Jaylon Smith

Final Rivals 100 list filled with Irish recruits


A final stamp was put on the Rivals 100 prospect ranking for 2013 and it confirms what we all have known for quite some time.

Notre Dame’s recruiting class is good.

Of the top 100 players in the country, the Irish have accepted the commitment of five players, including three of the top 30. One other name still in consideration is five-star defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes.

Here are the Irish recruits that made the rankings:

No. 3 — Jaylon Smith, OLB: Smith is the highest ranked player the Irish have landed since Jimmy Clausen. While he doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a ‘Dog’ linebacker in the Irish’s 3-4 system, he’s too good of an athlete to keep off the field.
No. 19 — Greg Bryant, RB: Replacing Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick should be easier to stomach with Bryant. A nice mix of power, speed, and versatility, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly Bryant can fight his way into the mix.
No. 30 — Max Redfield, DB: The third five-star prospect of the class, Redfield looks like a ballhawk in center field. He’s not the most physically imposing player in the secondary, but he’s a true athlete and adds some more length and athleticism.
No. 60 — Steve Elmer, OT: Already on campus, we’ll get our first look at Elmer this spring. There doesn’t seem to be a glaring need at tackle, but Elmer will have the staff’s eye for 15 sessions this spring, a nice jump start for his career.
No. 74 — John Montelus, OG: A great interior line prospect, Montelus will be add another big body to the inside. At a position where there are question marks at guard and center, and Chris Watt graduating after this season, Montelus is an important player at a position of need.

Of the uncommitted players still on the board, the Irish are in the best shape with Vanderdoes, who will be on campus this weekend. The Irish have chased Mackensie Alexander, the No. 42 prospect, for a long time, but appear to have cooled on Alexander, a feeling that seems mutual. Cornerback Priest Willis has also had his name connected to the Irish in the past, but that ship appears to have sailed as well.

And now to the fish that got away. Vernon Hargreaves III was an early target of the Irish, with Tony Alford working hard on Hargreaves. At No. 2, the Irish clearly saw something in the elite cornerback, who played very well on the All-Star circuit. Laquon Treadwell was another prospect the Irish just couldn’t get in the game with either, as the No. 5 player in the country has decided to go to Ole Miss, a surprise to many Michigan fans that thought they had the inside track for the Illinois star. Al-Quadin Muhammad (#49) looked likely to pledge to the Irish but various reports have academics getting in the way.

Seeing Alex Anzalone pick up a fifth-star didn’t fee very good for Irish fans, with Anzalone’s eleventh hour defection putting a dent in the linebacking corps of the Irish. Also of note was fellow five-star Dorian Johnson, an offensive lineman from Pennsylvania who ran out of spots with the Irish even with a family connection to Scott Booker. Johnson is the No. 31 ranked player in the country and the top offensive lineman.

One final prospect to watch? USC commit Ty Isaac, who some believe will still end up with the Irish in the end.

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.”