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?

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”