside.  The Vernon Hills, Ill. product caught 31 passes for 490 yards, but with another year of development in the system and another year of conditioning under strength coach Paul Longo, it would not be a surprise to see him double his 2012 statistics.
 
The concerns at wide receiver come at the #3 and #4 spots, especially the slot receiver position. Robby Toma has graduated and though his totals were not huge, he made some very important catches for the Irish last fall.  The favorite to grab the slot receiver position going into spring practice is sophomore Davonte Neal.
 
Neal saw a lot of time as the Irish punt returner in 2012, which meant he did a lot of fair catching. He did play a little receiver but had a total net yard impact of two yards of offense, catching one pass for minus five yards and rushing once for seven yards.
 
The positives Neal possesses are clear from his high school tape.  He has good speed and is shifty.  In terms of physical abilities, he is light years ahead of Toma.  But Toma knew the offense and where he needed to be at all times, something that Neal will have to pick up.
 
A lot will be expected of Neal because there really aren’t many other great options at slot receiver. Jones could slide in there, but he is a starter outside and it is probably wiseto let him do what he does best. The other returning receivers are better suited for outside receiver, as well.  
 
Of the incoming freshman, Torii Hunter appears best suited to play the slot, but his broken leg will probably force him to miss all of 2013.  Will Fuller has mentioned that the coaches have said that he could be a slot candidate, but he will have to add some weight and absorb his role, though it is possible that he could make an impact next season.  James Onwualu is already enrolled and will have a chance to show his abilities this spring.  He is more physically ready to play than Fuller, but he played all over the field at Cretin Derham High School in St. Paul, Minn. and will have to learn the finer points of becoming an effective slot guy.
 
But realistically, it appears to be Neal’s job and he does have the skill set needed to thrive as a slot guy in the Kelly offense.
 
The #4 spot will probably be filled by different people depending on the opponent and the game situation.  South Bend native Daniel Smith caught seven passes last fall and played a big role as a blocker in the run game.  Chris Brown will be asked to stretch the field just like he did late in the Oklahoma game.  His usage should increase as he develops more tools than just the go route.  Justin Ferguson caught one pass in his freshman season and he will be battling for time, as well.
 
Like Onwualu, freshman Corey Robinson is on campus and will participate in spring practice.  He has very good size and could develop into a vertical threat in the coming years.
 
As Floyd was the main focus for opposing secondaries in 2011, Eifert was the main target in 2012. As a result, his numbers dipped, but his value cannot be overstated.  His presence opened up room for other receivers and despite constant double teams, the big tight end from Fort Wayne was there when he was needed most.
 
Troy Niklas looks to have the inside track on the available starting position.  The converted linebacker only had five receptions in 2012, with one for a touchdown, but he has good athletic skills and is a devastating blocker at times.  NBC analyst Mike Mayock was heralding Niklas as one of the best blocking tight ends in the country early last season.  Then the Irish met Stanford and Chase Thomas had his way with Niklas and just about every other ND blocker.
 
Thankfully, Thomas will be playing on Sundays next year and Niklas is a year older and wiser.  He should become more of a threat as a receiver and become even more consistent in all aspects of blocking.  
 
Ben Koyack caught three passes last year, but also had a couple of drops.  He also struggled at times in the run game.  Koyack has the size at 6-foot-5, 253-pounds to be a solid blocker and he was a highly touted high school prospect, so the Irish are hoping that the light goes on in 2013.
 
Alex Welch flashed some potential in each of the past two Blue-Gold games and was being counted on as a key reserve to Eifert in 2012, but a torn ACL ended his season before it got going.  He should be ready to go in the fall, though it is unlikely that he sees any action this spring.  Welch will be a senior this fall but because of the injury he will have a fifth year eligible in 2014.
 
Welch’s situation gives freshman Mike Heuerman an opportunity this spring.  The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Naples, Fla. is an aggressive player that can catch the ball as well as block.  The Irish strength staff will aim to get him up to the 250-pound range to maximize his tenacious blocking skills and if that happens in a hurry, Heuerman could see some time this coming fall.
 
The same is true for 6-foot-5, 230-pound freshman-to-be Durham Smythe.  Heuerman has a leg up because he is an early enrollee, but Smythe is a similar size and has a skill set comparable to that of Heuerman.  In the long term, both should become valuable weapons once they get acclimated to the college game.
 
In summary, the top two wide receiver positions are in the capable hands of returning starters whose play was integral to the Irish success in 2012.  The third and fourth receiver spots are open but there are several youngsters that are talented enough to provide an upgrade, assuming they can pick up the offensive scheme.  Having Jones and Daniels around as mentors will be a major plus for guys like Neal, Brown, Ferguson, and the incoming freshmen.
 
At tight end, the loss of Eifert is huge in so many respects.  Niklas has to concentrate on being the best he can be and not worry about filling Eifert’s shoes.  Niklas has a world of talent and should develop as a solid option in 2013.  This spring is the time to find out if Ben Koyack is capable of living up to the promise that was expected coming out of high school.  And Alex Welch will look to get back on track after his devastating knee injury.  
 
With Welch’s status still uncertain, Koyack still searching for his niche, and the Irish staff loving multiple tight end sets, Heuerman and Smythe will have the chance to compete for playing time next season.  Heuerman’s quest begins on March 20th with the opening of spring practice.
 
One would expect that the wide receivers would be the main targets for Golson in 2013, with the experience of Jones and Daniels returning and the athletic ability of Neal waiting to burst.  But tight end has been a position of strength at Notre Dame going back many years. Anthony Fasano was followed by John Carlson, who passed the baton to Kyle Rudolph, who then tutored Tyler Eifert. It is now Troy Niklas’s time, with several players waiting in the wings behind him.
 
Golson showed an ability to spread the ball around in his first year as a starter so one thing is sure: whoever is open, whether it is a receiver or tight end, will see balls coming his way.

March 4, 2013
Notre Dame Position-By-Position-Running Back
By Jon Kinne

The 2012 Notre Dame Fighting Irish got a lot of production out of the running back position.  Their 189.4 yards rushing per game was the most for a Notre Dame team since the 2000 squad racked up 213.5 yards per game on the ground.  
 
But Notre Dame goes into 2013 without Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who accounted for 67% of the team’s rushing yardage.  Also, Riddick was a valuable asset in the passing game, catching 36 passes for 370 yards and two scores.  Brian Kelly and his staff will have to find some answers at a position that has become very important to Notre Dame’s success.
 
When looking at the returning running backs, George Atkinson is easily the most experienced player. Atkinson has been the primary kick returner the past two seasons, but he also rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns on 51 carries, which calculates out to 7.1 yards per rush.  However, 222 of those yards came in two blowout games:  99 against Navy and 123 against Miami.
 
There are questions as to whether Atkinson is an every down back.  He has not proven that he can run effectively between the tackles and ball security is a concern.  Another interesting aspect of Atkinson’s game is that despite being recruited as a wide receiver, he has done little in the passing game with just three receptions in two seasons.  He also has to learn the finer points of blitz pick up, though that is true of whoever becomes the lead back in 2013.
 
Cam McDaniel showed some fight in his limited action this fall, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. While the Texan is not a speed demon nor is he a bruising, physical runner, he has a north-south style that allows him to get as many yards as he can on each play.  While no one expects McDaniel to be a starter next season, he could provide some valuable relief at times.
 
That rest of the running back competitors are players that have never taken the field for the Irish. Amir Carlisle is a transfer from USC that was putting together a solid freshman season for the Trojans before he was sidetracked by injuries.  A broken ankle shortly after he arrived at Notre Dame cost him the entire 2012 campaign.
 
Coming out of high school, Carlisle was on just about everyone’s Top 100 list.  He showed a great burst and a shiftiness that made him hard to corral.  Those traits carried over to USC, where he was praised by veterans Matt Barkley and Chris Galippo in a Los Angeles Times article during his first week of fall camp with the Trojans. Nagging injuries limited Carlisle to just 19 carries for 118 yards in his one year at USC.
 
Carlisle will have to get back up to game speed and prove that the ankle has fully healed before he can make a meaningful contribution.   This spring he should get plenty of reps and be able to show if he is 100%.  If he has not lost anything, Carlisle should be a serious weapon for the 2013 Irish.
 
Will Mahone signed with the Irish in 2012 and redshirted this fall as the Irish were deep at the running back position.  Mahone is listed at 5-foot-10, 211-pounds and is a back that is not afraid of contact. He is also adept at catching the ball and has the size and aggressiveness to hold up well as a blocker once he perfects the nuances of protecting the quarterback.  With Wood and Riddick gone and Atkinson, McDaniel, and Carlisle as the only other scholarship running backs currently on campus, Mahone will have a great opportunity to show his worth this spring.
 
Notre Dame does have two running backs with lots of potential arriving this summer.  Greg Bryant was given a five-star ranking by Rivals and was considered one of the top backs in America by everyone.  As proof, he also had offers from Oklahoma, USC, Florida, Ohio State, Auburn, and a slew of other top programs.
 
At 5-foot-11, 200-pounds, Bryant is not huge, but he has a body that appears to be ready for collegiate competition.  He is strong enough to shed blockers and fast enough to be hard to catch in the open field. Like Mahone, his high school tape shows very good pass catching skills, something that is important in the Notre Dame offense.  While it may take some time, it would not be a surprise to see Bryant be in the regular rotation at some point in 2013.
 
Tarean Folston is a skilled athlete that was asked to play corner at the Under Armour All Star Game. Not only did he play the position, he had an interception to boot.  Despite his play on defense in Orlando, the Notre Dame staff brought him in to make plays on offense rather than stop them on defense.
 
Folston is very quick, though he is stronger than the traditional scatback.  Many believe that his future lies in a role similar to that of Theo Riddick in 2012; that is taking the ball out of the backfield and at times splitting out to the slot.  
 
Depending on how he performs this summer and in camp, it is possible that Folston could see situational action for the 2013 Irish.
 
The bad news is that of the six running backs that I mentioned, only four will be on campus for spring practice, making depth very thin.  The only walk-on running back on the roster is senior-to-be Tyler Plantz, who may wind up getting a lot of carries in the second half of the Blue-Gold Game.
 
The good news is that all of the players mentioned have multiple years of eligibility remaining. Atkinson and McDaniel are the elder statesmen and they will be juniors next year.  Also, the Irish appear to be in very good shape for a few top 2014 running back prospects, especially Elijah Hood from Charlotte, N.C.  
 
Kelly utilized his running backs in a big way in 2013 and though the Irish may lack experience at the position in 2013 and, as a result, may see a dip in production, this is a talented group of players that should improve as the year goes on and be ready to make a major impact in 2014.
 

Final Recruiting Notes
 
Many wondered if Notre Dame would use a scholarship on a punter in 2013.  It was known that the Irish were looking at various prospects and felt that they needed some depth behind Kyle Brindza, who may be asked to handle both the punting and the place kicking duties in 2013.
 
As it turned out, Notre Dame accepted both a punter and a kicker as preferred walk-ons and it also looks like they are taking in a transfer punter from Wake Forest that will also pay his own way.  As a result, the Irish beefed up the special teams unit without using a scholarship.
 
Andrew Antognoli is a punter from San Joaquin High School in Fresno, Calif. that had been committed to Harvard before accepting a preferred walk-on position with the Irish at the end of January.  Antognoli has good size at 6-foot-2, 195-pounds and was also a placekicker in high school, but he will focus on punting at ND.
 
Alex Wulfeck was the starting punter for Wake Forest in 2011 averaging 39.7 yards per kick with a 36.1 net average.  But he lost his job in 2012 to redshirt freshman Alex Kinal and decided to transfer. It appears that Notre Dame will be the school he attends this fall, though nothing is set in stone just yet. Because he will graduate this spring, Wulfeck will be eligible to play immediately at Notre Dame and will have one year remaining.
 
Brian Kelly has mentioned that Brindza would handle both duties this fall, but it is possible that Antognoli or, perhaps even more likely, Wulfeck will challenge for the punting duties and allow Brindza to concentrate on his kicking duties.
 
Behind Brindza at kicker will be John Chereson from Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa.  Chereson was an All State kicker in Pennsylvania that had a scholarship offer from Youngstown State.  
 
The Irish may have one scholarship remaining and one question is whether they would use it on Nick Tausch, who has a fifth year available if both sides want that to happen. But Tausch may want to go somewhere he can start and the Irish may want to move on, as well.  Chereson gives them some depth should Tausch not return in 2013.

 

February 26, 2013
Notre Dame Position-By-Position-Quarterback
By Jon Kinne




Everett Golson entered the 2012 season as a relatively unknown commodity and he ended the year starting in the BCS Championship Game.  Needless to say, now he is certainly known.  He will enter the spring and, barring injury, the fall as the starting quarterback.
 
His numbers were not earth shattering:  a 58.8% completion rate, 2,405 yards, 12 touchdowns against six interceptions. But his development over the course of the season was very impressive and he should become even more comfortable with Brian Kelly’s offense after another group of practices in the spring along with an entire summer of perfecting his role in the offense.
 
As I stated in my postseason recap, one big area where he can improve is in the read option game, something that Brian Kelly would undoubtedly like to implement on a more regular basis. Golson did run for 298 yards and six scores this past fall, but the vast majority of those yards were on broken pass plays or called quarterback runs.  Very few occurred when Golson himself had to decide whether to hand the ball off or keep it and run.  
 
Notre Dame’s offense was not set up to run the read option with Tommy Rees at quarterback, so the system could not really be incorporated until Golson was named the starter.  With only a couple of weeks to prepare for Navy, Kelly knew that Golson did not have enough preparation time to run this system adequately.  Plus, in his freshman season, Golson ran the scout team, meaning his responsibility was to learn what the other teams were running.  Of the teams Notre Dame played in 2011, only Michigan with Dernard Robinson could be considered a read option team and even they got away from that a little with the hiring of Brady Hoke as head coach and Al Borges as offensive coordinator.
 
But Golson will also be able to improve in the passing game as well.  His development during the course of the year was noticeable and the numbers speak for themselves.  The tipping point seemed to come after his concussion late in the Stanford game.  
 
In the six games before the concussion, Golson was 79 of 135 (58.5%) for 968 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions.  He also rushed for 81 yards and two scores.  After sitting out the BYU game, Golson was 108 of 183 (59%), for 1,437 yards, eight touchdowns, three interceptions, 217 rushing yards, and four rushing touchdowns in the final six games.
 
His play at Oklahoma along with the comeback in the Pittsburgh game after being replaced briefly by Rees, gave Kelly confidence that Golson could handle more responsibility. Not only did he throw more often, the yards per completion went up by a full yard, meaning that deeper shots were taken down field.
 
There are still things that need to be cleaned up.  Golson still makes ill-advised throws on occasion and at times fails to recognize the proper receiver.  When running, he tends to keep the ball away from his body too often.  He also sometimes struggles at knowing when to run and when to hang in the pocket.  And then there is learning the read option.  
 
But he is a very talented kid that is still learning the position.  He can throw, he can run, he has a command about him in the huddle, he is a smart guy that seems to pick things up very quickly, and perhaps most importantly, he has shown a knack for being able to learn from mistakes as opposed to obsessing about them.
 
There will be a major battle in the spring to see who backs up Golson.  Rees returns for his senior year and he has done everything asked of him during his time at Notre Dame.  He was the starting quarterback in 2011 but accepted the role of reserve this past fall and helped Golson prosper with his constant tutelage.  There also may not have been victories over Purdue, Michigan, and Stanford if Rees was not ready to play.
 
But this is not his offense anymore and the system will most likely be shaped around Golson.  Rees’s lack of mobility does not fit in the read option game, though his intelligence, savvy, and command of the game will give him a leg up on the other competitors.  
 
Andrew Hendrix will also return for his senior season in 2013.  The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder from Cincinnati saw his playing time decrease in 2012 as Golson became the starting quarterback and Rees settled in as #2. It is likely that he will see even less time next fall because…..
 
The Irish won’t have to worry about preserving a redshirt year for Gunner Kiel.  Kiel came to Notre Dame as the consensus #1 quarterback prospect in the class of 2012.  He entered Notre Dame last January and went through the entire spring session.  Kelly said in August that he would be comfortable if he had to play Kiel in 2012.
 
Kiel obviously did not need to play and in turn still has four years of eligibility remaining.   He is certainly a throw first type of quarterback, but he has much greater mobility than Rees and can make plays with his feet when needed.  For those reasons, it seems likely that Kiel will be given every opportunity to win the backup job starting in the spring.
 
One thing Kiel has going against him is a huge positive for the Notre Dame team overall:  Golson’s youth.  Golson has three years of eligibility remaining which means a lot of waiting around for Kiel.  However, because Notre Dame is likely to put the ball in Golson’s hands more and more, the starting signal caller is likely to take more hits, making the presence of a competent back up very important.  To that point, the last time a Brian Kelly coached team had a quarterback that started all of his team’s games in a single season was in 2005 when Kent Smith started every one of Central Michigan’s 11 games.
 
Finally, Malik Zaire recently enrolled at Notre Dame as an early entry and will be available to practice with the team this spring.  Despite running an option attack for much of his high school career, last summer Zaire won a spot on the Elite 11 quarterback team.  He is not that much bigger than Golson and has a similar game, though he throws left-handed.  He has a lot of potential, but if a scenario develops where Zaire has to take meaningful snaps next fall, it will not be good news for the Irish.
 
As the Irish head into fall camp, they have a good mix at the game’s most important position. There is a young, established starter that is still developing, a veteran that has played an important role in the past and has shown a willingness to help the younger players, another senior with good athletic ability, and two very promising youngsters that appear to have bright futures.  
 
That combination makes up a good starting point for 2013 and beyond.

 

February 16, 2013
2013 Recruiting Summary
By Jon Kinne

 

Team Rankings
Rivals:  No. 3
Scout:  No. 4
ESPN:  No. 4
24/7:  No. 3
24/7 Composite:  No. 3
 
Notre Dame’s recruiting class of 2012 was not sensational.  Of all the recruiting websites, ESPN gave it the highest ranking at No. 9 while Rivals was on the low end at No. 20.  I gave it a B-, with a B- offensively and a C+ defensively.  And all of those ratings included cornerback Tee Shepard, a consensus Top 100 prospect that wound up leaving Notre Dame shortly after enrolling.
 
Part of the reason for last year’s ranking is that Notre Dame only signed 17 players, including Shepard. The players they signed were solid and filled some needs, but when you factor in the low numbers and a few players that were not recruited by a lot of big time programs, the team ranking suffered.
 
The good news is that several of the 2012 freshmen made contributions on the way to the national championship game.  Keivarae Russell, who was recruited on offense, started all 13 games at cornerback. Nicky Baratti had a big interception on the goal line against Michigan.  Elijah Shumate played a considerable amount in nickel situations and had a few key pass break ups.  Sheldon Day was in the regular rotation on the defensive line and held up very well.
 
On offense, only two players made any type of impact.  Davonte Neal was the punt returner all season and played some wide receiver.  Chris Brown caught just two passes on the year, but his 50 yard reception against Oklahoma was one of the most important plays in Notre Dame’s undefeated regular season.
 
2013 was a different challenge.  Coming off a pair of 8-5 seasons, there was a belief that the Irish staff may struggle to land recruits early in the process.  I remember telling a friend that a best case scenario would be for the Irish to get 10-12 solid, but not necessarily spectacular, commitments before the season to build a base for the class, then hope the season goes well so that they could attract a few higher profile guys late.  If not, they could fill in the holes they needed late in the process with plan B, C, or D guys.
 
Looking at how it played out, I was so very wrong.
 
Steve Elmer had committed to Notre Dame in September of his junior year of high school, so he was already in.  When Jacob Matuska and James Onwualu committed in March, things were going exactly as I expected.  They were both nice players with good offers, but neither was a consensus Top 100 or even Top 200 recruit.  This was the type of prospect Notre Dame was going to have to settle for until they showed something on the field.
 
Starting with Notre Dame’s Junior Day at the end of March, things suddenly changed with the Irish securing several top notch prospects.  The offensive line, which was a big position of need, was quickly fortified with commitments from Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin, and Mike McGlinchey.  All of the linemen had multiple offers from national powers, including the SEC elite, and were the big, physical players that Notre Dame needed.  The same weekend, Notre Dame got their quarterback in Malik Zaire, who selected ND over Ohio State and Alabama.  
 
Along with getting good football players, the Irish also added personable kids that enjoyed spreading the word about Notre Dame.  Onwualu was recruiting everyone he talked to and the linemen had developed a tight bond that only strengthened when John Montelus committed in late April.  By that time, Notre Dame had helped shore up its depleted cornerback depth by accepting the commitments of Rashad Kinlaw and Devin Butler along with wide receiver Corey Robinson.
 
When Florida tight end Mike Heuerman committed in late April, the Irish Mob really became a recruiting force.  Heuerman was another prospect that was outgoing and willing to help recruit the best players to the class of 2013.  In early June, another vocal leader joined the group, and while all the commits to this point were important, this pledge was on another level.
 
Jaylon Smith was widely held as one of the top five overall players in the class.  Notre Dame needed linebackers, but everyone wanted a player like Smith, especially Ohio State, where his brother was a running back. But like Heuerman, whose brother also played for Ohio State, Smith spurned the Buckeyes and picked Notre Dame.
 
Shortly thereafter, the Irish added more defensive help in Isaac Rochell and Michael Deeb.  Wide receiver Will Fuller de-committed from Penn State and picked the Irish in August, giving Notre Dame 16 very strong commitments before the trip to Ireland to play Navy.
 
The number of commitments on September 1st was actually 19, with linebackers Alex Anzalone and Danny Mattingly and running back Jamel James as part of the group. Anzalone committed to ND in early July after a short stint as an Ohio State commitment.  Just a couple of weeks later, doubts began to arise about his level of commitment when he went to Florida for their Friday Night Lights camp. In the end, those fears were warranted. Mattingly committed to the Irish in June and was solid until his desire to play tight end proved too much.  He committed to and signed with Oregon.
 
James’s situation was very interesting.  Notre Dame accepted his commitment with the understanding that his grades would reach a certain level in the fall.  That did not happen.  As a result, James was forced to consider other options while Notre Dame waited on his latest transcripts.  The Irish staff told James that he would be considered de-committed if he visited other schools, but James had to look elsewhere because being admitted to ND was far from a sure thing.  On the field, his production also slipped and eventually he signed with Texas State.
 
Doug Randolph and Torrii Hunter were next in, both committing in September, and then there was a bit of a break as prospects focused on their football seasons and less on recruiting.  One area where the Irish needed one more body was at cornerback and on November 1st Notre Dame got a big commitment from Cole Luke.  
 
Another hole, with James’s status up in the air leading to his eventual de-commitment, was at running back and Irish fans were becoming concerned about that position.  Notre Dame had missed on a couple of top targets and Florida product Tarean Folston was dragging his recruitment out more than some would have liked.  But to the surprise of almost everyone, Notre Dame convinced Greg Bryant to visit in early December and he was in the fold before he left campus.  A month later Folston was on board too.
 
That set up the late run on three big prospects.  Max Redfield flipped from USC to Notre Dame at the U.S. Army All American Game, Durham Smythe de-committed from Texas and chose Notre Dame in late January, and the Irish signed another former five-star USC commit, Eddie Vanderdoes, on February 6th.
 
There were, obviously, misses.  Anzalone enrolled at Florida moments after the news of Brian Kelly’s interview with the Eagles leaked out.  Pass rushers Deon Hollins and Torrodney Prevot selected other schools late after considering Notre Dame and the same is true of defensive end Kylie Fitts.  Along the way, the Irish also coveted running back Ty Isaac, wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Laquon Treadwell, tight end Adam Brenneman, linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea, and several others that selected other programs.
 
Overall, though, Notre Dame hit on most of what they were after and they were able to adapt to the misses along the way.  They needed an impact running back.  They got two. They needed depth at receiver. They got four nice prospects. They needed some bodies at linebacker. They got three, including the best in the country.
 
Perhaps most importantly, Notre Dame needed big time help on the offensive line and they added five top prospects.  Also, cornerback was a huge need and three very good players signed with the Irish.
 
But this wasn’t just about filling needs.  The Irish picked up playmakers at some key positions.  Vanderdoes, Smith, and Redfield give the Irish five-star prospects at each level of the defense.  Greg Bryant has a chance to play early in his career.  Cole Luke, Isaac Rochell, Mike Heuerman, Durham Smythe, and all of the offensive linemen have big time offer lists.  Even the less heralded players had caught the attention of some top programs.
 
No, they didn’t get a top wide receiver.  They are short a linebacker thanks to Anzalone.  Unless Vanderdoes winds up playing nose, it is unlikely Louis Nix’s replacement is in this class.  While the corners are good, I don’t know if any will be ready for meaningful action this fall.
 
However, look at the production Brian Kelly and his staff got out of last year’s 16 man class in year one, with several other players including Jarron Jones, Ronnie Stanley, Romeo Okwara, and others poised to make an impact in the near future.  If Notre Dame’s staff can produce those results with last year’s group, what can they do with this haul?
 
Kelly has said that next year, both lines will again be a priority and with early commitments from defensive lineman Jay Hayes (who could also play offensive tackle) and offensive lineman Jimmy Byrne, the Irish are off to a great star in that department. Also, they will need a couple of inside linebackers and Greer Martini (who some scouts list as an inside guy while others project him outside) is already committed.
 
I don’t know if Notre Dame’s class of 2013 is the best in the country, but I know it’s in the conversation.  No one’s recruiting class is perfect and ND solved a lot of problems and added some electric athletes to their squad.  Signing Day 2013 was one of Notre Dame’s best in the past 20 years and provides a solid foundation for the future.  Maybe it is not on par with the Holtz classes of the late 80s and early 90s, but this is a talented group that has developed a closeness that should pay dividends in the years to come.
 
And for that…..
 
Grade:  A

February 12, 2013
Signing Day 2013-Defense
By Jon Kinne


 
The offensive side of the ball was a pretty complete haul.  Defensively, the Irish class is a little different in that there were some holes that remain unfilled, but the highest impact guys in this year’s group will be on the field when the opponents have the ball.
 
