Author: Keith Arnold

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 11:  Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish run onto the field before a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Notre Dame Stadium on October 11, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. UMass


It’s 70 and sunny in South Bend, a perfect afternoon for football in Notre Dame Stadium. But if you’re unable to be there, or can’t park in front of the television this afternoon, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame vs. UMass starts at 3:00 p.m. ET, with a half-hour pregame show on NBCSN. The broadcast starts at 3:30 on NBC.


You can also watch the game on the NBC Sports Live Extra app, which continues put up record-setting numbers for minutes streamed. You’ll get an HD feed, bonus camera, DVR capabilities and the game will be archived for future viewing as well.

We’ll be back after the game with our customary Five Things, but consider this your reminder that even if you’re out and about today, you can still watch the Irish.

Mailbag: Schedule re-rack, stadium construction, recruiting and the Pope

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 4: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers drops back to pass during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Memorial Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

Part one of a two-part mailbag. Thanks for the good questions, sorry to those I missed or skipped out on.

(For those asking me about knee injuries: I’m not a doctor. Don’t even play one on the internet. But BK has been asked about injuries a bunch. He’s had every injury evaluated, both by doctors inside the program and out. Bad luck is bad luck—and ND isn’t alone, it just feels like it.)


dmacirish: After seeing three weeks of football is there an adjustment to the “toughest games on the schedule” rankings? Has Clemson, Stanford, or USC fallen and the likes of Temple risen?

That’s a good question. And I’m not ready to totally reshuffle the deck, but I do think that Stanford, USC and to a lesser extent Clemson look a little more beatable than they did this summer.

You are correct on Temple, especially after watching them whip Penn State. But remember, UMass had Temple BEAT until they had an extra point returned for two points, allowing Temple to kick a game-winning field goal. (The message: Look out for UMass!)

To me, this season hinges on the next four weeks. Get out of Saturday healthy, find a way to win in Death Valley (the new toughest game on the schedule), conquer the option once more and hope to take serious revenge against USC for last year’s pasting. (The Trojans could also be in full self-destruction mode by then, too.)

Then regroup over the off week and get ready to do something special.


monco20: Keith – There has been repeated comments this week that the stadium is becoming “louder”. Is this due to younger crowd, more alcohol, better sound system or the or the construction? If it is due to the new buildings will it become louder when the construction is complete and the video board is installed – does this help us or hurt us?

Brian Kelly certainly seems to think it’s louder inside Notre Dame Stadium. And while I saw the debate in the comments about whether it was louder in the 70s, 80s and 90s, it’s tough to argue with people about nostalgic memories that also measure acoustic levels. (Plus the pressbox is like watching a game in a fishbowl, so no clue from someone who watches from a media seat.)

I will say this: The new architecture is going to go a long way towards keeping noise inside the stadium (just like Michigan’s remodel did). And it seems like Kelly can already tell.

That’s always a good thing for the home crowd, especially when the fans start to understand they’re a weapon to deploy for the defense.


jerseyshorendfan1: Project who will be MVP at the end of this season?

Right now, my candidates are:

  1. Will Fuller
  2. Jaylon Smith
  3. C.J. Prosise
  4. Joe Schmidt

If Kizer can keep the offense on the tracks, Fuller could put up ridiculous numbers, shattering the single-season touchdown record. Then again, Prosise is on pace to out-run Vagas Ferguson’s single-season record, too. Smith isn’t too far behind, but he’ll still have to make some game-changing plays a la Manti Te’o in 2012 to beat out one of the most dangerous men in college football.


ndlv: Keith, I know that you don’t put a lot of weight into star rankings of recruits, but right now the class is somewhat small (13) and is rated relatively low by all of the services . Are BK and the staff really finding a bunch of hidden gems in this class, or is it a subpar year? Do you think more and more wins will draw in blue chip commitments this year or will it end up as a down year in recruiting?

ohiondfan: Talk about recruiting and talent evaluation/development. I was going through the last 10 years or so of ND recruiting data. It seems that BK is getting more out of 3-star kids than Weis did out of 5-star kids. 

Seems like BK is a top tier talent evaluator and developer. Is that his rep nationally? Do recruits see how well he does at getting players in the right position and bringing them along to be all they can be?

Last year’s recruiting class wasn’t expected to get into the low-20s, especially when people examined the 85-man roster. But the Irish went to 24, pushing their roster limits to land players they thought were talented. So this class likely isn’t going to push past the high-teens, though I’m sure the staff will find a way to make things work.

We saw already this spring and summer how difficult it is to stay above 85 players (even when Kelly seemed deadset on getting to that number). But between academics, competition to get on the field and the fact that Notre Dame has had a transfer every offseason for over 30-seasons running, it is what it is.

This recruiting class is probably a little behind where things have been in previous years. That comes with replacing three full time coaches and swapping out recruiting coordinators. But if ND keeps winning, it’s only going to help the recruiting class.

To get to Ohio’s comment, I’m not sure Weis can be blamed for a 5-star QB not turning out. (Look at the list of Rivals’ 5-star QBs. Lotta swings and misses in there.) But I think Kelly has a national reputation for finding good players below the radar. Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Greer Martini… I could go on and on. That comes with coaching at smaller schools, but it also comes with having the confidence in your own evaluation, not following the herd.

