Nick Chubb

Associated Press

Kelly on Georgia’s fans and offensive line; injury update & more

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Brian Kelly would inevitably prefer Notre Dame Stadium be filled with Irish fans wearing blue, green and gold, no one else in sight. He also recognizes that is unrealistic, especially this weekend.

“We know there’s going to be some black and some red in the stands,” the Notre Dame head coach said Thursday. “8,000 tickets is probably what they were allotted, could be times two. We’ll be ready for that.”

A quick search of the leading secondary market websites as of Friday morning indicates the cheapest pair of tickets available cost $583.53 per ticket, in the 22nd row of the northeast end zone’s upper bowl.

“We’ve seen how Texas travelled in their first time up here, we’ve seen Nebraska in their first time up here,” Kelly said. “So that won’t affect us. We’ll have a pretty good fan base here, too.”

The Bulldogs are led by their two senior running backs, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, a fact Kelly has kept at the forefront of conversation all week. Two days before kickoff, he furthered the attention to their running game by praising freshman right tackle Andrew Thomas. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder joined an offensive line returning only two starters, but his emergence immediately solidified the right side.

“You can see him flash in just one game how good he’s going to be,” Kelly said. “… It’s a very solid offensive line, one that has some experience. Now, I think on the right side with that right tackle, he changes things a little bit for them.”

Kelly and his coaching staff, namely offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, pursued Thomas a bit in the last recruiting cycle, only to see him stay in his homestate.

“We really liked his ability to communicate effectively,” Kelly said. “Wide-eyed, really liked him in person. Didn’t seem like the moment was too big for him, all the external factors. It’s easy to see a big guy, but big guys don’t necessarily translate into great players. He’s going to be a great player.”

Of course, Kelly still took the time to once again acknowledge the threat of Chubb and Michel.

“When you start to look at offensive lines, they have two outstanding running backs that can make up for a lot.”

Injury update
To date, the Irish injury listing has been short and largely lacking long-term concerns aside from senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage missing the season recovering from concussion symptoms and knee surgery, and junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor recovering from a Lisfranc fracture. After one game, that remains the case.

Graduate student tight end Durham Smythe has been cleared from the concussion protocol and will not be limited at all Saturday.

Junior defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway will rejoin the action after missing the season opener due to a slight knee sprain.

“We’ll see what he can do to add to the rotation,” Kelly said.

That defensive tackle rotation featured two freshmen last week in Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish. Neither seemed worse for wear this week, despite seeing notable snap counts.

“The benefit of both those guys playing in the first game against Temple with a pretty good offensive line, they’ll be better for it,” Kelly said. “Their volume was pretty high in terms of the volume of snaps that they took. It was a valuable first game experience for them, so they’ll continue to be in the mix.”

Lawsuit by former player
Former Irish linebacker Doug Randolph filed a lawsuit against the University on Sept. 1, also naming Kelly as a defendant, as well as Notre Dame head trainer Rob Hunt. Randolph alleges medical results were withheld from him, results indicating he should not have continued playing in 2015 due to long-term medical concerns.

Since diagnosed with spinal stenosis, Randolph alleges he “suffered complete numbness in all four extremities” in his final career game, the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State on Jan. 1, 2016. When he informed Hunt of the symptom, the lawsuit claims Randolph was told to continue playing and “get back in the game.”

The following spring, Randolph’s scholarship became a medical hardship and he spent the 2016 season as a student assistant.

Kelly said Thursday he was surprised by the legal matter, though he largely deferred to a University statement.

“I know the kind of quality healthcare that we provide,” Kelly said. “We have outstanding doctors and trainers. That’s our mission here, to provide the very best healthcare to our student athletes, and whatever is in their best interest. That’s important to note, as well.”

University vice president of public affairs and communications Paul Browne said in an email the University feels the lawsuit lacks merit.

“We will respond in full to these claims in court, but what we can say with certainty is that nothing is more important to Notre Dame than the safety and wellbeing of our students,” he said. “With that in mind, we believe our athletics doctors and trainers are second to none and we are completely confident that these health-care professionals provided proper medical care to the plaintiff in this case. We are equally confident that the allegations made in this lawsuit are baseless.”

And In That Corner … The Georgia Bulldogs, led by freshman QB Jake Fromm

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Notre Dame does not often play SEC teams. Georgia’s arrival this weekend will be the first regular season game against such an opponent since the Irish hosted and beat Tennessee 41-21 in 2005, outscoring the Volunteers by 20 points in the fourth quarter.

To gain a better look into an SEC title contender, welcome Marc Weiszer. Marc has covered the Bulldogs for the Athens Banner-Herald since 2003.

