Kendall Moore

BYU Mailbag: Questions answered


Let’s get into this week’s mailbag, which featured quite a few good questions (and more than a few answers from you guys).

Let’s get to it:

@jfoneill22: On whose behalf am I cheering for an Irish blowout this weekend? Which unheralded senior has earned a few snaps on Sat?

I don’t know if BYU is the team where the bench is going to empty, as some wise guys see this one as a one-point line pointing the Cougars direction, making the Irish a rare homedog.

That said, if I were to guess a senior that might get a chance to make a few big plays, it’d be Kendall Moore. Against a running quarterback like Taysom Hill, Moore could have some chances to knock heads, and it’s only a matter of time before he knocks a football loose.

domer77blowsgoat: In 2012 with Golson out with a concussion Kelly relied on the run game and the defense to get past BYU, i.e. wasn’t going to put the game in Rees’ hands to lose – why the change in philosophy this year as it has cost us at least 2 games and a shot at the BCS?

I get the angle you’re taking here, but I’m not sure I agree with it. Notre Dame lost to Michigan because they gave up 41 points. Looking at the offense the Wolverines are trotting out there now, that’s just brutal.

Put simply, I don’t think Kelly trusts his defense like he did last year, or his running backs. There’s a reason why the Irish can’t settle on a running back rotation and I tend to think it’s a product of nobody giving the staff exactly what it wants.

That being said, I am very curious to see if the Irish lean on the ground game on Saturday, especially with the weather starting to look like a potential winter wonderland. It certainly makes more sense than having Rees throw 35 times.

@BruceND75: Could it be that much of the problem with playcalling is blowback for Rees’s prolific audibling? What % of plays are audibles?

I think anybody who is willing to tell you a percentage of Rees audibles is lying to you, Bruce. Nobody has any idea how often the Irish check the play at the line of scrimmage, but the offensive system is designed to get the team in and out of bad looks. It’s certainly not something that JUST Tommy Rees does, but Notre Dame will likely go back to a situation that’s more a “call it and haul it” scenario with Everett Golson, who has the ability to keep the football and run it.

Ted Wheeler: If the ACC bowl tie-ins were in effect for this season, where would ND likely end up? How much of an improvement would this be over what’s likely an appearance in the Pinstripe Bowl?

Good question. Next year the Irish will need to be within one win of an ACC team to leapfrog them in the bowl lineup. It’s kind of hard to guess where that’ll be without knowing if the Irish are going to beat BYU and Stanford, but here are the ACC tie-ins as of this year, per’s Stewart Mandel.

Orange Bowl: ACC Champ
Chick-fil-A Bowl: ACC No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl: ACC No. 3
Sun Bowl: ACC No. 4
Belk Bowl: ACC No. 5
Music City Bowl: ACC No. 6
AdvoCare Bowl: ACC No. 7
Military Bowl: ACC No. 8

They’d slot in somewhere in the middle depending, so it isn’t as if the Irish are missing out on that much this year.

Nudeman: Just as a follow up/tag on here … no one is excited about playing a 2nd tier team in a 3rd tier bowl. Keith, is there any chance ND just passes altogether ND stays home? (And yes, I know all the prevailing BS about those 15 practices being so important)

In today’s era of college football, you’d be pretty stupid to turn down the opportunity to develop your team for an additional 10 practices or so. So while traditionalists like Uncle Nudie like the idea of turning down (or turning up the school’s collective nose at) a mediocre bowl, you don’t see coaches volunteer to give up spring practice, do you?

Also — the bowl trip is about more than just the football team, it’s often used to reward school officials and administrators with a few days away from home in a nice locale. That might not happen this year if it turns out being Shreveport or Detroit, but post Christmas in Manhattan doesn’t sound too bad.

irishaggie: Going into this BYU game what have you seen from this 2013 squad that has disappointed you the most in the first 10 games?

Probably the inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. This defense has given up way too many big plays. And offensively, there still isn’t much of an identity. This team hasn’t been able to hang its hat on anything, and that’s been tough.

Obviously, the Pitt loss is as disappointing as it gets. But collectively this team has struggled to get a ton out of its personnel, though I do think a lot of this is injury related (at least defensively).

mediocrebob: What do you know about guys like Hounshell and Springman? Are they healing on time? I know there was talk about Hounshell possibly returning this year. Are they guys the Irish can lean on next year upfront with the departure of Tuitt and Nix?

It sounds like both guys are on track to practice this spring, though BK hinted at an infection slowing down Springmann earlier this fall. There was talk about Hounshell practicing and taking snaps potentially, but that was mostly because of the internal skepticism that he’d be eligible for a sixth year of competition.

Don’t count out Nix or Tuitt just yet, though I do think this is it for Big Lou. But I don’t think it’s outrageous to think that Springmann can fill in capably at nose tackle like Sean Cwynar did and hopefully Jarron Jones does a good job developing.

ndfenian: Keith, I think the injuries to ND’s front seven have been very significant for the 2013 squad. Going into the Pitt game, I counted seven players out for the game, and two playing with significant injuries, and these are all front seven guys that were listed on the preseason two-deep. Are you aware of other programs in recent years that have suffered this amount of injuries to starting players and still had successful (BCS) seasons?

I can’t give you specifics, but I’m certain a rash of injuries happens to other teams, too. (Just not on the team that I follow on a daily basis.) But I don’t think teams just make it to the BCS after losing 11 contributors on defense, and that’s pretty much been what happened to this team.

Injuries stink. But it’s a good reminder of why teams need to build quality depth and why teams don’t give up on guys like Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo or Eilar Hardy.

charlie617: What current player who will be a senior/5th year next year do you project as having the biggest (positive) impact next season?

I’m feeling good about Kendall Moore. I really think he’s going to have to play a lot of football next year and could step in and do a nice job. He reminds me a lot of a guy like Corey Mays.

Mays spent the majority of his first four seasons in South Bend playing special teams before stepping into the starting lineup and having an impressive fifth-year. He parlayed that into a nice run in the NFL. I could see that happening with Moore, too.

newmexicoirish: Keith, now that the season is winding down, do you expect BK to make some coaching changes for next year? If so, which coaches do you think will be updating their resume?

You aren’t the first person to ask this, but I just don’t see it happening. This is the same staff that carried the Irish to the BCS Championship game. While there’s been some disappointing play at positions like safety and maybe quarterback, I hardly think that’s something that needs addressing at the positional ranks.

Also, people have clamored for a special teams coach to be assigned. I don’t think Scott Booker has done a bad job, and if you want to look at one spot that’s really been crushed by injuries, it’s special teams.



How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.