Upcoming Junior Day could net Kelly first 2011 commitment


This Saturday, Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff will have their first Junior Day on campus as a complete staff. While this will hardly go down in media guides as an important day in the Brian Kelly era, this is probably the most important day of recruiting that Kelly has had since taking the job in South Bend.

Recent reports say that Kelly will have upwards of 30 recruits on campus, nearly half with pending scholarship offers from the coaching staff. While a late January recruiting weekend already netted the staff a few late pickups that added some much needed depth to the 2010 recruiting class, this Junior Day will be even more important, as the Irish coaches will have a full allotment of offers available and their hand-picked recruits, all with open ears to the Irish’s recruiting pitch.

While there will be plenty of movement on this list in the next few days, here’s a quick look at some of the key targets arriving in South Bend this weekend that already have an offer from the Irish:


Defensive End
Brennen Beyer – Canton, MI: Wolverines among impressive list for this lanky defender.
Clay Burton – Venice, FL: Lanky defensive end with national offers.
Brad Carrico – Dublin, OH: Pipeline recruit many suspect as first official commit.
Chris Rock – Columbus, OH: Doesn’t have offer yet from OSU, but plenty of interest nationally.

Defensive Tackle
Vincent Croce – Olney, MD: Staff’s only DT offer has others from ACC and Big Ten teams.

Defensive Backs
Eilar Hardy – Pickerington, OH: Good size for a CB, and the offers to prove it.
Albert Louis-Jean – Brockton, MA:  Big DB, Irish will battle Miami and BC among others.
Blake Countess – Owings Mills, MD: Lightning quick DB has speed to impress.

Jarrett Grace – Cincinnati, OH: Kelly & Co. have had plenty of time to recruit this jumbo backer.

Offensive Tackle
Brendon Austin – Parker, CO: Athletic tackle has Irish in his top three schools.
Matthew Hegarty – Aztec, NM: Coast to coast offers for this elite tackle prospect.

Wide Receiver
DeAnthony Arnett – Saginaw, MI: National recruit that’s high on the Irish.
Davaris Daniels – Vernon Hills, IL: Son of current NFLer has national slate of offers.
Devin Smith – Massilon, OH: Pure athlete with plenty of Big Ten offers.
Evan Spencer – Vernon Hills, IL: Another elite WR from North Chicago suburbs.

Running Back
Justice Hayes – Grand Blanc, MI: Much of the Midwest going after dynamic runner.

Braxton Miller – Huber Heights, OH: True Blue Chip. Kelly already has relationship built.
Bubba Starling – Gardner, KS: Lanky athlete with great upside. Also MLB prospect.

A few thoughts:

* It’s easy to see the recruiting footprint that the Irish staff has set. Eleven of the offered recruits that are visiting are from Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan, three states that this staff knows extremely well. With Rich Rodriguez expanding the traditional recruiting areas for Michigan and with Kelly’s recent success in the state of Ohio, not to mention the incredibly hot seat that Illinois coach Ron Zook finds himself on, this could be a historically good time for the Irish to try to reclaim their roots.

* All those afraid that Kelly wouldn’t target top-notch talent, fear not. The Irish may have some offers out to some very big fish. Kelly proved in January that he had the belief in his evaluation methods to offer an unknown like Bruce Heggie. He proves with his pursuit of Matthew Hegarty and other elite prospects that he’s not afraid to mix it up in the rarefied air of the recruiting world, too.

* The quarterback carousel should get started soon, and once one elite quarterback declares his choice, expect others to follow. I think the Irish are in a very good place with quarterbacks right now, and Kelly’s well-established relationship to Braxton Miller will certainly help in his recruitment. That said, the Irish would be very happy with either quarterback visiting, as Starling has a unique blend of athleticism that could wreak havoc on opposing defenses in Kelly’s spread attack.

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.”