Fighting Irish quarterback Golson brings the first team offense together during a practice session in Davie, Florida

Setting the bar: Expectations for the 2014 Irish

93 Comments

When Brian Kelly leads Notre Dame out of the tunnel to open the 2014 season on Saturday afternoon, he’ll be leading his youngest and most inexperienced team into battle on the new artificial surface of Notre Dame Stadium. He’ll also be short three key starters, still left in limbo as an academic investigation and Honor Code ruling continues.

While the academic probe has throw the past few weeks out of sorts, the only constant at Notre Dame seems to be distractions. In addition to the unknowns that surround DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore, the Irish coaching staff also had to work through the cancer diagnosis of offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy. Weighty issues that play both on and off the field.

But even with a defense that’s filled with question marks and youth, the Irish are expected to be one of the better teams in college football. Facing a schedule that Kelly called the toughest in the country last week, entering his fifth season with the Irish, Kelly didn’t hesitate to talk up the lofty expectations that he and his team hold.

“Expectations haven’t changed. They can’t change,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a conference championship to play for, so we only have one goal in mind, and that is to get in the playoffs. That’s our only focus, to be one of those four teams to get in the playoffs.”

As the Irish continue final preparations for Rice (not to mention a must-win game against Michigan on the horizon), let’s take a look at where we should set the bar for the 2014 season.

 

OFFENSE

For Everett Golson, the suspension of four teammates has somehow taken the spotlight off the returning quarterback, finally back on the football field after his own highly publicized academic indiscretion cost him the 2013 season. But Golson did all that was asked of him, returned to campus in the winter and reclaimed the starting quarterback job.

Golson will be piloting an offense that’s far more complex than the one he capably steered in 2012. Likely asked to move quickly and to score points by the bushel, even without Daniels as his No. 1 receiver, the Irish have weapons, though they won’t be optimized without Golson leading the charge.

 

***

***

The maturity Golson talks about in his interview with Doug Flutie has been echoed by Kelly, Denbrock and new quarterback coach Matt LaFleur. And his role as a leader on this offense will be accentuated as he leads a young group of talented skill players into action.

Junior Chris Brown is the closest thing the receiving corps has to a veteran. Senior tight end Ben Koyack is a starter because Troy Niklas decided to head to the NFL. Sophomores Corey Robinson and Will Fuller will be asked to step up. Senior running back Cam McDaniel will lead a position group that’s likely going to be powered by sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.

Up front, the offensive line has come into focus, with Harry Hiestand and Kelly deciding on veteran Matt Hegarty to move into the starting lineup in front of sophomore and first-year contributor Mike McGlinchey. Hegarty taking over at left guard solidifies the tackles, with Ronnie Stanley and Steve Elmer starting. A veteran interior with senior Nick Martin surrounded by Hegarty and fifth-year grad student Christian Lombard should help power the ground game.

The offense Notre Dame fans expected to see once they brought in Kelly has not existed. The Irish have had a Top 50 offense only once in Kelly’s four seasons, ranking No. 49 in scoring offense in 2011, a year where turnovers decimated their productivity. Scoring 30 points a game needs to be the baseline goal — a number Kelly’s offense hasn’t reached yet in South Bend.

They can do that by being more productive in the red zone. They can do that by moving quicker and running more plays. With Golson behind center and talents like Bryant, Folston, Fuller and Brown, the Irish have home run hitters. But they need to see those results on the scoreboard for the Irish to reach even their most modest goals.

 

DEFENSE

With nobody knowing quite what to expect from Brian VanGorder’s defense, Notre Dame will have mystery in their corner. But taking a closer look at the personnel the Irish need to utilize and that mystery cuts both ways. The Irish can be a productive defense, but they’ll need to do it in a way completely different than Bob Diaco did.

Bending won’t be an option, with the Irish completely lacking the personnel — or philosophy — to slug it out. Dictating terms may be the only way to survive, especially with speed and athleticism one of the true assets on this side of the ball.

The Irish staff believe they have two stars on their defense: Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day. Add a third if KeiVarae Russell is allowed to return.

Behind that trio, a dependable core needs to emerge. At safety, Max Redfield needs to grow up quickly while Austin Collinsworth needs to play error-free football. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt might be an unlikely starter, but he’s capable of being productive and needs to anchor the defense, keeping a young group from making costly mental mistakes.

Up front, the biggest challenge falls to defensive line coach Mike Elston. After working with sure-fire NFL prospects Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Elston now needs to find productive snaps from a defensive end position that’s filled with youth. On one side, true freshman Andrew Trumbetti gets an opportunity to start while sharing snaps with first-time defensive end Romeo Okwara. On the other, it’s Isaac Rochell sliding into Ishaq Williams’ spot, backed up by true freshman Grant Blankenship.

