PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches the game winning touchdown over Will Hayes #32 of the Temple Owls in the fourth quarter on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Will Fuller;Will Hayes

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Temple

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For those complaining about a decided lack of style points in Notre Dame’s win over Temple, remove the name from the opponent’s jersey. Had the Irish won a night game on the road against a ranked opponent in a sold-out NFL stadium, most would view it a success.

Just look at the team’s surrounding the Owls in today’s AP poll—there’d be a lot more smiles in ND Nation had the Irish beat No. 22 UCLA or No. 24 Mississippi State, the two teams that bracket Temple in the rankings. But the Owls are one of college football’s newest gate crashers, and while Matt Rhule’s team certainly silenced the skeptics last night—as evidenced by only dropping one spot in the polls to No. 23—they’ll need to prove that last night wasn’t the high-point of their season if the Irish want to cash in points on this tight victory.

Still, Notre Dame’s escape left both sides of the aisle with someone to yap about. Those that want to appreciate the mental toughness of this Irish team and their ability to play at their best when the stakes are highest certainly have more ammo. The complainers received plenty of gas for their bonfire as well, another game filled with red zone mistakes, missed tackles and defensive question marks that make you wonder how the Irish can survive a November spent mostly on the road.

A date at Pittsburgh is next, another sloppy-track and aggressive defense that’ll test the Irish’s toughness. So while we’re not done talking about Saturday night’s thrilling win, let’s get to the good, bad and ugly from Notre Dame’s 24-20 victory.

 

THE GOOD

DeShone KizerThe sophomore quarterback earned the game ball, a fitting tribute to the player who served as the engine of the Irish offense. Kizer’s 79-yard sprint for a touchdown was essentially the majority of Notre Dame’s ground game. And while his two interceptions in the first half kept Temple in the game, all you can ask for a quarterback is to not let his previous mistakes continue to beat him, and Kizer put them away and played with a steady confidence, especially with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter.

 

KeiVarae Russell. Good cornerbacks get beat. Right now, Russell is a good cornerback who still needs to get better. But he’s making progress and he’s now flipped two-straight games on their head by making huge plays.

Russell’s confidence has never been shaken—even if it maybe should have been. So after Russell gave up a fourth-down conversion that felt like a back-breaker, most Irish fans wanted the Seattle-native to run and hide. But Russell went the opposite way, breaking off of his coverage and sliding underneath Temple’s intended receiver with an acrobatic interception that essentially sealed the game.

Two games, two big-time, game-changing plays. Yes, this defense needs more consistency out of Russell and position mate Cole Luke. But with interceptions all but impossible to come by for this defense, Russell iced the game with a clutch play.

 

Sheldon Day and the Front Four. Notre Dame’s biggest advantage was at the line of scrimmage, with the Irish defensive line dominating Temple’s blockers. Sheldon Day started fast and spent the evening wreaking havoc. His 2.5 TFLs continue a hot stretch for him, and he forced a fumble as an edge rusher as well.

Day wasn’t alone in putting together a big day. Isaac Rochell was unstoppable early in the game. Romeo Okwara very quietly put together another big statistical evening, three TFLs and a sack, all while being asked to do everything from rush the passer to drop into coverage.

Given the chance to start at nose guard, Daniel Cage showed his size and held down the point of attack, notching a TFL as well. Even better? Everybody came out healthy and ready for another Saturday that’ll be essentially “man ball” with Pitt looking to run the football and win the line of scrimmage.

 

Will FullerIt was a relatively quiet game on the stat sheet, but Fuller came through in the clutch with the game-winning touchdown in front of his hometown crowd. And while Temple did a nice job with him in coverage, Fuller managed to draw another pass interference penalty and show some patience converting underneath passes.

Fuller’s speed took a dent in the sloppy conditions, and he struggled at times with coverage that very kindly could be called “physical.” Both both of those situations—the mediocre field conditions and the physical defense—will be in effect next week, with Pat Narduzzi likely hoping to bully Notre Dame’s skill players like he tried to do as defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

 

Alizé Jones. Don’t look now, but Notre Dame’s tight end position might be coming alive. With Temple’s defense expecting just about every other receiving threat to do damage, it was the Irish’s talented freshman who made one of the biggest plays of the game-winning drive.

Jones ran a corner route and DeShone Kizer hit him in stride, as the freshman rumbled for 45 critical yards to set up the game-winning score. Yes, it was the only catch of the game for the position. But Jones spent some time attached to the formation as a blocker, taking valuable snaps that could point to an ascending player heading into November.

Want to find a way to open up the red zone? Throw it to the tight end. And if Jones is the guy capable of doing it all, he’ll continue to get the opportunities, especially after making a big play to help Notre Dame win on Saturday.

 

Quick Hits: 

It was fun to see Jaylon Smith make some very impactful collisions. The 240-pound linebacker still runs like a deer, but he certainly packs a punch when he squares up a ball carrier.