Defensive Line
Needed:  3     Wanted: 3 or 4       Got……
 
Eddie Vanderdoes    Placer High School       Auburn, Calif.       6-foot-3, 310-pounds
Rivals:  Five-Star, No. 2 Defensive Tackle, No. 21 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Five-Star, No. 2 Defensive Tackle, No. 9 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Five-Star, No. 1 Defensive Tackle, No. 10 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Five-Star, No. 1 Defensive Tackle, No. 6 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Five-Star, No. 1 Defensive Tackle, No. 6 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  USC, UCLA, Alabama, Washington, Oregon
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KwaId88brU

Isaac Rochell     Eagles Landing Christian Academy   McDonough, Ga.   6-foot-4, 250-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 10 Strong Side Defensive End, No. 124 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 17 Defensive End, No. 153 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 13 Defensive End, No. 139 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 11 Strong Side Defensive End, No. 127 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 9 Strong Side Defensive End, No. 113 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6brM5y7E_8o

Jacob Matuska     Bishop Hartley High School    Columbus, Ohio     6-foot-4, 235-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 18 Tight End
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 32 Defensive End, No. 299 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Three-Star, No. 18 Tight End-Y
24/7:  Three-Star, No. 19 Strong Side Defensive End
24/7 Composite: Three-Star, No. 22 Strong Side Defensive End, No. 374 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Oklahoma, Michigan, Nebraska, Cincinnati, Louisville
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tZFLJIfH6o

Matuska committed very early and gave the Irish a good base to start the recruiting season.  Some schools saw him as a tight end, as did some of the recruiting services, but the Irish like him on defense.  He is a project, but Oklahoma, Michigan, and Nebraska, along with Notre Dame, liked his game a lot and felt he was worthy of an offer.
 
Issac Rochell also held his commitment for a long time, telling the Irish staff that he would be coming to Notre Dame last June.  Rochelle is a true strong side defensive end that will likely get into the 290-pound range before he sees meaningful action for the Irish.  His rankings are high and his offer list, which is much lengthier than just the schools mentioned in his profile above, is extremely impressive.
 
And for much of the process, that looked like it was going to be all that Notre Dame signed on the defensive line.  With the Irish most likely losing Louis Nix after next season and Stephon Tuitt a possibility to enter the NFL draft as well, Notre Dame really needed to add one more high impact guy on the line, especially someone that could play nose tackle, at least on passing downs.
 
Suddenly, late in the process, the Irish became involved with two Top 100 prospects that were previously part of what was shaping up to be a historic USC recruiting class. California stars Kylie Fitts and Eddie Vanderdoes visited Notre Dame in late January and both considered the Irish until the end.
 
Fitts, a consensus four-star prospect, eventually chose UCLA.  But on Signing Day evening, Vanderdoes sent his letter of intent to Notre Dame.
 
This was a huge get for the Irish.  Two years ago, Irish fans rightly celebrated when Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt selected Notre Dame.  Eddie Vanderdoes is higher rated than either of those five-star prospects.  Actually, you probably have to go all the way back to the Holtz era (Oliver Gibson in the early 1990s?) to find a defensive lineman, and especially a defensive tackle, as decorated as Vanderdoes.
 
This is not a perfect group. With Vanderdoes originally slated to play more end in the 3-4, there is no immediate replacement for Nix in 2014. Also, while Rochell is solid in all parts of his game, Notre Dame probably would have liked one more dynamic pass rusher, though the late options they looked at were more at the linebacker positions.
 
But Matuska is a nice player.  Rochell has offers from just about everyone in the SEC.  And Vanderdoes is considered the best defensive tackle in the country and one of the best players regardless of position.  The talents of these three prospects, along with last year’s defensive line class of Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, give the Irish staff plenty of pieces for the defensive line puzzle, especially in a 3-4 system.
 
With only three defensive linemen in their base set, Vanderdoes alone would give them a high grade. Throw in Rochell and Matuska…..
 
Grade:  A-

 
Linebacker
Needed:  3        Wanted:  4 or 5    Got…….
 
Jaylon Smith    Bishop Luers High School      Fort Wayne, Indiana         6-foot-3, 212-pounds
Rivals:  Five-Star, No. 1 Outside Linebacker, No. 3 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Five-Star, No. 1 Outside Linebacker, No. 3 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Five-Star, No. 2 Outside Linebacker, No. 7 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Five-Star, No. 1 Outside Linebacker, No. 5 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Five-Star, No. 1 Outside Linebacker, No. 2 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Ohio State, Michigan, USC, Alabama, Florida
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41wDjTN6Cy8

Michael Deeb   American Heritage High School    Plantation, Fla.          6-foot-2, 238-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 36 Inside Linebacker
Scout:  Three-Star, No. 25 Middle Linebacker
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 17 Inside Linebacker
24/7:  Three-star, No. 25 Inside Linebacker
24/7 Composite: Three-Star, No. 28 Inside Linebacker, No. 437 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Florida State, Penn State, Ole Miss, West Virginia, Mississippi State
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbqS7ex2-7s

Doug Randolph    Woodberry Forest School      Woodberry Forest, Va.      6-foot-3, 221-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 11 Outside Linebacker, No. 134 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Three-Star, No. 31 Outside Linebacker
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 12 Outside Linebacker, No. 142 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 28 Outside Linebacker
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 16 Outside Linebacker, No. 247 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Stanford, Virginia, Boston College, West Virginia, Maryland
 
At one point in time, Notre Dame had five linebacker commitments.  Danny Mattingly decided that he wanted to play tight end, de-committed, and signed with Oregon.  Then, about five seconds after it was reported that Brian Kelly had interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Alex Anzalone was on his way to Gainesville to enroll at the University of Florida.
 
Most Irish fans did not see the loss of Mattingly as a big deal.  They had plenty of linebackers and he looked like kind of a tweener size-wise, anyway.  Anzalone was a different story.  He was going to be asked to play the inside linebacker spot held by Manti Te’o in 2012. With Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox close to finishing their eligibility, Anzalone would be an important part of the future defensive structure at Notre Dame.
 
But he was never all in and was certainly looking for a way to Florida, which Kelly gave him by talking to the Eagles.  The response from the players immediately after Anzalone announced his latest switch (he had been committed to Ohio State, switched to Notre Dame, flirted with Florida, re-committed to Notre Dame, before enrolling at Florida) was hardly one of surprise and many expected him to go to the Gators even if Kelly had never talked to Philadelphia.
 
So Deeb is the sole inside linebacker in this class, which is concerning seeing that Te’o is gone and Calabrese and Fox will be following next year.  The Irish signed no middle linebackers last year and just one, Jarret Grace, the year before.  I would expect that next year the Irish will sign at least two middle linebackers, though I thought that this year.  Of course, they thought they had two right up until early January.
 
Deeb is your classic middle backer.  He is very physical and though he will have to make progress in the passing game, he is athletic and made great strides in every aspect of his game as a senior in high school.
 
On the outside, Notre Dame pursued explosive pass rushers until the final weeks of the recruiting cycle. Deon Hollins visited but stuck with UCLA and Torrodney Prevot did not come to South Bend and eventually signed with Oregon.
 
While they wanted one more rusher, the Irish staff did land Doug Randolph.  Randolph committed early to Stanford and then took another look at Notre Dame and made the switch.  He is from the same high school as current freshman C.J. Prosise and 2014 commit Greer Martini.  Like Deeb, Randolph’s 2012 tape is much more impressive than his junior year film.  He is quick and once he adds strength, the Richmond native should be a key component in the Irish defense.
 
Finally, there is Jaylon Smith.  As good as Vanderdoes is, Smith is ranked even higher by everyone.  Manti Te’o was the highest rated defensive player signed by Notre Dame in probably 20 years.  Most of the recruiting analysts feel that Smith is a better prospect than Te’o was in 2009.
 
Eric Nahlin reported on the U.S. Army All American Game in San Antonio for Irish Sports Daily.  He was in an elevator with USC recruit, and consensus Top 10 safety prospect, Su’a Cravens.  Nahlin told Cravens how he thought Cravens and Jaylon Smith were the two best players on the field, and Nahlin said Cravens gave him a strange look and said, “Have you seen Smith?”
 
There is much debate on where Smith fits in this defense.  He is super quick, so some want him at the CAT position to rush the passer. But he covers like a cornerback, so many think his best spot is the DOG.  With the attrition coming inside, some think Smith will wind up at the WILL, though he may not have enough size to handle the position right now.
 
One thing is certain: Smith will play and he will play right away.  
 
At linebacker, the Irish would have liked one more inside linebacker and one more pass rusher.  But in the same way that Vanderdoes cures much of the deficiencies at defensive line, the same and more can be said of Smith at linebacker.  I will knock them down very slightly, just because they got three players for four spots.
 
Grade:  B+
 
 
Safety
Needed:  None, really    Wanted:  1   Got……
 
Max Redfield    Mission Viejo High School        Misssion Viejo, Calif.   6-foot-2, 181-pounds
Rivals:   Five-Star, No. 3 Safety, No. 30 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 5 Safety, No. 57 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 2 Athlete, No. 23 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 5 Safety, No. 41 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Five-Star, No. 3 Safety, No. 30 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  USC, Ohio State, Washington, Oklahoma, LSU
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH2Bq0robXE

After signing four guys that could play safety in 2012, along with welcoming back Chris Badger from his mission, Notre Dame did not need to sign a safety this year.  So they targeted the very elite and when Max Redfield flipped from USC to Notre Dame, the Irish secured exactly who they wanted.
 
Some west coast scouts actually believe that Redfield is a better wide receiver prospect, which is why ESPN ranks him as an athlete.  But most schools, including Notre Dame, project him on defense and it is expected that Redfield will compete for time immediately.
 
Redfield is a fluid athlete that excels in coverage.  Once he adds weight to his frame, he will become a presence in run support too. But his range will always be his strength and his speed and awareness at the safety position will make life a lot easier for future Irish cornerbacks.
 
Notre Dame hoped to get one safety and they took home one of the best all around athletes in America.
 
Grade:  A
 
 
Cornerback
Needed:  3      Wanted: 3       Got……
 
Rashad Kinlaw         Absegami High School       Galloway, N.J.        6-foot-180-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 38 Athlete
Scout:  Three-Star, No. 46 Cornerback
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 36 Athlete
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 7 Athlete, No. 201 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Three-Star, No. 16 Athlete, No. 366 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Rutgers, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa, Boston College
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIp_Fv42tAI

Devin Butler      Gonzaga College High School      Washington, D.C.    6-foot-1, 179-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 62 Cornerback
Scout:  Three-Star, No. 36 Cornerback
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 19 Cornerback, No. 188 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 17 Cornerback, No. 189 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 25 Cornerback, No. 330 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan State
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZxqGwC0DS0

Cole Luke       Hamilton High School        Chandler, Ariz.          6-foot-0, 165-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 11 Cornerback, No. 133 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 21 Cornerback, No. 185 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 35 Cornerback
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 9 Cornerback, No. 77 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 14 Cornerback, No. 144 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Texas, Oklahoma, USC, Michigan, UCLA
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86H_GSB1LYg

Notre Dame’s cornerback class of 2012 had so much promise, but Ronald Darby switched to Florida State late in the process and Tee Shepard transferred out of Notre Dame after a short stint on campus.  That meant getting a number of cover prospects was important, with three being the magic number as it gives the program adequate depth, while not gobbling up scholarships that were needed at other spots.
 
The Irish got two less heralded players early in Rashad Kinlaw and Devin Butler.  Kinlaw was under the radar because he was a quarterback in high school and had suffered a couple of injuries that limited his time. But the Irish staff saw a raw athlete with skills that could translate to the corner position.
 
Butler is a prospect that took up football late and is getting better every day.  He progressed immensely as a senior and performed well at the Semper Fidelis All Star Game in January.  He has some length, which the Irish staff loves in their corners.
 
Luke is the highest ranked of the bunch and is a great athlete that can really cover.  In the Arizona state championship game, he did a great job holding down Desert Mountain receiver Jalen Brown, who is a top prospect in the class of 2014.  He needs to get bigger and a lot stronger, but the coverage ability is there.  
 
I am not sure if any of these players is ready to come in and contribute right away.  Then again, who saw KeiVarae Russell starting all 13 games at corner at this time last year?  The nice thing is that Notre Dame has two returning starters at cornerback and Lo Wood, who was projected to be a starter before his injury last year, will be back.  Also, Elijah Shumate played a lot of corner in nickel situations as a freshman, though he is probably best suited to play safety.
 
This is a nice group of athletes with potential that provides future depth, though there is no Vanderdoes, Smith, or Redfield in the bunch.
 
Grade:  B+
 

Overall

As I stated, there are some defensive holes that were not covered in this recruiting class.  There is no true future nose tackle.  The Irish staff tried until the bitter end to land another pass rusher.  And with Anzalone’s late flip to Florida, they were short an inside linebacker.
 
At the same time, Notre Dame picked up a five-star, impact player on each of the three levels of defense. In the past, the Irish have struggled to sign defensive stars like Vanderdoes, Smith, and Redfield.  In 2013, they got those three along with some other players with high ceilings.
 
With the high potential is also some risk.  Rashad Kinlaw is a guy with great athletic ability, but he has never played corner and has an injury history.  Devin Butler also has fine skills, but he has not played much football in his life. Deeb, Randolph, and Matuska are good looking prospects, but they weren’t offered by a lot of top programs.
 
However, the Irish got Vanderdoes, Smith, and Redfield, and that goes a long ways.  Add in Rochell and Luke to go along with the others mentioned and anyone would be content with that on signing day.  
 
Because of the misses, I can’t give the defense a straight A.  But because of the top level talent added, I also can’t knock them down too far.
 
Grade:  A-

February 7, 2013
Signing Day 2013-Offense
By Jon Kinne


Like last year, I am breaking down both the offensive and defensive recruiting class for Notre Dame. Today I start with the offense and it is very hard to find things to be displeased about with this group.
 
Along with the rankings of Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 24/7, I am also including the 24/7 composite rating, which is an average of all the major recruiting services rankings.
 
Quarterback

Needed:  1   Wanted: 1   Got…..
 
Malik Zaire  Archbishop Alter High School   Kettering, Ohio   6-foot-1, 196-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 3 Dual-Threat Quarterback, No. 122 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 14 Quarterback, No. 172 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 6 Dual-Threat Quarterback, No. 189 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. No. 9 Dual-Threat Quarterback
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 4 Dual-Threat Quarterback, No. 170 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Ohio State, Alabama, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=echL2w7W6uI

After landing Gunner Kiel last year and with Everett Golson eligible for three more seasons, it wasn’t a sure thing that Notre Dame would take a quarterback in this class.  Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix will both be seniors next year so depth was needed, but Notre Dame wanted to get the right guy to fit Brain Kelly’s offensive system.
 
Early on, the Irish staff primarily targeted two players:  Matt Alviti out of Illinois and Malik Zaire.  Most believed that Notre Dame preferred Zaire, but they probably would have been happy with either player.  When the Ohio signal caller committed last March, Brian Kelly and crew were undoubtedly ecstatic.
 
Along with Zaire’s rankings, he was also selected to compete at the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp and won a spot on the Elite 11 team.  This January, he played in the Semper Fidelis All Star Game.
 
Earning a spot on the Elite 11 team is especially noteworthy because Zaire’s high school offense places  great emphasis on running the ball and has incorporated the wishbone into their system. Going to this camp and showing his passing skills legitimized his ranking as a true quarterback.
 
Zaire is a very good athlete that can throw the ball, making him a perfect fit for the Kelly system. He is slightly different than Everett Golson in that Golson threw the ball much more often in high school while Zaire ran the ball with much greater frequency.  Zaire is also thicker than Golson was coming out of high school and looks more ready to handle the day-to-day pounding.
 
Because he didn’t throw as much, Zaire will have to develop more consistency, especially from an accuracy standpoint.  But all the scouting services agree that he has a strong arm with a good release, so he has the skills that the Irish coaches can hone.
 
Along with the offense he ran in high school, his height also knocks him down a couple of notches in the recruiting rankings.  In certain offenses this may be more important, but Zaire is probably slightly taller than Golson and the current Irish quarterback does not have a problem in the Notre Dame system.  If it does matter, the problem will be exacerbated by the size of the Notre Dame offensive line recruits.  But it is about throwing in lanes and Zaire’s height should not be an issue.
 
Zaire is also a lefty, so right tackle becomes the blind side blocker along the offensive line.
 
The Irish wanted just one quarterback and Zaire was choice #1 from the start.
 
Grade:  A 
 
Running Back
Needed:  1     Wanted: 2    Got….
 
Greg Bryant    American Heritage School     Delray Beach, Fla.    5-foot-11, 197-pounds
Rivals:  Five-Star, No. 3 Running Back, No. 19 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 13 Running Back, No. 70 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 3 Running Back, No. 22 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 10 Running Back, No. 128 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 6 Running Back, No. 45 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Alabama
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXBDJ-2sv7I

Tarean Folston    Cocoa High School     Cocoa, Fla.    5-foot-9, 190-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 14 Running Back, No. 119 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 24 Running Back, No. 198 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 6 Athlete, No. 66 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 9 Running Back, No. 122 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 10 Running Back, No. 104 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Auburn, Oregon, Florida State, Florida, Tennessee
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_-au1gGApI&feature=youtu.be

There certainly were some ups and downs along the way, especially in the final two weeks, but the Irish staff has to be thrilled with the two Florida running backs that signed with the Irish.
 
Early in the process, the big name linked to Notre Dame was another back out of the Sunshine State: Ryan Green.  Green chose Florida State and the Irish moved on.  Ty Isaac was also on everyone’s early radar, but the Chicago area product gave an early commitment to USC.  Ezekial Elliott, Taquan Mizzell, and Keith Ford were some of the other players that were pursued by Notre Dame but selected other programs.
 
For a while it looked like the Irish would have difficulty securing a top level running back.  Then, interest in Tarean Folston picked up and was reciprocated.  As his recruitment dragged on, a new name popped up and committed.
 
Greg Bryant committed to Oklahoma last March but began looking around again over the summer. All indications were that Bryant wanted to stay in the south, but in November he set up a trip to Notre Dame for early December and committed to the Irish before he returned home.
 
A few weeks later, during the week of the Under Armour All American Game, Folston also committed to the Irish.  Both had some late flirtations with Auburn, with Folston actually visiting the Plains in late January, but they will both be wearing gold helmets next fall.
 
The two players seem to be a perfect tandem.  Bryant is a little stronger and more physical.  He has good speed and can make people miss, but he also not afraid to put his head down and give a defender a shot before going down.  Bryant has all the qualities coaches look for in an every down back.  On the other hand, the strength of Folston’s game is his speed and quickness.  He is certainly a tough competitor, but Folston is more of a home run threat.  
 
One nice facet of each of their games is their ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Both players excel in this aspect of the game and will be threats for the Irish in the passing game.  Neither was asked to pass protect much in high school, but that is true of every top high school running back in America and there is no reason to believe that this will be a problem as neither shies away from contact.
 
Folston was asked to play cornerback at the Under Armour Game and he had a very nice interception late in the game.  Brian Kelly and his staff like Folston with the ball in his hands, but if situations change, the Cocoa High School star could switch over to defense.  He will also be asked to do many things on offense, including splitting out into the slot position, much like Theo Riddick did for much of his career.
 
This is another easy position to grade.  The Irish wanted two backs and they landed two guys that are highly ranked by all the scouts.  Bryant’s ratings are higher on ESPN and Rivals, but it is not like he neglected on Scout and 24/7.  Folston is in the Top 200 on every list.
 
And look at the offer lists for both guys.  They were chased hard by big time programs from all over the country.  This was a home run position for the Irish in 2013.
 
Grade:  A
 
 
Wide Receiver
Needed:  3   Wanted: 4     Got…….
 
James Onwualu   Cretin-Derham Hall     St. Paul, MN       6-foot-1, 203-pounds   
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 21 Athlete
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 39 Wide Receiver, No. 296 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 38 Athlete
24/7:  Three-Star, No. 58 Wide Receiver
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 44 Wide Receiver, No. 303 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA, Minnesota
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3JIZGarLTo

Corey Robinson  Christian Academy    San Antonio, Texas    6-foot-5, 200-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 44 Wide Receiver
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 43 Wide Receiver
ESPN:  Three-Star, No. 101 Wide Receiver
24/7:  Three-Star, No. 105 Wide Receiver
24/7 Composite: Three-Star, No. 54 Wide Receiver, No. 369 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Iowa, Wake Forest, Kansas, Navy, North Carolina
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzVwAGtZF1M

Will Fuller      Roman Catholic High School       Philadelphia, Pa.      6-foot-1, 163-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 19 Wide Receiver, No. 176 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 22 Wide Receiver, No. 179 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Three-Star, No. 172 Wide Receiver
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 46 Wide Receiver
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 41 Wide Receiver, No. 276 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Penn State, Boston College, Rutgers, Temple, Toledo
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0lXiFVv5Pk

Torii Hunter Jr.  Prosper High School   Prosper, Texas    6-foot-0, 172-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 41 Wide Receiver
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 41 Wide Receiver
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 12 Wide Receiver, No. 95 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 38 Wide Receiver
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 28 Wide Receiver, No. 204 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, West Virginia
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSrOSjGrH-w

Getting a commitment from James Onwualu early in the process was one of the biggest moments of the recruiting year.  No, he is not the most publicized recruit in the class, but wide receiver was a position that Notre Dame needed coming into this recruiting campaign.  More importantly though, Onwualu has the type of personality that attracts others and he was a key figure in the recruitment of several of the members in the class of 2013.
 
Onwualu is already at Notre Dame and though he played all over the field in high school, wide receiver will be his position once spring ball rolls around.
 
Corey Robinson has also enrolled at ND and is one of two incoming wide receivers with very famous fathers.  Corey’s dad, David, was an NBA all time great with the San Antonio Spurs and many will be watching Corey’s growth because of what occurred with his father shortly after enrolling at the Naval Academy.
 
All sports fans know the story, but David Robinson went to Annapolis at 6-foot-6, but was 7-foot-0 by the time he was a junior.  Corey is currently listed at 6-foot-5 and though no one can expect the same growth explosion that his father had, there is obviously no guarantee that his height has topped out.
 
Robinson had a great senior season, catching 67 passes for 1,414 yards and 20 touchdowns.  As a result, he was selected to play in the Army All American Game in his hometown of San Antonio.
 
The other wide receiver recruit with a famous father is Torii Hunter Jr., son of the All Star outfielder currently with the Detroit Tigers.  The younger Hunter won the MVP at The Opening in Eugene, Ore. last summer and then saw his recruitment skyrocket.  
 
Hunter has very good speed and very good hands, which is not surprising to anyone that his seen his father roam major league outfields.  Also not surprisingly, Hunter plans on playing both football and baseball at ND, but seeing the field in 2013 is extremely doubtful due to a broken leg suffered during the week of the Under Armour All American Game.
 
Will Fuller is an interesting prospect.  His ratings are pretty solid on most of the recruiting services, except the one from ESPN. The only thing that gives that ranking any credence at all is that his offer sheet is probably the least impressive of all the Notre Dame recruits.
 
Fuller committed to Penn State very early and when the sanctions were levied against the Nittany Lions, Fuller decided to look elsewhere.  The only other school that he was truly interested in was Notre Dame and when they offered, he accepted.  It is possible that his approach to recruiting (the early commitment and then an obvious desire to attend Notre Dame) may have led to fewer offers from other schools that knew they would not be considered.
 
Fuller was chosen to participate in the Semper Fidelis Game in early January and had a great week of practice and performed extremely well in the game.  He is still very thin and will probably be introduced to Irish strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo about two seconds after he steps on campus. But he can really run and catches the ball nicely with his hands before it gets into his body.
 
In terms of numbers, Notre Dame was successful.  When added to the threesome of Davonte Neal, Chris Brown, and Justin Ferguson from 2012, the Irish should have plenty of depth in the receiving corps going forward. But how good are these guys?
 
Except for Hunter on the ESPN list, none of the receivers is ranked in the top 100.  Again excluding ESPN, Fuller has the highest ratings, but his offer sheet is a bit questionable.  Onwualu could end up at another position, Hunter has the broken leg, and Robinson’s offer sheet is not much better than Fuller’s.  Also, Hunter’s offers are nice and so are Onwualu’s, but none of these prospects were really coveted by all of the major programs.
 
But these guys are athletic. Fuller can run.  Onwualu can run, is tough, and smart.  Hunter and Robinson obviously have some lineage to be excited about.  
 
Another nice thing is that none of these guys really have to produce in a big way next year.  Davaris Daniels and T.J. Jones are back and Davonte Neal looks like a good option at slot receiver.  Brown and Ferguson should develop and Daniel Smith has shown that he can contribute.
 
Also, there is no saying that someone like Onwualu or Robinson can’t contribute next year.  I would actually be surprised if Onwualu didn’t at least see some special teams action.  Fuller could play, as well, but he will probably have to get stronger and Hunter will be rehabbing the leg.
 
So let’s add this up. Notre Dame got the numbers they wanted and landed guys with potential.  But there is no sure-fire, top-flight prospect that can be expected to come in and make an impact right away, like Bryant or Folston could at running back.
 
The top receiving prospect according to Rivals was Laquon Treadwell out of Illinois.  Treadwell was never really a serious option for ND and signed with Ole Miss, but he was the type of talent that could have made this an A class.  As it is, this is a good group that lacks true star power.
 
Grade:  B
 
 
Tight End
Needed:  1     Wanted: 2    Got……
 
Mike Heuerman   Barton Collier High School    Naples, Fla       6-foot-4, 220-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 8 Tight End
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 10 Tight End, No. 245 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 5 Tight End-Y, No. 265 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 7 Tight End, No. 215 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 9 Tight End, No. 256 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Ohio State, Miami, Florida State, LSU, Alabama
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGCwoB1nXLk

Durham Smythe   Belton High School      Belton, Texas      6-foot-5, 230-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 15 Tight End
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 6 Tight End, No. 170 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 6 Tight End-Y
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 6 Tight End, No. 188 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite:  No. 8 Tight End, No. 250 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Texas, Stanford, Michigan, Florida, Oregon
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=536SncLCnvc

At the start of the recruiting process, Notre Dame’s top targets at tight end were Mike Heuerman and Adam Brenneman out of Pennsylvania.  Neither seemed like an easy get as Brenneman grew up a Penn State fan and Heuerman’s brother plays for Ohio State.
 
But Heuerman visited Notre Dame for a Junior Day and committed to the Irish in late April. Brenneman did choose Penn State and stuck with the Nittany Lions through all of their problems.  As a result, it looked like the Irish would only take one tight end in this recruiting cycle.
 
Late in the game, Durham Smythe de-committed from Texas, where he had been pledged since March. His three top choices became Stanford, Michigan, and Notre Dame.  He went out to Palo Alto first and then to South Bend.  However, he never made it to Michigan, as he committed to the Irish during his visit.
 
Both tight end prospects are tall, rangy players that can make plays down the field.  They also will battle as blockers in the running game, though they will both have to add size and strength.  
 
With Tyler Eifert leaving for the NFL, Alex Welch returning from injury, and Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack as unproven commodities, one of the two could see the field this year. Smythe is just a little bit bigger and may be able to handle blocking responsibilities better than Heuerman, but the Florida prospect is already on campus and is undoubtedly readying himself for action this fall.
 
Notre Dame was looking for two tight ends in this class and they signed two versatile players with offers from the elite of the elite in college football.   Once again….
 
Grade:  A
 
 
Offensive Line
Needed:  4     Wanted: 5     Got……
 
Steve Elmer      Midland High School       Midland, Mich.     6-foot-6, 305-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 5 Offensive Tackle, No. 60 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 6 Offensive Tackle, No. 74 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 26 Offensive Tackle
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 12 Offensive Tackle, No. 136 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 10 Offensive Tackle, No. 112 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, Wisconsin, Mississippi State
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGO2uuEknzc

Colin McGovern   Lincoln-Way West High School   New Lenox, Ill.      6-foot-6, 291-pounds
Rivals:  Three-Star, No. 37 Offensive Tackle
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 9 Offensive Tackle, No. 133 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 10 Offensive Tackle, No. 124 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 25 Offensive Tackle
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 13 Offensive Tackle, No. 191 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Alabama, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan, Wisconsin
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URr3XkcQ5_0

Hunter Bivin     Apollo High School      Owensboro, Kent.      6-foot-6, 290-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 12 Offensive Tackle, No. 162 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 14 Offensive Tackle, No. 184 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 5 Offensive Tackle, No. 82 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 4 Offensive Tackle, No. 43 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 9 Offensive Tackle, No. 97 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  LSU, Florida, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owJXhLOeXbU

Mike McGlinchey    William Penn Charter School     Philadelphia, Pa.    6-foot-8, 285-pounds

Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 22 Offensive Tackle
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 8 Offensive Tackle, No. 90 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 19 Offensive Tackle
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 10 Offensive Tackle, No. 131 Overall Prospect
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 11 Offensive Tackle, No. 161 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Penn State, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Boston College
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzot__HdID8

John Montelus    Everett High School       Everett, Mass.      6-foot-5, 314-pounds
Rivals:  Four-Star, No. 4 Offensive Guard, No. 74 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-Star, No. 2 Offensive Guard, No. 51 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 27 Offensive Guard
24/7:  Four-Star, No. 12 Offensive Guard
24/7 Composite: Four-Star, No. 8 Offensive Guard, No. 141 Overall Prospect
Also Considered: Florida, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Boston College
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp74TLy46Pw

Offensive line was a big position of need.  The Irish signed just two players in 2012, three in 2011, and three in 2010.  Of those eight players, one has died (Matt James), one has had medical issues and may never play again (Tate Nichols), and four are projected as interior linemen (Matt Hegarty, Connor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, and Nick Martin).  That leaves just two offensive tackles recruited in the past three years (starting right tackle Christian Lombard and 2012 signee Ronnie Stanley), making tackles an especially high priority.
 
The Notre Dame staff nailed it in regards to offensive line, and particularly tackle, recruiting for 2013. Not only did they get five high quality players that were all recruited by big time programs, four of the five are tackles, and giants as well.  John Montleus, the only projected interior lineman that ND recruited, is the shortest member of the unit and he is 6-foot-5.  The four tackle prospects are all 6-foot-6 or taller and will be able to add the good weight necessary to compete as tackles at the highest levels.
 
The other nice thing about this unit is that they all committed very early and there was never any wavering.  There were rumblings at one time that Michigan had tried to contact Steve Elmer and the new staff at Kentucky made overtures towards Hunter Bivin, but neither of those situations were serious and they went nowhere.
 
Elmer is already on campus and because of that may have the best opportunity to play early.  He is a big kid that will have to learn the nastiness that comes with playing BCS level football.  Bivin played center in the Under Armour game, but it is believed that he will start at tackle.  A 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9, McGlinchey is all tackle.  McGovern could play a couple different spots but he has the size and skill to be outside, too.
 
Montelus is a strong, athletic kid that will need to re-shape his body like most freshmen do. He will not be asked to play next year, but there will be an opening in 2014 when Chris Watt leaves and by that time he may be ready.
 
Elmer is the highest ranked of the five, but his offer sheet isn’t quite as good, though that is because he committed to Notre Dame in September of his junior year in high school. All five of these guys are in the Top 200 of the 24/7 Composite Rankings, so they are highly regarded by the various recruiting outlets.
 
Notre Dame got quantity and quality at perhaps their biggest position of need.  Without a doubt, this is an…….
 
Grade:   A
 
 
Overall
 
Notre Dame needed a bunch of good offensive linemen this year.  Check.  They needed one stud running back.  Check twice. A top tight end was needed with Eifert graduating.  Check twice again.  Getting a quarterback that fit Kelly’s system would be nice.  Check.  They also needed some depth at wide receiver.  Check again.
 
Offensively there was very little Notre Dame missed on this recruiting season.  They did not land a Top 100 guy at wide receiver, but that was it. Even there, at a position where Notre Dame has some experienced players returning, the Irish signed four guys with intriguing skill sets.  Robinson has the size and the bloodlines.  Hunter has speed and lineage.  Fulller can really run and has good hands.  And Onwualu is a tough, smart competitor.
 
Running backs Bryant and Folston could both make impacts in 2013 and I would not be surprised if Bryant worked his way into the regular rotation by midseason.  Zaire needs time to develop at quarterback, but with Golson entrenched as the starter, time he has and his style fits well in the Notre Dame offense.  Both tight ends were coveted by many of the country’s best programs and the offensive line is loaded with highly ranked guys that also look like championship level linemen.
 
Some have called this the best offensive class Notre Dame has signed since the Holtz era.  Others will point to the 2008 class which had three five-stars on that offensive unit (Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, and Dayne Crist), but was not as strong as this year on the line and at running back.  
 
Either way, no one is disputing that Notre Dame did a sensational job recruiting the offensive side of the ball in 2013.  So obviously….
 
Grade:  A

 

January 21, 2013
Post Championship Game Notes
By Jon Kinne

Here are some things that I took away from the end of the Notre Dame season, all of which are strictly football related.
 
 
Brian Kelly and the NFL

There are many varying opinions on Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles, though due to his three day time- out, no one knows the real story.  One popular belief is that Kelly was the using the interview as leverage to get more money for himself and his staff along with other program upgrades.
 
I strongly disagree with that theory.  Jack Swarbrick said something to CBSSports.com that in my mind refutes the leverage ploy.  He claimed that the Eagles contacted Notre Dame about permission to interview Kelly around the first of the year and about a week before the National Championship game. At that point in time, Kelly had all the leverage he needed.  He didn’t have to interview; just the threat was all that would be necessary to nudge Notre Dame towards the deal he wanted.
 
Swarbrick also said that talks about a new contract had begun shortly after the regular season and that something will be in place in the near future.
 
So if Kelly was not using the interview as leverage, why did he talk to the Eagles?  The only plausible explanation is that he had interest in the job.  In the end he decided to stay at Notre Dame and that is certainly good for the program…..at least for now.
 
In discussing the NFL job openings, Colin Cowherd of ESPNRadio actually brought up an interesting point recently.  This year is not the year to take an NFL coaching position if you are a top candidate because most of the teams looking for head men are shaky at the quarterback position. Buffalo, Cleveland, and Philadelphia all have quarterbacks that could easily be replaced.
 
But next year could be different.  Carolina, Detroit, and Dallas may all have coaching vacancies and leading a team with Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, or Tony Romo under center may provide a better chance to win.  Cowherd was not talking specifically about Kelly in this case, but the shoe could fit.
 
If Kelly really has a desire to coach in the NFL, no re-done contract, no huge buyout will stop him from leaving Notre Dame.  But in 2013, Brian Kelly will be the coach at Notre Dame and that is a good thing.
 
 
Kelly’s coaching in the Championship Game
 
Before he interviewed with Philly, one of the hot topics on the Notre Dame message boards was Kelly’s play calling in the title contest.  Most of the questions centered on whether a couple of long pass plays down the sideline were wise and how the Irish seemed to challenge Alabama All-American corner Dee Milliner far too often.
 
In both cases, the questions were valid.  But realistically, what was Kelly going to do.  How Alabama hit Notre Dame to start the game was like a pitcher giving up six runs in the first inning of the seventh game of the World Series.  At that point, a manager has no good options. That was true for Kelly on January 7th.
 
No, a deep fade to 5-foot-11 T.J. Jones over Milliner on a fourth and five was probably not the best call. But it certainly wasn’t going to change the outcome of the game.
 
 
Everett Golson
 
Golson’s first half numbers were 8 of 16 for 93 yards.  Those are not great, but for a redshirt freshman in a Championship Game against the Alabama defense, it was not awful.  He was far from perfect, but Golson was not the primary reason the Irish were down 28-0 at the break.
 
Golson finished the evening 21 of 36 for 270 yards with a touchdown throwing, a touchdown rushing, and one interception.  That means that in the second half he was 13 of 20 for 177 yards, with both of the touchdowns and the interception.  
 
Critics will say that the game was in hand so his performance in the second half may not be a true indicator of his future development.  But anyone that watched the entire game (and I realize it was hard to do) had to notice that Alabama continued to attack on D, played all of their starters until late in the game, and were determined to preserve the shutout. Plus, this was Alabama’s defense and that unit going half speed is better than just about everyone else going all out.
 
My opinion is that the Notre Dame offense is in very good hands with Golson.  He made huge progress from the beginning of the season to the end and his growth will continue.  One area to watch for in the future is more read option.
 
Golson is not blazing fast, but he is quick enough to hurt defenses by running the football.  His knowledge of the read option game will take him to another level.  As a true freshman, he ran scout team plays so there was limited time to work developing this aspect of the game.  Also, the ND offense with Tommy Rees at quarterback is completely different from what Kelly would ultimately like to run with Golson.
 
So Golson had to pick things up in a short period of time and he was not ready for the total playbook. Kelly implemented some read option into the offense, but most of the running plays for Golson or the backs were called from the sideline, not something Golson was doing on the fly.
 
Also, it looks like Golson has found a target he can count on in the coming years.  Davaris Daniels returned from a collarbone injury to catch six passes for 115 yards.  Daniels was having a solid season before getting hurt, but he showed some explosiveness against Alabama.  With T.J. Jones returning for his senior year, the three promising freshmen that were on the team this year, and four (and perhaps more) committed wide receivers arriving in 2013, Golson should have some weapons to use.
 
 
Offensive Line
 
It was apparent in the Championship Game just how important a good offensive line really is.  The Alabama OLine was one of the best in recent years and their dominant performance was a big reason why the Tide wears the crown once again.
 
Notre Dame made improvements on the offensive line under new coach Harry Hiestand in 2012, especially as the season developed.  The Irish struggled to run the ball early in the year against Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan, but then had great success against their later opponents, including a 270 yard rushing game against BYU and their #2 ranked rushing defense.
 
But in the Championship Game, against the nation’s #1 rushing defense, the Irish managed just 32 net rushing yards.  They needed at least a little bit more than that to beat the Tide.
 
When comparing the Notre Dame offensive line to the Alabama group, you first have to look at size.
Here is Alabama...
 
DJ Fluker  6-6, 335
Anthony Steen  6-3, 303
Barrett Jones  6-5, 302
Chance Warmack 6-3, 320
Cyrus Kouandijo  6-6, 322
 
 
ND....
Christian Lombard  6-5, 301
Mike Golic  6-3, 295
Braxton Cave  6-3, 303
Chris Watt  6-3, 310
Zach Martin 6-4, 303
 
 
It doesn't look like much, but there is a size difference, with the big advantage to Bama at tackle.  In recruiting offensive linemen, height is a big factor to me, especially at tackle.  A good strength and conditioning program can put on size, but a 6-3 guy can only add so much good weight.
  
Many people think Lombard is a better fit at guard and the NFL projects Martin as a guard when he enters the draft next year.  Both of these guys did a good job for the Irish, certainly good enough to get them to the last game.  But to jump up to the true championship level, Notre Dame needs tackles that are true tackles.
  
Here is one good thing for ND going forward.  I expect Lombard to move inside next year and if he puts on 5-10 more pounds, that is fine.  Ideally at right guard you'd like your guy to be a little bigger, but it certainly didn't hurt Steen.  Ronnie Stanley will hopefully take over at RT.  He is athletic but also was 6-6, 303 when he entered ND as a freshman this past August.  Expect his weight to go up, assuming his recent elbow injury doesn’t limit his time in the weight room.
  
Also, ND has five top notch OLine recruits coming in.  The smallest is 6-5.  The other four range from 6-6 to 6-9 (I honestly don't know if 6-9 is too tall, but we'll see and 6-6 or 6-7 is fine).  All of these guys will be 320-330 in a hurry.  They will not play next year, but it is nice that in the future Notre Dame will big tackles.
  
Obviously, saying that ND will have a line equivalent to this year’s Alabama line based on size alone is foolish. But at least the Irish are bringing in players that will be able to physically handle each offensive line position. They will probably look to add some guards in the class of 2014 (with one already committed), but tackle seems to be a position of strength moving forward.
 
 
 
Defense
 
Along with Kelly staying at ND, Bob Diaco’s return as defensive coordinator is good news as well.   Diaco was rumored for several head coaching vacancies across the country, but he will be back to lead the Notre Dame defense in 2013.
  
It is hard to be unhappy with much of what the Irish did on this side of the ball in 2012. Going into the Alabama game, Notre Dame was near the top of every defensive category and was #1 in the nation in points allowed per game.
  
Obviously, perceptions changed a bit after the 42-14 loss to the Tide.  A couple of things stood out to me. First, the Notre Dame 3-4 alignment was a bad match for Alabama’s big front five.  The Tide handled Louis Nix, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Stephon Tuitt without much problem and were able to get to the next level with ease.  
 
When Notre Dame went to a 4-3 look, it was Prince Shembo with his hand in the ground. Due to his lack of size he was gobbled up by the much bigger, though still very athletic, Alabama linemen.
  
The good news is that Notre Dame will not be facing a line like this anytime in 2013. It is doubtful anyone will, since the Bama blocking unit was one of the all time great offensive lines.
 
I do believe that Alabama won the battle based more off of how good they are (and how poorly Notre Dame played) rather than some elaborate scheme that can be copied by other teams.  However, there are some concerns.
  
The pass rush was not as effective during the latter part of the year.  The Irish finished the season with 33 sacks but just three of them came in the final three games.  A.J. McCarron had all day to throw and even though Notre Dame got to USC’s Max Wittek twice, he had plenty of time to survey the field for much of the evening.
 
When the rush was not getting home, it put more pressure on the young secondary.  They did a very good job right up until January 7th, when the lack of a pash rush, combined with the inability to stop the run, became too much.
  
Going forward, Notre Dame loses just three starters off the defense: Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta, and, of course, Manti Te’o.  While each will be missed, the loss of Te’o is clearly the biggest. Sheldon Day should slide into Lewis-Moore’s spot and defensive backs like Elijah Shumate and Nicky Barratti saw valuable time this fall and should be able to fill in for Motta.  Both departing seniors brought a leadership component that will be hard to duplicate, but there are talented players waiting to get on the field at their positions.
  
Middle linebacker is a different situation.  The numbers there are not as great and the candidates that will be asked to step in do not have a lot of game experience.  Kendall Moore will be a senior but most of his action has come on special teams.  Jarrett Grace will get a look, but he has not played any meaningful snaps at middle linebacker.
  
It is possible that both Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox return for a fifth year, which will help, though they both shared the WILL spot and neither has experience at the MIKE. Calabrese could switch over to Te’o’s position so they both can be on the field at the same time, but that assumes that they both return, something that will have to play itself out first.
  
Thinking outside the box, perhaps Notre Dame could move Danny Spond inside from his DOG linebacker position.  Spond is 6-2, 248 according to the Notre Dame website, which is just slightly smaller than Te’o.  He would have to learn a different role, with being able to shed blocks a high priority, but he is very athletic and may be able to make the switch.  That would allow highly acclaimed freshman Jaylon Smith a chance to play right away at the DOG spot where everyone believes he will flourish.
  
On the positive, Diaco is back.  Nix is back. Tuitt is back.  Shembo is back.  Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell are back.  The defense should be the backbone of the team again next fall.
  
 
Some other notes
 
Tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Cierre Wood declared for the NFL draft. Eifert’s decision was a no-brainer, as we will be taken in the first or second round.  Wood’s announcement was hardly a surprise, but it was a little more up in the air because he is not projected to be taken until the middle rounds at best.
  
Former Irish All American guard Mirko Jurkovich died on January 9th at the age of 42 after a long battle with cancer.  He was drafted by the Bears in 1992 and played one season with Chicago. In recent years, Jurkovich had done analysis on UND.com, both in their pre- and post-game shows.  He is survived by his wife and three children.

 

December 14, 2012
Luck of the Irish, Luck of the Tide
By Jon Kinne

 
If you watch any college football show on ESPN or listen to Sirius XMRadio channel 91 from 3-6pm eastern time, you will hear all about how lucky Notre Dame is to be in the championship game.
 
I’m here to tell you that those expressing that opinion are exactly right.  The Irish were fortunate to get by many of their opponents, though many so-called experts are seemingly unaware that if Stepfan Taylor’s fourth down run back in October had been ruled a touchdown, Stanford would only have tied the game and sent it to another overtime period.
 
The Irish needed Tommy Rees heroics to beat Purdue, BYU had ND on the ropes for much of the afternoon, and Pittsburgh was a short field goal away from victory.  None of those things can be disputed.
 
But let’s not think that the Alabama Crimson Tide are in this game just because of their overwhelming talent.  Yes, they are a great team, but they needed some huge breaks of their own to reach the crystal ball showdown.
 
In Alabama’s win at LSU, the Tide was outplayed for much of the game by the Tigers.  Alabama was outgained by over 100 yards, they had fewer first downs, made Zach Mettenberger look like Tom Brady, and were just 1 for 9 on third down conversions.
 
But the Tide emerged victorious, in large part, because the other team’s coach was Les Miles.  There was an LSU fake field goal on 4th and 12, an onside kick in the third quarter with the Tigers up 14-10, and going for a 4th and one on the Alabama 23 yard line late in the game with running back Spencer Ware taking the snap under center.
 
All of these decisions, much like Miles himself, were bizarre.  And they all failed.  I cannot say with certainty that if LSU’s leader had made different choices the Tigers would have won, just like no one can say for sure that Stanford would have beaten Notre Dame in a second overtime.
 
Another questionable coaching decision also aided Alabama in the SEC Championship game.  In this game, Alabama dominated statistically, but the outcome was still in doubt in the final seconds.
 
Georgia started their last drive down by four points on their own 15 yard line with 1:15 left on the clock and no timeouts.  Three consecutive Aaron Murray completions put the ball at the Alabama 8 yard line with 15 seconds remaining.  Everyone expected Murray to spike the ball to stop the clock.  He didn’t.
 
Instead, Georgia head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called a pass play to the right corner of the end zone.  The ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and caught by Georgia’s Chris Conley at the five yard line, where he was tackled and time ran out.
 
What would have happened if Richt had chosen to spike the ball?  Or if the ball deflected to a harmless area? Or Conley had the wherewithal to drop the final pass?  Luckily for the Tide, those are questions nobody can answer.
 
Finally, and probably most importantly, Alabama’s true good fortune came in a game played about 2,500 miles from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  After the Crimson Tide’s loss to Texas A&M on November 10th, Alabama needed help to reach the championship game.  A week later the help came.
 
First, Baylor routed top ranked Kansas State.  With that game in hand, everyone’s attention turned to Eugene, Oregon where the #2 Oregon Ducks were in a dogfight with Stanford.  Down 14-7 with less than two minutes remaining, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan threw a pass to tight end Zach Ertz in the back of the end zone.  Ertz bobbled the ball before falling to the ground. The official ruled that he landed out of bounds.
 
A review overturned the call, saying that his right shoulder touched in bounds before his back hit out of bounds.  The ruling has caused much discussion, with Lou Holtz commenting after the game that he didn’t think the officials should have reversed the call.  Every Duck fan agrees with Dr. Lou’s assessment of the call, while Stanford and Alabama fans concurred with the officials’ decision.
 
From my own personal perspective, I was stunned at the time that the call was overturned.  After watching many, many times I still can’t tell if Ertz had total control until his back was on the white.  He may have secured the ball, but I’m not sure.  And as we know from every announcer’s explanation on every replay call, the officials have to have incontrovertible evidence to switch a decision, something I don’t believe they had.
 
But the game was not over; Oregon still had a chance.  That was until Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado banged a 41-yard field goal attempt off the left upright.  Stanford converted and Oregon was knocked out of the title chase.
 
And Alabama was back in. Just like Notre Dame, the Tide needed everything to go right for them and life worked out perfectly for both teams.
 
Alabama may in fact be better than Oregon.  We will never know that for sure, even if the Tide wins on January 7th.  But there is no doubt that late in the year lady luck was wearing crimson and not some ridiculous green Nike apparel.

 

November 28, 2012
Notre Dame Rewind
By Jon Kinne

My Irrational Thoughts During A Magical Year


Notre Dame beat USC 22-13 on Saturday night and sewed up one of the two spots in the national championship game. It was a remarkable season filled with tough games, close calls, and win after win after win after win.

But how did they get here? Actually, the important question in my self-absorbed world is how did I get here? This season, starting with the low expectations and every little, wonderful detail that followed, changed me as a Notre Dame supporter.

These are random thoughts that I had at every point of the season. I went back through my e-mails to friends to bring back to mind what I was thinking at each moment. I think it will be an interesting journey through a truly incredible season.


Pre-Season

I’m not optimistic at all. I really don’t see how this team will score enough points to win. The quarterback situation is not settled and there are no big time wide receivers. Tyler Eifert is great at tight end, but he has no help, especially with Riddick going to the backfield. The offensive line should be better, but we have said that for years.

The defensive front seven should be good, but teams that can throw will give the Irish big problems. While the line is good, who is going to rush the passer now that Aaron Lynch has left? Combined with an inexperienced secondary, which is now even younger with the loss of Lo Wood to injury, I see teams throwing at will.

Finally, I’m not really in the Brian Kelly camp. His “my guys” comment divided the team last year and his handling of the quarterback situation was awful. Can we trust him to handle Golson/Rees/Hendrix any better? I also have questions as to whether a spread team can be physical enough to be a championship level football team.

I also hate the opening game in Ireland. It is a long trip without a week off the following week. Purdue will be sitting at home waiting for ND to return. If the jetlag doesn’t get them right off, I fear it will catch up to them the following week at Michigan State. The whole idea seems like a nice vacation for Notre Dame execs but is a negative for the football team.

I think this is a 6-6 team with losses to Michigan State, Michigan, Stanford, Oklahoma, USC, and one mystery team that always seems to beat ND every year. My bet is on Purdue or BYU. I certainly hope I’m wrong.


After Navy

That was a nice, comfortable way to start the year. The running game looked great, but it was against Navy. Golson seemed composed, but it was against Navy. The concerns are still there and are perhaps even greater because Navy threw the ball pretty well on the Irish. If Navy is successful throwing the ball, who won’t be?

After Purdue

Purdue was one of the teams that really scared me. Notre Dame was coming back from Ireland and they play Michigan State the following week. Plus, Purdue is not that bad. Getting a win any way possible was the most important thing. They accomplished that goal.

But the big story was Kelly taking out Golson and inserting Rees on the last drive. He said Golson’s hand was banged up, but he also referred to Rees as his “closer” so it appeared that this may have been the plan all along. If Golson was hurt, fine, put Rees in. But why do anything to shake Golson’s confidence, especially in a game where he didn’t play poorly?

Overall, I was happy with the win. They won, but my questions about Kelly’s handling of the quarterback position were intensified and I still don’t think this is a very good team.


After Michigan State

This is a good team. At least defensively they are. Golson played okay and that defense was crazy good. LeVeon Bell of Michigan State was held down and Prince Shembo was in the Spartans backfield all night long.

The performance Manti Te’o had, coming off an extremely emotional week, was off the charts good. He’s the best defensive player in the country right now and his play inspired the Irish on Saturday night.

Many have talked about this being a signature win. Let’s see where Michigan State is at the end of the year. But there is no doubt it was very important and makes the Michigan game even bigger.


After Michigan

It was huge to get the Michigan monkey off their backs. Dernard Robinson had been a nightmare for the Irish and Notre Dame held him in check all night. They attacked in the first half, then sat back and made sure that Michigan did not kill them with big plays in the second half.

Overall, I was not as impressed by the performance as I was the Michigan State game. Golson took a huge step back and Rees had to come in and save the day again. This team can only go so far with Rees as the quarterback. Also, the running game was pretty bad for the third week in a row. At least in this game and the MSU game they were able to close the game out by running the ball. But overall, the offensive line has to do a better job run blocking.

While the performance was not perfect, the result was. They are winning games much like the 2002 team: with a strong defense and an offense that limits mistakes. The big difference is that though I still have doubts about Brian Kelly, I know he is a vastly superior coach to the one that guided the 2002 squad.


After Miami

That was a complete performance. All the experts talked about how ND would struggle with Miami’s two speedy wide outs. They did…..for about five minutes. Once the secondary adjusted to the Miami quickness, the defense dominated again. It was also nice to see ND’s ground game roll over a bad rushing defense.

This was the third week in a row where Notre Dame’s defense did not give up a touchdown and they have given up just three in five games. There are still questions about the offense, but their defense is as nasty as any in the country.

The Irish have won two games I thought they would lose (Michigan and Michigan State) and one other that I really feared (Purdue). If the BCS standings were out the projections are that they would be #6. They are much better than I thought they would be, especially defensively.

But I can’t think too far ahead. There are too many good teams left on the schedule. Some people on the message boards are talking about BCS spots and a championship game appearance. It is way too early for those thoughts.


After Stanford

Notre Dame is a BCS team if they can win the “winnable” games left on their schedule. They will lose to Oklahoma and probably to USC (though the Trojans don’t look all that special right now), but 10-2 will get them into a major bowl.

Stanford is a physical team that punched ND in the mouth but the Irish responded, especially on the goal line in overtime. Again, the offense is not great but the defense found a way to win.

And hooray for Tommy Rees. He has not complained about being replaced and when the Irish have needed him, he has come through. I take back everything I said about him in the past.


After BYU

Notre Dame needs Golson back next week against Oklahoma because Tommy Rees stinks. He locks on to Eifert and is affected by every little pass rush, partially because he can’t avoid anyone.

I was a wreck during this game. Because I fully expect Notre Dame to lose at Oklahoma and USC, they have to win the other games to get to a BCS game. Lose and it is the Belk Bowl. This team is not going to play in the national championship game, so it was good to get this win and march on towards a BCS bowl.


After Oklahoma

This team could reach the national championship game.

Manti Te’o is the best player in the country. I know he won’t win the Heisman, but he should. He tackles, he intercepts passes, and he controls the defense. There is nothing he can’t do. His diving interception late in the game was a Heisman moment.

This was a brilliant game plan by Kelly and his staff. They made Oklahoma one dimensional and even though the Sooners can really throw the ball, this defense is not going to be beaten by a team that cannot run and throw the ball effectively.

This is a physical group on both sides of the ball. It doesn’t surprise me defensively, but I never thought a spread team could be this physical. Really, they are not a spread team like Oregon or Oklahoma State. Whatever you call them offensively, they seem to enjoy pushing people around.

The Irish will need help from other teams down the stretch but with three easy games before USC, there will be an opportunity to move up in the polls.


After Pittsburgh

Well that wasn’t easy.

A couple of weeks ago, the boys in Bristol, Conn. went on and on about Notre Dame’s last stop against Stanford. Was Taylor in or was he stopped? Some took to blaming the refs for the Irish win. Well, they should have waited a couple weeks to jump on the officials. On Pitt’s missed field goal in overtime, Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown, both wearing #2, were on the field at the same time. No call was made. Pitt should have had a first down and another chance at victory.

But they didn’t and the Irish survived. This was a bad set up for Notre Dame. They were coming off a big win at Oklahoma and Pittsburgh came in with guns blazing, essentially playing their Super Bowl game. Also, Kelly coached his worst game of the year, getting too predictable two inches from the Pitt end zone early in the game and removing Golson for Rees, who threw a big interception early in the third quarter. Notre Dame got through it, but it was not a championship effort and the national media will be quick to point that out.


After Boston College

Today was not about the victory over BC. It was not their best game, but the Irish managed a routine 21-6 victory. They did what they needed to do and nothing more.

Today was about Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M taking down Alabama. That puts Notre Dame at #3 in the BCS rankings. I am terrible at predictions (how’s that ND at 6-6 pick looking right now?), but I honestly think that there is a better chance that two of Notre Dame, Kansas State, and Oregon lose than all three go unbeaten.

All three have tough games left. ND has the trip to L.A. Oregon has Stanford, Oregon State, and the Pac 12 Championship game, against probably USC. And Kansas State has a Texas team that has found some traction lately.

Getting Alabama out of the way was nice. Everyone figured the SEC champ would be playing for the title, but I guess that is not as likely right now.



After Wake Forest

This was my best college football day in many, many years.

The Notre Dame-Wake Forest game was a blow out, 38-0. But the Senior Day ceremonies were great and everyone got to say good-bye to their favorite players, including newly minted Notre Dame legend Manti Te’o. He has been so much more than an All American player. No one has unified a campus quite like Te’o.

But the afternoon was nothing compared to the evening. #1 Kansas State was mauled by unranked and sub-.500 Baylor. It was apparent early on that KState could not stop the Bears and every time the Wildcats failed to score, the lead swelled. That Baylor victory vaulted Notre Dame into the Top 2 in the BCS, the spot they needed to claim for entrance into the national championship game.

But eyes shifted west and in the final minutes of their game against Oregon, Stanford tied it up on a controversial touchdown call. In overtime, Oregon’s kicker bounced one off the upright and Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson booted it through and Notre Dame was #1.

My thoughts ran wild all night, full of questions. Do we want ND to be #1 right now? Will it create too much pressure? Would it be any different at #2? Would it have been better if Kansas State had won and ND played them in Miami instead of the SEC champ?

Earlier in the day, UCLA beat USC to claim the Pac 12 South. On top of the victory, UCLA’s Anthony Barr had knocked out star quarterback Matt Barkley. Reports surfaced that he had a separated shoulder and was doubtful for the ND game.

It was as if all the pieces were falling perfectly into place. Notre Dame was one win away from going to the championship game and they had to beat USC without their All American quarterback.


After USC


As a friend of mine texted me, “When it is all said and done, there is nothing left to say or do.”

Notre Dame will play the SEC winner on January 7th in Miami for the national title. Unbelievable.

Brian Kelly could not have coached any better than he did this season and the same is true for his entire staff. The players, these wonderful, incredible players, never gave up, never listened to what everyone in the national media was saying. No, that is not true; they were actually fueled by the negativity.

The best part of this is that over the next 40 or so days as we wait for the championship game, the players will continue to their quest to prove the doubters wrong. The “experts” will say that Alabama or Georgia will beat the Irish and that’s okay. Mark May of ESPN picked against the Irish for the first eight weeks and now he’s dancing around in a leprechaun suit. Rick Reilly is getting texts from Kapron Lewis-Moore asking him what he thinks of Notre Dame’s relevance now.

Notre Dame will be big underdogs to the SEC champ, especially if it is Alabama. It doesn’t matter. Notre Dame’s history says that these are the games they win. Furthermore, if you are like me and watched every Irish play over the past three months, all the doubts have disappeared.

All my fears are gone. All of my concerns at the beginning of the season have vanished. Brian Kelly can handle the quarterbacks. His system can be physical. The secondary can play. Tuitt and Shembo and Lewis-Moore can provide a pass rush. Golson is a true playmaker. The offensive line did develop. Whether it is Alabama or Georgia facing the Irish on January 7th does not matter to me; Notre Dame will win.

They’ve come a long way. And so have I.

 

November 17, 2012
Wake Forest Preview
By Jon Kinne

 

It will be Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday and the fans will honor Manti Te’o, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, and the other seniors that have helped produce this 10-0 season.  But once the introductions are done and the hugs with the parents have been completed, there will be a game to play against Wake Forest.

As head coach Brian Kelly stated this week, the BCS discussion will disappear and the game against USC next week will become much less important if the Irish stumble against the Demon Deacons.  Wake Forest is 5-5 and coming off a 37-6 loss at North Carolina State. 

Here’s a look at how things might shake out on Saturday.

When Notre Dame Has The Ball

Notre Dame rushed for 184 yards on Saturday night against Boston College, but in some ways the running game was a bit of a disappointment.  BC has one of the worst rush defenses in the country and the Irish had been running the ball so well, many felt that ND would go for well over 200 yards on the ground against the Eagles.

The nice thing about the Boston College game was the continued development of Everett Golson, who threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns.  Notre Dame is still a running team, but the passing game has definitely progressed in the past three games.

Wide receiver Davaris Daniels will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken collarbone. Senior John Goodman will be asked to step up and contribute in Daniels’s absence, which may change the dynamics of the offense somewhat going forward.

Without question, the leader of the Wake Forest defense is junior nose tackle Nikita Whitlock.  The undersized, 5-foot-11, 260-pound Whitlock does not lead the Deacons in any defensive category, but nose tackles rarely do. He is the player that must be contained for the Irish ground game to be effective.

Defensive end Zach Thompson has had a fine season for Wake, registering 48 tackles, 5.5 for lost yardage, and four sacks.  On the other side of the 3-4 alignment is Kris Redding with 3.5 sacks and 30 tackles.

Strong side linebacker Justin Jackson leads the team with 75 tackles and 8.5 tackles for lost yardage. He is also tied with Thompson for the team lead with four sacks.  Junior inside linebacker Mike Olsen is second on the team in stops with 68.  The linebacking group, which also includes Joey Ehrmann and Riley Haynes, is a productive, experienced unit.

In the secondary, junior free safety A.J. Marshall is third on the team with 61 tackles and he also has two interceptions.  Daniel Mack is the other safety and has 50 tackles on the year.  Kenny Okoro is an experienced corner and Kevin Johnson beat out incumbent starter Bud Noel at the other cornerback position.

The Demon Deacons are a middle of the road team against the run, but have struggled in pass defense. They are able to pressure the quarterback at times and the heat can come in different ways and from different people.

When Wake Forest Has The Ball

Wake Forest is led by junior quarterback Tanner Price.  The lefty had a very good 2011 completing 60% of his passes for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.  But the loss of star receiver Chris Givens and four offensive linemen have hampered his production this year.  Price is completing 55% of his passes and has 12 TD passes and six interceptions this fall.

Unquestionably, his favorite target is fellow junior Mike Campanaro.  In eight games, Campanaro has caught 65 passes for 618 yards and six scores. Terence Davis is the other receiver and he has 37 catches for 495 yards and two touchdowns.

Wake does utilize their backs in the passing game, especially fullback Tommy Bohanon, who has 20 receptions, five of which have resulted in touchdowns.  Tailback Josh Harris is not as big of a receiving threat, though he does have 18 catches for 83 yards.

Harris is the primary ball carrier and leads the team with 607 yards.  He shares the team lead in rushing touchdowns with back up Deandre Martin. Both have reached paydirt five times.

Wake Forest is 114th in the nation is rushing offense and much of that falls on the offensive line.  The only returning starter from last year’s squad is senior center Garrick Williams. Along with the paltry rushing numbers, they have also allowed 23 sacks this year which ranks 90th in the country.

The Demon Deacons rank 88th in passing offense and are 113th in total offense this season.  That offense will be hard pressed to move the ball effectively against the stingy Irish defensive unit.

Special Teams

We are ten games into the Notre Dame season and none of the special teams units have stood out. Punter Ben Turk has been okay and Kyle Brindza has been up and down, though he has certainly converted a few very clutch kicks.  Both return games have been anemic and the coverage units have been mediocre.  It is doubtful that anything changes at this point.

Kicker Jimmy Newman, who had had a solid career coming into 2012, has struggled mightily this fall. He is just 2 of 6 on the year and is 1 of 5 on kicks over 40 yards.  His disappointing performance has opened the door for Chad Hedlund, who is 3 for 3 but missed an extra point against NC State.

Alex Kinal is the punter and he has averaged just under 41 yards per boot.  Wake Forest is just average in punt coverage, but those numbers will spike way up after going against the ND punt return team. 

Newman has a strong leg and does a good job kicking off.  That is a good thing for Wake Forest because when he has allowed a return the Deacs have had a tough time.  They rank 113th, giving up 24.88 yards a return.

The Wake Forest kickoff return unit is 122nd in the country, though Lovell Jackson is a good punt returner.

Analysis

From a defensive perspective, this game appears similar to the one last week against Boston College. Neither Wake Forest nor Boston College is effective running the ball and Notre Dame has a very good run defense. It is hard to imagine a Wake team that managed 16 yards rushing against North Carolina State being able to establish much of a rushing attack against the Irish.

Both BC and Wake have quarterbacks that can throw the football, though both are also heavily reliant on one receiver.  Last week, it was Alex Amidon, this week it will be Michael Campanaro. 

The big difference is that while Wake Forest passes it better than they run it, they are nowhere close to Boston College when it comes to passing proficiency.  The Deacons rank 88th in passing offense this season while the Eagles sit at 32nd.

Tanner Price can get hot and Campanaro is a nice receiver, but there is no way that this offense should score much at all on the nation’s #1 scoring defense.

On the other side of the ball, Wake Forest is better at stopping the run than they are at defending the pass.  I don’t think this is going to matter.  Notre Dame has run the ball very well since the fourth quarter of the Michigan game and their attack this week will start with the rushing game. 

At 6-foot-4, 265-pounds, Kris Redding is the biggest member of the Wake Forest front seven.  Notre Dame’s tight ends are roughly that size and every offensive lineman is over 300 pounds.  The Irish will look to use this size advantage with a power running attack.

That doesn’t mean that they won’t take shots in the passing game.  Golson has emerged as a playmaker and the Irish receivers will have opportunities to exploit a questionable Wake Forest secondary, especially in play action.

Over the years the Irish have struggled in their Senior Day games, going all the way back to the infamous loss to Boston College in 1993 the week after beating #1 Florida State. They won last year by just two points over Boston College in a game where the spread was 24.  In 2008 the Irish lost to a woeful Syracuse team and in 2009 they dropped a double overtime contest to Connecticut. 

On the other hand, in 2010 they drilled #15 Utah 28-3.  Plus, after all this team has accomplished, and all that remains possible, coming out flat on Saturday is not likely.  I actually think Wake Forest gets one of Notre Dame’s best efforts of the year and this game is not close.

And then the Irish go out to L.A. at 11-0.

 

 

November 13, 2012
Boston College Recap
By Jon Kinne

 

Notre Dame 21   Boston College 6
 
 
On a day when #1 Alabama went down, Notre Dame’s most important chore was to beat Boston College. It may not have been their most impressive performance, but the Irish did what they set out to do by dispatching the Eagles 21-6.
 
In the first half Notre Dame only had the ball three times but they went on long drives each time. The Irish scored on their initial possession after traveling 95 yards on 13 plays.  Running back Theo Riddick ran for 25 yards on the drive and also caught a third down pass for 23 yards.  Quarterback Everett Golson ran in from two yards out for the opening score.
 
Boston College then did a little ball control of their own.  Taking 7:31 off the clock, Boston College drove to the Notre Dame eight yard line, but a third down Prince Shembo sack of BC quarterback Chase Rettig forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal.  
 
ND’s next series was stopped at the BC 31 when George Atkinson fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Eagles’ Steele Divitto.   Boston College was forced to punt and the kick pinned ND at their own 13 yard line.
 
The Irish, though, were unfazed.  A 16 yard Golson pass to Riddick got the Irish out of trouble and Notre Dame continued to chip their way down the field.  It took 16 plays and 8:31, but Golson eventually hooked up with tight end Troy Niklas for a seven yard TD pass.
 
ND essentially put the game away early in the third quarter.  On a play very similar to the first touchdown against Michigan State, Golson rolled right but threw back to the left, finding John Goodman all alone in the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
 
Boston College did tack on a field goal for the 21-6 final but the Irish defense would allow no more. Manti Te’o had a season low five tackles, but he did have another diving interception, his sixth pick of the year. BC only ran the ball 23 times, so Te’o’s tackle opportunities were limited.  
 
BC passed 42 times and that meant Irish defensive backs Bennett Jackson and Zeke Motta led the squad with eight and seven tackles respectively.  Prince Shembo was a terror all night with five tackles with four for lost yardage, three sacks, and a fumble recovery.
 
Offensively, Golson completed 16 of 24 for 200 yards and two scores.  Theo Riddick ran for 104 yards and caught four passes for another 56 yards. Tyler Eifert had six receptions for 67 yards.
 
The Irish return to campus for the final home game of the year against Wake Forest next Saturday at 3:30.

November 1, 2012
Pittsburgh Preview
By Jon Kinne

   
There are four games left in the regular season and four undefeated teams have a legitimate shot at the national title game.  One of those teams is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  
 
Last Saturday’s 30-13 victory over Oklahoma was validation to anyone with half a brain that Notre Dame is a very good team, one worthy of its spot in the Top 4.  Now the Irish find themselves in a position that they have not experienced much in the past several years:  one of the hunted and not the hunter.
 
The Pittsburgh Panthers come to town this week to tangle with the 8-0 Irish.  Pittsburgh began the year with an embarrassing loss to Youngstown State and followed that up by getting drilled at Cincinnati.  Since that time the Panthers are 4-2 and they come to South Bend fresh off a 47-17 drubbing of Temple.
 
Here are some things to expect this Saturday.
 
 
When Notre Dame Has The Ball
 
For the better part of two years, Notre Dame struggled to find an identity on offense.  They had some decent running backs in Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, and Robert Hughes, but they still failed to run the ball consistently. Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, and Tyler Eifert were (and in Eifert’s case still are) big time pass catchers, but consistent quarterback and line play held that part of the game back, as well.
 
Over the past few games, Notre Dame has found its calling.  The offensive line, which has developed under the guidance of new coach Harry Hiestand, three highly capable running backs, and the legs of quarterback Everett Golson have turned the Irish into a physical, smashmouth, running team.  
 
In each of the past four games Notre Dame has far exceeded the number of yards that the opponents’ defense usually allows.  The last four opponents on ND’s schedule (Miami, Stanford, BYU, and Oklahoma) combine to give up an average of 124 yards rushing in their games against teams other than Notre Dame.  The Irish averaged 253 yards in those four games.
 
Pittsburgh currently has the #43 rush defense in America, giving up 141 yards per game.  However, their two leading tacklers are safeties Jason Hendricks and veteran Jarred Holley, meaning that either runners are getting into the secondary or the Pitt safeties are focusing more on run support.
 
Middle linebacker Dan Mason, who has been very productive and very injury-prone in his career, will miss this game and the rest of the season with a lacerated liver.  Shane Gordon is now atop the depth chart at middle linebacker, but he has missed the past two games with a high ankle sprain.
 
These injuries muddy things up for the Pittsburgh defense.  They will look to get more from their defensive line, a unit that is led by junior Aaron Donald.  The defensive tackle leads the team with 3.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for lost yardage. Nose man Tyrone Ezell can also cause problems and is a solid run defender.  
 
Pitt rotates four guys at the defensive end positions and none have huge numbers.  The four have combined for just 2.5 sacks on the year.
 
Hendricks and Holley have played a lot of football and give Pitt some leadership from the safety spots. Along with leading the team in tackles, Hendricks also has four interceptions.  Cornerback K’Waun Williams is another returning starter and is able to provide guidance to the other corner, redshirt freshman Lafayette Pitts.
 
Pittsburgh ranks 29th in pass defense and total defense.  Their stats have been aided by playing two FCS teams and Temple, who ranks 121st in total offense.  But on a positive note, they did hold Syracuse, the #24 team in total offense, to just 305 yards in a 14-13 loss.
 
Pittsburgh better be able to hold Notre Dame down because…..
 
 
When Pittsburgh Has The Ball

No one was has been able to score many points on the Notre Dame defense.  Irish opponents have averaged just under 31 points per game in their other contests this season.  But ND is #2 in America, giving up just 9.9 points per game.
 
Manti Te’o continues to roll towards a New York invite for the Heisman presentation and the other members of the front seven repeatedly pressure the passer and shut down the run. The once considered vulnerable secondary has grown up and plays their assignments very well.  This past week the plan was to limit the big plays in the Oklahoma passing game and corner KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson did a great job of tackling the elusive Sooners receivers.
Coming into the year most considered the strength of the Pittsburgh offense to be the running of Ray Graham and freshman Russell Shell.  Graham, who has hurt the Irish in years past, has 622 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while Shell has 441 yards and four scores.  Despite the best efforts of Graham and Shell, Pittsburgh is 77th in rushing yardage this season.
 
One big problem for Pittsburgh this week is that right guard Ryan Schlieper was lost for the year after suffering a foot injury against Temple.  His replacement is Arthur Doakes, a sophomore that will be making his first collegiate start.  Doakes came in last week after Schliper went down, but I’m guessing that what he faced against Temple did not adequately prepare him for Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
 
The best player on the Pittsburgh offensive line is the other guard, fifth-year senior Chris Jacobson. Center Ryan Turnley and tackle Cory King are also experienced players that will have to use their smarts to overcome the physicality of the ND front.
 
Quarterback Tino Sunseri had a very good sophomore campaign, slumped as a junior in Todd Graham’s spread system, and has now been re-born in head coach Paul Chryst’s pro-set. Sunseri has completed 69% of his passes for 2,199 yards, 13 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
 
Sunseri has three experienced receivers in Devin Street, Mike Shanahan, and Cameron Saddler.  Ray Graham has also caught 22 passes, so he is a weapon out of the backfield.  Tight ends Hubie Graham and Drew Carswell have combined to catch just 11 passes this year, but Hubie Graham had 28 receptions last year.
 
Pittsburgh has the #31 passing offense and is #44 in total offense.  They are averaging 29 points a game.  
 
 
Special Teams

The Pittsburgh game will be no different for Notre Dame when it comes to special teams.  Field punts, don’t turn the ball over, cover well, and don’t commit any penalties.
 
The big story coming out of the Oklahoma game from a special teams perspective was Kyle Brindza. After two missed field goals against BYU and a pulled 35-yarder in the second quarter against Oklahoma, Brindza nailed two 40+ yard kicks to ice the win for the Irish.  Hopefully, Brindza has found his way home.
 
Cameron Saddler returns punts for the Panthers and has not broken one for more than 18 yards this year. Pitts has returned kicks at an impressive 27.8 yard clip with a long of 64.  Kicker Kevin Harper is 10 of 15 on the year with a long of 45 yards.  Punter Matt Yoklic holds a solid 42.1 average.
 
An interesting battle shapes up when Pittsburgh is forced to punt.  The anemic Notre Dame return game will square off against the 120th ranked coverage unit.  Miami is actually worse than Pittsburgh and Notre Dame could do nothing against them, so don’t hold out much hope.  The Panthers do a much better job covering kickoffs.
 
Once again, if there are no noticeable plusses or minuses in the kick game, it has to be considered a win for Notre Dame.
 
 
Analysis

On the surface, this would appear to be an easy win for Notre Dame.  Pittsburgh is 4-4 and just 1-3 in the Big East.  They opened the season by losing to an FCS program.  Two weeks ago they struggled to put away Buffalo.
 
But Notre Dame must be on alert.  The Oklahoma win was huge, but it won’t mean nearly as much if the Irish trip up against Pittsburgh.  In 1993 the Irish beat #1 Florida State and then fell at home to Boston College the very next week.  In 2002 ND again beat a highly ranked FSU squad before coming home and falling again to BC.
 
This Notre Dame is better than the 2002 team and this Pitt team is not as good as the 1993 Boston College group.  But the point remains:  the Irish have had a week of receiving accolades and they need to push that aside and win this game.
 
I think these players with this coaching staff have a handle on the situation.  I would not be surprised if the Irish do come out a bit flat at the start, but a Te’o led defense will not allow any major meltdowns.
 
Pitt has run the ball okay at times this year, but they have not faced anything even close to what Notre Dame has up front.  A new starter at guard against this defensive line is a big problem.  More than likely, Pittsburgh will have trouble running the ball. Sunseri has had a good year, but if they are constantly in third and long situations, the Irish will be in good shape.
 
I do think the Irish will take a similar approach as last week when it comes to defending the pass. Pitt’s receivers are pretty good and Sunseri will complete his share of passes.  But if the Panthers are forced to go the length of the field time and again, they will be forced into mistakes by the ND front seven at some point and drives will be stopped.
 
Offensively, Notre Dame will run the football.  There is no mystery there.  The state of flux in the Pitt linebacking corps provides a great opportunity for the Irish offensive line.  Not only is Pittsburgh playing less talented guys, but their depth has also taken a big hit. The Irish will look to do what they have done the past few weeks and that is to establish a run game and wear down the Pittsburgh defense.
 
The most important aspect of this game is turnovers.  That was the way that BC sprung the upset in 2002 and it would appear to be the only way for Pittsburgh to emerge victorious.  Pittsburgh is +4 in turnover margin and they have done a solid job hanging onto the football with just seven giveaways, though they have only forced 11 turnovers on the year.   Notre Dame is ninth nationally in turnover margin with a +10 and if this continues they Irish should be in good shape.
 
I believe that this will actually be a close game at the half.  But in the second half, Notre Dame’s will takes over and they secure the victory.  I doubt it’s pretty but I would be stunned if Notre Dame is not 9-0 by the time the other title contenders take the field on Saturday night.

 

October 31, 2012
Notre Dame 30 Oklahoma 13
By Jon Kinne


 
On Saturday night, as Hurricane Sandy was churning up the east coast preparing to make landfall, Hurricane Manti was ripping through Norman, Oklahoma.
 
Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o added to his Heisman resume with 11 tackles, two for lost yardage, a sack, and an incredible diving interception late in the fourth quarter to help seal a 30-13 Irish victory over Oklahoma.
 
While Te’o was again the leader of the defense, the entire unit did its job against the high flying Sooners.  Oklahoma came into the game averaging 44 points per game.  They were also averaging 491 yards per game.  Notre Dame held them to 379.  Most importantly, Oklahoma had been rushing for 200 yards per contest.  Saturday night they could only muster 15 yards on the ground.
 
Along with Te’o, Louis Nix was a key factor in the Irish win.  While he only accounted for four tackles, Oklahoma had difficulty containing the nose guard from Jacksonville, Fla. and Oklahoma had to pay him special attention.  
 
Oklahoma began the game throwing short passes in an up tempo offense.  Their first drive stalled when center Gabe Ikard snapped the ball before quarterback Landry Jones was ready, leading to a 19 yard loss.
 
But the Sooners continued the hurry up offense on the next series and drove deep into Irish territory. But on third and three at the 11-yard line, Nix deflected a pass and forced an Oklahoma field goal.  
 
It didn’t take long for the Irish to answer.  On the second play from scrimmage, Cierre Wood, following key blocks by guard Mike Golic and tight end Tyler Eifert went right up the middle for 62 yards and a score, giving ND a 7-3 lead.  
 
Notre Dame added a field goal in the second quarter before Oklahoma drove into the red zone late in the half.  On second and goal from the ND four yard line, Sooners quarterback Blake Bell ran in for what appeared to be a tying score.  But lost in the Oklahoma celebration was the penalty flag thrown by the referee. A holding penalty took the touchdown away and Oklahoma was forced to kick a field goal that cut the Irish lead to 10-6 at the break.
 
On the first possession of the third quarter, Notre Dame marched deep into Oklahoma territory. But kicker Kyle Brindza missed a short field goal.  After Oklahoma was forced to punt, Notre Dame began another long drive.
 
Starting on their own three, the Irish methodically moved the ball down field.  A 16 yard run by quarterback Everett Golson got ND out from the shadow of its own goal line.  But the key moment came when Golson was temporarily shaken up on a three yard run.
 
With Golson out of the game on the last play of the third quarter, Tommy Rees came in again and hit Eifert for 11 yards in a third and seven situation.  The Irish could move the ball no further, but Brindza got back on track by squeaking in a 44 yard field goal.
 
Oklahoma tied the game 13-13 with nine minutes remaining.  Starting at nearly midfield, Jones connected with receiver Jalen Saunders for a 35 yard completion.  Bell came back into the game and on fourth and two found Trey Millard for a first down. On the next play, Bell ran in for the tying score.  It was the first rushing touchdown allowed by Notre Dame this season.
 
What followed may define the 2012 Notre Dame football team.
 
After an eight yard hook up with T.J. Jones, Golson threw a perfect pass to freshman Chris Brown, who hauled it in for a 50 yard gain.  A Theo Riddick reception for a first down and a juggling catch by Eifert put the ball at the two yard line.  Golson took it in from there, giving Notre Dame a lead they would never relinquish.
 
Te’o’s circus interception following a perfectly timed Dan Fox hit led to another long Brindza field goal and a ten point lead.  Riddick would score the final touchdown with 1:36 remaining.
 
Notre Dame’s game plan on defense was to win the battle up front and limit the big plays.  As a result, Notre Dame’s cornerbacks were forced to make a lot of tackles on short passes.  They did the job as KeiVarae Russell had nine stops and Bennett Jackson had eight.  
 
Both Wood and Riddick rushed for 74 yards and a score while Golson was 13 of 25 for 177 yards.  T.J. Jones was his favorite target, catching five passes for 55 yards.
 
Notre Dame returns home this Saturday, hoping to avoid a letdown against the Pittsburgh Panthers.

October 17, 2012
BYU Preview
By Jon Kinne
  

Trap game.   

Football fans know exactly what that means.  Your team has just played a big game and has another coming up.  Right in between is an opponent that is not quite as good, but talented enough to cause problems. 

That is exactly what Notre Dame faces this week.  After the emotional win over Stanford, with Oklahoma looming next week, Brigham Young comes to South Bend on Saturday.  The Cougars are 4-3 and lost at home this past Saturday to undefeated Oregon State.  

Gameday won’t be in town. There won’t be the build up there was last week or the anticipation of next week.  But if Notre Dame is not ready, this game could be dicey. 

Here is what to look for this on Saturday.  

When Notre Dame Has The Ball 
Notre Dame’s offense is a mystery to everyone right now.  Everett Golson is the starting quarterback, but Tommy Rees has come in to save the day three times this season.  The Irish have run the ball effectively against Navy and Miami, but struggled against Michigan and Michigan State. 

Against Stanford, ND did rush for 150 yards, albeit on 44 carries.  However, when the Irish have needed to run to close out games, they have done so.   

The passing game has been up and down as well, with Golson having success at times, then looking lost at other points.  Rees has been more consistent though he has played far fewer minutes. 

The slugfest that the Irish had with Stanford last week should help them prepare for the Cougars. Brigham Young currently ranks #5 in total defense, giving up 261 yards per game.  They are particularly strong against the run, ranking third at 68 yards allowed per game.   

They are led on defense by senior Brandon Ogletree, one of the two inside linebackers in BYU’s 3-4 scheme. Ogletree led the team with 76 tackles last year and already has 57 in seven contests in 2012.   

But Ogletree is not alone. Weak side backer Kyle Van Noy has 26 tackles with 11.5 of them resulting in lost yardage.  He also leads the team with 7.5 sacks.  On the other side is Ezekial Ansah and his nine tackles for lost yardage and Spencer Hadley with 34 stops with 7.5 for lost yardage. 

The secondary features Spencer Hadley’s brother Preston, a cornerback who has 38 tackles and an interception.  Strong safety Daniel Sorensen is a physical presence that likes to sneak up in run support.  

Romney Fuga plays the role of Louis Nix on the BYU defensive line.  The 6-foot-2, 321-pounder can eat up space, but is also skilled enough to make plays both stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.  The defensive ends are players that know their roles, which is to occupy blockers and allow the linebackers to make plays. 

BYU’s talent is in that linebacking corps.  They are adept at making plays behind the line of scrimmage, either by tackling a ball carrier or sacking the quarterback.  

When BYU Has The Ball 
As good as the Brigham Young defense has been this year, there is a reason the team is 4-3.  The offense ranks 70th in total offense and 80th in scoring, but there is much more to it than that. 

The offensive stats have been padded in wins against poor defensive teams.  The Cougars could do nothing offensively in a 7-6 loss to Boise State and next to nothing in a 6-3 win over Utah State.   

They did show some life this past weekend in the loss to Oregon State, scoring 24 points against a very good defense.  In the end, their biggest problem on the year came to life again last Saturday.  BYU has turned the ball over 14 times in their seven games.  They had five against Oregon State, including three interceptions.  The Cougars rank 101st in the nation with a -0.71 per game turnover margin. 

BYU has had problems keeping their quarterbacks healthy this season.  Riley Nelson missed some time due to a back injury and his replacement, Taysom Hill, hurt his knee in the win over Utah State and may be lost for the season. So it was back to Nelson last week. 

The senior did throw for 305 yards and a touchdown, but he also had those three picks and was sacked four times.  BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has announced that Nelson will start at Notre Dame on Saturday. 

The Cougars run the ball a bit better than they throw it, but part of that could be due to Hill’s ability to run the ball from the quarterback position.  Nelson had nearly 400 yards rushing last year and made some plays with his feet last week, but his back troubles will undoubtedly limit his mobility.   

Freshman Jamall Williams has emerged as the leading ball carrier for Brigham Young.  He has 345 yards rushing and has scored five times. Michael Alisa came into the year as the starter, but he suffered an arm injury in the game against Hawaii and he has not returned since. 

Cody Hoffman is the clear #1 receiver.  The junior caught 61 passes for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011 and he has 41 catches for 534 yards this season.  Hoffman has only caught two touchdown passes this fall.  Ross Apo had a nice freshman season last year, but has slumped in 2012 with just 13 catches for 94 yards.  Sophomore J.D. Falslev and tight end Kaneakua Friel have emerged as two other reliable targets.  Last year’s starter at tight end, Austin Holt, is redshirting due to an injury. 

The offensive line returns three starters from last year, but the unit has not been as solid as most expected.  The running game has been stagnant and they have allowed 18 sacks on the year. 

Those are not good stats when going against this Notre Dame front seven.  Louis Nix has been consistent all year but he stepped it up another notch against Stanford.  Stephon Tuitt continues to harass enemy linemen and Kapron Lewis-Moore seems to be getting healthier each week.  The linebacker group, led by Manti Te’o, has been lights out and the young secondary continues to progress.  

Special Teams 
Kyle Brindza has developed into a pretty reliable kicker.  The Irish did have a major snap snafu at the end of the first half against Stanford.  The coverage units are okay though the best kickoff strategy is to have Brindza boot it out of the end zone. 

The kick return game is relatively meaningless with the new rules in place and the punt return game continues to go nowhere.  Davonte Neal finally got an opportunity and a block in the back by Elijah Shumate set Notre Dame on the wrong path in the second quarter on Saturday. 

BYU has had some problems in the kicking game this year.  Their two placekickers are a combined 5 of 9 with a long of 35 yards. The misses have not been from long range, either.  Punting is not a problem.  Riley Stephenson is averaging 46.5 yards per kick and has downed 16 punts inside the 20. Falslez has done a solid job returning punts and the kick return game has been pretty good. 

It is evident that ND will not make any big plays with returns because the punt return game is awful and opposing teams won’t give George Atkinson opportunities on kickoffs. As long as ND continues to limit other teams’ big plays, Ben Turk is at least competent punting the ball, and Brindza keeps booting it well, everything is okay.  

Analysis 
The first thing coach Brian Kelly has to concern his team this week is motivation.  After the big over Stanford, the monster game with Oklahoma is only a monster game if Notre Dame gets by BYU.   

The second concern is the BYU defense.  They are rugged against the run and solid against the pass with playmakers in the linebacking unit.  As a result, they rank highly in all of the defensive categories. 

There are, however, some things that can be exploited.  Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz, in his first start of the year, threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns.  The running game was then opened up and the Beavers churned out 118 yards on the ground, which is not a big number, but is enough. 

Notre Dame needs to try and achieve as much balance as they can.  Golson (or Rees if Golson cannot go) does not have to be a hero; he just needs to move the chains.  Tyler Eifert got involved a little more last week and I would expect that to continue. 

I think this is a throw first, run later type of game for the ND offense.  But Golson needs to get rid of the ball quickly.  The Notre Dame line had trouble with the Stanford front and BYU can cause problems as well.  Whoever the quarterback is for ND, priority #1 is to protect the football because….. 

It is hard to see how BYU can move the football on Notre Dame.  If they have to drive the length of the field every time, it is going to be difficult for this BYU offense.  Golson has had difficulties protecting the ball and fumbles and interceptions are ways for BYU to have short fields and easy points. 

This is going to be a low scoring game.  An early Notre Dame lead, and especially a two score lead, would spell doom for BYU. The Cougars strategy has to be to stay in this thing as long as possible.  The longer it goes without ND pulling away the better for BYU. 

I actually think they will hang around and it will be a battle for the Irish.  But barring some big mistakes by ND it is hard to see BYU scoring enough to win this game.

October 15, 2012
Notre Dame 20 Stanford 13 (OT)
By Jon Kinne

 

     Was the elbow down? Did the official blow the whistle? Did Stepfan Taylor get into the end zone or not?

     Those questions are really meaningless at this point.  He was ruled down and the replay official upheld the call and Notre Dame walked (or ran or jumped or danced) away with gripping and important 20-13 victory.

     The fourth down carry culminated a sequence in which Stanford ran the ball straight up the middle four consecutive times, starting on the four-yard line, and failed to get in to tie the game in overtime.

     How the game got to that point was pretty remarkable in its own right.  The defenses dominated all day and that side of the ball set up the first scores for both teams.  Late in the first quarter, Notre Dame safety Matthias Farley intercepted a Josh Nunes pass and returned it to the Stanford 12-yard line.  But the Irish offense could do nothing and they had to settle for a field goal.

     Notre Dame then shot themselves in the foot.  On a Stanford punt, Elijah Shumate was called for a block in the back, pinning the Irish at their own 10-yard line.  On the third play of the drive, quarterback Everett Golson was sacked and fumbled. The ball was recovered by in the end zone Stanford’s constant disruptor Chase Thomas.

     Following the touchdown, Notre Dame drove 61 yards deep into Stanford territory, but a bad snap on a field goal attempt cost the Irish three points.  Stanford drove down and ended the half by kicking a 48-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead.

     Notre Dame dominated the third quarter, but failed to convert on their first long drive due to another Golson fumble.  After forcing their third consecutive three and out, Notre Dame’s defense got the ball back and the offense finally got in gear.

     Starting at their own 48-yard line, the Irish began their march towards the tying touchdown.  Golson hit Theo Riddick for 23 yards on a big third down and eight play, and then on third and 18 the sophomore signal caller connected with tight end Tyler Eifert for a 23-yard score.

     After doing nothing offensively in the third quarter, Stanford responded by driving for a field goal and a 13-10 lead.  It took 16 plays to go 68 yards, but they were efficient and took over eight minutes off of the game clock.

     That gave Notre Dame the ball with just over six minutes left in the game.  Cierre Wood opened the drive with a 17-yard run and Golson converted a third and four with a 14 yard pass to T.J. Jones.  On a first down scramble, Golson was hit in the head and knocked from the game, bringing on Tommy Rees.

     Rees continued the late game relief magic that started in the Purdue game.  An 11 yard pass to Eifert and pass interference call put the Irish deep in Stanford territory, but Notre Dame could not get a go-ahead touchdown and settled for a tying field goal.

     The Irish got the ball to start overtime and put the pressure on Stanford right away.  On the first play of the extra session, Rees was sacked for a big loss.  But on the next play Davaris Daniels tip-toed his way to a nine yard reception and Riddick then made a sprawling catch for a first down at the Stanford seven yard line.

     On the first down play, Rees threw a pass behind T.J. Jones, who reached back and made a remarkable catch for a touchdown and a 20-13 Irish advantage.

     Two big runs by Nunes and Taylor gave Stanford first and goal at the two and set the stage for the Irish defensive heroics.

     The offensive numbers for both sides were pretty weak.  Taylor did have 102 yards, but he did it on 28 carries.  Nunes was 12 for 25 for just 125 yards and two interceptions.  Rees was 4 for 4 in his reserve role and had the touchdown to Jones in overtime.

     Defensively, Manti Te’o again paced the way with 11 total tackles.  Farley had eight stops and the interception.

     Notre Dame returns to action next Saturday when they host Brigham Young.

 

October 4, 2012
Miami Preview
By Jon Kinne

 
It is not 1988 or 1989. Raghib Ismail and Michael Irvin won’t be suiting up for the game on Saturday night and there is no deep hatred between the teams and their coaches, even if Jimmy Johnson can’t let go.
 
But it is a 4-1 Miami squad that will be squaring off with the 4-0 and 9th ranked Irish on Saturday night at Soldier Field in Chicago.  That, combined with the history of these two programs, makes this one of the biggest games of the weekend.
 
It is an interesting matchup and one that is hard to break down because Notre Dame has components defensively that Miami has not seen this year while Miami features a passing game that is much better than anything the Irish have faced in 2012.  But here is my best guess on what to watch for in the Notre Dame-Miami contest.
 
 
When Notre Dame Has The Ball
 
Notre Dame has struggled to move the football on their last three opponents.  The Irish have averaged just 18 points in the last three games, but have relied on their defense to secure victories each week.  
 
The only game where Notre Dame has had offensive success came against Navy in week one.  While Navy’s defense is not on the same level as the three Big Ten defenses the Irish have battled, they are vastly superior to Miami in just about every defensive statistic.
 
Miami returned six starters from a 2011 defense that ranked 17th in the country in scoring defense, but they are a long way from that this year.  The Hurricanes are #100 in scoring defense in 2012 giving up an average of 33.4 points per game.  That includes the game against FCS Bethune-Cookman, who only scored 10 points against Miami.
 
The Hurricanes defensive problems start with one of the most basic principles of the game:  they have trouble stopping the run.  Miami is 115th in run defense giving up 225.6 yards per game. Even Bethune-Cookman ran for 233 yards on the Canes.
 
That is not to say that their pass defense has been all that stellar either.  They rank 94th in that department and if you factor in the 122 yard effort by B-C and the fact that they played two teams in Georgia Tech and Kansas State that are run heavy offenses, the stats would be even worse.
 
The combination of a week run defense and a subpar pass defense adds up to a No. 116 total defense ranking.
 
Miami does have some fine players on the defensive side of the ball, though.  Defensive end Anthony Chickillo, a target of ND during the recruiting wars of two years ago, is probably their most dangerous.  He led the Hurricanes in sacks with five as a freshman in 2011 and he has two this year to go along with four tackles for lost yardage.
 
Their leading tackler is the other defensive end, Shayon Green, who has 21.  He is actually tied for the team lead with redshirt freshman linebacker Eddie Johnson.  Linebacker Denzel Perryman missed the past two weeks with an injured ankle, but he will return on Saturday night.
 
Senior safety Vaughn Telemaque and senior corner Brandon McGee lead a secondary that was lit up by North Carolina State’s Sean Glennon last week.  McGee has one of the four Miami interceptions on the year.
 
Notre Dame has had difficulty establishing an identity on offense this year.  They ran the ball well against Navy, but have struggled since. Everett Golson made some big plays in the Michigan State game, but the sophomore quarterback was pulled early in the Michigan game due to his ineffectiveness.  On the whole, the Irish offense has been very disappointing so far in 2012.
 
But if there was ever going to be a time for that to change, one would think it would this week. Miami is not strong defensively and the Irish should be able to finally develop some momentum on offense.
 
When Miami Has The Ball
 
The Irish offense better be able to score some points because Miami’s certainly can.  
 
It all starts with quarterback Stephen Morris.  Irish fans remember Morris as the quarterback that replaced a wretched Jacory Harris in the 2010 Sun Bowl and gave some life to the Hurricanes in the 33-17 Irish victory. Harris beat out Morris for the starting job last year, but the junior has blossomed in 2012.
 
Morris has completed 59.9% of his passes for 1,635 yards and nine touchdowns while throwing four picks. He passed for 440 yards and four scores against NC State this past Saturday and hit Phillip Dorsett on a 61-yard pass with 19 seconds left for the victory.
 
Dorsett and Rashawn Scott are the two top receivers and they had 191 yards and 180 yards receiving respectively last week and combined for four touchdowns.  On the year, Dorsett has caught 28 balls for 464 yards and three touchdowns while Scott has 17 receptions for 326 yards and those two scores.
 
While Miami ranks 15th in passing yardage, their rushing offense is just 84th. But they have a dangerous weapon in the backfield in freshman Duke Johnson.  Johnson has split time with senior Mike James, but Johnson is the game changer.  He has rushed for 359 yards and five TDs while catching 15 passes for 147 yards and another score.
 
The offensive line has done a pretty good job giving Morris time to throw, but they do have some injury problems.  Starting right tackle Ben Jones is out meaning either freshman Ereck Flowers or junior enigma Seantrel Henderson will start in his place.
 
While Miami’s line, and their entire offense for that matter, has had success, they have not faced a defensive front seven like Notre Dame’s.  The three man defensive line is going six deep with fresh bodies rotating in and out with little drop off.  Stephon Tuitt is 7th in the country with six sacks and he also has six tackles for lost yardage.  Louis Nix, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Sheldon Day, and the rest of the Irish defensive linemen are all playing at a very high level.
 
The Irish defense is led, though, by Manti Te’o.  Coming off two very emotional weeks, Te’o will look to put forth another great effort in his All American charge.  Te’o is averaging 9.5 tackles per game, he has three interceptions, and has provided everything this Irish team has needed on and off the field in 2012.
 
Outside linebacker Prince Shembo has become a force in this his junior season.  Shembo has two sacks, three tackles for lost yardage, and is tied with Tuitt for the team lead with four quarterback hits.
 
Miami will look to exploit the inexperienced secondary with their passing game.  The Irish have not faced a passing game as skilled as Miami, but they have played well against the competition they have seen.
 
Like Te’o, cornerback Bennett Jackson has three interceptions, which places him tied for 6th nationally.  Freshman KeiVarae Russell has had some rough moments, but overall has been pretty solid on the side opposite Jackson.  Irish fans were worried when safety Jamoris Slaughter injured his Achilles tendon, but Zeke Motta has elevated his game immensely and youngsters like Matthias Farley and Nick Baratti have filled in admirably for Slaughter so far.
 
Notre Dame is 19th against the pass, 15th in scoring defense, and 3rd in scoring defense so far this season.  So while Miami will test ND, the Irish will test right back.
 
 
Special Teams

With kicker Nick Tausch injured, Kyle Brindza has stepped in and made his mark.  Brindza missed his first attempt, a 40-yarder against Purdue, and has been perfect since, including the game-winner against the Boilermakers and two clutch late kicks against Michigan.
 
Ben Turk has been okay, though he had two poor punts late in the Michigan game.  The punt return game has been stuck in neutral for about a year and a half and shows little signs of life, though Davonte Neal does look shifty when he gets a chance.  The new rule putting the ball up to the 35-yard line on kickoffs has really hindered George Atkinson, who has just three returns for 69 yards.
 
On the other hand, Duke Johnson has had 14 kickoff returns and he has made the most of them, averaging 29.6 yards a return and taking one back for a touchdown.  Look for Brindza to boot the ball out of the end zone in order to limit Johnson’s chances the way opponents have done to Atkinson.  Dorsett handles the punt returns and he has been solid, but has not broken one for a big gain yet.  Dalton Botts has averaged 41 yards per punt.
 
The kicking game has recently been a big problem for Miami.  Jake Wieclaw made his first seven field goal attempts but has missed his last four, including a 22-yarder against Georgia Tech and a 19-yarder against North Carolina State.  Kicking in Chicago on a cool night will probably make things even more difficult. Wieclaw had a solid 2011, converting 11 of 14 field goals, so this is probably a temporary lapse.
 
 
Analysis
This is kind of a classic showdown, featuring a Miami team with an explosive offense and little defense against a Notre Dame group with a suffocating defense and a struggling offense.
 
I do worry about Miami and their vertical passing game exploiting the young Notre Dame secondary. It will be a challenge for the Irish defensive backs and a lot will fall on senior Zeke Motta to put people in the proper place.  But the best way to limit the deep passing game is……
 
To get after the quarterback.  Notre Dame is 9th in the country in sacks per game and that is with playing against three teams that really wanted to run the ball first.  It doesn’t matter how fast the Miami receivers are, if Morris does not have time to throw, they cannot go deep.  Michigan State was relegated to short passes because of the ND front and the same has to happen this week.
 
That to me is the key matchup of the game:  Miami’s offensive line against the Notre Dame pass rush.  Miami has allowed just seven sacks in their five games, but five of those were allowed to Kansas State, by far the best defense Miami has faced.
 
Notre Dame has to run the ball much better than it has in the past three weeks, and I think they will. Cierre Wood will probably see more touches and Theo Riddick will be spread all over the field.  
 
It will be interesting to see if, with a week off, head coach Brian Kelly puts in more run options for quarterback Everett Golson.  It is clear that Golson is not the runner many thought and it is also evident that he does not have a firm grasp of the read option.  But there should be ways the Irish can get Golson moving so that he becomes at least some kind of threat to the defense by running the ball.
 
I think the pace of the game will go a long way in determining the winner.  A high scoring shootout favors Miami while a defensive slugfest obviously favors the Irish.  Perhaps a cold, wet Chicago night will help the boys from South Bend.
September 24, 2012
Notre Dame 13  Michigan 6
By Jon Kinne
                                
 
Last year against Michigan, Notre Dame outgained the Wolverines by 61 yards, but turned the ball over five times leading to a 35-31 defeat.  This year, the roles were reversed.
 
Michigan won the total yardage battle by 60 yards but gave the ball to the Irish six times as Notre Dame defeated the Wolverines 13-6.  Michigan superstar quarterback Dernard Robinson was the biggest contributor to the turnover-fest, throwing four interceptions (all in the first half) and losing a fumble early in the third quarter.
 
Michigan’s early momentum was also undone by some questionable play calling.  After succeeding on a couple of trick plays, the Michigan staff called a halfback pass from the Notre Dame 10-yard line that was intercepted in the end zone by freshman Nick Baratti.  
 
But most of the Michigan miscues were forced by aggressive Irish defenders.  Even the aforementioned Baratti interception was set up by Manti Te’o laying a big hit on Smith.  Te’o and defensive end Stephon Tuitt also pressured Robinson into poor throws on two of his interceptions.
 
While Michigan was giving Notre Dame chance after chance, the Irish were also shooting themselves in the foot.  Quarterback Everett Golson threw an early interception deep in Irish territory, but the defense held and forced a field goal attempt that was missed.  Robinson’s first interception put ND at the Michigan 17-yard line, but Irish were unable to move closer and settled for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
 
Robinson’s second interception gave the Irish another opportunity, but on second and goal, Golson threw a bad pick on a pass that should have been thrown away.  After Robinson’s third pick, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly inserted Tommy Rees at quarterback and the Irish started to move the ball.
 
A 16-yard completion to DaVaris Daniels and a 24-yard connection with T.J. Jones put the ball first and goal at the Michigan six.  Following a second and goal from the one, the Irish committed two consecutive penalties and it appeared that they would have to settle for a second field goal. But another Michigan mistake, this time a pass interference call against Jarrod Wilson, gave the Irish new life and Rees ran it in from two yards for his first career rushing touchdown.
 
Notre Dame managed just one first down and held the ball for all of 3:23 in the third quarter, but more Michigan mistakes aided the ND cause.  After driving 71 yards on 10 plays and eating up 5:47 of the game clock using mainly the read option, Robinson fumbled and the ball was recovered by ND’s Bennett Jackson at the Irish 11.  
 
In their next possession Michigan used up 7:10 of the clock and kicked a field goal to make it a one score game at 10-3.  At this point, the Irish offense showed some life.  Notre Dame got little bits here and little bits there and drove deep into Michigan territory.  On a third and three at the Michigan 33, Rees went to a hard count and caused Michigan defensive tackle Quinton Washington to jump offside.  The Irish only got six more yards, but an extra set of downs allowed more time to expire before Kyle Brindza booted a 39-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead.
 
Knowing that the clock was their enemy, Michigan picked up the pace and Robinson hit four different receivers to give Michigan a first and goal at the Notre Dame seven with four minutes remaining.  But a Sheldon Day sack of Robinson put Michigan back to the 14-yard line and a poor throw on third down meant another Michigan field goal.
 
Notre Dame needed at least one first down and on third and three Rees hit tight end Tyler Eifert for 39 yards.  A second Irish first down three plays later sealed the 13-6 victory.
 
The Irish now stand at 4-0 and have a week off before playing Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago.
September 18, 2012
Notre Dame at MSU Recap
By Sonny Martinez
Domination.
    That’s the word best used to describe Notre Dame’s 20-3 “upset” win over Michigan State.

    While #20 beating #10 on the road is technically an upset, the destruction of the Michigan State Spartans makes this seem more like ND was the team ranked higher in the AP Poll. While some may see ND winning as shocking enough, the fact that the Irish defense didn’t allow a touchdown makes this win look even bigger, showing the Irish can play a big time game on the road.

    Once again, just like last season, ND shut down the Spartans rushing attack, limiting Le’Veon Bell and the rest of the team to just 50 rushing yards all game.  Another major positive is the Irish getting constant pressure on QB Andrew Maxwell all game long, forcing poor throws and poor decision making that caused incomplete passes even when there were receivers open.

    Everett Golson threw for a touchdown, a nice 36 yard pass to John Goodman, along with a 6 yard run in the first quarter.  After those two ND touchdowns, it was all defense and kicking, as MSU Kicker Dan Conroy hit a 50 yarder, and ND Kicker Kyle Brindza hit a 29 FG, along with a nice 47 yard FG that ended the faint hope of a Spartans comeback.

    TJ Jones and Robby Toma had effective games, especially in the blocking area.  ND only ran for 122 yards combined in the game however, but the MSU defense is pretty solid, as usual.

    One area that majorly concerned me was the Irish’s poor performance on third down.  ND was only 1 of 14 on third downs, translating into ten Irish punts. With a team as good as Michigan next week, this will have improved greatly.  But for now, everything Notre Dame did this weekend vs MSU was good because of the result.

    The “game ball” would have gone to the entire Irish front seven for the domination of the Michigan State offensive linemen, and helping assist in holding MSU to just a field goal. However, due to not only the game he played, but the circumstances in which he played it.

    I’m talking about Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o, who had one of the worst weeks imaginable.

    Over the course of less than 24 hours, Te’o’s grandmother passed away.  Te’o is known for having an extremely close relationship with his family. To make things worse, less than 24 hours later, Te’o’s girlfriend lost her battle with leukemia.  Te’o lost two of the most important people in his life, and yet he still played because the ND football team is his “extended family.” Te’o made the most of his game, as he had 12 tackles, two pass breakups, and a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter of a still close (14-3) game.  One of the best and most important games of his entire career.

    Next week, its back home for a date under the lights vs the Michigan Wolverines.

    3-0 Notre Dame vs 2-1 Michigan.

    This could be good.

September 14, 2012
Michigan St Preview
By Jon Kinne


Navy may have been the appetizer and Purdue the salad, but the main course starts on Saturday night. Notre Dame’s visit to Michigan State begins a brutal six game stretch that will see the Irish playing five teams ranked in the AP Top 25 along with a contest against Miami in Chicago.
 
Step one is playing the Spartans in East Lansing.  MSU comes into the game at 2-0, just like the Irish, thanks to a 17-13 defeat of Boise State and a 41-7 drubbing of Central Michigan.
 
