Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

Predictions, letdowns, game day atmospheres, and a collection of cornerback conversations highlight today’s edition.

1 – The Numbers Game: Notre Dame’s “undefeated offseason” took a step back toward reality this weekend when top tier cornerback prospect Kalon Gervin backed off his pledge to join the program. The loss of one four-star corner – admittedly a crucial position and one difficult to recruit consistently at Notre Dame – is unremarkable on its own. (Anyone remember Marlon Pollard?)

But it’s the lack of other “Kalon Gervins” in the fold that poses a problem. With no cornerbacks among the incoming freshman class, and with just one remaining from 2015 in Shaun Crawford (the other pair failed and are now safeties) and with just one signed from 2014 (Nick Watkins) as well, it’s remarkable that we – the daily media – view the position as a team strength entering the summer.

That’s plausible because it appears the 2016 trio of Julian Love, Troy Pride, and Donte Vaughn offers enough promise to compete at a high level (other positions notwithstanding). But the Irish staff doubtless needs to repeat that ’16 recruiting feat this cycle and probably for 2019 as well, because for every such threesome that hits there are twice as many three-cornerback hauls that miss.

2 – Top Heavy: To date, which cornerbacks rank as the most productive/successful of the Kelly era?

Rising sophomore Julian Love and snake-bitten Shaun Crawford notwithstanding (their careers have just begun), I submit the following, and though we can disagree on the order, we can’t logically with the submissions themselves.

  • Robert Blanton: Two seasons under Kelly; two under Charlie Weis.
  • Cody Riggs: graduate transfer from Florida for the 2014 season. His season was truncated by a foot injury just prior to the team’s four-game losing skid in November.
  • Darrin Walls: One season under Kelly; three under Weis.
  • KeiVarae Russell: Recruited as an athlete (RB/S) and converted to the position to help a depleted group on the back end.
  • Bennett Jackson: Recruited as a wide receiver and was moved prior to his sophomore season – much to his chagrin at the time – to cornerback. He’s in the NFL because of said move.
  • Cole Luke: A pure corner (four-star prospect) that started three seasons for South Bend.

Luke is the outlier – the only member of the sextet recruited to the position by Kelly over his 7.5 recruiting cycles in South Bend. Will Love and Crawford, and perhaps Nick Watkins or Troy Pride force their way into consideration over the next two or three football seasons?

They’d better…

3 – A Significant Drop-off Thereafter…My seventh submission for the list above is 2010-11 starting cornerback Gary Gray. Recruited by Weis (2007), Gray is better than remembered by most fans, but when you have a game named after you, aka, “The Gary Gray game” – Notre Dame’s 35-31 collapse at Michigan in 2011 – it’s hard to argue him onto such a list, right?

4 – I don’t have an answer…To this intriguing question asked over the weekend on our Four Horsemen Lounge message board.

What say you?

http://www.scout.com/college/notre-dame/forums/1052-four-horsemen-lounge/15554950-staff-talent-drain-absorbers

5 – The Real Draft: Pete Sampson, Tim Prister and I had our third annual “Irish Illustrated Draft” last week. It’s the post-spring exercise in which we pick Notre Dame players – alphabetically from A-to-Z – on which we’ll write a feature story this summer.

For the first time we’ve included all the incoming freshmen (so 86 player features will appear on these pages in 86 consecutive days leading up to August Training Camp) beginning with rookie linebacker David Adams today.

Why do we draft rather than assign? Because it’s more fun, obviously, and that was illustrated by Prister’s late-draft commentary on his own squad:

“It’s a good thing we’re not playing a real game between these teams because I’d get my a— kicked!”

6 – Too Close for Comfort? The first two predictions in our summer series were as follows:

  • Notre Dame will break the program scoring record (37.6 ppg)
  • The tight ends will catch 67-plus passes (after just 12 last season), the highest total of the Kelly Era.

Next in line is an annual prediction that proves vexing for Irish fans with a tendency to peak ahead at games Notre Dame “should win.”

Prediction No. 3 -- Win or Lose, Notre Dame will (again) have eight of its 12 regular season games decided in the fourth quarter.

How do I define such a game?

If either team is within a touchdown and two-point conversion (therefore a one possession, 8-point deficit) at any point in the fourth, save of course for a cheap score in the waning seconds by either team, it’s a “fourth quarter” game.

For the sake of reference (regular season only):

2016: 8 decided by the fourth quarter (4-8 overall record)
2015: 6 decided by the fourth quarter (10-2 record)
2014: 7 decided by the fourth quarter (7-5 record). In fact, it was seven consecutive beginning with a win over Stanford and ending with a Senior Day loss to Louisville
2013: 10 decided by the fourth quarter (8-4 record)
2012: 7 decided by the fourth quarter (12-0 record)
2011: 6 decided by the fourth quarter (8-4 record)
2010: 5 decided by the fourth quarter (7-5 record)
2009: 10 of Charlie Weis’ final 12 contests were decided by the events of the fourth quarter.

I’ll be back next week with Prediction No. 4 and another each week thereafter.

7 – The Crucial Third Phase: Who’ll run under the season’s opening kickoffs against Temple and Georgia in September? I’ll take a shot:

Kicker: Freshman Jonathan Doerer
10 coverage specialists:

  • Freshman Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
  • Freshman Isaiah Robertson
  • Sophomore Jamir Jones
  • Sophomore Chase Claypool
  • Sophomore Julian Love
  • Sophomore Troy Pride, Jr.
  • Junior Nicco Fertitta
  • Junior Dexter Williams
  • Junior Asmar Bilal
  • Graduate transfer Freddy Canteen

If Love is deemed too valuable in the large scheme of things (as will be Greer Martini, a long-time coverage specialist), look for Devin Studstill to join the group – but that’d be a mistake if the program is finally looking to win rather than survive on special teams. (Of note: Chris Finke served in a kickoff coverage role late last season.)

8 – A Finger on the Pulse? Wondering which game to attend this season? Aside from monetary concerns, here’s one man’s preview of the game day atmospheres that await inside and outside the House that Rockne Built.

  • Georgia – An opposing fan base making its first trip north. A tradition-rich SEC foe. Two undefeated foes duking it out (one can dream). This will be the best atmosphere in South Bend since the season opener against Texas in 2015 – and a much better game.
  • USC – Night game. Archrival on the rise. A potential Top 10 (top 5?) foe. The chance that “Notre Dame is back!” Revenge on the brain. Recruits littering the sidelines. The best quarterback the Irish will face this fall. A healthy dose of dislike. You can’t go wrong with Notre Dame/USC as your destination biennial trip.

And then the other five home games are all tied for last. Good grief…

9 – Which reminds me, win or lose vs. USC, prior: Similar to a prediction in this spot last summer regarding Notre Dame’s seemingly innocuous matchup with Duke (it followed a prime time tussle against Michigan State), this season’s Oct. 28 matchup against North Carolina State in South Bend – seven days after the Irish face USC – will serve as Notre Dame’s letdown game of 2017.

Until next week, Irish fans…


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