Notre Dame v Michigan

Spring Preview: Michigan Wolverines

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September 6, 2014. Mark the date in your calendar.

Notre Dame’s last shot at vengeance against Michigan, the foil to the Irish over the last handful of seasons, with almost every loss being more painful than the next. Because just as the modern “kinda rivalry” escalates in hatred, it will take a break.

Athletic directors Jack Swarbrick and Dave Brandon couldn’t find common ground to continue the series, so it’ll take a break until at least 2020, far too long for football fans getting used to seeing these two programs duke it out in early September.

While Brady Hoke and the Wolverines have had Notre Dame’s number in early September, they’ve struggled once the calendar hit October. After winning 11 games in his first season in Ann Arbor, Hoke has stumbled in his next two seasons, losing 11 games the last two years. He’s made changes on his coaching staff, letting go of veteran offensive coordinator Al Borges this offseason, though he’s still got question marks all across his program.

To get us up to speed on the Michigan program, Adam Biggers from Maize N Brew was kind enough to give us a spring update. In an offseason of critical importance to the Wolverines, Biggers gives us a really interesting look at a program that appears close to a tipping point.

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After winning 11 games in his first season, Brady Hoke has put together disappointing back-to-back seasons in Ann Arbor. He made a big change in the offseason firing Al Borges and bringing in Doug Nussmeier.

Can you give Notre Dame fans a “Hot Seat” check? Is it possible Hoke gets fired after this season? 

This season is without question a make-or-break year for Hoke. Some have viewed Nussmeier’s hiring as Plan B—should things go south for Hoke, who probably has to win at least eight or nine games, including a win over a rival (ND, MSU, OSU), to save his job.

Hoke’s a likable guy who treats his players well, according to what I’ve seen and heard. But Rich Rodriguez was a nice guy, too. Wins matter. But so does development. If the team doesn’t mature—particularly the O-line—and fails to notch victories over quality competition, then we could easily see Hoke depart. Michigan fans are getting restless.

Doug Nussmeier’s hiring was one of the biggest splashes of the offseason, though some reports had him leaving Alabama regardless. What’s expected out of Nussmeier? Is this Hoke doubling down on the power football that he promised to bring with him to Ann Arbor?

Honestly, I think the hiring of Nussmeier was a bit premature—but it was necessary. Al Borges (OC) couldn’t get a hold on the running backs, and an awful O-line didn’t make things easier. Really, it’s a wonder that Darrell Funk (OL) didn’t lose his job before Borges got canned. But that’s how it goes. Dave Brandon, the AD, and Hoke needed someone who’d bring the familiar smash-mouth attitude.

Nussmeier proved himself at Alabama and, believe it or not, has similar talent to work with in Ann Arbor. Unrealistic, maybe, but Nussmeier is expected to get this show on the road TODAY. Blame his past success for that. He can’t fall into the “youth” excuses, which have been quite common with Hoke. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are too talented to rot in a dreadful backfield. Nussmeier won’t let that happen.

It’s tough for Nussmeier to do anything without his quarterback situation figured out. Is this Devin Gardner’s job still? Is Shane Morris a viable option? Was it an open competition during spring practice?

Gardner is competitor and intelligent student of the game. But he’s far from ideal for Nussmeier’s system. He’ll get his shot, but don’t count on his senior status being enough to cement the job. Morris could easily press for the role. That being said, it’s obviously Gardner’s job to lose. The future seems bright for Wolverines quarterbacks. Michigan and Gardner are probably hoping the “future” is next year. Morris got the nod in the BWW Bowl, but that’s been about it. After him, it’s Wilton Speight, a true frosh, and Russell Bellomy…

The offensive line will need to replace Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. The running game was a mess last season. What’s going to make it improve?

Well, that’s the big question. Any suggestions on your end?!

Erik Magnuson generated a little buzz prior to injuring his shoulder—he actually played with a bad shoulder for the latter half of 2013. He’s expected to make a full recovery and compete for the LT position. He’ll probably win it, but Mason Cole, a true freshman, may push for the job. At the very least, he’d serve as a quality No. 2. As for Schofield at RT, the Wolverines have a few (hopefully) interchangeable parts: David Dawson, Logan Tuley-Tillman, Ben Braden, Ben Pliska, Kyle Bosch and a few others. I’m expecting a carousel this fall.

Improvement will come as continuity develops. I know it sounds cliche, but I these guys have to genuinely like each other in order to put their bodies on the line each week (during games and practice). I don’t believe everyone was on the same page in 2013, especially the O-line.

What’s Greg Mattison working with this season? He loses a few key pieces on his defensive line and in the secondary, but returns a lot of talent as well. Is this a group that’s expected to anchor the team?

If Jabrill Peppers is as-advertised, the Wolverines secondary will get a huge boost—and it’s already pretty solid without the 5-star super recruit.

The defensive backs will most certainly anchor Mattison’s defense, which has great depth at linebacker—and Jake Ryan making his return from an ACL injury—and two possible stars up front: Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry. And then there’s always Brennen Beyer, who can play DE and OLB. Michigan’s defense was ranked No. 13 in total defense this past season (yeah, I couldn’t believe it either–but it’s true!)

Just how crazy do you think this year’s Notre Dame-Michigan game will be? After holding court and winning both night home games in Ann Arbor, both teams will get a very big test in the season’s second weekend. Does this one mean more considering the indefinite break in the series after this year?

This one is megalithic!

The end. Over. Done with. For college football’s sake, these guys need to iron out a deal and keep this seasonal rivalry intact. Saturdays aren’t Saturdays if you can’t watch Notre Dame vs. Michigan. I’m hoping that this game excites the powers that be to the point where they immediately announce the Irish and Wolverines will play FOREVER.

Jokes aside, this game is important, historical and a bit sad. Let’s hope it’s not the last.

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For more coverage on the Wolverines, check out Maize and Brew and give Adam a follow on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.