Gary Gray

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

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Yep, that still happened.

Less than twenty-four hours after Notre Dame lost in remarkable fashion to Michigan 35-31, it’s back to the drawing board for the Irish as they look to rebound against a Michigan State team that’s better than either of the first two opponents on paper.

Of course, the Irish look plenty good on paper, if you take white-out to the turnovers column and the win-loss ledger. We’ll try and pick up the pieces here and give people a better idea of what just happened last night, but let’s get to the good, bad, and ugly of the Irish’s 35-31 loss to Michigan.

THE GOOD

Michael Floyd: Michigan defensive backs continually mugged the Irish’s best player, but Floyd still had his way — adding 13 catches for 159 yards. Floyd is tied with USC’s Robert Woods for the most catches in the country with 25 after two games, is third in the country in yardage with 313, and has done just about everything you could ask of the senior.

Theo Riddick: A week after wanting to bury his head in the sand, Riddick caught what should have been the game winning touchdown with thirty seconds left in the fourth quarter, his second score of the night. His six catches for 62 yards were solid contributions and a nice rebound.

Dan Fox: The junior linebacker made two nice plays behind the line of scrimmage, sacking Denard Robinson and adding another tackle-for-loss. As the Irish try and find a companion for Manti Te’o in the middle of the Irish defense, Fox was active all night.

Cierre Wood & Jonas Gray: Wood average 5.4 yards a carry and went for 134 yards, his second straight game with a 100 yard effort. Gray, a week after his nightmarish start, carried the ball six times for 66 yards, running hard and adding a nice complement to Wood. The Irish are getting production out of the running game, though Wood followed Gray’s lead and laid a tough fumble on the ground this week.

THE BAD

Turnovers: That’s Notre Dame all by its lonesome at 120th in the country — dead last — in turnover margin. Sure Notre Dame has moved the ball up and down the field, but fumbles and interceptions, most notably those in the red zone, have turned the Irish into an 0-2 team.

“I can see those things in the development of our players, but that chance to be a good team is everything,” Kelly said this morning. “It’s those turnovers, it’s the little detail things. And until we can clean up those detail things, we can’t be a good team.”

Tight end depth: A position that was once a strength of the roster is now precarious, as Mike Ragone has an MRI scheduled for his knee, Alex Welch is out with a foot injury, and Jake Golic has a broken arm.

That lack of depth forced Ben Koyack to play a lot of football last night, and he’s not a great substitute at the point of attack. Koyack is going to be a good football player, but you never want a true freshman helping making critical blocks in short yardage situations.

Michigan’s explosive plays: Even when the Irish had the game firmly in their grasp, they were still victimized by the big gainers the Wolverines managed to make. Denard Robinson had a 39 yard run. Junior Hemingway had a 77 yard catch. Jeremy Gallon had a critical 64-yard reception. Kelvin Grady and Vincent Smith had catches of over 20 yards. A week after not giving up a play longer than 17 yards, Notre Dame collapsed, leaking oil and big plays throughout the game until the defense completely collapsed in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: A big kickoff return was there for the taking last night, and Theo Riddick couldn’t take advantage. While John Goodman deserves credit for catching every punt he faced, he continues to make poor decisions in the return game, failing to fair catch a ball in traffic and then waving for safety when there wasn’t a defender within 20 yards. Goodman seems to have a misguided belief in his speed, and his negative return when he tried to go wide gave Michigan a huge jolt of energy. Lastly, Ben Turk deserves credit for booming his final punt of the evening, coming up large when the Irish needed it. He also deserves scorn for chunking his other kicks, averaging a measly 33.5 yards a kick even with a 52 yarder.

THE UGLY

The defensive collapse: You want to see how you lose a football game? Here’s a quick look at Michigan’s drive chart, starting with the Wolverines taking the ball into the game’s final quarter:

MICH     3rd M17  02:13  Kickoff       N00  14:54 *TOUCHDOWN      4-83   2:19#
MICH     4th N40  13:22  Punt          N00  10:47 *TOUCHDOWN      5-40   2:35#
MICH     4th M09  06:08  Fumble        N30  04:23  Interception   3-61   1:45
MICH     4th M42  02:16  Punt          N00  01:12 *TOUCHDOWN      5-58   1:04
MICH     4th M20  00:30  Kickoff       N00  00:00 *TOUCHDOWN      3-80   0:30#

After dominating Michigan for 45 minutes, the Irish defense simply fell apart, forgetting how to tackle, cover receivers, and play disciplined football when it needed to the most. Whether it was a blitz that didn’t quite get there or a cover scheme that broke down, the Irish defense’s 28 point fourth quarter was shocking in it’s ineptitude.

The aftermath: The internet is great for a lot of things, but it certainly isn’t the friend of an angst-filled sports fan. For those of you that took to the web to call for the head coach’s job, sent angry tweets to the team’s star middle linebacker, or picked fights with fellow fans sharing the same agony, do yourself a favor next time your favorite teams loses a close one: Turn off the computer and sleep on it.

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.