DaVaris Daniels, Ricardo Allen

Mailbag! (Angry villagers and ASU edition)

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Without further ado, this week’s mailbag.

rossumnminor: Keith is this a second chance and sort of a good thing that OU and ASU are very similar across the board? I.e. another week of similar preparation?

Let’s start this off with a football question. Well done, Rossumn! If you’re looking to actually think about Xs and Os and not complain about playcalling, effort, the alma mater, and all the other garbage that bubbles to the top after a two-loss month, this is a great place to start.

There are a ton of similarities between ASU and OU, though I’d give the edge personnel wise to Oklahoma, though Taylor Kelly might be the best quarterback Notre Dame faces all season. That said, both defenses are built around pressure schemes and work from a 3-3-5, and Notre Dame will once again be seeing a lot of man coverage.

(Speaking of that…)

dudeacow: What happened to Daniels? After a phenomenal start he had a horrendous day vs MSU and was a no-show vs the Sooners. Same thing with Niklas. Where has our receiving corps gone?

It’s times like these where we’re reminded that Daniels is still a relative newbie out there, even though he’s in his third year of the program. There’s no doubt the talent is there to be a productive college wide receiver. But Brian Kelly was candid in his assessment of Daniels, who disappeared at times against both Michigan State and Oklahoma, when he said Daniels needed to do the ordinary things better.

As for Niklas, don’t expect to see numbers like the ones Tyler Eifert put up. Niklas is a valuable cog in the Irish blocking scheme, and while Ben Koyack played a much better game last week, Niklas is too big of a body to not spend a good portion of his time blocking in the running game.

blackirish23: Job vacancies at places such as USC always has a domino effect. Any predictions where some of those dominos may fall, and will some of those pieces be from our coaching staff? I.E. Have you started hearing any rumors?

I am curious to see if Mack Brown survives the season at Texas. Deloss Dodds announcing his retirement makes you wonder if he’ll make one last big decision before saying goodbye. But unlike last year, I don’t think anybody’s star is on the rise like it was for Bob Diaco or Chuck Martin.

Could UConn target a guy like Bob Diaco? Maybe. They terminated Paul Pasqualoni in the wake of Kiffin’s firing. Diaco is a native of the northeast, is a young and charismatic guy (as opposed to Pasqualoni, who was a head-scratching hire), so who knows?

But I have a feeling the Irish will be working with the same staff in ’14 as they are this season.

jerseyirish10: Keith, with your recent article, including the analysis, of the empty set with Tommy Rees, why is BK continuing to use this formation? Clearly, Golson had/has the tools to extend those plays because of the threat to run or pass. As the head coach and OC, why aren’t he and Martin tossing this out and sticking to what Tommy can do? Combined with a stronger conviction to the running game, wouldn’t that provide the more balanced offense and focus on everyone’s strengths?

I feel like I answered this question yesterday. I don’t necessarily think the no-back formation should be thrown in the dumpster, but it certainly shouldn’t be one of the Irish’s most utilized formations.

ndlv: I know that Jaylon Smith is a little bit small, but he has the talent to play any of the LB positions. Why not move him inside and replace him on the outside with a safety like Shumate or Redfield (as they used to do with Slaughter)? This would get more speed and talent on the field. Grace, Fox, and Carlo may have the size for the middle, but they clearly don’t have the speed.

On paper, a move like this makes sense. And perhaps it could be a spring adjustment, because life after Louis Nix could be downright scary at the nose tackle position. But just assuming a linebacker like Smith can succeed inside and a safety has the tools to play outside linebacker is risky business. The last time Notre Dame tried something like that, converted running back Travis Thomas tried to play on the edge of the defense at 220-pounds, and Jon Tenuta’s boys looked like a roller derby team out there.

Getting speed on the field makes sense, especially against spread teams that move quickly. But you don’t hear fans calling for Stanford to swap out their big bodies and stout front line because they can’t run as fast as other defenses. Playing the scheme correctly — like Notre Dame did last year — is a big part of the formula.

a. papadec: Will the pessimistic fans ever shut up?
b. dickasman: Will the optimistic fans (shut up)?
c. c4evr: Will all the level headed, logic driven, reasonable people ever contribute?

a. Of course they won’t. You’ve got to blame somebody.
b. I wouldn’t expect it. You’ve got to have faith.
c. Please don’t leave us. It’s already so lonely.

chadwalters425: Why do you think Notre Dame’s fans are quick to sell their tickets against big game opponents (like Oklahoma this year or Nebraska in 2000) while other schools show solidarity and don’t appear to sell tickets to opposing fans in similar games (see SEC or UGA @ Clemson) in significant numbers? Or am I just biased?

You are biased. Unless you watch a whole lot more football than I do, and keep your eye on StubHub or the secondary ticket market on a daily basis, this seems to be one of those prime examples of Notre Dame fans only griping about what’s in front of them.

You realize that Nebraska game was 13 years ago? Wide receiver Corey Robinson was five years old then. That Oklahoma fans paid dearly to buy tickets in the corner of the upper bowl doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anywhere else. (And opponents do get an allotment of tickets to purchase. It would’ve been different if the Crimson was scattered all around the stadium.)

I spent an entire football season on the road in ’08, going to the biggest games of the year all around the country. Every place I went, I saw a large showing from the visiting team. At a place that was treated like the Cathedral of college football for traditionally proud groups like Nebraska and Oklahoma, you have to expect that to happen when come play Notre Dame.

No team had a higher per-ticket price than Notre Dame this season. That’s certainly not driven by just the opposition.

jerseyshorendfan1Do all the idiotic questions here jeopardize the continuation of the mailbag feature?

No way. I kind of like this feature.

upthera44: Is there any update on Greg Bryant’s supposed knee injury?

There probably will be one tonight when Kelly talks with the media. I would hate to think the vigil would be over come October.

nudeman: Why does Brian Kelly perpetrate the myth that “if he turns the ball over, he won’t play”, then keep playing Tommy Rees?

In defense of Rees, this hasn’t been happening on a continuous basis, though I did say that last Saturday was probably the worst game of Rees’ career since the USC game his freshman season. And if you thought Andrew Hendrix looked comfortable back in the pocket running the Irish offense, you saw something different than I did.

I’m working on some things for the Pregame Six Pack that digs a little bit deeper into Rees’s struggles.

@NDEddieMac: Why do ND fans always whine about inconsequential (stuff) during football season?

To make themselves feel better?

Everybody can sound intelligent when they talk about ambiguous things like tradition or making sure the team stays on the field to sing the alma mater. (By far the dumbest “tradition” that’s really not a tradition at all, in my opinion.) But not everybody can talk about the challenges of facing press coverage or linebackers making proper run fits. So it’s just more fun to sound like the old guy that walked uphill to school both ways.

Now get off my lawn!

chadwalters425: Do you think Todd Graham is just renting his place in Arizona and can get out of his lease to go to Los Angeles in the next four months?

I got a good laugh out of this one… Could you imagine?

Five things we learned: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

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The tombstone for Brian Kelly’s seventh football team in South Bend might read:

Here lies Notre Dame. They found ways to lose.

That might lean dramatic, but the Irish are 1-3, a 38-35 defeat at the hands of Duke the latest boondoggle for a team that’s waking up all the wrong echoes. And Kelly’s program—led by a historically bad defense— is plummeting, a free-fall from what seemed like solid ground entering the season.

But that’s what a perfect storm will do. A horrific defense, a schizophrenic offense, poor leadership and a young roster stepping into every trap laid, every banana peel dropped, especially when the chips are on the table.

A week after getting out-classed by Michigan State, Notre Dame faces a much different monster in the mirror.

“I told our guys we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re not going to continue to go in this direction,” Kelly said postgame. “We’ll have to reevaluate what we’re doing, who we are doing it with and how we’re doing it. All of those things.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s defense has infected the entire football team. 

A last-second kneel down was all that kept Duke from crossing 500 yards of offense. But it isn’t enough that the Irish defense is getting decimated by every competent football team that lines up across from them. Their mediocre play has infected the entire team.

That’s what happens when you put pressure on your offense to score every series. That’s what happens when you coach to protect one vulnerability, only to unleash another.

Because it isn’t enough that this defense misses tackles, blows assignments and plays with an alarmingly low IQ. They’ve found a way to infect the offense and the entire coaching philosophy, too.

There’s no need to spend words indicting Brian VanGorder (or Kelly for hiring him) or the position coaches for failing to get the defense in the right position. Kelly made it abundantly clear that any move he makes will likely be postseason, not as some sort of mid-season shuffle.

Because even a back-to-the-basics week did nothing to salvage things. We saw no uptick from working on tackling midweek in mid-September, for preaching the fundamentals; “speed to power” in one ear and out the other, like a Duke player weaving through defenders to daylight.

This defense is toxic and has found a way to derail all three segments of the team, hoisting enough pressure onto DeShone Kizer that it was as much the guys in blue making his afternoon tough as it was David Cutcliffe’s team.

 

Blame coaching all you want, but Brian Kelly is making it clear that he’s holding his players accountable, too. 

Brian Kelly said all the right things about coaching accountability, spitting out the perfunctory cliches—”I’m a 1-3 football coach. We’re all 1-3 football coaches”—through gritted teeth.

But it didn’t take long for Kelly to make his true feelings clear, taking dead aim at the effort and attitude that his team showed Saturday afternoon, making it clear he’ll be looking for a different type of football player to take the field next week.

“Guys that have fire and grit. We had one guy in the entire football team that had emotion and fire. And that was Dexter Williams. He’s the only one. He’s the only one that I saw,” Kelly said after some prodding.

“So if you want to play for me moving forward. I don’t care what your resume said, if you’re a five star, if you had 100 tackles or 80 receptions or 30 touchdown passes, you better have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. We lack it severely.”

After another week where veterans were just as responsible for futility as any rookies, Kelly made it clear that he’s set to make sweeping changes to the team that’ll take the field next weekend in East Rutherford against Syracuse.

“Every position. All 22 of them, will be evaluated. Each and every position,” Kelly said. “There is no position that is untouchable on this football team. That’s the quarterback all the way down.”

 

Notre Dame needs to find an offensive identity, too. Because DeShone Kizer wasn’t close to good enough to bail them out. 

There’s no applauding the 534 yards of offense the Irish put up. Because when push came to shove, the Irish offense failed to score when they had two final chances to win the football game—a troubling trend that’s beginning to emerge.

The ground game struggled. Behind an offensive line that’s still making too many mistakes, Josh Adams, Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams were all held below five yards a carry. Only Kizer found an explosive play on the ground, his 23-yarder the only running gain the Irish had over 20 yards.

Kizer put up some empty statistics as well. He was clearly pressing for much of the second half, even after the momentary boost the offense got from the defense after halftime. Kizer’s fourth quarter was one to forget, just 3 of 7 passing for 45 yards, taking a sack, throwing a mindless interception on 3rd-and-20, and short-circuiting any comeback chance with a poor final drive.

Combine that with some head-scratching reads, a handful of missed touch passes and an inexcusable fumble, and it was a difficult afternoon for the Irish’s star quarterback.

“Below standard,” Kelly said of his quarterback’s play.

 

Once again turnovers, special teams and self-inflicted wounds killed the Irish. 

Want to learn how to throw away momentum? Give up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

With Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara and Nick Coleman all blowing tackles, even a serious injury to return man extraordinaire Devon Edwards didn’t stop backup Shaun Wilson from taking one to the house, flipping the game completely on its head when it looked like the Irish could bury Duke early.

Add in Kizer’s fumble, his fourth-quarter interception (and another one he gift-wrapped that was dropped) and Equanimeous St. Brown getting stripped after a big gain, and it’s a formula the Irish know all too well.

“There’s not a lot of things to point out other than the obvious. Three turnovers, all of them impact the game. Sloppy turnovers. A kickoff return for a touchdown,” Kelly said to open his postgame comments. “And the inability to mount anything consistently throughout the game. Once you feel like you have something going pretty good and then we tend to make a mistake and let teams back in the game.”

That’s certainly what happened Saturday afternoon, with the Irish capable of delivering a knockout punch and instead carrying the Blue Devils off the ropes and right back into the game.

Toss in some of the worst tackling—both attempts and angles—you’ll ever see and you’ve got a recipe for defeat.

 

You need to live and die with the kids. Because this might not be rock bottom. 

Bad news: This could get worse.

Because as Kelly mentioned last week, there are no trades, no waiver wire and no cuts in college football. Sure, you can run Brian VanGorder out of town if you really think that’ll help, but it’s only going to add more instability to a season that’s not close to rock bottom—not with offenses like Syracuse, Stanford, Miami, Virginia Tech, Army, Navy and USC on the schedule.

(No disrespect meant to NC State, I’m sure they’ll find a way to get theirs, too.)

The roster that Kelly himself assembled deserves examination. But that’s the group that needs to get this team out of trouble. And it’s tough to say any amount of hard coaching will allow that to happen.

So live and die with the kids.

Donte Vaughn, welcome to the starting lineup. Julian Love, see you there, too.

Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara can’t be any worse at getting off blocks than Andrew Trumbetti—who plays like a two-gap defensive tackle instead of a guy attempting to rush the passer.

Offensively, pass the baton to Equanimeous St. Brown already—he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver. Give Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson reps at the X if Torii Hunter can’t scare teams downfield. And if Tarean Folston can’t find that next gear, Dexter Williams certainly seems willing to show you his.

Notre Dame’s football program is in a dangerous place, and all are responsible.

Because lost somewhere between the fancy new facilities, the social media partnership with Bleacher Report, and the sports-science and nutrition commitments that treat this program better than most NFL outfits, a simple fundamental got lost in the process–and this football team got soft.

We could’ve seen this coming. Kelly hinted at worries during the spring and summer, especially as he openly had questions about this team’s veteran leadership. Those problems were exposed in August, when one senior leader thought it wise to drag four underclassmen with him on a Cheech and Chong adventure, all while exercising his Second Amendment rights, too.

So match a lack of leadership with mediocre effort and a young roster looking for veteran examples and you can bet that Kelly’s postgame comments for the media were a subdued echo of what he said behind closed doors.

“It looks like it’s hard to play, like we’re pulling teeth. We’re playing football for Notre Dame! It looks like it’s work,” Kelly said, almost exacerbated. “Last I checked they were getting a scholarship to play this game. There’s no fun, there’s no enjoyment, there’s no energy.

“We’ve gotta look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s the way we have to go.”

 

 

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Duke

Josh Adams Nevada
AP
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It’s another Saturday of football at Notre Dame. And if you’re unable to tune in on NBC at 3:30 p.m., or you want more than our afternoon broadcast with Mike Tirico, Doug Flutie and Kathryn Tappen, we’ve got you covered.

 

For the PREGAME SHOW AT 3:00PM ON NBCSN, CLICK HERE.

For the BROADCAST FEED OF NOTRE DAME VS. DUKE, CLICK HERE.

For the BANDS AT HALFTIME, CLICK HERE.

And your POSTGAME COACHES PRESS CONFERENCES, CLICK HERE.

Here’s to a great Saturday, the first one of autumn.

 

Pregame Six Pack: Back to the grind

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Enough has been made about the fate of Brian Kelly’s football team. Now it’s time to play. Because for the young team that takes the field each week, Saturday is an opportunity to improve, a chance to win a football game, and one of 12 Saturdays that serve as a reward for the hard work that goes in all year round.

At 1-2, nothing is served by looking at the big picture. Conversely, it’s Kelly’s job to drill down, making sure his players and coaches understand that the details are what will be critical on this third-straight home weekend.

With the team focusing on the little things, let’s do the same in the Pregame Six Pack. With the Irish and the Blue Devils meeting for the first time since 2007 on Saturday afternoon, let’s focus on six key position groups that will ensure the Irish leave the game at a level 2-2.

 

The defensive backs. Players young and old need to take a step forward. That means Cole Luke needs to rebound from his worst week wearing an Irish uniform and Devin Studstill needs to keep improving. That means the Irish need to hold up not just in pass coverage, but in run fits as well—the focus as much on youngsters as it is on Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian.

Without Max Redfield, Shaun Crawford, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins, this group has no reinforcements other than the youth on the roster. And Kelly sounded fairly clear that with the Irish out of the picture for a big postseason spot, he may be inclined to save Watkins’ year of eligibility and let him forearm heal with time.

“We’re at a point right now where we have to make a decision whether we want to get him in,” Kelly said.  “I would say standing here in front of you right now, based upon my conversation with Dr. Ratigan, he thinks it’s still two more weeks, and if that’s the case, I would lean toward not playing him this year. Not to use up a half-year on him.”

That means Nick Coleman’s going to keep playing. Donte Vaughn will get his chances, too. And it’s up to everybody to step their games up—because this is the group that needs to get the job done.

 

The Offensive Line. The Irish front didn’t have a strong Saturday last weekend. And so you can guess that Harry Hiestand let his unit know this week that those results wouldn’t be good enough.

Expect to see a new attitude this week. That means a commitment to sustaining blocks. It means a diligence in spotting pressures. And it means getting the ground game—and the line of scrimmage—moving.

“It comes down to what we do and that’s the way football is, especially on the offensive side of the ball, it’s executing what you need to do and what your job is,” Mike McGlinchey said this week. “Doing that against a look that is in front of you, that’s the great thing about playing offense, especially offensive line, is a lot of it is in your control. You just have to be able to see what’s happening in front of you and trust the guys next to you to get the job done and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Expects Duke’s defense to challenge Notre Dame’s front with varied looks and a multitude of different pressures. But after struggling against the Spartans, expect a very motivated Irish offensive line to set the tone on Saturday.

 

 

The Pass Rush. Brian Kelly called Duke quarterback Daniel Jones “as good as anyone in the country as far as running their offense.” That’s high praise for a young player just getting started, but it’s likely a credit to a smart quarterback and a very good offensive coaching staff. So as the Irish defense tries to find its footing, expect the Blue Devils staff to see some opportunities after watching three games of tape from Notre Dame’s defense.

But a developing set of receivers and a struggling offensive line should give Notre Dame’s woeful pass rush some opportunities to establish themselves. It should also help protect a secondary that found itself in position to make plays last week, but just didn’t get the job done.

The Blue Devils short passing game has had success. But if Duke tries to extend those throws down the field, the Irish defense better be ready. You can only do so much in the secondary. Against a Duke offensive line that hasn’t been at its best, the Irish front should be able to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback, with veterans like Isaac Rochell or a rookie like Daelin Hayes. The door is open to get a sack or two from a position group that’s been missing in action through the season’s first quarter.

 

Special Teams. Scott Booker’s unit has to want to get that bad taste from their mouth. Jalen Elliott’s penalty took a score off the board. Miles Boykin’s mistake gave the football to the Spartans. And Nicco Fertitta took a stupid penalty, getting himself noticed for all the wrong reasons.

CJ Sanders is due for a bounce back. And Duke’s specialists have been struggling, too. If the Irish want to win this game convincingly, they can dominate the third phase of the football game, helping the defense with field position and setting up the offense with a short field or two.

 

Wide Receivers. I noticed Chase Claypool attacking the football. Notre Dame’s coaching staff did, too. Now it’s time to add the talented freshman to the mix, another downfield weapon who can exploit mismatches and bring a physicality to a unit that already features Equanimeous St. Brown.

Duke’s defense isn’t bad. But they’ll be asked to do a lot, committing bodies to stop the running game and hold up the Blue Devils if the offense can’t get rolling. But for as good as DeShone Kizer has been this season, he’s due a few big plays from the guys catching passes. A season after Will Fuller served as a home run hitter, it’s time for an Irish pass catcher to take a long ball to the house.

 

The Head Coach. Yes, I know this is cheating. The head coach isn’t a position group.

But this is Brian Kelly’s team. That means that he’s ultimately in charge of Brian VanGorder’s besieged defense, the special teams that struggled last week and the offense that went missing for two quarters.

Kelly’s been under the bright lights before. And after seven seasons, a little external heat isn’t anything that’s going to come as a surprise—no matter how successful he’s been turning this program around.

 

“It comes with the territory. I know what the expectations are for the football program at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “When you build expectations you’re going to be criticized. I have no problem with that. I get that. As I said, I’m a 1-2 football coach. If you’re not criticizing a 1-2 football coach, your fan base is pretty soft.”

So it’s up to Kelly to have his team avoid the noise. It’s up to the coaches and players inside the Gug to find the motivation. And it’s up to the team to play with an internal motivation that doesn’t take into account the team’s postseason destination.

The message has been sent, at least if you listen to one of the team’s captains.

“It’s got to be self and team pride,” McGlinchey said this week. “It’s the constant battle to become the best person and player you can be each and every day. And along with that, become the best team we can be every day. That’s the motivation, just become better and do better and continue to work for that, and everything that we do is about.”

The message is clear. Now delivering on it is essential.

Behind the Irish: Gameday traditions

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With Notre Dame ready to welcome Duke to South Bend for a third-straight home weekend, our Behind the Irish feature takes a look at some of the unique home traditions of football Saturdays at Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly and players Nyles Morgan, Josh Adams, Torii Hunter, DeShone Kizer, Isaac Rochell and Mike McGlinchey give us a look at their favorite gameday traditions.