During his Tuesday press conference, Kelly acknowledged that this may be his most inexperienced defense ever. That’s saying quite a bit. But it’s also one of his most athletic, so while we might see some growing pains, finding a way to be productive under the current constraints is key, and VanGorder’s skills as a schemer and game manager will be put on display almost immediately.

 

THE SCHEDULE

In the first year of the College Football Playoff, playing a difficult schedule will be a key factor in the selection committee’s process. Notre Dame certainly fulfills that part of the criteria just fine, with a daunting slate that forces a week to week approach that demands the Irish play good football every Saturday.

First goal? Get out of September alive. That means beating Michigan, a team that’s seemed to own the Irish even if Brady Hoke is barely holding onto his job. The Irish won’t need to get on a plane until the end of September, when a date against Syracuse at the Meadowlands brings Notre Dame back to the New York metropolitan area, all but a home game even against the Orange.

From there, October gives Notre Dame perhaps the toughest three-week stretch of the Kelly era, with Stanford and North Carolina visiting South Bend before the Irish head to Tallahassee to take on the defending champions Florida State. The Irish will get a much deserved week off before starting November, a five game month that starts with Navy and ends with a visit to USC.

The Irish could conceivably lose all five games — Navy, a visit to Tempe to play Arizona State, visits from Northwestern and Louisville before playing the Trojans, the fifth game in as many weeks. That’s a pessimists view, but a possibility, especially when taking a closer look at Notre Dame’s opponents.

With a defense in desperate need to stay healthy,  the Irish can’t afford to have anything happen to key players Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day. Even with all hands on deck, November looks like a month that that’ll define this team.

 

FINDING THE WINNING FORMULA

In 2012, Kelly devised a formula that depended on the Irish defense and allowed the offense to complement the game plan. In 2014, those roles will be reversed, with the offense serving as the team’s engine and the defense likely devised to fill a role as well.

What will the formula look like?

First, let’s look at special teams. The Irish have taken a lot of flack for their lack of excellence in the third phase of the game. They spent the offseason digging deeper into their problems, and the results are a mix of personnel changes, new schemes and superior depth helping out.

While some will still claim that special teams are a third of the game, the reality isn’t quite that simple. The smart guys over at Football Outsiders basically concluded that the DNA of a quality NFL team is four parts offense, three parts defense and one part special teams. So while that helps quantify how serious (or unserious) the Irish’s struggles have been, Kelly is still determined to get more from this unit, especially in a season where big plays will be needed.

Putting Greg Bryant or Cody Riggs back as punt return shows that emphasis. Both guys are critical position players, especially Riggs with KeiVarae Russell sidelined. With Amir Carlisle returning kicks, another starter is being given an opportunity to make plays. One look at the starting kickoff team and you see former four-star recruits just about everywhere. Apologies to the Walk-on Players Union, but those playing opportunities likely evaporated for good.

With Kyle Brindza capable of kicking plenty of touchbacks, while holding down both the field goal and punt duties, solidifying Scott Booker’s unit looks under control. But getting a few game-breaking opportunities in the return game shows a willingness to push the envelope.

Of course, if you’re looking for envelope pushing, Brian VanGorder is your man. This won’t resemble Bob Diaco’s defense. VanGorder is closer to a mad scientist, with sub groupings and personnel packages that could make the Irish look like a hockey team changing on the fly.

The key to all of this is not losing control of the core basics. Forgetting Jon Tenuta took four long seasons. But the Irish’s reliance on youth could put some of VanGorder’s schemes in Tenuta territory, especially if the young guys are struggling to mentally process what’s happening.

But as a head coach, Kelly has learned that scheme doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Just as he did in 2012, fitting his offensive and defensive game plans together is crucial.

VanGorder coaches defense the way Kelly wants to play it. That’s a fairly amazing statement considering the Irish just got done playing four years under Diaco. Expect Kelly and the Irish staff to add an aggressiveness to game planning this year. It’ll give the Irish a chance to fight their way to victories, even if it’s in a style that looks much different than in years past.

 

HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS

The fact that Notre Dame’s nine-win season in 2013 was mostly viewed as coming up short of expectations is a sign of the progress that’s being made in South Bend. But 2014 could be anyone’s guess. With so many variables still being defined, this is an algebra equation that isn’t capable of being solved quite yet.

