Chat Transcript: What does Notre Dame need to improve on between now and Clemson?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Louisville Week edition. A reminder: PLEASE include your NAME and HOMETOWN with your question. The queue is overflowing with questions, so let's get right to it.

John from Newhall, Calif.: Having seen the other top 5 teams in action, including Clemson, that has a knack for rising to and usually above the level of their competition, do you think Notre Dame can improve on both sides of the ball enough in the next 3 1/2 weeks to actually challenge Clemson for four quarters?

Eric Hansen: This question is in the queue many, many times with some different variations on specifics. This one is probably the most open-ended version of it and what you all are trying to get to the bottom of, so here goes:

First, I think Clemson is the best team in the country. But the best team doesn't always win these kinds of showdowns, so what does ND have to do between now and Nov. 7: 1) Quarterback play. Ian Book needs to be at the top of his game. In terms of poise. In terms of patience. In terms of being able to stretch the field enough to make Clemson play honest. 2) The offensive line, touted by some as the best in the country at this point, needs to be the best position group on the field that night. 3) Even the "33 Trucking" prolific running attack vanished in big games (Georgia and Miami in 2017). In fact, not being able to run the ball effectively is a coming theme in the six losses in ND's 36-6 run since 2016. 4) Clark Lea liked the potential of this group to be a very good run defense, and it needs to be in November — not just for Clemson, but for North Carolina as well. 5) The cornerbacks need to keep coming. The buck linebacker play needs to be stellar. 6) Notre Dame needs to play keepaway on offense, so that again stresses the ability to run and run well.

RustyIrish from Cincinnati, Ohio: Thanks for the chats. In these very interesting times I’m curious why (Florida State coach) Mike Norvell, having had COVID-19 just the week before, can be shown roaming the sidelines more than a dozen times on NBC without a mask? Isn’t there a rule requiring masks on the sideline for coaches and why can’t officials enforce it with a penalty after a warning? At the very least it sets a very poor example.

Eric Hansen: There is an ACC rule regarding coaches and face coverings, so that is a violation. ... As to what he might be thinking? I actually asked Brian Kelly a question that was somewhat related last week. That is: Did Brian/the team/the medical advisers consider players who already had the virus unable to spread it once they were cleared? He said per ACC rules they don't have to test those players for 90 days and they strategically place those individuals in the locker room next to players who have not had the virus. However, everyone — per ND's team rules —  still has to wear masks and social distance when appropriate. So I think it's more setting an example and being on the safe side than it is necessarily pragmatic. That's probably how Norvell viewed it, but I can only assume that, since I didn't talk to him about it.

Matt from Nappanee, Ind.: I'm curious who you think will come out on top for the buck linebacker position between Shayne Simon, Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, now that they are all seemingly healthy?

Eric Hansen: I asked Brian Kelly that question Monday, and he gave me a word salad. I think Simon is the best athlete among them, and they're all very good athletes. Liufau has the most intriguing skill set, Kiser is the best against the run. I wonder how he'd be isolated in coverage. My sense tells me since he was a safety on defense in high school, he would be a quick study. So who do I think will come out on top? Eventually Kiser, but not this week.

Lawrence from San Diego: How different are the physical/athletic requirements for Mike and Buck? How different are the reads and game prep? Who do you see getting the most snaps at Buck vs. Clemson (seeing that as the peak-end state Clark is building to)? What is the mike/buck/rover combo with the highest upside?

Eric Hansen: I had this discussion with Clark Lea at one point last year. The Mike (middle linebacker) is going to play with the most traffic/congestion. So lots of blocks to shed. The Buck (weakside linebacker) is still inside but plays a little more in space. He also needs to be more accomplished in coverage. As far as highest upside combo, the rover part is easy with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. Bo Bauer is gaining on Drew White at middle linebacker. I'd like to see how White plays this week. The layoff was harder on some defensive players than others. Simon confuses me, because he should be further along in his development. He's too smart and athletic to not be progressing faster. So I will go with Kiser, just because I think he'll improve in leaps and bounds and I like his run fits.

