Author: Keith Arnold

North Carolina v Notre Dame

Greg Bryant will continue football career at UAB in 2017


Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant will return to D-I football in 2017 at a program that’s also making a major comeback. Spending the 2015 season playing junior college football at ASA in Miami, the former five-star recruit has decided to finish his college career at University of Alabama-Birmingham, where football is coming back after the program shut down last year.

Bryant made the announcement on his Instagram page:

“Never in my life would I be thinking I would go here,” Bryant posted. “But, the next move has to be the best move. I’m officially committed to the University of Alabama Birmingham! Strictly a business decision. ‪Minor set back for a major comeback.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was open to the idea of Bryant returning to South Bend if he wanted to earn his degree. But that return always seemed highly unlikely since Bryant left the university after being declared academically ineligible, even as Bryant had hinted at it via social media a few times this season. Bryant was already suspended four games for an undisclosed rules violation before his summer semester grades came up just short.

Notre Dame’s running back position has been thin this season, especially after losing Bryant this summer and Tarean Folston three carries into the 2015 season. But C.J. Prosise has carried the load for Notre Dame and freshman Josh Adams has done well in a reserve role.

Bryant has two seasons of eligibility remaining, earning a medical redshirt in 2013 as a freshman. His final Notre Dame stats include 57 carries for 303 yards and three touchdowns, good for 5.3 yards per carry.


And in that corner… The Pitt Panthers

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 17:  Tyler Boyd #23 of the Pittsburgh Panthers rushes against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

While it’s difficult to call Notre Dame’s rivalry with Pitt—well, a rivalry—there’s certainly a long history between the two football programs. The Irish and the Panthers started playing in 1909. They’ve rarely taken a break longer than two years. And over the past decade, Pitt has routinely been a thorn in the side of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s last visit to the Steel City ended the Irish’s BCS hopes, with the Irish losing a disappointing 28-21 game in early November. The Panthers most likely felt like they were getting even from the year before, when Notre Dame kept their undefeated season alive thanks to some late-game heroics by Everett Golson, a missed 33-yard field goal and a triple-OT escape.

In 2011, the Irish won ugly against Todd Graham. In 2010, Kelly beat Dave Wannstedt. It feels like an eternity since Wannstedt roamed the sidelines, and nearly a half-dozen head coaches later, the Irish will face former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi as he heads down the home stretch of his debut season atop the program.

Joining us to talk Pitt football is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Sam Werner. While we’ll let him get away with being a Taylor Swift apologist, he’s a Notre Dame grad and an Observer Sports alum who covered the Irish for the student newspaper.

Sam works the Panthers beat and runs the Post-Gazette’s Pitt football blog, The Redshirt Diaries.  So he has a better handle than most on the “rivalry” between Notre Dame and Pitt, and also had Narduzzi threaten to ban him from practice this week for his alma mater, which would’ve been kinda nice from a workload perspective, I’m guessing.

Hope you enjoy this Q&A, and special thanks to Sam for joining us on a busy week.
* The Panthers had been flying nicely below the radar, ranked until their loss to UNC last week. Taking a step back, can you give us an assessment of Pat Narduzzi as a head coach, considering it took longer than most expected for him to get a chance at leading a program?

I think it’s hard to be anything but optimistic about Narduzzi’s future potential as a head coach. I really do think he was sort of biding his time at Michigan State until the right job came along. That job happened to be Pitt, just about an hour away from where he grew up in Youngstown.

One of the benefits of that patience is that he really got a good look at what exactly it takes to build a program the way Mark Dantonio did in East Lansing. It was sort of clear for the last few years that he was going to get a head job eventually, and Dantonio did his best to prepare Narduzzi for when he got there.

Now, there are still some hiccups, as there would be with any first-time head coaches. Things like clock management, when to go for it on fourth down are parts of the job that you can never prepare for until you get there, so Narduzzi has had some growing pains in those areas.

From a big picture sense, though, he seems to have a very clear and detailed vision about what he expects this football team to be and what it takes to get there. He’s a stickler for every single little detail, and that’s usually a good quality in a head coach.


* Like Notre Dame, Pitt’s season got started with a terrible injury, losing the ACC player of the year just eight carries into his season when James Conner tore his ACL. But Qadree Ollison has filled in nicely, the freshman averaging 5.4 yards a carry and scoring eight touchdowns.

