Opposition round-up: Week two

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Let’s take a stroll across the Irish schedule and see how their past and future opponents did in week two.

NAVY — The Midshipmen had a week off before they head to Happy Valley this weekend to take on an 0-2 Penn State squad. Traditionally, this looked like one of those games that the Nittany Lions used to pencil in as an easy W against a scrappy opponent. But after watching PSU these first two weeks, who knows what’ll happen.

Trending: Constant. It’s hard to take a step forward or backwards on a bye week.

No. 10 MICHIGAN STATE — After winning a tight one over a rebuild Boise State squad, Michigan State racked up almost 500 yards of offense beating Central Michigan. A week after Le’Veon Bell threw himself into the Heisman race, he only managed to run for 70 yards on 18 carries, though he did chip in two touchdown runs. Andrew Maxwell completed 20 of 31 passes against the Chippewas, throwing for 275 and two touchdowns. William Gholston led the defense with a sack and two TFLs.

Trending: Holding steady. On paper, the Spartans took care of business, holding another opponent without an offensive touchdown.

No. 17 MICHIGAN — The Wolverines rode quarterback Denard Robinson to victory, with the senior throwing for 208 yards and running for 218 as Michigan escaped a very game Air Force team that ran for 290 yards. After returning from suspension, Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for only seven yards on eight carries as Robinson accounted for 426 yards, a telling statistical anomaly when you consider the Wolverines finished the game with 422 total yards of offense. Devin Funchess had 106 yards receiving on four catches.

Trending: Leveling out. It would’ve been panic in the Big House if the Wolverines’ defense didn’t stop Air Force’s 4th down attempt late in the fourth quarter.

MIAMI — Any forward momentum the Hurricanes had came crashing to a halt, as they were dismantled by No. 21 Kansas State in Manhattan on Saturday. The Miami ground game stalled out, with the ‘Canes averaging 1.4 yards a carry. The defense was no better, giving up 288 yards on the ground. Throw in three turnovers and it was a huge step backwards for Al Golden’s team.

Trending: Way down. The Canes need to get their mojo back against Bethune-Cookman before going into a six game stretch that includes Georgia Tech, NC State, Notre Dame, Florida State and Virginia Tech.

No. 21 STANFORD — Any worries that the Stanford Cardinal had fallen off a cliff were allayed on Saturday as David Shaw’s squad rolled over Duke, a team some pundits thought could spring an upset. Not with four turnovers though, as the Cardinal capitalized as Josh Nunes completed 16 of 30 throws for 275 and three touchdowns. Stephon Taylor managed 69 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown, but Stanford didn’t break the 100 yard mark as a team, and lost the time of possession battle to Duke.

Trending: A step forward, though we’ll know much more about the Cardinal after No. 2 USC comes to Palo Alto this weekend.

No. 25 BYU — The Cougars feasted on a cupcake this weekend, cruising past Weber State 45-13. Riley Nelson threw for 244 yards in only one half of action before turning over the keys to the car with a 21-o halftime lead. Cody Hoffman had 7 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown and BYU racked up 532 yards of offense as they dominated.

Trending: Holding steady. Tough to give too much credit after a win like that. We’ll know more about BYU in the next few weeks.

No. 5 OKLAHOMA — After struggling with UTEP last weekend, the Sooners ran it up against Florida A&M, getting their money’s worth against a mediocre opponent. Landry Jones threw for two touchdowns (with one INT) and 252 yards and the Sooners’ ground game got on track, running for 349 yards on 41 carries. Junior Damien Williams put up 156 yards on just ten carries and scored four touchdowns in his Owen Field debut. Kenny Stills had 10 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Trending: Resting on their laurels until a showdown with No. 15 Kansas State this weekend. Bill Snyder’s Wildcats will give the Sooners a test.

PITTSBURGH — The Paul Chryst era has gotten off to a nightmarish start with the Panthers getting whipped again, this time at the hands of Cincinnati. Pitt’s defense gave up 464 yards to Munchie Legaux and company, and while Ray Graham ran for 103 yards and Tino Sunseri threw for 278, Pitt fell behind 17-0 at half and never recovered.

Trending: It’s looking more and more like it’s going to be a very long season for Pitt.

BOSTON COLLEGE — It took a while for the Eagles to get started against Maine, trailing 3-0 until the middle of the second quarter. But Chase Rettig picked up the sputtering BC offense, throwing for three touchdowns as the Eagles topped their hockey rivals 34-3.

Trending: Tough to gather too much from a win over Maine, but we’ll see where Frank Spaziani’s squad is this Saturday when they take on Northwestern.

