Chat Transcript: Bowls and polls frustrations, O-Line concerns, and Notre Dame's 2019 MVP

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Happy Black Friday and welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat. PLEASE include your name and hometown with your question. Let's get things rolling.

Jim K from Maui and Oakwood, Ohio: Hope you had a terrific Thanksgiving. I am grateful for your excellent writing and coverage of ND football. I especially liked your lede in the analysis column earlier in the week about the future of Kevin Austin and Jacob Lacey: “Sometimes the pieces of a promising future can be sneakily significant to a suddenly brightening present. Even if they are not conspicuous.” GREAT lede! My two-part question, kind sir: Why are the Irish in the 15-or-16 College Football Playoff ranking area, despite their strong offensive and defensive performances of the last four games? And, is the Michigan game performance still indelible in the minds of the national media? Be well!

Eric Hansen: Jim thanks... I did have a good one, and I spent it very close to Oakwood, Ohio. ... In the committee's mind and many of the pollsters' minds, they can't get past the Michigan game. It is defining, fairly or unfairly. And if you've noticed, Michigan hasn't climbed much either the past few weeks, part of that being a loss to Penn State and a blowout loss to Wisconsin. The other issue is the teams just ahead of Notre Dame haven't been losing. Those well ahead of the Irish have, but they tend not to fall far enough to fall behind ND.

Corey from Orlando: How serious is the interest in Brian Kelly for the Florida State job? Would he be interested in a rebuild job?

Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly's agent's interest in creating a market for Brian Kelly and leverage for an extension at ND is exponentially greater than either BK's interest in Florida State or vice versa. I do not see that changing. I think BK finishes his career at ND.

Marie from Atlanta: Thanks for the great ND coverage. My question concerns the offensive line. I feel as if it has underperformed all year. There seems to be a lot of poor technique, and they get blown off the line. During the Boston College game, when I would think Tony Jones got 3-4 yards, it would be one yard, because the BC line would have pushed our line back two yards. Technique is something that is clearly coaching-related and correctable. How confident are you that Jeff Quinn can do the job? I know many are looking forward to our chances for the playoffs next year, but if the offensive line is not better, I just don't see how that will happen.

Eric Hansen: Marie, thank you and I admire your astute observations. You are spot on. I think the offensive line started off a little choppy, then started to find their rhythm. Then more inconsistencies popped up, then two season-ending injuries happened, which didn't help. I'm not sure collectively the line was ever as good as most of us expected, even when healthy. Where I give Jeff Quinn the benefit of the doubt is that he has a history — at other schools — of developing very good lines and developing individuals. He's recruited extremely well for the Irish. But with five O-line starters back next season, 2020 will be a defining year for him at ND, with or without injuries.

Jeff from Phoenix: Eric, in honor of Black Friday, I will take 50 percent off the number of questions. So, concerning the defensive line: Of course, we have lost the two defensive ends, but are Khalid Kareem and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa ready to go this week at 100 percen t? Will any of the freshman or sophomore defensive linemen have to burn an unplanned year of eligibility to fill in during the next two games? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Haha. I have a no-return policy. Is that OK? I expect Kareem to play. Less sure about Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, even though Brian Kelly expressed optimism about his availability. I would expect Jayson Ademilola to start at the defensive tackle spot. This is game No. 4 for DE Isaiah Foskey, so he will play this week, but not in the bowl, to make the redshirt happen. I don't expect the Irish would have to use Howard Cross III (who has played in four games) to be used Saturday unless there were a run of injuries during the game in the interior defensive line. I think ND will be in its dime package quite a bit, and that package uses only one interior player. Also nose guards Jacob Lacey and Ja'mion Franklin have shown they can play together, which is another plus.

Joe from Valparaiso, Ind.: Happy Holidays , love your work Eric. I realize many such things should be discounted. However, a national publication last week indicated the coaching staff has little to no confidence in Phil Jurkovec now or for the future. Any semblance of truth to that opinion?

Eric Hansen: Joe, thanks for the kind words. Let me answer your question with a question: If that were the truth, why wouldn't the coaching staff be giving No. 2 reps to Brendon Clark rather than Phil?

Terence from New Jersey: What are you hearing about Chris Tyree and Jordan Johnson? Given that coach Kelly usually does not trust freshman to play a big role in the offense, do they have the football IQ and do they exhibit the “traits” to make an impact as freshmen next year? Their speed could really make Notre Dame more dangerous offensively. Thanks for your great work, Eric!

