Joe Paterno Penn State

IBG: Struggling to focus on football


It’s been a weird week. Apologies for maybe coming up a little short on columns this week, but I’ve just been transfixed to the situation evolving in Happy Valley. What a sad state of affairs, and it makes it pretty difficult to get excited about a football game when you’re watching a horrific scandal that’s unfolding like this.

Luckily, we’ve got the Irish Blogger Gathering forcing my hand here, with our friends at We Never Graduate putting the questions out there. It’s a good mix of water cooler topics, hypotheticals, football talk and what’s going on in State College.

Here we go:

This year more than most, there seems to be an inordinate amount of attention spent on peripheral topics like the jumbotron, field turf, and apparel. Kelly is responsible in large part because he’s so candid about his take on them during his press conferences, making it perfectly clear his preferences that stoke the NDNation’s ever-burning fire. Do you think he’s going too far to push for these “enhancements” or do you think he’s doing what’s necessary to push Notre Dame’s program into the modern age?

I think a big reason these topics are holding such traction is because we all assumed we’d have a BCS run to talk about. Now, with three early losses, we’ve lost the number one conversation topic thanks to fluky self-inflicted wounds that have taken this season out of the enjoyable place it started.

That said, Brian Kelly certainly is a progressive, something people probably didn’t see coming when the early narrative on Kelly was being written. But if I’m a head coach at a major college program, I’m fighting for everything that’ll get me up to speed — a video board, a playing surface that doesn’t stink, and uniforms that appeal to players and recruits.

Do I think he enjoys tweaking the hard core traditionalists? Not really. I think he understands it doesn’t matter what he says as long as he wins. It’s like the old Crash Davis quote in Bull Durham.

“You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win twenty in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press will think you’re colorful. Until you win twnety in the show however, it means you’re a slob.”

Coach Kelly made it clear today in his press conference that he couldn’t care less what you think about the helmets and uniforms…but I care what you think. Give the world your take on the helmets we’ll be wearing this weekend.

I’ve hit this topic pretty hard this week. I’m glad he said what he did, and while it might have come off as a little too definitive, he’s 100 percent right.

Do I like the helmet? Not especially, at least not when it’s by itself looking like a disco ball with a shamrock on it. But could it look cool under the lights with green jerseys? Probably.

That said, I think the process of hiring a world class helmet designer from a different sport makes this cool regardless, just because it shows that Notre Dame has made a decision using a forward-thinking perspective.

That will be all from me on helmets. I promise.

The Irish are starting to incur some injuries that are forcing new players to emerge and contribute. Identify one guy who hasn’t made a big contribution thus far that will show up big over the next three games.

I’m not quite sure what you call a big contribution so I’ll answer this question twice. First and foremost, I think the injuries along the defensive line, and his development over nine games, has freshman Stephon Tuitt primed for a monster home stretch. (I already consider his contribution sizable, but I’m not sure if he’s done enough to qualify for this question.)

While Aaron Lynch was the story of last year’s spring game, I sounded smarter than usual when I  mentioned Tuitt then as a guy that might have a bigger impact this year, and I think we’ll see that come to fruition as November rolls along. (I also pegged George Atkinson as the guy on the offensive side of the ball. So partial credit there, I guess. Just saying.)

Otherwise, I’m expecting Robby Toma to start making a push and getting involved. Toma is the kind of guy that just seems perfect for late season football. He may not have the skillset Theo Riddick does, but there’s just something about him that has me thinking he’ll put up some numbers in these final three regular season games.

There was a short time during the Notre Dame coaching search when it appeared current Maryland head coach Randy Edsall was the front runner. How different would things be for the Irish program right now if he was chosen in front of Kelly?

I think Randy Edsall’s agent would have you believe that there was a time when Randy Edsall was the frontrunner for the Notre Dame job. That said, I don’t think it was ever really that close, and if you stack Edsall’s resume up with Brian Kelly’s, it’s really no comparison.