WAKE FOREST — After squeaking by Liberty, Jim Grobe’s troops got a huge ACC victory, knocking off North Carolina 28-27 on a late QB sneak by Tanner Price. Price threw for 327 yards as the Wake running game was stuck in neutral, as Price teamed with Michael Campanaro for a career game, his 13 catches for 164 yards leading the Demon Deacons.

Trending: Arrow up. Huge victory for Grobe’s team, who looked mighty shaky in the opener but picked up a second win.

No. 2 USC — Matt Barkley’s Heisman campaign is off to a good start, with the senior quarterback throwing six touchdowns against Syracuse in the Trojans’ 42-29 victory. Barkley may have only thrown for 187 yards, but he set a career-high in TD passes while Marquise Lee caught three and Robert Woods caught two. Woods also sprinted 76 yards on his only carry while Silas Redd ran for over 100 yards on 15 carries. Syracuse actually outgained USC 455-445 and outscored the Trojans in the third quarter, but USC’s firepower was just too much.

Trending: The Trojans’ look the part, putting up prolific numbers with the three-headed monster of Barkley, Lee, and Woods. But the Trojans committed 12 penalties and gave up 10.7 yards a completion, exposing a few potential weaknesses.

 

 

Kraemer, Eichenberg compete for RT spot, moving Bars inside, and Bivin to…

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Forty percent of the offensive line is essentially set in stone: fifth-year senior Mike McGlinchey at left tackle and senior Quenton Nelson at right guard.

The center position seems to be senior Sam Mustipher’s to lose.

That leaves the two starting spots on the right side of the line for a number of players—both young and experienced—to fight over.

Sophomores Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg have emerged as the frontrunners for the right tackle spot, moving senior Alex Bars inside to right guard. Bars started all 12 games last season at right tackle.

“Those two [Kraemer and Eichenberg] are the guys we have mapped out at right tackle, and they’re going to battle,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “Today Kraemer was there. Last two practices Eichenberg got a lot of the work. Eichenberg will go back there on Friday. They’re going to keep battling and splitting the action out there.”

Part of the reasoning in giving the two sophomores extended looks this spring is Notre Dame knows what it has in Bars when at right tackle.

“We would prefer to get him in at the guard position, but we know he can play the [tackle] position,” Kelly said.

A starting five of McGlinchey, the three seniors and either sophomore may seem to leave fifth-year lineman Hunter Bivin out in the cold. Not often is a player asked to return for a fifth year only to spend it on the bench. That is even more rare when considering the current Irish scholarship crunch.

Kelly compared Bivin’s role to that of Mark Harrell’s last year. Harrell appeared in all 12 games, starting two, and provided much needed depth and flexibility along the offensive line. Rather than have five backup offensive linemen, position coach Harry Hiestand relied on Harrell to provide support at multiple spots.

“It’s reasonable to assume that Hunter Bivin’s going to be involved in this as well,” Kelly said. “We’ve just asked Hunter to take a seat right now. He’s done that for the team.

“We think Hunter is going to be a Mark Harrell for us. A guy that’s extremely valuable, can play a number of positions. We trust him, but we want to see these two young players [Kraemer and Eichenberg]. Hunter is a guy that can play right or left tackle for us. He’s going to be a valuable player for us as a swing guy.”

On that note, this space will refer to Bivin as a fifth-year lineman, as was done above, rather than as a guard or as a tackle, until further notice. In his case, the broader description may be the most accurate.

Spring break out west is fine, but Wimbush better be ready to run

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It will undoubtedly become a habit, at least for the next five-plus months. If Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush sneezes in front of a camera, it just might lead to an uptick in webmd.com traffic. His every football move will certainly be analyzed, nitpicked and discussed at length. Thus, Irish coach Brian Kelly being asked about Wimbush’s spring break should surprise no one.

Rather than find a Florida beach, Wimbush spent his spring break working with private quarterbacks coach George Whitfield in San Diego alongside a handful of other college passers. Kelly said there is value to such a spring break but stopped short of setting any lofty expectations of the effects.

“I have no problem with [Wimbush] working out with George Whitfield,” Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice, the first following spring break and the third of 14 leading into the Blue-Gold Game on April 22. “George doesn’t work on the specifics to the offense. George is really working on the quarterback and throwing the football, moving in the pocket. George is really good at keeping those quarterbacks active and moving.”

Whitfield is best-known around Notre Dame and among Irish fans for working with former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson during Golson’s academic suspension in 2013. Whitfield and Golson spent 10 weeks together, thus granting time for extensive off-field activities such as film study. Far shorter, Wimbush’s time out west appears to have been spent primarily doing drills.

“In those situations, it’s a bullpen session,” Kelly said. “They’re keeping their arms loose, they’re keeping their feet loose. He’s just keeping them active.”

