Notre Dame v Arizona State

USC Mailbag


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%

Kelly thinks simplicity might aid offensive production

Notre Dame quarterback Kizer DeShone makes a throw during the Blue-Gold spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
South Bend Tribune via AP

Back to the basics. If there’s a refrain we’ve heard—or one that’s made its way through the echo chamber these past few weeks—it’s that Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are drilling down, looking for any way to pull this team out of their slump.

We saw the changes defensively, a gigantic detour away from the scheme and philosophies of Brian VanGorder. And while that’s helped jump-start the defense, the impact of the move may have hit the offense’s productivity.

Kelly talked about some of those aftereffects this week, the changes on one side of the ball leaking over to the other.

“We’re keeping the points down, but we’re limiting possessions,” Kelly explained. “We went from 15 possessions earlier in the season to this past game we had four possessions in the first half. That’s like playing an option team. We’re going to keep the points down, we’re probably not going to get off the field quite as quick as we did earlier in the season.”

Those lack of opportunities have shown up in the box score. Throw away the game played in hurricane conditions and it’s still clear that the Irish offense didn’t capitalize on their chances against Stanford. And whether it was DeShone Kizer’s interceptions, Malik Zaire’s three short-circuited series or a general lack of running game, Kelly is taking a similar approach with his offense that he did with the opposite side of the ball—though not running anybody out of town.

“We have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively. We’re probably doing a little too much,” Kelly said. “When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature. You can play free, you can play fast.

“I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let’s practice what we’re good at and let’s be better at execution in this kind of game.”

Do what you do, but do it better. It’s an approach that’s worked under Greg Hudson’s direction, with a defense mastering the bare essentials as they try to stop the bleeding. Offensively, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this unit struggle. And while pointing in one direction usually takes the focus off of a multi-faceted problem, cutting down the inventory and letting the Irish talent play fast and loose could be a big help for a group that’s still really young.

“I think there’s an understanding now that we have to figure out what we are doing well and put emphasis on that,” Kizer said. “In the first half of the season there were some specific looks that are more successful than others, and we have to put emphasis on those looks.”

Behind the Irish: Leaders eat last


Leaders eat last. As the 2016 season continues to be a struggle for the Irish, holding firm to leadership mottos like the above is more than just lip service or an empty slogan.

In our latest Behind the Irish feature, several Notre Dame players talk about this season’s slogan and how it helps guide the team as they look to stay united through this stretch run.

And in that corner… The Miami Hurricanes


Sure, the high-wattage match-up might have lost some of its preseason luster. But even with both Notre Dame and Miami entering the weekend limping, bringing the Hurricanes and the Irish together—two of college football’s premier programs with quite a bit of history together—is always a game worth watching.

As the Irish return from an off week healthy and looking to rebound after two-straight losses, Mark Richt’s Miami team poses quite a challenge. Especially as the Hurricanes do what they can to stop a three game slide. They’ve got the ammo to do it, with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya one of the best Notre Dame will face this season and a defense that’s done a 180 under new coordinator Manny Diaz.

To get us ready for a very big weekend, Isaiah Kim-Martinez joins us. A sophomore studying broadcast journalism who also writes for the student-run Hurricane (in circulation since 1929!), Isaiah took time away from his busy schedule to answer some questions from on the ground in Coral Gables.

Hope you enjoy.


This season started with a four-game winning streak and gave way to a three-game losing streak—all ACC opponents. What do you make of the season so far, and how do you evaluate a Hurricanes team that has just one win against a Power Five opponent?

I would say that this season has brought what most fans were expecting – inconsistency. The team is just not quite there yet. This season isn’t a failure, nor is it really a success. There was supposed to be growing pains with a new coach and a new system, and we are seeing it now as the Hurricanes have played tougher opponents.


Before we get to the play on the field specifically, what’s the transition to Mark Richt been like? Getting a tenured head coach with connections to the university looked like a coup from a far. Is that the reaction amongst Canes faithful? What’s surprised you so far through seven games?

The transition has been great. The school and the fans have welcomed him with open arms. There is a general understanding that bringing the U back to national prominence would take some time, even with someone of Richt’s track record. So, Canes faithful is generally being patient with the head coach, understanding that this is a process.

What’s surprised me most has been the ups and downs of the offense. Miami averaged over 40 points through the first four games, and that quickly dropped to under 20 for the next three. I understand that the difficulty of the opponent was higher over the last three weeks, but that is more of a drop off in offensive production than I expected.