Here are some things to watch for on Saturday night.
 
When Notre Dame Has The Ball

Brian Kelly had the Irish passing play after play to start the Purdue game.  In my opinion, this is not the strategy we should see against Michigan State.  
 
Everett Golson was sacked five times by Purdue last Saturday and there were several other times where he was flushed out of the pocket and had to run.  Purdue does have a good defensive front, but their strength is in the tackles.  Michigan State poses a different set of problems.
 
The Spartans feature two very good defensive ends in William Gholston and Marcus Rush.  Gholston is the more publicized due in large part to his performance against Georgia in last season’s Outback Bowl, but Rush is a formidable foe as well.  
 
MSU also features linebacker Denicos Allen, who had 11 sacks in 2011.  The Spartans only have one sack so far this season, but the aforementioned players have a track record of pressuring the quarterback.
 
To make things more difficult, Michigan State has an outstanding pair of corners.  Johnny Adams has gotten off to a great start this season.  He has one interception and two pass break ups, but Boise State didn’t throw anywhere near him in the second half of game one and Adams played little in the second half of the blow out against CMU.
 
The opposite corner is no picnic to throw against either.  Darqueze Dennard was a pre-season 3rd team All-Big Ten selection by Phil Steele and his play so far this season warrants at least that type of honor.  Dennard has 10 tackles and three pass break ups.
 
It is early, but Michigan State is currently 28th in pass defense, despite the fact that Central Michigan threw a lot against Spartan reserves in the second half last week. So lining up and throwing the ball all over the field will probably not work.
 
It’s not like the Spartans are bad against the run either, as the game against Boise State showed. New tackles Tyler Hoover and Anthony Rashad-White clogged up the middle and All-Big Ten linebacker candidate Max Bullough teamed with safety Jarius Jones to stop the Broncos running game all night long.  Boise State finished the game with just 37 rushing yards.
 
Central Michigan had a bit more success spreading out the Spartans and running wide.  Still, the Chippewas managed just 72 net rushing yards on the day.  After two games, Michigan State is #11 in rushing defense giving up just 54.5 yards per game.  Combine that with their stellar pass defense and the Spartans are #8 in total defense.
 
That does not bode well for the Notre Dame offense.  Notre Dame struggled running the ball last week and though they threw the ball effectively enough to win, Purdue was in Golson’s face all day.  From a pure pass rush standpoint, Michigan State has more threats than the Boilers.
 
The Notre Dame line must make a huge step forward this week or it could be a long night for the offense. But there a couple of positives Notre Dame can hang their hat on.  First is the return of Cierre Wood after his two game suspension.  The running back is needed as much for his blocking in the passing game, which may have been why George Atkinson saw much less time in week 2, as he is for his running.
 
Also, Notre Dame ran for 114 yards against this defense last year and much of the same personnel returns on both sides.  Wood rushed for 61 yards and two scores in that contest.  New “closer” Tommy Rees threw for 161 yards, but that was with star receiver Michael Floyd, whose presence created all sorts of offensive opportunities.
 
When Michigan State Throws The Ball
Much like ND, Michigan State has an experienced offensive line and a new quarterback.  But one thing the Spartans have is LeVeon Bell.
 
In the first two games, Bell has rushed for 280 yards and four touchdowns.  He has also caught seven passes for 55 yards and has done a very good job in blitz pick up.  Bell is a big guy at 6-foot-2, 238-pounds, but he is a patient runner, waiting for a hole to open rather than trying to run through the pile.  He is backed up by the more than capable Larry Caper, who has 77 yards rushing.
 
The offensive line returns four starters and they are effective not only in blocking for Bell, but also in protecting the passer.  They have not allowed a sack yet this year and only allowed 16 all of last season.
 
The Michigan State questions come in the passing game.  Head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff are excited about the future of quarterback Andrew Maxwell, but the junior has had an up and down start to the year.  He had a very productive game this past Saturday against Central Michigan, but struggled at times against a more talented Boise State squad.  He forced some throws and missed a few receivers high, leading to three interceptions.
 
His receiving corps is inexperienced as well.  Bennie Fowler has 10 receptions and Keith Mumphrey has six.  Touted transfer DeAnthony Arnett has yet to really get on track, but everyone is waiting for him to explode.
 
The most dangerous receiver for Michigan State is tight end Dion Sims.  The junior also has 10 catches and his 6-foot-5, 280-pound body makes him a prime target in the red zone.
 
Michigan State’s strengths on offense will collide with the power of the Notre Dame defense.  Looking at the Irish defensive numbers at this point is irrelevant because Navy plays a style that skews all the stats.  But ND held Purdue to 90 yards on the ground and last year shut down the Michigan State running game to the tune of 29 yards.
 
The Spartans will test the young ND corners, but the Irish will face much better receiving units as this season goes on and it can be argued that they faced a better one last week with the Purdue tandem of Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross.
 
The spotlight will be on Maxwell, who will have opportunities as Notre Dame’s first priority will be to control Bell.
 
Special Teams

It really seems like nothing has changed in this department, except that the kicking game is more of a question.  The Nick Tausch injury gave Kyle Brindza his chance to be a hero last week and he responded, though he missed a 40-yard kick badly early in the game.  The good news is that the snapping and holding problems in week one appeared to be corrected.
 
The punt return game is still miserable.  Davonte Neal is an electric athlete, but the blocking is so bad he has no room to move once he receives the punt.  The good news is that looks to be very sure handed.
 
Punter Ben Turk is exactly the guy he has been the previous three years:  not great, but not bad.
 
Michigan State’s Dan Conroy has always been a solid kicker, but he has missed a couple makeable opportunities this year, from 39 and 43 yards out.  Mike Sadler has averaged 44 yards a punt, so that part of the game is not a problem, and two of his four punts have been returned for a total of 16 yards.
 
Nick Hill is a very good kick returner and there has only been one punt returned by MSU, that for eight yards.
 
With the way things have gone in Brian Kelly’s three years on the job at ND and especially this year, the Irish would love to have a stalemate on the special teams.
 
Analysis

The Irish seem to be walking into a hornet’s nest this week.  It is a night game on the road against a Top 10 team in what will be Everett Golson’s first real road test.  
 
The Irish will not be able to throw the ball against MSU the way they did against Purdue.  The Spartan secondary is too good, especially the corners, and Michigan State will be able to harass Golson all day if they are not concerned with the run.
 
By the same token, it is unlikely that the Irish are going to be able to line up and run the ball at the Spartans.  Again, they are too strong and too athletic up front for this to happen.
 
So the ND offense must find some balance.  With that, I would love to see the Irish run more out of the spread formation.  Golson may not be schooled yet in the read option, but there is no rule saying that they can only call running plays with the QB under center.
 
Hopefully, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, who was injured against Purdue, will be able to play. When Daniels and Eifert went out last week, Golson’s production went way down.
 
On defense, the Irish will have all kinds of problems if Maxwell is on his game.  If he is effective it makes LeVeon Bell’s job a whole lot easier and Notre Dame will have a tough enough time stopping him even without a competent Maxwell.
 
Head coach Brian Kelly talked in a press conference this week about the need for getting big chunks of yardage against MSU.  While that would be nice, I don’t see a need to try that strategy against this team. Be efficient.  They must put themselves in manageable third down situations and convert.  A punt can be your friend because the ND defense can also give Michigan State some trouble if the Spartans have to go the length of the field.
 
What Notre Dame cannot do is turn the ball over.  This is an aggressive defense and those types of teams can be gouged at times.  But ND does not have an offense with a quick strike capability.  If they try to do something they can’t, Michigan State will force mistakes.
 
Golson is a talented player that will have a very good career at ND.  The question is, is he ready for this type of spotlight and this type of opponent?

 

September 12, 2012
Notre Dame and the ACC
By Jon Kinne

In the past two years, the Big East Conference has lost West Virginia to the Big 12 and Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Louisville would love to join West Virginia in the Big 12 and UConn and Rutgers would give anything for an ACC or Big Ten invite.

Because of this instability, Notre Dame was forced to look at its options outside the Big East. Today, in a joint press conference with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick announced that the Irish sports besides football and hockey will move to the ACC.

The Big East requires a $5 million buyout and a 27 month waiting period for its members to leave, but West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh have sped up the process by giving the league more money.  Knowing that every time Father Jenkins sneezes in his office, at least $5 million gets moist, it is likely that the Notre Dame administration will have no trouble upping the ante for an early exit.

Swarbrick had been in discussions with both the ACC and the Big 12 for quite some time, but the ACC is a much better fit for Notre Dame.  The Big 12 does not have men’s soccer or lacrosse, two sports in which the Irish are nationally competitive.  The Notre Dame sports fit what the ACC offers like a glove.

While this was done to give stability to the other sports, everything is about football and this is no different.  The Irish will continue to remain independent, but will be required to play five games a year against ACC foes.  Since ND plays four games this year against either ACC or future ACC programs, this is not a big deal.  The schedule will be set up so that the Irish will face every ACC team at least once in a three year span.

The biggest advantage for the Notre Dame football team is that it will have access to the ACC bowl tie ins.  This was very important because ND’s set up with the Big East was not a good arrangement for the Irish.  Under the new ACC agreement, Notre Dame can be chosen for any bowl as long as they are within one win of an ACC school.  Simply put, if the Chik-fil-A Bowl has the option of taking Clemson at 10-2 and ND at 9-3, it can take the Irish, but if Notre Dame was 8-4, the choice would have to be Clemson.

It is confusing, but Notre Dame will be in a much, much better place than where they are now with respect to bowl options.

While Notre Dame will keep its NBC deal, the ACC may have a reason to go back to the bargaining table for their television rights.  Their recent contract with ESPN was widely criticized and prompted Clemson and Florida State to explore their options in the Big 12.  The conference now may be able to say, yes we had an agreement, but that was without the nation’s most visible athletic program.

Also, the ACC approved raising the exit fee for their member institutions to $50 million.  The chances of Clemson or Florida State leaving to go anywhere now hover somewhere between slim and none, with a heavy lean towards none.

Going forward, it is certain that Notre Dame’s schedule will look different and some rivalries will be terminated.  With five ACC games, USC, Navy, and probably Stanford as annual opponents, that leaves just four games left to fill.  It is likely that as long as BYU remains independent that Notre Dame will continue to schedule a game with them every year.

If you’re someone holding out hope that those three remaining dates will be filled by traditional Big Ten foes Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan, I think you will be disappointed. I would guess that at least one of those will go away and I believe that the one most likely to disappear would be Michigan.  The rivalries with Purdue and Michigan State have gone on much longer and the ties with those two schools are much stronger than that with Michigan.

Overall, I believe that this is a very good thing for Notre Dame, assuming they can maintain their football independence long term, which they should be able to do.  I have often said that unless Notre Dame is blocked out of the possibility of competing for a national title or can no longer schedule properly, there is no reason for the Irish to consider joining a league.

Well, scheduling just got a whole lot easier and they have equal access to the future final four. Independence has been saved.

And of course, there is the best reason for the celebration today:  Notre Dame will not be joining the Big Ten.  Hallelujah.  Amen.

September 11, 2012
Notre Dame 20 Purdue 17
By Jon Kinne

    On a day when much of the talk could have centered on a stout Irish defense and a solid home opener for quarterback Everett Golson, it was Tommy Rees that stole the spotlight. The junior from Lake Bluff, Ill. led the Irish on a 12 play, 55 yard drive, setting up a 27-yard game winning field goal by Kyle Brindza that gave the Irish a 20-17 victory over Purdue.

    We all know the story. Rees was the much maligned quarterback last season whose chance at retaining his job was lost when he had an altercation with police back in May.  Head coach Brian Kelly told media after the game that Golson had hurt his hand and was having trouble gripping the ball, insinuating that that was the reason Rees entered the game.  But Kelly also told NBC before the game that he viewed Rees as his “closer”, an indication that perhaps this was the plan all along.

    Regardless, Rees was inserted, was prepared, and delivered in the waning moments of the game, salvaging a situation that seemed headed for disaster.

    Notre Dame opened up with a game plan vastly different than last week’s strategy against Navy.  Where the Irish pounded the ball right at the undersized Midshipmen in week one, the Irish came out throwing against the Boilermakers.  Golson dropped back to pass on 15 of the first 17 plays from scrimmage. Though the Irish moved the ball on their second possession, Brindza missed a 40 yard field goal attempt and the game remained scoreless.

    Meanwhile, the Irish defense was making life difficult for the Purdue offense.  Purdue traveled 56 yards on their first drive and 31 yards on their second, but the Notre Dame defenders stopped the Boilers around midfield on both occasions and forced punts.

    Midway through the second quarter, Notre Dame broke through.  Starting at their own 12 yard line, the Irish drove 88 yards in 10 plays and scored on a Golson three yard touchdown run.  The play was initially called out of bounds at the one, but upon further review it was determined that Golson touched the pylon with the ball. The key plays on the drive were a 30-yard completion to tight end Troy Niklas on third and nine from the 13 and a 40-yard pass to a wide open DaVaris Daniels on third and three from midfield.

    Purdue answered right back, though, tying the game just before halftime.  Jalen Brown appeared to lose contain on the kickoff coverage and Purdue’s Raheem Mostert returned the ball out to the Boilers’ 42 yard line. It took 13 plays, but Purdue methodically marched to the end zone, scoring on a Robert Marve pass to Antavian Edison.

    The third quarter was all Notre Dame.  Purdue went three and out on its first possession and the Irish took the ball and scored in 3:24.  After two solid runs by Theo Riddick, the Boilermakers forced Notre Dame into a third and 16 situation.  It was then that Golson hit Tyler Eifert for 22 yards down to the Purdue 33.  After a 25 yard hook up with Eifert, Golson hit T.J. Jones with a three yard touchdown strike.

    Notre Dame quickly got the ball back on the first of two Bennett Jackson interceptions.  But the offense could go nowhere and the Irish had to settle for a 30-yard Brindza field goal and a 17-7 lead.

    On the first play of the fourth quarter, Purdue’s Sam McCartney booted a 33-yard field goal to cut the lead to seven.  Notre Dame marched into Purdue territory on the following possession, but a huge sack of Golson by Purdue defensive tackle Kawaan Short (who along with end Ryan Russell gave the Irish offensive line fits all day) force an ND punt.

    It continued to be a back and forth defensive struggle for most of the final stanza, when the Purdue defense made a huge play to set up the tying score.  On a second and 20 from his own 13, Golson was flushed out of the pocket, was hit and fumbled with 3:24 remaining in the game.  Purdue took over at the Notre Dame 15 yard line.

    For a moment, it looked like the Irish defense would hold.  Marve was sacked and knocked out of the game by the team of Nix and freshman corner Keivarae Russell on the first play from scrimmage.  After a 12 yard Caleb TerBush completion to Edison, TerBush then missed Gabe Holmes in the end zone setting up a fourth and ten at the 15.

    But TerBush found Edison again for the tying score and the Irish turned to Rees to save the day.

    Golson had a very good day, completing 21 of 31 throws for 289 yards and a touchdown, though he did have the big fumble.  He completed balls to eight different receivers and Rees completed a throw to John Goodman on the final drive for the senior’s only reception.  Riddick had little running room thanks to Short and Russell, but he did end the day with 53 yards on 15 carries.

    Manti Te’o led the defense again with 10 total tackles and Zeke Motta followed with nine.  But the real difference makers were Stephon Tuitt and Nix.  Tuitt had four tackles, two sacks, and two quarterback hurries.  Nix had four tackles, one and a half sacks, and batted down two passes.

    Short and Russell were beasts for the Purdue defense, as was corner Josh Johnson.  Johnson led the team with nine tackles while forcing and recovering the Golson fumble.  Short had four tackles and two sacks.  Russell had seven tackles, a sack, and two and a half tackles resulting in lost yardage.

    TerBush and Marve combined for 198 passing yards though the Boilers only rushed for 90 yards as a team.

    Notre Dame travels to East Lansing, Mich. next Saturday night to face the 10th ranked Michigan State Spartans.

 

September 10, 2012
Navy Thoughts & Purdue Preview
By Sonny Martinez

After a fantastic start to the Notre Dame football season, the Fighting Irish are now ranked in the AP poll at number 22, the same spot they’re in on the coaches poll.  It's a very well deserved spot after a 50-10 massacre of Navy in Dublin, Ireland and a very impressive debut of QB Everett Golson.

Golson showed little flaws in his game, as he ran the offense as well as any QB since the days of Brady Quinn all the way back in 2006.  Seems like an eternity, doesn’t it? Theo Riddick also appeared to make a great transition from receiver back to his natural position of running back in which he started his career.  Riddick had 107 yards along with two touchdowns.

The defense also did a great job of shutting down the Triple Option of the Midshipmen that has been the downfall of the Irish in the precious meetings dating back to 2007.  Navy rushed for only 149 yards.  As a comparison, ND ran for over 140 yards MORE than Navy.  Who would have thought that would happen?

Particularly interesting were two firsts that occurred, both for the best linebacker in all of college football, Manti Te'o.

Te'o was the biggest standout for a stout defense, and for very good reason.  Manti had both his first career interception and first career fumble recovery, each in the same game.  Quite possibly, the most shocking of all of this, is that it took Te'o until his senior year for both of these achievements.

With little doubt that the Irish are ready for the full force challenge of the closest thing to an SEC schedule that can possibly be had without actually being in the conference, it's now time for the home opener.

But before that, I have one random thought that I found myself asking multiple times.  Why was ND the away team in Ireland?  The "Fighting Irish" should never be the away team in Ireland.

But back to the situation at hand.

Long time ND rival Purdue comes to town Saturday.  Purdue, like Notre Dame, is also coming off of a big win, 48-6, although not as impressive as it was against an FCS team.  This week, however, it’ll be Caleb TerBush will be starting for the Boilermakers.  He’s coming off of a one game suspension.

Although Purdue was impressive, they did not earn a single vote in either the AP or Coaches poll.  Purdue will now face an extremely tough ND team in South Bend, and signs point to another big Irish win.  Although they’re a darkhorse Big Ten contender, Purdue, in my opinion, simply cannot match up strength for strength with Notre Dame, especially on defense, where ND is clearly the better team.

Meanwhile Everett Golson will once again be starting for the Fighting Irish, as he should be.  Notre Dame, however, will still be without RB Cierre Wood, who is suspended for one more game.  Although last week, he was not missed much, as Riddick had a great game and George Atkinson III exploded for 99 yards and 2 TD’s on 11 runs. Atkinson will once again be looked upon to be an unsuspecting hero in the home opener.

Notre Dame has everything it needs to win the game.  The defense is great.  The QB is a great fit for Brian Kelly’s spread offense.  The running game is solid.  Purdue is not exactly a threat to pound ND like they did to Eastern Kentucky, but don’t be too shocked if the game is closer than expected.

Next week Notre Dame travels to #11 Michigan State for a primetime game on ABC.  If Notre Dame gets caught napping and looking ahead to that game, Purdue could strike and steal a win in South Bend.

I don’t see Brian Kelly letting that happen.  At worst, ND will trail at halftime.  Simply put, if Kelly wants fans to believe in the discipline that he teaches his players, there is no way he can lose this game.

And they won’t.

In the end I see another big win.  Not 40 points, but a few touchdowns. As legendary broadcaster Lee Corso would say, I like Notre Dame to win by three touchdowns, three extra points, and a field goal.

Prediction

Purdue: 14

Notre Dame: 38

 

August 29, 2012
Notre Dame vs. Navy Preview
By Jon Kinne

It was an off-season that seemed to never end.

It began with the drug scandal at TCU, continued with a motorcycle crash in Arkansas, saw playoff talk fill the air non-stop, and culminated with the tumult at Penn State. But it is over.  Finally.  Let the games begin.

Notre Dame commences their 2012 football season in Dublin, Ireland this Saturday against the United States Naval Academy.  Whether this trip is a good idea or a bad idea is irrelevant now; the Irish must cross the Atlantic to play their traditional foe.

Navy is coming off a disappointing 5-7 campaign, one that saw them miss a bowl for the first time since 2002.  They also were destroyed at Notre Dame Stadium to the tune of 56-14.

Notre Dame started the year with two losses then righted the ship a bit before losing by two touchdowns to both USC and Stanford.  The Irish finished their own disappointing season at 8-5 following an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Here are a few things to watch for this week.
 
When Notre Dame Has The Ball
The most talked about on the field issue this offseason for Notre Dame was the quarterback battle. Sophomore Everett Golson has won the starting position and will be the signal caller against Navy.  Golson is a pass first threat that can also make plays running the football, a combination that is a perfect fit for head coach Brian Kelly’s spread offense.

Last year’s starter Tommy Rees narrowed the field a bit when he was involved in a scuffle with police back in May.  He was subsequently suspended for the Navy game, though most believe that Golson would have won the job anyway.

Andrew Hendrix, Rees’s backup in 2011, will again be the next guy in line.

The Notre Dame strength will be running the football, though another off the field situation made that a little more difficult for the first two weeks.  Tailback Cierre Wood, who rushed for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011, will be suspended for the first two games for violating team rules.

The burden of carrying the ball will now fall on senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson. Riddick has spent the last two years operating as a wide receiver though he came to ND as a running back. Atkinson showed promise as a freshman by returning two kickoffs for touchdowns.  He had a big spring game, but also fumbled twice.

The line returns three starters including left tackle Zack Martin, who was recently named as one of the four captains.  Center Braxston Cave missed the final four games of 2011 with a knee injury, but he is back and ready to go.  Chris Watt will line up between Martin and Cave at left guard.  The right side of the line is new with Christian Lombard at tackle and Mike Golic, who filled in at center for Cave at the end of last season, at guard.

Notre Dame has the best tight end in the land in Tyler Eifert and Golson will look for him often. Depth at the position took a hit when Alex Welch tore his ACL early in camp, but sophomores Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas, who moves from linebacker, will handle the reserve duties.  Niklas is a big guy that can be a devastating blocker if he can improve his technique.

One option that Irish quarterbacks no longer have is Michael Floyd as the star receiver is now with the Arizona Cardinals.  Seniors John Goodman and Roby Toma will start at receiver along with junior T.J. Jones. Kelly is going with his experienced guys at wide out, but some younger guys will see the field a lot.  Sophomore DaVaris Daniels and freshman Chris Brown are more athletic than the starters and will get opportunities early.  So may freshman Davonte Neal, another electric athlete that has won the punt return job.

The strength of the 2012 Notre Dame offense will be challenged by what was a weak spot for the 2011 Midshipmen.  Navy ranked 92nd in defending the run last year giving up nearly 187 yards per game and they need to replace all three defensive linemen in their 3-4 set.  

Also, while nose tackle Barry Dabney weighs 297-pounds, all the ends on the two-deep are 255-pounds or less.  A size disadvantage is nothing new for Navy but, combined with a lack of experience, it could make stopping the run even more difficult.

Navy’s leading tackler, Matt Warrick, is back for his final season for the Middies.  Warrick will again team up with fellow senior Brye French, giving Navy leadership at the middle backer positions.  But there are questions outside.  The most recent depth chart has Keegan Wetzel starting at one outside linebacker position, the spot they call the raider.  Sophomore Chris Johnson looked to have won the other outside linebacker spot, but a torn ACL has ended his year.  Another sophomore, Jordan Drake, tops the list now.  

The secondary will be the team’s strength.  Strong safety Tra’Ves Bush is a very good player that was second on the team with 93 tackles.  He also tied for the team lead in interceptions at two with corner David Sperry, and free safety Chris Ferguson.  Ferguson returns, but Sperry was dismissed from the Academy in May.  Junior Jonathan Wev will take over for Sperry.

The Irish should be able to run the ball effectively against Navy, despite the Wood suspension.  That will open up passing lanes for Golson. While Navy’s secondary is pretty good, they only return four total sacks from last year’s team.  It is hard to imagine Navy getting a sustained pass rush against the Irish offensive line.
 
When Navy Has The Ball
Navy will start the game running the football, run the ball in the middle of the game, and close things out by running some more.  It’s who they are; it’s what they do.

But things may change just a little this year.  Trey Miller takes over for Kriss Proctor at quarterback and, despite his poor numbers against Notre Dame last year, is a better thrower but is not as polished in the triple option offense.

Don’t look for Navy to morph into a Mike Leach-style offense any time soon, though.  Gee Gee Greene and John Howell return as the slot backs and will carry a heavy load.  Fullback is always an important position in their offense and Navy is breaking in a new starter this year.  Alexander Teich’s days of terrorizing ND are thankfully over and sophomore Noah Copeland gets the call as his replacement.

Navy planned on returning much of their receiving unit, giving Miller some veterans to throw to. However, junior Matt Aiken will miss the game with a knee injury and 2011 leading receiver Brandon Turner is now listed as a back up after twice failing a physical test this summer. After those two, the only returning players that have caught a pass for Navy are Greene and Howell.

The offensive line returns a very good one in guard Josh Cabral.  The 6-foot-3, 297-pound senior has had a fine career and in his magazine Phil Steele said he “could be one of Navy’s best ever OG.”

The rest of the offensive line is very unsettled.  Andrew Barker has started games in the past but he is now listed as a backup at both tackle positions.  Head coach Ken Niumatalolo and his staff have done a lot of juggling this camp to try and find the right mix.  As of right now, Jake Zuzek starts at the guard opposite Cabral, Graham Vickers is the center, Bradyn Heap is at right tackle, and Ryan Paulson is at left tackle.  

That front line will be tested by the Notre Dame defensive line and linebackers.  Newly appointed captain Kapron Lewis-Moore heads a defensive line that features Louis Nix on the nose and Stephon Tuitt at the other end. Nix started most of last year and Tuitt saw a lot of time as a true freshman.  There is also pretty good depth with Kona Schwenke challenging for time and Chase Hounshell looking to step up in his sophomore season.

Obviously, the transfer of potential star Aaron Lynch will hurt, but his strong suit was rushing the passer, something that is not that important against Navy.
Having linebackers that know their responsibilities is very important when defending Navy. Fortunately, captain Manti Te’o and senior Dan Fox have faced Navy a few times.  Prince Shembo on the outside has played Navy before, too, though Ben Councell at the other linebacker spot will be playing his first game.  Sophomore Ishaq Williams will also see considerable action on Saturday.

Notre Dame looked to be set up very well at safety until Austin Collinsworth was injured this spring. Jamoris Slaughter is a do-it-all type of player that can be counted on in a game like this one.  Many are hoping that Zeke Motta steps up the way Harrison Smith did in 2010.  

Other than quarterback, corner has been the most watched position battle at ND this camp. Unfortunately, just when it looked like Lo Wood was making huge strides forward, he was lost for the season with an Achilles injury.  

