Onward to Michigan


Having turned the page to Michigan, I’m struggling to come up with words to describe how big I think this game will be. Count me as one of the people who were glad that the Wolverines stepped up and played a nice first half against Western Michigan.

Watching a replay of the game (courtesy of ESPN360.com), you could immediately see what has Michigan fans so enthusiastic about incoming quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Forcier has an uncommon moxie for a true freshman, and the well-hyped speed of Robinson is absolutely legit. Forcier didn’t have any deer-in-the-headlights moments that you’d presume to see with a kid making his first start in front of 100,000 people, and even though Robinson’s throwing mechanics are incredibly wonky, he’s immediately a threat with his foot speed. After watching Robinson drop a snap and ad-lib a broken play into a 43-yard touchdown run, I wrote this:

“Denard Robinson is way faster than Colin Kaepernick.”

I kept my eye on the vaunted Brandon Graham for much of the first half. (Admission: I turned the game off a bit into the 3rd quarter when I realized the Wolverines weren’t scoring again.) Graham seemed to do his best work against the Broncos’ right tackle, which doesn’t say much, considering he only had one assisted tackle for his day against a MAC team. That said, Graham was in the backfield quite a bit, and his speed rush moves disrupted the Broncos passing attack. Still, seeing Graham on the left-side of the defensive line had me feeling much better knowing that he’ll have to beat Sam Young to get to Jimmy Clausen.

One thing that I think the Irish coaching staff will notice right away is the potential for forced fumbles with the young Michigan quarterbacks. Neither Forcier or Robinson really tucked the ball away, and I was shocked at how loosely Forcier carried the ball when he was buying time behind the line of scrimmage. Forcier better reset his internal clock this week during practice, or you can expect to see a wild scrum for more than a few loose balls after Brian Smith or a blitzing safety come flying in from the blind side. Also, I think a point of emphasis for the Irish defense will be, quite crudely, putting the hurt on these quarterbacks. If Forcier is going to run the ball so brazenly, I’ve got to believe that Coach Tenuta will have his vocabulary spit-shined up and full of wonderful adjectives that will have the Irish playing like heat-seeking missiles aimed directly at the diminutive 190-pound quarterback.

The last thing that I noticed about the ESPN broadcast was how incredibly biased announcers Mike Patrick and Craig James were on the recent allegations leveled against Michigan. I would expect something like that from a website like MGoBlog, but these were serious allegations brought about from a thorough investigation by a reputable media source. James calling the controversy “a witch hunt,” was a slap in the face to the writers and reporters at the Free Press, and the announcing team seemed to do their best to stump for Rodriguez and the Michigan staff, while doing everything they could to avoid mentioning that there were some fairly serious allegations leveled.

We’ll get into it more as the week goes on, but to me the biggest issue raised by the Free Press is the allegation that graduate assistants or members of the football support team were present at the summer workouts and 7-on-7 scrimmages. Forget the voluntary/non-voluntary workout business, the NCAA is very cut-and-dry on who can attend those workouts, and the people reported to have been there is a very big (aka potential major violation) no-no.

Here’s looking forward to a very good (and thankfully, short) game week. We’ve got a lot of good stuff on tap this week.

Everybody enjoy your Labor Day. 

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, UND.com 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.