Smart Football: Ault's Pistol vs. Tenuta's Defense


Chris Brown is the editor and creator of the website, which is every bit as intelligent as the website name implies. He’s taken a look at the Pistol offense before, and I asked him to give us a little slice of how he expected Notre Dame defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to attack Chris Ault’s vaunted pistol offense. Enjoy.

To understand what Tenuta needs to do on defense you need to understand
at least the flavor of Nevada’s offense. What the “pistol” gives Nevada
is the ability to combine a downhill, pro-style (inside zone, outside
zone) and old-school option style game with some spread elements —
namely, the quarterback can do the zone-read and all of that good
stuff. But it’s not accurate to think of Nevada as a “spread” team in
the vein of Oregon or what Rich Rodriguez is doing at Michigan.

As videos like the above show, they want to rush it straight ahead;
that the quarterback, the 6-6 Colin Kaepernick who had over 1,000 yards
rushing last season, can also read the defense and pull the ball
himself is just gravy on top. One of the advantages this gives Chris
Ault is that they are much better at play-action and sucking the
defense up and throwing over the top than are most so-called “spread

So what does that mean? It means that you play Nevada almost like teams
used to have to play those old Nebraska teams, except Nevada can throw
it better than they could. (This is not to say Nevada can steamroll
people quite like Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers.) The front seven has to be
disciplined, keep in their lanes, account for all of the offense’s run
options (quarterback, receivers or pitch backs, running backs), while
the safeties have to be cautious and cannot just sell out to stop the
run. This actually puts a lot of pressure on the cornerbacks, as they
will not get much help in pass coverage from the inside linebackers.

Whether or not Tenuta wants to be aggressive is really just a matter of
style. Zone blitzing could be effective, but it could also be a
distraction considering that Nevada wants to throw it first and often
does so in a very straight ahead, power-focused, old-school fashion.
Now, the defensive line will be key, and if they can defeat Nevada’s
zone blocking and get penetration into the backfield, most will think
they were “aggressive” enough, even if the Irish aren’t actually
blitzing. As I said, the front seven has to take on Nevada’s offensive
line and just play better than them.

If they can do this and bottle up the running backs — and also not lose
discipline and let Kaepernick gash them for big gains — then Notre
Dame shouldn’t have too much trouble with Nevada, as I’m confident that
ND can throw it against Nevada. If they can’t though, it might be a
shootout, and that’s not the way Charlie Weis wants to start the season.

Be sure to check out more from Chris at Smart Football, and follow him on twitter at

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State

Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)


Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*


Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*


Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more


We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.


Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention


Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.