Stanford v Notre Dame

Mailbag madness: Questions, questions and (longer) questions

15 Comments

Hope everybody had a spooky night and is ready for a hopefully less frightening evening against Navy.

Let’s get to your questions. Or should I say manifestos.

I stayed away from some repeats and also Heisman’d the post comparing turnovers between the Irish’s last two quarterbacks. At this point, I’m not walking back into the mistakes of the 2013 season, not with so many potential big things ahead for this team.

Here we go…

 

martyhealy: My question is, How much politicking behind the scenes is likely with the voting members to gang up on the SEC? In other words if a Pac 12, Big 10, or Big 12 team has no chance due to their top record with two losses they get a member or members to vote for their conference if that member(s) conference team has a bad 11-2 record or worse.

These aren’t electoral voters. The selection committee was purposely filled with some of the most ethical people surrounding the world of college football. So I think it’s a little bit silly to think that party lines are being drawn and backroom wheeling and dealing is already underway, especially with a month left in the season.

And remember, it’s not like the old system didn’t have this happening. It wasn’t that long ago where Mac Brown took to ESPN’s air waves during halftime of November games to push for the Longhorns to get their shot. And he was hardly alone.

There are a million questions about the playoff and ND’s spot in it. But let the process play out. Taking this poll as anything but a very fluid starting place is kind of meaningless.

 

blackirish23: In the BCS era, the AP and Coaches polls actually played a significant role (2/3) of the BCS poll. Now that we have an official playoff committee whose sole job is to rank the teams after week 7 or 8 without giving any consideration to the Coaches and AP polls, is it about time we did away with both those polls?

I’d love to see the polls abolished. Or at least have people openly acknowledge that the polls are essentially meaningless, especially considering that they don’t play a factor into anything, and likely get even less attention from pollster and coaches now.

Worth pointing out. B/R asked me to be a voter in their weekly exercise. I thought it’d be fun. But I absolutely HATE voting, and find myself moving the puzzle pieces around until I get frustrated and say, “this looks about right.”

 

ndoneill: Does Notre Dame have enough potential quality wins left on its schedule to make the playoff, even with winning out? It seems the committee is judging between one-loss teams based on “best win,” not “best loss.” Assuming ND wins out, will a win against (currently) #25 Louisville be enough to set them apart if the other one-loss teams currently ranked ahead also win out?

They certainly are judging it that way based on October results. But you didn’t see any two-loss teams up there, did you? So when all things are created equal, good wins probably should overrule good losses.

But again…. We’ve just gotta relax and let things play out. Notre Dame looked on the outside looking in back in 2012 before Oregon and Kansas State spit the bit. Six teams in front of the Irish play each other. A bunch of others are going to lose, too, and some in pretty shocking fashion.

Embrace the chaos and just enjoy the ride.

 

irishking: do you seriously believe that ND will win out? Do tell.

Why not? I don’t think Brian Kelly’s coached a team that wasn’t better in November than it was in September/October, and that should be the case with this group as long as no major injuries come along.

Should they win all the games? If they play well. Will they play well? I’d think so.

I tend to think tonight’s game is a big piece of the puzzle, and getting out of there without expending too much energy — and losing too many guys to injury — is critically important.

But you’re also looking at a guy that spends all August trying to figure out how ND can run the table every season, and practically talked himself into it again this year. (A horribly depressing habit until the past few years.)

 

irishmob89: Keith. Does Brian VanGorder’s aggressive defense match up better with Navy than Bob Diaco’s “bend but don’t defecate in your pants” defense? More specifically, does the Irish have the speed to prevent Navy’s backs from hurting Notre Dame on the edges?

Can I tell you tomorrow?

(My hunch? Navy will score some points, Keenan Reynolds is too good, and finally healthy. But ND will get their share of stops.)

 

goirishgo: Do you believe this lighter, faster ND defense matches up better against Navy’s option than in previous years?

I do. I like the idea of Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt chasing the option better than Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace.

 

newmexicoirish: Keith, I will try again. I asked about our coaching staff in the last mailbag and for whatever reasons you elected not to answer my question. Certainly your prerogative, but I’ll give it another shot!

