Everett Golson, Amir Carlisle

Pregame Six Pack: Showdown with Stanford

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It wasn’t long ago that a game with Stanford was a Saturday you might skip. On a schedule loaded with rivals, it was hard to consider the Cardinal one of them. But in a matchup that’s only missed two seasons since 1988, the battle between the two programs has taken flight, mostly thanks to the advancement of the football program in Palo Alto.

From 2002 to 2008, the Irish won seven straight games against Stanford, a streak maintained by Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis over Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris, until Jim Harbaugh started his restoration in 2007 . But since the Cardinal beat Notre Dame in 2009, they’ve hardly given back the momentum, with Notre Dame’s 2012 overtime victory the lone victory Brian Kelly has over a program that’s averaging 11.5 wins per season since 2010.

My how this rivalry has changed. On a big college football weekend, there’s likely no better indicator of interest in a game than the secondary ticket market. According to TicketCity.com, Saturday’s game in South Bend continues to be one of the most in-demand seats in college football, running just about even with Alabama-Ole Miss and ahead of the SEC showdown between LSU and Auburn. Quite a change from the Brain Bowl that sometimes took place to the appreciation of precious few.

With Everett Golson set to face off against college football’s best defense and David Shaw’s team looking to resume its climb into the Top 10, Saturday afternoon presents another chapter in a rivalry that’s only getting better with age.

Let’s take a look at the Pregame Six Pack. As usual, here are six tidbits, fun facts, leftovers or miscellaneous musings before Notre Dame takes on Stanford at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC or online via Liva Extra.

 

When Notre Dame’s offense meets Stanford’s defense, something’s going to give. 

Everett Golson and the Notre Dame offense have opened the season scoring at least 30 points in four-straight games for the first time since 1943. Stanford’s defense hasn’t given up 30 points in their last 27 games. Something’s got to give.

Even after replacing a significant portion of their defense, the Cardinal are playing perhaps the best defense of the Harbaugh-Shaw era in 2014. And if Notre Dame is able to keep alive their 30-point streak or even break the 20 point threshold, they’ll be doing better than most. Stanford has held opponents to 20 points or fewer in 25 of their last 30 games.

The 2014 edition of Stanford’s defense has given up 26 points… this season. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that this team has allowed just four play of 20 yards or longer.

On Tuesday, Brian Kelly talked about the need to create big plays and how it’ll be a key on Saturday afternoon.

“We won’t win if we don’t get big chunk plays,” Kelly said. “We are not going to go five, seven, ten yards and score enough points to win. We’ll have to find our chances. We’ll have to create opportunities and we’ll have to make some plays down the field, there’s no question.”

 

Stanford’s going to need to be prepared for Brian VanGorder’s defense, too. 

Of course, both teams’ offenses are in for a challenge. That means Stanford’s offense is going to need to create some scoring opportunities against the Irish defense, no easy feat through four games this September.

While the Cardinal will present the biggest challenges for Brian VanGorder’s defense with their power running attack, VanGorder’s exotic schemes remind Shaw of his days coaching on Sundays.

“As soon as I put the film on it was like being back in the NFL,” Shaw said. “The variety of blitzes, the variety of fronts. They know how to attack your protections and get after your quarterback. They’ve got good personnel, they’ve got good pass rushers. They’re good against the run.

“You walk into the game and it’s just like playing against Vic Fangio or Rex Ryan or all those guys that everybody on the defense is a viable blitzer. So they need to be accounted for and they’re going to give you a bunch of different looks. Thankfully in our history we’ve played against guys like this, and it’s an impressive group to watch.”

Those blitzes will challenge Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, an experienced veteran who maybe hasn’t seen his game progress as much as Stanford fans have hoped. But Shaw’s offense depends on success on first and second down, not allowing VanGorder’s third down packages to put pressure on Hogan and the game on his shoulders.

 

Another big game, another big recruiting weekend. 

Just like when Notre Dame hosted Michigan, the Irish expect a full house of recruits on hand when they battle Stanford. And with a handful of recruits considering both programs, walking away Saturday with a victory on the field could be important come Signing Day as well.

Notre Dame will host top West Coast prospects Equanimeous St. Brown and Frank Buncom this weekend, with the Irish long in the hunt for St. Brown, the lanky receiver from Orange County. An elite prospect, the Servite product is the type of athlete that could play right away, even with Notre Dame’s impressive depth chart.