Dave from Alpha, N.J.: Hi Eric. In the preseason, I submitted the notion of moving Jafar Armstrong back to a wide receiver or slot receiver position.

I was told that that would probably not happen due to the lack of experience at the running back position. Fast forward I’m asking the same question now because it looks like Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, and C'Bo Flemister will dominate all the carries for the rest of the year.

Eric Hansen: I still think Armstrong occasionally catching pass as a running back, with a linebacker or safety defending him, is a better matchup than Armstrong as a receiver with a cornerback defending him. And sure you can move him to receiver, but who's he going to displace? Kevin Austin, Braden Lenzy, Javon McKinley? Ben Skowronek, when he gets healthy? Avery Davis? Lawrence Keys? Joe Wilkins? Jordan Johnson?

Frank from Missouri: Have future football schedules been altered due to cancellations this year? I’m thinking of any rescheduling of Wisconsin at Green Bay, Arkansas at ND, etc.

Eric Hansen: There's a commitment to make both of those things happen — in time. And athletic director Jack Swarbrick has said as much, at least with Wisconsin. BUT given everything that's on Jack Swarbrick's plate at the moment and the fact we don't know yet whether 2021 will be "normal," it's not on the front burner.

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric, appreciate the chats and doing your due diligence with the restrictions placed upon you. Daelin Hayes hasn’t been credited with a tackle the last two games. In watching this past Saturday, he was struggling to get off his blocks and, from what I saw, he lost contain numerous times when he collapsed down on the running back. Are you worried by his lack of production? Is it a matter of time before Isaiah Foskey surpasses him or am I way off base? Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, he actually was credited with one tackle against USF and two against Florida State, but your point is: Shouldn't we expect more production? I would agree. I think, though, the Louisville game is going to give us a better indication of just where everyone is individually on defense. The nine days with no practices and the COVID-19 outbreak affected the defense significantly and some individuals more than others (isolation vs. quarantine being one big factor). Foskey is coming on. There's always going to be rotation on the defensive line, but if Foskey keeps coming, it's going to be difficult to not reward him with more snaps. I wouldn't give up on Hayes, but it's a situation worth tracking.

Newt from Midlothian, Va.: What's up E? First time I've been able to hop on this year. COVID has all of us reshuffling our schedules, I'm sure. Really no question. ... just wanted to say stay safe and thank you for work. Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Newt, it's wonderful to hear from you. And thank you. You be safe, too.

David from Columbus, Ohio: Hey Eric, I absolutely love Clark Lea and just think he is fantastic. Why doesn’t ND go the Brent Venables route and just pay him the money to stay on as a defensive coordinator?

Eric Hansen: David, I don't think it's a matter of money. It's about Clark Lea having the aspirations to be a head coach and feeling that he's ready for that. Now, he's not going to take any job just to be a head coach. But if there's a great fit, I'd expect him to get involved.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, I am inquiring about how ND keeps its football players healthy, not just in COVID times but all the time. Does ND supply the players with certain vitamins, minerals and supplements throughout the year? Do they take special supplements to prevent getting COVID? I also saw that many players were out of practice in quarantine. Reports said they could not condition. I presume that meant that the players could not condition at the Gug or with the team? Did they have some sort of home conditioning regimen to follow while in quarantine? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: GB, Notre Dame does supply the players with vitamins/supplements throughout the year, and even was able to do so last spring after everyone was sent home. I'm not sure there's a supplement regimen that's specific to COVID-19/immune response. As far as conditioning, players in quarantine can condition individually, once they're through the first seven days of the 14-day quarantine (and there is a formatted workout). Players in isolation can not. And once they're through the 10 days, they have to ramp up incrementally. Practice at 50 percent. Practice at 75 percent, etc.

Mike from Rochester N.Y.: Hi, Eric. First, I happened to notice the published times of the articles you and others wrote for all of us last weekend. Times like 2:45 a.m. and 3:15 a.m. I never realized just how late you all had to work after a night game and want to thank you all for being so coherent and entertaining that late at night. Seriously. Now, my question: I was surprised when Liam Eichenberg went out and Aaron Banks moved out to tackle, with Dillan Gibbons coming in at guard. I expected Josh Lugg would have subbed in for Eichenberg, given how high the coaches have always been on Lugg. Was Lugg unavailable? Or is Banks a better left tackle than Lugg and Gibbons a really good left guard?

