Chat Transcript: Talking cornerback recruiting, cornerback matchups ... and the weather

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat — the USC Week rendition. Please remember to include your name and hometown with your question. Let's get started.

Bob from NYC: Hi Eric, love these chats. What do you see as Ian Book’s ceiling? Could he, with the right weapons available, win a national championship? What’s the highest round you see him getting drafted (whenever he enters). How many of his shortcomings are coachable and how long would it conceivably take to correct them, based on his progress so far?

Eric Hansen: Bob, thank you. I'm a bit on the fence with the first part of your question, which actually is progress from where I started last season. I'll say conditionally yes if a formidable run offense is in place. As far as the 2020 NFL Draft, Book projects as a seventh-rounder, if not an undrafted free agent. I wrote about this recently with draft analyst Scott Wright, who says the NFL scouts feel Book should go back to school in 2020. Wright's opinion is that Book could rise to be a middle-round guy in 2021 if things work out well. I defer to his expertise on that. I think Book is evolving as a QB and has a chance to be better in December than he is at the moment.

Bill from Idaho Falls, Idaho: I'm curious if you saw the things you wanted to see from ND in the Bowling Green game, to convince you that the Irish are on the right path or improving and moving forward? Appreciate your insight and comments!

Eric Hansen: Bill. Thanks. There was a lot to like from ND in that game, against admittedly an overmatched opponent. Their ability to focus on the task at hand topped the list for me. No letdown. If I'm being picky, I thought ND's defense was average at best on third down. They'll have to be much better in that area Saturday night against USC.

John from Royal Oak, Mich.: Hey Eric, interested in your thoughts on former ND players as coaches, in particular Todd Lyght. It seems that the two "weakest links" from a recruiting standpoint in the last few years have been the running back and DB coaches, which is odd because they were former ND greats. It seems like former players would have the ability to sell the team better than just about anyone else. So do you believe the issue has been their lack of interest in recruiting (enjoy on-field coaching more), interpersonal awkwardness (just not "people people"), or something else? I've formed my question from the reports of other journalists, so if you feel I'm way off base, please shoot me straight. Thanks and appreciate all your work.

Eric Hansen: John, certainly from the outside looking in, your assessment appears spot on. Talking with those in the recruiting analyst community confirms that. And to me, having interviewed Autry Denson and Todd Lyght, it's stunning, because of the quality of people they are, their ability to express the Notre Dame message, their own playing backgrounds, even their track record of developing players at those positions. In recruiting cornerbacks, perhaps it's a matter of too much letting Notre Dame sell itself. Keep in mind, Todd Lyght hasn't been coaching as long as some of the people he competes against. I think there's potential to turn that around. I think he has the tools. But it needs to happen soon. Consistently. He's going to have to outwork his competition ... leave no stone unturned.

Bob from Wilmington, Del.: There is a proposal in California to pay scholarship athletes. Do you think this could affect ND recruiting? Will high school athletes be more inclined to go to USC, UCLA, etc.

Eric Hansen: Bob, that wouldn't go into effect until 2023. There are already other states forming similar proposals. The NCAA was already going down this road in terms of studying whether it makes sense for its model. There's potential legal action. There's potential national legislation. There's potential for the NCAA to sort this out. And there's plenty of time to do so. So no, I don't think ultimately California schools will be at an advantage.

Frank from Canton, Ga: Will ND blitz more this game than in previous games?

Eric Hansen: I don't think that would be wise, given that you'd be giving USC more one-on-one matchups with those talented wide receivers. Notre Dame's bread and better on defense in this game needs to be creating pressure with its front four. I do think they'd want to give USC QB Kedon Slovis lots of different defensive looks and some of those would involve an OCCASIONAL blitz.

