Weekend six pack: plane tracker edition

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With a bowl game still to be determined, the Irish aren’t quite sure when their next game is. For players, that means a week where there isn’t a whole lot to do.

“I hate not knowing what to do with your free time,” linebacker Carlo Calabrese tweeted yesterday.

Well that makes a few thousand of us, Carlo. We’ve got a few hundred days to talk about what’s happened this season. But in a week where players twiddled their thumbs, Brian Kelly just earned enough miles to fly platinum all year.

After starting on the West Coast last weekend, Kelly criss-crossed the country, with the university’s Cessna Citation hitting nine airports before returning to South Bend around 7 p.m. Thursday night. Where did he go? Well — Let’s roll out a special weekend six pack and talk about it.

1. The battle with USC has just begun. 

The Trojans definitely got the better of the Irish on the field this year. But right now, Notre Dame is out to a lead, and trying to run out the clock with two of their most talented California recruits. Cousins Tee Shepard and Deontay Greenberry are two of the highest profile recruits that Notre Dame has currently committed. Shepard will walk onto campus with a good shot to win immediate playing time in the secondary. Greenberry is the closest thing the Irish have to Michael Floyd, and he’s not on the roster until June.

If it were up to Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff, neither will end up on the Irish roster. Within the last 48 hours, hard-core recruitniks were thrown for a tizzy when news broke that both Shepard and Greenberry planned on seeing USC this weekend. Brian Kelly reportedly took his in-home visit with Shepard earlier in the week while Mike Denbrock was welcomed into the Greenberry household. The cousins always said they’d take their official visits, but a spook job this late in the game by the Trojans — who have somehow proclaimed themselves champions of a division they weren’t technically allowed to compete for — have Irish fans worried.

According to this tweet, the worries on Shepard should be alleviated, as it appears Shepard is going nowhere except South Bend in January to enroll early. As for Greenberry, Brian Kelly has wisely saved his in-home visit, and while the Trojans may get their opportunity to entertain the 6-foot-3 wide receiver, just one look at the depth charts and his cousins decision to enroll at South Bend, and the Irish are still doing more than all right.

2. This coaching staff doesn’t take no for an answer. 

It’s amazing to think that Notre Dame is out to almost a dozen uncommitted recruits, has just a handful of spots left in the class, and is still working even harder on players that most don’t think they have a chance with. The best two examples are across the country from each other: Arizona offensive lineman Andrus Peat and South Florida cornerback Brian Poole.

Today, offensive line coach Ed Warinner put plenty to think about in Peat’s ear, and the super blue-chip prospect moved the Irish back into consideration after cooling on the team considerably. Jason Sapp of BlueandGold.com has more:

“I’d say it helped,” he shared of Notre Dame’s chances of being in the group of schools he’s looking at for his other officials. “I’m considering taking a visit again now.

“I just got a better feel for Coach Warinner, who would be my position coach if I went there, and my parents and I got to ask any questions we had about the program. I’m not sure if I’m going to take an official there yet, but I’m going to call (Irish head coach Brian) Kelly tomorrow and possibly set one up.”

Adding another massive left tackle prospect would help stockpile talent on the offensive front. But adding a guy like Poole — who has long been committed to the Florida Gators — would satisfy a huge need for the Irish, and Tony Alford‘s on the case. According to multiple reports, the Poole family is high on a Notre Dame education and has taken a look at the depth chart in front of him, giving the Irish a legitimate chance to flip another Top 100 player in the country, who has offers from just about every power team in the Southeast.

3. Carolina on the mind. 

There’s a big fish still out there. It’s Keith Marshall, the talented running back from Raleigh, North Carolina, that has Mark Richt and Brian Kelly doing battle. Marshall was named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year yesterday, and has decided to announce his college choice on December 6th, with the intention of enrolling in school early.

