PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Ryan Burns #17 of the Stanford Cardinal calls a play at the line during the first quarter against the UCLA Bruins at Rose Bowl on September 24, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Talking Irish: On to Stanford


Another week, another conversation with JJ Stankevitz at CSN Chicago, as we try to make sense of what’s going on in South Bend. Here we tackle last week’s hurricane, “blaming” players, where to go next with a defensive coordinator hire, and if Brian Kelly’s job is really in trouble. 

Oh yeah. And Stanford. That, too. 


JJ: Well Keith, the good news is my clothes are finally dry from last weekend, and my rage from N.C. State towing my car has subsided. Before we dive into Stanford, what — if any — takeaways did you have from that miserable game of “football” last Saturday?

KA: Mostly that it should’ve at least been delayed.

JJ: **nods furiously**

KA: I know — I know — My initial answer should be, at least according to some, that the football program should be shut down and that BK should have been fired on the runway, but seriously. That wasn’t football.That wasn’t close to football.

And the fact that they jammed that game into that window — just so ABC could keep their broadcast window — is beyond lame. I checked around, and ND didn’t have a say. It was an ACC and NC State call.

JJ: Yep, exactly. It’s more on the ACC than anything else. It’s a miracle nobody got seriously injured, too, or no fans got their cars stuck in flooding (that I know of).

KA: I know, I should be in umbrage mode, but I have a hard time counting that as a football game — and that’s the one thing that doesn’t really get me all that worked up, though if ND ends with five wins or fails to get the bowl bid, you will wonder… (Though again, it’s NOT why they lost. It just shouldn’t have been played in the eye of a freaking hurricane.)

JJ: I guess if Notre Dame does go 5-7, you can point to playing the game in a hurricane as being a problem, but…losses to Duke, Michigan State and Texas are far worse, in my opinion. Especially since two of those three teams might not make a bowl either!

KA: Yes, that’s where I’m at, too. This first half of the season feels like a hurricane. And not in an impressive way, but rather like “oh my god, look what you’ve done” way.  To that point, let’s get right into it.

It’s been a weird week. And a toxic one. I haven’t seen it this bad since early 2010, and it actually feels a lot like the second half of 2008 — not quite the demise of 2009, but not that far away, either.

I’m not asking you to name third hand sources that may or may not be around the locker room. But do you think BK has lost his team? Or will we find that out against Stanford?

JJ:  So I’ll say this. This week, I’ve been reading up on Oregon a lot to see how other writers are covering an unexpected disaster of a season. And from the looks of it there, Mark Helfrich has lost the team.

Whether or not Brian Kelly has lost the Irish locker room, they’re not getting blown out or giving up 70 points a game. That would, to me, show a lack of effort that can’t be recovered. So I don’t know how much emphasis I put on the whole “lost the team” notion when they’re playing in close games.

Does that make sense?

KA: And my conversation with Do at the Stanford Daily, there are people at Stanford who want David Shaw fired, too.


KA: Some people just want to see the world burn. Two straight five-touchdown losses.

JJ: You have gotta be bleeping me.

KA: And look at Dantonio — same thing. Lotta Spartan fans thinking the guy lost it. Crazy pills are the universal drug of choice in college football.

JJ: Look, I get that Brian Kelly has soured himself to people because of the yelling and postgame criticisms of players.

JJ: But oh my gosh, wanting David Shaw fired. And Dantonio. What is happening?! That’s madness!

KA: Seriously. You hit on something interesting. I got hammered in some parts of the ND sphere (you can probably guess) for having the nerve to point to BK’s locker room talk after Kelly got killed for some comments from the postgame.
But I tend to think what BK says to the team is more important to them than what he says to the media right after.

JJ:  I thought DeShone Kizer had a really, really good answer to that whole debate.

“Blame is definitely not the word. In this game there are 11 guys who are required to do their job. And in order for us to go out there and to give a better result than we have in these last six games, you have to challenge guys. And when you guys sit up here and ask about specifics on guys, he’s going to let you know exactly what happened and in order for us to not up come out successful.