The fact that Buncom has decided to visit means the San Diego native is taking his recent offer from Notre Dame seriously. An early target for the Irish at safety, Buncom seemed to be the odd man out when Nicco Fertitta and Prentice McKinney committed early. But whether it was the injury to Nicky Baratti or the need to fill out the depth chart at safety with some position switches, Buncom is a perfect profile prospect who also is well respected as a Top 100-type athlete.

The Irish coaching staff will also do their best to swing two prospects committed elsewhere. Safety Calvin Brewton is a Florida State commit who is giving Notre Dame a sincere look. Defensive end Mekhi Brown is an Alabama commitment who might see a wide open depth chart in South Bend if he chooses to walk away from Nick Saban and Kirby Smart.

A handful of current commitments will be on campus as well, with some taking official and unofficial visits. Notre Dame’s staff will also entertain a large group of 2016 prospects, hoping to find that first commitment of the next recruiting cycle.

There are precious few openings left in the 2015 recruiting class. But Notre Dame is still chasing after some difference-making talent, and a few of those players will be on campus this weekend.

 

If you’re looking for a true litmus test to measure Everett Golson’s progress, Stanford’s defense is it. 

We rewatched Golson’s last game against Stanford and gave some thoughts here. But against Derek Mason’s attacking, multiple defense in 2012, Golson struggled mightily, turning the ball over three times and giving Stanford their only touchdown before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with a head injury.

But asked what he saw in Golson’s game this year as opposed to when he faced Stanford last, Shaw was candid.

“Watching him, it’s the difference of confidence. I think he was really good two years ago,” Shaw said of Golson. “He was very athletic, very accurate, hard to catch and pin down in the backfield. This year, it’s the same, but he almost just seems more composed, where as before it seemed a little frantic. Now he knows you can’t catch him.”

That composure needs to return a week after Golson was sloppy with the football. Kelly revealed that Golson almost didn’t want the FBS Independent Offensive Player of the Week award he earned for his performance against Stanford, feeling like his turnovers and mistakes almost disqualified his 25-consecutive completions. But a victory against the Cardinal will almost certainly earn Golson some well-deserved kudos.

 

In a game that will likely be a close one, converting red zone opportunities will be crucial. And right now, Notre Dame’s doing a much better job of that. 

Few statistics mean more to scoring output than red zone efficiency. And you’d be hard pressed to find a stat that separates Notre Dame and Stanford more than their red zone offense.

Right now, 108 teams sit between Notre Dame and Stanford in red zone efficiency. That’s because the Irish sit at 13th in the country after converting 17 of their 18 attempts for points while the Cardinal rank 121st, cashing in just 12 of 19.

Those struggles cost Stanford a victory against USC, with the Cardinal getting inside the Trojans 32-yard line on all nine of their drives, but only converting those opportunities into 10 points.

“The most frustrating part is that it’s just not one thing. It would be great if there was one thing that we had to change,” Shaw said. “What’s hurt us are turnovers and penalties and missed field goals have crushed us in the red zone. That’s why it’s frustrating. It’s not just one thing.”

According to Shaw, the elements of an efficient red zone offense is the ability to run the ball efficiently and having an athletic quarterback. Stanford has both of those things. But add kicker Jordan Williamson’s slow start to the mix — he’s missed as many kicks (four) through four games as he did all last season, and this could be a huge factor on Saturday afternoon.

 

NFL sons, book club founders, and Snapchat’s Picasso. Notre Dame and Stanford are all about what’s right in college football. 

There hasn’t been a week go by without some negative news taking over the football world. With Roger Goodell thanking Michigan’s Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon for the tag off, it’s been a rough month for the greatest team sport in the world.

But Saturday afternoon matches two great football programs, both representing elite academic institutions. And it’s worth taking note of the student-athletes that’ll be on the field Saturday afternoon.

While Saturday’s sidelines at Notre Dame have started to need velvet ropes for famous fathers, Stanford’s family section might give them a run for their money. The fathers of three Stanford running backs Barry Sanders Jr. (Barry Sr.), Christian McCaffery (Ed) and Ricky Seale (Sam) have nearly 25,000 yards of total offense and a dozen interceptions between them.

The fathers of Joshua Garnett, Andrus Peat, A.T. Hall, Kevin Reihner, Kodi Whitfield and Alex Carter all played in the NFL as well, with Carter’s father Tom picked in the first round out of Notre Dame.

