aaron lynch Sack

Kelly preps the Irish for Stanford


Before the Irish break for the holiday and set off to Palo Alto, Brian Kelly took some time to talk with the media and get everyone up to speed on injuries, Stanford, his Thanksgiving plans, and what the Irish need to do to spring an upset on No. 4 Stanford.

As usual, the guys at NBC took the time to cut us the greatest hits. I’ll give you a few thoughts below as well.

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Not that we didn’t already know, but Kelly confirmed that Jonas Gray tore his ACL. Here are the heartbreaking particulars:

“His MRI came back, and was what we thought it would be —  it was a torn ACL,” Kelly said. “There was some other collateral damage in there that’s going to have to be taken care of as well, and so we’re in the process of setting up that surgery.”

Kelly put the recovery timetable at six months. That should give Jonas plenty of time to get healthy, get back in shape and find an NFL training camp.


It’s still up in the air whether or not Theo Riddick will be healthy enough to play, let alone transition to running back. But it’s clear that Notre Dame is going to need to get production out of freshmen George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel. Neither have done much of anything from the line of scrimmage and will face one of their stiffest tests on Saturday night.

“We certainly are going to have to count on George and Cam.  They’re going to have to play for us.  They’re going to have to play Saturday against Stanford.  There’s no question.”

It’s a big big week for running backs coach Tim Hinton. We haven’t seen anything out of Atkinson (as a running back) or McDaniel that makes us think they’ll be ready for significant touches. Neither are physically imposing players, and if the Irish can get anything out of them in the running game, it’ll be a great help to keeping Cierre Wood fresh.


Speaking of Cierre, it’s not as if the Irish running game is left for dead with Gray’s injury. Before he started splitting carries, Wood was on pace to potentially break the Irish all-time record for rushing yards in a season.

“He’s still Cierre Wood,” Kelly said. “There was a good balance there.  Obviously losing somebody that scored 12 or 14 touchdowns in Jonas Gray was a blow to us. But we still have a 1000‑yard rusher in Cierre Wood, and that’s a good thing to have to going into your last game.”

For Wood, this is a spotlight opportunity for the junior running back, who’ll be back home on the West Coast for Thanksgiving. If there’s ever such thing as a springboard game for 2012, this could be it for Cierre, with a national audience there to watch the explosive and shifty runner — something that’s troubled the normally stout Cardinal run defense — take center stage.


We’ll spend more time this week singing Andrew Luck‘s praises. But one key to his success is the playaction passing game. To limit that, the Irish will need to play great on early downs and force Stanford’s hand, as opposed to try and out-scheme the veteran signal caller.

“I don’t know that he’s going to get confused by anything,” Kelly said of Luck. “I think it’s a matter of us doing a really good job in play‑action and knowing when he’s going to throw it. Putting him in those positions when he has to throw the football is the most important thing. First and second down obviously are very crucial to us.”

With Stephon Tuitt still questionable with an illness, the Irish will need Prince Shembo to play one of his best games of the season, especially if he’s lined up at the drop linebacker position. If the Irish can get solid linebacker play out of Shembo and the combination of Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese, and get Darius Fleming after the quarterback, the defense will have a chance.

(After being held approximately 300 times this year, it’ll also be nice to get Aaron Lynch finishing off his sack opportunities, or at the very least drawing a flag for his efforts.)






Go for two or not? Both sides of the highly-debated topic

during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.

Notre Dame’s two failed two-point conversion tries against Clemson have been the source of much debate in the aftermath of the Irish’s 24-22 loss to the Tigers. Brian Kelly’s decision to go for two with just over 14 minutes left in the game forced the Irish into another two-point conversion attempt with just seconds left in regulation, with DeShone Kizer falling short as he attempted to push the game into overtime.

Was Kelly’s decision to go for two the right one at the beginning of the fourth quarter? That depends.

Take away the result—a pass that flew through the fingers of a wide open Corey Robinson. Had the Irish kicked their extra point, Justin Yoon would’ve trotted onto the field with a chance to send the game into overtime. (Then again, had Robinson caught the pass, Notre Dame would’ve been kicking for the win in the final seconds…)

This is the second time a two-point conversion decision has opened Kelly up to second guessing in the past eight games. Last last season, Kelly’s decision to go for two in the fourth-quarter with an 11-point lead against Northwestern, came back to bite the Irish and helped the Wildcats stun Notre Dame in overtime.

That choice was likely fueled by struggles in the kicking game, heightened by Kyle Brindza’s blocked extra-point attempt in the first half, a kick returned by Northwestern that turned a 14-7 game into a 13-9 lead. With a fourth-quarter, 11-point lead, the Irish failed to convert their two-point attempt that would’ve stretched their lead to 13 points. After Northwestern converted their own two-point play, they made a game-tying field goal after Cam McDaniel fumbled the ball as the Irish were running out the clock. Had the Irish gone for (and converted) a PAT, the Wildcats would’ve needed to score a touchdown.

