Tommy Rees USF

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.

Spring positions to watch for revelations: DL & WR

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 05: Jerry Tillery #99 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Jerrod Heard #13 of the Texas Longhorns for a loss of yards during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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If quarterback, rover and the early enrollees could be Notre Dame fans’ springtime Christmas thrills, what positions present as potential spots of coal?

Three former Irish players were invited to next week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis: quarterback DeShone Kizer, defensive tackle Jarron Jones and defensive end Isaac Rochell. Losing two consistent defensive linemen leaves this year’s unit with some questions. Jones and Rochell combined for 100 tackles, 18 for loss and three sacks last season. Notre Dame’s returning defensive linemen combined to total 111 tackles and only 5.5 tackles for loss. To be clear, sacks are not included in that latter list because no returning defensive linemen recorded one. Among the returnees, junior tackle Jerry Tillery (37 tackles, three for loss) and senior end Andrew Trumbetti (26, 0.5) contributed solidly alongside the two NFL prospects.

This dearth of known and reliable linemen is a large part of why the potential transfer of Clemson graduate defensive tackle Scott Pagano is so intriguing. Pagano would immediately be a favorite to start, and if not that, at least rotate in heavily.

For now, though, Pagano remains a theoretical

By the end of spring practice, who already on campus will emerge alongside Tillery and Trumbetti in the Irish front? Senior ends Jay Hayes (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) and Jonathon Bonner (nine tackles) seem the most-likely candidates … aside from former four-star recruit and now rising sophomore Daelin Hayes. In his debut season, D. Hayes finished with 11 tackles.

Look for senior tackle Daniel Cage (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) to establish himself as Tillery’s immediate backup this spring, but that spot in the rotation will be up for competition all over again once four-star tackle Darnell Ewell (Lake Taylor High School; Norfolk, Va.) arrives on campus in the fall. His size and quickness should play right into new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s system.

Equanimeous and Who?
Not only did Notre Dame bring in a graduate transfer at receiver in former Michigan wideout Freddy Canteen, but it has also already received the commitments of two four-star receivers in the 2018 recruiting class. The continued emphasis on the position reflects the lack of bona fide game-breakers currently on the roster.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown established himself as the top Irish threat in 2016, and he should shine only further with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush targeting him. Classmates often amplify each other’s success, simply due to the added shared reps innate to joining practice at the same time. With Torii Hunter, Jr., now pursuing a professional baseball career, who will prevent the secondary from focusing all its energies on St. Brown?

Canteen will not be with Notre Dame in the spring, as he does not graduate from Michigan until April. That will give a clear shot for the likes of juniors Chris Finke, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin, and sophomores Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool to establish themselves. Did that say “clear” shot? It should probably read, “a chance to separate from the crowd.”

If a genuine threat does not line up opposite St. Brown, his explosiveness will likely be greatly reduced by focused defensive scheming. Wimbush will need another target before 2018.

Of course, here is where one should acknowledge the millennia-tested fact: Coal under pressure becomes diamonds.

2016 Notre Dame’s win expectancy was 7.2
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson named the Irish as his team most likely to dramatically improve its record in 2017. Johnson’s thinking is based, at least in part, on Notre Dame’s second-order win total having been 7.2 in 2016, compared to the four wins the Irish actually walked away with. That discrepancy was the largest in the country.

Second-order win totals reflect how many points a team should have scored and allowed based on offensive and defensive stats. In theory, this shines a light on how luck and chance factored into results. Naturally, losing seven games by one possession will often be reflected by a higher second-order win total.

“Notre Dame’s win-loss record belied a solid, if imperfect, squad that just couldn’t pull out close games…” Johnson writes. “The Irish may not get back into College Football Playoff contention in 2017, but they’re bound to post a few more Ws because of reversion to the mean.”

Admittedly, the small sample size of a football season reduces the applicability of metrics such as second- and third-order wins when compared to baseball and basketball.

Jones becomes Mack
A quick piece of housekeeping: Apparently junior tight end Alizé Jones has changed his name to Alizé Mack.

While Notre Dame’s roster may not reflect that change yet, it is reasonable to expect it will after its next update. The football program has consistently respected the intricacies of players’ name preferences. Tai-ler Jones becoming TJ Jones jumps to mind, for example.

Anyways, hopefully noting Mack’s name change here might reduce some confusion down the line. Probably not. How many readers possibly read to the actual bottom of an article? But hey, in good faith.

WR Lenzy makes 11th commitment, brings speed to Irish

lenzy
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At what point does an impressive recruiting roll become something more? When does it become a harbinger of things to come, even if not for a few seasons? How many notable commitments in a row establishes a class as special?

If the answer to any of the above is 11 commitments by the end of February, including five within two weeks, then Notre Dame is there following consensus four-star athlete Braden Lenzy’s announcement Thursday evening.

The Tigard High School (Portland, Ore) receiver/cornerback chose the Irish over offers from USC, Oregon and Michigan State, among a litany of others. In all, nine Pac-12 schools chased Lenzy—and a 10th, Washington, had shown interest—per rivals.com.

Lenzy will fit the leading 2018 need voiced by Irish coach Brian Kelly three weeks ago on National Signing Day 2017.

“Elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us,” Kelly said Feb. 1. “Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that… We want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles’s size. We’re going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”

At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Lenzy is taller than Sproles’s 5-foot-6, but it is still his speed that drew Notre Dame’s interest.

“They made it clear they want me to do kickoff return and use me as a deep threat across the field,” he told Irish Illustrated. “Just being kind of an athlete, similar to what I’ve been doing already in high school, just on a bigger scale with a quarterback that can throw it a lot farther.”

Presuming Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush is that arm in 2018, throwing great distances should not be an issue. Between Lenzy and fellow 2018 commit Micah Jones, covering those distances should be a reasonable request, as well.

Lenzy brings Notre Dame’s class of 2018 to 11, including eight four-stars according to Rivals’ rating system. Current scholarship projections indicate the class will not be a large one, meaning the Irish coaching staff has already garnered the commitments of more than half the class. Once again, though, Kelly’s sentiment regarding recruiting timing should be remembered.

“We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

SWARBRICK’S TAKE ON RECRUITING
Kelly credited Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick with much assistance in securing the country’s No. 13 recruiting class in 2017. A refresher on those comments:

“In a lot of instances, [Swarbrick] had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going,” Kelly said. “There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”

Swarbrick did not dispute the factual nature of any of that in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, but he did contest the need for praising what he saw as part of his job, one of the preferred parts of his job, at that.

“I can’t say anything about this year felt all that different,” Swarbrick told Star reporter Laken Litman. “Some asked questions about the future of the program and can we compete for a national championship. And I would talk about the elements of the program we were focused on improving.”

Swarbrick and Litman discussed a number of items in the second-half of the interview released by the Star, including Notre Dame’s facilities, a possible early signing period in football and if the Oct. 8, 2016, game against North Carolina State should have been played. Spoiler: No. Then why was it? Go check it out.

Swarbrick also told Litman he likes to write in his free time.

“I tend to think strategically with a pen in my hand.” Swarbrick added he is currently scribbling away on where he thinks college athletics are headed.

This scribe, for one, would be most interested in skimming those legal pads.

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)