Here are the highlights and lowlights from Notre Dame football beat writer Eric Hansen’s latest live chat. To read the entire transcript, go to ndinsider.com/multimedia/chats. The next live chat will be Dec. 20 at noon EST.
Jeff from Canton, Mich.: Hi Eric, I read that ND may be taking 10 early enrollees next month. Since ND is at or near the 85 scholarships now, does that mean there are at least 10 players leaving the team after December? Can you enlighten us on how ND can take so many early enrollees and how the 85 cap is taken into account?
Eric Hansen: Jeff, good question, and the answer is simple. ND (or any other FBS school) does not have to be at the 85-scholarship limit from the time the 2018 season ends until school starts for the fall semester. So the Irish can and will be way over 85 during much of that time.
Len from the Jersey Shore: Eric, Thanks for hosting. I had a few questions. How does the playoffs affect transfers? For example, does Brandon Wimbush have to wait until Jan. 8 before transferring if he decides to transfer? Second, you pointed out the areas on the team that need to improve for the Irish to have a good season. Safety play, playing the ball in the air, rover etc. From where the team is now, what needs to improve between now and Dec. 29? Third, how translatable is Brian Kelly’s experience with the Division II playoff and the FBS playoff? Many pundits are putting him at a disadvantage compared to the other head coaches in the playoff in this area.
Eric Hansen: Hi Len. Kids can explore a transfer before the season’s end. Usually, though, that wouldn’t be conducive to being focused for the game. For those players who do explore the transfer early, they generally they leave the roster if they’re in that big of a hurry. Dayne Crist did exactly that in 2011. It was a prudent move on both sides. I wouldn’t anticipate that would be Brandon Wimbush’s approach at all.
As far as where this team needs to improve the most. O-line play. O-line play. O-line play. Then nickel/dime packages on defense. Special teams. Expect some improvement at the QB position as well.
I have trouble keeping up with all the pundits, so I’m not sure what has been said in that regard. You would think Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban have advantages, because they’ve been in this situation before, they’ve won national titles in this format before, and they have two really, really good teams.
I think Kelly learned a lot from his D2 experience and from the shortfalls of 2012 in the BCS format. I do think that will translate well to this experience. But that doesn’t mean the Irish will beat Clemson. This is a formidable opponent, for sure.
Mike from Buffalo: Thanks for the great chats, especially during this special football season. How much do we miss former Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand? Hasn’t most of Jeff Quinn’s experience been as an offensive coordinator or head coach? Do they differ in teaching priorities such as technique emphasis vs. scheme?
Eric Hansen: Mike, thank you. Harry Hiestand is amazing and deserves all the kudos that come his way. I’ve got a note he sent me during the season sitting right by my keyboard that quotes General Patton that is really vintage Harry.
OK, now let’s move on to Jeff Quinn, and everyone in the Gug has. Jeff is a long-time offensive line coach, who just happened to be an offensive coordinator on top of that. That’s an impressive combination. I like his stint as an offensive analyst at ND as well. I did a story with Jeff for our magazine last summer, and the analytics layer make him a better O-line coach.
I think Jeff and Harry were more divergent in the techniques area, etc., before Jeff spent three years with Harry. That also made Quinn better. As far as personality, they’re very different. They just are, and you have to be true to who you are.
I think there are people who just can’t get past Jeff Quinn getting the job and are going to pick at the differences to justify that they’re right. I see it differently.
Not every Harry Hiestand line was elite. Look at the growing pains of 2016. I think there would have been some with this group too with Harry, especially when you lose a player the caliber of Alex Bars in midseason.
Remember this group was named one of the nation’s top 10 O-lines by the Joe Moore Award selection committee. If you’d like to hear more about what former ND All-American Aaron Taylor thinks about the team and the O-Line, I think you’ll enjoy this recent segment from Weekday SportsBeat:
Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, thanks for the chat during the postseason pre-bowl period. Also, I thought the Garth Brooks concert was awesome. Looked like a recruiting tool to me. Now as for the game: The Clemson DC worries me a little with a month to prepare for us. I hope Chip Long has some plays up his sleeve for them. How do you feel about our chances of winning the turnover area? In a big game like this, that is often the difference. Also, in a close game in the final four minutes, which team would have the edge? Thanks again and Go Irish!
Eric Hansen: Tom thanks. The Garth Brooks concert was awesome in person, and much warmer on TV. Brent Venables has been Clemson’s defensive coordinator since 2012. Clemson is 5-1 in bowl games or national semis in which Dabo Swinney and he have had a month to prepare. The loss was 24-6 to Alabama last year. It’s a big challenge for the Irish, and Venables has that elite D-line in his pocket. But I’ll go back to my assertion that ND’s capacity to counteract all of that starts with the offensive line’s ability to evolve/grow in December. Turnovers will be huge.
Brian Kelly is 42-4 (.913) at Notre Dame and 145-15 (.906) in his career when his teams win the turnover battle. As far as last four minutes, you’d have to tell me who has the ball. I’d bet on the team that had its defense on the field.
Joe from Helena, Mont.: Any chance Clark Lea picks Mike Elko’s brain from the A&M-Clemson game earlier this year?
Eric Hansen: I would count on it.
Beth from Lansing, Mich.: What do you think is the best way for the offense to counter a fast and physical defensive line? I would think a lot of quick screens, but that seems pretty obvious. What else can the offense do?
Eric Hansen: Hi Beth, I like the way your football mind works. Think back to the 2015 game at Clemson. DeShone Kizer’s running was a big factor. Clemson limited the “traditional” running game, and Kizer was dynamic running the ball. So does that mean some Wimbush? Can Book do what Kizer did in the running game? Then, the Irish used C.J. Prosise very effectively in the passing game. Think Jafar Armstrong, and you have that same kind of weapon.
The pass is going to have to set up the run. If Book is patient and effective, things will eventually open up for Dexter Williams.