Friend of the program Bruce Feldman had a nice interview with Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco covering just about everything that’s gone on since the new coaching staff has come to South Bend. Diaco strikes me as a unique guy that clearly understands how the relationship with the media works.
I caught up with Feldman to ask him about his impressions of the interview and he thought Diaco was a sharp guy. What was supposed to be a quick ten minute conversation ended up going much longer and lasted 45 minutes, which seems about right if you’ve watched or read any of Diaco’s media sessions. It’s clear that the guy loves talking football.
One of the more interesting tidbits came when Diaco followed up on the sense of entitlement that Brian Kelly had mentioned noticing in Notre Dame players. Diaco’s observations on his defensive players was fascinating:
“I would say that, as a coach, the first thing that you see as a person
as a trained evaluator is their body type when they’re walking around.
Who has some level of fitness — tangible qualities or tangible
liabilities. That’s first as you walk in the door and are presented
with the player. You’re getting an opinion on what’s important to that
player. Is he physically fit and lean and trim, and well-dressed and
clean-cut? You can see a lot of other things in there: drive, passion
for the task, energy. If he’s overweight, out of shape, sloppy in his
appearance — things untied, things undone — right there it correlates
a lack of attention to detail in how they’re living their life.”
It’s pretty clear that Diaco is a guy who pays attention to detail, and every player on the defense has been put on notice. This reminds me a lot of the days when Mickey Marotti ruled the weight room, and everything down to the spandex you wore under your shorts was important. Marotti’s attention to the most minute detail — making sure that the “Notre Dame” on the 45-pound plates faced the right direction — set the tone for your time in the workout room. (It was a terrifying experience for an 18-year-old kid, believe me.)
Diaco also talked about his experience with legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry and working with Al Groh, two men that played significant roles in the evolution of the 3-4 defense. While many think of the 3-4 as a new wrinkle, Diaco reminds us that it’s been around for quite some time.
“We did it in college when I played at Iowa, but we just called it
Base-50. Most of the guys with white hair will remind you that whenever
they hear the term “3-4″ that it’s just a Base-50. When I was in
college Bill Brasier was the defensive coordinator and he was just an
awesome coach and an awesome guy. My first touch was in the Hayden Fry
system there. Then to fast forward, 13 years to meeting Coach Groh, it
had elements of Base-50, but he created and built that defense with
Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. To learn it from one of the founding
fathers of that structure was really awesome.”
Diaco also talked about the development process that has Irish fans so excited about Brian Kelly. As Paul Longo was, Diaco was hesitant to give away any trade secrets, but he did hint at a refined system that Kelly has for finding players that’ll fit in his program.
“I don’t want to be coy about this, but I don’t want to talk too much
about Coach Kelly’s development system. I don’t want to give out any
information that he doesn’t want to have out there, but it is a
scientific system of evaluation in the recruiting process. There are
specific categories. We don’t necessarily look at the player at doing
the jobs he’s doing now as correlating to college. We look at the
players that we believe show the tangible and intangible qualities that
we want them to do. They may be at different positions. There may be
tight ends who are tackles or wide receivers that are linebackers. A
lot of people talk about it but Coach really does it, and he also has
the strength and conditioning system to bring that player from one to
the next. You see that at Iowa with guys like (John) Alt, (Ross) Verba,
(Chris) Knipper, (Robert) Gallery — those were dynamic awesome tackles
that were tight ends. You see walk-ons that became great players. It’s
a very similar system with coach.”
As usual, great stuff from Feldman. While we’ve yet to see Diaco do anything, I’ve got a feeling that he’ll be a force both on the sidelines and in the living room.
Leftovers & Links: Notre Dame avoids silliness of postseason
Bowl season can beget silly season, a month of idle time leading to far too many conversations about April’s draft, roster decisions, unlikely offensive wrinkles and so forth. In that respect, Notre Dame making the College Football Playoff diminishes those concerns. With so much at stake, there is no chance the Irish have to worry about any players sitting out the bowl game to declare for the NFL draft earlier than early.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, for example, has opted to miss the Camping World Bowl to prep for the draft process. A first- or second-round pick, Grier’s decision has merit, and it is one undoubtedly somewhat inspired by the injury to former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith three years ago.
Judging Grier or Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary, a possible top-10 pick, is an exercise in ego for anyone who has not been in those shoes. Rather, simply accept it as a fact of life in 2018.
The Irish do still need to put up with the agents and natural wonderings inherent to the NFL draft being within sight on the football calendar. Notre Dame tries to ready the pertinent players for that process for months so as to lessen the load now.
“We lay out a timetable where we don’t get into distractions,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Saturday. “We’ve had some success with players that have had to answer these kinds of questions of when you deal with the agent and how you deal with it. We take the time in spring to sit down with all of our guys and talk through a timetable of how to handle it and how we will help them with it.
“They’re in no stressful situation as we prepare right now. Their parents can handle any decisions for them relative to representation. We will handle evaluations for them and inquiries. They know that we will put them in the best position moving forward, so they can focus on what’s most important.”
Those evaluations will help inform the decisions of five players in particular — presumably those requests were on the behalf of receiver Chase Claypool, cornerback Julian Love and ends Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem with a fifth included, as well — while the coaching staff balances those expected results and the returns of a few current seniors with the pending haul in next week’s early signing period.
Kelly said 10 incoming freshmen will enroll early among 21 current commitments. Just like last offseason, there will be subsequent roster math, but that can wait until those national letters of intent have arrived signed and sealed.
The AP names #NotreDame cornerback Julian Love a first-team All-American; defensive tackle Jerry Tillery on the second team; linebacker Te'von Coney makes the third team.
Opponents’ bowl dates, times, spreads, etc. With Navy’s 17-10 loss to Army on Saturday, so ends the regular season. Now eight Notre Dame foes ready for seven bowl games, listed in chronological order:
Wake Forest vs. Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 22 at 12 ET as a 5-point underdog with a combined point total over/under of 73.5. Vanderbilt vs. Baylor in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 at 9 ET as 3.5-point favorites with an over/under of 55. Syracuse vs. Grier-less West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 at 5:15 ET as a 1.5-point underdog with an over/under of 68.5. Michigan vs. Florida in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 29 at 12 ET as a 7.5-point favorite with an over/under of 51. Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on Dec. 31 at 12 ET as a 5-point underdog with an over/under of 53.5. Stanford vs. Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 31 at 2 ET as a 6.5-point favorite with an over/under of 52. Northwestern vs. Utah in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 31 at 7 ET as a 7-point underdog with an over/under of 45.
Pure hypothetical, but a fun one that was proposed to me by someone at the American Athletic Conference: If Navy did what UCF has done, would the committee still tell the Midshipmen no?
What is going to be remembered as the most memorable moment of the 2018 season? 2012 had the goal line stand and the triple-overtime Pittsburgh game. — @cmupensfan
This question has percolated in my mind for two weeks, and I have yet to land on an answer. Dexter Williams’ 97-yard touchdown at Virginia Tech? Jalen Elliott’s pass breakup against Vanderbilt? Maybe that moment has yet to arrive?
If 2018 will be remembered for any singular item, it will be the quarterback change three weeks into the season. Kelly made a gutsy move, and it paid off better than could ever have been hoped.
What stat of the season (aside from the W-L record) are you most surprised/shocked by? — @TheBookofChaz
Again, no ready answer presented itself, but in combing through the season book, two did stand out. They never became season storylines like Ian Book’s historic completion percentage or Williams’ undeniable success once he got on the field.
Did you realize Notre Dame gave up only seven passing touchdowns this year? Let’s give context to that number: Last year the Irish gave up 12 scores through the air, including two to LSU. In 2016? Twice as many as this season. And in 2012? A total of 11, with four coming against Alabama.
In other words, this defense has played as well against passing attacks as 2012’s did.
Secondly, a season like this can be skewed by the slightest of things. In a game with a misshapen ball, that is often forgotten, and it is worth remembering that when realizing Notre Dame lost only three fumbles this season, having laid the ball on the ground eight times.
A condensed version of #Echoes18 will air on NBCSN next Saturday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. EST. I would expect @NDFootball to release some of the videos, including the coaches meeting spoof, at some point after that. That's my educated guess for those asking last night.
Notre Dame gave out more postseason awards, or Echoes, than may have been expected Friday night, a direct reflection of how the Irish got to 12-0. One could easily argue more than the 20 players honored deserved such. That is a result of depth, depth which has pushed Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff, but depth that may not have been enough if not for Monogram Club MVP Ian Book.
Even if this space yesterday argued that honor should go to fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill — who won his third consecutive Student-Athlete of the Year Award — Book was certainly worthy. Stepping in as the starting quarterback in week four and leading the way to eight victories while setting multiple program passing records is deserving of recognition, a nod the wisdom of the crowds apparently agrees with.
Who would you consider #NotreDame's MVP this season?
The quarterback Book replaced, Brandon Wimbush, was named the Next Man In of the Year, a testament to how well the senior handled becoming the first man out as much as it was a reminder of how crucial his performance was against Florida State when a ribs injury sidelined Book.
Offensive Player of the Year: Senior receiver Miles Boykin, as expected. Defensive Player of the Year: Senior linebacker Te’von Coney, also as expected.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Junior safety Alohi Gilman, still sticking with the standard script. Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Dexter Williams needed to take him an Echo of some variety, even if this required a loosening of the definition of newcomer to include the senior running back.
☘️941 rush yds ☘️12 TDs ☘️100 rush yds in 4 games ☘️97-yd TD run at #24 Va. Tech: longest of his career, 2nd longest in ND history & longest in the history of Lane Stadium.
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Fifth-year center Sam Mustipher, perhaps the most obvious result of the evening. Defensive Lineman of the Year: Senior tackle Jerry Tillery in what was hopefully a toss-up between him and junior end Julian Okwara.
Defensive Impact Player of the Year: A coin flip made easier by recognizing Okwara here, understandably so. Offensive Impact Player of the Year: To complete the requisite offensive mentions, junior receiver Chase Claypool, who finished second to Boykin in all receiving categories with 48 catches for 631 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensive Back of the Year: Memory does not think this is an annual award, but if it was created simply to be sure junior cornerback Julian Love got a moment on stage, that is understandable. This may have been Love’s last go-round, and the All-American earned every accolade coming his way. Walk-On Player Union Award: Senior receiver Chris Finke hasn’t been a walk-on for two years, so this may need an emeritus addendum.
Special Teams Player of the Year Award: This may simply come with setting the Notre Dame career points record — senior kicker Justin Yoon. Pietrosante Award, for leadership, teamwork, etc.: When fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome was voted a captain by the vast majority of the roster, that spoke volumes about his locker room presence.
Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Sophomore running back Mick Assaf. Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Freshman linebacker Ovie Oghoufo. Father Lange Iron Cross Award for weight room presence: Fifth-year left tackle Alex Bars, which speaks to how involved Bars has remained since tearing his ACL in week five.
Humble & Hungry Award: Fifth-year defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner. Irish Around the Bend Award for community service: Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar.
Notre Dame has not yet dug into bowl preparations. That will begin this weekend. Before then, the unbeaten Irish will spend Friday night handing out some awards to accompany junior cornerback Julian Love’s first-team All-American honors on this postseason’s first notable listing, the Walter Camp team.
Notre Dame generally does a good job of getting the Echoes awards to the deserving players, but sometimes a want to avoid a repeat or some other factor skews the distribution. Let’s try to balance projecting the awards with acknowledging who deserves them.
MVP, both deserving and projected: It is hard to justify giving this to anyone who played in only eight games when fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill somehow played in all 12. The two-time captain put together a solid stat line, one deserving of recognition but maybe not MVP-worthy in its own right: 75 tackles with nine for loss including 3.5 sacks, plus three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
But consider his value: Just like was the case with senior Te’von Coney, the Irish needed Tranquill to take as many snaps as possible; there just were not many other viable linebacker options. And Tranquill answered that bell, despite a broken hand, despite a high ankle sprain, despite logging more than 700 snaps.
“Drue is as tough as they get,” Love said Sunday. “… We were preparing for Northwestern, and Drue kind of was getting reps, but we were still trying to figure out if he was 100 percent. I don’t know when it was, I’m lining up, getting a call and I look over at who’s relaying the call to me, and it’s Drue. The whole game it was Drue.
“… That’s just kind of the mindset that Drue has and how he’s kind of shaped the mindset of this team, that we’re in it together. He’s not out there for himself, but for the betterment of this team. That’s why he came back for his fifth year, because he realized how special this was as a unit. No individual is better than the next, and Drue epitomizes that.”
It was at this ceremony a year ago when Tranquill announced, unprompted, he would return for one more season. That bit of good news washed out the taste of a two-loss November and was the first step toward an active 13-game winning streak.
Offensive Player of the Year, deserved: In only eight games, senior Dexter Williams ran for 941 yards and 12 touchdowns. No running back had ever run for that many scores in Brian Kelly’s previous eight years at Notre Dame. Williams took his first carry 45 yards for a score against Stanford. It is overlooked now, but at the time, that was early in a scoreless game against the No. 7 team in the country. When Williams broke through the line, he changed every dynamic of the entire Irish season.
Offensive Player of the Year, projected: As good as Williams has been, senior receiver Miles Boykin may pull in some accolade simply to recognize how well he played in potentially his final collegiate season. He caught 54 passes for 803 yards and eight touchdowns, including a stretch of six consecutive games with a score. Boykin handled the part of leading Notre Dame’s passing attack, no matter who was throwing him the ball. In two of the biggest games of the year, he totaled 19 receptions for 261 yards and three scores against Stanford and Virginia Tech. Boykin’s 2018 was good enough to justify handing him this award as recognition for career improvement.
Offensive Lineman of the Year, deserved and projected: There is no question and there need be no discussion. On a line that gave up only 19 sacks this season, the lion’s share of the credit goes to fifth-year center Sam Mustipher. Simple as that.
Defensive Player of the Year, deserved: As the season progressed, the Irish need for a third cornerback exposed itself more and more. Virginia Tech relished the weakness; USC exposed it with ease. Imagine how much worse things could have been if Notre Dame did not have two reliable cornerbacks to start with, namely Love, the All-American. He finished with 61 tackles with three for loss and, more importantly, 15 pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and one interception. Love was the best single player on this shutdown defense, one who made it easier for defensive coordinator Clark Lea to compensate for that one deficiency.
Defensive Player of the Year, projected: Not that Coney does not deserve the honor. Anyone making 107 tackles in 12 games earns whatever comes their way.
Defensive Lineman of the Year, deserved: Good grief Julian Okwara was good this season, finishing with 37 tackles, 11.5 behind the line of scrimmage with seven sacks, not to mention an interception, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. He might as well have lived in the backfield in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh, sniffing out the Panthers’ upset hopes on his own. In the span of one season, Okwara went from backup to someone who needs to ponder heading to the NFL with eligibility remaining.
Defensive Lineman of the Year, projected: Okwara is not in All-American consideration, but senior tackle Jerry Tillery is, thanks to 30 tackles with 10.5 for loss including eight sacks and three forced fumbles. There was a time when interior depth seemed a commodity the Irish could claim, but then sophomore Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa broke his foot in the season opener and fifth-year Jonathan Bonner’s time needed to be split with sophomore Kurt Hinish. Tillery needed to carry a workload, and he did so.
Play of the Year, deserved: Notre Dame may have still won, but Vanderbilt was one completion away from a 1st-and-10 within 20 yards of a winning score with only a minute to go. The Commodores may not have scored, but they never got the chance thanks to junior safety Jalen Elliott breaking up that pass for Kalija Lipscomb. If looking back at this season and its closest call, Elliott saved it.
Play of the Year, projected: A one-point halftime lead quickly became an eight-point cushion en route to a 45-23 victory. Backs against their own goal line, the Irish nearly immediately reached the opposite end zone. Yes, this will almost certainly go to Williams’ 97-yard jaunt at Virginia Tech.
Offensive Newcomer of the Year, deserved and projected: Does junior quarterback Ian Book count as a newcomer? If so, this thought process need not continue any further. Three halves of football before this year should not rule him out, and it gets Book a nod during the night.