Has the power-running identity of the Panthers had to change because of the injury to Conner? Is Ollison the main weapon you expect Pitt to challenge the Irish with?

I wouldn’t say Pitt’s identity as a power-running team has changed without Conner, I would just say it’s not as good. Ollison has been effective in spots this year, but has also ceded time to sophomore Chris James and true freshman Darrin Hall at various points in the year, so he hasn’t exactly been the workhorse back that Conner would have (though, to be fair to Ollison, it’d be ridiculous to expect him to step in and replicate what James Conner did). I also get the sense that Ollison is a bit of a liability in pass protection, which has probably cost him playing time in certain situations, too.

Ollison will probably be the main back Pitt uses against Notre Dame, but I would expect to see James and Hall, too. Whichever one of them looks best early will probably be the guy in the second half. The way Pitt will get into trouble is if none look good early on and they have to play musical chairs at running back all the way through the game.


* Defensively, Narduzzi was well known as one of the best defensive coaches in the country. Statistically, it looks like a minor uptick is just about every category since taking over. But what’s the major difference you’ve seen in the Xs and Os this season?

I know it’s sort of a coaching change cliche, but everything really does seem to be much simpler than it was last year. Players have said that, last season, the Panthers would change up the gameplan just about every week to match up with their given opponent, whereas this year it’s just about executing their scheme to the best of their ability and daring opponents to beat them. Defensive lineman Mark Scarpinato, a grad transfer who played for Narduzzi at Michigan State, said that one of the trademarks of those defenses was that the offenses knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop them.

Now, Pitt isn’t quite there yet. There was a lot of optimism early on as the Panthers raced out to lead the ACC in sacks after four games, but that has sort of tempered over the last three games (one total sack). If this defense isn’t getting to the quarterback, that puts a lot of pressure on the corners (generally in single coverage) to stay with their man for a long time, and that can have some bad results for a defense.


* Notre Dame’s ground game has been prolific this season, but the two best defenses Notre Dame has faced — Clemson and Temple — have done a good job shutting down C.J. Prosise. How do you expect the Panthers to fair in the trenches?

That’s the question that will, I think, ultimately decide whether Pitt stays in this game or not. While the Panthers was very stout against the run early on in the season, they seem to have taken a step back in recent weeks against Syracuse and North Carolina (they also REALLY struggled stopping the run against Georgia Tech, but I’ll throw that one out).

The interior of the defensive line is pretty solid, with a defensive tackle rotation that goes four deep. The ends have been a bit more of a concern, though, and that seems to be where teams have had success running against Pitt, either on the edge or off tackle. If there’s a good sign for Pitt, though, it’s that the rushing numbers in recent weeks have been slightly skewed by a few big plays. Obviously that’s not good that they’re giving up long runs, but it’s not like they’re getting gashed consistently for eight yards a carry.

I think Pitt will try and do whatever it can to stop the run. I’ve had multiple conversations with Narduzzi about his defense, and that is always his No. 1 priority with everything else a distant second. Even after last year’s Cotton Bowl, when his defense gave up 41 points and 583 yards to Baylor, Narduzzi was quick to point out that the Bears had -20 rushing yards, and that’s a success in his book. At his press conference this morning, he said, “We should be able to stop the run better than we have. That’s the frustrating thing. They throw a 71-yard pass, I’m okay with that. But you better stop the run. That’ll be a major focus this week.”


* Pitt is starting Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman for the majority of the season. Early in the year he was sharing time with Chad Voytik, but it appears he’s emerged as the man for the Panthers offense. For Notre Dame fans, can you give us a scouting report? the Irish have struggled getting to the quarterback, and also had some problems in the secondary. Can Peterman exploit those issues? And does he have a true weapon other than Tyler Boyd?

Peterman has been really solid for Pitt after beating out Chad Voytik a few games into the season. He’s been really accurate and hasn’t thrown an interception since Sept. 19 against Iowa. I think Peterman’s biggest strength would be that he really doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, if that makes any sense. He has a solid arm, doesn’t make mistakes, and can run well enough to take advantage if a defense gives him room. The one ding would be that he has a tendency to take too many sacks, but that can sometimes be just as much on the offensive line and receivers as the quarterback.

