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Polian prepares for Notre Dame

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This won’t be just any other game for Nevada head coach Brian Polian. The Wolf Pack head coach returns to South Bend this weekend, where he served as an assistant to Charlie Weis from 2005 to 2009. And while his time coaching the Irish ended when Weis was dismissed by athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Polian’s fondness for Notre Dame is undiminished.

“It was an incredibly formative time in my life and my career,” Polian said on Tuesday. “I have personal feelings for the place that you can’t help…

“I’m forever indebted to Charlie Weis for giving me the opportunity at 29 years of age to go coach there. My memories of the university and my time there are very fond. They’re very warm.”

Now he faces the challenge of beating the very same program that made it possible for him to quickly climb the coaching ladder. And even if the Wolf Pack catch the Irish with an opening game loss and questions on both sides of the ball, Polian knows—and speaks from experience—that things aren’t quite as dire as they seem.

“I think there’s part of the fan base that thinks the sky is falling right now, and I can assure them, it’s not,” Polian said.

So the fourth-year head coach, just 19-20 in his three seasons after taking over for legendary coach Chris Ault, will bring his program to South Bend looking for a “signature win.” The last time the Wolf Pack visited, Ault’s more talented team—led by star quarterback Colin Kaepernick—left disappointed, shutout by Jon Tenuta’s Irish defense.

While there’s no way to draw off that disappointing experience and visit to a place Polian calls “one of the great cathedrals in college football,” he believes some of the big stages his team has played on lately will have them better prepared to deal with a soldout home crowd eager to see the Irish play well.

“Once you’ve played on the road in the SEC, it might be the same but it won’t be any harder,” Polian said, referencing last year’s visit to Texas A&M, where the Wolf Pack fought hard, but eventually lost 44-27. “There were 102,000 at Texas A&M last year and we hung in there and fought out tails off. I have no reason to think we won’t do the same this week.”

After needing overtime to beat Cal Poly last week, Polian expects to see improvement from his young team. That said, he knows Notre Dame will have the same jump, sounding almost sympathetic to the youthful nature of the Irish secondary.

“I don’t care where you are, if you’ve got three freshman playing in the defensive backfield, it’s hard—it doesn’t matter what school you’re at,” Polian said. “Freshmen are freshman. No matter how talented they are, they lack experience. And then you put them in front of 103,000 in that setting, and obviously there’s going to be some growing pains. I have no doubt that they’ll be significantly improved with that experience when they face us.”

***

Speaking of the Notre Dame secondary, the starting lineup appears to be tweaked, with Devin Studstill starting opposite Drue Tranquill. Last week, the Irish chose to go with Tranquill and Avery Sebastian. They abandoned that pairing midway through the game, pulling Tranquill in favor of Studstill when it was clear that the 230-pounder wasn’t going to be able to run vertical with the opponent.

Kelly talked about making sure Tranquill was back on his game—a very important piece of the puzzle, especially back at home as a strong safety and will Sebastian a game-time decision after suffering a concussion late in the game against Texas.

“We’ve got to get him back out there and, again, it’s a learning process,” Kelly said. “Some of the mistakes out there were ones that he’s aware of that, again, we just have to be better.

“We’ve got to communicate and teach better. We’ve got to make sure that he’s clearly understanding what we’re asking of him and making sure that we get that on game day. So we come back out and make sure that Drue understands what is expected and he needs to come through for us.”

***

A week after Jay Hayes didn’t play a snap, Kelly is hopeful the veteran defensive end will be able to contribute, sharing some of the load with junior Andrew Trumbetti.

“It was a personnel kind of game for us in terms of running Jay Hayes in and out of the game there,” Kelly conceded. “It was going to be difficult with him not at 100 percent. He should be closer this week to being able to give us reps.”

If I’m reading between the lines, I’d expect the Irish staff to do everything they can to get Hayes back to full go before putting him on the field, especially knowing that Michigan State is just a week away.

Perhaps that opens the door for freshman Daelin Hayes to get some playing time, capable of coming off the edge in speed situations. Whatever the case, the Irish need Trumbetti to be better.

Irish A-to-Z: Devin Studstill

Tom Loy / Irish247
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Another rookie, another young player who took charge as an early enrollee. Devin Studstill went from high school to pushing Max Redfield for starting reps this spring. Quite a jump for a guy who was supposed to be at prom, not running with the first string.

While fall camp looks like Redfield is back with the ones, Studstill quickly earned the praise of his defensive coaching staff—a group that needs to develop the talented young safety who projects to get on the field early.

 

DEVIN STUDSTILL
6’0″, 198 lbs.
Freshman, No. 19, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A consensus three-star recruit, Studstill earned All-State honors and was the Florida Sentinel’s large school defensive player of the year. While his physical traits didn’t wow any of the recruiting services, he had offers from Miami, Texas and a handful of other big programs, picking Notre Dame over West Virginia, where his father played quarterback before being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Another early target by Notre Dame’s staff, who got to see Studstill at Irish Invasion camp and followed his development during their recruitment of Te’von Coney. Studstill showed that a young player could figure out Brian VanGorder’s system, bringing a high-IQ safety onto campus and ahead of a few players on the depth chart.

He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he can play downhill, is physical and has free safety skills. His ceiling may top out because he’s not going to stand out as a physical freak, but Autry Denson paid him the ultimate compliment when he said “he was a young man that God created to play football.”

