Mailbag: The case of the missing questions

29 Comments

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.

Who among Notre Dame’s receivers might emerge?

Getty Images
24 Comments

The stat continues to be referenced in this space because it is somewhat hard to believe: Irish receivers accounted for three catches and 11 yards in Notre Dame’s 49-20 victory over Boston College last weekend. As a whole, the passing game accounted for 96 of the 611 total Irish yards.

“Clearly we have to work on our weaknesses, right?” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “So wherever we feel like our weaknesses are within the offense, we have to get better at those weaknesses each and every week.”

The weakness would seem to be the aerial attack as a whole with an emphasis on threats created by the supposed downfield playmakers. The latter half of this particular topic will be discussed into the ground. There are a few reasons for that.

1: The Irish rushing attack has been so dynamic there is little, if anything, to reasonably assail in that aspect of the game.
2: The Notre Dame defense has exceeded any realistic preseason expectations such that, though not perfect, it is a welcome surprise for Irish fans and, presumably, Irish coaches alike.
3: Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s accuracy issues do not leave much for the imagination or any debate. They are what they are and will remain just that until improved.

“The question that probably hit it the most was recognition, being comfortable with the route, where the receiver is, and just trusting it,” Kelly said of his quarterback’s misfires. “Once [Wimbush] gets to that level and trusts it — he trusts that corner route, that six route, he loves to throw that route, you can see that he loved throwing it — once he gets to that level with his passing game, he’ll throw it with the same kind of accuracy.”

It seems distinctly possible doubting Notre Dame’s receivers may remain the critic’s tactic all season long. Whether that is the case or not, let’s hit pause and offer a quick plot synopsis. With 11 scholarship receivers on the roster, this may take a few minutes. In no particular order other than the easiest transitions in writing:

Junior Equanimeous St. Brown
St. Brown has been the one consistent Irish receiver, even if that does not necessarily show up on the stat sheet. It certainly did not against the Eagles, when he recorded one, three-yard reception. Whenever Kelly refers to only one receiver doing anything of positive connotation, he is referencing St. Brown. For example:

“Accuracy is a product of being comfortable within an offense, an offense that has changed a little bit from what [Wimbush] was used to running,” Kelly said. “It also has to do with really only having one receiver that has established himself in the program for a period of time. He’s working with some new receivers.”

Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long may continue to experiment with different options and new combinations. St. Brown will remain a constant.

To some degree, his breakout sophomore campaign doomed how his junior year would be viewed. That does not excuse seven catches for 99 yards and one score through three games, but it does help explain some of the lens through which that stat line is viewed. As was written in St. Brown’s 99-to-2 entry before the season:

“Suffice it to say, St. Brown exceeded any and all expectations in 2016, beginning with his tumbling touchdown against Texas. In a way, those successes make it likely St. Brown falls short of expectations in 2017. If he does appear to take a step back, whether that is shown in statistics or not, it could be partly due to the added depth.”

Fifth-year Arizona State transfer Cameron Smith
In retrospect, the offseason arrival of the graduate transfer could have been seen as an indication Long was not yet satisfied with the receivers already on hand. Instead, the newcomer was presumed to be a luxury from Long’s past. The two spent three years together at Arizona State before Long moved to Memphis for the 2016 season.

“Smith already knows Long’s offensive tendencies,” this space wrote in the summer. “Slipping into a familiar offensive approach should not take much time at all. Long may be most grateful for Smith’s on-field presence as the Irish learn to embrace an up-tempo offense. Smith is already used to it.”

Some of Smith’s success may indeed derive from his institutional knowledge rather than from a lack of performers otherwise. He missed the Boston College contest due to a sprained ankle, racking up seven catches for 54 yards in the two games preceding it. Kelly expects him to return this weekend.

“The one thing about Cam is he’s extremely physical, a great blocker,” Kelly said. “He can catch the football.

“We’ve got to catch it better at all positions, though, not just one position. But he’s definitely a guy that adds to our receiving depth.”

Sophomore Chase Claypool
If St. Brown and Smith are the closest the Irish come to sure things, Claypool may have used the victory over the Eagles to position himself as the next best bet. He made two of those three catches and gained eight of those 11 yards. Those numbers are not much, but it cannot be denied they led the Irish receivers.

Throughout the spring and most of the preseason, Claypool was seen as a possible starter at the slot position, even though his 6-foot-4, 228-pound frame is far from typical for the inside spot.

“Sending Claypool’s frame on quick routes across the middle should provide junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush an especially-dynamic safety valve of sorts,” the respective 99-to-2 entry posited.

Against Boston College, though, Claypool saw more action on the boundary, opposite St. Brown. The next day Kelly indicated that is likely to continue, though the depth chart Notre Dame released Tuesday does not hold to that. In this instance, deferring to the actual statement makes more sense than abiding by a superfluous depth chart.

Here, Claypool’s two targets through the first two games of the season show his inconsistencies. On one play, a clean route to an open spot on the field yields a 16-yard gain. On the other, he drops a screen pass, always an added danger due to the greater-than-usual possibility the incompletion becomes a fumble.

Junior Miles Boykin
With Claypool emerging at the boundary position, it seems Boykin may be on the way out. That theory is underscored when realizing Wimbush has yet to target Boykin. Sophomore Ian Book did twice in the closing minutes Saturday, both falling incomplete.

Continuing to use 99-to-2 entries to give an idea where one fool thought each player stood during the summer, a look at Boykin’s reminds his drop back down the depth chart was always a consideration.

“Boykins’ rise to the top of the depth chart this spring was always a possibility, if not necessarily a likely one following the 2016 season. … Boykin’s pedigree kept this result in play despite his minimal role. The question now is, will he maintain this consistency and thus create more opportunities for himself?”

It appears that answer may be no.

Junior Chris Finke
Finke was the odd-man out when the theoretical springtime starting trio was St. Brown-Claypool-Boykin. It took him seven quarters to get a target this season, but he quickly made the most of it and the soon-to-follow opportunities. In just the fourth quarter against Georgia, Finke caught three of four targets for 36 yards.

His ability to create a window within traffic is one not displayed by any of the other Irish receivers yet this year. Where that went against the Eagles may be one of the more perplexing wonderings so far this September. Then again, the running game’s success rendered the point quite moot.

Junior C.J. Sanders
The other most-likely option at the slot, Sanders is actually listed as a boundary possibility on the aforementioned depth chart, behind Smith, on the same level as freshman Michael Young. If remembering Kelly’s comments about Claypool, it seems more accurate to depict Sanders as the third in line there, at best.

Given he has yet to be targeted this season — and, frankly, memory fails to recall him taking an offensive snap, but add to that a few grains of salt — that at best is awfully necessary.

Sanders has continued to return kicks, coming oh-so-close to breaking a couple for big moments. His greatest skill remains finding a lane and accelerating. There is a reason Finke returns punts — he is shiftier than Sanders, more dangerous in close quarters. Simply enough, that skill translates better to offensive snaps.

That discrepancy began to show itself in 2016’s second half. Sanders totaled 24 catches for 293 yards and two touchdowns. On the surface, that is a modest stat line for a sophomore, certainly one opening the door for conversations about potential. Looking deeper, though, Sanders made only seven catches for 39 yards in the season’s final seven games.

“One of Notre Dame’s pass-catchers is going to be left on the outside looking in at opportunities within a high-scoring offense,” Sanders’ 99-to-2 entry read. “Sanders seems a likely candidate. … As much as Long’s tendencies may suggest Sanders’ role in the passing game may be minimal, the last half of his 2016 did not do the junior any favors, either.”

Freshman Michael Young
Young’s ascension to a prominent role remains theoretical, but the time may be coming quickly.

“He presents himself in a manner that he could be a guy that does a little bit more than just a guy that is downfield,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We think he can be a screen guy, maybe a jet sweep guy. He’s got a little bit of all those tools.

“It’s too early really to tell other than the fact that we really like his work ethic, his attitude, his football intelligence is really high. It’s put him in a good position early in his career. I see him more as a multi-dimensional player than maybe a perimeter player.”

Kelly did not make those comments with Sanders in mind, but they may speak as much to why the junior has yet to contribute on offense this year while the freshman is readying to do so. Young may have the ability to shed a tackle on a screen, while Sanders would need the alley to be waiting for him.

Young’s only catch this season, in fact, came on exactly such a play.

Freshman Jafar Armstrong
Young’s classmate has yet to see the field this year. It may be too soon to chalk that up to a guaranteed year of preserving eligibility, but it would be unexpected to see him play at this point.

Sophomore Kevin Stepherson
Much time has been spent fretting about Stepherson’s future. The most definitive statement to date has been the absence of his name on Notre Dame’s travel roster on the trip to Boston College. It would logically seem unlikely that changes on this weekend’s jaunt.

Senior Freddy Canteen
Canteen will miss the rest of the season due to a torn labrum.

Sophomore Javon McKinley
Kelly said Sunday he hopes to preserve a year of McKinley’s eligibility this season.


Of the 11 rostered receivers, seven have a viable chance at making an impact for the Irish this season. They would benefit from Wimbush improving upon his accuracy, but that quickly becomes a chicken and egg debate.

The odds are this hole in the Irish offense will last past this weekend. Notre Dame will focus on winning more than on developing its passing game.

“We’re going to do what we’re good at,” Kelly said. “That’s what you’ll see from this offense moving forward.”

Then again, it is also distinctly possible this speculation dies on the vine Saturday night. That is not meant as an optimistic conclusion’s tease. It is meant as an acknowledgement of the realities of college football, of 18- to 22-year-olds and of three-week sample sizes.


A nod where a nod is due, this piece was knocking around the mind, only to be kicked into existence by a request from ndpourtjrs: Douglas, if your agenda permits would you mind running a recap on our receiver crops with some profile info? This situation may prove to be a pivotal point for the season. Thank you!

It was the yet-to-be-earned gratitude that sealed the deal. You’re welcome, ndpourtjrs.

MSU’s man-to-man pass D may allow Notre Dame & Wimbush to rush more; Kelly on resting Adams

Associated Press
10 Comments

It is not quite an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, but when Notre Dame travels to Michigan State this weekend, the focus will be on what success the Irish can have running the football against a staunch Spartans defense.

Michigan State has hosted Bowling Green and Western Michigan thus far this season, holding the two to a combined 220 rushing yards on 55 attempts (when adjusting for the Spartans’ five sacks for a loss of 37 yards), an average of 4.0 yards per carry.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, has gained 1,023 yards on 127 carries, an average of 8.06 yards per rush.

Something will have to give.

“They do what they do. They’re stingy against the run,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “They’re very physical in the back end. They play tight man coverage. They mix it up very good with their pressure package.

“Led by coach [Mark] Dantonio’s philosophy, they’ve always been really good defensively.”

That “tight man coverage” thought may seem an outlier when discussing Michigan State’s penchant for stopping the run, but it is that man-to-man coverage allowing Dantonio to devote an increased number of bodies to stopping the run. It could also be the item allowing Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to break loose at times.

When those defensive backs, and perhaps even linebackers covering tight ends or running backs, turn to cover a route, they lose site of the quarterback. With a mobile passer such as Wimbush, the backs of those helmets can turn a run-pass option play into a quick run for a worthwhile gain.

“If teams are feeling as though playing man-to-man and turning their back on the quarterback is the way they want to defend us, he’s going to run a lot,” Kelly said. “I know I wouldn’t want to be in man-to-man versus option offenses. It’s the last thing that you want to do, turn your back on an option quarterback and give him all the field to run.

“Teams are starting to figure out how to defend us, too. … If we see more zone coverages, he’s going to have to be able to throw the football. We’ve got to continue to grow as an offense in both those phases.”

The aerial phase of the offense will be determined by any improved accuracy from Wimbush and the emergence of more reliable receivers, an unavoidable topic following a game where that combination managed a meager 96 passing yards.

While Kelly did not excuse the extent of that struggle, he did indicate a slow start to the season might have been expected of Wimbush. This is, after all, his first collegiate action.

“We’re three games into this, he’s only going to feel more comfortable each and every week,” Kelly said. “These conversations that we’re having right now are totally natural for a first-year starter. He’s had a clipboard and a headset, that’s it. Now he’s in the middle of it.

“You’ll continue to see progress from him from week to week.”

That progress notwithstanding, look for the Irish to rely on the run as much as possible this weekend. Along with that will come zone reads, counters, and the rest of the ground game gamut.

“We can’t appease people in terms of what looks good as much as we’re were going to be good at,” Kelly said. “If running the football is what is going to be the common denominator for wins, then that’s what we’re doing. Efficiency is the most important thing.”

To keep him fresh over a long season, Notre Dame has taken to resting junior running back Josh Adams a bit during the week. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Resting Josh Adams six days a week
Wimbush may have scored four rushing touchdowns last week, but junior running back Josh Adams absorbs more of the physical toll of the ground game than any other Notre Dame ballcarrier. To date, Adams has taken 56 attempts for 443 yards.

To keep the bell cow fresh, the Irish coaching staff has reduced some of his workload during the week.

“We’re very cognizant of how we practice him, making sure that he gets the proper work, that he’s sharp when we get to Saturday,” Kelly said. “We let our best players play.

“It’s really incumbent upon us to do a great job of preparing him, but understanding that he’s got to feel really good when we get to Saturdays.”

The return of Cam Smith
Fifth year receiver Cam Smith missed the Boston College game due to a sprained ankle suffered in practice last week. Kelly said he expects Smith to be 100 percent this week.

A recruiting conversation about the NBA
In recent conversations, Kelly has praised the football intelligence of a few players, most notably junior cornerback Shawn Crawford and freshman receiver Michael Young. That may seem a difficult quality to gauge when recruiting 17-year-olds. So, Kelly doesn’t. Instead, he focuses on their broader understanding of and interest in sports.

“I actually like to talk about other sports,” Kelly said. “If they don’t know anything about Kyrie Irving and the trade with the Celtics, I get a little nervous.”

Typically, whenever Kelly mentions a Boston professional sports team, it is meant in jest as a reminder of his fandom allegiances. In this instance, it was an accurate acknowledgement of the biggest non-football sports story of the summer. At least, the biggest in this country.

“Those that understand sports, whether it be basketball, football, whatever they follow, other sports other than football itself, they generally have an understanding of the games,” Kelly said. “There are so many carryovers with other sports.

“I get a little nervous when somebody doesn’t know anything about any other sport.”

Notre Dame’s Opponents: Ready for a tough week for the dozen foes, but that could mean some promising upsets

Getty Images
27 Comments

Last week, Notre Dame’s opponents enjoyed a 6-2 record, not counting Boston College’s loss to the Irish. This coming week, however, will prove a much more difficult slate. Exactly half of the dozen are favored with none facing each other.

Temple (2-1): The Owls needed a 13-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Logan Marchi to sophomore receiver Isaiah Wright with only 3:48 remaining to make it a two-score game against Massachusetts this weekend. The Minutemen got another score, but thanks to Marchi’s consistency, the last-minutes touchdown was not enough to catch Temple. The Owls prevailed 29-21, and Marchi continued his interception-less streak to start the season.

That streak will be tested Thursday at South Florida (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The Bulls are favored by a mere 20.5 points with a combined points total over/under of 61. A 41-20 trouncing would not bode well for Temple in the American Athletic Conference this fall.

On a somewhat unrelated note, it was recently posited to your definitely-not-too-focused-on-gambling-lines scribe that favorites of 20 points or more win outright more than 98 percent of the time. Logically, that makes sense, but a spreadsheet now exists to quietly track that for the remainder of the season to gauge just how secure those endeavors may be.

Georgia (3-0): Georgia beat up on FCS-level Samford 42-14. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm went 8-for-13 passing for 165 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Nonetheless, sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason reportedly returned to practice Monday, though in a limited role.

The Bulldogs used a 21-0 third quarter to end any Samford dreams.

