Chat Transcript: Clearing up some big-picture issues regarding Notre Dame football

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat -- Duke week. PLEASE include your name and hometown with your question. We've got a queue teeming with questions, so without further blather ...

Paul from Lititz, Pa.: Great work this season, Eric. When asked about Braden Lenzy, coach Brian Kelly spoke of building more in the “trust bank." Does this mean too many drops or too many fumbles in practice? ND needs to utilize every asset they have to move the chains. Running backss haven’t set the field on fire. Some receivers still seem to struggle to get open even against lesser opponents. Hopefully Ian Book gets more time to go through his progressions during the next four games. Even more importantly, let’s hope Ian can put up enough points to give Phil Jurkovec some decent playing time.

Eric Hansen: Paul, thank you. Trust isn't always about drops or miscues in practice. Sometimes it's about making the most of your opportunities when they come around. Tommy Tremble is a good example of that. In August, we saw him drop some passes in practice and line up in the wrong spots, yet when Cole Kmet was hurt and the Irish needed a boost from Tremble, he delivered in a game setting. I would imagine his practice performances have picked up. Lenzy works hard, is mentally tough and is healthy. I feel the time is now to invest in him in games to see what you have in him.

Jeff from Phoenix: Eric, great job breaking down the future characteristics needed of the team for being playoff worthy. My question is to the current state of the weakened offensive line. Can you give one or two names of players that are currently in the shadows but where there is great opportunity to contribute for the rest of 2019 or show skill in the spring of 2020 that could mean starting potential? Dread the thought but there could be more injuries to the offensive line in 2019. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Jeff, thank you. That was a fun series to do, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm assuming with the "shadows" part of your question, you mean only offensive linemen. The two who are filling in, I believe are the two best options (Josh Lugg and Trevor Ruhland). Because Ruhland is somewhat physically compromised (but incredibly tough), there will be some rotation with John Dirksen and/or Dillan Gibbons. My sense is next fall, it will be back to the five starters who started this season. In terms of long-term prospects, Andrew Kristofic at tackle is worth watching as is Zeke Correll in the interior. Quinn Carroll at tackle is an intriguing prospect, but he's losing months of development while recovering from a preseason knee injury. Among the players who will sign in December, Tosh Baker is the name to remember.

James from Dallas: Thanks for doing these chats, Eric. We appreciate you!

How do you characterize ND's roster talent shortfall relative to Alabama, Clemson, etc.? Is there a measurable standard in recruiting results that you believe would indicate rough parity with these teams placing an national championship within practical reach? I believe that the "next step" for ND is to produce multiple five-star signings consistently every year. That alone won't produce parity, per se. Clemson is signing 5-7 per year, but consistent multiple five-star signings would be an achievement and a new plateau for competitive progress.

The barriers seem to be (1) Adimissability — 40 percent of top 100 don't qualify (2) ND's "distracting" academic and disciplinary culture relative to the NFL path. (3) Geography. Can these barriers be realistically overcome, or should ND fans be very satisfied with consistent 9-10 wins, and Nos. 8-15 AP rankings?

Eric Hansen: Jim, thank you. There's a lot to unpack there and something I tackled a bit in my summer magazine piece on Kyle Hamilton and the star system. The oversimplified version of my answer to you is Clemson actually ascended to the elite level recruiting mostly four-stars and somewhat similarly to Notre Dame. Their recruiting has certainly picked up since then to help them maintain that elite status. And remember, an element ND can't ignore is fit. What good does it do to take on someone like Aaron Lynch for example when he wasn't going to invest in being a part of the program? I think ND's recruiting and player development with offensive and defensive linemen is where it needs to be. To me, the missing pieces were elite speed at running back and wide receiver. That's getting addressed. But you need them in volume. I'd say cornerback has now come into focus as an area with some shortfall. Georgia has become a very important state with regard to ND potential talent upgrades. Keep an eye on that.

That's a little bit all over the place, but I tried to hit on several elements. Bottom line, among the recruiting analysts I've spoken to, a majority of them believe ND can make the necessary strides in recruiting to compete for a playoff spot — maybe not annually, but regularly. The way the 2021 class is coming together makes me think they're right.

Kevin from Tampa: Good afternoon Eric, last week's game was tough to watch but happy to see the win regardless of the sloppy play all around. Brian Kelly is saying the right things after the close call, but if the team doesn’t get it together (like now), Duke, Navy, BC and Stanford could all easily end up in losses. I know that won’t happen and hope ND wins out — but oh man do they have a long way to go to be elite.

My question this week is special teams. Frankly said, they stink! Special teams are an important element that win or lose games and 10 years into the BK Era, I and others say “what the heck?” The Irish can’t return a punt more than a few yards most of the time and the last two weeks the weakness of ND’s special teams have shown their ugly head — players jumping and losing possession of a blocked punt and fielding a kickoff at the end zone line that almost resulted in a safety. These are hilariously shown on a GameDay segment known as “You had only one job." I don’t want to see my beloved Irish on those clips. Anyway, is there a fix?

Eric Hansen: Kevin, the return games (punt and kickoff) aren't good. No question. However, I think you're overgeneralizing. ND is ninth in the nation in kickoff coverage and 30th in punt coverage. They're 45th in net punting. Their punter, while holding for the game-tying extra point last week, made a heck of a save on a bad snap. Jonathan Doerer is making 75 percent of his field goals and has not missed a PAT. His touchback rate on kickoffs is way up. So the next step is to fix the return game. Recruit Chris Tyree may be part of that fix.

Ted from Chicago: Dear Eric, I had a dream this week that you, me and Tyler were in a plane that was flying around dangerously with a number of close calls but landed safely. Tyler was the pilot. Do you think this is a metaphor for the season or would you advise me to seek professional help?

Eric Hansen: I would swear off eating Taco Bell right before bedtime. That should save you some money on therapy.

Paul from South Bend: My logic is this: Book will likely provide ND with 9-10 wins this year and next but will never lead us to The Promised Land. Jurkovec's size, running ability, and arm strength might (or may not) provide us with the capability to go all the way. He has untapped upside. What is wrong with my logic?

Eric Hansen: What's wrong is that Notre Dame won 12 games last year. However, you're not getting the same version of Book that you did last year. I still believe he has the capacity to improve. As far as Phil Jurkovec, accuracy is way up the priority scale in offensive coordinator Chip Long's way of thinking. It's way more important than being a dual threat. If Jurkovec gets to the point where his accuracy is outstanding, then the other traits you mentioned become relevant.

Stan from Rockford Ill.: Really look forward to your analysis and these weekly discussions and your other posts. Is ND down to one reliable running back, and he with a rib injury? Is the problem an ineffective run-blocking offensive line, too predictable play calling, or could it be that ND has but one go-to running back on the roster?

Eric Hansen: I think Jafar Armstrong will prove yet to be an asset to the offense. We saw it in the passing game much more so than the running game against Virginia Tech. I believe he'll take another incremental step forward this week. Having two new starters on the O-Line doesn't help matters, but I think Trevor Ruhland and Josh Lugg will be sufficient. I think the big-picture answer here is that teams are going to gang up on ND's run game and force Ian Book to beat them with his arm. If he can do that consistently, then the defenses will loosen up against the run. If he can't, then I'll be getting these kinds of questions (and a very good one at that) for the rest of the season.

Ced from Saginaw, Mich.: Will ND get to the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl if we win out?

Eric Hansen: With ND sitting at No. 15 in the CFP rankings, the Cotton Bowl is in play. Realistically the Irish would have to get back into the top 10. I can't see a scenario in which the Orange Bowl would come back into play, though.

Patrick from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, I made a habit of watching Ian Book's footwork during the Virginia Tech game. He continually threw off his back foot on long and intermediate throws. This tells me he has little confidence when throwing more than a few yards past the line of scrimmage. Watching Book during past seasons, I liked his scrappy nature, a body language that he could get it done. What do you think has made him second-guess himself? I know the ND QB hype is overwhelming and social media is oppressive, but this is his fourth year in the fish bowl. Is he better as a counter-puncher — one who is best when little is expected? Also, Julian Okwara made a play last week. I marked it on my calendar.

