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.

Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told ESPN.com.

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told Irish247.com why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.