It is hard to construe that activity as a negative, but it obviously lacks certain aspects crucial to Wimbush’s 2017 season. With only five career pass attempts and seven career rushes, Wimbush’s inexperience looms large. Developing the necessary intangibles to account for that may be just as, if not more, important as fitting his throws into tight windows.

“When it comes to the playbook, to his teammates, to his coaches here, Brandon understands that when the rubber hits the road, those are the guys that matter the most,” Kelly said. “He knows when it’s time for Notre Dame football, where the focus is.”

Included in that playbook will be an expectation for Wimbush to carry the ball. To date, Wimbush’s biggest play and possibly only imprint on most Notre Dame fans’ memories is a 58-yard touchdown scamper against Massachusetts in 2015.

Link to 17-second YouTube video which has unfortunately disabled embedding

Note, the play is not exclusively-designed for Wimbush to run. Now a rising junior, then a fellow freshman, running back Josh Adams comes across Wimbush’s front for a possible handoff. Instead, Wimbush makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Why state so clearly it was the proper read? Adams has to evade a Texas defender even though he never had the ball.

Future option plays should present Wimbush with the possibility of throwing the ball, too.

“He’ll be a runner in the offense,” Kelly said. “Do we want him to carry the ball 20 times? No.

“I don’t think you’ll have a situation where we’re calling quarterback power or singular runs. He’s going to have options: hand it off, throw the ball out on the perimeter. You’ll see more of that than you will prescribed quarterback runs. We had a little bit more of that last year with Kizer, but I think you’ll see that he has an option to get the ball out of his hands more so than just prescribed runs.”

Those option plays, in particular, will require Wimbush to have a thorough familiarity both with the Notre Dame playbook and with his teammates’ tendencies.

RITA LEE OR 52-53?
Staying consistent with his comments over the last two months, Kelly once again reiterated the biggest changes new offensive coordinator Chip Long will bring to the Irish playbook will be in its wording. Perhaps going to an extreme example to illustrate his thinking, Kelly pointed to the future.

“We’re going to win next year and Chip is going to be the greatest offensive coordinator in the country and he’s going to get a head job, right?” Kelly asked rhetorically. “Then I’m not going to introduce the Chip Long offense to the next offensive coordinator.

“It has to have my culture in it … The culture of the offense is still the base offense that I have always run because I have to be able to carry that with me from year to year.”

Within that ellipsis, Kelly gave two examples of possible verbiage changes. Without knowing much more behind them, they do not mean too much out here in the cobwebs of the internet, but they do provide a quick glimpse at what Kelly has been referring to when discussing lexicon since hiring Long.

“If he wants to change Ringo Lucky protection to Ram and Lion protection, go right ahead. If he wants to change certain calls, for example, 52-53 protection is now Rita Lee.”

RELATED READING:
4 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at QBs (Brandon Wimbush)
Pace of Play: More Snaps Equal More Scoring Chances, Right?

Back from break, Irish commence hitting; DT Elijah Taylor out with LisFranc injury

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Notre Dame last wore pads in its 45-27 defeat at USC back on Nov. 26, a full 117 days ago. Suffice it to say, the Irish enjoyed the chance to don their shoulder pads and hit each other in Wednesday’s third spring practice, the first one since returning from spring break.

“What I liked about it more than anything else is there wasn’t a big drop off today,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Usually you go two days and then you take a week off, and then you come back and put your pads on—it took us only a couple of periods to get back up to form. That was nice to see.”

Contrary to previous years in spring practice, and perhaps practice in general, Kelly emphasized tackling, especially tackling in the open-field, in Wednesday’s drills.

“[I] felt like we needed to make up for a little lost ground,” he said. “We got in tackling today for the first time. That’ll be an emphasis. We’ll tackle a lot this spring to make up for lost ground.”

The early and often physical nature of practice didn’t bother any of the players, per Kelly, but also per presumed common sense. While Notre Dame’s coaching staff changes and public questioning played out in broad view, the players spent 117 days in private waiting to unleash some of the frustrations of 2016’s disappointing season.

“Everybody to a man has been looking forward to this day,” Kelly said. “It was a pretty difficult offseason for them. They were looking forward to putting the pads on and getting out there. I think they exhibited that today.”

TAYLOR OUT FOR SPRING, AT LEAST
Junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor was not in pads Wednesday. In the final practice before spring break, another player stepped on Taylor’s foot, Kelly said. The resulting LisFranc fracture will keep Taylor out of the remaining dozen spring practices and limit him until at least July. Taylor saw action in four games last season, finishing with three tackles, including one for a loss.

Notre Dame team surgeon Dr. Brian Ratigan already performed Taylor’s surgery.

