Author: Keith Arnold

Nyles Morgan

Mailbag: The case of the missing questions


So apparently I didn’t answer last week’s questions. I think it might be the first ever lost column, because I could’ve sworn I answered them. (Checked my drafts folder and everything…)

Perhaps I have the North Korean government to blame? (Or the guy in the mirror…)

Either way, we’re moving forward. And I’ll scan through a few of your question from last week to make sure I didn’t miss any masterpieces, but thanks for keeping me honest.

Away we go.


nicenirish: Keith don’t you owe us all an apology for ignoring the last set of questions?

Don’t you guys owe me an apology for never actually asking question, but rather answering your own question first and then stating it? Or writing a manifesto that lacks a question at all?

But in the spirit of Christmas:



c4evr: Is the ND program facing any NCAA penalties for the Frozen 5 or will it just be a university issue? I also remember where Jenkins said the school would vacate victories if players had been academically ineligible during past competition? Was he implying that the school itself would vacate victories or that the school would comply with the NCAA decision?

This isn’t a resolved situation. So while we haven’t heard anything on the record from anyone about any sanctions (self-imposed or otherwise), every time Brian Kelly’s been asked about it he has stated that vacating victories doesn’t sound like it’s on the table.

There was a rumor a few weeks back going around about Notre Dame self-vacating a few scholarships a year. That certainly doesn’t seem to be the case when you look at the way Notre Dame is recruiting. And if Notre Dame is imposing restrictions, what should happen at North Carolina? A dozen a year for a decade?

Notre Dame isn’t afraid of self-immolation, even if this doesn’t seem to be necessary. And you could argue that they already did it by holding four guys off the field for the entire season and one for the majority of the season.

Nothing has been officially resolved, and I’m not sure that we’ll ever hear if it is.


irishsoccerfirst: I would like your take on the performance of the O-line. No excuses for this group: Consistently strong recruiting every year; no academic issues, no defections to UCLA, Cincy or the NFL; no significant injuries; no new coaching scheme. So, why is our supposed strength such a big fat dud?

Offensive line play seemed to be disappointing this season. Minus Ronnie Stanley, who has put together enough good tape to be considered a fringe first-rounder after one season at left tackle, it’s fair to say the group took a step backwards.

That said, I think lingering injuries to Christian Lombard really hurt them. Same with Nick Martin, who likely made the move because snapping was difficult. In their first true season as starters, Steve Elmer and Matt Hegarty had mixed bag seasons.

Did anybody really think losing Zack Martin and Chris Watt would be easy? Just because a guy has a four-star grade next to his name doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to step in and be a seasoned vet from the beginning. (Just look at Michigan’s offensive line — it’s been a mess, and the Wolverines have recruited a Rivals four-and-five-star All-Star team.)

We’re not coaches. I am not fully capable of grading assignments that I don’t always know. But it’s pretty easy to see that the Irish have struggled on the interior and haven’t always done the best job protecting Everett Golson.

The starting lineup against LSU could return in its entirety. If it does, that’s a very good thing — especially with competition coming from the young pups.


okanirish94: Does BK ever script the opening drive? We’ve had some less than stellar play callers on prior staffs who were actually quite good at scripting opening drives. With BK though I can recall multiple games starting off with illegal substitution, delay of game, or timeout on or before the 2nd play.

Scripting plays doesn’t keep you from illegal substitutions, delay of games or timeouts. But the opening of the USC game was super frustrating, and the fact that Amir Carlisle lines up incorrectly makes no sense.

Even in some games where the Irish didn’t win, the opening drive hasn’t really been the problem. The Irish marched nicely against ASU before settling for a field goal. They scored a touchdown in under a minute against Northwestern. Against Louisville (a top 10 defense), the opening drive produced points.

So bang on BK all you’d like, the opening script isn’t necessarily the problem.


mayesdays: How do you think the Irish will utilize Schmidt and Morgan next year? Someone else said this, but could this be the most underrated defense heading into the 2015 season?

