Nyles Morgan

Mailbag: The case of the missing questions

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So apparently I didn’t answer last week’s questions. I think it might be the first ever lost column, because I could’ve sworn I answered them. (Checked my drafts folder and everything…)

Perhaps I have the North Korean government to blame? (Or the guy in the mirror…)

Either way, we’re moving forward. And I’ll scan through a few of your question from last week to make sure I didn’t miss any masterpieces, but thanks for keeping me honest.

Away we go.

 

nicenirish: Keith don’t you owe us all an apology for ignoring the last set of questions?

Don’t you guys owe me an apology for never actually asking question, but rather answering your own question first and then stating it? Or writing a manifesto that lacks a question at all?

But in the spirit of Christmas:

 

FROM LAST WEEK…

c4evr: Is the ND program facing any NCAA penalties for the Frozen 5 or will it just be a university issue? I also remember where Jenkins said the school would vacate victories if players had been academically ineligible during past competition? Was he implying that the school itself would vacate victories or that the school would comply with the NCAA decision?

This isn’t a resolved situation. So while we haven’t heard anything on the record from anyone about any sanctions (self-imposed or otherwise), every time Brian Kelly’s been asked about it he has stated that vacating victories doesn’t sound like it’s on the table.

There was a rumor a few weeks back going around about Notre Dame self-vacating a few scholarships a year. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case when you look at the way Notre Dame is recruiting. And if Notre Dame is imposing restrictions, what should happen at North Carolina? A dozen a year for a decade?

Notre Dame isn’t afraid of self-immolation, even if this doesn’t seem to be necessary. And you could argue that they already did it by holding four guys off the field for the entire season and one for the majority of the season.

Nothing has been officially resolved, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever hear if it is.

 

irishsoccerfirst: I would like your take on the performance of the O-line. No excuses for this group: Consistently strong recruiting every year; no academic issues, no defections to UCLA, Cincy or the NFL; no significant injuries; no new coaching scheme. So, why is our supposed strength such a big fat dud?

Offensive line play seemed to be disappointing this season. Minus Ronnie Stanley, who has put together enough good tape to be considered a fringe first-rounder after one season at left tackle, it’s fair to say the group took a step backwards.

That said, I think lingering injuries to Christian Lombard really hurt them. Same with Nick Martin, who likely made the move because snapping was difficult. In their first true season as starters, Steve Elmer and Matt Hegarty had mixed bag seasons.

Did anybody really think losing Zack Martin and Chris Watt would be easy? Just because a guy has a four-star grade next to his name doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to step in and be a seasoned vet from the beginning. (Just look at Michigan’s offensive line — it’s been a mess, and the Wolverines have recruited a Rivals four-and-five-star All-Star team.)

We’re not coaches. I am not fully capable of grading assignments that I don’t always know. But it’s pretty easy to see that the Irish have struggled on the interior and haven’t always done the best job protecting Everett Golson.

The starting lineup against LSU could return in its entirety. If it does, that’s a very good thing — especially with competition coming from the young pups.

 

okanirish94: Does BK ever script the opening drive? We’ve had some less than stellar play callers on prior staffs who were actually quite good at scripting opening drives. With BK though I can recall multiple games starting off with illegal substitution, delay of game, or timeout on or before the 2nd play.

Scripting plays doesn’t keep you from illegal substitutions, delay of games or timeouts. But the opening of the USC game was super frustrating, and the fact that Amir Carlisle lines up incorrectly makes no sense.

Even in some games where the Irish didn’t win, the opening drive hasn’t really been the problem. The Irish marched nicely against ASU before settling for a field goal. They scored a touchdown in under a minute against Northwestern. Against Louisville (a top 10 defense), the opening drive produced points.

So bang on BK all you’d like, the opening script isn’t necessarily the problem.

 

mayesdays: How do you think the Irish will utilize Schmidt and Morgan next year? Someone else said this, but could this be the most underrated defense heading into the 2015 season?

Let’s pump the brakes on the “most underrated” talk. These guys were good when they were healthy, but they’ve gotta prove they can do it against good competition, because they need to earn back any good will after this last month.

But getting both Schmidt and Morgan on the field together will be interesting. Yesterday, Kelly talked about Morgan’s versatility — he’s capable of playing the Will or Sam as well as the Mike. So Notre Dame’s base defense could utilize Morgan as a first-down defender and then sub-out for a guy like Onwualu in receiver-heavy formations.

Schmidt, assuming he returns healthy, is the team’s starting middle linebacker. And Jarrett Grace is taking reps in bowl practice, a great story in its own right. So the Irish depth chart might finally look pretty strong in the middle after being a gigantic question mark heading into 2014.

