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%

Irish A-to-Z: Quenton Nelson

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)
Getty
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It didn’t take long for Quenton Nelson to establish himself as one of the nation’s premier guards. From day one in the starting lineup, Nelson helped the Irish become one of the country’s dominant offensive lines, a bruising run blocker who showed incredible toughness as he battled through an ankle injury and returned quickly to the lineup after Alex Bars went down.

This spring, Nelson got enough more monstrous. Brian Kelly quipped that Nelson had grown to 346 pounds, though Harry Hiestand tried his best to downplay that size, pegging the number closer to 330.

But you’ll see a slimmer, quicker Nelson this season, his spring and summer spent putting in the work. That should lead to an even better season as the junior is joined by Mike McGlinchey on the left side of Sam Mustipher, perhaps the best guard-tackle combo in America.

 

QUENTON NELSON
6’5″, 325 lbs.
Junior, No. 56, LG

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An elite, national recruit, Nelson was a five-star prospect and Top 30 player. Earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game. Chose Notre Dame early in the process, picking the Irish over Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and just about everybody else.

Made waves on the web as he pulled off 26 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press as a high school senior, more than most offensive line prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 12 games, starting 11 after suffering an ankle injury against Clemson. Finished as Notre Dame’s third-ranked offensive lineman per PFF College’s grading system, behind only Mike McGlinchey and Nick Martin with a +17.7 ranking.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He might have outperformed my expectations.

For as good as Nelson can be, he’s still just a redshirt freshman. To that point, I expect a good season, within reason. That means that he’ll likely struggle against elite defenders, with veteran players capable of using Nelson’s aggression against him, and potentially getting the young guard and his body out of position.

Of course, there’s also a good chance that Nelson is as good as advertised. Because he did spend the spring beating out a talented depth chart, and his natural strength and power are absolutely keys to being a great guard in Hiestand’s blocking scheme.

Some guys are born to be offensive linemen. Nelson looks like one of those guys. The chance to be a four-year starter is a rare one. But Nelson seems to be on that trajectory.

No pressure, kid.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

From five-star prospect to first-round draft pick. That’s the trajectory Nelson is on, even if he will be doing it as a guard not as a tackle, as most expected when he was recruited.

For as good as Nelson is expected to be, he’s still just a second-year player. And he’ll be lining up next to another future first-rounder who has just one season under his belt and is already expected to be among the best in the country.

Nelson is big, nasty, and in exceptional shape entering the season. He’s another sky-is-the-limit prospect, an elite talent who matches that with exceptional mental makeup.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Notre Dame could have two All-Americans lined up next to each other. That’s my bold prediction heading into the season, with both Nelson and McGlinchey earning those honors. In season’s past, we saw the Irish become left-handed in the running game, with Chris Watt and Zack Martin the trusted preference of Brian Kelly in critical running situations. It’s hard to think that won’t be the case in 2016.

Nelson’s strength has turned him into an elite run blocker. Expect to see his game round out this season, with his improved fitness helping bring the physical traits of a tackle into play as well. A special season is possible.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher

Kelly expects to play two quarterbacks in 2016

Duke Ejiofor, DeShone Kizer
AP
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With Notre Dame opening up camp next week, Brian Kelly seems to be opening up to the idea of playing two quarterbacks.

As DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire get set to begin their battle, Notre Dame’s head coach talked about that high-profile job with Jim Rome, giving us an interesting look at his mindset on the eve of the season, while also adding a new tweak to the old adage of having two quarterbacks.

Namely, you need two.

“I think you need two,” Kelly told Rome. “You’re going to need two quarterbacks in college football. You need two and we’ve got two very good ones. My expectation is that we need both of them to play.”

That attitude makes sense when you look back at Kelly’s time in South Bend. From the moment Dayne Crist’s bell was rung against Michigan in Kelly’s first season, Notre Dame’s offense has seemingly been pushed into Plan B each and every season—giving way to Nate Montana, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and eventually Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.

The Irish certainly wouldn’t have won 10 games in 2015 if Kizer wasn’t capable of thriving when he replaced Zaire against Virginia. And Kelly knows that experience has turned the tables on the depth chart as they enter 2016.

“Both of them are capable of winning, we know that. Malik showed that in the way he played against Texas and he’s been in the program for four years,” Kelly said. “But Kizer obviously has got more experience because of the number of games that he played and big games last year.”

While the plan to continue the competition into fall camp hasn’t changed, Kelly seems to have softened on his stance that only one quarterback will be happy. And while you certainly can’t take this as a declaration that a platoon is coming, Kelly acknowledged the need to have both guys ready and involved. And the best way to do that is by getting them on the field.

