Tommy Rees USF

IBG: Down the stretch we come


If rivalries were measured by the excellence of snarky t-shirts generated by students and fans, the Notre Dame-Boston College match-up would be up there with the best rivalries in all of college football.

When the Eagles come to town, a fanbase with an awful lot of similarities joins them, and the result is the kind of spirited rivalry that adds quite a bit of flavor to a game that doesn’t look so good on paper.

But here to try to make something of this weekend’s game is the pint-sized provocateur of Her Loyal Sons, Steve Giordano, better known to the internet as Poot. While he’s starting a feud that I plan on winning (you’ll see in the cheap-shot bonus question), he’s also laid out some questions that deserve answering.

Here goes:

Having actually seen the uniforms in the wild on Saturday night, what are your final thoughts regarding them? Does Ronald Darby stating that he liked them change your views on trying out the different uniforms for the “Shamrock Series”?

Wait — are you telling me an 17 or 18-year-old kid actually liked the new uniforms? I’m shocked! Shocked! Between the cool story with the Adidas promotion and beating this story like a dead horse, I’m so over the uniforms right now it’s unbelievable. Do I think the Irish will wear helmets that ridiculous again? Probably not. Do I think it’s a big deal? Not at all.

I’m all for taking one game a year and trying something fresh. As I’ve said a couple times, the Irish didn’t exactly help themselves by essentially stretching out three different uniform changes throughout the season, but Michigan had their say in one of them, an inability to finish the new helmet color in time for the start of the season is another, and then gaudy taste for the Shamrock Series is a third.

If they rotate uniforms like this next year, then the grumbling can continue. Until then, everybody relax and just enjoy the last two regular season games of the year.

Manti is clearly hobbled right now. Re-watching the game on Sunday, I barely noticed him on the field and I rarely remember Mayock or Hammonds calling his name. I believe Kelly stated in his Sunday teleconference that Manti was did not play most of the 3rd or 4th quarters. If you are BK, do you sit Manti on Saturday?

With an ankle injury like this, it’s just the nature of the beast. If you get unlucky and tweak it, you’re going to hobble around for a few minutes. If you stay clean, it’ll continue to get better. Do I think the Irish need a Manti Te’o on the field to beat Boston College? No. But do I think they should keep him off the field in what could be his last game in Notre Dame Stadium? Much louder no.

If the Irish start fast like they did last week, you won’t see a ton of Te’o. But if he’s as healthy as the coaching staff and Te’o want you to believe, there’s no reason to baby him, and getting him in the flow of the game before going to Palo Alto is probably just as important as protecting him.

We’ve seen Tommy Rees play deep into blowouts against Navy, Air Force and Maryland with Hendrix only getting a significant number of snaps in the Air Force game. Rees is only a sophomore but it seems most Irish fans take it as a foregone conclusion that Golson or Hendrix will pass Tommy going into the 2012 season. So do you agree with the use, or lack thereof, of Hendrix so far this season? Do you accept the thought that this is Rees’ last year as starter?

I do not accept the idea that Rees won’t be the starter next season. I do not accept that at all. I’ve kicked enough hornet nests on here with my “support” of Tommy Rees, but I just don’t think people understand how difficult it is to play competent quarterback in college football. (Look at what’s going on down in Florida.)

Has Rees played deeper into those wins that I thought he should have? Yes. But I’d have put Dayne Crist on the field in relief before putting in Hendrix, as it’s going to be Crist that’ll help the Irish beat Stanford, not Hendrix, regardless of how talented people believe he is.

Like it or not, Tommy Rees is the starting quarterback going into the offseason. While it seems like a long shot that Crist will return, I think it’s equally unlikely that either Hendrix or Everett Golson will unseat Rees as the starting quarterback, especially with another full offseason in Kelly’s system. Would an extra series here or there help Hendrix? Sure, but it’s not going to be anything compared to the snaps he’ll get this spring and throughout the summer.

Is Tommy a perfect quarterback? No. Can we expect a third-year jump in production like other Irish quarterbacks that have significant starting experience? Honestly, I think so. I’d love to find a way for Rees, Golson and Hendrix to all find a way to help the Irish out next year, but more importantly — I think Rees can put up some really big numbers next year, especially if someone steps up and takes the spot of Michael Floyd. How that happens is up to Brian Kelly and Charley Molnar.

Tommy Rees needs 608 yards for 3000 passing yards on the season. Cierre Wood is 93 yards short while Jonas Gray is 270 yards short of 1000 rushing yards. Michael Floyd is 78 yards shy of 1000 receiving yards for the season. Despite SubwayDomer’s insistence that bowl stats count, predict final numbers for all 4 players before the bowl. Do they all hit the milestones?

I’m with Subway Domer — I don’t get how bowl game stats count now, but aren’t retroactively included for players before the rule was adopted. You realize how ridiculous that is? It’s not enough that they added another game on to the regular season. It’s not enough that they allow conference championship games now, too. We’ve got to count the seventy teams that get to play in the watered down bowl system too, potentially adding three games onto the end of a season compared to what people played 20 years ago?

(That’s like counting baseball’s entire postseason stats in the home run race. Colossally silly. )

But rant over, back to the predictions. Frankly, I think everything you’ve mentioned is going to happen. Rees will get to 608 yards, and if things go according to plan, it’ll happen in the second half in Palo Alto. Cierre will break 1,000 in the third quarter on Saturday, on his way to a bowl-aided 1,200 yard season. And Jonas Gray will get to the magic four-digit number, whether or not that’s in a bowl game or not I haven’t quite decided. One bonus that young Poot didn’t mention: Michael Floyd will end up breaking Golden Tate’s single-season record for catches as well.

Notre Dame opens up as a 24.5 favorite for Saturday’s game and this is clearly the worst Boston College team in recent memory. That said, BC absolutely loves to play spoiler when it comes to Notre Dame and this game will be the last chance for something good to happen this season. Given those two thoughts, does the margin of victory matter to you on Saturday?

I think the margin of victory absolutely matters, but not because it’s Boston College. The Irish need to keep back-dooring their way up the rankings, and they can do that with another impressive victory, and more teams getting exposed by back-loaded conference schedules.

Already tonight, Southern Miss (ranked 20th) just fell to a 2-8 UAB. Baylor is going to lose to Oklahoma. Florida State has to play Virginia. Michigan and Nebraska battle each other, and Kansas State and Texas match-up in an interesting, albeit fraudulent battle between overrated teams. That’s a handful of teams that’ll likely slide below the Irish, and then it’s up to ND to beat Stanford.

Margin of victory won’t matter if Notre Dame doesn’t beat Stanford. But a beatdown victory will feel good for those Irish fans that still are cleaning the grass-stains off their jeans that came along with the decade long victory drought against the Eagles.

Bonus Question:
On a scale of 1-10, how much does Keith Arnold look like Jay Cutler?

I’m not even going to dignify this with an answer. Do I look like this guy?


No. No, I don’t.

While I’d enjoy the freedom of a five-year, $50 million dollar contract, I wouldn’t be caught dead dressing this. When he’s not moping on the football field or getting engaged, calling it off, then showing up on TV to support his reality-show girlfriend, Cutler plays for one of my least favorite football teams and is one of my least favorite quarterbacks of the last 10 years.

Thanks Poot. I look forward to the bonus question where I ask people if you look like this guy.

How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.