Notre Dame v Air Force

Spring Practice: Practice 11 breakdown


A little Friday practice video gives us a good look at the rapidly improving wide receiver depth chart. After relying almost solely on TJ Jones last season, it looks like the Irish are going to be able to spread the field and pick their poison in the passing game.

Will Fuller looks ready to take a step forward. So does Corey Robinson, who just keeps getting better and better, with hands that look like Velcro. Amir Carlisle and CJ Prosise are intriuging options in the slot, while Chris Brown is another good option on the edge, a player that’ll have to fight for reps when DaVaris Daniels returns to the program.

The move of Onwualu likely confirms the confidence the Irish have in the players out wide. And while they’ll need to fill a really large vacancy left behind by Jones, the team’s MVP last season, it looks like they’ll be able to do it.



0:15Jack Nolan sporting a nice zip up for his intro. Just as important, he reveals that the Irish did indeed get outside for two practices last week. For a team committed to fixing their special teams, it’s likely that both outdoor sessions gave Kyle Brindza and the return men (could that be a potential band name?) a chance at getting some much needed live work in.

Jack gives us the bad news that we’re out of practice reports, so we’re going to be blind until next weekend’s Blue-Gold game.

0:34 — A nice reminder: Set your DVR for Monday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m. ET for a special “Strong and True,” an inside look at spring practice on the NBC Sports Network.

0:46 — Welcome back, Nick Martin. The Irish’s starting center broke down the team for drills on Friday, wearing a helmet and jersey, but not in full gear. Multiple practice reports had Martin running the No. 1 offense when the team went to tempo drills, a nice sign that the rising senior is back and healthy after late season knee surgery.

1:03 — We see the Irish pass rush drills work on stripping the football, with tackling dummies armed with footballs. It’s noteworthy that defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs are all doing the tackling.

1:12 — That’s a good look at Everett Golson‘s fastball, as we go right over his shoulder as he throws a bullet to Corey Robinson on the curl route. Malik Zaire follows it up with a perfect ball to Greg Bryant, who releases late out of the backfield and crosses the imaginary linebackers.

1:19 — A cool drill to enforce staying low has Anthony Rabasa (56) matching up against tight end Durham Smythe (80) in blocking drills.

1:24 — Welcome back, Devin Butler. The rising sophomore cornerback was working out with the Irish in helmet and jersey. Butler took to social media to express his pleasure in getting back on the field three months removed from surgery, something that I’m sure made Brian Kelly happy.

1:28 — After watching (and rewatching) these videos all spring, there’s a distinctly different look to CJ Prosise than the other receivers on this roster. Physically, Prosise is a gigantic guy, with a lower body that looks like it should be on a linebacker.

He does a nice job running a speed out, though juggles the ball before coming up with it.

1:32 — Golson fires downfield to Corey Robinson and Cole Luke is up to the task, breaking up a vertical route.

1:36 — Now THAT’S the Amir Carlisle I thought the Irish were getting. The slot receiver looks mighty dangerous in the open field, cutting back against the grain against the reserve Irish secondary and getting loose.

Carlisle is a high character, highly skilled athlete. He might not be a true tailback, but there’s room in this offense for his skill set, especially as the Irish transition back to a speed/spread attack.

1:44 — If we were making Steve Elmer highlights this spring, not too many reps would take place against Sheldon Day. Day gets inside Elmer’s length and powers the guard back, all but dominating another rep.

Day could catch a lot of teams by surprise next season, wreaking havoc on the inside of the offensive line as he’s allowed to attack up field.

1:46 — Welcome to the party, James Onwualu (17). The converted wide receiver steps into the hole and lays a good stick on Greg Bryant, joined in the backfield by Michael Deeb.

1:48Mike Heuerman (9) breaks an out route off right in front of Elijah Shumate (22). Then Amir Carlisle does the same in front of Eilar Hardy.

1:53 — Good rep by Chase Hounshell (50), who works against Mike McGlinchey before being passed inside to Conor Hanratty. If you’re an Irish fan, you should be rooting for Hounshell, who has had horrendous luck as he’s had to work his way back from multiple shoulder surgeries that have kept him off the field for the better part of three seasons.

1:56 — McGlinchey kicks Ishaq Williams outside, easily deflecting the Irish’s defensive end.

1:57Chris Brown (2) hits the brakes and shakes off Connor Cavalaris before ripping down field on the deep route. You’re going to need some good protection to hit on that throw, but it’s a home run shot that Irish fans have been looking for from Brown since he did it against Oklahoma.

2:04 — On the roll, Zaire throws a perfect deep ball to Will Fuller (7) down the sidelines, connecting for a big play against the back-ups in the secondary.

2:07 — That rush of air you just heard? That was Ben Koyack (18) blowing by Nicky Baratti (29). If Koyack is given the chance to match up with a safety down field, Kelly and Mike Denbrock will like that opportunity.

2:10 — Speaking of open field, getting the ball to Greg Bryant down field might not be safe for Irish fans battling high blood pressure. Bryant eliminates space between him and Eilar Hardy, breaking off his route as Hardy bails out and makes an easy catch.

I’m having a hard time wondering how a defense can defend that play, and think (or hope) this could finally be the year where we see the Irish offense utilize their speed out of the backfield in the passing game.

2:16 — Not hard to see the difference between Cam McDaniel and Bryant. Matthias Farley stays in his backpedal before breaking nicely on the ball, making a great play for an interception.

2:22 — Robinson hits the brakes and makes a nice catch in front of Jalen Brown (21). The senior cornerback could see the field more with Rashad Kinlaw’s dismissal.

2:27Romeo Okwara drops the BOOM! on Hunter Bivin (70). It’s still really weird seeing anybody else wearing Zack Martin’s number, especially in a collision like that.

That’s an impressive rep by Okwara.

2:31 — That’s the Playstation 3 version of Greg Bryant. Wait, that’s the REAL version of Greg Bryant. Great cut and ability to accelerate and get up field. That one looked like it could’ve gone the distance.

2:34 — He might not have all the size in the world, but Justin Utupo (53) is a disruptive player. He might be able to do some damage on the interior of the defensive line, especially taking limited snaps.

2:37 — That’s a lot of power on display by Jarron Jones, pushing Mark Harrell back into the imaginary quarterback.

2:40Isaac Rochell (90) gets underneath John Montelus (60) and pushes the big guard backwards. That’s a solid rep by Rochell, who could play a lot of football this season.

2:43 — Great catch, Chris Brown.

2:46Tarean Folston (25) shakes and bakes Max Redfield (10) split out wide. Folston looks pretty natural split wide as well.

2:50 — One of our first looks at Andrew Trumbetti (98), going up against starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Not bad, kid.

2:56 — Zaire connects with Brown behind linebacker Michael Deeb and beneath the safeties. A nice downfield gain for the offense.

3:00 — Another look at Colin McGovern (62) another good looking rep. He loses his balance a little late against Anthony Rabasa, but recovers nicely.

3:03 — That’s a pattern we haven’t seen too often by Will Fuller. From the looks of it, Josh Atkinson hadn’t either. Nice move to shake open for the easy catch.

3:07 — That’s more like it, Steve Elmer.

3:12 — Even a jersey grab can’t help Jalen Brown against Corey Robinson, who makes a ridiculous circus catch for a big gainer.

Big Bird is going to be a good one.





Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await

Chris Swain, Max Redfield

Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”


Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”