Famous dads aren’t the only thing that separate the Cardinal student-athletes. Receivers Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector spent the summer doing stem cell research. Cornerback Wayne Lyons started a Virtual Book Club. Backup long snapper Austin Tubbs has built a reputation as Snapchat’s Picasso.

We do our best here to celebrate the achievements of Notre Dame’s student-athletes off the field, not just focusing on the wins and losses on it. Stanford has managed to go 49-10 since 2010, behind just Oregon and Alabama for wins in that time period. Notre Dame’s a not-too-shabby 41-15, making this the most competitive game of the weekend.

But putting the wins aside, consider this your reminder that these kids are doing impressive off the field as well.

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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Jack Swarbrick spoke extensively about the state of the Notre Dame football program. Released last Friday and a part of Swarbrick’s weekly podcast, the Irish athletic director covered the laundry list of hot-button issues, including Brian Kelly’s status, the NCAA order to vacate wins that Notre Dame is appealing, and the challenge of winning football games in today’s environment.

The entire 25 minutes are worth a listen, as Swarbrick and Nolan cover just about every question and complaint that’s out there. And in case you don’t have that time, here’s a quick breakdown:

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

“It was an extremely disappointing year. Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There’s no way around that conclusion. It’s not bad breaks, it’s not a play here, a play there. We didn’t do what we need to do. So we do start from that perspective.

“I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of the evaluation of football programs. That begins with, it looks one way from a this-season perspective, but it feels a little different to me from a two-season perspective.”

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

“I’m looking at the program. Wins and losses are a huge indicia of where the program is, but it’s not the only one. More important to me, frankly, is the experience of our students. My interaction with them and what their interactions with the coaches, and the environment and are we meeting their expectations. Now, we clearly didn’t meet their expectations competitively this year, because they want to win, too. But on many of the other things, the program elements are in good shape.”

 

On the off-field issues, and the challenges that faced the football team this fall. 

“I don’t want to do anything to minimize the disappointments, whether they’re competitive or unacceptable behavior in the last game at USC by one of our players, obviously, which just isn’t acceptable, it isn’t okay. The disciplinary issues we had to deal with at the front of the year, none of those are acceptable, all of those go into the evaluation, but those are the only ones that sort of get the public scrutiny. I’m dealing with the other 120 young men who are for the most part like my co-host James (Onwualu), doing everything right, making every right decision, having a real positive experience. You’ve got to look at it all, not just isolated elements of it.

 

Discussing the disappointment of the NCAA’s ruling to vacate wins and why the university is appealing: 

“If you’d merely expelled the students, you wouldn’t get this penalty. But because you went though an educative process and kept them in school and adjusted credits and made those things, you subjected yourself to this penalty. That seems like a bad message to send, but that’s one that we’re continuing to advocate for down the road.”

 

On the challenges of winning in today’s college football, as opposed to 30 years ago. 

“I think undoubtedly it is harder. Now, people from that era may have a different view. But there are things that make it harder. But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things.

“We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals. I sort of embrace that. Some of those things that you might view as obstacles are ultimately the things that we have to offer young people. It is the eliteness of the institution and the quality of the education. You can’t say it’s an obstacle and then talk about how great it is because it helps you. That’s the way it is. I wouldn’t trade anything for the circumstance we now compete in. I think it is exactly what it should be. We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.”

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

Irish Illustrated / Matt Cashore
Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated
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Receiver Corey Holmes is transferring from Notre Dame. The junior, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, will look for a new program after earning his degree this summer, Tom Loy of Irish247 reports.

Holmes told Irish247:

“It’s just the best decision for me. I’m graduating this summer and I’m just going to find the best fit for me to finish things up.”

Even after a strong spring, Holmes saw little action this season, though he played extensively against USC in the season finale. He had four catches against the Trojans, a large part of his 11 on the year, also his career total.

That Holmes wasn’t able to find a consistent spot in the rotation is likely a big reason why he’s looking for a new opportunity. After opening eyes after posting a 4.42 40-yard dash during spring drills, the Irish coaching staff looked for a way to get Holmes onto the field. But after losing reps at the X receiver on the outside, Holmes bounced inside and out, never finding a regular spot in the rotation, playing behind Torii Hunter Jr. and Kevin Stepherson on the outside and CJ Sanders and Chris Finke in the slot.

Holmes has two seasons of eligibility remaining, redshirting his sophomore season. Because he’ll earn his degree this summer, he’ll be able to play immediately next year. Irish 247 reports that Holmes is looking at Miami, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and North Carolina, though he’ll have a semester to find other fits.