Let’s pump the brakes on the “most underrated” talk. These guys were good when they were healthy, but they’ve gotta prove they can do it against good competition, because they need to earn back any good will after this last month.

But getting both Schmidt and Morgan on the field together will be interesting. Yesterday, Kelly talked about Morgan’s versatility — he’s capable of playing the Will or Sam as well as the Mike. So Notre Dame’s base defense could utilize Morgan as a first-down defender and then sub-out for a guy like Onwualu in receiver-heavy formations.

Schmidt, assuming he returns healthy, is the team’s starting middle linebacker. And Jarrett Grace is taking reps in bowl practice, a great story in its own right. So the Irish depth chart might finally look pretty strong in the middle after being a gigantic question mark heading into 2014.


gpatton90:Do you believe that BK will ever truly embrace a run-first, smash-mouth offensive mentality that can set up the rest of the offensive tools he has assembled?


He’s got a system he runs. And it’s not a smash-mouth, run-first mentality.

That said, I get what you mean.


tony34343434: Hey Keith, my question is do you think the Irish need to play with more passion. Many on here including myself have commented on that this year. Games like USC, Navy, Northwestern and some others. I do not pretend to know as much football as you Keith but i do not see the fire that some teams bring. Maybe i am just another alum looking for answers.

Tony, I’m usually pretty tough on questions like this, especially with unmeasurable metrics like “passion.” (More passion could be the more cowbell of this blog…)

I tend to think you hit it on the head when you called yourself “another alum looking for answers.”

While I skip past passion, I do think true leadership was an issue on this team. I think the coaching staff named the wrong guys as captain this season. I wouldn’t have put a C on Austin Collinsworth or Cam McDaniel. Probably not on Nick Martin, either.

When the going got rough, Notre Dame’s most logical leaders were either hurt (Joe Schmidt) or part of the problem (Everett Golson, not to mention McDaniels’ disastrous fumble against Northwestern).


goirishgo: Where does Die Hard rank on your list of all-time great Christmas movies?

onward2victory: Can we get your top 5 Christmas movies, Keith??

Love Die Hard. Never considered it a Christmas movie. (After all, how exactly were USC and Notre Dame playing? A Las Vegas Bowl we didn’t know about?)

As for Christmas movies… That’s a tough one. Christmas in the Arnold household usually included going to a movie, not necessarily watching them.

I need some extra time on this one. But I’ve seen them all.



mtflsmitty: Keith, You did ignore a question I posed in August which also received an awful lot of thumbs up from other posters. Since you specifically mentioned ignored questions, thought we may try again:

Can you offer some sense for total readership of Inside The Irish? Unique visitors? Trend lines for unique readers by week/month throughout the season. Percentage of readers who also post comments? Readers by state? All of this info (and more) is available within your a Google Analytics account. Would be interesting.

Smitty, I have no clue. We have a bunch of analytics tools, but I don’t see most of them and I honestly don’t really care about them. I’ve never been told to write for eyeballs, so I just write. Some things take off, some don’t.

On a good day, there’s more than 25,000 readers coming here. On a not so good one, there’s a few thousand.

As of now, there’s been over 25 million views and over 75,000 comments since we switched to WordPress (the first few years weren’t on WordPress). The best ever day? Mid-January, 2013. The column? This piece on Manti Te’o.


bernhtp: The arms race stemming from the big big money in college football – the Harbaugh offer, coach salaries more generally, facilities, player living accommodations, etc. – is cranking up. ND is caught between Swarbrick’s pragmatism and a traditional reluctance to compete in this way given our identity and values. What is your prediction on how ND will navigate this?

I’ll believe Harbaugh getting paid eight million a year from Michigan when I see it. But there’s no doubt that the arms race continues to crank up. Notre Dame has done well enough — The Gug is a nice facility, though it’s hardly the Taj Mahal. And assistant coaches are doing just fine — Chuck Martin took a pay cut to take the head coaching job at Miami.

