IBG: Welcome to Spartyville — UPDATED

7 Comments

I’m new to this Irish Blogger Gathering thing, but I was asked to host this week’s party. My job — DJ the evening, select the questions, and make sure everybody behaves.

(All while people probably crack jokes behind my back and make fun of the corporate blogger, an oxymoron if there ever was one…)

As the Irish prepare to take on Michigan State, I had an incredibly difficult time putting together questions that stayed on point for this week’s game, and also took stock of where the Irish are after the honeymoon officially ended last Saturday.

I’ll be updating this link as the answers from around the blogosphere come rolling in, but feel free to use the comments to chime in as well, what with this being the internet and all.

I’ll update and repost this on Friday with my answers, as well, and pick out some of the best points from the comments section.

THE QUESTIONS: (UPDATED WITH MY ANSWERS)

1. Status check: How deflating was the loss to Michigan I could argue that Crist’s injury makes this loss both easier to swallow and even more maddening for Irish fans?

It’s the hypotheticals that kill me. In a transition year, you’re going to expect a few bumps in the road, but I’d have really liked to see the Irish play a complete game against the Wolverines — with Dayne Crist — and then let the chips fall where they fall. It’s also got to be old for Notre Dame fans to watch another Michigan quarterback coronation after a last second victory.  

2. How critical is this Saturday’s game? Walk away 2-1 and the Irish can feel good about taking on a very able Stanford squad at home next weekend.Walk out of East Lansing with a loss..?

I’m in the uber-critical camp. I’ve seen the way the tide shifts with ND Nation, and all the goodwill in the world will be gone and negativity will invade the masses if the Irish lose this one and start struggling against three pretty solid teams in Stanford, Boston College and Pitt. A loss here could get an ugly boulder rolling, so the Irish need to play a clean football game and seize back the momentum. 

3. Why does the rivalry with Michigan State seem to get so little respect?

Probably a mix between its place in the schedule and the lack of national following for the Spartans. This is one of those games that Notre Dame doesn’t seem to get much out of — a win against Michigan State is met with apathy, but a loss is usually season-crushing. Unfortunately for the Irish, it seems there have been more than a few seasons getting crushed lately at the hands of MSU, though some of the Irish victories had to have felt just as painful for the Sparty faithful.

4. It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from victories over Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic, but what do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

One of those classic boring Michigan State football teams that have guys most people haven’t heard of that just so happen to be bigger, stronger, and faster than the guys wearing Notre Dame uniforms. The potential three-headed monster at running back could cause the Irish problems, but it’s the potential for playaction passing that has me worried after the secondary showed some cracks last weekend. One of the benefits of scheduling cupcakes in your first two weeks is that you’re able to get your team ready to play, and Kirk Cousins has had his chance to work out a few kinks against Western and FAU before taking on a team that stole a victory from him.

5. Best case, worst case, most likely: The Irish’s record after the first six games.

Best case: 5-1
Worst Case: 1-5
Most likely: 4-2 (though a dark part of me is saying 3-3)

6. Let’s leave Michael Floyd out of this for a second. What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

I’m looking at Darius Fleming. He’s a guy that impressed during spring practice and fall camp, fits the mold of a guy that can play that swing linebacker perfectly in Bob Diaco’s defense, and should be in a position to make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage. Well, we’re two games into the season and he’s made zero plays behind the line, missed most of the opener with cramping, and has only made three solo tackles so far. There’s plenty of time for him to become the guy many of us thought he’d be this year, but tonight’s the night for Darius.

THE ANSWERS:
(With my favorite highlighted…)

Her Loyal Sons: What Irish player needs to step up and play better football?

Anyone assigned to a position typically referred to as “Outside
Linebacker.” There have already been far too many moments where an
Irish OLB looks like they just might get some pressure on the QB, and
yet none of the OLB have registered a sack. Brian Smith played an entire game last weekend without registering a single tackle.

Subway Domer: How deflating was the loss to Michigan?

Deflating? It was soul-crushing. Nothing- NOTHING made this loss any
easier on me. Maddening… maddening, you say? After a lifelong pledge
of loyalty to Notre Dame, I have grown used to the maddening nature of
Fighting Irish football. But, I guess that is the nature of college
football in general. Expect the unexpected and bask in the glory when
you are lucky enough to have that sun shine upon your wrinkly old [redacted].

We Never Graduate: How critical is this Saturday’s game?

If the Irish can go to East Lansing and win it’ll be an enormous
confidence boost and set the stage for what should be a slugfest with
Stanford. If Notre Dame sweeps the next two games it will most likely
re-enter the Top 25 and set the stage for serious progress and maybe a
BCS run. If they lose then doubt will creep into the minds of both fans and the
team. Remember, this is a group that has collapsed each of the last two
seasons so you can’t help but think that their confidence is at least
somewhat fragile. While you have to think Kelly can handle the psyche
of the players better than Weis did, you’d much rather maintain the
positive momentum and mojo that’s surrounded the program since BK’s
hiring.

Irish Round Table: Why does the Michigan State rivalry get so little respect?

Pre-Davie the Irish held a .657 winning percentage against Michigan State
Post-Davie the Irish own a .307 winning percentage.

Maybe it is time for Notre Dame fans to show this rivalry a little more respect. Problem is respect is a two way street.*

*Bonus points to the Round Table for an excellent reminder.

One Foot Down: What do you expect this Saturday night in Spartan Stadium?

I’m constantly expecting Michigan State to be good every year. I don’t
know if it’s because I like the color green or that I kind of feel bad
for them because of their lack of success in the past and wanting them
to do well, but I’m always talking up their talent…

The Irish offense has been very conservative and vanilla and I think
this is the game where Brian Kelly starts calling more bubble screens,
reverses and misdirection plays to keep the Spartan linebackers on their
toes.  Notre Dame 35, MSU 24.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
Getty Images
6 Comments

Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

7 Comments

On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Getty Images
11 Comments

Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***