North Carolina v Notre Dame

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

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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
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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 247Sports.com’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.

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And in that corner… The LSU Tigers

Les Miles
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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

 

 

Bowl prep helps both present and future along offensive line

Purdue v Notre Dame
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While most eyes are focused on the battle at quarterback between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, the preparations for LSU will also be critical along the offensive line. The extra practices will give Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand time to evaluate their starting five, with changes that could have both short and long-term impacts.

At right tackle, Christian Lombard will be playing in his final collegiate game. But only if he can beat out sophomore Mike McGlinchey, who replaced Lombard during the second quarter against USC.

“That’s a competitive situation,” Kelly said of the battle at tackle. “Mike is getting a lot of reps at that position. We like the things that he did against USC.”

But that battle at tackle is just the beginning of an evaluation that could bring a radical reboot to the offensive line come spring. The play along the front five was erratic in 2014, struggling at times to protect Golson and necessitating a shuffle of four starters in midseason.

While the Irish stuck with the same starting five until Kelly finally pulled Lombard against the Trojans, it sounds like things will be opened up during these extra bowl practices, with aims at entering spring with a better feel for the personnel.

“It’s a little bit different in terms of years past,” Kelly said. “We’ve evaluated a ton of defensive personnel. This is more about utilizing some offensive personnel, evaluating a lot of offensive linemen.

Notre Dame has recruited extremely well along the offensive line the past few cycles, replenishing a depth chart that got way too thin towards the tail end of 2012. But as some former blue-chip recruits transition deeper into their collegiate careers, it’s time to kick the tires on what they can actually do.

So bowl practice has been a concentrated look at the future, with the second-string given a rare chance to take center stage.

That means a look at Alex Bars at left tackle, a position that could be thrown into flux if Ronnie Stanley decides to head to the NFL. Bars is the type of athlete that this staff believes can handle the job, though presumably much better after a 2015 season with Stanley earning his way into a Top 10 draft pick. Also spending the majority of his time at tackle is Hunter Bivin, who has bounced inside and out before looking to have found his home at tackle.

After making some noise during fall camp, Quenton Nelson has moved inside to guard. At a position that’ll likely welcome back both starters, Nelson will make for some interesting competition, as it’s tough to believe that Kelly or Hiestand believe they got the best out of the interior of this offensive line.

Colin McGovern is another option at guard, while John Montelus is spending bowl season practicing at center, another position that demands a closer look. Whether that means Nick Martin moves back inside or Matt Hegarty holds onto the job will likely be determined this spring.

The fifth-year decisions will be an interesting look at how the Irish staff decides to move forward. Does a program player like Conor Hanratty return for a final season as a back-up on the interior, or does that job go to someone like McGovern? At tackle, things seem locked in with McGlinchey and Stanley, but that could be blown apart if the NFL becomes too tantalizing for Stanley.

The Irish scrapped their spring plans heading into fall camp this season, and seemed to be playing catch up almost from the start. Credit Kelly — who was undefeated at the time of the move — for bumping Elmer back inside after he started the season at right tackle, the move that demoted McGlinchey to sixth man.

Losing Zack Martin and Chris Watt (both NFL starters) wasn’t expected to be easy. But while 2014 felt stuck in transition, the Irish have one more big test to fortify the position against a very good LSU defense.

It’ll also serve as the bridge to 2015, a jumpstart to one of the most competitive position groups on the roster.