Both Irish and Buckeyes see similarities in offensive styles


As Notre Dame’s defense prepares to take on Ohio State, Brian Kelly has talked about the similarities between the Irish’s offense and the system Urban Meyer deploys. Turns out, the Buckeyes coaching staff thinks the same thing.

More than a few Irish fans raised an eyebrow when Kelly made the comments last week. Whether that’s because of what Meyer’s done over the past decade at Florida and now at Ohio State or the fact that the coaches’ preferred modes of matriculation differ between ground and air.

On paper, nobody will confuse the two outfits. The Buckeyes currently have the 104th best passing offense in America, powered by a running game that rumbles for 242 yards a game and an impressive 5.66 yards per carry. The Irish have thrown for over 3,000 yards this season, one of just eight offenses to break that threshold and still run for 2,500 yards.

Still, Kelly’s comparison is one being made by Ohio State’s defensive coaches. And a group that’s transitioning out co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash—on his way to Rutgers to be head coach with former Scarlett Knights head man Greg Schiano joining the Buckeyes staff after the bowl game—sees a familiarity that both teams think can help them prepare for the challenge awaiting on New Year’s Day.

“For us, this is one of the more similar games to what our offense does,” co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “They still run the ball and run it very well. They will also run the quarterback. But they might line up in empty a little more and drop-back pass a little bit more.”

Ohio State’s defense has been one of the best units in the country this season, allowing just 14 points a game. But they also have Ash working double-time, building his Rutgers staff and a recruiting class as he prepares for Notre Dame’s offense.

As the Irish look for areas to attack, they might see a front four that’s a bit undermanned. With All-Big Ten defensive tackle Adolphus Washington suspended and fifth-year journeyman starter Tommy Schutt likely out with an injury, a front four that’s already been susceptible to a good running game might show some weakness against the Irish offensive line.

While Harry Hiestand’s group (or Ronnie Stanley, more appropriately) needs to find a way to slow down All-American Joey Bosa, they’ll face off against a talented front, but one that’s still young and learning on the go.




Jarron Jones ready to (finally) make his impact


Earlier this week we speculated about the role senior nose guard Jarron Jones would play against Ohio State. After meeting with the local media on Monday, it might be time to adjust those predictions.

The 315-pound defensive lineman missed the entire regular season because of a knee injury suffered in August. But Jones declared himself ready to play against Ohio State, hoping to give the team 30 snaps after a month of conditioning and practice with his teammates. It’d be a nice finish to a frustrating season for Jones. And according to the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Jones was kicking himself that he wasn’t back in time to play Stanford.

“I blame myself a lot for that game,” Jones told Hansen on Monday. “Even though I didn’t play, I blame myself for that game. … What happened was I ended up not traveling, because I was late to practice. And I actually had the intent of suiting up that game.”

Jones blamed a marathon session of videogame Call of Duty for the tardiness, the type of fall-asleep-with-the-controller-in-your-hands move that can only be understood by college students (or those of us that played videogames back in their dorm days). While it’s questionable (and probably far-fetched) that the Irish coaching staff would’ve risked putting Jones in a game when he hadn’t even fully re-engaged in the team’s practice regimen, Jones’ return for the Fiesta Bowl will be coming just in time.

Last week, I might have pegged Jones for 15 to 20 snaps late last week. But Brian Kelly thinks Jones will have the chance to do much more—as much as his conditioning level allows.

“Where he’s really going to help us is on first and second down,” Kelly said, pointing to the challenge of slowing down Buckeyes star Ezekiel Elliott. “But he can help us on third down. His push inside is undervalued in terms of what he can do internally in his physical push to the pocket.”

While it certainly won’t be all game, seeing Jones paired with classmate Sheldon Day will be bittersweet not just for Irish fans, but for Jones himself. Expected to form one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the country, Jones can only wonder what this season would’ve been like had he not suffered an MCL injury just weeks before the Irish were slated to play Texas.

When talking to Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister, Jones asked a question that pained just about every person who cheered for the blue and gold this season.

“If I had played, what kind of season would we have had defensively?” Jones wondered. “If we had everybody, what kind of team would we have had then? That’s the ‘what if’ we’ll have to live with the rest of our lives.”

The consolation prize is a 2016 season spent on the same team as his brother, incoming freshman Jamir Jones. Not to mention another fully-loaded roster that might have to replace some key contributors, but looks every bit as talented as the team that won 10 regular season games.

But before that, Jones finally gets his chance to do more than rehabilitate a balky foot and a torn-up knee in 2015. And if the Irish can beat Ohio State, Notre Dame’s 127th team may not have accomplished their overall mission, but they will have done something mighty impressive.





ND formalizes early enrollment of Hayes, Kareem, Perry and Studstill


Notre Dame announced the early enrollment of four incoming freshmen on Monday, finalizing grant-in-aid paperwork with linebacker Daelin Hayes, defensive end Khalid Kareem and safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill. All four will begin their collegiate experience when the university returns from semester break.