DF: Let’s start with the big question. From your conversations in and around Athens, are as many Georgia fans making the trek northward as has been widely reported and advertised?
MW: Sure seems that way. Georgia’s allotment of 8,000 tickets (plus another 400 for the Redcoat Band) could hardly meet demand. With the Falcons playing in Chicago Sunday and the Cubs slated to have a Friday day game (since moved to night), thousands are making it a big sports weekend.

The week has been dominated by talk of freshman Jake Fromm stepping in for sophomore Jacob Eason at quarterback due to Eason’s knee injury. To my often-faulty memory, there were some rumblings of Fromm being a factor this season even if Eason was healthy. Was that just idle offseason speculation or was there something to that possibility?
Probably somewhere in between. Coach Kirby Smart set the scene of a competition this spring with Fromm pushing Eason for the job, but that was more about the freshman showing good leadership and having off-field habits of being a film room maven that I’m sure coaches would love any quarterback to emulate. Smart acknowledged Eason was the guy in July, but Fromm gave Georgia a more than capable backup and could be turned to if Eason faltered. Or, as we saw in the first quarter of the opener against Appalachian State, if injury knocked him out of the game.

Georgia sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason’s knee sprain will keep him out of action this weekend. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Has the injury to Eason drastically altered the mood around the program? Certainly no one on the team would ever admit such, but losing your starting quarterback must dampen expectations.
There’s been no noticeable “woe is us” type response. If anything, the way Georgia’s offense was energized after Fromm came in the game — three straight touchdown drives after punting on the first series — showed he could be more than just a placeholder until Eason comes back. Eason had a pretty good freshman season — 14 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, late fourth-quarter drives to win at Missouri and Kentucky — but his 55 percent completion percentage and not quite living up to the five-star hype left many looking for more this season from Eason.

From what you have seen of Fromm in practices and in Saturday’s 31-10 victory over Appalachian State, what are his distinct strengths? What about weaknesses, aside from being a true freshman suddenly thrown into the action?
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Fromm doesn’t have the size or probably the big arm that wows like Eason, but he showed last week his quick release can be effective and the Bulldogs used tempo with success in the 31-10 win. He seems to have the respect of his teammates and he’s more fiery than Eason who was encouraged to become more vocal. It’s a small sample size so far for Fromm so we’ll learn a whole lot more about him after Saturday night on that stage. Then again, he hit three home runs in the Little League World Series as a 13-year old playing for his Warner Robins, Ga. team. (See Fromm introduce himself at 0:13 in the below video.) (more…)

Brian Kelly on Georgia’s defense, RBs & Notre Dame vs. the SEC

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Brian Kelly has seen a Kirby Smart-coached defense before. Thus, he recognizes Georgia’s defensive scheme, reminiscent of the approach taken by a certain Alabama team.

“Certainly have a great deal of respect for Kirby Smart,” the Irish coach said Tuesday. “Certainly know him from his days at Alabama [where Smart was defensive coordinator] and we played them obviously in the national championship game.”

Mel Tucker is the Bulldogs defensive coordinator, having followed Smart from Alabama after the 2015 season when Smart took the Georgia head coaching job. Tucker was the defensive backs coach with the Tide for the 2015 season. Whichever one may be pulling the strings, Kelly sees Smart’s presence.

“Defensively, the thing that stands out there is certainly Kirby’s fingerprints,” he said. “Mel is running the defense, but you can see Kirby’s influence there, as well, which you would as a head coach.”

The Bulldogs typically feature three defensive linemen, but easily switch to four when the situation calls for it. Kelly said he counts as many as nine Georgia defensive linemen who contribute up front, led by junior tackle Trenton Thompson. With four veteran linebackers patrolling the area, as well, the front-seven will present a steep challenge for the Irish offensive line, no matter how veteran the latter unit may be.

“What it is about [Smart’s] defense is that when you have four linebackers, you’ve got guys running off edges,” Kelly said. “They can get to you off the edge as well as moving the front around. When you’re in three down [defensive linemen], you can easily play three down and four down from week to week. So there is that ability to morph to what you want to be from week to week, and that in itself allows him a lot of creativity.”

To counter that creativity, Notre Dame will look to improve its pass protection from a week ago. Kelly said that aspect of the game did not have “any glaring weaknesses,” but naturally needed improvement, namely in screen blocking and bootleg blocking.

“The physical pieces of offensive linemen in terms of their growth, we feel really good about that and they’re going to continue to get better,” he said. “There were things that happened on Saturday that we can control in coaching and teaching to take some of the hits off our quarterback.”

Georgia running back Sony Michel. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Offensively, the conversation may be about Bulldogs freshman quarterback Jake Fromm taking over for injured sophomore Jacob Eason, and understandably so, but Kelly’s focus remains on the Georgia running backs, seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. If either gets past the first wave of Irish defenders, it will likely spell greater trouble.

