Jaelen Strong, Dominique Hatfield

And in that corner… The Arizona State Sun Devils

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With the College Football Playoff’s selection committee deeming this a Top 10 matchup, Notre Dame travels to Tempe for its best opportunity at impressing committee voters. As a narrow underdog to Todd Graham’s Sun Devils, the Irish are facing a stiff test against an Arizona State team with an improving defense and growing confidence.

That self-belief could be because it feels like the stars are aligning. After beating USC on a Hail Mary and having Utah’s All-American kicker Andy Phillips miss in overtime, this Arizona State team doesn’t look like the one that gave up 62 in a blowout against UCLA, but rather has one that looks and feels like a team of destiny.

Matched up against the Irish in the flagship afternoon game this Saturday, Graham and the entire campus (students began camping out earlier this week) understand that this isn’t just another football game.

“I think it’d be silly to say this is like any other game. It’s not any other game to me,” Graham said this week. “Growing up a football fan, getting an opportunity like this late in the year… This is the kind of game you want to coach in, the kind of games our players want to play in and obvious our fans want to see. So I’m looking forward to seeing a packed house and creating a memory.”

To get us ready for Saturday, Nick Keueger of House of Sparky joins us. In addition to being the managing editor of Arizona State’s SBNation blog, Nick is a future graduate at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. We shared Q&A duties this week, so if you’re interested in seeing my answers to his questions, go check them out.

Either way, enjoy our discussion here.

 

The Sun Devils’ are 7-1 thanks to some fairly amazing finishes. A Hail Mary to beat USC. One (basically two) missed field goals last weekend in overtime to beat Utah. What has that done to this ASU team’s self-belief? How confident is this group as they welcome the Irish to Tempe?

These wins have been pretty spectacular morale boosters for the program, but I think the players understood wins such as Utah and USC also took a fair amount of luck. Against the Trojans, the Sun Devils managed under 40 yards rushing and the special teams was poor with a punt return for a touchdown by Nelson Aghalor. The Utes provided a tough defense for Taylor Kelly to throw against and he should have been picked three or four times, but the stat line will only show one.

The blowout 62-27 loss at home to UCLA also shows just how poorly this team can execute. The Sun Devils allowed five plays of 80 yards or more that night as Mike Bercovici threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away too. The Sun Devils have seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows in 2014. Right now they’re riding one of those incredibly tall waves, but the optimism and confidence is tempered given what has transpired so far this season.

 

Taylor Kelly is back after missing three games with injury. How has he looked against Washington and Utah? Are his relatively modest numbers a product of the defenses faced or a little bit of rust?

Combined with what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell admitted was rust, Washington was a lot of game planning for Kelly not to throw because the winds were gusting upward of 50 to 60 MPH. The offensive line also left a lot to be desired that night, giving up seven sacks against Washington. Kelly was also without one of his faster targets in sophomore wide received Cameron Smith because of injury. Utah was a bigger test and a more true version of Kelly facing a very good defense.

Although he didn’t get a passing grade from many ASU fans, his saving grace was his dual threat ability especially on the last drive against Utah, which helped him finish with 14 rushes for 55 yards. The Sun Devils running game is nearly non-existent with Bercovici at the helm and Kelly provides that extra spark on the ground. Without that, the maroon and gold don’t win their last two games.

 

When we spoke this summer, the Sun Devils defense was a big mystery. It’s had some ugly moments, but seems to be hitting its stride. What’s been the driving force for the change?

The personnel remain the same, but Todd Graham is figuring out a lot of the right formulas on defense. He moved Antonio Longino from a roaming linebacker spot Graham likes to call “Devilbacker” to a weakside inside linebacker spot which has increased his production dramatically with over half of his tackles coming in the last three games. He’s also putting some heavier guys in combination together on the defensive line, junior Mo Latu who is 365 pounds is seeing a lot of extended playing time alongside other defensive tackle junior Jaxon Hood and senior defensive end Marcus Hardison.

There are other guys who are just simply playing better like junior college transfer and junior corner Kweishi Brown who is finally just getting his feet wet enough to feel comfortable at the Division I level.

 

The marriage between ASU and Todd Graham seems to be in full bloom. Yet with some high profile jobs potentially opening up this offseason, his name always seems to be among the ones to watch, especially after his previous moves. As someone close to the scene, do worries of him leaving sound ridiculous? Does it look like he’s really working his dream job, as he mentioned after leaving Pitt, or a guy that would take an offer from a place like Michigan seriously?