Paul from Lititz, Pa.: Eric, will our pass rushers at the corners be able to get pressure on Kedon Slovis? Their receivers are going to make plays, and I feel if we can’t pressure their QB, it’s going to be a long day if he has time to go through his progressions. Does Kyle Hamilton get one or two picks Saturday night? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Building on my answer to Frank, USC's offensive line has allowed just six sacks this season, but I believe ND's edge rushers will be the best they see this season. It's a matchup ND has to win and should win, both with its quality and quantity at those positions. As far as Kyle Hamilton picks, I'm not going to predict that, but Slovis' weakness (and he hasn't shown many) is turning the ball over.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Love the chats! The cornerback situation is becoming eerily similar to the running back situation the last few years. How hot is Todd Lyght's seat right now after years of poor recruiting? And is there another Lance Taylor out there who could come in and immediately impact the cornerback depth chart?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Erik. I think we have to give Todd Lyght credit for things like developing Julian Love into an All-America cornerback, etc. Recruiting is an important aspect of the job, no doubt. I know Terry Joseph is getting more involved in that. Not a lot is going to change with the 2020 class, but I do think there needs to be a step up in 2021. When you look at how the 2020 Irish are shaping up on the field, cornerback is the position group with the most questions floating around it.

Mike from Maine: Is my perception accurate that college players, in general, and ND players, in particular, are missing a lot more games due to injury than players 20, 30, or 40 years ago? Are you aware of studies on that?

Eric Hansen: I don't have that data at my disposal, but with all the advances both medically and with injury prevention through sports science, I would think the opposite is true.

Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, what is your assessment of the linebacker play so far this season? Second question, what portion of the USC defense will give ND's offense the most trouble?

Eric Hansen: I think the linebacker play was scary at first, with sharp improvement since. What USC's defense has done best this season is pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Mike from Thorold, Ontario: Just wondering your thoughts on Braden Lenzy. Are you surprised he hasn’t played more meaningful downs or even attempted to return kicks? I haven’t been overly impressed with Chris Finke's performance so far this year — was wondering why Lenzy isn’t receiving more playing time. Thanks and have a great day.

Eric Hansen: Mike, it's really not a Finke-or-Lenzy choice. Lenzy is competing with Michael Young at the outside receiver on the wide side of the field. Lenzy's own health issues have limited some of his opportunities. When offensive coordinator Chip Long wants to play Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley together, that also limits Lenzy. The personnel group that hinders his opportunities and Finke's at slot receiver the most is when ND plays two tight ends. And right now, that's the most effective formation running and passing for the Irish. As far as special teams, Notre Dame has only opted to return five of 18 kickoffs this season, and one of those was a squib fielded by Shayne Simon, so I'm not sure that his presence there would be particularly impactful. I still like his long-term potential with this team — a lot.

ND Harvey from South Philly: E, big Bo Bauer fan — besides special teams, do you see him getting more time on the defense? Beat SC. Thank you.

Eric Hansen: He's an old school middle linebacker. Love him on special teams. Don't see him beating out a healthy Drew White at this time.

Charlie from the Dominican Republic: Hi, Eric! I read your analysis of Jafar Armstrong's probable return this week, and the effect he will have on the offense. The article seemed to echo the feelings of many fans that his return will be just what this offense needs to jump-start the running game. Last year, our running tandem of Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. was inconsistent early on. It wasn't until Dexter Williams came back that the running game really got going. While I agree that a Jones and Armstrong backfield is better than Jones carrying the load practically by himself, I don't really understand why people are talking like Armstrong's return this year will be similar in significance to Williams' return last year. What has he done to deserve this type of anticipation/admiration?

Eric Hansen: Charlie, I understand your skepticism. Keep in mind when Dexter Williams returned from suspension last season, he had never had more than 37 carries in a season or eight carries in a game. So sometimes a player's history hides his progress and potential. With Armstrong, he had to learn to play running back from scratch in 2018. He didn't have the natural vision. He didn't know how to let his blocks set up. Now you have a 6-2, 220-pound former Kansas state sprint champ who has improved drastically in those areas and showed it in the spring and in August. I wouldn't compare his addition to the lineup as identical to Dexter's, but I do think — if Armstrong stays healthy — you'll see a dynamic player who's clearly ND's best option at the running back position.

Jay Weir from Huntington Beach, Calif.: Hi Eric. The line is Irish -10.5 and has not moved much, if at all. You are the all-knowing King of data and analysis. Care to predict a score or a winner this week?

