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.

Talking Irish: What comes next?

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, center, watches as his players run off the field during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Texas , Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Another week, another chat with CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz. Let’s jump in.

KA: So JJ – Last we chatted, we weren’t all that comfortable speculating on the dismissal of Brian VanGorder. 12 hours after the game ended, he’s out of a job.
Any final thoughts — that you haven’t already covered over at CSN Chicago — on the move and the timing?

JJ: I thought it was interesting that Brian Kelly came out Saturday and said he was pleased with Notre Dame’s defensive coaching, then fired BVG on Sunday.
The tape of that game was awful, of course, and maybe he didn’t realize Jay Hayes didn’t play a single snap right after the game. But that seemed like an interesting 180. Kelly said he doesn’t like criticizing individual coaches publicly, which he didn’t do with VanGorder up until the release that he fired him. What were your thoughts on that whole process?

KA: I talked about this with John Walters, but I actually completely follow BK’s logic. I think after he watched the tape, and he saw his defense do the same things wrong — he had to pull the trigger. I just don’t think a coordinator can survive that Duke offensive explosion. And there’s absolutely no explanation for the way he allocated snaps and game planed 400 levels deep, when that game could’ve been won with vanilla.

JJ: Oh man, you’re just TEEING me up for the Bob Diaco reference.

KA: GO FOR IT!

JJ: Here’s something I can picture him saying: “Say you’re tasked with baking a cake. You need the cake to taste good. But you decide to get fancy and start throwing all these different ingredients in there and try to make a seven-layer cake. Maybe you accidentally grab the green chilis and throw them in there, and all of a sudden, people you don’t like your cake. And if you just went with the simple vanilla cake with regular chocolate frosting, people might’ve liked your cake.”

…Is that what you expected? Bobby D loves his cake analogies.

KA: Bob literally went with a cake reference on Jim Rome the week before the season.

JJ: He gave us the cake/green chilis reference after Manti left too!

KA: And man — I thought Tim Prister hit it right when he was talking to BK this week — he essentially asked him, “aren’t you describing (when talking about what he wants in a defense) a Bob Diaco defense?”

JJ:  Pretty much. And Diaco played Syracuse last week (and lost). I gotta imagine when Kelly says he’s going to draw from certain parts of the inventory, it’s the simplest, least complex elements of it. So maybe you won’t see D-linemen dropping into coverage as frequently on Saturday?

KA: I hope I never see another defensive lineman drop into coverage. I mean, it stops being a surprise when it happens every game.

So let’s go to a question…

What do you expect to see from Greg Hudson. Because when BK described what he needed from him, he essentially said, “Enthusiasm.” And “love of Notre Dame.” That sounds like, “I don’t want to move my entire defensive staff, I want someone who can implement my ideas and organize them.”

JJ: Pretty much. I think Mike Elston will be relied upon heavily for planning the scheme along with Kelly, given Elston’s pre-BVG experience.

KA: Agree.

JJ: I don’t think Kelly wanted to throw DC duties onto Elston given he’s already the recruiting coordinator (and doing a good job at that).

KA: Yeah, and I also don’t think Elston wants to earn a DC job by doing it through an interim tag.

JJ: So to answer your question, if Hudson is the guy that can effectively communicate the defense, that’s a positive.

KA: Let’s finish this coordinator talk with this question: Do you think there’s an internal promotion possible — do you think it’s Hudson, or Elston? Or are you fairly certain ND is going national to bring someone in?

JJ: I think they gotta look nationally to a current college coordinator.

KA: Me, too. More Mike Sanford hire, less BVG hire.

JJ: So with Les Miles out, and that whole situation in flux, you gotta make your first call to Dave Aranda.

KA: I’m guessing they probably already did. And if they were paying BVG a reported 900k, Aranda’s $1.2 isn’t that hard to swallow.

JJ: BVG made over a million in 2014, per ESPN, so yeah.

KA: Good gig if you can get it.

JJ: The offense is in such a good place right now, even if Sanford were to leave for a coaching job, that you expect it to be pretty good to great next year.
But if the defense doesn’t get fixed, BK’s tenure will be defined by almosts instead of successes.

KA: So what do you think the personnel changes are? Playing more depth? Kicking Trumbetti from the starting lineup? Any other bold predictions?

JJ: If I can shill for a second, I wrote about seven players who could see more time going forward on CSN. But yeah, Jay Hayes is near the top of the list. I’m guessing you’ll see some Asmar Bilal, too, along with Jalen Elliott. And they gotta get Daelin Hayes on the field.

