Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Mailbag: Weekend reading

New Mailbox

Before we have an Irish-free Saturday, let’s get to some questions. For those of you wondering what you should do on a day usually committed to football, the world is your oyster. Or you could watch some of Notre Dame’s opponents do battle.

Navy is taking on San Jose State in the early game. Both USC and Arizona State are playing late tonight. It’s three opportunities to see three of the challenges ahead, especially with Louisville and Northwestern sitting this weekend out.

Welcome to a Justin Brent joke-free Mailbag:

@WorldBWhee: why should we think that “this” the Irish are back? Been down this road a few times in the past 12 years to no avail...

Okay, I’ll bite.

I’m not necessarily sure that this team is going 11-1, and if they do, they’ll certainly need to play a lot of good football. But if you can’t see what’s happening under Brian Kelly, and the improvement of this football team, then you’re never going to see it.

This isn’t like 2005-06, where a veteran team had a gigantic drop-off behind it when the talent graduated. It’s not like the 2002 team, getting by on defense and an offense that literally struggled to score an offensive touchdown for the first month of the season.

Even if you take into consideration 2013’s four losses -- a team that was playing all season with its backup quarterback -- the roll Kelly and Notre Dame are on since 2012 is pretty impressive. It’s also one that doesn’t seem close to stopping, with this program set up for success over the next few years, especially when you consider this team is led by the youth on the roster.

“Being Back” is a pretty stupid concept in general. But if it means Notre Dame’s going to compete for a spot in the playoff over the next few years (and could likely open next season as a preseason No. 1 candidate), then they’re back.

goirishgo: What’s your take (and ND’s) on the impact of the FSU and UNC academic investigations on the ACC? Wasn’t part of the attraction to the league cultural? Having to do with the perceived academic strengths of schools like Duke, Wake, UVA, and the like? Has that changed?

I think you’re absolutely right that the ACC’s culture was one of the most attractive parts of the conference membership. And while the Jameis Winston stuff and Florida State’s alleged complicity in all of it is quite distasteful I actually think the North Carolina situation is far worse.

It will be very interesting to see how Mark Emmert and the NCAA handle this, and how dramatically they plan to sanction the Tar Heels athletic department. A systemic issue that went on for 18 years is mind-boggling. All that being said, I don’t really see it impacting Notre Dame, the conference at large, or its members. Other than the black eye in general not being good for one of the conference’s premiere athletic departments.

@waylonlc13 Can u put a grade on the #ShamrockSoldiers15? How do they compare 2 previous groups and who do u c contributing early?

I’ve learned long ago that football coaches evaluate recruits much better than sportswriters. That said, I expect this to be one of Kelly’s best classes, especially if they close with a flourish, as I expect they will.

What’s interesting with this group is Brian VanGorder’s imprint on the defensive recruits. After focusing on the defensive front late in the last recruiting cycle, the Irish are rebuilding the back-seven of the defense, especially needed with injuries and attrition in the secondary. These guys don’t profile like earlier recruits. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with the common denominator being speed and athleticism.

Pair that with some early targets that turned into early commitments and we’re seeing the way Kelly and his staff prefer to recruit: Build your base early and stay in play for the big-time, national guys.

mediocrebob: Word’s out that Daniels will likely try to return to Notre Dame. With scholarships limited and several big names left on the board, is there a good chance of seeing DD back next year?( assuming the university will have him of course) Is there a possibility of Van Gorder’s son giving his scholarship up? Never quite understood the reasoning behind that.

If word is KeiVarae Russell’s instagram page, then that’s the word. But it’s probably pretty premature to know what DaVaris, the Daniels family, or the university are thinking, or what the readmission policy is for any of the athletes with eligibility remaining. Especially when last Kelly talked about it, he said he had yet to speak with DaVaris at all.

All that being said, I’d find it hard to believe that Kelly wouldn’t take Daniels back. He was expected to be the team’s best receiver this season. Add him to the mix next year and the Irish could go five-wide with playmakers and even the most old-fashioned Irish fans would have little to complain about.

Daniels likely sees a draft grade that would have him lucky to be taken this year, with only an injury-plagued two seasons for scouts to work from. But a big 2015 season he could catapult him up draft boards, earn Daniels a diploma and be a win-win for everyone.

As for the VanGorder scholarship, I’m not sure if it’s a year-to-year proposition with walk-ons being awarded scholarships. And while most make the moderately valid point that dad could and probably does get some tuition reciprocity, the likely reason VanGorder was put on scholarship was so he could take part in all the prep meetings and travel with the team, considering in an emergency, VanGorder is likely the No. 3 quarterback, with the staff desperately wanting to save a year of Deshone Kizer’s eligibility.