Yet that’s far from the only open line the Irish have down in the Carolinas. The Irish are once again hitting the area hard, and Kelly has gone and visited a trio of Carolina commitments — Charlotte natives Mark Harrell and Romeo Okwara, and also South Carolina wide receiver Chris Brown, who reported to BlueandGold.com’s Jason Sapp that he was fully qualified for next year.

All three of those recruits are below-the-radar targets, and Okwara is particularly high on the Irish board, with Notre Dame unwilling to take blue-chip recruit Tommy Schutt‘s commitment with Okwara ready to pledge Irish. Okwara is incredibly young, making his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame something that’s easily projectable.

4. Irish fans are already getting ready to re-hate Urban Meyer.

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Kelly announced Urban Meyer would be talking at the staff’s annual coaching clinic last offseason. Didn’t this new staff know that Meyer, even if he was out of coaching, was the enemy?

Well — if Kelly wasn’t aware of it then, he’ll certainly be more mindful of it now that they’ll be running into each other on the recruiting trail. The first collision? None other than current Irish offensive line commitment Taylor Decker. But don’t worry Irish fans, Decker’s rock solid in his commitment.

“Urban Meyer called my high school coach but I didn’t talk to him directly and one of the coaches came to the school and talked to my coach,” Decker told Irish Illustrated. “My coach said it was very brief and that coach Meyer said they were interested in me. As far as I’m concerned I’m still committed to Notre Dame.”

Decker’s been committed to the Irish since March, making him one of those old reliable recruits you tend to undervalue. But the fact that in the first days of Meyer’s term in Columbus he’s talking to the Vandalia, Ohio native, well — the Irish’s prom date just got a lot more attractive.

5. It’s not 4 a.m. yet, but Bob Diaco’s back on the case.

One of the sneaky good recruiters on this coaching staff is defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who handles the Northeast for the Irish. Last year, that meant reeling in five-star recruit Ishaq Williams at 4 a.m.when he waited outside the family’s Brooklyn home. No word on when Diaco secured the visit, but he’s talked New Jersey safety Elijah Shumate — one of the best players in the region — into an official visit for later in December. If it’s up to Diaco, he’ll be joined by his teammate cornerback Yuri Wright, who is another cornerback that could likely walk onto campus and compete for a job.

The Irish aren’t recruiting the Northeast all that hard this year, but getting Shumate and Wright on campus will be a big benefit, and if that happens Diaco proved last year he’ll go the extra mile to land them.

6. Enjoy recruiting in moderation. 

Let’s dump the sixth one out and start drinking some water. It’s the beginning of December. If we get too hot into this, we’ll be one-eyed texting by the end of the month and rolled up in a corner and fast asleep with our shoes on before Signing Day rolls around a few months from now. That’s no way for us to be, and this will never be a hotbed for recruiting news, though I’ll certainly do my best to keep you up to speed.

Still — it deserves a mention: The internet is a very open playground, and there’s now really easy ways to follow your favorite athletes and recruits, be it on Twitter, Facebook, or whatever it is the kids are enjoying these days. But it deserves an even stronger mention — consider the recruiting world the zoo. Stare all you want at the lions and tigers, but please — don’t touch them. Nothing good can happen.

So cheer for your favorite team to sign that five-star running back or quarterback, but please use your head. Don’t send messages, emails, Twitter messages, or anything else to these kids pushing them to a school. If you donate money to your favorite college, you might be committing a recruiting violation. Even if you don’t, it’s just plain weird. Think back to those days when you were 17. Would you want to see the 2011 you poking around in your life as you try and pick a college? Me neither.

Questions for the week: If without St. Brown, who will Notre Dame turn to?

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Equanimeous St. Brown may not have matched his breakout sophomore season of a year ago, but his junior year has been nothing to scoff at. Despite being held without a catch in Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday, primarily due to injury, the junior receiver stands second in all Irish receiving categories.

If St. Brown is not cleared from the concussion protocol by the end of the week, he will be missed at Stanford (8 p.m. ET; ABC).