 

Mailbag: All about BK

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17:  (L-R) Sam Kohler #29, head coach Brian Kelly, Grace Kelly and Hunter Bivin #70 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 17, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  Michigan State defeated Notre Dame 36-28. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Welcome to a fairly action-packed Mailbag. Why didn’t one of you guys remind me to do these more often?

This one, as the title suggests, is all about Brian Kelly.

 

@chrise384: Do you think that silence from Swarbrick this week means anything or do you think it’s status quo and BK is back in ’17?

I think Swarbrick’s been silent because there’s nothing else to say. He made his comment to ESPN that Kelly would be back in 2017. Why would it benefit him to say anything else?

Kelly also made comments—10 feet away from his boss—that he’d be back and doesn’t want to go anywhere. So other than releasing a 2:37 a.m. tweet reiterating Kelly’s intentions—and essentially calling B.S. on the reports that BK was looking to get out—there’s no reason to respond to the noise, when there’s a ton of work to do and big decisions still to make.

Speaking of those…

 

Domer521: Keith – The banquet is next Friday evening. Do you expect any announcements regarding recruits or DC/assistant coaches before then?

I don’t. For a variety of reasons, I think Kelly is waiting to make any formal moves on his staff until after that evening. And in reality, any college assistant that’s going to come to Notre Dame is probably coaching in a bowl game, and won’t leave his program until after that game is played.

(That doesn’t mean that BK isn’t lining things up. I expect that he is.)

So while the idea of getting a coordinator on hand now might be ideal, the reality of the situation is that you need someone ready to hit the recruiting trail after the New Year, taking the world by storm for that final month and closing stretch until Signing Day.

 

@GhostAKG: Many are saying Charlie Strong for our new DC. Is that good/realistic? And what are some of the names you’ve been hearing more?

I was one of the people to speculate, but the more you think about it the less it makes sense. Charlie Strong is a head coach. And a good one. Any return to South Bend would feel incredibly temporary, with the circus following every job vacancy that opens up—with fans and media speculating, “Is this the one to get Strong back to the head job?”

That’s not a headache BK and company would want to deal with, especially when you consider how much this collective fanbase sweats out coordinator hires or parallel moves.

(Remember when Tony Alford left after Signing Day and it felt like someone died around here?)

Charlie Strong is a good man and a good coach. But that’s the wrong type of hire for ND. I think he’ll probably take a year off to examine the landscape, continue to cash those fat checks coming from Austin, and then get back into it next year.

 

irishwilliamsport:

Keith, I know this is an exercise in futility but I’ll ask a mailbag question… What would you guess BK’s combined job approval rating is among all fan bases ?

You’ve got me. No clue. Does anybody have a good job approval rating?

At this point, I don’t think anybody’s approval rating is all that high at 4-8, to the point that Jack Swarbrick—a guy who might be the most powerful and intelligent athletic director in the country—has seen fans turn on him as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what you were getting at with your question about “all fan bases,” but maybe you were talking about the perception of Kelly both inside and out of the program? If so, I thought Colin Cowherd’s take on Kelly, at least from a national perspective and a guy who watches a lot of college football, is interesting. (It’s a perspective that’s pretty common, I must say.)

 

codenamegee: 

What has Brian Kelly done to make you think he can win a championship at Notre Dame. Looking at his FBS coaching resume his teams have never beaten a top 5 team. I just don’t get why everyone thinks he’s a good coach. Notre Dame is poorly coached (too many mental breakdowns), offense lacks imagination (Running plays are too predictable, no tail back screens, no delay draws, lack of counters and traps). Yet all I hear how Brian Kelly is this great coach or Brian Kelly is a great offensive mind. If he is, he hasn’t showed it since he’s been in South Bend.

Well, first off—and this is a biggie—he played for one. So let’s not ignore that. And he was maybe one play away from getting invited to playing for another last year, a game-winning, last-second field goal against Stanford knocking the Irish from the playoff.

Now I get that playing for one isn’t the same as winning one. And when it comes to comparing this program to Alabama’s, frankly I don’t think Notre Dame has a chance to get to that level until Nick Saban retires… or the NCAA finds something illegal in his program. So if that’s the bar you’ll set, I’m not sure he can get there. And I’m not sure Notre Dame is willing to do what it takes to get there. And frankly, that’s something I’m okay with—especially as you

Last point for you—have you really heard anybody calling Brian Kelly a good coach lately? Is anybody following Notre Dame saying Kelly’s done a good job this season? Has the coach himself even said that? Have I?

