Jaylon Smith

Irish recruits all over the Rivals250 list


Looking for context as you measure the quality of Notre Dame’s 2013 recruiting class? The Rivals250 — the final grades for the recruiting class set to ink this February — have been finalized, and as you’d expect, Notre Dame has put together a terrific class.

The Irish have recruits all over the top 250, with linebacker Jaylon Smith ranked as the third best player in the country, the highest ranking for an Irish prospect since Jimmy Clausen topped the 2007 rankings. In all, here are the Irish recruits that were ranked.

Rivals Top 250

3. Jaylon Smith, OLB
50. Alex Anzalone, ILB
56. Steve Elmer, OT
65. John Montelus, OL
95. Cole Luke, CB
111. Malik Zaire, QB
124. Isaac Rochell, DE
126. Doug Randolph, LB
171. Hunter Bivin, OT
181. Torii Hunter Jr., WR
223. Will Fuller, WR/DB

For those keeping track of athletes the Irish are still chasing, Notre Dame is after some of the elite players in the country. Take a look at some of the names that are still considering the Irish.

10. Laquon Treadwell, WR
16. Greg Bryant, RB
24. Max Redfield, DB
32. Eddie Vanderdoes, DT (USC commit)
39. Mackensie Alexander, CB
97. Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE
105. Priest Willis, CB
183. Tarean Folston, RB
226. Ebenezer Ogundeko, LB
241. Sebastian Larue, WR (USC commit)

Notre Dame would accept the commitment of Treadwell, Bryant, and Redfield in a heartbeat, and all reports point to the Irish being in great shape with Redfield, while we’ll know more after Bryant’s visit to South Bend. While Muhammad hasn’t made any noise publicly, it’s also believed that he’s a strong Irish lean, giving Notre Dame another strong edge player, and another potential elite talent.

How Notre Dame makes things work with cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander or Priest Willis is anybody’s guess, but the Tempe native has the Irish near the top of his list, and Alexander has played things close to his vest, and where the Irish stand won’t likely be known until closer to Signing Day.

The Irish coaching staff are incredibly high on Tarean Folston, and running backs should be taking a very close look at the Irish, especially with the way the offense has molding itself into a power running, spread team. You’d have to imagine that the Irish would only take one of the remaining running back prospects on board, and you could say the same thing about linebackers, with Ogundeko maybe the biggest defensive reach on this board.

Looking at the remaining wide receiver prospects, Treadwell has been a prospect the Irish just won’t give up on, but it’s hard to see him pulling the trigger for Notre Dame. If a national championship run and a young exciting quarterback don’t do it for him, I’m not sure what will, but that hasn’t stopped Chuck Martin from putting in the time. Larue has also expressed interest in taking an official visit to Notre Dame, but there might be a few academic hoops he needs to hop through before he’s able to do it.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”