“That can be perceived as blame, but perception is part of what we do here working with the media. James walks in and he gives an answer, and it’s perceived as if he’s saying that it’s a horrible thing that coach puts blame on guys. But I’m sitting here having a conversation with him, and all he’s trying to say is, hey, yeah, it’s tough when the coach calls you out. But we take that as a challenge here.

“We accept everything as a team. But individually you’re going to have to get challenged to play your best. And when you’re 2-4 right now, everyone has to point their finger at themselves and look at themselves in the mirror and accept those challenges so that we can come out and be more successful and hopefully put together the wins that we need to put together in the second half of the season.”

That’s his full quote (he even went out of his way to help clarify a quote from James Onwualu that could’ve been mis-interpreted. This guy is a whiz with media.)

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything is okay inside the Gug, because Notre Dame is 2-4. But it’s worth noting this debate hasn’t affected recruiting, at least yet.

KA:  True. Somehow those 17 year-old kids aren’t reading message boards or my comments or the guys arguing under your articles. Weird.


KA: Let’s take this thing forward — because that’s the only way we can look at this. There’s a very real chance that McCaffrey isn’t playing this weekend.
Stanford’s got a few maulers on the defensive front, but they’ve had a tough two weeks.

Before I get your prediction, what are some battles you think that are mission critical to a win?

JJ: So Notre Dame’s defensive strategy is probably going to look a lot like it did last year in California — stop Christian McCaffrey (if he plays) and hope the quarterback doesn’t beat you.

The good news: Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst are nowhere close to being as good as Kevin Hogan was. The bad news: Well, so was Daniel Jones. And Tyler O’Connor, I guess.

KA:  Kevin Hogan: The future of the Cleveland Browns. They’re calling Tom Rees next.

JJ: Pull him out of coaching. Thought I’d love to see Rees and DeShone Kizer on the same sideline!

KA: This will be a huge progress report for the defense. It’s not like we saw anything last week. And it’s also not like Stanford is lighting it up right now.

JJ: Here’s a stat: Washington State entered last weekend with four sacks as a team. They left with seven. If Notre Dame can’t get sacks against Stanford, it never will. (Can’t believe I just typed that.)

KA:  I saw that tweet. That was very informative. (Follow JJ @JJStankevitz)



JJ: But Keith, curious — what do you hope to see from this defense? Keep everything in front of them and not get beat, or try to take a few shots at making plays against a maybe-vulnerable offense?

KA: I’d just like some baseline logic. For instance: If you’re going to send the house — play off in coverage. If you’re going to go heavy to stop the run, play zone behind it.

JJ:  Smart, simple solutions. Low key, too: Mike Elston deserves a lot of credit for whatever defensive turnaround we’ve seen to date, too.

KA: I really think that Hudson coming in — and BK putting his hands all over this unit feels so logical now, but man — it sure makes you think that the BVG era was just one gigantic misstep. Can we peg that all to Nick Saban out-scheming Bobby D and the boys that fateful BCS title game?

JJ: I would certainly hope not. If that was the case, you throw all your money into ND1, drive it to Clemson, and back it up to Brent Venables’ house after the 2013 season.

KA: So maybe that’ll lead me to my final point before we get into the game (other than where we should have a beer on Friday night…) Do you dump a pile of cash on a national coordinator?

Do you take on Charlie Strong? Do you win the “Name” battle? Or do you think BK goes somewhere familiar?

JJ: It’d be a disservice to the program if Kelly didn’t reach out to Dave Aranda given the coaching turnover at LSU. Derek Mason, if Vanderbilt lets him go, would be a good call.

KA:  I think that’s the dream trio, right?

JJ: Aranda, Mason, Strong?

KA: Yes. Though Strong’s name is taking a beating. I’m sure there are some under-the-radar names that might come up, too.

JJ:  Or consider this, Tom Herman goes to LSU, keeps Dave Aranda, but makes Todd Orlando available in the process. I know Mike Elko has been brought up by few forward-thinking fans — he’s done a lot with absolutely no talent at Wake Forest.

