The good, the bad, the ugly: Navy

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It’s been about 24 hours, and the loss to Navy doesn’t feel any different. It’s a devastating blow to the Irish, and once again the buzzards are beginning to swirl. Still, in the aftermath of it all, people are forgetting that Notre Dame didn’t just lose a football game. Navy won it, and they won it with a superior game plan, great execution, and by playing good football. Hats off to Navy. They have quickly become a team that you simply want to avoid. The Midshipmen run a niche offense that is incredibly difficult to stop, have a disciplined team that doesn’t turn the ball over, and a win gets you little credit — you’re supposed to beat Navy.

This one is going to sting, but the Irish have no choice but to move forward, as a date with the eighth-ranked Pitt Panthers looms next weekend. Before we get there, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from yesterday’s game.

THE GOOD

It’s tough to blame Jimmy Clausen, Michael Floyd, or Golden Tate for this loss. The big three were amazing, and Clausen put up monster numbers and showed a lot of resolve in the late game rally. Michael Floyd didn’t show much rust, making 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, and after a incredibly quiet first half, Tate ended up with 9 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. It’s amazing to think that it felt like the Navy defensive backs actually had good days when the offense picked up 452 yards in the air and put up 512 yards.

THE BAD

Where to start? Defensively, the Irish were a mess. They failed at every level, giving up big plays by the bundle to the fullback, a big play for a touchdown in the passing game, and repeatedly failed to get off the field on third downs. Offensively, the Irish were dismal in the red zone, entering the red zone six times and getting absolutely nothing four times. As a coaching staff, this has to be one of the worst days at the office Charlie Weis, Jon Tenuta, and Corwin Brown have ever had. As Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo mentioned after the game, schematically Navy dominated the Irish defense, with adjustments coming far too late from the coaching staff. Last season’s success against the option turned out to be a huge detriment to Notre Dame, as Navy knew Tenuta and Brown would use the same tactics to defend the option. Lastly, Nick Tausch has to feel pretty terrible today, knowing that his two missed field goals likely cost the Irish a chance at victory. Obviously, Tausch has been really solid this season, but yesterday he missed two easy kicks — pulling his first left and pushing his second one right, and even had a poor trajectory on a few extra point attempts as well. All in all, the bad far outweighed the good yesterday for the Irish, and the final score bangs that point home.

THE UGLY

The aftermath. As the comments from yesterday’s story show, this loss opened up a festering wound, and the fate of Charlie Weis as Notre Dame’s football coach is once again a relevant conversation topic. Losing to Navy twice in three years, after not having lost to them in generations sounds like a fireable offense, and many Notre Dame fans will go to their grave arguing that point. Yet this is a Navy team that pushed Ohio State to the brink, beat Wake Forest, hung tough against Pitt, and has a very good argument to be included in the top 25.

Still, this has to be one of the more disappointing games in Charlie Weis’ tenure as a head coach, and while Weis said all the right things yesterday, he had to be shell-shocked that his team just lost to Navy… again. There’s plenty of time to discuss, breakdown, analyze and second-guess this loss, but Notre Dame’s fate will be determined in the next three games. Beat Pitt and a lot of the questions will fade, beat UConn they’ll be down to whispers, beat Stanford and a 9-3 Irish team will be playing in the Gator Bowl.

Charlie Weis certainly didn’t do himself any favors yesterday, and he’ll likely have to make a very tough call this offseason on what to do with his defensive staff. Yet Weis said it himself, 9-3 just isn’t good enough. While I agree, I don’t think you get rid of one of the elite recruiters and offensive minds in college football because he lost to Navy. There will be rumors and wild speculation the next few days about the usual suspects coming to Notre Dame, but it’s all just noise. Weis and the Irish have the opportunity to silence all of that by winning next weekend. 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.