Brian Van Gorder

Mailbag: What to expect from the defense?

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Finishing up a holiday weekend with part three of the mailbag.

 

uptheera44: What’s your overall prediction for the defense for next year? I think we have a relatively good idea of the offense’s potential based on the highs of this season (the question there really seems to be about consistency) — but the defense is much more of a wildcard — potential aside, how good do you think this defense will actually be come the Texas opener?

That’s the million dollar question.

To me, Brian VanGorder needs to find two very key solutions this offseason. First, slowing down a team that moves up-tempo. And second, doing a better job stopping the option.

Last season, up-tempo attacks killed the Irish. Sure, it was after some injuries started piling up, but every coach has now seen a season of VanGorder’s scheme. And they’ll now force him to do things his group showed it wasn’t capable of doing last year, mostly moving with tempo and keeping the Irish’s impressive third-down packages off the field.

With Georgia Tech joining Navy on the schedule, that brings two very talented option trigger men up against the Irish defense, with Paul Johnson and Ken Niumatalolo both getting chances to knock off the Irish with talented quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Keenan Reynolds.

Both quarterbacks ran for over 1,000 yards last season. Reynolds scored an insane 23 rushing touchdowns. Johnson threw 18 touchdowns against just six interceptions. And both coaches would love nothing more than to beat Notre Dame.

Ultimately, the Irish defense still needs a few breaks when it comes to health. I think the experience some of the young guys got will pay great dividends in 2015. But to be a dominant group, the Irish’s frontline players need to stay on the field and VanGorder needs to find a solution for hurry-up teams and the option.

 

irish46327: I know it’s still a few months away yet, but any inklings as to what’s going on with the Blue and Gold game? Hoping like others it’ll still be on campus but I’ve heard Soldier Field as a potential host due to construction.

Anna Hickey of Irish Illustrated reported that the Blue-Gold game was going to be played in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s not the on-campus solution that Brian Kelly wanted, but I’m not sure what other option there is — unless you’re getting really, really creative.

It doesn’t sound like Soldier Field is going to be the answer, especially with the natural surface and lack of roof on the stadium. It’d be a much more fun location, but logistically it sounds pretty difficult to pull off.

Is game day on the LaBar Practice field optimal? No. But if you bring in enough temporary seating maybe that’s the solution if you are dead set on holding it on campus.

Otherwise is it Arlotta Field, the lacrosse stadium with a max capacity of 4,500 people? This could be tricky.

 

grammarnazi69: Does Ishaq Williams finally live up to his potential on the field? Do we finally get to see him play at a 5 star level?

I don’t think a 5-star level is happening. But I think Williams can play well enough to get himself drafted and be an impact player in this defense.

Listening to Kelly on Signing Day, it sounded like Ishaq has some work to do to make it back to campus still. But if he gets it done, he’ll be very useful along the defensive line, especially if he’s able to play both defensive end positions and potential shift inside as well.

That means finally displaying some pass rush ability. It also means being disruptive at the point of attack. There’s certainly some urgency now. And the time away from the game likely lit a fuse that serves as an all-important reminder that the clock is ticking.

 

danirish: Cam McDaniel – does he get a shot at the NFL?

Only if he can manage to run something in the high 4.5s at Pro Day. I’ve been all over the place on how I view Cam as a football player. But while the comparisons come by the bushel, he’s not Danny Woodhead, who ran a 4.33 at the combine.

But McDaniel is a useful football player who played out of type (he’s not a goal line runner) at Notre Dame. If he wants it, he’ll likely get a camp invite and sign with a team. Whether he makes that roster depends on if he can play on every special team.

 

ndlv: What players do you expect to show the biggest improvement from 2014 to 2015? For example, last year you predicted a big jump in production for Fuller – are you confident in making any early predictions for next year?

Man, I don’t have a guy that I feel as good about as I did Will Fuller. (Knocked that one out of the park, if I do say so myself.)

Usually I need spring practice to get a feel for this, so I might defer until after the Blue-Gold game. But a few candidates I’ll be watching:

Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell (or Andrew Trumbetti)
Durham Smythe
Mike McGlinchey
Jhonny Williams
Greg Bryant

Ask me about this in May and I’ll have a better idea. But with so few players graduating, it’s going to be tough sledding to surprise me — or it’s going to be a guy many expected big things from last year and they delivered a season late. (That always seems to happen to me in fantasy football.)

 

jude1128: 

Keith,
I know Notre Dame and film are two great interests of yours.

The Sundance Film Festival has called “The Hunting Ground” an “exposé of rape culture on campuses.” The father of Lizzy Seeberg, the St. Mary’s student who committed suicide after being allegedly assaulted by a ND football player, is reportedly one of the voices in the film.

Since the film is being released both theatrically and then airing on CNN, what effect do you think the film may have on the viewers’ perception of Notre Dame, its administration and its football program?

I haven’t seen the documentary, though I have done some reading on it. And knowing the filmmakers’ previous work, I suspect this will be an excellent film and also an important one.

The Lizzy Seeberg case was a tragedy and one that is still incredibly polarizing. While some have written more prolifically about the situation, I haven’t. People come here for Notre Dame football coverage, not my commentary on important political or societal issues.

That being said, it’s worth pointing out that Seeberg wasn’t raped, nor did she accuse anyone of rape. So from a far, while the name Notre Dame and the Seeberg tragedy is likely mentioned, without knowing the context I have no clue as to if it’ll have an effect on viewers perception of the university.

(The above paragraph isn’t to say that Notre Dame, or the university’s security and police department, handled the situation correctly.)

Sadly, there is no shortage of material for a documentary on sexual assaults on college campuses. It’s a frightening epidemic and one that isn’t new. So while this might be a difficult watch for football fans of any number of schools, I think it should be required viewing.

After it’s on CNN I’ll likely have a more formed opinion, but it won’t be one that you’ll be reading about here.

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.”