Crist shines light on offseason

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With interviews shut down for the offseason, ESPN’s Bruce Feldman scored a great one with quarterback Dayne Crist a few weeks ago when he was on campus visiting the Irish.

Feldman covered all sorts of ground with Crist, and while you might need a subscription to read everything, here’s a little taste of what Dayne had to say.

On adjusting to the tempo of the new offense:

It was something that I’ve honestly never seen before. It was just like
learning an offense or a route concept or protection. You literally had
to learn the tempo. In our meetings, coaches were explaining, “We want
you to spring to the line.” We thought, OK, they meant hustle. But this
was to a whole other level. You had to practice it within practice.
We’re moving now. It was something that each position group had to
learn, so it wasn’t just the X’s and O’s and the technique of what their
position asks for but how to actually operate at that tempo. It was a
challenge for us, just like everything else has been.

On dealing with a coaching staff on the hot seat:

As much as your coach tells you not to worry about it, or that it comes
with it, it is tough sometimes, I’ll admit that. This is the guy that
recruited you and one of the reasons that you’re at this place. But as a
player, you just control what you can control. It was tough for me,
because that was when everything was going on with my knee and I
couldn’t do anything. I’m in a hospital bed all drugged up and turning
on a TV and this was what I had to watch. It was tough.

I had a great relationship with Coach Weis. I had a great relationship
with Coach (Ron) Powlus and his family. They were really like a second
family to me. We would go over to coach Powlus’ house all the time. They
were great to me. I had two years in that whole staff. It was a lot
more than football involved in the whole mix, but at some point you have
to understand that this is sometimes how college football goes,
unfortunately. You wish the best for those guys and you embrace the new
staff. You just work as hard as you can to get going right away. I
realize that I don’t have that much time left, and there’s plenty of
guys on this team that want to win.

On his new found leadership role on the team:

I just try to lead by example. I’m making sure of everything that I
need to be taking care of. We all have a common goal, so it’s easy to
say the right things and get guys going in a positive direction. This
was explained to me during recruiting, that as a quarterback at Notre
Dame, everyone knows who you are. And hopefully you can leave a positive
legacy behind you.

On battling some of the preconceived misconceptions about Notre Dame:

I was one of those kids, too. I had never been to Notre Dame before. I
had never seen snow in my life. Had I not made this trip (in my junior
year of high school), I’d be at SC right now. It’s like trying to
explain what Disneyland is to other people. Sure you can explain
physically what’s there but, until you’re there having those emotions,
you can’t truly explain it.

Once you get here, you realize
how diverse the student body is. You really appreciate Notre Dame for
Notre Dame, and you understand why there are kids here from Nigeria and
all across the world, much less all over the country.

As much as people have to remember that this will be Crist’s first year truly playing at a collegiate level, there are a ton of smart college football people out there that think Dayne’s going to play football at a very high level. He’s a guy with an elite set of physical tools and has really impressed everybody on this staff and the previous staff with his intangibles and leadership.

Feldman’s question on misconceptions was a follow-up on a question that he asked Louis Nix, and it highlights just how important it is to get recruits onto campus and let them actually experience Notre Dame instead of having to rely on what they may have heard on the recruiting trail or growing up.

Notre Dame fans — and Matt Barkley — should be happy that Crist made that visit during his junior year of high school.

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.”