KA: Like it. I just don’t know if ND is going to go multi-million dollar coordinator.

KA: I lied – one more doom and gloom question.

How ugly do you think this season needs to get before Swarbrick thinks about making a major change? And wouldn’t he need to make sure he had a guy in hand before he did it?

JJ:  I mean, if they go 3-9 and, I don’t think you can rule anything out. But that being said…I find it really, really hard to believe Kelly won’t be the coach here in 2017.

KA: That’s where I’m at, too.

JJ: And to answer your second question — you’re not getting Tom Herman, you’re not getting Urban Meyer, and there’s not that up-and-coming obvious candidate out there.

KA: Exactly. That’s been — and will continue to be — my point.

JJ: So if you fire Kelly, you might get stuck with Plan F, which could pull Notre Dame only further down into the depths of mediocrity.

KA: Not that we’re all happy and excited — let’s get to Saturday. Where you at?
W? L? A Greg Hudson renaissance?

JJ:  *peeks to make sure nobody’s looking*

31-27 Notre Dame.


JJ: I think this is sneakily a pretty good matchup for Notre Dame. And I know tying my cart to a 2-4 horse that lost to Duke is dangerous.

KA: I like your fire. But I am going hedge: ND loses a tight one if McCaffrey plays. ND wins by 10 points if he doesn’t. There’s just not enough info out there to make a calculation when college football’s most prolific weapon is a 50-50 proposition.

JJ: Fair, though college football’s most prolific weapon only has 84 yards on 20 carries in his last two games. And Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t been terrible against the run this year.

KA: When 10 guys key on him, David Shaw still isn’t afraid to give it to him.
That’s a man with no pitch count.

JJ: True, and the whole tackling thing hasn’t been great for Notre Dame.

KA: You’re bringing us down, JJ!

JJ:  I just said they’d win! Positivity!

KA: I’ll let us leave it at that —
a battle for another rivalry trophy that nobody knew existed. #LEGENDS

JJ: #LEADERS Wait. Wrong thing.

KA: Haha. Alright — I’ll see you this weekend. I’ll be the guy wandering aimlessly as he finds his way into the new press box.

JJ: It’s pretty high up, but the hot dogs are present as ever. See you there!

Mailbag: The head coach, Malik and the running game

Notre Dame offensive line

bearcatboy:  The “fire coach Kelly” thing is getting a bit over-blown, particularly in the twitter-verse (ad nauseum). I hate asking this question (I think its reached the point where it’s warranted), but as a rational person, what has Kelly done to make you truly believe he can win a title, or even big games for that matter, at ND?

Consider this an answer to the roughly 40 different posts asking the same question. So apologies if this gets a little meandering.

The big thing for me—and something that most people calling for change are doing their best to ignore—is that Brian Kelly already got his team to one title game. If you’re trying to run him out of town based on this season, you can’t ignore that season. This isn’t figure skating, where you throw out the high score but not the low.

Ultimately, my biggest reason for sticking with the status quo, is that it’s hard to win. Period. And it’s really hard to win at Notre Dame. Besides that, all coaches, at least when they’re under your microscope, are going to have flaws that drive you nuts.

Let’s go through the wish list of Notre Dame coaches: Urban Meyer just lost to a 20-point underdog this weekend, and he’s still one of the game’s two best coaches. Dream candidate Tom Herman lost to Navy and just got blown out by SMU, another huge underdog.

You want someone who has some tenure? Well, former Irish assistant Dan Mullen lost a few terrible games this year that are head-scratchers and Dak Prescott is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. David Shaw’s team is losing. Mark Dantonio’s team is losing. Dave Doeren’s team is losing. Jim Mora’s team is losing.

This isn’t the old college football. This isn’t even Lou Holtz’s college football. It’s a hyper-competitive industry, and while there are a few institutional advantages that Notre Dame still certainly has, there are quite a few negatives that are truly barriers to winning.

