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Friday notes: Temple, recruiters, numbers and more

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As we mentioned a few days ago, Notre Dame and Temple have agreed to a three-game series, with the first game of the series coming in 2014 at Lincoln Financial Stadium in Philadelphia.

““It’s been nearly 20 years since a Notre Dame football team has played in Philadelphia, so we’re excited about the opportunity to do so, in the process playing a Temple program for the first time in our history,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said.

For those keeping track, the Irish neutral site games of the next few years will be Maryland next November in Washington, D.C. at FedEx Field, Navy in Dublin, Ireland to kick off the 2012 schedule and then in Chicago at Soldier Field later in October. 2013 sees the Irish take on Arizona State in the new Cowboys Stadium, UConn at Foxboro Stadium, and 2014’s slate has the Irish taking on Temple in Philly, with a game against Syracuse set for the Meadowlands. Barnstorming in the 21st century.

As you could probably predict, there’s been some grumbling from some factions of the fanbase that tend to grumble when they can, but I think this is a great game at a terrific venue in a town that has great support for Notre Dame. The 2014 schedule already contains games against Arizona State, Michigan and Southern Cal, so any worry of quality opponents can be brushed off and likely eliminated as the Irish lock in three more games for the year.


Not that these awards matter in the grand scheme of things, but with the 2011 recruiting class in the rear-view mirror, Rivals and ESPN have decided to put together lists of top recruiters around the country. Not surprisingly, the Irish coaching staff is well represented on these lists, with Tony Alford being mentioned by Rivals and Chuck Martin, in his first year at the major D-I level, being selected by ESPN.

Here’s Rivals rationale for listing Alford:

Alford beat Florida State head-to-head for defensive end Aaron Lynch not once but twice and his tenacious recruiting allowed the Irish to finish with one of the best defensive line classes in the country. Alford also pulled in four-star athlete George Atkinson III from California and got three-star quarterback Everett Golson to flip from North Carolina. He also assisted on wide receiver Davaris Daniels and beat the following teams for his recruits – Alabama, FSU, USC, Georgia, Auburn, Clemson and Oregon, all of whom finished in the national top 10 along with Notre Dame.

Here’s ESPN’s write-up of Martin:

2011 prospects: Stephon Tuitt, DE (Monroe, Ga./Monroe Area), DaVaris Daniels, WR (Vernon Hills, Ill./Vernon Hills), Josh Atkinson, CB (Livermore, Calif./Granada) The battle for Tuitt with Georgia Tech alone gets Martin on this list. He secured the ESPNU 150 defensive end early, lost him to Georgia Tech for a brief time, then made a final visit a day later and got him back to close a strong defensive line class for the Irish.

You could just as easily make an argument for adding names like Mike Elston and Bob Diaco to these lists, but I don’t think you’ll see either of these accolades making it on Alford or Martin’s resumes any time soon. Still, we’re in quite a different place than we were last year at this time when most wondered if there was a single recruiter outside of Alford that was capable of going up against the big guys.


While it wasn’t exactly a secret, the football office announced practice dates for the spring session culminating in a Blue Gold game played on April 16. The Irish spring practice will start Wednesday, March 23 and the Irish will practice Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays until the spring game finale. Two practices that’ll likely be of interest? March 25th and 26th, when the Notre Dame Football Coaches Clinic will run, and also feature former Irish assistant Urban Meyer, who will headline the festivities.

Also announced by the Irish are some jersey changes for the upcoming season.

Bennett Jackson — 86 to 2
Louis Nix III — 67 to 9
Tommy Rees — 13 to 11
Robby Toma — 19 to 9.

Early enrollee freshman will be wearing the following:

Kyle Brindza — 27
Brad Carrico — 56
Everett Golson — 5
Aaron Lynch — 19
Ishaq Williams — 1

While Louis Nix and Robby Toma will both be sporting No. 9, I don’t think it’ll be hard to tell them apart.


Sad news today broke this morning on the passing of former Notre Dame All-American and Chicago Bear Dave Duerson. He was 50. Duerson played for the Irish from 1979-82, and was a three-time captain for the Irish before being selected in the third-round of the NFL Draft by the Bears.

“Our hearts go out to the Duerson family and to all those who knew Dave,” athletic director Jack Swawrbrick said. “In addition to being a great football player, Dave represented himself and the University in so many other ways as a team captain, as well as through his work with the Monogram Club and the Board of Trustees. You couldn’t help but be impressed by him when you met Dave Duerson, and I think that was the reaction from anyone who was ever around him.”

Duerson is survived by four children, including a son, Tregg, who played football for the Irish.

“Our family asks that you please remember Dave as a good, kind and caring man.  He loved and cherished his family and friends and was extremely proud of his beloved Notre Dame and … Chicago Bears. Please keep Dave and our family in your prayers,” former wife Alicia Duerson told NBCChicago.




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.


Irish suffer first recruiting defection with Donovan Jeter


After five losses, Notre Dame suffered their first consequence of a poor season in recruiting. Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive lineman, has stepped away from his verbal commitment.

Jeter made the news public on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to send Irish fans into a tailspin.

The sky isn’t quite falling. Jeter called the Irish his top school, likely just getting ahead of the news that he’ll start taking official visits to other schools, something Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has worked well to slow down the past few cycles. Also helping the Irish’s cause is his proximity and connection to fellow Western Pennsylvania prospects David Adams, Kurt Hinish and Josh Lugg.

Still, after making it through last recruiting cycle without a defection, finding a way to win back Jeter is priority No. 1, a versatile defensive lineman who had an elite offer list and picked Notre Dame after basically dismissing them over the summer. The Irish have done it before, getting Stephon Tuitt back in the fold after Georgia Tech sold him on staying home. They won a battle with current defensive coordinator Greg Hudson when he was at Florida State for Aaron Lynch, though Lynch only lasted a season in South Bend.

Usually a decommitment—especially this time of year—isn’t ground for a news story. But as all eyes focus on Brian Kelly and his grasp on the Irish program, this serves as ammo for those looking for cracks in the foundation.


Jeter posted a Tweet that essentially confirmed my speculation. And also should serve as a reminder—DO. NOT. TWEET. AT. RECRUITS.