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.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.