Chat Transcript: Breaking down ND's speed options, Book's yo-yoing, Armstrong's impact

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat — Michigan Week edition. Please include your name and hometown with your question. Going to get right to it.

Kirk from San Diego: Will Avery Davis eventually find the field at ND?

Eric Hansen: Jafar Armstrong's return tamps down the urgency to get Avery Davis more heavily involved in the offense. I think there will be some opportunities for him, but scattered and not constant.

Bob from New York City: Who needs to have their best game this week for ND to win? And how likely do you think it is?

Eric Hansen: I think the two position groups that need to be at the top of their game are the Irish defensive line and quarterback, meaning Ian Book. I'm much more confident in the defensive line playing well. Rain is in the forecast, which could affect the passing game for both teams.

Steve from St. Louis: Do Clark Lea and Chip Long ever collaborate on game plans? For example if Lea sees something on film Michigan does on defense, does he go to Long and say, "Here's how you can attack that," and vice versa?

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly talked about this a little bit recently. If there are those kinds of observations, usually Kelly is the one who would bring that up in a meeting. I didn't get the sense that it happens all that often.

Sam from D.C.: Do you expect next year's offensive line to be the same starting five? Along the same lines, are any of the current starting five, who are eligible, getting NFL draft attention?

Eric Hansen: I do expect all five to return to Notre Dame, and only Jarrett Patterson among them isn't draft-eligible. Liam Eichenberg was probably most prominent on the NFL radar before the season. I don't think his stock will be high enough at season's end that coming out early will be more appealing than staying. He's open to all possibilities.

Michael from Chicago: Does the team and/or coaches watch the games of their opponents together on bye weeks or when the schedule allows? And if so, do they watch by position group? Or do they watch separately and break down film accordingly?

Eric Hansen: Kelly usually gives the players the weekend off when he can, and he did so this year. So they did not watch the Michigan-Penn State game live together.

Mike Stacey from Parts Unknown: How many carries do you think Jafar Armstrong will get, and how close is he to 100 percent?

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly seemed to be pretty optimistic Monday about Armstrong being back at full strength and speed. It's hard to say the number of carries, because a lot of it will depend on the flow of the game. My guess is 10-12 with some involvement in the passing game as well.

Mark from Pittsboro, N.C.: Why doesn't Kelly make his team use the silent count all season long?

Eric Hansen: I can't see a reason why that would be an advantage in games when you don't need it. The more you use it, the more a defense has an opportunity to decode it. And even when you practice it constantly, it's less reliable than using audible cues.

NDWhitey from Alpha, N.J.: I think it's time to incorporate Braden Lenzy, Michael Young and Lawrence Keys for bigger roles in the offense. What's your opinion? The time is now to use "all the weapons in the arsenal."

Eric Hansen: I don't necessarily disagree with you, but health has been an issue at times this season for all three. And now that they're healthy, do you sacrifice two-back sets and two-tight end sets to get them on the field? Even in three-wide receiver sets, who do you sit to get all three of them on the field? I think Young and Lenzy at this time have the least roadblocks to playing time and yet I don't think you'll see either in large doses this weekend.

Matt #2/1B from St. Louis: Hi Eric. In your opinion should Michigan be favored, and why/why not? Where do you have both ranked in your AP poll? Do you think ND overdid it on the three-man fronts versus USC, and what would you have done? What does ND most need to do to have more offensive consistency (not getting stagnant and allowing teams to stay in the game)? What is your favorite ND vs UM memory? Thank you!

Eric Hansen: Matt, you were dangerously close to a 17-part-question violation there. Remember, point spreads aren't predictions. They're designed to get money bet on both sides. The line moved from Michigan being a 4-point favorite to ND being a 1-point favorite, and it very well could move again before kickoff. ... I'd make ND a slight favorite. The venue and how Michigan matches up, I think, will make this a close game. I have ND sixth in my poll and Michigan 17th ... My entire ballot can be found here:

I thought ND needed to mix it up defensively in the second half once USC figured out to move the ball consistently against the three-man front. ... Not a short answer to offensive consistency, but it starts with consistent QB play ... Favorite ND-Michigan memory: "He's at the 30, the 20, the 10. Bye-bye, Rocket."