Defensive Newcomer of the Year, deserved and projected: This is even easier. Only Coney had more tackles than junior safety Alohi Gilman’s 76. Only Elliott had more interceptions than Gilman’s two. Only Tillery forced more fumbles than his two. Gilman drove the defense in his first season on the field since transferring from Navy.
Next Man In, deserved and projected: For the second year in a row, Notre Dame enjoyed relative health. Only two starters went down with long-term injuries, senior nickel back Shaun Crawford in August and fifth-year left guard Alex Bars only five games in. The former injury led to the only defensive concern all season, but losing Bars was eventually mitigated by solid play from sophomore Aaron Banks. The offensive line has still been inconsistent, but Banks made things manageable, and really, are there any other options in this category?
Special Teams Player of the Year, deserved and projected: Fifth-year punter Tyler Newsome owned the field position worry against Michigan, booming six punts with two landing inside the 20. He averaged 59.6 yards per punt two weeks later against Vanderbilt, highlighted by a 63-yarder to not only pin the ‘Dores at the 10-yard line in the waning seconds but also to drain enough clock to warrant the adjective waning.
Pietrosante Award for leadership, teamwork, etc., deserved and projected: It could have been a very different season if senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush had not taken his demotion with maturity, calm and understanding. Wimbush never balked from his new role, and that kept the Irish locker room united, unlike a couple seasons ago. Tranquill deserves the MVP honors, Williams changed Notre Dame’s offensive capabilities, and Book has played at a record-setting pace — Wimbush’s contributions were not as stark, but they were as vital.
Other awards: Irish Around the Bend Award for community service: Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar has already been named the captain of the AFCA Good Works Team. It seems a solid bet that is a national precursor to a more-focused honor. Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Maybe freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Maybe receiver Braden Lenzy. Maybe tight end Tommy Tremble. Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year: Could it be freshman safety Derrik Allen? Linebacker Ovie Oghoufo? Cornerback Noah Boykin? Rockne Student-Athlete of the Year. Father Lange Iron Cross Award for weight room presence.
Kelly wins Coach of the Year honor; Love, Mustipher up for positional awards
Brian Kelly has already beaten Dabo Swinney once this month, winning the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award over the Clemson head coach. Kelly will receive the award tonight during ESPN’s Home Depot College Football Awards (7 ET).
Losing two top-10 draft picks, a defensive coordinator and an esteemed offensive line coach, then losing a third offensive lineman and possible All-American to a season-ending injury, all while navigating a quarterback change en route to an unbeaten season certainly warrants some postseason honors. Swinney himself referenced Kelly as the coach of the year Sunday afternoon. The Notre Dame head coach deferred that praise right back to his Dec. 29 opponent.
“Dabo is good at deflecting that. I think Dabo should get it,” Kelly said. “There’s so many candidates. Coach (Bill) Clark at UAB, there’s a program that for two years was not playing football two years ago. So there’s a lot of deserving candidates.
“I didn’t get into this business to get coach of the year, so that’s great that [Swinney] said that. I think he’s done an incredible job. I think (Alabama head coach) Nick Saban has done an incredible job.”
Kelly has won the honor three times (2012, 2009), the only coach to win it multiple times.
He may not be the only Irish name winning honors tonight. Junior cornerback Julian Love is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award recognizing the country’s best defensive back. Love beat Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams in a fan vote, getting him at least that added tally as ballots were counted.
Initially, Love wanted no part of that fan vote, but certain voices in his ear prevailed.
“It kind of was uncomfortable for me at first to really openly campaign for votes, for the fan vote aspect,” Love said. “It was definitely weird, and it was my mom calling me, and my girlfriend telling me, ‘Why not go all out? You’re in it for a reason. Why not do all that you can, text everybody that you can to see if people can spread the word?’”
Thus, Love took to social media and pulled in nearly 100,000 votes.
Fifth-year center Sam Mustipher is a finalist for the Rimington Trophy given to the nation’s best center, along with Alabama’s Ross Pierschbarcher and North Carolina State’s Garrett Bradbury, while fifth-year linebacker Drue Tranquill has already been named the Wuerffel Trophy winner for his work on and off the field.