Eric Hansen: I'm picking Notre Dame 34-27. That's for entertainment purposes only, right?

Rick from the OC: Big week, especially for us ND fans that live in SoCal. Go IRISH! Two questions. The first is what happened to the running back from Indiana that was a big ND recruit and switched his commitment to USC? WHY? Second question is on the back of the ND helmets — most have IRISH on them, but some have VICIS or something similar on them. What is that?

Eric Hansen: The player you are thinking of is Markese Stepp. He's a redshirt freshman at USC and the team's third-leading rusher with 159 yards on 25 carries (6.4 avg) and 1 TD. He did not meet certain academic benchmarks presented to him during the recruiting process, so he was unable to sign with the Irish. ... VICIS is a helmet technology company, which outfits about 80 percent of the Irish in their helmets.

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: Eric, going into the season and the talk leading up to the Georgia game was that the defense might have trouble stopping the run. We lost a lot on the interior D-line and at linebacker, so the questions about our interior defense were expected. When Louisville had some success running the ball, most thought Georgia would have a field day and push ND around. At Georgia the defense played well up front, until late, when Georgia had some success. What changed? Who defensively has stepped up their play? Also is the interior defense and stopping the run still a major concern going forward? Secondary depth has to be No. 1.

Eric Hansen: Linebacker Drew White and Asmar Bilal have shown remarkable improvement. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has shown tremendous growth too, and ND's interior D-line rotation is getting stronger. All those have played a part. ND will face two strong tests in the running game in November — Navy (second nationally) and BC (11th). For comparison's sake, USC is 91st in rushing offense and Michigan is 102nd. Cornerback quality and quantity is the No. 1 concern, this week and against Michigan, because of Shaun Crawford's injury and because of the matchups.

Mike from Rochester N.Y.: Eric, glad to see coach Kelly saw my question about Javon McKinley last week and decided to get him the ball more LOL. Regarding the Cam Hart move, do you think he’s going to see the field a lot as a cornerback this year or will they try to preserve his redshirt year?

Eric Hansen: Mike, yes I meant to ask Brian if he felt like crediting you was the right thing. ... I think there's an intent to use Cam Hart, especially since there is a stated intent to redshirt Donte Vaughn. If the ND coaches can pull off both, all the better, but I think Hart benefits most by playing this season.

Tom from Grand Rapids: Hi Eric, I appreciate the job you do with this format. My question is this: Every year at the end of the season during the Thanksgiving Holiday week, which is already hectic enough, Notre Dame has to trek out to California to play a game. Why can't they come to South Bend. Please don't try to feed me the weather BS answer. It's not like it isn't scheduled for either USC or Stanford. I think the Irish have been getting the short end of that stick for a couple decades now.

Eric Hansen: Tom, thank you. Actually, Thanksgiving week is remarkably unhectic for the ND team. They only have classes early that week. And this is something that ND wants. They like ending the season in California, with Kelly and an assistant coach or two usually staying out there to do some recruiting. They certainly have the freedom to try to change it after the USC contract runs out in 2026. Or they can renew.

Jonathan from Torrance Calif.: Hey Eric, what do you think the chances of ND landing Isaiah Pryor from OSU and the effect he would have next year? Also, what are your thoughts on Jacob Lacey so far this year? After hearing so many good things about him in the spring, I was expecting to hear his name more and seeing more impact. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Carter Karels wrote about Pryor last night:

It sounds like if things go well, he could commit this weekend or soon after. Given how much ND likes to play three safeties together, I think it would be an impactful addition. Regarding Lacey, I think watching him on film, you'd get a better sense of his impact that looking at his stats (6 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks through five games). Yet when you compare them to starter Kurt Hinish's (7 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and Jerry Tillery's freshman year stats for an entire season (12 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack), they line up very favorably.

Dan from the UP of Michigan: I am way more worried about USC than Michigan, because of the fact that USC can score a lot of points. Which of the other remaining games will be the toughest for Notre Dame besides those two rivals?