“Typical LisFranc fractures, we’ve had good success with their repairs,” Kelly said. “…We’ll be able to train around the injury. Full range of motion moving around and doing things in June, probably full clearance sometime in July.”

Without Taylor, the interior of Notre Dame’s defensive line becomes even shallower, though that may have been hard to previously comprehend. Junior Jerry Tillery looks to be ready to start, and senior Jonathan Bonner has moved to the inside, rather than at end as he has been for most of his career. Behind them, the Irish present only question marks.

Kelly said he will look to junior Micah Dew-Treadway to step forward in Taylor’s absence.

“Micah Dew-Treadway has had a really good offseason for us,” Kelly said. “Changed his body, has been doing a really good job in all facets, in the class room and weight room. He’s somebody that had been ascending anyway prior to the injury.

Kelly indicated junior Brandon Tiassum also could be expected to see more work with Taylor sidelined.

Seniors Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah are in the mix, as well. Cage struggled with concussion issues last season after a promising 2015.

Notre Dame will need to wait until the freshmen arrive—perhaps also joined by Clemson graduate student transfer Scott Pagano, reportedly still taking official visits as he ponders his 2017 destination—for further reinforcements. Consensus four-star recruit Darnell Ewell would be the most likely candidate of the three expected arrivals to move up the depth chart right away.

In layman’s terms, a Lisfranc fracture occurs when a mid-foot bone connecting to a toe separates from the cluster of bones toward the heel. Note: This is stated here only to provide some context, nothing more. This particular scribe avoided most biology classes.

CLAYPOOL A RECEIVER AND THAT HE WILL STAY
Asked if he considered moving sophomore receiver Chase Claypool to defense, Kelly answered succinctly.

“We feel like we need his play on offense,” Kelly said. “He’ll continue to contribute on the special teams end of things, but we need his play on offense.”

KELLY ON KIZER’S NFL POTENTIAL
“I’ve had a number of conversations with GMs and coaches about [former Notre Dame quarterback] DeShone [Kizer], and my personal feeling is he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks. I don’t know that he’s prepared to come in and win a Super Bowl for you [this year]. Some may feel as though maybe one of the other quarterbacks are. I don’t know that firsthand. But I think, in time, he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks.

“I get it. It’s the NFL. Everybody’s under the same pressure of performing and needing somebody to come in right away, but I think he’s a guy that just needs some time. If he gets in the right situation, I think he’d be the guy to take.”

Kizer and eight other former Irish players will take part in a pro day tomorrow (Thursday) in front of some of those GMs and coaches.

Te’o to New Orleans; Booker to Nebraska

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Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints, per reports.

Once recovered from a torn Achilles, Te’o will join a crowded Saints linebacker corps. The Saints signed A.J. Klein—formerly of the Carolina Panthers—to a three-year, $15 million contract earlier in March and return Craig Robertson, who finished 2016 with 115 tackles.

All three have experience at the middle linebacker position in a 4-3 defense, though Klein and Robertson are both capable of playing at the strong side position, as well.

Before his week three injury, Te’o had started 34 of 38 games for the San Diego Chargers and notched 221 career tackles. With the Saints, he rejoins linebackers coach Mike Nolan, who held the same position with the Chargers in 2015 when Te’o finished with a career-high 83 tackles.

BOOKER REJOINS DIACO
It appears former Notre Dame tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Scott Booker will join the Nebraska coaching staff. Two former Irish coaches—defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and safeties coach Bob Elliott—already have seats in the Lincoln coaching room, which is quickly becoming something of a Notre Dame West.

Booker will reportedly join the Cornhuskers staff as a special teams analyst. He served as Notre Dame’s special teams coordinator from 2012 to 2016 before this past offseason’s extensive staff changes.

PRO DAY THURSDAY
A reminder: Notre Dame will hold its Pro Day this Thursday. Nine players will partake, obviously highlighted by quarterback DeShone Kizer.

The others: long snapper Scott Daly, running back Tarean Folson, tight end Chase Hounshell, defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell, cornerback Cole Luke, safety Avery Sebastian and linebacker James Onwualu.

Kizer hopes to prove himself worthy of a first-round draft pick, while Jones and Rochell may be in the mix for a second-day pick, meaning in the second or third rounds.

As it is draft season, this discussion of why mock drafts exist even though most prognosticators cannot stand them is worth the few minutes needed to read.

MARCH MADNESS UPDATE
The majority of the “Inside the Irish” bracket pool’s leaders escaped the weekend’s chaos, though frontrunner andy44teg will not hold onto that top spot for long after his titlist pick, Duke, exited late the tournament late Sunday.

That will leave some character named Dennis and his North Carolina prediction as the presumptive favorite to win, well, to win absolutely nothing.

Five of the top 10 expect North Carolina to win the championship.