Irish running back Wood runs for a 68 yard touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the first half of their NCAA college football game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend

Cierre Wood will enter the NFL Draft


In one of the worst kept secrets surrounding the Notre Dame football team, running back Cierre Wood has declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, bypassing his final year of eligibility with the Irish. Wood sat out his freshman year before leading the Irish in rushing in two of the last three seasons, including an 1,100 yard campaign in 2011. ESPN’s Joe Schad reports that Wood was told he could be a third-round pick, a slot the graduating senior hopes to improve in the months leading up to the NFL scouting combine.

In Wood’s three seasons at Notre Dame, he never averaged less than 5.1 yards per carry, and his senior season included a healthy 6.5 average. Yet Wood lost the role of primary back to Theo Riddick this season, with Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin choosing the converted receivers versatility and north-south style over Wood’s better pure runner skills. During Wood’s 2011 season, where he led the Irish in rushing, he also ceded primary ball carrier duties to Jonas Gray, who burst onto the scene during a phenomenal senior season before a major knee injury.

There is plenty to like about Cierre Wood the NFL prospect. He’s expected to run an impressive 40 yard dash, and shows great elusiveness for a running back that’ll likely weight close to 220 pounds when he performs for NFL scouts. He doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear on him either, as he’s shared the load in each of the past three seasons. His versatility will also be an asset, while he wasn’t featured much in the pass game this season, Wood caught 47 passes over his first two seasons in the backfield, and showed some kick return ability as well.

That being said, Wood isn’t leaving Notre Dame with his stock at an all-time high. Wood’s final two games for the Irish — two key match-ups against USC and Alabama — included a combined stat line of 12 carries for 22 yards. His crucial fumble at the goal line in overtime against Pitt nearly cost the Irish the game. Add to that some off-field worries after being suspended for the season’s first two games for a violation of team rules, and a fifth year in Notre Dame’s backfield could have given Wood another chance to boost his stock with a big season. Yet Wood’s decision to leave, a decision largely influenced by his young daughter, will open up the Irish backfield this spring.

With Wood and Riddick both departing, the Irish will have to replace the majority of their carries. Yet with George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel both looking very good this season, Will Mahone and Amir Carlisle preserving a year of eligibility, and blue-chip recruits Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston on their way in, there won’t be a shortage of candidates to replace them.

Wood exits Notre Dame with a career stat line of 450 carries for 2,447 yards, a healthy 5.4 yards a carry. He added 16 rushing touchdowns and two receiving. His career best game came at Purdue in 2011, where Wood ran for 191 yards on 20 carries.

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.”