Tommy Rees, Brian Kelly

Rees takes charge as team’s identity comes into focus


Saturday’s comeback victory against Purdue was keyed by a second half recovery after a slow start by both sides of the ball. And while it felt like a frustrating slog for most of the game, it didn’t feel like a great escape or death-defying act. And that’s a product of the team understanding what it takes to win a football game.

Brian Kelly stopped by SiriusXM’s College Football Playbook this week and talked about the evolution of his team with Jack Arute and Gino Torretta. And winning games like this has become habit forming.

“I think it’s a culmination of winning 25 of our last 30 regular season games,” Kelly said of his team’s battle back. “That has to have a positive effect on you. When I came in at half time, I said, ‘Listen, we’ve been down this road before.’ We’re going to have to play better, we’re going to have to make some plays. Plays that we didn’t make against Michigan. And I was confident we would.”

There were plenty of interesting morsels that came out of Kelly’s weekly stop, but perhaps the largest was the evolution of Tommy Rees as the offense’s leader. Sure Zack Martin and TJ Jones are the guys with the C on their jersey, but Kelly made it clear that Saturday night, Rees finally became the rightful leader of this offense.

“Tommy Rees finally took this team over,” Kelly said. “He took them on the bench and surrounded himself with everybody and started talking to them like it’s his team. He’s been the quarterback, but now it’s his team. It was a huge moment in the second half where he said, ‘Listen, this is my team and we’re going to win this football game.'”

Kelly also talked about the changes on the defense that’s started out a little bit slower than many expected. Getting ready to take part in a smash-mouth game this weekend, the Irish head coach referenced a few tweaks to Bob Diaco’s troops that he hopes will help straighten out a few of the deficiencies.

“We’re getting closer. We’re not there yet,” Kelly said. “We still have to develop a few key positions on defense that are not there yet. And we’ve addressed that and moving forward we think we have some answers there that you’ll see this weekend.”

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.