Back to Business for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly

Notre Dame Football - Stephon Tuitt


Nov. 5, 2011; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive end Stephon Tuitt (7) reacts as he leaves the field after Notre Dame defeated the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 24-17 at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The drama surrounding Brian Kelly’s future is over and settled. The disappointment and bitter taste from the BCS National Championship game has begun to fade, allowing for the Notre Dame program and its fan base to focus on more important matters. The 2012 campaign, as great as it was, is now in the books and the road to 2013 begins with a simple question: What areas does Notre Dame need to improve to top last year’s performance?

Special Teams

No matter how many annoyed glances or sighs Brian Kelly provides when asked by the media about Notre Dame’s special teams play, it has simply been an ignored facet of the team since his arrival, which is perplexing considering Cincinnati possessed one of the best special teams units in the country under Kelly’s watch. The coaching staff has yet to provide a coherent explanation as to why the Fighting Irish line up for every punt in the Punt Safe formation, or why a year of eligibility was spent on freshman Davonte Neal, an electrifying punt returner in high school, to simply fair catch everything booted his

Regardless of the coaching staff’s reasons, special teams stands as a large area of untapped improvement. Notre Dame ranked as one of the worst punt return units in the nation, coming in at 116th. The Irish did little better at kickoff returns, finishing 93rd. With the potential emergence of Notre Dame’s offense in 2013 under the leadership of a matured quarterback in Everett Golson, a more aggressive approach to special teams could result in better field position and more points on the board.

Line Play

The old football cliché holds games are won in the trenches. If the 265 yards Alabama gained on the ground against Notre Dame wasn’t enough evidence of this wisdom, a similar example could be found in the NFL in San Francisco’s victory over the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional round of the NFC playoffs, where the 49ers, led by three 1st round draft picks along the offensive line, bruised their way to 323 rushing yards.

Though the Crimson Tide proved with ease Notre Dame is not where it needs to be along the offensive and defensive line if it wishes to dethrone the SEC, the correlation between ND’s improved line play and its first undefeated regular season in 24 years is easy to see. The offensive line had a terrific season, finish 28th in sacks allowed (1.38 per game) and 38th in rushing. The defensive line had an even better year, finishing 11th in rush defense (even after the 265 yards given up against Alabama) and tied for 22nd in sacks. And while Irish fans may look at the result of the national championship match and see large disparity, the truth is Brian Kelly has been chipping away at the line talent gap since arriving in South Bend.

While Charlie Weis was an excellent recruiter, an argument could be made his downfall came courtesy of poor recruiting along the defensive line. Kelly immediately recognized the issue and made it a top priority. In 2010, Kelly’s first recruiting class, he managed to hang on to the commitment of Louis Nix, an elite defensive prospect. The following year Kelly added another player the likes of which ND hadn’t seen since the Holtz era in Rivals 5-star Stephon Tuitt, a sophomore talent several NFL analysts have said would be a 1st round selection this year if he were eligible for the NFL Draft. While Nix and Tuitt are well-known by Irish fans and played a large part in Notre Dame’s resurgence this season, it’s the players ND fans have yet to get to know well that could finally get ND over the hump.

Having elite defenders like Nix and Tuitt helped put Notre Dame on the map, but depth is what will make Notre Dame a consistently successful program. And defensive line depth is accumulating in South Bend at an exciting rate. In Brian Kelly’s third recruiting cycle he was able to sign Rivals 4-star Sheldon Day, an impact player from this season, and Jarron Jones, a Rivals 4-star who preserved a year of eligibility but has been singled out by players and coaches as a potential star in the making. The good fortune and depth has continued in this recruiting season as well, with the commitment of Rivals 4-star defensive lineman and Georgia native Isaac Rochell, a player coveted by every SEC program, including Alabama. Also a boon for Notre Dame, one of Rochell’s closet friends and teammates is Andrew Williams, a class of 2014 Rivals 4-star defensive lineman considered to be one of the best in the country.  Williams has visited South Bend twice with Rochell, and Notre Dame will be a player in his recruitment.

