Henderson's recruitment filled with violations


The recruitment of prized left tackle Seantrel Henderson spells out the messy truth of elite college recruiting: If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.

In today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer, Doug Lesmerises points out that the Ohio State Buckeyes committed four secondary rules violations while pursuing Henderson, one of many schools to have violated NCAA rules while trying to get Henderson to commit to  their respective football programs.

From Lesmerises:

Here are the four Henderson violations reported by Ohio State, according to a public records request from The Plain Dealer:

• Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, now with New Orleans
Saints, encouraged Henderson to attend Ohio State when asked a question
during Super Bowl media day. A video of the request appeared on a Web
site. Former players can’t recruit for their old school.

• Current quarterback Terrelle Pryor sent a text message to Henderson
telling him to attend Ohio State, as reported in a New York Times
story. A Notre Dame player was reported to have done the same thing and
Notre Dame filed a similar violation report. Current players can’t
recruit for a school that way.

• In an online video, Henderson is seen talking to former OSU
receiver Cris Carter during his official visit to Columbus. Again,
former players can’t recruit. Another school turned in Ohio State for
this incident after viewing the video.

• Henderson and several other recruits walked through the tunnel of
fans that line the path from Ohio State’s pep rally at St. John Arena to
Ohio Stadium. The recruits didn’t walk with the team, but around the
same time, and that was determined to be a secondary violation.

Ohio State wasn’t the only school caught in the Henderson glare.
Minnesota self-reported a violation for some of the props used in its
recruiting pitch during a Henderson visit.

Overall, the OSU athletic department reported 13 secondary violations
between Jan. 1 and July 1 of this year, including three of the
Henderson incidents. Rogers said a rule of thumb is for a department to
average one secondary violation per sport per year. Ohio State has 36

If you notice, Lesmerises links a secondary recruiting violation to Notre Dame because of a text message exchange between Henderson and Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd. Upon reading, I was surprised that a text between former high school teammates would be considered a violation, especially considering the long-standing relationship between Floyd and Henderson.

So it came as no surprise when I read that Christian McCollum of IrishSportsDaily.com reported that Notre Dame denies committing any violations during the recruitment of Henderson, citing Director of Football Communications Brian Hardin’s comments that Notre Dame has filed no such report with the NCAA.

With the toothless nature of secondary violations, this all seems pretty academic. Even with four violations, Ohio State watched Henderson commit to USC, then move on to Miami after USC’s own NCAA violations came to light. 

While Notre Dame seemed to be a player early in the recruitment of Henderson, the only time they’ll see him on the field is in Chicago in 2012, when the Hurricanes take on the Irish at Solider Field. Still, Irish fans can take solace that while they didn’t land Henderson, at least they played by the rules.

(Even if the rules don’t really matter…)

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.”