Pittsburgh v Notre Dame

Game Day: No. 4 Notre Dame vs. Boston College

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A week after being pushed to their limit by a feisty underdog, No. 4 Notre Dame is in Boston ready to take on a school that relishes any opportunity to knock off the Fighting Irish.

Some might say when Boston College plays Notre Dame you can throw away the records. But to do that would overlook some serious advantages for the Irish, who do an awful lot of things good that just so happen to correspond with some fatal flaws of the 2-7 Eagles.

Saturday night could be the game where the Eagles finally fight for head coach Frank Spaziani’s job. Or it could be the game that finally pushes the embattled head coach off the ever-present edge.

As another primetime game approaches, let’s run through a few final questions I have before kickoff.

How many yards will the Irish run for? Notre Dame could put up a really big number on the ground this weekend. Boston College is ranked 119th in the country against the run, giving up 232 yards a game at an almost five-yards a crack average.

The Irish ran for that many yards last week and it felt like they abandoned the run to fight their way back against Pitt. Don’t expect Brian Kelly to let Notre Dame forget about running the ball, getting Cierre Wood involved early and often to shake off that goal line fumble.

Expect a 300-yard output on the ground from the Irish offense. The only BCS conference defense worse against the run is Miami, and Notre Dame racked up 376 yards on the ground against the Hurricanes.

Can Notre Dame turn Boston College’s one-dimensional offense against them? For as bad as the Eagles’ rush defense is, their own ground game is actually worse. Boston College is a putrid 122nd running the football, with only Mike Leach’s Washington State team doing worse in a BCS conference.

The Eagles only average 74 yards a game on the ground, all but turning their offense into a one-dimensional scheme themselves. But with Notre Dame’s stout rush defense, expect to see the Eagles throw early and often.

The good news for Boston College is that Chase Rettig quarterbacks the offense, the Eagles’ best offensive weapon. The bad news? Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo and company will be pinning their ears back looking for sacks.

Alex Amidon is having a terrific season this year as Rettig’s number one target, and he’s a threat to keep an eye on. But for the Eagles to have a shot, they’ll need to run the ball at least somewhat effectively, if only to keep Bob Diaco’s defense honest.

Can the Irish show some offensive efficiency in the red zone? Everett Golson feeling more comfortable behind center is important. But it won’t matter how at home Golson feels if he can’t get the offense into the end zone. With Tyler Eifert and a ground game that’s running for 200 yards a game, there’s no excuse for the Irish to be scoring touchdowns on only 45% of their possessions, a putrid 114th in the country.

Whether its a new scheme, quicker decision making, or just better execution, Golson needs to fair better inside the 20. And that means getting seven points in the red zone, if only to help the offense keep pace with the defense.

Is Bob Diaco auditioning for a job? Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator is starting to become  a national commodity. And as the energetic, passionate leader of the resurgent Irish defense, Bob Diaco has started to find his name on some athletic directors’ short-list for upcoming vacancies.

Diaco is a guy that seems like a good fit for the Eagles if they decide to make a change at head coach and look to pluck a young assistant. He’s from the northeast, recruits well, and has learned from a few head coaches that know a thing or two about football.

While he’s still got to learn some of the finer touches that go along with being the face of a program, Diaco might be getting a closer look from Eagles athletic director Brad Bates, the man who was hired last month to take over Boston College sports.

Will Notre Dame keep up their good play away from home and score some style points? A lopsided victory probably won’t do much to sway a pollsters thoughts on an Irish team that’s won in sometimes less than convincing fashion.

But with three games to go — and two undermanned opponents before USC — Brian Kelly needs to get his football team playing their best football in the season’s final month.

Kelly cited his team’s heart of a champion for coming back and defeating Pitt in triple-overtime. He also discussed the need to develop the mind of a champion, something that’s going to be needed if the Irish are going to escape Saturday night unscathed.

A team like Boston College didn’t lose its pride overnight, and they’ll be fighting for their coaches’ job tonight. Notre Dame got away with overlooking an opponent last weekend. With a hostile crowd and a team with nothing to lose, it’ll be key for the Irish to let Boston College know early that they’ve got no place competing with Notre Dame.

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

Notre Dame v Florida State
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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?)

***

 

Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.