 

gpatton90:Do you believe that BK will ever truly embrace a run-first, smash-mouth offensive mentality that can set up the rest of the offensive tools he has assembled?

No.

He’s got a system he runs. And it’s not a smash-mouth, run-first mentality.

That said, I get what you mean.

 

tony34343434: Hey Keith, my question is do you think the Irish need to play with more passion. Many on here including myself have commented on that this year. Games like USC, Navy, Northwestern and some others. I do not pretend to know as much football as you Keith but i do not see the fire that some teams bring. Maybe i am just another alum looking for answers.

Tony, I’m usually pretty tough on questions like this, especially with unmeasurable metrics like “passion.” (More passion could be the more cowbell of this blog…)

I tend to think you hit it on the head when you called yourself “another alum looking for answers.”

While I skip past passion, I do think true leadership was an issue on this team. I think the coaching staff named the wrong guys as captain this season. I wouldn’t have put a C on Austin Collinsworth or Cam McDaniel. Probably not on Nick Martin, either.

When the going got rough, Notre Dame’s most logical leaders were either hurt (Joe Schmidt) or part of the problem (Everett Golson, not to mention McDaniels’ disastrous fumble against Northwestern).

 

goirishgo: Where does Die Hard rank on your list of all-time great Christmas movies?

onward2victory: Can we get your top 5 Christmas movies, Keith??

Love Die Hard. Never considered it a Christmas movie. (After all, how exactly were USC and Notre Dame playing? A Las Vegas Bowl we didn’t know about?)

As for Christmas movies… That’s a tough one. Christmas in the Arnold household usually included going to a movie, not necessarily watching them.

I need some extra time on this one. But I’ve seen them all.

 

 

mtflsmitty: Keith, You did ignore a question I posed in August which also received an awful lot of thumbs up from other posters. Since you specifically mentioned ignored questions, thought we may try again:

Can you offer some sense for total readership of Inside The Irish? Unique visitors? Trend lines for unique readers by week/month throughout the season. Percentage of readers who also post comments? Readers by state? All of this info (and more) is available within your a Google Analytics account. Would be interesting.

Smitty, I have no clue. We have a bunch of analytics tools, but I don’t see most of them and I honestly don’t really care about them. I’ve never been told to write for eyeballs, so I just write. Some things take off, some don’t.

On a good day, there’s more than 25,000 readers coming here. On a not so good one, there’s a few thousand.

As of now, there’s been over 25 million views and over 75,000 comments since we switched to WordPress (the first few years weren’t on WordPress). The best ever day? Mid-January, 2013. The column? This piece on Manti Te’o.

 

bernhtp: The arms race stemming from the big big money in college football – the Harbaugh offer, coach salaries more generally, facilities, player living accommodations, etc. – is cranking up. ND is caught between Swarbrick’s pragmatism and a traditional reluctance to compete in this way given our identity and values. What is your prediction on how ND will navigate this?

I’ll believe Harbaugh getting paid eight million a year from Michigan when I see it. But there’s no doubt that the arms race continues to crank up. Notre Dame has done well enough — The Gug is a nice facility, though it’s hardly the Taj Mahal. And assistant coaches are doing just fine — Chuck Martin took a pay cut to take the head coaching job at Miami.

That said, I think the biggest piece of this will be the Campus Crossroads project. It’ll allow Notre Dame Stadium to get up to date — more than doubling premium seating options and likely bringing in a video board to see replays. It’ll also probably include some additional football facilities — maybe a place to eat as a team?

Notre Dame isn’t likely to start spending $1 million on big-name assistants. So that might be the difference from some SEC programs. But Swarbrick has done just fine with the juggling act and I expect that to continue.

 

irishfan4life: Why do you think it took this long for Kelly to look at running a two QB system? Seems like after 6-10 turnovers in 2-3 games he’d look to get Zaire some more experience.

Keith, Has Brian Kelly mishandled the QB position at ND?

I’m bunching these two together. And there was more to second question, but this was basically it.

If you predicted Everett Golson to continue to turn the football over, then yes, it was mishandled. But I tend to believe that Kelly knew Golson had to get all the game reps he could (he’s still a guy who is learning, part of why the lost 2013 season stunk so badly) and in practice it was clear that Golson was clearly the best at the position. That being said, I was advocating for a series for Zaire in the first half against Rice.  And even Golson acknowledged that he would’ve pulled himself against USC.