As someone who is close to the program, do you believe the fiasco with the frozen five may have CBK taking a serious look at the NFL should the later show an interest? Lots of articles written in which the authors felt Coach Kelly was put in a very difficult and uncomfortable position by the university as front man for this whole mess, without providing him any information with which to answer some very pointed questions. Being rather savvy politically, I’m wondering if he is playing things close to the vest while seething behind the scenes?

I was one of the people loudly saying that Kelly was put in a brutal position. And I’m also someone who wouldn’t begrudge anybody in the world from taking a new job if the new position was paying you millions of dollars and at the height of your profession.

Who knows if this is a dealbreaker for BK? I don’t think it is, just because this has always been one of the cut-and-dry things that come with Notre Dame. Get in trouble/do something wrong in the classroom? It’s not in the coach’s hands anymore.

The university’s treatment of Michael Floyd after his DUI arrest shows that Notre Dame has made changes to their draconian student-life discipline process and that ultimately they trusted Kelly to handle things correctly. But don’t expect things to budge from an Honor Code perspective. Just look at the fiasco at North Carolina, which tarnishes a university and diploma about as much as you can.

Don’t expect any coach to let a school know in advance when they’re going to jump to the NFL. That’s why these guys have agents. But I don’t see Kelly going anywhere imminently. He’s built too good of a program to let someone else take this 2-3 year run.

 

ndlv: If I remember correctly, one of the Weis – Clausen games against Navy (2009?) was a disaster because of turnovers. To cut down on the possibility of interceptions (which can kill ND against Navy, as they limit the # of offensive possessions), is this the week when Notre Dame brings back some old school run-between-the-tackles football? Dust off the fullbacks (are there any on the roster?) and the blocking tight ends, then a steady diet of Folston running through tackles!

You asked this question before the Pregame Six Pack, but Kelly’s leaned heavily on the running game against Navy, with Tommy Rees only throwing 20 times last year. The Irish ran 46 times the last time Everett Golson faced the Midshipmen, and I expect the ground game to get churning, too.

If you want to slam your head into a table a few dozen times, go back and look at that 2009 football game. Notre Dame didn’t punt once. Jimmy Clausen threw for 450+ yards. Between the zillion red zone mistakes and the critical safety they gave up, the Irish literally invented a way to lose that football game.

 

tusconfan: Keith, did you know Willingham? If so what would you say his attitude towards ND is vis a vis his role on the committee?

I met Ty Willingham once. I was a student sitting in the bleachers at Eck Stadium and he came in after riding his bike around campus, just months after he was hired. So I don’t know him, nor could I speak towards his attitude.

But I think any worries that Ty or Condi or Pat Haden or X or Y or Z is going to screw Notre Dame makes people sound silly. Keep winning. Solves a lot of problems.

 

jerseyshorefannd1: ND changed to field turf and the world didn’t end. Actually, I think most would agree that it has been a real positive. Given that success, are there any other changes on the horizon that are being seriously discussed within the program (not just specifically the addition of a jumbotron)?

I might be the only one, but I think the remodel is going to be awesome. It will trap some of the noise in the stadium and give the university a chance to make some adjustments to the current set-up. (For instance, people’s butts have gotten a lot bigger over the past 20-30 years.)

One thing that I really think will help (other than a video board, which I’m also 100% in favor of) is the ability to have an open air press box. You want to know why media and reporters always talk about the crowd being relatively quiet at Notre Dame Stadium? It’s because you can’t hear anything from the press box. It’s sealed tight with seemingly sound-proof glass.

Not that it doesn’t come in handy on a chilly Saturday, but if your job is to capture the atmosphere at the stadium, you can do it better watching the NBC broadcast than up in the box.

 

dudeacow: We’re number 1 in overall GSR again. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea why it’s so good to have a high graduation success rate. It seems to me that that means it’s really easy to graduate from the school. Can you explain why this is an important metric?

Seems to me that you might want to rethink that logic. Are you serious? Why is it good to have a high graduation rate? I don’t know, so the kids playing college football actually graduate from college.

Add that to the other ranking tools that list Notre Dame regularly among the top universities in the country and you can start to understand why the athletic department and university rightfully boast about the accomplishment.

 

deadman3020: So what do you think, % wise, that E. Golsen returns next year?

99 percent. (And it’s G-O-L-S-O-N.)

