Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hanging up our Jerseys | by Jay

If you're a regular reader, you've probably noticed the updates on BGS have been less and less frequent of late. Heck, that's an understatement: we've been MIA for over a month. As the season wound to a close and we entered into yet another coaching transition, Pat kept the lights on with the occasional update, but I and the other contributors haven't been blogging nearly as much as we used to. With the day-job priorities heating up (and my first baby on the way at the end of May) I haven't had nearly the time to devote to BGS as I had in the past. And Pat, Mike, Michael, Dylan, Jeff, Pete and Kevin are no less busy than I. It's with those bittersweet thoughts in mind that we think it's time to drop the curtain on the Blue-Gray Sky.

It's been a good run. When we started this endeavor, way back in the Winter of 2004, Tyrone Willingham had been fired, and Urban Meyer had just said "no thanks" to Notre Dame. Charlie was to be hired shortly thereafter, and we followed him diligently over these last five years. I think if BGS can claim anything, it's turned out to be a pretty comprehensive chronicle of the Charlie Weis era under the Dome. Over the last five years we've parsed the pressers, broken down the schemes, charted the recruiting, celebrated the victories, and mourned the losses. In the heyday of the blog, we were spending countless hours a week reading articles, brainstorming ideas, researching history and statistics, watching (and rewatching, and rewatching) games, corresponding with other bloggers and folks in the media, and writing and editing posts. One of our hallmarks was that we weren't afraid of the long-form post (or even the multi-post project, spread over several weeks). Maybe that was a way of getting out of having to post something every hour of the day, as many bloggers do it; but for us, the style seemed to fit. We took our time, polished things up, and when we were ready, hit that "post" button. It was a blast.


It's interesting to look back to that Winter of 2004. Eight years of mediocrity were capped by the controversial firing of Willingham, and many people -- including some of our own alums in the national media -- were proclaiming that Notre Dame was beyond salvaging; that the Irish would never again compete for a national champsionship; that, indeed, "the mystique [was] dead." Then, the rejection by Urban Meyer, a bitter pill that seemed to confirm our worst fears about the future of the program. Notre Dame was done.

Then Charlie walked in the door. He came in with bluster and bravado, saying, in effect [screw] that, we're not dead yet, Notre Dame can still compete. And I'm going to lead the charge. From today's vantage point looking back, Charlie's words might seem empty, nothing but a lot of talk and a badge. And he certainly didn't fulfill his early promises. But at the time, the attitude was critical. Charlie was a shot in the arm that was sorely needed. After being rebuffed and rejected and discounted by everyone, here was somebody -- one of our own, too -- who was willing to take that dead-end Notre Dame job, not make excuses, and try to turn this thing around. That five years later he's fallen short and been replaced doesn't mean we should turn those early statements against him. We were reeling, and his attitude and willingness to lead was exactly what we needed at the time.

If anything, Charlie proved that Notre Dame can still compete. He put the lie to the lazy, armchair conclusions about academic standards being too stringent, or that top-flight recruits wouldn't give South Bend a second look, or that Notre Dame could no longer go up against Southern Cal and Michigan and Florida and steal players out from under them. All of those built-in excuses that were proffered by Bob Davie, calcified via Willingham and lazily adopted by the blinkered national media (and much of their mouth-breathing readership) have been systematically disproven over the last five years. Can Notre Dame recruit? Notre Dame can recruit. Can it win? Notre Dame can win. No excuses, indeed. We can compete. We can win. Charlie might not have accomplished it, but he proved it possible. The failures of Charlie Weis are not endemic to Notre Dame. Today, when looking back on the Weis era, we hold him to his own standard, and can say that he did not get the job done; but proudly so, for without him, there might be no more standard.


For the Fighting Irish of 2010, it's a bit different. The foundation is set. We don't need someone to pull us out of the fire; we need someone who can take us over the top. Hopefully Brian Kelly will be that someone. As we close the book on BGS, Notre Dame is once again gearing up for a new beginning, another "return to glory" with the start of another spring practice. There is a lot to look forward to.

At the same time, the dreaded rumors of conference affiliation are making national headlines, and with every quote that drops from Jack Swarbrick's mouth, Irish fans get restless. Five years ago the media wondered if ND would ever be able to compete for a national championship again. Today, they wonder if Notre Dame would sacrifice its cherished and sacred independence for a slot in a conference somewhere. There could be big changes on the horizon. And it's tough not being able to continue this blog precisely because of all the exciting (and terrifying) possibilities that await Notre Dame Football over the next five years.


If you'll indulge us, we have a number of people to thank. Thanks to Sean P., Teds P., and Mark M., our co-founders and BGS bloggers emeritus; Fightinamish and Irishoutsider of The House Rock Built, and Kelly Green, two of the early Irish blogs who linked us and helped get us going; Spencer Hall of EDSBS, for helping spread the word beyond the Irish blogosphere in the early days of the blog; Warren St. John, author extraordinaire and an early fan of our work (buy his books!); Scott Eden, the author of Touchdown Jesus and the chronicler of the last days of Willingham, who graciously sat for an interview; Gina Vozinelek of Sport Literate, for allowing us to reprint her hilarious (and all too familiar) essay, A Special Reverence; Andy Staples and Stewart Mandel, who featured our work on; Bruins Nation, our brothers in arms against the Trojans; John Walters, Tiffany Simons and Matt Casey of, who hosted us as a regular guest on their weekly ND show during the 2007 season (the season of our discontent); Brian D., for giving us the Blind Oracle of Bristol during the sturm und drang of 2007; Trace Hendrick, for putting together the annual Ticket Collage; T.J. Miles, Irish video archivist non pareil; Nevin O'Donnell, the finest highlight artist on the web; Marc Spitz, Matt Castellan, and Keith from Buckeye Commentary for their essential assistance in pulling together the Four Plays series; John Manier, for contributing a pair of fine posts on Southern Cal and UCLA; Jim Walsh and the rest of the crew at Maple Street Press; Jimmy Egan for lending his photoshop skills for the 2006 recruiting banner; Paul Manoguerra, for his excellent blog Classic Ground and his annual collaboration with BGS on the "Top 10 Plays" rundown; Mike Frank and the rest of the staff at Irish Sports Daily; Will Schmidt, for two of our most beloved posts, Uniformly Excellent and Veteran's Day; long-time reader Nate for his excellent Japan Bowl report; Photographer extraordinaire Andy Altenburger for the use of many of his photos throughout the years; Gerd, of the O-Zone, who contributed to our season previews; George Macor, for his invaluable ND games database; NDMSPaint, for the image of Golden Tate jumping into the MSU band; Golden Tate, for jumping into the MSU band; the Bad Notre Dame Daddy; Pete Thamel, who touted us on the New York Times; Terry Regan and John Schmidt, for their invaluable expertise with the Xs and Os; John L. Smith, for being himself;, for providing a wellspring of college football stats you can't find anywhere else; Dan McConnell, for his account of the unbelievable bye week leading up to the '93 Florida State game; Alan W. of; John, Mike, Mike, and Scott, the proprietors of NDNation, without whom the blog would not exist and would not have been widely read by Irish fans everywhere; all of those countless amateur and professional photographers whose photos we used, mostly without attribution; Father Jenkins, for firing Ty Willingham, and inadvertently kicking off the idea to start a blog in the first place; and of course, thanks to all of the extremely friendly and knowledgeable BGS commenters, for being so warm, witty, and wise over the years. And if you're reading this, you probably know that there are plenty of other great Irish bloggers out there that ought to be part of your daily read: Her Loyal Sons, the Rakes of Mallow, Clashmore Mike, Keith Arnold at, and many more. When we started, there were only a couple, but today the internet is chock full of great Irish blogs.

For our part, we intend to keep the archives here as long as the internet is around, so feel free to take a walk down memory lane whenever you like. There's some good stuff in there. And if you have any questions, comments, or if you just want to say hello and catch up, you can always drop us a line at the BGS mailbox.

Most of all, thanks to all readers of this site. It's been a real privilege to enjoy your readership, and it's frankly amazing the way the site grew. Back in December of '04, I was excited to have a few dozen people check out our scribblings. Five years later, we were topping fifteen thousand visitors a day, mostly due to word of mouth recommendations from all of you.


I was able to track down the very first email that started this blog. Around the beginning of December, 2004, I reached out to Pat and Dylan and Michael and a few other people, proposing a Notre Dame football "scrapbook" of sorts...

Hi all,

Got an idea. With all the craziness surrounding the football search (and the prospect of a very exciting football season-to-come), I thought it might be a good idea to try and preserve whatever pieces of interesting commentary we might come across as we watch the ongoing circus. I thought now would be a great opportunity to start something like this, as I really can't remember a more exciting and uncertain time in ND football...Oftentimes I find myself wanting to go back to something I read somewhere, or preserve a great post from a message board for future reference, or save a newspaper story that made a lot of sense at the time...maybe going forward we can save some of the gems in sort of a ND football 'scrapbook'...what do you think?

I think we accomplished our goal. Thanks for everything, folks. And go Irish.

(P.S. If you're interested, keep an eye on this space for details on how to order your own copy of the "Best of BGS". Details to follow.)

Untitled Huffhines | by Dylan

This is the second-to-last post on BGS. I think it was Shakespeare, or maybe The Situation, who said, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” As the curtain is drawn on The Blue Gray Sky, the best sports blog on the internet (I can say this without being immodest since I had so little to do with it), I feel a curious mixture of joy and pain. Of sunshine and rain, if you will. The joy comes from being a part of a truly excellent outfit, one that brought a unique perspective to the then yet-to-be-fully-birthed college football blogosphere. When we (and by “we” I mean “everyone but I”) put out the “Four Plays” series of posts, I think we did something fairly unheard of, either on the internet or in print. That type of analysis simply wasn’t done, and you would not have found a better breakdown of that game, be it in Sports Illustrated, Blue & Gold, or anywhere else. The pain comes from the knowledge that, once we close the movie deal, the part of “Dylan” will be played by Clint Howard.

One can’t help, upon the closing of such a momentous chapter in the history of sport, to get a little nostalgic. Since our first post was published 92 years ago, much has changed. In 1918, only one in five Americans had ever ventured more than fifty miles from where he was born. Today, with 95% of Americans owning flying cars (as astutely predicted by BGS founding editor Milburn Talmadge in 1927), we are more mobile than ever, with the exception of Michiganders, whose range is limited by the inexorable sucking emanating from Ann Arbor. At the time we logged our millionth page view (July 16, 1925), Purdue had just undertaken the first of its four drum expansion projects and was beating on a fairly pedestrian four-foot percussive. On the day Notre Dame Stadium opened in 1930, Joe Paterno was still six months shy of his 50th birthday. He remembers it like it was 1948. That’s my way of pointing out that Joe Paterno is old. Very, very old. Absurdly, implausibly old. There are vampires who yearn to live as long as Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno has opposable big toes. I’m talking Old.

The immensity of these changes makes the persistence of BGS all the more remarkable, and it is entirely attributable to the strength of our leadership over these many years. I think it’s appropriate, if a bit self-congratulatory, to point to some of the landmark posts of our predecessors, to whom we all owe so much and without whom most Western thought, culture, and literature would simply not exist.

The most obvious example (I’m even a bit embarrassed to point it out, seeing as it’s akin to belaboring Hans Makart’s influence on Klimt, and no one likes a pedant), would be Talmadge’s 1918 post during the doldrums of that year’s coaching search. Talmadge wrote, prophetically:

“And who, at long last, will Father Cavanaugh choose to lead our foot-ball team? Who can countenance the weeks of inaction and flim-flam? This is balderdash! Were Father Cavanaugh the President of the United States, we’d only have the Eleven Points (two more than allowed by Harper’s lads last fall)! What of the Turks then? No more of this namby-pamby capitulation of the type that leads inevitably to the stewardship of someone like Kanute Rockne. We must not doom ourselves to such vile gimmickry, flinging the pig-skin about the grid-iron like a band of unkempt Norsemen. Fiddlesticks!
Big shoes to fill, to be sure, but try we have. I don’t think we, the current squatters, ever reached that lofty perch, with the possible exception of our 2007 season predictions, which were of similar historical value.

Among the other myriad posts which brought tears to grown men’s eyes and put smiles on the faces of millions of children were Mitch McGonagle’s 1928 epic (if brief) post on the evolution of helmet design, Richard “Deke” Zurbriggen’s 1939 contextual analysis of the Winged T and the inevitable triumph of a global workers revolt and rising proletariat, and the enduring “Can Notre Dame Still compete?” posts of 1944, 1948, 1951, 1952, 1956, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.

But the years have taken their toll on the old girl, and we at BGS have finally come to the conclusion that we simply lack the team speed to compete with the new new media. Now that we’re at the point where ESPN anchors, supermodels, small dogs, and Father Sorin himself can speak to us directly through the micro-antennae surreptitiously (and probably illegally) placed in our fillings, the idea of using the internet for easy access to information seems positively quaint. I, for one, can barely keep up with the constant stream of text, images, voices, other peoples’ thoughts, and the incessant singing of fishes. Those fish are crazy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Team Transition | by Pat

Ok, let's get to breaking down the latest recruiting class. What was shaping up to be a decent class took a big hit when Charlie was fired. Most recruits said they would remain with ND, but over time a few were chipped away. Kelly's recruiting prowess, one of the major unknowns at this point, was put in the spotlight as he tried to keep the current commits intact while closing with a flurry of offers and last minute commits. So how did it all turn out once the dust settled?

First, just the facts. Here are the links to the newest crop of freshmen and Brian Kelly's first public words about them. There is also a nice collection of highlight clips.