Eric Hansen: A couple of the chatters last week brought up the question of whether Book still had a mental hurdle to overcome with regard to getting injured last season at Northwestern. I'm not dismissing it yet and here's why: Other than the two games against the two Group of Five teams (New Mexico and Bowling Green), Book's pass-efficiency rate has been below his career mark in all nine starts since that game against Power Five teams. He's been jumpy in the pocket in some, but not all of those games. I thought he improved in that area last week. As far as the social media response, he hasn't had four years of criticism ... it's actually just been part of this season. So it is something new. He strikes me as a mentally tough kid who has the capacity to eventually push past it. In general terms, the voices close to a player in that situation can be part of the solution ... or not.

One last postscript. Teams have a template on how they want to approach Book, it seems. A strong running game would seem to help break that template. Chip Long could certainly influence that as well.

Joe Williams from Green Bay, Wis.: Hi Eric. Great job as always. Looking ahead to next year, I'm really concerned about how we are going to look at corner As of now, we look like we will have a bunch of three-star guys manning that position. In light of that, do you like the decision to play Donte Vaughn and not redshirt him?

Eric Hansen: Joe, thanks. I do like the decision to play Vaughn this year. You have to play for this year first, in my opinion. Cornerback is a concern for 2020. My suggestion is that ND needs to comb the grad transfer market next semester. The thing I do like about the recruits in the 2020 class long term is that they're three-star prospects more because of their experience at the position. They're all three pretty good athletes, however, so they're not limited from that standpoint.

Michael from Sanford, N.C.: Eric, I really enjoyed “Hansen: Can Notre Dame work its way back into playoff relevance in 2020? Part I & Part II!" Two really well-thought articles! Thanks so much for your insight. Just one question, though, on next year: Why do we keep hearing about "next year" for the Irish and not "right now?" True, they have had some good seasons, but consistency is not there. Is it the coaching? When I hear that expression, I am reminded when Paul Dietzel was the Gamecock coach (1966-74) sans The Chinese Bandits and his teams were mediocre at best (42-53-1) with one or maybe two winning seasons. He always kept referring to “next year” and how they would be great. It never came. I am beginning to think Bill Belichick was right when he said, “Good players cannot overcome bad coaching.  It’s impossible.” Also, thanks so much for the opportunity to submit my question early!!!

Eric Hansen: Michael, before this season started, I thought ND would go 10-2. but I felt like they were set up better to make a playoff run in 2020. So that's my thinking. I certainly spend a lot of time reporting on what's going on with the current team. The 2020 angle is not being pushed by Brian Kelly. I do want to point out Notre Dame is 28-6 since the start of 2017. I'm not sure that's bad coaching any way you slice it. Michigan was a bad game. No question. Let's see how the rest of the season plays out and then we can recalibrate our big-picture thoughts on coaching if we need to?

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Eric, I just read your article in regards to the breakdown on the defense for next year. It answered the original question I had in reference to next year’s cornerback situation. After reading it, I screamed like Jim Carrey did in Dumb and Dumber when he realized Sea Bass was in the bathroom with him! Hopefully, they can find a free agent (transfer) for that group. Much like the Cardinals offense needs to find one. No further questions from me today.

Eric Hansen: Ha. Alex thanks. Loved that parallel.

Dwight from central Arkansas: I'd like to think that Saturday's last-ditch effort to win was a catapult for the rest of the season. You had to feel good for these guys. I still don't understand why this team can't/won't take control from the get-go. A top-tier team — 'Bama, Clemson, OSU — doesn't mess around. They take charge, unfortunately, like Michigan did against ND. Good teams take the "fight" out of their opponent. I still see an 8-4 or 9-3 mark if ND can't use their skills and strengths to dominate. The talent IMO seems to be there, it just doesn't take over games as I think it can. I know Virginia Tech was a step above others, but with Duke and BC ahead, isn't it time that they exert their will?

Eric Hansen: Dwight, better execution and a more consistent approach across the board needs to be the next step in distancing themselves from Michigan — or else your bottom-line prediction will likely come true.

Michael from Chicago: Steve Young recently commented that the Bears should simplify the playbook and get back to the basics for Mitch Trubisky. Do you believe the same should be true for Ian Book? Earlier this year there was an emphasis to push the ball down the field, and him “seeing ghosts” in the pocket since Clemson have been well documented. What says you on where the play calling should head from here?

Eric Hansen: That may be the case with the Bears, but I don't think the ND offense is too complicated for Ian Book to function. That doesn't mean that the play-calling doesn't have room for improvement.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Local sports bar best bet to see Saturday's game? I'm an 80-year fan, thanks to drunken uncle Franco (1958 grad). Giuseppe just made risotto with Porcini mushrooms, followed by Barbaresco 1990. Question arose do you think coaching staff lacks killer instinct? Wish team played with Claypool's intensity. Go Irish ! Great chats, Mr Hansen!!!

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Bill. My mom is Italian, so your talk about Italian food distracted me from your football question and made me homesick. I don't think the coaching staff lacks killer instinct. I'm sure they would have liked to put Virginia Tech away early and they were one yard away from a 21-7 lead at the half when the fumble happened and made it 14-14. That's execution, not lack of killer instinct from the coaches.

Chuck from Brigantine, N.J.: Eric, great article on relevance — so much insight and objectivity! Will it ever be apparent to Brian Kelly, in my humble opinion after watching six to 10 games EVERY week, that Chip Long IS the root cause of our offensive woes? I am still bullish on BK and Ian, but the O-Line is porous and the play calling is predictable. Long puts Ian in situations that test an inferior O-Line and Ian's abilities. After penalties that put us into second and 15 and 3rd and 11 ... after two runs into the line where the defense is waiting, we all expect Ian to find open receivers? One more question, do you think that Braden Lenzy will transfer? Imagine if we used Rocket like we use Braden Lenzy. I feel certain that we are wasting a unique asset, but I am not at practice every day. Sorry for the long-winded diatribe. You deserve a Martini after you read this!!!

Eric Hansen: Chuck your suggestion for a Martini made me chuckle. I'm sure that would go over well with the brass. In any event, let me cut to the essence of your two questions. Let's start with Lenzy first. He's getting an opportunity now, and I think that's what he wanted all along. Not a guarantee, but an opportunity. So let's see how that plays out. I think it's his time. The Chip Long question has a lot of hidden layers to it. I think what you're asking me is: Is he good enough to be at Notre Dame. I think he is. I think he's an asset in recruiting. I think he can be part of the solution to an offense that's taken some steps backward.

Michael from Chicago: Has there already been or do you anticipate a lightening of the load for those with expiring eligibility and/or NFL Draft departees to a) try to alleviate an injury and b) get the back-ups who will gravitate up the depth chart next year more game experience? I believe Jaylon Smith was quoted saying he'd still play the bowl game all over again but the trend at many schools seems to be shifting toward sitting (Bosa, Grier, etc). As much as I’d love to see more havoc plays from the senior ND defensive ends, game reps for Isaiah Foskey and his contemporaries are invaluable for next year.

Eric Hansen: There's no way Brian Kelly would sell out his seniors. I think it's sends the wrong message.

Chris Dooley from New Hampshire: Why at times did you stick with the run —when Virginia shut our running game down? Also Ian wasn't consistent. I would of gave our backup a chance.

Eric Hansen: Chris, to be honest, it wasn't my decision. But if it were, of course, I'd try to keep the offense balanced. There's nothing easier to attack for a team, like Virginia that gets a lot of sacks, than a one-dimensional offense. And having two offensive linemen missing, wouldn't help.

James from Dallas: More on recruiting ... SMU transformed their program in a year by taking on 16 portal transfers. Justin Fields earned his job at Ohio State in a three-way competition during camp. All players were transfers in. Will ND use transfers as a larger part of recruiting going forward?

Imagine the IRISH offense against Michigan with Joe Burrow at the controls.

Eric Hansen: SMU has improved its program quite a bit, but there's a big difference in where SMU is and competing with Alabama and Clemson, etc. And is that model sustainable beyond one year?

I think ND will use grad transfers, but will be selective about it. So yes, on a much smaller scale. ... As for Joe Burrow, it's interesting that last year Book finished 17th nationally in passing efficiency and Burrow 65th.

Jeff from York, Pa.: What are the chances of the ACC Network being picked up by a cable company? Cable TV, internet service, and phone service are expensive. I think it's ridiculous to purchase a streaming service, too. North Carolina vs. ND basketball gamewais only on the ACC Network, so I wasn't be able to watch it. The same thing applies to the football game on Saturday night. My friends and I have called numerous sports bars, and none of them carry the ACC Network. Last year both of these games would have been carried by ESPN.

