All posts by John Horlander

Recent losses reveal Notre Dame’s weaknesses

Breaking News report, the Notre Dame basketball team is mortal. A hard-fought loss on the road to Florida State was a minor setback, but the Irish were severely exposed on their home court against a very talented Virginia squad. The Irish now sit at 17-4, 6-2 in the ACC.

These losses, as well as the wins surrounding them, showcased the weaknesses that may plague the Irish during a tough upcoming stretch.

The Irish are small–dangerously small. In three road games in January, the Irish were blocked an average of 9 times per game. Junior Martinas Geben brings some height at 6-10, but he’s averaging 4.1 PPG and 4.5 RPG; he’s not exactly a key player. Bonzie Colson is the main man in the post, but at 6-5, he’s vulnerable against taller opponents, which is to say essentially every forward in the ACC and some guards.

V.J. Beachum is 6-8, but he spends most, if not all of his time at the free throw line and above, where he is either a lethal jump shooter or a non-threat. Flip a coin on that one. Steve Vasturia is 6-6, and Matt Farrell is 6-1. The Irish’s lack of size has been masked by their ability to draw fouls and get to the free throw line, but they’ve been figured out as of late.

The lack of size has hurt the Irish dearly on the glass as well. Against Virginia, Notre Dame was outrebounded 38-22. Against Florida State, the Irish were outrebounded 34-29. They had a combined 10 offensive rebounds in those two losses. If opponents continue to control the glass, that’s going to force Notre Dame to shoot the ball extremely accurately.

Fortunately for the Irish, that seems to be a strength. But if the Irish don’t get it done inside, they’ll just have to beat teams from the perimeter. Heading into the showdown with Virginia, the Irish were shooting a league-best 40.8% from behind the arc. Virginia shut that down with a tight defense that allowed the Irish little to no room to shoot the ball. In fact, after the abysmal 3-17 performance from 3-point land last Tuesday, Virginia overtook Notre Dame as the best 3-point shooting team.

The Irish looked completely lost when cold from outside. Colson’s 20 points kept it close for as long as possible, but a combined 11 points from Farrell, Geben, and Beachum was far short of what the Irish needed, considering those three average a combined 32.2 ppg.

Despite two recent losses, Notre Dame sits second in the ACC with a showdown with leaders UNC on February 4. All is not lost for surprise ACC title contenders Notre Dame, but the road will be tougher than it has been if these weaknesses aren’t protected.

E-mail John Horlander at [email protected] or follow John on Twitter @John_Horlander.

Image via Flickr -Thomson20192

Mike Brey and Irish Basketball: A Winning Combination

In the nascent stages of ACC conference play, the Irish seem to be firing on all cylinders once again. A strong 9-0 start was derailed after the Irish blew double-digit leads against No. 1 Villanova and  No. 15 Purdue, but Notre Dame got back on track with a big road win in overtime against Pittsburgh, and a hard-fought win at home against No. 9 Louisville. This Notre Dame team remains on the periphery of the College Basketball elite, but it is never to be taken lightly.

The reason for that: Mike Brey. In his 17 seasons at the helm in South Bend, the Irish have locked down the fundamentals of the game and truly become feared opponents. Each year Brey and the Irish are among the best in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, free throw percentage, and assist-turnover ratio. This year the Irish are third, first, and first, respectively, in those categories. Brey has emphasized time and time again that his philosophy uses veteran leadership and solid, fundamentally-sound basketball to win games, and that he does.

After back to back Elite Eight appearances, the expectations were high but fans and critics alike anticipated a drop in performance following the departures of essential playmakers Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. But then again, they expected a drop in performance after Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant left after the 2014-2015 season. A third straight Elite Eight is not at all unrealistic for this Irish team. Matt Farrell has proven that he can take care of the ball and lead the Irish offense, while sharpshooters V.J. Beachum and Steve Vasturia provide a lethal threat from behind the arc and driving to the basket. Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben are the brute force rebounders and post players. Year after year, Mike Brey seems to be able to resist the inevitable personnel turnover and maintain a high level of success.

Those are just the tangible, statistical aspects of this Irish team. On paper, they’re efficient, lethal, and fundamentally-sound. But it’s the intangible that really stands out. On the sidelines, Brey is fired up like any other head coach. But Brey exerts a positivity almost unheard of among the likes of college basketball’s elite coaches. In a world of Jay Wright, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roy Williams, it seems like the level-headed positivity of Mike Brey wouldn’t find its place at the top. Yet it does, and it permeates the team. No matter what five players are on the floor, they all seem to radiate the hope and positivity that Brey embodies. No matter the opponent, no matter how big the task, The Irish always seem to be within striking distance. Since the 2014-2015 season, the Irish have notched wins against top 15 North Carolina and Top 10 Duke on the road, as well as at home against No. 4 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina. The Irish are 4-1 against Louisville in the last five years. When the big games arrive, Notre Dame is there to withstand the challenge and emerge victorious.

There is just an aura of hope and confidence that surrounds Brey and his troops that can’t help but lead to success. I was tentative to make a prediction earlier in the season, but I am confident now. This Notre Dame can certainly make a third straight Sweet Sixteen, but I think they could make a third straight Elite Eight and possibly earn their first birth in the Final Four since 1978.

Mike Brey and Notre Dame Basketball are on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected], or on Twitter: @John_Horlander

Image – Google Images

Total Coaching Overhaul Gives Kelly Fresh Start

On Monday, DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL draft. On Tuesday, Notre Dame announced Special Teams Coach Scott Booker would not be returning for 2017. On Wednesday it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Mike Sanford would be returning to Western Kentucky University to serve as head coach. Defensive Coordinator Greg Hudson is entering his first full year as Irish Defensive Coordinator, and Brian Kelly has a brand new team ahead of him for next season.

The pressure will be immense for him, and his seat may be starting to get warm. He must succeed next year, and I think for him that means winning a New Year’s Six bowl at minimum. He’s got the coaching ability to do it, and he’s proved it before. In 2012, with brand new starting quarterback Everett Golson, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the National Championship. In 2015, behind a brand new starting QB in Malik Zaire, the Irish won their opener against Texas and then a combined effort from Zaire and Kizer following the former’s injury earned a win against Virginia. Kizer won 9 of the next 11 games, and the Irish played in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2017, Brandon Wimbush will take over. Kelly knows how to coach a first-year quarterback and Wimbush has been touted as more talented than all the aforementioned shot-callers.

Despite the disappointing 4-8 season, the Irish did not play bad football. According to S&P+ rankings, the Irish were 25th in the country. Ranking top 40 in both offense and defense, it was mental mistakes and big plays that killed the Irish. Despite 7 losses by 8 points or less and a tough loss against Adoree Jackson and USC, and not once did the Irish lay down, quit, or throw a temper tantrum.

The offense will be good again next year. A standout receiver core will return all key playmakers, with the exception of Torii Hunter, Jr. Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will look to run through holes created by an offensive line that hopes to be much improved from last year.

Defensively, after the tumultuous beginning to what was the end of Brian VanGorder’s reign as Defensive Coordinator, Greg Hudson took over and reformed the defense. Nyles Morgan, Greer Martini, and Te’von Coney return to lead the Irish linebacker core, and a young and beat up Irish secondary will be healthy and experienced next year.

On the Special Teams side of things, mistakes killed Notre Dame. Kickoff returns, punt returns, missed field goals, bad punts, all cost the Irish precious points on both sides of the ball. Kickoff man John Chereson is graduating, thus leaving an opening for new specialist playmakers, such as fellow walk-on Jeff Riney, Riney spent this season as the backup to Tyler Newsome, but with a new coach and player turnover, Riney may find himself taking the weight off Newsome or field goal kicker Justin Yoon.

A brand new Notre Dame team will take the field against Temple next season, but there is one key consistency: this team still believes in Brian Kelly. Despite the fairly large outcry against him, Kelly has the backing of the players, the donors, and the Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick. While there is a lot of time before the 2017 season kicks off, the Irish squadron is looking primed to succeed. I should know, I already wagered they’d finish 11-1 or better. Go Irish, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Sunday Morning Notebook: Army-Navy edition

It was awards week in college football, and an epic showdown between Army and Navy highlighted this week’s action.

“You’ve sunk my midshipmen!”

The Army Black Knights got their first victory over the Midshipmen of Navy in over 15 years on Saturday by a score of 21-17. After getting out to a 14-0 lead, it seemed like Army was going to dominate. Their four turnovers kept Navy in the game.

Despite losing starting quarterback Will Worth, starting running back Toneo Gulley, and wide receiver Tony Carmona, Navy clawed its way back to a 17-14 lead after quarterback replacement Zach Abey’s beastly 41-yard touchdown run gave the Midshipmen the lead with 12:42 remaining.

On the ensuing possession, Army marched down the field, burning more than six minutes off the clock. The Black Knights converted two third downs and a fourth and inches in the red zone on their way to a go-ahead touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw (Not that Ahmad Bradshaw, this Ahmad Bradshaw).

As he took a final knee to break the streak, Bradshaw turned to the cadets and watched as they poured over the barriers and celebrated with the players.

It was at that moment you could see just how much this game meant to everyone involved. Despite what President-elect Donald Trump had to say on the air, this was an excellent football game.

And the Heisman goes to…

Lamar Jackson! In other news, the sky is blue and water is wet. Jackson was far and away the most electrifying college football player in the country this year, despite stumbling down the stretch against Houston and Kentucky. Jackson’s 3390 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, combined with his 1538 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, earned him the honor, which gave the University of Louisville a first Heisman trophy.

Other notes:

ESPN’s 30 for 30 “Catholics vs. Convicts” aired last night, and it was phenomenal. The film goes in-depth about a t-shirt business run by some Notre Dame students, which culminated in the (in)famous “Catholics vs. Convicts” shirts ahead of the showdown between 1987 defending national champion Miami Hurricanes and eventual 1988 National Champion Notre Dame. 10/10 would recommend, objectively, without any connection to either school’s fanbase. (My dad was in the stands for that game, it was his sophomore year at ND. Here’s his shirt).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter @John_Horlander, or by email:  [email protected].

Flickr – The U.S. Army

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Conference Championship Edition

December is for contenders, and the rest of the season is for pretenders. Unless, of course, you’re Ohio State, in which case you can be a contender without even playing in December. The College Football Playoff picture just got a lot clearer after a weekend chock-full of marquee matchups. Or, perhaps it’s just as murky as it was in November.

Somebody call 9-1-1! I think he’s dead!

But just to make sure, Derrick Gore pounded it home from 10 yards out with 3:48 to play to cap off Alabama’s 54-16 evisceration of Florida. In a game that meant little to either team’s playoff chances, Saban decided to press the pedal to the floor and try to earn Alabama a bye in the College Football Playoff, purely out of mercy to whichever sorry team gets placed at #4 (That was a joke, by the way, Alabama can’t get a bye in the playoff. The #4 team will have to play Alabama. Keep EMS on standby to resuscitate whomever it may be).

Game Notes:

  • Jalen Hurts had a lackluster day, throwing 11/20 for 138 yards and just one touchdown. It’s not his fault he didn’t rack up big numbers, though. There was a six-minute span in the first quarter in which the Tide gained one yard, and yet they scored 16 points.
  • The Crimson Tide had a pick-6 and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in that time frame, and they picked off Gator quarterback Austin Appleby twice more for good measure
  • Three Alabama running backs notched touchdowns: Derrick Henry–erm, I mean Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs, and Derrick Gore.

Pac-12 Champion playoff bound after all?

Sko Buffs! Colorado must have forgotten that the Pac-12 Championship was Friday night and not Saturday. In another blowout conference title game, Washington made it clear that it wants its shot at the College Football playoff, as the Huskies dominated the Colorado Buffaloes 41-10.

Game Notes:

  • The Washington defense was stifling all night, and held the Buffaloes to 81 yards passing and 82 yards rushing. Lockdown.
  • Jake Browning, who for some reason is still in the Heisman race, put up an abysmal 118 yards on 9/24 passing.
  • Browning didn’t need to do much, though, because running backs Miles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman lacerated the Colorado defense for 159 and 101 yards rushing, respectively.
  • Despite this convincing win, I still don’t think Washington will make it into the top 4 tonight. I think that the Pac-12 has spent this whole year beating up on itself, and now they’re going to be left in the dust.

On the BIGgest stage, the true contenders perform

After trailing 28-7 with just a minute to go in the first half, the Penn State Nittany Lions rallied to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31. On the back of a 10-point fourth quarter, Penn State stonewalled Badger running back Corey Clement on fourth down to seal the victory.

Game Notes:

  • Trace McSorely wants Bama! (No you don’t) The Nittany Lion gunslinger notched 384 yards and four touchdowns on 22/31 passing,
  • Clement had himself a game as well for the Badgers, chalking up 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
  • Unfortunately, this win doesn’t totally seal the deal for the Nittany Lions. The committee will be forced to think long and hard about the value of a conference championship, because as it stands now, Ohio State is going to get in over Penn State, despite losing the head-to-head battle.

Other Notes:

  • Clemson hung on to defeat Virginia Tech 42-35. It will probably be enough to get them into the playoff, but Clemson has not been dominant this year. If it were purely up to personal preference, they can have the Orange Bowl.
  • Western Michigan beat Toledo 29-23 in the final installment of #MACtion. The Broncos capped off an undefeated season with a hard fought 13th win in the MAC title game. They’ll be rowing the boat in the Cotton Bowl, though. No chance for playoff berth here.
  • Baker Mayfield’s 288 yards and three touchdowns gave Oklahoma their second straight Big XII title, but it was all irrelevant bedlam. The Sooners beat Oklahoma State 38-20, but they also don’t look likely to make the playoff.
  • Navy lost, so that makes life easy for the bowl selection committee.
Email writer John at [email protected] or connect with him on Twitter: @John_Horlander.

Photo: Flickr – David Smith

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Notre Dame Basketball is What Football Needs to Become

After a disappointing 4-8 campaign this year, Brian Kelly and the Irish football program are under an immense amount of pressure to succeed next year. Rumors are circulating every day about the future of Kelly, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, backup quarterback Malik Zaire and more.

Just a few steps east of Notre Dame Stadium, however, things are going just fine for Mike Brey and the Irish basketball squad. Sitting at 7-0 and coming off of a big win against Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Brey’s ragtag bunch of hustle players are still exceeding expectations.

Against Iowa, the Irish seemed to be cruising heading into halftime, but with 3:30 left the Hawkeyes turned it on. Iowa finished the half on a 13-0 run, cutting the Irish lead to two.

Coming out of the break, the two teams were evenly matched until Matt Farrell buried a three-pointer with 14:36 left in the second half. That shot won the game for the Irish. Of course, there was much more game to be played, but for the next 5 minutes of the game, the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center was rocking. The Irish were invincible, as they went on a 17-4 run and took physical and emotional control of the game before winning 92-78.

The point is that the environment in the arena was everything these past few years have not been for the football team. Notre Dame has historically been a very welcoming place, where traveling fans feel respected and accepted. However, in the past few years, the atmosphere has declined greatly.

While Notre Dame Stadium has never been on the level of Death Valley, Doak Campbell, or the Big House, it has historically been a difficult place to play. When visiting teams took the field, there was a climate and culture of “Welcome to Notre Dame, we’re going to destroy you.” Teams visiting Notre Dame for the first time struggled to establish themselves and win in South Bend. Teams that were used to playing there, like Michigan, USC and Stanford, didn’t expect to come in and win easily. That has definitively changed.

Teams tend to assume the persona and attitude of the coach. Mike Brey, the energetic, hyped, motivational coach has charged this basketball team and propelled it to exceed expectations year after year. Brian Kelly has transformed from explosive, volatile, purple-faced monster to emotionless, resigned, disappointed coach. The team has transformed into the same. The Irish teams since the miraculous 2012 run have been lacking a spark, a fire that is essential to a culture of winning.

