The good, the bad, the ugly: Western Michigan

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Before we put Saturday’s 44-20 victory in the rear-view mirror, let’s talk about what was gained from the win against Western Michigan, the first MAC opponent to play the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish were able to pull out their first three-game winning streak since early last season, erasing the three-game slide that put the Irish season in danger after only four game. They were able to continue developing depth along the offensive line, with reserve linemen Mike Golic, Chris Watt, Alex Bullard, Lane Clelland, and Andrew Watt getting significant playing time, in addition to tackle Matt Romine starting for a second straight week at left tackle.

Between depth building along the offensive line and a group of freshman playing significant minutes, the Irish made the most of their first (and likely) last game against a MAC opponent in South Bend.

Here’s a look at the rest of the good, bad, and ugly from Saturday’s victory over Western Michigan. 

THE GOOD

Running backs Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes combined for 162 yards on just 19 carries, effectively controlling the clock in the second half and wearing down an undersized Western Michigan defense. Wood’s 39-yard touchdown run was the longest for an Irish running back since Hughes galloped for 45 yards against Stanford in 2007, and was the longest touchdown run for an Irish running back since Ryan Grant broke a 46-yarder against the Cardinal back in 2003.

While Wood was held a yard shy of the century mark, he was able to establish a rhythm running the ball, and afforded Brian Kelly and the offensive staff the chance to rest Armando Allen, who only played briefly as he nursed a hip flexor injury.

“He’s a guy that needs to get into the flow of the game,” Kelly said about Wood. “At
times you wonder some of the things he’s doing out there, but once he
got enough carries, he showed, obviously, that he’s got great athletic
ability and it was fun to watch him.”

Wood was able to get those carries because the Irish offense called his number more often after halftime.

“Coach Kelly really couldn’t say anything to me at halftime because I
only got one carry in the first half,” Wood said after the game. “In the second half I decided that
whenever I got the balI I was going to make something happen.”

Wood showed his big-play ability with his burst around the right end for a touchdown. He also showed great elusiveness as he pin-balled his way through Bronco defenders making some electric cuts in the open field.

This is the time of year that Wood will be a valuable change of pace for the Irish, and his development will be crucial for the Irish.

Robert Hughes also reminded the coaching staff that he’s a viable option in the backfield, running with purpose, power, and great pad-level as he powered the Irish offense through the fourth quarter. With the Irish struggling on first down, Hughes is a great option to get the Irish offense in 2nd-and-favorable situations, a potential option against a Navy defense that’ll be out-sized at the line of scrimmage this weekend.

THE BAD

The Irish committed nine penalties for 80 yards, easily their sloppiest game of the year, and a considerable step back for a disciplined unit that had been one of the least penalized teams in college football.

That lack of discipline showed up particularly in the first half, with both the offense and defense missing assignments and playing lackluster football. Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder was able to pick up good yardage by throwing against inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese, something opposing coaches will likely notice with cornerbacks Darrin Walls, Gary Gray and Robert Blanton playing at a high level.

Kelly mentioned in his postgame comments that both Te’o and Calabrese made bad decisions when defending curl patterns, and it’ll be important for both linebackers to fix those mistakes down the stretch, with teams like Utah and Tulsa likely throwing the ball early and often against the Irish defense. 

(Honorable mention bad: Dayne Crist’s fourth quarter interception, a laser-like throw that was behind tight end Mike Ragone and tipped into the air for a WMU interception. Crist has got to develop some touch on his underneath throws, and rockets like that have some fans worried that while he’s got a canon for an arm, it only delivers balls one way — not necessarily a good thing for an offense that relies on precision and accuracy.

THE UGLY

The injuries are starting to pile up for the Irish, and this time it’s wide receiver Theo Riddick that’s going in for an MRI on a tweaked ankle.

“Theo was in a boot today,” Kelly revealed on his Sunday teleconference. “He’s going to have to probably get an MRI. The X-ray was clean and the
MRI would tell us if there’s any further damage there. We’ll do that
today.”

Riddick’s injury means Kelly will likely reshuffle his receivers.

“TJ Jones would probably be the guy who would move in there,” Kelly said today. “Goodman would then go to X. I’ve always tried to put the top four guys
on the field. Toma would back up the Z, Bennett Jackson would
back up the X.” 

Riddick’s injury will just add more defensive attention to Michael Floyd, and the offense’s productivity will depend on Jones’ ability to learn the slot position.

Jamoris Slaughter is also suffering from ankle pain, with Kelly ordering another MRI for Slaughter after his ankle has been slow to respond to treatment. While Zeke Motta has stepped up in Slaughter’s place, the Irish would be better served having Slaughter opposite Harrison Smith, especially in a game against Navy, where play-action throws will depending on the safety biting on the run fake, something both Zeke and Harrison have been known to do.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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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.