Eric Hansen: It's all good. Night games do mess with your body clock. And after the Michigan game last year, we drove back. I think I walked in the door at 6:30 a.m., and then did my top 25 ballot for AP before going to bed. Not complaining. ... Three things. I think Banks could be a very good left tackle and he may play that next year. Some of that could depend on how Andrew Kristofic comes along. As far as Saturday night, Kelly said Lugg had been working on the right side all week, because right guard Tommy Kraemer had been a little banged up. So Kelly went with Gibbons, who had been practicing at left guard. Gibbons is interesting, if not for the present, for the future. He's come back from several injuries and is finally healthy. It will be interesting to watch how he does when he gets opportunities, because we may see some real growth with him.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric. It is a Blessing to be playing football this year in mid-October. I just feel an overall good vibe coming from the team this year under trying circumstances. The players have to be more disciplined this year than in any previous year. What is a typical day like for a player? Do any live in dorms? Do any attend in-person classes? Are all their meals at the Gug? Are they prohibited from certain places on campus like dining areas, the bookstore or other congested areas? Are certain guys responsible for other younger guys? Sounds like they are doing a really good job, but this has to require extreme dedication, especially for the younger guys. I think the coaches and players deserve much credit. Thanks for being there for us.

Eric Hansen: Denny, thanks. We're not around the players this year .. all on Zoom. So I will try to answer as many of these as I can. Yes, some live in the dorms, but fewer than usual. Freshmen and sophomores were allowed to and encouraged to live off campus this year because of COVID-19. Some players attend in person classes. QB Ian Book is one who does not. Some are on committees that meet in person. A lot of the meals are grab and go. I don't think the players are prohibited from certain areas on campus, but they're asked to be smart about it. The SWAT team captains (some of which are regular captains) help keep everyone accountable.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, just a comment and question about injuries sustained vs. FSU. I love the positive attitude that Paul Moala is carrying about his (torn Achilles tendon). It has parallels to the outlook that carried Drue Tranquill through his injuries and rehab. Next, any word on the eye injury to Liam Eichenberg and if he is 100% heading into Saturday? It looked very swollen on TV and just hope it has no lasting impact on his vision. Thanks.

Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg continues to recover from a left eye injury suffered Saturday night against Florida State.

Eric Hansen: He's on the mend and not expected to miss any practice or game time.

Manny from Goshen: A follow-up to your earlier Clark Lea question. Do you think for coach Lea it is Power 5 or stay at ND? Could a MAC school or Cincinnati have a shot at him? (On a side note, I think he would be a better NFL head coach than college.)

Eric Hansen: I think he would look at Power 5 jobs. He was a finalist for Boston College last year. Vanderbilt, if it moves on from Derek Mason, will be knocking on his door. He can and will be selective, and there's no guarantee he'd leave after this season.

Jules from Joliet, Ill.: Eric, thanks for conducting these chats. Can you clarify some of the aspects of recruiting? For example, ND has offered two 2022 QBs, Steve Angeli and Gavin Wimsatt. Does the first one to commit get the position? Or is the offer to the second person contingent on the first turning down the offer? Similarly, I see Angeli has offers from teams like LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, etc. Is there any way to know if he is the primary target for these schools or merely a backup plan? Similarly, we see blurbs such as ND has offers to "X" amount (say eight) offensive linemen, but is only taking four. Are the recruits told “first come, first served” or, “ there’s a spot for you if offers 1, 2 and 3 don’t accept?” Thank you.

Eric Hansen: Jules, I had our recruiting writer, Carter Karels. help me with part of this question. Here is his answer: "Notre Dame offers more than 200 full-ride scholarships to players in every recruiting cycle. No school is going to land every player they offer. That is why you see schools offer 300 recruits and sign 25 of them. So it’s wise to offer more than what you can take while having a number in mind. Otherwise, you’d fall short every time. The Irish would not take both Angeli and Wimsatt. They’d like to land one of them. Offering both gives them a better chance of landing one quarterback they like."

