Rev. John Jenkins,Jack Swarbrick

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

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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
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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
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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.

Zaire, Day lead Notre Dame in PFF grades

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 05: Sheldon Day #91 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Isaac Rochell #90 celebrate after making a tackle for a loss of yards against the Texas Longhorns during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Box scores can be deceiving. Especially when you look at Sheldon Day‘s performance on the field with the numbers he put down on paper. Notre Dame’s senior captain was the Irish’s most dominant defender, according to Pro Football Focus. The research-heavy, game-tape tracking football website had nothing but love for a large contingent of Notre Dame players, with quarterback Malik Zaire and Day leading the way.

So while some look at Day’s pedestrian numbers—his lone tackle happened to be a sack of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes—the senior tackle is earning rave reviews for his bludgeoning of Texas’ young and inexperienced offensive line.

On the offensive side of the ball, Zaire’s performance was graded as good as you expected. Zaire was 13 of 14 for 273 yards with three touchdowns on throws of 10 yards or more. According to PFF, he was 4 of 5 for 42 yards in pass-rush/pressure situations. And his three incompletions? Two hit the receiver in the hands and the third likely was caused because the receiver stopped his route.

(Don’t tell Brian Kelly, but Jeff Dooley of PFF already went there with Zaire and the Heisman.)

PFF also had good things to say about Will Fuller, as you might imagine. Notre Dame’s star receiver caught all seven of his targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Fifth-year captain Nick Martin also handled his job well, earning the highest grade along the offensive line, a nice sign that Martin at full strength will be a handful. (Jaylon Smith graded out at +1.4.)

You can read more here, but here are the top five performers from Saturday night according to PFF:

Malik Zaire, QB: (+6.2)
Sheldon Day, DT: (+4.6)
Nick Martin, C (+3.9)
Will Fuller, WR (+3.0)
Ronnie Stanley (+2.0)

Only Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway finished with a grade above +2.0, earning a 2.7 for his work in the trenches against Notre Dame’s guards. Tyrone Swoops had a -3.6 while senior guard Sedrick Flowers (-8.4) and freshman Patrick Vahe (-4.6) were major problems up front for Texas.

And in that corner… The Virginia Cavaliers

Taquan Mizzell
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Nothing sets the tone of a football season like the opening weekend. So while Notre Dame fans feel an added confidence after watching the Irish dispatch Texas in such a one-sided manner, Virginia fans are feeling… well—pretty much the opposite.

The Cavaliers’ opening game was a one-sided affair, helping UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen announce his presence with authority in the Bruins lopsided 36-14 victory, a three-touchdown win that maybe wasn’t even that close.

So with the seat of Virginia head coach Mike London already a bit sweaty even before the season began, an 0-1 start to the year has many of the Hoos’ faithful on edge.

Getting us ready for Saturday afternoon’s game is Streaking the Lawn‘s Paul Wiley. After a nice offseason check-up, Paul gives us some candid real-talk on the state of the Cavaliers, and it’s safe to say that not all is well in Charlottesville.

Hope you enjoy.

 

UCLA beat Virginia rather handily in the season opener, not exactly the start to the season that Mike London and his team wanted. Let’s start by being optimists. Did you see anything on Saturday that you thought was better than expected?

Running back Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell lived up to the offseason reports that he’s improved. A highly touted recruit out of high school, he hasn’t been the world-beater that we expected when he first came to Charlottesville. But the Mizzell I saw on Saturday is a runner that is more decisive into his running lanes and sure-handed out of the backfield. He showed great combinations of elusiveness and toughness in the open field against a very talented Bruins defense. Hopefully a harbinger of much more positive things to come this season.

 

Now the flip-side of that coin. After eight months of offseason work, what was the most disappointing part of the loss?

Same stuff, different day. What’s bothered us Wahoos the most over the past few years has been playcalling that ranges from unimaginative all the way to lackluster, and boneheaded penalties that put our offense behind the sticks or extend the other team’s drives. And on Saturday, there we went again. Coach London and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild had spent the offseason trumpeting a return to power running; the Hoos averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

The number of drives that went run-run-screen became so predictable that Pop Warner coaches could’ve seen it coming. Virginia committed seven penalties for 45 yards; at just over six yards a flag, that means they were almost exclusively the mental-error variety, and not the playing-too-hard variety. For any fool like me who had spent game week talking himself into thinking things would be different this year, Saturday afternoon was a hard snap back to reality.

How did Matt Johns play? Notre Dame’s front seven dominated Texas up front, especially when the score got lopsided and the Longhorns had to get one-dimensional. The UVA running game struggled against the Bruins. How was Johns when it came to pressure packages and making good decisions when the game was put on his shoulders?

I gotta give credit where it’s due: Johns was better than I expected. I had been firmly in Camp Lambert during the offseason, as I thought Greyson had more talent and could stretch the field a bit more. Once Lambert left, I’ve been wary in coming around to seeing the positive in Johns’s play. But it was there on Saturday. 21-of-35 for 238 yards, with touchdowns even to interceptions, is a competent game-manager’s stat line. The pick was Johns trying to do too much, which was a recurring theme from last season. So too was a backwards pass that was fortunately reversed on replay (somehow).

Johns has a playmaker’s mentality and that’s what this offense needs when the odds are pretty good the play is going to break down. But he needs to become ok with living to play another down instead of trying to force what isn’t there.

 

Defensively, the UVa defense got shredded by true freshman Josh Rosen in a very impressive debut. After seeing the performance Notre Dame’s offense put together against Texas, how do you think Jon Tenuta will adjust as he gets ready to play against his former employer?

[Shrug emoji]. Seriously. The defense was supposed to be the unit that carried this team and it got straight torched. What was most troubling was seeing how badly the secondary got torn apart. Some of the credit there is definitely due to Rosen; the TD pass to Duarte over Quin Blanding was a perfectly thrown ball that beat some damn good coverage. The loss of the top two pass-rushers from last year was definitely apparent, as the defense only recorded one sack and no QB hurries. If Malik Zaire faces the same pass rush that Rosen did, they won’t even have to retouch the gold paint on his helmet next week.

 

If there was a positive, it looked like Smoke Mizzell had a nice game, especially in the passing attack. Is this a direction where you expect UVa to go? Or will they try to get back to the power running game, especially considering the Hoos dominated the time of possession against UCLA.

It’s really hard to tell. A lot of the time it seems like logic and Virginia football don’t operate in the same circles. I’d love to see Smoke get more touches in more creative ways. But I said the same thing about Darius Jennings last year, and Khalek Shepherd the year before that, and E.J. Scott the year before that, et cetera et cetera. I have zero faith that Fairchild or London will stop slamming our collective forehead into the brick wall when it comes to the power running they seem to fetishize, which means poor Smoke will spend the rest of his U.Va. days speeding into non-existent running lanes.

 

One game doesn’t define a season. But how badly did this take the wind from the sails of the Cavaliers’ fan base? What do you expect the environment to be like on Saturday afternoon?

Whatever pleasant sea breeze there was in our sails pretty quickly turned into little more than a stale fart. By the Hoos’ fourth drive against the Bruins, headed deep into UCLA territory thanks to two drive-extending Bruins penalties, Fairchild got away from the passing attack that had marched the ball down the field and ran Albert Reid out of the wildcat. From the 19 yard line, U.Va. managed 8 yards on three carries and settled for a field goal. That’s about as much Fairchild-in-a-nutshell as one can get. As soon as it happened, my dad and I agreed the game was over; we’d simply seen this series of events too many times to hope for anything better.

Scott Stadium may be two-thirds full on Saturday, but I 100% expect Notre Dame fans to make up close to a majority of the attendees. There are just too many better things to do in central Virginia on a fall afternoon than watch this coaching staff embarrass the players whose talents and effort we admire.

 

On a scale of one (not happening) to ten (get ready to storm the field), what are you hopes/expectations for an upset and Virginia ending Saturday with a record of 1-1? What needs to happen for the Hoos to pull it off?

Does your scale allow for negatives? Seeing what the Irish did to Texas leaves me absolutely zero hope of a U.Va. win on Saturday. Notre Dame at -10.5 in Vegas is pretty much free money. If D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert, Eugene Monroe, and Heath Miller all decide playing college football is better than the NFL, and all of them got the most bizarre NCAA waivers ever, and all of them suited up on Saturday, I bet Virginia could cover. Barring that, it should be a happy flight home for the Irish.