The good, the bad, the ugly: Pitt

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So I took Sunday off from writing about the Irish. Mental health day let’s call it. It was a beautiful November day in Southern California,  not a cloud in the sky, a temperature you might as well have dialed up on the thermostat, and I had myself a nice lazy Sunday.

I have a feeling things weren’t the same in South Bend.

Notre Dame canceled Charlie Weis’ usual Sunday night press conference, citing a later than planned arrival back into town after last night’s game. While many of us would’ve liked to hear Weis’ take on Saturday night’s loss, it was probably for the best to give the man a break. As he said last night, he’s got to start worrying about UConn.

(And after seeing Stanford demolish USC, it’s clear that the Irish really need to worry about UConn, as that might be the only chance at an elusive seventh win…)

There’s plenty of time to talk about what’s to come, but until then, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

THE GOOD

I’m running out of superlatives for Golden Tate. If there’s a more impressive football player in college football, I haven’t seen him. Last night, Tate almost single-handedly brought the Irish back from the dead, and his punt return for a touchdown fulfilled the special teams compulsories of his Heisman worthy campaign.

Tate and Michael Floyd both went over 100 yards receiving, and while it might be a hollow comparison with the season going down the drain, the Irish have the collegiate version of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin starting at wide receiver, and if Tate sticks around, will return the dynamic duo next season as well.

THE BAD

While the defense played decent in the first half, they were still plagued by the explosive play, as Jonathan Baldwin’s 36-yard touchdown catch showed. And when the Irish defense needed to make plays in the second half, they simply couldn’t do it. Whether it was poor tackling, bad ball skills, or a nonexistent pass rush, the Irish defense came up empty when it mattered the most.

The Irish didn’t get a single sack on Bill Stull Saturday night, and only managed four quarterback hurries. Even worse was the tackling by the Irish defense on backup running back Ray Graham’s 53-yard touchdown run, where Graham made practically half the defense miss, including safety Sergio Brown twice. With the team desperately in need of the defense to step up in the second half, the Irish gave up 10 third quarter points, putting the offense into a hole they couldn’t get out of.

THE UGLY

To put into perspective how woeful the Notre Dame punting game has been, I took a look at the high school alma maters of Eric Maust and Ben Turk, figuring that even their high school punters were doing better at their jobs than the two Notre Dame scholarship punters.

At Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia, where Maust was a standout baseball and football player, Riley Lyons averaged 36 yards a punt last season, with a long of 49 yards. At St. Thomas Aquinas, where Ben Turk punted last year, the Raiders are averaging over 39 yards a punt this season.

Meanwhile, the Irish punters have kicked 37 times for an average of 35.4 yards on the season, getting out-kicked by their high school equivalents. Even more detrimental, in Notre Dame’s four losses the Irish have been forced to punt 14 times and are only averaging 30 yards a kick. When you’re playing good teams, you can’t consistently put yourself in the hole in the field position battle, and that’s exactly what Notre Dame has done.

On Saturday, Notre Dame’s was forced to start, on average, at their own 21-yard line. Pitt’s average start was at the 30, and that’s not including Clausen’s interception or “fumble” that would skew this stat even more in Pitt’s favor. Notre Dame’s mediocre punting game has been just as detrimental to winning as the much maligned defense.

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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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 names 7 captains for 2017 team

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)
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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.

 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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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.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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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!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

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.