Matt Cashore /

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Today’s edition touches on tight ends, CJ Holmes’ spot, remarkable traffic dilemmas, the importance of Hiestand, and September’s Greatest Rivalry renewed.

1 – September’s Greatest Rivalry: Welcome back Michigan, you’ve always made my TV and stadium seat more entertaining.

If you’re in your early 40s like me, you grew up with the following odd reality as a Notre Dame fan:

Owning USC.

From third grade through my graduation in 1995, the Irish didn’t lose to the Trojans. Kind of hard to hate, much less fear the nail when you’re the hammer, right?

Conversely, Michigan has brought to the equation my/Notre Dame’s first night game…Jim Harbaugh (the dynamic college QB, not the raving lunatic genius)…Lou’s Dominating Loss…Tim Brown’s beauty in the Big House…Mike Gillette’s miss…Reggie Ho’s make…The Rocket…Stonebreaker’s pick…Desmond Howard’s diving catch…Reggie Brooks’ unconscious run (and later, the booing of Lou Holtz at home)…The McDougal Game…Todd Collins’ escape…Charles Woodson’s finishing move…the beating of Tom Brady…time running out on Bob Davie…Shane Walton’s coming out party…a pair of 38-0 humblings in ’03 and ’07 with unforeseen Irish upsets in ’04 and ’05 intermixed…a South Bend Stunner (exposing a soft Irish squad) in ’06…Other-worldly Denard as well as Bumbling Denard as part of the five consecutive classics played between ’09 and ’13.

And oh yeah, a 31-0 party the last time they met.

Welcome back, Wolverines. You would have been missed.

(For your viewing pleasure, an ND/UM video I made in ’08):

2 – Tight End, Take 2? A confluence of events (both Prister and I writing an A-to-Z preview of Nic Weishar for the weekend, communication akin to that of Redfield and Shumate circa November 2014) and a message board question prompted the following Musing.

A lament on the Four Horsemen Lounge surrounds Brian Kelly’s use of tight ends, or lack thereof. The latter is true of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and it’s fairly easily explained:

They weren’t very good (’15) and only had one option (’14).

But in 2013, Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack combined for more touchdowns than any tight end unit (not just tandem) since 1977. And in 2012, Tyler Eifert, Niklas, and Koyack were on the field simultaneously for 9 of the season’s first 16 touchdowns scored (through Game 5) and of course, Eifert went on to earn first-team All-America honors.

In 2011, Eifert nearly eclipsed all of program legend Ken MacAfee’s single season marks for touchdowns, receptions, and yardage, and in 2010, Eifert’s redshirt-freshman season, he and Kyle Rudolph combined to catch 55 passes for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns (one short of MacAfee’s still-standing program record) though the pair played separately, not in tandem, with Eifert taking over for Rudolph post injury.

Last year? Yuck.

And in 2014, the wide receivers were the chosen method of aerial transport, as Koyack was needed – far more often than expected, I’d surmise – to help protect turnover-prone triggerman Everett Golson.

The short of it is, Kelly wants to feature tight ends. He’s offered that publicly and privately. He couldn’t last season, and when he tried, youngsters Weishar and Alizé Jones didn’t come up with catches as expected.

I’m no fan of the myriad fade routes throw inside the 5-yard line either, but to be blunt, Notre Dame’s tight ends weren’t ready for prime time last season. They might be this fall.  

3 – Prediction #11: Hey, big surprise, the column is trending toward the “too long” again. On a related note, you Internet readers need longer attention spans. Regardless, we’ll save space with the weekly prediction:

In 2014, the Irish defense allowed three or more touchdowns in eight of 13 games. Last season…nine. Wait, how is that possible? Are you freaking kidding me? Nice defense.

Anyway, for this season? Less. Why? Because bad opposing quarterbacks keep finding their way into my weekly Musings…

**Notre Dame’s defense will surrender three or more touchdowns in less than eight games this season, fewest among coordinator Brian VanGorder’s three seasons to date. (The Irish defenses of 2010-11-12 allowed three or more offensive touchdowns a combined nine times.)**

4 – CJ Holmes: Looks like Notre Dame’s top athlete pledge for ‘17 could make an impact in the hybrid RB/slot role once filled expertly by Theo Riddick and even perhaps at the X receiver position, plus as a return man.

