Nevada… (Why I'm petrified.)

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As a Notre Dame fan you get conditioned for certain reactions. Whether its bemoaning a ranking undeserved or chuckling when the team falls out of preseason favor, the opposition always finds a way to say something that gets under your skin.

The Nevada game is a perfect example.

This season’s Notre Dame story line undoubtedly begins with the schedule. It’s almost as if the universe has collectively agreed that the schedule is markedly easier. Predicting a ten-win season is uniformly attached to the scheduling rationale, as if Notre Dame was the only school to find a mix of teams that deserved mock and ridicule this year.

That’s what has me so worried about Nevada.

If you equated the opening of the football season with the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, Notre Dame would be a 4 or 5 seed, and Nevada an 11 or 12. Nevada is the perfect upset / trap team. High powered offense, propelled with the least vulnerable asset an underdog can have: a potent running game.

The big stage does funny things to underdogs. In the NCAA tourney, the little engine that could either starts drilling big threes and gets the crowd and momentum behind them, or the rim gets really small, they get run out of the gym, and CBS cuts to a different game. The problem with Nevada from Notre Dame’s perspective is that Nevada’s offensive doesn’t depend on three-point shooting. Its excellence is also the least risky and best suited attack for an upset: a high octane running game.

It’s not as if coach Chris Ault is asking Colin Kaepernick to put the ball in the air 30 times to get Nevada the win. He’s got two (and if you believe Weis, three) running backs that can move the chains and eat the clock. That’s like combining Princeton’s back-door offense with the low post presence of NCAA sleeper Taylor Coppenrath. If the Irish can’t figure out how to stop the run, then this is going to be a very scary afternoon. Add in a 6-foot-6 quarterback that runs like a gazelle and can extend drives with both his legs and his arm, and I’m already getting armpit sweat.

As for the much maligned Nevada defense, if ND can’t figure a way to get a running game established, it’s going to force the Irish to get extremely one-dimensional, which could swing the time-of-possession battle even more into the run-happy Wolf Pack’s favor. And once you let a defense that’s set with two rock-solid pass-rushing defensive ends and cut them loose (and cut them loose against a left tackle that’s been a little nicked up and hasn’t played for a season), that’s got me already having nightmares about how many times I’m going to see the patent-pending Jimmy Clausen-reverse-peel-out-from-the-pocket-14-yard sack.

(Is it hot in here?)

It’s not as if Nevada doesn’t think they can win. I’m sure coach Ault has shown his troops footage of Notre Dame’s opening game last season, the 21-13 escape against a San Diego State that only managed to beat Idaho and UNLV.

And then there’s this from my interview earlier in the week with Juan Lopez of the Nevada school newspaper:

“The entire team, from head coach to ball boy, knows this is the biggest game in Nevada’s history in terms of national exposure. It is not just another game for anybody involved with Nevada. I’ve had guys tell me they’re losing sleep and that the Notre Dame game was used as a recruiting tool to bring them here to Nevada. This is easily the biggest game some of these guys will ever play in.”

It’s starting to feel like Notre Dame isn’t playing Nevada, but lining up against Norman Dale’s Hickory High basketball team, or Tom Brennan’s Vermont hoops team, or Homer Drew’s Valpo team that made a whole bunch of noise back in the day.

In the end, that’s what scares me the most. Take Notre Dame out of this equation, and I like everything about this Nevada team. High octane offense that’s nicknamed after a firearm, a quarterback that’s a freak of nature and who makes you prove your fanhood every time you spell his last name. (K-a-e-p-e-r-n-i-c-k… that’s what two weeks of Nevada prep gets you.)

I’ve always been a sucker for an upset story… But as a Notre Dame fan, I just hope we don’t get one this weekend.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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