 

oldestguard: How soon will this playoff system be expanded to 8 teams?

Billion dollar question. The current TV deal states that this stay at four teams, but you’ve got to think the pressure to expand will be immense. A few months back BK threw his hat in the 8-team ring, and I can’t blame any coach for wanting it a little bit bigger.

Remember all those worries that a playoff would ruin the regular season? Sure doesn’t seem like it now.

 

wisner74: With the Navy game next, Eilar Hardy comes to mind because of his perhaps game-saving play late in the 4th quarter of last year’s game. Since he’s now back at practice, will he be on the field at all this season? The Irish could certainly use him with all of the injuries at safety. Also, if he does have a two semester suspension in front of him, is there any chance at all he’ll actually sit it out at ND and play his last year in the ’16 season, or is he likely to transfer and play somewhere else in ’15?

Kelly referenced some things that still needed to happen before Hardy was eligible to return. I think that’s a university matter, so this isn’t in BK’s hands. I’ve never reported that Hardy was gone or had a two-semester suspension pending. But I have no reason to think that what Pete Sampson is saying is incorrect, and I’d honestly be shocked if it wasn’t.

Having Hardy back on the practice field will be helpful. Having him in the secondary would be even better, but I tend to think that’s a pipedream.

It’s too bad that Hardy’s career wasn’t a bigger success. Between the knee injury, the self-inflicted blunders (he was suspended for two different games last season, one after he had found success at safety) even before this current mess.

I’ve got a feeling you’ll be seeing him start for Chuck Martin next season at safety.

 

NDunbound:

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to deal with trolls and other problem posters. I believe the best thing to do is ignore them. They feed off attention, good or bad. Ignore them, and they’ll go away. But I noticed that even you give them attention, so maybe you know something I don’t.

I don’t like it when sites treat posters like kindergartners, even when some deserve to be treated as such. But I have to admit your recent threat has had a positive effect. We’ll see how long that lasts.
I just hate to see you wasting your time policing the comments when you should be researching and writing.

If your recent guidelines aren’t followed, I implore everyone to simply ignore the idiots. I know it’s not easy, but I think it’s worth a shot. What are your thoughts on this, Keith?

I’m answering this question because I’m trying to fight the good fight with commenters. And credit to some people for cleaning up their act. I implemented those “guidelines” (thanks for the help, Mom) to try and add some baseline expectations to the free-for-all.

But honestly people, I don’t have time to go through and be the arbiter of taste and appropriateness down below. Self-govern. Enjoy yourself. Debate among (cyber)friends. And if there’s ever a good rule, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

But I’m ready, willing and able to nuke posters. Especially if one or two people are ruining things for everyone. But everyone just be nice, talk about Notre Dame football and enjoy yourselves. I’m not asking you to solve any political crisis.

 

tampabayirish: Keith, I tried to get this question in last week but I missed the deadline. Does anyone know where the next “Navy home game” will be played on Nov 5, 2016 in the Notre Dame series. Let me first offer Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. It is closest to my home and the midshipmen could board and take over the Buccaneers pirate ship in the north end zone. With the chronic poor of play of the Bucs, there is bound to be plenty of surplus Celebratory ammo on board.

Perhaps on a more serious note, we could make an argument for Navy moving the game to San Diego. It’s a great navy town. The weather is the best in the country. You would have to schedule around San Diego State. But that could be done. I am sure that the Irish would welcome a chance to make two California trips that season. In fact, what about playing Navy in San Diego as part of the Shramrock Series.

Not sure about Tampa, but I’m 100 percent in for a Shamrock Series game in San Diego. I’ll see you at Petco Park, because the football stadium is a dump.

Navy hasn’t announced where the 2016 game is being played yet. But with the Shamrock Series returning to San Antonio and Syracuse already playing in the Meadowlands, it’ll likely be a fun location. If you’re hosting, I’m sure the university will give Tampa Bay solid consideration.

 

 

iggynd90:

Hey Keith – long time listener, first time caller…

I’ve got a few questions for you:

1. Have you seen any indications that the team is extra motivated now after having the Florida State game “stolen” from them and/or the “disrespect” shown by the selection committee?

2. Regarding the 4 players who are out this year – what impact does this have on their remaining eligibility? Can they count this season as a redshirt?