• The Official Notre Dame Signing Day Central
• Brian Kelly's Signing Day Press Conference (Transcript /Video)
• 2010 Recruit Bios and Highlight videos

The players will ultimately be judged by their performance on the field, but Kelly as a recruiter will be judged in part by how this class is ranked against his peers. Fair or not, it's one way coaches are judged against one another. The image of being a strong recruiter can help buy a coach another year (Weis) while not measuring up against other national recruiters can help lead to a coach get the axe early (Willingham). With that in mind, here's where the three major recruiting rankers put the Weis/Kelly transition class.

14th - Rivals
19th - Scout
21st - ESPN

Overall, this certainly wasn't a strong class rankings-wise, but considering yet another coaching transition and a sub-.500 record over the past three years, getting inside of the Top 20 on average certainly wasn't a given. Re-mapping the rankings by average star value rather than the results of each website's ranking algorithm, you'll find ND's class doesn't move much at all. It drops one spot on Rivals and doesn't change on Scout.

Here is the breakdown of 23 players who will be suiting up this fall, complete with links back to our original posts on them when they went public with their commitments.

Offense (12)
QB - Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees, Luke Massa
RB - Cameron Roberson
WR - Daniel Smith, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones, Austin Collinsworth
TE - Alex Welch
OL - Christian Lombard, Tate Nichols, Matt James

Defense (9)
DL - Louis Nix, Bruce Heggie, Kona Schwenke
LB - Justin Utupo, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore
CB - Spencer Boyd, Lo Wood
S - Chris Badger

Athlete (2) - Derek Roback, Danny Spond

Double Up

Every year I like to put the latest class together with last year's class and see if any position has been underrepresented for two straight years. That's usually your first clue where the priority will be in the coming class. Here are the numbers for ND's last two recruiting classes. Note: I left off Danny Spond and Derek Roback because I'm not really sure where to put them yet. The likely case is they split between LB and TE, so you can probably mentally add one to both columns. Then again, they might just wind up at QB.

QB - 3
RB - 3
WR - 6
TE - 3
OL - 6
LS - 1
DL - 4
LB - 7
CB - 3
S - 1
K - 1
P - 1
Safety is the one that really jumps out with only one incoming safety recruit over the past two seasons (and only two over the past three). If you're looking for positions to practice your depth chart engineering, this is the first place to start. The DL numbers are pretty low as well, even if ND is switching to a 3-4. If Tyler Stockton moves to DE, that means only one of those four defensive linemen are a nose tackle (Louis Nix), which is another area of concern for future classes. Offensively, the numbers look pretty balanced although it would have been nice to have the OL count be just a bit higher.

In Early

ND brought in a record number of early enrollees this year with 5 of the 23 recruits well into winter conditioning with the rest of the team at this point. Tommy Rees, Tai-ler Jones, Lo Wood, Spencer Boyd, and Chris Badger mark the first time ND has brought in more than three early enrollees. So far the practice has been a great success with the first class (Aldridge, Stewart, West) all earning their degrees prior to their senior year. Football-wise, it will be a big help to QB and safety depth to have Rees and Badger available for spring practice.


Every year it seems that more and more recruit commit to one school only to change their mind. ND was certainly caught up in the middle of it this year, largely due to the coaching turnover. Four one-time commits changed their mind and wound up signing letters of intent to other programs last week including Chris Martin (Cal), Blake Lueders (Stanford), Toney Hurd, Jr. (Texas A&M), and Giovanni Bernard (North Carolina).

On the flip side, ND had one-third (!) of the class go from being commited to one school to becoming the newest members of the Fighting Irish including Chris Badger (Stanford), Tai-ler Jones (Stanford), Tate Nichols (Stanford), Luke Massa (Cincinnati), Louis Nix (Miami), Kona Schwenke (BYU), Danny Spond (Colorado), and Derek Roback (Toledo). Obviously the change in staff had something to do with this, but it's still a very high number. I'd be pretty surprised if it was this high next year.

Moving Target

I really can't remember a class where so many players had their future position in question. Part of it is a new staff switching offenses and defenses with recruits who committed with Charlie's offense/defense in mind, but part of it Kelly's reputation of taking "big skill" types and moving them around as he sees fit. Danny Spond and Derek Roback might get a shot at QB, but could wind up at tight end, H-back, or linebacker. Outside linebacker Prince Shembo could move to defensive end, or perhaps to an inside LB spot. Ditto Kendall Moore. Justin Utupo is listed as a defensive tackle by recruiting sites, as a linebacker by ND, but looks like a future defensive end. Where will he end up? Daniel Smith and Austin Collinsworth are coming in as receivers, but either one or both could be moved to safety to help out with depth there in the coming years. Finally, Bruce Heggie might be considered a defensive end prospect now, but if he keeps growing he could find himself on the offensive line alongside Lombard, Nichols, and James. It's good to have so much position flexibility, but it also has to make future recruiting a bit more difficult as the coaches don't really know exactly what they have yet and won't have a much better idea until they get the recruits into practice this fall.

Get on up, get on down

Another thing I like to take a look at is where recruits wind up rankings wise from when they publicly commit to ND until Signing Day. Remember that only 1 of 10 recruits from last year rose in Rivals rankings from when went public until they signed on the dotted line. (trivia answer: Zeke Motta). I still don't think there is any conspiracy behind the shifts and there is no useful change for any of the last minute commits, but the info is worth noting nonetheless.

This season, despite what I said about no conspiracies, saw a number of ND players (9) drop again on Rivals. Andrew Hendrix, Bennett Jackson, Tai-ler Jones, Alex Welch, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore, Lo Wood, Spencer Boyd, and Chris Badger all dropped in the position rankings, although occasionally just by a little amount. There were more risers though this year (5) as Tommy Rees, Cameron Roberson, Louis Nix, Tate Nichols, and Prince Shembo were all bumped up a bit in the time between putting on the ND hat and Signing Day.

The numbers were similar on Scout (11) with Hendrix, Daniel Smith, Jackson, Jones, Austin Collinsworth, Lombard, Justin Utupo, Moore, Boyd, Wood, and Badger dropping while Rees, Roberson, Welch, Nichols, Nix, Shembo, and Bruce Heggie (7) all got a bump up.

Enough with the facts and figures. Time to chew the fat with the fellow BGS members in our annual recruiting roundtable tradition. You all know the drill by now, so feel free to chime in with your own answers in the comment section so we can laugh at your picks in a few years too.

Biggest Get:

Kevin: Louis Nix.

Mike: If Christian Jones had committed to ND, then Kelly's biggest get would have been Tony Alford. Alford had already reeled in Louis Nix when ND didn't have a head coach, and Alford was reportedly responsible for Notre Dame being among Jones's finalists. I'm very happy Kelly decided to retain Alford (and was able to convince Alford to stay). I could make a case for Matt James (dire positional need) and Tai-ler Jones (I think he will be a star in Kelly's system), but ultimately I have to go with my favorite recruit in this class, Louis Nix.

