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.

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

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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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.