Vernon Hargreaves

Blue-chip CB recruit Hargreaves gets look at Notre Dame


It’s no secret that the depth chart at cornerback is inviting for recruits. With little starting experience to speak of on the roster and numbers ripe for addition, the Irish are still chasing a number of elite cornerback in their ’13 recruiting class, even with Rashard Kinlaw and Devin Butler already on board.

There’s probably no bigger name on the Irish’s wish list than Tampa cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. A consensus top ten player in the country according to multiple recruiting websites, Hargreaves made a stop by South Bend today to check out Notre Dame, and early reports are coming back that the Irish helped themselves.

Josh Newberg of was one of the only reporters that got a quote from the 5-foot-11, 185-pound cornerback, who had this to say about his quick stop under the dome.

“It was good. I liked it,” Hargreaves told Newberg. “Notre Dame is just a different school. They have different things to offer compared to some of the other schools I’ve visited.

“Their graduation rate of African-Americans is 100 percent… I met with Coach Kelly and Coach Cooks. Coach Kelly is funny. He told me about Notre Dame, the players on the team and how they need corners. He was pretty laid back about it. He didn’t recruit me too hard.”

Via Twitter, Hargreaves revealed a bit more, communicating with a fan that he planned on taking an official visit to Notre Dame this fall, while also joking that his father — USF special teams coach Vernon Hargreaves Jr. —  loved the visit and was bragging about it to his friends, certainly a good sign for the Irish’s chances.

Hargreaves turned more than a few Irish fans’ stomachs last week when he announced USC was his leader after an impressive visit to Los Angeles. Nothing he said since his quick stop in South Bend seems to have changed his mind (it’s only been a few hours, and the trip across the Midwest will include visits to Ohio State and Michigan as well), though this process will likely play out well into the fall. The longer it goes likely the better for the Irish, especially with USC’s recruiting class maxing out around 17 or 18 thanks to NCAA violations.

If Irish fans are looking for an optimistic view, consider the Irish’s success landing recruits with bloodlines similar to Hargreaves. While no two recruits are the same, Notre Dame has certainly done well landing the sons of former athletes or coaches, men who have seen major college sports through a different prism. Austin Collinsworth, George and Josh Atkinson, Davaris Daniels and Corey Robinson each have fathers that had tremendous athletic success and felt comfortable with Brian Kelly and his Irish program being the right choice for their son, quite a compliment if you think about it.

With Hargreaves’s recruitment, perhaps the news that his father, who has spent 20 years coaching in college football at places like UConn, Miami, and now USF is exited about the visit is the best news to come out of the pitstop at Notre Dame.

The Irish are hard after some of Florida’s top talent, with Hargreaves, Mackensie Alexander, and Jordan Sherit — three of the top 20 players in Florida — all giving the Irish a serious look.




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.”