Brian: Louis Nix. Irish fans have grown accustomed to having the rug pulled out from under them in recent years when it comes to top defensive line recruits (see Messrs. McCoy, Trattou, and Hunter), and this year appeared to be no exception, with Chris Martin spontaneously verballing to ND only to slowly back off his commitment in a prolonged soap opera that made "War and Peace" look like a pamphlet in comparison. Enter Nix, who, already rumored to be a silent verbal, decided to pull the trigger and go public after the firing of Charlie Weis, as a symbolic gesture to bring some stability to this recruiting class. Bonus points to Nix for joining the Notre Dame family after decommitting from Miami (FL); though we haven't played the 'Canes in nearly two decades, putting one over on them still tastes delicious.

Pat: I'll be the odd man out and say Matt James only because ND was desperate for offensive tackles in this class. James also added a nice Signing Day surprise for Brian Kelly after rumors that he was leaning towards Ohio State. Landing a Top 100 recruit, even one with as many connections to ND and Kelly as James had, was also a welcome sign as we all are trying to figure out how Kelly will be as a recruiter.

Biggest Miss?

Mike: Tie between Christian Jones and Ego Ferguson, both of whom would have provided much-needed pass-rushing ability in the defensive front seven. It's critical to have a number of pass-rushing threats on defense. Take a look at Michigan to see what I mean. Michigan DE Brandon Graham will likely be a first-round draft choice this spring. Yet he did not record a single sack against the Irish in 2009. Or 2008. Nor did any other Wolverine record a sack in those years. Even if a defense has one dynamic pass-rusher, that guy can be neutralized if the defense doesn't have other threats for the offense to worry about. Outside of Manti Te'o, it's not clear to me who in the last two classes will provide that pass-rushing ability. The quote from Ego's dad in the John Walters article ("We were up until two in the morning last night debating this," Ego Sr. said. "I wanted him to go to Notre Dame but he said, 'Dad, it's too cold'.") is crushing.

Kevin: Anthony Barr.

Pat: Chris Martin. Landing a top-10 caliber player at one of the most important positions in the recruiting class would have been on par with landing Manti Te'o a year earlier. Having Martin commit to ND, the same day as Te'o as it were, and then slowly back away from his "I"ll go to ND even if they are 0-12" comments over the course of the year only made the miss all the more annoying. Kelly mentioned the need to add size and speed at the edges of the front seven on defense and Martin would have been the ideal solution.

Brian: Martin, because of what he would have meant to the defense, and what he would have meant to enterprising internet so-and-so's who would have had a field day with hackneyed Coldplay references. Honorable mention to Seantrel Henderson (a pipe dream, but it would have been nice) and Anthony Barr (son of Tony Brooks, nephew of By God Reggie Brooks, and his mother is a SMC alum, if I'm not mistaken---this simply had to get locked down.)

Class Sleeper?

Pat: Kelly raved about Cameron Roberson during his Signing Day press conference and I certainly agree that Utupo will bring a lot of energy to the class, but I think I'll go with Tate Nichols. For much of the year he was considered a 6'7" 235 pound tight end recruit. When he visited campus at the end of January the future offensive tackle measured in 6'7" 291 pounds. He'll still have a lot to learn about blocking, but he's looking more and more like a guy who will be able to contribute and possible be a starting tackle down the line.

Kevin: Justin Utupo.

Mike: Justin Utupo. If there were an expansion draft and I could only protect five of ND's recruits, Utupo would be one of them.

Brian: This strikes me as a question best answered this year by slapping on a blindfold and throwing a dart, but I'll go ahead and pick Bruce Heggie, who, given the extent to which he was plucked from oblivion by Brian Kelly in the past week, is not so much a sleeper as a coma patient. Basically, he will greatly outpace expectations simply by earning meaningful playing time.

What position helped itself the most/least?

Kevin: Most- offensive line, though I would have liked one more interior lineman. Least - safety It's a shame ND couldn't land Ioane.

Mike: Most - if Utupo counts as a DT, then the Nix-Utupo combo is tough to beat. Least - safety. Only one commit clearly projects at safety (Badger). Wood and Boyd don't appear to have the size to move from corner to safety. Collinsworth may be a safety, but he may be a slot receiver. We knew safety was a big need going in, and it became a bigger need as the 2009 season played out. When we were discussing a prospect list in the summer that included Amerson, Badger, Bailey, Carrington, Parker and Riley it looked like the need would be filled. I like Badger, but he does not fill the need on his own.

Pat: Most - You have to say quarterback here, because out of the 5 options the odds are pretty good that we'll find a quality future starter (baring landing a 5-star type dual-threat in the next class). Least - I'll echo Mike's opinion about safety. We needed numbers and while Badger will be the hard hitter that probably makes a few special teams units as a freshman, we needed more bodies. Over the past three (!) recruiting classes ND only landed two safeties and both of them (Badger, McCarthy) appear to be strong safety types. Obviously someone is going to have to move positions to fill the big hole at free safety. Any top safety recruit out there in the 2011 class should realize he could easily be a four year starter with our lack of depth at the position.

Brian: Most - I'm gonna go with QB, because that was a position desperately in need of depth. Least - the answer is clearly long snapper.

Favorite Recruiting Moment?

Brian: Not ND-related, but I enjoyed the Lane Kiffin Tennessee Recruiting Hostess scandal, and eagerly await its west coast spinoff.

Pat: As I mentioned earlier, having Chris Martin commit only hours after Manti Te'o unexpectedly picked up the ND hat was about as good as it got. Unfortunately, that was the first day of the recruiting year and nothing later on really topped that. Landing Nix in the wake of Charlie's firing was a close second though.

Mike: Two contenders: (1) Louis Nix publicly declaring for ND between when Weis was fired and Kelly was hired and (2) when the Joyce Center fax machine spit out Nix's LOI. I'll go with (2), based on ND's DL recruiting history over the last six years. Let's review:
2005 - Lawrence Wilson decommitted from ND in favor of OSU.
2006 - ND lost out on Lawrence Marsh and Butch Lewis because they were saving a spot for Gerald McCoy.
2007 - Good news! ND managed to finish ahead of the home state Buckeyes for Ben Martin. Bad news! ND finished behind Tennessee; second place in recruiting gets you nothing. Urban Meyer convinced ND commit Justin Trattou that he'd rather be a 4-3 DE at UF than a 3-4 DE at ND. Trattou now plays DT for Florida.
2008 - Omar Hunter gave Notre Dame an early commitment, leading the Irish to stop recruiting Mike Martin and Garrett Goebel. By the time Hunter finally decommitted, Martin and Goebel were firmly committed to other schools and not willing to entertain Irish entreaties.
2009 - At long last, a year without defections or near-misses to get upset about. Sadly, this was because Tyler Stockton was the only DL who seriously considered ND who seemed worth getting exercised about at the time.
2010 - Chris Martin committed to Notre Dame on Signing Day 2010. Three high schools later, he signed his LOI with Cal.
Given all that, I will count no DL before the LOI is in hand.

