Trey Miller Navy Ishaq Williams

Navy update: Injuries and kicking woes trouble Midshipmen


We’ll spend some time later this afternoon taking a look at Irish training camp updates, but until then, a few notes about Notre Dame’s first opponent caught my eye. Here’s a quick rundown on where Navy stands, with less than three weeks until they kick off the season against the Irish in Dublin.

If Ken Niumatalolo‘s offseason was dedicated to fixing his kicking game, Navy’s preseason scrimmage Saturday showed there was still work to be done. After missing nine kicks in twelve games last season, the Midshipmen kickers got their chance to exorcise their demons during Saturday’s intrasquad session.

As Kevin Dunleavy of the Washington Examiner notes, they didn’t quite do it.

In a disturbing reminder of last year when kicking woes haunted Navy, five Mids candidates went 0-for-5 from 46 yards, 2-for-5 from 47 yards, 2-for-5 from 32 yards, and 5-for-5 from 27 yards.

Junior Stephen Picchini, who is listed No. 1 on the depth chart, made his two shorter tries, but was short from 47 yards and had the other blocked, booting it low. Freshman Austin Grebe (North Stafford) made his two short tries, but was wide on his two longer attempts.

Injury-riddled junior Brynmor Hughes made a 47-yard attempt, but clanged a 32-yard try off an upright. Freshman Nick Sloan made his 47-yard attempt with distance to spare, but was wide from 32 yards.

“They’ve been kicking a lot better at [practice], but that’s with nobody watching.” Niumatalolo quipped.


In more optimistic news for Navy, quarterback Trey Miller is showing an unusual strength in the passing game, completing 13 of 19 throws in Saturday’s scrimmage. But filed in the category of “one step forward, two steps back,” the Midshipmen are without their two starting wide receivers, with starter Brandon Turner failing the Naval Academy’s physical readiness test in July and ineligible to workout with the team until August 20th.

Making things worse is a knee injury suffered by Matt Aiken on an end-around during the scrimmage. Aiken, who was also expected to return punts for the Middies, is undergoing an MRI this afternoon that’ll determine the severity of the injury.

If the passing game of the Midshipmen is hindered, it’ll likely spell trouble for the Navy offense, with Miller nowhere near the option technician as previous quarterbacks Kriss Proctor and Ricky Dobbs. Miller completed only five of 13 throws last season against the Irish in Notre Dame’s 56-14 romp when he subbed in for an injured Kriss Proctor.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.