KLM hit

Practice Report: Day Twelve update


The departure of defensive end Aaron Lynch cast a fairly large shadow over the Irish football program, just as the Notre Dame coaching staff was opening its doors to over 600 high school coaches. Saturday’s practice was an open look for observers (media included) to see first hand the state of the Irish football team.

With the spring game set for Saturday, and more social-media melodrama happening this morning, it’s been an eventful few months for the Irish, and a full-contact scrimmage was likely just what the doctor ordered.

As they have been all spring, UND.com had the only video footage of the action. Here are some thoughts and observations.

  • 0:10 — That’s one understated truck.
  • 0:20 — We’ve got some serious hitting coming up, so I’ll do my best to give you guys the breakdown of who is running into who (or is it whom).
  • 0:28 — Mike Golic (#57) vs. Kona Schwenke (#96) with Everett Golson dropping the snap before handing the ball off to Theo Riddick. Let’s look past the nightmare of Golson’s dropped snap. That’s impressive work by Schwenke, standing up a fifth-year senior offensive guard.
  • 0:32 — Manti Te’o and Chris Watt (#66) have a mighty big collision before George Atkinson (#4) runs through the hole. The defensive staff were very fired up after Te’o’s play, but it sure looked like Watt did everything you’d ask of a lineman.
  • 0:40 — That’s Zack Martin (#70) getting the best of Kapron Lewis-Moore (#89). It might be too soon to get really optimistic about Martin, but he’s got the chance to be a big-time, awards-level offensive lineman.
  • 0:46 — Ishaq Williams (#11) stood up All-American tight end Tyler Eifert (#80). Running back Tyler Plantz got through the right side of the line, but Ishaq held up well at the point of attack.
  • 0:54 — Louis Nix (#9) stood up Matt Hegarty (#77) then slid off the block and made the tackle on Cierre Wood. Nix had members of the Irish fanbase sweating bullets after some late-night tweeting, but all seems to be fine.
  • 0:58 — Christian Lombard (#74) against Carlo Calabrese (#44). Well done by Lombard, who is having a really good spring.
  • 1:05 — That’s Sheldon Day (#91) against Tate Nichols (#64). Heckuva job by the early-enrolled freshman holding up against a really big right tackle.
  • 1:07 — Alex Welch (#82) against Ben Councell (#30). Welch did a nice job driving blocking, but Councell eventually shakes it and shows a nice bit of nastiness by finishing the play.
  • 1:16 — Conor Hanratty (#65) handles somebody nicely, as Theo Riddick makes his way through untouched.
  • 1:22 — Top collision so far. Justin Utupo (#53) absolutely stands up Bruce Heggie (#51) in the whole and makes a great play on the ball carrier. Don’t sleep on Utupo.
  • 1:29 — Stephon Tuitt (#7) reminds Irish fans that things will still be okay at defensive end by dominating the point of attack against Nick Martin (#72).
  • 1:35 — Nice job by Ben Koyack (#18) against Danny Spond (#13).
  • 1:39 — Walk-on Dennis Mahoney (#71) takes it to sophomore walk-on Kevin Carr (#67) one-on-one.
  • 1:44 — Jarrett Grace (#59) does his best to stand up to Chris Watt (#66). Watt did just about the same thing to Te’o, so this isn’t a knock on Grace.
  • 1:49 —  Good collision between Jordan Prestwood (#79) and Tyler Stockton (#92). Stockton has become a bit of a forgotten man, so hopefully he’s ready when his number is called.
  • 1:54 — Jake Golic (#88) against Kendall Moore (#8). Nice play by Moore.
  • 2:01 — Nix stands up Golic Jr. in the hole, but Wood still squirts out of trouble.
  • 2:07 — Lombard is just too big for Joe Schmidt (#38) who does his best to stand-up in the hole.
  • 2:12 — Nice job by KLM standing strong in the hole against Zack Martin.
  • 2:15 — Koyack and Anthony Rabasa (#56) meet in the hole, as Koyack drives Rabasa away from the runner.
  • 2:44 — This looks just plain crazy. Kickoff gunner work and a massive collision on the first rep. Another gigantic hit by Utupo. (This drill is giving my flashbacks to my days as a gunner in high school football.)
  • 3:15 — Good example of why we’ll see Ben Councell on kickoff coverage.
  • 3:25 — That Jarrett Grace has himself quite a disposition.
  • 3:34 — After nearly getting his clock cleaned by Utupo, cornerback Joe Romano gets his revenge on cornerback Josh Atkinson, who tries to take Romano on high and loses a big collision. Hearty celebration follows. Nobody wants to see guys get cleaned out, but I think it says a ton that Cierre Wood, Manti Te’o, and other starters are just as quick to celebrate the big play of a walk-on, as they are of a scholarship player. Good team atmosphere on display there.
  • 3:58 — I’m on the Cam McDaniel bandwagon. I think he’s going to make a difference next year, even if it is in the secondary. He’s just a good football player.
  • 4:04 — Looking for offensive evolution? How about that playcall/design by Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly, lifting a play from West Virginia’s playbook, on a quick lateral sweep that absolutely shredded Clemson last season. Fun design, and a lot less dangerous than it looks.
  • 4:20 — Cierre Wood looking very decisive as her runs through what looks like the first team defense. Lot of real estate created by Harry Hiestand‘s guys.
  • 4:25 — I’ll choose to call this good coverage by McDaniel, but it looked like Riddick had a step on him and Tommy Rees just overthrew it. (Look forward to being shredded for this defense of Rees, too.)
  • 4:38 — Live bullets out there, as Anthony Rabasa cleans up Andrew Hendrix in the backfield for a big loss on the keeper.
  • 4:47 — The benefit of running backs making plays out of the backfield? That’s Cierre Wood on Kendall Moore in coverage. Good throw by Hendrix and a nice gain on the mismatch.
  • 4:55 — Catch by Robby Toma, strip by Cam McDaniel. I’m going to have him fighting Lo Wood for his job by the end of this video.
  • 5:02 — Nice stick, Jarrett Grace.
  • 5:15 — Shake and bake, Robby Toma, carrying the ball on a nice little end-around. Don’t think we saw that even once last year.
  • 5:20 — Keep running Everett. We all want to see that come fall, too.
  • 5:37 — Think we heard a (presumably) red-faced Brian Kelly scream “Two Hands!” during that scramble.
  • 5:48 — Hi there, Davaris Daniels. I’m guessing we’d all be happy to see more of you in these videos.
  • 5:53 — Tommy Rees: Speed Merchant.
  • 6:05 — Kona Schwenke making plays in the backfield.
  • 6:18 — Gunner Kiel steps up in the pocket and throws a dart into a tight window, with Alex Welch feeling the impact after the catch. Tough to see from this angle, but I’m guessing Gunner held onto it a second too long.
  • 6:24 — Daniel Smith making an appearance, too. Slant from Golson goes for nice yardage.
  • 6:34 — Theo Riddick definitely has the juke stick working pretty well. Haven’t seen those moves since last season’s EA Sports NCAA football videogame.
  • 6:38 — Everett Golson connects with Robby Toma in the corner of the endzone on a beautifully thrown ball. Thumbs up.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told ESPN.com.

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told Irish247.com why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.