DaVaris Daniels, Ricardo Allen

Mailbag! (Angry villagers and ASU edition)


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?

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await

Chris Swain, Max Redfield

Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”


Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”