How will Notre Dame adjust without its most consistent receiver?

St. Brown has 26 catches for 357 yards and three touchdowns this season. Sophomore Chase Claypool exceeds the first two figures and sophomore Kevin Stepherson caught his third and fourth touchdowns against the Midshipmen. Those two are the obvious candidates to replace St. Brown’s production.

Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson led all Irish receivers with five catches for 103 yards and two touchdowns during Notre Dame’s 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

That applies to Stepherson more than Claypool, despite the greater physical disparity from St. Brown. Simply enough, Stepherson’s continued increase in prevalence in the Irish passing game would likely surpass a healthy St. Brown this weekend.

The other possibility is junior Miles Boykin. In St. Brown’s absence this past weekend, Boykin caught two passes for 33 yards. His physicality and skillset most mirrors St. Brown’s, and plugging him into any three-receiver sets would allow Stepherson and Claypool to stick to the roles they regularly rehearse.

Will Notre Dame slow Stanford star running back Bryce Love? Rather, will the Irish need to?

Continued ankle and lower leg injuries have hampered Love for much of the season now. They kept him on the sidelines when the Cardinal barely slipped past Oregon State a few weeks ago, and they limited his fourth quarter this past weekend during Stanford’s 17-14 victory against Cal. The junior finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Backup Cameron Scarlett added 61 yards on 14 carries.

Injuries have been about the only thing capable of consistently stopping Stanford running back Bryce Love this season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

In the fourth quarter, Love took four carries for 11 total yards. For a running threat rarely stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, it was startling to see him take one of those carries to the line and no further while another gained just one yard.

Thus, there seems to be some logic to Stanford keeping Love sidelined once more. If Washington beats Washington State on Saturday — played concurrently on FOX with the game at hand — then the Cardinal heads to the Pac-12 title game. As much as Stanford undoubtedly wants to beat Notre Dame, there are many more rewards available for winning the conference, such as a nice New Year’s holiday spent in Phoenix, Ariz., instead of a Christmas week spent at home preparing for the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif.

Will there be any movement within the College Football Playoff poll?

When it comes to tonight’s poll, not much, if any, of note. Few games registered on the national radar last week, and none resulted in top-10 upsets.

One development affects it looking forward, though. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier underwent finger surgery Sunday and will not lead the Mountaineers against Oklahoma as a result (3:45 p.m. ET; ESPN). If West Virginia ever stood a chance at the upset — and greatly helping any Irish dreams of still reaching the Playoff — it was likely going to need an otherworldly performance from Grier.

With a win this weekend, the Sooners would all but assure themselves priority over Notre Dame, even if Oklahoma loses to TCU in the Big 12 championship.

Will Miami finish the regular season undefeated?
Similarly, a win this weekend should lock the Hurricanes ahead of the Irish no matter next week’s results. Miami heads to Pittsburgh (12 p.m. ET on Friday; ABC), but that should not be seen as the sure thing instinct might imply it is. A mere 54 weeks ago, a middling Panthers team upset the No. 3 team in the country, stopping Clemson’s pursuit of a perfect slate.

Can Georgia survive Georgia Tech’s option?
Again, a Bulldogs win (12 p.m. ET, ABC) should secure them a nice spot in any chaos-filled future pecking order. However, that will not be an easy task. Paul Johnson will be sure of that.

Can North Carolina State hit the over?
This may not be as consequential, but before the season, this space predicted the Wolfpack would exceed 7.5 wins this regular season, and a win over North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPNU) is needed for that cause.

Lastly, remember folks, you won’t nod off late Thursday afternoon because turkey has an excess of tryptophan. Chicken actually has more per ounce. Rather, you simply ate too much of the fowl.

Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame on the precipice of a rare three-year stretch

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Thanks to its win Saturday over Navy, Notre Dame will have two chances to reach double digit victories this season. As Irish coach Brian Kelly pointed out after the 24-17 victory, reaching that mark for the second time in three years is not a common occurrence at Notre Dame. The last time the Irish achieved such success was at the peak of Lou Holtz’s career, never falling below 10 wins from 1988 to 1993.

