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Monday Morning Leftovers: On Brian Kelly, defensive lines & Notre Dame in the NFL

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As has been well-covered already, the conversation around Irish coach Brian Kelly changed quickly following Notre Dame’s 20-19 loss to Georgia on Saturday night. The conversation did not change because of the defeat, but rather because of a terse exchange Kelly had with a reporter in the postgame press conference.

For the majority of Kelly’s tenure in South Bend, he has been criticized for being too much like a politician, sidestepping questions and offering non-answer answers whenever it suited him. That look aged much better than Saturday’s pointed attempt at pithiness.

The unexpected aspect of it is Kelly had delivered an excellent press conference to that point. He expressed disappointment in the loss, credited Georgia and discussed the areas the Irish need to improve. If he had simply blown by the final question of the evening — perhaps like a politician — he very well may have been praised for how he handled defeat.

“We’re really close to being the kind of football team that can play with anybody. We were short on a couple things today. We’ll shore them up and we’ll get back at it next week, and I like my football team.”

That could have been his final answer of substance. It would have been a strong note to essentially close on if Kelly had then simply offered generic responses to a question he did not like.

The question: “What exactly will be different [following this close loss compared to last year’s one-possession losses]?”

The possible answers: “We have better leadership in the locker room.”
“This is this year. That was last year.”
Or even project bravado. “We’ll win next week. That’ll be different.”

As much as the exchange may bother many, it is engaging in it at all that most baffles.

— A high school buddy attended the Auburn at Clemson game Saturday night, wearing the visiting shades of blue-and-orange. His praising words of the experience included, “Bar before was phenomenal. View was great. … Tailgating beforehand was great as well. Fans were surprisingly welcoming.”

That last observation has come to be a theme in the modern era of scheduling. When non-traditional but high-profile foes visit each other, the fans engage with respect and cheer more than anything else. The most vivid and pertinent example may be the testimonials any Irish fans would offer of their trip to Oklahoma in 2012. The Sooner fans were happy to see blue-and-gold. Even in defeat, the exchanges were universally pleasant.

The majority of accounts this weekend indicate that was the feeling around Notre Dame Stadium. If there was undue frustration about the influx of Georgia fans, it was not aimed at them, but rather the Irish fans who accommodated needs for tickets.

— Apropos of nothing, $600 would pay for a full football season’s cable and internet bills. Then, one could watch any games he or she wanted for five full months. It would also cover the majority, if not the entirety, of one month’s rent of a one-bedroom apartment only miles from campus. If not living in South Bend, $600 would pay for the gas needed to drive 1,000 miles roundtrip to all the Notre Dame home games this year. That radius extends to Minneapolis, or to Nashville, or well past Pittsburgh.

Think about the hundreds of drinks $600 could buy. Literally, hundreds. Depending on the weekend, $600 could even pay for a round-trip flight to New York City.

— That Clemson conversation with the Auburn Tiger led to thoughts about defensive lines in college football. If the Bulldogs domination of a vaunted Irish offensive line showed anything, it showed defensive lines beat offensive lines of equal talent in college football. It is similar to receivers beating defensive backs of equal talent.

The defensive linemen (or receivers) know what they are trying to do. They make the first move. The offensive linemen (or defensive backs) are trying to stop that. They must rely on reactionary moves.

That dynamic was a key reason Clemson beat Alabama for the national championship a season ago, and it remains a key reason the Tigers are near the top of the heap again this year.

It is why North Carolina State was a trendy sleeper pick this offseason. This space was guilty of that one, in particular, but do not chalk it up to a mistake just yet. The Wolfpack did get back to winning this week and could make life difficult for a freshman Florida State quarterback by the end of the month.

Even Notre Dame’s defensive line showed the reality of this dynamic Saturday night. An Irihs defensive line with questions bested a Georgia offensive line with questions. Equal talent levels favor the unit able to attack. By definition, that will be the defensive line.

Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)

To anyone saying an offensive line should attack, the primary purpose of an offensive line is to prevent an attack. They are blocking, not rushing. It is in the job description.

— With all that in mind, let’s file a College Football Playoff prediction in these parts. Alabama, Clemson, USC and Oklahoma State.

— Some Notre Dame in the NFL notes: Former Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt signed a five-year $60 million contract Saturday. A day later he may have ended his season with a torn biceps, MRI results to confirm pending.

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith saw real, meaningful action Sunday night, and he did not disappoint. Smith notched seven tackles and forced a fumble in a Dallas Cowboys victory.

Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer got the start for the Cleveland Browns. The team lost 21-18 to Tuitt’s Pittsburgh Steelers, but Kizer completed 20-of-30 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown, also throwing an interception and rushing for an additional score.

