USC vs Notre Dame

Kiffin’s firing and ASU’s offense both impact Notre Dame

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As Arizona State piled up a remarkable six second half touchdowns, two realizations quickly came to mind last night: The Sun Devils offense looks mighty tough. And it was going to be a really difficult week for Lane Kiffin.

First let’s get to the juicy stuff. Kiffin was fired late last night after the team’s charter returned to Los Angeles from Tempe. The Los Angeles Daily News’ Scott Wolf reported that Kiffin was pulled off the team bus, where Pat Haden delivered the news as the team returned to campus without him. (Haden’s move feels right out of a movie, and certainly puts Jack Swarbrick’s sideline cancelation letter delivery to shame.)

In the short term, it’s hard to think USC’s team will be anything more than a mess. Haden will address the media today and is expected to name defensive coordinator Ed Orgeron interim head coach. Probably more damaging to the team’s short-term future is the status of Biletnikoff winner and All-American wide receiver Marqise Lee, who suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter while returning a punt down four touchdowns. Some are reporting that the injury isn’t as severe as some may have expected, but with three weeks until the Trojans come to South Bend, they may be without their best offensive weapon.

Where does Haden turn as he looks for a new head coach? CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman looked at some names with connections to the program (Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, Denver Broncos DC Jack Del Rio), and some not (Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, 49ers OC Greg Roman). Kiffin’s dismissal was likely done now to prevent an uprising among an already fickle fanbase as well as to get a leg up on other top programs that might have a job opening coming.

Make no mistake, the job is still one of the jewels of college football. A new $70 million football building, recruiting sanctions that are nearing an end, and a fertile recruiting base and program steeped in history. The long-term decision was an easy one for Pat Haden and might make things tougher for the Irish in their most important rivalry. But in the short-term, the Irish may have caught the kind of break they desperately needed.

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On to the team that put the final nail in Kiffin’s coffin. Todd Graham‘s Arizona State Sun Devils rallied after getting trounced by Stanford last week, piling up over 600 yards against a Trojan defense that until last night had looked very good. If there was any worry that the mood in the Gug would be subdued after the self-inflicted loss to Oklahoma, one only needs to throw in the tape of ASU’s offense scoring a ridiculous six touchdowns in the second half to knock the pout out of the Irish.

Graham seems to have the Irish’s number. He beat Notre Dame while at Tulsa then nearly did it again at Pitt, where he hung tough in a 15-12 loss. He jumped at the job to move west, and he’s putting together the type of elite offense many thought he would. Quarterback Taylor Kelly might be the best one the Irish face this year, gouging the Trojans for 351 yards by air and averaging almost 20 yards per carry. Skill players offer personnel challenges that have started to look a little bit more obvious as the season wears on.

In a Shamrock Series game known mostly for a neutral site and an alternate uniform, Notre Dame’s season will be at a distinct crossroad. Get through Graham’s Sun Devils, and the Irish enter bye week at 4-2, with a USC team that could still be reeling. But a loss on Saturday will push Notre Dame back to .500, a place may hoped they wouldn’t ever see again.

The story lines continue to multiple as this crazy college football season rolls into October.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”