Eric Hansen: I don't know if it's been about trust as much as it's been about readiness in the past in many instances. Take Braden Lenzy, who came in at 160 pounds and couldn't get off the line last year. Jordan Johnson won't come in lacking the physicality to compete at this level. Neither will Tyree. As far as adjustment to college ball, sometimes it's impossible to predict until they get on campus, because it's not always the actual football that's delaying the adjustment. Having said all that, my expectation is for both to be contributing players as freshmen — not necessarily starters, but not deep reserves, either.

Dwight from central Arkansas: Polls are something I just don't understand. I know the "no-show" at Ann Arbor dropped the Irish, and that's fair. In the weeks since, however, ND is rolling, piling up impressive wins. Teams above them in some instances are struggling. Some have three defeats. If ND goes to Stanford and loses 63-3, by the way the pollsters seem to gauge the season, the Irish should not drop. Why are the polls so unforgiving? (or maybe biased)?

Eric Hansen: What your team does is never in a vacuum. Yes, there's a three-loss team ahead of the Irish, in Auburn. That's not the way I voted, but I can see why others did. Had ND won the Michigan game, even by a small margin, we'd be having a much different discussion.

Jeb from Rhode Island: Eric, when on campus I see Tony Rice/Chris Zorich and the way they are honored as they walk around. They are a credit to ND, and ND did great things for them. Will ND ever accept student-athletes like them again? If not, as stated in other Q&A sessions, ND will never truly compete for a national championship.

Eric Hansen: What evidence do you have that they're not already doing that?

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: Happy Thanksgiving, Eric. We can really see how the times have changed. So does a possible 10-2 Notre Dame team’s bowl destination being all but set with a game left have any effect on the call to join a conference? Even if they lost, they will still go to Orlando? Years ago a 10-2 ND team would be in the mix for a bigger bowl, right? I know there are other factors than bowl tie-ins (Michigan loss is one), but our options seem limited. Any thoughts?

Eric Hansen: First, not all 10-2 teams are created equally. Who you lose to matters. How much you lose by matters. When you lose matters. But a huge factor that you're overlooking is the rotation of bowls as semifinal hosts. That also affects Notre Dame's possibilities. The bottom line is if you want to be in play for a New Year's Six Bowl, you better be at least No. 11 in the CFP standings and probably in the top 10.

Bob from Columbus but in Minneapolis for holiday: Kathleen says "Hi" to best yoga teacher in the world. What happened to Stanford? Is this year an aberration? I have too much respect for David Shaw and their program to think otherwise.

Eric Hansen: Hi Bob. I will relay the message as soon as she gets in from Black Friday shopping. ... I do think it's an aberration. Let's start with the offensive line. Because of injuries, Stanford has started four true freshmen on the offensive line, most in the country, for much of the season. Counting punter Ryan Sanborn, eight true freshmen have started a game for the Cardinal this season, tied for third-most in the country. Injuries at quarterback hurt, too. K.J. Costello won't play Saturday, nor will All-America cornerback Paulson Adebo. Even when Costello has played, he's done so physically compromised. I would expect a bounceback next season from Stanford.

Jim from Cumberland, Md.: Hi Eric ,What is your best guess who ND will likely play in a bowl game?

Eric Hansen: As of this moment, Iowa State. If they lose to Kansas State this weekend, then they would not be the top candidate. Oklahoma State, Texas and K-State are all in play.

Frank from Cincinnati: Cornerbacks!!! We seem to have made some progress with the safety position, but why, oh why, does recruiting at a high level at the cornerback position seem to be so elusive? I am also interested in previous chats if they are available. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Frank, that is a question that comes up regularly. First, here is a link to all the old chats, both mine and Tom Noie's:

To your question, I'll answer it consistently with how I have before. It's baffling, given Todd Lyght's track record of development and his past and his personality. He's a guy I'd want to play for and would want my son to play for. However, there's urgency in taking that next step as a recruiter in the 2021 cycle.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Hope your Thanksgiving was great! Two questions from me. The false start penalties are a pattern of behavior. It appears the group is very undisciplined. Interested in what you think the problem is? Other than that, the team is playing really well. Secondly, there were a lot of empty seats last weekend. With all the renovations to the stadium, and the team playing well, I am surprised by this. Also interested in your thoughts on why this is happening? Appreciate you as always.

