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IBG: Life at halfway and Adios Subway Domer

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Our weekly Irish Blogger Gathering is a little late this week, but I’ve got a good excuse. Or not really a good excuse, but so be it — it’s bye week, people.

That said, I did want to take a brief moment and acknowledge the retirement of noted Notre Dame blogger The Subway Domer. He decided to hang up the keyboard after a great run that lasted almost seven years.

One of the greatest parts of my job is the near daily interaction I have not just with commenters and readers but with the blogging “community” that exists surrounding Notre Dame football. There isn’t a day that goes by — or maybe even an hour — where I’m not checking other peoples blogs, messageboards, Twitter feeds, etc. That very well might be a disease that I’ll one day need to kick, but it’s a really cool group to be a part of, even though as a guy that’s collecting a paycheck to do this, I’m just lucky people want to include me.

In an era where thousands of blogs get started and left for dead after the idea wears off, that Joshua was able to keep the train rolling for so long, and do it in such a unique and funny way, is a testament to how good he is at it. He’ll still be on Twitter, and I hope he’ll still be selling his t-shirts (I plan on wearing my purple faced Brian Kelly T this weekend in Vegas), but the blogosphere will miss him, even if he does bring up a few red flags in language filters all across Corporate America’s I.T. departments.

It was Joshua’s idea to start the IBG and it’ll live on without him. But he’s one of the cool people I got a chance to “know” without meeting, a really large group that I’m happy to call friends, even if my wife does think it’s weird.

Onward to the IBG, where Frank over at UHND.com answered my questions. As usual, here are the other participants in the weekly excitement:

Her Loyal Sons
ND Nation
UHND
Strong and True

As usual, play along in the comments.

1) Who’s your first-half MVP on offense and defense? Rookie of the Year Offensive Defense? 

First half MVP on offense would have to be TJ Jones.  Jones has really stepped into the role of being a #1 receiver for this team and has been huge in Notre Dame’s wins over Temple and Arizona State and had a gutty performance against Michigan after getting banged up early on.  Jones is going to crush his personal bests for catches, yards, and touchdowns and in fact he already has tied his career mark for touchdowns.  It’s scary to think of what Jones may have been able to do this year if he had Everett Golson throwing him the football, but even without Golson, Jones is well on his way to the best season of his career and could easily eclipse the 1,000 yard mark given the level of competition the Irish will face down the stretch outside of Stanford.

Offensive rookie of the year is tough because we’ve seen a couple frosh show flashes of their potential but not much consistency yet.  Tarean Folston, Corey Robinson, and Will Fuller have all made a few plays so far but haven’t been too consistent.  With that in mind, I will go with Steve Elmer here. Elmer’s been a very solid backup in the offensive line rotation and should give Irish fans a lot of hope that the left tackle position will be in very capable hands after Zack Martin moves on the NFL after this year.

Defensively, I’ll go with Louis Nix.  Even though his stats aren’t eye popping and his presence may not be as visible as it was last year, Nix has been doing exactly what he needs to do in this defense – eating up space, occupying blockers, and creating opportunities for plays for his fellow defenders.  With the drop off in production from Stephon Tuitt after his off-season surgery and the big plays the secondary has given up that they didn’t a year ago, Nix’s presence might not be felt as much as it was a year ago, but Big #1 is doing his job very well this year.

Rookie of the year on defense is easy.  Jaylon Smith.  Through the first few weeks Smith showed flashes of his 5-star potential, but against Arizona State it was on full display.  This kid is going to be a big time player for the Irish and is going to make a lot of plays throughout his career.

2) Give me your high-water mark after the first six games? What’s been rock bottom?

Sadly, I think the high water mark might be the first five minutes of the first game of the year against Temple. Notre Dame came storming out of the gates during the first five minutes of the season and it looked like we might finally have a high flying offense on our hands. That ended up not lasting too long unfortunately as the offense has struggled to maintain that level of success since then. Notre Dame hasn’t really had an impressive, start to finish victory where the outcome was never in doubt and has fallen behind quickly most weeks.

Notre Dame’s 4th quarter flurry against Purdue was a lot of fun, but it’s tough to qualify that as a high water mark since it came against a pretty brutal Purdue team and the Irish should have never been in that situation to begin with so it was more a sigh of relief than anything else.

There’s been a few great plays that were exciting at the time, but since the Irish were unable to capitalize on momentum after them, they wouldn’t necessarily qualify as high water marks. I’m thinking of Tuitt’s interception in the endzone against Michigan and George Atkinson’s long touchdown against Oklahoma. Unfortunately Notre Dame never got any closer in those contests than they did at those points though so those moments were pretty short lived.

3) You have a magic potion that improves one specific player on the Irish roster 25%. Who are you using it on and what will that improvement do for the Irish?

My initial reaction to this one was Tommy Rees since I really think this offense is an elite quarterback away from being prolific, but I’m not sure that improving him 25% would turn him into an elite quarterback. Still, if Rees were to just cut down on the mental mistakes and had the arm strength to hit the deep balls that he has consistently under thrown all season – especially in the Arizona State game – this offense would have put up a lot more points this season and the Irish would very likely be 5-1 at worst heading into the bye.

One other name that popped into my head was Stephon Tuitt since I think it’s pretty clear Tuitt is feeling the effects of his off-season surgery and the time he lost in the weight room. He just isn’t the same dominant player that he was a year ago. If he was, this defense would not be giving up points at the rate in which they are right now and the Irish pass rush would not have been one of the worst in the country heading into last week before their 6 sack breakout against the Sun Devils.

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
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A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
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Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
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It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.