IBG: A pivotal match-up with Pitt

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In this week’s edition of the Irish Blogger Gathering, we head to the venerable Irish Round Table for our questions. Bonus points to these guys for an awesome blog name, and for officially killing one of my first weekly column ideas before it ever started.

As we’ll discuss in the next 48 hours, the game against Pitt is an absolutely critical game when trying to determine the trajectory of the season.

Here we go with IRT’s questions and my answers.

1. Grade Brian Kelly’s performance to date.  We’re not interested in how
you think he will perform going forward.  How has he done through the
first five games?  Grade scale is A+ to F-.

Maybe I’m nuts, but I’m giving Kelly a B+ for his work thus far. While that might be a way better letter grade than the scoreboard has dictated through the first five games, I’m judging his work from the day of hiring until October 7th.

Kelly has absolutely transformed the football program, assembled a staff that speaks the same language, believes in the same philosophy, and has gone about reconfiguring the roster to help the Irish win football games. I’m with everyone in that I’d have liked to win both the Michigan and Michigan State games, but I also believe the process right now is more important than the results.

2. Much has been made of Brian Kelly’s sideline rants.  Some fans like the
excitement and energy others are worried that they are excessive and
will wear thin on the players.  Where do you stand?

I’ve already tackled the sideline rants here, but I think this is the absolute dumbest story of the season. Football coaches raise there voices, and college athletes respond better to coaches that are high-intensity and highly audible, two things Kelly has proven himself to be. It wasn’t too long ago that Notre Dame fans absolutely hated the stoicism that Ty Willingham showed on the sideline, and chided Charlie Weis for being a poor motivator. Any worry that Irish student-athletes can’t take the criticism should be dismissed immediately.

3. What is the best storyline for Notre Dame football this year?  The best storyline in college football?

The easy answer to the Notre Dame storyline is Brian Kelly taking over a program that had slid into very murky waters. While the wins haven’t come, the disciplined football team is starting to shape up, with Notre Dame ranking 8th in the country in fewest penalties per game.

(If I had to pick a player for a storyline, it’d be a tie between Zack Martin and David Ruffer. What Martin is doing at left tackle as a redshirt freshman is pretty incredible, with Kelly calling him the Irish’s highest-rated lineman. And Ruffer’s perfect career after never evening playing high school football is the stuff of Irish legend.)

As for a college football storyline, it’s got to be Denard Robinson. While the shoelace thing absolutely drives me nuts, he’s the most explosive football player I can think of since Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson. If he makes it through the season, he’s going to lead the country in rushing yards, and that’s at quarterback — where sacks actually count against him, and his job is to also throw about 20 passes a game. Rich Rodriguez may be over-using Robinson, but his abuse is giving the rest of the college football world enjoyment — unless you’re playing the Wolverines that week.

4. We are going to test your prognostication skills with a little IBG
prediction contest.  Predict the following for this week’s Pitt game:

Kyle Rudolf receptions — Five catches, 86 yards, one TD

Points scored by Notre Dame’s defense — Zero, though they’ll force two turnovers.
Carries by Robert Hughes — Three
Points Notre Dame wins by — 9
Tackles Manti T’eo registers — 15
Pass attempts by Tommy Rees — 0, I hope.
Taylor Swift in attendance — Next game she sees is USC on Thanksgiving weekend.

5. What would you like to see in place of the yellow mums on the Notre Dame sidelines?

Can Notre Dame put BCS Trophies there?

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend

 

 

Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

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)
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Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.

 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.