3. Just how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?

In short:

1) No. But I wouldn’t blame them if they used it as fuel.
2) This is a bit tricky, but I was told by someone at Notre Dame that the year won’t could for eligibility, so Ishaq Williams can return for a fifth year and KeiVarae will have two seasons of eligibility left. The fact that DaVaris Daniels is potentially weighing a return leads you to believe that’s the case.
3) Ask the owl.

 

naptownfish:

First time commenter. I’ve read every Inside The Irish post for the last 5-10 years, and every ND article I can find on the internet daily for the past 10-15 years. This is hands down my default site for timely, well-reported news. So thank you. 2 Questions.

The Playoff Committee is to take into consideration injuries when a team plays sub-par. Do you think that should be a criterion for the Committee? What are they judging…football programs as a whole, or how they potentially could play on one special hypothetical day when all starters are healthy and are assumed to stay healthy the entire game? It’s a subjective way to justify overlooking a loss. Does the overall quality and depth of a program not matter?

Most CFP analysts (and common fans) say everything will play itself out, the SEC West will beat itself up, forcing the Committee to place other teams in the Top 4 at season’s end. Given the Committee’s first rankings, can we be so sure? Three of the top four one-loss teams (rankings #3 thru #6) are SEC West teams, implying their losses to each other are the least-penalized. Do you have any fear that if Miss St ends with one loss and all other teams in the Top 15 each add one loss (mathematically possible I believe), we’ll be in the same situation and the final playoff will have 3 teams from the SEC?

Sorry for length. Cut down as you see fit, I tried already. Will keep as short as possible in future.

Naptown, I read this question like five times. I’m not actually sure what the question is, though the committee will factor in all sorts of things when deciding who the Top 4 teams end up being. And I tell you what — If ND ends up 11-1 and sitting out, I’ll buy everybody beers at the Orange Bowl.

Thanks for asking a question. Next one is bound to be a bit more concise.

Five things we learned: Duke 38, Notre Dame 35

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The tombstone for Brian Kelly’s seventh football team in South Bend might read:

Here lies Notre Dame. They found ways to lose.

That might lean dramatic, but the Irish are 1-3, a 38-35 defeat at the hands of Duke the latest boondoggle for a team that’s waking up all the wrong echoes. And Kelly’s program—led by a historically bad defense— is plummeting, a free-fall from what seemed like solid ground entering the season.

But that’s what a perfect storm will do. A horrific defense, a schizophrenic offense, poor leadership and a young roster stepping into every trap laid, every banana peel dropped, especially when the chips are on the table.

A week after getting out-classed by Michigan State, Notre Dame faces a much different monster in the mirror.

“I told our guys we’re going in the wrong direction. We’re not going to continue to go in this direction,” Kelly said postgame. “We’ll have to reevaluate what we’re doing, who we are doing it with and how we’re doing it. All of those things.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s defense has infected the entire football team. 

A last-second kneel down was all that kept Duke from crossing 500 yards of offense. But it isn’t enough that the Irish defense is getting decimated by every competent football team that lines up across from them. Their mediocre play has infected the entire team.

That’s what happens when you put pressure on your offense to score every series. That’s what happens when you coach to protect one vulnerability, only to unleash another.

Because it isn’t enough that this defense misses tackles, blows assignments and plays with an alarmingly low IQ. They’ve found a way to infect the offense and the entire coaching philosophy, too.

There’s no need to spend words indicting Brian VanGorder (or Kelly for hiring him) or the position coaches for failing to get the defense in the right position. Kelly made it abundantly clear that any move he makes will likely be postseason, not as some sort of mid-season shuffle.

Because even a back-to-the-basics week did nothing to salvage things. We saw no uptick from working on tackling midweek in mid-September, for preaching the fundamentals; “speed to power” in one ear and out the other, like a Duke player weaving through defenders to daylight.

This defense is toxic and has found a way to derail all three segments of the team, hoisting enough pressure onto DeShone Kizer that it was as much the guys in blue making his afternoon tough as it was David Cutcliffe’s team.

 

Blame coaching all you want, but Brian Kelly is making it clear that he’s holding his players accountable, too. 