Eric Hansen: Alex, thanks. We actually did stories recently addressing both of those issues:

Tyler, on the false starts here:

And me, on the ticket sales here:

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, Did you bring any of your mom's Thanksgiving stuffing for Brian Kelly? Now on to the questions. Who is the most valuable and improved player for this year's team? "Let's go Camping!!!!!" Thanks mucho, a little Spanish for your Taco Bar.

Eric Hansen: Haha, Im headed back tonight with leftovers, so he is welcome to come over and try some. ... I was thinking about the MVP question the other day. I'm going to give it to Chase Claypool. Most Improved? I've got a trio — Jonathan Doerer, Asmar Bilal, Drew White.

Chuck from Brigantine, N.J.: Hi Eric, three easy questions for you: 1) What one food did you like the most about your dinner yesterday — turkey, stuffing, potatoes, etc? 2) Chip Long scripts nine plays and BC shows him "D" not seen on film. Is he unwilling or unable to veer from the script, especially since we took the opening kickoff vs. defer? 3) Wide receivers not getting separation — root cause is a) not playing the right WRs? b) play callingd too predictable? c) Ian Book not waiting long enough for them to get separation? I would rather have a boring 9-2 team (getting more and more hard to watch) than an exciting 7-4 team. We disagree on the value of Chip Long. GO IRISH! THANKFUL FOR YOUR INSIGHTS!

Eric Hansen: Chuck, I think the turkey and the gravy tied yesterday. Everything was exceptional. ... Who said Chip Long did or didn't veer from the script? I didn't have a chance (not did anyone else) to ask him. ... The third question wouldn't have the same answer in a given week. If you're facing someone like Bryce Hall, for instance, separation becomes more problematic. I'll try to answer a fluid and changing question with a general answer: ND needs to recruit more speed at the wide receiver position, and they are in the 2020 and 2021 classes. That will help the bouts of lack of separation, but again there are layers to the causes.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Bowl possibilities seem to be slim pickings this year. If Notre Dame was without the ACC affiliation this year, what would the possibilities be? Could it be any worse? Thanks very much.

Eric Hansen: If ND did not have the ACC options, the Irish would be dumpster diving — filling a spot another conference couldn't fill at the bottom of its bowl tie-ins because it didn't have enough bowl-eligible teams.

Robb from Colorado: Hey Eric, thanks for doing the chats. They are great. I don’t see Javon McKinley being next in the line of big WRs like Miles Boykin, Chase Claypool, etc., to go off. So who maybe fits that mold size- and talent-wise? Is that guy even on the roster right now?

Eric Hansen: Robb, thank you for being part of the chats. I am not sold that McKinley comes back for a fifth year, but it is a possibility. Even then, I think Kevin Austin is your starter at boundary receiver in 2020, with incoming freshman Jordan Johnson getting a look there too. Micah Jones has the size to be a boundary receiver, but he'll have to step up his game dramatically to push for playing time of any significance next season.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, Hope you had a very Happy Thanksgiving. You don't seem like a wine guy to me, so what will you feast on in Cali?. It seems to me that the defense has really picked up their game since the return of Shaun Crawford to the lineup. I don't count the few snaps that he played in his return game at Michigan. Do you agree, and what is that he brings to the defense that has made them so much better? Is it more on-the-field play or leadership off the field? Thanks. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: I don't mind an occasional glass of wine. I actually had a glass of cranberry wine at dinner last night, just to try something new. ... Hope you had a great Thanksgiving as well. ... Shaun Crawford, despite physical limitations, is a difference-maker. Great instincts, great tenacity. Makes players around him better. When healthy, he has track speed. I love his game.

Dave from Springfield, Ohio: Great game last weekend! Totally dominant even with backups on offensive and defensive lines. On Boston College's only scoring drive, a No. 70 was playing left side defensive line. Just curious who that was? I don’t even see him listed on Notre Dame official roster.

Eric Hansen: I'm going to cut and paste from an email I sent out this morning on that very subject: That was rover Paul Moala. If you remember, a play preceding that series was originally ruled a touchdown. Moala changes his jersey on kickoff returns, so there won't be two No. 13s on the field for the Irish (Lawrence Keys III is the other No. 13). After the TD was overturned by replay, Moala didn't have time to switch back to 13. He was a part of the goal-line package.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Lots of buzz last week about our San Diego commit (2021 QB commit Tyler Buchner). Despite having lost to at least two true freshman QBs (Georgia in 2017 and Clemson in 2018), do you think Kelly would ever start a true freshman QB? Under his system it seems more often than not you spend two years learning the ropes! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Go Irish, beat Stanford!!☘️

Eric Hansen: Great question. A lot of it depends who else is on the roster. I would lean toward no, but Tyler Buchner might just be the exception.

