Central Michigan v Michigan

Michigan Mailbag

11 Comments

Thanks to everybody for putting in some great questions. Sorry I couldn’t get to all of them. Let’s dispense with the nonsense and get to it.

Nudeman: I saw on another board that Bryant was off to the side by himself during some of the game last week, the implication being that he was sulking over not playing. As we know now he eventually did get in but it was garbage time and probably not what he was hoping for.

I was just about to quote Ferris Bueller when I saw somebody beat me to it on the comments. But I don’t think sulking is going to get Greg Bryant anywhere with Tony Alford and Brian Kelly, nor do I necessarily believe that it was happening.

I expect Bryant to get a few more looks on Saturday night as I think the running game is going to be a major factor. Steve Elmer didn’t get in the game after we heard all spring and fall that he was going to play. We’re just 1/13th of the way into this season, there will be plenty of time for Bryant to make his mark this season.

Andy44Teg: KA (Best Irish Blogger on the Interwebs) Who do you think has the better game: Devin Gardner or Tommy Rees??

How do I not answer that question, Andy? Obviously the answer to this question likely dictates the winner of the game. I’m not making any predictions, but I kind of think that Rees will play the better game, though Gardner has the ability to make mistakes with his arm and still be a gamebreaker, just because of his ability to keep plays alive and make plays down field.

If there’s one guy that should keep Bob Diaco up at night, it’s Gardner.

@jfoneil22: I was concerned/unimpressed with our D line play last week. Did someone get Nix a Xanax this week? Am I overreacting?

I think you are over-reacting. Louis Nix is a nose guard. He was double-team on about 2/3 of them. After spending the last nine months talking about Jadeveon Clowney, he only managed three tackles in his debut.

Nix is going to have to learn that being a preseason All-American puts a bullseye on your back. And he’ll also need to make some plays, regardless of blockers. But let’s pump the brakes for now.

upthera44: The thing I worry about this year (and specifically this week) is one of those recurring problems for Notre Dame. Do you think our guys able to play with some swagger this week? Because that’s what I think you need in these elite games: the belief that you’re better than everyone. I wouldn’t trade the class of our players. But they seem a little too nice sometimes. When interviewed about a good performance you ALWAYS hear our players say they owe it all to the team and other players, etc., talk about what a great game the other team played. Are our players a little too muzzled?

What these guys say and what they believe are two very different things. Being coached up when talking to the media isn’t an issue, though it does make for some boring interviews. I don’t think the Irish have a confidence or swagger problem. Maybe there’s a void that needs filling after Te’o was such a singular leader last season, but I think the Irish will come out on Saturday night with plenty of swagger.

@NDIrish1029: You probably watched Michigan v cent Mich video. Was Mich 59 points good or were cent Mich that bad?

CMU lost their starting quarterback and starting running back in the first half. I did watch the game and to tell you the truth, I can’t decide. CMU looked really bad, and somehow the Wolverines scored 59 while still throwing three interceptions.

chadwalters425: What would you rather fight, 100 duck-sized wolverines or one wolverine-sized duck?

Maybe you aren’t privy to my phobias, but I don’t want to fight any animals. Ever since I was attacked by two geese walking along the pond on hole 3 at the Warren Course in college, I’ve been freaked out of everything — domestic and wild — ever since.

What type of strategy do you use to fight an animal? Boxing? Wrestling?

To answer your question, I think 100 duck-sized wolverines sounds terrifying. A wolverine sized duck just sounds bloated.

mtflsmitty: Based on your observations and access, what gives with Tuitt’s performance this year? He came into camp overweight and all the tape we saw (Martin 3, Tuitt 0) suggested he had lost a step or five. Last week he seemed to being playing a strict contain technique most plays, or he was just taking plays off? What’s up?

Smitty, so far he’s on pace to have 13 sacks and have the choice of returning for his senior season or getting drafted in the first round. Tuitt plays a specific type of defensive end in Bob Diaco’s system. He’s not just crashing off the edge rushing the passer. He’ll be just fine as well.

@JMset3: Sierra Nevada Nut Brown or Sam Adams Oktoberfest. Choose wisely.

Both? I’m hardly a particular beer drinker, though have enjoyed both choices (I think).

irishhaggie: Heading into Michigan I am concerned about who our #2 QB should be in case Tommy was to be taken out (lets hope not). Do you think Andrew is a legitimate backup? I feel like we are an injury away from being an 8-4 football team. What have you heard about Malik’s development?

I have been skeptical of Hendrix’s ability to run this offense since he stepped onto campus, and his mediocre series in garbage time didn’t do much to help. Tommy Rees is probably the most irreplaceable player on this offense outside of Zack Martin. You are right on the money with your 8-4 prediction if Rees goes down, and don’t expect Malik Zaire to strap on his cape and spring into action. He’s still out with mono.

@DanFree5: As a Notre Dame fan, why should I feel good about this game?

ND’s offensive line has an advantage over Michigan’s defensive line. ND’s defensive line has an advantage over Michigan’s offensive line. But I don’t know if any Notre Dame fan ever feels good about a game with Michigan.

@ndfanwabashman: Can Notre Dame win without winning the turnover battle?

I don’t want to step all over some six pack topics, but they’d be a lot better off not turning the football over. But they can, they’ll just need to play good defense and special teams.

@jajensen23: Would be helpful if you have everyone a history lesson on Brandon renegotiating the 20-yr contract agreed to by Bill Martin?

I’ve been asked this a few times. Here’s what I wrote back in May:

@SaturdaysNick: Should ND be concerned that their points came from big plays against a less talented D rather than sustained drives?

@JohnnyFlynn33: curious why Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston didn’t play more in the opener?? I understand they are freshman but come on.

They each got a series with the No. 1 offensive line, but I’m guessing they didn’t get as many touches because the game wasn’t that out of reach.

irishdodger: Do you think the three heartbreakers from 2009-2011 have Irish fans gun-shy? I don’t see many prognosticators or fans of other teams giving the Irish much of a chance.

There’s no question ND fans are still gun shy. Maybe it’s because I’m constantly surrounded by this group, but the panic-meter of Irish fans has the acceleration of a Porsche, going 0-60 in a play or two.

I’m not quite sure I understand the line on this game either, though the underdog has covered 20 of the last 24 times.

dudeacow: This is the most important game on either team’s schedule. Winner goes to a BCS bowl, loser goes to the toilet bowl. Last two years, this has been the case. Do you agree?

Makes for a perfect headline, but ND still needs to get by six of the top 29 teams in the AP ballot. I also don’t think one loss is the end of the world for either team (particularly Michigan), but it will certainly dictate the trajectory of each program.

Spring positions to watch for revelations: DL & WR

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 05: Jerry Tillery #99 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish tackles Jerrod Heard #13 of the Texas Longhorns for a loss of yards during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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If quarterback, rover and the early enrollees could be Notre Dame fans’ springtime Christmas thrills, what positions present as potential spots of coal?

Three former Irish players were invited to next week’s NFL Combine in Indianapolis: quarterback DeShone Kizer, defensive tackle Jarron Jones and defensive end Isaac Rochell. Losing two consistent defensive linemen leaves this year’s unit with some questions. Jones and Rochell combined for 100 tackles, 18 for loss and three sacks last season. Notre Dame’s returning defensive linemen combined to total 111 tackles and only 5.5 tackles for loss. To be clear, sacks are not included in that latter list because no returning defensive linemen recorded one. Among the returnees, junior tackle Jerry Tillery (37 tackles, three for loss) and senior end Andrew Trumbetti (26, 0.5) contributed solidly alongside the two NFL prospects.

This dearth of known and reliable linemen is a large part of why the potential transfer of Clemson graduate defensive tackle Scott Pagano is so intriguing. Pagano would immediately be a favorite to start, and if not that, at least rotate in heavily.

For now, though, Pagano remains a theoretical

By the end of spring practice, who already on campus will emerge alongside Tillery and Trumbetti in the Irish front? Senior ends Jay Hayes (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) and Jonathon Bonner (nine tackles) seem the most-likely candidates … aside from former four-star recruit and now rising sophomore Daelin Hayes. In his debut season, D. Hayes finished with 11 tackles.

Look for senior tackle Daniel Cage (10 tackles, 0.5 for loss) to establish himself as Tillery’s immediate backup this spring, but that spot in the rotation will be up for competition all over again once four-star tackle Darnell Ewell (Lake Taylor High School; Norfolk, Va.) arrives on campus in the fall. His size and quickness should play right into new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s system.

Equanimeous and Who?
Not only did Notre Dame bring in a graduate transfer at receiver in former Michigan wideout Freddy Canteen, but it has also already received the commitments of two four-star receivers in the 2018 recruiting class. The continued emphasis on the position reflects the lack of bona fide game-breakers currently on the roster.

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown established himself as the top Irish threat in 2016, and he should shine only further with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush targeting him. Classmates often amplify each other’s success, simply due to the added shared reps innate to joining practice at the same time. With Torii Hunter, Jr., now pursuing a professional baseball career, who will prevent the secondary from focusing all its energies on St. Brown?

Canteen will not be with Notre Dame in the spring, as he does not graduate from Michigan until April. That will give a clear shot for the likes of juniors Chris Finke, C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin, and sophomores Kevin Stepherson, Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool to establish themselves. Did that say “clear” shot? It should probably read, “a chance to separate from the crowd.”

If a genuine threat does not line up opposite St. Brown, his explosiveness will likely be greatly reduced by focused defensive scheming. Wimbush will need another target before 2018.

Of course, here is where one should acknowledge the millennia-tested fact: Coal under pressure becomes diamonds.

2016 Notre Dame’s win expectancy was 7.2
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Johnson named the Irish as his team most likely to dramatically improve its record in 2017. Johnson’s thinking is based, at least in part, on Notre Dame’s second-order win total having been 7.2 in 2016, compared to the four wins the Irish actually walked away with. That discrepancy was the largest in the country.

Second-order win totals reflect how many points a team should have scored and allowed based on offensive and defensive stats. In theory, this shines a light on how luck and chance factored into results. Naturally, losing seven games by one possession will often be reflected by a higher second-order win total.

“Notre Dame’s win-loss record belied a solid, if imperfect, squad that just couldn’t pull out close games…” Johnson writes. “The Irish may not get back into College Football Playoff contention in 2017, but they’re bound to post a few more Ws because of reversion to the mean.”

Admittedly, the small sample size of a football season reduces the applicability of metrics such as second- and third-order wins when compared to baseball and basketball.

Jones becomes Mack
A quick piece of housekeeping: Apparently junior tight end Alizé Jones has changed his name to Alizé Mack.

While Notre Dame’s roster may not reflect that change yet, it is reasonable to expect it will after its next update. The football program has consistently respected the intricacies of players’ name preferences. Tai-ler Jones becoming TJ Jones jumps to mind, for example.

Anyways, hopefully noting Mack’s name change here might reduce some confusion down the line. Probably not. How many readers possibly read to the actual bottom of an article? But hey, in good faith.

WR Lenzy makes 11th commitment, brings speed to Irish

lenzy
rivals.com
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At what point does an impressive recruiting roll become something more? When does it become a harbinger of things to come, even if not for a few seasons? How many notable commitments in a row establishes a class as special?

If the answer to any of the above is 11 commitments by the end of February, including five within two weeks, then Notre Dame is there following consensus four-star athlete Braden Lenzy’s announcement Thursday evening.

The Tigard High School (Portland, Ore) receiver/cornerback chose the Irish over offers from USC, Oregon and Michigan State, among a litany of others. In all, nine Pac-12 schools chased Lenzy—and a 10th, Washington, had shown interest—per rivals.com.

Lenzy will fit the leading 2018 need voiced by Irish coach Brian Kelly three weeks ago on National Signing Day 2017.

“Elite speed on offense will be a primary goal for us,” Kelly said Feb. 1. “Guys that can change the game on one possession. I think we’ll see that… We want a couple of home run hitters. We don’t care if they’re Darren Sproles’s size. We’re going to come off the board in terms of profile. We want some guys that can change the game on offense with elite speed.”

At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Lenzy is taller than Sproles’s 5-foot-6, but it is still his speed that drew Notre Dame’s interest.

“They made it clear they want me to do kickoff return and use me as a deep threat across the field,” he told Irish Illustrated. “Just being kind of an athlete, similar to what I’ve been doing already in high school, just on a bigger scale with a quarterback that can throw it a lot farther.”

Presuming Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush is that arm in 2018, throwing great distances should not be an issue. Between Lenzy and fellow 2018 commit Micah Jones, covering those distances should be a reasonable request, as well.

Lenzy brings Notre Dame’s class of 2018 to 11, including eight four-stars according to Rivals’ rating system. Current scholarship projections indicate the class will not be a large one, meaning the Irish coaching staff has already garnered the commitments of more than half the class. Once again, though, Kelly’s sentiment regarding recruiting timing should be remembered.

“We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

SWARBRICK’S TAKE ON RECRUITING
Kelly credited Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick with much assistance in securing the country’s No. 13 recruiting class in 2017. A refresher on those comments:

“In a lot of instances, [Swarbrick] had to be there to support our football program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going,” Kelly said. “There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”

Swarbrick did not dispute the factual nature of any of that in an interview with the Indianapolis Star, but he did contest the need for praising what he saw as part of his job, one of the preferred parts of his job, at that.

“I can’t say anything about this year felt all that different,” Swarbrick told Star reporter Laken Litman. “Some asked questions about the future of the program and can we compete for a national championship. And I would talk about the elements of the program we were focused on improving.”

Swarbrick and Litman discussed a number of items in the second-half of the interview released by the Star, including Notre Dame’s facilities, a possible early signing period in football and if the Oct. 8, 2016, game against North Carolina State should have been played. Spoiler: No. Then why was it? Go check it out.

Swarbrick also told Litman he likes to write in his free time.

“I tend to think strategically with a pen in my hand.” Swarbrick added he is currently scribbling away on where he thinks college athletics are headed.

This scribe, for one, would be most interested in skimming those legal pads.

Will Wimbush, Elko and the early enrollees surprise in spring practice?

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Fans congratulate Brandon Wimbush #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish after he ran for a 58 yard touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Exactly 59 days from today, the Irish will take the field at Notre Dame Stadium. Sure, they will be playing against themselves, but nonetheless, it will be somewhat-competitive football played in gold helmets.

For timing context, exactly 59 days ago, you looked beneath the Christmas tree to learn if Santa Claus left you season tickets, socks or coal. I got socks. They had some of that extra cushioning, so I considered them a suitable treat.

Whether you care about my argyles or not (you don’t), for many the Blue-Gold Game and Christmas morning hold similar excitement. That fact is apparently why Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick does not concern himself when groups of alumni publicly lament his decisions, or lack thereof.

“I never worry about that,” Swarbirck told the Indianapolis Star in an exclusive interview you really should read. Go on, click the link, it will open in a new tab. You can come right back here when you are done.

“The hardest job in athletics is trying to generate passion in your program. If that sort of stuff bothers you, you can’t be the athletic director, head coach or the quarterback at Notre Dame.”

That very passion will undoubtedly lead to frame-by-frame discussions of video snippets from spring practice, parsing of each and every word Irish coach Brian Kelly says in quick interviews after those practices, and extreme pessimism and optimism about the 2017 season.

In the Christmas spirit, what toys could bring the must excitement during the spring unwrapping? Personally, the gift I was unsure of always brought the most joy. I would rather open an unexpected book than know about a charcoal-gray suit. In other words, at least for today, let’s look past the offensive line, the running backs and the inside linebackers. Instead, let’s look forward to learning about… (more…)

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)