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The good, the bad, the ugly: Army

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If this column is a day late, it’s not because of the ten hours spent getting from New York back home yesterday (I was in line at JFK security next to two people on the Delta flight to Moscow that turned around because of engine problems), but because there’s so few holes to pick at in our weekly good, bad, and ugly column following a convincing 27-3 victory against Army in Yankee Stadium. (Well, maybe it’s a little of both.)

The Irish got bowl eligible in style, doing so with a dominating performance in front of an electric crowd that witnessed the first football game in the new Yankee Stadium.

“We’re playing fast. We’re playing physical,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “We don’t look like a team in November that is not physically stronger, not in better condition.”

Before we start talking USC, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from Notre Dame’s victory.

THE GOOD

Bob Diaco’s defense. Forgive me if it’s repetitive, but here are a few facts that game from Army’s sports information department after the game.

  • The 24 point loss was the largest margin of defeat on the season for Army.
  • Army’s 174 yards of total offense was its lowest output in over two years.
  • Army was held without a touchdown for the first time this season.
  • Army’s leading rusher was held to just 30 yards rushing.
  • Entering the game, Army QB Trent Steelman had thrown one interception in 99 attempts. He threw two in seven throws on Saturday.

After the game, Army head coach Rich Ellerson succinctly summed things up by saying “We didn’t play very well and we got clobbered.” In what was almost poetic justice, it was Ellerson who admitted that the Army coaching staff wasn’t prepared for the look the Irish gave them in the option, with the Irish playing almost exclusively in a four-man front.

In a wonderfully captured postgame celebration, Kelly singled out his defensive staff for a wonderful game plan, with the game ball going to defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who held the Black Knights to just about half of their average yardage output.

THE BAD

I’ll admit that I’m really digging for bad things here, but the Irish need to get more out of their punt return game. While John Goodman has been sure-handed for the most part this season, he’s been mediocre on returns. His minus four yards on three punt returns and four fair catches continue a mediocre facet of some otherwise good special teams.

Against Army, it doesn’t hurt the Irish to get nothing in the return game, especially when you’re winning by multiple touchdowns. But for the Irish to win a game against a team like — oh, I don’t know — USC, they’ll need to break a big play in the return game, something Goodman hasn’t shown the ability to do this year.

I’ve got no reason to suspect it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Floyd was back returning punts against the Trojans, who haven’t given up a touchdown yet in the punt return game.

(Honorable mention in the bad category: Tommy Rees’ interception in the endzone on the game’s opening drive, a throw that should’ve never been made.)

THE UGLY

For a guy that gets claustrophic in tight places, there’s nothing that got me sweating more than the absolute chaos of the subway ride from Midtown into the Bronx. Train after train was packed to capacity, with impromptu “Here Come the Irish” chants leading the way. It had to rival any commute to Yankee playoff games and you’d have thought South Bend wasn’t in Indiana, but in one of the five boroughs with the number of Irish fans clogging the subway.

While the subway was tight enough, the scene at Time Square was incredible, with the Notre Dame band and Irish fans virtually stopping traffic thanks to it’s afternoon concert. You’d have thought the Beatles were in town or Dick Clark was about to drop the ball with the turnout.

If you’re looking for a photo that properly conveys the scene, the Gameday crew for Notre Dame took an incredible panoramic photo of the scene. I’m in there somewhere, hovering around the right side of the frame trying to get a snapshot for my faithful readers.

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.