Monday morning catch-up


After our introduction to the coaching staff Friday, it was a pretty quiet weekend on the football front. I’ll do my best to keep up with the recruiting news, but just about anything you hear from now until Signing Day will have a dash of hearsay sprinkled in.

Let’s clean up some weekend left-overs.

* Last week, Brian Kelly offered 6-foot-3 athlete Danny Spond a scholarship. The Littleton, Colorado native was a quarterback commitment at one point to Dan Hawkins and the in-state Buffaloes, but he’s since opened up his recruitment and started looking around. Spond visited Stanford this weekend, and lists the Cardinal and TCU as finalists along with the Irish. Spond was on the radar of Charlie Weis’ staff, and his combination of size and speed are the precise kind of athletes Brian Kelly says he wants to collect, then he’ll develop them into the best positional fit. Spond will follow up the Stanford trip with a weekend at TCU, then finish with the Irish before deciding.

* During Brian Kelly’s press conference Friday, he rolled through the new coaching hires and specifically spelled out the recruiting regions each coach was set to cover. I was particularly interested when Kelly mentioned outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks’ success in the state of Texas while coaching at Wisconsin. Having watched a ton of Badger football the past few years, I never noticed a Texas influence, yet sure enough there are seven players on the Badger roster from the Lone Star state, including heat-seeking missile Jay Valai. A few of the guys Cooks got to Madison were highly regarded players, and any victories in the state of Texas have to be looked at as steals.

* On Friday, Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay got into their weekly screaming match when talking about the draft, and specifically quarterbacks. As he has done for the past few months, McShay did his best to downplay Jimmy Clausen’s professional prospects. Here’s the transcription of what McShay had to say about JC:

“When I watch him – listen, he’s improved – he’s well-coached, he comes from
a pro-style offense, and I get that, and he has good tools, but he does
not have elite physical tools. He is 6’2″, barely 6’2″, about 215
pounds, he’s had a little bit of trouble in terms of getting beat up
and I wonder if he’s going to hold up physically on the next level. His
arm strength is good, but it’s not great, and if you really study him, he
has to overcompensate on a lot of throws, he makes his wide receivers
work for the ball constantly. He has good accuracy, but not great
accuracy. And you talk about intangibles and leadership, go back and watch
some of these games, throwing a touchdown pass and pointing at opposing
head coaches, getting into an argument and shoving a guy from BC at the
end of a game, talking to NFL scouts, guys who were in the locker room
and around it, see how he carries himself, I’m not saying he’s a bad
person, but I do think there are a lot of questions in NFL scouting
circles about his overall intangibles and how he’s going to be as a
leader in the NFL.”

You can watch the whole segment here, but I’ve got a lot of problems with McShay’s analysis of Clausen. I’ll never pretend that I have a scouting background, and I’m guessing McShay’s watched more tape this year than I have, but I’d bet that I watched a lot more Jimmy Clausen than he did this season. I was constantly impressed by just how strong Clausen’s arm was this season, and it’s almost as if McShay is just doing his best to attack the always ambigious intangibiles when he goes after Clausen. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t honestly remember Clausen pointing at an opposing coach. (His brother did when he played against Notre Dame.) As for the shove after the game against Boston College, McShay must not have watched that exchange very closely either, as his characterization of the incident is a little one-sided. What next, is he going to hypothesize on the incident outside the bar, too?

Jimmy Clausen was an incredibly accurate quarterback this season, whether you just look at the raw numbers or simply watch the tape. Here’s a guy who completed deep hitches and comebacks all over the field, really tough throws that rely on great timing and accuracy. As the Rakes of Mallow point out, McShay has been plenty wrong about a quarterback before, and I really think he’s missing with Clausen here. I expect JC to go in the first half of the first round, and perform up to his grade.

* As Florida continues to reel in high-profile recruits, even with its head coach maybe/possibly stepping away from his job, you start to wonder how Urban Meyer does it. And then you read articles like this, and stop wondering. It’s no wonder Sharrif Floyd picked the Gators.

“Sharrif was really confused and put a call into Coach Meyer. When
they spoke Coach Meyer told him that he had a ‘dream’ the night before,
and that Coach Meyer saw himself on the sideline coaching Sharrif. Told
him that is was a “message from God that I should come back and coach,
as I guess if it’s my time to die, I’d rather die on the sidelines
coaching you than anywhere else in the world.

“Sharrif talked to us the next day and said Ohio State is great and all, but Coach Meyer said he would DIE for me. That’s pretty intense.”

I really wonder how Urban Meyer has kept his reputation intact after he pulled that 180 a few weeks ago, but it’s clear his charms are still working. 



Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke

Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Navy will do battle for the 89th straight season. But if you’re not in South Bend, or can’t park in front of a computer, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of the Irish and Midshipmen features a pregame show on NBCSN and a postgame recap to follow. You can always watch on the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here’s how to watch Navy vs. Notre Dame:

3:00 p.m. — Pregame Show (NBCSN)
3:30 p.m.  — Navy vs. Notre Dame (NBC)
7:00 p.m.  — Postgame Show (NBCSN)


With an HD feed, DVR capabilities and a bonus camera, logging in and watching from your tablet or mobile phone makes it easier than ever to catch Notre Dame on NBC.

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await


Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”