Colin McGovern

Freshman Focus: Colin McGovern


For all the complaints recently about Notre Dame struggling to get the best players out of the Chicagoland area (one of the only gripes you could muster about this staff’s recruiting efforts), the Irish did great work landing offensive lineman Colin McGovern. A throwback player to the Lou Holtz /Joe Moore era, McGovern looks to be the type of road-grader that would’ve fit in well two decades ago as well.

With depth thin and experience virtually nonexistent on the interior of the offensive line behind Chris Watt, McGovern is an important building block to the future of Harry Hiestand’s troops. A late season knee injury suffered during his high school playoffs forced McGovern to rehabilitate a torn ligament, but he should be healthy and ready to go come training camp.

Let’s take a closer look at McGovern:


While McGovern falls outside of both Rivals and 247’s top 250 list, he was an Under Armor All-American and had an offer from Alabama, so somebody that knows something sees some promise in McGovern’s game.

McGovern was a first-team All-State and All-Area performer in Chicago and didn’t allow a sack during his junior or senior seasons, playing in one of Chicago’s premiere football leagues. Other offers for McGovern include Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

While the recruiting services didn’t see him as an elite prospect, his offer list says something otherwise.


McGovern’s PCL tear probably doesn’t help his chance to get on the field, but then again he shouldn’t see the field anyway. Redshirting a prospect like McGovern makes the most sense, especially with enough depth on the interior of the line if everybody stays healthy.

Looking into the future, it’ll be interesting to see how McGovern works into a depth chart that might only feature Conor Hanratty and Mark Harrell next season, with Bruce Heggie not necessarily guaranteed to return for a fifth year.

There will be more than a few moving pieces on the interior of the offensive line, and McGovern can stake a claim to playing time with some solid work with Paul Longo and his strength team.


There’s plenty of room for contributors on the interior of the offensive line and McGovern looks like a leading contender. If the Irish are looking to find a tougher breed of lineman to play guard, then it sounds like Kelly thinks they may have found one of them in McGovern.

“Colin is more than just a player from the Midwest; he’s a physical, strong guy that can play inside for us,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “Here’s another guy that came up to camp, and we got a chance to see him in person, and that makes such a big difference to us. He’ll be a nice player for us working inside out.”

Inside-out gives you the idea that this staff believes that McGovern could be a tackle if they wanted him to be, though the Irish staff sees McGovern teaming with John Montelus as guards while Mike McGlinchey and Steve Elmer will be tackles and Hunter Bivin starts as a center.

It’s basically been all Charlie Weis recruits for the Irish staff along the offensive line. As guys like Zack Martin and Watt graduate, it’ll be interesting to see if this staff’s evaluation skills are as good along the offensive line as they are at other positions. If so, the best is yet to come from this offensive line.

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.”