Notre Dame Road to the Playoffs '17: Week 11 Game Guide

In addition to this good news, even better news is still in the making. Eddie Vanderdoes, a 4-star defensive lineman – though on the verge of becoming a 5-star – and one-time USC commitment, is visiting Notre Dame on January 25th. Vanderdoes was considered by many to be the best defensive lineman at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and has developed a relationship with current Irish star Louis Nix. Defensive line recruiting is going so well, in fact, that ND already possesses a Rivals 4-star defensive line commitment in Jay Hayes, a Brooklyn, New York, native who has already established himself as a campus personality-in-waiting given the recent news he made by taking a picture of himself eating a Michigan recruiting letter and posting it to his Twitter page.

Possessing elite defensive linemen played a central role in Notre Dame’s appearance in the national championship game. Hopefully a depth of such players is what finally gets Notre Dame to the top of college football.

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  1. JC 5 years ago


    Thank you for taking the time for your response, I understand now. Further, if you remember our last entanglement about 8 wins out, you asked what I thought of BK? I thought you were bringing an “I told you so moment!” I thought wrong. Therefore, responded in a manner unfair to you for not understanding my goal of 10 wins before being on board with BK.

    So yes, Mea Culpa too, I will try harder to understand you also. Besides, even though we lost to Bama I really do enjoy your keen football analysis.

    Amen on our childern, we live to protect our childern!

    Peace be with you!

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    1. Shazamrock 5 years ago


      “I’ve seen a lot of changing… (this season)

      In the way you feel about me, and the way I feel about you’s…

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that…

      If I can change… and you can change…


      ~Rocky Balboa~

      Peace to you too!

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  2. JC 5 years ago


    So let’s really be highly concerned about “wasted lives of innocent childern.” “Every 23 seconds a baby is killed in the U.S!”

    That’s 1,212,400 in 2012 alone and Planned Parenthood is damn well proud of it! Over 53 million childern murdered since 1973. Yeah, let’s talk real concern over “wasted lives of innocent childern.” Well gee, that’s only 18% legal extermination of our population as of today since 1973! What’s next? Nazi-death camps? So continue to “love-up” your 2nd amendement haters club by exploiting childern to confiscate or ban guns of law abiding citizens.

    No anti-assult rifle advocate or whiner ever mentions the fact: More people in U.S during 2012 were killed by a hammer, human hands or a bat/club than with an assult rifle.

    Any so called assult rifle deaths are indeed unfortunate and horrific, however, they are nowhere near intentional deaths of unborn childern in this country.

    So the question becomes: Do we ban assult rifles over hammers, human hands, bats/clubs and abortion clinics? I say we cut off every one’s hands to alleviate all these weapons of death! I’m sure you would volunteer to go 1st with your fair and balanced concerns.

    Do you want to hear my religious diatribe now that you have interjected your unwanted political point of view?

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    1. Shazamrock 5 years ago

      JDH /JC,

      “we could all come up with 1000s of examples of why we feel “society” has fallen”
      (1000’s !!!! that just about sums it up!))

      So should that mean that just because certain examples of poor social behavior that may have not affected us or our family’s directly, it is not our problem?

      If the water happens to get too muddy where we are standing, should we just move on to cleaner streams to wash our hands of the whole mess?

      My “point of view” was never intended as political, Lawfull, or even spiritual.

      I never considered, or even wanted my concerns stated above to be fair or balanced, and certainly didn’t expect anyone else to.

      It was my personal opinion of our society in which we all live.(or try to)

      I, like you, don’t like goverment continuing to infrindge on our condtitutional rights.

      My frustration displayed in my original post was what I see as a distrubing decline in society, the way we treat each other, what our priorities are, and how they got that way.

      It was supposed to be about behavior, and how and why we respond in certain ways to certain things.

      I doubt that I am alone, or pale, in this view.

      While I have at times myself, regretfully contributed toward this decline, I have also come to understand that it is no one specific group responcible.