This feels a lot like the end of 2011. Things felt broken. People jumped all over the Andrew Hendrix bandwagon, for adequate play in a lopsided football game. Zaire is clearly a good runner and the better of the two in the zone read, speed game. We’ll see how he throws it against LSU.

 

I’m not calling Zaire Hendrix, and I actually think he’ll be the starting quarterback come 2016. But heading into next season, I still don’t think this is anybody’s job but Golson. He just won’t be given the leash he had in 2014.

 

oldtrollmcgee: Could we get a writer (just one) who covers Notre dame basketball? I know they are not a legitimate title contender, but each year they seem to put out a quality team, and when it comes to tournament time I always see Notre Dame listed as a quality win for other teams. Just a thought.

There are plenty of places to read Notre Dame basketball coverage. The guys at Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold, Irish Sports Daily, Irish Eyes, along with the indie blogs and the South Bend and Chicago Tribunes. Hit the Google, Old Troll.

But it’s not going to be me. I don’t have the expertise to write intelligently about the team. Pair that with the fact that every time I’ve sat down to watch an entire Notre Dame basketball game the Irish have always lost. So I flipped back and forth between the Michigan State and Purdue victories and was shocked when Brey’s boys pulled it off.

It looks like a fun, athletic squad. Call me in March.

 

ylilbnosredna: If ND gets blown out by LSU in the whole game, what (outside of the overrated 15 practices and single game’s worth of experience & p.t. for young players) actual positives will Notre Dame be able to take from the experience?

I guess I don’t agree with the premise of your questions, considering you put the most important thing in parenthesis. Those 15 practices are the whole point!

That said, a blowout is a terrible way to go into the offseason, and everybody inside the program knows that the Irish have to play better. Find a way to pull off the upset? That could change everything heading into spring, the ultimate season saver.

 

irishdog80: which of the freshmen from this year break into the starting lineup next year? Any of the recruits have the potential to be first year starters?

Great question. And probably one I’ll spend all offseason thinking about. Of the guys that played, I’d have said Tranquill before the torn ACL. Right now, I think they’ll find a spot for Morgan.

Offensively it’s a tougher road. If Ronnie Stanley leaves, Kelly raved about Alex Bars on Saturday. And Quenton Nelson will challenge the interior offensive linemen.

As for the incoming group, I’d look at pass rushers or defensive backs. Maybe Shaun Crawford? He just has the feel of a perfect slot cornerback. And don’t forget Justin Yoon. He’ll be the next kicking adventure for the Irish.

 

dudeacow: So Nyles Morgan has basically played 8 halves games of competitive football (if you count the second half of USC)… but he has 43 tackles and three double-digit performances. He had 11 tackles in one half against USC! He doesn’t really know this defense well and yet is racking up tackles so easily. Is he going to turn into one of those 150+ tackle guys who running backs hate and set the tone for a dominating defense in the future?

What, 100 tackles wasn’t enough? You needed 150+ tackles? That puts him in a group of who, Luke Kuechly? Dat Nguyen?

That being said, there’s a reason Morgan made two Freshman All-American teams. He’s going to be really good. It’ll be fun to watch him develop.

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

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Justin Brent has not seen the playing field since Notre Dame faced LSU in the Music City Bowl back in December of 2014. That now looks like it will be the last time Irish fans see him in a Notre Dame uniform, as well. Reports indicate the rising senior running back will transfer.

Irish 247’s Tom Loy broke the news, soon confirmed by Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson.

A consensus top-100 pick out of Indianapolis (Ind.) Speedway High School, Brent arrived in South Bend with high expectations, but will depart without an official statistic aside from snaps in nine games his freshman season. He recorded no catches, carries or tackles.

 

Thanks Keith, Now Dear Readers…

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 19: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish takes a hand off from DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on November 19, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 34-31.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Dear “Inside the Irish” fans, “Inside the Irish” foes and, of course, my parents –
Dear curious purveyors, my stand-alone predecessor and Tim Raines –
Mostly, dear Notre Dame fans, Notre Dame spectators and college students enjoying any and all hallowed traditions –

Yes, unfortunately for you and fortunately for me, Keith tossed me the keys to this 1971 Volkswagen Beetle known as NBC Sports’ “Inside the Irish” blog. Don’t worry, I know how to drive stick shift.

If I were feeling corny, I would tell you I first reported on Notre Dame football in the fall of 1996, shouting out the garage window to my father as Allen Rossum returned Purdue’s opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. If we are ignoring sentimental childhood stories, however, then it would be more accurate to call 2009’s home-opener against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada my beginning on the beat.