Bennett Jackson and freshman KeiVarae Russell, who was recruited as a running back, will be the starting cornerbacks on Saturday.  Depth will come from Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson.  Yes, they will have to defend some passes, but the big test for the Irish corners this week will be avoiding wide receiver blocks and tackling Navy backs going wide in the option game.  Gary Gray and Robert Blanton were very sure in their tackling during last year’s game and the Irish will need the newcomers to do the same this year.
 
Special Teams
David Ruffer’s outstanding kicking career is over and Nick Tausch is back for an encore.  Tausch was solid as a freshman in 2009, but an injury gave Ruffer a chance and Tausch was relegated to Wally Pipp status.  He received another chance and he made the most of it by beating out Kyle Brindza, who will continue to handle kick offs.

Ben Turk will again be the punter.  Turk has not been spectacular over the past three years, but he has improved each season and is effective pinning teams inside the 20.  Turk punted 53 times last season and only 15 were returned, but Notre Dame’s coverage of those 15 punts ranked 93rd in the nation. Their kick coverage was middle of the road as was Brindza’s kickoff distance.

Atkinson was a great kick returner, but the punt return team was a joke.  Notre Dame only returned 13 punts for 48 yards and a 3.69 average, ranking 112th in the country.  But it actually was worse than that.  In the Champs Sports Bowl, Michael Floyd returned one punt 41 yards.  Take that one out and the Irish had seven total punt return yards all year and the .58 yards per return average would have easily ranked last in America.  And that is without mentioning the fumbled punts.  Neal gets the first crack here and it’s hard to imagine he can do any worse than the results of 2011.

Navy has some serious problems in the kicking department.  Three players have been battling this August and freshman Nick Sloan appears to have won the battle.  Niumatalolo, though, was not wowed by any of the contenders and openly expressed his disgust with the situation following a recent scrimmage.

Pablo Beltran split the punting duties last year and averaged 37.5 yards per kick.  He has won the starting job this year.  While neither punter last year showed a strong leg, only six punts were returned against Navy for a total of 28 yards. The Middies were 113th in kick coverage.

This is an area Notre Dame needs to win in a big way.  They have more athletes than Navy and that should show up on special teams.  But I’m still not expecting any big plays in the Notre Dame punt return game.
 
Analysis
Whether this game is Ireland or South Bend or Annapolis or on the moon, Notre Dame should win this game. The Navy weaknesses are in areas that should be exploited by Notre Dame strengths.

For example, Notre Dame’s big offensive line should be able to manhandle Navy’s smaller and less experienced front seven.  Navy has given bigger Notre Dame offensive lines trouble in the past, but these Navy linemen have limited game exposure along with a lack of strength.

Navy also should struggle to put pressure on Golson.  This is a perfect recipe for a young quarterback playing his first game. Notre Dame should be able to achieve balance on offense by running the ball first and if they do that with success, big plays will be available in the passing game.

Switching things around, Navy’s quarterback is a better thrower than runner in a system that throws very little.  Their star fullback, the guy that caused so many problems for Notre Dame in the past, is no longer around.

Plus, Notre Dame boasts a defensive front that is not only experienced, but experienced in defending the Navy attack.  The uncertainty along the Navy offensive line plays into Notre Dame’s favor as well.

One area of concern for Notre Dame is the pitch on the option.  Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell are green and they must be able to fight through blocks and bottle up the outside runs.  

Whether this will be a successful season or not, I’m not so sure.  But I am optimistic that Notre Dame comes home from Ireland with a comfortable win.
 
Another Note
My condolences go out to Mike Frank, the editor of Irish Sports Daily, who lost his mother this week. He wrote a very touching tribute to his mom that is a must read.  Here is a link.

http://www.irishsportsdaily.com/football/football-articles/7540-the-greatest-five-star-prospect-who-ever-lived

July 23, 2012
Ranking Key Parts
by Sonny Martinez

Here come the Irish!

There are now under six weeks until those words will be spoken as the Irish will be taking the field against longtime rival Navy.  It’s time to start looking at the Irish season coming up and how they will fair against their opponents.  

To get an idea, it’s time to start ranking Notre Dame and their players.  This will be all about the best (and worst) of Notre Dame Football in 2012.  Ranking the players is a good place to start.  Note that these rankings can, and most likely will change as fall camps begin.

Quarterbacks:

1.       Tommy Rees:   The most experienced of the QB’s, but also the most turnover prone.
2.       Everett Golson: He seems to be Brian Kelly’s favorite to win.  Proven winner in high school, but hasn’t yet played.
3.       Andrew Hendrix:  A good fit for the Spread but had little playing time.
4.       Gunner Kiel:  Freshman who was a prized possession of LSU before switching to the Irish.
Although I am hoping Golson wins the job, as of right now, it’s Rees’ to lose.  Now, the players of the future.

Top incoming freshman:

1.       Davonte Neal, ATH:  Ranked #8 on ESPNU’s 150, Neal is explosive with his speed and will make an impact wherever he plays.
2.       Gunner Kiel, QB:  LSU’s former recruit could make a big impact, but most likely not this season.
3.       Justin Ferguson, WR:  At 6’1”, Ferguson has the speed and size to be a great receiver and get plenty of playing time this season.
4.       Jarron Jones, OT:  At 6’6”, and 295 lbs, he gets off the ball well and can also play DT.
This recruiting class could end up being Kelly’s best.  Now on to the schedule.  Two rankings for the schedule will be here also.
Most Anticipated Games

1.       @ USC, game 12:  A big rivalry as always, ND has a shot to cost USC a BCS Championship appearance.
2.       Navy, game 1:  Season opener, and being in Dublin, Ireland adds to the novelty.
3.       @ Oklahoma, game 8: A team ND hasn’t seen in a while, which makes it more interesting.
4.       Michigan, game 4:  The memory of last season’s painful loss remains.
5.       Stanford, game 6:  The Cardinal won last season and ND would love to avenge that loss.
6.       @ Michigan St, game 3:  MSU was upset last season, and even though the Irish won, the vision of the fake field goal haunts fans and players still.
7.       BYU, game 7:  Two independents face off, both teams have high expectations.
8.       Pitt, game 9:  Irish escaped with 3 point win last season.
9.       Miami, game 5:  It would be better if it was the late 80’s, but it should still be a good one.
10.   Purdue, game 2:  The true home opener should be a big win.
11.   @ Boston College, game 10:  Usually a defensive game.
12.   Wake Forest, game 11: Not the most exciting team ND could play from a conference it has been associated with.
Most difficult games:
1.       @ USC:  If ND can have one or two losses by this point, could make or break a BCS Bowl.
2.       @ Oklahoma:  One of the nation’s best teams on the road with a team that still not have a for-sure QB.
3.       Michigan:  Big expectations for the Blue after a BCS Bowl last year, Robinson was gold last trip to South Bend.
4.       BYU:  A possible BCS buster, ND may look past them with Oklahoma the week after.
5.       @ Michigan St:  Even though MSU may be breaking in a new QB, could still be a difficult road test.
6.       Stanford:  Even without Andrew Luck, Stanford will still be a big test due to the defense.
7.       Purdue:  Purdue is a sleeper team in the Big Ten, and could surprise a lot of people.
8.       Miami:  Miami cannot be overlooked, Hurricanes always jump on those opportunities.
9.       Pitt: Eight offensive starters return, but the defense may not be good enough.
10.   @ Boston College:  A team that could not do anything right last season will be at the bottom of the ACC.
11.   Navy:  Traveling over 3,000 miles to Ireland concerns me, but that’s about it.
12.   Wake Forrest:  A home game for the Irish, three WF offensive starters return from a team that was inconsistent.  This team could be a disaster and will be a sure W for ND.
Looking at the schedule and the talent, I see 9 wins, but because of the typical “We should have won this game but just missed it” streak ND has, it’ll be 8.  If ND gets nine wins or more, especially of one of them is against the Big Three of Oklahoma, USC and Michigan, expect a BCS bowl.
If not, Brian Kelly will experience how impatient Notre Dame fans truly are.

July 18, 2012
Where Does ND Go From Here?
 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 

 
Everyone now knows that a four-team playoff system will be implemented in 2014.  The four best teams, regardless of their conference affiliation, will be selected.  There are stipulations that will give conference champions a little boost, but Notre Dame as an independent will be in the mix if they are deserving.

It means that Notre Dame does not have to find a conference for its football team at this time.  But what is best for the other Irish sports in this new collegiate landscape?

Depending on the reports that you read, the Big East is either fighting to survive or on its last legs. Just this week the league came to an agreement with Syracuse which allowed the Orange to leave for the ACC next July.  A similar deal with Pittsburgh is most likely forthcoming.

The Big East got a bit of a reprieve when Boise State decided to stick with its new league instead of heading back to the Mountain West, which was a hot rumor after the playoff system was announced.  San Diego State was probably going to follow Boise State wherever they went, so the boys in Providence were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the Broncos made their choice.

The Big East, in a way, also had to be happy with the comments made by former Big XII commissioner Chuck Neinas when he said that the only team that could enhance the value of their conference is Notre Dame.  There had been talk that a couple of ACC programs along with Big East member Louisville were eyeing a spot in the Big XII.  If the ACC had lost one or more teams, they would certainly look to poach a school ortwofrom the Big East, leaving the Big East in severe turmoil, especially if a basketball power like Connecticut was the program stolen.

All those issues have so far been avoided, but there are still questions of Big East stability. Notre Dame also has to wonder if it wants to be affiliated with this new group of schools that no longer has Pittsburgh and Syracuse but does include Houston, SMU, and Central Florida.

And while this is a situation where Notre Dame is trying to find a spot for its non-football sports, like everything else in collegiate athletics, it all really does come back to the gridiron.  In its current situation, Notre Dame’s bowl tie-ins are aligned with the Big East. Sort of.  

Once every four years the Irish can take the place of a Big East team in the Champs Sports Bowl. Since that was the landing spot for last year’s squad, that bowl is not an option for the next three years. The Irish will be able to go to any of the other Big East games, with the best option probably being the Belk Bowl, or they may try to find a bowl with a tie-in to a conference that does not have enough bowl eligible teams.  Either way, the options are not good.

Going forward, it is highly unlikely that a weakened Big East would be able to garner better bowl tie-ins.  What they have now is probably better than anything they can expect in the future.

Also, with other leagues negotiating deals to put their champions in specific bowls, the spots for at-large teams in the current BCS bowls are dwindling.  The new Champions Bowl (or whatever it will be called) will pit the SEC champ (or the highest ranked SEC team not in the playoff) against the Big Xll winner (or, likewise, the highest ranked Big Xll team not in the playoff).  The Rose Bowl has their long standing match-up in place.  The ACC winner will go to the Orange Bowl.  Where would a qualified ND land?

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick will be looking to solve both of these problems.  First, he has had discussions with the ACC and the Orange Bowl to guarantee a bid to that game, to play against the ACC winner, should the Irish meet certain standards.  Nothing has been finalized yet, but it is step one.

Creating tie-ins with other bowls could be more problematic.  Fellow independent Brigham Young has set up a deal with the Poinsettia Bowl where they go there automatically if they qualify for a bowl and do not make a BCS game.  Notre Dame could work out something similar with another bowl, but do the Irish fans want to know their non-BCS bowl fate before the season starts?  If the arrangement with the Orange Bowl is finalized, it would mean at the start of the year everyone would know that if the Irish qualify for a bowl they would be going to either the playoff, Miami, or some other location.  

Oftentimes in early October, Notre Dame supporters are aware that the Irish are not going to be good enough for a BCS game, but will be bowl eligible.  In these years, Notre Dame’s bowl destination would be determined very early in the season.  Perhaps Swarbrick can make something happen with multiple bowls to give Notre Dame some variety in its post-season options, otherwise it could make for many very boring seasons.  

One other option that is on the table is to join the Big Xll in the non-football sports.  Neinas’s statement about Notre Dame being the only school that can make a financial impact on the conference was in reference to ND joining in everything but football.  Texas AD DeLoss Dodds told ESPN that the conference would seriously consider taking Notre Dame under any circumstance.

An agreement with the Big Xll to play 3-5 football games against conference opponents, along with all other non-football sports going to the league, could give Notre Dame access to some of the Big Xll’s several bowl connections.  

One problem with joining the Big Xll in this way is that sports like lacrosse and men’s soccer are not offered in the Big Xll.  Notre Dame would have to find a home for those sports in some other league.  The ACC would be a better option for ND’s non-football sports, but at the moment the ACC wants Notre Dame to join in everything, including football, or not join at all.  Also, from a football perspective, the ACC is not as strong as the Big Xll and with 3-5 games against conference foes, the strength of schedule component that is said to be another factor in the playoff selection would be enhanced more by joining the Big Xll.

With the Big East losing stature and its automatic qualifying status, Notre Dame has to start looking for new ways to maximize their bowl prospects while giving their other sports a suitable home.
 
Other Notes  
Notre Dame players Manti Te’o, Tyler Eifert, Cierre Wood, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Braxston Cave, T.J. Jones, and Zack Martin all were named on various award watch lists recently. Cave and Martin were on the Outland Trohy list, which is given to the nation’s best interior lineman.  Te’o and Lewis-Moore were named on the Bronko Nagurski Award list, an honor that goes to the year’s best defensive player.

Te’o also is on the Bednarik Award watch list, given to the nation’s best defensive player, the Butkus Award list for the best linebacker, and the Lombardi Award list along with Martin and Eifert.  The Lombardi Award goes to the country’s best lineman, linebacker, or tight end.  Cave is also on the Rimington Award watch list, which is presented to the best center in the land.

Eifert is also nominated for the Mackey Award, which is given to the year’s best tight end, and for the Maxwell Award that goes to the top college player.  Wood is also up for the Maxwell.  T.J. Jones is on the Biletnikoff list for the best wide receiver of the year.

Mike Golic was one of 117 nominees for All State AFCA Good Works Team, an honor that goes to collegiate players that make a difference in the community.

The Tommy Rees court hearing for his involvement in an altercation with police at a party in May will take place on July 24th.  It was originally scheduled for July 17th.  The Irish begin practice on August 4th and it is still unclear how the matter will affect the quarterback battle.

June 11, 2012
Irish Add Two Top Defenders
 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 
 
In a matter of a few days, Notre Dame snared commitments from two highly coveted defensive players, turning an area of weakness in the 2013 recruiting class into a potential area of strength.

So this must be what it is like at Alabama.

Okay, I’ll slow down quite a bit, but two defensive recruits of this quality committing to Notre Dame so close to one another is something that has not happened in a long time.  It is something that Irish fans should rejoice.

On Wednesday night, defensive end Isaac Rochell of McDonough, Ga. (a nice, Irish sounding town) committed to Notre Dame.  He is 6-foot-5 and already in the 260-pounds range.  He will get bigger and combined with his strength and athletic ability, Rochell should be a handful for future offensive linemen.  Unless…..

There is a belief in some circles that Rochell is a better prospect on the offensive line.  Of course, with five commitments already along the offensive line, Rochell will start out on defense.  But it is nice to know that he has the versatility to change positions.

I am not a scout, but after watching his film, I like him better as an offensive tackle.  That, however, flies in the face of what the staffs at Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Michigan think, all of which recruited him as a defensive lineman.

Just a little heads up: I’d put more stock in what Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, and Mark Richt think over what I believe.

All of the major recruiting services list Rochell as a four-star recruit and have him among the top 75-125 players in the land.  That is very good, but the Irish landed an even higher ranked prospect last Saturday.

Jaylon Smith, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker from Fort Wayne, Ind., is an elite recruit.  He can play the run.  He can put pressure on the quarterback.  He can even cover like a defensive back.  He is simply the total package.

The player Smith bonded with most during his recruiting process was Irish linebacker Manti Te’o. That is appropriate because, though they don’t play the exact same linebacker position, Te’o is the player Smith will be compared to the most.  

Smith and Te’o represent the two best high school defenders to commit to Notre Dame since the Holtz administration.  Here are their respective rankings.  Te’o, when he came out of high school, looked like this:

Scout: FiveStar,#1 Strong Side Linebacker, #6 Overall Prospect Rivals:  Five Star, #2 Middle Linebacker, #12 Overall Prospect ESPN:  Five Star, #1 Outside Linebacker, #2 Overall Prospect

For comparison, here is how Smith ranks at this moment:

Scout: Five Star, #1 Outside Linebacker, #17 Overall Prospect Rivals:  Five Star, #1 Outside Linebacker, #4 Overall Prospect ESPN:  Four Star, #2 Outside Linebacker, #20 Overall Prospect 24/7 Sports:  Five Star, #1 Outside Linebacker, #7 Overall Prospect

Just to clarify, ESPN only has seven guys listed as five-star prospects right now and has always given out fewer five-star grades.  Also, 24/7 started up in 2010 and was therefore not around to rank Te’o in 2009.

Perhaps Te’o’s rankings are slightly higher, but it is really nitpicking when you get to that level. Te’o was the consensus best player at his position that year; Smith is the consensus best player at his position this year.  When you look at scholarship offers, both guys could have gone anywhere they wanted, so that is a wash as well.

Notre Dame has recruited some other heavily pursued defenders in the past few years.  Aaron Lynch, Tee Shepard, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams, Louis Nix, Ethan Johnson, and Darius Fleming all come to mind. None of them come close to ranking as highly as Te’o or Smith.

Obviously, none of these accolades guarantees any type of success.  But it does mean that Notre Dame has its centerpiece in place for the class of 2013 and another top notch defender to go along with him.  And the Irish only have to hold onto their commitments for another 240 more days.

May 25, 2012
Here We Go Again
 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 

 
My blog entry for May 24th, 2010 outlined Notre Dame’s independent status in the changing landscape of college football.  Nebraska was set to join the Big Ten and many other programs were threatening to switch leagues.  Many experts predicted seismic shifts and while there have been some changes, the basic college football structure is still in place.
Two years later, the rumblings have begun anew.  Florida State, Clemson, and a few other ACC schools are rumored to be shopping their wares to other leagues.  The stronger football programs in the ACC do not want to be left in the fifth best conference if a playoff is developed that takes the four best conference champions. Finding a place in one of the top conferences could become a high priority for these schools.
All the potential shifting this time around is the result of the ongoing discussions about a playoff.  Many experts feel that some type of new system for determining the national champion will be finalized before the Fourth of July.  It is clear that some form of a four-team playoff will be in the offing.
That, along with seemingly diminishing postseason options for Notre Dame should they fail to qualify for the four-team playoff, is what could push the Irish into a league.  If the conference commissioners decide to only include conference champions in a playoff, Notre Dame’s hand is forced.  As an independent they have no league to win and thus no access to the tournament.
However, this is unlikely.  Speaking at the Big East spring meetings, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who has been part of every discussion that the conference commissioners have had on the subject, said that he feels confident that Notre Dame will have an opportunity to be part of the playoff.
It would not be surprising to see some compromise worked out between SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who wants the four best teams selected regardless of conference affiliation, and the other league heads that want conference champions only in the mix.  One idea floated out by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany was to have the playoff consist of the top four conference champions, but only if they are ranked in the top six.  If the four spots could not be filled with conference winners, the top ranked at-large team would be selected.
However, under this plan the second and third ranked teams in the nation could be left out in favor of the fifth and six ranked teams and it is doubtful that Slive (and Swarbrick) will give in to that idea.  
One other possibility is to select the three top conference champions and leave one spot open for the highest ranked at-large team.  Perhaps it’s another conference champion, perhaps it is a second place finisher, or perhaps it’s an independent.  This may be a way to satisfy everyone.
But that is only one piece of the puzzle for Notre Dame.  The Irish currently have a bowl tie-in agreement with the Big East and to put it nicely, the arrangement is mediocre at best and this coming season may expose the biggest problem.
If Notre Dame is not selected for a BCS bowl, they can go to the Champs Sports Bowl once every four years. Since the Irish went to that bowl in 2011, that option no longer exists for the next three years.  So until the current contract runs out in 2014, if Notre Dame is 10-2 and not selected to a BCS game, their best option is the Belk Bowl against the #5 ACC team.
Yuck.
Also, it is highly unlikely that the Big East, which is in a constant state of flux, will be able to command better bowl tie-ins during the next negotiations.  With the belief that the new bowl agreement will require teams to have a 7-5 record to qualify instead of the current 6-6, several lower tier bowls will cease to exist, making the competition for the other postseason contests even more competitive.  This puts Notre Dame in a perilous situation with regards to its future bowl prospects.
Furthermore, the BCS situation just became cloudier.  The Big 12 and SEC reached an agreement to have their champions meet in a bowl game if neither is part of the playoff.  While that is unlikely, if one or both of the leagues’ champs are in the playoff, the next best conference team would be chosen.  The game could be the Sugar Bowl or it very well may be at some other site, which would immediately change the major bowl structure as we know it.
The Rose Bowl, after a few years of seeing teams like TCU, Texas, and Oklahoma in Pasadena, will also probably revert back to the traditional Big Ten-Pac 12 clash once the playoff is established.
The question becomes, where does that leave Notre Dame in the major bowl discussion?  And who could they play?  
The Rose Bowl and this new Big12/SEC Bowl are out.  The Sugar Bowl, if it is not selected as the locale for the new bowl game, would seem to be in big trouble without the SEC connection.  The Fiesta Bowl, whose organizers were caught giving millions in benefits from their non-profit funds to university administrators, is also skating on thin ice at the moment.
As things stand right now, that would leave the Orange Bowl as the only major bowl option for ND.  The Cotton Bowl, with Cowboys Stadium as a venue, could possibly jump up and be considered a major bowl.  So there may be a couple of places to play.
But there is still the opponent problem.  Depending on the year, many of the top ten schools will be gobbled up by the playoff, the Rose Bowl, and the new Big 12-SEC game.  That would leave the ACC and Big East as possible foes for Notre Dame should they qualify for a big time bowl.  Perhaps a second or third place team from one of the big four leagues could be selected as an opponent, but is that really what ND fans are looking for?
One option for Notre Dame is to see if it can establish bowl tie-ins with another league.  Of course, the SEC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 would not be open to this idea.  The ACC might, especially if they see their place in the college football world continue to slip.  A Notre Dame option in bowls would raise their stock, but a problem is the newly signed 15-year television agreement that has ruffled the feathers of Florida State, Clemson, and some others.  It is unlikely that the ACC could renegotiate the TV deal just because ND is a bowl option and there is no way that conference members would be open to having the Irish take one of their bowl spots for the same money.
The Big 12 may be the best bet.  Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said on ESPN’s College Football Live that he and the conference are open to discussing the prospect of adding Notre Dame’s non-football sports to the league as long as the Irish scheduled a certain number of Big 12 teams every football season.  With that the Irish could possibly be in a position to play in some of the Big 12 bowl games.
Notre Dame could also try to set up their own bowl deals.  If a few bowls commit to Notre Dame, the Irish would not need another conference’s bowl tie-ins.
As of this moment though, Swarbrick maintains that the Irish are totally committed to the Big East.  He told ESPN.com’s Andrea Adelson that he is always monitoring the changes in college football but that he came out of the Big East meetings optimistic about the league’s future.
Of course, what else is he going to say?  He may well believe that the Big East’s future is bright, but even if he didn’t, the last thing Swarbrick would do is air his doubts publicly.
There are a million moving parts to this story.  What is true today may not be tomorrow.  But one thing that seems clear is that how the postseason is constructed, both in playoff design and in bowl structure, will have more impact on Notre Dame’s future than anything else.
 
Other Notes
The Spring Game was won by the defense 42-31.  George Atkinson starred for the offense with 124 yards rushing, though he did fumble twice.  Cierre Wood had 52 yards on five carries and scored a touchdown.
Everett Golson was the most effective quarterback, completing 11 of 15 for 120 yards and two scores.  Tommy Rees was 7 of 14 for 84 yards, but he threw an interception.  So did Andrew Hendrix, who was 4 for 9 for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Kendall Moore paced the defense with eight tackles and cornerback Lo Wood had seven.  Ishaq Williams, Chris Salvi, and Matthias Farley had interceptions.
Off the field, three Irish players found themselves in hot water because of alcohol.  Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese were arrested on May 3rd outside a house party in South Bend.  Rees was cited with four misdemeanor charges, including battery and resisting arrest.  Calabrese was charged with disorderly conduct. On the 13th of May, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels was charged with consumption of alcohol by a minor in his hometown of Vernon Hills, Ill.
The NFL Draft was held in late April and a number of Notre Dame players were selected.  Wide receiver Michael Floyd was taken by Arizona with the 13th pick of the first round.  Safety Harrison Smith also went in the first round to Minnesota with the 29th selection.
The Vikings also took corner Robert Blanton in the fifth round and San Francisco chose linebacker Darius Fleming in the same round.  Unfortunately, Fleming tore his ACL at the 49ers mini-camp and will miss the season.
Finally, former Irish tight end Dave Casper was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.  Casper will be the 44th Notre Dame alum to be enshrined when he is inducted on December 4th.  Casper started his collegiate career as a left tackle before moving to tight end.  He was a captain of the 1973 National Championship Irish squad and was named first team All American that season.  Casper went on to star in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders.
April 2, 2012
Junior Day Leads To Commitment Week
By Jon Kinne


Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 

 
Notre Dame held their second Junior Day on March 24th and the positive results of their efforts came flowing in immediately.  The Irish secured six commitments in the days following the Junior Day and more are likely in the coming weeks.
With Taylor Decker’s late switch to Ohio State in the last recruiting cycle, offensive line became a high priority for 2013.  The Notre Dame staff wanted four capable blockers in this class and if the commitments hold all the way until next February, the Irish have their guys.
In September, Notre Dame got off to a great start in this department with the commitment of Steven Elmer of Midland, Mich.  Several services have Elmer listed in the top 100 and he was coveted by many major programs.  
The other three offensive line spots were grabbed last weekend.  Colin McGovern began the commitment roll on Junior Day.  The 6-foot-6, 290-pounder from New Lenox, Ill. had offers from Big Ten powers Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa along with offers from Alabama and Tennessee.  His star ratings are all over the place depending on the service you read.  But make no mistake, a player from Illinois that is offered a scholarship by Nick Saban, especially this year, can most assuredly play.
Hunter Bivin had been considered a Notre Dame lean since his recruiting process began.  All it took was one more visit to get a commitment from the 6-foot-7, 290-pounder from Owensboro, Ky.  Bivin, along with all of the other offensive linemen at Junior Day, got a chance to meet new Irish line coach Harry Hiestand and he came away impressed.  Bivin’s impressive offer list included Florida, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Oklahoma, Penn State, Michigan, and many others.
On Sunday the 25th, Mike McGlinchey and his father were making the drive from South Bend up to Wisconsin for a visit with the Badgers.  As the 6-foot-9, 290-pounder from Philadelphia told Irish Sports Daily’s Mike Frank in an interview on Monday night’s Power Hour podcast, the McGlincheys got about a half an hour outside of South Bend when they decided to turn around and head back to ND to make a commitment.  Penn State was considered the early leader for the massive tackle, who also had offers from Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Miami, Tennessee, and Boston College, where his cousin, Matt Ryan, starred before going to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Irish still have a few offensive linemen that they were recruiting that are still interested in the program.  Most of those are now being pursued on a wait-and-see basis.  One exception may be Shaker Heights, Ohio product Donovan Munger.  The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Munger could also play on the defensive line and it is possible that he may still have a committable offer.
After securing the linemen, Notre Dame accepted the commitment of a player the blockers will look to protect.  Malik Zaire is a lefty quarterback from Kettering, Ohio that was Notre Dame’s top choice at that position.  The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Zaire is a true dual-threat quarterback that appears to be a perfect fit for Brian Kelly’s spread offense.  
Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel will each have at least three years of eligibility remaining when Zaire arrives at ND and though it is possible that he is switched to a different position at some point in his career, head coach Brian Kelly assured Zaire that he was being recruited as a quarterback and he would be given every opportunity to win a starting job.  
Zaire’s offers included Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Cincinnati, and Alabama.  Like with McGovern, if Alabama is coming north to offer a player, he is probably pretty good.
Notre Dame then received a commitment from Absecon, N.J. athlete Rashad Kinlaw.  Kinlaw plays quarterback in high school but he was recruited by the Irish as a cornerback.  At 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, he has very good size for a corner.  A broken leg ended his junior season early, but he still had offers from Rutgers, Iowa, Boston College, and North Carolina State.
Notre Dame’s most recent commitment, at least at this very moment, came from Corey Robinson, a wide receiver from San Antonio.  The 6-foot-4, 195-pounder is best known as the son of NBA great David Robinson, but he is a fine player in his own right.  Notre Dame was his first offer, but after very good showings at a couple of camps, Robinson picked up offers from Kansas, Iowa, Wake Forest, and his father’s alma mater, Navy.
Several other players that attended Junior Day are now strongly considering Notre Dame with Ryan Green being the most likely to commit fairly soon.  The star running back from St. Petersburg, Fla. has indicated that Notre Dame is his clear leader, but has also stated that he wants to be absolutely sure before declaring for a school.
Along with offensive line, cornerback is a huge area of need in this class.  The commitment of Kinlaw is a nice start and fellow New Jersey product Tre Bell also had a great time at the Junior Day.  Bell will be making a visit to Florida this weekend and may have a decision shortly thereafter.
The Irish hosted another cornerback, Devin Butler, last Wednesday.  Butler was thought to be favoring Penn State but there are reports that he really enjoyed his Notre Dame trip and will now announce his college decision on Wednesday.  The belief is that he will be commitment #10 for the Irish.
Unless someone else commits sooner.
March 23, 2012
Spring Practice Begins
 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 
 
The first step in determining the next Notre Dame quarterback is underway, as spring practice for the Fighting Irish commenced on Tuesday, March 21st.  In a press conference the previous day, head coach Brian Kelly stated that all four contenders (Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson, and Gunner Kiel) will all be given an equal chance to claim the position for the season opener against Navy in Dublin on September 1st.
While the upcoming quarterback competition has been well documented, there are some other position battles that will also be interesting to watch.  Each area has some key competitions.
 
Offensive Line
Notre  Dame returns the left side of the line in Zach Martin and Chris Watt.  Center Braxton Cave also is back for his fifth season.  It is the right side that needs a major overhaul.
Gone are tackle Taylor Dever and guard Trevor Robinson and four players appear to be in the mix to be their replacements.  Junior Christian Lombard will most likely be starting at one of the spots.  The 6-foot-5, 301-pounder’s best position is probably inside at guard.  But that assumes that either junior Tate Nichols or sophomore Jordan Prestwood can be serviceable at tackle.
If Lombard has to move outside, that opens up a possible spot for sophomore Connor Hanratty.  The son of the former Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty has surprised many with his strength and tenacity.  Whether he wins the starting spot or not, Hanratty will provide solid interior depth for the 2012 Irish.
 
Wide Receiver
Notre Dame lost its go-to receiver when Michael Floyd used up his eligibility last fall.  But it also appears that the Irish have lost their second-best wide receiver as well.  All indications are that Theo Riddick will shift to running back for his senior season.
This move leaves Notre Dame lacking in play-making threats on the outside.  Junior T.J. Jones had a rough sophomore season, which began with the death of his father, and the hope is that he will make a huge step forward.  But at 5-foot-11, 187-pounds, Jones is not same type of receiver as Floyd.  The Irish also return veterans Robby Toma and John Goodman, who are both possession receivers at best.
The most intriguing receiver is DaVaris Daniels.  The sophomore that sat out last season is 6-foot-2, but is still thin.   He has added strength and will need to continue his muscle development.  Daniels was a coveted prospect out of high school and the coaches are very high on his potential.
South Bend native Daniel Smith will also get his first real shot as a wide receiver.  Size and strength are not a problem for Smith.  The question is, is Smith explosive enough?  
The Irish will get an influx of talent this summer when freshmen Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson, and KeiVarae Russell arrive on campus.
 
Running Back
Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood came to Notre Dame together in 2009 as running backs.  Riddick was moved to wide receiver when Brian Kelly arrived as head coach in 2010.  But now, as seniors, they are together again in the backfield.
It will be interesting to see how Kelly uses each player since they have a similar skill set.  Everyone will also be keeping a close watch as to how quickly Riddick can pick back up the nuances of the running back position, like blitz pickup and hole recognition.
How the staff uses George Atkinson will also be something to keep an eye on.  Most recruiting experts thought that ND recruited Atkinson as a wide receiver, but with depth issues at running back last fall he filled in there.He was electric on kick returns, but the move of Riddick may say something about how the staff perceives Atkinson.
All will get ample opportunities because transfer Amir Carlisle, who recently was declared eligible for the coming season, broke his ankle in 7 on 7 drills this week and will be out for the spring.
 
Tight End
Tyler Eifert is back and that is good news.  But with the inexperience at wide receiver, the Irish may employ more multiple tight end sets this fall and the development of the players behind Eifert is important.
Ben Koyack played as a freshman and will see more time in the future.  He has gotten bigger and will most likely be a more efficient blocker going forward.  Alex Welch has had an injury filled career so far, but he could also emerge as a pass-catching threat.
The wild card is Troy Niklas, who moves to tight end from linebacker.  Niklas is huge and moves very well.  He played tight end in high school and many top programs recruited him for that position.  The spring will be important for him as he learns what ND wants from him at his new spot.
 
Linebacker

Manti Te’o is solid at one inside position and though there will be a battle between Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, and Kendall Moore at the other inside position in the 3-4, it is at outside linebacker where the fight will be fiercest.
Darius Fleming is gone and his Cat linebacker spot is vacant.  The odds-on-favorite to replace Fleming is sophomore Ishaq Williams.  The prospect that made defensive coordinator Bob Diaco a recruiting legend got some playing time last year, but he needs more reps to gain experience.  The physical tools are there; he just has to be able to pick up the system.
Troy Niklas is being moved from linebacker to tight end.  This change perhaps indicates that the Irish defensive coaches are confident in the progress that has been made by Williams.  However, there are some candidates at the Dog position that could switch sides.
Prince Shembo started eight games for Notre Dame in 2011, but late in the year Jamoris Slaughter slid down from his safety position and replaced Shembo.  The junior from North Carolina is currently at the top of the depth chart, but he has a couple of guys nipping at his heels.
Danny Spond made some contributions on special teams last fall and he now looks to get on the field as a linebacker.  Sophomore Ben Councell preserved a year of eligibility by sitting out last year, but he has added size to his frame to go along with his always impressive athletic ability.  It would not be a surprise to see one of these two push hard for Shembo’s job.
 
Defensive Line
It is not that Notre Dame has questions about the quality of the players on the defensive line.  The question is, where do they play and what will the rotation be?
Stephon Tuitt will be one of the starting ends this spring because of Kapron Lewis-Moore’s knee injury.  Guys like Kona Schwenke and Hafis Williams, who have made past contributions, will look to earn even more time this spring.  Schwenke will play in place of Lewis-Moore, and Williams will be there to give nose guard Louis Nix a breather when needed.
The Irish coaches have to also decide on their personnel when running the 4-3 package.  With Lewis-Moore available, the most sense would be to slide Tuitt inside.  But with KLM out, will the Irish do the same and move Schwenke up on the depth chart or will they keep Tuitt at end and play Williams at tackle?
And of course there is Aaron Lynch.  The star of last year’s Blue-Gold game will try to improve on a successful freshman campaign.
 
Defensive Backs
There will be stiff competition at cornerback for the starting spots.  Robert Blanton and Gary Gray are gone and the returnees are all very green.
However, most of them will have to play.  Bennett Jackson got the most time last year and the former wide receiver is considered a favorite to land a starting nod.  Junior Lo Wood is currently listed as the starter opposite Jackson, but sophomores Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown will have their say.  Michael Floyd raved about Brown last fall, saying that the Texas native pushed him hard in practice and made him a better player.
Kelly also announced that sophomore Cam McDaniel will shift from running back to corner.
At safety, Slaughter and Zeke Motta are the starters and Austin Colinsworth, Eilar Hardy, and Dan McCarthy will be around to provide depth.  Kelly used Motta a lot last season as the third safety so if one of the reserves steps forward he could see significant minutes this season.
 
Kicker
David Ruffer will not be booting the ball for Notre Dame in 2012.  That means the kicking duties will fall to either sophomore Kyly Brindza or senior Nick Tausch.  Tausch had a solid freshman season before Ruffer came along and Brindza saw duty as the kick off specialist last year.
Brindza will also look to challenge punter Ben Turk, though the senior from Florida has faced a battle for his spot every year and he continues to hang on as the starter.

March 16, 2012
 Notre Dame Notes
 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 

Shepard Goes Home
 
Notre Dame fans got some bad news on March 15th when the University announced that early-entry freshman cornerback Tee Shepard decided to withdraw from the program.  The Fresno, Calif. native has returned home and the reason for his departure was not disclosed.
Cornerback was a dire need for the Irish in the 2012 recruiting class and in the end they came up with none. Not that much of this was the fault of the coaching staff.  Shepard got to Notre Dame but couldn’t stick. Ronald Darby was a commit until January when he decided that Notre Dame was not what he wanted.  New Jersey star Yuri Wright was strongly considering the Irish before his Twitter escapades took him off their board. And Illinois product Anthony Standifer was a strong possibility until he was rejected by the admissions department.
Now Notre Dame has just four scholarship cornerbacks on its roster.  Perhaps Mathias Farley can move back to defense from receiver, though most thought of him as a safety more than a corner when he was on that side of the ball.  There is the possibility that incoming freshman Davonte Neal will play corner instead of the wide receiver spot where most envisioned him.
Through all of this, it will come down to Bennett Jackson, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, and Lo Wood.  Those four must produce this year and in the seasons to come.
 
Carlisle Can Play in 2012
Notre Dame also announced that the NCAA decided that USC transfer Amir Carlisle is eligible to play in the fall. Carlisle’s father took a job at Purdue and the family wants to be near each other.  This, according to the NCAA, was enough of a reason to waive the one-year transfer waiting period.
Carlisle gives the Irish another offensive option.  He will play running back but his eligibility may mean that Theo Riddick stays at wide receiver instead of moving to running back.  It also pretty much guarantees that freshman KeiVarae Russell will start his career in the slot.  Coupled with the Shepard’s departure, it may also make a Neal shift to defense much easier to stomach.  
Carlisle was poised to make a serious impact for USC as a true freshman before nagging leg injuries slowed his progress.  There is no doubt that if healthy he will be a key cog in Notre Dame’s offense this coming season.
 
Schedule Notes
The Notre Dame athletic department also released the starting times for this year’s home games.  All of the games played at Notre Dame Stadium will be 3:30pm ET kick-offs, with the exception of the September 22nd game against Michigan, which will start at 7:30pm ET.  
The October 6th game against Miami at Soldier Field in Chicago is considered a home game in the sense that it will be televised by NBC.  That will also be a 7:30pm ET start.
Start times for road games have not yet been determined, though the opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland will be televised by CBS.  There are rumors of a 2pm Dublin time kick off, which would be 9am ET.
Also, the Blue-Gold Game on April 21st will be televised on NBC Sports Network at 3:30pm ET.
 
One More Staff Addition
On March 2nd, Notre Dame named Ernest Jones Director of Player Development and Engagement.  In this role, Jones will act as a liaison between the players and the coaching staff, the academic office, and the student welfare and development office.
Jones had spent two years as an associate head coach at Buffalo under head coach Jeff Quinn.  Prior to that, he worked for Brian Kelly at Cincinnati in a position similar to what he will perform at Notre Dame.

February 23, 2012
In the End, Neal Picks ND
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com 
Nothing about Davonte Neal’s recruitment was normal.  The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Ariz. decided to make his announcement three weeks after Signing Day on February 21st at his former elementary school.  But not even that could go smoothly.
With 600 children gathered to hear his decision, Neal and his family failed to show up.  The Neals cited a family issue for the delay.  The kids remained out of class for a half an hour, which was probably not a bad thing in their minds, before they were led back to their rooms.
Later in the day, the Neals eventually made their way to the school and without the throng of eight year olds cheering him on, Davonte signed his letter of intent with Notre Dame.  When the fax was received at the football offices in the Gug, thus ended another in a long list of bizarre recruiting sagas.
Neal delayed focusing on recruiting until after his high school season was over.  His first trip was to Notre Dame and he and his family came away very impressed.  But looming was a visit to Ohio State with its new coach Urban Meyer.
Immediately, speculation began that the Buckeyes were in the driver’s seat.  Meyer even told Neal that he planned on using him in the same way he used Percy Harvin at Florida.  It seemed like a slam dunk that Neal would be a Buckeye.
But something funny happened on the way to Columbus.  Or in Columbus.  Or after he left Columbus.  There are rumors that something occurred during Neal’s visit to Ohio State that made the coaching staff sour on the electric athlete.  
However, Neal visited on January 13th and on Signing Day, February 1st, Meyer mentioned Neal by name in his press conference. The problem was that Neal had not signed with Ohio State, making this an NCAA violation.
Whether Ohio State dropped Neal because of his visit or to avoid angering the NCAA any more than it already had over the past year is irrelevant.  The Buckeyes were out, opening the door for several other schools.
Neal’s final four were Notre Dame, Arizona, Arkansas, and North Carolina.  He was always going to extend his decision beyond Signing Day because he got such a late start on the recruiting process.  But a family tragedy put a temporary halt to the process in early February.
Neal’s 15 year old cousin was struck by a car while waiting for the school bus on the morning January 30th.  A few days later, she passed away.  Understandably, the Neal family had bigger concerns than making a college decision.
More rumors began flying around that the incident had changed Neal’s perspective and it led him to more clarity in making his choice.  That fueled recent speculation that the University of Arizona would be the program landing the speedster from Scottsdale.  Many held that belief right up until yesterday afternoon when Neal declared for Notre Dame.
Now that the excitement is over, we have to ask what kind of player is Neal and how does he impact this recruiting class?
Davonte Neal       Chaparral High School      Scottsdale, Ariz.        5-foot-10, 175-pounds                  
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 17 Wide Receiver, No. 107 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 5 Cornerback, No. 74 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Five-star, No. 1 Athlete, No. 8 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-star, No. 6 Athlete, No. 53 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Ohio State
Highlights:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVSvnv0q4-o

There was certainly plenty of drama and many jokes were cracked at Neal’s expense, but make no mistake, this is a big time player that was an important signing for the Irish.  Along with the schools he considered, USC, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Clemson, Miami, and dozens others offered Neal a scholarship.
 
The strength of his game is in his speed.  Whether it be at corner or at wide receiver, he can really run.  According to Neal, Notre Dame will start him out at the slot receiver position, which is perfect in my view.  His listed size of 5-foot-10, 175-pounds may be stretching things and the ND staff does not like small corners.
 
However, his speed, along with his strong route running ability, makes him perfect in the slot.  He won’t have to worry about press coverage as much at that spot and if the Irish can get him the ball, he can make plays.
 
Neal will also be a factor on special teams.  He will probably get a look at punt returner, an area that was troublesome in 2011.  It is tough to put a freshman there, but Neal looks to have the skill set to make an impact bringing back punts, assuming the Irish can create some space for him to roam.
 
When the Irish lost Deontay Greenberry on Signing Day, they were at least one player short at receiver in this class.  Neal helps that area greatly and gives them a slot guy for the future, an area that will take a hit when Robby Toma graduates after next season.
 
However, in my view, Greenberry is a more impactful recruit.  Big, strong outside receivers are always more valuable than slot guys.  It is why Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson will always command more money from NFL teams than Wes Welker.  
 
I believe that Neal is a top 75-100 prospect and that he is vastly overrated by ESPN.  At Neal’s size the only way a prospect should be rated that high is if they have Black Mambo speed and while Neal is fast, I don’t think that he is quite in that category.
 
Still, he is a very good player that should be productive on both offense and special teams.  Both of Notre Dame’s other 2012 wide receiver signees, Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown, are outside guys and Neal complements them well in the slot.  It would have been nice to have Neal join a group with Greenberry on the outside too, but that will not happen.
 
I gave the wide receivers a C- grade on Signing Day and I think Neal bumps them up to a B-.  Likewise, the offense goes from C+ to B- and so does the overall class grade.
 
Here are the updated team rankings from each of the services:
 
Rivals:  No. 20
Scout:  No. 16
ESPN:  No. 9
24/7:  No. 12
 
I would put the Irish somewhere around 15.  Before Neal, I thought Notre Dame’s 2012 class was rather blah. Today, I think it is pretty good.  Not great by any means, but pretty good.
 
Now they just have to win some games.
 
 
Coaching Changes

Three Notre Dame assistant coaches left for other opportunities this winter.  Charley Molnar is the new head coach at the University of Massachusetts and Tim Hinton and Ed Warriner joined Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State.
 
Brian Kelly’s first order of business was to name Molnar’s replacement as offensive coordinator.  He did that by staying in house and promoting Chuck Martin from defensive backs coach to offensive coordinator.  Martin called offensive plays during his time as head coach at Grand Valley State and he is very familiar with Kelly’s system.  He will also mentor the quarterbacks.
 
Kerry Cooks will continue his work with the cornerbacks and will add co-defensive coordinator to his title.  Handling the safeties will be Bob Elliott.  A long time defensive backs coach, Elliott was most recently at Iowa State.  He also coached both co-defensive coordinators, Cooks and new assistant head coach Bob Diaco, at Iowa.
 
Tony Alford will shift from wide receivers coach back to the running backs coach position with which he is very familiar.  He had previously served in that capacity at both ND and Louisville.  Alford will also add the recruiting coordinator job to his list of duties.  He will also coach Neal and the other slot receivers while Mike Denbrock tutors the outside receivers.
 
Replacing Warriner as the offensive line coach is Harry Hiestand.  Hiestand comes from Tennessee and he also had stints with Illinois, Missouri, and five years with the Chicago Bears, where he helped the team earn a Super Bowl appearance.
 
Also, Scott Booker was named tight ends and special teams coach.  Booker had spent two years as an intern under Kelly and the Notre Dame head coach called that “a two year job interview.”  Booker had previous stops at Kent State and Western Kentucky.
February 8, 2012
2012 Recruiting Summary and a Look Ahead to 2013
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at irishsportsdaily.com

 
Team Rankings
Rivals:  No. 22
Scout:  No. 18
ESPN:  No. 10
24/7:  No. 17
 
As you can see, with the exception of ESPN, the class ranking is pretty consistent from one service to another.  With only 16 signees it is difficult to rank all that high, which makes ESPN’s ranking a little suspect.  
 
The amount and the quality of the recruits that are signed are what these services consider.  Those are two important aspects of recruiting, but filling needs is equally necessary in building a successful team.
 
There is no doubt that Notre Dame signed some good players.  On Rivals and Scout you can rank the teams based on average star rating and in both cases Notre Dame comes in considerably higher.  
 
Obviously, they did not sign a large number of guys, so that hurt.  But how did Notre Dame do at filling holes?  Let’s take a look.
 
In my view, the two biggest needs coming in were cornerback and safety.  Even though they did not ink a true impact safety, they got numbers and hopefully a couple of them develop into good players.  They have Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta returning, so if one of the incoming players, and we have to include mission returnee Chris Badger in this group, can get into the mix to provide depth, the Irish could be okay at that position next year.  Not great, but okay.
 
Corner is a different animal.  Notre Dame will only have five scholarship cornerbacks on the roster this spring and fall.  None of the five has started a game.  Perhaps they are all very good, but I doubt it.  First year starters tend to struggle at the cornerback position and any type of injury at this position would be crippling.
 
Getting Tee Shepard was very important as he may come in and compete for playing time right away.  But not getting a second and third corner in this class was a huge miss.
 
Following those two positions on the priority list was running back and the Irish knocked it out of the park here.  Not only did they sign two four-star recruits in William Mahone and KeiVarie Russell, they also landed USC transfer Amir Carlisle.  They could not have done much better at this position and it may help them at receiver because there is a good chance that Russell slides over to the slot position.
 
At wide receiver, Justin Ferguson and Chris Brown are nice prospects.  But the loss of Deontay Greenberry on Signing Day will sting for a long time.  Greenberry, much like his cousin Tee Shepard, probably would have seen significant playing time right away.  Without him the position lacks star power and the numbers are not quite where they need to be.
 
Davonte Neal, a speedster out of Arizona, has yet to sign and Notre Dame is still involved.  It still seems like a bit of a long shot that Neal will end up at ND, but each day another school is being eliminated and the Irish are still around.  A recent death in the family has slowed Neal’s recruiting for the time being, but there are rumors that he will make a decision on February 21st.  He is a Top 100 player that would entirely change the perception of ND’s wide receiver recruiting.
 
Offensive line was next on the list of key need areas and the Irish were in good position until Taylor Decker flipped to Ohio State.  That left Notre Dame with just two offensive linemen in this class and put a greater import on their efforts in 2013.  
 
I thought linebacker, especially inside linebacker, was a big spot for the Irish this year, but with just one outside guy in this class, Brian Kelly and company did not agree.  Much like with offensive linemen and corners, it gets pushed to the class of 2013.
 
Signing a quarterback was not deemed essential early in the process, but with the shaky play of the signal callers in 2011 and the departure of Dayne Crist, things changed.  The Irish persuaded Gunner Kiel to enroll early and he will be vying for playing time this spring along with Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix, and Everett Golson.  Kiel is the consensus No. 1 quarterback prospect in the class of 2012, so he was a very nice get.
 
Defensive line was not a huge need, but Notre Dame built on the talent brought in last year by landing Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, two highly regarded linemen.  Many experts feel Jones is an offensive tackle, but the Irish recruited him for defense and that is where he will start.  Adding these two players to Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, Chase Hounshell, Louis Nix, and the other youngsters up front gives ND plenty to look forward to on the defensive line in the next few years.
 
We now shift our recruiting attention to the class of 2013, especially at the positions that Notre Dame fell short this year.  The Midwest is loaded with offensive linemen in the class of 2013 and the Irish must take advantage.  They already have a commitment from Steve Elmer, but they need at three more.  Several of the prospects have claimed that Notre Dame was their favorite school growing up, but they are still going to go through the recruiting process.
 
There are also several quality wide receivers in next year’s class including one from Michael Floyd’s old high school, Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn.  Again, the Irish appear to be in good shape with many of these prospects, but it is a long journey to get them to sign next February.
 
There are also plenty of good prospects in the Midwest and Northeast at the linebacker positions, but cornerback is a bit of a concern again.  There are some New Jersey prospects, but it is not a strong year for defensive backs in the middle of the country.  ND may have to try their luck again in warm weather locales like Florida, Texas, and California.
 
Muddying the waters in the Midwest is the re-emergence of Michigan and the arrival of Urban Meyer at Ohio State.  Many of the players that claim to like Notre Dame also have interest in Michigan and/or Ohio State.  
 
A perfect example is Jaylon Smith, perhaps the top linebacker in the junior class.  Smith attends Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., which as a Catholic school in northern Indiana would have to be considered Notre Dame friendly.  But Smith’s brother, Rod, is a running back at Ohio State and the Irish will have to battle the Buckeyes to land the local star.
 
The same is true with the offensive linemen that like Notre Dame.  While they may have cheered for the Irish as kids, they see Michigan making strides and know what Meyer can do at OSU.  So while they may have ND gear in their house that they have outgrown, they also know that Notre Dame is coming off back to back 8-5 seasons and face a difficult schedule in 2012.
 
Where does that leave Notre Dame going forward?  The 2011 season ended in disappointing fashion and so did the recruiting season.  As a result, the mojo of both the program and its recruiting is on the downswing at this time.  I believe that expecting a lot of early commitments is unrealistic considering the lack of progress in 2011.
 
Unfortunately, more and more kids are committing early, so even if the Irish get off to a great start next fall, it may be too late.  Then again, with more players committing early, more are also changing schools at the end.  Perhaps the Irish can practice the Urban Meyer technique of poaching committed recruits after the 2012 season ends.
 
Of course, that is assuming that ND has a strong season this fall and that is a mighty big assumption.  They still have an unsettled quarterback situation, Michael Floyd is gone at wide receiver and it seems like no one is in line to take his spot as a true No. 1 target, they lose the right side of the offensive line, there remain concerns about the coverage skills of the linebackers, and the secondary is in a total state of flux.
 
And then there’s the schedule.  After opening with Navy in Ireland and hosting Purdue in week two, the Irish get Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, Brigham Young, and Oklahoma in consecutive games.  After Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Wake Forest, the Irish wrap up their season by going out to USC, who may be the preseason No. 1 team.
 
Notre Dame has not lost less than five games in a season since 2006 and they have lost at least three games every year since 1993.  All things considered, next fall could be rough.  Another mediocre season could lead to a disappointing Signing Day in 2013.
 
Don’t get me wrong, the class of 2012 is not awful.  It is a group of prospects that can help Notre Dame win games, but it is not going to lift the Irish to the level of the elite programs unless the classes surrounding it are among the nation’s best.  Last year, especially if you include transfers Jordan Prestwood and Amir Carlisle, is definitely on that level.  
 
2013?  It will certainly be a big year for Brian Kelly and his staff.
 
As for this year’s grade, I gave them a C on offense and a C+ on defense, so it is one of the two.  
 
Overall Grade:  C+

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