Cierre Wood

Opponent preview: Purdue

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This is the second of twelve opponent updates as we sprint towards next Saturday’s opening game in Dublin. For more, check out the preview of Navy.

The Overview:

Forgive Danny Hope if he’s been feeling snake bit. After taking over the Boilermakers program from Joe Tiller, Hope has had to battle a rash of bad injury luck and inconsistent play from his young team, short-circuiting any progress he was hoping for in West Lafayette. But with depth at quarterback, a stout defense, and 15 returning starters, 2012 might be different, and Purdue might be a dark horse candidate to make some noise in a Big Ten that’s shook up with perennial powers Penn State and Ohio State sitting out the postseason.

Last time against the Irish:

Heading into a primetime start in Ross-Ade Stadium, Boilermaker fans were excited to see their lockdown cornerback Ricardo Allen take his shot at Michael Floyd. It didn’t turn out well for Allen, who was beat long and often by Floyd, who had a big day as the Irish rolled to a 38-10 victory over the Boilermakers.

“We got off to a good start obviously on the road against a Big Ten team,” Brian Kelly said after the game. “Getting Mike Floyd the ball early on really gave us a lot of confidence.”

That confidence also wore off on running back Cierre Wood, who had his best game in an Irish uniform, running for 191 yards on 20 carries, including a 55 yard touchdown. Tommy Rees threw for three touchdowns with no picks and the Irish defense shut down the Purdue running game.

Degree of Difficulty:

Of the 12 games the Irish play this season, I rank Purdue as the eighth toughest game on the schedule.

12.
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10. Navy
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8. Purdue

The Match-up:

It looks like Caleb Terbush has won the quarterback battle heading into the opener, with the senior building off a solid 2011 campaign. He’ll have the protection of an offensive line that returns four starters and a strong running game anchored by Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. Ralph Bolden is coming back from another ACL tear, making it questionable that the former standout runner will make an impact. Wide receiver Antavian Edison is the big play threat in the Boilermakers passing game, with dynamic return man Raheem Mostert a weapon as well.

The Purdue defense is anchored by Kawann Short, a returning All-Big Ten selection that could be a first round draft pick. He’ll be joined up front by Bruce Gaston (a former Irish target), Ryan Russell, and Brandon Taylor, giving the Boilermakers a stout front four. Linebacker Dwayne Beckford will do his best to replace Joe Holland, and he’s put a December DUI behind him. All-Big Ten cornerback Ricardo Allen is back in the secondary joined by Josh Johnson and Normondo Harris. They are one of the Big Ten’s strongest cornerback trio.

How the Irish will win:

By playing solid football. Personnel wise, Purdue is improved, but the Irish are in another league still, even with Danny Hope building his program consistently. And while the Irish don’t have a great match-up with Purdue’s strengths along the front four and in coverage, neither do the Boilermakers. Running against the Irish isn’t easy, and if Purdue won’t be able to rely on a ground game that was surprisingly sturdy last season.

How the Irish will lose:

Even if it is the home opener, the let down factor is alive and well with Purdue warming up with cupcake Eastern Kentucky while Notre Dame will be battling time zones, jet lag, and cut-blocks on its way back from Dublin. While Tommy Rees will be eligible to play, Everett Golson will likely still be behind center, and he’ll face a tough defensive front and cornerbacks with play-making ability. TerBush has the skills to be dangerous both through the air and on the ground, and a special teams play by Raheem Mostert or some forced turnovers by new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar‘s unit could make this interesting.

Gut Feeling:

September hasn’t been kind to the Irish, but with the ground game humming and Everett Golson getting his legs beneath him, I expect the Irish to be 2-0 heading into their dreaded dates with the state of Michigan.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

chip-long
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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”