Tag Archives: Tarean Folston

Tony Alford’s days numbered at Notre Dame?

After a disappointing end to the season, there have been many Notre Dame fans who have been speculating on possible changes to Brian Kelly’s staff.

Most of the chatter has centered on Kelly and Jeff Quinn being reunited with one another in some capacity after Quinn was fired during the middle of his fifth season at Buffalo. Quinn spent several years with the Irish head coach at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati.

A subtraction from the staff could be a possibility as well though.

With Jim McElwain taking the job at the University of Florida, Colorado State is now looking for his replacement and Irish running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford has been mention as a possible option. Alford was rumored to be looked at by CSU a couple of years back before they hired McElwain.

Just hours after the job officially became open, Alford was already receiving help from the masses to prove he would be a strong choice to get the position.

Urban Meyer, Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick ALL called @CSUFootball today’s pushing Tony Alford for the Rams HC position. Strong stuff.

Alford being a candidate makes a lot of sense. The former running back played four years for the Rams and helped his alma mater win it’s first bowl game back in 1990 against Oregon. His wife has family in that area and his mom lives near Colorado Springs as well, so all the ties are there.

Would Colorado State be willing to hire a coach who has yet to be a coordinator in his career though? Alford was passed over for the job by Kelly first by Chuck Martin and this past year by Mike Denbrock. That may be a gamble that CSU might not want to take, especially with the good shape the program is in after the great job McElwain did in his three years there.

If they do end up taking that change, losing Alford would be a big blow to the Irish.

He’s routinely voted as one of the top recruiters in the country by Rivals and the other recruiting services. If he were to go to CSU, Tevon Coney, a big piece to this year’s Irish class, would more than likely opened up his recruitment. The Irish would also be fighting an uphill battle trying to add another running back to this year’s class.

Losing Alford wouldn’t only hurt on the recruiting front. He’s the longest tenured member on the staff, having been the only coach left over from the Charlie Weis era. You can easily credit him with the maturation of Tarean Folston, who appears to be set to have a monster junior season in 2015. He also has a very good relationship with Greg Bryant, who showed strides at the end of the season.

Time will tell where Alford ends up being come next season. It would be a tremendous opportunity for him to get a head coaching job and you can’t argue against that, but the selfish side of me wants him to remain in South Bend for many years to come.

Rumble in the Desert – A Weekend Preview

-GoIrishGlory

Sun Devils

Its elimination weekend in college football as there are multiple marquee games around the country between playoff contending teams. Among those games is Notre Dame traveling to take on Arizona State in a high profile top 10 matchup that will help dictate the rest of the season for both teams. Both the Irish and the Sun Devils enter the contest ranked 10th and 9th respectively. Each team only has one loss on their record with the Irish losing a close game at Florida State, while Arizona State got absolutely steamrolled by UCLA earlier this season. Both teams are desperate for a marquee win to add to their resume. Arizona State’s best win so far this season is against 17th ranked Utah while Notre Dame has yet to defeat a top 25 team yet this season and whose “best” win came against a four loss Stanford team. Both teams need no extra motivation for this one. Its pretty simple what lies ahead. The winner stays alive in the College Football Playoff picture. The loser is eliminated. Brian Kelly has a history of getting his team ready to play in big games away from Notre Dame (except Alabama but lets just forget that happened) and a win against Arizona State on the road would be a huge boost the Notre Dame’s playoff hopes.

Notre Dame’s offense is firing on all cylinders right now. While the game against Navy was much closer than most had expected or hoped, it was not due to a lack of production on offense. Since going on a three game streak of having huge turnover problems earlier in the season, Everett Golson is taking much better care of the football having thrown only two interceptions in the last two games. The key for the Irish offense against the Sun Devils this weekend is getting the running game going early to set up the play action pass to attack downfield and take advantage of the stable of athletes that Notre Dame has at the wide receiver position. Arizona State’s defense utilizes their safeties heavily in the running game so if the Irish are able to successfully run the ball and continue to suck in the safeties to play the run, they can then beat them over the top with the play action pass that is such a vital part of the Irish offense. Tarean Folson has burst onto the scene for the Irish in the past three games and he should be able to continue his success against the Sun Devil run defense that is giving up over 180 yards on the ground per game ranking 88th nationally.

folston navy

Somewhat similarly to the Irish defensive scheme, Arizona State loves to bring pressure and blitz the quarterback early and often. The Sun Devils send five or more pass rushers on 55 percent of their plays which is second nationally. Everett Golson has gotten much better in noticing and adjusting to defenses blitzes and it will be vital this week against a very aggressive defense that will do their best to force turnovers. Golson is the best quarterback the Sun Devils have faced so far this season however and he should be able to move the ball effectively. UCLA’s Brett Hundley shredded Arizona State for 355 yards passing and four touchdowns with zero interceptions in their blowout win earlier this season and I see no reason why Golson can not have the same success. The Irish offensive line has really come together since the Florida State game and is playing their best football of the season. If Notre Dame can protect Golson like they have in recent weeks, he should have plenty of time to find Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, or CJ Prosise for big plays. With Fuller, Robinson, and Prosise all being dangerous threats, the Sun Devils are not able to put their focus on just one which will leave a lot of one-on-one match ups down the field. Simply put, with how successful the offense has been for the Irish, they should have no problem scoring a lot of points.

golson

The play of the Notre Dame defense will dictate whether or not Notre Dame wins or loses this game. After looking like one of the best defenses in the country early on in the season, shaky performances against North Carolina and Navy have brought expectations for the defensive unit down a bit. Add the loss of starting middle linebacker and leader of the defense Joe Schmidt into the mix and it can be very understandable why many are nervous about how the defense will perform against one of the nations most potent offenses. Arizona State is 38th nationally in scoring averaging 34.4 points per game largely in part to their success throwing the football. The Sun Devils are 23rd in passing offense averaging 291 yards through the air per game. The big play threat for Arizona State is star receiver Jalen Strong who already this season has 57 receptions for 821 yards and 8 touchdowns. It is paramount for Notre Dame to not let Strong beat them as he is by far their best player on offense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has not played particularly well in his last two games since returning from injury and has been sacked eleven times in the last two games. Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones have been doing a great job on the defensive line getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that should continue this week. Brian VanGorder will bring pressure early and often to rattle Kelly which has spelled trouble for Arizona State all season. Turnovers have been a big problem for the Sun Devils and its no secret that the Irish will do their best to force Kelly to make bad decisions which lead to take aways. Nyles Morgan will be making his first start at middle linebacker for the Irish and he will be responsible for all of the defensive calls. He played well last week when Schmidt went down and it will be interesting to see how he performs in his first full game on such a big stage. It is not reasonable to expect the Irish defense to completely shut down Arizona State. However they should be able to slow down the Sun Devil’s, who have struggled in the last two weeks against tough defenses.

defense

Prediction 

Get your guns ready folks because this one is going to be a shootout. Both of these offenses are very good units that are filled with skill players. What the game will come down too is which team makes the least amount of mistakes and which team is able to make just enough defensive stops. In the last few weeks Notre Dame’s offensive line has been playing their best football while Arizona State’s offensive line has struggled protecting Taylor Kelly. This will be the difference in the game. The young but aggressive defense of Notre Dame will play like they did against Florida State a few weeks ago and wreck havoc on Taylor Kelly making him make bad decisions. The defense will give up some big plays but overall they play an overall solid game. Golson and company continue to perform at a high level on offense and lead the Irish to victory. Notre Dame 38 Arizona State 30

Other Games Around the Country

5 Alabama at 16 LSU – LSU has already done Notre Dame one favor this season, handing Ole Miss their first loss of the season, and they will be looking to do it again. After looking pretty bad early in the season the Tigers are playing really good physical football and have been winning with good defense and a very physical running game. While Alabama gets all the respect from the talking heads because they are Alabama, when you look at who they have played they have not been all that impressive. Death Valley is a really tough place to play especially at night. LSU helps out Notre Dame yet again. LSU 23 Alabama 20

4 Oregon at 17 Utah- The Utes are fresh off a tough loss to Arizona State last week but their defense played one of their better games of the season holding the Sun Devils to only 19 points. They face another tough challenge this week as Marcus Mariotta and the Oregon Ducks come to town. Utah will play well and keep it close for a while but I just don’t see their offense scoring enough points to win. Oregon 37 Utah 24

7 Kansas State at 6 TCU – TCU is fresh off a tough game against West Virginia last week and looks to put another win over a tough opponent on their resume. Treyvon Boykin has played very well this season but struggled a bit last week against a West Virginia defense that has not been very good this season. Kansas State is one of the better defenses in the Big 12 which will provide for another tough challenge for TCU. Notre Dame fans are really pulling for Kansas State to win here. The Wildcats helped Notre Dame out in 2012 by losing and this season will again help out the Irish by winning. Kansas State 31 TCU 30

Fire the Torpedo’s! Its Time to Sink Navy – A Weekend Preview

-GoIrishGlory

Its finally time to get back to actual football. Since the heart breaking and gut wrenching last second loss to Florida State two weeks ago, Irish fans have been without Notre Dame football and instead had to deal with the incessant talk about polls for a playoff that are still over two months away as well as Justin Brent’s encounter with porn star Lisa Ann over fall break. Enough of all that. Its time to get back to the game played on the field. Notre Dame travels to Maryland this week to take on the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy at FedEx Field. The Irish enter the contest with a 6-1 record and ranked 10th in the College Football Playoff Rankings while Navy brings in a 4-4 record and a two game winning streak. Notre Dame will look to put the loss to Florida State in the rear view mirror and turn their focus to the remaining five games on the schedule as they try remain in the playoff picture. The Irish are by far the better team in this matchup with Navy, but as we all know the Naval Academy has played very well against Notre Dame in the last few years and the triple option attack used by Navy is tough for any defense.

When Brian Kelly first arrived at Notre Dame, everyone was excited about the offense that he would bring with him to South Bend after his success at Cincinnati. However in his first couple seasons, the offense did not live up to the expectations for a variety of reasons, most importantly the quarterback position. This season the offense is FINALLY playing to level we all expected. After looking very impressive during the first half of the season, the offense looked like it had put it all together against Florida State and the task now is to maintain that level of play. The Irish should be able to continue to build on their continued success on offense this week with Everett Golson at the helm going against a Navy defense that has struggled this season giving up 27.6 points per game ranking them 75th in the nation in scoring defense. Navy also ranks 75th nationally in rushing defense, giving up 170.9 yards per game on the ground which should allow for the Irish’s newly minted “feature back”, Tarean Folston, to continue to shine. Since Notre Dame went to Folston as the feature back the Irish are averaging 186.5 yards on the ground per game which is 25 yards more than their season average of 162.4. The Irish should be able to continue to have success on the ground this week.

folston

Navy’s passing defense is not much better than their mediocre at best rushing defense. The Midshipmen are giving up 242.9 yards through the air per game and they have not played an offense with a passing attack anywhere near as dynamic as they will see against the Irish on Saturday night. The Irish are averaging 285.1 passing yards per game ranking 29th nationally. Everett Golson played arguable the best game of his career against Florida State and he should have a field day throwing to wide open receivers all game long. Will Fuller speed is going to be very difficult for Navy to slow down, and Corey Robinson is quickly becoming a huge part of the Irish offense. Expect both to have great games as the Navy secondary will be unable to slow them down.

robinson

The biggest challenge for this game is for the Irish defense as they go up against the dreaded triple option attack that we have all grown to despise. Navy is bringing the nation’s leading rushing attack into this matchup averaging over 350 yards per game on the ground. However the Midshipmen rushing game will face their toughest test against the Irish, which is only allowing 102.7 yards per game ranking 12th nationally in rushing defense. The Irish front seven has continued to improve all season long with stellar performances by Jarron Jones, Issac Rochell, and Andrew Trumbeti along the defensive line and Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith in the linebacking corps. While Navy’s rushing stats look impressive on paper, it is important to point out that at least one reason why their yards per game is so high is because running the ball is the only thing the Navy offense does. The Midshipmen rank second to last in passying offense averaging only 91.6 yards per game. The Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is really just another running back in their offensive attack and anytime that the Irish can force him to throw is a win for the defense. It will be interesting to see Brian VanGorder’s game plan against the option as he has admitted to not having face the option for years. Notre Dame is bigger, stronger, and faster than Navy and as long as the Irish defenders maintain their assignments, they should be able to slow down the triple option and force a few turnovers.

This is probably one of the worst Navy teams that Notre Dame will have faced during Brian Kelly’s tenure, including their 2012 team that lost 50-10 to Notre Dame in Ireland. Keenan Reynolds is a very good player however they are missing the talent at fullback and tailback that they have had in the past. Teams like Air Force have been able to hold Navy to 21 points this season, so their is no doubt in my mind that the Irish defense will be able to stop the triple option. Notre Dame needs to start blowing out the remaining teams on the schedule this season in order to stay in the playoff discussion and that starts this weekend. Irish fire the torpedo’s and sink Navy. Notre Dame 49 Navy 17 

Burning ship

Other Games Around the Country

3 Auburn at 4 Ole Miss- This game is a playoff eliminator. Both teams enter the contest with a loss and I highly doubt that a two loss team will be making the playoff. Ole Miss is strangely ranked 4th in the playoff rankings after losing to a mediocre LSU team last week and it looks as if the Rebels were exposed in Death Valley. While they may have a very good defense, their offense is not that good. Auburn is an overall better team with a better coach. The dream in Oxford ends this weekend. Auburn 28 Ole Miss 21

7 TCU at 20 West Virginia- TCU completely embarrasses a really bad Texas Tech team last week dropping 82 points on the Red Raiders. The Horned Frogs have looked very impressive all season minus the 4th quarter against Baylor. West Virginia however has also played very well as of late with the Clint Tricket to Kevin White connection. TCU has looked really bad on defense at times this season and playing in Morgantown is no easy task. For the second time this season, it will be couch burning time for the Mountaineers. West Virginia 45 TCU 41

The Down the Tunnel Radio Show – Florida State Throw down Edition

-Kevin

The Down the Tunnel Radio show is back as we preview the big game against Florida State this weekend in Tallahassee. Had a great group of callers this week. We will be back on the air on Sunday night to review the outcome of Notre Dame and Florida State.

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Irish Chop Down the Trees – A Weekend Review

– Kevin

BVG Thumbs up

In a day that was filled heavy rain, cold winds, and sloppy conditions, Notre Dame was able to overcome adversity and swing their axes to chop down the trees of Stanford in the final minute of the game to complete a thrilling 17-14 come from behind win. Even while Everett Golson didn’t play his best (and apparently had the flu according to Coach Kelly), he was still able to complete the game winning pass to Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone on 4th and 11 with only 1:06 left on the clock to seal the Irish victory. Statistically, the Notre Dame offense dominated Stanford all game long and really should have won this game by more points than they did. Stanford’s defense was viewed as one of the best in the nation, and the Irish offense racked up 370 yards of total offense including 129 yards rushing in horrific weather conditions. However its points and not yards that win football games and Notre Dame had trouble putting up points on the scoreboard only scoring 17 points. For the second week in a row, turnovers were an issue for Everett Golson, fumbling and throwing an interception in the red zone which took away chances at points for the Irish. Throughout most of the game, and even on some of the plays in the final drive, Golson looked a bit out of sync, throwing behind his receivers on multiple occassions and holding on to the ball too long.

The Irish running game still struggled this week against a tough defensive front. While the stat line says that Notre Dame rushed for 129 yards, the running backs only accounted for 69 of those yards while the remainder came from a 33 yard run by Golson and a 26 yard run on a jet sweep by CJ Prosise. Now nobody was anticipating a breakout game for the Irish running attack against Stanford but there are still some issues that need to be addressed as Notre Dame gets into the meat of the schedule. The offensive line is still not being as physical as expected before the season began. While the production has improved since Brian Kelly shuffled around some players along the line after the game against Purdue, they still are struggling at times in run blocking. Greg Bryant has been a player that everyone has been expecting to breakout but in the last few games he has really had trouble running North and South and finished with only 14 yards on 6 carries against Stanford. Tarean Folston was hurt during the game and only finished with 14 yards on 3 carries. That left Cam McDaniel to lead the team with 41 yards on 15 carries. At this point in the season I have no problem saying that Notre Dame’s strength on offense is their passing game. However in order to maintain the success that the Irish have had through the first five games, they will need to improve their running game with games at Florida State and USC still left this season.

While Golson’s game winning pass at the end of the game was the highlight of the game, it was not the main reason why Notre Dame was victorious against Stanford. That honor goes to the defense, which has continued to impress every week after looking to a be a weak point of the team at the beginning of the season. The Irish defense dominated Stanford from the start of the game to the final play holding the Cardinal to 205 TOTAL YARDS. Thats not a typo. Even more impressive is the fact that the defense held a Stanford running attack, which has been the staple of their offense, to only 47 yards rushing. Thats right, 47 yards. Stanford had not been held to that few rushing yards since 2006. The ability of the defense to shut down the run really set up the Irish for success forcing David Shaw to change his stratagy from his normal two tight end sets to more of a spread attack which played right into what Notre Dame wanted to do defensively. With the running game shut down the Cardinal was forced to pass more than they had planned for and the Irish defense responded. Kevin Hogan went 18-36 for 158 yards and two interceptions, both by Cole Luke, who probably played his best game of the season. Brian VanGorder kept Stanford guessing the entire game with his defensive game plan and never allowed the Cardinal to get in any sort of rhythm. Notre Dame’s third down defense impressed again only allowing Stanford to convert 5 of 14 third down attempts. Had it not been for Everett Golson’s fumble deep in the redone in the first quarter, it is safe to assume that the Cardinal may have only scored 7 points. Stanford’s score in the fourth quarter was the only drive that was able to move down the field against the Irish. In a game where Stanford’s defense was supposed to be the elite unit, Notre Dame’s defense out played the Cardinal and made a loud and definitive statement to the rest of the college football world.

Notre Dame won the game sure but they really should have won the game by much more than they did. They left a lot of points on the field and played a pretty sloppy game in the grand scheme of things. And to me thats what makes this win over Stanford even more impressive. The Irish made their fair share of mistakes, had players playing with the flu, and had to deal with awful weather conditions and they were still able to beat a Stanford team that most predicted to come into South Bend and win. Notre Dame still needs to clean up some things on both sides of the ball but their potential for an outstanding season is through the roof. This team’s play has already exceeded what I expected for this season and if they are able to fix some of the issues they still have they will be hard for anyone to beat.

Tuesday Chat with Brian Kelly – Syracuse Week

-SSG Shamrock

Brian Kelly met with the media today to discuss this weekend’s contest with the Syracuse Orangemen as well provide some new information on the ongoing academic investigation. Down the Tunnel was there and has all the pertinent information from Coach Kelly’s weekly press conference.

Key Information 

  • On the weekly depth chart release there was a significant shake up on the offensive line. The revamped offensive line has Ronnie Stanley at LT, Nick Martin at LG, Matt Hegarty at Center, Steve Elmer at RG, and Christian Lombard at RT. Coach Kelly did make sure to note that this may not be the exact offensive line that starts on Saturday and that Connor Hanratty and Mike McGlinchey will also receive first team reps this week.
  • Amir Carlise is OUT this week against Syracuse and is should be seen as questionable for next week against Stanford. Coach Kelly said that Carlise has been responding well to his PRP treatments and will start moving him around at the end of the week.
  • Torii Hunter is slated to make his Notre Dame debut this weekend and will get work with CJ Prosise in the slot.
  • Austin Collinsworth will be back in the lineup this weekend after missing the first three games with an MCL sprain.
  • Brian Kelly said that he was informed last Friday that the academic committee had been official formed and that if all goes well the hearings should be concluded by the end of NEXT week. Kelly also made it clear he was not a spokesman of the administration and that when a student is notified of a violation, only the student is notified and not the parents.
  • Coach Kelly stated that there is still not a “go to number one” running back in the backfield. Greg Bryant has been doing a very good job of understanding schemes but he has to unseat two players in Tarean Folston and Cam McDaniel that have played a lot of football game. Bryant has only played in three college games and still has work to do.
  • Kelly talked about the ACC conference alignment and how the main factors that went into the decision was ensuring high quality bowl tie-ins as well as a conference that made geographic sense for Notre Dame.
  • Kelly said that Malik Zaire is getting 60% of the reps in practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and 40% of the reps on Thursday. The amount of reps that Zaire gets just shows how confident the staff is in Golson as the quarterback. Kelly said there is no temptation to play Zaire at all.
  • Kelly gave credit to Paul Longo and Brian VanGorder for having so many freshman ready to play and contribute on the defensive side of the ball. Kelly also said they knew before the season that the staff knew they were going to have to play freshman but they didn’t know exactly who would emerge.

Check back all week long for all your Notre Dame coverage of this weekends matchup against Syracuse and dont forget to tune into the first broadcast of the Down the Tunnel Radio show on Thursday night. We will be taking your calls live!

Grading Out the First Three Weeks

-Sgt Shamrock

The first quarter of the season is complete and with this week being the first bye week of the season, now would be as good a time as ever to look back at the first three games of the season to see just where the Irish stand. Record wise nobody is complaining with the Irish being 3-0 with wins over Rice, Michigan, and Purdue and the outlook of the entire season looking much brighter than it did a few weeks ago. Even with the academic investigation not complete and dragging into the season, the Irish have been able to plug and play players to fill in the holes and have so far done a pretty good job of it. Lets take a look at some interesting statistics from the first three weeks and also give out grades for each position group for the first quarter of the season

Stats and Notes:

  • Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in their first three games of the season, the first time that has happened since Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame
  • Through three games Notre Dame is converting 47% of its third downs while holding their opponents to a 37% conversion rate.
  • Notre Dame has been in the red zone fourteen times so far this season. The Irish are 14/14 in those trips in scoring with ten touchdowns and four field goals.
  • The Irish have intercepted six passes by through three games. Those six interceptions were intercepted by six different players
  • Notre Dame has scored 13 touchdowns in their first three games while only allowing opponents into the end zone four times.
  • Notre Dame has won each of its first three games by at least 16 points. The last time an Irish team did that was in 1987
  • Notre Dame ranks 4th nationally in scoring defense allowing only 10.3 points per game.

Quarterback 

There is really not a more impressive way for Everett Golson to start of the season. After sitting out the entire 2013 season, Golson has quickly put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation. After the first three games, Golson is 62 of 96 passing for 780 yards, seven touchdowns and ZERO interceptions or fumbles. Notre Dame ranks 51st nationally in Passing offense averaging 260 yards per game. Even with a receiving corps full of new faces, Golson has had pretty good chemistry with his receivers and has looked very crisp and comfortable in the pocket. Irish fans can only hope that Golson keeps up this performance because if he plays at this level, the wins will keep piling up. Grade: A

Running backs

The running game has been a bit underwhelming in the first quarter of the season. After a strong performance against Rice, Notre Dame had two lackluster performances running the football against Michigan and Purdue. The Irish are currently ranked 70th nationally averaging a very average 158 yards per game. Greg Bryant leads the team in rushing with 119 yards while Tarean Folston is a close second with 110 yards. Those types of numbers are what we were hoping these guys to have in one game, not three games. With the amount of talent in the Irish backfield it is vital to get the running game going in order to keep defenses off balance to open up the passing game for Everett Golson. Grade: C