Eric Hansen: I would say Stanford, based only on the way they improved and played against Washington last week, and then Navy, which has been better than advertised so far.

Sam from Durham, N.C.: Looking at bowl projections a lot of people have ND in the Orange Bowl, because it’ll be highest non-playoff ACC vs ND or couple other conference (forget which ones). Is this affiliation correct, and if so would the committee block a potential Virginia vs. ND rematch in favor of something different?

Eric Hansen: Notre Dame really only has two New Year's Six options this postseason if it's not in the playoff — the Orange and the Cotton. If it plays in the Orange, it could be a rematch with Virginia. If if plays in the Cotton, it would definitely be against the Group of Five rep. The committee does have some flexibility in working with the schools if they want to avoid a rematch, but again the alternative would be the Cotton, not one of the other New Year's Six bowls.

MoxieBravo from Chicago: My question is since the weather is forecast to be cooler than the USC kids are accustomed to, do you think that will have any impact on the game (like the Sun Bowl vs. Miami a few year ago)?

Eric Hansen: I wouldn't rule that out. USC Sports Info even has a stat on that, although it's a bit murky:

From their weekly release: "USC is 12-11-1 in 'cold weather' games (where the cold temperature had such an impact on the game that it was mentioned in the media’s game recaps). The last time USC played a 'cold weather' game was at Utah in 2016 (a 31-27 loss when it was 45 degrees at kickoff).

Today the high in South Bend is supposed to be 76. On Saturday the high is projected to be 53 with a low of 43 degrees.

Henry from Stockton, Calif.: Thursdays are good days during football season. I get info on the Irish I cannot get anywhere else. Thanks, Eric! In the spring coaches Kelly and Long decided to work on QB Book: Have him throw the deep ball, improve downfield accuracy among other things. So far this season, Book has not looked as good as last season. He seems uncomfortable in the pocket, shows happy feet sometimes, etc. I'm wondering if the coaches are trying to fit a "square plug in a round hole." The 2018 Book was undefeated last year until Clemson. In fairness, the Irish didn't lose the game solely because of Book. There were faults in other parts of the team. Likewise, this year's Georgia game. Other units of the Irish could have played better. Maybe let Book play to his strengths rather than make him into something else? Your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Henry, your very direct, well-phrased question doesn't necessarily have an uncomplicated, well-phrased answer. I'll do my best. Ian Book as a starter has faced an inordinately low percentage of good to great teams in terms of total defense and pass-efficiency defense compared to every other ND starter for the past decade and a half. The three he has faced (Clemson, Georgia, Virginia) have been a struggle for him. The coaching staff believes Book can push the ball vertically and he did so against admittedly the worst pass defense in the nation in Bowling Green last weekend (not a commentary, just a statistical fact). If he can't do that against better teams, then they can do what Georgia did in the third quarter of that game and play their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, which makes winning very, very difficult. So the bottom line is he can do it. The coaches want him to do it. Now he must show he can do it against good/great defenses in games where it matters.

Chuck from Westfield, Ind.: Do you think that adding the Wildcat to our offense would be of help? I can see Avery Davis there, either running or passing out of the Wildcat. I can also see C'Bo Flemister in the Wildcat. Seems that it would be of help in short-yardage situations. Thanks for all your work.

Eric Hansen: Chuck. I don't hate the idea. I wouldn't want to use a steady diet of it, but there might be a game or two where it makes sense. As Avery grows comfortable being back on offense and the coaches' trust grows in him, I wouldn't be averse to seeing that pop up.

Sean from Columbus, Ohio: Eric, great to have you on these chats. USC has some flashy wide receivers and a running back that can take it to the house at any given time, but their O-line is not very good. I know this is a rivalry game, but other than that, do you see anything from USC that spells an upset.

Eric Hansen: I think the most dangerous version of USC is the version that isn't its own worst enemy. As I wrote last night, they're 122nd in turnover margin nationally (out of 130), 113th in fewest penalty yards per game and 105th in red zone offense.

Joe from Georgia: Is Kevin Austin's university-imposed suspension lifted? If yes, how surprised would you be to see him in either of the next two games? Do you believe he will play in more than four games this season?

Eric Hansen: No. Dumbounded. No.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie Wis.: Good Afternoon Eric. Just a comment. Although the transformation that Matt Balis has made to player conditioning has been noted frequently since his arrival for the 2017 season, I have not heard him mentioned specifically as it pertains to this year's Irish team and the correlation between his program and the way that the Irish are finishing games this year as opposed to when he first got here and even last season when they went undefeated. They just seem so much stronger in the second half and the fourth quarter this year. Is the correlation a fair one? I like to see people get the credit they deserve.

Eric Hansen: Tim, I think it's a given now, so that's why it doesn't come up as much. If I get a chance to do something one-on-one with Balis, which I hope to do, I can bring something new to the conversation. I think for most media people at this point, it's like reporting a plane landed safely at the airport after a routine flight.

Tyler from South Dakota: Which one of Southern Cal's wideouts would fit in best with ND?

Eric Hansen: Wow, that's like asking me which cut of steak would I prefer. Not sure there's a wrong answer there. I'd take Amon-Ra St. Brown.

TomD70 from Lansing: Eric, what is your take on Brandon Wimbush, the savior of Central Florida, not even seeing the field as a third-stringer?

Eric Hansen: I think Notre Dame was fortunate to have him on campus as a player and a person for four years, and I think he'll be successful in life beyond football.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, now that Jafar Armstrong is coming back, do you think we'll see more of the two-back sets that have been promised but not really put in place so far? It seems they have something working with the two-tight end sets and running the football. How much more of that do you think we'll see going forward, especially in this game, given the USC passing attack?

Eric Hansen: The beauty of the two-tight end sets — until someone proves otherwise — is that ND is really good at running AND passing out of it. I do think we'll see more two-back sets with Armstrong back. His versatility makes that an effective option.

Jacob from Versailles, Ohio: Hey Eric! I have a feeling that Donte Vaughn is going to redshirt this year so that he can transfer out (not because he could be a potential starter at ND next year). I know there is a lot of mystery surrounding this. Do you know any more about what is going on with Donte Vaughn? Cam Hart getting moved to corner has reinforced my thoughts that Vaughn is redshirting to transfer out. Is this something that the players can know/discuss with coach Kelly (redshirting to transfer out)? How does this effect cornerback recruiting going forward? 

Eric Hansen: Jacob, I'll give you a short answer since Tyler James and I wrote about this extensively earlier this week. The intent is to redshirt Vaughn to bring him back to ND in 2020. Cam Hart moving to the defense helps account for Houston Griffith's move to safety. It doesn't affect CB recruiting at all. The Irish will sign three in December and need many more good ones in the 2021 cycle.

Michael from Sanford, N.C.: Thank you for the opportunity to submit a question! I noticed some players have "VICIS" rather than "IRISH" on the back of their helmets. Researching, I found that VICIS manufactures the Zero 1 Helmet, and I read somewhere that the company has supplied head gear to the team since 2017. My question: Do all players wear the VICIS ZERO 1 Helmet or is it just a random few? Also, have they acquired any statistics on the additional safety provided to the players. Thank you, Eric, for your excellent reporting of all things Irish!

Eric Hansen: Michael, I partially answered this earlier, but wanted to include this, because I think there's some interest to fans on the safety topic. Not sure when I can get to it, but I do plan on digging into the VICIS/safety topic at some point. It won't be this week, however, but it's on my radar.