      We are all individuals in this society, and only starting as indviduals, can we work together to improve our society, not only for ourselves, but for our children, and our childrens’ children.

      Is that too much to ask for?
      Are we beyond repair?
      Should I just throw my arms up and quit?

      That’s a rather pathetic approach, Yes?

      Isn’t that a big part of the reason we got this way to begin with?

      This is the change in my self, that I want to work toward. I see no other way.

      I don’t want to ban anything from anyone.
      I just want us all to live better… together.

      Is that still possible?

      If you REALLY want to get schooled, go no further than your nightly news.

      A wise man once said that we aren’t going to change human nature any time soon.

      Another wise man said “Better late than never”

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      1. JDH 5 years ago

        Understood and as I said, I agree with your overall assessment. Just took issue with the way you seemed to equate owning certain “types” of weapons with “not caring about the lives of children”. I see now that you did not mean it in the literal sense. We’re good.

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      2. Shazamrock 5 years ago


        You’re a pretty good guy!

        Worthy of everyone’s admiration and respect.

        You certainly have mine.

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      3. JDH 5 years ago

        Likewise Shazam. Thanks bro.

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  3. JC 5 years ago

    Kudos JDH,

    On the “Assult Rifle” comment you know exactly what your talking about!

    Shaz you are beyond the pale:

    “People are more concerned about being able to purchase their assult rifles and ammo clips than the wasted lives of innocent childern.”

    Since you brought it up Shaz as a blanket insult to many rifle owners on this board, I suggest you school yourself on this:

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  4. JDH 5 years ago

    Also, I’ve been using the “Duke lacrosse” analogy alot too in the last 24 hours- a great example of the incompetent media, elitist professors, incompetent or agenda-filled law enforcement all bowing at the altar of political correctness for their own self interest. Meanwhile they destroyed the lives of kids who were INNOCENT. The retard-media fans the flames of a narrative whatever direction will make them the most money. They ingratiated themselves on Teo’s story to begin with, now they are ingratiating themselves by tearing him to shreds, even though no one knows the truth yet.

    That being said, I also remember Penn State, Syracuse, etc. etc. etc. of school “leaders” and AD’s “standing behind 100%” the person/people who turned out to be guilty. I hope to hell that Swarbrick is dead on target. I also think, based upon history, he could end up wishing he didn’t so unequivocally support Teo.

    Again, I hope I’m wrong. I have been praying for Teo and his family. Again I say- I do not think Manti Teo is the kind of person to knowingly engage in a hoax.

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  5. Shazamrock 5 years ago

    Brian Kelly takes an interview with the Eagles and is labeled as disloyal.

    Jack Swarbrick stands behind his student athlete and is labeled as stupid.

    ND plays within the rules, shows class and sporsmenship, and makes it a priority to graduate all of its student athletes, and is inundated with hate.

    Manti Te’o’s grandmother died… tragic and saddening, but people care more about the girlfriend who didn’t… even more tragic and saddening!

    Society sucks!

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    1. JDH 5 years ago

      Hold on there Shazam. None of us know what is true and what’s not yet, so I am withholding judgement. I do not think Teo is the kind of person to knowingly perpetuate a hoax. I think he may have “played up” the angle some as the story got bigger, but never knew it was a scam.

      But to blame “society” for caring about and trying to get to the bottom of this is sort of pathetic, no?

      My grandmother passed away this week. If I go out and spread lies and do wrong should I blame others for caring more about the wrongs than my dead grandmother? (Again, not implying Teo has done wrong.)

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      1. Shazamrock 5 years ago


        My post wasn’t about guilt or innocence.

        It was about the downward spiral of our society as a whole.

        Brian Kelly is disloyal because he interviewed with a NFL team, but Swarbick is not even when he sticks his neck out to back up one of his own players?

        Instead of calling that loyality, they perfer to call it stupidity.

        Does the media really care about Te’o and the loss of his grandmother as much as do about the non-loss of his so called girlfriend and the headlines that will generate?

