Pregame Twelve Pack: Purdue edition

Leave a comment

Welcome to the Pregame Twelve Pack. Twelve fun facts, tidbits, leftovers, or miscellaneous musings as we head into the Purdue game.

1. Notre Dame has owned the season opener against Purdue.

For those Irish fans looking to the past for a preview of future results, the Irish are 6-1 in opening games against Purdue, the only loss being the last time the two played on opening day, a 23-21 loss to the 8th ranked Boilermakers in 1984, a game played at the Hoosier Dome. Only two other programs have faced off with the Irish to start the season more often than Purdue: Michigan and Northwestern.

2. The Irish offensive line versus the Purdue front seven is the battle to watch.

Ryan Kerrigan is arguably the most dangerous pass rusher in the Big Ten this season. He’ll be matched up against Zack Martin and Taylor Dever, two offensive tackles making their first start, and in Martin, a guy taking his first snaps in a college football game. Kerrigan led Purdue with 18.5 tackles for loss and finished first in the Big Ten with 13 sacks. The rest of the front-seven has plenty of experience as well, making this the key match-up of the game.

But before Irish fans get too worried, just because the front seven is experienced doesn’t mean they’re any good.  The Boilermakers run defense finished 94th in the country, getting sliced up for 173.4 yards per game. The defense gave up 29.1 points per game, 89th best in the country. They were also terrible on 3rd down, finishing 80th in 3rd down efficiency, ranking 90th in opponent plays per game. Those are statistics that make you scratch your head when you consider Kerrigan’s production.

3. There will be emotions swirling before the opening kickoff against Purdue.

That’s because Notre Dame will be honoring members of the football family that have passed away during the past year as part of the pre-game flag presentation. There will be a moment of silence after the national colors are presented before kickoff, the start of a tradition that will take place on every home football opener honoring those that have died from the football family.

This year, the colors will be presented by six individuals:

Receivers coach Tony Alford and his mother Gloria Alford, who lost father and husband Robert Sr. back in June.

Offensive lineman Alex Bullard and his mother Dorothy Bullard, who lost father and husband Louis in April.

Jerry and Peggy James, who lost son Matt, a member of the incoming freshman class in a tragic accident back in April.

These six will be joined by athletic director Jack Swarbrick and his wife Kimberly and will represent the 24 members of the football family that have passed away in the past year:

Bill Ahern (FB 1960-62), Paul Burns (G 1949-51), Jack Bush (HB 1949-51), Paul Djubasak (G 1955-57), Don Gmitter (SE 1964-66), Art Hunter
(T 1951-53), Paul Lillis (RT 1939-41), Mike Malone (C 1968), Fred Mann
(E 1951-53), Tom Mittelhauser (HB 1963), George Nicula (T 1953-55), Phil
O’Connor (RE 1945), Tom Roggeman (DT 1983-84), Norb Roy (G 1959-61),
Bill Russell (LT 1945-46), George Terlep (LH 1943-44), Tom Pagna
(assistant coach 1964-74), John Bermingham (student manager, 1942
graduate), Harry Lavery (student manager, 1944 graduate), Ted Rademaker
(student manager, 1946 graduate), Robert Alford Sr., Louis Bullard, and Matt James.
 

4. The press box will be filled with plenty of offensive and defensive coaches.

With Brian Kelly roaming the sidelines, it’s interesting to see how the coaching staff breaks up responsibilities in the press box.

Offensively, the Irish will have coordinator Charley Molnar, tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, and running backs coach Tim Hinton all in the press box. Per Kelly, Hinton will be analyzing protection schemes along the line while Molnar helps spot the ball for down, distance, and hash mark, as well as analyzing some of the defensive coverage schemes. Only offensive line coach Ed Warriner and receivers coach Tony Alford will be on the sidelines along with Kelly. 

Defensively, coordinator Bob Diaco will be up in the box. He’ll be joined only by graduate assistants Jon Carpenter and Michael Painter. The rest of the defensive staff — line coach and special teams coordinator Mike Elston, secondary coach Chuck Martin, and outside linebackers coach Kerry Cooks, will be on the sideline.

5. Every Thursday, the Irish strive to be perfect. On Friday, they focus. 

Once the Irish get within 48 hours of the game, Kelly and his staff have a rehearsed routine. It starts with a brisk 15 period practice on Thursday and even less activity on Friday.

“Our last practice, we call it perfect practice Thursday,” Kelly said yesterday afternoon. “We want perfection. We go fast and we demand that our players are locked in with the details in mind at first… We spent a lot of time in special teams, a lot of times in two minute offense. and then usually finish up with four-minute end of game scenarios and controlling the clock.  

Friday is spent mostly inside, and Kelly calls it “Focus Friday.”

“We focus in on the game plan. We’ll watch a little film, move the guys around a little bit to stretch them out before we get to the pep rally.”

At the pep rally, Kelly will announce his game captains, a change from the usual tradition of naming team captains for the season.