One dimension Pitt’s offense hasn’t shown yet, though, is the ability to beat teams down the field. Peterman’s longest pass this year is a 41-yarder against Georgia Tech, and the Panthers have generally kept things super, super conservative on offense. I guess there’s a chance things could open up against Notre Dame, but if it didn’t happen against lesser teams, I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the Panthers’ downfield passing game suddenly coming to life this week.

As for Peterman’s weapons, Dontez Ford and the tight ends (J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff) have emerged as viable options, but Boyd is still the Panthers’ only real threat to make an explosive play on offense. The problem with that is that most of his touches have come on short screens and quick passes short to the line of scrimmage. The coaching staff obviously wants to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, but in doing so they seem to have taken the deep ball out of the equation.


* Notre Dame has struggled coming to Pitt for a long time. The noon start was a surprise, and could make for a more tame atmosphere. What do you expect, not just from the Panthers, but from the crowd that’s supporting them?

Yeah, I think it’ll definitely be less raucous than if it was a primetime kickoff. I remember that 2011 game at Heinz Field was a noon kickoff that ended 15-12 and should never be spoken of again. I also expect (as usual) that there will be a healthy Notre Dame presence at Heinz Field. The crowds have gotten a bit better this year as the athletic department has made creating a better atmosphere part of its focus, but Heinz Field still just isn’t a very intimidating college football venue.

If anything, the noon start should help Pitt just because the Panthers are much, much more used to playing at that hour than the Irish are. Pitt has had five of its eight games start at noon, 12:30 or 1, while Notre Dame hasn’t played a noon game (I believe) since the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl. Pitt has been prone to slow starts the last few weeks, but if they can catch Notre Dame sleepwalking a little bit, that’s a good way to hang around in this game.


Notre Dame ranked No. 5 in first College Football Playoff poll

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: C.J. Prosise #20 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish dives into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The first College Football Playoff ranking has been released. And Notre Dame is the big winner, with the Irish coming in at a surprising No. 5.

As it sits on the first Tuesday in November, Notre Dame may currently be the odd man out at No. 5—but it also could be the best case scenario for Brian Kelly’s team, behind a top four of Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and Alabama.  With a great strength of schedule and a compelling two-point loss to the Tigers, Notre Dame trails only Alabama among the one-loss teams, but sits in front of undefeated Baylor, Michigan State, TCU and Iowa in the Top 10.

With Alabama and LSU facing off this weekend, Notre Dame has a chance to handled their own business and find their way into the four-team playoff. Of course, last year showed us how quickly rankings and committee minds can be swayed—especially as the Irish opened the rankings at No. 10 before plummeting and Ohio State started at No. 16 before climbing to No. 4 in the final poll. But the fact that the Irish sit at No. 5 when there are currently 11 unbeaten teams in college football makes it clear that Notre Dame still has all of its goals alive heading into November.

One thing seems to be certain: This committee is less impressed with zero losses than with a body of work that includes challenging non-conference games. And even if a matchup with Texas didn’t materialize and Georgia Tech has had a disappointing start to their season, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit had this to say about the changing tides in scheduling.

“I think that if I’m an athletic director in college football right now, or I’m a head coach, if I haven’t already begun to change my philosophy or thinking on what I’m going to do with non-conference, you either need to or you’re just going to get left behind,” Herbstreit said. “I know there’s the thinking, the Lee Corso thinking that, hey, win them all and you’re going to get in. And that could be true. But you’re setting yourself up potentially to be left out. You’ve got to look at strength of schedule.”

CFB Playoff committee chair Jeff Long spoke with ESPN’s Rees Davis during the 30-minute broadcast and made it clear that some of the outsiders have a chance to rise quickly, especially as the Big 12 gets into the meat of its schedule. But even before the rankings came out, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was confident that the committee would favorably evaluate Notre Dame’s season thus far, and that proved correct.

“I think our last four games have been as good as anybody that’s played in the country,” Kelly said earlier Tuesday. “I don’t know where it stands up exactly. I just know we played a very good schedule in the month of October. We have to win more games, but I’ll stand up our schedule to anybody else right now.

“We still have a loss, so that obviously counts. But it’s really for us what’s in front of us and what we have to do each and every week.”