Skip from Houston: Given the high academic and moral standards at Notre Dame, especially for its players compared to most other highly rated football programs, what do you think is the probability of Notre Dame’s winning a national championship in the next 10 years?

Eric Hansen: I ask that question on an intermittent basis to our guests on the Pod of Gold Podcasts. Only once have I gotten some hedging instead of a yes. The playoff format makes it tougher, I think, because you have to knock off two elite teams instead of one, but I would say yes as well. Probability? I'd say 20 percent, maybe more.

Nick from Coldwater, Ohio: Eric, still very surprised as to why we can’t run the ball, even with backup linemen. Will we have to wait until next year for a running game? Considering the conditions of no running game threat, I think Ian Book is playing incredible! Happy Thanksgiving!

Eric Hansen: It's not just the backup linemen. It's Armstrong's elongated recovery. It's Avery Davis swapping sides of the ball in the middle of September. it's Tony Jones Jr.'s injury. It's not having speed like Chris Tyree on the roster ... yet.

Will from New York: With Donte Vaughn ending up not redshirting this year, who do you see as our starting cornerbacks next year? Do you have any faith in them?

Eric Hansen: TaRiq Bracy and a grad transfer perhaps. If not, a grad transfer, then Bracy and ... I'm going to roll the dice here ... Cam Hart.

Sean from Portland: Hi Eric. Has there been any update on Michael Young’s transfer? Was there some sort of team drama or incident that may be correlated between his transfer and the ineptitude shown at Michigan?

Eric Hansen: Sean, my next update on that would be connected to my hope to talk to Michael directly — and I have reached out to him.

GB from Wasilla. Alaska: Eric. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. On your podcast with Darius Walker, he said that ND should throw more screen passes. Unfortunately, Kelly's teams have never been very adept with screens. Why?

Eric Hansen: GB, i think Darius is correct, and ND's screen game was pretty good when Darius was on the team, especially the two seasons with Charlie Weis. The Irish in the Kelly/Long years seem to have trouble selling it and seem to have trouble blocking for it. I agree that should be an emphasis this offseason ... to rectify those flaws.

Jack from Strongsville, Ohio: Hi Eric. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving here in northern Ohio. What is the ingredient that your mom puts in her stuffing that I hear you say on Sportsbeat makes it so good? You do great work with the SBT and on Sportsbeat. To my other question. How much leverage does Notre Dame not being in a conference hurt its ability to dictate its bowl game presence? I do not anticipate a rush to buy tickets from alums and others for a trip to the Camping World Bowl, even it being in Orlando on Dec. 28 away from the snow and ice.

Eric Hansen: Jack, I tried to stall before answering your question to ask her ... but she's still out doing the Black Friday thing ... at age 89. Wow, I hope I got all of her genes. Notre Dame benefits greatly from the ACC package. Being an independent isn't the problem. Being ranked 16th is the problem.

Brian Sontchi from Batavia, Ill.: Hi Eric: Did you complete your Christmas shopping first thing this morning while shedding some stuffing pounds off the belt line? Please pass along a “thank you” to your colleague Tyler James for his article this week on the way-too-numerous O-line procedure penalties. This has been happening for too many years. From your reporting, do you believe this will ever be rectified to the point where we might not see one occur in a game? These penalties are drive- and momentum-killers. And from Tyler’s article I gathered that Kelly does not seem to be very concerned about it. Your perspective, please.

Eric Hansen: I do think it concerns Brian Kelly, but I don't think he wants to throw Jeff Quinn under the bus in front of the media. It was stunning, quite frankly, to see that many (6) in a home game where noise wasn't a factor. Criticism is warranted in this situation. It HAS to get fixed. Next season and now. ... No Christmas shopping yet. Because of the nature of my job and being pretty absorbed until December, I'm never organized enough to have gathered wish lists this early in the shopping season. So Black Friday is just another day on the calendar for me.

Don from Phoenix: Eric, Hope Thanksgiving was a great family day. Cloudy here in the Phoenix area with steady rain overnight. Read on a some feed speculation that Book may be courted by Oklahoma for a grad transfer. Any drum beats you may be hearing? Is that why Kelly says he will recruit him to stick around? Wouldn't be a bad place to land. Certainly better than Everett Golson's or Brandon Wimbush's exits. Lincoln Riley has an eye for QB talent and taking someone with experience and sticking him in a QB-friendly system with a great supporting cast makes sense.

