Floyd running

Clausen and Floyd reunite for Pro Day


As dozens of NFL scouts descend on South Bend to get a look at former Irish wide receiver Michael Floyd, a familiar wingman will be uniting for a one-day performance that’ll hopefully lift both players’ stock. Jimmy Clausen, three-year Irish starter, now relegated to playing the role of Cam Newton’s backup, will head back to Notre Dame, where he’ll throw passes to Floyd in his individual workout.

Together, Clausen and Floyd made a wonderful duo, teaming for 16 touchdown passes in Floyd’s first two injury-shortened seasons under head coach Charlie Weis. The pairing made Floyd one of the most dangerous receivers in college football, with the underclassmen averaging a gaudy 16.5 yards per catch over his first two seasons in South Bend, a deep strike threat that never returned after Clausen left after his junior season and Brian Kelly’s spread offense struggled to find a triggerman.

For Floyd, Tuesday’s workout will be another data-point for teams looking to take a wide receiver in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft. Having answered any questions about his speed after clocking two sub-4.5 forty-yard dashes at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Floyd will likely run a variety of routes, displaying the hands, route-running and explosiveness that has him challenging Justin Blackmon as the draft’s No. 1 wide receiver.

The return to South Bend also helps Clausen, who has become a forgotten man in Carolina after Cam Newton burst on the scene in a record-setting rookie season. Just two years after being taken in the second round, Clausen could use this workout as a way to get in front of NFL scouts, reminding them that there’s potentially some good football still to be played if Clausen is cut loose after his contract numbers kick up and Carolina cuts him.

Eight other departing seniors will participate in the Notre Dame Pro Day, with Harrison Smith the next in line to come off the board. Smith is battling to be the top safety picked and likely will be taken in the first two rounds of the draft. Robert Blanton will look to improve his 40-time after impressing in other drills at the combine while fellow cornerback Gary Gray will also test for NFL teams. Linemen Taylor Dever and Trevor Robinson will work out as well, with Robinson getting his first chance to impress NFL teams after missing out on an invitation to Indianapolis. Darius Fleming will hopefully displaying enough positional versatility — working out at both inside and outside linebacker, and defensive end — to get a team to gamble a late-round pick on a good athlete that’ll contribute on special teams. David Ruffer, who needs to bounce back after a sub-par senior season, will also kick for teams. Jonas Gray will also be an intriguing prospect for teams, with the breakout senior proving to teams that his injured knee is healed. Senior defensive end Ethan Johnson, who had the potential to chase a professional career, will not workout, choosing to retire from football after four seasons with the Irish.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”