VanGorder talks inconsistencies and the challenge still ahead

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Brian VanGorder saw the same things you did this year—except the Showtime series.

VanGorder didn’t watch the 13-part documentary (extended for an extra episode to cover the Fiesta Bowl), but he did see his defense play frustratingly inconsistent football. At times dominant, the Irish defense forced three-and-outs at one of the best clips in the country. But at other times, the group was inept, prone to giving up big plays and struggling in the red zone, two key ingredients to turning a promising group into an underwhelming unit.

VanGorder talked about those struggles on Tuesday, when asked to evaluate the team’s performance this season.

“Inconsistent, I guess, is probably the best word,” VanGorder said. “We’ve played a lot of good football. We’ve had some plays that you just shake your head, both player and coach, when it’s all said and done.”

VanGorder pinned some of those struggles on youth. That may be tough when you consider the veterans in this group, but even Joe Schmidt, Sheldon Day and Elijah Shumate are in just year two of VanGorder’s system.

“These are young players. You’re constantly pushing on the idea of developing. They all develop at a different rate, a different process for all of them,” VanGorder said. 

“A lot of those things come down to also focus. That’s, again, part of the development, part of the process, for somebody to focus through some 65 to 85 plays, for some it’s a challenge. That’s player responsibility, coach responsibility through a game to make sure we maintain a great concentration and a great focus. To be quite frank about it, it hasn’t been always where any of us want it to be.”

We’ve seen those lapses—whether they be garbage time touchdowns like Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh scored, or in crucial situations against Temple or Stanford. But before the Irish coaching staff takes a step back and considers whether VanGorder’s scheme and its complexities are part of the problem, the focus will be confined to another healthy challenge—slowing down Ohio State and Urban Meyer’s offense.

VanGorder talked about the skill players that’ll challenge an Irish group that’s often times its own biggest opponent. With Ezekiel Elliott playing through legal citations and J.T. Barrett coming off a big performance against Michigan, the defense has its hands full.

They’re difficult to defend. The whole offensive philosophy and makeup of it makes you defend a lot of players,” VanGorder explained.

While the scheme isn’t too far removed from what the Irish show in practice every day, the personnel the Irish will face will likely be the best that they’ll play all season. True, the Buckeyes have struggled to play up to their potential this season. But they had a breakthrough against the Wolverines, scoring 42 points and running for 369 yards against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.

A lot of people have good scheme, maybe not the good players. They have a bunch of great players that are going to play in the NFL.”

Max Redfield sent home from Fiesta Bowl for rules violation

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Max Redfield‘s disappointing junior season will end on a fitting note. Notre Dame’s starting safety was sent home after violating a team rule in Arizona, leaving the Irish without another defensive starter against Ohio State.

Brian Kelly announced the news Tuesday, a move that’ll likely force fifth-year defensive back Matthias Farley into the starting lineup one last time in his final collegiate game. Kelly also revealed that junior Devin Butler broke his foot during Monday’s practice, taking another projected starter out of the Fiesta Bowl lineup. Sophomore Nick Watkins will make his first start at cornerback, the third starter at the position after KeiVarae Russell‘s broken leg.

Redfield’s season started off with promise. After playing a strong Music City Bowl against LSU to end the 2014 season, the former 5-star recruit was named to Phil Steele’s first-team preseason All-American team and he played well against Texas. But Redfield tried to play through an early-season broken hand that might have contributed to some poor play, as he took limited snaps against UMass, Navy and USC before playing nearly every snap to close out the season.

Redfield is expected back in 2016, a projected starter along with Cole Luke in the secondary. There is no timetable yet on Butler’s foot injury.

UPDATE: Redfield released the following statement on Instagram:

Suspended license and car crash won’t keep Elliott out of Fiesta Bowl

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Ezekiel Elliott had an eventful departure day to Arizona. The star Ohio State running back was the at-fault driver in a car crash in Columbus, where he was cited for driving under suspension, driving without a license and failure to control after a crash around 1:30 in the afternoon on Sunday.

“He was the at-fault driver,” Columbus Police spokesman Denise Alex-Bouzounis told the Columbus Dispatch.

NBCSports.com’s Craig Calcaterra broke the news Monday morning, a tipster filling him in on the events that seemed to put the star running back’s final college game into jeopardy. But an Ohio State spokesman quickly ended that speculation, with the running back’s status for participation unchanged.

The Buckeyes are already without starting defensive tackle Adolphus Washington, who was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl after being arrested for soliciting an undercover police office posing as a prostitute. That charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, subject to similar penalties under Ohio law as Elliott’s violations, Calcaterra points out.

Eleven Warriors has done the digging into what likely got Elliott’s license suspended in the first place—an unpaid speeding ticket and a failure to show up at court.  Those fairly innocent mistakes have snowballed into another somewhat embarrassing situation for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, especially considering his more than dubious history of handing out punishments to his star players. Meyer has yet to discuss the incident.

Campus Insiders: Key Fiesta Bowl Matchups

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Fiesta Bowl game week is finally here.

To give us an early look at some of the key matchups as Notre Dame and Ohio State prepare to face off, Cris and Austin Collinsworth hop into the PFF Studio and talk about some of the serious star power that’ll be on the field in Phoenix.

 

 

ND receives commitment from CB Troy Pride Jr.

Troy Pride Jr
Rivals
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Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew to 21 on Christmas Eve, as South Carolina defensive back Troy Pride Jr. committed to the Irish on Thursday afternoon. Picking Notre Dame over offers from South Carolina, North Carolina, Clemson, Tennessee, Ole Miss and a previous commitment to Virginia Tech, Pride Jr. is the seventh defensive back in the class, closing up a position group that was a point of emphasis in this cycle.

Pride took to Twitter today to make the move official.

The six-foot, 170-pound coverman visited Notre Dame in mid-October, taking his official visit to watch the Irish beat USC. After walking away from his commitment to the Hokies, Pride kicked the tires on multiple schools—with a late offer by Clemson piquing Pride’s interest—before ultimately deciding to take the last defensive back spot in the class. He has no plans to make any other visits.

“That was why I took my time with the process,” Pride told Tom Loy of Irish 247. “I wanted to end it when I made my commitment. I took my time, thought about everything, and realized that my future is at the University of Notre Dame.”

Pride will take part in the Shrine Bowl before signing with the Irish in February.