— This will be posted throughout the week as a reminder: The Notre Dame at Boston College game kickoff time has been moved to 3:30 p.m. ET. It will be available on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

The Irish were initially favored by 14.5 points, though that line has already moved to 13.

Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Offensive line notes; Irish ‘begging’ for No. 2 WR

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Mike McGlinchey may have put Notre Dame’s loss Saturday night entirely on his own shoulders for a missed block on the final Irish snap, but Brian Kelly disagrees with that sentiment.

The Notre Dame coach felt no need to specifically console his fifth-year left tackle after the 20-19 defeat to Georgia, largely because that late-game mistake was just one of many in a game of 60 minutes.

“I’ve never felt like there’s one play that determines a game,” Kelly said Sunday. “There were a number of things that — if we could have made a run on the third down on the series before, if we don’t have a late hit, if we make a play on that third down flip with [sophomore defensive end] Daelin Hayes, a better call here or there offensively. … I’ve never felt there’s one singular play.”

Bulldogs senior defensive end Davin Bellamy’s fumble-causing sack ended any Irish hopes of a comeback. How Bellamy did that is far from complicated: He simply beat McGlinchey with a pass rush.

“Their guy was better on that play,” Kelly said. “That’s why, when we get in that moment, our guys have to believe that their training has put them in a position to obviously make that block and be there for him.”

Kelly struggled to assess the Notre Dame offensive line as a whole, presumably not wanting to oversimplify an undoubtedly complex evaluation. He did acknowledge the pass protection difficulties, giving up three sacks of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

“What we have to do better is we have to sustain box and be more consistent in pass protection,” Kelly said before adding another piece to that element of the game. “… When we run our offense, a lot of the decisions post-snap are based on what the quarterback is seeing.

“Whether he’s giving it out, pulling it, checking it to the other side, sometimes those decisions ae left up to the post-snap reads. Brandon is learning those things. Going against Georgia, that’s a pretty good defense to learn a lot [from].”

In a departure from a week ago and all of last season, junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was not the Irish quarterback’s primary target. Certainly, Wimbush would have preferred to connect with his most dangerous receiver more often than twice for 16 yards, but the Bulldogs made preventing such a priority. (more…)

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s d-line is good, but much else is not yet

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — We learned Georgia’s front-seven is all it was cracked up to be. We learned even future first-round NFL Draft picks make colossal mistakes. We learned the new video board in Notre Dame Stadium does not broadcast a post-game show after losses. Those first two are inherently intertwined, and to that last one, the response should be the same as it was when some were upset the Irish did not sing the Alma Mater after home losses: Just win the games.

What else did we learn?

Notre Dame has a defensive line. More than that, it is a strength, not the liability long presumed.
All offseason the doubts about the Irish defensive line persisted. When junior tackle Elijah Taylor suffered a Lisfranc fracture in spring practices, those concerns amplified. Then senior tackle Daniel Cage was ruled out for the season over the summer. The week one absence of junior tackle Micah Dew-Treadway due to a sprained knee only furthered the skepticism.

Beyond senior Jonathan Bonner and junior Jerry Tillery, could Notre Dame even field a defensive interior?

Yes.

Jonathan Bonner has proven himself worthy of a starting defensive tackle position already this season. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

On top of that, senior ends Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti have provided playmaking on the edges few, if any, saw coming. Certainly no one expected Hayes to lead Notre Dame with seven tackles Saturday night. Trumbetti added five, as did Tillery. Bonner had four takedowns, including 1.5 tackles for loss.

Even more impressively, freshmen tackles Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovaioloa-Amosa held their own for the second consecutive week, allowing Bonner and Tillery chances to catch their breath.

Perhaps Irish fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey — the aforementioned future first-round NFL Draft pick — should have been heeded when he praised the defensive line in preseason camp. He does, after all, face those exact players every day in practice.

McGlinchey took little satisfaction in reminding the world of that confidence after Saturday’s loss.

“Our defense played their hearts out today, and they played a [great] game,” the captain said. “All the credit to them. Everybody has had their doubts about them all season long, and they stepped up in a big way today.”

That big way limited the Bulldogs’ vaunted rushing attack to 193 yards. That may seem a large number, and certainly even fewer would have been preferred, but Georgia never found the presumed momentum on the ground, greatly limiting their offensive game plan.

“The defensive line especially played really well in stopping them,” senior linebacker Greer Martini said. Bulldogs senior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel “are obviously very special backs, but I think we handled our own.”

Indeed, they did. More challenges will come this season — namely USC’s Ronald Jones and Stanford’s Bryce Love — but those tests no longer seem beyond overcoming for the Notre Dame front seven.