That said, Edsall is a good football coach, but he’s also the type of hire that would’ve been absolutely crushed by the Notre Dame faithful as not being sexy enough. This is a group that was looking at Hall of Fame coaches as the bar. (A group that earlier today, had someone on a prominent board saying Tom Coughlin should leave the New York Giants and coach the Irish.)

As for trying to guess how things would be if it was Edsall and not Kelly taking the reins? That’s a tough game that I’m not all that comfortable playing, but you’ve got to think that Edsall’s struggles at Maryland after losing some good talent would’ve been a sign for how things would’ve gone with the Irish losing Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, etc.

Let’s briefly step away from South Bend and address the talk of college football right now: the mind-boggling Penn State scandal. What’s your take on the entire situation and what do you think needs to happen moving forward in Happy Valley?

This story haunts me. After reading the Grand Jury findings, I don’t think it can be covered enough. It’s one of the most reprehensible stories that I can think of and I know it’s going to get a whole lot worse, as reporters track this all the way back to 1999, when Jerry Sandusky, then a 54-year-old defensive coordinator coming off being named assistant coach of the year, slipped into “retirement.” That Sandusky decided to walk away during the prime of his coaching career is going to be cross-checked pretty seriously, and I fully expect documents to come out that all but point to the fact that Penn State and Paterno got rid of the coach because of questionable behavior surrounding the initial investigation into his wrongdoings with underage children all the way back then.

If that’s the case, well — this is bad. Really bad. Blow up the program bad. That the leadership of Penn State thought they did enough just to remove him as a coach is egregious. It’s akin to the Catholic Church pulling a child-molesting priest from a parish, slapping him on the wrist,  then reassigning him to somewhere else. That Sandusky brought kids around the program and had unfettered access to facilities and the ability to still run youth camps and profit off his past Penn State glory is just disgusting.

I’ve heard an Albert Einstein quote referenced that’s been pretty appropriate for this situation:

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Jerry Sandusky isn’t guilty of anything yet, but it’s very likely that he’s an evil monster. That said, he’s far from the only one that failed people here. It was the good people at Penn State — something we all thought Paterno was — that brushed this evil under the carpet, and for that, they deserve every bit of hell coming to them, and it won’t be close to enough to make up for the terrible things that happened to those defenseless children.

Lastly, the State College community reaction, at least the vocal portion that shouted questions during last night’s press conference,  the students that cheered in the Paterno’s yard and flipped a news van, was pathetic. It’ll be something that embarrasses that mob for years to come. I don’t think I could ever be so bold while doing it, but Craig Carton said what a lot of people wanted to when undressing a student-journalist from Penn State this morning.

I’ve spent a better part of the week digging into this story, and it’s taken me an hour just to put together 400 words on the subject. It’s just a horrific horrific mess and something that will forever plague Happy Valley.




Kelly thinks simplicity might aid offensive production

Notre Dame quarterback Kizer DeShone makes a throw during the Blue-Gold spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
South Bend Tribune via AP

Back to the basics. If there’s a refrain we’ve heard—or one that’s made its way through the echo chamber these past few weeks—it’s that Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are drilling down, looking for any way to pull this team out of their slump.

We saw the changes defensively, a gigantic detour away from the scheme and philosophies of Brian VanGorder. And while that’s helped jump-start the defense, the impact of the move may have hit the offense’s productivity.

Kelly talked about some of those aftereffects this week, the changes on one side of the ball leaking over to the other.

“We’re keeping the points down, but we’re limiting possessions,” Kelly explained. “We went from 15 possessions earlier in the season to this past game we had four possessions in the first half. That’s like playing an option team. We’re going to keep the points down, we’re probably not going to get off the field quite as quick as we did earlier in the season.”