6. Kelly and staff take preparation to the 49th level.

As a young coach back at Grand Valley State, Kelly and his team worked on 16 to 18 different scenarios that the team might find itself in when caught in an odd spot. Over the past 20 years, Kelly is up to 49 scenarios, creating contingency plans for every imaginable instance on the football field.

“I don’t know if that says a lot about my experience dealing with different things in the game or the obsessiveness of the coach trying to cover every scenario that may never occur, but you want to be covered anyway,” Kelly said.

Two years ago, Kelly installed number 47: Turtle punt.

“We had a 19 point lead with about a 1:03 left on the clock. Every scenario, we had to make certain played out, and it did. And that was to decide do you take the safety or punt the ball. So we put in what we call turtle punt now which kills approximately six to eight seconds and you can hold. We had the whole team just hold because we don’t care if we get a penalty in that situation. But we have to get eight seconds off the clock.”

I’m guessing Bob Davie didn’t have that one in the playbook when he asked Jarious Jackson to take an intentional safety in the back of the end zone against LSU.

7. Like the guy before him, expect Kelly to receive if he wins the coin flip.

While Charlie Weis eventually caved on his always receive mantra on the opening kick off, Brian Kelly also prefers to receive the kickoff.

“I
like to have the football. I think the only time I look at deferring is
if there’s weather. But by and large, my career has been about trying
to get the football. That’s been me traditionally, and that’s probably
what’ll happen if we win the toss Saturday.”

No word on whether he calls heads or tails.

8. If you see LT walking around campus, be careful — he’s not cheering for the Irish.

While his current legal entanglements might make this a moot point, if you see Lawrence Taylor walking around campus this weekend, it’s not because he’s an Irish fan. It’s because his son, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Brandon Taylor is suited up for the Boilermakers. There are three current Purdue players with fathers that had careers in the NFL. The other two are running back Dan Dierking, whose father Scott played running back for eight seasons, and quarterback Robert Marve, whose father Eugene played linebacker for 11 seasons.

9. Danny Hope and Brian Kelly will be telling their quarterbacks different things before kickoff.

While this is Dayne Crist’s first start, Robert Marve’s already made his starting debut, as a freshman quarterback at the Swamp in Florida. But both quarterbacks are returning from a torn ACL and will likely be battling opening day jitters.

The difference is how the coaches will handle them.

“There’s nothing I can do to help him once they kick off,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “He has played in some big games. It’s important that we have a package put together for Robert that he’s comfortable with. Can’t go in there with the whole playbook. It’s too much.”

For his part, Brian Kelly will take a different approach, when talking to Crist before he takes his first snap.

“You
don’t have to win the Heisman today. Take what they give you, be
patient, let the offense come to you, you don’t have to force it. There
are plenty of answers for you out there. Let the game come to you. If
you do that, you’ll be fine. And for me, have confidence. We would not
put you back there if we did not think you’ll do a great job.”

10. Looking for a true freshman from Purdue that could impress? Try Ricardo Allen.

Normally, coaches shy away from playing a true freshman, especially in the secondary. That’s not going to be the case with Ricardo Allen, who is hardly your average freshman.

“A lot of times freshmen will come to camp, they’re an outstanding player,” Hope said. “He has shined since the day he got here. Most of us that have been around here for a while think he’s one of the better ones we’ve been around as a freshman.

“He’s an outstanding football player. One of the great players on his position in our football team, in our league, possibly on a national level. He’s an outstanding defensive back prospect.”

Allen will have a chance to match up with one of the best in Michael Floyd. That’ll be a battle worth watching.

11. The bad luck for tight end Mike Ragone continues.

After fighting through multiple knee injuries earlier in his career, Mike Ragone looked finally on track to contribute at the tight end position. After narrowly avoiding the wrath of Student Affairs after a summer traffic arrest where marijuana was found in the car, Ragone hasn’t had a bit of good luck since.

After suffering from a serious heat illness that kept him in the hospital overnight during the humid summer training camp, Ragone’s come down with an inner-ear infection that’s so serious he’ll likely be unable to play Saturday.

“He was seen again this afternoon,” Kelly said as he updated Ragone’s condition.
“Headaches. A little bit better, but clearly has vertigo and an ear
infection. He’s on antibiotics. I would think he is doubtful for
Saturday.”

The Irish will go with a now healthy Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert as the top-two tight ends, with senior Bobby Burger and freshman Alex Welch next in line.

12. Opening day has been a mixed bag for Brian Kelly.

Kelly is 3-3 in his opening day starts. He lost all three of his opening days at Central Michigan, falling to Indiana in 2004 and 2005, and barely losing to Matt Ryan’s Boston College in 2006. At Cincinnati, Kelly turned that trend around, blowing out Southeast Missouri State in 2007, Eastern Kentucky in 2008, and Rutgers in 2009.

This Purdue team will be the best opening day opponent Kelly has seen since facing Tom O’Brien in 2006.

 

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images
27 Comments

Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Getty Images
40 Comments

Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
24 Comments

A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
45 Comments

Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.