Let me expand some in general terms to your questions. Not all offers are created equal. Some are "committable" offers, where a player can verbally commit. Some are an invitation to come to camp and impress (when there's no pandemic going on). Usually, there's some kind or preference order with prospects. So of theoretically eight offensive linemen, they'll try to get the four they like the most to visit first and then slow-play the other four. So it's not first come, first served. Some prospects, ND is willing to wait forever and hold a spot for or make room. Some they'll move on if there's no impending commitment. As far as those two QBs you mentioned, I think they're evaluating both of them to get a better feel for which one should be the priority.

Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif.: Eric, why isn't Bill Rees getting any compliments for his great work identifying talent that other programs pass on. I remember him at UCLA. He was a big part of Terry Donahue's success. It sure seems since he was hired that is when we started to see these three-star recruits being maximized.

Eric Hansen: He does get compliments. Brian Kelly told me he's the best talent evaluator in the country.

Phil from Bradenton, Fla.: Eric, miss you on SportsBeat. I'm willing to give the Irish a pass this past weekend due to the layoff, and not worry so much about the lack of second-half offensive production or the defensive issues. Just glad the boys are safe and back out there. Here's my question: What has the water cooler talk been like between you and your sportswriter brethren in reaction to Chase Claypool's amazing day Sunday? He looked like a man among boys out there. Thanks! Be safe.

Eric Hansen: Phil, thanks. If you haven't tried Pod of Gold, I think you'll enjoy it. Rocky Boiman was our guest this week and Corey Robinson and Rick Mirer the weeks before. ... Now when you say water cooler, you mean virtual water cooler. We are not back in the office yet and won't be for some time. I have to tell you, none of us are surprised that Chase is making his mark in the NFL. I expect in time, we'll see significant impact from Cole Kmet as well.

Terry from Cincinnati: With Bo Bauer playing so well, if Jack Kiser is still out, could Bauer and Drew White handle the Mike and Buck linebacker spots?

Eric Hansen: I think they could play together against certain teams. Or in packages against all teams. But a team that would spread ND's defense out and isolate Bauer in coverage, I'm not sure how that would play out. I'd have to see it to believe that would work. But again, against certain teams and in certain situations, I'm open to seeing what that might look like. I still think the other bucks need to have a chance to show what they could do when healthy.

George K from Atlanta: Did not see or hear much from Drew White, Shayne Simon, or Jack Lamb in the FSU game. Drew White, in particular, does not seem to be as effective as he was last year. What are your thoughts on these three players?

Eric Hansen: Jack Lamb is coming back from a career-threatening hip injury and will likely impact special teams much more than the defense — at least in 2020. White and Simon I want to see play when they have a chance to be at their best, which should be this week. Then ask me again.

Joe Vrabec from New York: Hi Eric, how are you? Can we expect Kevin Austin and Javon McKinley to play at the same time? Braden Lenzy in slot, and the other two wide receivers at field and boundary? Thanks. And thanks for all the coverage and the conversation on Twitter.

Eric Hansen: Yes, I wrote about this earlier this week ...

The short answer is yeah, they'll try to get McKinley, Lenzy and Austin on the field at the same time at times, going forward.

Robb from Delaplane, Va: I've been a Notre Dame subway alum since 1958 and remember the early days when 'Joe (Kuharich) the Pro' was coach. In those years, the prospect of going 6-4 was a dream season. Of course, we never got that under Joe, but along came Ara and everything changed. With Ara, we expected to win every game and go 10-0 every season. We also knew the team would be totally prepared and play like it week to week. Along with that, for the past 62 years, I've loved our independent and non-conference standing. But I must say, after just three games, I've come around to the favorable idea that belonging to a conference has benefits, and I can see the potential of the ACC becoming an elite conference with elite programs. Looking at the schedule, I can envision new rivalries that might develop as well. Is it too early to think this way? Does the ND football family see this already as well?

