Notre Dame v Arizona State

Irish game plan key in Sun Devils upset

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It didn’t take long for the bloom to come off Brian Kelly’s twelve-win regular season. A heavy reliance on the passing game against Michigan, and a disappointing performance against Oklahoma had Irish fans frustrated, critical of everything from Bob Diaco’s defensive game plans to Kelly’s offensive system. The very set of coaches that had Irish fans worried they’d be leaving South Bend for greener pastures were now “the problem” as two September losses struggled to derail the ’13 season before it really got started.

Of course, these aren’t new complaints. Nor are they unique to Kelly. When Bob Davie kept with a running offense, fans clamored to get a quarterback from this generation, someone that could throw the football effectively. When Ty Willingham’s West Coast offense sputtered, people wanted to run playcaller Bill Diedrick out of town. Even Charlie Weis’ decided schematic advantage had people clamoring for a change when the Irish offense turned too finesse.

And while many are looking at the Irish’s 37-34 victory over Arizona State through a lens that only shows the work still needing to be done, it’s a novel exercise to read some of the reviews of Kelly and his staff’s work from the opposite perspective.

Namely Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham, who was incredibly complimentary of the Irish game plan.

“First of all, congratulations to Coach Kelly. They do a great job. Their defensive coordinator and defensive staff did a tremendous job,” Graham said after the game. “I thought that was the difference in the game.”

That’s Bob Diaco for those forgetting, last season’s national assistant coach of the year and a guy that didn’t forget how to coach football over the summer. While the young assistant’s usually somewhat conservative and execution based game plan doesn’t always get him the credit of scheme and pressure based coaches like Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi or the Wolverines’ Greg Mattison, Diaco and his staff put together a vintage ’12 plan and the Irish executed it, tackling well, running to the football, getting to the quarterback, and taking the football away.

We may forget it by the end of the year, but Notre Dame was nearly a touchdown underdog entering the game Saturday night. Reading what our friends over at House of Sparky had to say about the game as they recapped what happened, this particular section is particularly illuminating:

Plain and simple: Notre Dame prepared for Arizona State like no team has prepared for the Sun Devils this season. Stanford had the talent to beat Arizona State and the Cardinal certainly prepared well, but even the Cardinal didn’t out-manuever the Sun Devils for a full four quarters.

Brian Kelly led the Fighting Irish to their best performance of the season because his coaching staff gave its best performance of the season.

The Irish did the things that Brian Kelly promised this week, yet kept consistent with his offensive philosophy. On Saturday, that meant the offensive balance Irish fans have clamored for, with Notre Dame running and throwing at almost a 50-50 balance. But it also meant taking shots down the field with the fade routes that have been a staple of Kelly and Chuck Martin’s philosophy.

“They had a lot of big plays on the fade that we can’t give up in the secondary,” ASU cornerback Osahon Irabor said after the game. “We’ve got to be stout because it’s our job not to give up big plays, and I think we gave up too many of those.”

Even Notre Dame’s big miscue on 3rd and 20 was an outlier, considered the great job the Irish did getting off the field. Here’s what House of Sparky said about the Irish defense’s work on third down.

 Defensively, the Fighting Irish executed best on third down. Notre Dame limited Arizona State to just four conversions on 13 attempts and put pressure on Taylor Kelly all night. The Fighting Irish knew the Sun Devil offensive line has struggled in run-blocking this season, so they didn’t have to do anything special up the middle. Instead of scheming around Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, the Irish let their stars do their own damage and focused on creating havoc with Prince Shembo.

Overall, there are things the Irish will work on over bye week, items we’ll cover this week as we prepare for the second half of the season. But consider this a brief look at how the other side view’s this football team and its coaching staff.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
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Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.