What do you think so far of Kelly as recruiter?

Kevin: Withholding judgment for now. I don't think I can draw too many positives, though I'm very happy for him and ND that James committed. The losses were somewhat understandable, yet still disappointing. At the same time, this short period likely tells us little to nothing about his from-scratch recruiting philosophy. I'll wait to see how he proceeds over the course of an entire year before drawing any firm conclusions.

Mike: I don't have a strong opinion on Kelly's recruiting at this point. I don't think anyone could have predicted Weis's 2007 and 2008 classes based on his transitional 2005 class.

Brian: On the one hand, Kelly appears to have closed better than Weis and his staff did during the '04-'05 transition. However, he had a better class to work with on the day he was hired than Weis did (Willingham Alert!!!), plus he had the benefit of being on the job full-time whereas Weis was hiring assistants sight unseen over the phone while splitting duties between ND and the Patriots. In short, I'm going to defer to the Magic Eight Ball and say, "Ask again later."

Pat: One positive that I noticed was that the staff really hit the ground running and turned over plenty of rocks looking for additional recruits to fill up the class. Granted, many of them came from the recruiting lists they had at Cincinnati, but there were also some signs of reaching out around the nation (and kudos to Dave Peloquin for his help here). Getting Spond from Colorado, Schwenke from Hawaii, and Heggie from Florida, not to mention close misses with guys like Ioane (Hawaii), Bourbon (Missouri), and Taylor (Florida) gave some early hints that the staff's contacts and focus aren't quite as regional as some feared. Still, falling just short for elite recruits like Ego Ferguson, Jr., Anthony Barr, and Christian Jones still leave their abilities to close on the best of the best in question.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Final Day Decisions | by Pat

Wrapping up the individual recruit profiles before getting to the end of the season recruiting roundtable, here's a look at the two players that decided to pick ND on Signing Day. As it turns out, it was the player with perhaps the longest connection to the ND coaches and the one with the shortest.

First up on Wednesday was Ohio offensive lineman Matt James. James had been mulling a choice between ND, Ohio State, and the hometown Cincinnati Bearcats. When Kelly left for ND it dropped down to the Irish and Buckeyes with ND coming out on top last Wednesday.

"It was a really tough decision. ...I like the situation of being in the first class with Coach Kelly there."
Landing James was a much needed boost for the offensive line numbers in this recruiting class. The third lineman along with Christian Lombard and Tate Nichols, James is one of the highest rated members of the 2010 recruiting class. Rivals has James as a 4-star recruit, the #14 offensive tackle recruit, and the 86th overall recruit in the country. Scout likewise has James as a 4-star that is the 11th offensive tackle and 91st overall recruit. ESPN gave James a grade of 80, 4-stars, and echoed Rivals ranking of 14th overall offensive tackle. Highlight clips of offensive linemen are sort of silly, but here are ones of James nonetheless.

James played tackle and guard at the recent Army All-American Game but will likely start his Irish career at tackle. In addition to OSU, James also had offers from Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin, Tennessee, North Carolina, and others.

Taking a look again at the OL depth chart for 2010, there are actually a pretty solid set of numbers across the board. In addition to just numbers, there is plenty of talent, albeit largely unexperienced on the depth chart. Consider that the senior, junior, sophomore, and now freshman class all contain an offensive lineman who is a Top 100 recruit. The competition to replace last year's starters will be an interesting one this spring, but almost as interesting will be the competition in the fall to see who makes up the second string.

5th Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Dan Wenger
Andrew Nuss*
Trevor Robinson
Chris Watt*
Christian Lombard
Chris Stewart
Matt Romine*
Lane Clelland*
Zach Martin*
Tate Nichols

Taylor Dever*
Braxston Cave*
Alex Bullard*
Matt James

Mike Golic*

On the other side of the ball, Hawaii defensive end Kona Schwenke. Schwenke wasn't on ND's radar at all until the coaching staff ventured out into the Pacific to check out safety recruit Jeremy Ioane (who picked Boise State by the way). Schwenke was brought to ND's attention and they quickly worked to set up a visit.

However, Schwenke was committed to BYU at the time and when head coach found out about Schwenke's interest in visiting ND, he threatened to pull his offer if he went through with the trip. When the Schwenke family decided to go through with the trip, BYU pulled Kona's scholarship offer.

Despite showing up to late January South Bend in a pair of shorts, Schwenke didn't mind the cold enough to avoid picking ND.
"I pretty much made up my mind the day after I came back (Monday)," Schwenke said of Notre Dame. "I thought it was the best place for me. I liked the campus, the people, I enjoyed the school. I love the football program and their academics. It amazed me."
The Honolulu Advertiser released their Top 25 recruit list right before Signing Day and put Kona as the #1 recruit in the state. The recruiting sites are pretty close to agreement on Schwenke with Rivals calling him a 3-star recruit and the #34 defensive end while Scout has him as a 4-star and 33rd overall defensive end recruit. ESPN has him a bit lower at 3-stars, a 74 rating, and the 61st overall defensive end prospect. Here are some highlights of Kona in action.

At 6'5" 215 pounds, Schwenke will have to add some size and strength to his frame until he's ready to be an everydown type of player. However, he could wind up in a few seasons like KLM, who also had to bulk up to handle the DE position.

The best part about landing Schwenke is that he will help out at one of the most needed defensive positions on the team. He won't be an instant impact type player, but will help ND keep the overall DE numbers and could grow into a very good rush end.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Kerry Neal
Ethan Johnson
Tyler Stockton*
Bruce Heggie

Emeka Nwankwo*
K. Lewis-Moore*

Kona Schwenke

Hafis Williams*

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Happy Signing Day! | by Pat

Feel free to hang out here today and follow the ups and downs. Also make sure to check out's Signing Day Central for interviews with the coaches. Coach Kelly's official Signing Day press conference is scheduled for around 4 p.m.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Quarterbacker | by Pat

As we head into National Signing Day's Eve (make sure to hang your Christian Jones stockings by the chimney with care) there's one last recruiting update to churn out before turning our attention to what has in store for us tomorrow morning.

After visiting ND this past weekend, Colorado athlete Danny Spond returned home before deciding to join the 2010 ND recruiting class. Spond is the 21st member of the class with a few more names still waiting to announce their decision tomorrow (Numbers-wise, ND is fine even if all undecideds decide to put on the ND hat). A recent offer, Spond was more than eager to join once he got a chance to check out campus.

“Playing for Notre Dame has been a dream of mine since I can remember,” said Spond Monday night. “Just the fact that I have this opportunity to play. Not only is it a blessing, but it's definitely an honor to play for them. Just the tradition and prestige that Notre Dame carries.”
Spond is a high school quarterback and presumably will be the 5th player in the class to get a shot to back up Dayne Crist next fall. Five quarterbacks in a single class is too many, so unless he wins the job the 6'3" 230 pound Spond could be moved to the other side of the ball.
“Coach Kelly and I talked about that,” Spond said. “And they will give me a shot at quarterback. And if that doesn't work, defensively, we talked a lot about a drop-backer for their 3-4 system and also safety.

“The encouraging thing that Coach Kelly and I talked about is that he is just real excited to get me there, and regardless of what position it is, I really have no preference. I will do anything to help the team. I trust that the coaches will put me in the best position to do that. Whatever it is is whatever it is.”
As a QB prospect, Spond falls more in line with the athletic running threat Roback than the more traditional drop back options in Rees, Hendrix, and Massa. But defense certainly seems like a good possibility. The recruiting sites are a bit split on where Spond will end up. On Rivals he is a 4-star recuit and the #27 athlete in the class. Scout has him as a 3-star recruit and the #14 middle linebacker in the class. ESPN has him in the athlete grouping as a 3-star recruit, the 43rd overall athlete and a 78 rating. Check out his highlights for a glimpse of his hard-running style.

Spond was committed to Colorado but recently backed away and took another look at other programs. ND beat out a new finalist group of Stanford and TCU.

As for 2010 depth chart, I'm going to lump Spond with the linebackers for now. It certainly wouldn't bother me to see him taking snaps at QB (and then running over a cornerback), but his future in all likelihood lies on defense. I'm also going to move Prince Shembo and Justin Utupo to the linebacker list for now. Considering ND will need more 'backers in the 3-4 and the fact that both guys, especially Utupo, might not grow into linemen right away or at all, it seems like a reasonable move for a 2010 depth chart.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Brian Smith
Darius Fleming
Manti Te'o
Kendall Moore

Steve Filer
Carlo Calabrese*
Prince Shembo

Anthony McDonald*
Zeke Motta
Justin Utupo

David Posluszny*
Dan Fox*
Danny Spond

Heggie Hears a "Who?" | by Pat

The final recruit to go public this past weekend is the center of one of the more surprising recruiting stories in recent memory. Florida lineman Bruce Heggie was a virtual unknown just two weeks ago with no rankings on any recruiting site and not a single offer to play Division I football. Now, he's getting ready to fax in his letter of intent tomorrow morning to play for the Fighting Irish.

How did ND wind up recruiting a player that had to that point gone largely unnoticed by the rest of the college football world? And what, if anything, does it say about ND recruiting going forward under Brian Kelly? I don't think we can really say either way about the second question at this point. This could be a one-time type offer based on a desperate need to bring in more players or a harbinger of future recruiting under Kelly. We'll have to wait until next season to see how Kelly approaches recruiting with a full year cycle.

But back to that first question. While new names of recruits turned up the past few weeks as Kelly and the staff beat the bushes to bring in additional players for the 2010 class, none were as surprising, or surprised, as Heggie.

"Last week FAMU backed out of their offer and said there wasn't going to be an official visit this weekend," Heggie said. "There was William & Mary, but other than that there weren't really anymore options."

Then came the phone call. Notre Dame.

Yep, that's what Heggie thought, too. He probably had to pinch himself.

"It was definitely surprising," he said. "Notre Dame is an epic school. I certainly didn't see this coming. Especially after some of the other schools said they'd recruit me and then backed out of it."
I've seen sleeper recruits before, but never one who's only other option was William and Mary. Even some of the sons of trustees who picked up a scholarship in the past decade usually had a few more options. The story goes that Coach Hinton had considered Heggie while at UC, but UC didn't have the numbers. Now with ND looking to fill out the class, he brought Heggie's name back up again and, following a trip to Florida by DL coach Mike Elston, Heggie was given the opportunity to come up to ND this past weekend to visit. And while on campus, he was offered a scholarship that he immediately accepted.

Coach Kelly certainly has a past history of taking underrecruited players and turning them into productive college players. However, as much as it's easy to point to this when considering Heggie's offer, it's also just being honest to wonder why 119 other college coaches didn't feel the need to offer Heggie. The South Bend Tribune did highlight a few of the reasons why Heggie, son of a Florida State football player, slipped through the recruiting cracks so much.
Heggie, who went to a Florida State summer camp and a Nike camp at the school, believes there's a number of reasons why he's been on the outside looking in most of the recruiting season despite earning Academic All-State, plus All- Lake and All-Sumter County honors.

First and foremost, his school has had three head coaches during his four varsity seasons, the last change occurring the spring of his junior year.

“I didn't get my film out until three-quarters the way through my senior year,” he said. “Tapes were lost. It just wasn't good as far as exposure.”

Second, his school of 800, 40 miles northwest of Orlando, is off most recruiters' radar, though two teammates did get offers and are going to Central Florida.

Missing several games each of his final two seasons did not help either.
Now, rather than continue to dwell on Heggie's recruit history, the important thing is how Heggie will fit in and contribute to the program. Clearly the staff identified the need for defensive ends in this class, especially with losing Chris Martin and Blake Lueders. At 6'4" 240 pounds, Heggie played tight end and defensive end in high school and seems a sure bet to at least start off on the defensive side of the ball. However, recent articles are putting Heggie at 6'6" and closer to 250. If that's actually the case and not just more recruiting stat inflation, Heggie could possibly keep growing into an offensive tackle. Along with the offer to Tate Nichols, ND will need faster, more agile tackles after Charlie tended to recruit bigger road grater types (despite his pass happy offense). But for now, I'm going to list Heggie with the defensive line. With it now being certain that ND will run a 3-4 next season, here are the obvious candidates for the end positions although what the staff thinks won't be entirely obvious until spring ball. What is obvious is the need to land a lot of talent at the defensive end position in the next recruiting class.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Kerry Neal
Ethan Johnson
Tyler Stockton*
Bruce Heggie

Emeka Nwankwo*
K. Lewis-Moore*

Hafis Williams*

ND desperately needs defensive ends in this class, but even at that Heggie is a reach if you consider the lack of offers from any other D1 program. However, if he adds viable depth to the team in the future, it will another feather in Brian Kelly's talent identification and development hat. If not, it's the kind of thing that people will bring up constantly when discussing Kelly's missteps as ND's coach. Hopefully Kelly and Heggie will be the ones having the last laugh.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Runnin' Roback | by Pat

On to the next recruit to publicly commit to ND over the weekend: 6'3" 220 pound Ohio QB/athlete Derek Roback.

Roback is an interesting example of the ups and downs of recruiting coverage. When Roback was in junior high he was a national finalist in the Pepsi Punt, Pass, and Kick competition. He followed that up by being named the Freshman MVP at the National Underclassmen Combine. With these two things to his credit, Rivals then included Roback as one of their Top 10 Sophomores to Watch, along with current 5-star players Seantrel Henderson, Jeff Jeffcoat, and Dillon Baxter (and ND legacy lineman Ian Gray).

