Notre Dame v Arizona State

USC Mailbag

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Without further ado, here are some answers to your mailbag questions.

ndcanuck: Is USC more or less dangerous Saturday without Lane Kiffin? And can we get “Crazy Train” banned from the PA for this game? Come on Keith – you’ve got some pull, right?

I think they’re way more dangerous. The worst thing has already happened. The head coach is fired and uncertainty hit them, and… well, things are okay. Last week’s victory was huge from a morale perspective, and while some are laughing at the mess, the Trojans are still 4-2 with a lot they can still accomplish this season.

As for Crazy Train — They BETTER PLAY IT. It now stands as that wonderful inside joke song that I hope keeps a permanent spot in the rotation at Notre Dame Stadium, if only because it empowers this group to laugh at itself.

irishdodger: What strategy do u think Diaco will install to contain Marquise Lee & Nelson Agholor?

I think it’ll be similar to what we’ve seen in the past — a lot of cushion and respect, and a group of defenders flocking to the football. I don’t think Notre Dame wants to get into a football game where they’re needing to cover either of these guys one on one. That’s a losing proposition for any defensive back.

Just because Cody Kessler completed a couple deep shots down the field last week doesn’t mean this team is turning into a vertical passing offense. I expect a ton of playaction, establishing the run game, and some high percentage throws that set up Lee and Agholor to get yards after the catch.

oldestguard: Whats the risk / reward of protecting Malik Zaire’s redshirt considering the ambiguities of who will be available to QB next year ? Does Golson have to re-apply ? When would this re-applicaton process take place ?

You aren’t the first person to ask this, but let’s walk through my logic on why taking Zaire’s redshirt off was always a dumb idea.

a) Assuming that Zaire gave Notre Dame a better chance to win this year was a pretty huge leap. Especially when mono sidelined him for much of the first month.

b) All reports have Everett Golson coming back to school in the winter. Brian Kelly talks with him regularly and he’ll be back in at the semester break and participating in spring football.

c) It’s been a while since I had to read Notre Dame’s honor code or Du Lac, and thankfully I never ran into trouble like this in the classroom, but it’s highly likely that the reapplication process has already taken place and that Golson is cleared to return while on scholarship. From the sounds of it, this has already been discussed with Golson’s family, Kelly, ND administrations, the whole crew.

d) Currently, Golson isn’t taking classes, but training in San Diego. That leads me to believe academically he’ll be fine after sitting this semester out.

e) There’s little chance that Zaire will beat Golson out for the starting job next season, even if he did play some football this year. Would you start his clock now with the understanding that Zaire will likely be the No. 2 guy next season, likely forcing him to waste three of his four years of eligibility not as QB1?

charlie617: Who would you say is the more dangerous receiver this year (or which would you worry about more if you were a defensive coordinator), TJ Jones or Marqise Lee ? Keep in mind, here are their stats through the first half of the season:

Lee – 5 games, 30 catches, 385 yards, 12.8 YPC, 1 touchdown
Jones – 6 games, 33 catches, 481 yards, 14.6 YPC, 4 touchdowns

I think TJ Jones is a fine football player. But let’s compare last year’s stats to help complete this picture:

Lee – 13 games, 118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14.6 YPC, 14 TDs (1 KO return TD)
Jones –  13 games, 50 catches, 649 yards, 13.0 YPC, 4 TDs

Come on, Charlie. I think the answer is pretty easy: Lee. He’s a Heisman level talent and will likely be one of the first receivers picked in the NFL Draft.

jerseyshorendfan1: Keith, I’m having some folks over to watch the game and I always try to do a food theme that loosely relates to the culture of the area where the opponent is from. For example, if we were playing Miami there would be some Cuban sandwiches and Mojitos. BC would get some lobster, New England clam chowder and Sam Adams. Get it? Problem is, I’m stuck on this weeks game. I’m thinking self serve taco bar, some guac and chips and some ice cold Tecate. Or I thought some nice sushi that I order in with some Sapporos. As a SoCal guy, what would scream La La Land to you?

I don’t think you could go wrong with some Pacificos and slow cooked carnitas tacos. Get some corn tortillas, fresh guac, and pico and there you go. (Thank you for reminding me that I’m hungry.) Also –A staple outside the LA Memorial Coliseum is the bacon-wrapped hot dog. Strange but true.

steincj36: With Grace gone, has the 2 deep across the LB changed? Will we see more nickel and dime packages to get more talent on the field?

It did. It got A LOT thinner. Dan Fox will be backed up by Joe Schmidt. Carlo Calabrese will be backed up by Kendall Moore. Michael Deeb is the emergency guy behind them. I expect Fox to be the linebacker that stays on the field in nickel and dime packages instead of Grace.

vicpaul: Hey Keith, pretty sure I heard that we laid new sod from goal-line to goal-line, What’s the deal with that? I know that’s not the turf BK wants in there but I also know that the grass has looked brutal from game one vs Temple. What were they doing all summer in there?

They re-sodded the field over bye week. I don’t think the maintenance crew had an answer for mother nature, but it’s not hard to read between the lines and understand that Brian Kelly wants a new playing surface in Notre Dame Stadium.

If they can’t figure out how to install something like what the Green Bay Packers have or Michigan State, I think they need to put field turf in the stadium, especially with the Irish now the faster team on the field most Saturdays.

(Not to take it easy on the grounds crew, but I know they’ve spent a ton of man hours working on the field, even bringing in George Toma, basically the Godfather of groundskeepers.)

If I had to guess the new repurposing and remodel of the stadium will include a new surface.

irishlee10: I won’t be able to watch the game on tv. Is there anyway I can stream the game on my iPhone?

So glad you asked, Lee. Download the NBC Sports LiveEXTRA app, and that should do it for you.

yllibnosredna: I have the feeling that this game could turn into a 2011 redux editon. It seems similar in a lot of ways: Night Game, loads of hype, tons of promising recruits, Tommy Rees at QB, a supposedly inferior (although dangerous and talented) USC squad.

Give three reasons why ND fans should feel that the outcome will be different from 2011 this Saturday night.

tburke9601: Hey Keith, Is all the doom and gloom gone for the rest of the season if ND wins or are we going to continue to hear about Tommy’s limitations and the bad play calling every week?

I’m bunching these questions together because they seem to go together. It’s not hard to find similarities between this game and the ’11 game. Although Lane Kiffin went on to beat Oregon in Eugene that year, and this year he’ll be watching from his couch in Manhattan Beach.

Big games are what you play for. If you don’t want to play in a game filled with hype, packed with recruits and pressure, you’re at the wrong place.

If Notre Dame wins this game, all of a sudden a back-door BCS run is in the cards. Even with three losses you can make an argument that they’ll still have a shot at a bid. And while I want it to stop, there’s no way we aren’t talking about Tommy Rees the rest of the season.

andy44teg: What would you put the odds at of:
ND blows out USC
USC blows out ND
ND wins a squeaker
USC wins a squeaker

ND blow out: 15%
USC blow out: 5%
ND squeaker: 50%
USC squeaker: 30%

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.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters.