The good, the bad, the ugly: USC

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Waking up today, it still feels the same way. Another heart-breaker against the hated Trojans, and Irish fans have to be wondering when this losing streak will come to an end. I haven’t rewatched the game yet, but I can’t stop thinking about three or four close plays that the Irish secondary almost made on some of Barkley’s tight throws. While visions of Anthony McCoy galloping down the field with haunt the Irish faithful, it was the near misses and almost interceptions that still get at my gut.

As usual, here’s the good, bad, and ugly from Saturday’s loss to the Trojans.

THE GOOD

The spirit of the Irish has to be something that people feel good about. For Irish fans, there had to be a moment in the 4th quarter that was bordering on despair. How can this be happening? How can Notre Dame still be losing by 20 points to the Trojans after five years of Weis? Yet even though most in the stands or in front of their TVs didn’t believe, the Irish did, and they mounted a rally that could’ve been… well, you know. Sorting through the stats, a few things jump out at me. Notre Dame had 6 more first downs than the Trojans, but couldn’t match the massive chunks of yardage that the Trojans were piling up. Jimmy Clausen played courageously, running for his life and still having a great day at the office. But a loss is a loss. Taken as a single entity, I’d argue this game was a good loss (if you believe in those). Yet looking at the totality of it all — eight games and running — and people start getting antsy. If there’s a good, the Irish offense, the heart of both units, and the fight of the team have to be at the forefront.

THE BAD

Schematically, Notre Dame’s passing defense is broken. Matt Barkley had ALL DAY to throw in the pocket, and USC’s ability to create space and throwing lanes on the field just left the Irish secondary hanging out to dry. It feels like a broken record, but Jon Tenuta refuses to hide his intent with blitzes, and the Irish continue to get crushed because of this. Never was this more evident than Damian Williams’ second touchdown reception. It is no secret that USC is dependent on the play-action passing game and rolling the quarterback out, yet for much of the first three quarters, Barkley picked up huge gains on high-percentage throws that had the Irish defense befuddled. Coming into today, the Trojans were only converting 28 percent of their 3rd downs. Today, USC went 6 for 13 — many of those plays huge gainers. While Notre Dame held USC to 3.7 yards a carry, it was the big play in the air that beat the Irish.

THE UGLY

What does Notre Dame need to do to get past the Trojans? The Irish must feel like their luck has to be ready to change, and for a while it seemed like it was. Fumbles were being recovered, clutch 3rd and 4th down conversions, including an epic catch by Robby Parris on a 4th and ballgame that got him a well deserved ovation as he was helped off the field after a horrific face-masking penalty contorted his body into a very scary position. Even the additional play at the end of the game — one last second to get into the end zone and get the chance to take the game to overtime or go for the two-point conversion and play for the win. Can you imagine the place in Irish lore this come-from-behind win would’ve had? Can you imagine how long you’d talk about Weis’ decision to go for 2 and the win, or an overtime thriller? There’d be t-shirts selling in the bookstore for years. That’s what hurts the most for Irish fans. One more stomach punch against the Trojans, another year of listening to the taunts and jeers of Southern Cal fans, and another 13 months before the Irish have to travel to Los Angeles and face a team that will then have Matt Barkley playing in his second full season. There was no better time for the Irish to walk away victorious, and that’s the part that has to hurt the most.

Somebody pass me the Advil. 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.