Notre Dame Football Stock Report: Week 6

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

After two consecutive weeks of plummeting, the Notre Dame football stock leveled out, at least for now, with a 50-33 victory against the Syracuse Orangemen. It’s too soon to say whether this is a signal of an upward trend for Brian Kelly’s troops; Syracuse is no powerhouse and 33 points given up isn’t anything to throw a pizza party over, but given the way Syracuse plays on offense, it was to be expected that points would be scored. The offense was an embarrassment of riches from a big play standpoint, in no small part aided by playing a defense that is worse than the one they put on the field on a weekly basis, which is really saying something. To their credit, DeShone Kizer and his skill players took advantage of most of the opportunities that were presented to them by a leaky defense, en route to 654 yards of offense and 50 points.

Next up are the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who sit at 3-1, in Raleigh. A true road win for this team would definitely tilt the scales towards a positive trend for the football program and set them on a course to turn the season around.


CJ Sanders and Equanimeous St. Brown

Alright, we’ve seen enough, these young men are ballers. It always takes a little bit to fully buy into young players who are getting their first real playing time in their careers. There is a tendency to over react to strong early performances and cast stardom onto players with too little of a sample size. Through the first five games it’s safe to declare these two players will be stars for the Irish for as long as they are on campus.

The St. Brown hype train was rolling even last year with the reports of what he was doing in practice and he got some preseason love from Bruce Feldman from Fox Sports as a possible breakout star in college football. Turns out everyone knew what they were talking about. Threw five games St. Brown has 25 receptions, 541 yards and 6 touchdowns. He is not a Will Fuller type of player, but that is Will Fuller type production, which should suit everyone just fine. Impressively, he has scored his six touchdowns in multiple ways. He hit Texas and Michigan State for jump balls, a red zone post corner against Duke, a dig, catch and run against Syracuse and a blow by for his second touchdown against the Orangemen. And of course there was his cartwheel flip into the end zone after going up the seam against Texas. In this way, he is somewhat more valuable than Fuller, who had trouble being effective in the red zone. Three of St. Brown’s six scores have already come from that area of the field that plagued the Irish last season.

There have been numerous calls to get Sanders more involved in the offense, but he won’t be kept down even with minimal touches. The sophomore already has returned three kicks for scores with a fourth being called back by penalty. He also seems to catch everything that is thrown his way and is deadly when he has even a little bit of open space. It’s only a matter of time before Notre Dame fully takes advantage of his vast skill set and when paired with St. Brown should give Kelly’s unit a formidable duo at the receiver position.

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The 2017 Defense

Notre Dame emptied the cupboard on defense Saturday playing a slew of underclassmen in what was a major change in philosophy on that side of the ball. As was maddeningly apparent during the Brian VanGorder era, he generally had a selection of players that he was comfortable with and stuck with them for better or worse. New defensive coordinator Greg Hudson seemed to have received some pretty straightforward marching orders from Brian Kelly to play as many people as possible. The result was a free flow of substitutions at all positions that mostly occurred from possession to possession instead of play to play. How much positive effect will this have on this defense overall? It’s hard to really say. It’s certainly too soon to proclaim that anything has been solved on this side of the ball, although there were plenty of encouraging signs.

The most encouraging thing, however, is likely what this means for the future of the defense in subsequent seasons. What we’ve seen, for the most part, is a bunch of quality individual performances mixed in with a unit that plays like they are running the schemes for the first time. This is a problem that isn’t likely to rectify itself this season. But, the talent is there and given a proper coach with a quality scheme, coupled with all of the playing time the youngsters are amassing should bode very well in the seasons to follow.

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DeShone Kizer on 3rd down

Heading into the season, one of the most talked about problems with the Notre Dame offense was the red zone touchdown conversion percentage, and for the most part that aspect has been improved significantly so far in 2016. Notre Dame is currently sitting at a 74% conversion rate, last season they converted their red zone opportunities into touchdowns just 58% of the time. Unfortunately, their struggles in the red zone have given way to struggles to convert on third down. They haven’t been over 50% in any game this year and are converting at 39% on the season. This is especially troubling given the talent they have at quarterback in DeShone Kizer, who hasn’t been especially good moving the chains in third down situations as a thrower. He’s attempted 36 passes on third down with the 14 completions resulting in a first down achieved, which matches their overall conversion percentage of 39%. Last season Kizer was operating at a 52% conversion percentage on attempts per first down.

Kizer also hasn’t picked up the slack as runner either. Last season Kizer was 11 of 23 (48%) converting third down runs between 1 and 6 yards into first downs with 19 carries totaling 170 yards. So far this season there has been a dramatic drop off in his third down rushing efficiency. He’s run the ball 8 times for -4 yards on all third downs so far and has yet to pick up a first down with his feet. For a player with his athleticism this is pretty staggering. Winning on third down is a key for any offense, especially one that relies so heavily on that unit to score points. Punting and playing defense is not a winning formula for this football team.


The Targeting Rule

This play in the second quarter by Devin Studstill in the game against Syracuse resulted in his ejection.

This play against Torii Hunter Jr. was deemed legal and safe. I mean, even the video guy can see it. Targeting.

This play in the Stanford at UCLA game on September 24th was deemed legal and safe.

The officials don’t know what they are doing, either on the field or in the booth. Get rid of the rule, re-write it and make it clear what is legal and what is not. Studstill was essentially ejected for a late hit on a play where the quarterback slid at the last second in front of him and contorted his body to avoid helmet to helmet contact. Hunter Jr. and Owusu were knocked unconscious on the field with direct helmet to helmet contact and nothing happened, except an incompletion and a fumble recovery. NCAA officials embarrass themselves on a weekly basis on this issue, it’s time to drop it.

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  1. Kizer has to learn how to be a crunch time guy. Last year he seemed to be able to put it into another gear to win the last 2 minutes of halves and 3rd down, though the whole team struggled in the red zone; including coaches (when fans at home can call the red zone plays before the snap, you have become predictable). Kizer needs to focus on moving chains, but the play calling has been suspect with many plays called that makes the throw happen in front of the chains.

    Targeting is like many laws designed on good intentions that end up causing more confusion.

  2. Pretty soon, it will only be played in virtual space, if the concussion problem is not addressed. Imagine what the liability is even now!

    If some of the refs who throw people out of games for thin unnecessary roughness that appear in this new life in football as targeting – then the review team punts, well what does that mean? And the refs who see, and hear targetting for real look the other way, what does that say? Either they are all pissed that they even have to make these calls, or worse, they actually do not want the concussion plays taken out of football!

    REFS: get your house in order. And fix the review people’s brains. And modify the rule for a sudden change of directions or level as suggested by another posting person right here.

    But of course, you have to want to do that to actually do it, don’t you?

    Bruce GC

  3. To say anything but good about kizer is simply crazy. I’m not going to worry about his 3rd down conversion rates after what this guy has done at ND. He has practically carried this team.

    Targeting is simply the worst rule in football. Pretty soon it will be played with flags.

  4. On my commute home I realized that somebody might think my above comment was about real, literal cheerleaders. It was not.
    By cheerleaders, I meant guys who hung around the ring shouting “take his head off” or “kill him”, etc., but had no intention of climbing in there themselves.
    We used to call them cheerleaders.

    I have the utmost respect for real, actual cheerleaders. Most of those guys and gals are a lot better athletes than I ever was.

    Bruce GC
    La Crosse, Indiana

  5. The BYU player used his shoulder pads to the neck or head area. But it’s so fast, guys are changing levels, etc. But he was obviously not using his helmet, and very obviously trying to do it the right way. So he’s ejected for trying to play the game right – the way he was coached. It’s BS to eject him – and it confuses young viewers.

    Both the Texas and the UCLA hits were with the helmet to the helmet. But the UCLA guy actually had to INCREASE his level to make that contact! Both resulted in the predictable concussion, followed by the predictable trip to the dressing room – I’ve been there and done that – but in another “sport” where the entire goal is about giving the other guy a concussion.

    Maybe there are refs out there who don’t like the way the sport is going – or maybe they are just incompetent.

    The rule needs to be clarified, and refs who think this is pussyfying the sport, if there are any, need to “get their bell rung” or “get clocked” a few times and end up (or wake up) in the Dressing Room.

    If you think this is good stuff, boy have I got a “home” for you. You can’t do it in CYO camp like I did long ago, but you can still do it. Try it if you like it. Or are you guys just cheerleaders who like to watch other men get concussions?

    Get real.

    Bruce G. Curme 77′ 82′

    1. As I posted right after Texas, we need independent referees, and maybe BYU does as well.
      We used to have them back when there were about 10 Independents. Now there are only four, but I would consider it anyway. I really would.

      Bruce BG

  6. Brad, Rich, its College ball, non paid players and poorly paid “blind” refs. What do you expect. I’m from SoCal originally and saw the “Phantom TD” and the “incompletepass” at the end and cost us both games.

  7. I’m with you Rich. The one in the UCLA game was for more deserving. NCAA needs to get it together on this. There is way too much variation from one referee to the next.

  8. I’ve watched that “targeting” call way to many times and each time I watched it it becomes more apparent that if that was targeting then the play in the Texas game was out and out assault with a deadly weapon. What exactly did the ref in the booth see that the rest of the world did not? The refs on the field saw nothing but yet the guy in the booth made a simply horrendous call. Not only that but the player hit at first got up holding his head realized, hey I didn’t really feel a helmet to helmet, so let me run off the field. It was ridiculous. Now before everyone tries to hang me for not being concerned for the health of the players, to that I say BS. If a player commits a helmet to helmet or spearing then banish him for the game but that was a joke.

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