USC Spring Game

Kiffin talks Irish, looks back at last year

42 Comments

Lane Kiffin spent about ten minutes in total answering questions about the upcoming game against Notre Dame. Even though he did his best to keep it mostly coachspeak, a few comments he made will certainly raise some eyebrows amongst ND Nation, and likely find the way onto a bulletin board or two in the Gug.

But first the complimentary stuff.

When asked about the type of team his Trojans will face this weekend (USC is a staggering 8.5 point underdog), Kiffin thinks the Irish are a few self-inflicted mistakes away from being one of the country’s top ranked teams.

“They should be undefeated. They’re seconds away from being undefeated,” Kiffin said. “They’re in Michigan dominating that game and then it gets screwed up in the end. Very easily without the turnovers they beat South Florida. And then they’re undefeated and a top five team in the country. This is a really good team.”

Kiffin also echoed something I’ve mentioned a few times when describing what Brian Kelly has done schematically with the Irish.

“They’re coached really well. They don’t do a lot of stuff,” Kiffin said about Kelly’s squad. “They aren’t very complicated on offense and defense. They’re sort of simple in a way. But they’re really really good at it. They’re coached really well, very detailed, the players play really really hard, especially on defense.”

When a writer calls a coach’s scheme simple it makes sense. When a coach says it, it has a funny way of getting misconstrued. That said, Kiffin is making the same point I’ve tried to make throughout the first two seasons of the Kelly era, and it’s a great way for the Irish to get the most out of the athletes that Charlie Weis brought in and Kelly helped develop.

Of course for those looking to chastise Kiffin, his look back at last year’s game supplied ample opportunity, with Kiffin raising eyebrows twice when talking about the Trojans’ 20-16 loss last November. Kiffin felt like the Trojans gave the game away.

“That’s why that game was so hard,” Kiffin explained. “It had been so many years of all the players and coaches to get that streak to where it was, and then really, to just hand the game away. As we all remember, the ball’s in our hands, we’re going to walk in the end zone and win the game. And then for all those years and hard work to come down to that. It was very hard to deal with.”

Kiffin pinning that game on Ronald Johnson‘s drop just don’t seem to make sense for a head coach. Johnson — now on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad — certainly gave the Irish a much needed gift near the end of the ballgame. But you’d think a head coach would be one of the last people to pin a rivalry game on the back of one player, especially when the Irish held the Trojans to under three yards a carry and USC committed eight penalties.

Kiffin gave essentially the same answer twice when talking about last year, so it wasn’t like he slipped in the moment. Here’s what he said after practice, when he called the game  the worst loss he’d ever been a part of.

“This one is different because of the feeling of letting so many people down,” Kiffin said about the 20-16 defeat. “So many players and coaches have been involved to maintain that streak over the years, and then for it to be right there, and so many opportunities for us to win that game. Even with a back-up quarterback and a back-up right tackle it was right there. So it was tough.”

Of course, Kiffin doesn’t mention that the Irish were short their starting quarterback Dayne Crist, one of the best tight ends in the country in Kyle Rudolph, starting wide receiver Theo Riddick, running back Armando Allen, and the heart of their defensive line in Ian Williams, not to mention Carlo Calabrese and Jamoris Slaughter.

But that’s what makes Lane Kiffin so wonderfully polarizing. In roughly ten minutes of interviews, he’ll say just enough to enrage a fanbase and set the crosshairs on him. Is it intentional? Is it some kind of Rex Ryan thing?

Either way, in a rivalry like Notre Dame-Southern Cal, it’s more than enough to add fuel to the fire.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
Getty
1 Comment

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.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
5 Comments

Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Getty
9 Comments

Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

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)
Getty
2 Comments

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.”