The ND Football Facebook page took to the interwebs to make the announcement complete:

All four commitments are big ones for the Irish. In Hayes, Notre Dame has one of the more intriguing prospects in the country, with Rivals believing him to be a 5-star linebacker. Hayes is coming off of a shoulder injury that required surgery, so how much he’ll be able to do in spring practice remains to be seen. He also might grow his way out of a linebacker spot, though his athleticism looks like it’ll allow the Irish to look at him at multiple spots before deciding where to put him.

Kareem was an Alabama commitment before he stepped away from that pledge and opened up his recruitment. Notre Dame was there and out-dueled Michigan State for the defensive end from Michigan. Kareem will likely fight for immediate playing time with the graduation of Romeo Okwara and the relative inexperience behind Isaac Rochell, though he projects to be more of a strongside player than a rush end.

Perry and Studstill come to the Irish from Florida, both projected safeties that Notre Dame targeted early. Perry is an Alabama native though played his high school football at the IMG Academy and was a commitment to Florida before backing away over the summer and picking Notre Dame over Auburn. Perry also suffered a shoulder injury and has been sidelined since September. Studstill, who committed last week after a long recruitment, and Perry will be candidates to step into a wide open safety battle with only Max Redfield returning with any experience.

Video Recap: The Echoes ’15


Notre Dame’s season-ending awards show took place last week, with the star-studded festivities airing over the weekend on NBCSN. Hosted by NBC Sports’ Dan Hicks and ESPN’s Hannah Storm, this year’s Echoes took a gigantic step forward, the type of production you’ll see over the next few months with movies and television celebrating their year-end achievements—only this was the 2015 Fighting Irish.

If you missed the show, we’ve got a selection of videos that’ll get you up to speed, including the opening monologue that’s definitely worth watching. (Apologies to Chase Hounshell for being the butt of the joke.) Hicks and Storm are taking on Tina Fey and Amy Poehler next…


Offensive Newcomer of the Year: DeShone Kizer


Sheldon Day wins the Moose Krause Lineman of the Year Award


Joe Schmidt wins Irish Around the Bend Award


Ronnie Stanley wins the Offensive Player of the Year Award



Jaylon Smith wins Defensive Player of the Year Award


C.J. Prosise wins Next Man In Award


Will Fuller wins the Team MVP

Mailbag: Looking ahead at the QB position in 2016


Round two of the mailbag brings another great question—and one that we’ll probably spend a few months talking about after the Fiesta Bowl.



Keith, do you see a “crisis” at the QB position next year? By crisis I mean the difficult decision faced by Coach Kelly as to which QB he names as the starter for 2016? Does Zaire, an injured starting QB lose his job to Kizer, his replacement, who led his team to 10 regular season wins? And, what about the 3rd string QB Winbush who saw very little game action this year. Some people subscribe to the theory that an injury should not cause the loss of your position upon return while others feel if the replacement player plays well, then he remains as the starter.
What say you?

I think this is probably the most fascinating question of the offseason, and in many ways more interesting than last year’s quarterback contest. Last spring, it was always a questions of whether or not Everett Golson was going to buy in to the program. That doesn’t exist with Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer, two of the most high-character quarterbacks we’ve seen in recent years.

First, the elephant in the room: I don’t think anybody is transferring. It wouldn’t make sense. Zaire can’t afford to sit another year, and if he loses the job in 2016 he’ll have graduate transfer options by the bushel. Kizer should prepare and expect to be a starter. And Brandon Wimbush could just as easily use his redshirt in 2016, a move that could be really beneficial especially after earning reps in 2015 that helped teach a few lessons you just don’t learn in practice.

To your point about a player losing his job because of injury, I think that’s something fans and media members talk about, not necessarily something that exists in a competitive program and culture like the one Brian Kelly has built over the past six seasons. Competition in the ranks is critical. So is earning a job. Nobody is going to be given the starting job, they’re going to have to earn it. And there’s likely a very good reason that Zaire is out there taking seven-on-seven reps during bowl practices—he believes he’s going to win the starting job back and he wants to catch up for lost time.

I don’t think this should be looked at as a crisis. I think Kelly views it as a very good problem to have. The coaching staff and the players will learn something from last spring’s timeshare. The battle will also be treated differently because the quarterback position is more unified and both Zaire and Kizer are so well respected.

Who wins the job? I may be one of the few to think that it’s still Zaire’s to lose, a crazy statement considering the impressive debut season that Kizer just completed. But while the staff learned a ton about Kizer and his impressive ceiling, I think they still believe Malik has special abilities in this offense. Funny enough, I also think a time share with this duo would be really difficult to stop as well, especially if the staff wants to treat Zaire as a true option-read quarterback… who just so has the ability to throw the ball deep with great accuracy.

This will be a very good problem to have. It’ll also be a decision that likely won’t be made until August.