With seven games behind us it’s time for the Midyear Report.
ASSETS/LIMITATIONS: THE UNITS
We rank the units according to three categories:
- FINAL FOUR
- MAJOR BOWL
This is primarily an evaluation of asset potential and value in the future, albeit based on past results along with other factors that can influence the future performance of the asset. Some may think these ratings stringent, but the Final Four rating is held for units which, at all levels, depth included, are worthy of Final Four appearances-and success.
Evertt Golson. He is here because he is outstanding and impactful, not because he is perfect. In 2012 he made significant progress in the second half of the year, right through the National Championship game. Then came his suspension. But he now has a command presence, and is comfortable leading his team, even leading it to the 2 yard line and beyond in the sole loss. He has still only quarterbacked the Irish to one regular season loss and one bowl loss. All else is victory. Victory.
Golson can make every throw, including those between the hash marks, In 2012 he needed to lean on Eifert, but now he is comfortable spreading the ball around to the bevy of receivers available to him.
This year, he and the running backs have already doubled running back pass yardage compared to the entire 2013 season. He has an Achilles Heel of ball security when running. This may get better with more focus, more coaching, and habitually sliding when contact nears. His TD/ Int ratio of 19/6 could improve but is certainly acceptable. He has a physical limitation, his height, and some balls will be batted down at the line of scrimmage. Golson’s performance makes this a final four position, even without an experienced, accomplished backup. You’d like that, but few teams have an experienced backup.
Golson improved significantly in the second half of 2012. Now the offensive line is settled, and the receiving corps has migrated from raw to experienced. He should have an outstanding five game sprint to the finish in November.
This unit has come a long way since August. TJ Jones had graduated. As the season began, the experienced receiver, Daniels, was gone. Brown, Robinson, Fuller, Prosise and Carlisle had combined for 44 catches in 2013. Then Hunter was injured. But the receivers have blossomed and there are few receiving corps with the depth and range of this Irish bunch. Fuller, Brown and Robinson each have more than 20 catches, Prosise has 17 and Carlisle 16. They have caught 16 touchdown passes. The explosive Torii Hunter Jr. may be just a few more practices away from breaking out.
What makes this group special is that there is NOT a go to guy. The receiving corps interfaces well with Golson, who, with his maturity, seems comfortable spreading the ball around. This corps is so diverse that it neutralizes a “lock-down” corner for the opposition. We will merely throw to the “unlocked” ND receivers.
This group appears, uncharacteristically for modern wide receivers, to be egoless, comfortable with disappearing and returning at different times in the game. Fuller and Brown have elite speed, though Fuller has adapted his speed more to his receiving duties. Prosise and Hunter can both move, though not at the Fuller/Brown level. The group should double their aggregate production in the last 5 regular season games, two fewer than they have played so far. As they showed against Stanford and FSU, they are ready to play final four level defenses.
This Army of One eliminates issues in points after and placekicks, and puts most of his kickoffs into the end zone. His punting has kept a treasured redshirt on Tyler Newsome.
Few top programs in America have one guy handling all the chores. He is reliable and clutch. 10 field goals made, 3 missed, including the two bad holds against Stanford. That means only one miss was attributable to Brindza. He deserves a final four ranking because he has taken the suspense out of the kicking game, and because he now possesses the hallmark of excellence-we take him for granted.
The defensive line stepped up by holding its ground against Stanford, a noted rushing power. The Cardinal got only 63 yards rushing. Then they held FSU’s vaunted rushing attack to 50 yards. This is a major accomplishment. Our early concern about the defensive line was the depth, but continued “upper class” level performance by Grant Blankenship and Daniel Cage, supplemented by Justin Utopu and the occasional use of Anthony Rabasa provides some depth behind the “starting five” of Jarron Jones, Ropmeo Okwara, Isaac Rochell and Andrew Trumbetti.
Nevertheless they remain one notch below Final Four level because the North Carolina game indicated that the depth is not yet at Final Four level. Were we to play two postseason games, we will probably run into a high-tempo team, and that is a challenge for the 2014 team. Special note on Jarron Jones. He has grown like bamboo, dormant til about October of his second year, but then sprouting skyward, and now he is preparing to flirt with stardom. Jarron Jones is a brutish determined player. His new specialty, after blocking kicks, is “benchpressing” opposing linemen back into the quarterback. Cage has slowed after a spectacular start. Perhaps the break will rejuvenate him.
