Notre Dame faces an important test today with the Washington Huskies. Empirically, the Irish are the better team. They have a more explosive offense, a defense with less question marks (believe it or not), and the advantage of playing in front of 80,000 of their own fans. Yet there is a general sense of uneasiness among the Notre Dame faithful that is representative of the Irish’s efforts thus far this season, and really a carryover from the past two years of the Weis regime.
With a win today, the Irish would move to 4-1, and have a chance to beat the most fragile USC team in recent memory. Every goal that even the most optimistic Irish fan had before the season started would be reachable, and even the once mighty Trojans look beatable, suffering from the same growing pains that ail most teams breaking in a new quarterback. Yet a loss to Washington would be catastrophic to the psyche of the players and fans. A 3-2 record going into the USC game would feel like a guarantee to start .500 in the first six games, and would necessitate running the table for the Irish to even be considered for a New Year’s Day bowl game.
Yet that type of forward thinking is what has doomed many Irish fans this year. Instead of basking in the glory of a tight victory, they bemoan the circumstances that kept the games close. Instead of thinking that the Irish are one play and some very questionable officiating away from being undefeated, they think Notre Dame is two plays away from being 1-3. Stumbling to Michigan wasn’t just a loss, it was an indictment of Weis and his entire staff.
Today presents an opportunity for the Irish. It offers the chance to give a complete effort in all three facets of the game. On offense, the Irish can control the line of scrimmage with their running attack, and take shots deep in the passing game when the Huskies crowd the line of scrimmage. On defense, the Irish can tighten the clamps on their Cover 2, and use Jon Tenuta’s blitzing scheme to force an athletic, but inaccurate quarterback into making some bad decisions with the ball. On special teams, the Irish don’t need to break a return or block a kick to be successful, but stay fundamentally sound and make the routine plays.
Finally, today represents an opportunity for Coach Weis and his staff. It’s time to rally the team and get a complete effort. It’s not enough to wow us for a quarter at a time. It’s not enough to just squeak by a team that has inferior talent. It’s time for the Irish to compete for four quarters and put away a team that isn’t there equal.
If the Irish can do that today, they’ll have a week off to think about their biggest game yet.
DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.
He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:
Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend
Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.
McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.
After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.
Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.
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.
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!
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.