Prince Shembo

Final thoughts before kickoff

7 Comments

The snow flurries have already started. And they don’t look like they’re going anywhere. Today’s Senior Day should also be a Snow Day, with weather playing a factor from the start. Temperatures will start in the high 20s and continue to drop all afternoon.

Football weather? Frozen tundra weather. It’s a good day to be in the press box.

With that in mind, let’s get to some final thoughts before kickoff.

Can Notre Dame establish the running game? Throwing the football in this weather isn’t ideal. With wind blowing around 20 mph, the wind chill will be close to single digits, making this one of the coldest Saturdays in recent memory at Notre Dame Stadium.

There are about 10 men in the world that can effectively throw the football in this kind of weather. They won’t be in Notre Dame Stadium, and most of them are playing on Sundays. So if the Irish are going to get an offensive attack going, it’ll need to be started on the ground.

This BYU defense isn’t as stout as the one that Notre Dame faced last year. But then again, this running game isn’t as good as last season’s either. This will likely be the X factor for the Irish offensively.

Can Notre Dame slow down BYU’s ground game? This will be the difference in the game. If Notre Dame can keep Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams in check, they’ll have gotten all they need out of the defense to get a W.

How they do that is the big question. Without Louis Nix in the middle, the snaps will likely fall to Kona Schwenke, who isn’t close to 100 percent after a service academy cut block injured his ankle. Then snaps fall to Jarron Jones and Tyler Stockton, two guys that will need to play the games of their lives.

Stopping a running game like this is more a function of eleven guys playing assignment correct football. We’ll see how well coached up Bobby Diaco’s boys are for this one.

Holding onto the football. Ball security is always important on a weather day like this. And with both Taysom Hill and Tommy Rees capable of giving the ball to the other team via air, the team who turns it over the least will likely win this football.

Brian Kelly is still undefeated in games where his team doesn’t commit a turnover. But this will be Tarean Folston’s first football game in cold weather, and that’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Starting fast. Emotions will be high at kickoff. Can Notre Dame parlay that into a quick start? This team hasn’t shown an ability to get out of the gates quickly, but if they can get out front of BYU, they could disrupt the Cougars offensive game plan.

Keeping pace with BYU’s offense. Replicating the speed of BYU’s hurry-up in practice won’t be easy. But the Irish defense needs to get acclimated quickly, or else they could put the offense into a hole that might not be that easy to climb out of on a chilly day like this.

Enjoying the moment. There are so many great stories to keep track of on a Saturday like this. Will this be goodbye to Louis Nix? Stephon Tuitt? Thanking seniors like Zack Martin, TJ Jones, Chris Watt and Prince Shembo for really impressive careers. Honoring guys like Danny Spond, Cam Roberson and Tate Nichols, players who walked away because their bodies couldn’t make it.

This would also be Senior Day for Matt James, the blue-chip offensive lineman that died during a tragic Spring Break accident. He’ll be honored by high school teammate Luke Massa, who’ll be wearing James’ No. 78 as he fulfills his holding duties this afternoon. Sophomore Ronnie Stanley will wear No. 69 instead.

The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen wrote a tremendous profile on Massa and James in today’s paper, revealing quite a bit about the guy Massa has become, even as a knee injury has robbed him of the athleticism he once possessed.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
3 Comments

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

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
13 Comments

Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
17 Comments

Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
22 Comments

Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.