Any rumors were quelled for good in September when he donated $500,000 to the capital campaign toward redesigning Sun Devil Stadium. His wife’s parents also live in the Valley and he continues to repeat that there is nowhere he would rather be. As funny as this sounds, Todd Graham is an extremely loyal person. That is when it comes to who he surrounds himself with in his coaches. Graham has had his pick of hires and now that his other great friend in defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is here in his first season after he brought in Mike Norvell on the offensive side the ball in year one, I honestly don’t think Graham could be happier with where he’s at. He’s ready to build his legacy at ASU, his contract just got extended again this past summer and it would shock a lot of people if he left anytime soon.

 

The Sun Devils have one of the best WRs in the country in Jaelen Strong. He had a big game last year in Notre Dame’s victory over ASU in Dallas. How has Strong elevated his game this season?

While he has definitely caught a few more balls in open space, his ability to adjust his body while in the air has improved tremendously. It means everything to Taylor Kelly that when he throws a ball in Strong’s direction, either Strong is coming down with it or nobody is. He’s not faster necessarily, but put on about 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. Mel Kiper Jr. recently compared him to former Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans in how he operates on the field.

 

This was a game that ASU’s former AD fought very hard — and loudly — to save. With a national broadcast, and even a surprising early kickoff, how big of a game is this for Sun Devil fans and students? Just about everybody expected this to be a night game. Do you think an early afternoon start makes a difference?

The early afternoon kickoff was welcomed in Tempe and it should be a beautiful 80 degrees or warmer here Saturday. The only thing that got a lot of people riled up was College GameDay choosing East Lansing over Tempe for their location Saturday. The Sun Devils don’t often get a chance to play many games during the day because it’s still just too hot in Arizona to schedule a day game until late October or early November. Fans were also glad to have a Saturday game at a reasonable hour, which they could bring the entire family out to see instead of the usual 7p.m. kick.

Students started up a tradition of camping out for tickets to the first few rows of the student section last season and called it “Camp Fargo” because the tickets are given out at the basketball arena on campus named Wells Fargo Arena. The new tradition has continued this season, the line for student tickets started Sunday morning at 6 a.m. and is already wrapped half way around the building. If anything, I might argue a day game could enhance the atmosphere just because it doesn’t happen around here very often anymore.

 

Notre Dame got the better of ASU last year, a somewhat surprising outcome considering some of the struggles the Irish had with Tommy Rees behind center. With Everett Golson, the Irish offense has taken a big step forward. What are some key matchups for ASU’s defense that we should be watching?

Golson, like Taylor Kelly, enjoys moving the chains with his feet. In that case, senior defensive end Marcus Hardison who is second on the team with seven tackles for loss against left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be one to keep an eye on as Hardison will need to keep contain. The cat and mouse game between Golson and sophomore middle linebacker Salamo Fiso in identifying coverages and schemes will be one to watch too. Todd Graham plays attacking defense, he blitzes to his hearts’ content and will force Golson to make quick decisions with the football. If, however, he makes the right ones it could pay huge dividends as is the case with any high risk high reward blitzing. So I think a big matchup to watch is Golson’s decision making against Graham’s exotic blitz packages. Outside linebacker Laiu Moeakiola (4 sacks) is one of Graham’s favorite players to blitz with along with senior safety Damarious Randall who leads the team with 7.5 tackles for loss.

 

Likewise, most expected the Sun Devil offense to be among the best in the country. Yet entering Saturday it’s Notre Dame that’s scoring at a better clip. Since the end of September, the Sun Devils have only broken 30 points once. Is something wrong?

The Sun Devils have run into two very good, stout Pac-12 defenses. Stanford was the No. 2 defense the country when ASU played them and Notre Dame fans know first hand how tough they are defensively. The running game couldn’t get going against the Cardinal either with Bercovici at the helm. Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha stunted the Sun Devils running game in their tracks in Seattle in horrendous conditions I touched upon earlier. I will say the offensive inefficiency against Utah is cause for some alarm. There were times where Kelly seemed flat out ineffective but ASU also may have found a few solutions in the running game with freshman Demario Richard. If I were to point to one thing, I’d say the Sun Devils finding a balance has been tough. Occasionally it will just become the “D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong show” with almost nobody else involved on offense and that’s when ASU has run into the most trouble.