Listen, I get it. Losing seasons are terrible. They are really painful and this one came out of nowhere, making it worse. Then throw on top of that just how close the games were—each week a decision here or there, or a blown assignment or missed opportunity sometimes the singular difference between a win and a loss.

That all adds up. And it certainly will carry into next season, a direct reflection on the coach’s job status, regardless of the length of his remaining contract.

 

irishdog80: Can Brian Kelly truly survive and thrive as head coach at Notre Dame or is his best opportunity a fresh start at a new school or pro team?

I don’t think Kelly would’ve stayed if he didn’t think he could thrive. He could get another job if he wanted one. And I don’t think Swarbrick would’ve let him stick around if he didn’t have comfort that the football program—a team that he spends more time around than anybody outside the players and the coaches—was in good hands, and that this was a bad season, not a bad program.

That’s a really good question though, Irishdog. We’ve seen Bob Stoops rally. We’ve seen David Shaw bounce back, though neither pulled a four-win season. And for now, I think Kelly can, too. But it’s worth pointing out that the rumor everybody seemed to be fired up about, three-win & nine-loss Mark Dantonio, would be a huge coaching upgrade over Kelly is funny, considering Dantonio just took a College Football Playoff team and drove it off a cliff.

 

 

irishcatholic16: With reports that Brian Kelly is seeking job opportunities outside of Notre Dame then shortly after saying that he’s committed to Notre Dame along with him bolting Cincinnati in the same fashion (saying he would stay then leaving), do you think he will lose the trust of his team and could we see more decommits as a result? Will the team trust him knowing that he isn’t fully committed?

I have no belief that those reports are true. And I have no reason to think that Kelly’s team—seven years in—would have their trust of the man leading the program hinging on reports from national media pundits.

Are we still talking about the way he left Cincinnati? Because it sure looked to me an awful lot like every coach leaves their program—Tom Herman just the latest example of a coach left in an unwinnable situation, with the media ready to pounce by asking unanswerable questions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Kelly’s agent was talking to teams. He was. He’s the same guy that reps Herman, and a handful of other top-shelf coaches. But that’s what agents do. They talk about their clients, 99% of the time without the client ever having any idea he’s doing it.

 

 

bjc378:

I’ll ask the obvious question. Sorry, I didn’t listen to the podcast.

Do you (still) think BK should be the Irish coach next year? If so, how long of a leash do you give him next year and what changes would you demand? If not, or if he decides to coach elsewhere, what’s your wish list look like?

No apology necessary, first off, on the podcast. It’s supplemental, but listen for John Walters’ wisdom, it’s basically like telling your friends you subscribe to Newsweek.

As for BK, yes I do think he should be the coach next year. I don’t think Notre Dame is a program that should fire someone for a single bad season—period. I didn’t like it when they did it to Ty (in retrospect it was the right thing to do), and I wouldn’t like it if they did it to Kelly, a year off a ten-win season and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

(Also worth noting, they don’t do it in hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, or any other sport.)

As for the leash? That’s hard to say. I think we’ll know quite a bit about this team at the end of next September. They’ll have played Temple (the potential AAC champ coached by one of the nation’s underrated head coaches in Matt Rhule), Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State and—don’t laugh—Miami (Ohio), who has got it going now under Chuck Martin. So if that month goes sideways and the season does too, I won’t have any problem with Swarbrick trying to upgrade and make a change.

As for the wish list? No clue. Not at this point. I’ll take Jon Gruden off of it, so cross him off before anybody asks me. And any other NFL head coach.

But I’d start by looking at someone like Willie Taggart, a young Harbaugh protege who coached at Stanford and has now done good work as a head coach at both Western Kentucky and USF.

Drue Tranquill named first-team Academic All-American

Drue Tranquill
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Drue Tranquill was named a first-team Academic All-American. The junior safety, who returned from his second major knee injury during his three-year career, earned the honors after posting a 3.74 GPA in mechanical engineering.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s first academic All-American since Corey Robinson earned the honor after the 2014 season. He finished second on the team in tackles with 79 and lead the team in solo stops with 52. He also had two TFLs and an interception.

Tranquill is Notre Dame’s 60th Academic All-American, the third-most of any school behind Nebraska and Penn State. He’s active in the university community, serving as a mentor for the Core Leadership Team for Lifeworks Ministry, and is a member of Notre Dame Christian Athletes. He is a also member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) and Rosenthal Leadership Academy.