Since Kelly has taken over, eight teams have ventured to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time: Virginia Tech (L – 2016), UMass (W – 2015), Louisville (L – 2014), Temple (W – 2013), Wake Forest (W – 2012) South Florida (L – 2011), Tulsa (L – 2010), Utah (W – 2010). A .500 record is not a culture of asserting dominance and winning at home.

Now, don’t take that to mean that I think he should be fired. Notre Dame cannot upgrade from him right now. With that in mind, it’s better to choose the known evil with a possible upside than to dive headfirst into the cesspool of head coaching vacancy. So, the Irish are in the undesirable position of being stuck with an underwhelming head coach instead of being behind him and fully supportive of him. Kelly has underperformed in almost every way as head coach at the University of Notre Dame: He hasn’t won a title, he’s been the focus of two academic scandals and he’s had a losing season (three, technically, if you count the two seasons of wins that were vacated). He must succeed next year, and I think that means winning at least 11 games, whether that be 11 in the regular season or 10 games and a bowl game.

The atmosphere surrounding Notre Dame football will improve as the team starts winning – that’s just how it goes. But even still, it’s difficult to improve when the traveling fans out-cheer and sometimes seem to outnumber the home faithful. Until next year Irish fans, keep your heads up and remain hopeful. 275 days, beat Temple.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander, or via email: [email protected].

Flickr: Eric Fredericks

Misery Compiled: Another blown lead costs Irish

In the bitter cold of a vintage November Saturday in South Bend, Indiana, The Notre Dame Fighting Irish warmed up the 80,000 in attendance with the dumpster fire that was the second half against Virginia Tech. For the third straight time at home this season, the Irish blitzed out to an early lead, before suffering a total collapse.

Against Stanford, the Cardinal fell behind 10-0 at halftime, but then went on to score 17 unanswered and beat the Irish by seven. After a bye week to recuperate and fix their mistakes, the Irish assumed that a 20 point lead would be safe against Miami. 27 unanswered points for the Hurricanes debunked that theory, but the Irish were fortunate to scrape their way back and win that one.

Now, this week, Notre Dame took a quick 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Hokies, led by dual-threat quarterback Jerod Evans, scored 34 points in the next three quarters. They went on to win 34-31, capped off by 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

The “what-ifs” surrounding this game are brutal to consider. What if the Irish had punched it in when they had 1st and goal from the 1, instead of settling for a field goal? What if DeShone Kizer’s head hadn’t been slammed into the turf when he scrambled for a first down (The incident is at 2:13:45 in the video)? What if he hadn’t been knocked out again on the penultimate play of the game? What if Cole Luke hadn’t been wrongfully called for pass interference (2:47:30 in the video) in the fourth quarter? What if?

Unfortunately, all of those things did happen. Now, the reality is that Notre Dame has now lost seven games by a combined total of 32 points. In each loss, the Irish have had the ball in crunch time with a chance to win or tie the game. 5 times this season, the Irish have had the ball and failed to score with under 2 minutes left in the game. The absence of a consistent, clutch playmaker has hurt the Irish time and time again. DeShone Kizer, after throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, went 3-of-15 for 36 yards as the Hokies stormed back to take the lead.

There were some positives to be gleaned from this game, however, the most significant of which being that Josh Adams ran for 100 yards, and Notre Dame as a whole ran for 200. Kizer hit 8 different receivers for passes of over 10 yards, despite being under pressure for almost the whole game. James Onwualu got a sack on Senior Day, and Jarron Jones recovered a fumble.