Eric Hansen: Don at this point, I expect Book to be back at ND, in part because of the way he's playing and improving and in part because he's a fit in this offense. Kelly's comments were about recruiting him back from any NFL aspirations, not the grad transfer thing ... although I personally think the latter scenario is more realistic (but still not probable). Kelly has done it before with other players with NFL aspirations. And while he doesn't win all of those, he has won quite a few significant ones.

Brian K from South Bend: If ND doesn't "squash" Stanford now, then when? The Cardinal is decimated by injuries, although ND is not exactly at full strength. Do you think there is concern for a letdown, or are the Irish prepared to put this game away early, leaving time for fans to load up on leftovers long before the ...

Eric Hansen: Brian, that question looked like it was going to end with a killer pun. But to answer the part of your question I can see, I don't expect a letdown at all.

Tom from Whereabouts Unknown: Hi Eric! Excluding the teams tracking for the playoffs and putting aside all the bowl matchup minutiae, who would you want to see ND play after the Stanford game? I'd love for another shot at Michigan under sunny skies and no chance of rain. :)

Eric Hansen: So if there were no restrictions and ND could play any other team in the top 25? For different reasons, my order would be Oklahoma, Minnesota, Penn State, Auburn. I'm not predicting a win or loss against any of them. But those are games I'd be interested to see.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Any chance ND goes after USC quarterback, JT Daniels? No doubt in my mind that he will transfer.

Eric Hansen: I would very much doubt it. He'd have to sit out 2020 and then play in 2021, just when Tyler Buchner arrives.

Jeff from York, Pa.: Watching the Virginia vs. Virginia Tech game, the announcers have said the winner will go to the Orange Bowl. We beat both teams and we go to the Camping World Bowl. Something is wrong with this scenario. Especially if we beat Stanford.

Eric Hansen: That's the way it is set up. ND has access to the Orange Bowl this year, but from the other side, competing with the SEC and the Big Ten to have a shot at the No. 2 ACC team. Beyond Clemson, the ACC is way down.

John from St Pete, Fla.: Hi Eric, who in your opinion continues to float the BK-to-FSU rumors. Is it media types like Paul Finebaum, who do it to garner attention for themselves or clicks to their sites? Or is it people directly or indirectly associated with FSU? I think there is zero chance BK is interested. He has this program on the cusp and he does not seem like he would jump for the money.

Eric Hansen: The best answer I can give you is you need to consider the sources. Just because it shows up on your Facebook feed doesn't mean it's not coming from a guy writing in his mother's basement with no credentials or credibility.

Matt from Augusta, N.J.: What about the James Franklin rumors also? I know it’s not ND, but I don’t know why Kelly or Franklin would leave for FSU. Just seems like a tough fix now.

Eric Hansen: Really haven't followed what's going on with Franklin. There's a cultural problem at FSU and other ones as well. There's also some upside to that job.

Roger from Desert Hot Springs: What has been your biggest surprise from the team this year (positive or negative)? For me it is the disappointing performance of a consistent running game.

Eric Hansen: Jonathan Doerer and linebacker play ... and both of those are the good kind of surprises.

Jeff McGowan from Whereabouts Unknown: This one is not in the bag by any means. ND hasn’t won out there in four tries for a reason. What did Stanford do against Washington to come away with a 10-point victory? Different than ND’s weaknesses? Shaw is too good of a coach to ring this one up already. Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: ND has actually lost the last five times it has played in Stanford Stadium. What the Cardinal did well in its win over Washington that it has had trouble replicating is running well on offense and stopping the run. The Huskies rushed for just 88 yards, were 2-of-12 on third down and ran only 58 plays.

Lou Reed from Charleston, S.C.: Who starts at QB next year?

Eric Hansen: Ian Book.

Erik from Granger, Ind.: Happy Thanksgiving! What does Lance Taylor (or generically any coach if you don’t know) look for when determining the running back (or position group) “rotation”? I’m glad Armstrong is not in the doghouse but am surprised he got no touches last week. On the plus side, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by C’Bo Flemister this year, given he was so buried on the depth chart before the season.

Eric Hansen: Erik, I'd love to ask Lance that question, but access to him during the season is non-existent. So I will project ... It comes from who's healthy, who produces in practice ... and it can change in a game if a running back gets a hot hand.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for today. Thanks for all the great questions. We won't chat next week, but I'll make sure to schedule one the week after the bowl pairing is announced (Dec. 8).

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