Over the last few days I reached out to a few of you readers whom I know, asking why you enjoyed Keith Arnold’s coverage. So as to keep them honest, I neglected to tell them I would be stepping into this spotlight today.

Repeatedly, I heard buzz words such as readable, reasonable and realistic. Those will be my goals, as well. My predecessor at The Observer no longer dabbles in journalism, but I still trust his view on most things. His response strikes me as an admirable objective.

“We are smart, informed sports fans with an irrational passion for ND football, and appreciate writers who share those traits but are professional enough to step back from the irrationality and put things in perspective… We like a realistic take, not a knee-jerk reaction.”

On that note, you will not see me give a recruiting update with my every breath. You will also not see me dispense as much cinema advice as Keith did. I am simply not the film-nik he is, though I am listening to the “La La Land” soundtrack as I write this. You will find jazz increases your words per minute rate.

I will often speak of gambling terms, but not to encourage the vice. Rather, I find those odds to be a thought-provoking and informing means of evaluating things. Today, various books strongly expected President Trump’s inauguration speech to last longer than 15 minutes. Thus, I figured it would last longer than 15, but not by all that much since such was the over/under mark set. I could step away from the computer and watch it without losing too much of my day. It lasted 16:18.

I will try to be conversational, especially in these Friday letters/news-dumps/updates/recaps, should they become a recurring piece.

I intend to keep many, but not all, of Keith’s recurring features, as daunting as many of them seem. If I am to make this place my own, some will have to change. It’s okay, we’ll get through that together.

So ask questions, state your wonderings and pitch story ideas. This very format was a seed watered by one of you early this morning. Admittedly, prior to suggesting this he referred to me in terms I refuse to post publicly, but old drinking buddies have earned that right.

It’s late Friday afternoon. Grab a drink, and don’t you dare leave it unfinished.

– Douglas.

And in that corner… Introducing Douglas Farmer

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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It’s time to turn over the keys. On a day where our great nation makes a peaceful transition, so does our humble blog.

I’d love to say I was smart enough to time my departure for the same day as inauguration, but as they say, it’s better to be lucky than good. And I was lucky to get the gig, and happy to turn it over to someone who I believe is a better-than-good writer: Douglas Farmer.

Douglas was Editor-in-Chief of The Observer when he was a student at Notre Dame. He’s worked for old media—earning a byline at the Los Angeles Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He’s worked the ND beat, not just at the school paper, but at Blue & Gold. And now, I’m very happy to say, he’s taking over Inside the Irish, a transition that I think will go wonderfully.

To give you an idea of who Douglas is, I milked one last column gave him the And in this Corner treatment.

Hope you enjoy. And, one last request—Be Nice.

 

Douglas, you graduated from Notre Dame in 2012, and last covered the Irish on a day-to-day basis in the 2014 season. What has you excited to come back to the beat?

Douglas Farmer: Given Notre Dame’s past season, I would say I am most excited to take an in-depth look at how the Irish respond — and perhaps rebound — in 2017. It has been awhile (nearly a decade, more accurately) since Notre Dame has needed to do that, so it is one area of football there is not much institutional knowledge to rely upon.

Aside from that, the general engagement with a fan base so devotedly-interested in its topic is always something to look forward to. Even during a 4-8 season, that fan base does not waver in its curiosity and thirst for information.

 

A nice perk is also getting paid for the addiction that is Notre Dame Football, no?

DF: I prefer to subscribe to Hurricane Carter’s opinion on addictions: Do not be addicted to anything “they” can take away from you.

 

Well put. As I thought about the decision to move on, I came to the conclusion that there’s no perfect time to ever do so. That said, other than the head coach, this is as close to a reboot as you can ask for. Do these next few months get you excited, especially as an almost entirely new staff take charge?

DF: Just had to slip in a reference to removing the head coach, didn’t you?

Bouncing back from a rough season is the most appealing story line in sports, in anything really. Take a look at any movie you have ever watched (or, in your case, perhaps even been involved in). The hero experiences conflict just before redemption. Now, I am not saying Notre Dame is the hero. I am saying watching the team, the program, try to rebound has me very interested.

The staff turnover is an added wrinkle, and will only increase the work ahead for the program. Before the players can learn the plays, they have to learn the staff. Before that, the staff has to learn about each other.

 

So what’s the plan with the blog? You plan on getting to know the characters below the fold in the comments? Keep the A-to-Z series rolling? Do a better job proof-reading?