“There’s a lot to play for, for these guys,” Kelly said. “[The seniors] have done an incredible job of leading us back to where we should be.”

If — and that two-letter word still looms large over this possibility — Notre Dame reaches 10 wins this season, it will actually be only the third time in program history to meet that mark twice in three seasons. Even though the Irish have played at least 11 games every season since 1969, only Holtz’s stretch and the 1973-74 seasons under Ara Parseghian qualify. (One exception: Notre Dame declined a bowl game in 1971 after finishing 8-2.)

While the 4-8 debacle in 2016 mitigates some of the luster of this distinction, realizing how infrequent such consistency is also underscores some of the outlier nature of last season.

Other coaches make inexplicable mistakes, too.

When the Midshipmen needed to gain five yards on their final drive, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo resorted to a halfback pass. To that point, his offense had converted four of five fourth-down attempts, falling barely a yard short on a fourth-and-five try on its first drive, stopped by Irish senior linebacker Greer Martini, naturally.

Since then, three consecutive conversions, including a 21-yard pass from quarterback Zach Abey. Yet, Niumatalolo opted for the trick play. It would have worked, too if Notre Dame senior defensive end Andrew Trumbetti had not set the edge, recognized the play and quickly closed on running back Darryl Bonner, forcing the flutter of a pass attempt.

“If we would have gotten the ball off, he was open,” Niumatalolo said. “We didn’t block. We missed the block on the edge. If we get the block on the edge, we had a shot.”

Missed block or not, a triple-option team should not revert to a halfback pass when in a do-or-die situation. Ride with the horse that brought you. Win or lose with your fastball. Insert a third cliché here.

They are clichés for a reason.

Keven Stepherson points to the name on the back of the jersey.

Watching a replay of sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson’s first touchdown Saturday, a 30-yarder to tie the game at 17, one cannot help but notice he exuberantly points to the nameplate above his number.

In this instance, that was not a selfish or self-promotional gesture. The “Rockne Heritage” uniforms all had ROCKNE across the back.

“He’s had many chances to fold under the scrutiny that he’s been under,” Kelly said of Stepherson. “But he’s persevered and Notre Dame’s been great for him.”

Now, about traveling to Stanford …

The last time Notre Dame won at Palo Alto was a full decade ago, prevailing 21-14 in 2007.

With a loss to the Irish but perhaps a bowl win, the Cardinal should finish the season in the top 25. The last time Notre Dame went on the road and beat such a team was five full years ago, topping Oklahoma.

That can be a somewhat misleading fact, though. Those opportunities are not very common, partly because the Irish play only five true road games a season and partly because the opponent needs to be good enough to stay in the rankings despite a loss, an inherently detrimental result when it comes to rankings. Since Norman, Notre Dame has played only seven such games, including this year’s loss at Miami. (That does not include winning at Michigan State this year, as it is no sure thing the Spartans will finish the season ranked, whereas such can be readily presumed with the Hurricanes.)

Whether he returns for his senior season or not, Josh Adams has made his mark on Notre Dame’s record books. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Josh Adams now has more than 3,000 career rushing yards.

The numbers can speak for themselves. With 106 yards on 18 carries this weekend, the junior running back now has 3,105 career yards, good for No. 5 all-time at Notre Dame. Darius Walker (2004-06) sits 144 yards ahead of him.

Adams has 1,337 yards this season, exactly 100 fewer than the all-time Irish mark set by Vagas Ferguson in 1979.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Defensive counter to Navy’s option helps Irish put Miami in past

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Getting a team to heed the details necessary to counteract Navy’s triple-option attack is challenging enough. Getting Notre Dame to do it on the heels of its letdown at Miami a week ago made it even more difficult.

“The bigger shift this week was mentally get [the team] away from the Miami game to the Navy game,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “That was a bigger challenge this week [than preparing for the option], quite frankly.”

