FSU Mailbag: Just in time

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Let’s get some answers to questions before we turn our attention to the big game at hand.

(And yes, everybody that mentioned the struggles we’ve been having recently in the comments, I’m going to look at things over the off week. Even my mom had to tell me that people weren’t behaving themselves. So I’ll be looking into IP banning, public shaming, new filters, etc. Exactly how I want to spend my time…)

Rant over. Now on to the questions!

 

c4evr: Kelly pointed out before the season that Golson “rode the bus” to the 2012 title game. Besides being a shortsighted thing to say, how much has Kelly ridden the bus to a 35 and 8 record on the backs of Diaco and BVG?

So you thought the 80th ranked offense was the driving force to the BCS title game? I saw Kelly make that comment live, and it was in good fun — certainly not an indictment of his starting quarterback. Though if you think back and look at the stats from that year, there were seven games Notre Dame won that they averaged just 19 points on offense. So I think the analogy is pretty appropriate.

I’m not quite sure what your question is here, although it’s kind of clear that you’re thinking that the head coach is only as good as his assistants. So I guess you at least need to give credit to BK for hiring the right guys?

If you’re not a fan of Brian Kelly at this point, I’m worried that the love-child of Leahy and Rockne wouldn’t be good enough for you, either.

 

blackirish23: What would your criteria be for evaluating a candidate if you had a vote for the Heisman? Keeping said criteria in mind, would you have voted for Manziel and Winston?

I wouldn’t have voted for either if I had a vote. For Manziel, it would’ve been more because his numbers weren’t that far outside the norm for quarterbacks playing in Kevin Sumlin’s system. For Winston, it would’ve been for the rape allegations.

Interestingly, the Heisman pulled the word “integrity” from their definition/bylaws this offseason. Sad, but probably appropriate for the coolest award in all of sports.

 

irishking: Do you believe that ND’s young secondary can contain Winston and his receivers?

It’ll be a tough challenge, especially to be assignment correct and not blow any coverages. But the bigger test is on getting a pass rush after Winston. If the Irish front can get a body in his face and cut down his decision-making time, that’ll be huge.

 

sm29irish: Hi Keith, from a historical context I feel that this is the biggest REGULAR season game that Notre Dame has played since the 1993 Notre Dame Florida State game. Many consider that to be the last great hoorah for ND football. I know there have been other big ones such as usc ’05 and Oklahoma ’12 but to me this is bigger. Interested to hear where it ranks in your book and how you think it could bring national credibility back to the program. Thanks.

I’m far from a Notre Dame historian. I actually think I lost 10 bucks on that game in grade school. Peter O’Keefe had Notre Dame and I was pulling for Florida State at the time.

I think this is probably the biggest “opportunity” we’ve seen in quite some time, but I have a hard time erasing 2012, especially considering that season came right when there was real doubts as to whether Kelly was going to be able to get it done in South Bend.

There’s no real downside to this game, other than getting run out of the gym in the first five minutes, like what happened against Alabama. If the Irish can withstand the opening minutes, I think it’ll be a fun one for Notre Dame fans.

 

jommy995: What do you think Jameis would’ve done with all the cash had he not so generously donated those 950 autographs?

Seriously, think about this for a second. How long does it take to autograph 1,000 things? Especially signing them on the sweet spot or on the right position of the jersey. This is likely HOURS of time. I don’t think my poor right hand could even sign that many things — I’m cramping up now every column I type, and it’s done damage on my handwriting.

What a giver.

 

finnick23: My brother wants to get into football blogging and has always had a real passion for sportswriting. He was always an excellent writer growing up and his knowledge of the game is second to none. How did you get your start and how should he go about it?

Just start writing. In a business that’s losing money and shrinking by the day, nobody’s going to start by handing you a pay check.

Sign up for a free blog and get to work. If you build it, they will come.

 

rdw71: Keith, coach and players look relaxed in interviews this week. Are they happy to finally be the hunter instead of the hunted? Is any of it relief to finally know the status of the Five? Has Kelly been secretly prepping them psychologically for this game all season?

After watching Brian Kelly these five seasons, he’s not a “big game” coach, he’s a process-driven coach. Every week counts the same and you win by the work you put in Monday to Friday, not for getting up on Saturday.

All that being said, I hope they go in feeling like the hunter. Playing loose is the best way to win this game.

 

bowser75: First time this year ND plays on natural grass (Titway Bermuda), how do you think this will effect the Irish? Are we going to see the backs, receivers, and db’s for ND slipping and sliding all night?

I think the turf in Doak Campbell is in a little bit better shape that the sod was in Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish practiced on grass practice fields this week, but this shouldn’t be an issue.

 

irishnole: Grew up 30 minutes from South Bend and have been an Irish fan my entire life, BUT I have a degree from FSU. What would you suggest I do to not give myself a heart attack on Saturday?

DVR the game and go golfing. Turn off your phone. Then watch it alone on your own accord. Or just cheer for Notre Dame.

 

irishdog80: Redfield was flying around and made some touchdown saving tackles against North Carolina. Is he starting to really get it and will fully realize his 5 Star status?

I think so. He’s a sophomore playing his eighth college football game (and one of those he was ejected in the first 30 minutes). There’s no doubt he’s talented. And this is a big stage for an elite athlete to show that he can dominate against FSU’s athlete’s, too.

Not many players are plug-and-play guys, especially at a program with a deep roster like Notre Dame’s. Redfield is right on time. He’ll be a good one by the time he’s done.

 

prodigolson: What is the best/most influential/favorite book you have ever read? Interpret the question however you want and perhaps a list would be sufficient if there isn’t a clear cut answer. Thank again for your work and Go Irish!

Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods. Spent months (maybe years) thinking about that one. And then I’d probably throw in The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald wrote that when he was 25, I think. That’s just crazy.

 

Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility

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Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need

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Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

HART CAREER STATISTICS
2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC
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There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.