Brandon Wimbush has started only two games in his career.
Okay, that was known. But Saturday night, it was very obvious. The junior quarterback was not ready for either the stage or the opponent, or both. At no point did he deliver a WOW moment a la his opening-week dart to senior tight end Nic Weishar. His closest thing to a big play came on the opening snap, when junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown dropped a deep pass off a flea flicker.

Including that, Wimbush completed only 20 of 40 passes. A 50 percent completion rate is not acceptable in any circumstance. He fumbled twice, though the second of the two should hardly be attributed to him, considering the nature of a hardly-slowed blindside hit.

In Notre Dame’s 20-19 loss to Georgia, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush never created the spark expected of the quarterback in head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long’s offense. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Just like against Temple, Wimbush lucked out of multiple interceptions. At some point, one of those risky throws will cost him and the Irish dearly. Even this weekend, the incompletions off those near-interceptions were too much to overcome.

None of this is lost on Notre Dame. (more…)

Missed block, failed third downs doom Notre Dame in loss to Georgia

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame certainly had its chances. Twice in the final four minutes, the No. 24 Irish had possession needing a score to overcome a one-point deficit to No. 15 Georgia. Instead, each drive stalled after three plays, including a game-sealing fumble with less than 90 seconds remaining to seal the Bulldogs’ 20-19 victory Saturday night.

Irish coach Brian Kelly (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“The credit should go to Georgia today,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “They made the plays in critical times. When they needed the big plays, they came up with them.”

The Irish led for the majority of the evening until Georgia junior kicker Rodrigo Blankenship hit a 30-yard field goal with 3:34 remaining in the game to bring the score to 20-19. Three incompletions from junior Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush later and the Bulldogs had the ball back with 3:08 remaining. The Irish defense held stout, forcing a three-and-out, but again the Notre Dame offense could not produce as needed.

After a 17-yard completion to junior receiver Chris Finke gave the Irish offense some forward momentum, the evening came to an abrupt halt. Wimbush dropped back, but before he could even plant his back foot at the end of his drop, Bulldogs senior defensive end Davin Bellamy hit Wimbush from behind, forcing a fumble recovered by Bulldogs senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter.

“It was a great play,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I actually was trying to get [Bellamy] out of the game, because I thought that they were a little winded. So we played I think two or three times that drive, and I always want to have fresh rushers.

“He gets out there and he outdid the guy.”

The guy Smart referenced would be Notre Dame fifth-year left tackle Mike McGlinchey. The Irish captain both credited the Georgia defense and Bellamy as well as faulted himself for the game-deciding play.

“They were quick, they were big, they were good with their hands, and they had a good game plan,” McGlinchey said. “They played their hearts out today, so did we. It came down to execution and we didn’t get the job done.”

Wimbush was sacked a total of three times on the day. He finished 20-of-40 passing for 210 yards while losing two fumbles on two of those sacks, including Bellamy’s. McGlinchey saw no reason for any of those mishaps to be attributed to Wimbush.

“I told him I’m sorry, I didn’t do my job at the end of the game,” he said. “That’s not on Brandon Wimbush. He had a hell of a game. It’s a tough atmosphere to play in. He had a great game for the most part all day. I told him I’m sorry because I blew it on the last play.”

Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams rushed for only 53 yards on 19 carries Saturday night. (Getty Images)

As a whole, Notre Dame’s offense struggled mightily against the Bulldogs, gaining a total of 265 yards with only 79 rushing yards on 34 carries (when removing sack totals from rushing statistics). If not for 127 Georgia penalty yards and a fumble recovery giving the Irish a short field in the second quarter, the 19 points may have been far fewer.

That Bulldogs turnover came on the first play of their first possession starting in the second quarter. Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm went to hand the ball off and instead deposited it on the ground. Notre Dame sophomore end Daelin Hayes jumped on it. A 32-yard Wimbush completion to junior running back Josh Adams got the Irish into scoring position and two plays later Wimbush ran into the end zone for the only Notre Dame touchdown of the day.

“[Wimbush is] a good player, he’s a really good athlete, he’s hard to get down,” Smart said. “But I know they were frustrated on offense tonight, too. Frustrated as our fans are, and I am, [with] the offense we had, think about theirs. They had a lot of three-and-outs, as well. It was one of those defensive struggle games, field position games.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Irish junior kicker Justin Yoon’s third field goal of the night gave Notre Dame a 16-10 lead midway through the third quarter. On the first play of the ensuing Georgia drive, Notre Dame senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner reached Fromm for a six-yard loss. An incompletion later brought up third-and-16 from the Bulldogs’ own 19-yard line. The Irish were posed to regain possession with worthwhile field position and a chance to go up two positions.