Sitting at No. 5 with four games to go, the Irish are in the thick of the playoff conversation, all you can ask for after the initial rankings.


Narduzzi expecting huge challenge with Irish coming to town

Pat Narduzzi

First-year Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is no stranger to Notre Dame football. As Mark Dantonio’s defensive coordinator in the (then) annual battle between the Irish and Michigan State, Narduzzi spent eight years playing against the Irish, first against Charlie Weis and later against Brian Kelly.

But don’t expect him to talk about his last meeting with Notre Dame, the lone blemish on the Spartans’ Rose Bowl-winning season. Especially the four defensive pass interference penalties Notre Dame accepted during their 17-13 victory.

“I don’t remember those,” Narduzzi said with a smile (in a playful exchange with local reporters). “I remember they had like 220 yards of offense and we lost the football team. They were a good football team.”

The 2013 team might have been good, but Narduzzi expects an even better Notre Dame team to walk into Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon. And the first-year Pitt head coach knows his team has to move on from their disappointing Thursday night loss to North Carolina and play very good football if they’re going to get their seventh victory.

“We’re going to move on to the next game, a huge one with Notre Dame coming in here Saturday at noon,” Narduzzi said Monday. “They’re bringing a great football team, very very well coached. Obviously a Top 10 football team and probably one of the most talented teams that will walk into Heinz Field this year.”

While Narduzzi was no fan of the short week of preparation that came with a Thursday game with no week off in front of it, Pitt’s head coach used the extra few days to give his team some rest. With a depth chart that’s thinned out as the Panthers head into November, Narduzzi wasn’t sure if he’d rather face the Irish late in the year or when his team was healthier.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to play Notre Dame,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a good football team. It doesn’t matter if it’s within the first four games or late in the season. It doesn’t matter.”

The Panthers need to figure out a few personnel issues before Saturday. Senior captain and cornerback Lafayette Pitts was benched against North Carolina, though he’ll be back in the lineup against the Irish’s talent receiving corps. Narduzzi’s pass rush also needs to tweaking, even as Pitt dials up more blitzes they’ve been unsuccessful getting to the quarterback. (Sound familiar, Irish fans?)

On paper, the Panthers look a notch below the Irish. But it’s also undeniable that Pitt has played Notre Dame tough for a long time, and Heinz field hasn’t necessarily been the easiest place for the Irish to play. With the Panthers still alive for a big-time bowl bid in the ACC and the Irish still intent on making the College Football Playoff, Saturday’s early start doesn’t take away from the importance of the game.


Irish land top 2017 DE Robert Beal

Robert Beal

Notre Dame’s impressive 2015 season is helping the Irish coaching staff recruit not just for this February’s signing class, but the next one as well. On Sunday night, Notre Dame landed one of Georgia’s best prospects, defensive end Robert Beal.

Beal had offers from Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, but decided he’ll play his college football in South Bend, giving the Irish a traditional pass rusher that’s been difficult to land.

While the news broke late Sunday, Beal took to Twitter on Monday morning to confirm the news:

Beal hails from Georgia, a state that Notre Dame has taken great strides to recruit. But along with a summer visit and a chance to watch each week on Showtime, Beal’s family connections to the South Bend area made this feel like a great fit.

From Rivals’ Woody Womack, who caught up with the four-star prospect:

The commitment comes as somewhat of a surprise, but Beal’s family ties to the school combined with his love for the program made him feel like the timing was right.

“I went up there in the summer time and I just got that feeling like it was the place for me,” Beal said. “I was in the recruiting center and they were showing me the graduation rates and what guys have gone on to do outside of football and I was really impressed.”

Beal’s grandmother worked on campus at Notre Dame and mother grew up in the South Bend area. Beal said he considers Indiana to be like his second home and is excited to play for the Irish.

“I didn’t really become a fan until my first trip up there my freshman year,” Beal said. “On that trip I met the coaches and our relationship has grown ever since until now and now I’m a Notre Dame commit.”

With the 2016 class already up to 17 commitments, the 2017 class is off to a fast start as well. The Irish hand-picked offensive linemen Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons. They’ve landed two top tight end prospects as well in Cole Kmet and Brock Wright. Now Beal adds an edge rusher to the stockpile, still 15 months away from signing day.

Here’s a highlight tape from Beal’s sophomore season in 2014.