EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01:  DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes under pressure from Kendall Coleman #55 of the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Talking Irish: Can the defense do it again?

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Before he takes off and braves the elements, CSN Chicago’s JJ Stankevitz chats with me about Notre Dame’s chances in Raleigh this weekend. 

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KA: How much rain gear did you pack? And are you bringing rations in case of travel delays?

JJ: I have an umbrella ready to go and some stuff that will hopefully keep me dry, but with about 3 inches of rain expected…I’m not expecting to actually stay dry.

But thanks to Southwest (#brandloyalty guy here) I was able to switch my flight to an earlier one into Raleigh on Friday for free, so hopefully I actually make it to the Triangle area.

KA:  Boom. That’s good living. Now the real question: Do you think Notre Dame’s revamped defense shows up in Raleigh? (See what I did there?)

JJ: Physically they’ll be there, but man, NC State looks like a really bad matchup for this defense. NC State ranks 9th in success rate, ND’s defense ranks 105th. That’s a pretty wide gap.

KA: For those not fluent in advanced stats, explain please.

JJ: Success rate tracks a team’s ability to gain 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. So basically, NC State’s offense is really good at setting up easy-to-convert second/third down tries, and is converting them pretty frequently.

(Shout-out to fellow Mizzou grad Bill Connelly for S&P+, by the way).

What do you think, Keith? Where can ND’s defense find some success on Saturday?

KA: For some reason, I think monsoon conditions could actually help, though bad tackling doesn’t usually get better in the rain. But I do think there’s some momentum being built. And I do think that the simplification of the scheme — and the changes in personnel have me slightly more bullish that I was pre-coaching change.

So I’m excited to see a defense with basically a completely reformatted secondary — especially with Donte Vaughn getting a start and Cole Luke moving inside.

JJ: That’s certainly fair. I’m with you on being more optimistic about this group post-VanGorder, but until I actually see it in a game against an offense that’s more about operating with success than operating with speed, I’m going to be skeptical. Also re: Tackling. It’ll be tougher in the rain, but maybe we’ll see forced fumbles in back to back weeks!

KA:  That’s a really good point. Was Syracuse good at anything more than just going fast?

JJ: …no?

KA: Let’s talk about ND’s OL. Big news about McGlinchey coming back. But can this crew get it together as they get ready to face one of the more talented defensive fronts they’ll face?

JJ: So part of it is getting this group to play a little more cohesively, but I thought it was interesting that McGlinchey said the biggest deficiency for this group was maybe not taking advantage of opportunities when the opposing defense gives Notre Dame the looks it wants, i.e., doesn’t have an extra hat in the box. It’s hard to effectively run the ball with any consistency when teams are putting that extra guy in the box.

That’s not excusing the OL play, which still hasn’t been as good as I think we all expected it to be, but it is worth nothing for some of the run game deficiencies ND has had.

Also, this line next year? Holy crap. If the same five start, that’s 87-92 career starts. And that doesn’t even factor in the potential for Tommy Kraemer or Tristen Hoge to earn playing time.

KA: Yeah, next year will be great. But I thought it was telling when Kelly talked about wanting to get away from using Kizer so much in the running game, and then Syracuse — minus Dexter’s big run and a 28-yarder for Josh Adams — was stuck in the mud.

I think this game — if the defense can continue to take baby steps — will probably be in the image of what BK thought this season would be all along.
A very good offense carrying a defense that gets a few stops and doesn’t just completely stink.

JJ: That’s definitely the best-case scenario for the rest of the season. So far, Kizer has done a great job holding up despite having to play about as close to perfect as possible for a college QB, but at some point, he’ll need help. Whether that’s from the RBs/OL or the defense or special teams, we’ll see.

KA: Let me float a few crazy thoughts by you:

The first, not too crazy: Equanimeous St. Brown is the team’s No. 1 receiver.
But I think Kevin Stepherson is out-playing Torii Hunter at the X. Do you expect to see Torii float around inside and out as a match-up guy, because it’s clear — at least to me — that Torii doesn’t scare anybody vertically, and that seems like a prerequisite to the position, especially out on the wide side of the field.

