Tommy Rees, Amir Carlisle

Oklahoma Mailbag

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Just over 48 hours to go until Notre Dame and Oklahoma take the field. With thousands migrating to South Bend for the game this weekend, let’s take a dig into the mailbag for a few questions and answers.

(With a special guest making her first appearance at the end of the mailbag.)

irish4006: Do you think we are becoming too predictable with the audibles and the adjustments? It’s been pretty visible in a couple of games where defense will line up, wait for Tommy to change the play and then get in a different formation with :02 on the clock. Tommy goes through with the play anyway for yet another incompletion.

I think there’s something to be said for your theory, though I do think you might be underestimating Tommy Rees’ accuracy, as he is the most accurate thrower in Irish football history.

That being said, there’s two sides to this coin. The Irish’s “Hurry Up and Wait” offense does limit defensive substitutions, though Brian Kelly acknowledged last week that the ongoing chess match doesn’t always benefit Notre Dame’s offense.

Expect to see the Irish take the look they get and go with it a bit more this weekend, and ideally that’ll be with a few more runs against an Oklahoma defensive front that many thought was a weak link.

jerseyshorendfan1: do you think we will see any production out of the slot in this game; also I have a feeling that Bryant may get some work this week after his brief appearance last week. Your thoughts?

One solution in the slot could be Amir Carlisle, who spent a little bit of time out there against Michigan State. A productive slot receiver has been an elusive beast for Kelly and his offense, and while CJ Prosise made a nice catch, there hasn’t been much of anything out of that spot, though who lines up where is probably less important, especially with a youngster like Corey Robinson coming on. That means someone like Chris Brown, DaVaris Daniels or TJ Jones can all line up inside or out.

As for the first of many Greg Bryant questions… I do actually think he’ll get the ball this weekend. As a long time Oklahoma commitment, having a chance to run against your almost team would be a nice motivating factor for this week of practice.

ndcanuck: Looking at the rest of the schedule, if ND loses Saturday does that end any realistic hope of a BSC bowl? If so, does that change the coaches approach to the line up going forward (i.e. playing some freshmen)?

It doesn’t end any hopes, but they’ll likely need to beat Stanford at the end of the season. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a two-loss ND team doesn’t deserve to be in the BCS, especially if their two losses are from September and against Oklahoma and Michigan.

don74: The live blog is fun for a fan but how much of the game do you see when handling comments and commenting yourself? How many times to you need to watch the game to see what went on?

Thanks for this question, Don. Because I don’t think a lot of people realize that it’s tough to manage the chat, watch the game, keep people who can’t watch the game posted… AND make sure people get their comments read/posted.

I’ve gotten a lot better over the past couple of years at watching and live-blogging, but it’s a big reason why it takes me a little bit longer to get my postgame thoughts up — while most writers are spending the game getting their story started, I’m chatting with a few thousands of my friends.

irishaggie: Since 2010 Tommy is 8-1 as a starter at Notre Dame Stadium and has 14 TD’s, 5 INT’s and completes 62% of his passes. In play action he’s deadly. In single set………….hhmm not so much. And when he throws more than 30 passes his accuracy decreases exponentially. Should Andrew Hendrix be used more as the effective runner he is?

IrishAggie, you make quite a few assertions in this question that I’m not necessarily sure I accept as fact. Perhaps the biggest one is that Andrew Hendrix is an effective runner. Outside of the 78-yard gallop against Air Force, Hendrix has never had more than 28 yards in a single game.

On your points about Tommy Rees, I agree that he’s a better playaction passer than most give him credit for, and that’s something that could help the offense going forward. Then again, giving some credibility to the fake would be helpful, and the Irish need their 100th ranked rushing offense to make some steps forward.

ohiond: I was at the Mich. State game. It appeared to me that “time management” issues reared their ugly head again. ND had to burn a couple of time outs early which made the late 1st half red zone very one dimensional. There were a couple of delay of game penalties as well. Why is this happening with a QB that has been in the system for 4-years? Is this more on the coaches or is it Tommy taking too much time checking out of what is called?

I think this is more on Pat Narduzzi and the Michigan State defense than anything from Rees or the coaches. Burning timeouts in the first half are much different than burning them in the second half. I did think there was one delay where Tommy tried to do too much, but that’s BECAUSE he’s been in the system for years, not despite.

irishlee10: How much of Malik Zaire will we see Saturday? And, in what situations?

You will see Zaire wearing a red hat on the sideline. And that’s about it.

NotreDan: Do you think Kelly should take over the play calling from Chuck Martin? If not, why?

No, I don’t. Then again, I don’t necessarily believe that Martin calls every play either, as there’s constant communication between Martin and Kelly and the game plan and call sheet are decided by both of them throughout the week.

Chuck Martin is a great coach and has done a nice job with the offense. Right now, it’s still figuring out what it wants to be.

idratherbeinsouthbend: Which tire category should i choose to get the most comfortable ride?

