Weis looks to USC for UW clues


For any of his perceived faults, Charlie Weis is an analytical coach who pays great attention to detail. And for anyone who doesn’t believe that, watch, listen or read one of his press conferences.

(If you still care to object, here’s a brief snippet from his breakdown of route-running when asked about freshman Shaq Evans:

“When you run a comeback and it’s at 14 yards and you plant your inside
foot and you’re coming down the stem at a 45-degree angle. And in high
school the guy couldn’t throw it on the button right on the sideline,
you know, because you didn’t have that same type of timing issue
because the corner was off you 20 yards, so you came out of the route
and just kind of turned around and the ball was there, and you went and
caught it. Now you got a guy driving on you, because the corner’s
closer to you because you have less separation, and now that cornerback
is bringing you down to the sideline. If you don’t come down the stem
and go make that play, it’s an incomplete pass, and somebody looked bad
in the play. So I think that, you know, learning how precise you
have to be and the precision that goes with route running is probably
the bigger issue.”

That’s more than the usual coach-speak you get when most coaches talk to the media.)

Weis’ attention to detail was on full display yesterday. Weis is very deliberate in these sessions, often times reading from scripted notes and sparing no detail when talking about the upcoming opposition.

What was interesting to me, was how often he referenced USC when talking about the Huskies. It’s common knowledge that both Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt came over from Pete Carroll’s staff, but Weis almost emphasized that knowing USC’s offense and defense was imperative to solving the Huskies’ systems.

“They’re playing basically very similar concepts to USC’s defense, but
with Washington’s players,” Weis said of the Husky defense. “But, you know, as you watch them run around
right there, you can see, you know, these guys are starting to get it.”

Weis made similar comments about the offense, where Sarkisian calls the plays. When asked about defending quarterback Jake Locker, Weis again spoke of his familiarity with the system.

“In the
last system, you know, he was a read-option type of guy with that
spread,” Weis said. “But you can see that he’s settled in nicely into, you know, the
old USC system that they have right now.”

You can argue whether or not Weis’ knowledge of the USC systems has helped the Irish at all, they are, after all, winless in four tries against the Trojans. But when you’re playing a first time head coach and you’ve only got four games to get familiar with his system, it’s incredibly helpful to have the knowledge base Weis does on both Sarkisian and Holt. From the sound of it, Weis agrees.

“I think Steve is a very, very good coach, and I think he is going to
have his own personality,” Weis said. “He is not going there to are USC North. There
are things that they did, you know, he is running their offense and
Nick is running the defense, that they had great success with so why
would you change that? I mean, you take the things that you had great
success with, and then you apply it to the players you currently have,
and they’ll definitely branch off like everyone else does.”

We’ll find out Saturday if Weis’ hunch is correct.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.