DF: I do not intend to outright abandon any institution or established series you have devoted years to. Thus, I would expect A-to-Z to continue in some form. But we will see. That is an easy thing to say when I have not yet reached the misery that must be “Q, R, S, …”

I would like to engage with the readers, but only so far as logic and rational conversation will allow. I have no interest in devolving to who knows what depths. Proof-reading, well, I want to say I will excel at that, but that just sets me up to eat a lot of crow when I miss a letter in April.

 

Smart. Will tell you about the A-to-Z… This roster is a front-loaded one, alphabetically, at least.

DF: All of high school I had a locker next to a Favre. (Not really related.) I understand the luxuries the alphabet can provide.

 

Let’s go rapid fire for a second: Favorite game you saw in person at Notre Dame?

DF: Either the 2012 Stanford game or the 2011 South Florida game. I realize how absurd that latter answer sounds, but that is part of why it stands the test of time. It was such a unique experience. Plus, being allowed to go back to the dorm for an hour at halftime made the whole day more entertaining.

 

Best road game experience?

DF: 2010 Army in Yankee Stadium jumps to the top of the heap, though I suppose technically not a road game. Go ahead and score against me for this, but I am a lifelong Yankees fan. That was a big one for me.

(KA note: The Observer must not have had the $$ to send the editor to Dublin…)

(DF note to KA’s note: I graduated in May 2012. The Observer did manage to send four staffers to Dublin the following September. Sometimes I wonder if I would not have been better off if I had taken two years to get through fifth grade.)

 

Favorite player to watch during your time as a student?

DF: Golden Tate could have walked around the football field as Maximus, for all I’m concerned, given how entertaining he often was. Though Lou Nix also holds a lofty place in my regard.
I lived a door down from Lou for two years, part of the reasoning there.

 

Favorite villain of the Irish from your time watching/following Notre Dame football?

DF: Pete Carroll runs away with the award. His candidacy is enhanced by my Wisconsin-bred Packer fandom.I do not like disliking Pete Carroll. I very much wish I could be indifferent toward him. The Falcons granted me that luxury for nine months.

 

Part of what has me excited about this transition is that I actually thought you’d be a good person to turn the keys over to, as I enjoyed reading your stuff when you were at The Observer and covering the Irish in your post-graduation years. What’s the most exciting part for you about taking over the blog? And what do you look forward to doing with it?

DF: I am most excited for the chance to write, and the chance to write about something on which I consider myself relatively knowledgeable. I look forward to seeing where the blog environment takes me. The open-ended aspect of it presents all sorts of possibilities.

Theoretically, I can be more freewheeling than elsewhere, get in-and-out quicker of some pieces, spend more time on others. I know Notre Dame fans of all varieties — the obsessed, the apathetic, pessimistic, optimistic, etc. — including some who have yet to decide how they feel about Tommy Rees. (Feel positively about him. It’s that simple.)

My sample size is certainly representative of the fan base as a whole. That wide swath is what makes covering Notre Dame enjoyable, and very well may provide the blog some direction and material on its own.

Oh, and I appreciate those kind words, Keith. I’ll Venmo you $20 later tonight.

 

Sliding a final question into my lightning round. What’s your handle on NDNation? (Kidding!)

DF: I will take my right to not incriminate myself, otherwise known as the Fifth.

Notre Dame makes Alexander and Balis hires official

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Notre Dame confirmed the news that Del Alexander and Matt Balis are joining Brian Kelly’s staff. As expected, Alexander will coach wide receivers while Balis was named director of football performance.

The program announced both hires on Thursday.

“I was looking for an experienced teacher, mentor, recruiter and developer of student-athletes,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “Del not only met the criteria, but he exceeded it. He also understands, respects and values the type of young men we want to bring to this University and football program.”

Alexander, who’ll lean on his West Coast roots and familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chip Long, said the following:

“I’m excited to officially get on board, hit the road recruiting, and to find and develop the best student-athletes in the country. Notre Dame is a special place, and I’ve been able to the see the power of its brand on the recruiting trails across the country for the last 15-20 years. I’m honored and humbled to serve this University, this program and these remarkable young men.”

Balis comes to Notre Dame from UConn, with an impressive pedigree that counts jobs at Mississippi State, Florida, Virginia and Utah. He takes over for Paul Longo, who is taking a leave of absence from the football program, per the official release.

“Matt comes to Notre Dame with impeccable credentials and incredibly high praise from the likes of Urban Meyer, Mickey Marotti, Dan Mullen, Bob Diaco and Al Groh,” Kelly said. “He’s already instituted a strength program built with a foundation that focuses on hard work, discipline and top-notch competition. Matt will demand the best from our players, not only in the weight room, but in many other areas within our program. I couldn’t be more excited to have him in place moving forward.”