JJ: You’re right on No. 1, but I’ll say this — Hunter has tremendous value on passing downs when ND needs 7+ yards for a first down. I’d trust getting the ball to him for a first down more than a true freshman. Stepherson, though — that dude’s taken some big steps forward, and he’s going to be a very, very good receiver at ND.

KA:  I just think Notre Dame is better when they’re making BIG PLAYS — scoring long-range touchdowns. I don’t have any belief that we’ll see that from Torii. Because we haven’t yet and we already have from the two young pups. And that’s already been the big change since looking completely lost against Texas after Hunter was KO’d.

Let’s flip sides of the ball. After our first week of Greg Hudson, can you walk me through some guys you want to see more of?

JJ: I keep going back to Daelin Hayes, but let me copy and paste what Isaac Rochell said about him this week:

“I look at myself from my freshman year to now and how much better I’ve gotten, and I’m looking at him like dang, Daelin’s way better than I was when I was a freshman, so what’s he going to be when he’s a senior. So that’s what gets me most excited and I tell those guys that all the time. Because they look at me and they’re like, he’s doing well, but I was like, I was not good my freshman year. You guys are way better than I was. I love it and I’m excited for them.”

It’s not going to happen overnight, but I think you hope by the end of the year Hayes is getting to the quarterback more consistently. He seems like the biggest key to unlocking whatever pass rushing potential this defense has.

Who’s a guy you want to see more?

KA: I’ll echo you on Hayes, but then I’ll focus on the young secondary. I think seeing how this group plays together — when you have Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn, Jalen Elliott, Julian Love and Devin Studstill all making an argument that they should be playing major snaps, that gets equal parts terrifying and exciting.

I don’t count Te’von Coney as a young guy maybe as much as I should, but boy was I excited to see them use him in a way that values his athleticism, rather than as a guy forced to shed blocks in the box and make run fits.

Let’s get to the dirty part of this: You’ve got Notre Dame losing again, don’t you?

JJ: Before I answer that question, let me pepper you with some positives: I really like Donte Vaughn’s potential as a rangy, athletic corner. It probably can’t hurt to get Studstill and Elliott significant reps as freshmen, since they’re going to be counted on plenty as sophomores, juniors and seniors.

But to answer: North Carolina State 34, Notre Dame 31.

KA: I can’t disagree with you from a logic perspective. But I chatted with a smart kid that covers the team for the Technician (awesome student newspaper name), and he picked Notre Dame. That’s something that usually doesn’t happen. So I’m giving these guys one more chance — and saying Notre Dame 35, NC State 24

And if that goes wrong, I’m done picking games. Or at least picking the Irish.

JJ: If you just put these two teams’ number side by side, you gotta go with NC State. But when you consider how much talent Notre Dame has and how NC State seems to, like, never beat Power 5 opponents, I can see why an NC State student would pick against them.

KA: The ECU game stands out to me.

JJ: But we all thought Notre Dame would beat Duke (which lost to Virginia a week later, with Daniel Jones being baaaaaaad) so everything’s on the table here.

KA: We live in a post-BVG era, so I’m still trying to ride that train. But it might be fleeting. And that’s why they play em!

JJ: *Hopefully play them! **in three inches of rain.

KA: Well said.

JJ: Before we wrap this up… Would you rather have Greg Hudson jump out of your cake or have Bob Diaco bake your cake?

KA: Is Erika Eleniak busy? If so, probably Bobby D. The heart and tenacity in that cake would be tremendous.

(Under Siege. Gotta respect that one.)

JJ:  Though its sticktoitiveness could be a problem with getting it out of the pan.

(I had to Google your last two references, as a #millenial)
*winky face*

KA: Don’t make me feel so old. But yes – That’s the gold standard of Cake Jumping. Let’s give you some travel mojo. Because it’ll be 70 and Sunny from the Inside the Irish HQ and breakfast time. Will be thinking of you over some OJ.

JJ: Appreciate it. Only chance of you getting your clothes soaked is if you accidentally fall into the ocean.

KA: Or my daughter spills her water. Which is a lock.

JJ: Hahahaha. Best of luck. Talk to you next week.

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.”