Jimmy & Eric meet the press

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The captains press conference usually isn’t good for much, as the guys are usually very well media trained, but I’ve really found myself enjoying Eric Olsen and Jimmy Clausen when they’re up in front of the microphones. Olsen has a pretty good sense of humor, and has made more than his share of jokes when he’s usually stuck sitting next to his more popular teammate as Clause answers a handful of questions for every one that Olsen gets asked.

Yesterday was a little bit different, as both Olsen and Clausen had plenty to discuss.

* Eric talked about his relationship with teammate Dan Wenger and what it was like to move over to center and take the starting job of your best friend.

It’s tough, because walking in the door here from day one, Danny and I
became best friends, and we’ve been best friends since then. Everything
from going to the dining hall, going to class, living together now,
we’ve spent every minute of every day almost around each other, and
being on the football team together it’s even more time than the time
outside of football.

But I think we both understood that it wasn’t anything personal from me
to him or from him to me, it was more of a thing to help the team. So
we kind of got past that and it didn’t really affect our relationship.

Olsen went on to talk about how dedicated Wegner has been since the demotion, and how he’s basically the sixth starting lineman as far as being included in offseason work, conditioning, meetings, etc.

* Olsen was pretty candid about the last two matchups with Navy. Last season’s narrow escape after the team coasted when the score was 27-7, and the 2007 loss that broke the Notre Dame winning streak against the Midshipmen.

No offense to Navy, but that was kind of the low point of my career. I
mean, obviously that season wasn’t a season that any of us really want
to remember at all. But when you have a streak that long against a
team, you hate to be the team that gives that streak up. Again, it’s
nothing personal to them, but just so happened that they were the team
that we had that streak against.

The past few years they’ve given us a pretty good game, so you can’t
overlook effort as being something that has a significance in a
football game. That’s what we’re expecting from them this weekend.

I fully expect the Irish to play all four quarters of this game. While it’s nice that the Irish and Coach Weis rarely run up the score against an opponent, I don’t expect Notre Dame to sit back and be complacent if the Irish find themselves in another almost three scores ballgame.

* Eric was asked for a “PG version” of what CW had to say after he was flagged for his second personal foul penalty last week against Washington State.

I knew this was coming. He said something along the lines of, “Eric,
that was rude and unnecessary, and please don’t let it happen again.”
And I said, “Yes, sir.”

I tried to play dumb and act I didn’t know what they called me for. You
kind of see that in the NBC copy, slow motion, and it showed exactly
what I did. But he saw right through it and he wasn’t having that, kind
of put me in my place a little bit. That’s his feeling, so no hard

There were probably a thousand different Notre Dame fans sitting in front of their TV giving Olsen the same type of tongue-lashing, and I’m glad Olsen went with the buttoned-up and play stupid approach. That was always my M.O.

* Jimmy was asked about the injury to teammate and friend Dayne Crist. Predictably, he took it pretty hard.

For me it’s kind of different than everyone else because I’ve known
Dayne since elementary school, and just seeing him go down like that
was something I don’t want anyone to ever have to deal with. I know in
the end Dayne is going to — after he gets the surgery done, he’s going
to be rehabbing every single day and get back a lot sooner than people
expect. Just seeing what happened and having an ACL is something just
bad and you never want that to happen to somebody else, and that’s just
a real tough injury.

He’s doing all right. Obviously he’s in the quarterback room with us,
and his spirits are up. But obviously he wants to be out there playing,
but he knows he just has to have the surgery and get back as soon as he
can. Like I said, he’s a real competitor and he’s going to want to get
back out there as soon as he can, and he’ll be back real fast.

There have been a lot of people talking about this injury and whether or not it effects Jimmy’s future at Notre Dame, and I think we’re all just taking a guess right now. I could make about five arguments for staying or going if I wanted to, but they’d all by guesses.

* And just when the theme of toes was falling off the front page, Clausen had a bit of a setback when he was tripped up on his last play in the ballgame.

It’s all right. It’s a little sore right now, but I jammed it on that
one play when the guy barely clipped my foot and I tripped over myself,
but it feels all right. It’s going to linger on for the rest of the
season. I’m going to have to deal with it. I’m just tolerating the pain
right now.

To be honest my toe was feeling really good going into the Washington
State game, and after that play it kind of set me back to a few weeks
ago where I was hurting and dealing with the pain. But hopefully it’ll
get back to where it was before the Washington State game.

Turf toe might take its place up there with nagging high ankle sprains at the most annoying injury you can suffer during a football season. At least with Clausen’s injury, it’s not as if it really takes away a weapon of his. 

* And for those of you curious about Jimmy’s academic track, he’s basically one semester away from earning a degree.

I have 15 more credits, which is five classes, and those are the only
classes. I’m majoring in sociology, and I only have one sociology
class, which is a one-credit class every Friday, and the rest are
electives. So there’s five more classes and then I’ll be able to

Jimmy has earned a Notre Dame degree in three years. Good for him. That should be part of the recruiting package when you come and visit campus. If you’re really reading the tea leaves, Clausen’s schedule this Spring could be the biggest tell on whether he’s staying or going.

How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told ESPN.com.

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.