Eric Hansen: I think I've enjoyed the changeup of conference play myself, and I think ND, Brian Kelly and the players have too. But in terms of a long-term lifestyle? I don't see it.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: I know you don’t like math but how long since the Irish had three players go over century mark in one game, let alone two running backs? Can’t believe it took Brian Kelly five years to discover Javon McKinley — “No one in the country can cover this kid.” Seems to me he played well in all his opportunities. Please stay safe, and thanks for chats! If Liam Eichenberg represents team’s toughness, we’re in great shape! Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Off the top of my head, I went to the 2017 season archive. In the 2017 opener against Temple, Josh Adams, Dexter Williams and Brandon Wimbush all went over 100.

Sweet Lou from Wilmington, Del.: Do all of the university's negative happenings (Father Jenkins and masks, and Dr. (Sean) Conley — ND grad and President Trump's Doctor — bungling communications around the President's hospitalization) affect the football players and coaches?

Eric Hansen: It hasn't come up in any of the interviews. But I think they were pretty focused on their own outbreak and how to fix it, which they did.

Robert from Evansville, Ind.: What is your gut feeling/guess that ND actually plays all of its scheduled games? Stay safe and thanks!

Eric Hansen: I think at this point, it depends more on their opponents than on Notre Dame. In the most recent ND outbreak, the players who had COVID theoretically can't be re-infected for the balance of the season (or at least it's highly unlikely). And they've upped their game in terms of protocols, so another outbreak is less likely. If it came from an opponent, ND only had Nov. 21 as an open date. And all 14 other ACC teams play that weekend. So there would have to be multiple games shuffled to make that work. Remember, each month that science keeps giving us more resources to combat the virus, better testing, etc. All of those things help. So I'm going to be cautiously optimistic and say that ND will play all its games, knowing that there is no such thing as an absolute in the COVID Era.

Andy from San Antonio, Texas: Hello Eric! Happy Wednesday from South Texas! I was listening to the recent Pod of Gold with Rocky Boiman (good stuff), and it got me thinking about defense. There have been a lot of good to great college teams giving up large numbers on defense this year — several examples alone from the SEC last weekend. In your opinion, is this the way the game is trending in high school and college, or do we add this to weirdness list for 2020?? Stay safe!

Eric Hansen: Andy thanks. I think Rocky made some good suggestions along those lines, and I'd agree. In empty stadiums or those with small crowds, offenses can communicate at the line of scrimmage better. The shortened training camps and starts and stops due to outbreaks have limited live tackling. The chemistry on defense has been disrupted by less togetherness off the field. I think we'll see a return to something statistically closer to the norm in 2021, that is provided life is normal in 2021.

Gene from New York: Hi Eric. Thanks as always for the great coverage. That was the first game in some time where it seemed Ian Book was comfortable the entire game. Certainly, the offensive line asserting its will helped a great deal. The one thing I believe remains a concern is that there does not appear to be a real threat for the offense to hit on 20+ yard plays. Regardless of how good the offensive line is, I don’t see them running through Clemson as easily. I’m aware of the "take what D will give you" or "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" thoughts, but do you believe they should try working this into the game plan on a regular basis to gain some confidence they can do it?

Eric Hansen: As you climb he ladder into playoff-caliber teams, they challenge you to do everything well and will try to scheme on both sides of the ball to make you do what you're weakest at doing. The opponents that aren't as good try to do that too, but they often don't have the personnel to be able to execute that consistently. The deep balls is an aspect that ND will find out in the coming weeks whether it can be a threat consistently in games. I think Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin up to full speed gives the Irish that chance. Now can Book get them the ball? We're about to find out.

Bill from Avalon, N.J.: There seems to be the belief that in order to consistently compete with the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world, ND needs to improve their recruiting numbers from top 10-12 classes to top 5 classes. While I don't necessarily disagree with that sentiment, don't you think ND would be better able to bridge that gap with with a first- or second-round talent draft pick at QB? It's crazy to me that, assuming Book gets drafted, ND will only have two quarterbacks drafted in the last decade. This is no knock on Book, and I am not talking about the need to get the next Trevor Lawrence, but consistently having a Justin Herbert or Drew Lock-like NFL prospect behind center could mask some deficiencies elsewhere.

