Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Exit Interview: Staff Evaluation

With Notre Dame’s regular season behind us, the Irish Illustrated staff takes a look back at some of the key players and moments from this fall and spins it forward not only to the Fiesta Bowl but next spring too.

With Notre Dame’s regular season behind us, the Irish Illustrated staff takes a look back at some of the key players and moments from the Irish’s first 12 games. Tim Prister, Tim O’Malley, Pete Sampson, Anna Hickey, Jake Brown, Jack Freeman, Steve Hare offer their opinions on what they saw on the field this fall with the Fiesta Bowl less than a week away.

Complete this sentence: Notre Dame finishing 10-2 is ______.

Prister: Right on target with what was expected.
O’Malley: Exactly what we projected would happen, but somehow, it feels like they accomplished more.
Sampson: Solid
Hickey: Bittersweet 
Brown: Pretty remarkable.
Freeman: A testament to depth and perseverance in the face of injury.
Hare: Impressive considering the adversity the Irish faced throughout the season.

Comment: It's the kind of perspective a lot of people won't have given how close Notre Dame made it to the College Football Playoff. Pile up the injuries and it's probably the best coaching job Brian Kelly has done at Notre Dame, period. – Brown

This single play defines Notre Dame’s season.

Prister: The 73-yard touchdown pass to Will Fuller late in the second quarter against Stanford.
O’Malley: There were two, but to be fair to the question –  A 27-yard post route with 15 seconds to play on The Farm.
Sampson: Drue Tranquill’s torn ACL because it was both a high and a low wrapped into one.
Hickey: Josh Adams’ touchdown run against Texas
Brown: Will Fuller's touchdown against USC where he torched Adoree Jackson.
Freeman: DeShone Kizer to Will Fuller at Virginia for the win.
Hare: DeShone Kizer’s go-ahead touchdown run at Stanford.

Comment: Replay revealed DeShone Kizer was down at the half-foot line. The Irish had two more plays and could have run out the clock and won the game, which would have made things interesting for the playoff committee. – Hare

Which single player exceeded your expectations?

Prister: Offense — DeShone Kizer; Defense — Romeo Okwara
O’Malley: DeShone Kizer was arguably the team's MVP.
Sampson: DeShone Kizer
Hickey: DeShone Kizer
Brown: Romeo Okwara
Freeman: DeShone Kizer
Hare: DeShone Kizer

Comment: From dropping a dime to Will Fuller in Charlottesville to delivering a money ball to Corey Robinson at Stanford, Kizer defined "surpassing expectations” from beginning to end. – Hickey

Which player failed to meet your expectations?

Prister: Cole Luke
O’Malley: Max Redfield
Sampson: Max Redfield
Hare: Joe Schmidt
Brown: Max Redfield
Freeman: Max Redfield
Hare: Alize’ Jones

Comment: I expected Alize’ Jones to come in and make an immediate impact. That didn’t happen, and it hurt the Irish in the red zone. I’m not ruling out Jones making a significant impact in the future. – Hare

Notre Dame looked its best in this game.

Prister: Georgia Tech
O’Malley: Texas shouldn't count, so I'll say Stanford.
Sampson: Georgia Tech
Hare: First three quarters at Pittsburgh
Brown: Texas
Freeman: USC
Hare: Stanford (well, except for that last 27 seconds)

Comment: Dominant defensive performance against triple option, Kizer’s first start is a success. – Prister

Notre Dame looked its worst in this game.

Everyone: Boston College

Comment: Can we please auto-delete all future message board posts that posit "Notre Dame is going to kill Boston College"? Please? Join us in the real world. – O’Malley

This position group was the most improved (not necessarily the best).

Prister: Running Backs
O’Malley: Special Teams
Sampson: Defensive Line
Hickey: Running Back
Brown: Defensive Line
Freeman: Wide Receivers
Hare: Special Teams

Comment: Notre Dame's running backs weren’t complaining about not getting enough carries. You know, unlike in Columbus. – Hickey

This position group needs the most help.

Prister: Safety
O’Malley: Secondary
Sampson: Secondary
Hickey: Secondary
Brown: Safeties
Freeman: Secondary
Hare: Safeties

Comment: You saw that for yourself. Need I say more? – Freeman

If you could add one of Notre Dame’s injured players back into the lineup which one would it be and why?

Prister: Jarron Jones
O’Malley: Jarron Jones
Sampson: KeiVarae Russell
Hare: KeiVarae Russell
Brown: Shaun Crawford
Freeman: KeiVarae Russell
Hare: Shaun Crawford

Comment: There are plenty of candidates here and Devin Butler held up against Stanford, but the Irish forced as many incompletions as they allowed touchdown passes, plus Butler missed a big tackle that turned into a touchdown. Russell was good in coverage most of the year, outstanding at wrapping up and able to make a big play. – Sampson

 Between Notre Dame’s red zone offense and its defensive secondary, which had the greatest impact on the Irish’s season?

Prister: Red Zone Offense
O’Malley: Secondary
Sampson: Red Zone Offense
Hare: Secondary
Brown: Red Zone Offense
Freeman: Secondary
Hare: Red Zone Offense

Comment: You could have argued the red zone offense last season because they turned the ball over so often, and catastrophically, to boot, but the 2015 secondary was THE fatal flaw. – O’Malley

Pick any opponent, including the Irish’s regular season foes, who do you want to see Notre Dame play in a bowl game?

Prister: Ohio State
O’Malley: Florida State
Sampson: Clemson
Hickey: Ohio State
Brown: Ohio State
Freeman: Florida State
Hare: Ohio State

Comment: When Notre Dame missed out on the College Football Playoff, the toughest opponent available was Ohio State. That’s what I want to see 10 times out of 10.

Looking ahead to spring camp, which position battles are you most looking forward to?

Prister: Mike LB, Will LB, Center, Safety
O’Malley: Running Back
Sampson: Linebacker
Hickey: Quarterback
Brown: Quarterback
Freeman: Quarterback
Hare: Quarterback, Secondary, Linebacker

Comment: Is anybody else going to say something different? DeShone Kizer had a fantastic, unexpected season. Where does that leave Malik Zaire? Can Brian Kelly really pick another starter after Kizer's season? It'll be an actual, real live interesting battle. – Brown


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