Whoever starts at quarterback this week will have a tough task. Georgia hosts Mississippi State (7 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Bulldogs are favored by 6.5 as of this Tuesday a.m. writing with an over/under of 48.5. Quick math and some rounding hint at a 27-21 final.

Pretty soon here, Boston College head coach Steve Addazio is going to be extremely desperate for a win. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Boston College (1-2): The Eagles lost to Notre Dame 49-20. You knew that, right?

The sledding will get much rougher for Boston College now, heading to defending national champion Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2). A 34-point margin is predicted with an over/under of merely 51.5. Suffice it to say, losing 43-8 would not do any good for Eagles head coach Steve Addazio’s future no matter who the opponent may be.

Michigan State (2-0): The Spartans enjoyed a bye week and now host, who is it again, hmmm, oh! Right! Michigan State faces Notre Dame at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. The spread is up to five, favoring the Irish, with an over/under of 54, indicating something along the lines of 30-24.

Miami (OH) (1-2): Chuck Martin has officially lost momentum. A 21-17 loss to Cincinnati at home will do that. The defeat was even more spirit-crushing than usual. The RedHawks led 14-3 entering the fourth quarter. They led 17-6 with fewer than three minutes remaining. A touchdown followed by a two-point conversion cut the lead to 17-14 and then an interception returned for a touchdown 70 seconds later gifted the Bearcats a victory.

Miami did not exactly play stellar football, though. The RedHawks converted only three of 14 third downs and gained a whopping 70 rushing yards on 32 attempts, a 2.2 yards per carry average.

Martin and Miami will look to right the ship this weekend on a trip to Central Michigan (3:30 p.m. ET on Watch ESPN). Despite the road venue, the RedHawks are only two-point underdogs with an over/under of 53.5. Another close loss, perhaps 28-25, would be all-too deflating for Martin’s reclamation efforts.

North Carolina (1-2): Congratulations Tar Heels, you found a win. Sure, it was a 53-23 delight at FCS-level Old Dominion, but a win is a win is a [four-beat pause] win. After giving up 72 points combined in your first two games, you gave up only 23 to the Monarchs, with seven of those coming from a kickoff return for a touchdown.

North Carolina next hosts Duke (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU). Those not too familiar with some of the norms of gambling spreads should remember home-field advantage is usually good for a three-point swing in the projected margin. With that in mind, raise an eyebrow at the Tar Heels being three-point underdogs to the Blue Devils with an over/under of 63.5, indicating a 34-30 type of afternoon.

That spread seems about right. That point total seems a bit low, especially when considering North Carolina’s defensive performances thus far this season.

A walk-on freshman, Chase McGrath provided the winning points, and the tying ones at the end of regulation, to propel USC past Texas in double overtime Saturday, though by then it was Sunday in most of the country. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

USC (3-0): The Trojans found their way to a 27-24 double overtime win against Texas. It was dramatic and entertaining and, if being honest, somewhat underwhelming.

If anything was learned, USC now knows it has a calm and confident kicker in freshman walk-on Chase McGrath.

He should not have too much to worry about this weekend. The Trojans head up to Cal (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC) to face the overmatched Bears. A 16.5-point spread and an over/under of 63 points results in a guess of 40-24, advantage USC.

North Carolina State (2-1): The Wolfpack enjoyed a 49-16 victory over FCS-level Furman, otherwise known as the Paladins, a truly exemplar team nickname, and fitting they had to travel to Raleigh.

North Carolina State now has to do the traveling, all the way down to Tallahassee to try and prove wrong an 11-point spread in favor of Florida State. The 51 point over/under implies a 31-20 finale. It may be a bit bold to predict the Wolfpack to win outright, but a cover and an under would go hand-in-hand.

Wake Forest (3-0): Three years ago, the Demon Deacons lost to Utah State 36-24. This past weekend, Wake Forest beat the Aggies 46-10.

By no means is that a sign of Utah State’s fall. It is, rather, a distinct note of the Deacons’ improvement.

That will be tested at Appalachian State this weekend (3:30 p.m. ET on Watch ESPN). This line opened at Wake Forest by three, but it has already moved up to 4.5, indicating the world is onto the Deacons rising. An over/under of 46 leads to considerations of a 25-21 finale. That would certainly be entertaining, but figure Wake Forest’s roll will continue with a bit more ease than that.

Miami (FL) (1-0): Hurricane Irma postponed Miami’s date at Florida State until Oct. 7. Having played all of one game this year, the Hurricanes will be eager to host Toledo (3:30 p.m. ET on ACC Network). They may be too eager to cover a 13.5-spread in their favor with an over/under of 57.5. That 35-22 final simply seems too wide.

Navy (2-0): The Midshipmen relished a bye week. Navy will now host Cincinnati. As 11.5-point favorites, the Midshipmen’s performance will provide a barometer of Miami (OH) as much as anything else. A 31-20 victory would indicate the RedHawks may be in for a long year while the Midshipmen get ready to challenge for the American Athletic title once again.

Stanford (1-2): The Cardinal fell for the second week in a row, this time at San Diego State by the score of 20-17 after the lights literally went out. This should not be seen as the end of times for head coach David Shaw’s Stanford. IT may be a tough loss, but they have set up too strong a program to let two-consecutive losses halt progress forward.

UCLA visits the Cardinal late Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). There is no way that 63-point total is not threatened, though Stanford remains favored by 7.5 points.

Questions for the Week: Ankles, Claypool and Notre Dame’s history at Spartan Stadium

Getty Images
51 Comments

As always, these are questions with answers likely to come before Saturday night’s kickoff …

Will Cam Smith be healthy enough to get back on the field?
The fifth-year receiver suffered a sprained ankle in practice last week, limiting his reps throughout the week and keeping him from playing Saturday, per Irish coach Brian Kelly. That absence may have held more of an effect than was anticipated by anyone.

Certainly, Notre Dame’s receivers totaling three catches for 11 yards is not solely a reflection of Smith not being on the field. It is a sign of bigger issues, but that does not mean Smith would not have aided the cause. With his institutional knowledge of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme from their days together at Arizona State, Smith has been consistent. His seven catches for 54 yards come from running clean, disciplined routes.

Getting him back onto the field could alleviate a slight bit of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s accuracy issues. By no means would this eradicate the concern entirely, but even a small step in the right direction would be a welcome trend for the Irish at this point.

If Smith remains sidelined, did Chase Claypool do enough to maintain his spot as a starter?
Kelly answered this question Sunday, but it had already been worked into this concept’s draft and emphasizing it seems a valid decision.

Claypool will continue to see time, though more so at the boundary receiver position than the slot spot he worked at throughout spring and preseason practices. Of those three catches for 11 yards the receivers managed against Boston College, Claypool accounted for two receptions and eight yards.

“He was assignment correct,” Kelly said. “We saw him really grow in the areas that we wanted him to grow in.”

Along with Claypool, there was also some Michael Young innuendo last week. Will the depth chart now reflect that?
When Kelly discussed coming changes at receiver before the trip out east, he mentioned Claypool by name. He also seemed to imply another unexpected option could emerge.

“Guys are going to get banged up and we’re going to call on what I think will be outstanding depth at our wide receiver position,” Kelly said Thursday. “But we really do have to start to feature some guys that might not have all the experience but have a higher ceiling.”

At that point, Kelly knew Smith was injured, though perhaps he was still questionable to play. Kelly also presumably knew senior Freddy Canteen would need season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Those two bits could explain the first half of that paragraph.

The second half suggests Claypool would have company in the inexperienced with a “higher ceiling” category. With sophomore Javon McKinley intended to preserve a year of eligibility this season, freshman Michael Young is the most-likely candidate.

That presumption could be quickly confirmed in the Notre Dame depth chart this week.

How badly is Tony Jones’ ankle sprained?
Exactly a week ago, this piece wondered, “Through two games, are the Irish really still this healthy?” Through three games, the answer has become no.

Sophomore running back Tony Jones sprained his ankle against Boston College, only x-rays confirmed no further damage. As a running back, that injury can obviously be more than a nuisance and waiting for Jones to return to full health before playing him makes sense. If that takes longer than a week, it should lead to a bit more playing time for junior Dexter Williams. (more…)