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Game Day: No. 20 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Michigan State

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As always, we’ll be hosting the live blog here later tonight, but let’s roll through a few pressing questions as the Irish prepare to face the Spartans tonight in East Lansing.

A win would give the Irish their first 3-0 start in a decade, and likely propel the Irish into the top 15 as they head into their grudge match with Michigan. A loss — well, it makes the match-up against the Wolverines all the more pressing.

A few final thoughts before it’s time to get down to business.

Can Everett Golson manage this football game?

The Irish offensive line might be taking the heat, but there’s a high likelihood that they’re taking some criticism that could be leveled on the Irish’s young quarterback. Purdue confused the Irish by loading the box and putting the heat on Golson to make the right checks at the line of scrimmage. It didn’t happen in the second half, and after Golson led the Irish on a ten play touchdown drive, the offense sputtered, failing to put together a drive over 17 yards until Rees came in to close the game.

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi certainly isn’t known for his vanilla game plans. So if the Irish are going to walk out of Spartan Stadium alive, they’ll need their young quarterback to learn from last Saturday.

Will the Irish get production out of their wide receivers?

If two games are any indication, Davaris Daniels will end up being the team’s No. 1 weapon at the position, an impressive jump for a redshirt freshman who is also learning on the fly. After spotlighting the Spartan cornerbacks yesterday, it’s going to be important for the Irish to get some big plays with their wide receivers — taking some shots down the field vertically with players not named Tyler Eifert.

Outside of Daniels’ 41-yard catch and run last weekend, the long reception for Notre Dame’s receivers was a 17-yard gain by Robby Toma. The Irish are going to need their wide receivers to be more than possession players.

Can the Irish front seven force Andrew Maxwell into some bad decisions?

Maxwell has shown the ability to turn the ball over, getting intercepted three times in the first half against Boise State. The Irish’s front seven is the best he’s faced, and the Irish are going to need to help Stephon Tuitt get to the quarterback, with guys like Prince Shembo and Ishaq Williams being counted on to supply the heat.

Bennett Jackson made his first big play as a cornerback, intercepting Caleb TerBush and setting the Irish up for a field goal. The Spartans plan on trying to confuse Everett Golson. There’s no reason why Bob Diaco can’t do the same to Maxwell.

What team is going to run the ball more effectively?

You know Mark Dantonio will figure out how to get Le’Veon Bell his touches. But will Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin figure out how to get the Irish’s talented stable of runners the football?

Kelly said Cierre Wood looked a little rusty this week as he worked his way back into the rotation. But I expect Wood to reassert himself into the mix immediately, reminding everybody why he was an 1,100 yard rusher last season and an elite player.

Kelly and Martin need to get the ball in the hands of Wood, George Atkinson and Theo Riddick at least 30 times combined, up from the 20 touches the running backs accounted for last week.

Can the Irish put it together on the big stage?

It’s been a long time since a Notre Dame team has come out on the big stage firing on all cylinders. Can this be the team that does it?

While the standard, “It was against Navy” caveat certainly applies, the Irish handled their business and looked crisp during the season opener, putting together an impressive performance. Against Purdue that was hardly the case, with penalties and play-clock issues plaguing the team all game.

If the Irish are going to win tonight, they’ll need to play clean football across the board. You get the sense that Kelly feels quietly confident his team can do this, yet we’ll find out tonight if Notre Dame can put together a complete performance.

 

 

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

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

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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?)

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