        Why is it that programs that lie, cheat, and cover up, get pumped up by ESPN, and programs that abide by the rules and graduate players get dumped on?

        It used to be a person was innocent until proven guilty.

        Now, in our social media, it’s the other way around.
        Just ask the Duke Lacross Team.

        People are more concerned about being able to purchase their assult rifles and ammo clips than the wasted lives of innocent children.

        The NFL has only one day of full contact practice per week during the season.
        College football programs will have up to four days of full contact practice.
        Of course college football players don’t have a players union to protect them do they?
        Those young people, and their brains, which are supposed to be for learning college material, are at the mercey of the money barrons… so which do you think comes first… the heath of the student or the money that can be made off them?

        If you don’t want to blame society be my guest, that’s your choice, but I see it differently.

        Some day, God forbid, if the shoe is on the other foot, you may see it that way too.

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      2. JDH 5 years ago

        Ok I see what you’re saying and I agree with much of it. I don’t agree at all with your statement regarding “assault weapons” vs. “lives of innocent children” because a) Assault weapon is a made up term that can mean anything the user wants it to mean- completely arbitrary. I am a staunch defender of the 2nd Amendment, shooter, CCW holder and believe it’s none of the federal government’s business (AT ALL) what guns I own or don’t own. I also would not only never hurt a child, but would defend any child with my life. Because I may own what those ignorant of firearms might call “assault weapons”, do I not care for the lives of innocent children? Or do I just see the modus operandi to label some guns as “scary/bad/not for you” and some as “meh/I guess this one’s ok” as absolutely absurd and pointless?
        b) I fail to see what the firearms debate has to do with the issue at hand- Teo. I mean, we could all come up with 1000s of examples of why we feel “society” has fallen.

        The water is getting muddy.

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  6. C-Dog 5 years ago

    After seeing the hate spewed forth against Notre Dame, I think I need to stop being a sports fan. Truly disheartening.

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    1. Jack 5 years ago

      C-Dog I agree. This is making me rethink even watching sports. It’s sad

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  7. Stanford90 5 years ago

    Back to Kelly for a break from the latest drama.
    There are two considerations that haven’t received much attention: First, to address the claim that BK’s mind was on the interview and not the NC game: the game IS the interview. For a self-centered coach seeking a new job, there’s motivation to assemble the best gameplan possible. Could it be a distraction? sure but he’s had distractions his entire ND career and has been able to manage them. Second, what if he did leave? We are (and maybe soon will be) absolutely in the best position possible to attract a top tier coach. Weis proved we can still recruit. Kelly proved we can still win. It’s a whole lot easier to attract candidates to a stepping stone job than a job where promising careers go to die.

    As a bonus thought, maybe Kelly goes to the NFL and opts to make a return appearance like John Robinson or Bill Walsh – is that so bad?

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  8. Jack 5 years ago

    Regardless of what happens, Jack Swarbrick screwed up with that press conference last night. He should have kept his mouth shut, Manti is a graduate of the University and all he would have had to say is the timeline of when they knew and what they did as a University. To defend Manti at this time, without releasing that report is stupid. He has set himself and the University up for a huge black eye. This thing is going to be combed through and people are going to go back through twitter and find out the truth. If Manti had anything to do with this Jack Swarbrick is going to look like and idiot and thus making ND look like a bunch of idiots. I’m not saying he is guilty of being involved in this but as a University you need all the facts and I don’t think they have come out yet. It will be intersting to see how the chips fall, but I can tell you this, the cover up is worse than the crime. Just ask Penn State and Richard Nixon.

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    1. Beau 5 years ago

      Excellent post.

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    2. Patrick 5 years ago

      Since you brought up politics, I find it funny this story garners more attention than attacks on the 2nd Amendment, payroll tax increases and defense cuts.

      America is becoming more “idiotic” by the moment. But yes, I do agree. This is a Manti Te’o issue, not a Notre Dame issues. UNLESS, somehow the school was more involved.

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      1. Jack 5 years ago


        I agree that this is a Manti story and not an ND story, but Swarbrick made it an ND story by defending him. He needed to just state the facts as they pertained to ND. It will be interesting to see what this report has to say. I hope Swarbrick learned something from Kevin White and get all the facts before you put yourself out there.

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  9. Damian 5 years ago

    We’ll have to wait and see how the whole Manti Te’o thing plays out. On the one hand, I’ve watched Manti with the team all year and find it hard to believe he would be selfish enough to play a part in a scam to increase his stock (after all, what would be the point, his grandmother dying alone would have done that anyway). He played the best year of his life and kept talking about how much he loved his team.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen enough in this world to know anything is possible. I would be extremely disappointed if Manti were some part of a scheme to help his popularity. It appears ND knew about this for a little over 3 weeks now. Like Patrick, I hope ND is not involved in any sort of cover up.
    2013 is shaping up to be a great year so far. First a blow out in the NC game that has all the naysayers saying ND didn’t deserve to be in the NC game (who would they have put in–let’s face it, Alabama would have beaten Oregon or anyone else out there–Saban is ALWAYS ready for an NC). Thanks to Ohio State losting to Florida and LSU, people already say no matter what ND does next year it should be shut out of the NC game (and knowing voters, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them held this years game against them) and now this Manti episode. Hopefully it’s settled soon.

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    1. jeff 5 years ago

      Pretty simple, if ND runs the table again they will play for a national title. However if two other top tier teams such as Oregon and LSU run the table also then ND could very well be on the outside looking in. This same scenario couldve happened this year had oregon and K-state handled there business. Alabama crushes oregon or k-state.

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  10. C-Dog 5 years ago

    Anyone ever notice how much interest is placed on famous sports people in general? It’s not healthy. Is a doctor, engineer, or factory worker treated this way? Our society can be so frivolous. To the point that a good kid liek Teo gets somehow mixed up in a bizarre incident. What is the point?

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  11. Patrick 5 years ago

    Like all of us, I’ve been shocked by this. The only way I’m able to deal with it is this way – yes, I like Manti Te’o. Yes, I believe he’s the best LB at ND in a generation. However, I’m a Notre Dame fan, first and foremost. Regardless of the men behind the uniform, ND comes first.

    Whether Manti lied or not, was naive or not, dumb or not, I don’t care. My only hope is that ND was in NO WAY involved in covering this up. That is my only fear. Manti can be black listed, not drafted, etc. I truly don’t care.

    I just want ND football to continue to ascend and reach the promised land.

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    1. Beau 5 years ago

      After all that Manti Te’o has done for Notre Dame, you want to
      discard him like trash. Shame on you Patrick. When ND loses several games in 2013, you will miss Mr. Te’o.

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      1. Patrick 5 years ago

        I never said I’d throw him away like trash. But I’m not prepared to defend to the death someone I don’t know. And neither should you.

        The bottom line is, I’m not going to lose sleep over his mistake. And neither should any of us. We cannot control him, any more than we can control the weather tomorrow. My point then, as now, was this – I’m a Notre Dame fan. I root for the football team. Not the professors. Not the students. Not the administration. Not even for the coach. The. Team.

        How hard is that to understand?

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      2. Patrick 5 years ago

        And one more thing, how many games do they lose next year? Since you’re a psychic, I’d appreciate knowing so I can place some bets.

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  12. Chi-town Copper 5 years ago

    Manti Teo needs to hire Dog the Bounty Hunter and once he finds his missing girlfriend all will be right with the world.

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  13. ND Southy 5 years ago

    Completely befuddled by this story. Can’t believe it. I truly hope Manti was and is telling the truth. This is one of the toughest things to swallow I have ever heard of.

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  14. Patrick 5 years ago

    What. The. $*%.

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  15. Brandon 5 years ago

    just like you said…. “unbelieveable”

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    1. ND Southy 5 years ago

      What a shame. Probably explains why he played so poorly and seemed listless during the game.