 

Call your shot. How do you see this game shaking out?

With the academic suspensions on Notre Dame’s side and the loss of Joe Schmidt, I’m ready for another high scoring shootout just like the game in Dallas. The Fighting Irish provide a well-balanced attack in my opinion and it seems in the Pac-12, teams are pass or run first so ND provides a unique challenge.

That game in Dallas was special for both sides, regardless of the outcome, it helped both fan bases tremendously and both teams gained great national exposure. Saturday seems a little more hostile in my opinion. The Sun Devils and their fans have a bit of a chip on their shoulder just like any team would against a group they lost to last season. Unfortunately for ASU, they tend to lose these kinds of huge games on a national stage. Taylor Kelly is a very good quarterback and will do everything he can to keep the Sun Devils in it, but in my mind I just can’t see this young defense being ready for an offense as dynamic as Notre Dame.

Notre Dame: 38 ASU: 31

***

For more from Nick you can follow him on Twitter @NickPKrueger. You should also be getting updates @HouseofSparky.

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Duke

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Anthony Nash #83 of the Duke Blue Devils runs for a touchdown during the second half of a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 24, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Sunday’s move was emphatic. Brian VanGorder’s departure confirms that a 1-3 record is unacceptable. And the demise of this team was as swift as the departure of a colleague Brian Kelly has known for the bulk of his 25-plus year coaching career.

But that’s the job. And the move likely wasn’t easy for a head coach who saw himself as close to tenured as any man this side of Lou Holtz had been, and is now clearly in uncharted territory.

“I’m under review, as well,” Kelly acknowledged on Sunday afternoon. “We’re all in this together: All the players, coaches, everybody. So players’ jobs are on the line. Every job is being evaluated as the players. All coaches’ jobs are on the line as well.”

With Greg Hudson now directing the defense, and Syracuse having run more offensive plays than every program but three, the challenge this weekend is stark. So let’s move forward ourselves and finish off the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

THE GOOD

Dexter WilliamsBrian Kelly gave him credit, so let’s start there. Williams ran hard, looked explosive and flashed on special teams.

It’s time for Williams to get some more reps, even if it means taking away from Josh Adams’ leading load as well as Tarean Folston‘s.

 

Donte Vaughn. Notre Dame’s freshman cornerback wasn’t perfect—he got beat inside a few times on slant routes that everybody in the building saw coming. But he came up big and made a play, something Notre Dame’s defensive backs haven’t done since Shaun Crawford went down for the season.

His length and cover skills should be put to the test again next weekend when Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo looks to replicate his monster 270-yard performance against UConn. The focus will be on Cole Luke, Vaughn, Julian Love and Nick Coleman.

 

Kevin Stepherson. The freshman only caught three balls, but all of them were big gainers,  including his beautiful 44-yard touchdown catch. With Torii Hunter unable to push the lid off opponents, Stepherson might be a better fit for the X moving forward, assuming he continues to learn the playbook and run precise routes.

 

The Weather. Looked like a heckuva day in South Bend, at least from a weather perspective.

 

THE BAD

The tackling. That was one of the worst tackling performances I can remember. Especially against a team that was anemic on offense heading into the weekend. Name a defender and you’ll recall a missed tackle.

Drue Tranquill held on to a few early, then had some ugly whiffs. Cole Luke, a guy Brian Kelly called the team’s smartest football player last week, sure looked lost a few times, too. And with hopes that Devin Studstill is the answer at free safety, Studstill did his best to make us wonder about that, too. He took some horrific routes to footballs, a difficult day at the office for a young kid who needs to learn quickly.

When your senior captain outside linebacker is getting run over by a quarterback for a first down and you’re thinking, “at least he made the tackle,” the bar has been lowered pretty significantly. But another week of “thudding” at practice might be needed—even with heavy installation coming soon.

 

The special teams. A missed field goal proved costly. So did some horrific tackling and coverage on the kickoff return that let Duke back into the game. And for the fourth time this season, Tyler Newsome flubbed his first kick of the game. (All but asking for the nickname Mulligan to emerge.)

Scott Booker has a ton of kids on his run teams. But they’ve got to get some consistency out there if they want CJ Sanders to help turn this into a positive, not another unit to hide.

 

The pass rush. Yes, the drought is over, with Nyles Morgan getting the first sack of the season for the Irish. But man—this team has a gigantic hole on it and finding any type of pass rush is critical.