We’ve watched Kelly and Jack Swarbrick attack some of the major ones—and Kelly has it better than Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis when it comes to others. But certain things—academics, the way the university handles  student life, fifth-years and redshirts—they might not ever change.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Notre Dame can compete with Alabama—if that’s the standard you want to set. But then again the Crimson Tide had a star defender arrested for drugs and guns on a Thursday and he played on Saturday. Max Redfield is looking for a place to finish up his degree.

I think Brian Kelly’s a good football coach having a really tough season. Can he bring Notre Dame to the promise land? Not sure.

But he had them within 60 minutes once and last year had a roster that was ravaged by injury and had his team within a field goal of probably getting an invite to the playoff. So I’m not rolling the dice yet, and wouldn’t unless the change is a clear upgrade. And I’m not sure who that’d be.


blackirish23: Malik Zaire has been less than impressive when given the opportunity. Do you think Malik’s heart just isn’t in being a back-up QB and thus has lost a bit of his passion for the game which affects his play when given the opportunity?

If somehow Kizer decides to return to ND next season, should the coaching staff discuss a position switch with Malik similar to what happened with Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle (and even Braxton Miller at Ohio State)? If so, what position would Malik be best suited to switch to?

Thanks for the question, it’s certainly not the first time someone has wondered how to utilize Malik if it isn’t at quarterback. To address that point first, Malik isn’t Arnaz or Carlyle, and he certainly isn’t Braxton Miller. Those guys have the speed to be NFL receivers, something Malik doesn’t possess. Does that make him a tight end? H-Back? Running back? Probably not one who is good enough to get onto the field for the Irish.

As for his heart, I don’t think that’s something I can speak to with any certainty, though I do think he’s pressing. Give a guy known for “making plays when things break down” a limited amount of reps and it’s human nature to press. That explains to me why he’s breaking out of the pocket and scrambling when the initial look isn’t there. Or trying to juke a defender and make a play instead of throwing the ball away on a reverse.

Lastly, if Kizer stays-or-goes, I think Zaire would owe it to himself to look around and check out his options after he earns his degree. A graduate transfer might be the best thing for his football career if he wants to be a starter. Because Brandon Wimbush is a very talented quarterback with an elite set of skills and there’s no telling if Zaire will beat him out for the job next year, let alone Kizer.


ndgoz: ND has consistently been producing high-level NFL draft picks on the O-line. The running game is predominantly zone read plays, which rely on isolating and attempting to deceive a defender. If ND has the quality offensive line that the NFL draft suggests, why doesn’t ND put more emphasis on a power running game?

If you have more size and skill than your opponent, you don’t need to trick them – just overpower them. You can still take advantage of the QB running ability with bootlegs and rollouts to keep the defense honest.

I’m not the guy to go to if you’re looking for astute offensive line breakdowns. For a while, I think there was some validity to the criticism that Notre Dame’s ground game was a bit too vanilla. Inside zone, outside zone, repeat.

But I don’t think the zone read game is as simple as you make it out to be. Deception is a piece of it, but there’s plenty of physicality and winning at the point of attack, something we just haven’t seen that much of this year.

Kelly’s running game looked great last year, a big-play machine with a talented offensive line.  No, they weren’t a lock to convert every short-yardage attempt, but then again—Alabama isn’t either. And with CJ Prosise and Josh Adams and a very nice offensive front, these guys were hitting home runs.

The zone read can drive certain fans nuts. But asking why Kelly doesn’t put more of an emphasis on the power running game kind of ignores the fact that he’s not running that system. So when you say that the offense could get production from DeShone Kizer on bootlegs and rollouts, I think you’re discounting just how impactful Kizer has been as a runner these past two season. He’s run for 17 touchdowns in the 19 games he’s played since Virginia last year and he’s on pace for double-digit touchdowns again this season.

We’ve seen Kelly and Harry Hiestand do things to help get the ground game going—pistol, pulls, traps, and a few other wrinkles. But a lot of the issue is breaking in four starters at new positions with only Quenton Nelson in the same position as last year. This group will gel. But it might be a while before they can just go out and dictate terms.



How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.