Tom Kennesaw from Ga.: Hi Eric, any chance the temps could dip into the 30s Saturday night and freeze up the boys from SC? This one make me nervous, because their biggest strength goes directly against our weakness at defensive back, especially if we have another injury back there. Also, Alohi Gilman doesn't seem to be as productive this year versus last year. Your thoughts? In USC's two losses what was their biggest undoing and is that something that the Irish can take advantage of? Last year they gave us all we could handle, and if not for a couple of fumbles by their wide receivers, the outcome might have been different. I'm afraid we will start out in a soft coverage like last year and let their freshman QB get into a rhythm and gain some confidence. What kind of defense do you think coach Lea will start the game with? If I remember correctly our last loss at home was to a freshman QB from UGA. Thanks for all you do to keep us informed about ND football. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, there's a lot here ... it's almost like the Cardinals' first inning on Wednesday. It's going to get into the 30s Friday night/Saturday morning. I like Alohi's game. He creates turnovers, is the second-leading tackler, makes those around him better, shows a lot of versatility in that dime package. He shows up in big games. He needs to Saturday night. The biggest factor in both USC losses was turnovers, three picks of Slovis vs. BYU, three picks of Fink vs. Washington ... and very few explosive plays. I think Clark Lea will mix defensive looks from the start and maintain that the entire game,

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric! Do you think ND will rush three and drop eight at least some of the time? Heard young USC QB had issues with that. Can D-line beat USC's O-line consistently?

Eric Hansen: I think that is a look the Irish will show, but not a lot. Notre Dame HAS to win a lot of those matchups rushing four. That's how this team is constructed. USC's O-line is better than advertised, but it's not Georgia's.

Steve from St. Louis: I think the Cardinals just scored again! Should we expect to see more dime package on Saturday night to combat the U$C receivers or will that only work in the certain down and distance?

Eric Hansen: I'll take it. I think the Nats just scored again too in extra innings. I think the dime works best on third down and mid-to-long. Lately there's been some cracks in it. The Irish need to tighten that down for USC.

Brent from Elkhart, Ind.: Greetings Eric, I am going to expand on Mike from Ontario's question. Finke is a fine young man, and a great athlete. However, other than good hands, he is not an exceptional punt return man. We have not really had one since Rocket. My question is then, what does it hurt to give Braden Lenzy a shot a punt returns? He is definitely faster and more elusive than Finke. Thoughts?

Eric Hansen: Brent, I don't think it's fair to Tom Zbikowski and Golden Tate among others to say ND hasn't had one since Rocket. But your point is why not Lenzy? When ND had a wide array of players trying out for that this spring and in August, Lenzy was in that group. When the group pared down to three, it was Finke, Joe Wilkins and Lawrence Keys III. So if there's a change there eventually, I would expect it would be one of those two.

James from Columbus: Eric, what is your opinion of Clark Lea's defense? His ability to identify talent and coordinate toward their strengths; his in-game adjustments seem masterful. His streak of keeping opponents under 30 points in today's college football is very impressive. In my opinion he deserves much more national attention for the job he is doing.

Eric Hansen: If Notre Dame's defense keeps evolving and ND goes 11-1, he'll get plenty of national attention, not that he's worried about it.

Bdbob from Parts Unknown: I know it’s early but what do you think of the chances that Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer stay with the Irish next year?

Eric Hansen: I would say it's trending that both would come back.

RC from Albany N.Y.: Hi Eric. Really enjoyed this week’s Podcast — the discussion around the USC receivers during the Q&A was great. Given USC overall talent level, I think Saturday is going to be a tougher matchup than the 10+ line indicates. I hope that I am wrong here. Can you talk a bit about the players USC is getting back from injury for this game? Beyond Slovis, I understand that there are one or two front-line defensive players back for Saturday. What impact do you expect them to have? And is there any reason to believe that the returning starters will change the trajectory of the USC defense? As always, thanks.

Just a comment: I really like this new format. The ability to send questions in early and then easily read the transcript on a mobile device at the end of the day is great. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: RC, glad you like the format. I agree it gives people a chance to participate that otherwise couldn't. I do like the live element too. I feel like I'm interacting instead of answering mail. To your question, safety Talanoa Hufanga coming back in a big lift for the USC defense. He helps in coverage and in rush defense. His tackle totals in the four games in which he's played: 8-10-10-14.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hey Eric. I am a huge fan of Lea. I think everyone believes he is head coaching material. And his halftime adjustments are exceptional. Am I being too unreasonable to think why can't Lea get more game plans to work at the start of the game. Seems like teams often have success until the halftime adjustments. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Keep in mind Louisville was a blind date and some of the other teams have thrown some unexpected wrinkles at him. I don't have an issue with it, as long as the end result is the same.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: Will Armstrong take over as the starting running back? How big of a role will he have in his first week back? Do you think Tony Jones Jr. deserves to keep at least a 50/50 split after his past two 100-yard games?