There’s not a lot to celebrate right now as a Notre Dame Football fan, but a big rivalry game against a talented USC team and the optimism that comes with a new season are enough to keep the hope alive. A lot of talent returns next year, and I’m calling it now, 11-1 next season for the Irish. Come back next week to read why I’m right about that prediction. But for now, Happy Thanksgiving and beat Trojans.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter:John_Horlander or by email: [email protected]

Flickr – Neon Tommy

Irish Proved They Still Have Much to Play for

After falling short by one point against a Navy team that played the game of its life, Notre Dame rebounded with a convincing 44-6 dismantling of Army. Defending the triple option is always hard, but it’s much easier when Army doesn’t complete 4-5 fourth downs and holds the ball for half a quarter at a time.

The Irish dominated from start to finish, roaring out to a 21-0 lead and finishing the game with twice as many yards and three times as many first downs as the Black Knights. It was exactly the type of commanding performance that Notre Dame needed; it proved that it won’t be going away easily to end this year.

But the road is the toughest it has been so far. The Irish welcome a tough Virginia Tech squad to Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day. Jerod Evans, the Hokies’ dangerous dual-threat quarterback, promises to make life difficult for an Irish defensive unit that, while showing great improvement since Brian Van Gorder was fired, is still young and inexperienced. They follow that up with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC in the mausoleum colosseum. USC has looked much better since it was obliterated by Alabama, and the Irish will need to be careful to avoid another beatdown like the last time they visited the Trojans.

The Irish, especially freshman Julian Love, looked good against Army. Love began to stand out against Navy, finishing with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a blow to the head that many thought would rule him out against Army. After tests showed that Love had no concussion, he stepped up again and had three tackles, an interception and a pass break up this weekend. Love, smiling like only a freshman on the sidelines after his first career interception could, symbolized to Irish critics and fans alike that Notre Dame is not done yet.

A season filled with tough, close losses can often lead to uncertainty and separation in the locker room for a program like Notre Dame. There has been a great deal of debate and speculation as to whether or not Brian Kelly will retain his job next season (he will, by the way) and whether or not the players still like him (they do, by the way).

At 4-6, with two tough games remaining, the Irish proved that they aren’t just looking to fast forward to next season. An absurdly talented offensive group seems to have alleviated the problems which befell it against Stanford and NC State. Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Kevin Stepherson, and more headline a standout wide receiving corps. Balanced with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tarean Folston in the run game, Notre Dame has a lot of weapons with which to strike. If the defense can keep up the good work, Kelly may have just turned this season around. Kind of. Beat the Hokies. (Time to play some real football).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

Special Teams Causing Special Problems for the Irish

Notre Dame’s 30-27 win over Miami was precisely the type of game that sends my emotions every which way before finally settling in one of two places: complete and total jubilation, or utter, gut-wrenching heartache. Luckily for everyone sitting near me in section 32, it was the former.

A 41-yard Josh Adams touchdown tied the game with 5:53 to go, and after a quick defensive stop, a 34-yard, soul-sucking drive saw Brian Kelly and the Irish milk every bit of the clock, though not intentionally. After efficiently marching down to the 7-yard line, a short dump-off to Durham Smythe looked sure to score the go-ahead touchdown. I leaped with joy as he seemed to cross the goal line and then screamed in terror as the football popped out of his arms.

Much to the dismay of the Miami player who came sprinting out of the pile, fist pumping exuberantly, the referee signaled that the Irish retained the ball. That set up a 23-yard chip shot for which I was far more nervous that I should have been (for no reason at all).

If Justin Yoon hadn’t made this field goal, if Notre Dame didn’t recover that fumble, this would have been a much different article. Instead, the Irish are 3-5, and with 2 games against the military academies coming up, they will hopefully be back to .500 by the next time there’s a kickoff at Notre Dame stadium.

But there was a deeply concerning factor in the game against Miami that has reared its ugly head over the course of this season: special teams errors.

Brian Kelly has come under fire over the past few seasons regarding his special teams decisions. He went for two against Clemson last year and failed, which forced him to go for two later in the game, which the Irish also failed to convert. This year against Stanford, Kelly had DeShone Kizer punt the ball on 4th and 8 from the Stanford 37; later in the game, he went for it on 4th and 7 from the Stanford 38, during which Kizer’s pass was intercepted.

But aside from poor special teams play calling, the specialists’ unit has made plenty of mistakes, including crucial mistakes in four of the five Irish losses.

Against Texas, a Justin Yoon field goal was blocked in the third quarter. Punter Tyler Newsome shanked a punt for 24 yards, which gave the Longhorns excellent field position late in the game, and they wound up scoring on that possession.

Against Michigan State, C.J. Sanders muffed a punt in the second quarter and the Spartans scored to take an 8-7 lead. Then Michigan State scored 28 more points.

Against Duke, Justin Yoon missed a 42-yard field goal attempt (the Irish lost by three) and the Blue Devils returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown.

Against NC State, the lone touchdown of the game came off of a blocked punt which the Wolfpack returned for a touchdown.

Stanford was the only loss in which the Irish did not have a special teams execution mistake, but as I mentioned earlier, Kelly’s decision making when it comes to punting versus going for it on 4th down is ambivalent.

This weekend against Miami, a short punt from the Canes bounced off of Troy Pride Jr.’s hand, which allowed Miami to score. Miami surprised the Irish with an onside kick, and Tyler Newsome had a punt blocked. C.J. Sanders also inexplicably tried to recover a punt that he had already tried to let go, but instead, he fumbled it into the endzone, where it was recovered by Miami.

If you’re keeping track at home, the Irish have had three blocked kicks, three muffed punts, and a kick return for a touchdown. That’s not great.

The good news for the Irish is that the two upcoming games against Army and Navy are chances to clean up mistakes and prepare for a tough senior day matchup with the Hokies of Virginia Tech. Go Irish; beat stupid mistakes.

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]

Flickr – Daniel Hartwig

Who Will Further the Irish’s Success in 2016-2017?

ACC media day this week means one thing for me: hope is reborn. Notre Dame football has been like a car crash I can’t take my eyes off of, and finally, I can shift my focus to basketball. After two consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Irish are primed to make another run at the ACC title and advance deep into March. Head coach Mike Brey has done wonders to turn Notre Dame into a serious threat in the conference, and he’s sent three players to the NBA in the last year.

Two years ago, a team predicted to finish in maybe the top five of the ACC defied the odds and won the conference tournament. The 2014-2015 Irish didn’t stop there. As a No. 3 seed, the Irish knocked off Northeastern, Butler, and Wichita State on their way to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979. That team, led by standout guard Jerian Grant, was one shot away from upsetting Kentucky and making the Final Four.

The next year, everyone expected a slight dip in performance, considering Grant and Pat Connaughton had left for the NBA. However, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste stepped up and filled their shoes. Jackson provided the guard play that many feared would be lost with Grant’s departure, and Bonzie Colson stepped up to dominate the paint. The Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year, eventually falling short to North Carolina, 88-74. Jackson and Auguste will not be back this year for the Irish.

Considering the Irish have lost the bulk of the talent that brought them success, what can we expect from them, and who will step up and make plays when it counts? The absence of Jackson and Auguste is huge, but nobody should be surprised if the Irish don’t struggle to replace them. Bonzie Colson averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. Colson has proven that he can play as a big man, grabbing rebounds and banging bodies with the best of them. Austin Torres and Matt Ryan can provide help off the bench as well.

V.J. Beachem will have to be the guy who controls the ball and dictates the tempo. Beachem really came into his own last season, especially in the tournament. He will be seeing a lot more of the floor this season, and Brey will expect him to pick up the scoring after he averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game last year. Expect him to play a much bigger role this time around.

Also expect to see a lot of Rex Pflueger and Matt Farrell, both of whom played major roles in the postseason last year. Pflueger and Farrell can both handle the ball very well and are more than capable of running the offense and creating points.

Despite the exits of several key players over the past two years, Brey and the Irish hope to continue manufacturing success through the strength of their bench. Facing a tough ACC slate, the next generation of Notre Dame basketball must rise to the occasion if they will once again challenge for the conference title and play well into March.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected] or on Twitter @John_Horlander

Image via Flickr -Thomson20192

Comment on this and any other article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.