Those lack of opportunities have shown up in the box score. Throw away the game played in hurricane conditions and it’s still clear that the Irish offense didn’t capitalize on their chances against Stanford. And whether it was DeShone Kizer’s interceptions, Malik Zaire’s three short-circuited series or a general lack of running game, Kelly is taking a similar approach with his offense that he did with the opposite side of the ball—though not running anybody out of town.

“We have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively. We’re probably doing a little too much,” Kelly said. “When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature. You can play free, you can play fast.

“I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let’s practice what we’re good at and let’s be better at execution in this kind of game.”

Do what you do, but do it better. It’s an approach that’s worked under Greg Hudson’s direction, with a defense mastering the bare essentials as they try to stop the bleeding. Offensively, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this unit struggle. And while pointing in one direction usually takes the focus off of a multi-faceted problem, cutting down the inventory and letting the Irish talent play fast and loose could be a big help for a group that’s still really young.

“I think there’s an understanding now that we have to figure out what we are doing well and put emphasis on that,” Kizer said. “In the first half of the season there were some specific looks that are more successful than others, and we have to put emphasis on those looks.”

Behind the Irish: Leaders eat last


Leaders eat last. As the 2016 season continues to be a struggle for the Irish, holding firm to leadership mottos like the above is more than just lip service or an empty slogan.

In our latest Behind the Irish feature, several Notre Dame players talk about this season’s slogan and how it helps guide the team as they look to stay united through this stretch run.

And in that corner… The Miami Hurricanes


Sure, the high-wattage match-up might have lost some of its preseason luster. But even with both Notre Dame and Miami entering the weekend limping, bringing the Hurricanes and the Irish together—two of college football’s premier programs with quite a bit of history together—is always a game worth watching.

As the Irish return from an off week healthy and looking to rebound after two-straight losses, Mark Richt’s Miami team poses quite a challenge. Especially as the Hurricanes do what they can to stop a three game slide. They’ve got the ammo to do it, with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya one of the best Notre Dame will face this season and a defense that’s done a 180 under new coordinator Manny Diaz.

To get us ready for a very big weekend, Isaiah Kim-Martinez joins us. A sophomore studying broadcast journalism who also writes for the student-run Hurricane (in circulation since 1929!), Isaiah took time away from his busy schedule to answer some questions from on the ground in Coral Gables.

Hope you enjoy.


This season started with a four-game winning streak and gave way to a three-game losing streak—all ACC opponents. What do you make of the season so far, and how do you evaluate a Hurricanes team that has just one win against a Power Five opponent?

I would say that this season has brought what most fans were expecting – inconsistency. The team is just not quite there yet. This season isn’t a failure, nor is it really a success. There was supposed to be growing pains with a new coach and a new system, and we are seeing it now as the Hurricanes have played tougher opponents.


Before we get to the play on the field specifically, what’s the transition to Mark Richt been like? Getting a tenured head coach with connections to the university looked like a coup from a far. Is that the reaction amongst Canes faithful? What’s surprised you so far through seven games?

The transition has been great. The school and the fans have welcomed him with open arms. There is a general understanding that bringing the U back to national prominence would take some time, even with someone of Richt’s track record. So, Canes faithful is generally being patient with the head coach, understanding that this is a process.

What’s surprised me most has been the ups and downs of the offense. Miami averaged over 40 points through the first four games, and that quickly dropped to under 20 for the next three. I understand that the difficulty of the opponent was higher over the last three weeks, but that is more of a drop off in offensive production than I expected.


When we looked at the 2016 Notre Dame season in August, Brad Kaaya looked like the best quarterback the Irish would face. The junior has a big-time national profile and has nice numbers so far, 12 TDs, 5 INTs, completing almost 62 percent of his throws. Evaluate Kaaya’s junior season.

