Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 30, Georgia Tech 22

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame’s defense pulled off a magic trick. In broad daylight, with 80,000 fans watching intently, Brian VanGorder’s defense took the power out of Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack.

The Irish moved to 3-0 on the season, beating the Yellow Jackets 30-22, a game that only got close after Notre Dame’s players started planning how to best use their 24-hour celebration window. Kicking off the game as home underdogs a week after escaping Charlottesville with a last-second victory, Brian Kelly’s team made a very loud statement on Saturday afternoon, winning with a first-time starting quarterback, a significant (and growing) body count, and by conquering a offense that had torched just about everyone it had faced.

“It was a program win today,” Kelly said in his postgame comments. “You can sustain some injuries, some key injuries, and still play at a high level. I think that’s what is for me most revealing.”

Powering their way through one of the schedule’s toughest games, Notre Dame moves to 3-0, thanks to a complete team performance. Let’s find out what else we learned.

Hat’s off to Brian VanGorder and company. All that work studying the option paid off. 

There probably wasn’t a happier man in Notre Dame Stadium than Brian VanGorder. The second-year Irish defensive coordinator slayed the dragon on Saturday afternoon, with his defense dominating George Tech’s triple-option attack.

After putting up video game numbers against Alcorn State and Tulane, Paul Johnson’s offense came to South Bend and got shut down. Notre Dame’s front seven pummeled Georgia Tech’s front, aggressively attacked quarterback Justin Thomas, and dominated third down.

“I think our defensive plan was outstanding,” Kelly said. “I think our team executed it up until maybe the last couple of minutes where we probably lost a little bit of our focus. But all in all, just a tremendous performance by our football team.”

Joe Schmidt paced the Irish will ten tackles. A reconfigured starting lineup, with Drue Tranquill taking Max Redfield off the field, Jerry Tillery starting at nose guard, and Greer Martini starting over James Onwualu, pushed the Irish into a larger, more physical unit. It’s also a group that took the challenge of Justin Thomas and the Yellow Jacket’s offense head on.

“We wanted to be very aggressive. I think we were probably as aggressive as any defense that we had watched on film,” Kelly said. “Being very aggressive was an important element within the plan itself.”

That aggression likely contributed to a nightmarish start for Tech, with Paul Johnson forced to burn two early timeouts. It also made things tough on Thomas, who only gained 29 yards on 10 rushing attempts and completed just three of 12 passes. Outside of a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, the Irish went toe-to-toe with Georgia Tech and won a fist fight.

And that’s a victory that this coaching staff should cherish.

 

In his first start, DeShone Kizer did his job well enough to win. 

Quarterback DeShone Kizer was not the story on Saturday afternoon. And that’s a very, very good thing. Kizer did a very nice job piloting the Irish offense, completing 20 of 28 passes for 238 yards, including hitting Will Fuller for a 46-yard touchdown pass.

And while he threw the Irish’s first interception of the season, Kizer executed the game plan designed for him and didn’t allow Georgia Tech’s pressure schemes to derail the offense.

“I thought he did great. He did exactly what we expected him to do,” captain Nick Martin said after the game. “He’s a very poised and intelligent quarterback. He did his job.”

Kizer talked about that job, speaking candidly after the game about the game plan  the coaches installed, and how Kelly, associate head coach Mike Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford made things easy on him.

“It was a very safe game plan. There wasn’t much that Georgia Tech could do that we didn’t have an answer for,” Kizer said after the game. “We had a really safe game plan and obviously that was great for me in my first start to be completely comfortable and ready for anything they could throw at me.

Kizer made a rookie mistake, locking on Corey Robinson in the red zone and throwing a bad interception. But he shook it off, owned the mistake and moved on to the next play.

“What I liked about him is he immediately takes ownership. He’s not a guy that’s looking to say, ‘Well, it’s his fault,’ or, ‘I didn’t know this,'” Kelly said. “I love the way he is able to move on and process it and get back to playing the game.”

 

C.J. Prosise is not just settling into a starting job, he’s producing at a historic pace. 

Earlier this week, Blue & Gold Illustrated’s Lou Somogyi mentioned that C.J. Prosise’s 253 yards were the most of any Irish running back in the season’s first two games in over 50 years.

And that was before he ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

Prosise broke the game open on Saturday, his 91-yard touchdown run the longest ever in Notre Dame Stadium. It was the type of knockout punch Irish fans hoped Prosise could deliver, especially after watching him lead the Irish in yards per catch last season and look promising in spring practice when he was still moonlighting at the position.

Prosise is learning on the job, a scary though considering how quickly he is piling up yards. And with 22 carries, he’s also earning Kelly’s trust, with the Irish head coach leaning on the senior to carry the offense down the stretch.

Notre Dame ran for 215 yards, very nearly topping Georgia Tech, who the Irish held to 216 yards on the ground. And behind a strong performance by the Irish offensive line, Prosise is on pace for a monster season.

 

Another week, another game-breaking performance by Will Fuller. 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Will Fuller torched another secondary. Notre Dame’s junior receiver is a touchdown scoring machine.

Fuller scored for the fifth time this season in the first quarter, inexplicably getting behind the Yellow Jackets secondary and sprinting into the south end zone. He very nearly scored again, taking a quick screen and zig-zagging his way through the Georgia Tech defense for a big gain, his first big play in the screen game.

Even as he becomes one of the nation’s most prolific pass catchers, Fuller is still finding a way to beat opponents. And that’s after they’ve probably game-planned for the junior all week.

“He’s just an unbelievable player,” Martin said after the game. “He’s so fast and when you see the ball is thrown to him, you know the play is about to be made.”

Fuller had his first drop of the season, costing the Irish a third-down conversion. But his six catches for 131 yards makes that three-straight games going over 100 yards, with Fuller now having scored 20 touchdowns in his last 16 games.

That’s incredible.

 

Brian Kelly’s game plan tells you everything you need to know about this football team. 

First-time starter at quarterback. A defense that just gave up 27 points to Virginia. And an opponent that could’ve forced scoreboard operators to make room for a third-digit. You couldn’t have blamed Kelly if he managed the game hoping to avoid risk.

Instead, Notre Dame’s head coach went the opposite direction. An all-out defensive attack on the triple-option. Using his timeouts on defense to keep the clock alive. And never blinking when things didn’t go as planned.

This was a football game that could’ve been lost. Red zone interceptions likely had fans wondering if the sky was falling. Justin Yoon clanked one extra point off the upright and missed another. The clock-saving measures back-fired when freshman Alizé Jones coughed up the football giving Georgia Tech another shot to score.  And the devastating knee injury to Drue Tranquill, robbed the Irish a key element in their defensive game plan.

But the Irish didn’t panic. That’s not Kelly, nor is that this football team. Even as Notre Dame likely exits Saturday with their season-ending injury list growing to a half-dozen, the mental strength of this football team and the depth that Kelly has accumulated has turned this group into one that has the ingredients to be special.

There are no statues resurrected for a strong first quarter of the season. And the 2014 edition of the Irish were halfway to an undefeated regular season when the bottom fell out.

But the resolve of the head coach was matched by that of his players. And after the game, linebacker Joe Schmidt said it best when he talked about what it means to him to be playing with this group.

“I’m so proud. I love being a member of this defense. I love being a member of this football team. Before this football game, you look in the next guy’s eye and you know that he’s going to fight for you…It’s a powerful thing, and I’m proud of each guy on this team and I love just being a member of this team.”

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underclassmen have until January 16th to declare.

 

Swarbrick discusses the state of Irish football program

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

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

 

Swarbrick on the 2016 season. 

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

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

 

Swarbrick on the evaluation process: 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Report: Corey Holmes set to transfer

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

Holmes told Irish247:

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

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

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

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

 

Mailbag: All about BK

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 17:  (L-R) Sam Kohler #29, head coach Brian Kelly, Grace Kelly and Hunter Bivin #70 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish sing the alma mater following a loss to the Michigan State Spartans of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 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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Welcome to a fairly action-packed Mailbag. Why didn’t one of you guys remind me to do these more often?

This one, as the title suggests, is all about Brian Kelly.

 

@chrise384: Do you think that silence from Swarbrick this week means anything or do you think it’s status quo and BK is back in ’17?

I think Swarbrick’s been silent because there’s nothing else to say. He made his comment to ESPN that Kelly would be back in 2017. Why would it benefit him to say anything else?

Kelly also made comments—10 feet away from his boss—that he’d be back and doesn’t want to go anywhere. So other than releasing a 2:37 a.m. tweet reiterating Kelly’s intentions—and essentially calling B.S. on the reports that BK was looking to get out—there’s no reason to respond to the noise, when there’s a ton of work to do and big decisions still to make.

Speaking of those…

 

Domer521: Keith – The banquet is next Friday evening. Do you expect any announcements regarding recruits or DC/assistant coaches before then?

I don’t. For a variety of reasons, I think Kelly is waiting to make any formal moves on his staff until after that evening. And in reality, any college assistant that’s going to come to Notre Dame is probably coaching in a bowl game, and won’t leave his program until after that game is played.

(That doesn’t mean that BK isn’t lining things up. I expect that he is.)

So while the idea of getting a coordinator on hand now might be ideal, the reality of the situation is that you need someone ready to hit the recruiting trail after the New Year, taking the world by storm for that final month and closing stretch until Signing Day.

 

@GhostAKG: Many are saying Charlie Strong for our new DC. Is that good/realistic? And what are some of the names you’ve been hearing more?

I was one of the people to speculate, but the more you think about it the less it makes sense. Charlie Strong is a head coach. And a good one. Any return to South Bend would feel incredibly temporary, with the circus following every job vacancy that opens up—with fans and media speculating, “Is this the one to get Strong back to the head job?”

That’s not a headache BK and company would want to deal with, especially when you consider how much this collective fanbase sweats out coordinator hires or parallel moves.

(Remember when Tony Alford left after Signing Day and it felt like someone died around here?)

Charlie Strong is a good man and a good coach. But that’s the wrong type of hire for ND. I think he’ll probably take a year off to examine the landscape, continue to cash those fat checks coming from Austin, and then get back into it next year.

 

irishwilliamsport:

Keith, I know this is an exercise in futility but I’ll ask a mailbag question… What would you guess BK’s combined job approval rating is among all fan bases ?

You’ve got me. No clue. Does anybody have a good job approval rating?

At this point, I don’t think anybody’s approval rating is all that high at 4-8, to the point that Jack Swarbrick—a guy who might be the most powerful and intelligent athletic director in the country—has seen fans turn on him as well.

I wasn’t quite sure what you were getting at with your question about “all fan bases,” but maybe you were talking about the perception of Kelly both inside and out of the program? If so, I thought Colin Cowherd’s take on Kelly, at least from a national perspective and a guy who watches a lot of college football, is interesting. (It’s a perspective that’s pretty common, I must say.)

 

codenamegee: 

What has Brian Kelly done to make you think he can win a championship at Notre Dame. Looking at his FBS coaching resume his teams have never beaten a top 5 team. I just don’t get why everyone thinks he’s a good coach. Notre Dame is poorly coached (too many mental breakdowns), offense lacks imagination (Running plays are too predictable, no tail back screens, no delay draws, lack of counters and traps). Yet all I hear how Brian Kelly is this great coach or Brian Kelly is a great offensive mind. If he is, he hasn’t showed it since he’s been in South Bend.

Well, first off—and this is a biggie—he played for one. So let’s not ignore that. And he was maybe one play away from getting invited to playing for another last year, a game-winning, last-second field goal against Stanford knocking the Irish from the playoff.

Now I get that playing for one isn’t the same as winning one. And when it comes to comparing this program to Alabama’s, frankly I don’t think Notre Dame has a chance to get to that level until Nick Saban retires… or the NCAA finds something illegal in his program. So if that’s the bar you’ll set, I’m not sure he can get there. And I’m not sure Notre Dame is willing to do what it takes to get there. And frankly, that’s something I’m okay with—especially as you

Last point for you—have you really heard anybody calling Brian Kelly a good coach lately? Is anybody following Notre Dame saying Kelly’s done a good job this season? Has the coach himself even said that? Have I?

Listen, I get it. Losing seasons are terrible. They are really painful and this one came out of nowhere, making it worse. Then throw on top of that just how close the games were—each week a decision here or there, or a blown assignment or missed opportunity sometimes the singular difference between a win and a loss.

That all adds up. And it certainly will carry into next season, a direct reflection on the coach’s job status, regardless of the length of his remaining contract.

 

irishdog80: Can Brian Kelly truly survive and thrive as head coach at Notre Dame or is his best opportunity a fresh start at a new school or pro team?

I don’t think Kelly would’ve stayed if he didn’t think he could thrive. He could get another job if he wanted one. And I don’t think Swarbrick would’ve let him stick around if he didn’t have comfort that the football program—a team that he spends more time around than anybody outside the players and the coaches—was in good hands, and that this was a bad season, not a bad program.

That’s a really good question though, Irishdog. We’ve seen Bob Stoops rally. We’ve seen David Shaw bounce back, though neither pulled a four-win season. And for now, I think Kelly can, too. But it’s worth pointing out that the rumor everybody seemed to be fired up about, three-win & nine-loss Mark Dantonio, would be a huge coaching upgrade over Kelly is funny, considering Dantonio just took a College Football Playoff team and drove it off a cliff.

 

 

irishcatholic16: With reports that Brian Kelly is seeking job opportunities outside of Notre Dame then shortly after saying that he’s committed to Notre Dame along with him bolting Cincinnati in the same fashion (saying he would stay then leaving), do you think he will lose the trust of his team and could we see more decommits as a result? Will the team trust him knowing that he isn’t fully committed?

I have no belief that those reports are true. And I have no reason to think that Kelly’s team—seven years in—would have their trust of the man leading the program hinging on reports from national media pundits.

Are we still talking about the way he left Cincinnati? Because it sure looked to me an awful lot like every coach leaves their program—Tom Herman just the latest example of a coach left in an unwinnable situation, with the media ready to pounce by asking unanswerable questions.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that Kelly’s agent was talking to teams. He was. He’s the same guy that reps Herman, and a handful of other top-shelf coaches. But that’s what agents do. They talk about their clients, 99% of the time without the client ever having any idea he’s doing it.

 

 

bjc378:

I’ll ask the obvious question. Sorry, I didn’t listen to the podcast.

Do you (still) think BK should be the Irish coach next year? If so, how long of a leash do you give him next year and what changes would you demand? If not, or if he decides to coach elsewhere, what’s your wish list look like?

No apology necessary, first off, on the podcast. It’s supplemental, but listen for John Walters’ wisdom, it’s basically like telling your friends you subscribe to Newsweek.

As for BK, yes I do think he should be the coach next year. I don’t think Notre Dame is a program that should fire someone for a single bad season—period. I didn’t like it when they did it to Ty (in retrospect it was the right thing to do), and I wouldn’t like it if they did it to Kelly, a year off a ten-win season and a Fiesta Bowl appearance.

(Also worth noting, they don’t do it in hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, or any other sport.)

As for the leash? That’s hard to say. I think we’ll know quite a bit about this team at the end of next September. They’ll have played Temple (the potential AAC champ coached by one of the nation’s underrated head coaches in Matt Rhule), Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State and—don’t laugh—Miami (Ohio), who has got it going now under Chuck Martin. So if that month goes sideways and the season does too, I won’t have any problem with Swarbrick trying to upgrade and make a change.

As for the wish list? No clue. Not at this point. I’ll take Jon Gruden off of it, so cross him off before anybody asks me. And any other NFL head coach.

But I’d start by looking at someone like Willie Taggart, a young Harbaugh protege who coached at Stanford and has now done good work as a head coach at both Western Kentucky and USF.