Senior Chris Brown was a steady force for the offense. He paced the Irish receiving corps with six catches for 72 yards.

For as tough as the running was for C.J. Prosise, the senior still managed five catches for 43 yards. The screen game was close to a few big plays, too.

 

THE BAD

Boom & Bust defense. It’s not worth regurgitating what I wrote last night. But the only thing that’s consistent about this defense is the fact that it’s maddeningly inconsistent.

Upon rewatching this performance, it wasn’t all bad. And there was probably more good than I thought last night. But it’s hard to see how Notre Dame only managed two sacks, even as it destroyed the Owls up front. And it’s just as hard to see how the Owls matched Notre Dame’s big plays, considering their quarterback was running for his life.

If there’s one thing that’s really hamstringing this defense, it’s the inability to play in the nickel. When Romeo Okwara and Andrew Trumbetti are dropping back into zone coverage—and it’s not a one-time trick—you’ve got some personnel issues. And with the safety depth chart plundered and not a lot of trust in a third cornerback, the Irish are limited when teams try to spread them out.

 

The offensive line play. Again this is a redundancy from last night. But Notre Dame’s front five needs to win at the point of attack, especially in the run game. Temple’s front seven nearly matched Notre Dame’s last night, putting together six TFLs, a surprising number considering the Irish’s power advantage up front.

With Pitt coming to town, there’s little chance Pat Narduzzi’s going to change his DNA and lay back against the Irish offense. And after starting quickly with a nice opening drive Saturday night, the Irish need to show consistency on the road, something that’s been difficult to do.

 

Quick Hits: 

Brian Kelly expected Joe Schmidt‘s production to be better in the season’s final five games. Against Temple the senior captain middle linebacker made just two solo stops, though broke up a pass in coverage. But once again, it felt like Schmidt was a step slow to make plays, leaving many Irish fans wondering how Nyles Morgan would fare in the same situation. I still don’t think Schmidt’s coming off the field, but it’s time for some production after some quiet games.

There’s taking advantage of opportunities… and then there’s Nicky Baratti‘s play on 4th-and-1. The seldom-used safety was put in a tough spot in space against Temple running back Jahad Thomas, and the Owls running back cut hard inside Baratti and cruised into the end zone.

Punter Tyler Newsome has had some very good games for Notre Dame this season. Last night wasn’t one of them.

Notre Dame’s skill players looked a step slower all night. Probably because of the slop they were playing on…Remember when people wanted that type of natural surface in Notre Dame Stadium because of, ugh—tradition?

I’ll wait to see what the grades come back as, but Steve Elmer had another tough day, especially on some noticeable missed blocks against Matt Ioannidis.

 

THE UGLY

Brian Kelly didn’t want to expand on his comments from last night on his sideline incident with assistant strength coach David Grimes. The former Irish receiver works under Paul Longo and seemed to be expressing his opinion to a referee as Longo did his best to keep things calm.

From what we saw on ABC’s broadcast, Kelly didn’t think Longo was doing enough–and he forcibly moved the young assistant, creating quite a stir that even had Sheldon Day thinking he should step in.

Per JJ Stankevitz of CSN Chicago, here’s what Kelly said after the game (link has video included):

“David was going to get us a 15-yard penalty, so I had to control the sideline,” Kelly said. “I wasn’t going to let that happen. He got a little too close and I backed him up out of the way to make sure that we didn’t get a 15-yard penalty.”

Whatever comes of the incident, Kelly doesn’t plan on discussing it with the media, nor does he think any of the snap judgments out there have much merit.

“They don’t know what happened. It’s typical of those that are just looking at the video without having any of the information,” Kelly said Sunday. “Only those that are clearly near the situation that have all the information can make those judgments. It’s an internal matter, and we’re handling it internally.”

For what it’s worth, in UND.com’s ICON trailer, Grimes is in the locker room after the game, standing right behind Kelly as he addresses the team. Let’s hope this is just one of those incidents where things got intense on the sideline, and everybody moves forward considering it a lesson learned. (This wouldn’t even be a story if this was still the Lou Holtz era…)

 

That Officiating Crew. Man, it wasn’t a banner night for the guys in stripes. While the AAC crew didn’t reach the level of idiocy that the crew working the Miami-Duke game did, both coaches were left scratching their heads last night, a sign that there was some questionable officiating.

Rhule’s in-game complaints seemed a bit more for theatrics. His defensive backs were playing Notre Dame in a very physical fashion, and for every pass interference call that was made, Irish coaches (and fans) could probably point to a handful more.

Conversely, Kelly was asked about an offensive pass interference call against center Nick Martin and he all but threw up his hands on Sunday. Between that, the terrible targeting penalty called against Elijah Shumate, and the penalty against Nic Weishar, Kelly said it best today without getting too close to drawing a fine.

“There were a lot of things that I can’t give you answers for from that crew that worked the game,” Kelly said.

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.”