The good, the bad, the ugly: Michigan

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The loss to Michigan was crushing. Something felt off from the start, and for much of the game, the score didn’t seem to correlate with what we were seeing. The Irish ran and threw the ball at will, yet the scoreboard didn’t seem to notice.

All the goodwill the Irish built after their impressive showing against Nevada is gone, and the Irish find themselves in a must-win game Saturday against nemesis Michigan State. Charlie Weis and his veteran leadership are saying all the right things, but we will find out very soon whether this game is the lynchpin for the Irish’s season.

We knew that the season wouldn’t be all good. But now we’ll find out if the Irish can pick themselves up off the mat. Here’s the good, bad, and ugly from a heartbreaking Saturday in Ann Arbor.

THE GOOD:

The offensive attack.

I mentioned in my live blog during the game Saturday that it didn’t feel like Jimmy Clausen was playing a great game, yet you look at his numbers and they are once again exceptional. 25 of 42, 336 yards, 3 TDs 0 INTs. Those numbers should have an extra 100 or so yards if Golden Tate doesn’t drop a straight go for 6 and Armando Allen’s screen pass touchdown isn’t overturned, not to mention the throws Clausen inexplicably threw out of bounds.

For all the venom being spewed at Tate for his drops, he still managed to have 9 catches for 115 yards. And I’m trying to think of appropriate adjectives for what Mister Michael Floyd has been doing in these first two games. Obviously, he can’t continue to put up numbers like this, but Floyd has pushed his name into the conversation about elite wideouts in the country. He is an All-American in just his 12th game in a Notre Dame uniform.

The running game was exceptional, with Armando Allen proving to us why Weis and the coaching staff have such belief in his abilities. While people will talk about the two plays where the Irish didn’t tote the rock, a competent running game will be one of the key factors in the rest of the season.

THE BAD:

The special teams and defense.

Let’s start with the special teams. Nick Tausch probably wants a mulligan off the first tee, pushing a chip shot wide on the first FG attempt of his Notre Dame career. To Tausch’s credit he did rally and make his next two kicks, but you’ve got to convert all your field goals under 30 yards. The kickoff return by Daryl Stonum that put Michigan ahead 14-3 wasn’t pretty, and Leonard Gordon’s matador on Stonum when he had a chance to stop him 62 yards earlier put the early momentum in Michigan’s favor. Finally, the punting of Eric Maust has been mediocre. While 40 yards a punt isn’t terrible, it seems like Maust has struggled when the Irish needed him the most. It’s easy to forget his shaky performance against Nevada, but Maust’s inability to fire a rocket deep on his final punt was a dooming factor in the ballgame.

As for the defense, once again the Irish were gashed by runners. Brandon Minor returned to action after sitting out the opener with a balky ankle and ran for 106 yards, with the majority of those yards coming in the second half. And the image of Tate Forcier running away from the Irish defense for a 31 yard touchdown is one that will be seared into many Irish fans brains. The Irish were unable to get any heat on Forcier in the second half, and looked to almost give up on disguising where the pressure was coming from. One of the keys to Jon Tenuta’s defense is deception, and it was as if the Irish didn’t care to hide their intent, and simply decided to flood the box. Lastly, Darrin Walls might have played his worst game in a Notre Dame uniform. Irish faithful were quietly confident that Walls would become the lock-down corner that many projected, but he was beat early and late for huge plays by Wolverine receivers.

THE UGLY:

It’s too early to say what the ramifications will be from this devastating loss. The Irish can use the defeat as motivation, a la Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators last year, or they can just as easily crumble under the pressure that will surely be applied.

The heat will be turned up, and the self-created hysteria that is already spreading like wild fire among Irish “fans” could turn into a nightmarish media scenario like the one at the end of last season. There is no doubt that this loss stings, especially after every single break in the game seemed to go against the Irish. (I am not a referee basher, but the officiating in the game was criminal.)

In the end, the Irish will need to find a way to learn from the defeat. The script for this game could’ve just as easily been the story of a resilient Irish team, lead by a burgeoning star quarterback and his wide receivers. Rallying from a 14-3 and 31-20 deficit, the Irish just wouldn’t accept defeat.

That finish is just a fantasy of course, but sometimes a team needs to believe in something before it can actually happen. 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”