IBG: Down the stretch we come

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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?

source:

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.

A spring perspective: Wimbush and his offensive line

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Many like to belittle spring practice as just spring practice. Similarly, others will gladly snub their noses at any positive reviews, insisting it is only warmer temperatures and sunshine eliciting optimism.

Another group sees every position change and depth chart shift as a definite indicator the program is on the right track.

The best assessment of these 15 practices falls somewhere between those two extremes, as most things in this world do.

Take the offensive line, for example. Why is it important to garner an idea of the starting five before fall? Once that is established, not only can the offensive line develop chemistry within itself, but it can also establish chemistry with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush. That is, in fact, what Wimbush cited as the item he needs to most improve in a WatchND interview with Jack Nolan over the weekend.

“I need to get better at making it easier for the offensive line and understanding my pocket awareness, where my escape lanes are and where I need to step up,” Wimbush said. “Those guys are working their butts off and I’m at 10 yards, [graduate student left tackle Mike] McGlinchey is getting pushed back and pushed right into me. I have to understand where my pocket is.”

That understanding will develop at an even quicker pace once Wimbush knows exactly whom he is working with on each snap. Spring’s greatest benefit is taking steps toward answering those questions.

As for his greatest strengths on the field, Wimbush pointed toward his athleticism.

“Being able to make plays, get outside the pocket, and I feel like breaking down the defense is some of my assets,” he said.

Assistants: Polian on defensive depth; Lyght on Love; and Lea on the rover

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Three Irish assistants were available to the media following Notre Dame’s sixth spring practice Wednesday. Each of special teams coordinator Brian Polian, defensive backs coach Todd Lyght and linebackers coach Clark Lea commented on something or other of note. Together there just might be enough substance to justify your time here today.

At the bottom of this post is a video with most of the below quotes and many more from yesterday’s session.

POLIAN ON DEFENSIVE DEPTH AFFECTING SPECIAL TEAMS
The most unique aspect of the special teams coordinator, at least when compared to his offensive and defensive counterparts, is the fact that his charges include nearly the entire breadth of the roster. Aside from the quarterbacks, the starting offensive line and the defensive tackles, just about every player could find himself on a kickoff coverage or return unit.

More often than not, defensive players—accustomed to seeking out contact, rather than attempting to avoid it—fill out most of those spots. That may not be the case with this Irish rendition, and not necessarily by choice.

“We’re not as deep as you’d want to be in some other spots with depth at linebacker and depth at safety,” Polian said. “So where are we going to make up those bodies, and they’re going to have to come from offense. Those guys have made very positive impressions.”

Polian specifically mentioned junior running back Dexter Williams, sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and sophomore running back Tony Jones, as well as sophomore safety Jalen Elliott, as having excelled thus far. When he came to Jones, Polian added phrases such as “real excited” and “fantastic,” echoing sentiments Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly espoused earlier this week.

Along with that personnel shift, Polian wants to increase the intensity with which players approach the third unit. Often seen as auxiliary duty, inferior to position group work, special teams should not include a dialed back attitude.

“The biggest change has to be the urgency with which we attack special teams and our execution and critical efficiency in important times of the game.”

The Indianapolis Star’s Laken Litman wrote a longer discussion of Polian’s comments, including how he will look to supplement junior receivers Chris Finke and C.J. Sanders at punt return.

“We’ll have a gong show and say who wants to get a look that’s not getting a look,” Polian said. “We’ll start firing balls at them and if you drop two, you’re fired. But we’ll find another one or two guys.”

Please, WatchND and Fighting Irish Media, please record all of that. The possibilities for hilarity would extend further only if Jarron Jones or Lou Nix were still around to insist on taking a turn.

LYGHT ON LOVE
Sophomore cornerback Julian Love saw plenty of action in 12 games last season, finishing with 45 tackles and one each of an interception, fumble forced and fumble recovered. Nonetheless, Lyght sees room for Love to improve.

“The thing for him and his development, when he’s uncomfortable … he has to rely more on his fundamentals and his technique and be proficient with his execution of his technique and those fundamentals,” Lyght said.

Love started eight games at cornerback last season, the most career starts at the position on the Irish roster. Thus, despite being only a sophomore, he is already in a position to lead.

“Julian can tackle in space, he can cover,” Lyght said. “We want him to get better in his man-to-man techniques and in his leadership role. He is a young player but he is going to play a lot for us.”

Love will play, and likely start, at the boundary cornerback position. As Irish Illustrated’s Tim O’Malley lays out in an elongated look at all five cornerbacks in the mix, the days of left/right cornerback duties are in the past.

“In the college game, it is a boundary/field game,” Lyght said. “It’s not like the NFL where the hashmarks are in the middle of the field and it’s a left/right game…

“If you get the guys comfortable playing boundary, playing field, they can get a better feel for the game, get a better feel for the route combinations, and be able to execute at a higher level playing that way.”