The black ones.

don74: Kelly and Belichick played golf together and decided to visit each other’s programs. Is it just a coincidence that the Irish Offense and the Pat’s Offense is out of synch this year?

You know what else both units have in common? They lost their best playmakers from the season before.

ndfaithful: Do you think OU will bring their own “Play Like a Champion Today” sign?

Good question! That was a fun non-story story last year.

@BretMiller: Why does ND have the tendency to play up/down to their opponents. Never blowout games like a SEC team? Lack of ability or choice?

Well, it’s a little bit tougher to blow out competitive Big Ten programs than it is to beat teams like SE Missouri State, Alcorn State, Samford, or Furman. (A sampling of four random SEC schedules I just checked out.)

There’s plenty of ability in South Bend, but I do think it comes down to choice sometimes. Notre Dame shut it down and played to win against Purdue during the fourth quarter and seemed to do the same thing against Temple as well.

The Irish haven’t been all that good against the spread this year. (I believe they’re 0-4.) But that’s a product of elevated expectations as well, and comes with the territory.

@thelumpedpoison: Will ND wear the green jerseys?

Kelly said no. But it’s a green out, so maybe a trick is in store. But highly doubtful considering next weekend the Irish will be rolling out their alternate uniforms for the Shamrock Series in Dallas. 

@dcarlson_rrt: will we see a different combo on the right side of the o-line? Maybe establish a power run game?

I think the best personnel is in the game. Remember, it took last year’s team a little bit of time to get the ground game established (after the cake walk through Navy). The future is bright for Ronnie Stanley and Christian Lombard will figure out how to play guard.

@okerland: based on last few weeks are the Doubting Thomases coming out of hiding? Will Reesus have to expose the middle of the field (AKA the ribs) to make them believers again?

From your mouth to BK’s ears.

***BONUS QUESTION***

As promised, I had my mom take a shot at mtflsmitty’s question from last week. I don’t think she let you guys down:

@mtflsmitty: Based on your experience reading posts from the characters over the years, please write a short, fictional bio for:
– Historian
– Bern
– Dick
– Nude

Nudeman – He developed his persuasive skills in childhood, growing up either an only child, or the eldest of three. From an early age, he spoke in superlatives – everything was “the best” this, “the worst” that. He may or may not have been treated with Ritalin, for what was then called hyperactivity. A hard-worker and a task-master, he saw success in school and likely on the youth and high school football teams. His frustration with the ineptitude of teammates in group sports led him to excel at golf and tennis. First job, post- or during college: door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. He married his high school sweetheart. Subsequently found work in larger companies with larger accounts, selling pest-removal services, then the best Russian sporting equipment ever, followed by the best new microwave ovens, then the top tech supplies available. He did not partake in his company’s Six Sigma training nonsense.

Dickasman – The youngest of seven children, he was alternately doted on and left to himself. One of his earliest memories was watching his mother suffer a neck injury while exercising to Jack LaLanne on television. He enjoyed kindergarten, but still remembers being chastised for eating glue, as well as failing to properly put away the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe puzzle. He was treated with Ritalin for hyperactivity during his grade school years. He was accident-prone, and in 6th grade he broke his leg while jumping from his roof to a snowbank, during a “snow day” off. He was treated for depression, since he felt isolated from his friends, having to stay in for recess during his 5-month recovery. Nevertheless, he played football on the kick-off squad in high school and was nicknamed “Kamikaze.” He played bass guitar with friends in a garage band, and found work running the light board at various clubs. He writes for several local music scene newsletters.

Bern – The second of four children, he is the son of an attorney and was known for his photographic memory at an early age. As a toddler, he was deeply influenced by the look of wise concern on his parents’ faces as they watched the evening news of the Pentagon announcing their plan to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. This led to an interest in politics, and while he was class president throughout grades 1 through college, he decided on a career in law, specializing in mediation and arbitration. He serves on many boards, met his wife at a fund-raising event, and his friends often call him “Fred” – after the Fred MacMurray sweaters he wears at leisure. The cardigan is replaced by a sport coat whenever he goes out. His persuasive powers are reminiscent of Marcus Welby, M.D. – he of the soothing, calming demeanor that “de-crescendo’s” into an authoritative, no-nonsense message. Of late, he has been known to enjoy, in fact, join in humor of a bawdy nature, once he knows his audience. His hobbies are fly-fishing, boating, and diagramming sentences.

Historian –  Love the name. A retired military man who grew up in a military family, he spent his developmental years with his family traveling from base to base. An avid Notre Dame fan, he took the 2011 USC loss extremely hard, and seemed to have gone missing of late? Should we be worried? Rumor has it he may have secretly re-enlisted to help instill discipline, focus, and a winning mentality among today’s youth.

Lastly, tell NotreDan to have those drinks while posting, as Nude advised.

 

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…)