AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl - Arkansas v Texas

And in that corner… The Texas Longhorns

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Game week is finally here. After nearly nine months—spent wondering about transfers, speculating upon returns and predicting what’ll happen come September—we finally get to see a football game.

And the 2015 season kicks off not just with an ordinary football game, but a showdown between two of college football’s proudest programs. Notre Dame will receive a visit from Texas on Saturday night, with the Irish kicking off their home season in style with a primetime affair on NBC.

After a difficult first-season that saw Charlie Strong take some lumps as he fought tirelessly to rework the Longhorns in his image, Texas looks to build off a six-win season. Strong has hit the recruiting trail hard since arriving in Austin and brings with him a young team that’ll have two dozen true or redshirt freshmen on the depth chart.

To get us up to speed on the state of the Longhorns, Wescott Eberts of Burnt Orange Nation rejoins us. Nice enough to get us up to speed on things earlier this summer, Eberts cleared some time in a busy week one schedule to answer some questions for us before the games begin.

Hope you enjoy.

It looks like quarterback Tyrone Swoops is the man who’ll lead the Longhorns offense into South Bend. How has he been during fall camp? And what do you expect out of him in a night game on a very big stage in a fairly hostile environment?

By all reports, Tyrone Swoopes has been the better of the two quarterbacks, with particular development in his leadership ability. Normally a low-key guy, he’s been much more fiery and demonstrative in practice.

However, head coach Charlie Strong said back during the spring that while he thinks Swoopes is improved, he didn’t know how much better the Texas quarterback will be until he steps on the field. I think that’s still the case and there’s no question that much of his success will depend on improved play from the offensive line and consistency from his wide receivers, a position currently suffering from a lot of drops in practice.

 

I’ve been reading about some of the shakeups on the Texas offensive line. Charlie Strong has sounded complimentary when discussing his running backs, but how will the line be in front of him?

The early returns from practice are that the offensive line is much more physicality in the running game. In pass protection, the Horns may be a little bit more suspect, especially if freshman offensive guard Patrick Vahe remains a starter and pushes junior Kent Perkins out to right tackle, where he struggled last year. The flipside is that Texas will use run-pass options on a number of plays, which will reduce the number of pure drop-back situations for Swoopes.

 

How does Strong’s defense look as it prepares for an offensive opponent that should be one of the more explosive units in the country? Also — what’s the scouting report from Texas’ POV on quarterback Malik Zaire, who has really only played six quarters of football.

There are a lot of question marks for the Texas defense right now, which was missing a couple of key pieces at defensive tackle through much of fall camp. There will be six new starters against Notre Dame and several of them will likely be freshmen, including potential star linebacker Malik Jefferson and maybe even one of three cornerbacks who are making waves. If the linebackers can play well, then the Horns should be okay, efforts that the defensive line could enable by consistently occupying blocks.

As for Zaire, I think the Longhorns coaches respect his arm and his ability to scramble for big plays or be a part of the Fighting Irish power running game, which poses some problems for Texas. Against Big 12 teams, Strong likes to concede some rushing yards in order to reduce big plays down field in the passing game, but with Zaire so dangerous on the move, he may have to switch that up and try to take away the spread-option elements of Notre Dame’s offense.

 

Fill in the blanks. For Texas to win on Saturday night, the offensive key is ________________. For Texas to win on Saturday night, the defensive key is ________________________. 

For Texas to win on Saturday night, the key offensively is to produce explosive plays and avoid three and outs. While that may sound simplistic, the Horns struggled mightily in both of those areas last year, ultimately affording the defense little rest and poor field position to defend.

For Texas to win on Sunday night, the defense has to turn Notre Dame over and keep Zaire from making off-schedule plays with his feet, especially in long down-and-distance situations. Like most teams, there was a major difference in turnover margin in wins and losses — Texas was +9 in wins and -12 in losses.

 

What position group or specific player’s progress are you most interested in monitoring on Saturday?

The quarterback position is the obvious one and the offensive line’s development will factor heavily into the team’s success this season, but the freshman class may be an even bigger key this season. Two freshmen could start on the offensive line, one could start at wide receiver, and several could start on defense.

Seeing Jefferson in action will be particularly interesting — he made plays in the spring game, but also suffered from some inconsistencies that ultimately resulted in a poor grade for his efforts. The guess here is that he’ll have some growing pains in his first truly live action in college, but will also flash that playmaking ability that resulted in so much hype around him during his recruitment.

 

Not to put you on the spot, but do you have a prediction for Saturday night’s game? And if you’re calling the Longhorns’ getting the victory, who is your offensive and defensive MVP?

Not really too into predictions, but this looks like a game that Notre Dame should win, perhaps even handily. If the Horns do pull it off, I think that Tyrone Swoopes has to be the MVP offensively, while junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway will need to create some serious disruption inside.

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For more from Wes and the crew at Burnt Orange Nation this week, check out the site or follow him on Twitter @SBN_Wescott and the site @BON_SBNation.