Heading into his sophomore season, he moved from quarterback to wide receiver and safety where he had a strong season on the field, being named All-State Honorable Mention. After the season he attended another National Underclassmen Combine, this one in New Jersey, and came away with the overall MVP award. With multiple combine and All-State honors to his name, Roback moved back to quarterback for his junior year with multiple national programs sending him recruiting mail.

Yet, after another strong All-State Honorable Mention season, Roback only had a handful of MAC level offers for college like Ball State, Miami, Toldeo, and Bowling Green, perhaps because he was viewed as more "athlete" than quarterback. In fact, when he attended Wisconsin's summer camp before his senior year he worked out with the tight end and slot receivers. He committed to Toledo as a QB and, with an injury filled senior season, that was that until Kelly offered him a scholarship in November while still at UC. Kelly then called him back up while at ND and Roback jumped at the chance to visit this past weekend. Once on campus he quickly committed as the Chillicothe Gazette pointed out by quoting his Facebook status (insert snarky media critque here).

Roback’s Facebook status was updated Sunday to say, “I am officially committed to the University of Notre Dame. Best day of my life.”
The recruiting sites, despite the early praise from Rivals and strong combine performances, put Roback rather low on the recruiting scale. Rivals put him as a 3-star athlete recruit while both Scout and ESPN consider him a 2-star QB. He's the 103rd overall QB recruit on Scout while ESPN has him as the #98 QB (and a 74 rating for those keeping track).

As Roback has primarily been a high school quarterback, it seems that ND now has four quarterback recruits in this class. However, while Roback may get a few practices to prove his worth at QB, his likely destination is more as either a tight end/H-back type or linebacker. This is were Kelly's power/big skill/skill recruiting archetypes make depth chart engineering a bit more difficult. Kelly clearly wants to bring in additional bodies and not have a small class, so he's taking athletic guys like Roback -- and his 4.0 high school GPA can't hurt -- with a mind to find them a position down the road. It's a somewhat risky strategy, but Kelly has been doing it for a number of years so the odds are he has something of a specific position in mind. At the level of recruiting needed for ND, most players have specialized in high school a bit more at a certain positions, so it will be interesting to see next season if Kelly continues to try and find room for a few smart athletic types who don't have an obvious position and can help fill in depth once they get on campus.

In the meantime, I can't really put Roback into one of the 2010 position depth charts because I don't know where he'll wind up. Will he stick at QB, perhaps as ND's version of Zach Collaros? Or will he wind up at tight end along with Alex Welch or linebacker with Prince Shembo and Kendall Moore? Here are his highlight clips if you want to make up your own mind. It's clear he's a good athlete. The question is just where he'll add the most benefit to the program.

Bringing in the reinforcements | by Pat

It's a wild finish to the recruiting season as Kelly and his new staff brought in a large group of uncommitted players this past weekend and so far have gained three public commitments with the possibility of a few more deciding to join up shortly. Ohio QB Luke Massa, Ohio athlete Derek Roback, and Florida DE Bruce Heggie all jumped on their chance to be a part of the 2010 recruiting class, bringing the total number of public commits up to 20.

First up, let's start with the latest quarterback to hop on board. Ohio QB Luke Massa was a Cincinnati commit since July, but when Kelly left for ND it was pretty obvious that Massa would be interested in following him if ND showed interest.

"I was definitely thinking in the back of my mind," Massa said, "is this gonna happen or not?"

Notre Dame eventually did become involved after Steve Specht, Massa's coach at St. Xavier, reached out to Kelly and an offer arrived. Prior to his weekend visit, Massa had a big interest in ND, but the trip made him feel comfortable and wanted.

"The decision was easy for me," Massa said.
After assuming the starting QB role following an injury to the starter, Massa as a sophomore led St. Xavier to eight straight wins and the Ohio state title. He was an up and coming QB prospect, but a foot injury followed by a broken collarbone kept him on the sideline nearly his entire junior season. He still had the offer from UC though and committed that summer before his senior year. His only other offer at the time was from Wisconsin while schools like Michigan State and N.C. State were understandably waiting to see how he'd look as a healthy senior. His senior year Massa stayed healthy while completing 67% of his passes for 1,800 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions.

The recruiting sites slot Massa as an average QB recruit with both Rivals and Scout giving him 3 stars. Rivals has Massa as the 28th overall QB recruit while Scout is a little more critical and has him down as the 75th overall QB recruit. ESPN has the harshest rating, giving Massa 2 stars, a 72 rating, and tabbing him as the 129th overall QB recruit. You can check out Massa's highlight clips for yourself here.

The 6'4" 205 pound Massa gives ND a third QB recruit in a single class, which is very high number. The last time ND brought in three QBs in a single class was under Davie when Jared Clark, Abram Elam, Matt LoVecchio, and Carlyle Holiday all signed on to play quarterback at Notre Dame. Only Clark and Holiday finished their careers at ND while LoVecchio was the only one of the four that didn't move to a new position.

Massa, Hendrix, and Rees will have a three way fight this fall in order to grab the open backup spot behind the recovering Dayne Crist. The winner will likely see some playing time while the other two presumably will stay on the sidelines and preserve a year of eligibility. Rees has the clear advantage as he's already enrolled and will be able to go through spring practice. Massa and Hendrix won't show up until the summer and will have to make do with informal 7 on 7 sessions to prep for the fall camp showdown. Interestingly, Massa and Hendrix come from the same conference -- the Ohio powerhouse GCL conference -- and while Hendrix is rated higher than Massa by every recruiting service, Kelly offered Massa a scholarship to UC before Hendrix.

Taking a look at the 2010 QB depth chart, you can see just how thin and unbalanced ND is at the quarterback position thanks to not taking a QB last year and Clausen exceeding expectations and heading off to the NFL a year early. Add in the fact that Crist is coming off an ACL injury and it's clear why the QB position is concern #1 heading into spring ball. Walk-on Nate Montana is back at ND and will add some depth this spring, but I left him off this table for the time being.

Fifth Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

Dayne Crist*

Andrew Hendrix

Tommy Rees

Luke Massa

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Statistically Speaking: 2009 Season | by Pat

When you have to fire your coach, digging into the stats to see what happened is a bit unnecessary. No one needs to look into a box score to understand that while ND's (passing) offense was excellent, the defense was horrendous, and the overall production of the team was not good enough for Charlie to keep his job.

Still, now that the bowl games are over and the final 2009 season stats are settled, it's worth finishing up the stat tables if only to provide a baseline of sorts as we head into the Kelly era and identify areas that need the most immediate improvement.

Battle for First Down

I started this metric because Tenuta stated that one of the goals of his defense was to win first down and force defenses into 2nd and long and 3rd and long situations. The metric was a bit of a trial run to see if the results in some way mirrored what we saw on the field. Well, we don't even need to look at the numbers to know the plan failed. ND's defense gave up more total yards per game in 2009 (397.8) than in any other season in ND history. It really was that bad.