Eric Hansen: It would be easier for me to guess what Brian Kelly's favorite color of boxer shorts is than figure out what a cable company is plotting to do in another part of the country. I have DISH network. It has the ACC Network. I don't have a long-term solution for you, but short term, you could sign up for a free trial on one of the streaming services, like Hulu or YouTube TV, and then cancel it.

CondonT from Whereabouts Unknown: Tell me why BK is insistent on receiving the ball when winning the coin toss. Someone please ask him that at the next presser. It makes ZERO sense, especially when offensively we haven't done squat on the first drive of any game since Louisville.

Eric Hansen: He has been asked at press conferences, including this week. I've been asked in chats. I will continue to be asked in chats until he defers consistently. Then I suppose I'll be asked why he never elects to receive. His answer and mine: Weather is a factor. And analytics tell you scoring first makes a big difference in the ultimate outcome of a game. I've run the numbers before. There's no real statistical advantage in deferring. That's all I've got.

Drew Hemlock from Whereabouts Unknown: My question is will Notre Dame fire Brian Kelly and go after Urban Meyer, because Urban can win those big games against ranked teams and championship games. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Addressed this last week. Short answer. Not going to happen.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric - Your "Chats" are simply "GREAT". Can we still win the remainder of our games with a patchwork offense line?

Eric Hansen: Yes, because those patches are sufficient, and if Ruhland were healthy, he'd be your favorite player. Now that doesn't mean there aren't other elements that could cause a shortfall in wins. In the final four regular-season games, keep an eye on ND's rush offense and rush defense. The better those two numbers are, the better chance ND will be 10-2 on Dec. 1. Thanks for the kind words, by the way.

Bill from Montreal, Canada: Hi Eric. I am a big fan of yours from Montreal. My question is based on the performance of ND's running backs. ND running backs currently do not have any rapid acceleration once they hit the line. As a result, we keep realizing one or two yard gains over and over. Is there no burner amongst the current roster of running backs? Avery Davis, perhaps?

Eric Hansen: The reason you have that perception is because running back recruiting has been subpar for a while. ND was not only not signing players with elite speed at that position, they were having a hard time getting them to even visit campus. The recruit in the 2020 class, Chris Tyree, may be the fastest running back in the senior class in high school. That's a good sign. The two fastest on the current roster, Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong, came to ND as a quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, not as running backs. Thanks for joining the chat, Bill.

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: Is Chip Long the offensive coordinator next year? Offense isn't clicking by any means. Is the blocking scheme too complex with all the pulling? We never just fire off the ball and dominate the man in front of us?

Eric Hansen: I think he Chip will be at ND next year.

Frank from Atlanta: Eric. Great stuff. Living in Atlanta it’s difficult to stomach all of the SEC bias. ND gained a ton of respect down here the way they played Georgia. I saw firsthand that ND had the athletes to play with Georgia but not the depth. I think it’s more important to have multiple four-star players to provide that depth instead of a few five-stars. Do you see ND recruiting depth to be able to compete with the SEC elite? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Frank, thanks. With the exception of cornerbacks, I think ND is moving in that direction. If the 2021 class (high school juniors) finishes the way it started, that's the kind of class ND needs to compete with the playoff regulars.

Jeff from LaPorte: This just kinda hit me the other day, what happened to Darnell Ewell. I was looking at the roster and noticed he disappeared.

Eric Hansen: He is still enrolled in school, but took a medical hardship. I wrote about it this past summer, when it happened. He's also enjoying helping to raise his daughter.

Rick from the OC: Great Chat Eric. My question/comment is why can't our much touted offensive line move people off of the line? Even against lesser teams like New Mexico and Lousiville, the other teams' defensive line gets a push against our big uglies. We outweigh just about every team we face, and in some cases significantly (Banks is HUGE), so you would think we could just power block and blow the other team off of the line. Sure a fast running back would help, but we should be blowing the other teams' defensive line off the line. Why can't we do that? Coaching?