“They’re difficult to tackle one-on-one at the second level,” Kelly said. “If you let these guys go through to the second level and you’re relying on your safeties one-on-one from 12 yards off to make tackles, they need to be of NFL pedigree to make those tackles consistently. And [even then] I don’t know that they will because these two kids are extraordinary talents.”

When it comes to Fromm, there may not be much film to study of him, having played only three quarters of collegiate football, but Kelly is somewhat familiar with the Georgia native, thanks to watching his high school film while evaluating recruits in years past. Notre Dame never pursued Fromm, having already zeroed in on its quarterback in the class of 2017 in current freshman Avery Davis, but Kelly was nonetheless impressed with Fromm back then.

“I always liked his presence and his savvy,” Kelly said. “He always just seemed to be somebody very comfortable. He reminds me a lot of a quarterback we have, [sophomore] Ian Book, on our team. Just has that ‘it’ as a quarterback.”

On scheduling & the SEC
Georgia marks the third SEC team Kelly has faced during his Notre Dame tenure, losing to Alabama in the 2012 National Championship Game and beating LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl. The mixed results left Kelly knowing what is necessary for the Irish to beat the best of the SEC.

Led by left tackle Zack Martin and defensive lineman Sheldon Day (right), Notre Dame topped the SEC’s LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“You certainly know the talent level that you’re going up against, but you also know that it still comes down to your preparation and execution and that you’re capable of beating those teams,” he said. “Certainly we weren’t capable of beating Alabama that day, but we did against LSU. I think the takeaway is that your preparation and execution, you can beat with a Notre Dame football team anybody that you play.”

In the coming years, at least two more SEC teams are on the Irish schedule. Notre Dame and Arkansas have a home-and-home series slated for 2020 and 2025, and Texas A&M will travel to South Bend in 2025 a year after the Irish visit College Station.

“This is the great part of being an independent football team. You get these kinds of games, getting the chance to play against a team that is regarded as one of the very best in the SEC,” Kelly said.

“… Those conversations were about how do we best balance [scheduling] without it being too strong of a schedule to sustain itself throughout the entire year, and this game fit pretty good in that balance.”

54 & counting
Notre Dame played two dozen defenders for double digit snaps against Temple, and Kelly expects that rotation to continue. In fact, he can envision even more players finding the field than the 54 that did in the season opener. Particularly, more of an offensive rotation could be in the works. On at least one level, that is not possible, as the Irish trotted out all five of their tight ends against the Owls.

Of the players seeing their first significant action, Kelly specifically acknowledged five who performed well: junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, sophomore running back Tony Jones, freshman safety Isaiah Robertson and freshmen defensive tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish.

Injuries & eligibility update
The NCAA denied the appeal for immediate eligibility for sophomore safety and Navy transfer Alohi Gilman. He will be eligible for the 2018 season and will have three years remaining.

Junior defensive tackle Micah Dew-Treadway will practice Tuesday and is expected to play against Georgia after not dressing against Temple due to a knee sprain.

Graduate student tight end Durham Smythe will go through Tuesday’s practice in a non-contact role, and if that goes well, he should be cleared from the concussion protocol.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Defensive rotation, RT duo and overall health

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It is not a statistic that shows up in a box score or deep within any performance-based analytics, but it is a positive indicator for Notre Dame moving forward, nonetheless. Two dozen Irish defenders played at least 10 snaps in the 49-16 victory over Temple on Saturday, per coach Brian Kelly.

Kelly also said during his Sunday teleconference that he fully intends to continue with that large rotation. The list of 24 includes at least eight defensive backs, five linebackers and nine defensive linemen, with both freshmen defensive tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish among that last grouping.

Next week, another body will be available to aid the defensive line interior. Junior tackle Micah Dew-Treadway did not dress for the season opener due to a knee sprain, per Kelly.

“We just felt it was best that we didn’t put him out there unless he was 100 percent,” Kelly said. “We expect to have him back this week.”

Graduate student tight end Durham Smythe is not yet cleared for action against Georgia after entering the concussion protocol Saturday, but Kelly was optimistic about Smythe’s week ahead since he is not suffering from concussion symptoms today.

On the right tackle rotation
Kelly and his coaching staff split the snaps at right tackle between sophomore Tommy Kraemer and freshman Robert Hainsey. That partnership will continue, at least for now. (more…)

Friday at 4: Under the radar notes on Notre Dame’s opponents

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Notre Dame will face Temple in only 71 days. The Irish will begin fall practice in six weeks, give or take a day. College football kicks off in only 63 days. Frankly, the offseason is far closer to being behind us than anything else.

