Bowl game depth chart released

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With preparations complete for the Sun Bowl, Notre Dame released its bowl game depth chart, which had a few interesting surprises, namely Daniel Smith’s first inclusion on the two-deep.

Here’s the rest of the offensive depth chart:


Duval Kamara
John Goodman
TJ Jones


Theo Riddick
Robby Toma
TJ Jones


Zack Martin
Andrew Nuss


Chris Stewart
Chris Watt


Braxston Cave
Mike Golic Jr.


Trevor Robinson
Mike Golic Jr.


Taylor Dever
Matt Romine


Tyler Eifert
Mike Ragone


Michael Floyd
Daniel Smith


Tommy Rees
Nate Montana


Cierre Wood
Robert Hughes
Jonas Gray

Notes on offense:

It’s interesting to see Daniel Smith’s name behind Michael Floyd, and the 6-foot-4, 208-pound freshman clearly looks like he’s impressed the coaching staff during the bowl season practices, and his ascension into the two-deep after playing on special teams could be the reward for his efforts. If Floyd decides to head to the NFL a year early, Smith might be the guy that fills in for him at that physical outside wide receiver spot, and those will certainly be big shoes to fill.

As we mentioned yesterday, Dan Wenger returning could add another veteran name to the interior of the offensive line, where Mike Golic Jr. is the primary backup at both center and right guard. The Irish will also have youngsters like Alex Bullard ready to enter the mix, and potentially veterans like Andrew Nuss and Matt Romine battling on the outside of the offensive line.

TJ Jones looks like the odd-man out and seems to have been displaced at starter by Duval Kamara, who has come on when the Irish needed him down the stretch. Jones was nicked up for a while, and will likely see the field in some speed packages, with Theo Riddick back in the slot and Robby Toma playing too well to be kept off the field completely.

Defensive depth chart:


Ethan Johnson
Hafis Williams


Ian Williams
Sean Cwynar


Kapron Lewis-Moore
Emeka Nwankwo


Darus Fleming
Prince Shembo


Brian Smith
Carlo Calabrese


Manti Te’o
Anthony McDonald


Kerry Neal
Steve Filer


Darrin Walls
Lo Wood


Harrison Smith
Chris Salvi


Zeke Motta
Jamoris Slaughter


Gary Gray
Robert Blanton

With Danny McCarthy’s surgery, walk-on Chris Salvi reappears in the two-deep at safety, meaning that Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter will get all the work they can handle, while Robert Blanton will continue to play in nickel situations. The fact that Motta is listed in front of Slaughter shows you the progress Motta has made at safety this season, playing rock solid football and improving quite a bit in pass coverage. Every safety returns next season (minus Salvi) and while the depth chart is still thin, expect them only to improve with another year of Chuck Martin’s tutelage.

At linebacker, Brian Smith continues his run at inside backer, bumping Carlo Calabrese into a backup role and allowing Steve Filer to get back into the mix at the ‘Dog’ backer position. Filer’s athleticism is still abundant and maybe next season can be that renaissance many expected this year. If you’re looking for a position to watch in spring, linebacker could be it, with guys like Prince Shembo, Danny Spond and Dan Fox impressing the staff enough to get in the mix at outside backer while Darius Fleming continues to improve at the ‘Cat’ position.

Don’t expect Sean Cwynar to just disappear now that Ian Williams is back in the middle. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will now have the ability to use Cwynar in four-down sets as well as to give Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore a breather. The front seven of the Irish should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Hurricanes, forcing Jacory Harris into some bad decisions.



Back in the spotlight, Diaco does his best to avoid it

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The last time Bob Diaco spoke to the assembled media, it was days after the Irish were demoralized by Navy’s option attack. Calling it one of the worst days in his coaching career, Diaco candidly (perhaps, too candidly) discussed the unsuccessful strategy the Irish employed to stop Ricky Dobbs and the Navy option.

“We went into the game with a plan and also understood that if the plan didn’t work, there was not much in the relief department to do during the course of the game,” Diaco explained.

Head coach Brian Kelly did his best to lay the brunt of the blame on himself, but many Irish fans openly wondered if Diaco was in over his head after getting outmatched by Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo.

Whether it was coincidental or not, Kelly made both Diaco and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar off limits to the media after the Navy game, allowing them to spend more time working with their respective units in an effort to right the ship. The results were certainly positive, as the Irish defense rallied, giving up only two touchdowns since the loss to the Midshipmen.

After two months away from a microphone, Diaco spoke to the media about Miami as well as the improvement of the Irish as the season progressed. The results were anything but telling.

“The players have continued to improve,” Diaco said. “From spring football to the end of spring. From spring to fall camp, from fall camp to week one, from week one to the last game, there has been improvement almost to a man. I can’t think of one person in the overall unit that hasn’t gotten better each week.”

You can continue watching Diaco’s interview with the press, but you’ll get a lot of the same answers, where Diaco — incredibly politely — gives absolutely nothing quote-worthy to a group of reporters looking for just something from a coach they haven’t spoken with since October. A few examples…

Diaco on the Tulsa game being a turning point? “I wouldn’t prescribe to that,” Diaco said.

Anything he’s learned in particular this season? “Not anything in particular,” Diaco countered.

What kind of moment was the receiving the game ball after Army? “I’d say it was a good moment that is like any other good moment,” Diaco said, comparing it to a film correction an outside linebacker made at practice that afternoon.

When pressed to answer what he learned at Notre Dame that he had to experience, Diaco still was unwilling to concede.

“Really, nothing,” Diaco said about the experience. “Football is football. Football is football at Western Illinois, football is football at Iowa, football is football here, football is football everywhere. Eleven guys put their pads on. They’re the same pads. They run full speed into each other. Fundamentally, they have jobs to do and if they don’t do them well, they’re going to get whipped. If they do them well, they’re going to whip the opponent. That’s football.”

When Diaco did open up, he made sure it was about Notre Dame, not Notre Dame football.

Notre Dame, what I’ve continued to learn is how awesome this place is,” Diaco said. “The community, the administrators everyone is about these students at this university. It’s unlike any other institution in the country. The community, the feeling of community, and the mission of everyone that is working to educate these student-athletes is the sole focus. There really is no other hidden agenda. It’s fantastic. That’s what I’ve learned about Notre Dame.”

Diaco’s media appearance may not give you much to read into, but it does underscore a certain point that Brian Kelly tried to drive home after the victory against Utah. When Diaco deftly parried any question about a moment where things turned, he did the very same thing that Kelly did after the Utah game.

“You missed the point,” Kelly told a reporter who asked Kelly essentially the same thing. “It’s not a moment. It’s the culmination of what we’ve been working on since December. You don’t just pull these out of a hat. You don’t just wake up and go, ‘Let’s rise up today.’ It’s the consistency of an approach from a day to day basis and how we go to work every day. We’re not a finished product by any means, but we’re starting to develop the mental and physical toughness for the way you need to go and approach this game.”

On paper, Diaco’s comments seem almost trite when calling football… well, football. But when you consider that this coaching staff has spent the entire year they’ve been in South Bend breaking down the aura and entitlement that surrounds the Irish tradition, it begins to make sense.

The Irish will win football games when they stop considering themselves Notre Dame. It may not make for great copy, but if Kelly, Diaco and the rest of the staff continue to promote the same message, the Irish will build on a promising final month of the season.


Notre Dame-Miami rivalry to get started early in Sun Bowl


While the announcement of the Irish and Hurricanes reuniting in 2012 had many fans excited, the Sun Bowl kick-started the process, reuniting Notre Dame and Miami in a dream scenario for bowl organizers.

“After waiting 77 years, the stars have finally lined up for us,” John Folmer, Hyundai Sun Bowl chairman said today. “I have spent 40 years as a volunteer and I would have never thought I would see the day that Notre Dame and Miami would play in the Sun Bowl.”

It might not be the high-voltage reunion of collegiate powers that marked this rivalry a few decades ago, but it’s a great match-up for both 7-5 teams. Miami is without head coach Randy Shannon, who was fired and replaced with interim head coach Jeff Stoutland, the team’s offensive line coach. And a little over a month ago, many expected the Irish to spend the holidays at home, sitting at 4-5 needing two wins in their final three games to even qualify for postseason play.

“We are thrilled about getting Notre Dame back to a bowl game, especially one with tradition like the Hyundai Sun Bowl,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Following our victory at USC, we internally targeted the Sun Bowl as a great game for us because of the national exposure the game receives and the top-notch opponent we will face in Miami.”

The Irish’s bowl scenario was fuzzy until yesterday, when a few key games determined whether the Irish would play in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. But West Virginia and UConn’s victories, combined with a late-game win by Washington in the Apple Cup, put the Irish on target to play in El Paso.

Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Miami 15-7-1, with the last game between the two teams played 20 years ago in 1990. The Irish and Hurricanes have never played in a bowl game.