Kaaya has played well, but has clearly not met the expectations that most fans had set for him prior to the season. The numbers look fine on paper, but what is misleading about stats is that they don’t tell you when the touchdowns and interceptions happened. In the biggest games of the season, Kaaya’s touchdowns have mainly come with the team being down, which to me, negates some of the luster of them. Many of the touchdowns have not been that impactful. Kaaya hasn’t buried any team over the past few weeks with a series of plays he has made. He has also already thrown more interceptions this season than he had thrown all of last season.

That being said, it is not all his fault. The offensive line has not been good, so Kaaya has not had the adequate time to consistently throw in the pocket. It seems that part of the reason for the struggle has been the adjustment to the new system and the play-calling of a new coach, which is perfectly understandable. Once again, it is not all on Kaaya, however I do not believe he has taken a legitimate step forward to this point in the season. He has been good, just not great.


Defensively, Manny Diaz has done a stellar job, the Hurricanes defense taking a huge step forward from 2015. What’s the strength of the unit? And how will they attack an Irish offense that looks in a bit of a slump?

The strength of the unit, especially early on, has been the defensive line. It is getting pressure to the quarterback. I expect the team to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, thus forcing him to make errors.


On the other side of the ball, Kaaya’s struggled with protection and the ground game isn’t necessarily putting up great numbers. What are the keys for the Hurricane offense, especially with Notre Dame finding its footing on the defensive side of the ball?

The key is the offensive line giving Kaaya the time he needs in the pocket to be effective, and making holes for running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby to rush in between the tackles, which they have not been able to do effectively since before playing Florida State.


This is a rivalry with some history, though not many games against each other. Neither team is playing particularly good football, but it still was a game Irish fans circled on the schedule. How big of a game is this for the Hurricanes and their fans?

Indeed, it can be agreed upon that both teams expected to be in better situations come this matchup, so the implications are quite different. However, this is a huge game for the moral of the Hurricanes’ team and fans. Miami may have lost three straight games, but all the losses have come to opponents with records over .500. UM as a whole is being patient with the program, but I doubt there will be much tolerance if the Canes lose to a team that is currently 2-5.


Any prediction on how this game goes? Any keys that’ll determine a victor in your mind?

The Hurricanes defense is dealing with the injury bug, but I expect it to come out with a vengeance after allowing Virginia Tech to drop 37 points on it. The defense will hold the Fighting Irish to fewer than 25 points, and the Canes run game will finally see some day light and have a big day.

Keys to the game:

· Establish offensive presence early (strike first blood)

· No big plays allowed on defense

· Offensive line must play strong

Score Prediction: Miami 31 – Notre Dame 21

Kelly stays in the moment

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Coming off a bye week, you could excuse Brian Kelly if he started looking ahead. To his impending hire at defensive coordinator, or his shifting focus to a recruiting class that suffered its first defection since Blake Barnett bolted for Alabama.

But the seventh-year head coach has his hands full fixing his current predicament, leaving any planning beyond Miami to the weeks after the regular season.

“My time is spent on the present right now. I don’t look too far ahead,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I’ve stayed with very similar thoughts about not mortgaging the future, not dwelling too much on the past, but living in the present right now.”

That commitment to right now hasn’t translated into wins yet. But it’s the best way to beat Miami, a talented football team with what might be the best quarterback the Irish will face, coming in on a three-game losing streak.

So while Irish fans wonder how this team will find a way to straighten out and win four of their next five to qualify for a bowl game, Kelly talked about the internal motivation this team has, playing for each other more than any postseason bonus.

“All these kids, they come to Notre Dame because they want to be challenged,” Kelly said. “They have incredible intrinsic motivation every day to get up, to go to class, to want to succeed. It’s why they come here. There’s an immense amount of pride. They want to freakin’ win. They want to win. They really don’t care whether they get a Visa gift card in the bowl game.

“They want to practice more. They want to be with their teammates. They want to be with their guys. They want to win football games. They want to be successful in the classroom. They want to be successful on the football field. That’s why they came here. That’s why I’m here. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we do every day, is think about how we can be more successful.”