 

 

Tommy Rees officially joins Kelly’s staff

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Brian Kelly talks to Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium on December 28, 2013 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame has made official what Keith Arnold first reported Jan. 2: Tommy Rees will join Brian Kelly’s staff as the Irish quarterbacks coach.

Or, to adhere to Notre Dame’s release, “Tom” Rees will join Kelly’s staff as the quarterbacks coach.

“When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things,” Rees said in the statement. “First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater.”

Rees spent 2016 as an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers, working with coach Mike McCoy to keep afloat an offense plagued by injuries, beginning with receiver Keen Allen’s ACL tear in the first week. Nonetheless, the Chargers finished seventh in the NFL in passing, ninth in scoring and 14th in total offense.

Rees will need that experience working with rising junior Brandon Wimbush, the only quarterback on the roster with any college game experience, though not a single start under his belt.

“I’m very excited to have Tom join our staff,” Kelly said. “He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that’s unique. He’s a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.”

Rees should not need much time to get up to speed with Kelly’s playbook or system, having operated within it in 46 games over four seasons, including 31 starts. He finished with a 23-8 record as a starter, 7,670 career yards and 61 touchdowns, highlighted by 3,257 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2013 alone. Only Rees, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Everett Golson have ever exceeded 3,000 passing yards in a single Notre Dame season.

With this hire, Kelly completes his retooling of his coaching staff. The newcomers include:
Defensive coordinator: Mike Elko
Offensive coordinator: Chip Long
Special teams coordinator: Brian Polian
Linebackers coach: Clark Lea
Wide receivers coach: Del Alexander
Quarterbacks coach: Tom(my) Rees

Brent’s transfer makes sense for both sides

Justin Brent, Devin Butler
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Justin Brent’s pending transfer makes sense on the surface if for no other reason than his complete lack of game action in the last two seasons. A slightly-deeper look, however, explains the move even further.

The rising senior running back had no logical path to playing time at Notre Dame given the performances of some of his peers. Both in the backfield and at receiver, younger players shined this past season while Brent rode the bench.

RUNNING BACKS

– It may have taken four games for rising junior Josh Adams to find the end zone, but he finished the season with 933 yards on 158 rushing attempts, carrying the ball at least eight times in all 12 games. Most notably, Adams finished the season with 350 yards and three rushing touchdowns over the last three weeks. That strong close shows Adams was not worn down in his second season of consistent use (2015: 13 games, 117 carries, 869 rushing yards, six touchdowns) and can be expected to provide the same bellwether output next season.

– Adams’s classmate, Dexter Williams, has not had the same success, but he did provide some relief throughout the season – most notably against Nevada (eight carries for 59 yards) and Syracuse (eight for 80 and a score) – on his way to 212 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries.

Between Adams and Williams, combined with NFL-bound Tarean Folston’s steady output and quarterback DeShone Kizer’s mobility in the past and the possibility of Brandon Wimbush’s in the future, there were not carries for Brent to showcase his potential. This is before even factoring in rising sophomores Deon McIntosh and Tony Jones, both of whom preserved a year of eligibility in 2016, or any incoming recruits.

WIDE RECEIVERS

– Rising junior Equanimeous St. Brown proved worthy of learning to spell his first name in 2016, catching 58 passes for 961 yards and nine scores, but St. Brown looks to be far from alone in the receiving corps moving forward. Classmates C.J. Sanders and Miles Boykin each found the end zone this past season, despite competing with senior Torii Hunter, Jr., for both snaps and targets. Sanders finished with 24 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns while Boykin caught six passes for 81 yards and a score.

– Rising sophomores Kevin Stepherson, Chris Finke and Chase Claypool add to the depth at the position. Stepherson scored on an even 20 percent of his 25 receptions for 462 yards. On a personal note, he did not actually reach the end zone on his 53-yard catch-and-dash against Miami, but I will still never forget that particular play because the accompanying roar convinced my nine-year-old niece it was well past time to leave Notre Dame Stadium to watch the game on a television where the noise would not be so surprising.

Finke chipped in 10 catches for 122 yards and two scores, and Claypool caught five passes for 81 yards.

– Again, this listing does not account for players such as rising sophomore Javon McKinley who saw action in seven games but has not yet contributed to the passing game or any incoming recruits. (We’ll get to the recruits later in the week, and even more so next week when, you know, they have signed.)

It should also be noted: Brent enrolled early at Notre Dame, and thus, he has already completed six academic semesters, not to mention time spent in class each summer as is typical of most, if not all, of the football roster. If he does indeed graduate from the University this spring, he will be eligible to play elsewhere immediately thanks to the NCAA’s stance on graduate student transfers. More than that, though, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Admittedly, such a confluence is rare and certainly adds reasoning to Brent’s maneuver, whether it result in him playing at UCLA, Miami, Arizona State, Indiana, Purdue or Ohio State, as he indicated to the South Bend Tribune were his top choices. Notre Dame does face Miami on Nov. 11.

Lament Brent’s decision if you must, but it was a logical decision by him, and Notre Dame’s shortcomings last season were rarely where Brent would have aided. Nor will the Irish appear to be wanting in those spots in 2017.

Report: Justin Brent to transfer

Justin Brent twitter
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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.