Pregame Twelve Pack: Purdue edition

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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.

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.