Receiving Corps

With Davaris Daniels still being held out as the academic investigation continues, Will Fuller has been the breakout star in the Irish receiving corps early on this season. While he has had some drops early on, he leads the team with 19 receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He has really shown the speed that we all expected. Amir Carlise and CJ Prosice have been very effective in the slot and are adding even more speedy weapons to Golson’s arsenal. Torii Hunter will return to the lineup next week against Syracuse to make his Notre Dame debut which should add another weapon to the offense. Chris Brown has been disappointing thus far, being very inconsistent and really not playing to the level that many thought he would. There have been some miscues in terms of communication with the receivers in terms of routes and play calls as well as a couple drops. That is going to need to get cleaned up quickly. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

If there was one part of the offense that has not looked impressive through the first three weeks it would be the offensive line. There have been some major issues in both run and pass blocking that are real concerns for the Irish. The offensive line along with not really opening running lanes to allow the running game going, they have also given up six sacks in the first three games. At times the offensive line has had real trouble maintaining blocks in the passing game, especially against Purdue. Brian Kelly said following the win over Purdue that he was going to talk to the coaching staff about possibly moving some players to different positions along the line. After the first three games performance that is a pretty good idea. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

So far this season the defensive line has really been Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They looked not bad against Rice, played a fantastic game against Michigan, but then look to take a step back after a fairly lackluster performance against Purdue. The line had a hard time getting any pressure on the Purdue quarterback this past weekend and that is not a good sign with much tougher opponents looming on the schedule. Sheldon Day however has played very well so far this season and is really looking like he is turning into a dominant force on defense. Jarron Jones has also shown some flashes of brilliance which is a reason for some optimism. We saw that the defensive line can play very well in Brian VanGorders scheme in the Michigan game. Now we have to see if they can get back to that level and stay there. Grade: B-

Linebackers

Let me go ahead and get this out of the way. Jaylon Smith is a beast and is without a doubt the best player on defense. Other than Jaylon Smith the linebackers have had a pretty season so far. Joe Schmidt is playing far better than people expected him too and he looks nothing like a former walk on. VanGorder has shown he is not afraid to mix up the blitz packages and bring linebackers from all areas of the field to get pressure on the quarterback. While we have not seen much of Ben Council, expect that to change once Stanford comes to town in a few weeks as Brian Kelly will bring him in to help against the physical offense of the Cardinal. Jared Grace is still out with an injury however he is getting closer and closer to playing time. He will not play against Syracuse but I don’t think its out of the realm of possibly he could return for Stanford. The group hasn’t been super flashy early on but they have not made many mistakes either. Oh yea and Jaylon Smith is a beast. Grade: B+

Secondary 

In my opinion even without KeiVarae Russell playing right now, the secondary is the strength of the Irish defense at this point in the season and I believe it will stay that way all year long. The Irish have already intercepted six passes through three games and the entire unit is really thriving in VanGorder’s scheme. Mathias Farley, a player that after a lackluster performance last year, has really thrived and is playing his best football in his new nickel corner position. Both Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are doing more than enough in coverage at the corner positions. Redfield and Shumate have played really well at the safety positions and Austin Collinsworth should return to the lineup soon after missing the first three games with a strained MCL. The only issue with the secondary that worries me going forward is depth. Going on the assumption that Russell will not return this season (I dont know that is the case I am just assuming) and Nikki Barrati being out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, Notre Dame can not afford any more injuries. Grade A-

Special Teams

In years past this is normally where I would be talking about how the special teams is a mess yet again and trying to figure out what to do due to fix it. However that is not the case this season. Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant has finally provided and successful punt return unit and Amir Carlise has looked good on kickoffs as well. Kyle Brindza is a valuable weapon in all facets of the kicking game especially on kickoffs. Forcing your opponent to start on the 25 without a chance at a return is always good and is a big part of Notre Dame’s success. Grade: A-

5 HOT (and Quick) Takes from Blue/Gold Game

Spring practice is in the books!  Can I use the terms/phrases “practice” and “in the books” for employees? Kidding, kidding…put the pitch forks away. I’ll give you plenty better opportunities to skewer me. While the Sarge continues to lead the DTT Spring game experience on-site, thought I’d provide a few quick observations from the Blue/Gold Game. For full disclosure, I am not of the opinion that a lot can be gleaned from what amounts to a glorified practice. It’s far more special and relevant for those able to make the trip than those of us looking to extrapolate what it means going forward. Nonetheless, people LOVE to extrapolate (even when they don’t know what that word means), so let’s get down to business:

1. QB “Battle”: Unquestionably, the number one “thing to watch” for today was the quarterback position. The return of the prodigal son, Everett Golson vs. the self-confident Malik Zaire. Twitter and Mike Mayock have declared the big winner of the day to be Zaire. I’m critical of Mayock’s analysis though because he did not tell me Zaire’s height and weight. Mayock, when in full lather over a particular player always tells you the size measurements while wiping some drool from the corner of his mouth. He did it for Golson pre-game. He did it for Jaylon Smith. Perhaps I just missed it.

Now to the game. I would *generally* agree that Zaire had the better performance. The stats bear that out. His reads came out quicker, he was more accurate, and most importantly to me….he looked like he wanted to compete for the starting gig. Golson was perhaps most disappointing with his reluctance to cut the ball loose. This issue plagued him at times during 2012, and I think many hoped he’d display a greater command of progressions after a one year quarterback boot camp. It’s important to remember a few things though: 1) This is but one practice. Folks need to realize Brian Kelly will not be making any final decisions based upon this one game. However, that Zaire looked ready to compete may create some intrigue for the inter web-professional-football-analysis-society from the summer months. 2) When you have 2 mobile quarterbacks battling in a “game” where they can’t be hit, it’s difficult to assess their true effectiveness. The refs were generally willing to let the QB’s continue to run around (and eventually throw) in situations where they will not be as fortunate in game situations. Golson’s rushing TD was a clear example. He scored. In a game, he’d have been pancaked between two rather large defensive players. To go along with this: Why in the WORLD was a screen pass run????? It happened early, but just seemed ludicrous to me. QB can’t be touched (and knows it), line comes flying through…Well executed(?) I suppose.

My more general take: First of all, I wet myself just a bit (it was early) to see both of our QB’s scramble, look elusive, and demonstrate plus arm-strength on the run. The Tommy Rees era is over, and I for one (all) couldn’t be happier to have it reaffirmed that it is possible to both run and throw the ball. Both quarterbacks exhibited the arm strength necessary to take advantage of the team’s speed and depth at the wide receiver position. While a function of the flag football game atmosphere, there were many deep attempts and routes down field suggesting a perhaps more vertical passing game while utilizing the TE and RB positions as safety valves.

2. FIELD TURF!!!! OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG: In a super fun troll job by the ND administration, Jack Swarbrick confirmed once and for all that field turf is a-coming to Notre Dame following Spring commencement ceremonies. So many words and blood have been spilled over this topic over the past few years that there’s no need to re-hash it. It’s a business decision, it’s a completely reasonable decision, and it will not impact game play for the negative in any material respect. Something I’ve harped on in the past is that something is not tradition just because it’s been done for a while. Rockne’s teams played on grass because that was more desirable to playing on dirt. ND never jumped the gun to install the horrendous astro-turf surfaces that led to many an injury in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. However, field turf’s come a long way. It’s not tradition to embrace a technological advancement that is more economical, provides greater reliability of playing surface, and doesn’t impact injury concerns. Get with it folks, or tell me why I’m wrong in the comments without mentioning the word “tradition.” I *might* listen then.

3. Hello Running backs: Greg Bryant did Greg Bryant things the way we’d all been Greg Bryant’ing he’d do. See what I did there? I used his name like the word “Smurf” was used back in the day. Bryant, of course, is not smurf. Rather, his speed and agility are more reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog coming out of a 360 degree loop and catapulting up into the atmosphere to claim rings and decimate all obstacles in his way. Take the spring game for what it is: confirmation that all angst associated with the unsubstantiated rumors of Bryant’s transfer were well deserved. I look forward to seeing him decimate all obstacles in his way in an effort to claim another type of ring.

In the meantime, Tarean Folston was quite active catching passes. Again, there’s a limit to attempting to extrapolate that this is a new trend, but he demonstrated good hands and improvisation as a safety-valve pass catching option. This facet was missing from ND’s offense last year. However, with a return to a more free flowing mobile quarterback style, a good pass catching option coming out of the backfield should not be under-appreciated. Theo Riddick was good at this in 2012 when, you might remember, good things happen for the team at large. I like to see things that *could* convert to a new offensive wrinkle in the season to come, and this fits the bill quite nicely.

4. The Defense…Lost? Okay…what does that mean? I have a difficult time really grading anything that occurs on the defensive side of the ball. The inability to hit/sack the quarterback is such an impediment that it’s difficult to consider the defense’s effectiveness.  Add that to the team still learning a new defensive-system and philosophy and the always straight-forward vanilla game plan, and you aren’t left with too many takeaways. I thought Cole Luke looked generally good and made some great plays on the ball in difficult situations. I thought Austin Collinsworth looked severely under-sized and slow attempting to cover the wide receivers, but I’m not going to read too much into that. Perhaps more telling, Brian Kelly during a second half interview explained that he asked BVG to dial back some of the pressure schemes so the offense could get the “looks” it wanted to run plays. Does that mean the line is better than expected? Does it mean the offensive line is a little bit worse? Perhaps a mixture? Yeah….I’ll go with mixture for the day.

5. The BVG: Finally, the most legit thing I saw all day was in fact VanGorder stomping around the sideline. He’s intense, rocks as legit a ‘stache as any in the business, and I give him bonus points for his 1970’s hair dew. I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised in the short-term with VanGorder’s increased aggression. He comes into a great situation where the experience of the secondary may let him get more exotic up front to compensate for the losses of Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt. We’ve been down the road of a hyper aggressive defensive coordinator trying to make something out of nothing (I’m looking at you Jon Tenuta), but the caliber of athlete BVG has available is superior to what Tenuta dealt with, and the secondary is an entirely different animal. Perhaps grasping at straws, I also enjoyed seeing BVG on the sidelines. Being cerebral and up in the booth fit Bobby Diaco quite well. The same holds true for seeing VanGorder stalk the sidelines.

We now enter the dark days where there won’t be much to report or look forward to for several months. Share your comments or thoughts and feelings about the B/G Game and what you’re looking forward to for 2014 in the comments below. I’m sure Sarge will be back sooner rather than later to fill you in on the Down the Tunnel Tailgate and the reception to our sponsors the Indiana Whiskey Company being gracious enough to come on out this morning.

Cheers!

– Moons

Irish close out 2013 with a win. A Bowl game review

– Sgt Shamrock

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While 2013 has been a season full of ups and downs, the Irish were able to finish off the year off on a high note, defeating Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl 29-16 on Saturday night. While the score was not as lopsided any many Irish fans had expected, myself included, the outcome of the game was never really in doubt. Notre Dame dominated the flow of the game against a Rutgers team who came into the game with a defense that should have had the Irish coaching staff licking their chops. The score of the game was closer that it should have been, but that’s the only aspect of the game that was close. The Irish offense racked up 494 yards of total offense against Rutgers including 319 yards through the air in Tommy Rees’ last start as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.

The Irish defense played well day long only allowing 236 total yards to the Rutgers offense and also forced 4 turnovers. Other than Bennett Jackson getting burned deep a few times, the secondary put out one of their best performances of the season. Russell was outstanding in coverage all afternoon, making multiple pass breakups in the redzone. Max Redfield made his first career start and while his name was not called much, that should be considered a good thing for a first time starter. He did not allow any big plays and played his position very well which should excite Irish fans for the future. The secondary was not the only element of the defense that had a big afternoon. The Irish defensive line was able to get pressure even without Louis Nix which was a key factor to the defense forcing turnovers.

Of all of the good things that I saw on Saturday, the running game really impressed me. Going up against a top 5 rushing defense, the Irish were able to amass 175 yards on the ground. Tarean Folston got the start in the Irish backfield and again showed off some insane jump cuts in the open field. Its no mystery that Irish fans everywhere are excited about him leading the backfield for years to come. Folston finished the game with 73 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown while Cam McDaniel who also carried the ball 17 times ran for 80 yards in another impressive outing for the Texas native. While the running backs earned the yards, it would not have been possible if not for the outstanding play of the offensive line, and in particular senior Zach Martin. Martin, who was the first offensive lineman to win an MVP award for a bowl game since 1959, dominated the line of scrimmage all game long and impressed NFL draft scouts in the process.

The 2013 season is over and now we look to the offseason. Irish fans eagerly await to hear if Stephon Tuitt will return for his senior season, or if he will enter the 2014 NFL draft. Brian Kelly also is going to be making some hires to replace Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin, who both left the program to take head coaching jobs at UConn and Miami of Ohio. While Brian Van Gorder has already been hired as the defensive coordinator, the offensive coordinator position is still needed to be filled. The offseason always seems to cause drama for the Irish, but hopefully this season that will not be the case.

We will have much more here at Down the Tunnel with all of the upcoming offseason news, signing day, and preparation for spring football. Stay tuned.

Irish slide by Rutgers in the Big Apple. A Knee Jerk Reaction

– Sgt Shamrock

Notre Dame defeated Rutgers 29-16 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl played at Yankee Stadium in New York City. The Irish didn’t play their best by far but were still able to come out with the victory. Tommy Rees finished his Notre Dame career with 319 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions even though he threw into double coverage multiple times during the game. The Irish rushed for 175 yards lead by Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston, as Notre Dame ran a primarily a two back system with George Atkinson suspended for texted at a team dinner (Yes he was really suspended for that. Brian Kelly is not messing around). The Irish defense played pretty well only allowing one touchdown and stopping the Scarlet Knights in the redzone on multiple occasions. Even without Louis Nix in the middle of the defensive line, the Irish were able to put pressure on Rutgers forcing bad passes and multiple turnovers.

The Irish finished the season at 9-4 and move into the offseason with Everett Golson back at Notre Dame. The Irish are going to be hiring a new offensive and defensive coordinator in the coming weeks, and we will all be awaiting Stephon Tuitt’s decision on whether or not to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, or declare for the NFL draft. Check back into Down the Tunnel for an in depth recap of the bowl victory, and upcoming news for Notre Dame football.