In a plodding game lacking any signs of offensive momentum, a two-possession lead would have been insurmountable. It felt that way at the time, and now knowing how the game played out, it is even more certain.

As Fromm rolled out of the pocket looking for sophomore receiver Riley Ridley along the sideline, Notre Dame sophomore end Julian Okwara gave chase. When Fromm released the pass a yard from the sideline, Okwara was half a stride away. A subsequent shove of Fromm out of bounds earned Okwara a 15-yard late hit personal foul penalty, turning a 14-yard Ridley reception and a fourth-and-two into a first-and-10 nearly 30 yards down the field.

The call seemed questionable, but Okwara also cannot put himself in that position. By now, every player on any football field has to know the referees will protect the quarterbacks at all costs. Sure, his momentum may bring Okwara up to Fromm no matter what, but extending his arms on the shove sealed the penalty.

If not for that, Georgia is likely to punt —  it was still too early in the night to go for a fourth-and-two within its own territory. The Irish would have had that chance to go up by nine or 13 points. Instead, Georgia finished the 75-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run from senior running back Sony Michel.

“We were off the field and subsequently they scored,” Kelly said. “Those are the things that when it’s a one-point game, you’ll go back, and we’ll learn a painful lesson from that. You hate to learn lessons in losses but sometimes you have to learn some painful lessons.”

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
That Michel touchdown gave Georgia a 17-16 lead. Two Irish possessions later, Notre Dame faced a third-and-four from the Bulldogs 14-yard line. Only 11:08 remained. A touchdown would have put all sorts of pressure back on Georgia.

Suddenly, third-and-four became third-and-nine courtesy of a false start by freshman right tackle Robert Hainsey, his third such penalty in two weeks. Wimbush ran for eight yards, and Yoon trotted out for his fourth and final field goal attempt of the night.

The successful 28-yard kick did return the lead to the Irish, but by only two rather than six. If Hainsey had not jumped, the third-and-four may have been converted and a touchdown may have soon followed.

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Notre Dame’s Justin Yoon kicks one of his four made field goals Saturday night. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Yoon hit five-of-five kicks Saturday night. In order: a 39-yard field goal, a point after attempt, a 42-yard field goal, a 37-yarder and a 28-yarder to finish his work. All this comes after missing his two field goal attempts a week ago.

“I felt like the adjustments [from a week ago] weren’t going to be major,” Kelly said. “That’s where maybe I stepped out on the limb a little bit with him. We made some slight corrections during the week and he was hitting the ball really well.”

If the Irish had managed to move the ball downfield in the closing minutes, Wimbush was confident he did not have to go all that far before they would be within Yoon’s range.

“The confidence was there and we had no doubt that we were going to go drive down and at least get three points. That’s all we needed,” Wimbush said. “If we were able to get into his range, I’m confident that [Yoon] would have knocked it through.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame finished three-of-17 on third-down conversions and entered the red zone a total of three times but came away with only one seven-point trip. In fact, the Irish opened oh-for-10 on third-down conversions.

QUOTE OF THE EVENING
Wimbush was asked about the mood in the locker room following the defeat. In some respects, those questions are throwaway questions. A generic answer fills the bill. On the surface, that was what Wimbush delivered, but what was of note was how he slowly worked his way through it.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

“It’s not the same mood as it was last week, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s a loss, and we don’t play this game to lose. We don’t do what we do for nine months to lose a game.”

Wimbush paused. He was not about to break down, but he was clearly uncomfortable talking about losing.

“There wasn’t much going on. There wasn’t much excitement.”

OWNERSHIP OF THE EVENING
If anyone wants to criticize Mike McGlinchey for missing his block on the final Notre Dame offensive possession, there is no need. McGlinchey is more critical of himself than anyone else could be.

“It definitely hurts a little bit more when it’s [my] responsibility. We played our hearts out all four quarters. It just comes down to those couple plays of execution. I certainly didn’t get my job done.”

When asked how Wimbush responded to McGlinchey putting the blame on his own shoulders, McGlinchey praised his quarterback.

“Obviously he’s a good teammate and he said, no, it wasn’t [my fault],” McGlinchey said. “But anybody who watches football knows that it was.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
12:48 — Notre Dame field goal. Justin Yoon from 39 yards. Notre Dame 3, Georgia 0. (7 plays, 53 yards, 2:12)
6:36 — Georgia field goal. Rodrigo Blankenship from 27 yards. Notre Dame 3, Georgia 3. (6 plays, 71 yards, 2:33)

Second Quarter
11:09 — Notre Dame touchdown. Brandon Wimbush one-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Georgia 3. (4 plays, 32 yards, 0:53)
6:45 — Georgia touchdown. Terry Godwin 5-yard reception from Jake Fromm. Blankenship PAT good. Notre Dame 10, Georgia 10. (12 plays, 62 yards, 5:39)
4:14 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon from 42 yards. Notre Dame 13, Georgia 10. (6 plays, 40 yards, 2:31)

Third Quarter
6:22 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon from 37 yards. Notre Dame 16, Georgia 10. (9 plays, 33 yards, 2:16)
4:34 — Georgia touchdown. Sony Michel five-yard rush. Blankenship PAT good. Georgia 17, Notre Dame 16. (7 plays, 75 yards, 1:48)

Fourth Quarter
10:21 — Notre Dame field goal. Yoon from 28 yards. Notre Dame 19, Georgia 17. (13 plays, 73 yards, 4:43)
3:34 — Georgia field goal. Rodrigo Blankenship from 30 yards. Georgia 20, Notre Dame 19. (9 plays, 63 yards, 3:13)

Notre Dame vs. Georgia: Who, what, when, where, why and by how much?

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WHO? No. 15 Georgia at No. 24 Notre Dame. The Bulldogs are led by freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, making his first career start due to sophomore Jacob Eason being sidelined with a knee sprain.

WHAT? Both 1-0, this will be the first real test for either team this season.

WHEN? 7:30 p.m. ET. The sun will set at 8:04 p.m. in South Bend tonight, in case you were curious.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, but if you are not among that crowd, tune in to NBC. If your television is devoted to some other game, try http://ndstream.nbcsports.com/. If it is halftime and you simply want to monitor this game on a third device until the action reconvenes, check the NBC Sports App.

For those overseas, NBC Sports Gold will allow you to watch either this single game or the entire season, whichever you happen to choose.

If you wake up Sunday morning not entirely sure how the second half went, enjoy a replay: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-georgia

WHY? Once every 50 years, the Georgia Bulldogs dare to venture into the country’s northern half for a game on the gridiron. Nearly as rare as a total solar eclipse, this is that occasion.

BY HOW MUCH? Vegas initially favored Notre Dame by 6.5 points before action moved that line to Irish by 4.5 with an over/under total of 57. Rounded quick math puts that estimated final score at 31-27.

Personally, my instincts have favored a lower score, but I recognize both of these offenses operated efficiently in week one. Expecting that output to drop off completely may be rash. It is more likely the stout Georgia defense hampers a few Irish trips into the red zone while Fromm stumbles just shy of the end zone himself. With that in mind, perhaps the key to Notre Dame’s success or failure in this binary enterprise will be junior kicker Justin Yoon’s leg returning to accuracy.

Notre Dame 30, Georgia 23. (Record this season: 1-0)

ANYTHING ELSE? An Air Force flyover has been scheduled before the Irish and Bulldogs kick off.

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Monday Morning Leftovers: Notre Dame amid NFL roster cuts; Good for USC & more
Questions for the Week: Smythe, Georgia’s QB & ticket prices
Notre Dame’s Opponents: Results, upcoming spreads & some predictions
Brian Kelly on Georgia’s defense, RBs & Notre Dame vs. the SEC
Three sacks show much more of Notre Dame’s defense
Notre Dame’s ‘demeanor in running the football’
And In That Corner … The Georgia Bulldogs, led by freshman QB Jake Fromm
Things To Learn from Georgia’s visit to Notre Dame
Kelly on Georgia’s fans and offensive line; injury update & more
Friday at 4: $4,000 to get off a relevant flight

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE FROM THE TEMPLE GAME
Fast start, ground game carry Notre Dame past Temple 49-16
Wimbush’s triumphant first start filled with near-misses positive and negative; more notes
What We Learned: Notre Dame is Long’s offense, freshmen impact and more
Sunday Notre Dame Notebook: Defensive rotation, RT duo and overall health

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
Perhaps the most normal thing about Irish junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown’s family is his first name.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly wore green, orange and white bracelet around his wrist last weekend. It had nothing to do with the Irish and everything to do with a girl battling cancer.
It may be a week ago now, but rewatching USC long-snapper Jake Olson’s first live snap has yet to get old.
On that note, Western Michigan coach Tim Lester still deserves much praise for his role in making that happen.
From way back in the summer, tonight’s tickets were fetching as much as $1,534.
Former Irish linebacker Doug Randolph is suing the University and Kelly.
Remember that time Washington State fans drank all of Auburn?