In general, I trust college football coaches who evaluate and breakdown tape more than I trust guys like me looking at YouTube highlights and going to summer camps. That’s not a slam on the industry, a business that’s getting better and better from an evaluation perspective. But it’s just the truth.


mtflsmitty: You have two 50-yardline seats to the ND/USC game on October 17th. Your dear mother expects you’ll be taking her. But Pope Francis calls and asks for your other ticket. Who do you take to the game and why?

Smitty, tell the Pope to get up in the luxury box. My mom gets the seat. I’ll worry about the eternal consequences later.





3-0: Assessing the Irish at the quarter-turn (Part II)

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 06:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a tackle for a loss against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 6, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan 31-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Part two. For more, see part one for a write-up on the offense


After one of the most difficult stretches of defensive football in Notre Dame history, season two of the Brian VanGorder era felt like a reboot. Forgotten were the impressive, early-season successes the Irish had, with VanGorder’s swarming, multiple defense confusing and befuddling opponents. Burned into the brains of all were the injury-ravaged, everything-is-broken units that gave up points by the bushel and struggled to do anything but make opposing offenses look like world-beaters.

At full strength, VanGorder’s defense looked every bit as talented as Bob Diaco’s best. But at it’s worst? It brought us back to the end of the Weis era. In the offseason, two major areas of concern were addressed: Defending the option and slowing down up-tempo attacked. Early returns and that work have been promising.

Against Texas, we saw very quickly what happened when the Longhorns tried to move quickly. Against Georgia Tech, VanGorder all but conquered Paul Johnson’s attack, likely giving a template to Yellow Jacket opponents everywhere and leading to optimism for the upcoming tilt against Navy.

One quarter into the season, it hasn’t been all good (the trip to Charlottesville was disappointing), but the stats look more than respectable. The defense is giving up 17.3 points a game, a number that surely would love much better had Georgia Tech not scored 14 points in the game’s final 90 seconds. And even with some shoddy play against Virginia, the Irish are on the brink of a Top 30 unit, especially impressive considering there hasn’t been a cupcake on the schedule to get fat against.

Let’s take a look at each position group and evaluate where this defense currently sits.



Led by the dynamic presence of Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochell, the Irish front four has relied on the strength and disruptive nature of this duo to lead the way. At nose guard, Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery have been very good, with Tillery more than holding his own against Georgia Tech’s triple-option, an insane result considering he’s a true freshmen in the trenches.

Defensive end play is still sorting itself out. Romeo Okwara has started three times opposite Rochell, notching a sack among his six tackles. Andrew Trumbetti is still waiting to get started. Add to that Day’s fast start really hasn’t fully shown up on the stat sheet, with three TFLs far more indicative than his six total tackles. Six quarterback hurries show that Day’s been a step or two away from another handful of big plays.

Depth is a concern, especially if Brian Kelly and VanGorder are trying to redshirt Jay Hayes and Grant Blankenship. But if this group can stay healthy—and continue to hold its own at the point of attack—this team will get what it needs from the front.

Overall: When the Irish are only giving up 3.8 yards per carry, and have already played Georgia Tech, that says all you need about the run defense. Next step? Generating more disruption in the passing game. On the whole, this group is doing great things. But the margin for error without Jarron Jones is still slim.



ProFootballFocus says Jaylon Smith is college football’s best linebacker. Next to him, Joe Schmidt is playing great football. Swap in and out pieces like James Onwualu and Greer Martini, and there’s a reason why Nyles Morgan and Jarrett Grace haven’t been able to find the field.

Holding their own in a physical matchup with Georgia Tech was an impressive feat. And with top-flight athleticism and the ability to chase things down east and west, this position group really has dispelled any myths that the Irish are short elite athletes.

Nothing but positives so far.

Overall: Versatile (big with Martini, quick with Onwualu). Disruptive. Aggressive. It’s hard to find a better start by a linebacking corps than the early season this group has put together.

There’s little room for anything to go wrong, especially with either Smith or Schmidt. But as long as that duo is on the field, the Irish defense will be in the game.



If there’s been a disappointment this season, it’s been the early performance of Notre Dame’s secondary. And really, this is confined to one Saturday at the office (the dangers of evaluating a team after three games) in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Cavaliers’ passing attack found a way to pick apart the Irish secondary. That wasn’t a result many people saw coming, though you could also put some of that on the pass rush.

Still, there are some areas for concern. Max Redfield started strong against Texas, but wasn’t able to deal with a broken thumb against Virginia. He tackled terribly and lost the aggression he showed against the Longhorns. Communication at the safety position might also have been a problem, as the Irish back-four got caught on a trick play that just about everybody in the stadium likely saw coming. But this group rallied and played great football against Georgia Tech, all but unnoticed in the passing game while safeties Elijah Shumate, Drue Tranquill and Matthias Farley tackled extremely well.

Without Tranquill, this group loses some versatility. And if Redfield isn’t able to rebound, this position gets thin in a hurry. So Todd Lyght has more work to do, especially as the Irish reconfigure their nickel and dime packages.

Overall: The slow start is understandable, considering Russell’s absence last season and one poor game. But safety play is still a worry, and asking the Irish to cover while the pass rush finds its way to the quarterback is something to monitor.

Funny enough, if the UMass game is a litmus test for any position group, it’ll be the secondary. The Irish will face one of the MAC’s best QB-WR tandems in Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe. A quick passing game should be expected.

Stern tests are ahead before the Irish reach bye week. Heading to Clemson and then taking on USC should let us know if the Virginia game was a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come.