The Irish charging their way into the first ever College Football Playoff with one loss isn’t crazier than what happened in 2012. But the combination of a young team, new systems, distracting suspensions and a really difficult schedule also turns 2014 into the type of year that could be a huge setback.

The volatility that comes with this team is a big reason why coaches go grey early. And even with Golson back at the helm, the defense needs to build quickly, taking advantage of every trick shoved up VanGorder’s sleeve possible.

Just about anybody that looks at this team sees a bright future and a playoff run that looks primed for 2015. But you don’t throw away football seasons and play for next year at Notre Dame.

So with the first chapter of the 2014 season ready to be written this Saturday, an unknown journey will begin to reveal itself.

Let the games begin.

2018 LB Ovie Oghoufo commits to Notre Dame

Oghoufo Rivals
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
2 Comments

Notre Dame’s recruiting momentum continues to build as linebacker Ovie Oghoufo is the latest commitment to the Irish program. An incredible fifth member of the 2018 class, Oghoufo made the news official on Friday, picking the Irish over Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College, Kentucky and a handful of other early offers.

The Farmington, Michigan native made the news official via Twitter and also spoke with Irish247’s Tom Loy about the decision. Oghoufo was offered earlier in the summer and was on campus again this week.

 

Give current freshman Khalid Kareem an assist for landing the 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker, who spent his visit in South Bend hearing from the fellow Michigander about the virtues of attending Notre Dame.

Irish247’s Tom Loy has the scoop.

“He’s practically my brother,” Oghoufo told Irish 247 of his relationship with Kareem. “I spent basically the whole day with him when I went up there for camp. We reunited. It was a great time with him. When we talked, he told me that if I go to Notre Dame, it’s a 40-year decision, not just a four-year decision. He says the caches are the best and the opportunities are great.”

That Oghoufo worked out for coaches says quite a bit about the early offer and commitment. This is a linebacker who hasn’t played his junior season of high school football yet, but was incredibly productive as a sophomore at Harrison High School.

Oghoufo joins quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running back Markese Stepp, and front seven defenders Jayson and Justin Ademilola in the 2018 class.

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Colin McGovern

Colin McGovern 247
Irish247
Leave a comment

Senior lineman Colin McGovern provides the type of experience that’ll come in handy on an offensive line that some believe is the finest in college football, but still has some depth concerns. McGovern’s versatility—he’s in the conversation at right guard while likely providing depth behind Alex Bars at right tackle—is something we’ve seen in flashes since the Illinois native first came to campus. But finding a path to the field has been difficult, especially as poorly timed injuries struck.

Injuries or not, McGovern’s personnel battles made winning any job a herculean task. With Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and now Mike McGlinchey all profiling to be first round tackles, a shift inside was probably the most prudent to seeing playing time. Now as a fourth-year veteran preparing for his third season of eligibility, McGovern will enter fall camp hoping to win a starting guard job, but ready to fill in where needed.

 

COLIN MCGOVERN
6’4.5″, 315 lbs.
Senior, No. 62, OL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

McGovern picked Notre Dame over offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, and a ton of other elite programs, a national recruit from the Chicago suburbs. He was better liked by some recruiting services than others, and his position was somewhat a question mark, too. Listed as a tackle, Notre Dame saw him as a guard prospect.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in two games as a reserve guard, seeing action against both Rice and Michigan.

Junior Season (2015): Made eight appearances, playing mostly on special teams. Played 16 snaps at right guard against UMass.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Notre Dame’s tackles stayed upright last season and when Quenton Nelson went down it was Alex Bars who filled in.

Right now, the weak spot on Notre Dame’s offensive line is the depth at tackle and center. I’m not convinced that Hunter Bivin is the best option if someone goes down on the outside, and that’s a place where McGovern might be able to thrive.

Brian Kelly went out of his way to discuss McGovern this spring, praising both his size and ability, and talking about his opportunity to cross-train across the guard and tackle depth chart.

It’ll likely take someone going down for McGovern to get his chance, but if he has a strong camp, I get the feeling that he and Alex Bars will ascend to the key backups at tackle, while McGovern could also make a case for being a candidate to be sixth-or-seventh man.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

The road to the field seems very limited for McGovern if he can’t win the right guard job. That’ll likely come into focus in August, especially after the staff gets a look at Tommy Kraemer and the progress made by fellow candidates Hunter Bivin and Tristen Hoge.

McGovern has the feet and athleticism to survive at tackle, something that’ll keep him in the mix behind Alex Bars. A fifth year is likely if he’s able to provide some stability on the edge, knowing that McGlinchey isn’t likely coming back for a fifth year if he’s as good as we all think he is.

