Arkansas State v Oregon

The case for a vanilla offense

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With Notre Dame breaking in a first-time quarterback in Everett Golson, many worried the Irish offensive attack would be too vanilla, making it easy on opposing defensive coordinators. Those that watched Notre Dame’s debut against Navy saw simplicity in the approach, but success in that execution. It may have been vanilla, but that tends to work with a steamroller of a running game as American as apple pie.

The Irish ran a simple playbook last Saturday, relying on a handful of core running plays and a modified passing game that including inside screens, swing passes, a fade route to Tyler Eifert and some play-action boot passing. It was a streamlined playbook for Golson, and with the exception of an interception forced into Eifert, a game plan that the Irish quarterback executed well.

As the season progresses, no doubt Notre Dame will add a few wrinkles and continue to build the offensive attack. Yet for those worried that the Irish offense will be too vanilla  CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman writes something quite interesting today when discussing the high octane Oregon attack: it’s pretty simple, too.

Feldman recaps Oregon’s prolific success last Saturday and details just how effective the vanilla system can be.

As flashy as the Ducks’ personnel and shiny uniforms are, their playbook was actually not fancy. Like many teams, they run the inside zone, they run the stretch play, run the power, throw some screens and are very adept at running boots and nakeds thanks to their dynamic young QB. “It’s West Coast concepts and some spot routes, but they’re so good at play-action and their O-line does a good job of selling play-action, and when they run the climb routes, they just get on you so fast and find the spaces between the linebacker and the safeties.”

In all, the Ducks had six different ball-carries with at least a 24-yard gain. They had 11 different receivers with a reception of 10 yards or longer. They were 10-of-19 on third downs and four-of-five on fourth downs. “You’ve gotta keep great leverage on them, and that’s what we didn’t do,” Thompson said.

With Amir Carlisle ready to play this Saturday and Cierre Wood back in action next week, it won’t be a stretch for the Irish to have seven ball carriers — Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, Golson, Carlisle, Cam McDaniel, and Davonte Neal — all deserving of touches. (And Robby Toma got some ground work out of the slot on Saturday.)

And while it may seem like eleven receivers contributing catches is a product of Oregon’s impressive depth on the roster, consider ten different players on the Irish roster caught balls on Saturday, and that’s with Toma, freshman Chris Brown, and John Goodman all being held without a catch. As Brian Kelly tries to figure out how to make due without former Irish great Michael Floyd, it appears we are starting to see how he plans on doing it: Multiplicity.

After finishing last season with only twelve players catching a pass throughout the entire season, (Atkinson, Mike Ragone, Ben Koyack, and Alex Welch only caught one ball each), the Irish worked numerous receivers in and out of the game, changing formations and specializing the roles of each player tasked with helping the Irish win. TJ Jones excelled on the inside screen. Davaris Daniels had a nice gainer vertical down the sidelines. Koyack could’ve caught two more balls for big gains on play action and Troy Niklas nearly scored on his reception. I could go on, but the pattern is already starting to emerge.

Oregon’s offense doesn’t need to be complex when it’s run at the breakneck pace the Ducks move. With Golson under center and a running game that’ll likely stay strong behind a veteran Irish offensive line, Notre Dame should be able to use pace and tempo to help succeed on offense as well. While the Irish eschewed that technique with Tommy Rees under center, instead satisfied to counterpunch, Golson’s ability to be a runner and a passer, along with the personnel mismatches the Irish can create with multiple tight ends and running backs, should help keep defenses off balance and allow the Irish to stay proactive and aggressive.

We’ve likely only seen a smidgeon of the Irish offense for the season, especially with Notre Dame playing with a large lead for much of last Saturday’s game. But even if it doesn’t get much more exotic, there might not be a reason to worry.

Sometimes, vanilla is good.

 

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.