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Stanford mailbag: Chaos, drama and swagger edition

New Mailbox

I’ve been told that the wonderfully simple mailbox imagery I’ve open-sourced from the internet isn’t cutting it. So we’ve made some changes to reflect our new attitude in the mailbag.

Why? Because the wonderful @ndmspaint demanded it. Anybody who can draw Golden Tate taking out the band or Touchdown Jesus helping out against Pitt deserves immediate attention. (Scroll through and enjoy.)

@ndmspaint: Keith I’m calling you out on your mailbox. A single piece of mail? It needs chaos, drama, swagger.

Consider me “swagged up,” and filled with the type of chaos and drama reserved for a Saturday showdown with Stanford that all of a sudden got a whole lot more interesting. And if this bumbling Southwest wifi gets me through these questions without dumping me off, we’re in for a great mailbag as I make the trek to South Bend for a rainy, cold weekend, safe from the heatwave that’s hitting Southern California.

First, let me get to just a fraction of your Frozen Five questions. (I was a big fan of the Four Coursemen before Eilar Hardy got roped in. And after Adam Levine’s appearance on the ESPN broadcast last weekend, I’ve taken the Marooned 5 out of consideration.)

1notredamefan: Hey Keith, In your Live Blog this past Sat. you mentioned summer school cheating. Is there information out there that us blogger’s haven’t been privy to?

I’m glad you asked this. So many people are misinterpreting what exactly is happening on campus with the Honor Code committee and the NCAA investigation. This doesn’t operate like a criminal court. So to call these five players innocent before proven guilty isn’t exactly correct.

SOMETHING happened over the summer. What that is will likely never be revealed, though we’ve been given a few hints and clues by Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick. But the only reason these five guys are being withheld from football games is because there’s an NCAA investigation going on and the academic indiscretions that took place may effect their eligibility.

If something wasn’t fishy this summer, we’d never be going through this.

So it’s just a matter of HOW FISHY and HOW AGAINST THE HONOR CODE these issues were. If it’s found to be a minor incident, then the punishment these five got -- sitting out five games and counting -- is pretty severe, and frankly a shame. If it’s found to be major, you could argue this is still severe.

If it’s a flagrant violation, they could be removed for the semester, just like Everett Golson and Jerian Grant. But the fact that this is going on basically says something went afoul this summer.

lightskin350: Is there any type of legal action these kids could possibly take aginst Notre Dame because if I was one of these players I would look hard at it? This complete process has been a joke and continues to be a joke. Don’t they realize how bad they are making Notre Dame look?

Again, this isn’t a legal process. No student going in front of the Honor Code is allowed an attorney. But as DaVaris Daniels made known in his comments to ESPN, his family (and likely the others) certainly explored their options, and if they were smart, they certainly should’ve consulted attorneys, gotten an advanced look at the cases against them and gotten going on a vigorous self-defense.

As for if this process is a joke or not, I’m not willing to go that far. But Notre Dame certainly isn’t worried about being called tone deaf, nor does outside perception really matter.

But I am willing to second, third and fourth the Op-Ed the Observer published today. Do yourselves a favor and read it.

jerseyshorendfan1: We are coming up on some kind of decision regarding the frozen 5. Assuming they are exonerated, which of the 5 do you see coming back immediately into significant playing time?

I would think KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels and Ishaq Williams will work their way into the rotation as soon as they’re physically capable. That’s what had me a bit worried when Daniels revealed he was working out on his own, not with Paul Longo’s strength staff in the Gug.

But I’m not sure how realistic it is to think these guys are going to be ready to step back into the starting lineup. But they should be able to contribute key snaps, something Williams could do up front and Russell will certainly do, even if it’s in a limited capacity at first.

ndgoldandblue: I guess Stanford still thinks they got hosed in the 2012 game against the Irish. Will David Shaw ever stop acting like a cry baby, or is he perpetually stuck in the mindset of a spoiled child?

I think he’s going to answer the questions he’s asked. So while his comments placing this game in a similar category as the Tuck Rule game certainly sound whiny, it’s only fair to mention that later in the same sentence, he acknowledged the game was over and it’s what was called, so he moved on.

I certainly don’t blame him for being frustrated at the end of the game in 2012. You’ve got to remember he’s playing a game in a stadium that’s literally one of the last not to have replay capabilities, leaving him -- and probably his coaching staff -- completely lost on the outcome of the final play, something that likely led to his more-than-frustrated remarks, especially when you can see where he and Stephan Taylor are coming from when they say he got into the end zone.

(It was well after the whistle blew the play dead though.)

don74: Which of the 3 RB’s breaks out this weekend. ND wins if they can successfully run it 30 times.

If Notre Dame can manufacture a ground game like they did in 2012, they’ll be in very good shape. That the Irish managed 150 yards on the ground was a pretty surprising outcome. As much as I want the back to be Greg Bryant, don’t be surprised if it’s Cam McDaniel getting the clutch carries.

I will quibble with your final statement, though. ND doesn’t win if they can run it 30 times. They’ll run it 30 times because they’re winning.

ndlv: If the fist-pumping BVG asked for your advice about planning for Stanford’s offense, which defensive approach would you recommend: (1) Put in bigger (but slower) bodies who haven’t played much, like Councell, to better match up with Stanford’s size, or (2) Stick with the smaller and faster players because this is the strength of the defense so far?

God I hope BVG doesn’t ask me for advice. But if he did, I’d probably be in favor of loving the one you’re with, and rolling with the defensive strategy that’s been utilized these first four games. I know we’ve all heard Brian Kelly talk about how Ben Councell will be a key part of this defense against big-bodied, physical teams. But right now, he’s an out-of-position outside linebacker less than a year removed from ACL surgery.

Few seemed to notice, but the Irish basically ran a base defense out of nickel last week, with Matthias Farley getting the start in place of James Onwualu. Farley is playing at a very high level and will likely be asked to cover Stanford’s resurgent tight end passing attack.

Of course, I’ll change my stance if we start seeing Stanford ripping off big runs and moving the ball on the ground at ease against the Irish’s undersized front seven. But I would be surprised if that happened.

DPU Man ND Fan: Irish D is #4 in country in points allowed, but middle of the pack in most every other key stat – yards allowed, sacks, tackles for loss, turnovers forced, etc...How likely do you think it is that our stingy D thus far turns out to be a bit of a mirage over the full season, and do you worry that Stanford might be first in line to expose us on Saturday, particularly our run defense?

I’m going to correct just one part of your question (that I shortened for ease as well). Notre Dame is a Top 25 outfit in turnovers forced, and just two turnovers away from being in the Top 10. (They were Top 5 heading into Syracuse I believe, getting us to the point of the question where we should be: It’s still REALLY early from a sample size perspective...)

That being said, just watching this defense should tell you this isn’t a bend but don’t break outfit. This is an attacking unit that’s done a great job to keep points off the board.

Yardage totals are higher because Syracuse hit on a few big passes. After halftime, Michigan outgained Notre Dame. Rice and Purdue had some early success before being shutdown. When most teams are going through their cupcake non-conference schedules, that pushes ND back a bit, too.

I think we can only watch things play out before we see if this defense will be “exposed,” but you need to also put this performance in context to preseason expectations. Everybody but the guys inside The Gug thought this group would be horrible. So even if they don’t live up to Notre Dame’s historically good 2012 defense (a group that still got lit up against Alabama), it’s a pretty impressive unit considering they are short two key starters and only graduate Cody Riggs from the group.

martyhealy: Other than Boston College and ND there are no other Division One Catholic schools that participate in football. You would think one in California, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, or Florida would have a gold mine in recruiting kids that want to get “Holy”. Any thoughts?

Not a bad idea, Marty. All you need is a few hundred million bucks and 10 years and you could have something. Get the Kickstarter campaign rolling!

prodigolson: If you were Stanford’s Defensive Coordinator how would you attack our offense? Sit back and hope we make mistakes (aka Tommy Rees scheme), or come after Golson and try to force mistakes?

That’s a tough question. I’d probably start by doing my best to take something away. While it’s probably counter-intuitive, I think making sure the ground game doesn’t get rolling is still the best way to defend Notre Dame. Even if it puts the Cardinal defensive backs in man coverage, it’s a risk I’m still probably taking.

From there, I’m throwing coverage schemes and late shifts at the Irish quarterback, forcing him to shift and change the plays early and often. The other part of my strategy is to make sure I’m keep Golson in the pocket. Few quarterbacks do more damage on the move, with Golson’s ability to extend plays a back-breaker for even a talented secondary like Stanford’s. Keep him in the pocket, especially with the monsters Stanford has up front.

As we saw last night, Arizona’s offense made it impossible on Oregon when they were able to both run and pass with efficiency in the second half. If the Irish can get the ground game rolling with their running backs, it opens up the zone read keeper for Golson and also the passing game, an explosive part of Notre Dame’s offense that needs to be on point.