Brian Kelly said all the right things about coaching accountability, spitting out the perfunctory cliches—”I’m a 1-3 football coach. We’re all 1-3 football coaches”—through gritted teeth.

But it didn’t take long for Kelly to make his true feelings clear, taking dead aim at the effort and attitude that his team showed Saturday afternoon, making it clear he’ll be looking for a different type of football player to take the field next week.

“Guys that have fire and grit. We had one guy in the entire football team that had emotion and fire. And that was Dexter Williams. He’s the only one. He’s the only one that I saw,” Kelly said after some prodding.

“So if you want to play for me moving forward. I don’t care what your resume said, if you’re a five star, if you had 100 tackles or 80 receptions or 30 touchdown passes, you better have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. We lack it severely.”

After another week where veterans were just as responsible for futility as any rookies, Kelly made it clear that he’s set to make sweeping changes to the team that’ll take the field next weekend in East Rutherford against Syracuse.

“Every position. All 22 of them, will be evaluated. Each and every position,” Kelly said. “There is no position that is untouchable on this football team. That’s the quarterback all the way down.”

 

Notre Dame needs to find an offensive identity, too. Because DeShone Kizer wasn’t close to good enough to bail them out. 

There’s no applauding the 534 yards of offense the Irish put up. Because when push came to shove, the Irish offense failed to score when they had two final chances to win the football game—a troubling trend that’s beginning to emerge.

The ground game struggled. Behind an offensive line that’s still making too many mistakes, Josh Adams, Tarean Folston and Dexter Williams were all held below five yards a carry. Only Kizer found an explosive play on the ground, his 23-yarder the only running gain the Irish had over 20 yards.

Kizer put up some empty statistics as well. He was clearly pressing for much of the second half, even after the momentary boost the offense got from the defense after halftime. Kizer’s fourth quarter was one to forget, just 3 of 7 passing for 45 yards, taking a sack, throwing a mindless interception on 3rd-and-20, and short-circuiting any comeback chance with a poor final drive.

Combine that with some head-scratching reads, a handful of missed touch passes and an inexcusable fumble, and it was a difficult afternoon for the Irish’s star quarterback.

“Below standard,” Kelly said of his quarterback’s play.

 

Once again turnovers, special teams and self-inflicted wounds killed the Irish. 

Want to learn how to throw away momentum? Give up a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

With Chase Claypool, Julian Okwara and Nick Coleman all blowing tackles, even a serious injury to return man extraordinaire Devon Edwards didn’t stop backup Shaun Wilson from taking one to the house, flipping the game completely on its head when it looked like the Irish could bury Duke early.

Add in Kizer’s fumble, his fourth-quarter interception (and another one he gift-wrapped that was dropped) and Equanimeous St. Brown getting stripped after a big gain, and it’s a formula the Irish know all too well.

“There’s not a lot of things to point out other than the obvious. Three turnovers, all of them impact the game. Sloppy turnovers. A kickoff return for a touchdown,” Kelly said to open his postgame comments. “And the inability to mount anything consistently throughout the game. Once you feel like you have something going pretty good and then we tend to make a mistake and let teams back in the game.”

That’s certainly what happened Saturday afternoon, with the Irish capable of delivering a knockout punch and instead carrying the Blue Devils off the ropes and right back into the game.

Toss in some of the worst tackling—both attempts and angles—you’ll ever see and you’ve got a recipe for defeat.

 

You need to live and die with the kids. Because this might not be rock bottom. 

Bad news: This could get worse.

Because as Kelly mentioned last week, there are no trades, no waiver wire and no cuts in college football. Sure, you can run Brian VanGorder out of town if you really think that’ll help, but it’s only going to add more instability to a season that’s not close to rock bottom—not with offenses like Syracuse, Stanford, Miami, Virginia Tech, Army, Navy and USC on the schedule.

(No disrespect meant to NC State, I’m sure they’ll find a way to get theirs, too.)

The roster that Kelly himself assembled deserves examination. But that’s the group that needs to get this team out of trouble. And it’s tough to say any amount of hard coaching will allow that to happen.

So live and die with the kids.

Donte Vaughn, welcome to the starting lineup. Julian Love, see you there, too.

Khalid Kareem, Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara can’t be any worse at getting off blocks than Andrew Trumbetti—who plays like a two-gap defensive tackle instead of a guy attempting to rush the passer.

