Friday notes: Martin, Offers, Videogames and more

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As usual, here’s a good assortment of news and notes from the week. If you have a good link you want to share, feel free to email me. (Address to your right.)

* Yesterday’s announcement that Chuck Martin was leading the recruiting efforts has to come as good news. Martin is a top-notch coach that will add a great deal of experience to the coaching staff, and has a personality that will make him a favorite of recruits.

Some of Martin’s quotes from yesterday’s media session were quite telling. Like this one about being behind on recruiting last year’s class and surprisingly, this upcoming season’s as well.

“Obviously we were behind, coming in in January to finish last year’s class,” Martin said. “What some people don’t realize is how far we were behind with this class. Our guys worked their tails off the last 30 days to try to get caught up. When we were sitting here on Signing Day, a lot of kids had 15, 20, 30 scholarship offers already and they hadn’t heard from the new staff at Notre Dame yet.”

Martin’s first big test is Notre Dame’s first junior day, which will be held in two weeks on March 20th. The Irish open spring practice a week later.

* Pete Sampson at is putting together a watch list for each position as the new coaching staff continues to make initial scholarship offers. It’s clear that there’s a method to the staff’s madness as it gets its first wave of offers out to elite prospects all across the country.

From Sampson:

If you’re looking closely, you can see it.

There’s a philosophical shift in Notre Dame’s
recruiting on the offensive line as size makes room for speed. Being
big is great if you’re a lineman, but in Brian Kelly’s spread offense
there’s a major focus on agility. In other words, if that size can’t
travel it can’t do much good stuck at the line of scrimmage.

The recruitment of jumbo tight end Tate Nichols
offered a taste of the offensive linemen Kelly wants in his system.
That Kentucky standout represented an athlete who just happened to
block people well. In a pro-style offense, Nichols would have been
considered a project. In the spread, he’s closer to a prototype.

Check out five of the offensive linemen on Irish
Illustrated’s Watch List expected to attend junior day next month.
Among the group of Michael Bennett, Matthew Hegarty, Tony Springmann,
Anthony Zettel and Brendon Austin, each tips the scales at 275 pounds
or less, with the average weight coming in at 262.8 pounds.

Aside from providing proof that Kelly trusts his
strength and conditioning staff to put good weight on his linemen, it
also shows how much the new staff values athleticism on the line.

I’ve never believed that you can get much from a high school players reported height and weight, but switching offensive systems means looking for more mobile athletes to play along the offensive line. While the offers that the previous coaching staff would’ve made might not be that different, Sampson’s example of Tate Nichols as a developmental project is a good one, and is a smart way to build a roster that finally has decent distribution among classes thanks to the recruiting efforts of Weis and his staff.

Sampson has also done watch lists for linebackers and defensive lineman. Great reads for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of recruiting. 

* ND blog Clashmore Mike had an incredibly in-depth piece on last season’s struggles in the red zone, written by contributor Anthony Pilcher. I’ve tried to find a snippet that’d be worth showing, but really the piece is an incredible piece of research, statistical analysis, and most importantly… pie chart usage.

If you’ve got a half-hour or half-ream of paper to spare, take the time to give it a read. If you get nothing else out of it, be impressed by the great usage of the Microsoft Office suite.

* Lorenzo Reyes over at had a nice piece on the videogame playaction simulator that has been installed in the player lounge at the Gug. I know most college football coach’s probably show great disdain for the time-waster that videogames are, Kelly has gone the other way.

Since Brian Kelly was introduced as the Irish head coach last December, Notre Dame has incorporated the use of the XOS PlayAction Simulator, a product from XOS Digital, Inc. that combines the look and feel of EA Sports’ Madden and NCAA Football franchises with technology that the company has developed as a virtual training tool.

Kelly, who was one of the first coaches to use the software at Cincinnati, has now brought the system to the Irish program.

“From the players’ perspective, it’s just like the game they would play, Madden or NCAA,” Tsai said. “We actually use the same underlying engine from EA Sports. What we’ve done differently is made it PC-based so they can integrate with our technologies a little more cleanly. In terms of using a controller, the way you select plays and the way you actually run the game for the simulator, it’s virtually identical to what they’ve grown up with. That was on purpose. So the learning curve from the players is almost zero.”

Very cool idea and great story by the guys at ISD. I’m hoping Dayne Crist is spending some time with an ice-bag on his knee and a videogame controller in his hands.

Only focus after Clemson loss is winning on Saturday

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The 2015 college football season has yet to showcase a truly great football team. With early title contenders like Ohio State and Michigan State looking less than stellar, Alabama losing a game already and the Pac-12 beating itself up, the chance that a one-loss Notre Dame team could still make it into the College Football Playoff is certainly a possibility.

But don’t expect Brian Kelly and his football team to start worrying about that now.

We saw a similar situation unfold last season, after the Irish lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds against Florida State. With many fans worried that Notre Dame wasn’t given credit for their performance in Tallahassee, the Irish’s playoff resume mattered very little as the team fell apart down the stretch.

As Notre Dame looks forward, their focus only extends to Saturday. That’s when Navy will test the Irish with their triple-option attack and better-than-usual defense, a team that Brian Kelly voted into his Top 25 this week.

Can this team make it to the Playoff? Kelly isn’t sure. But he knows what his team has to do.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said when asked about a one-loss entrance. “But we do know what we can control, and that is winning each week. So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error, and we have to pay attention to every detail.

“Each game is the biggest and most important game we play and really focusing on that. It isn’t concern yourself with big picture. You really have to focus on one week at a time.”

Kelly spread that message to his five captains after the game on Saturday night. He’s optimistic that message has set in over the weekend, and he’ll see how the team practices as they begin their on-field preparations for Navy this afternoon.

But when asked what type of response he wants to see from his team this week, it wasn’t about the minutiae of the week or a company line about daily improvement.

“The response is to win. That’s the response that we’re looking for,” Kelly said, before detailing four major factors to victory. “To win football games, you have to start fast, which we did not. There has to be an attention to detail, which certainly we were missing that at times. We got great effort, and we finished strong. So we were missing two of the four real key components that I’ll be looking for for this weekend. As long as we have those four key components, I’ll take a win by one. That would be fine with me. We need those four key components. That’s what I’ll be looking for.”

Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.