That’s not flashy upside. But serving as an understudy on one of the best offensive lines in the country is no small feat.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I’ve always thought McGovern was a solid football player, but he just hasn’t been able to break through. Last spring’s concussion really seemed to set him back in a position battle that seemed up for grabs—we’ll see if that’s still the case entering fall camp.

A veteran without much experience is likely going to take over for Steve Elmer. It’s just tough to say it’ll be McGovern, when it looked like Hunter Bivin had emerged at the end of spring practice. McGovern’s experience and versatility will be where his value is established.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey

Irish release Shamrock Series uniforms

ND Helmet
Notre Dame Sports Information
13 Comments

When Notre Dame takes on Army in the Shamrock Series in San Antonio, they’ll be doing it with a uniform that pays tribute to the university’s relationship with the United States military.

Released on Thursday via social media, Notre Dame’s alternate uniform will feature an Army green jersey with a gold helmet and pants. Built into the uniform, both on the helmet and the shoulder of the jersey is the famous stone carving from above the side door of the Basilica of Sacred Heart, featuring the iconic “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Mike McGlinchey

McGlinchey
4 Comments

Notre Dame has another star at left tackle, with Mike McGlinchey following in the footsteps of first rounders Zack Martin and Ronnie Stanley. With the nasty disposition of Martin and the athletic traits of Stanley, McGlinchey has the promise to be the best one yet for Harry Hiestand—and that’s saying something.

Of course, doing it is the next step.

For all the accolades that’ll be heaped on McGlinchey this preseason, he’s just a 14-game starter who’ll be playing his first football at left tackle. But paired with Quenton Nelson on the left side of center, the physically dominant duo has the ability to impact the game like few other blocking combos, two giants that match up physically with the best duos playing on Sundays.

 

MIKE MCGLINCHEY
6’7.5″, 310 lbs.
Senior, No. 68, OT

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A four-star prospect, McGlinchey played in the Semper Fidelis All-Star game. A Top 150 prospect on 247 and Scout, McGlinchey had offers from Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and a handful of others before picking Notre Dame. He was first-team All-State, All-City and All Southeastern PA.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2014): Played in all 13 games before replacing Christian Lombard at right tackle against USC. Started against LSU in the Music City Bowl.

Junior Season (2015): Started all 13 games at right tackle, grading out as Notre Dame’s No. 1 offensive player on PFF College with a +23.2 rating. That ranking was the highest of any right tackle in the country.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Nailed it.

I’m all in on McGlinchey, who I think has a ceiling equal to Ronnie Stanley’s, who some are predicting (way too early, I might add) could be a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. That’s high praise for a guy with exactly one start, but deserving when you consider all the tremendous attributes that come along with McGlinchey’s game.

But here’s what we don’t know: How quickly will McGlinchey get comfortable in the starting lineup? Because he’ll be protecting the blindside of a young quarterback, one who has a propensity to run. That could make McGlinchey susceptible to speed rushers—already tough enough when you’re long and inexperienced—and could keep him from locking in his mechanics, something that forced Elmer to slide inside.

There’s no room for a 6-foot-8 guard, and McGlinchey’s future (both in college and at the next level) is at tackle. So while it’s a bit of a reach, there’s elite potential in McGlinchey, and I’m expecting him to show it off this season, creating another stay-or-go scenario for an offensive lineman in 2016.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I already compared McGlinchey’s ceiling to Ronnie Stanley’s last year after one career start, and I wasn’t surprised when Stanley was a Top 10 pick. That’s the scenario for McGlinchey this season—play well and you’ll be viewed as another franchise cornerstone at offensive tackle in the upcoming draft, or return to South Bend for a fifth year.

McGlinchey has a mauler’s disposition and size and skills that could be more freakish than Stanley’s. It’s hard to find more superlatives for the Philadelphia native. So future potential? As close to unlimited as possible.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I expect All-American honors for McGlinchey, who took about two practices to convince Brian Kelly and Hiestand that he’s talented enough athletically to make the transition to left tackle seamlessly. As one of the nation’s premier run blockers already, all that’s needed is a smooth transition against speed rushers, something McGlinchey should handle just fine with his length and athleticism.

McGlinchey will earn his degree this spring, meaning a fifth year likely isn’t in the cards if he’s weighing a first-round grade. And while we can look back on a season spent on the bench in 2014 behind Steve Elmer and Christian Lombard, two frontline seasons in South Bend could be enough to cement McGlinchey’s legacy as the next great tackle coming out of Notre Dame—and if he stays around for 2017 it’d be gravy.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska