Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

Tuesdays with BK: Sun Bowl edition


Welcome back to the season’s final Tuesdays with BK, this time coming from El Paso, Texas. In front of a different crowd than usual, Brian Kelly discussed hot topics like Duval Kamara, the future of Michael Floyd, keys to defeating the Hurricanes, and carrying Sun Bowl momentum into 2011.

Our friends over at have video of the press conference here, but I’ll give you some of the greatest hits:

The news of Duval Kamara’s abscense from the Sun Bowl was explained by the fuzzy “personal reasons” yesterday, and when asked about it today, Brian Kelly didn’t have much to add, other than a little bit of displeasure in the entire situation.

“I’d like to stick him in a snow drift in New Jersey,” Kelly said, referencing the inclimate weather that hit Kamara’s hometown, before answering seriously.

“Personal reasons is the reason why he’s not here,” Kelly said before finalizing Kamara’s status for the game. “I would not know whether or not he shows up in El Paso or not.”

Personal reasons or not, it sounds like Kamara will end his career at Notre Dame in the head coach’s dog house, likely from a decision made over the three-day holiday break.


We’re going to dig into the decision Michael Floyd has to make later, but when Kelly was asked what it would mean if the Sun Bowl was Floyd’s last game in a Notre Dame uniform, he had a thoughtful response.

“These decisions that are made relative to whether they come back or not, I really don’t spend much time on it,” Kelly said. “I look at the present. And in the present, Michael Floyd is somebody that impacted our entire football team. And he impacted it by the way he worked every day in practice. He set a standard, from my perspective, of how you want champions to practice and prepare. Great work ethic, great with understanding what it takes to be a great player. If he does decide it’s in his best interests to move on to the NFL, whether I agree or not, is really immaterial, what he leaves is a standard I can point to moving forward: That’s how you prepare, that’s how you practice. Look at Michael Floyd.”

Floyd sits near the top of every receiving record in Notre Dame history and if he returns for his senior season he’ll likely be guaranteed his name doesn’t go anywhere for quite some time. That said, after sniffing around our mutual hometown and high school alma mater, I’ve got a feeling that Friday’s game might be MMF’s finale.


Tim Prister of Irish Illustrated played a game of fill-in-the-blanks with Kelly, where the head coach tried to relay the key to an Irish victory. Not surprisingly, it included slowing down Miami’s pass rush and protecting freshman quarterback Tommy Rees.

“Number one, we have to be able to protect Tommy,” Kelly said. “That’s absolutely critical. We can’t put this game in a situation where he has to go out as a freshman and decide the outcome. And then defensively, find a way to balance stopping the run with the ability to play the ball in the air down the field. They’re going to run the football, and they’re going to take shots with some skilled players. In other words, you can’t sell out against the run, or you’re going to get in 1-on-1 matchups that Miami can exploit. It’s balance on defense and don’t put Tommy Rees in a position where he has to make plays.”

Keeping Rees protected is the obvious priority, but stopping a Hurricane running attack that could help open up the play-action pass game is critical for the Irish defense. While most of the talk has been about Notre Dame’s strong defense in November, for the season, the Irish have done a pretty good job limiting the run. After a slow start out of the gates (thanks to a killer game by Denard Robinson), the Irish held defenses to a very respectable 3.6 yards a carry in the final nine games of the season, even including the debacle against Navy.

With Ian Williams back anchoring the nose and Darius Fleming coming on of late, the Irish should have a good chance to contain a Miami offense filled with talent, but lacking cohesion.


Beating Miami on Friday would give the Irish eight victories for the season, their first four-game winning streak since 2006, and an awful lot of momentum going into 2011. Kelly talked about what this bowl game means for the Irish heading into next season.

“Any time you take two weeks to practice, you’re always thinking about preparation for the opponent, but you also have an eye towards the future,” Kelly said. “It’s like anything else — you’re going to live in the present but you’re always going to have an eye towards the future. So this clearly, for both teams, there’s 2011 out there as well. We want to win the football game. So the most important thing is the right now. But in the evaluation process over the past couple weeks, you’re also looking at those guys that are going to impact your team in 2011. It’s very, very important to our players, our coaches, everybody associated.”

The Irish’s ceiling could hinge on the return of Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph to the offense, but you can be assured that expectations for 2011 — whether deserved or not — will be sky high for next year.

(At least by this guy…)

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

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 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.