Te'oDiaco

The good, the bad, the ugly: USC

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Ronald Johnson still dropped it.

That’s the thing most Irish fans have to be saying to themselves after Saturday’s 20-16 victory over the Trojans, where Notre Dame survived four turnovers to beat USC for the first time since 2001. When wrapping up the game, USC head coach Lane Kiffin had this to say.

“None of them imagined they would lose this game,” Kiffin said. “It’s really hard to picture this happened. The ball is in the air, and everybody’s thinking he’s going to catch it and the streak is alive.”

Usually a head coach isn’t the one that points to one play for reasons why his squad lost, but it’s understandable that Kiffin could feel this way. That said, it’d be hard for an impartial observer to say that USC deserved to win that football game, even if the senior wide receiver had come up with Mitch Mustain’s heave.

To draw an interesting parallel, here’s what Boise State’s head coach, Chris Petersen, had to say after losing to Nevada after his kicker missed a chip-shot field goal to win the game in the game’s final second and another in overtime.

“We told them that one play can never lose the game,” Petersen said. “One play can win a game, but it can’t lose it. There were a lot of chances for us to make plays.”

With that, we’ll take a look at the good, bad, and ugly from the regular season finale, Notre Dame’s momentous victory over Southern Cal.

THE GOOD

I’ll keep beating the defensive’s drum until people get really sick of hearing it. The performance of Bob Diaco’s troops was incredible, and the Irish absolutely shut down the USC run game, something the Trojans needed to establish to help support quarterback Mitch Mustain.

One-time Notre Dame recruiting target and starting running back Marc Tyler had this to say after the game.

““They played eight in the box and they were very physical,” Tyler said. “Linebacker Manti Te’o seemed to be everywhere. He’s got a big frame. We just couldn’t get a push and move them. It’s too bad because our defense played their — off. It just couldn’t put it in the end zone.”

The past three games the Irish defense has been incredible against the run. Take a look at the roll they’ve been on:

UTAH                              Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         71.0                                  172.1
Average Per Rush          2.4                                    5.0

ARMY                              Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         135.0                                272.8
Average Per Rush          3.1                                     4.7

USC                                 Vs. Notre Dame             Vs. Everybody Else
Rush Yards/Game         80.0                                  192.7
Average Per Rush          2.7                                    5.2

After the game when head coach Brian Kelly and various players were made available to the media, Diaco slid off quickly to the team bus, dressed like Don Draper on a cool fall night in Manhattan. While Diaco’s been off-limits to the press since after the Navy defeat, the play of his unit has done all his talking for him.

THE BAD

We’ll find out in the years to come if Tommy Rees’ legacy is more like Brady Quinn’s or Matt LoVecchio’s. But either way, in the face of adversity, the true freshman quarterback has won three straight ballgames, two of which many thought Notre Dame had no chance of winning.

Rees’ second half numbers were miserable (4 of 10, 2 interceptions and a costly fumble), as both the rain and the moment caught up to the freshman quarterback. But though he struggled mightily until down the stretch, he rallied on the game’s final drive, making two big throws to Michael Floyd when it mattered.

“At times I got a little upset,” Rees admitted. “But you have to stay composed and the coaches did a great job of helping me.”

Help they did, as Kelly and the staff checked the Irish into the proper call on every play from the line of scrimmage, out-scheming both Lane and Monte Kiffin and USC’s defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron.

Rees’ struggles Saturday night help muddy the waters for those that thought the freshman had done enough to walk into fall practice as the starter while Dayne Crist rehabs from another major knee injury. I don’t think Kelly or his offensive staff think there’s any sort of controversy (Dayne’s still the starter), but if we’ve learned anything this season, Kelly has no problems running youngsters out onto the field, and it’ll at least make spring practice worth watching…

THE UGLY

There’s plenty of nits to pick, but I don’t think any deserve an ugly tag. Not for Irish fans anyway, after their first win over Troy in ages.

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.