3peat

The good, the bad, the ugly: Navy

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There are Sundays where it’s hard to think of the negatives and then there are Sundays where it’s hard to think of the positives. This is one of those Sundays, where retrospection doesn’t always help.

Navy’s convincing 35-17 victory over Notre Dame was clinical. The Midshipmen accomplished just about every objective they had laid out in front of them, many made easier by the inconsistent play of the Irish offense and the mediocrity of the Irish defense.

Act Two of the Irish season ends on a considerable down beat, with the Irish loss to Navy bringing out the contrarians who scream from their soap boxes indicting any coach with the gall to lose to the Naval Academy. (Never mind that over the last seven seasons, Navy has won 13 more football games than the Irish while losing 11 less.)

With the loss to Navy, Brian Kelly joins a list that not only includes former head coach Charlie Weis, but also June Jones, Jim Grobe, Al Golden, and Gary Pinkel — whose Missouri Tigers lost by 22 points to Ken Niomatalolo’s Navy squad in the Texas Bowl last year… and also defeated the No. 1 team in the country last night.

Here’s the good, bad, and ugly from yesterday’s 35-17 loss.

THE GOOD

It’s telling when the best thing that happened to the Irish is their backup quarterback playing well in garbage time. Tommy Rees’ impressive drive in the fourth quarter was a sign of great progress. After a Notre Dame debut that started with an ugly 0 of 2 with one interception, Rees came in and methodically walked the Irish down the field, with a 10 play, 76-yard drive that took just over four minutes.

After Cierre Wood’s loss of five yards back the Irish into a 2nd and 15, Rees completed three straight throws of over 20 yards, moving the Irish quickly into the Navy red zone. Rees was six of seven on the drive for 79 yards, and showed an ability to hit open receivers on high-percentage reads — a job that seems easy enough, but one that doesn’t always get achieved with Dayne Crist back in the pocket.

I’m not an advocate of opening up the quarterback competition, but Kelly’s decision to pull Crist and let the freshman take the snaps was a great one not only for Rees’ morale, but also for the rest of the team. Competition will be a constant on a Brian Kelly football team, and not even the no-doubt-about-it starting quarterback will be immune.

THE BAD

There’s plenty to choose from here, but I’m going to put the bad on the Irish offense. It’s difficult to quantify just how short-handed the Irish offense was on Saturday afternoon (I’d argue that there hasn’t been a Notre Dame offense this ravaged by injury in the two decades), but regardless, they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Thanks to a Navy gameplan that included running the play-clock down from the opening of the game, the Irish only had 10 possessions, with one of those coming with just 14 seconds remaining in the half.

Kelly mentioned on Tuesday that he knew the Irish would get limited possessions, and Notre Dame just didn’t do enough with their opportunities. After an opening drive got the Irish 1st and goal from the 8, they weren’t able to to get into the endzone, getting stuffed inside the one-yard-line on 4th and goal.

From then on, the Irish just weren’t good enough, with Crist throwing two critical interceptions. The first pick came at the end of the first half when the Irish were down four points and looking to score at the end of the half. Instead, Crist’s interception led to Gee Gee Green’s nine-yard touchdown run and a 21-10 halftime lead.The second led to another Navy touchdown, this time putting the game officially out of reach.

The Irish were unable to run the ball effectively, getting a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry out of the 30 times they officially ran it. And while Duval Kamara stepped up and played a nice game in place of Michael Floyd, the offense seemed unable to work at the frenetic pace that helped confuse and tire out defenses that weren’t completely undersized like Navy’s defense was.

You can hardly kill Dayne Crist for struggling with his three best receivers out of the game. But the Irish offensive line did nothing to help an offense that would’ve been buoyed by a competent running game.

THE UGLY

It’s hard to call Notre Dame’s defensive performance anything but ugly. A year after getting completely gutted by a Navy offense that moved the ball at will, the Irish seemed to put together a gameplan worse than the one that got defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta savaged. Whether Navy added a veer-option component to their attack or not, the Irish were unable to tackle the fullback or get stops out of the Navy offense, something that not many people saw coming.

To his credit, Brian Kelly knew his defensive game plan wasn’t good enough, and rightfully defended his defensive coaching staff.

“I have great trust in my staff,” Kelly said. “Defensively we didn’t have a great answer today. But you know what, we’ve had answers all year defensively. And so we didn’t have the answers today. We’re going to have to go back and look at the film and find out. I got smart coaches. I got dedicated coaches. They’re not dummies.

“The first thing I’d look at, I’d go, ‘Shoot, basic fundamentals is stop the fullback.’ Well he had 200 yards today and I don’t have a bunch of dummies on my staff. We know that. My guys didn’t have the plan today.

“We got to go back and look at the plan, we got to evaluate the plan, and if we have to change the plan moving forward, we’re going to change the plan. but we’re going to get it right. We’ve got too many guys committed to making sure Notre Dame gets back to where we believe it should be.”

The Irish have a second chance at stopping another triple-option attack when they face off against Army next month. While they don’t run their attack with the precision of Navy, they’ve rattled off four wins, and nearly upset Rutgers last week before falling in overtime. I’d be shocked if the Irish decide to take the conservative, react approach to stopping the option after seeing it fail so miserably yesterday, and instead bring pressure up the middle, taking away the fullback schematically.

 

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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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

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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)
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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?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.