My vote, if Holmes has any penchant for the physical: the defensive backfield.

Future Irish cupboards are stocked at wide receiver and, related, quarterback. A difference-making cornerback or safety is essential for a program that might have one of the former (Shaun Crawford) but has otherwise featured guys rightly considered more solid than spectacular at the position since 2002 concluded. 

And you know the story at safety since 2012.

As for top tier prep athletes that made the switch to defense and shined? How about the quintet of Pat Terrell, Todd Lyght, Jeff Burris, Tom Carter and Vontez Duff?

5 – Traffic: Did you know the I-90 West (and East) near South Bend, I-94 East (and West) near Valpo, and 12 East near New Buffalo were all either closed or completely stopped due to traffic accidents and/or construction yesterday?

Fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

6 – Off Topic: I heard yesterday that Derek Jeter is engaged. Nice to see something finally work out for the poor guy, he’s had a rough life…

7 – THE Definitive Strength: The addition of massive interior line prospect Robert Hainsey to the 2017 recruiting class officially keeps the Harry Hiestand Recruiting Train rolling. Hainsey is part of the next phase of Irish offensive linemen – the post 2017 group.

Why the delineation? Because next season (’17) the 2016 Irish starting five, plus nine of 10 two-deep competitors should remain intact. Unless LT Mike McGlinchey leaves for the NFL post-graduation (he has a fifth year of eligibility in 2017), NEXT year’s group could be remembered as the Kelly-Era best. (More on what that means in #8 below.)

McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, and Alex Bars are all potential first round NFL Draft picks. (If McGlinchey and Nelson are not, it would be an upset.) And in Sam Mustipher, Tristen Hoge, Tommy Kraemer, and Liam Eichenberg, Notre Dame’s 2017 front has an additional quartet of four-star prospects eligible through 2018 and beyond – each of which should either start, play a key reserve role, or get his feet wet with the varsity this fall.

Thereafter it’s up to fellow four-stars Hunter Bivin or Colin McGovern to mature as expected as seniors and return for fifth years next fall, giving Notre Dame either preternatural talent or veteran steadiness in backup roles.

But which Kelly-Era offensive front has been the best to date? It’s without hesitation I offer the following order:

-- 2015: Without a doubt
-- 2012: Dynamite left side of Zack Martin and Chris Watt, All-American center in Braxston Cave and steady right-side duo of Mike Golic, Jr. and Christian Lombard (pre-injury for Lombard). No depth. None.
-- 2013: Returning left-siders Martin and Watt keyed the protection of Tommy Rees (only 8 sacks allowed in 429 passing attempts.) Not much of a rushing attack, however.
-- 2011: Martin and Watt in their first season together, plus Cave. They bludgeoned bad defenses but took it on a chin against some of the nation’s best (USC, Stanford, Florida State)
-- 2014: Injuries took a toll and Everett Golson ran for his life as a result. That…did not turn out well.
-- 2010: Well Navy pushed them all over the field, so…

8 – Best of the Rest Up Front: Aside from Kelly’s units, below are the best Irish offensive lines in the post-Moore era are:

-- 1998: A first round pick in Luke Petitgout and an All-American in Mike Rosenthal; just 9 sacks allowed; paved the way for 18 Autry Denson touchdowns. I’d put this group ahead of the 2012 front.

-- 2000: Featured three future NFL’ers including Jeff Faine and Mike Gandy. The group protected a backup true freshman quarterback en route to a 9-2 regular season and opened holes for the Julius Jones/Tony Fisher/Terrance Howard triumvirate. Ranks behind the 2012 front.

-- 2005: The best line of the Willingham/Weis eras, for whatever that’s worth. Unlike the follow-up group in ’06, the ’05 front led by Dan Stevenson, Ryan Harris, John Sullivan and Matt LeVoir kept QB Brady Quinn relatively clean. Running game was sporadic (just 3.6 per pop) but effective due to Darius Walker’s versatility.

…And that’s it. The remainder post-1996 and up until at least 2011, Kelly’s second season, were barely adequate.

Why is this relevant? The 2016 and 2017 lines need to be on par with the 2012 crew if either Irish squad is to work its way into College Football’s Playoffs or play among the New Year’s Six bowls.

Now I feel like we need a highlight of a random, vicious block:

Until next week, Irish fans… Top Stories