Moving back to Saturday night, Kelly’s decision needs to be put into context. After being held to just three points for the first 45 minutes of the game, C.J. Prosise broke a long catch and run for a touchdown in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Clemson would be doing their best to kill the clock. Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game brought the score within 12 points when Kelly decided to try and push the score within 10—likely remembering the very way Northwestern forced overtime.

After the game, Kelly said it was the right decision, citing his two-point conversion card and the time left in the game. On his Sunday afternoon teleconference, he said the same, giving a bit more rationale for his decision.

“We were down and we got the chance to put that game into a two-score with a field goal. I don’t chase the points until the fourth quarter, and our mathematical chart, which I have on the sideline with me and we have a senior adviser who concurred with me, and we said go for two. It says on our chart to go for two.

“We usually don’t use the chart until the fourth quarter because, again, we don’t chase the points. We went for two to make it a 10-point game. So we felt we had the wind with us so we would have to score a touchdown and a field goal because we felt like we probably only had three more possessions.

“The way they were running the clock, we’d probably get three possessions maximum and we’re going to have to score in two out of the three. So it was the smart decision to make, it was the right one to make. Obviously, you know, if we catch the two-point conversion, which was wide open, then we just kick the extra point and we’ve got a different outcome.”

That logic and rationale is why I had no problem with the decision when it happened in real time. But not everybody agrees.

Perhaps the strongest rebuke of the decision came from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, who had this to say about the decision in his (somewhat appropriately-titled) weekly Point After column:

Hire another analyst or at least assign someone to the task of deciphering the Beautiful Mind-level math problem that seems to be vexing the Notre Dame brain-trust when a dweeb with half-inch thick glasses and a pocket protector full of pens could tell you that in the game of football, you can’t chase points before it is time… (moving ahead)

…The more astonishing thing is that no one in the ever-growing football organization that now adds analysts and advisors on a regular basis will offer the much-needed advice. Making such decisions in the heat of battle is not easy. What one thinks of in front of the TV or in a press box does not come as clearly when you’re the one pulling the trigger for millions to digest.

And yet with this ever-expanding entourage, Notre Dame still does not have anyone who can scream through the headphones to the head coach, “Coach, don’t go for two!”

If someone, anyone within the organization had the common sense and then the courage to do so, the Irish wouldn’t have lost every game in November of 2014 and would have had a chance to win in overtime against Clemson Saturday night.

My biggest gripe about the decision was the indecision that came along with the choice. Scoring on a big-play tends to stress your team as special teams players shuffle onto the field and the offense comes off. But Notre Dame’s use of a timeout was a painful one, and certainly should’ve been spared considering the replay review that gave Notre Dame’s coaching staff more time to make a decision.

For what it’s worth, Kelly’s decision was probably similar to the one many head coaches would make. And it stems from the original two-point conversion chart that Dick Vermeil developed back in the 1970s.

The original chart didn’t account for success rate or time left in the game. As Kelly mentioned before, Notre Dame uses one once it’s the fourth quarter.

It’s a debate that won’t end any time soon. And certainly one that will have hindsight on the side of the “kick the football” argument.



Navy, Notre Dame will display mutual respect with uniforms

Keenan Reynolds, Isaac Rochell

The storied and important history of Notre Dame and Navy’s long-running rivalry will be on display this weekend, with the undefeated Midshipmen coming to South Bend this weekend.

On NBCSN, a half-hour documentary presentation will take a closer look, with “Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect” talking about everything from Notre Dame’s 43-year winning streak, to Navy’s revival, triggered by their victory in 2007. The episode will also talk about the rivalries ties to World War II, and how the Navy helped keep Notre Dame alive during wartime.

You can catch it on tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or online in the same viewing window.

On the field, perhaps an even more unique gesture of respect is planned. With Under Armour the apparel partner for both Notre Dame and Navy, both teams will take the field wearing the same cleats, gloves and baselayers. Each team’s coaching staff will also be outfitted in the same sideline gear.

More from Monday’s press release:

For the first time in college football, two opponents take the field with the exact same Under Armour baselayer, gloves and cleats to pay homage to the storied history and brotherhood between their two schools. The baselayer features both Universities’ alma maters on the sleeves and glove palms with the words “respect, honor, tradition” as a reminder of their connection to each other. Both sidelines and coaches also will wear the same sideline gear as a sign of mutual admiration.​

Navy and Notre Dame will meet for the 89th time on Saturday, a rivalry that dates back to 1927. After the Midshipmen won three of four games starting in 2007, Notre Dame hopes to extend their current winning streak to five games on Saturday.

Here’s an early look at some of the gear: