Assorted notes before Signing Day


With Notre Dame’s fax machine about 24 hours from burning up, the Irish still are awaiting word on a handful of top recruits. There’ll be plenty of rumors and smoke today, but it’s all likely speculation and rumor, as a dead period is upon us. Here are a few tidbits from the interwebs to hold you over until tomorrow’s fireworks.

* The NFL Scouting Combine invited five Notre Dame players to Indianapolis. Seniors Sam Young, Eric Olsen, and Kyle McCarthy will be joined by quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate at the annual cattle call. I don’t expect much out of Clausen, but part of me thinks that Golden Tate runs, jumps, catches, and does just about everything else there, as his personality doesn’t strike me as the type to worry too much about a slower surface or making the correct strategic move. Young, Olsen, and McCarthy will look to rebound from shaky Senior Bowls, where none of them lit it up down in Mobile.

* Our friends over at Blue-Gray Sky had an excellent write-up on new commit Derek Roback. While many wondered who exactly the Ohio quarterback/athlete was and scoffed at his underwhelming recruiting profile, Roback once projected among the bluest of blue-chips.

From BGS:

Roback is an interesting example of the ups and downs of recruiting
coverage. When Roback was in junior high he was a national finalist in
the Pepsi Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. He followed that up by
being named the Freshman MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine. With these two things to his credit, Rivals then included Roback as one of their Top 10 Sophomores to Watch, along with current 5-star players Seantrel Henderson, Jeff Jeffcoat, and Dillon Baxter (and ND legacy lineman Ian Gray).

into his sophomore season, he moved from quarterback to wide receiver
and safety where he had a strong season on the field, being named All-State Honorable Mention. After the season he attended another National Underclassmen Combine, this one in New Jersey, and came away with the overall MVP award. With multiple combine and All-State honors to his name, Roback moved back to quarterback for his junior year with multiple national programs sending him recruiting mail.

The more I read about Roback, the more I really like the offer. While he’s nowhere near the recruit, Roback feels a lot like Jake Locker to me, a stout kid with size and speed and raw ability that needs to be harnessed. Obviously Irish fans would be thrilled if he turned out to be even a tenth of the player Locker is, but I’m all for taking chances on elite high school athletes with the size and speed of Roback.

* Pete Sampson of reports that Michael Floyd had his hearing with the office of Residence Life and likely won’t receive any punishment other than community service for an incident in Minneapolis over Christmas break. Floyd was ticketed for minor consumption and questioned about his involvement in a fight that also saw former high school teammate and Minnesota Gopher Shady Solomon get into hot water.

I had been hearing that Floyd was all-clear for a few weeks, and Sampson’s report likely means that Floyd won’t miss any school or football for the incident, although he is likely to spend a little bit more time at Longo Beach to help him remember the importance of good decision making.


Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”