Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Our weekly collection of 10 thoughts that must leave my mind prior to next week’s…wait…what’s going on next week? How is the season over?

1 – The Right Kind of Decision: Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson broke the news over the weekend that junior wide receiver Corey Robinson would, to the mild surprise of many of us, lace up his cleats for a final season in South Bend. Robinson, for those not on our Four Horsemen Lounge message board, wasn’t weighing whether he should forgo his senior season for NFL riches, but rather if he should forgo football in pursuit of a potential Rhodes Scholarship and the Fulbright Scholarship.

(You know, garden variety student-athlete stuff!)

He’ll instead chase all three, returning as the veteran presence among Notre Dame’s suddenly youth-filled receiving corps. Robinson won’t likely be the No. 1 receiver for Brian Kelly’s Irish by season’s end 2016 but he’ll doubtless prove invaluable – here’s hoping for a more consistent red zone and third-down presence from the six-foot five-inch veteran target next fall.

Oh, and the more important things, too.

2 – A strong finish and new start: Cornerback Nick Watkins and defensive end Andrew Trumbetti scuffled through the bulk of their respective second seasons in South Bend. After a promising freshman year in 2014, Trumbetti’s encore campaign could be classified as a bona fide Sophomore Slump. As for Watkins, his story was more “Failure to Launch,” as other than special teams duty, the former four-star prospect had barely graced the field as he neared the midpoint of his collegiate eligibility clock.

That changed in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State wherein Trumbetti was outstanding in the second half and Watkins was solid throughout. The pair is now well positioned to hit the ground running in winter conditioning and develop into two quality starters as juniors next fall.

3 – Taking Aim at Notre Ame The Maginot Line, Notre Dame’s defense under Brian VanGorder, or Irish Hoops vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday. Discuss…

4 – The Rolling Tide: I’ve heard myriad theories as to how Clemson can upset the machine that is Alabama football in tonight’s championship contest. I subscribe to precious few of them though Deshaun Watson’s ability to drop the biscuit in the basket on deep throws could turn the tide, so to speak. Regardless, there are six potential outcomes in a football game and my ranking of said sextet greatly favors Nick Saban and Alabama.

1.) Alabama is the better team and thus puts game away in the 4th quarter
2.) Alabama wins a classic
3.) Clemson wins a classic
4.) Alabama blows the doors off of Clemson
5.) Clemson is the better team and thus puts the game away in the 4th
6.) Clemson blows the door off of Alabama.

And I can’t see #5 or #6 materializing. And #6 is implausible.

5 – Harsh Reality for Irish Hoops Fans: Your current squad has the necessary pieces to compete but all-world guard Jerian Grant made everyone on that magical 2015 squad better. Immeasurably better. And Pat Connaughton was a unique, tough-minded matchup nightmare whose lost overall impact cannot be replicated.

I was well aware of both realities during last year’s dual runs through March tournaments, but it’s being hammered home ad nauseam as we sit courtside at Notre Dame games played to date.

6 – Balance as a detriment?: Notre Dame’s slot receiver duo of Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter, Jr. provided Brian Kelly’s offense with a combined 60 receptions for 718 yards and three scores. They produced 48 aggregate first downs – 24 by Carlisle and 24 from Hunter.

But does anyone else get the feeing the slot “duo” should have been more of a solo act, with Hunter the lead and Carlisle a definitive No. 2? It seems Hunter, who played his best games against the likes of Clemson, Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Ohio State, only scratched the surface as a junior in his second season of playing time last fall. He’ll be a difference maker in 2016.

7 – Sobering Stat of the Season: I began tracking “Third-down Wins” this season, rewarding Irish defenders that made plays (tackles, pass breakup, QB pressure, etc.) to stop opponents short of the first down marker on third down. Predictably, Jaylon Smith led the squad with 20.5 and Sheldon Day was a distant second with 14. But neither serve as numbers of note.

Instead, consider the following: sophomore Drue Tranquill finished with 5 “Third-down wins” prior to losing the final 10.5 games of the season due to injury. That’s five plays made vs. opponents to negate a third-down conversion in just 2.5 games played.

How did starting safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate fair in the same telltale category, playing 10 and 11 more games, respectively? 

The same. That’s right, just 5 “Third-down Wins” apiece despite nearly three more months of football games played. Draw your own conclusions.

8 – Quarterback Driven: Notre Dame’s identity in 2015 was its offensive line. That was true, for better or worse, from the outset of spring ball through the final gun of the Fiesta Bowl. After losing its top two performers and leaders in Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin, it’s reasonable to assume a new identity will emerge for 2016.

Quarterback seems the clear-cut choice at present – ironic in that the choice of a starting 2016 triggerman is anything but, and won’t be for another nine months.

9 – Rank ‘Em: My not-so-off-the-cuff ranking of Notre Dame’s 2015 position groups now that all the games have been played:

  • O-Line
  • QB
  • RB
  • WR or DL or LB (that’s my order, reasonable minds can disagree)
  • Special Teams
  • Drop-off
  • CB
  • Major Drop-off
  • TE or S, because the word “last” is defined as “coming after all others in the order” and a tie here thus seems fitting.

10 – The Wrong Kinda Time: I don’t think Brian Kelly will accept an NFL head coaching gig for the 2016 season, but if he does – and I’m speaking only for the present, not the conclusion of future seasons – mark this down:

Notre Dame won’t again contend until his successor’s successor takes the reigns.

The 2016 Irish aren’t likely to be as good as their predecessors (that doesn’t mean they can’t win the same number of games, it just means they won’t be as good) but Kelly definitively has the program on solid ground. Both the 2016 and 2017 squads should be Top 15-level teams that merely need early Autumn breaks (and the injury gods) in their favor to be in championship contention in November.

-- Until next week, Irish fans… Top Stories