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      1. JDH 5 years ago

        I think there’s alot to that. Teo was the leader of this team. He was non-existent in the NC. Add the weight of this “hoax story” to his exhausting award trip, it had to have had a deep effect on him. And if the team was aware of this…HUGE distraction and a creator of doubt.

        The truth will come out. There are articles saying that NFL players met this girl before Teo did. Sounds like others are standing behind him and verifying that SOMEONE was posing as Lennay, in person and otherwise…

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      2. Patrick 5 years ago

        Exactly. I think this played more of a role in Teo’s play than what’s being alluded to. He didn’t play as “lost” as he did that night all year. Something was definitely different. I don’t blame him – what happened would no doubt rock your world. But yes, I think this played a mental role in the defense’s mental capability that night.

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      3. JDH 5 years ago

        Even Nick Saban himself said privately to John Saunders after the NC game, “I can’t believe we were able to run on them like that. Never thought it would be like that..”

        I’m not implying ND should have won the game. Alabama is the better team. But I do not and have not ever believed Alabama is SO much better than ND that they didn’t even belong on the same field.

        ND’s defense was completely lost and playing scared. They have NEVER done that before all year.

        I believe the whole organization’s faith and trust was shaken to its core, wondering what the hell was true and what wasn’t.

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  16. jim masterson 5 years ago

    I never understand the angst over Special Teams.
    The purpose of the Defense is to get a stop, why get a stop and risk that success with a fumble or penalty of running into the kicker? You’re primary purpose is to get the D off the field, and the Offense back on, the risk/reward seems out of portion.

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    1. SteelFanRob 5 years ago


      STs are 1/3 of the game. Punt and KO returns are key to winning the battle of field position and on the scoreboard.

      Why do you think the ND STs unit would fumble or rough the punter every time by being more aggressive in the return game? That makes no sense. BTW: ND returners have fumbled the ball even making fair catches! Perhaps we should just not put anyone back to even catch punts and let the ball roll and roll and roll. Perhaps if we get lucky the ball will roll into the EZ every time. NOT!

      This makes no sense. ND must improve its STs play, esp. in the return games. Plain and simple. We’re not good enough right now on O to expect to go 75-80 yards for scores.

      Go Irish!

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      1. jeff 5 years ago

        Like i said before, John Goodman was every bit as good at returning punts as Davonte Neal. Oops! I meant just as good at waiving the arm and making the fair catch. Wasted year of eligibility for Neal doing nothing more than Goodman was already doing. I dont think Goodman or Neal was the problem. They were always surrounded by two or three defenders and had no where to go. Wouldnt of made any difference if the Rocket was back there returning punts.

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      2. SteelFanRob 5 years ago


        Some apparently don’t get how important STs are. It can win or lose you games (not that that was the case this year for ND!).

        Wasting a year of Neal’s eligibility to fair catch punts was criminal. Like you say, jeff, Goodman has been fair catching punts for 3 seasons. Why not let him do it again his senior season.

        I believe in BK. But I have my concerns. Forget about the meeting with the Eagles for a second, if you can, and focus on his blindness to need areas on his team, like STs. This isn’t a 1 season problem. No! It’s been a problem since he got to ND. He’s also been outcoached in a few key games, and not just by the likes of Nick Saban.

        His O gameplan for the NC game was lousy. No ifs ands or buts about it. It was wretched. We all saw it; no need to beat a dead horse.

        Oh, well, jeff, let’s hope next season proves this season wasn’t a fluke.

        Good talking with you.

        Go Irish!

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  17. jimbasil 5 years ago

    Spot on special teams post. Why has ST play been ignored? Has Kelly been “once bitten twice shy” since the MSU Fake-out? The offense could have used better field advantage to their advantage this year but didn’t. Let’s hope this changes next season. As for Vanderdoes – I was reading he was more of an Alabama lean. Here’s hoping Kelly & Co. can do some convincing.

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    1. HURLS 5 years ago

      Jim / Rob / Jeff, I was a senior for ND’s last NatChamp. Special teams were absolutely critical to our success. One man in particular: ROCKET ISMAIL. Special teams make a difference.

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