Weekend leftovers


We’ll know much more about the Irish offense in the next day or so, and I’ll share some thoughts on that later today. But until then, here are some observations, thoughts and leftovers from the weekend that was. Overall, it’s never disappointing to win a game by almost 4 touchdowns, but if I’m the Irish coaching staff, I’d still let everyone know there’s plenty of room for improvement.

Here are some thoughts and observations from the weekend:

* Reading the Spokane Spokesman-Review, I found some interesting quotes from the game, most of them with a Wazzu flavor. The theme of the evening was the “incredible bulk” of the Notre Dame offensive line.

“It was all up front, we were just out-physical-ed,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “That was probably the first time this year where we got that ‘physical-ed.'”

Yet the highlight of the story was a quote from quarterback Jeff Tuel, who was asked about the play Golden Tate made at the end of the first half.

“We feel confident, we’re two scores out of the game – we feel like
we’re going into the half and they throw the Hail Mary and then it’s
just kind of like, ‘Holy cow,'” Tuel said. “We were just kind of
in shock. It definitely took a little bit of momentum away from us.”

As incredible as that moment must have been for Notre Dame going into halftime, that had to be far more devastating for the Cougars.

* I noticed pretty early that the Irish looked really quick on the artificial surface of the Alamodome, and apparently Charlie Weis did as well. He specifically thought the loss of Armando Allen could be absorbed by adding the electric speed of Theo Riddick into the rushing attack, and for the most part he was correct.

“This is a fast track here, this is a low surface astroturf, so it’s a very fast track and I thought Theo would thrive,” Weis said.

While the speed of the field played into Riddick’s success, I’d argue that it was even more important for the defensive front seven, where Notre Dame very clearly out-athleted Wazzu with players like Darius Fleming, Kerry Neal, and Steve Filer. Manti Te’o looked even more explosive out there, as well as Ethan Johnson.

I think it’s only a matter of time before the football program realizes that it might make sense to try and do something about their home field, especially if they’re going to be recruiting the type of athletes that they now have a plethora of.

* In his comments last night, Weis was happy with the performance of the first defensive unit. As a whole, they only gave up 109 yards of total offense, and zero explosive plays in the passing game.

Before we discount the performance and point to the woeful Cougar offense, it should be mentioned that Tuel threw for 354 yards against Cal last weekend, so maybe it’s a sign that the Irish defense might be putting things together.

* Once again, Charlie Weis claimed that touted freshman wide receiver Shaq Evans isn’t in the doghouse. While Evans played some Saturday, he’s still is far from a regular spot in the rotation, and doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to the field.

“He’s not in the doghouse. I’ve heard this several times in the last few weeks about him being in the doghouse,” Weis said. “As a matter of face, the last week and a half, he’s actually practiced better and better and put himself in a position to get significant time.

“He’s in a position to go ahead and play in the multiple wide receivers sets and the guys that are playing ahead of him are playing too good really to take out. I’m not looking to take out guys just to take them out. When it came time for substituting, when his group was in, we were in more two-wide sets than three-wide sets.”

“I promise you, may God strike me dead, there’s no doghouse for number 11. I never lie to you guys, I try to be evasive as I possibly can, but I’m not lying to you. There’s no doghouse.”

This is a great reminder for all the recruitniks out there, that you really don’t know what you’re getting until the freshman actually strap up the pads. Especially with kids from football hotbeds like Southern California. Shaq Evans and Cierre Wood were two of the highest touted skill recruits in the class, and guys like Theo Riddick and Robby Toma were after thoughts to those that follow that kind of stuff. (I even remember reading a messageboard where someone openly questioned why a guy like Riddick would want to even play running back, when he’ll most likely transition to cornerback.)

Also, the play of Duval Kamara has done more to keep Shaq off the field than any misstep he could’ve taken off the field. Duval may never become the explosive jump-ball, deep-threat many hoped he’d become, but he’s certainly becoming a dependable third option, that will continue to make plays when you-know-who comes back.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach


Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”




Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

ASU Sports Information

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.