The offensive line went through a major retooling after the struggles against Michigan and Purdue, and the progress has been steady. Simply, the Irish gained only 96 yards per game rushing against Michigan and Purdue, and have averaged 164 yards per game in the ensuing four games, inclduing very stout defenses in Stanford and FSU. The Ol provided the fulcrum to outrush Stanford by 129 to 63, FSU 154 to 50. It’s the margin and multiplier (2 to 1 for Stanford, 3 to 1 against FSU) not the number of yards. Have allowed only 13 sacks against some teams that have pretty good pressure packages, like Michigan, Syracuse, Stanford and Florida State. Hegarty will still struggle against great nose tackles in a 3-4 as he did with Parry, but this group is getting better weekly.
They are remarkably disciplined, and have committed few procedure penalties and fewer holding penalties. They will average over 200 yards a game rushing over the final five games.
The hidden value here is that there is true depth. Hanratty has experience as a starter, Harrell has had game experience, and the sophomore trio of McGlinchey, Mcgovern and Bivin do not start because there are better players ahead of them, not because they are not competent. In 2012 we whistled past the OL injury graveyard, as there was absolutely no depth. We are in good shape coming down the stretch.
While Folston has emerged, Bryant will break through in a matter of time. Captain Cam Mcdaniel is Ol’ reliable. We keep them at this level, because three rbs is one too few and we await Bryant’s breakout. They should have a productive November, and then some. This group has become a receiving threat and the 21 catches for 219 yards has already surpassed the 2013 total for receptions and receiving yards by the running backs. Expect the running back corps to match or exceed the 2014 pass production in the last 5 games.
“Sweet are the uses of adversity,” Shakespeare, Willy. One of the best things that happened to the 2014 Notre Dame defense was Collinsworth’s unfortunate injury two days before Rice. Shumate and Redfield had issues against Rice, but a Phoenix rose from those ashes. Redfield and Shumate had to step up and they were certainly ready by Michigan. Poor Nicky (a potentially outstanding safety who showed glimpses as a frosh) Baratti’s injury forced increased playing time for Drue Tranquill, and the moments were not too big for Drue. He may be the second most impactful freshman ever from Fort Wayne. Collinsworth’s reinjury depletes the corps, but soon cometh Eilar Hardy, who will complete the foursome, and will serve as the on-field elder statesman while Captain Collinsworth “coaches” from the sideline. There is now a redshirt junior in Hardy, a junior in Shumate, a rising star in soph Redfield, and a precocious frosh in Tranquill. This position is much stronger than it was in 2013, and it is improving weekly. If Collinsworth was healthy, and Hardy all the way back, thenthis would be a Final Four unit. But we have not seen athleticism and size in three safeties such as Shumate, Redfield and Tranquill as far back as we can recall.
An area of preseason concern which bordered on panic, they have been stellar. They passed a huge test against Stanford when they held up against the Cardinal running attack, with the help of Ben Councell. Jaylon Smith played like a first team All American the first five weeks, a notch below that against Carolina and FSU. The rest may help him. Joe Schmidt is holding up well, his intensity and sagacity minimizing any impact from his athleticism. Right place, right time, right guy for the right year on the right team. Onwualu is starting to emerge and he may be a force by late November and for a one, or two, game bowl season. Depth is an issue here.
Ben Koyack earned his scholarship on the the TD catch against Stanford. Not as breathtaking as Rudolph, Eifert or Niklas, he is very good and will play in the NFL. But in an era when a full offensive arsenal requires the availability of enough competent tight ends to successfully run two and three TE sets, the young corps has not demonstrated sufficient depth. Durham Smythe, with reportedly outstanding downfield receiving skills, was praised profusely by Kelly during Spring and pre-Fall but is still under wraps. Tyler Luatua has delivered bone-crushing blocks in a couple of cameos. Heueruman remains hurt and Weishar needs a year to bulk up so he can show us his documented receiving skills. We expected some TE presence beyond Koyack, but it has not yet occurred. Otherwise, this rating will remain the same.
KeiVarae’s suspension robbed this unit of the second best (behind Jaylon, ahead of Sheldon) defensive player on the team. There is no such animal as a “lock down corner” but Russell is in the “as close as you get” for college players. Cody Riggs has been a welcomed addition, but he has shown some limitations in coverage and in tackling due solely to his size, not his effort. Cole Luke is a future star at Notre Dame, but this is his first year starting, and he is not at the Russell level. Devin Butler is capable as the
third cornerback and can be a future starter at Notre Dame. This position is “held back” at Bowl level, because there should be four starter-quality cornerbacks ready to go to fill the nickel and dime slots. Matthias Farley seems to float between, or among, LB, CB, S. Two outstanding starters weathered the storm against FSU, but more depth is needed. Arizona State, Louisville and USC can pass, and USC’s cadre of receivers will stress test this unit.
CHALLENGES AHEAD – REMAINING OPPONENTS
Ranking the remaining games. NOTE: this is not a ranking of the remaining opponents. It is an ordinal rank of the games in descending degree of difficulty attempting to adjust who we play by factoring in where we play them and when, on their and our schedule.
(1) USC, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, November 29
Sarkisian has completed the cleanup job after the stench of Lane Kiffin. But the Trojans are still impacted, for this year only, by the sanctions, the reduced scholarships and above average injuries. They have been tiring in the second half of games, and giving up points, yards, and yards per play from mid-third quarter on. Kessler is not the best quarterback we will have faced, but he is capable, and is throwing to an absurdly talented receiving corps: Agholor, Farmer, Darreus Rogers, the dazzling Juju Smith and fellow frosh Ajene Harris. Sometimes Adoree Jackson takes some offensive snaps. Farmer, Smith, Jackson and Farmer could staff a 4 by 100 relay team. Some doubt the Trojans because they start two frosh on the OL.
Well, if you’re going to start a frosh its nice to put in one who’s 6’5″ 370 pounds and can drive block like Damien Mama already can. Buck Allen is the best running back we’ll face all year in the regular season. Tall, rangy, great vision, with the power to break tackles. Leonard Willian, Hayes Pullard and Su’a Cravens lead their portions of the defense. But Troy, more than any top 50 team, is vulnerable to a few key injuries. They could be gutted and out of bodies by Thanksgiving weekend. They play Cal and UCLA before they play the Irish. The game is in the Coliseum, and is the 40th anniversary of the most horrifying SC-Notre Dame game ever.
Notre Dame, with Woody Hayes in the TV broadcast booth, praising the Irish for using Wayne Bullock running wild from fullback, methodically moved to a 24-0 lead. Then USC scored the next 55 points and took only 17 minutes to do so. Ugly, nauseating, nightmarish disaster, is a mere understatement.
(2) Arizona State, Sun Devil Stadium, Nov. 8
The Sun Devils struggle against physical teams, getting pounded twice last year by Stanford, barely escaping Utah. We had them on the ropes in AT&T Stadium, but a late interception gave them deceptive momentum. And the 2014 Notre Dame team is a band apart from the 2013 Notre Dame team. While the Sun Devils upset Stanford this year they will have difficulty matching Notre Dame’s physicality. Notre Dame gets a nice schedule quirk here, having a week off and then Navy before traveling to Tempe. Arizona State plays at Washington and entertains Utah before the Fighting Irish arrive. Sure, Jalen Strong, even given the cadre at USC, may be the best receiver we face all year. He may be better than Amari Cooper. Mike Bercovici has been a stellar backup but Taylor Kelly should be back by the 8th.
(3) Louisville, Notre Dame Stadium, November 22
Petrino has done a masterful job of keeping the Cardinals successful while managing three transitions:
(a) Charley Strong’s departure
(b) Teddy Bridgewater’s departure
(c) upgrade from AAC to ACC
While Louisville has the win against Miami, their 6-2 record includes losses to Virginia and a Deshaun Watson-less Clemson. Louisville’s strong suit so far has been the great defense that Strong left behind. Louisville has a big game with FSU at Papa John’s and then visit Boston College before they take a week off before coming to Notre Dame on Senior Day. Petrino is crafty. Louisville’s talent can not match up with Notre Dame’s but this is a slippery little schedule spot. Remember, Louisville Cardinal football is here to stay and they will soon enter and remain in the upper half of the ACC. This is particularly so if Petrino’s peripatetic ways are over
(4) Northwestern, Nov. 15th
Northwestern has a veteran team and will be as feisty as Pat Fitzgerald. The schedule here helps Notre Dame as, while the Irish return home after the visit to Tempe, Northwestern is coming off games against Iowa and Michigan before they trek to South Bend. This Northwestern bunch has been stout defensively, but the Wildcat offense has been in a purple haze (In the late 60’s, some hippies at Northwestern petitioned the powers to change the name from “wildcats” to “Purple Haze”). Siemian is not at Kain Colter’s level. This will be Notre Dame’s first home game since Carolina, so the Irish fans should be supercharged to lift the team over a mildly threatenting letdown spot.
(5) Navy, FEDEX FIELD, November 1st
Navy is in a bad spot against the Irish, playing us the week after a res, after the provocative end to the Florida state game, playing a Brian Van Gorder defense, and on All Saints Day. “The University of Navy scares me to death” was Holtz’ mantra. But Navy has underperformed, and Keenan Reynolds has not yet taken the great leap forward which was ezxpected. In 7 games Reynolds has rushed for 388 yards, 3.6 a carry, while he totaled 1346 in 2014, with 4.5 a carry and 31 touchdowns. He’s only scored 8 touchdowns in 7 games this year. Navy has seen nothing like the quick tacklers we will deploy like Day, Smith, Onwualu, Shumate, Redfield, Luke and Riggs. Openings will close quickly. Get used to this game. It is a harbinger of things to come, as we are slowly migrating away from being scared of weak opponents.
REPLENISHING DEPRECIATED OR OUTDATED ASSETS-RECRUITING.
There are three challenges for the 2015 recruiting class:
(a) remedy roster imbalances and shortfalls
(b) replace personnel losses, from whatever source derived
(c) increase the talent level increasing the likelihood of final Four appearances and championships.
At Deadline, there were 20 commitments. This staff has proven, beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, that it can identify talent. Nobody did cartwheels when we signed Will Fuller and Corey Robinson. We do cartwheels now when they play. Past Performance suggests one or two decommits from the current list. Further, recent history suggest that this class will finish strtongly, albeit with disappointments.
But recruiting is about replenishing ordnace, not emotion. E.g. the 2014 class finished with great strength on the defensive front seven but the Irish went 0-3 on “difference makers” down the stretch:
- Michiah Quick
- Juju Smith
- Isaiah McKenzie
- Smith has been spectacular, if inconsistent, for USC
- Isaiah McKenzie is the latest exhibit which proves that great kick returners are born, not made.
- Michian Quick has been limited to kick returns for the Sooners.
A glimpse of the class so far shows that the defensive depth chart is being fully stocked. And, as with the close of the 2014 class, the type of players being recruited are well suited for the new defense. Bulky boys on the DL, who will yearn to mimic Jarron Jones “benchpressing” opposing OL and mucking up the middle, speed, speed and quickness at LB, providing the wherewithal to collapse space and shrink openings.
Right now, the recruiting class is short one more running back, and one more defensive back. The only short term crisis areas are running back, where four backs is the effective minimum, and cornerback, where you need four “starters” so that starting level cornerbacks can populate the nickel and dime positions. If Russell returns as scheduled, he will join Luke, Butler, and Watkins. At least one of the frosh would probably. The Irish success level at midseason suggests that, at a a minimum, the Irish should lappear in a Major bowl, with all the attendant hoopla and that should continue to hold or ignite the attention of big-time recruits. An appearance in the Final Four, a plausible possibility,
leveraged on top of the 2012 Championship game appearance, would merely enhance the attractiveness of the Irish. From this point forward, frosh should play only because of unredshirtable excellence (RB and CB are the exceptions in 2015). The roster is now fully stocked, and in 2016 Notre Dame will probably be limited to fewer than 20 scholarships.
This allows focus on “difference makers,” the kind of players who can make plays in a Final Four game.
FIRST QUARTER RESULTS
- 33.5 PPG SCORED
- 19 PPG ALLOWED
- +2 TURNOVER MARGIN (15-13)
- +102 YARDAGE DIFFERENTIAL
FIVE YEAR RESULTS, COMPARISON WITH PRIOR PERIODS
After 59 games, Coach Brian Kelly is 43-16, 27-6 in the last 33.
In the mode of baseball standings, we compare Kelly’s rankings to previous coaches
- Ara Raoul Parseghian 47-8-4
- Lou Holtz 46-13
- Dan Devine 45-14
- Brian Kelly 43-16
- Bob Davie 35-24
- Severance Pay 35-24
- Gerry Faust 30-26-1
It has been a successful first half of the year for Notre Dame football. The roster depletion of the five disqualified players has been confronted, absorbed and overcome. The rest of the year is highly important. Notre Dame football is positioned for a strong regular season finish. The readiness is all, though challenges remain ahead. Ever was it thus.