Friday notes: Martin, recruiting and more recruiting


The dust has settled and hopefully an Irish coaching staff that traversed the country chasing down some of the top defensive recruits in the country gets some rest. (Not to mention a certain writer who has been having hand cramps since about noon on Wednesday.)

With no real football news to speak of, let’s go over some of the under-reported topics from a pretty incredible 23-man 2011 recruiting class.


Late Wednesday night, one of the guys from Irish Illustrated tweeted that Chuck Martin has to be one of the best coaches in America to have a beer with. I can say that after having the chance to have one or two with him back during the Notre Dame Fantasy Camp last summer, he’s definitely at the top of my list.

After head coach Brian Kelly spoke to the assembled media and a few thousand people watching the live-streaming broadcast at, Martin gave one of the better off-the-cuff press sessions you’ll ever want to see, including some incredible insight on how the Irish swung Stephon Tuitt back into Notre Dame’s corner after an 11th hour switch.

In a shrewd recruiting move, the Irish coaching staff, even though Tuitt had technically been  committed to Notre Dame for quite some time, saved their head coaching visit to Tuitt’s home for as late in the process as possible, as they knew an elite recruit like Tuitt from a hyper-competitive area like Georgia, would need to be recruited until the very end.

“One of the best things we did with Tuitt is that we still had our boss’s visit,” Martin said. “It was planned. We talked about it. This is not over. This one’s going to go. We can say he’s committed all we want. We knew there was going to come a time whether he was recommitted or very gray, we had it scheduled for the last week like the last Thursday. It got accelerated a week because it happened that way. That changes [Kelly’s] week. Well, you’ve only got seven on the road, you’ve got 10 coaches. Once you change one guy’s, it’s like dominoes, everybody’s week changes.”

When Tuitt pulled the panic switch and changed his commitment, the Irish didn’t stick their tail behind their legs and get insulted that their prized defensive lineman wanted to stay home, they stayed mobile and sent down Kelly, who obviously must be one helluva closer.

As Tuitt recounted to Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated of that visit:

“What really shocked me was when he told me multiple times that if I was just some great player out there that everybody loved and everybody recruited, if I was just a good football player, that he never would have came,” Tuitt said. “He said the reason he came was that I’m a great football player, a great character person and to have both of those, to be able to handle myself in public and keep positive eyes on me, that was important. That’s like all the work I’ve been doing, not putting myself in the spotlight. I really appreciated that.”

That’s the type of experience 20 years as a head coach in college teaches you.


Probably one of the most interesting things Martin talked about was the recruit that got away, Oklahoma commit Bennett Okotcha, who pledged to the Irish after decommitting from Wisconsin, only to pick the Sooners on the final weekend of recruiting.

“A lot of people will say we’re not aggressive enough,” Martin said. “Well, some things that make sense, it still has to be right. You don’t want to twist a kid’s arm. If distance and weather are going to be an issue, you’re not going to have a good career here.”

Taking things away from Okotcha’s situation, Martin then spoke of the difficulties helping a player reach their full potential if they’re not happy at the school they’ve chosen.

“What happened to him when he got here? Well, he was miserable,” Martin continued. “Why did he never become the player we thought he was going to be? Well, because he was miserable. Then there’s another kid that no one thought was great that fits here and loves it here and is an overachiever and the next thing you know, he’s a second-round draft choice and everyone’s like, ‘How did that happen?’ Well, he was the right fit, right place, right time.”

The Irish could’ve definitely used another cornerback in the recruiting class and I was high on the type of athlete Okotcha was and the player he could’ve become. But as Rich Rodriguez can attest to, not every elite college athlete loves their school enough to play football over a thousand miles from home.


For those of you that follow the national rankings on things like recruiting, here’s how Notre Dame matched up:

MaxPreps/CBS Sports: #1 in country #7
Scout: #8
Rivals: #9
ESPN: #9
Sporting News: #11
ESPN: #9

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”