Eric Hansen: If you could get the defense to line up and not move, then Notre Dame would probably be able to do that every game. But defenses at a size disadvantage are going to use movement and scheme to try to level the playing field. The RPO game also plays into this. If a play looks like it's going to be a run and then Book decides to pass, the linemen can't just blow downfield, otherwise it's a penalty. Can they play better? Sure. But other than the Michigan game, I thought this was a unit that had improved, and so did the Joe Moore Award committee, which named the Irish O-line to its midseason honor roll.

Paul from Toronto: Eric, taking Book out of the conversation for a moment, do we have any idea why Jurkovec seems so far behind the curve in terms of development? There's frosh QBs starting all over CFB, like Howell, Nix, Gabriel, Duggan, etc. Meanwhile, fall camp coverage described a guy who could barely throw the ball. Was this bad scouting or something else?

Eric Hansen: Paul, I don't dismiss your question. I think it's valid. Yet Kelly has had a pretty good track record with first-year starters. It's been QBs in their second year where it's been perplexing. As far as Phil Jurkovec is concerned, we don't know exactly where his development stands other than what Brian Kelly tells us. He certainly has improved, by my eye test, from spring to August, and that's the last time we had an open practice to view. My sense is that he is improving. I think it's fair to ask why players in other systems thrive earlier in their careers, though Nix and Duggan are ranked in the 70s nationally in passing efficiency. Here's my bottom line: If Book regresses and Phil isn't ready to compete by next spring, BK needs to look long and hard at his QB development model.

GB from Wasilla. Alaska: Why is ND not getting a surge in recruits, especially after being in the playoffs last year? Since Kelly has been coach, the recruiting ranking is usually around No. 10 except after 2012 season, the 2013 class was No. 2, I think. If this is updated, then the bump in recruiting should be in 2020. I just looked at Rivals, and ND currently sits at No. 14. If my math is OK, then the ranking grade per recruit (which I think is more important) is No. 8, so no discernible increase. The top 5 or so are recruiting an average of 4-stars and above, while ND is recruiting at 3.59. They are ranked No. 1 for 2021, but typically Kelly's recruiting rankings fall as the season progresses. Why is the recruiting plateauing and what can Kelly and company do about it?

Eric Hansen: The 2020 recruiting class is a smaller class, and that's going to limit the ceiling. Where you saw a bump from the playoff is with the 2021 class. Will it continue? I think if ND finishes the season strong, that certainly will help. But keep in mind, players come to Notre Dame for football AND reasons other than football. So when they win big, they don't get as big a bump ... and when they lose, they don't have it erode the class as much as other places. One of the best classes in recent years was 2008 ... Floyd, Crist, Rudolph, Fleming, etc. An d that followed a 3-9 season in the field.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Pretty odd here I am up in Wisconsin, which has absolutely no tie-in with ACC, and we have ACC network. And here's Joe from PA with Pitt as a team, and they don't have it. Guess each cable company has to balance the cost versus the rewards.

Jeff B from Oklahoma City: Eric, why all the issues with getting highly recruited running backs to come to Notre Dame? They have had great o-lines over the past six years with arguably two of the best o-linemen in the NFL right now, Nelson and Martin, having played for them. You would think a great running back would love the opportunity to run behind some of these lines. Is it the schemes, too much passing? Where is the disconnect?

Eric Hansen: This has come up before and it pains me to say it, because Autry Denson is such a class guy and did a very good job with the developmental end, but he struggled in the role of recruiter at his alma mater. That's why Lance Taylor is here.

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hi Eric! I love these chats! Thanks for having them. Coach Kelly had said the offense will take what the defense gives it. To do that all phases need to be somewhat dependable and dangerous to the opposing defense. You need to run outside, run inside, short passes, deep inside, deep outside passes. The offense is not dangerous in all areas and will not be this year. I commend the coaches for trying. I agree with the choice. But at this point it is best to tactically try something different? An alternative is to be really, really good at one phase and use the other phases as a complement off of that. With Book's accuracy, a senior receiver in Finke, tight ends that are matchup problems, an athlete like Claypool, a back like Armstong who is a good receiver, why not perfect Book's accuracy in the short game and use it to build around? Fewer points will be scored. Turnovers will be more important, but the chances of winning the remaining games may improve. What do you think?