Jeff from Phoenix: Eric, this past weekend I was sitting on my couch eating cheeseburgers and came up with this question (ND Insider fans will get the reference). Why did Jafar Armstrong only have one carry versus USC? Was it game plan-dictated, as BK suggested, or was he not fully recovered? For this weekend, is he 100 percent in your opinion?

Eric Hansen: Ha. Love it. I actually had jalapeno and pepper jack burgers at lunch that day, so I believe I'm guilty too. Kelly said he wanted to use Jafar more in the passing game than the running game vs. USC. When the Trojans overcommitted to the pass and left the run open, that lessened the urgency to use Armstrong. Tony Jones was running so strong, it didn't make sense to push it with Armstrong. My sense is Armstrong didn't have strong practices leading up to the USC game. Giving him two more weeks to shake the rust and heal made sense. Kelly seemed to be confident Armstrong will play and play well moving forward.

Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Eric, thanks for all the great work here and on SportsBeat. I see in the USA Today that Brian Kelly makes about $1.6 million as coach at ND. Is that accurate as his total compensation? That puts him in the mid-70s behind many lesser programs. How could the job be attractive to Kelly or anyone else if such a big program pays relatively small compensation?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Jack. Because ND is a private institution and USA Today doesn't have access to his total compensation, those numbers are always WAAAYYY off.

Nick from Barrington, Ill.: Eric, the predictions you and your cohorts made in the NDI Preview have been extremely accurate so far this season. You tabbed the team from up north to win 27-24. Are you still holding to that?

Eric Hansen: Both Tyler James and I now disagree with that prediction. I picked ND 28-27 on our Pod of Gold podcast, and I believe Tyler picked the Irish 24-20.

Mike from Danville, Ind.: Eric: Lifetime ND fan of 75 years. Really enjoy your work and love the chats. If a player uses a fifth-year scholarship but decides to continue his education instead of going pro after the season, is ND, or any school for that matter, obliged to keep him on an academic scholarship through the process of getting his degree?

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. Thanks for the kind words. If I am understanding you correctly, you're asking if a player just decides he's tired of football but wants to get his degree, is the school obligated to foot the bill for a fifth year? No, unless there's been a medical hardship established. And at ND, they have the players on a timetable to graduate in 3 1/2 years, so you wouldn't have a fifth-year player still in search of an undergraduate degree. In more general terms, even if a school isn't obligated, they may very well be willing to take on the financial piece of that, and it would be well within the NCAA rules. It certainly would boost the graduation rate.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Did the Irish take the foot of the gas at halftime or were USC's halftime adjustments better than ours? Realize USC has scored in the last minute the last two years, which kind of distorts the final score. Your thoughts please, because you represent the best in the field. GO IRISH!!

Eric Hansen: Bill thanks. I think ND went into "prevent" mode too early. I mean that from a schematic standpoint and not an effort standpoint.

Ryan from Mishawaka: Eric, if ND doesn't make the Playoff or a New Year's Six bowl, what are their options for a second-tier bowl and who might their opponent be? Is their any chance that the matchup could be more interesting than playing a game against Virginia or SMU?

Eric Hansen: The next step down is the Citrus Bowl and there are some contingencies there that may or may not leave the door open to the Irish. If they landed there, they'd match up with an SEC team, perhaps Auburn. The next step down is the Camping World Bowl vs. the Big 12. The likely opponent there would be Texas or Baylor.

Dwight from central Arkansas: UM was very impressive in the second half Saturday vs. Penn State. They dominated offensively and defensively in a tough environment. In listening to a Michigan sports talk show on YouTube, the two co-hosts even stated ND may be in for a long night. If the Wolverines do indeed play well with a huge home crowd, do you think the Irish can stay in the game? I know emotions will be sky high early on. Hopefully, the Irish can ride that wave out and play well.

Eric Hansen: Oversimplifying here to keep this within a reasonable length, I think Notre Dame is the more talented and more balanced team. Michigan's strength is its defense. On offense, it turns the ball over way too much. If the Wolverines could cut that element out of their game, they'd be difficult for most teams to handle.

Beth from Lansing, Mich.: Hi Eric! Where does ND rank in total defense, pass defense and rush defense so far this year? Michigan looked much better in the second half of the Penn State game, and USC looked much better in the second half against us. Were there no adjustments made in the USC game? Can't do that against Michigan. You have no idea how much I want to win this game.

Eric Hansen: Beth, in part because of growing pains against Louisville and New Mexico, the Irish are a middling 64th in rush defense. They're 21st in pass-efficiency defense and 41st in total defense. Their No. 15 ranking in scoring defense is a reflection of their penchant for takeaways as well as the ND offense's penchant for not giving away extra possessions. ... The Irish should have mixed things up on defense in the second half against USC, I believe.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. Seems to me that, other than their reputation in the rivalry and what bowl they will play in, Michigan really has nothing to lose in this game, while ND is playing for their playoff lives. How will that affect the outcome in your opinion? Will Michigan be looser and more relaxed than ND? Or will ND, knowing their backs are against the wall, be the more focused team?

Eric Hansen: You could really flip that question and ask if ND had a better sense of urgency, because they do have a lot to play for and Michigan does not have as much to play for. I don't think it will affect the bottom line. These teams and fan bases don't like each other. I don't think either side will be lacking in motivation or effort.

Mike from Maine: Eric, early in the season, Jack Lamb seemed to be a regular piece in the linebacker rotation and played well, but it seems that he has not played much lately. Is that perception accurate, and if so, do you know why he is out of favor?

Eric Hansen: Mike, he plays almost exclusively in ND's dime package, that is when ND puts three safeties and three corners on the field with one linebacker, three ends and an interior defensive lineman. The Irish didn't show that look against USC. They played a gimmicky defense as their base, specifically designed for USC's fleet receivers. I think they'll go back to mixing in the dime package this week, so you'll see Jack Lamb again.

James from Columbus: Eric, do you think Tony Jones Jr. is making a case for offensive team MVP? If not, who would your candidates be?

Eric Hansen: Missed this live. I know some people who would vote for him, and there's no clear front-runner. I would vote for Cole Kmet. He leads all tight ends nationally in catches per game and is close to leading in receiving yards per game, though he won't show up in the NCAA stats (because of games played) until after the Virginia Tech game on Nov. 2. I'd have Alohi Gilman and Khalid Kareem in my MVP mix too. 

Jim from Morganton, N.C.: Why do we have to suffer through NBC broadcasts that have non-ND fans as analysts? Mike Mayock was fantastic and not biased. Doug Flutie, who could not get into ND when he was of college age, is so negative on ND. Let’s add some others from the ND hater club — Pat Hayden, Jonathan Vilma. Why doesn’t NBC hire some of the great ND alums who are analysts, like Aaron Taylor?

Eric Hansen: Back when Notre Dame and NBC started this venture, NBC wanted to avoid being a cheerleader per se for the Irish, and instead present an objective broadcast. I think you can accomplish that by using on-air talent that has ND ties and doesn't have ND ties. I don't see many games on NBC, because I'm at the games. But when I'm watching a game, I want someone to provide insight. I don't care where they went to school, as long as they give me that and are honest with their opinions. I'm not sure that answers your question. I'd suggest you take it up with NBC.

Rick Dierolf from Sinking Spring, Pa. Hey Eric. I really believe this is make-or-break game for Ian Book to see if he can take advantage of the one-on-one matchups he will have on the outside with his receivers. If he can’t get it done, I think we lose. And if he can, I think we roll Michigan. If they didn’t trust him last year against this defense, should we have any faith that he can get it done. I’m sensing a bad game from him.

Eric Hansen: I don't see a question here, so I'll leave that right there.

Joe from Georgia: Do you have a sense as to whether Kelly and the staff are more/less/equally confident going into this game as they were for USC? What is your own personal sense in this regard? For me, it all comes down to play operation, which all insist has been fixed. If it has, ND wins. However, I don't trust the narrative being put out there.

Eric Hansen: Not having a press conference with Kelly anymore on Thursday makes him a harder read when it comes to what you're asking me. On Monday, he's much more measured. Plus, they really haven't practiced at all most weeks by Monday. As far as play operation, I'm assuming you're talking about using the silent counts. It's never easy no matter how much you practice it, but my sense it will be smoother than it was at Georgia.

Brian from Batavia, Ill.: Hi Eric. Can you provide your professional opinion as to why Troy Pride has struggled during the first half of the 2019 season? Will Avery Davis and Braden Lenzy get more chances to take the rock to the house during the second half of this season? Thank you for your outstanding articles covering Fighting Irish football.

Eric Hansen: Brian thanks. I'm not sure if struggled is the right word, but I wouldn't say he's consistently thriving either. I think he's a better fit at the field corner, but with Julian Love gone, he's the best option at the boundary corner and that is a high priority. It's definitely not speed, so it comes down to technique, which is fixable. ... I like Davis and Lenzy a lot. I have a hard time seeing the path to consistent playing time, but maybe a little of them goes a long way?

Gordon from Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia: Hi Eric, I’ve enjoyed reading your articles over the years. You write really well. Who are your favorite, living or absent, top three sports columnists? If prior to graduating a ND student athlete leaves to join a professional league, does ND honor their scholarship if they later choose to complete their degree

Eric Hansen: Gordon. Thanks. The columnist question is hard, because it's not something that's easy to come off the top of my head. I'll mention two who come to mind who are currently writing. I think Dan Wetzel of Yahoo is as good at anyone out there right now and can write about anything and do an amazing job. I like Bernie Miklasz, formerly of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He does radio now and some writing for The Athletic. I love how he incorporates deep research into his columns. I really respect his baseball knowledge. There are so many more, but those two jump out at me. ... To your second question. I did a big piece on that last spring when Jaylon Smith, Josh Adams and Troy Niklas all came back to school. ND did pick up the tab for that.

Charles from South Bend: Hi Eric I really appreciate your volume of work as the definitive source of Fighting Irish football! Quick one for you: What ever happened to the fullback as we used to know him? It seems as if the triple-option teams are the only ones using the position as a means of gaining rushing yardage. If you do see a fullback lining up, it's usually a hybrid tight end player inserted to block or maybe catch a screen pass. Oh for the days of Bullock, Edwards, and Bettis. Guess I'm getting old. Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Charles, thanks. Spread offenses really made traditional fullbacks obsolete and they were moving in that direction anyway. You're right about the tight ends. You can accomplish the fullback function with a tight end, who can do so many other things in the spread that a fullback can't.

Fred K from Richmond Va.: Eric, Love your chats. It's the highlight for me every week preparing for an upcoming game. How do you think our defense stacks up against the offense that Michigan will put on the field. Their offensive line looks talented on paper, but obviously they have had some issues this season.

Eric Hansen: I think the worst-case scenario for the Irish defense is if Michigan plays clean (no turnovers, few penalties) and it balances its offense, equally adept pass and run. Notre Dame's defensive line needs to be the best unit on the field. If that's the case, it sets the table for making Michigan one-dimensional offensively, pressuring QB Shea Patterson and perhaps coaxing some turnovers. Thanks Fred for the compliment. Believe me, the chat is one of my favorite things to do all week.

Robb from Delaplane, Va: Stats aside, it's clear that Ian Book is not as comfortable, nor is playing with the same smoothness as he did last year. I understand he's taken off for some good runs, but we need a QB who is a threat to throw downfield sharply on any given down. My question: Is it mental? Is it physical? (his body weight is noticeably different this year). What is it exactly that's been missing from Book this year?

Eric Hansen: Robb, I can't disagree with you. As I look at the matchup with Michigan, the most difficult thing for me to factor into a score prediction is how Ian Book will play. Having seen him play so well in the spring and in August, it leads me to believe the ups and downs we see are mostly mental. I do not believe those problems are terminal, however. Michigan could be the game that either cures all of this ... or perpetuates this pattern for the rest of the season.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Has the transfer portal had a positive or negative effect on ND? Thanks and GO IRISH!!!!

Eric Hansen: If the Irish end up with safety Isaiah Pryor, it could be a big positive. I think it affects ND far less — positively or negatively — than a lot of other teams.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Thanks for being here! Is Lawrence Keys finally healthy? If so, do you think he’ll be able to impact the offense from the slot? Darin (Pritchett) thought Lenzy from the slot makes sense, but doesn’t he play the field receiver? Did they move him to the slot over the bye week?

Eric Hansen: Erik. Keys, we are told, is healthy. That means a rotation with Chris Finke in the slot. Why Darin mentioned Lenzy in the slot as a possibility was Darin exploring a specific matchup with Michigan, which tends to take some risks with safeties covering the slot one-on-one. That happened in the Penn State game, and the Wolverines got burned badly. Lenzy is an outside receiver, but putting him in the slot for a few plays may be worth a look.

Jim from Cumberland, Md.: Hi Eric. Please keep up the great job. How much confidence do you have in Troy Pride in covering Michigan's big receivers?

Eric Hansen: He has the speed and physicality to do it. He needs to play smart. And the D-line, with a great pass rush, could certainly help him out.

John from Norfolk, Va.: Eric, I believe Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet will be trusty guys for Ian Book against coach Don Brown's blitz packages, but Penn State was able to exploit KJ Hamler's speed, because he is on the field a lot. Does ND adjust its wide receiver packages to have more of their fastest players on the field more often? Of these four, who has more explosive plays in the passing game Lenzy, Young, Keys, McKinley or is it Armstrong, and why?

Eric Hansen: Now remember the rain Saturday night could make passing to anyone difficult, depending on whether it's a sprinkle or a monsoon. Assuming the former, I'd want to play a lot of three wideouts, and that would allow at least one of those guys you asked about to be on the field a lot. Lenzy is the fastest of those guys. McKinley is the slowest, but most physical and the best blocker. Young is a really good route runner with speed. Keys is similar but better inside. Armstrong gives you flexibility with play calls and formations and potentially puts the defense in tough dilemmas and mismatches. If I can play only one of those five, I'm playing Armstrong.

Ken, from Morrisville, Ind.: Hi Eric, great job on these chats! With the weather expected to be wet and rainy on Saturday night, do you feel this would favor either team?

Eric Hansen: If it's a downpour, I think ND is the better running team and it would favor the Irish.

Ken from South Bend: For years I have felt that the Irish have under-performed relative to the talent level. I feel that way about this year's offense. I think we continue to struggle with leaving points on the field. In the USC game, there were really only three good drives. I believe this under-performing is why we can't quite get to the next level. We continue to not win the big games and bowls. What do you think Kelly needs to change to take the next step?

Eric Hansen: Ken, I need to say that I don't agree with your entire premise leading up to your question. It's almost as if you are writing this AFTER an ND loss to Michigan. Let me focus on how can this offense be better this year? Getting Armstrong back helps. I believe the offensive line is improving and needs to continue to do so. The biggest piece is Book finding consistency.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, although the Irish do not have a running back the quality of Jonathan Taylor, with a two-tight end set can Notre Dame have similar success running the ball Saturday night against Michigan? I think this how they can best win. I see there will be a 90 percent chance of rain during the game, and I think they need to be able to run.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, I think you've got some sound thinking there, and if Brian Kelly reads the chat, he can see what you have suggested.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: If I can help answer Jim, Morganton's question: NBC tries to operate their broadcasts with personalities who are journalists, not fans. Impartiality should be a part of a sports broadcast that is shown on a national network to a national audience. ND has taken enough heat for their NBC deal without NBC being perceived as stacking the broadcast team with pro-ND announcers. Further, ND has gone to great pains to NOT interfere with NBC on-air decisions and this is part of that thinking.

Eric Hansen: Good answer, Tim.

Dick from Levittown, N.Y.: Hi Eric, really enjoy these chats. I too am a longtime ND fan, listened to my first USC-ND game in 1939. Of the remaining games which do you think is most likely to be a challenge?

Eric Hansen: Dick, that is awesome to hear. Thanks for sharing that. Beyond Michigan, I think the remaining opponent that is playing the best football right now is Navy.

Bentley from Parts Unknown: What is the longest pass that Book has completed?

Eric Hansen: The longest pass play, including yards after the catch, this season is 65 yards involving Book. The longest by an opponent is 43 yards — Bryce Perkins to Joe Reed in the Virginia game.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: What's the biggest positive difference and negative difference between this year's team so far and last year's?

Eric Hansen: Turnover margin and special teams are the most notable upgrades. Last year's defense was better across the board, but this one has improved a lot.

Michael from Chicago: Will ND employ a comparable defensive strategy against UM as they did vs. USC in focusing on shutting down Ronnie Bell as they did Michael Pittman Jr.?

Eric Hansen: No. I think you'll see the Irish back in their base defense and in the dime package on third down.

Chuck from Brigantine, N.J.: Penn State beat Michigan on long routes at will on Saturday. In your educated opinion, is Chip Long EVER going to open it up, on a consistent basis — especially in the third quarter? Seems to me that Lenzy and others would have to be frustrated watching week by week of somewhat daring call playing in the first half and then sitting on the ball in the third and fourth quarters, with very little stretching-the-field activity. We are fortunate to have you, and I always look forward to YOUR articles! ND 24-20

Eric Hansen: Chuck, thank you. I'm not so sure that it's not more Ian Book choosing the shorter patterns, through pre-snap reads or post-snap progressions than it is Chip Long. And I agree, there needs to be more downfield shots — not an absurd amount more, but more.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Eric, I always enjoy your coverage of ND football. Thanks! Why is Notre Dame having trouble selling tickets when they play a Power 5 opponent? Virginia Tech, Navy, and Boston College are formidable foes who could upset the Irish, so it surprises me that so many seats are available for these games. As we saw in the Georgia game, a crowd can have an influence on the outcome. I don't understand why more people in Indiana, southern Michigan, and Chicagoland aren't packing the stadium. If I could drive to a game in four hours or less, I would be there every week. Where are the alumni? ND is 17-2 in its last 19 games. Do you think the tickets are overpriced? Do you think it's because of expensive hotels? Is it because people don't like BK? Is it because some faculty and alumni didn't want the Crossroads Project? GO IRISH! Play hard and beat Michigan!

Eric Hansen: Jeff, I'd have to cover this in an article in the offseason to do it justice. There's just too much here to get to all of it for you. Very good questions that deserve equally good answers. I will say this, when ND changed its price structure, it alienated a lot of the long-time ticket-holders. Even though there are lower-priced seats in some sections, those with really good seats and lots of them have to pay significantly more.

Steve from St Louis: Avery Davis was clocked at 22 mph during his run against New Mexico. Curious if there was any mention of Lenzy’s speed during his run against U$C?

Eric Hansen: There was not that kind of mention. Brian Kelly actually volunteered the Davis info when I was asking a question about Avery.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Eric! Love your work. I’ve noticed over the last couple years ND seems much more committed to making home games actual true home games with the crowd noise as a factor. As ND has moved into the new age of college football by finally adding a video board and sound during games, is this a product of Brian Kelly's vision all those years ago finally coming together? Been going to games since I was 12 (now 28), and outside of the Georgia game a couple years, ND has seemed to hold crowd noise and home field in a much higher regard than years past. I personally love the blend of tradition and new age things being created and worked in. What about you?

Eric Hansen: Tyler, those changes — which annoyed traditionalists — were pushed by Brian Kelly and Jack Swabrick, so yes. And I agree with you 100 percent about how that's played out.

David Palmer from Parts Unknown: Why is it when all of the sports broadcasters start talking about strength of schedule and comparing game results of similar opponents, they always make it a point to identify hurt or missing players at the time the game was played, except when they’re talking about the ND. They seem to leave out the fact that ND hasn’t played with all of their starters yet this season! I think the Georgia game would have had a different result if ND was full strength!

Eric Hansen: You would have to ask them.

Joe from Austin: First time heading to Ann Arbor, so excited about the game. Any recommendations for breakfast or dinner spots there? Going to need energy to cheer, cheer for the Irish! Love your work. Thanks for what you do.

Eric Hansen: Joe, maybe one of the other chatheads can help you. We go up and down in the same day, so we don't get a chance to try any of the restaurants there. I hope you have a great time.

Jim from Indianapolis: The O-line has played much better the past two games. How do you foresee them playing against the skunkbears' D?

Eric Hansen: I think it'll be a great matchup. Michigan's defense is surging, but I thought last year's front seven was better.

Terry Tyler II from Parts Unknown: If you was to win a national championship, would you retire or defend it another year after winning it?

Eric Hansen: I am in no position to either win a national championship or retire.

Brian from D.C.: I feel like ND has to take a much more aggressive approach about passing downfield to optimize this offense. Too many screen passes and designed QB runs in my opinion that allow safeties to cheat up. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I don't think they have to be "much more" aggressive, but I do think there needs to be more of the vertical passing game involved.

Jack from Oak Park, Ill.: Eric, given how important the current roster of assistant coaches/coordinators has been to Notre Dame’s recent success on the field and the recruiting trail, do you think coach Kelly can keep them around long enough to not just make the playoffs, but actually win a national championship? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: That would depend when you think a national title run could come. I think 2020 might be the best chance of that. In that case, I would say yes, they would still be here.

Al from Chicago: I'm still amazed that the fans are surprised by Book's spotty performance. Tell me one quarterback that has succeeded in their second year under Kelly. Real question, why not have a set of plays for our backup QB?

Eric Hansen: What would Phil Jurkovec give you that Book is not? That's what you have to ask yourself if you're contemplating doing that. Then the next question is: Is it worth the risk? I think the second question cancels out the first, because it is not worth it.

RJ from Chicago: How big of a role will ND special teams play vs Michigan?

Eric Hansen: I'm sure Notre Dame hopes it plays a big role. Virtually across the board, the Irish are better on special teams that the Wolverines, particularly when it comes to the coverage units.

Matt from St. Louis, Mo.: Thanks for the chat, Eric. After watching USC's Kedon Slovis in person and watching Michigan's Shea Patterson on TV Saturday, I think the Irish should focus on inside rush, pressure coming from the middle, so Shea can’t step up like Slovis did. Do you agree? If Irish control middle of the field on defense, Michigan will have a very hard time scoring. Our DBs are ready for this game and can stay on their receivers. Home field is huge, understood, but the Irish seem too dialed in following Georgia game for that to matter.

Eric Hansen: Thanks Matt. A couple of things. Slovis, as a freshman, has handled the pass rush better than Patterson, a senior. He's a more accurate passer period. Now remember, ND was rushing only three a good part of the game Saturday night. I think inside pressure is important, but having Kareem and Okwara (and the rotating ends) coming off the edge is important too in this matchup. It could very well tilt the game in ND's favor.

Nick from Madison: Eric - I know it's not your beat, but what's your sense of the heat on Jim Harbaugh? I saw something that he's only won one out of a dozen games or so against a Top 10 ranked teams. Hasn't beaten Ohio State, ND. Folks here in Madison would rather see Harbaugh than Lovie Smith again. Michigan fans may be pining for the good old days of Brady Hoke. Perhaps more relevant to your loyal readers, does that tightening around the larynx affect the team's players?

Eric Hansen: Here is the ugly side of the Harbaugh numbers:

1-10 vs Top 10 teams.

1-7 on road vs a ranked team.

0-8 as an underdog.

and 0-4 vs Ohio State

I don't think there's heat from the Michigan administration, but there's certainly criticism from the outside looking in and some from his own fan base. ... That can eventually erode recruiting. ... Harbaugh's issues are perceptual, and it does matter, even if job security isn't directly related at this juncture.

Patrick, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, I am still waiting for Julian Okwara and Khalid Kareem to play up to their preseason hype. I rarely notice them on the field. As proposed game-changers, they have fizzled. Was the hype over-extended or is the best yet to come?

Eric Hansen: I'm not sure I agree with you about Kareem, and teams have certainly game-planned to try to minimize Okwara. This is a game where he has a chance to live up to the preseason buzz.

Rocky from San Diego: Eric, thanks for the weekly chats. What is Manti Te'o up to? Is he still trying to latch on with an NFL team this year, or has he retired?

Eric Hansen: Thanks Rocky. Te'o has dealt with injuries a lot during his NFL career. He's currently a free agent and not retired. Here's a snippet from an interview with him via TV station KHON from this summer:

“I’m in a position where I know that if I get a call, I’m ready, and if I don’t, I’m good. It all works out, hindsight is 20-20 when I look back and I can only thank God for everything that He has given me. And when I say thanks for everything He has given me, it’s not just my blessings. It’s my trials, it’s my tribulations, it’s my adversities. That kind of turn has given me the blessings that I have today,” Te’o told KHON2 Sports Director Rob DeMello.

“It’s because I learned to handle adversity for what it is. I think, so much adversity has been thrown my way in such a short amount of time. And I kind of learned to embrace it and to kind of thank it for coming, because I know that through adversity I can become better, that I can discover strengths that I never thought I had. You can’t rattle me, because I think that I’ve been through some of the worst things that I could have gone through. And if something worse were to come, I think I’m prepared for it,” added Te’o.

Tom from Granger: For a Top 20 matchup between Notre Dame and Michigan, there seems to be little buzz around this game. I have not heard much about it nationally. And even locally, it is not being discussed as much as usual. Any idea why that may be?

Eric Hansen: I can't say I'm getting the same vibe. I've seen and heard a lot about this matchup. It's ABC's primetime game after all. Ohio State-Wisconsin and LSU-Auburn are also getting lots of attention.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Joe From Austin, I have heard Conor O'Neill's Irish Pub is good and has a great breakfast. Just going by what I've heard. Heading there myself for the first time this weekend.

Tim from St Louis: A Bernie reference !! Unbelievable. He does a morning daily radio show with "Bernie Bits." Sometimes he's a little crabby, especially when defending the Cardinals. Question is: What is the correct pronunciation of "Jurkovec?" NBC was really butchering it lately. Was his uncle an offensive lineman at ND ? Love the chats. Get your own live radio show? You're the best.

Eric Hansen: Tim, thanks. It's Jur-KO-veck. He is not related to former ND lineman Mirko Jurkovic. ... As far as radio, I do the weekly Pod of Gold podcast with Tyler James and do SportsBeat daily with Darin Pritchett from 5-6 EDT (4-5 St. Louis time) on WSBT radio. You can listen free on the free SportsBeat app.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over again next Thursday at noon EDT.

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