Miami v Notre Dame

Another Saturday, another biggest game of the year

51 Comments

It’s that kind of season. With Notre Dame off to a 5-0 start, it’s beginning to feel like a Yogi Berra quote. Another Saturday, another biggest game of the year.

If you wanted, you could probably make that argument just about every Saturday. The past three games certainly qualified. With Michigan State, the Irish had their chance to vanquish an ugly streak and beat a top ten team on the road. Brian Kelly called the Irish’s dominant 20-3 victory a “signature win,” and even if the Spartans have failed to hold up their end of the bargain, the victory certainly had a monumental feel to it at the time, if only because it got the mainstream media talking about this team and wondering if the Irish might just be for real.

If beating Michigan State was big for the team’s national profile, beating the Wolverines was gigantic for ND Nation. There were a lot of ghosts in Notre Dame Stadium that night — and the Irish defense slayed them all. With Manti Te’o etching his legend in stone and the defense playing up to their maxim of “B.I.A. — Best In America,” it was a cathartic evening in South Bend, and a perfect way for the Irish to send out Denard Robinson.

Different song, same dance for the Irish in Soldier Field. Putting up a score like 41-3 upped the Irish profile, especially when top ten teams around the country were exposed for being paper tigers hiding behind a soft schedule or big preseason expectations.

(Perhaps Les Miles was so angry about Gunner Kiel staying home in Indiana because he knew what he had at quarterback in Zach Mettenberger . It’s crazy to think that the Irish’s fourth-string QB could possibly be starting for LSU.)

Notre Dame’s convincing win against Miami was another therapeutic step for a fanbase still flinching every time they see the first sign of adversity, gun-shy after years of frustration. Just as important, it was the first time in a long time where a marquee opponent let the moment get too big for them.  Too often, it’s been easy for teams to play their best and rise to the occasion of playing Notre Dame. But not against this team. Miami head coach Al Golden said he had never seen anything like the case of drops his wide receivers had on Saturday night. Mental mistakes can come from pressing, and trying to do too much. They can also come from an intimidation factor. Not to say that’s the case, but it’s been a long time since you could call Notre Dame intimidating without hearing someone laugh.

And that brings us to Stanford. The next biggest game of the year. We all know ESPN will be in town, creating a circus-like atmosphere and bringing a ton of attention to the resurgent Irish. But looking at the schedule, there’s no game that the Irish truly need to have more than this one. When you’re 5-0, every game is critical, but from a pragmatic point of view, beating the Cardinal gives Notre Dame a good shot of losing just two games, even conceding tough Saturdays against Oklahoma and USC. With five winnable games where the Irish should be sizable favorites, a 10-2 season for Notre Dame means a BCS birth, especially with this schedule.

Sure, this kind of looking ahead is the type of thing that gets teams beat. It’s also the type of white noise that Brian Kelly has kept out of his locker room, with strong veteran leadership keeping this group focused on the task at hand.

Beating Stanford won’t be easy. The Irish haven’t been within two touchdowns of the Cardinal in Kelly’s two seasons in South Bend. The three-game losing streak against Stanford is the longest in the series, with the Irish never before losing even two-straight to the visitors from Palo Alto. Without Andrew Luck, the offense is still a work-in-progress, but they exploded for 54 points last weekend, winning a second-half shootout against Arizona. Stanford’s 3-4 defense, with two excellent outside linebackers in Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy, and stout defensive end Ben Gardner, poses a serious threat and will be Everett Golson’s largest test to date.

Stanford heads to South Bend ranked No. 17 and owning one very large W against Lane Kiffin’s USC squad. It may not be the brightest match-up on the marquee, but it certainly is the biggest game of the year.

(At least for another week.)

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)
Getty Images
6 Comments

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
Getty Images
6 Comments

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

6 Comments

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)
Getty Images
11 Comments

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?)

***