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Live Blue-Gold Spring Game broadcast and St. Patty’s Day marathon on VERSUS

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You can already start stuffing the ballot box for the ten most memorable moments of Notre Dame on NBC, but here’s the official release announcing the televised broadcast of the 82nd Annual Blue-Gold spring game, as well as the triple-header of classic Notre Dame football games.

While I’m still shy on details of the broadcast, it’ll be fun to get a first look at the 2011 Fighting Irish, and newcomers like Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, and Everett Golson. Looking back at last year’s Blue-Gold game, it’s amazing to realize just how vanilla the coaching staff played things on both sides of the ball — being sure to get as little on film as possible for opponents, and playing the game at hyper-speed. With a year under their belts in South Bend, and a season of game tape already available to opponents, I expect to see a lot more from both sides of the ball, with competition ferocious at more than a few different positions.

Here’s the official release:

NEW YORK, N.Y. (March 7, 2011)— This St. Patrick’s Day, VERSUS will “Celebrate the Irish” by televising three of the most legendary Notre Dame football games to ever air on NBC Sports: the 1992 Penn State game, since dubbed “The Snow Bowl”; the “Bush Push” game vs. USC in 2005; and the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Florida State in 1993.  The games, chosen by a “Green-Ribbon” panel of experts, will be shown during the network’s six hours of non-stop coverage beginning Thursday, March 17, at 5 p.m. ET.

Throughout the three-game celebration, hosted by Liam McHugh, the network will conduct in-depth interviews with current Head Coach Brian Kelly as well as Notre Dame legends, such as ex-NFL superstar Jerome Bettis.  Beginning today, fans can visit NBCSports.com to watch clips and vote for the 10 “Greatest Notre Dame on NBC Moments.”  The results will be unveiled during VERSUS’ six hours of “Celebrate the Irish” coverage on St. Patrick’s Day.

Additionally, VERSUS will air the 82nd Annual Blue-Gold spring football game on April 16 at 2 p.m. ET, marking the first time that Notre Dame’s traditional spring scrimmage game will be televised nationally.  This year’s game possesses extra interest and excitement as Notre Dame returns 17 starters that ended 2010 on a four-game winning streak, including All-America candidates wide receiver Michael Floyd, safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Manti Te’o.

SCHEDULE:

Thursday, March 17
5 pm ET 1992 “Snow Bowl” vs. Penn State
7 pm ET 2005 “Bush Push” vs. USC
9 pm ET 1993 No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Notre Dame

Saturday, April 16

2 pm ET 82nd Annual Blue-Gold Spring Football Game

ND/Penn State – Nov. 14, 1992: Arguably one of the most exciting games in college football history, Notre Dame’s final home contest of the ’92 season became an instant classic.  The players took to the field during a winter storm making it forever known in South Bend as “The Snow Bowl.”  The Nittany Lions took the lead late in the fourth quarter, but then the Irish stormed back when Jerome Bettis caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Rick Mirer, putting the Irish within one point of Penn State (16-15). Coach Lou Holtz went for the two-point conversion and Mirer threw a complete pass to Reggie Brooks to put the Irish on top for the victory over Penn State.

ND/USC – Oct. 15, 2005: Despite losing to rival USC, this game was an essential addition to all-time lists as the Trojans were riding a 27-game winning streak and were the defending National Champions.  Notre Dame, also undefeated at 4-0 on the season, lead 31-28 with just over two minutes remaining in the much-hyped game. Then, USC drove the length of the field to Notre Dame’s two-yard line, completing a fourth-and nine from their own 26-yard line in the process, and then scored the winning touchdown on a controversial play with what would later become known as the “Bush-push.”  After USC’s quarterback Matt Leinart was initially stopped by the Irish defense on the goal line, USC’s Reggie Bush pushed Leinart into the end zone with seven seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Trojans a 34-31 victory.

ND/Florida State – Nov. 13, 1993: Listed among many as one of the “Games of the Century,” the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and the No. 2 Fighting Irish were both undefeated heading into this game. The winner of this highly-anticipated contest was certain to move on to the Orange Bowl and play for the National Championship.  Despite being the underdogs, the Irish were leading the game 31-17 with just over a minute left to play when Florida State quarterback, and subsequent Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, threw a miraculous touchdown pass to Kez McCorvey to pull the Seminoles within seven points of Notre Dame.  After recovering the onside kick, Notre Dame punted the ball back to the Seminoles after going three downs without picking up a first down.  Florida State had one final chance to tie the game, but Ward missed his receiver and Notre Dame secured the upset victory, 31-24.