KA: We’ll pause this chat momentarily for you guys to read…

JJ: [plays jeopardy music]

KA: And we’re back. I agree with Elliott, Hayes and Hayes.

JJ:  You got anyone you want to see?

KA: I do — on both sides of the ball. I’m 100% on board with the youth movement. For me, that means Donte Vaughn at CB, Daelin Hayes at DE, and then seeing if KJ Stepherson can ascend at the X. I know it’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I’m still waiting to see if Torii Hunter can do anything beyond ordinary. Us expecting a TJ Jones senior season out of him might have been setting the bar WAY too high. He doesn’t challenge anybody down the field.

JJ: Perhaps, but he’s the most reliable guy out there when you need a first down.  Though I’ll say this, the TD catch Stepherson made vs. Duke…he doesn’t catch that ball five months ago. (Literally, he doesn’t. He dropped an over the shoulder pass in the spring game from Kizer.)

KA: Agree. That’s why I like sliding him inside as opposed to being way out wide. Don’t want him off the field, just want him off the island. Stephenson’s TD catch felt like an embodiment of BK’s early comments on him — how well he tracks the ball.

JJChase Claypool deserves an extended look, too.

KA: I was disappointed that Claypool didn’t make more noise, especially after flashing against Michigan State.

***

KA: So you had a chance to talk to the players made available on Wednesday.
Play psychiatrist for me. How did they respond? Did they look like a group ready to play better football? Or a team that’s still in a funk?

JJ: They kept saying how much fun practice was Tuesday and Wednesday.
Which, for a team that’s 1-3, maybe is good?

KA: Was that burned into their brain or do you think it was legit?

JJ: I’m very skeptical of a fun practice equaling better play. But maybe a little of both. Maybe players having fun = better tackling? I’m really just grasping at straws, though. It’s one of those for sure.

KA: Okay – so I’ll defend our picks last week by saying that we both were scared to death of the defense. But ND is a double-digit favorite against Syracuse. I don’t know if I even think they should be favored. How are you feeling about this one?

JJ: I’m like one of the 10 undecided voters in this country, just slipping back and forth on my prediction. But I came to Notre Dame 45, Syracuse 42.
I do think Syracuse is the worst defense Notre Dame will have faced this year, which is enough to overcome this offense.

KA: I actually think the scoring is going to be slightly lower, but I was thinking ND 41, Cuse 38. But my confidence in ANY OF THIS is zero. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the offense bottoms out and only scores like 28, too.

JJ: Oh yeah, if this were a confidence pick’em, I’d put about 2 points on this one.

KA: I’ll leave you with this one: Are there moral victories for this team now?
As in, what would you see this week that’d make you happy — or is it only a win?

JJ:  How emphatic can I say no?

KA: (With ALL CAPS)

JJ: They’re 1-3 and I don’t see an easy path to bowl eligibility. FINE THEN NO (shouts into computer)!

KA: It’s an ALL OUT WAR for Bowl Eligibility. Because those 15 practices are critical to the mission and to salvaging next season, too.

JJ: Especially for a young roster. And Brandon Wimbush. Plus, it’d be a massive, smoldering crater to not make a bowl game this year. That just can’t happen at Notre Dame. And if it does, it puts the coach squarely on the hot seat.

KA: I’m looking at the schedule and it’s pretty much razor-thin margin of error right now. So when I used to think back on the bear hug I watched between coaches from the Yankee Stadium press box in 2010, when they beat Army to clinch a bowl bid, I thought we’d never be back there.

Yet… Here we are.

JJ: S&P+ gives Notre Dame a 32% chance of being bowl eligible this year. Donald Trump has a better chance at becoming president than Notre Dame does at reaching a bowl at this exact moment.

(braces for the STICK TO SPORTS yelling)

KA: How appropriate that the Irish are in New York* this weekend then. But hey — I’m actually excited about a 1-3 team and what they can do, something I thought I’d never type.

JJ: There’s the positivity!

KA: So there you go. Leave it on a high note. Once again, we’re both picking a shootout victory for the Irish — one last leap of faith, at least for me.

JJ: Same here.

KA: Thanks buddy. Enjoy the game. Catch you next week.

JJ: Have a good one.

***

If you want more state of the program talk, John Walters and I dove into the state of the Irish on our Blown Coverage podcast. 

And in that corner… The Syracuse Orange

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 02: Head coach of the Syracuse Orange Dino Babers speaks with quarterback Eric Dungey #2 and running back Dontae Strickland #4 during the first half against the Colgate Raiders on September 2, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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With the season at a tipping point, the Irish hit the road. Outside the friendly (or not so friendly, of late) confines of Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly’s team hits the road and travels to New York, where Syracuse awaits.