Eric Hansen: That's exactly what ND did last season. The problem is, when you play a good to great defense, they have the athletes that can make you pay for that. If you don't take some deep shots, the safeties play up and disrupt your run game and short passing game.

Terry from Cincinnati: Can you explain what the call was against Jafar Armstrong when he cut-block the blitzing Virginia Tech player on ND's second-to-last drive. I was watching the game in a large group and couldn't hear the explanation. A friend said it was an illegal block, but to all of us watching it looked OK. Are backs not allowed to cut pass rushers?

Eric Hansen: Tyler James just explained it to me that you can't cut a guy from the front if the ball has already left the pocket. I'm not sure how Jafar could know that. In any event, Brian Kelly thought it was a lousy call then and still feels that way.

Ryan from Milwaukee: Hi Eric, I just read your 2020 look-ahead article (part II on the Defense). I'm curious about your thoughts on Asmar Bilal's successor. You noted no linebacker help is on the way in this recruiting class. I feel like Shayne Simon was very highly touted coming in and he's nowhere to be found or discussed from what I can see. Maybe he has a special teams role. But can you help flesh out where he is specifically and who is going to join Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and presumably Drew White going forward for ND?

Eric Hansen: Thanks for reading. That Simon is a reserve halfway through his career is surprising and puzzling. But I think he'll be in the mix to replace Bilal, as will Jack Lamb, Jordan Genmark Heath and Marist Liufau. Should be an interesting competition in the spring.

Harry from Connellsville, Pa.: Why do you think Notre Dame will be in a better position to make a playoff run next year?

Eric Hansen: I just wrote two in-depth stories on that, both free of which and available on our website.

Bob from Bermuda: I was thinking about our quarterback situation and how we have been developing their talent. I tend to feel that if David Cutcliffe did not have a heart problem several years ago (when he was to be our QB coach) and had to resign, he would have developed a few of our QBs far in excess of what had been done recently. He brought in Daniel Jones, never very highly ranked out of high school, and developed a now starting NFL QB. Of course his legacy will be Peyton and Eli Manning, who are among the eight NFL QBs he's coached. So now, do you believe we have the coaching talent on staff now that can develop some of our QBs into big-time college success?

Eric Hansen: Bob, Cutcliffe was hired by Charlie Weis in 2005, so he would have likely moved on by now, but Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen evolved pretty well in his absence. He's certainly very good with QBs and a pretty good coach all around. I've always been an admirer of his. To your question, when I see the way the end of this season plays out, I'll get back to you on that. My sense is that the answer will be positive.

Joe from Georgia: Who do you project into the playoffs?

Eric Hansen: Ohio State, LSU, Clemson and Georgia.

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric, appreciate the work that you do. I question whether Chip Long should go up to the press box to call his game. A coordinator can see so much more as far as tendencies that he can’t see through the eyes of the coaches he is communicating with from the sideline. I would also like to see Tommy Rees move to the sideline for immediate face to face feedback to the QB. I’d appreciate your thoughts on this as if it could increase offensive efficiency?

Eric Hansen: I actually like that idea a lot.

Duke from Cincinnati : Under ND's agreement with the ACC, could they opt to stay home rather than play in a low-tier ACC-contracted bowl game?

Eric Hansen: Sure, but why would you?

John from Hobart: Is Chris Tyree planning on being an early enrollee? If he is as good as advertised, it would be great to have him ready for 2020.

Eric Hansen: He is not. Couldn't pull it off.

Jeff from LaPorte: More of a statement than a question. Your patience with the people going on and on about firing BK and hiring (Meyer, Stoops, etc.) is impressive. You show great professionalism. ND isn't firing a coach that has the record of BK. It's more about recruiting at this point. You can coach until you're blue in the face (or beat red in BK's place) but if you don't have the athletes that your opposition has especially in skill positions, you're in trouble. I think Joe Schmidt was a great example of this. Coached up to the point he was great at recognizing sets and great at getting everyone where they need to be, but fell short athletically and just was out classed in that way.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Jeff. That's a good place to end it. Great questions this week. We'll be back at noon EST next Thursday to do it all again. One question for you all. The week of Thanksgiving, we can't do this on Thursday. Would you all be open to a Black Friday chat? If so email me at

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