Jaylon Smith

Weekend notes: Floyd, Smith, Rankings, and more


With finals ending this week at Notre Dame, and graduating approaching next weekend, it’s a slow time for college football news. As we march through the offseason desert with no oasis in sight, let’s dig into some of the more interesting stories I stumbled across this week.


Michael Floyd is one of those seniors graduating next weekend, culminating a wonderful four years in South Bend that included graduating from Notre Dame in 3.5 years and getting drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. While most of Charlie Weis’ recruits didn’t live up to the hype they arrived with, Floyd was certainly everything anyone could ask for and a great success story.

Christian McCollum of IrishSportsDaily.com did a great job catching up with someone very important in Floyd’s life, St. Paul trainer Ted Johnson. A fellow Cretin-Derham Hall graduate and a former standout running back for the Raiders (if my memory serves me correct he played alongside Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke in the 1988 Prep Bowl), Johnson now trains Twin Cities athletes, with Floyd being the standard bearer.

Johnson was invited by Floyd to be with him at Radio City Music Hall, and shared his experiences with McCollum in a great trip down memory lane.

Make no mistake, Ted Johnson was honored to be invited to join Michael Floyd at last month’s NFL Draft, especially after hearing what the former Notre Dame star had to say just after being selected 13th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

“He gave me a big hug,” says Johnson, who has trained Floyd in his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., dating back to the end of Floyd’s high school days.

“He said, ‘You were the one. You planted that seed and you let me know that was real. I just want to thank you for it and I love you.’ I didn’t even know what to say.”

Floyd has leaned heavily on his mentors from Cretin-Derham Hall, still staying in constant communication with former coaches Mal Scanlon and Andy Bischoff, who both counseled Michael through the difficult decision of coming back for his senior season, as well as bouncing back after his DUI arrest.

Johnson also spoke to ISD about class of 2013 recruit James Onwualu, who is another CDH athlete that works with Johnson. Working together since Onwualu was 13 years old, Johnson labels the future Irish wide receiver a “super freak,” focusing on his explosiveness after Onwualu jumped out of a pool 80 straight times.

“I’ve scoured YouTube, vimeo, UStream to see guys jump out of pools at greater than 3.3 or 3.6 feet,” Johnson told ISD. “We’ve actually moved him to four feet. Now that’s the new benchmark. I couldn’t find anybody in the world anywhere on the internet who’s exploding out of four feet of water and landing on the edge of the pool. I couldn’t find it. We’re trying to do something that’s never been done.”

If you’re into pool jumping football players, you’re going to love Onwualu.


Speaking of freak athletes, Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com is reporting that five-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith will be visiting South Bend this weekend, meeting with Irish coaches for the third time this spring.

There’s no more important recruit in this class than Smith, and the Irish are in a great spot with him. After dazzling recruiting websites with his work as both a pass-rushing outside linebacker and even as a lockdown cover corner, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Smith will likely walk onto campus and be one of the most dynamic athletes at whatever program he chooses.

There were rumors of Smith being ready to pledge his commitment to the Irish as far back as the Blue-Gold game. Regardless of when he does it, the Irish are in good shape will stay on Smith until Signing Day, as they’ll be in a battle with college football’s biggest programs (including Urban Meyer at Ohio State) for Smith’s signature.

If the Irish do win out here, it’ll be interesting to note that Brian Kelly will have out-dueled Meyer for two players who have brothers already on the Ohio State staff. Count that as a perception vs. reality issue that opponents of Meyer would be wise to mention to prospective recruits. It’s never a good sign when it seems like the only players who turn down Meyer are the ones who have a family member that’s actually played for him.


Athlon Sports is rolling out their preseason Top 25 for 2012 and they’ve got Notre Dame ranked at No. 20, a number that’s raised more than a few eyebrows.

Here’s their rationale:

If Kelly can get his quarterback situation settled, the Irish have enough talent to match their victory total from the last two seasons, even against a schedule that includes three 11-win opponents (Michigan, Stanford and Michigan State) and a pair of 10-win squads (USC and Oklahoma).

Although this isn’t necessarily a crossroads season for Kelly since Notre Dame seems committed to his renovation project, the 2012 campaign will go a long way toward determining how good the Irish can be in 2013-14. There are too many holes/question marks to look at this season as anything but a transitional year under Kelly. Find a consistent quarterback and show improvement, and regardless of the record, Kelly should approach a combined 20 victories in 2013-14. Fall flat and continue to struggle protecting the football and the regime could be in jeopardy.

That first paragraph is filled with minefields that could destroy any encouraging predictions. You certainly can’t gloss over the unsettled quarterbacking situation. Even more difficult to ignore is a schedule that has a whopping five teams that won ten games or more. (And that doesn’t account for opponents like Miami or Pitt, programs that should give the Irish all they can handle.)

You can quickly dismiss Athlon’s ranking by assuming they just included Notre Dame to sell some magazines. But they point out some of the nice assets this football team has, and a final ranking in the Top 20 would be something most Irish fans would sign up for sight unseen I’m guessing.


Lastly, Notre Dame graduate (and friend of the blog) Jamie Reidy has a new book out that’s worth a look. Reidy’s first book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, inspired Ed Zwick’s movie “Love and Other Drugs” with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal (no big deal, Jake played Jamie).  His most recent effort is A Walk’s As Good As a Hit: Advice/Threats from My Old Man.

It’s a series of essays that tackle father/son relationships, and I’ve enjoyed reading through it this week. If you’re technically savvy, you can buy the eBook here. If you want a hard copy for Father’s Day, buy a paperback copy here.

Only focus after Clemson loss is winning on Saturday

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looks on against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The 2015 college football season has yet to showcase a truly great football team. With early title contenders like Ohio State and Michigan State looking less than stellar, Alabama losing a game already and the Pac-12 beating itself up, the chance that a one-loss Notre Dame team could still make it into the College Football Playoff is certainly a possibility.

But don’t expect Brian Kelly and his football team to start worrying about that now.

We saw a similar situation unfold last season, after the Irish lost a heartbreaker in the final seconds against Florida State. With many fans worried that Notre Dame wasn’t given credit for their performance in Tallahassee, the Irish’s playoff resume mattered very little as the team fell apart down the stretch.

As Notre Dame looks forward, their focus only extends to Saturday. That’s when Navy will test the Irish with their triple-option attack and better-than-usual defense, a team that Brian Kelly voted into his Top 25 this week.

Can this team make it to the Playoff? Kelly isn’t sure. But he knows what his team has to do.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said when asked about a one-loss entrance. “But we do know what we can control, and that is winning each week. So what we really talked about is we have no margin for error, and we have to pay attention to every detail.

“Each game is the biggest and most important game we play and really focusing on that. It isn’t concern yourself with big picture. You really have to focus on one week at a time.”

Kelly spread that message to his five captains after the game on Saturday night. He’s optimistic that message has set in over the weekend, and he’ll see how the team practices as they begin their on-field preparations for Navy this afternoon.

But when asked what type of response he wants to see from his team this week, it wasn’t about the minutiae of the week or a company line about daily improvement.

“The response is to win. That’s the response that we’re looking for,” Kelly said, before detailing four major factors to victory. “To win football games, you have to start fast, which we did not. There has to be an attention to detail, which certainly we were missing that at times. We got great effort, and we finished strong. So we were missing two of the four real key components that I’ll be looking for for this weekend. As long as we have those four key components, I’ll take a win by one. That would be fine with me. We need those four key components. That’s what I’ll be looking for.”

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.