The short answer? Do everything good. The longer one: Do a lot of different things and keep the quarterback confused.

ndcanuck: How much difference will the new field surface make for this game? Compared to the terrible conditions two years ago in South Bend, and the painted mud they play on in Palo Alto every year, is it possible the Irish have a real chance to take advantage of their team speed for once here?

This is a big one for me, great point. I think it’s going to be a big difference. Every game I’ve rewatched from the past few years always shocks me. Notre Dame just looks so slow on the natural grass. What’s the point of having athletes when they get neutralized by the home playing surface?

I firmly believe that Brian Kelly has recruited better athletes than just about everyone on their schedule, Stanford included. We’ll see if they’re able to show that on the FieldTurf, especially in conditions that will be less than ideal this weekend.

danirish: By the end of the year do we see a lot more of Luatua & Smythe catching the ball? Possibly starting? Not a knock on Koyack but Luatua’s blocking was not bad!

I just don’t think this is going to be a big year for tight ends. Play them and you’re not playing a fourth receiver. And no matter how good I think Smythe or Luatua will be, they aren’t better offensive contributors than CJ Prosise, Torii Hunter, Amir Carlisle or Chris Brown.

We saw a bit of two-tight ends last week, with Luatua looking solid in basically his debut. But I’m not running a true (or redshirt) freshman tight end out there if I can play a veteran, explosive receiver. (And that’s before finding out what might happen with DaVaris Daniels.)

@michaelmartin78: More successful week, the FSU Quarterback tree or the Bill Belichick coaching tree?

I just watched Christian Ponder play his way into the broadcast booth last night. So even with Charlie Weis collecting his second form of unemployment, I’m having a hard time picking the former Seminoles.

ndrocks2: Are you hearing anything about recruiting? Seems to be a less noise than normal about kids coming to ND or looking around after giving their verbal.

Not a lot of seats on the bus, so it’s not exactly fair to be complaining about a recruiting class that’s still pretty active and in the hunt for some top dogs. (Not that I’m accusing you of complaining, but you catch my drift.)

I wrote about some names visiting in the Pregame Six Pack, but another interesting addition to the visitor list this weekend is quarterback and Penn State commit Brandon Wimbush. The New Jersey native is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country and would be a coup for this recruiting class, especially when it looked like Notre Dame had turned the page to 2016 prospects. (This is following the playbook ND used to land Everett Golson.)

For as good as James Franklin has been recruiting at Penn State, losing the face of his class -- after the Irish snatched back Josh Barajas -- would be huge.

sm29irish: from what you have seen thus far both on the field and behind the scenes do you like this team or the 2012 unit better? What do you think Brian Kelly would say if asked off the record?

Ask me in nine games. I don’t think Brian Kelly -- on or off the record -- picks children, but he certainly doesn’t pick the one that’s only 4-0 after the other one allowed him to play for a national title.

@kevroe67: Would like to know if the players keep the Shamrock uniforms as it is one and done. And if ND would consider mandating some noon games on the schedule.

I checked in with people at ND, and it looks like the guys do get to keep their Shamrock Series uniforms. Talk about a Halloween costume that keeps on giving!

As for the mandating of noon games, it’s probably not happening. Saturdays in South Bend start at 3:30 p.m. ET, with one night game likely sticking around. As for away games, not sure how much “mandating” Notre Dame can do. But usually the broadcast partner has a big say in the game’s time, so don’t expect an early start for a team that’s played almost exclusively primetime away games over the past few years.

Tim’s Neighbor: Personal question: How did you end up at ND? Any fond memories of ND before you were a student?

While I appreciate Nudeman giving me a baseball scholarship in the comments, I wasn’t getting any of the 11.7 scholarships that get allocated to the baseball team (especially the ones Paul Mainieri put together).

But I was lucky enough to chew gum and hit fungos for a while, a rather anticlimatic end to a baseball career, but a nice opportunity nonetheless. I picked Notre Dame because it was the best combination of school and sports that I was choosing from, even though I grew up rooting for former Cretin quarterbacks Chris Weinke and Steve Walsh, making me a big Miami and Florida State youngster. (I know, I know...)

As for fond memories, I’ve got hours of them. Usually they’re recapped over a few cold ones with friends, but I think the more years I’m gone the more I appreciate those four years and what Notre Dame was trying to do for us, probably like everybody else.

I try to take a nice long jog around campus every time I’m back, just watching students do things that us grown-ups wish we could relive again. It’s even better on non-game weekends, too. The campus has gotten prettier in the decade-and-change since I was roaming it, and there are so many little nooks that you can make your own.

(I hear bagpipes and a violin in my head, so I’m ceasing transmission. But special thanks to my Mom and Dad for footing that bill!)