Eric Hansen: I don't think he starts Saturday night. Brian Kelly said something about 20 plays, but that could expand. I do think he starts vs. Michigan if healthy. With regard to Jones, I think you play your best players. I don't think you automatically promise someone a percentage of carries because they filled in well. ND didn't tag-team Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush last season after Wimbush filled in nicely against Florida State.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: First time on defense do you think Irish come out in normal alignment or nickle? What percentage of zone or man coverage do you foresee? SC gets rid of the ball very quickly and hope we have right combination of talent and versatility on back end to cope with size disparity of SC receivers. Think our defensive ends, rover and turnovers are key to the game. What do say you.? You're the best Eric. GO IRISH!!

Eric Hansen: That's either five questions and a statement, or four questions and two statements, but my limit is 17-part questions, so I will oblige. I think ND comes out with rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on the slot receiver and evolves from there. Not sure I can give you a percentage. They'll mix if up and probably lean heavier on the way that works best. Defensive ends, rover, turnovers, yes all big factors. And thanks for the kind words.

TomD70 from Lansing: There are many commenters expressing concerns about Ian Book. Is he aware of the criticism he is receiving? I'd cut him some slack. Remember, he was just a three-star thought to be a career backup.

Eric Hansen: Of course he's aware of the criticism — and the praise. You can't live in a bubble when you're at a place like Notre Dame, and players know that when they come here. Doesn't make it easy. I think it's fine to cut him some slack. My job is to be fair and accurate when I write about him. But him being a three-star recruit has no bearing in the conversation. If you're the No. 1 QB at ND, there's a standard you're expected to play to. It doesn't matter what your recruiting ranking was.

Jeff from Canton, Mich.: Looking at the slate of games this week, I think its quite possible that ND goes down in the rankings even if they defeat USC on Saturday. If Penn State and Texas both win, I believe they jump ND. And I think the loser of the LSU-UF game won't dip too far in the polls if it's a close game. As an AP voter, would you keep Oklahoma and Florida ahead of ND if they both lose close games? While these polls are not supposed to be utilized by the playoff committee per se, they do serve as a mental baseline and perception of the top teams in the country. Maybe FSU can beat Clemson for some nice chaos this weekend! LOL

Eric Hansen: Jeff, I never like to pin myself down on hypotheticals, because I think you owe it to all teams to be open-minded and fair when it's time to vote. There are so many factors. What if ND wins by a similar margin than it did in 2017? Also where I have a particular team in my poll may be different than where it its in the actual AP poll. And so my voting patterns are based off my poll and not the AP poll in general.

Gene from N.Y.: Hi Eric, thanks for insightful coverage! Don’t mean to sound negative, but the Bowling Green game tells us nothing about offensive development. Next two games should tell us if Book is on an upward trajectory or perhaps reached ceiling, if experienced offensive line can look the part, if Armstrong is missing piece to successful running game and if any receiver not named Claypool or Kmet can step up. If not, either the defense leads them to top bowl or CFP, or they are outsiders looking in. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I think the USC game can tell us a lot about both teams. I don't think it defines ND's season. For instance, Armstrong is only supposed to see 20 snaps. To pin his impact on his first game back is short-sighted and unfair. I would expect him to get better the following game, etc.

TomD70 from Lansing: Just a comment this time, Eric. This is almost a three hour chat! Outstanding. Don't know any writer who would give so much time to their clientele. Thanks to you on behalf of all your readers! Hope they don't mind me commenting on their behalf!

Eric Hansen: Thank you, Tom!

Eric Hansen: That looks like a good place to put a period on this week. Thanks for all the great questions. A reminder, there won't be a chat next week because of the bye, but I'll be back Michigan week — Oct. 24 at noon EDT to do it all again.

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