Les Miles

And in that corner… The LSU Tigers

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Notre Dame’s inclusion in the ACC’s bowl selections came in handy this year. As the Irish back-slid throughout November, they still held onto some preferred real estate, finding themselves in a pretty nice consolation game, with the opportunity to play in Nashville in the Music City Bowl.

Unfortunately, they’ll be going up against one of the SEC’s premier programs in LSU. The Tigers, who went through some of their own growing pains this season in an 8-4 campaign, still managed to produce one of the nation’s top defenses and a running game that’s a tough draw for a decimated Notre Dame defense.

While visions of Sugar Bowl’s past don’t necessarily apply, the Irish are significant underdogs heading into their December 30 finale. And to get us ready for the Music City Bowl, Bleacher Report’s Carter Bryant.

Hope you enjoy:

 

Quite a bit has been made of the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, with Everett Golson playing his way from Heisman contender to platoon player. But the LSU quarterback position has been a bit of a mess as well. What should we expect from the position during the Music City Bowl?

LSU’s quarterback has been a headache. Fans have clamored for Brandon Harris to get snaps, but Miles has stuck with Anthony Jennings. Jennings is a limited passer that completes less than 50 percent of the throws. Expect him to start, but there is a slight chance Harris will play though he has rarely seen the field since Auburn.

 

Help me figure out this LSU defense. On paper, it looks really strong, a top 10 defense by just about every measure available. But the Tigers are giving up 4.2 yards per carry, pointing to some softness on the inside — not surprising given some of the youthful concerns entering the season. If you’re Brian Kelly, how do you attack LSU?

Those rushing statistics are a tad inflated due to inexperience to start the season. Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn, the first three Power Five teams the Tigers faced, gashed them. Since then, no team has rushed for more than 137 yards in a game. LSU’s defensive tackles became better players after limited mike linebacker D.J. Welter was replaced by the more athletic Kendell Beckwith.

Notre Dame should try to run the football some, but the Irish are best through the air (no matter who is at QB). LSU is not great at rushing the passer and Notre Dame has the receiving talent to eventually get open against the Tigers’ fantastic secondary. I would also not be surprised if Brian Kelly tries some zone read.

 

Just about every Notre Dame fan alive expects to see LSU run early and often against a front seven that’s decimated by injuries. Will this be the kickoff to Leonard Fournette’s 2015 Heisman campaign? It wouldn’t be an LSU offense without ridiculous depth at that position. Who else joins him?

My viewpoint of LSU’s running backs is a tad different than others. Fournette is the best of the bunch, but he, along with the rest of LSU’s running backs, are not great at breaking tackles. Backups Terrence Magee and Darrel Williams are powerful, between the tackles runners. Jaylon Smith should have a big game in the box score.

LSU’s offensive line has had some spectacular games (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida) and some duds (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Wisconsin). With ND’s injuries, there is no excuse for the Tigers to not have success (despite starting center Elliott Porter being sidelined with an injury).

 

Sticking with Fournette, what did you make of his freshman season? Underwhelming? About what you expected? What kind of football player do you see him developing into?

The final statistics look fine for Fournette. 891 and eight touchdowns is a good number considering some dud games he had and the lack of a passing game.

But Fournette’s frosh year was a tad underwhelming as well. He went down easy often and struggled to make defenders miss in the open field to create big gains. It is easier said than done, but the No. 1 recruit in the country should be able to do that. He also got plenty of touches as a kickoff returner and did little.

(Here is some tape study I did on Fournette’s masterful game against Texas A&M.)

I’m not sure if he will ever be a Heisman finalist. LSU’s got some great 2015 commits along with Williams. Miles will never make him the bell cow. I do think he can be an All-SEC performer. His speed and power is off the charts. A summer watching Jeremy Hill tape will do him some good.

 

When you look at the personnel Les Miles continually turns out, he’s responsible for practically a two-deep of starting talent on Sundays, with no college program passing the NFL eyeball test better than the Tigers. Yet it doesn’t feel like LSU wins at the clip it should. (Look at the offensive talent Zach Mettenberger had surrounding him last year…)

Is that a product of playing in the rough and tumble SEC? Is it the peculiarities of Miles as a head coach? Am I just seeing this incorrectly? LSU is still a Top 10 program in college football. But it also feels like they’re underperforming. (Or tell me I’m nuts.)

This is a tough philosophical question I get asked often. It all depends on what is the determination of success. If 10 wins a year is considered successful, Miles is the guy. He has done that seven out of 10 possible times. He’s won multiple SEC titles and a BCS crown. His players love him.