When we looked at the 2016 Notre Dame season in August, Brad Kaaya looked like the best quarterback the Irish would face. The junior has a big-time national profile and has nice numbers so far, 12 TDs, 5 INTs, completing almost 62 percent of his throws. Evaluate Kaaya’s junior season.

Kaaya has played well, but has clearly not met the expectations that most fans had set for him prior to the season. The numbers look fine on paper, but what is misleading about stats is that they don’t tell you when the touchdowns and interceptions happened. In the biggest games of the season, Kaaya’s touchdowns have mainly come with the team being down, which to me, negates some of the luster of them. Many of the touchdowns have not been that impactful. Kaaya hasn’t buried any team over the past few weeks with a series of plays he has made. He has also already thrown more interceptions this season than he had thrown all of last season.

That being said, it is not all his fault. The offensive line has not been good, so Kaaya has not had the adequate time to consistently throw in the pocket. It seems that part of the reason for the struggle has been the adjustment to the new system and the play-calling of a new coach, which is perfectly understandable. Once again, it is not all on Kaaya, however I do not believe he has taken a legitimate step forward to this point in the season. He has been good, just not great.


Defensively, Manny Diaz has done a stellar job, the Hurricanes defense taking a huge step forward from 2015. What’s the strength of the unit? And how will they attack an Irish offense that looks in a bit of a slump?

The strength of the unit, especially early on, has been the defensive line. It is getting pressure to the quarterback. I expect the team to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, thus forcing him to make errors.


On the other side of the ball, Kaaya’s struggled with protection and the ground game isn’t necessarily putting up great numbers. What are the keys for the Hurricane offense, especially with Notre Dame finding its footing on the defensive side of the ball?

The key is the offensive line giving Kaaya the time he needs in the pocket to be effective, and making holes for running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby to rush in between the tackles, which they have not been able to do effectively since before playing Florida State.


This is a rivalry with some history, though not many games against each other. Neither team is playing particularly good football, but it still was a game Irish fans circled on the schedule. How big of a game is this for the Hurricanes and their fans?

Indeed, it can be agreed upon that both teams expected to be in better situations come this matchup, so the implications are quite different. However, this is a huge game for the moral of the Hurricanes’ team and fans. Miami may have lost three straight games, but all the losses have come to opponents with records over .500. UM as a whole is being patient with the program, but I doubt there will be much tolerance if the Canes lose to a team that is currently 2-5.


Any prediction on how this game goes? Any keys that’ll determine a victor in your mind?

The Hurricanes defense is dealing with the injury bug, but I expect it to come out with a vengeance after allowing Virginia Tech to drop 37 points on it. The defense will hold the Fighting Irish to fewer than 25 points, and the Canes run game will finally see some day light and have a big day.

Keys to the game:

· Establish offensive presence early (strike first blood)

· No big plays allowed on defense

· Offensive line must play strong

Score Prediction: Miami 31 – Notre Dame 21

Kelly stays in the moment

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Coming off a bye week, you could excuse Brian Kelly if he started looking ahead. To his impending hire at defensive coordinator, or his shifting focus to a recruiting class that suffered its first defection since Blake Barnett bolted for Alabama.

But the seventh-year head coach has his hands full fixing his current predicament, leaving any planning beyond Miami to the weeks after the regular season.

“My time is spent on the present right now. I don’t look too far ahead,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I’ve stayed with very similar thoughts about not mortgaging the future, not dwelling too much on the past, but living in the present right now.”

That commitment to right now hasn’t translated into wins yet. But it’s the best way to beat Miami, a talented football team with what might be the best quarterback the Irish will face, coming in on a three-game losing streak.

So while Irish fans wonder how this team will find a way to straighten out and win four of their next five to qualify for a bowl game, Kelly talked about the internal motivation this team has, playing for each other more than any postseason bonus.

“All these kids, they come to Notre Dame because they want to be challenged,” Kelly said. “They have incredible intrinsic motivation every day to get up, to go to class, to want to succeed. It’s why they come here. There’s an immense amount of pride. They want to freakin’ win. They want to win. They really don’t care whether they get a Visa gift card in the bowl game.

“They want to practice more. They want to be with their teammates. They want to be with their guys. They want to win football games. They want to be successful in the classroom. They want to be successful on the football field. That’s why they came here. That’s why I’m here. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we do every day, is think about how we can be more successful.”