Tarean Folston

Final thoughts before kickoff

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With the Irish getting acclimated to life above 6,000 feet, let’s run through some final thoughts before Notre Dame takes the field against Air Force.

Notre Dame needs to contain the option. About as basic as it gets, but worth stating. It looks like Air Force will go with Karson Roberts at quarterback, who was cleared to practice this week after a concussion. The quarterback position has been a mess for the Falcons with injuries and personnel losses making things really inconsistent.

But Roberts is a capable option trigger man and the Irish will need to play their responsibilities correctly and dominate the point of attack along the front line, forcing the ball outside where the Irish speed can slow down Air Force.

Stopping the option is great, but giving up the deep ball over the top is fatal. If you want to be worried about something, keep an eye on the safety play by the Irish. Austin Collinsworth and Matthias Farley haven’t been standouts, but will need to play disciplined this afternoon, keeping their eyes out of the backfield and not letting a receiver sneak out over the top.

It sounds like Elijah Shumate is going to give it a try after a good week of recovering from a hamstring injury, but it’ll likely be Farley and Collinsworth taking the lions share of snaps. The entire secondary needs to do their jobs, making sure they don’t get lulled into complacency before a pass or trick play goes over the top.

Expect Air Force to have some success moving the chains with the option. That’s something Kelly and Bob Diaco are fine with. But getting beat for big plays just can’t happen if this defense wants to have the success it’s established the past few weeks.

 

Run the football. The Air Force defensive front is overmatched. The Irish need to establish the run and take control of the game at the line of scrimmage, putting together a performance similar to the one we saw last season against Navy or Miami, when the Irish offensive line dominated and helped the Irish run away with the game.

Pass efficiently. If you’re looking for a team to get your completion percentage up against, Air Force looks to be it. The Falcons defense has been really, really easy to complete passes on. Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton completed 80 percent of his throws. Boise State’s Joe Southwick completed 27 of 29 throws. Wyoming’s Brett Smith hit on 35 of 41. The average quarterback rating of those three was almost 96 (with ESPN’s new efficiency measure maxing out at 100).

It’s a great opportunity for Tommy Rees to take advantage of his targets and establish some rhythm, perhaps building some confidence with younger receivers like Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, Chris Brown and James Onwualu.

Be Dominant. Notre Dame hasn’t been all that good playing as a favorite. But as the calendar gets set to turn to November, this team needs to hit its stride. Get out of the gates quickly. Score touchdowns in the red zone. Get off the field on defense. Let your depth get experience.

Brian Kelly has a ton of respect for Troy Calhoun and this Air Force team. But that doesn’t mean this game needs to be close.

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.

 

Postseason Mailbag: Now Open

SAN ANTONIO, TX - NOVEMBER 12: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field before the start of their game against Army in a NCAA college football game at the Alamodome on November 12, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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It’s been too long. Let’s talk about the season, the decisions ahead and where Notre Dame stands after its nightmare of a 2016 season.

Drop your questions on Twitter @KeithArnold or in the comments below.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing my recap on the USC game and where Notre Dame’s goes now that the season is over, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, with Newsweek’s John Walters. 

 

Report: Zaire set to depart with graduate transfer

Malik Zaire
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The wheels are in motion for Malik Zaire‘s exit from Notre Dame. What felt like an inevitability after Zaire lost out to DeShone Kizer after the Texas game is now a reality, as the Ohio native is expected to receive his release tomorrow, according to a report from Pete Sampson at Irish Illustrated.

Sampson identified four programs as potential landing spots for Zaire: Florida, Pitt, Michigan State and Wisconsin, Power Five programs that all had better seasons (minus the Spartans) than Notre Dame. All have uncertainty atop their quarterback depth chart, though none look like guaranteed jobs.

With Notre Dame out of a bowl, Zaire can get a jump start on looking around, capable of taking visits and finding a home after the semester. That would let him join a program in time for spring drills, where he’d compete and be able to play out his final year of eligibility.

When Zaire leaves he’ll join a line of recent quarterbacks to finish their eligibility elsewhere. Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix, Gunner Kiel and Everett Golson all either played or were recruited by Brian Kelly and finished their careers elsewhere. That could leave a scenario—one many predict—where the top-two on Notre Dame’s depth chart depart, Kizer to the NFL and Zaire elsewhere, turning the keys over to Brandon Wimbush who redshirted this season.

Tillery apologizes for actions during USC game

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Sophomore Jerry Tillery issued an apology for two controversial incidents against USC. Notre Dame’s defensive tackle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a referee caught him stepping on Zach Banner‘s ankle. Cameras also spotted him intentionally hitting Aca’Cedric Ware‘s head after the Trojan running back was injured after a collision with Nicco Fertitta.

Tillery wrote on Twitter:

“I want to take full responsibility for my actions on Saturday. I am truly sorry. I acted in a way that was out of character for me. What I displayed in those two instances were completely unbecoming and not indicative of the kind of player or person I am. My actions in those two instances do not represent what my family or Notre Dame has molded me to be. I want to especially apologize to Aca’Cedric, Zach, their families and anyone else affected by what I did. I assure you I will learn and grow from this moment and become a better man because of it.”

While the backlash on social media has been harsh, USC head coach Clay Helton downplayed it.

“It was a poor decision by a young person. I know it’s not Notre Dame football and I know that’s not Brian Kelly,” Helton said. “He’s been a class act the whole way and I know he’ll address it with his player and handle it in a way that he sees fit. I have always found Brian to be a man of class and integrity.”

Ware himself responded via Twitter, doing his best to put the incident to rest.

Kelly stated after the game that he’d review the incidents, both plays Kelly didn’t see happen live. With the season over, Tillery’s discipline will be handled internally.