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.

 

Notre Dame adds another 2019 commitment out of Georgia

rivals.com
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Eight months from now, Notre Dame may be forced to sign a smaller recruiting class than usual thanks to the larger class this past recruiting cycle. If that expectation does indeed hold, this past week’s five commitments, including consensus three-star safety Kyle Hamilton’s (Marist High School; Atlanta) on Tuesday evening, will be a hefty portion of the class.

Hamilton becomes the second safety in the class, and in the week, following the Saturday pledge of rivals.com four-star Litchfield Ajavon (Episcopal H.S.; Alexandria, Va.). Hamilton’s list of finalists included Michigan, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson, a grouping more telling than perhaps his recruiting ranking is.

Some of that expected potential may derive from Hamilton’s 6-foot-3 frame. Such length at safety would be a change for the Irish, currently without a safety taller than six-feet in the rotation. Even heralded incoming-freshman Derrik Allen, also out of Georgia, is listed at only 6-foot-1.

It is a coincidence those two Georgia recruits, one signed and one now verbally-committed, are both safeties. Add in the January commitment of rivals.com three-star cornerback K.J. Wallace (Lovett; Atlanta), and a third defensive back comes from the state, along with class of 2018 signees tight end Tommy Tremble and running back C’Bo Flemister. Five prospects from Georgia, presuming both Hamilton and Wallace do indeed sign with Notre Dame, is not a coincidence.

“My point being is that it’s such a fertile ground in recruiting, you just need to be in [Georgia], and there’s great football players in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in December 2017, during the inaugural early signing period. “We’ve got so many players that we can talk about that came of there. It’s just having a presence and getting back into a very, very good recruiting area for us. We need to have a great presence there.”

No matter what state Hamilton comes from, he could find himself quickly in the mix at safety upon his arrival. Presuming health for the current safety depth chart, juniors Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will have one year of eligibility remaining apiece upon Hamilton’s enrollment. Junior Alohi Gilman will have two, thanks to spending the 2017 season sidelined following his transfer from Navy. Early-enrolled freshman Griffith and Allen will both have three more years, presuming both play in 2018.

Thus, Hamilton and Ajavon could find themselves backing up that last duo as soon as 2020.

Blue-Gold Game Leftovers: Notre Dame’s offensive ceiling is tantalizing, though also unlikely

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Immediately following the 2017 spring game, I walked by two much smarter, savvier and more veteran Notre Dame reporters on our way to post-game interviews. Our two minutes of exchange included them riffing on various hypothetical position changes that were eventually not seen come fall, including how much better of a guard than a tackle Tommy Kraemer could be. It should be noted, the junior began lining up at guard this spring.

My contribution to the conversation hinged entirely on repeating, “That offense just isn’t ready. It’s not close to ready.”

Of course, that assessment figured the spring game struggles were against a porous Irish defense, something freshly-arrived and since-departed defensive coordinator Mike Elko had already taken tangible steps toward fixing, far quicker than expected.

That evaluation also failed to recognize the potential of a running attack led by Josh Adams. Notre Dame knew it had a stalwart running back, and did not need to see more than eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown from the lead back.

The point stood, though. The offense was not ready then or in November.

Driving away from this past Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game, the thought bouncing around my pickup’s two-seat cab was simple: This offense is unlikely to reach its ceiling, but if it did, it would be really, absurdly high-powered.

This time, that assessment offers some deference to first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea’s ability to turn nine returning starters into another strong defense, perhaps superior to last year’s.

The praise of the offense must be hedged thanks to IF after IF after IF after IF. If senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush displays those mechanics and that accuracy against opposing defenses …
If senior running back Dexter Williams (pictured above) decides it is worthwhile to play, and play well, through pain …
If junior receiver Chase Claypool maintains the necessary emotional equilibrium …
If senior tight end Alizé Mack offers a consistent performance, even if not stellar, but stable …

In those four upperclassmen alone, the Irish have unique talents whom opposing defensive coordinators should lose sleep thinking about. They will determine how high this offense’s ceiling is, while the likes of senior receiver Miles Boykin, junior running back Tony Jones and sophomore tight end Cole Kmet will set the floor, along with what looks to be yet another overpowering offensive line (with Kraemer at right guard).

Obviously, the most-promising players always set the height of a vaulted the ceiling. As they perform against Michigan, Stanford and Virginia Tech will determine how the season ends. However, to pinpoint four like this is an extreme end of the spectrum.

Exiting last year’s Blue-Gold Game, it was clear Wimbush needed to learn much more of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme. Aside from that, the only possible ways to increase the offense’s potency was to teach receiver Kevin Stepherson self-discipline and figure out why Mack could not make a gameday impact. The rest was essentially known, even if the running game’s potential was overlooked after the spring exhibition.

Entering this summer, the gap between the offense’s floor and its ceiling is a vast one. To have four question marks of this magnitude speaks to the possible volatility awaiting in the fall. Logically speaking, it is most likely two of the four above IFs become realities. In that case, it will be a good offense, but not the utterly threatening one conceivable. The odds are slim all four come to fruition, but crazier things have happened, especially when discussing the rapid development of 18- to 21-year-olds.

Without Adams following two All-American offensive linemen, this rendition of the Notre Dame offense may take a step backward, but the talent is there for it to actually improve, to carry the day if/when an experienced quarterback picks apart the defense (see: the Seminoles’ Deondre Francois).

