IBG: Welcome to Spartyville — UPDATED

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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.

Kelly and Irish do their best to move forward

LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 01: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on from the sidelines during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at FedExField on November 1, 2014 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Available to the media for the first time since the Friday night that did its best to rock the foundation of his football program, Brian Kelly acknowledged what he was thinking and feeling as the news came in.

Kelly said the emotions came in three waves.

“My first one was disappointment. Then that disappointment kind of moved on to embarrassment—for the university,” Kelly said Wednesday evening. “And then I was mad as hell. I think those are the three stages that I went through.”

And so the Irish football program moves on, trying to get the egg out of its collective faces before they head to Austin to battle Texas in the season opener. They took their best step forward, naming four team captains yesterday—with hopes that Mike McGlinchey, Torii Hunter, James Onwualu, and Isaac Rochell could self-police a group of young players that clearly need more than what the coaches are already doing.

So while guns and drugs and bar brawls with cops feel like something out of an SEC program gone rogue, it’s a single night in August for a team that believes it’s competing for a national championship. Even with dueling quarterbacks, inexperience across the roster, and now a true freshman making his debut at free safety in front of 100,000 at Darrell K. Royal Texas Memorial Stadium.

But Kelly has to move on. So a head coach seven years into his tenure in South Bend, having lived through more than a few rough moments already, has to find the silver lining in perhaps the most embarrassing incident of his career.

“They’re life lessons,” Kelly said, when asked how he addresses his young team. “It’s more than just you.

“So we talk about selfish decisions. We talk about representing more than just yourself. You represent the university, you represent a program, you represent an entire fanbase. Those are the things we talk about more than anything else. It’s just not about you.”

 

Hunter, McGlinchey, Onwualu and Rochell named Notre Dame captains

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Brian Kelly named Notre Dame’s captains for the 2016 team. Seniors Torii Hunter Jr., Mike McGlinchey, James Onwualu and Isaac Rochell will officially lead the team.

Kelly made the news public on Wednesday after practice, his first media availability since the arrest of six players in two separate incidents on Friday evening. And in his four selections, Kelly named four new team leaders after having to replace all five of the team’s captains from last season.

In Hunter, Kelly has named the team’s lone veteran receiver as a captain, expecting a breakout season in both production and leadership. The most experienced returner after three starters departed and Corey Robinson retired due to concussions, Hunter has less starts at the position than fellow captain Onwualu—now a linebacker—Kelly quipped.

McGlinchey carries the torch for the offensive line, a fourth-year senior who’ll have a chance to play his way into a first-round draft pick or return for a fifth year. After Zack and Nick Martin each wore the ‘C’ for two-straight seasons, McGlinchey will carry that leadership forward.

James Onwualu is the lone remaining starter for the Irish at linebacker, replacing both Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith as a captain. Onwualu has earned positive reviews for his play on-field as the team’s Sam linebacker, and has always stood out for his lead-from-the-front attitude.

Rochell is the rock of the defensive line, a third-year starter who replaces Sheldon Day as the group’s leader. He’ll be joined by Jarron Jones as veteran contributors in a group that also replaces key starter Romeo Okwara.

 

Devin Butler pleads not guilty to two felony charges

Devin Butler WNDU
WNDU via Twitter
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The legal process has begun for senior cornerback Devin Butler. After being charged with two felonies stemming from his arrest outside The Linebacker Lounge on Friday night, Butler was in court Wednesday afternoon to plead not guilty to the charges.

St. Joseph County prosecutors waited to decide what charges to file against Butler, ultimately deciding on Tuesday to charge him with two level six felonies for resisting law enforcement and battery of a police officer. Preliminary accounts, most stemming from the arrest report, state that Butler got into an altercation with South Bend police officer Aaron Knepper after a fight broke up outside the bar, with multiple officers detaining Butler after the deployment of a taser.

Butler was accompanied by his father and girlfriend to court, declining comment questioned by the waiting swarm of press outside the courthouse. He’ll now begin a legal fight that could also dictate not just his status as a football player but as a student at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly has suspended Butler from the football indefinitely, independent of the legal process and the University’s formal handling of the matter.

The South Bend Tribune points out that the officer involved in the case has drawn attention in the past, with three lawsuits filed against him after allegations of misconduct.

Butler is expected back in court on September 1.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Nic Weishar

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 3: Nic Weishar #82 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish juggles a pass during the game against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
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A year after earning major practice reps when the position group couldn’t stay healthy, Nic Weishar gets another chance to step forward with the loss of Alizé Jones. While the Chicagoland product won’t be an option at the boundary receiver position, he’s a catch-first player who’ll help the Irish passing game if given a chance.

With weapons on the outside still coming into focus after Torii Hunter, Weishar has slowly earned the trust of a coaching staff—and two quarterbacks—who appreciate his catch radius and ball skills. While his evolution into a true tight end is still ongoing, there’s opportunities to carve out a niche in the Irish offense as Weishar enters his third season in the program.

 

NIC WEISHAR
6’4″, 240 lbs.
Junior, No. 82, TE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A first-team All-State player in Illinois, Weishar was a U.S. Army All-American and a four-star prospect. He had offers from Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma though picked Notre Dame early in the process.

Kelly called him “the finest pass catching tight end we saw” on Signing Day.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 12 games, starting two (Clemson, Stanford). Made three catches for 18 yards.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

I got caught up in the preseason hype, because even as Durham Smythe went down, the offense didn’t use the tight end enough.

This might not sound like high praise, but I think we need to set modest expectations for Weishar this season. To that point, I think 10 to 15 catches sounds about right, though the sophomore can feel free to blow right past that number if he feels like it.

Weishar’s been a handful during camp, reportedly dominating the second-team defense and linebackers in coverage. As Durham Smythe and Alize Jones have been limited in camp, it’s allowed Weishar to take some first-team reps as well.

The red zone could be the X factor for Weishar, and will obviously be one of the keys to the Irish offense. While you’d expect the Irish to lean heavily on the running game near the goal line, Weishar is one of many great pass options to consider, as long as the staff has faith in the decision-making skills of Malik Zaire.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

There are crafty tight ends who use their wily nature and Football IQ to create opportunities and then freaks who physically take what they want. Nobody will confuse Weishar for the latter, and we’ll see if he keeps discovering ways to become the former. At a position group that’s been the envy of most colleges, that Weishar could cap-out as a solid supporting cast member is no slight—there’s still plenty of work for him in that role in this system.

Ultimately, we’ll see if there’s an ascent possible. Can Weishar do both the in-line and detached jobs well? Can he find a way to wreak havoc down the field, another Irish tight end who finds room running the seam?

I’m not looking for a game-breaker in Weishar. But taking advantage of your opportunities in man coverage shouldn’t be too much to ask, especially if the run game is rolling and the Irish quarterbacks can find a few reliable receivers.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’m setting the ceiling at 10 catches this season, though I’d be happy to be wrong. While Weishar is again the No. 2 tight end, and there’s a better argument to be made for sharing the ball with tight ends this season than last, it’s still an offense with a handful of playmakers to incorporate before working our way down to TE2.

I could be underrating Weishar, who has earned more than his share of raves for his hands and reliability as a red zone target. But if you’re picking favorites behind Hunter and trying to find a place in the pecking order for Weishar, I have him below guys like Equanimeous St. Brown and even Miles Boykin before figuring out what Durham Smythe’s production will be.

The staff will find a way to use Weishar to best accentuate his skills. As of right now, I just think that’s going to be as a guy who gets one or two targets a game, though some of those should come in the red zone.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill
Elijah Taylor
Brandon Tiassum
Jerry Tillery
Drue Tranquill
Andrew Trumbetti
Donte Vaughn
Nick Watkins