“It would be great that whoever took the job over played so well that he’s going to be a Heisman contender,” Kelly said. “If that doesn’t happen, I can see both of them eventually playing.”

The balancing act is nothing new for Kelly. He’s managed it in South Bend, as well as in Cincinnati and his two previous stops. While he’s noted the challenges Ohio State had last season trying to make their offense work while utilizing both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, t’s worth pointing out that the Irish coaching staff also spent significant time this offseason huddled with the Buckeyes coaching staff, likely a helpful introduction to the quarterback challenges that even Urban Meyer struggled with.

Kelly knows it won’t be easy finding snaps for both quarterbacks. But he also knows it’s likely better to find your balance when you’re the one dictating terms—not a season-ending injury.

“I think it’s so important to have two quarterbacks, be engaged, keep them involved and as much as they can try to get them in the game if you can,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot more difficult if you can do that. But thats the way it is in college football, with the quarterback being so actively involved in the running game.”

Zaire made it only 19 carries last year when his season ended with a broken ankle. Quarterback runs have ended seasons for Dayne Crist and forced Everett Golson to miss multiple games. But Notre Dame’s offense requires a quarterback who can run the football. And Kelly would rather take his chances playing to that identity than recalibrating how they attack opponents.

“You can’t change your identity week to week, you’ve got to be who you are,” Kelly said. “These two quarterbacks are proven winners. The team knows that.

“I’m not going to have a quarterback controversy. I think we can move forward knowing that both of them are going to play in some fashion.”

***

Listen to Kelly’s full interview with Jim Rome from July 29 below. 

Irish A-to-Z: Sam Mustipher

Sam Mustipher 247
Irish247
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Sam Mustipher established himself as the team’s starting center entering spring practice, the lack of competition probably more striking than the junior winning the job. But Mustipher’s work as Nick Martin’s understudy in 2015 likely allowed him to earn Harry Hiestand’s trust, erasing a position battle many expected to be an open audition.

Another top-line recruit and development project, Mustipher’s a third-year player who’ll help form a nucleus for an offensive line that’s expected to be one of the finest in the nation. But that won’t be possible without a big season from the Maryland native.

 

SAM MUSTIPHER
6’2.5″, 305 lbs.
Junior, No. 53, C

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Mustipher was an Under Armour All-American who picked Notre Dame over a field of elite offers. Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford all wanted him. Hiestand had him locked up by April.

Notre Dame projected him as an interior player from the start, though his transition to center didn’t begin immediately.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Made appearances in nine games, earning mop-up snaps against Texas and UMass at center.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He never had to play any high-leverage snaps, but he certainly proved himself Monday through Friday.

Mustipher might be the most unproven part of Notre Dame’s two-deep, a good sign for the work the Irish have done stocking the depth chart. But if something happens to Martin, we’ll see how ready he is to play, a first-year contributor in the middle of an offensive line that’ll already be starting a first-year player at left guard.

Martin has already battled health issues, a major difference between him and his ironman brother. But Mustipher is likely ready to contribute if he’s the guy tapped to serve as a backup. If not? Expect to see some other bodies shuffle through this fall camp, with candidates including Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin and John Montelus.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Mustipher’s physical attributes won’t bowl you over, but he very quickly earned respect from Brian Kelly last spring, being treated like an established veteran, not a first-year player being asked to replace a high NFL draft pick. Again, that confidence must come from what the staff sees, not what we’ve seen on the playing field.

What they likely see is a student-athlete making it work at Notre Dame as an engineering major, a testament to his smarts. They also see a center cut from the traditional mold, capable of utilizing leverage, moving his feet and aggressively attacking opponents across from him.

Former Bears Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz has spent some time around the Irish, thanks to his relationship with Hiestand. It’s hard not to note the physical similarities, something that I’m sure has helped ease the transition into the starting lineup.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I don’t think Mustipher will be as solid as Martin was last season (a deep-dig into game tape had Martin surging up draft boards before the Texans took him), but expect a strong season. Perhaps the best version of Mustipher is the one you don’t notice. First-year centers who spend a lot of time in the shotgun need to make sure that every play gets started correctly, and from there he can make sure the Irish win the battle at the point of attack. (It sounds remedial, but let’s not take the snap for granted.)

Mustipher’s strength let him win more than his fair share of battles last spring with Daniel Cage, a physical force on the interior. If Mustipher can anchor, play with solid technique and get to the second level, Notre Dame’s running game should continue to surge.

When Tristen Hoge signed with Notre Dame, most thought the high school center had the inside track to multiple seasons starting. That still could happen, but Mustipher might end up the one with three seasons at center, while Hoge battles to be one of the two linemen playing next to him.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan

 

Mailbag Open: Questions before camp

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Football is almost here. Before the Irish arrive at Culver Academies next week, drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.