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Redfield may be the starter, but Notre Dame is going to need another safety who can play in the open field. And Studstill seems to have earned enough trust to get the staff to believe he’s the guy—though they don’t exactly have a ton of options.

With depth not making a redshirt logical, getting Studstill experience on special teams is a good start. And then he’ll likely be the next guy in behind Redfield, who has done a nice job of convincing the staff he’s ready to play consistent football, but has yet to show that he can actually do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson

 

Freshman Devin Studstill catching on quickly at safety

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Early-enrollee freshman Devin Studstill has proven himself a quick study. The Florida native kick-started his life as a college student, trading Palm Beach for South Bend in January. He’s also found his way into the thick of a surprising position battle with senior Max Redfield, the first-year player providing a datapoint that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to solve Brian VanGorder’s defense.

Studstill had been a staff priority since the day he stepped foot on campus for the Irish Invasion summer camp. While the three-star defensive back didn’t come in with any expectations from the recruiting services, the Irish coaching staff knew better. And after five practices, Brian Kelly explained what has allowed Studstill to rise quickly and put himself in the mix for a job that nobody thought was open.

“He’s just a natural player. It comes easy to him,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “It’s not hard to him, he has had no setbacks in terms of learning curve.”

That learning curve is a crucial one for a defense that needs to replace multiple starters at each level. We saw even that experienced group struggle with consistency, breakdowns stemming from mental mistakes as much as physical limitations.

We won’t know until this fall what Studstill truly brings to the table. His ascent could be a product of opportunity—with Mykelti Williams transferring and limited bodies at the position, Studstill’s early arrival turned this into a force-feed situation.

Nor will we know if this rise up the depth chart is part of Brian Kelly’s motivational tactics. Remember, Kona Schwenke moved into a dead heat with Louis Nix the spring before the 2012 season, sending enough of a message to Big Lou that it put him back on track to anchor one of the finest front sevens in the country.

But as the Irish look for consistency at a position that’s lacked it since Harrison Smith roamed the back line, Studstill has turned into a potential face of a reloaded secondary. Paired with Shaun Crawford as standouts in back-to-back recruiting classes asked to transform the secondary from a group of Cover 2 defenders hand-picked by Bob Diaco to VanGorder’s preferred man-covering athletes, the early returns are good—essentially all you can ask this time of year.

As young defensive backs push guys like Redfield and Cole Luke, the roster churn has helped create some much needed competition for Todd Lyght’s secondary. And that’s allowed Studstill to catch the eye of the one man who needs him most.

“Excellent ball skills. Excellent retention,” Kelly said of his new safety. “He is out there making plays and getting lined up and getting guys in the right positions, so we have been pleased.”

 

Early Enrollees: Devin Studstill

Sun Sentinel
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DEVIN STUDSTILL
Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Measurables: 5’11”, 189 lbs.

Accolades: Consensus 3-star recruit, All-State Florida 7A second team, 2015 Sun Sentinel large-school Defensive Player of the Year, No.4 prospect Palm Beach Post.

Impressive Offers: Miami, Texas, Michigan State, North Carolina

Projected Position: Safety

Quick Take: No defensive back was on Notre Dame’s radar earlier, with Studstill catching the staff’s attention as they recruited linebacker Te’von Coney the year before. While his star rating doesn’t get you out of your seat, a Texas and Miami offer is nothing to shrug at. In Studstill, the Irish have a prospect they view as a top-of-the-board talent a national recruit that’s severely underrated.

What he means to the Irish: At a position group with question marks across the board, Studstill has an opportunity in front of him this spring. The staff sees an instinctive football player who could be smooth enough in coverage to slide into a nickel coverage role as well.

After watching this defense play the past few years, a ball-hawking safety has long been desired. Studstill might be the best bet for that in this class. That Notre Dame pulled another kid out of Palm Beach Gardens is quite an accomplishment.

Obligatory YouTube clip:

ND formalizes early enrollment of Hayes, Kareem, Perry and Studstill

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Notre Dame announced the early enrollment of four incoming freshmen on Monday, finalizing grant-in-aid paperwork with linebacker Daelin Hayes, defensive end Khalid Kareem and safeties Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill. All four will begin their collegiate experience when the university returns from semester break.

The ND Football Facebook page took to the interwebs to make the announcement complete:

All four commitments are big ones for the Irish. In Hayes, Notre Dame has one of the more intriguing prospects in the country, with Rivals believing him to be a 5-star linebacker. Hayes is coming off of a shoulder injury that required surgery, so how much he’ll be able to do in spring practice remains to be seen. He also might grow his way out of a linebacker spot, though his athleticism looks like it’ll allow the Irish to look at him at multiple spots before deciding where to put him.

Kareem was an Alabama commitment before he stepped away from that pledge and opened up his recruitment. Notre Dame was there and out-dueled Michigan State for the defensive end from Michigan. Kareem will likely fight for immediate playing time with the graduation of Romeo Okwara and the relative inexperience behind Isaac Rochell, though he projects to be more of a strongside player than a rush end.

Perry and Studstill come to the Irish from Florida, both projected safeties that Notre Dame targeted early. Perry is an Alabama native though played his high school football at the IMG Academy and was a commitment to Florida before backing away over the summer and picking Notre Dame over Auburn. Perry also suffered a shoulder injury and has been sidelined since September. Studstill, who committed last week after a long recruitment, and Perry will be candidates to step into a wide open safety battle with only Max Redfield returning with any experience.