NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Michigan State

Davonte Neal transferring to Arizona


After deciding to walk away from Notre Dame to be closer to his girlfriend and newborn daughter, Davonte Neal will play next season for Rich Rodriguez and Arizona. The 5-foot-9 slot receiver was down to the Irish and Wildcats before dramatically choosing Notre Dame in a whirlwind recruiting process. Now he’ll come home and add an intriguing piece to the former Michigan coach’s spread offense.

As he has been from the start, Jason Sapp of has been all over this story, getting quotes from Neal on the decision-making process. While some rumors had Neal looking at UCLA or USC, the transfer back home should assist his case in securing immediate eligibility from the NCAA.

This from Sapp, who spoke with Neal directly:

“The primary reason I chose Arizona was because it was close to my family and my daughter can come see me everyday – that was the most important to me and having that family support,” Neal said. “The way Coach Rodriguez throws the ball around is amazing. They do it the entire game. I’ll have an opportunity to play inside and outside receiver in the offense. He does know how to get the ball in his players’ hands and from there they make plays.”

Neal has always been focused as an individual, but the addition to his family presents a whole new meaning to his world – both present and future.

“Having Baylee in my life just opens the door for me to be a better man,” he said. “It allows me to develop more responsibilities. I’ll become more of a man balancing school, football and having a baby.”

Neal was the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona. He’ll reunite with his Chaparral high school coach, Charlie Ragle, who is now coaching tight ends for Rodriguez.

In a pretty class move, the Neal family released this statement through Blue & Gold:

We’d like to offer our sincerest gratitude to Coach Brian Kelly, his staff, the student body, and the entire Notre Dame family for all the support they’ve shown us, not only in the past few weeks, but over the past year.

Our experience as part of the Notre Dame football team and community surpassed all of our expectations. From the opening game in Dublin, Ireland, against Navy to the National Championship, we know we were part of something very special. And we have all the confidence in the world that the Notre Dame football program is positioned to have tremendous success in the years to come.

We wish we could be a part of that moving forward, however, Davonte’ has decided after very difficult consideration that the most important thing for him and our family is to be as close to his new-born daughter as possible.

Over the past year, we have developed some great friendships within the Notre Dame community and look forward to staying in-touch with those who have given us so much. We want to take this opportunity to wish Coach Kelly and his outstanding program all the best next season and down-the-road. The Irish will forever be in our hearts and a part of our lives.

All the best and Go Irish!


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.”