Opponent preview: Purdue Boilermakers

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This will be the first of many opponent previews, leading us into the opening week of the season. Any suggestions or comments, please leave below or send me an email.

The Overview:

The Brian Kelly era kicks off against one of Notre Dame’s traditional opponents, in-state rival Purdue. Danny Hope enters his second season as the head coach of the Boilermakers, returning after a debut season that had its share of heartbreak, with gut-wrenching losses to Oregon, the Irish (more on that later), Northwestern, and Michigan State. While the end result was a wobbly 5-7 season, Purdue’s 4-4 conference record included a upset win over #7 Ohio State, a sign that the Boilermakers had the talent to play with just about anybody when they kept their turnovers in check.

Last time against the Irish:

It’s tough to forget the late-game heroics of Jimmy Clausen, who rifled a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph to escape West Lafayette with a win. The Irish, playing without starting running back Armando Allen and wide receiver Michael Floyd, were dogged by penalties, including a procedure call on Golden Tate that cost both the Irish and his stat ledger a touchdown.

Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott built on the alarming trend of quarterbacks having career days against the Irish with 289 yards passing and three touchdowns, with Keith Smith catching 11 balls while tying a then personal record with 136 receiving yards and a touchdown. Purdue took the lead with four minutes to go on a play-action pass with broken coverage, resulting in Jaycen Taylor running untouched out of the backfield for a 38-yard touchdown. While Clausen’s heroics are what remain in the memory of Irish fans, some befuddling play-calling that included a failed draw play to Robert Hughes with no timeouts left and a defensive timeout by Danny Hope that stopped the clock for the Irish resulted in the final touchdown with 24 seconds left.

Said after the game by the Purdue blog Hammer & Rails:

“Even when we did stop them on 3rd down, I knew we couldn’t do it on fourth down. We’re Purdue. It does not work out that way for us.”

Degree of Difficulty:

Ranking the 12 opponents of the Irish, I slot Purdue in as the eighth-most difficult game on the schedule. That said, getting Purdue on opening day is both a blessing and a curse, as the Boilermakers will have all summer to get up for a game in Notre Dame stadium, a place they only won twice in the last 26 years. 

The Match-up:

Purdue played some pretty solid football down the stretch last season, going 4-2 in its last six games including the upset win over Ohio State. They’ve also added high-profile transfer quarterback Robert Marve to the mix, giving them a dual threat former blue-chip recruit to replace Joey Elliott. While running back Ralph Bolden is still recovering from an ACL tear that has him at only 50-60 percent, wide receiver Keith Smith returns along with three of the top four receiving targets. The offensive line is a question mark, returning only two starters.

On defense, the secondary needs to replace all four members, but early returns on freshman Ricardo Allen are good. The front seven returns almost in tact, with the defensive line considered one of the best in the Big Ten, anchored by All-Big Ten defensive end Ryan Kerrigan.

How the Irish will win:

Want to neutralize a good pass rush and swarming front-seven? Get the ball out quickly and spread the field, a Brian Kelly specialty. While Robert Marve isn’t a freshman, walking into Notre Dame stadium for Game One of the Brian Kelly era is hardly ideal. Doing it behind the least experienced offensive line the Irish will see all season doesn’t help either. Plagued by penalties, a gimpy Jimmy Clausen, and missing two of the Irish’s best offensive weapons, the Irish still managed to win in West Lafayette, bad game management and all. On home turf, the new defensive system will bring effective pressure from near and far, and torture a Purdue offense that needs to find time to throw. Vegas has this a double-digit victory for the Irish. If things go the Irish’s way, that should be the case on September 4th.

How the Irish will lose:

Nothing takes a crowd out of a game like an effective opposing offense, and a mobile quarterback like Marve will take his cues from Tate Forcier and keep the chains moving with his feet. Keith Smith wreaked havoc last season, and he’s a year better on the edge, racking up big gains and explosive plays. Ryan Kerrigan feasts on newbie offensive tackles, forcing a turnover and spending much of the afternoon in the backfield. Dayne Crist, in his first start as the Irish quarterback, turns the ball over a few times, giving the Purdue offense the extra chances it needs. Purdue has a chance to surprise some people, and they begin on opening day.

Gut Feeling:

I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how Purdue wins this football game, even though I think they’ll finish the season in a bowl game. I wouldn’t run to Vegas and lay down the point spread, but I think Bob Diaco’s defense, with very little game tape of the Irish personnel available, is the key to victory.  

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”