Sure, Duke’s quick passing game took advantage of the Irish’s leaky secondary and didn’t let Notre Dame get to the quarterback. But at this point, every snap you’re giving Andrew Trumbetti over a kid who can get to the quarterback—Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, or anyone—feels lost.

 

The coaching. Kelly raised more than a few eyebrows when he said the following, when asked about an evaluation of his defensive coaching and game plan.

“That’s probably the one area that I feel better about today. We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today,” Kelly said.

That was likely a time-buyer until a long night of thinking, because morning brought clarity for the head man.

 

THE UGLY

The State of the Program. With the game tied 28-28 heading into the fourth quarter, one team was jumping around like they’d won the lotto. The other was all but biting their fingernails, kicking dirty and looking lethargic.

If anything set off Kelly postgame—even more so than the defense his troops were displaying—it was the lack of effort.

“There’s no passion for it. It looks like it’s hard to play. Like we’re pulling teeth,” Kelly said. “You’re playing football for Notre Dame. It looks like it’s work. 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 got to look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s where we got to go.”

In Kelly’s first few seasons in South Bend, he was criticized for having his team celebrate victories, even the ugly ones. But somewhere this program lost track of the ultimate goal and that likely falls on the head coach to fix that problem as soon as possible.

 

Firing a staffer. Notre Dame’s head coach likely saw what many of us saw as well. But a decision like that from the cheap-seats is one thing, a decision from inside the program is another.

Follow Notre Dame long enough, and you’ll tire of thinking about the carousel that’s come and gone—Davie, O’Leary, Willingham, Weis, armies of loyal assistants who have spent years working to climb the summit. And for most, life after Notre Dame isn’t the same.

Sure, there’s Urban Meyer, Dan Mullen and Charlie Strong. But there are a few dozen others who have come to a program with noble ambitions—willing to do it right and win on and off the field—but they fail too often on Saturdays.

So as ND Nation almost united in celebration of the move, it’s worth a quick word to a fanbase that always fashions itself as possessing proper etiquette.

Few come to your office and celebrate the worst day of your professional career. Less dig into your family’s Twitter account, hoping to break a story or confirm news they celebrate jubilantly. Sure, some of that comes with the territory. And certainly VanGorder was well compensated for his time in South Bend.

But ultimately, this Sunday hopefully provided some perspective. Baseball lost one of its brightest young stars. Golf lost one of its icons. And many many more things of consequence took place—inside the sporting world and out.

But when it comes to VanGorder, a quick reminder of something that has nothing to do with sports. A man has lost his job. A family will uproot once again. And the dynamics on the current football team—where Montgomery VanGorder still plays an important role—won’t ever be the same.

“I will tell you this: Brian is as fine a defensive coach as there is out there. He knows the game. He loves Notre Dame,” Kelly said on Sunday. “He wanted to succeed as much as anybody here, but it wasn’t working.”

There should be no harm in that.

VanGorder out as defensive coordinator

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
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Brian VanGorder has been fired. Notre Dame’s third-year defensive coordinator was relieved of his duties after just four games.

Brian Kelly made the move official Sunday morning, less than an hour before his weekly Sunday teleconference. He’s replaced VanGorder with defensive analyst Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker who joined the Irish staff in June and spent the last three seasons as defensive coordinator at Purdue, a position he also held at East Carolina and Minnesota. The rest of the defensive staff remains unchanged.

“Obviously, this is a difficult day for our coaching staff, but I’m excited and honored about the opportunity that Coach Kelly has afforded me,” Hudson said in the team’s statement. “We’ve got to improve on defense, without a doubt, and I’m confident that we will. We have great student-athletes and a tremendous defensive coaching staff. I can’t wait to get started with our group.”

The VanGorder era ends with the Irish ranked 101st in scoring defense, 96th in rushing defense and 87th in pass defense. The Irish are dead last in sacks, the last FBS team to get one when Nyles Morgan finally got the team’s first sack against Duke.

Hired after Bob Diaco left Notre Dame for the head job at UConn, VanGorder brought with him an NFL system and a multiple, attacking scheme. But after injuries derailed his first season, it was a defense best known for its maddening inconsistency, with even last season’s talented outfit plagued by the big play and mistakes.

As late as Saturday night Kelly pledged allegiance to his defensive coordinator, calling the staff’s game plan the least of his concerns after the 38-35 loss.

“We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today. I was pleased from that perspective,” Kelly said.

 

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
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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.