@michaelmartin78: CDH Raider James Onawalu doesn’t seem to make a lot of plays, is he under performing or just hard for novice eyes to notice?

Good question. Not really sure, although the staff likes what he’s doing. And the Irish are really playing a 4-2-5 a lot of the time, with a nickelback on the field and Onwualu on the sidelines.

For a guy making a transition to defense, that Onwualu is already in the starting lineup certainly says something. But the fact that he’s got eight total tackles likely says something, too. We’ll see how much this staff likes their situation at Sam linebacker when the new recruits come in. I expect Onwualu to keep getting better this season as it goes on, but right now, it’s all but a two-man linebacking corps.

irishdog80: Schmidt has been playing great. Many thought, myself included, that Nyles Morgan would be making a bigger impact by now. What’s the story on Nyles Morgan and his development? Is he this year’s Max Redfield?

Last fall, Nyles Morgan was playing high school linebacker, one of the least complex jobs in all of football: Search and Destroy. This year, he’s being asked to learn a defense that has more scheme and inventory than most NFL defenses. Whose head wouldn’t be swimming?

VanGorder talked about Morgan’s development earlier in the week, having nothing but good things to say about him. But this is Schmidt’s defense and Morgan is spending his freshman year learning and playing special teams. Let’s see if VanGorder can get him some snaps in garbage time this month.

dudeacow: How has VanGorder’s decided schematic advantage helped overcome the youth and inferior physicality of some of the defense’s players so well?

I see what you’re doing there... But I’m not sure your analysis is helping you, because as I mentioned earlier this week in the special edition of the Good, Bad and Ugly, this isn’t a physically inferior football team. Just ask Florida State.

VanGorder is proving a few things: 1) He’s a great Xs and Os coach. 2) He’s got physically talented young kids. and 3) They’re smart enough to learn his system.

That this is all happening so quickly is the best surprise of the season.

ylilbnosredna: Keith, how much do you think Folston’s performance against FSU helped ND’s chances with Jamabo? Before that game, I really didn’t think Kelly and co. were doing much to convince RB’s that this was an offense where they could thrive. However, I think Folston’s performance demonstrated that if a RB can really take over in this offense, Kelly will be a lot more hesitant to take him off the field and give him a chance to dominate like we saw Sat night. Do you think Jamabo truly believes he can thrive in this offense and will ND get him? If so, when’s the last time ND could boast signing a trio of blue-chip backs like Folston, Bryant, and possibly Jamabo in a 2 year period?

I see where you’re going, but this would be a three-year period, not two. And I don’t think Soso Jamabo, or any elite running back, needs to see Tarean Folston’s performance against the Seminoles to decide to come to Notre Dame.

The Irish will only look better on the ground as the weeks continue. And with just Folston, Greg Bryant and incoming freshman Josh Adams (don’t sleep on him) on the scholarship roster, the depth chart is as good as you could ask for.

johngaltisspeaking: my question is how are we going to defend Arizona State when they play more like a spread team. Florida State played a very similar style of football to ND but since UNC took it to us in a tight loss I see Arizona State being a team that could take us out of the playoffs.

I’m willing to answer good questions, especially if you’re done being a troll. The ASU game is the next “game of the year.” They play fast, they’re explosive on offense and it’s going to be a hostile atmosphere in Sun Devil Stadium. And Taylor Kelly has pronounced himself 100 percent healthy.

VanGorder said he didn’t do a good job against North Carolina. We’ll see if the Irish have a new way to attack a hurry-up team, but I also think the speed wasn’t as difficult to deal with as Marquise Williams, who played the game of his life.

tracyjordansminifridge: Is Hunter Jr. Healthy enough to play? He has looked extremely athletic in the glimpses we have had of him. He also appears to be a much stronger runner than carlisle who goes down at the thought of contact

He’s healthy. And he’s learning. But right now, Hunter is in the John Goodman-Dayne Crist-Washington State-Sample Size category. He’s been good, but it’s been three or four plays, not exactly a complete body of work.

Carlisle has been very good this season, though let’s hope the fumble against FSU doesn’t send him into a tailspin, like it did against Purdue last year. He’s got a knee brace on that could be limiting him, so we’ll see if he stays in the rotation with C.J. Prosise, or if Hunter can cut into those snaps.