New head coach Dino Babers has installed his up-tempo offense and the system is already taking hold. The defense hasn’t caught up, helping to launch Lamar Jackson’s Heisman campaign on the way to a very uneven start.

So before we get to this weekend’s shootout, let’s dig into the challenge that’s ahead. To get us ready, we’re joined by the Daily Orange’s Chris Libonati. He’s an assistant sports editor and football beat writer for one of the country’s premier student newspapers.

In addition to juggling his studies on magazine journalism and public policy, Chris breaks down what Notre Dame should expect from the Orange this weekend in the Meadowlands.

 

Dino Babers is four games into his tenure at Syracuse. The offense seems to have taken to his up-tempo attack. The defense… feels like a work in progress. Can you give us a progress report on the program since Babers took over?

I think the offense has clearly improved from last season, and the defense has regressed. The problem right now is going to be cycling through Scott Shafer’s players that don’t really fit Babers’ systems or creating spots where they can fit. Although that seems a bit unfair, that’s the reality of coaching changes. It’s easy to see that the program could improve after this season, but it’s just speculation for the time being.

 

Notre Dame relieved defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder of his duties on Sunday following another poor performance. Syracuse is actually ranked BELOW Notre Dame in scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Brian Ward came with Babers from Bowling Green. Is he overmatched? Or is the personnel just that bad?

I don’t necessarily think all of the defensive problems fall on Ward. Scott Shafer ran a high risk-high reward system that required players to be more aggressive in chasing big plays, big hits, etc. The Tampa 2 is almost a 180 for players that are used to that type of a system. For the most part, the Tampa 2 is a bend-don’t-break system, but it appears that the transition is going to take a little while.

One of the best examples is the very first Louisville touchdown. A ball fake easily made the safeties bite and Lamar Jackson threw a long touchdown over the top of the defense. Right now, it’s big plays that have affected Syracuse. Teams really haven’t put together consistent drives. It’s more three-minute drives and under that are killing SU.

 

Now the offense should terrify Irish fans. Specifically what Amba Etta-Tawo is doing. The Maryland transfer put up pedestrian numbers before coming to Syracuse, where he’s coming off of a historic game against UConn. How is he doing this? And how big of a surprise has his emergence been?

It’s kind of amazing to watch. You ask yourself if he can top a performance, and he just did it last week. That said, some of that is the system taking advantage of his best skills. He’s been very good in space, and he’s even better on deep throws. Several times, he’s been adjusted on the boundaries of the field, out-jumped corners or come back to an underthrown ball. And when he doesn’t do that, he burns the corner.

I haven’t seen him really run a crossing route or anything over the short-middle of the field (he has run a few screens and is good in open space), but he hasn’t really needed to. What defenses could try to do is shade a safety over the top, but the Baylor-style spread has its outside receivers almost out to the sidelines, which means safeties have to shade way over. That’ll open up the middle of the field for guys like Brisly Estime and Ervin Philips or potentially expose defenses in the run game.

 

Babers was candid about saying he’d have rather Brian Kelly didn’t fire VanGorder before they traveled to New York, and that he’d prefer the game be played at home in the Carrier Dome rather than the Meadowlands. Let’s talk about this neutral site game? Is it strictly economics? Or what’s the purpose of taking this game to the New York Metro area?

I think just talking about this probably reveals this project as a bit of a failure. Playing this game in the New York Metro area was supposed to expand Syracuse’s brand as “New York’s College Team.” Syracuse scheduled high-profile games against USC (2012), Penn State (2013) and Notre Dame (2014) at MetLife, but hasn’t won any of those games. When it comes down to it, SU put its brand against a national brand and the fan splits at those games were not in the Orange’s favor. This crowd will almost certainly be pro-UND and it’s considered a “home game” for SU.

What the series has done is take a home game away from the Carrier Dome and it pits SU against a top-level program when its still trying to make bowl games on a consistent basis. A smarter series would have been to play Rutgers, but Kyle Flood reportedly nixed that when he was RU’s coach.

 

We’ve seen just about every offense score points on Notre Dame. How many do you think Syracuse needs to score to beat the Irish this weekend?

A lot. I know that’s not specific, but SU’s defense has really struggled against good offenses. DeShone Kizer may have struggled at times this year, but I’d bet he has a decent game against Syracuse. I think the Orange would have to hang at least 40 points on UND to win on Saturday. That’ll be tough if Eric Dungey can’t play for some reason. He didn’t come out for interviews on Tuesday because he was getting treatment for an undisclosed injury. Dino Babers declined to talk about the injury on Wednesday. My guess is that Dungey plays, but if he can’t Zack Mahoney will have to step in for him. Mahoney’s deep ball isn’t quite as good as Dungey’s, which could limit Etta-Tawo’s deep-play ability.

Kelly goes back to basics with defense

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Brian Kelly met with the media on Tuesday, revealing a few details about the defensive changes he plans to implement. And while he kept any specific schematic or personnel tweaks to himself, his comments helped clarify why he made the decision to relieve Brian VanGorder of his duties Sunday morning.

At the second inflection point of his tenure in South Bend, Kelly is once again betting on himself. We saw him do this to great success after he made the unconventional decision to name Chuck Martin his offensive coordinator after the 2011 season—betting on his protege instead of Ed Warinner, who then left to go to Ohio State after being passed up.

That’s not to say this move has the ceiling of Kelly’s last great pivot—an undefeated regular season that ended with a date in the national title game. You could just as easily argue it’s a survival play.

So perhaps that’s why Kelly was less interested in defining what Greg Hudson’s new job title means, and more resolute on clarifying that this defense will operate the way the head coach sees fit.

“He’s going to adapt to what I want to run. His style is going to be Coach Kelly’s style,” Kelly explained.

“I’ll worry about the implementation, the scheme. I’ll take care of that for him right now. As he gets more comfortable with what we have and what our system is about, then he will be much more involved in what we do.

“But right now, we’ll write the music and he’ll be the lead singer. I don’t know if that’s a great analogy, if that makes any sense. He’s going to be out front, but he just got here. In terms of assuming this role, he’s learning everything as well.”

For those worried that the Irish head coach was shirking responsibility for his team’s 1-3 start, Kelly certainly is acting like a coach who is doing the opposite. He’s doubling down, and in doing so, acknowledging some of the fatal flaws that became exposed each and every game Brian VanGorder continued to coach.

The head coach will simplify game plans, asking his young team to do less but do it better. The staff will learn from the opening night debacle in Texas, a game plan that stressed scheme over personnel, a decision that was largely emblematic of how VanGorder handled his time in South Bend.

“We can’t defend everything. We can’t defend everything, but we have to be sound,” Kelly said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Kelly’s other major move will be developing a better rotation. After seven recruiting cycles, the roster has a deeper talent pool than VanGorder was willing to access. And for all the talk of sub-packages and defensive specialization, Kelly sounded like a coach who knew he needed to take things back to the basics.

“I can’t have 15 different personnel packages. We’ve got a couple personal packages. That’s it,” Kelly said. “There can’t be cross-training into three different personnel packages. We’ve streamlined that to the point where the guys are going to know by hopefully Thursday exactly where they fit in each group.”

With just days to prepare a defense that’s already at rock bottom, implementing any gigantic scheme change was always out of the question. But in looking for a new identity, Kelly also acknowledged some of the breaking points that forced him to make the change.

 

Even in transition, Babers expects Notre Dame’s best

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 02: Amba Etta-Tawo #7 of the Syracuse Orange pulls in a touchdown reception as Cortney Mimms #26 of the Colgate Raiders defends during the first quarter on September 2, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame’s defense is starting fresh with Greg Hudson, at least temporarily, at the helm. But Syracuse head coach Dino Babers doesn’t expect the instability to lead to a weakened opponent.

In fact, he thinks it’ll have the opposite effect.

“What normally happens in those situations is just like in a cowboy movies you circle the wagons and you find out who wants to fight and who doesn’t want to fight,” Babers said Monday. “So we’re going to get an angry mama bear that’s been wounded, that’s going to be fighting and clawing and coming out with all they have, and really wish they wouldn’t had done anything and wish they would have won the game last week.”

But the Irish didn’t win against Duke. And Brian Kelly’s decision to remove Brian VanGorder of his duties after just four games leads Notre Dame’s young defense into some uncharted territory.

Because the Irish will have to find a way to slow down a Syracuse offense that might not have as good of personnel as Texas, but is better at running the up-tempo, spread attack that the Longhorns installed this offseason. And Babers comes from the same Art Briles coaching tree that Sterlin Gilbert.

So Notre Dame will need to find a way to tackle receivers in space. And they’ll need to find a way to get an offense off the field that’s run more plays than every team in college football but three.

While Kelly promised both personnel and scheme changes, what can be done in a week remains to be seen. But with the Irish offense going up against a defense that’s actually worse statistically in every major category than Notre Dame’s, finding any success on the defensive side of the ball will be key.