Purdue v Notre Dame

Mailbag: Kizer’s chances, the D’s experience and play-calling


There are a ton of good questions to get to so this will roll out in multiple parts. Many thanks for the thoughtful work. (And some nice examples of brevity.)

First, let’s take a look at everybody’s favorite player on a football team: The backup quarterback.


finishthefight1986: Do you think it will be worthwhile to provide Kizer with intermittent opportunities this year considering, as you have mentioned in another write-up, Zaire has issues with the intermediate routes?

bettis646: Will Kizer get meaningful reps in blowouts? By meaningful I don’t mean hand the dang ball to a running back until the clock expires.

This is a good question, and I wonder how Kelly will look at it. Yes, I think it’s important to get Kizer experience. Though not because Zaire sometimes struggles with intermediate routes. Establishing your backup quarterback on your terms is always better than on somebody else’s.

But last year, we talked about the same thing, and it’s pretty clear that Brian Kelly thought the game reps were better served in Golson’s hands, especially after a year away from the team. I’ve got to think he’ll view his time with Zaire the same way.

If Notre Dame is legitimately blowing someone out in the first six or seven weeks of the season, that’s a very good thing. So if that means a handful of snaps for Kizer, great. I’m all for it, and was on the record saying I thought Zaire should’ve gotten a series in the first half against Rice.

Worth noting — I actually think it’s helpful that Kizer is the holder this year. He gets a chance to get on the field and handle the football in pressure situations. No, it’s not quarterbacking. But it’s better than nothing.


liv4nd: All those injuries to the defense last year cost us 4 out of the 5 losses. Could 2014 be a blessing in disguise? Now we are set up with upperclassmen that are healthy and sophomores behind them with REAL experience. Thoughts?

This is certainly the way an optimist would view things, and I think it’s probably better to have played football than to have not played. But it’s interesting, someone posed a question like this to Mike Elston on Media Day, and he didn’t necessarily think that the guys who were out there got a ton out of being out there and getting handled.

I received a Twitter question from @01Dhish asking about Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan that essentially was the same thing, and those are the two players that Elston referenced when discussing the “is all experience good experience?” question. And both of those guys look at the film from last year like they’re looking at some embarrassing home video.

(For the record, I think —as does Elston—that both of those guys will be key players for the Irish in the future. In 2015? More likely to be complementary parts.)

I think the fact that Notre Dame has depth at multiple levels of the defense is a good thing. I also think that when someone goes down that the person behind them at least has a concept of what the Irish are trying to do on defense is a good thing, too. That hasn’t always been the case and the experience gained in November can’t hurt.


4horsemenrideagain: Why is BK being cagey about who will be calling the plays? Sre we to believe that BK still doesn’t know the answer to this question, and if BK really doesn’t know, isn’t this sort of scary at this late date?

I don’t think he’s really being all that cagey. I think he’s calling the plays, and he’s open to changing that decision down the line if he thinks it’ll help.

Kelly revealed that Mike Sanford will be upstairs, and I actually think that makes a ton of sense. Kelly has and will continue to be the QB coach on game day. So it’s not realistic to think that Sanford is going to be chatting it up with Zaire when the head coach has been doing that from day one.

I also think it’s really helpful from a schematic perspective to have Sanford upstairs. He’s is a great offensive thinker and he’ll have a direct line to Kelly about what he sees and what things look like from up top.

Lastly, I think most of us put too much emphasis on who calls the play. I think the process of scripting a game plan is far more important than who calls the play on Saturday. When the game plan is developed, all three guys will have a strong say in “setting the menu,” essentially putting calls onto the playsheet that they think will work best against that opponent.

Yesterday, Montana’s Bob Stitt got his first true close-up when the general college football world saw his Montana team beat four-time defending FCS national champ North Dakota State. For all the talk of “genius,” Stitt went for it—and failed—three times on 4th down, including one last in the first half that put points on the board for NDSU. He also ran a few jet sweeps in short yardage situations (among some other crazy play calls) that would’ve had Notre Dame fans losing their minds.

#Still happened. And weirdly enough, it looks a lot like how Brian Kelly calls a game.

Last looks: Tight ends

South Bend Tribune

After a long line of starters with plenty of experience, Notre Dame’s tight ends all but start over in 2015. Scott Booker’s position group comes in with all sorts of intriguing traits. Unfortunately, none of those are experience.

The closest to filling that role is junior Durham Smythe. Serving as the No. 2 tight end in an offense that didn’t often use one, Smythe made just one catch last season while Ben Koyack led the offense in snaps played.

But a lack of experience isn’t to say the position group isn’t talented. Whether it’s freshman phenom Alizé Jones, Nic Weishar off his redshirt, bowling ball Tyler Luatua or fifth-year converted defensive lineman Chase Hounshell, the ability to mix and match is certainly there if nobody takes hold of the job.

Let’s take our last looks at an intriguing piece of the offense.


Position Coach: Scott Booker



TE1: Durham Smythe, Jr.*
TE2: Tyler Luatua, Soph.
TE3: Alizé Jones, Fr.
TE4: Nic Weishar, Soph.*
TE5: Chase Hounshell, Grad Student*

*Denotes additional year of eligibility



Alizé Jones. Yes, I realize I have him listed as third on the depth chart. But when you look at this position group, there are a lot of intriguing supporting pieces and only one guy who feels like a star in the making. So while Jones is going to have to learn how to block, get a better feel for the system and become a complete tight end before he can truly ascend to this spot, he’s the guy who will eventually be the next great Notre Dame tight end.



Durham Smythe Tyler Luatua. I list both of these guys because I think they both have a chance to do very important things for this offense. In Smythe, the Irish have probably the closest thing to a two-way tight end as there is on the roster. He’s the veteran of the group and should have the best knowledge of the system. But after thinking he was ready to make an impact in 2014, Smythe caught just one pass. After being banged up a bit during camp, Smythe didn’t get off to the quickest start, but hopefully he’ll be ready come Texas.

In Luatua, the Irish have a blocker who could be a physical force. He’s also capable of rumbling for some yardage if he’s out in the flat as Malik Zaire’s safety valve. At 255 pounds, he’s a physical presence who can attach to the offensive line or play—gasp!—fullback.



Can anybody establish a rhythm? Brian Kelly mentioned a mix-and-match approach to the position, a logical choice with this type of personnel. But often times the Irish offense gets predictable when they utilize certain players in certain formations, and that feels like almost an inevitability for the tight ends. (Not that I expect to see Jones next to the left tackle on 3rd and 1, but still.)

But beyond giving the defense a tell, it might also hinder someone from breaking out. If that’s Smythe, great. If it’s Jones, wonderful. It could also be Nic Weishar, who has had an excellent camp. When the offense tried to juggle four running backs, you couldn’t help but feel like they lost something. That’s the big worry at a position this deep, too.


Can this offense utilize two tight end sets? As a power running team, putting two tight ends on the field could be a formation that really helps power the offense. But as we worry about finding some experience in this group, is it too much to ask to find two guys who can play?

Grad student Chase Hounshell is miraculously still a part of the football program, and might be Notre Dame’s best attached blocker. After using two tight ends against LSU, can this position group develop two fast enough?


Who can Brian Kelly trust? There might be all the skill in the world in true freshman Alizé Jones, but if Kelly can’t trust him to do his job, it’ll be hard for him to play. Same with any of the young players in this position group. Last year, Koyack took all the snaps, even if he was limited in space and not the best blocker. But he knew what he was doing and Kelly relied on that experience in the offense. Developing that trust will be key for whoever steps forward.



Can Nic Weishar look as good on the field as he does in practice? When Jones and Smythe were out Weishar put on a show, a difficult receiver to cover, especially in the red zone. Will that translate to the playing field and can the Chicagoland native get into the mix and be a dangerous part of the passing attack?


Will Chase Hounshell really find his home at tight end? When you looked at fifth-year senior candidates, heading into spring Hounshell was at the bottom of the list. But give credit to the hard-luck Ohio native who willed his way back onto the team and reinvented himself as a block-first tight end. It’d be quite a miraculous finish to his Notre Dame career if he was able to contribute this season—and that’s without considering he’ll likely be eligible for a sixth year.


Are there enough footballs for the tight ends? Everybody expects the running game to play a bigger role this season. Notre Dame’s receiving corps is as deep and talented as it’s ever been. Assuming guys like Smythe, Weishar and Jones have the skills to get involved in the passing game, how exactly are they going to find footballs for them?


Brian Kelly on Dan Patrick Show


Brian Kelly was on the Dan Patrick Show this morning and the Irish head coach got his last weekend without a game started by chatting it up with the popular radio host. While Kelly didn’t make any headlines in the interview, he did conduct it from his desk with a Showtime crew hanging a boom mic over his head, part of life with a documentary film crew following him around.

Here’s the segment of Kelly, where he and DP discuss Deflategate, the evergreen question of joining a conference and quarterback Malik Zaire.