Part of this is Alabama. They are a damn strong football team. The Crimson Tide continuously have No. 1 classes and Saban is Saban. Plus the SEC as a whole is pretty good.

It is fair though to question if LSU has gotten maximum value on its talent, especially last season. The defense was gutted from the year before, but it was still embarrassing. As were the Tigers’ performances against Ole Miss and Arkansas (though they won the game, it took a miracle comeback). Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill tweeted about this, and Dan Patrick has mentioned it on his radio program.

There is so much more to this, but that’s a start.

 

What’s John Chavis got to do to get a chance at being a head coach? Or is he just a guy that’s built to be a D-Coordinator? Brian Kelly said he expects a ton of man coverage on the Irish receivers and physicality in the trenches. How do you expect LSU to take on some talented skill players for the Irish?

Chavis is getting paid a ridiculous amount to be LSU’s defensive coordinator. Though he is an interesting coach, he isn’t flashy and lacks a true desire for fame.

Notre Dame’s offensive line has given up some three sack games, but LSU’s pass rush is not that great. That should give time for Fuller and Robinson to get open. Also, playing man coverage opens up huge rushing opportunities for both of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks.

If the Irish can’t run, expect Chavis to play a ton of his 3-2-6 “Mustang” package, which puts six defensive backs on the field at once. This creation by Chavis has been dangerous for defenses. Expect to see Jamal Adams and Jalen Mills to be all over the field.

 

Notre Dame fans don’t feel too good about this matchup. Memories of the boat race that turned Jamarcus Russell into the No. 1 pick are still fresh. What kind of game do you expect to see in Nashville?

That Sugar Bowl was great for LSU fans. Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and the rest of the Irish had a ton of hype going into that game. It is still crazy how easily the Tigers won that game.

There is no reason for LSU to not win this game by two possessions. I watched some of Notre Dame’s final four games. The Irish looked so bad. Fuller and Robinson could give the Tigers trouble, but uncertainty at quarterback makes that tough.

LSU has been sluggish in some bowl games under Miles. The last two years are prime examples. But in the end, I expect an LSU victory.

***

Special thanks to Carter for getting this done before the holiday crush. You can find more of his work at B/R and follow him on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.

 

 

 

ESPN’s Kiper & McShay: Kizer should return to Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drops back to pass during the game against the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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It’s evaluation season. With college football’s regular season over, the focus now turns to the stay-or-go decision that faces many of college football’s best players. Return for another season? Or head to the NFL?

That’s the big question facing DeShone Kizer. Viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by some earlier in the season, Kizer now awaits feedback from the NFL’s advisory board, who’ll give him either a first-round grade, a second-round grade, or none — essentially serving as a message to return to school.

That feedback is something Kizer’s requested, with Brian Kelly revealing that Kizer is one of four underclassmen requesting a review, joined by Mike McGlinchey, Nyles Morgan and Quenton Nelson. 

And while most still think it’s merely a formality before Kizer heads to the NFL, two of the media’s most well-established pundits, ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, are among those who actually think Kizer should stay in school.

In ESPN’s 25 questions about the 2017 NFL Draft, Kiper and McShay focus their attention on potential first-round quarterbacks:

There’s really only one guy right now, and he might not even enter the draft. That’s North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, a fourth-year junior who is in his first season as the starter. Trubisky has thrown 28 touchdown passes to only four interceptions, but he’s still green — with another year of seasoning, he could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. He’s not ready to play right away in the NFL.

I don’t see any other first-rounders in the group. Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, a third-year sophomore, has to go back to school. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson has taken a step back this season. Underclassmen Luke Falkand Patrick Mahomes could use another year in school, and they don’t project as first-rounders.

McShay echoed Kiper’s evaluation of Kizer, stating: “Kizer needs another year.” And if the Irish get that, it means they’ll have a 1-2 depth chart of a third-year starter in Kizer and junior Brandon Wimbush, who saved a year of eligibility in 2016 and has three remaining.

Kizer’s been clear that he hasn’t made up his mind, planning on talking with his family about the decision in the weeks following the season. And with the year-end banquet this weekend with Notre Dame hosting the “Echoes,” that decision might come sooner than later.

Last year, the NFL draft wasn’t kind to the Irish roster. Four key players gave up eligibility to head to the NFL, with Ronnie Stanley going in the Top 10 to the Baltimore Ravens and Will Fuller joining him as a first-round selection after going to the Houston Texans. Even injured, Jaylon Smith was taken near the top of the second round by Dallas and C.J. Prosise was a third-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks.

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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

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

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

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

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

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

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

Holmes told Irish247:

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

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

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

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