That could not be said in 2017.

OTHER QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THE BLUE-GOLD GAME:
Much of this will be discussed in greater length in the coming two weeks, but …
— The interior of the offensive line — fifth-year left guard Alex Bars, fifth-year center Sam Mustipher and Kraemer at right guard — is quite a physically-imposing trio. Some defensive ends may find success against first-year starter and junior left tackle Liam Eichenberg, especially early in the season, but the inside trio should at least create massive holes for the Irish running game.

— Ideally Long can deploy Mack and Kmet together, but the spring performance of the latter certainly eases the concerns about the maturation and consistency of the former.

Notre Dame may need an unexpected influx of production from senior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery if the fifth-year tackle he is intended to line up alongside, Jonathan Bonner, does not recover fully from a wrist injury suffered in the beginning of 2017. (Robert Franklin/South Bend Tribune via AP)

— Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly insists fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner’s fitness will not be overly-effected by the wrist injury that kept him out of most of spring practice and all of the Blue-Gold Game.

“He’s been doing everything (in weight-lifting) but at lighter weight, and now he’s only a couple of weeks away from being full-go,” Kelly said Saturday. “He was already physically really gifted, so we don’t think that’s going to be a big curve for him, and he’ll be able to start training aggressively when we get back here in June.”

Consider this scribe skeptical. Not only is Kelly often overly-optimistic about injury effects and timetables, but to think missing six months of strength and conditioning will not be noticeable along the defensive interior is idealistic at best. Bonner’s 2017 emergence was a direct result of the arrival of strength and conditioning coordinator Matt Balis.

Without more of that work, the Irish will need to turn to sophomore Kurt Hinish for an increase in snaps, perhaps pushing toward 50 per game with Bonner offering 20-30 and senior Micah Dew-Treadway filling in the balance. Hinish appears to be up to the task, which is necessary, because classmate Darnell Ewell is not.

Notre Dame gains commitments of four-star defensive end and three-star offensive tackle

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At this rate, Notre Dame might fill its 2019 recruiting class by the time the school year ends. With a Sunday morning commitment of a consensus four-star defensive end followed by a Monday evening pledge from a consensus three-star offensive tackle, the Irish class has grown from three recruits to seven in just four days.

The No. 238 prospect in the country and No. 28 at defensive end, per rivals.com, Howard Cross III (St. Joseph High School; Montvale, N.J.) announced his commitment via Twitter shortly after leaving campus from a visit for the Blue-Gold Game, choosing the Irish over offers from Michigan, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech, among others.

“I could tell [current Notre Dame players] really loved the school,” Cross said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “It was really, really big to talk to them. When I was going to all the colleges, that was the main thing I wanted to do. I wanted to get the perspective of the players.”

Cross joins consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse H.S.; Texas) as half of the four defensive linemen already in the Irish recruiting class. As always, no collegiate defensive line can be deep enough. Considering the previous two recruiting classes have yielded a total of two defensive ends — Kofi Wardlow and Justin Ademilola — opportunity should be aplenty for Cross and Spears early in their careers.

The defensive end duo will likely spend a not-insignificant portion of their collegiate career practices butting heads with Andrew Kristofic (Pine-Richland; Gibsonia, Pa.). If the high school of Pine-Richland jumps off the figurative page to Notre Dame recruitniks, that is because Kristofic has much experience protecting high school teammate and incoming Irish freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

He chose Notre Dame, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, rather than offers from a lengthy list including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

“The combination that their school is able to provide being one of the very best schools in the entire country academically and one of the very athletically stands out,” Kristofic said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “I think they have the best combination of those two things on top of being a school that is known for being able to produce such great offensive linemen is something that no other schools really have the combination of all those.

“When you can put together all the things that they can there, it’s certainly not something you can overlook or take for granted.”

The beginning of this influx of commitments came with the Friday decision of consensus four-star offensive tackle John Olmstead (St. Joseph; Metuchen, N.J.), the only other offensive lineman in the class to this point. Of the seven recruits committed to the Irish, five are four-star talents.

Former Notre Dame defensive lineman, Kona Schwenke, dies at 25

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Former Notre Dame defensive lineman Kona Schwenke, 25, reportedly died in his sleep Sunday morning. The cause of death has not yet been confirmed.

Schwenke spent four seasons along the Irish defensive front, culminating in a 23-tackle senior season, in 2013. Attrition along the defensive line in his first two seasons forced Schwenke into playing time, costing him a likely fifth-year with much greater production. He played in 31 games total, making 30 tackles.

Part of a Hawaiian surge in Notre Dame recruiting, Schwenke joined the likes of receiver Robby Toma and linebacker Manti Te’o in coming from the island in 2009 and 2010. The first two committed during Charlie Weis’ tenure, but Schwenke made the leap at the very beginning of Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s career, one of the first recruits to commit to Kelly at Notre Dame. Since then, sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has renewed the trend.

Schwenke graduated in 2014 with a degree in anthropology. He then signed with the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, moving around four different NFL franchises chasing his dream. Earlier this month he took part in a scouting event, The Spring League, gaining some notice when he forced Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel into a fumble.

Former Irish teammates took to social media Sunday afternoon celebrating Schwenke’s life and friendship.