Amir Carlisle, Tommy Rees

Pistol formation paying early dividends


After doing his best to keep the formation out of the limelight, Notre Dame opened up in the pistol formation, putting to bed Brian Kelly‘s worst kept secret of the offseason. On the Irish’s first play from scrimmage on the season, Tommy Rees started in the short shotgun and running back Amir Carlisle lined up behind him. Rees spotted a Temple outside linebacker show blitz early and ran the ball right inside of him, bursting Carlisle through a wide open seam and 45-yards later the Irish offense was off and running.

On the day, the Irish used the Pistol formation to both run and throw with playaction, an effective wrinkle added to the offense after an offseason visit from former Nevada coach Chris Ault. The Irish were hardly alone in the use of the formation, with the opening weekend of college football showcasing a formation that was only at the outskirts of the game just a few seasons ago.

While rewatching the game yesterday, I started to chart the plays the Irish ran out of the formation, only to see that the smart guys at The Observer beat me to it. Here’s their quick analysis of the Irish’s use of the formation:

With senior quarterback Tommy Rees in the game against the Owls (0-1), the Irish offense ran 26 plays out of the pistol, racking up 263 yards (10.1 yards per play). Notre Dame (1-0) had four plays of more than 25 yards in the pistol and scored two touchdowns out of the formation.

By comparison, Notre Dame gained 188 yards on 23 plays out of its familiar shotgun formation. The lone play of more than 25 yards was junior tight end Troy Niklas’ 66-yard rumble for a score in the second quarter.

Rees was only under center for two plays in the season-opening victory.

Running the ball out of the pistol seems to have gotten the most attention, with guys like George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle talking about the ability to run “downhill” out of the formation. But Rees’ ability to utilize playaction, where the senior quarterback was excellent with his ball fakes on Saturday, is an added bonus, and something that fits the quarterback’s skillset well.

Expect the Irish offense to evolve quite a bit in the coming week, with the jet sweep likely coming out of the short motion game, in addition to some other looks saved just for Michigan.

“I think we only showed a little bit of it,” Kelly said after the game. “There were a lot more pieces to it. Today was just a small segment of it.”


Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.