A quick layman’s translation: The hashmarks in college football are much wider than in the NFL. Thus, when the ball is placed on the right hashmark, the right side of the field becomes the boundary and is much narrower than the left, the field.

LEA ON THE ROVER
How about another take at explaining the heralded rover position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme? Let’s here Lea’s quick summary:

“We have a lot of bodies, so we’re really trying to identify who the right fit is,” he said. “The beauty of that position is it is a hybrid, so there are times you want a bigger-body linebacker type, there are times where you want more of a nickel type.”

Lea also took a moment to extensively praise the leadership of both senior linebackers Nyles Morgan and Greer Martini.


Mid-week reading: On Wimbush; NCAA $$$; A look back at Te’o

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A litany of links typically makes for good Friday fodder. A week’s worth of the internet can help any reader through an unproductive end of the week. Unfortunately, spring practice’s rhythms are inconsistent, unlike summer’s constant nothingness and fall’s non-stop charge.

Hey, who said you can’t take a long lunch on a Wednesday, anyway?

MORE WIMBUSH AND WHITFIELD
Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples joined Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush out in San Diego two weeks ago during spring break, watching as Wimbush listened to private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield’s instructions. Staples, per usual, tells a good story, slipping some nuggets of information within it where you may not even notice.

Many around this space have asked who foots the bill when a college quarterback seeks out Whitfield’s tutelage. Per Staples, Wimbush’s mother paid for the week.

Throughout the story, Wimbush emphasizes the importance of a Notre Dame degree, going so far as to point to former Irish quarterbacks Everett Golson and Malik Zaire acquiring their diplomas before departing Notre Dame. None of us know Wimbush’s academic progress—now approaching his second summer school session, Wimbush is likely ahead of the usual second-semester sophomore’s credit pace—but this tidbit may prove pertinent in nine months time. Considering what its pertinence would say about a bigger picture, Irish fans should certainly hope it is of note.

To this memory, the classic image relayed from Golson’s time with Whitfield was Golson throwing over brooms held by staffers, mimicking the long limbs of charging defensive linemen. Those fictional pass rushers have become a bit more realistic in nature, now apparently represented with outstretched tennis rackets.

NCAA GIVING NOTRE DAME NEARLY $1 MILLION
In what has been described as a “one-time supplemental distribution,” the NCAA is dispersing $200 million among its members. The amount each school receives is determined by the total number of full scholarships it gives to student-athletes, with each partial scholarship contributing its appropriate fraction toward that total figure.

Notre Dame will receive $984,724 thanks to giving out 299.20 scholarships in 2013-14. Some context behind that latter number: The football team takes up 85 scholarships. The men’s basketball team is allowed 13, and the women’s basketball team gets 15. The remaining 186.20 are split among the other 20 varsity sports (counting men’s and women’s teams separately in rowing, swimming and diving, and track and field).

Other notable schools:
Ohio State receives the most, more than $1.3 million, thanks to its 403.98 scholarships.
USC’s 279.06 scholarships equates to $918,440.
Michigan’s 353.18 scholarships will yield close to $1.2 million.

All these dollars must be spent it ways aiding the student-athletes. Schools cannot put the funds toward items like stadium construction or coaches’ salaries. Rather, the NCAA indicated the money is for “the direct benefit of the student-athlete and their academic success, life skills, career success, health and safety and student-athlete focused diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

All expenditures must be approved by the NCAA. The money comes from an endowment that had reportedly come to exceed $360 million.

REMEMBER THE TE’O DRAFT HOOPLA?
The below video does not necessarily reveal anything we do not already know about former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, despite its ponderous title. It does, however, make a good point.

Aside from a sporadic comment deep in the morass of these pages, not much is said about the Lennay Kekua situation anymore. At the time, it was the most talked about item anywhere, let alone in Notre Dame corners. Personally, a former co-worker at the Los Angeles Times called late one night that week four-plus years ago. He and I had not spoken in close to two years, and we haven’t spoken since. But the Te’o/Kekua story prompted him to seek an understanding of what in the world was going on.

In some irish.nbcsports.com history, the day after that story broke—it broke on Jan. 16, 2013, so I am referring to Jan. 17—still holds the record for most views to this particular site.

Good for Te’o to have successfully moved past that saga. These days, every comment former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer makes is scrutinized. He is even criticized for not having excellent timing with Jonas Gray, of all people. Looking back on Te’o, it should be remembered the most dramatic stories, one seemingly crafted perfectly for the internet, fade into the cobwebs of time.

[Here, a link in case the intended embed below fails.]

PHIL STEELE’S PROJECTED AP TOP 10
Enough with the past. Let’s project the future.