That said, I think the biggest piece of this will be the Campus Crossroads project. It’ll allow Notre Dame Stadium to get up to date — more than doubling premium seating options and likely bringing in a video board to see replays. It’ll also probably include some additional football facilities — maybe a place to eat as a team?

Notre Dame isn’t likely to start spending $1 million on big-name assistants. So that might be the difference from some SEC programs. But Swarbrick has done just fine with the juggling act and I expect that to continue.


irishfan4life: Why do you think it took this long for Kelly to look at running a two QB system? Seems like after 6-10 turnovers in 2-3 games he’d look to get Zaire some more experience.

Keith, Has Brian Kelly mishandled the QB position at ND?

I’m bunching these two together. And there was more to second question, but this was basically it.

If you predicted Everett Golson to continue to turn the football over, then yes, it was mishandled. But I tend to believe that Kelly knew Golson had to get all the game reps he could (he’s still a guy who is learning, part of why the lost 2013 season stunk so badly) and in practice it was clear that Golson was clearly the best at the position. That being said, I was advocating for a series for Zaire in the first half against Rice.  And even Golson acknowledged that he would’ve pulled himself against USC.

This feels a lot like the end of 2011. Things felt broken. People jumped all over the Andrew Hendrix bandwagon, for adequate play in a lopsided football game. Zaire is clearly a good runner and the better of the two in the zone read, speed game. We’ll see how he throws it against LSU.


I’m not calling Zaire Hendrix, and I actually think he’ll be the starting quarterback come 2016. But heading into next season, I still don’t think this is anybody’s job but Golson. He just won’t be given the leash he had in 2014.


oldtrollmcgee: Could we get a writer (just one) who covers Notre dame basketball? I know they are not a legitimate title contender, but each year they seem to put out a quality team, and when it comes to tournament time I always see Notre Dame listed as a quality win for other teams. Just a thought.

There are plenty of places to read Notre Dame basketball coverage. The guys at Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold, Irish Sports Daily, Irish Eyes, along with the indie blogs and the South Bend and Chicago Tribunes. Hit the Google, Old Troll.

But it’s not going to be me. I don’t have the expertise to write intelligently about the team. Pair that with the fact that every time I’ve sat down to watch an entire Notre Dame basketball game the Irish have always lost. So I flipped back and forth between the Michigan State and Purdue victories and was shocked when Brey’s boys pulled it off.

It looks like a fun, athletic squad. Call me in March.


ylilbnosredna: If ND gets blown out by LSU in the whole game, what (outside of the overrated 15 practices and single game’s worth of experience & p.t. for young players) actual positives will Notre Dame be able to take from the experience?

I guess I don’t agree with the premise of your questions, considering you put the most important thing in parenthesis. Those 15 practices are the whole point!

That said, a blowout is a terrible way to go into the offseason, and everybody inside the program knows that the Irish have to play better. Find a way to pull off the upset? That could change everything heading into spring, the ultimate season saver.


irishdog80: which of the freshmen from this year break into the starting lineup next year? Any of the recruits have the potential to be first year starters?

Great question. And probably one I’ll spend all offseason thinking about. Of the guys that played, I’d have said Tranquill before the torn ACL. Right now, I think they’ll find a spot for Morgan.

Offensively it’s a tougher road. If Ronnie Stanley leaves, Kelly raved about Alex Bars on Saturday. And Quenton Nelson will challenge the interior offensive linemen.

As for the incoming group, I’d look at pass rushers or defensive backs. Maybe Shaun Crawford? He just has the feel of a perfect slot cornerback. And don’t forget Justin Yoon. He’ll be the next kicking adventure for the Irish.


dudeacow: So Nyles Morgan has basically played 8 halves games of competitive football (if you count the second half of USC)… but he has 43 tackles and three double-digit performances. He had 11 tackles in one half against USC! He doesn’t really know this defense well and yet is racking up tackles so easily. Is he going to turn into one of those 150+ tackle guys who running backs hate and set the tone for a dominating defense in the future?

What, 100 tackles wasn’t enough? You needed 150+ tackles? That puts him in a group of who, Luke Kuechly? Dat Nguyen?

That being said, there’s a reason Morgan made two Freshman All-American teams. He’s going to be really good. It’ll be fun to watch him develop.

Day, Riggs on track to start, Lombard’s career may be over

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Brian Kelly met with the local media on Saturday afternoon, delivering good news on the status of two key veteran defenders. Both defensive tackle Sheldon Day and cornerback Cody Riggs are on track to start against LSU, adding a few key pieces back into the puzzle.

“Sheldon practiced in full gear and took reps in all of our team (drills),” Kelly said. “We’re a better football team with him. Cody Riggs as well.”

The return of Day is welcome news to Irish fans wondering how Notre Dame was going to stop an LSU ground game that will likely test a green group of defenders early and often. Now getting the junior back in football shape and ready to take a heavy work load is the next order of business.

On the back end, Riggs return after battling a stress reaction in his foot will add some veteran leadership in a secondary that lost Austin Collinsworth and is playing three sophomores.

“No doubt. No doubt there,” Kelly said of Riggs return. “Both those guys will be in the starting lineup.”

The secondary’s struggles have been glaring, especially against USC. Forced to play man coverage, both Devin Butler and Cole Luke struggled with deep passes. LSU hasn’t been a particularly effective passing attack, but features some talented options — especially in man coverage.

One disappointing piece of news came in on fifth-year senior Christian Lombard. The veteran right tackle who has battled injuries since starting all 13 games in 2012 has a lingering back injury that may keep him out of not just the final game of his collegiate career, but end his football playing days for good.

While Kelly didn’t confirm the loss, Irish Illustrated‘s Pete Sampson broke the news earlier Saturday, tweeting that the back injury is a career ender.

Mike McGlinchey has been working in at right tackle, where he relieved Lombard against USC.

“Christian Lombard dealing with lower back that has been cranky, so we’ll be careful with him,” Kelly said. “Christian has fought through it all year.”

Lombard, who was awarded the Father Lange Iron Cross Award during the year-end banquet by Paul Longo, was lauded for the work he put in by his strength coach for dealing with adversity just to get on the field. This likely helps frame those comments.





Notre Dame lands Indianapolis safety Mykelti Williams

Property of Indianapolis Star

Notre Dame solidified its safety depth chart by going for a homegrown solution. The Irish offered Indianapolis Warren Central safety Mykelti Williams yesterday, and today the four-star prospect made the decision official by committing to Notre Dame.

Williams took an official visit to Minnesota last weekend and had another on tap for January to Louisville. But those plans seem to be obsolete from the moment Mike Elston offered the defensive back.

He told’s Steve Wiltfong why the decision was so easy.

“It was kind of like a thing, you grow up as a kid, you dream about that day, and it came true for me,” Williams told 247 Sports. “It’s a blessing that I’ll play in front of my family and get a great education and play with some great guys.”

The Irish’s late run at the safety was a product of several things. First, a need to add more depth to the safety position after injuries decimated the depth chart. Second was a great senior season that had Williams joining Asmar Bilal on the 6A All-State team. (Fellow commitment Brandon Tiassum is on the 2A All-State team.)

That senior tape weighed heavily on the Irish’s decision to offer Williams. So did a visit from defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who was convinced that the slightly undersized safety would offer plenty in the secondary.

As rumors swirl around the stability of Pretince McKinney’s commitment to the Irish, landing Williams now makes certain that the Irish aren’t left empty-handed at a position where there are still multiple offers out. Add to the fact he’s a physical player with very good speed and the Indianapolis native is far from a consolation prize.

Williams is the 22nd commitment to the 2015 class. He had other top offers from Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Nebraska.



And in that corner… The LSU Tigers

Les Miles

Notre Dame’s inclusion in the ACC’s bowl selections came in handy this year. As the Irish back-slid throughout November, they still held onto some preferred real estate, finding themselves in a pretty nice consolation game, with the opportunity to play in Nashville in the Music City Bowl.

Unfortunately, they’ll be going up against one of the SEC’s premier programs in LSU. The Tigers, who went through some of their own growing pains this season in an 8-4 campaign, still managed to produce one of the nation’s top defenses and a running game that’s a tough draw for a decimated Notre Dame defense.

While visions of Sugar Bowl’s past don’t necessarily apply, the Irish are significant underdogs heading into their December 30 finale. And to get us ready for the Music City Bowl, Bleacher Report’s Carter Bryant.

Hope you enjoy:


Quite a bit has been made of the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, with Everett Golson playing his way from Heisman contender to platoon player. But the LSU quarterback position has been a bit of a mess as well. What should we expect from the position during the Music City Bowl?

LSU’s quarterback has been a headache. Fans have clamored for Brandon Harris to get snaps, but Miles has stuck with Anthony Jennings. Jennings is a limited passer that completes less than 50 percent of the throws. Expect him to start, but there is a slight chance Harris will play though he has rarely seen the field since Auburn.


Help me figure out this LSU defense. On paper, it looks really strong, a top 10 defense by just about every measure available. But the Tigers are giving up 4.2 yards per carry, pointing to some softness on the inside — not surprising given some of the youthful concerns entering the season. If you’re Brian Kelly, how do you attack LSU?

Those rushing statistics are a tad inflated due to inexperience to start the season. Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn, the first three Power Five teams the Tigers faced, gashed them. Since then, no team has rushed for more than 137 yards in a game. LSU’s defensive tackles became better players after limited mike linebacker D.J. Welter was replaced by the more athletic Kendell Beckwith.

Notre Dame should try to run the football some, but the Irish are best through the air (no matter who is at QB). LSU is not great at rushing the passer and Notre Dame has the receiving talent to eventually get open against the Tigers’ fantastic secondary. I would also not be surprised if Brian Kelly tries some zone read.


Just about every Notre Dame fan alive expects to see LSU run early and often against a front seven that’s decimated by injuries. Will this be the kickoff to Leonard Fournette’s 2015 Heisman campaign? It wouldn’t be an LSU offense without ridiculous depth at that position. Who else joins him?

My viewpoint of LSU’s running backs is a tad different than others. Fournette is the best of the bunch, but he, along with the rest of LSU’s running backs, are not great at breaking tackles. Backups Terrence Magee and Darrel Williams are powerful, between the tackles runners. Jaylon Smith should have a big game in the box score.

LSU’s offensive line has had some spectacular games (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Florida) and some duds (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Wisconsin). With ND’s injuries, there is no excuse for the Tigers to not have success (despite starting center Elliott Porter being sidelined with an injury).


Sticking with Fournette, what did you make of his freshman season? Underwhelming? About what you expected? What kind of football player do you see him developing into?

The final statistics look fine for Fournette. 891 and eight touchdowns is a good number considering some dud games he had and the lack of a passing game.

But Fournette’s frosh year was a tad underwhelming as well. He went down easy often and struggled to make defenders miss in the open field to create big gains. It is easier said than done, but the No. 1 recruit in the country should be able to do that. He also got plenty of touches as a kickoff returner and did little.

(Here is some tape study I did on Fournette’s masterful game against Texas A&M.)

I’m not sure if he will ever be a Heisman finalist. LSU’s got some great 2015 commits along with Williams. Miles will never make him the bell cow. I do think he can be an All-SEC performer. His speed and power is off the charts. A summer watching Jeremy Hill tape will do him some good.


When you look at the personnel Les Miles continually turns out, he’s responsible for practically a two-deep of starting talent on Sundays, with no college program passing the NFL eyeball test better than the Tigers. Yet it doesn’t feel like LSU wins at the clip it should. (Look at the offensive talent Zach Mettenberger had surrounding him last year…)

Is that a product of playing in the rough and tumble SEC? Is it the peculiarities of Miles as a head coach? Am I just seeing this incorrectly? LSU is still a Top 10 program in college football. But it also feels like they’re underperforming. (Or tell me I’m nuts.)

This is a tough philosophical question I get asked often. It all depends on what is the determination of success. If 10 wins a year is considered successful, Miles is the guy. He has done that seven out of 10 possible times. He’s won multiple SEC titles and a BCS crown. His players love him.

Part of this is Alabama. They are a damn strong football team. The Crimson Tide continuously have No. 1 classes and Saban is Saban. Plus the SEC as a whole is pretty good.

It is fair though to question if LSU has gotten maximum value on its talent, especially last season. The defense was gutted from the year before, but it was still embarrassing. As were the Tigers’ performances against Ole Miss and Arkansas (though they won the game, it took a miracle comeback). Bengals rookie Jeremy Hill tweeted about this, and Dan Patrick has mentioned it on his radio program.

There is so much more to this, but that’s a start.


What’s John Chavis got to do to get a chance at being a head coach? Or is he just a guy that’s built to be a D-Coordinator? Brian Kelly said he expects a ton of man coverage on the Irish receivers and physicality in the trenches. How do you expect LSU to take on some talented skill players for the Irish?

Chavis is getting paid a ridiculous amount to be LSU’s defensive coordinator. Though he is an interesting coach, he isn’t flashy and lacks a true desire for fame.

Notre Dame’s offensive line has given up some three sack games, but LSU’s pass rush is not that great. That should give time for Fuller and Robinson to get open. Also, playing man coverage opens up huge rushing opportunities for both of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks.

If the Irish can’t run, expect Chavis to play a ton of his 3-2-6 “Mustang” package, which puts six defensive backs on the field at once. This creation by Chavis has been dangerous for defenses. Expect to see Jamal Adams and Jalen Mills to be all over the field.


Notre Dame fans don’t feel too good about this matchup. Memories of the boat race that turned Jamarcus Russell into the No. 1 pick are still fresh. What kind of game do you expect to see in Nashville?

That Sugar Bowl was great for LSU fans. Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija and the rest of the Irish had a ton of hype going into that game. It is still crazy how easily the Tigers won that game.

There is no reason for LSU to not win this game by two possessions. I watched some of Notre Dame’s final four games. The Irish looked so bad. Fuller and Robinson could give the Tigers trouble, but uncertainty at quarterback makes that tough.

LSU has been sluggish in some bowl games under Miles. The last two years are prime examples. But in the end, I expect an LSU victory.


Special thanks to Carter for getting this done before the holiday crush. You can find more of his work at B/R and follow him on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Smith, Fuller nab All-American mentions

Jaylon Smith

Sophomores Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller have earned more kudos than just their defensive and offensive player of the year Echoes. Both have received mention for year-end All-American awards.

Smith leads the group with a second-team All-American linebacker honor from the Associated Press. His team-leading 103 tackles earned notice, one of just two sophomore linebackers to be on the first or second team.

He joins UCLA’s Eric Kendricks and Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney on the second team, behind Arizona’s Scooby Wright, Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and TCU senior Paul Dawson.

Meanwhile, Fuller’s 14 touchdowns and 1,036-yard regular season earned him mention on Sports Illustrated’s All-American honorable mention.

With first-team All-American honors going to Amari Cooper and Rashard Higgins, and second-team going to ASU’s Jaelen Strong and West Virginia’s Kevin White, Fuller was the first name listed on the nine-man honorable mention list, joined by Nelson Agholor of USC and Rashad Greene of Florida State.

Among the All-Americans, only Higgins is projected to be back next season at wideout, making both Fuller and Smith rising stars and likely preseason awards candidates. If Ronnie Stanley decides to return, he’ll garner some votes as well.


Also earning postseason notice is linebacker Nyles Morgan. He was named to The Sporting News’ Freshman All-American team. Morgan finished the season sixth on the team in tackles with 43, while making three tackles for loss.