Offensively, pass the baton to Equanimeous St. Brown already—he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 receiver. Give Chase Claypool and Kevin Stepherson reps at the X if Torii Hunter can’t scare teams downfield. And if Tarean Folston can’t find that next gear, Dexter Williams certainly seems willing to show you his.

Notre Dame’s football program is in a dangerous place, and all are responsible.

Because lost somewhere between the fancy new facilities, the social media partnership with Bleacher Report, and the sports-science and nutrition commitments that treat this program better than most NFL outfits, a simple fundamental got lost in the process–and this football team got soft.

We could’ve seen this coming. Kelly hinted at worries during the spring and summer, especially as he openly had questions about this team’s veteran leadership. Those problems were exposed in August, when one senior leader thought it wise to drag four underclassmen with him on a Cheech and Chong adventure, all while exercising his Second Amendment rights, too.

So match a lack of leadership with mediocre effort and a young roster looking for veteran examples and you can bet that Kelly’s postgame comments for the media were a subdued echo of what he said behind closed doors.

“It looks like it’s hard to play, like we’re pulling teeth. We’re playing football for Notre Dame! It looks like it’s work,” Kelly said, almost exacerbated. “Last I checked they were getting a scholarship to play this game. There’s no fun, there’s no enjoyment, there’s no energy.

“We’ve gotta look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s the way we have to go.”

 

 

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Duke

Josh Adams Nevada
AP
129 Comments

It’s another Saturday of football at Notre Dame. And if you’re unable to tune in on NBC at 3:30 p.m., or you want more than our afternoon broadcast with Mike Tirico, Doug Flutie and Kathryn Tappen, we’ve got you covered.

 

For the PREGAME SHOW AT 3:00PM ON NBCSN, CLICK HERE.

For the BROADCAST FEED OF NOTRE DAME VS. DUKE, CLICK HERE.

For the BANDS AT HALFTIME, CLICK HERE.

And your POSTGAME COACHES PRESS CONFERENCES, CLICK HERE.

Here’s to a great Saturday, the first one of autumn.

 

Pregame Six Pack: Back to the grind

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans 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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Enough has been made about the fate of Brian Kelly’s football team. Now it’s time to play. Because for the young team that takes the field each week, Saturday is an opportunity to improve, a chance to win a football game, and one of 12 Saturdays that serve as a reward for the hard work that goes in all year round.

At 1-2, nothing is served by looking at the big picture. Conversely, it’s Kelly’s job to drill down, making sure his players and coaches understand that the details are what will be critical on this third-straight home weekend.

With the team focusing on the little things, let’s do the same in the Pregame Six Pack. With the Irish and the Blue Devils meeting for the first time since 2007 on Saturday afternoon, let’s focus on six key position groups that will ensure the Irish leave the game at a level 2-2.

 

The defensive backs. Players young and old need to take a step forward. That means Cole Luke needs to rebound from his worst week wearing an Irish uniform and Devin Studstill needs to keep improving. That means the Irish need to hold up not just in pass coverage, but in run fits as well—the focus as much on youngsters as it is on Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian.

Without Max Redfield, Shaun Crawford, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins, this group has no reinforcements other than the youth on the roster. And Kelly sounded fairly clear that with the Irish out of the picture for a big postseason spot, he may be inclined to save Watkins’ year of eligibility and let him forearm heal with time.

“We’re at a point right now where we have to make a decision whether we want to get him in,” Kelly said.  “I would say standing here in front of you right now, based upon my conversation with Dr. Ratigan, he thinks it’s still two more weeks, and if that’s the case, I would lean toward not playing him this year. Not to use up a half-year on him.”

That means Nick Coleman’s going to keep playing. Donte Vaughn will get his chances, too. And it’s up to everybody to step their games up—because this is the group that needs to get the job done.

 

The Offensive Line. The Irish front didn’t have a strong Saturday last weekend. And so you can guess that Harry Hiestand let his unit know this week that those results wouldn’t be good enough.

Expect to see a new attitude this week. That means a commitment to sustaining blocks. It means a diligence in spotting pressures. And it means getting the ground game—and the line of scrimmage—moving.