Eric Hansen: Bill, they had that with Brady Quinn, who was able to camouflage deficiencies to a certain extent, and with Jimmy Clausen, who was less so able to cover up. ... Look, of the five most important metrics that national title teams tend to do well, passing efficiency is one of them. Of the 22 national champs in the BCS/Playoff Era, only four ranked lower than 18th nationally in pass efficiency, and none lower than 37th. The pattern is even similar with the national runners-up, with one exception. The worst passing efficiency team to play for a title in those 22 years? The 2012 Irish, who ranked 74th.

However, as I mentioned in a story earlier this week, championship teams tend to excel in at least four of these five metrics — if not all five — rush offense, pass efficiency, rush defense, total defense and turnover margin. So those are important elements as well.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, let’s consider the unimaginable, that the Irish drop one of the softer games on the schedule, i.e., not Clemson or UNC. In your view, what would be the factors on the ND side that could lead to such as result? Thanks very much.

Eric Hansen: Turnovers.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, great to chat with you, as always. In your opinion, what's the identify of this year's team in your estimation? Thanks and GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!

Eric Hansen: I think that's still constellating, given the 21-day gap between games and just getting some players back late last week. On offense, they pride themselves on physicality. They're also multiple in personnel groups, formations, blocking schemes, play calls. On defense, their calling card needs to be an upper-tier run defense. We'll find out soon if that's achievable.

Jonathan from Hideaway, Texas. Greetings, Eric! Watching Louisville, I can’t help notice that their very athletic offensive backfield seems to operate always at full-tilt. There seems to be no patient waiting for blocks at all. Just an all-out, immediate sprint for daylight on every rushing play. Is there something schematic that explains this?Do you see it as something that coach Satterfield is trying to do differently from what I’m used to seeing across the football universe on Saturdays and Sundays? Any insight would be appreciated. Go Irish!

Eric Hansen: Jonathan, I watched some of the Louisville-Georgia Tech game Friday night while working on other things, so wasn't paying that close of attention. I'll take your word that's what they were doing. Javian Hawkins is very fast, so that might explain the approach. Also, I'm not sure their offensive line is producing the kinds of blocking consistently this year that would give him faith in being patient, for fear of defensive penetration.

Chuck from Brigantine, N.J.: Eric, glad that you are staying safe and able to bring your best insights into our somewhat tainted perspectives. Understand rust and COVID disruptions, but Saturday was not pretty. Here is my take: To beat Clemson and maybe even UNC, Irish must score lots of points. They will not do it on the ground vs, Clemson as (Clemson defensive coordinator Brent) Venables might stack the box and bring up the safeties and force Ian Book to beat them long. At this point, I just do not see it. Phil Jurkovec looks much better throwing the long ball vs Ian. What can the coaching staff do to better prepare the team to stretch the defense? What are the chances that Ian will dramatically improve on the long ball — has not in two years. I love his tenacity and play-making but ... help me, Eric.

Eric Hansen: It's difficult to put the chances for improvement in terms of percentages. Some people believe Ian Book has reached his ceiling, both in that area and overall. I've seen too many quarterbacks, including Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, make dramatic leaps in their final seasons to simply rule out that Book can't improve. I thought I saw some signs of that Saturday night. There needs to be incremental progress each week. That's the best I can do right now to improve your deep, dark thoughts.  

Guest from Parts Unknown: Hi, Eric; really miss you on Sportsbeat. Not the same without you!.If ND runs the table in the ACC, and if UNC's and Clemson’s only loss is to ND, who would play ND in the ACC Championship game?

Eric Hansen: Thank you, whoever you are and wherever you are. ... To your question, we can't answer it YET and when you see the tiebreakers, you'll see why. Here they are:

Two-Team Tie

1. Head-to-head competition between the two tied teams.

2. Head-to-head competition versus the team with the best overall win percentage and proceeding though the conference. Multiple ties within the conference will be broken from first to last using the league’s tiebreaker policies.

3. Overall win percentage versus all common conference opponents.

4. Win percentage versus common conference opponents based upon their order of finish (overall conference win percentage) and proceeding through other common conference opponents based upon their conference order of finish.

5. The tied team with the higher ranking by the Team Rating Score metric provided by SportSource Analytics following the conclusion of regular season games.

