Massachusetts v Michigan

Wolverines might take aim at Irish secondary


You could fill up a few notebooks contemplating the ways quarterback Denard Robinson can beat the Irish. We’ve seen it first hand with his virtuoso running performance in 2010 and his fourth quarter passing display last season, where Robinson threw touchdown passes of 14, 21, and 16 yards in the games final eleven minutes to beat the Irish. (No matter how they looked, it worked.)

Still, as we break down the countless match-ups worth watching in this game, the electric speed that makes Robinson so dangerous might not be the most logical way for the Wolverines to attack the Irish. With big bodies Devin Gardner, the 6-foot-4 converted quarterback now leading the Wolverines in receiving, teamed with 6-foot-5 freshman tight end Devin Funchess, Michigan has to feel like they have some match-up problems for the Irish in the passing game.

If there is an X factor on Saturday night, it’ll be the Michigan aerial attack. The Wolverines are averaging an impressive 17 yards a catch, with their top four receivers, Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Funchess, and Drew Dilleo averaging 21.2 yards a catch.

While there were plenty of question marks about the receiving corps heading into the season, it appears that the Wolverines staff doesn’t have any.

“I think it’s probably one of the better positions on our team from a depth standpoint,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday.

Offensive coordinator Al Broges echoed the sentiments, explaining the evolution of the passing offense, anchored by two guys you wouldn’t have expected last season.

“I think about going into camp the perception was we lost some key players,” Borges said of his wide receivers. “But we knew we were working Devin Gardner at that position because we had done so much of it in the spring And Devin Funchess kind of manifested himself. We knew he was a good player, but we didn’t know to what degree, and he didn’t play much in the first game. It became increasingly evident he needed to be part of our passing game.”

The same could be said for the Notre Dame secondary. Heading into spring practice without starters Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton, the Irish felt confident about Bennett Jackson at one corner and the trio of safeties Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Austin Collinsworth. Lo Wood would spent the offseason battling with Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown at field cornerback. If you told most Irish fans that Notre Dame would be without Slaughter, Collinsworth, and Wood after three games — and the Irish would be undefeated — you’d have some incredulous listeners.

With true freshman KeiVarae Russell manning the field corner and Jackson playing on the short side of the field, the pass defense hasn’t missed a beat. With Mathias Farley now taking over for Slaughter and Elijah Shumate excelling in nickel coverage, the young secondary is gaining major experience, all while learning on the fly.

With a front seven that’s protected the back-end of the defense and allowed the Irish to routinely drop five and six men in coverage, that’s a convenience the Irish didn’t have last year at this time. And if Notre Dame can get to Robinson without having to send the house, they’ll likely be able to dictate terms, helping a young secondary against Michigan’s raw but promising group of receivers.

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.