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.

 

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.