Finding that focus allowed Notre Dame to handle the Midshipmen 24-17 on Saturday, despite hardly possessing the ball, including only 6:24 of meaningful time in the second half. It may have been a victory by only seven points, but it was a return to the level of execution the Irish displayed all season long before heading to south Florida.

“If there’s one game we’d like to have back, and I take the responsibility for the preparation of our team, for Miami,” Kelly said. “Wake Forest proved to be a pretty good opponent. We were up 41-16 in that game and maybe lost a little bit of concentration.

“Other than the Miami game, which was our one hiccup this year, I’m pretty pleased with our football team.”

To slow the triple-option, Kelly and defensive coordinator Mike Elko relied on a variety of looks from their defensive front, forcing Navy to make the adjustments the Midshipmen usually impose upon their opponents. In doing so, Notre Dame narrowed Navy’s offense from the triple-option to largely leaning on a quarterback sweep. Junior Zach Abey finished with 87 yards on 29 carries, not the efficiency the Midshipmen need for success.

“Our plan was really good about changing things up with our fronts and who had pitch, who had QB, and that made it difficult for them,” Kelly said. “… It really just became how the fullback was loading on our cornerback.”

That cornerback was often sophomore Troy Pride, usually a reserve. In order to better utilize sophomore cornerback Julian Love’s physicality, Kelly moved Love to safety and inserted Pride into the starting lineup. Along with a crucial fourth-quarter interception halting a Navy drive deep in Irish territory, Pride made six tackles.

“Troy Pride had to play physical for us,” Kelly said. “Here’s a guy who was a wide cornerback [back-] pedaling most of his time here. Now he had to go mix it up. He played real well, real physical.”

Though he finished with 14 tackles, Love will remain at cornerback this season, but Kelly acknowledged he very well could be Notre Dame’s best safety.

“If we could clone him, I’d like to do that. … Could he be our best safety? Yes. He’s definitely our best corner. The problem is we can only play him at one of those two positions.”

On receiver injuries
Junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is in the concussion protocol after landing on his head/neck in the first quarter. Sophomore Chase Claypool could have returned to the game Saturday despite a banged up shoulder, but the Irish had found a rotation Kelly felt comfortable with at that point, leaning on sophomore Kevin Stepherson and junior Miles Boykin.

Claypool finished with two catches for 28 yards. Stepherson had five receptions for two scores and 103 yards. Boykin added 33 yards from two snags.

Things We Learned: Notre Dame will do what it takes to develop its passing game

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Notre Dame knows it needs a worthwhile passing game. The debacle at Miami made it clear some semblance of an aerial threat must be feared by the opposing defense. Thus, the Irish set to working on that deficiency in a 24-17 victory over Navy on Saturday.

At halftime, those efforts struck a pessimist as dismal. A cynic found them necessary, and an optimist might have even considered them as having taken a step in the right direction.

Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush reached halftime 4-of-10 for 72 yards. On one hand, he had completed only 40 percent of his passes. By no metric is that good enough. That was the pessimist’s supporting fact.

The cynic looked back a week, remembering when the Hurricanes focused entirely on the Irish rushing game and Wimbush still completed only 10 of 21 passes. The cynic then reaches for a thesaurus and finds synonyms for necessary. Required. Imperative. Vital.

The optimist realized 10 pass attempts gaining 72 yards is an average of 7.2 yards per attempt. That would outdo all but two of Wimbush’s games this season, his 8.65 yards per attempt at Michigan State and his 9.33 yards per attempt against Wake Forest just two weeks ago. Settling anywhere north of seven would be a great step forward for this passing attack.

By the end of the game, the pessimist, cynic and optimist all had to see the same thing: When effective, Wimbush is a bona fide quarterback. Yes, at some point in the future, that initial distinction needs to no longer be part of the equation, but this still qualifies as progress. Yes, that initial distinction is a heftily-meaningful alteration to any phrase, but this establishing itself as fact still marks progress. Wimbush started poorly, but he kept his concentration and finished impressively.