“It comes down to what we do and that’s the way football is, especially on the offensive side of the ball, it’s executing what you need to do and what your job is,” Mike McGlinchey said this week. “Doing that against a look that is in front of you, that’s the great thing about playing offense, especially offensive line, is a lot of it is in your control. You just have to be able to see what’s happening in front of you and trust the guys next to you to get the job done and that’s what’s going to happen.”

Expects Duke’s defense to challenge Notre Dame’s front with varied looks and a multitude of different pressures. But after struggling against the Spartans, expect a very motivated Irish offensive line to set the tone on Saturday.

 

 

The Pass Rush. Brian Kelly called Duke quarterback Daniel Jones “as good as anyone in the country as far as running their offense.” That’s high praise for a young player just getting started, but it’s likely a credit to a smart quarterback and a very good offensive coaching staff. So as the Irish defense tries to find its footing, expect the Blue Devils staff to see some opportunities after watching three games of tape from Notre Dame’s defense.

But a developing set of receivers and a struggling offensive line should give Notre Dame’s woeful pass rush some opportunities to establish themselves. It should also help protect a secondary that found itself in position to make plays last week, but just didn’t get the job done.

The Blue Devils short passing game has had success. But if Duke tries to extend those throws down the field, the Irish defense better be ready. You can only do so much in the secondary. Against a Duke offensive line that hasn’t been at its best, the Irish front should be able to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback, with veterans like Isaac Rochell or a rookie like Daelin Hayes. The door is open to get a sack or two from a position group that’s been missing in action through the season’s first quarter.

 

Special Teams. Scott Booker’s unit has to want to get that bad taste from their mouth. Jalen Elliott’s penalty took a score off the board. Miles Boykin’s mistake gave the football to the Spartans. And Nicco Fertitta took a stupid penalty, getting himself noticed for all the wrong reasons.

CJ Sanders is due for a bounce back. And Duke’s specialists have been struggling, too. If the Irish want to win this game convincingly, they can dominate the third phase of the football game, helping the defense with field position and setting up the offense with a short field or two.

 

Wide Receivers. I noticed Chase Claypool attacking the football. Notre Dame’s coaching staff did, too. Now it’s time to add the talented freshman to the mix, another downfield weapon who can exploit mismatches and bring a physicality to a unit that already features Equanimeous St. Brown.

Duke’s defense isn’t bad. But they’ll be asked to do a lot, committing bodies to stop the running game and hold up the Blue Devils if the offense can’t get rolling. But for as good as DeShone Kizer has been this season, he’s due a few big plays from the guys catching passes. A season after Will Fuller served as a home run hitter, it’s time for an Irish pass catcher to take a long ball to the house.

 

The Head Coach. Yes, I know this is cheating. The head coach isn’t a position group.

But this is Brian Kelly’s team. That means that he’s ultimately in charge of Brian VanGorder’s besieged defense, the special teams that struggled last week and the offense that went missing for two quarters.

Kelly’s been under the bright lights before. And after seven seasons, a little external heat isn’t anything that’s going to come as a surprise—no matter how successful he’s been turning this program around.

 

“It comes with the territory. I know what the expectations are for the football program at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “When you build expectations you’re going to be criticized. I have no problem with that. I get that. As I said, I’m a 1-2 football coach. If you’re not criticizing a 1-2 football coach, your fan base is pretty soft.”

So it’s up to Kelly to have his team avoid the noise. It’s up to the coaches and players inside the Gug to find the motivation. And it’s up to the team to play with an internal motivation that doesn’t take into account the team’s postseason destination.

The message has been sent, at least if you listen to one of the team’s captains.

“It’s got to be self and team pride,” McGlinchey said this week. “It’s the constant battle to become the best person and player you can be each and every day. And along with that, become the best team we can be every day. That’s the motivation, just become better and do better and continue to work for that, and everything that we do is about.”

The message is clear. Now delivering on it is essential.

Behind the Irish: Gameday traditions

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With Notre Dame ready to welcome Duke to South Bend for a third-straight home weekend, our Behind the Irish feature takes a look at some of the unique home traditions of football Saturdays at Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly and players Nyles Morgan, Josh Adams, Torii Hunter, DeShone Kizer, Isaac Rochell and Mike McGlinchey give us a look at their favorite gameday traditions.