Notre Dame v Michigan State

Game Day: No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 17 Stanford

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You’ll have to forgive me if my crystal ball seems a little cloudy this morning. I could blame the cobwebs from a long night of travel. But it’s getting a handle on what kind of team No. 17 Stanford is that I’m struggling with.

While the Cardinal have one of the country’s most impressive victories on their resume, there are still plenty of variables I’m not sure about. How do you explain their pedestrian escape against San Jose State or their defensive implosion against Arizona last week? Their loss to Washington – the only road game the Cardinal have played thus far – made Stanford look pretty limited offensively, not all that different than the Michigan State team Notre Dame handled. But in their 21-14 victory over the Trojans, David Shaw’s squad showed they were still the physically dominant team that shutdown Notre Dame’s offense the past two seasons.

As we head towards kickoff, here are a few questions I haven’t quite answered yet.

Can Everett Golson beat this Stanford defense?

Most people accuse me of being too hard on Golson, but I’m a big believer in his future with the Irish. But young quarterbacks against Stanford’s defense don’t necessarily thrive.

Nobody has been able to line up and run the ball against Stanford, and the Irish certainly haven’t been able to the past two seasons. While Golson has the ability to make things happen with his feet, he’s going to have to beat the Cardinal with his arm… and his head.

If there’s a weakness in this Stanford defense, it’s in the secondary. But Golson, who is still learning how to be a student of the game and exploit favorable match-ups with Tyler Eifert, needs to take advantage of the opportunities he’s presented. If he can make some big plays down field when he gets the right pre-snap reads, the Irish should win this game.

Can the Irish get a big play or score from the defense or special teams?

It’s hard to say anything negative about Bob Diaco’s defense. It might be heresy, but the Irish are playing as good of defense as they’ve played in a very long time – and that includes under head coach Lou Holtz. But if the Irish are going to win this weekend, getting a big play out of the defense or special teams is imperative. The Irish didn’t force a turnover or get a sack against Miami. They’ll need to do some of both on Saturday afternoon.

Just as important, it’s time for the Irish special teams to make a leap forward. Nobody expects a trick play out of Scott Booker’s troops, but most would settle for Ben Turk launching a punt and flipping the field. George Atkinson is due to break a kick return and Davonte Neal still needs to get loose in the open field. Without Ty Montgomery returning kicks for Stanford, the Irish kick coverage team needs to get back to their dominant ways. Winning a game like today’s requires a complete performance from the team. And getting a few big plays from the defense and special teams will go a long way.

Can the Irish weather the storm? Literally.

This afternoon has the chance to become one of those instant classics. With rain predicted for much of the afternoon, and thunderstorms coming around game time, it’s looking like weather will certainly be a factor. Can the Irish hold onto the football and get accurate throws from Everett Golson? Can they move the chains if this turns into a slugfest? Will the surprisingly decent playing surface hold up this afternoon?

Stanford played the second-half of their season last year in a mud bowl at Stanford Stadium and they’re built to battle in the trenches. But if the Irish match that intensity, they’re built to do the same thing.

Most people are starting to believe the Irish have arrived. In the past, that usually ended badly. Will this year be any different?

A quick perusal across the internet has more pundits picking the Irish to win than lose, with ESPN’s arrival on campus almost validation that Notre Dame has once again come back into the land of relevancy when it comes to BCS appearances and – gasp! – national title aspirations. But can the Irish continue to win when it’s expected of them?

In years past, Notre Dame let defining moments define them. Whether it was Charlie Weis’ signature loss to USC, disappointments in back-to-back BCS bowls or the Irish stubbing their toe against USC and Florida State last season, Brian Kelly and his team believe this season is different.

Las Vegas believes in the Irish, tabbing them a touchdown favorite. With all eyes on Notre Dame, can the No. 7 Irish win a game that could vault into even loftier territory?

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter 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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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.