That is underscored by the release of Phil Steele’s 2017 preview. There are other preview publications, and certainly others of great value, but Steele’s stands alone in its numbers-driven approach which leads to an unparalleled thoroughness. That combined with his reputation and marketing acumen (as in, Steele has great timing — everyone is starved for college football conversation toward the end of June) leads to Steele’s preview getting cited the most often in college football writing, and this space will be no different.

At 352 pages, it takes more than a few days to digest all of Steele’s analysis. For now, let’s simply rattle off a smattering of quick thoughts and observations about Notre Dame’s opponents gathered after a first read-through of Steele’s profiles on each. A discussion of Irish thoughts should come down the line, hopefully in much more depth.

Why only quick thoughts and observations? If nothing else, because of a recognition of reality. Trying to summarize Phil Steele’s preview into one column is akin to explaining all of a “The Fast and the Furious” movie with only one quote. You will lose far too much in the way of nuance and insight.

  • Most will remember Temple lost its head coach, Matt Rhule, to Baylor. Few will realize the Owls are also replacing a four-year starter at quarterback.
  • Most will recognize Georgia’s vaunted rushing attack, featuring Steele’s No. 7 and No. 11 running backs in the country in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, respectively, but few will expect the Bulldogs defense to be its backbone. In head coach Kirby Smart’s second season, Georgia returns 10 defensive starters. That is a recipe for success, and part of the reason Steele rates Georgia as his No. 10 surprise team this season. Sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason undoubtedly has a role in that, as well.
  • Boston College will continue to struggle this year, but its defense should keep the Eagles more competitive than in the last few years, led by Steele’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the country, senior Harold Landry. Outside linebacker may not be the most-accurate description, as Steele also slots Landry in at defensive end on his All-American first-team.
  • Steele largely saw last year’s struggles coming for Michigan State, though even he did not anticipate the 3-9 debacle. With three one-possession losses last year and no such wins, the Spartans were in position to be one of Steele’s “Most-Improved Teams” this season before off-field issues led to the dismissal of five key players. Now, Michigan State’s resurgence could take a bit more time, not that the on-field record is the most important part of that situation.
  • Notre Dame fans generally take more of an interest in Miami (Ohio) than outside observers may expect with former Irish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin leading the Redhawks. There are many indicators of Martin’s gradual success with the downtrodden program. Steele points out two in-depth ones. Last year, Martin’s roster had only 15 upperclassmen. Basic math tells you that means he had 70 underclassmen, and still managed a six-game winning streak to close the regular season.

Secondly, Miami has gradually increased its competitiveness within its conference. In 2013 conference play, the Redhawks were outgained by 195.4 yards per game. In 2014, 70.5 and in 2015, 34.5. Last year, they flipped the script and outgained their opponents by 13.4 yards per game.

  • North Carolina could face an uphill climb this year, having lost its starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, starting running back Elijah Hood and top receiver and playmaking threat Ryan Switzer.
  • This entry could be as simple as one line: USC is going to be really good. Rather than delve too deeply into its roster (featuring Steele’s No. 1 quarterback, No. 3 running back and No. 2 cornerback) or debating its ceiling, how about a note specific to sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold’s performance last year, with a caveat attached?

USC averaged 34.4 points per game in its 13 games last year, including the bowl game. Darnold, then a freshman, started the final 10 of those, and the Trojans averaged 38.6 points per game. The caveat: Two of those three opening opponents were Alabama and Stanford, who held USC to six and 10 points, respectively.

Steele projects Darnold to win the Heisman Trophy and likely go No. 1 in the 2018 NFL Draft.

  • North Carolina State is trending upward this year following back-to-back 7-6 seasons, and will travel to Notre Dame following a bye week.
  • Most will remember Wake Forest lost its defensive coordinator Mike Elko to a small school in northern Indiana. Few will realize the Demon Deacons also return only five defensive starters.
  • Steele rates Miami as his No. 2 surprise team this year, even without quarterback Brad Kaaya who left some eligibility on the table in order to enter the NFL. The Hurricanes will rely on its defensive front seven, headlined by Steele’s No. 7 linebacker unit in the country. Miami also has the No. 2 special teams grouping.
  • Most will fear Navy’s arrival on the schedule due to its option-rush attack. Few will realize the Midshipmen return eight defensive starters this year and could be an unexpectedly strong team on that side of the ball, as well.
  • Most will remember Stanford lost both defensive tackle Solomon Thomas and running back/playmaker Christian McCaffrey to the NFL Draft. Few will recognize the Cardinal still return eight starters on each side of the ball, a big part of the reason Steele rates Stanford as his No. 3 surprise team and No. 14 team in his power poll, a ranking based on teams’ strengths alone, not factoring in scheduling quirks.

Now then, this scribe is late for a rehearsal dinner, and you’re late for beginning your weekend early. After all, you can count the weekends left before Notre Dame football starts on your two hands. Enjoy these carefree days while they are still around.