IBG: Better late than never

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I missed out on the Irish Blog Gathering last week, and even though most Irish fans are still dragging, Subway Domer did too good of a job assembling this week’s questions to ignore them completely.

Here we go with this week’s edition, proposed Monday evening:

1. A young man of 12 arrives in the United States from the city of Moroni, on the island of Comoros. He has never seen the game of football before, but notices you watching a game. He seems to really like watching it with you and asks what team he should cheer for. You, of course, tell him Notre Dame in attempt to have more company for your misery. He asks, “why Notre Dame?” Without using any of Notre Dame football history prior to 1995 and without spewing off nonsense about academics (which has no real bearing on a football game); give him your best answer. His name is Tonokiuyt Paluifirtaginerto.

Tony (It’s Tony from now on):

Run and hide. That’s my first piece of advice. Run and hide when you see football being played on Saturday, because the game will eat you up and spit you out. But if that won’t stop you, and you want to be there when the ship finally turns around, cheer cheer for ol’ Notre Dame.

It’s been a tough 15 years to be sure, but when it turns, you can say you were one of the millions that were there all along, even if you just jumped on the bandwagon after leaving Comoros. (Relax, Tony. The bandwagon will be so filled with newbies nobody will notice if you’re Adidas hat still has the tag on it.)

Sure, Notre Dame hasn’t been great — heck, even better than good — in the last decade, but if you find yourself in South Bend on a crisp Autumn Saturday, wander from the Grotto to the Basilica, across the quads and into Notre Dame Stadium, you’ll end up just as demented as the rest of us.

2. If you are anything like me, you trolled around the Notre Dame message boards after the loss to Navy. We don’t need direct quotes, but what was the best line, subject heading, argument- whatever? Should Irish fans be banned from the Internet for at least a couple of days after the game, win or lose?

I would ban all Irish fans from the internet from thirty minutes before kickoff until just before Sunday Night Football starts the next evening. By then, most of the absolute insanity will be worn off, and you can either go deeper into the doldrums if your NFL team loses, or at least feel like the weekend was a wash if you’re squad wins.

There’s no more difficult thing to do than troll message boards after a Notre Dame loss, and the game against Navy was probably the worst it’s been since… well, last year.

Here’s my favorite argument — slightly changed to protect the poster who wrote it:

I’ve never coached a sport, but in past years I’ve been a music director, with both instrumentalists and singers. I have always felt, in that area, that as long as I paid attention to fundamentals, and then rehearsed intelligently, that I could get a group to sound much better than anyone would have expected. Why? Because of my direction. With faulty direction, they could give 110%, but it wouldn’t matter if cues were missed, cutoffs were not together, pronunciation was not uniform–it could easily be a 110% mess. In any group effort, proper direction is key.

This kind of liberal use of the transitive property always just kills me. I’ve got no problem with the ideas presented, but here’s a guy that admits to never coaching a sport in his life, who then equates directing a group of musicians singing notes or reading sheet music to coaching one of the most high-profile teams in all of sports.

I can’t say it enough: Just because you played high school football or coach your kids Pop Warner team doesn’t mean you have even the slightest concept of the expertise needed in today’s major football. Believe me — I’ve spent a lot of time studying playbooks and trying to at least learn the latest lingo, and these guys make me look like I’m coloring with crayons outside the lines.

There are a lot of intelligent people that root for Notre Dame. But a good rule of thumb: the transitive property might be sweet for geometry, but it doesn’t work in critiquing sports.

3. Tulsa is a scary team after a loss to Navy. Before the Navy game- not so much. Give me your most dramatic nightmare scenario as well as your fairybook ending for this weeks game against the Golden Hurricane. Which one is closest to a possible reality?

I hid the fact that I was petrified of Navy last week pretty well, but I’ll be WAY more open about how scary Tulsa is, especially with the tragedy earlier in the week adding another layer of complexity to this game.

Nightmare: No Michael Floyd, same green offense struggling to throw the ball and Dayne Crist looks lost out there again as the defense gets cut up by both the passing and running of Tulsa, led by a breakout performance by G.J. Kinne.

Fairytale: A cathartic Saturday where Notre Dame comes together as a community and dedicates a Saturday to a great kid and family that loves the Fighting Irish, topped off by a convincing win.

Frankly, I’ve got no idea what’s going to be closer to reality, I just know I’ll be glued to the edge of my seat.

4. Most of these IBG’s have had a rather dark tone to them because of the season Notre Dame is having. If we would have beat Navy, we would be 5-3 and riding a 4 game winning streak. I had rather hoped to use that cheerfulness, and ask a few light-hearted questions. Seeing as how we lost, I think we need these more than ever. They’re not the wittiest questions, but you better answer them:

a) What college football team would you blog about if Notre Dame did not exist?

That’s an awesome question. Probably someone like Nebraska — a school with a really deep tradition and generations of fans that care about the Big Red. Backup: Maybe UCLA — it’d be great to write about a team that’s only 10 miles away, especially one that’s been on a rollercoaster like the one that’s permanently parked in Westwood.

b) Change Notre Dame’s colors. No blues, gold, or green please.

That’s ridiculous. Notre Dame has to have those colors — the only one you could consider getting rid of is blue. Green is mandatory because of the Irish. Gold helmets because of the Golden Dome. Replacing the blue with just about anything else would be really ugly.

c) Change one play in Notre Dame history. What was it, and how did it help?

That’s an easy one for me. Matt Leinart. 4th and 9. The pass is batted out of Dwayne Jarrett’s hands and Notre Dame shocks USC in 2005, as the Irish carry Charlie Weis off the field and the student body parades around campus with the goal posts.

One soon-to-be blogger who “hypothetically” joined financial fortunes with two of his best friends would’ve hit on a hypothetical moneyline parlay, living rent free for three hypothetical months, instead of drowning his sorrows at Finnegan’s.

d) Turn one loss into a win, and one win into a loss for one season. What season and what games are they?

I don’t know enough about the old days, but of games that I watched, I’d have loved to see Notre Dame knock off #1 Nebraska in 2000, the game where Nebraska fans tried to take over Notre Dame Stadium. That was one of the more ridiculous games I saw in person, with special teams returns from Julius Jones and Joey Getherall getting the Irish to overtime before Eric Crouch won it in overtime.

5. Tell me more about this Tulsa matchup. Tell me anything you like- but use at least one real stat.

I’ll shy away from math, and go with this feel-good note for Irish fans. Lovie Smith will be in attendance on Saturday, cheering for his alma mater Tulsa. It’s always good luck for opposing teams when Lovie Smith is in the stadium, right?

6. Phil Steele now has Notre Dame picked to play in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Pinstripe Bowl is in New York City and will be played in Yankee Stadium. Agree or disagree. Give me your bowl scenarios- if there are any.

I’d agree to just about any bowl game right about now. That means the Irish win at least two of the final four games, and possibly upset Utah or USC — two wins that would be absolutely huge for Brian Kelly’s squad.

BONUS: Please tell me that we can turn this season into a positive learning experience for 2011. How?

For fans: Changing systems and cultures isn’t an overnight switch, regardless of how well Year One went for the previous two regimes.Nobody is getting fired after one season, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the changes.

For the team: This season is already a positive learning experience. But the Irish must continue to develop Dayne Crist, an offensive line that’ll only need to replace Chris Stewart, and 2011 could potentially return both Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, a very exciting proposition. Defensively, the Irish need to keep developing depth in the secondary, but the linebacking corp returns, as does a defensive front with everybody but Ian Williams.

For fans (again): Don’t start drinking the Kool-Aid for 2011 until after the 2010 season ends.

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

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rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

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rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.