VERSUS, part of the NBC Sports Group, prides itself on super-serving passionate sports fans across all platforms (VERSUS.com, VERSUS on Demand and VERSUS HD).  Now in more than 75 million homes, the network is the cable television home of the National Hockey League (NHL), IZOD IndyCar Series, Tour de France and Professional Bull Riders (PBR).  VERSUS also airs NASCAR, NBA, UFC, college football and college basketball programming.  The network is home to the best outdoor programming on television and airs original programs not available anywhere else. VERSUS is distributed via cable systems and satellite operators throughout the United States.

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to thank Jack Donaghy for this (a little 30 Rock humor if you’re not picking up what I’m putting down), but for all those fans hoping that they’d have a chance to get more Irish football on TV, your wish seems to be granted.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters. 

Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller taken in first round of NFL Draft

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller were taken in the NFL Draft’s first round. Both came off the board on night one, with Stanley the first offensive tackle taken and Fuller the second receiver selected.

Stanley joins the Baltimore Ravens, a key addition to a franchise needed help along the offensive line. He’s Notre Dame’s first Top 10 pick since 1994, ending a draught that’s spanned since Bryant Young was taken by San Francisco.

Fuller will join a Houston Texans offense that just spent major money on quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. To back up that investment, the Texans added college football’s most dangerous deep threat, trading up to spot No. 21 to pair Fuller with DeAndre Hopkins on the outside.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was not selected in the first round. Both he and Myles Jack, widely considered to be Top 10 talents, slid down the board because of knee injuries. (Both also have loss-of-value insurance policies, cushioning that blow.)

The draft continues tomorrow with rounds two and three. Smith should be selected then, along with Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, and potentially C.J. Prosise.

Demetris Robertson set for Sunday decision (finally!)

Demetris Robertson
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Five-star recruit Demetris Robertson is ready to make a college decision. Finally.

Months after National Signing Day, the last recruit on the board for Notre Dame is ready to pick the place he plans to go to college. And after setting an announcement date for Monday, Robertson is even pushing things forward, with a Sunday decision now in the books.

For Irish fans still paying attention to the twists and turns of this recruitment, Robertson will announce his decision from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. (An homage to Jimmy Clausen, anyone?)

Here’s Rivals.com with the news after talking with Robertson’s brother and guardian.

“We were going to have it on Monday, but things got mixed up so we moved it up a day,” Carlos Robertson said. “It will be at 1 p.m., right there in that 1-2 time frame, somewhere in there.”

But it’s happening.

“His mind’s made up,” Carlos Robertson said. “Everything’s locked, but he wanted to have it, have a little public deal, but I think he knows where he wants to be.”

Robertson also cleared up why the decision is being held in Atlanta.

“We’re not from Savannah, we’re actually from right below the Atlanta area, so it will give everybody, the aunts, the uncles, everybody a chance to come,” he said. “It only made sense.”

While this recruitment has felt like a soap opera, it’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no reason to fault Robertson for making this decision on a timeline that he decides. National Signing Day may feel like a holiday to college football fans, but it’s really just the earliest date a letter-of-intent can be signed.

With hopes of gaining admittance into Stanford, Robertson reportedly retook his ACT multiple times, trying to make a better score. Usually that’s cause for applause, not derision. He’s also spent time further evaluating his other options, some closer to home—Georgia, Alabama—others with a significant academic profile—Cal and Notre Dame among them.

The Irish’s pursuit of Robertson has been well documented, including a visit from the team semi-truck. It’s also a recruitment where most are still in the dark. While Notre Dame is certainly still in the running, there’s no gut feeling on this one way or the other, even among those inside the program.

After averaging 15 points a game as a guard for the Savannah Christian basketball team, Robertson is preparing to compete in the state track meet, running multiple sprint events and the long jump. That type of athleticism is what has the Irish coaching staff sold on Robertson as a wide receiver, a potential replacement for Will Fuller (and two other starters) as Notre Dame restocks a depth chart that’ll also feature spring star Kevin Stepherson and incoming freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.

With some feeling home state Georgia has moved ahead in the race, Robertson’s brother Carlos says his younger brother did what was best for him, taking his time and making a decision for himself.

“It was totally his decision, lock himself in the room, however he had to do it. This was something he had to decide on his own,” the elder Robertson told Rivals.com.