“I thought he settled down into the game,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “What we’re looking for is a guy that will take what’s happened early and kind of reset a little bit, which he did, and refocus. He came back and made some really big plays for us.”

Wimbush completed five of eight second-half passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, leaning heavily on sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson.

“I think I just started seeing things a little bit more clearly and adjusted to the tempo that Navy was playing at and went from there,” Wimbush said.

Notre Dame relies on its rushing game. There is no doubt the ground attack is the stirrer in this Irish coffee. (Consider that a wit’s attempt at saying, the straw that stirs the drink.) Wimbush throwing 18 times against Navy — not to count the couple other times he dropped back with intentions to pass but pulled the ball down — is not Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long reverting to Kelly’s form of the past, the form of the pass.

Instead, it is the Irish desperately trying to find Wimbush rhythm, if not confidence, in the passing game. As competitive as Navy kept Saturday, this was a week the inefficiency of the educational effort could be afforded.

Notre Dame can, in fact, win a one-possession game.

The last time the Irish did so was against Miami, Oct. 29, 2016. Prior to that, the most-recent close Notre Dame victory came at Boston College, Nov. 21, 2015. Including the victory over the Hurricanes, the Irish had gone 1-9 in the interim.

“For us, it was just a gritty victory,” senior linebacker and captain Greer Martini said. “… I think that’s the next stepping stone for us on to Stanford.”

The nature of Navy’s game plan keeps games close no matter a talent disparity. Finding its way to a tight victory bodes well for Notre Dame, no matter the opponent. In many respects, this remained a mental hurdle needing clearing.

Greer Martini will (not) miss playing against the option.

And he might be the only Irish defender in history to feel that way. In 48 career games to date, the senior captain and linebacker has made 184 tackles, including 15 on Saturday. In six career games against option-specific options, Martini has made 61 tackles. In some respects, Martini made his career excelling against the triple-option, an approach most defenders avoid like a plague.

“It’s just the idea that it’s a lot of run, run downhill, run around,” Martini said. “Just play with a lot of enthusiasm, run sideline-to-sideline.”

Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo has gotten fed up with Martini, apparently confirming with both Kelly and Martini that he had seen his last of the linebacker. Both assured him he had.

“[Niumatalolo has] tried to block him, he can’t block him,” Kelly said. “… [Martini] just has a really good nose for the football, good sense. What you saw today was the physicality and bending back on the fullback. He was physical, played with the top of his pads.

“It was a clinic in terms of the way he played the linebacker position today.”

Martini insists he will not miss seeing the option, but it cannot be denied the effect the opposing attack had on Martini’s career. As a freshman, he made 26 total tackles. Nine came against Navy.

Notre Dame will host the NHL Winter Classic in 2019.

Yet, the Irish will hope to not be in attendance.

NBC and the NHL announced during the game the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium on Jan. 1, 2019, between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Burins.

“We are very excited to welcome the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and NHL to Notre Dame Stadium for the 2019 Winter Classic,” Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said. “I believe it’s only fitting that two of the NHL’s legendary Original Six teams will take the ice for the first hockey game in one of America’s most iconic athletic facilities. Hosting two franchises with so many connections to Notre Dame also provides a unique opportunity to celebrate our hockey legacy.”

On New Year’s Day, a Tuesday next year, the Notre Dame football team will hope to be involved in a major bowl game. Given recent history, it will prefer the Cotton Bowl in Dallas rather than the Orange Bowl in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Mike McGlinchey may be a behemoth of a man with shocking agility for his size, but in at least one respect, he is just like the rest of us.

Wouldn’t you struggle to keep your emotions in check taking the field to the “Rudy” soundtrack in your last home game after a five-year career at Notre Dame? Okay, insist you wouldn’t. What if your mom was waiting for you on the field?