Pregame Six Pack: Maryland edition


The Baltimore Sun decided to put it less gently, renaming the Shamrock Series the Ugly Helmet Bowl, with the Irish donning new shamrock and gold helmets and Maryland once again bringing out their Maryland Pride uniforms. (SBNation took their disdain to the next level.)  But ascetics aside, Saturday night’s game is another critical game for an Irish team lurking just outside the Top 25.

Even though the Irish will be playing just miles from Maryland’s campus, the FedEx Field match-up will be considered an Irish home game. That’s just the type of motivational ploy Randy Edsall will use as he tried to pick his first-year Terrapin team out of a tailspin, treating tomorrow evening’s game like the only bowl Edsall’s troops will play this season.

As the Irish prepare to done green jerseys in this primetime affair broadcast on NBC, here are six fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings before Saturday night’s game.

Run to win. Run to win. 

It’s such an obvious point I needed to say it twice. Looking for a gigantic disparity? Look no further than the juxtaposition between the Irish running game and the Terrapins’ rushing defense. The Irish are No. 13 in the country when it comes to rushing average, running for an average of 5.54 yards per carry. The Terps defense is 114th in the nation in stopping the run, giving up over 233 yards a game on the ground. This is a mismatch the Irish absolutely have to exploit.

After failing to get their ground game going against USC, the Irish have slowly morphed back into the November era team Brian Kelly rode to an undefeated final month of the 2010 season, with the Irish combining for 73 rushing attempts in their last two games. In Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, the Irish will give Maryland their most challenging one-two punch on the ground, and the Irish run the ball more effectively than any team the Terps have seen, minus Paul Johnson‘s Georgia Tech squad.

Even with Mike Golic now anchoring the middle of the offensive line, Notre Dame needs to dominate the front seven of Maryland, a unit that’s been decimated by injuries.


Turnovers become even more crucial. 

Looking for a mismatch the other way? It’s turnover margin. The juxtaposition is almost identical to the Irish’s mismatch running the football with Maryland ranking 13th in the country in turnover margin while the Irish are an astoundingly bad 118th in turnover margin — which is tied for dead last in the FBS.

Edsall identified this as the key to his team winning the ballgame.

“They’ve got good skill athletes, got a quarterback that’s playing well who knows where to go with the ball,” Edsall said this week. “The biggest thing we’ve got to try to do is get some turnovers. That’s the biggest thing that has hindered them through the season. You see they’ve moved the ball against everybody, but they’ve had some turnovers. We’re going to have to do the same.”

For anyone that’s been paying attention, this isn’t a new theme and the Irish are in many ways still digging themselves out of the horrific hole they put themselves in after the first two weeks of the season. But for those not frustrated enough, consider this stat that shows just how good the Irish can be when they get out of their own way:

The Irish are one of only 10 teams in the country that rank in the Top 40 in total offense, scoring offense, total defense, and scoring defense. We’ve seen the Irish play like a top 10 football team this year. Unfortunately, turnovers cost them two football games that they’d have run away with. An 8-1 Irish team with their only loss to USC ? That team would likely fit in nicely amidst the AP top ten.


Slowly but surely, the Irish red zone offense is coming together.

The Irish red zone offense is another one of those statistics that have the Irish buried after a ridiculous start. (The Irish are the football definition of a pitcher that goes out there and gives up a 10 spot in an inning, effectively ruining their ERA for the month, or a golfer that makes an 8 on a par 3.)

Still, while the Irish are still down at 81st in the country in red zone conversions with only 78% of their trips to the red zone resulting in scores, they’ve climbed their way up to No. 23 in touchdown conversions (just shy of 70%), thanks to a really impressive run the past four games. The Irish have scored 15 touchdowns in their past 17 trips to the red zone, their highest touchdown percentage over for games since Bob Davie’s 2000 team.

Back in Davie’s BCS year, Irish victories over Navy (45-14), West Virginia (42-38), Air Force (34-31), and Boston College (28-16) had the Irish scored ten touchdowns on 11 trips inside the red zone. (For an even better trip down memory lane, how about some of these names: Julius Jones, Tony Fisher, Jay Johnson and Dan O’Leary scored against Navy, David Givens and Terrance Howard scored against West Virginia, Joey Getherall and Javin Hunter got into the act against Air Force, and kicker Nick Setta ran in a fake field goal attempt against Boston College.)

Getting back to the Irish’s improved efficiency in the red zone, it’s interesting to see just how rare it is for a team to have such a proficient touchdown ratio while also struggling to simply score, especially when the Irish don’t have a terrible kicking game (though Ruffer’s 60% is good for 92nd in the country). Of the team’s ranked ahead of the Irish in touchdown efficiency, only South Carolina, Miami Ohio, and Army have an overall conversion percentage lower that Notre Dame’s. The RedHawks and Army have the 108th and 120th respective kicking games in the country.


Edsall put his foot in his mouth too.

Two weeks ago, the internet was ablaze with Brian Kelly’s comments and the resulting Twitter crisis that reportedly created a Brett Favre-like schism in the Irish locker room. But Kelly’s comments splitting his recruits with the previous regimes recruits didn’t hurt the Irish, who came out and throttled Navy 56-14.

But Kelly isn’t the only coach who has made a few comments that raised an eyebrow of players and fans coaching this Saturday night at FedEx Field. Earlier this week, Randy Edsall caught some understandable grief after comparing his building job at UConn to what he faces at Maryland.

“I’ve been through this before,” Edsall said. “I know how to handle it. I know what to do. There is no panic. It was like this the first year when we put the team together in Jacksonville. … It’s Connecticut all over again, 13 years ago. Jacksonville Jaguars all over again. It’s going to Boston College when we were there. I’ve been through all of this. This isn’t earth-shattering. It doesn’t have me discouraged. I have a vision of what we’re going to do and I know we’re doing things the right way.”

It isn’t hard to understand why Edsall took some flack for his comments. Comparing UConn, coming out of D-IAA to Maryland, which has been to a bowl game four of the last five seasons and won nine games last season is a little ridiculous, and has fans already less than patient with Edsall’s “rebuilding” job.

We talked yesterday about Edsall’s fit at Notre Dame. A comment like this would’ve surely created a few ripples.


Like it or not, the Shamrock Series is here to stay.

The name might be the product of the Notre Dame corporate marketing department, but if there’s one good remnant from Kevin White’s ridiculous 7-4-1 scheduling paradigm, it’s the neutral site home games. Starting with the Irish playing Washington State in San Antonio, Notre Dame has had great success playing in venues like Yankee Stadium, now FedEx Field, and in the future places like Soldier Field in Chicago and Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.

More importantly, with the past two seasons getting the Irish into the East Coast and in front of many potential recruits, Kelly and Jack Swarbrick are able to keep the Irish footprint along the eastern seaboard.

“I think it’s important for Notre Dame to be on the East Coast every year,” Kelly said. “Whether it’s New York or D.C., we’ll continue to have these off-site games.”

How Notre Dame handles recruiting at these neutral site games is a challenge, with the coaches able to give tickets to recruits but unable to have official contact with the players. That said, star Irish commitment Ronald Darby will be in town, and the Irish will unofficially host a slew of recruits and continue to try and make headway into the talent-rich Washington D.C. area, where they’ve struggled to bring in players.


The Irish descend on America’s capital.

There’s been much made of the fact that Notre Dame is playing a home football game less than 10 miles from Maryland’s campus. But expect the Irish to invade the nation’s capital, turning the home crowd in favor of Notre Dame. While the Irish sacrifice a home Saturday in South Bend by playing these games off site, they’ll have enough events for those gathering to make this feel like home. Here’s a quick rundown of the events planned:

This afternoon Father John Jenkins spoke at a noon luncheon that was MC’d by Irish broadcast legend Don Criqui and featured appearances by Terry Hanratty, Coley O’Brien and Joe Theisman. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Brian Kelly also made appearances at an event open to the public. Tonight, there’ll be a pep rally on the National Mall, which should give a run for the money to the Time Square pep rally held last year in Manhattan. The team and fans will cheer on the Irish at 6:00 p.m.

On game day, at 10:00 a.m. Father Jenkins will be celebrating mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. At noon, the Irish marching band will be playing on the U.S. Capitol lawn, before the Notre Dame alumni association hosts a tailgate event outside of FedEx Field. With the weather report shaping up perfectly, it’ll be a great weekend for Irish alums and fans to gather in another city where ties to the school are strong.

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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Maybe Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey will be anomalies, but if they are precedent-setters, then Notre Dame may have snagged another unheralded but promising cornerback with the Saturday afternoon commitment of consensus three-star Leonard Moore (Round Rock High School; Texas).

Moore also holds scholarship offers from Oregon, TCU and Vanderbilt, to name a few. In total, he has offers from six schools in the Pac-12, three in the Big 12, two in the SEC and one in the ACC, an intriguing widespread array from someone not yet lighting recruiting rankings on fire.

At 6-foot-2, Moore should have the length to become a physical cornerback, one perhaps more in the mold of current Notre Dame fifth-year cornerback Cam Hart than the rising sophomore Morrison.

Moore’s highlight reel starts with a few interceptions, naturally, and a punt return. Pass breakups are not necessarily the most enthralling of film. But then he sheds a block to force a fumble and soon defends a back-shoulder throw with ease. Moore is clearly a playmaker, particularly given no level of Texas football should be scoffed at. He intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes in 2022 as a junior.

He readily anticipates routes and when needed funnels his man as the defensive design demands.

Moore runs track, as well, with decent 200-meter times in the low 23-second range.

The eighth commitment in the class of 2024, Moore is the second defensive back, joining consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati). While team recruiting rankings are thoroughly premature more than 10 months before anyone can officially sign, thoroughness demands mentioning that Notre Dame’s class is currently ranked No. 2 in the country behind only Georgia with 10 commitments.

RELATED READING: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

A cursory look at the depth chart suggests Moore could have an avenue to early playing time in South Bend. Hart likely will move on to the NFL after the 2023 season, a shoulder injury tipping the scales toward returning this offseason. Aside from him, the only cornerbacks with experience on the Irish roster are Morrison and Mickey and rising senior Clarence Lewis. Any of the four young cornerbacks that do make an impression in 2023 will effectively be on equal footing with Moore.

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
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If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.

Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Clemson v Notre Dame
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A lot of people go to college for seven years. For Tommy Rees, it has been 10 years at Notre Dame, so to speak.

Whether or not Rees leaves his alma mater this week, as multiple Thursday reports indicated Rees is the frontrunner to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, there is no bad choice in front of him. Either Rees returns as the Irish offensive coordinator for a fourth season, continues his pursuit of winning a national championship at Notre Dame after three postseason trips already in his career, or he learns under the best college football coach in history in a position that has springboarded coaches to greener pastures for about a decade now.

Irish fans may spend most of their falls criticizing Rees’s play calls, but he is clearly someone well-respected in the coaching community. Seen as a future coach when he was a player and then navigating multiple delicate quarterback situations at Notre Dame, this is not the first time Nick Saban has chased Rees. He reportedly did so following the 2019 season, when Rees had not even spent a day as an offensive coordinator.

Instead, Rees took over that gig in South Bend, losing to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff, albeit a more competitive showing than when Rees and the Irish fell to the Tide in the 2012 title game. Miami sought Rees in recent years, and whispers of vague NFL interest have popped up more offseasons than not.

If most of those people who go to college for seven years are called doctors, then Rees has put together a doctorate-level intellect evidenced by who wants to hire him. Alabama publicly sending a branded plane to South Bend to ferry Rees for a visit on Thursday underscored that reputation.

Set aside the forced references to “Tommy Boy” — though the similarities do go past the first name and to a Catholic university in the Midwest — and realize Rees will leave Notre Dame at some point, probably sooner than later.

Maybe he joins Saban this weekend. Alabama needs to navigate a first-year starter at quarterback next year in a conference that quickly seemed to catch up to the Tide last season, with both LSU and Tennessee staking claims as competitors with Georgia already clearly out in front and Mississippi in the mix. Competing with former Irish head coach Brian Kelly every year would make for juicy headlines, but what speaks louder to Rees’s credit is that this is the time Saban wants to snag him, when Alabama’s footing may be less secure than at any point since the ‘00s.

Maybe Rees returns to Notre Dame, teams with Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman to ready for three top-10 matchups in 2023, and gets the Irish into the College Football Playoff for a third time in six years with the only constant quite literally being Rees.

Oh, and both scenarios should come with plenty of money.

Rees has no bad choice in front of him. That is a credit to him, even if fans would rather lampoon him than step back and acknowledge the intricacies of playcalling.

If he heads to Alabama, the annual matchups with LSU will become delightful fodder from afar. His Notre Dame legacy will include “Call duo until you can’t speak,” his emphatic play call when he left the coaches’ booth early as the Irish upset Clemson this past November, and “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees’s declaration to the offensive players last December amid a week of tumult.

If he stays in South Bend, the next matchup with anyone in the SEC, most likely a 2023 bowl game, will drip with an on-field chance at validation. That legacy will include spurning college football’s best not once, but twice.

For a quarterback who lost his starting job at Notre Dame not once (2011 preseason), but twice (2012 preseason), some pride has been earned. Saban’s stamp of approval carries all the weight needed in college football to assure someone of their professional standing.

It may have taken a decade, but Rees can now know he belongs with the best, no matter what decision he makes this weekend.

The lull of National Signing Day underscores need to move the early signing period

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The early-morning chaos of today’s National Signing Day did not disappear with the implementation of the December “early” signing period in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It just moved six weeks earlier.

In 2014, waking up at 6:45 a.m. ET to be logged on and publishing at 7 a.m. led to noticing one expected recruit had not yet signed with Notre Dame by 8 a.m. Pointing that out and reminding the world Michigan State was making a late push led to an Irish media relations staffer reaching out to quietly say something to the extent of, “Just letting the young man have his moment at school.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after taking over this gig, waking up at 3 a.m. CT to churn through 2,000 words before signings could begin becoming official eventually led to napping through Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference.

Nothing changed 10 months later. That December, the afternoon of Dec. 22, the Friday before Christmas, was spent waiting for receiver Braden Lenzy to officially choose Notre Dame over Oregon. Sitting at your parents’ kitchen table not helping your niece make a gingerbread house because recruiting-obsessed fans harassed a player through two de-commitments is not a strong way to conjure up holiday spirit.

Coaches across the country advocated for the earlier signing period, claiming it would allow high-school seniors to make their collegiate decisions official earlier on in their senior years, particularly when the prospects had already made up their minds on where to play football at the next level. That was all optics, if even that.

These high schoolers now make their decision official just six weeks earlier. In the preps football calendar, those six weeks are meaningless. Both the December signing period and today, the traditional National Signing Day, come well after the high-school seasons have ended.

The truth was, coaches across the country did not want to tend to their solid commitments over Christmas and New Year’s, particularly not amid bowl prep. It was self-serving at best and short-sighted at worst.

First of all, when the December signing period became reality in 2017, one-time transfers were not yet allowed without losing eligibility the following season. Secondly, no one predicted the early signing period would lead to the coaching carousel beginning earlier and earlier in the season. September firings used to be the result of only off-field scandals, not outright expected from half a dozen programs each fall. Athletic directors now want that headstart on hiring a new coach so he can have time before the December signing period commences.

Exhibit A: Notre Dame may have ended up with Marcus Freeman as its head coach after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure following the 2021 season, but if the primary signing date had not been lingering just a few weeks away, Kelly likely would not have jumped to LSU before the College Football Playoff field was set, and Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick would have taken more time in choosing his next head coach, more than the 48 hours he used last December. After all, Swarbrick took 10 days in hiring Kelly in 2009.

Lastly, with a 12-team Playoff coming in 2025, December will become only more hectic.

Those head coaches who wanted a little less stress over the holidays will then have to deal with, in chronological order:

— Keeping their own jobs.
— Securing their recruiting classes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.
— Preparing their teams for bowl games.
— Preparing their teams for up to four games if in the Playoff.
— Re-recruiting any players considering entering the transfer portal before the winter window closes.
— Winning a bowl game.
— Retaining their coaching staffs.
— Oh, and celebrate the holidays with their families, as was their want when they hollered for the early signing period.

Most of those tasks are immutable and inherent to the sport.

But one can move. It already has once.

The logic is too clear. Nothing was gained in moving up the primary signing date by six weeks. And sanity was lost.

This is, of course, a sport that prefers to ignore logic, but usually that is charming. A mustard bottle on the field is quirky; lacking a worthwhile voice of authority is stubbornly stupid.

So the early signing period may not move as soon as it should (now), but it will move. There are no anti-trust worries tied to it, fortunately.

And aside from the logic, cramming more content into December costs the media, too. Spreading out that context through the vacuum of mid-January to mid-March will be much appreciated.