Cody Riggs

What to expect from Florida transfer Cody Riggs


In early June, 21 freshmen will officially become part of the Notre Dame football program. So will Cody Riggs. The former Florida defensive back might be a newcomer at Notre Dame, but will immediately be the most experienced player on the Irish defense.

Riggs’ one year journey is a unique case. While head coach Brian Kelly has accepted fifth year transfer students in the past, Riggs is cut from a different cloth. He’s played 40 games for one of the SEC’s best defenses. He’s got positional flexibility at a spot where Brian VanGorder covets that versatility. And as the Irish defense leaves spring practice will more than a few unanswered questions, Riggs will hopefully play a big part in supplying some answers.

Riggs is eligible to play immediately after transferring under the same rule that granted Andrew Hendrix and Alex Welch immediate eligibility at Miami (Ohio). And a season ending injury at the beginning of the 2012 season allows him to jump right into a talented but inexperienced secondary. How helpful will Riggs experience be? Consider he’s played more than an entire season more of football than Keivarae Russell, the next most experienced player on the defense.

Riggs nearly spent the last four seasons in South Bend, but committed to Florida, choosing the Gators over Notre Dame around the same time Brian Kelly took the head coaching job. Four years later, the Irish finally landed the 5-foot-9, 190-pound cornerback. And from his official comments in late February, Kelly knows he landed a critical defender.

“Cody Riggs is an outstanding player,” said Kelly. “He played a ton of football at Florida having started at both safety and corner back. Cody definitely brings veteran leadership and versatility to our team and defense.”

After watching Bob Diaco recruit players to positional profiles for the past four seasons, it’s interesting that Riggs is almost the prototype off-profile recruit. He’s undersized at 5-foot-9. But he’s clearly capable of doing things that appeal to VanGorder’s system, with cross-training between cornerback and safety a true need on this defense.

Veteran safety Matthias Farley was shifted into that role for the spring, learning how to be a cover corner on the fly. But comparing him to Riggs is difficult. Riggs was a key cog in a Florida secondary that put together back-to-back seasons as one of the ten toughest defenses to pass against in college football.

Russell and safety Max Redfield feel like the only “sure things” in this secondary, with Redfield’s status still more a projection. It’s hard not to consider Riggs the same type of player. Where VanGorder decides to use the versatile defender is the last true question.

Riggs expressed a desire to play cornerback, after starting all 12 games for the Gators last season at safety. While Cole Luke has slid into the starting job, Riggs will likely challenge for that job, creating another nice piece of depth along with Devin Butler.

While most will get caught up in the race for the starting spot opposite Russell, in reality the Irish will likely have three cornerbacks on the field at all times. And Riggs’ combination of diminutive size, elite speed and ability to play multiple positions makes him an ideal candidate to cover slot receivers — a nickel cornerback that might not come off the field.

“I am very thankful for this opportunity,” Riggs said in Notre Dame’s official release. “I fully intend to make the most of this opportunity by not only giving my absolute best effort, but also leading by example both on and off the field.”

Bringing a one-and-done player into the program is a decision that was weighed heavily. Bringing in a situational punter is one thing, but Riggs will need to step in and play a key role in the defense, something that necessitates a high character individual.

After meeting with Riggs and his family during his “recruitment” period, Kelly sounded sold on that aspect of the decision.

“He will help us immediately but, more importantly, Cody is a great kid with a tremendous focus on both football and academics,” Kelly said. “His decision to complete his collegiate playing career and pursue a graduate degree at the University of Notre Dame speaks volumes about both our program and University.”

Riggs is completing his degree in Family, Youth and Community Sciences this semester. He’ll then spend summer courses and the fall semester pursuing a masters degree at Notre Dame before likely turning his attention to prepping for the NFL Draft, where he projects to play on Sundays.

Entering his fifth season in South Bend, that’s the type of player that a head coach should take a chance on. And from the sounds of Riggs’ comments, it’s a decision he took very seriously.

“Being on campus, meeting with the academic personnel and interacting with the Notre Dame players helped me dot the I’s and cross the T’s on what has been the toughest decision of my life,” Riggs said back in February. “I am excited about working hard in the classroom and expanding my professional network in pursuit of a graduate degree from Notre Dame. I am equally excited to contribute on the field and make some big plays to help the team win games.”


Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”