Phil Steele, of the revered Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, projected August’s Associated Press Top 10. Steele has accounted for voters’ tendencies rather accurately in years past, so it is not an entirely fruitless exercise. Then again, he is projecting the results of the first of many polls with no actual consequence.

Of Steele’s projected top-10, Notre Dame will face only No. 4 USC.

KENPOM’S TOO EARLY PRESEASON TOP 10
If you think Steele’s top 10 is too early, then skip this.

College basketball analytics master Ken Pomeroy put together his top 10 for next season, though any unexpected draft departures or transfers can certainly alter his calculations. After all, the season is not actually over yet.

Of certain Irish interest: No. 9 North Carolina, No. 8 Louisville and No. 6 Virginia. The last of those has already suffered a transfer which Pomeroy tweeted will “abruptly” end the Cavaliers’ time in his preseason top 10.

SPEAKING OF BASKETBALL, WELL DONE DENNIS, WHOEVER YOU ARE
Math is hard, so take this with a grain of salt, but I believe Dennis’ bracket of “Brey Brey’s Kids” will win the Inside the Irish March Madness pool. Dennis, your $984,724 is in the mail.

Don’t think that means there is no reason to watch the Final Four, though. Your host might be able to rise into the top half of the field, which would be good for his pride, and therefore the quality of writing in these parts.

It shouldn’t be too surprising my bracket flopped. This is a football page. Besides, by my eye, no one I actually know firsthand will finish higher than fourth. That is more of a relief than it should be.

Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

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This space has mentioned a few times the dearth of returning sacks among Notre Dame’s defensive line. It is a pertinent fact—no returning Irish defensive lineman recorded a sack in the 2016 season—but it fails to mention the flipside of that.

Most of Notre Dame’s defensive linemen had few, if any, opportunities to rush the passer in 2016. Perhaps at the top of the list of those who should bring down the opposing passer a few times this fall, sophomore Daelin Hayes has laid claim to a starting rush spot through five spring practices.

“The athleticism is what obviously stands out,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s extremely athletic, he’s fit physically, 250 pounds and very strong.”

These facts are, after all, the reasons Hayes was a highly sought-after five-star recruit according to rivals.com.

“It’s the football knowledge, learning the techniques at the position in which he plays is really the piece,” Kelly continued. “It’s just learning right now for him. This is the time to do it, in spring ball.

“Squeezing down on a tight end when the back is away. Wrong-arming the puller. These are all football terms and schemes that are a bit new to him. We have to be patient with him. He’s an explosive athlete. There’s going to be some mistakes along the way, and I’m okay with that as long as he’s learning.”

Without much depth pushing for playing time behind him, Hayes will have the opportunity to make, and subsequently understand, those mistakes. Seniors Jay Hayes (no relation) and Andrew Trumbetti are mired in competition for the other end spot, while sophomores Julian Okwara, Adetokunbo Ogundeji and Khalid Kareem may have even more development ahead of them than Daelin Hayes does.

Incoming freshmen Kofi Wardlow and Jonathon MacCollister will join the fray in the summer, but for now, the younger Hayes has his chance to impress with his natural gifts while absorbing the intricacies of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense.

Hayes is not a complete unknown. While Okwara made four tackles last season in 11 games and Kareem appeared in four games, Hayes saw action in every contest, finishing the season with 11 tackles, one pass breakup and one forced fumble.

“He’s an athlete,” defensive line coach Mike Elston said last week. “He’s on the edge in a two-point stance. He’s not a trained, put-your-hand-on-the-ground defensive end. He played running back in high school. He can see things better in a two-point and can diagnose quicker. He’s able to be more productive.”

It may be accurate to mention no returning Notre Dame defensive linemen tackled a quarterback for a loss last season, but it is more precise to also include the Irish have possibilities of changing that trend.

SPEAKING OF THE DEFENSIVE LINE
Notre Dame is nearly as thin at defensive tackle as it is at end. Junior Jerry Tillery leads the way with senior end-converted-to-tackle Jonathan Bonner lining up next to him thus far. Their reserves: Oft-concussed senior Daniel Cage, senior Pete Mokwuah and junior Micah Dew-Treadway with junior Elijah Taylor out for the spring with a foot injury.

Theoretically, junior Brandon Tiassum is also in the mix, and three freshmen (Kurt Hinish, Myron Tagovailo-Amosa and four-star Darnell Ewell) will join the group in the summer.

And maybe, just maybe, perhaps, possibly … Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano could walk onto campus alongside those freshmen. Pagano visited Notre Dame the first week of March, and was due to look at Oklahoma and Arkansas the next two weekends, respectively. Instead, Pagano reportedly cancelled both of those visits Monday.

Pagano does still have a visit to Oregon scheduled for April 21. Until indicated otherwise, it may be prudent to presume Pagano hopes to land as close to his Hawaiian home as possible.

RELATED READING: 1 Day Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive line