C.J. Prosise

Mailbag: Debuts, Schedules and great expectations

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Let’s get to some mailbag questions as the Irish travel to Charlottesville for Saturday afternoon’s football game. Thanks everybody for your questions, sorry I couldn’t get to all of them.

 

@Irishfan219: do you think Texas was a true test for Notre Dames offense?

@01dhish: Bad Texas or good ND team? Does the zero turnovers caused speak more to ND quality? Controlling w/o benefitting from mistakes?

I had to include a few of these “Bad Texas or Good ND” questions, because they were pretty common after Saturday night. To me, I don’t really get it. Texas certainly is a more worthy opponent than some directional school, or one of the FCS teams that got a workout after getting a paycheck.

I like the point that 01 was trying to make (I think) about the zero turnovers and still winning by five touchdowns. That’s pretty telling, as there weren’t any cheap scores in this one to make the game look lopsided. It was every bit as lopsided as you imagined it to be, with the Irish earning all of their scores.

Here’s the thing? These questions: They expire tomorrow. So while some are already worrying about Texas’ struggles this season and how they’ll devalue Notre Dame’s win, throw up a lopsided number against Virginia and you’ll have all your problems solved.

 

@NDIrishCo: Why does ND needs to play 13 games to get into the playoffs when there are so many playing FCS teams?

Glad you asked this. So is Brian Kelly. He went on the offensive when talking to Rich Eisen the other day, calling out Gary Pinkel of Missouri and the other handful of coaches who took their shots on conference Media Day demanding Notre Dame join a conference.

Here’s how Kelly countered it:

“We don’t play any 1-AA teams, and when they decide not to play any 1-AA teams then we’ll be on equal footing,” Kelly told Eisen. “We’re going to play teams that give us a quality schedule…when we measure up our schedules you’ll find ours stack up well. If you look at the schedule we play versus the schedule they play and the number of snaps we’ll put on our football team it’ll be many more than their teams will have to expend.”

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that just because college football blowhards talk about things doesn’t make it true.

 

danirish: Who has more rushing yards? Zaire, CJ or Josh? Also, does Josh Adams start by the end of the year – is he the real deal?

Here’s my guess on season totals:

C.J. Prosise, 1,078 yards, 5.6 ypc
Malik Zaire, 726 yards, 4.7 ypc (dragged down by sack yardage)
Josh Adams, 690 yards, 5.7 ypc
Dexter Williams, 220 yards, 4.8 ypc

I think this is Prosise’s job if he can stay healthy. And I also think Zaire steps forward and becomes a bigger player in the ground game.

 

zman83: Do you think this year we can see the Irish play to there level instead of the opponents? I remember from previous seasons the Irish play great one week and then scare us the next week.

dudeacow: Is this the year that ND FINALLY blows out the teams they should? Or are we in for a nail biter in Saturday?

No, it’s not enough to beat Texas by FIVE TOUCHDOWNS. You need it every week?!?

But I included these questions because I actually think this weekend will tell us a little bit about this team. If they head on the road and immediately take it to Virginia, that’s a great sign. If they can bury them and put this game away comfortably by halftime, even better. And that’ll be a credit to Malik Zaire.

I think we’ll get all the close football we want come next weekend. Until then, I’m all for an easy weekend in the Commonwealth and a safe flight home—and I think it’s coming.

Pregame Six Pack: Hunting for the Hoos

Malik Zaire, C.J. Prosise
37 Comments

After a very impressive opening night victory over Texas, Notre Dame packs up and takes flight, heading to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the first time in school history to take on the Cavaliers. A week after Mike London’s team took a tough opening loss to UCLA, the home team will try to rally at Scott Stadium.

With the Irish another double-digit favorite, many expect Notre Dame’s momentum to roll right into an early-season showdown with Georgia Tech. But as we’ll soon get to, winning on the road has been a challenge of late, and it’s as good of a time as any for the Irish to put their road woes behind them and start the season 2-0.

With the first of Notre Dame’s six ACC opponents on tap for a Saturday afternoon start in Charlottesville, let’s get to the pregame six pack.

 

Road woes? Time to end those. 

Popular stat this week: Notre Dame hasn’t won a road game since beating Air Force in 2013. Unpacking that stat a bit, it’s both understandable and yet a little bit unnerving.

Last year, the Irish lost on the road to Florida State, Arizona State and USC. While they won three times outside of Notre Dame Stadium beating Navy, Syracuse and Purdue, games all played in neutral sites.

In 2013, Notre Dame finished the regular season with a loss to Stanford. Just a few weeks before that was the disappointing road debacle against Pitt. So while this is hardly the losing streaks we used to hear about when Michigan State or Boston College came onto the schedule, it’s a legitimate (although short-term) trend, and one that you can expect Brian Kelly will let his team know about.

A Notre Dame loss on Saturday would be a shock—even for Virginia fans. But sandwiched between an opening night date with Texas and a Top 15 matchup against Georgia Tech, this Saturday’s afternoon kickoff has all the makings of a trap game.

 

Welcome to Virginia, Irish. Everybody’s excited to have you. 

Saturday will be Notre Dame’s first visit to Charlottesville for football, and just the second time the two programs have played each other in football. The last came in the 1989 Kickoff Classic, when the No. 2 Irish, fresh off a national championship, handily beat a Virginia team that ended up with 10 wins.

While the Mike London era has brought a sense of apathy to the Wahoo fanbase, this game seems to standout from others. And this quote from Jerry Ratcliffe of the Charlottesville Daily Progress pretty much captured it:

“The game sold out in 25 minutes, surpassed in recent UVa history by only Taylor Swift’s concert and the Cavalier baseball team’s unexpected hosting of a NCAA Super Regional en route to its national championship.”

Finishing behind Taylor Swift and former Notre Dame baseball assistant coach Brian O’Connor’s national championship baseball team? The allure of the Irish is alive and well.

 

Game tape confirms what we saw last Saturday: The Cavaliers expect a stout defense. 

Yesterday, we talked about needing to see more from Notre Dame’s defense, with their dominant performance against Texas just a single datapoint. But when asked about Notre Dame’s front seven and the linebacking corps led by Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt, London knows his offense is in for a challenge.

“I believe that their front seven is very formidable.  Guys that are again athletic and fast and we just played a team that was really fast, really athletic,” London said, comparing the Irish defense to UCLA’s.

“You look at Notre Dame from guys up front and the linebacking corps, they’re capable of running and running out of mistakes. It’s going to be important for us to be on schedule, stay on schedule, try to do things that we can that are our strengths and control the football a little bit and make sure we use those players or those schemes that can help us be successful.”

Last week, former five-star running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell had a big game catching the ball out of the backfield, reeling in eight catches for 100 yards. While the power ground game that Virginia hoped to deploy stuttered, after watching Texas try unsuccessfully to catch the Irish with a speed attack, the Cavaliers will try to slow it down and grind things out.

We’ll see how successful that strategy turns out.

 

Where should we expect to see improvement from Malik Zaire? How about as a runner. 

After jumping into the national spotlight with a near-perfect game throwing the football, quarterback Malik Zaire’s game is already in midseason form. But as we look for areas for him to improve, Zaire the zone-read, option quarterback needs to do a better job with his decision making and reading the play.

Kelly was asked about Zaire’s day as a runner. And needless to say he wasn’t all that impressed with his nine carries for 16 yards.

“He should have been nine carries for 60, 70 yards, maybe more. There’s a lot of room for improvement in there,” Kelly said. “He’s very capable. He knows where he needs to get better in that. So the fundamentals of working in his reads, and it’s all very correctible and things that we’ll get straightened out this week.”

We saw a few misses by Zaire, most notably a fumbled meshpoint with C.J. Prosise and allowing Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson to nearly decapitate Josh Adams. Zaire also did a bit too much bouncing for my liking, trying to beat players to the outside instead of getting north and south against the defense.

I expect the ground game to be on display Saturday afternoon, especially with rain scheduled to hit Charlottesville right around kickoff. So while that could slow down the passing game, it should put the crosshairs on Zaire to be a good read-option triggerman, something he’s more than capable of doing.

 

There’s a lot of familiarity with Notre Dame on the Virginia sidelines. 

It may be the first visit to Charlottesville for Notre Dame’s football team, but the Cavaliers coaching staff has plenty of familiarity with the Irish football program.

We already mentioned former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta. Spending the 2008 and 2009 seasons working for Charlie Weis, Tenuta left South Bend when Weis was relieved of his duties and spent some time at North Carolina State before returning to his alma mater as defensive coordinator.

Another former Weis assistant coaches for the Cavaliers with defensive line coach Jappy Oliver working for Mike London. Oliver filled that role for Weis’ first four seasons, but was replaced by veteran Randy Hart after the 2008 season. Oliver has a Grand Valley connection with Brian Kelly, coaching the defensive line back in 1988 when Kelly was just a graduate assistant. He also worked with Irish coaching analyst Jeff Quinn at Buffalo as his defensive line coach, one of many stops in a long coaching career.

Virginia offensive line coach Dave Borbely spent four seasons working with Bob Davie in South Bend. Before working at Notre Dame, Borbely coached the offensive line for former Irish coach Ty Willingham at Stanford.

 

Don’t look now, but the emphasis on the running game is happening in a hurry. 

Lost amidst the stunning accuracy Malik Zaire displayed last Saturday was the fact that Notre Dame ran the ball 52 times against Texas. The comes after finishing the 2014 season with 51 rushing attempts in the Music City Bowl.

That’s the first time Notre Dame has run the ball over 50 times in consecutive games since the 2005 season, when they ran it 50 times in a lopsided win over Purdue and then 52 times in the narrow loss to USC.

Tallying the two-game total of 103 carries, it’s been since 2001 since Notre Dame has run the ball more in two consecutive games, dating back to a two-game, late-season stretch against Boston College and Tennessee. The Irish lost both those football games.

Just about everybody expected the Irish to emphasize the run this season, especially as Zaire got his feet wet. Well, Zaire threw the ball better than everybody thought he would, and Notre Dame still ran the ball more than they have in a decade.

So far, so good.

 

 

Notre Dame holds line: No interest in semi-pro model

Rev. John Jenkins,Jack Swarbrick
22 Comments

The New York Times had a large feature on Notre Dame and college athletics, and the increasingly wobbly balancing act between some school’s pursuit of an academic mission and the business of college sports.

In a lengthy interview with university president Rev. John Jenkins, Notre Dame all but doubles-down on previous comments made by Jack Swarbrick, committed to its role as a leading academic institution and a university where its student-athletes are also able to compete in elite-level sports.

As the College Football Playoff spins off untold millions of dollars and the NCAA slowly and begrudgingly begins rolling out progressive measures like cost-of-attendance stipends, supporters on both sides of a complex issue continue to wonder if the entire amateurism model is sustainable. And if it isn’t, Notre Dame is ready to remain committed to their values.

“Perhaps institutions will make decisions about where they want to go — a semipro model or a different, more educational model — and I welcome that,” Jenkins told the Times. “I wouldn’t consider that a bad outcome, and I think there would be schools that would do that.”

The entire column is worth a read, though doesn’t differ from previously on the record statements by either Jenkins or Swarbrick. And while the university is certainly progressive when it comes to allowing student-athletes the ability to monetize their fame or likeness rights, it holds firm on its belief that Notre Dame will retain its identity even if other football powers want to go in a different direction.

Pundits scoffed when Jack Swarbrick, the university’s athletic director, voiced similar sentiments this year. No way would Notre Dame — practically French for college football — set aside its national ambitions and settle for Saturday matchups against, say, Carnegie Mellon.

Think of it, they reasoned. Television and sports-apparel contracts would dry up, alumni generosity would decline, and the best athletes would go elsewhere. Notre Dame would no longer be … Notre Dame.

The scholar-president disagrees. Notre Dame will remain Notre Dame no matter what, he says, fully aware that he is on the record.

It’s always good to hear Jenkins speaking about these issues, ones that’ll eventually come to a head as court room litigation, union consideration and congressional oversight all continue to be storylines in addition to the results on the field. And as the semi-pro model eventually could include paychecks for players playing for powerhouses like Ohio State, Alabama or Florida State, Jenkins stays very clear with his thoughts.

“I’d say that education is more valuable than however much money we might give you. So focus on that,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help you be successful in getting that education.”

 

 

Notre Dame’s defense needs to sustain to be excellent

Jaylon Smith, Jerrod Heard
16 Comments

Lost in the “Is Notre Dame this good or is Texas that bad?” debate was the performance of the Irish defense. After finishing the 2014 season with historical bad results, Brian VanGorder’s crew looked like a transformed unit.

The Irish run defense was fierce. They bullied Texas quarterbacks Tyrone Swoops and Jerrod Heard with countless hits and four sacks. And in limiting the Longhorns to just under 21 minutes with the football and 52 plays, the Irish played the type of swarming, attacking defense that Brian Kelly had hoped to see after a long offseason working with 10 returning starters.

But Kelly knows the mark of a good defense isn’t September success. It’s sustaining it.

“I think that we did some really good things. Certainly, the measurement of a great defense will be in its longevity,” Kelly said. “I think we saw some good things last year and then some injuries, obviously, derailed us. I think that will certainly be the case again this year. We’re going to need to keep some key players on the field.

“I would err on the fact, moving towards saying that our defense is much improved from last year. But it is a small sample. It’s one game.”

Kelly acknowledged the need to stay healthy, with a significant gap between certain standout players and the developmental talent that’s backing them up. But he also noted a few fixes that should have Irish fans optimistic, especially in Notre Dame’s ability to counter Texas’ attempt at running up-tempo offense.

From the moment Larry Fedora surprised the Irish with an up-tempo attack and North Carolina turned their mid-October game against Notre Dame into a track meet, the game tape was out there. So Kelly was happy that when Texas tried to do the same thing, his defense was ready.

“Our defense is so much more comfortable with the communication. We didn’t have any issues with tempo,” Kelly said. “We actually drove them out of tempo, which is a first for our defense in a sense that, obviously, that was a problem for us last year.”

Of course, Texas head coach Charlie Strong’s first order of business upon returning to Austin was to strip playcaller Shawn Watson of his responsibilities and shake-up his offensive staff, so slowing down that group might not be the most significant datapoint. And Virginia’s 336 total yards against UCLA, even while clearly winning the time of possession battle with over 34 minutes, doesn’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of Irish fans.

 

But Notre Dame’s defense can only go to battle with the guys who line up across from them. And until the focus shifts to Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple-option, the objective is obvious.

Beat Virginia. And continue to look like the defense that dominated last weekend.

 

Notre Dame Mailbag: Now Open

New Mailbox
89 Comments

Hey, it’s football season! And with the Irish off to a hot start with a 38-3 drubbing of Texas (wasn’t there some guy on here claiming the Longhorns were going to paste the Irish?), I imagine there is plenty to discuss.

So drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.