The silver lining for number crunchers is that the metric sort of pointed this out, and in that sense might be something useful to re-use in the future. Here are the 2009 numbers. The overall win rate of 44% was a noticable drop from the 50% win rate last year. Both rushing defense (41%) and pass defense (48%) dropped from their 2008 season values (48% and 52%, respectively).

Going forward, a way to make this metric better would be to provide greater context by seeing how other teams, both good and bad, did. Another important area that wasn't reflected was the tendency of ND's defense to be boom or bust on 1st down. I mentioned it in a few previous game reviews, but it seemed that often when ND "lost" 1st down, they gave up not just 4 or 5 yards, but large chunks of yardage. It would be good to work these big play yards into the metric somehow. ND blog Clashmore Mike did capture the 1st down big play raw numbers for 2009 in their excellent 2009 stats review.

Notre Dame allowed 6.1 yards per snap on 350 first down plays with two or fewer yards surrendered on over 44 percent of these plays. However, 43.7 percent of first down plays generated five or more yards including 43 explosive gains. These big plays accounted for almost 50 percent of the total first down production for opposing teams.

The 2009 Drive Chart table is another metric that could benefit from more context. I know Football Outsiders delve deeper into drive efficiency numbers, so if you are interested in how these values help predict and explain football game, make sure to head over there.

As one might expect, ND's offense drive numbers jumped from 48% in 2008 to 55% in 2009. Remeber that the percentage is the percent of total available yards that the offense gained. A stat like this is a bit more insightful than total yards because it accounts for games when teams don't need to drive 90 yards every drive to score a touchdown. On the other hand, it doesn't highlight red zone TD conversion numbers, which was an area where ND was decidedly average in 2009.

Over on defense, the numbers predictably dropped. From holding teams to 40% of all available yards in 2008, ND's defense allowed teams to gain 48% of them in 2009. In other words, notice how the 7% gain on offense is negated by the 8% drop on defense and it's pretty easy to see why a 7-6 team in 2008 put out a nearly identical 6-6 record in 2009. As much as we improved on one side of the ball, we regressed that much on the other. Granted that is rather simplistic analysis and ignores a few other key stats, but the shoe fits in this case.

Gimme M.O.E.

One collection of stats that did give some insight into ND's red zone issues was the M.O.E. numbers for 2009. The numbers crept up from 2008, finishing the year right on the 12% mark that was the ideal high water mark for offensive errors. While Clausen's accuracy kept the interception numbers low, offensive penalties, sacks, and dropped passes kept the overall M.O.E. score higher than any coach would like to see. Most fans would agree that there were an unending stop of driving killing mistakes this year, especially as the team got close to the endzone. (If not for Tausch's stellar debut as field goal kicker, things could have been even uglier this season).

I also crunched the Weis-era M.O.E. for all games and added it as the final sheet on the spreadsheet. Perhaps not surprisingly, ND's overall M.O.E. the past 5 seasons was 13%. Granted, the awful 2007 season does skew the total a bit, but the high mark also is statistical proof of the critiques of lack of attention to detail and fundamentals that many made about the Charlie regime. As Brian Kelly is also an offensive minded coach, but one who has much greater experience teaching fundamentals to college aged players, it will be interesting to see how his offense do with regards to M.O.E. scores.

Season Long Running Stats

It's kind of amazing how crystal clear the overall 2009 season stats are about the performance of the 2009 Fighting Irish. Every single offensive statistical category, save one (sacks allowed), improved from 2008. Meanwhile, every single defensive category, save two (red zone and red zone TD defense) declined from 2008.

Depending on the side of the ball, the stats were either shooting up (65th in total offense to 8th overall) or in a free fall (22nd in pass efficiency defense to 82nd overall). Even the turnover and special teams stats fell along offensive/defensive lines as ND improved on turnovers committed on offense, but regressed in turnovers forced on defense while the kickoff and punt return numbers improved while the coverage teams regressed.

Here's to much better looking numbers in 2010, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nichols is number nineteen | by Pat

Recruiting took another quick turn when the second Kentucky player offered a scholarship to Notre Dame committed instantly and became the 19th member of the 2010 class. Offensive tackle Tate Nichols visited campus this past weekend and as soon as ND offered, he accepted.

"I didn't have a scholarship offer going up there," Nichols said. "They had a version of my highlight film that wasn't high quality. I brought another one, from my senior year. They really liked it and they offered me a scholarship.

"... I'm a Catholic kid and it's closer to home. It's a perfect fit."

The closer to home bit references Stanford, where Nichols previously had been committed. He had backed away slightly the past few weeks from his Cardinal verbal and decided to make a clean break this weekend. That makes Nichols the third recruit this year to switch from Stanford to Notre Dame (Badger, Jones).

Two of the three main recruiting sites considered Nichols a tight end recruit and as such didn't slot him very high. Both Scout and Rivals tabbed Nichols as a 2-star tight end recruit with Scout considering him the 52nd overall TE. ESPN did list him as an offensive lineman, giving him 3-stars, a 75 grade rating, and a ranking as the 101st overall offensive tackle recruit.

Update: These were his rankings on Saturday when he committed. Today, Tuesday morning, Scout has changed him to a 3-star offensive line prospect and the #71 overall OT recruit.

It seems the confusion over his future college position was somewhat warranted when the recruiting sites added him to their databases a year ago. Nichols originally committed to Stanford in March of 2009 as a 6'7" 230 pounder that was told he would get a shot at TE. Now though he's pushing 275 according to self reports and Tate has acknowledged that his future lies at offensive tackle. As he started to back away from his Stanford verbal, Illinois, North Carolina State, and Michigan started increase communications. Part of the increase in weight is due to Tate just continuing to grow. Part of it though appears to be the result of working with the same personal trainer that Kyle Rudolph (who is also distantly related to Nichols) used to get ready for college. Here's Tate's senior highlight tape that mainly still shows him as a tight end, but includes some examples of him blocking.

Despite the recent added weight, Nichols will still be a bit of a project as most of his time in high school was spent at tight end or defensive end. ND needed more linemen in this class though so assuming the overall OL numbers stay high (and ND is able to haul in at least another tackle prospect like Matt James) Nichols should have time to work in the weight room and learn how to play offensive tackle. College is filled with high school tight ends who turn into solid offensive tackles, so he certainly has a good shot at turning into a dependable player with a lot of hard work and solid coaching.

Speaking of overall numbers, here is how the offensive line depth chart breaks down for the 2010 season. With a new staff, new line coach, and plenty of guys who haven't seen much action, I'm not going to separate tackles from guards here. After spring ball we should have a better idea of where the new staff will slot them. Remember that players with an asterisk have an additional year of eligibility.

5th Year
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Dan Wenger
Andrew Nuss*
Trevor Robinson
Chris Watt*
Christian Lombard
Chris Stewart
Matt Romine*
Lane Clelland*
Zach Martin*
Tate Nichols

Taylor Dever*
Braxston Cave*
Alex Bullard*

Mike Golic*