6. The representative shall be chosen by a draw as administered by the Commissioner or Commissioner’s designee.

Bob from Loganville, Ga.: Eric, How much of the running back play has to do with Lance Taylor or actually utilizing a true running back instead of a converted wide receiver? The patience and vision at the running back position is better than I have seen in many years.

Eric Hansen: Those are the only two options I get? I don't get to factor in Tommy Rees' play-calling and commitment to the run? To the improved chemistry in the offensive meeting rooms with Rees instead of Chip Long? To the sheer determination of Kyren Williams to transform his body and to Chris Tyree wanting to silence the doubters that said he wasn't ready to be any more than a niche player as a freshman?

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric, hope all is well with the Hansen family. Being a former student trainer, I was very happy to see Rob Hunt get a game ball last week. The training staff/doctors do a LOT behind the scenes to make sure that players are available for Saturdays. My questions 1) Coaches always say they improve the most between games 1 and 2. With 21 days between games do you expect the same kind of improvement between 3 and 4? And, if so, in what areas?? 2) What is your over/under for Kevin Austin this week: Catches 2.5 and Yards 25? Thanks and Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom thanks and nice to see you on the chat. I think the quarantines and isolations hit the defense harder both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of impact, so I would expect to see better run fits especially. Just moving Shaun Crawford back to safety is going to improve a lot of things on defense. On offense, I'd expect to see the wide receivers be sharper in their executive and timing. As for Kevin Austin, I'll go slightly under the 2.5 catches and over the 25 yards.

Manny from Goshen: After reviewing the seven major mock drafts. I think it is safe to say that Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg , Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Ade Ogundeji will be on NFL rosters in 2021. I didn't see Ian Book or Tobert Hainsey on any of them. Do you think Brian Kelly will re-recruit Book and Hainsey to return for the 2021 season. I can picture an offense with Andrew Kristofic, Aaron Banks, Jarrett Patterson, Josh Lugg, Hainsey, Tommy Tremble and Book. Almost the same as this year, but with an extra year of experience and a year with Matt Balis. Your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: I don't think a lot of the players who would have exhausted their eligibility under the pre-COVID rules will come back, beyond kicker Jonathan Doerer.

Brian from South Bend: Hey Eric. It seems like it's been a while since Notre Dame has had a pair of running backs who possess both the speed and elusiveness that No. 25 and No. 23 do this year. Is it hyperbole to say that with this talented offensive line and tight end group leading the way that this could potentially be ND's best running team since the Holtz years? I know Florida State is not really good defensively, but they knew exactly what was coming with that counter play and couldn't stop it. That seems like the true mark of dominant running game.

Eric Hansen: Let's see how they hold up against Pitt on Oct. 24. The Panthers are No. 2 nationally in rush defense (partly because of sack yardage). And let's not forget the 2017 Irish team that finished seventh nationally in rushing yards per game and set school records for rushing yards in a season and yards per carry in a season. The test is how they hold up in big games. Those are still to come, but I love the way they've started and a like the explosiveness and the ability to hit home runs with their speed.

Pat from Evergreen, Colo.: Eric, No question. Just want to thank you for doing these chats and I want to thank your readers for their great questions. They give you good stuff to work with. It makes for a great read.

Eric Hansen: Awesome. Thank you. I agree, the readers make me look good with some really interesting questions. They often inspire story ideas for me as well.

Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. I found it rather troubling that the Irish were unable to put any points on the board in the fourth quarter vs. Florida State to really put the game away. It seems to me that in this COVID year, when teams are playing different numbers of games, the College Football Playoff selection committee will be using the eye test and looking at margins of victory more than ever. Was Saturday's fourth quarter offensive performance a concern to you or was it just one of those days where chances were there but they just couldn't put it in the end zone? Finishing games strong is paramount to sustaining a realistic playoff run, IMHO.

Eric Hansen: Well, Notre Dame is outscoring its opponents 17-0 in the fourth quarter, so they've got half the equation right. Look, if ND really wanted to score late, they could have kicked a field goal or gotten more creative near the goal line. If you're watching the game at home and don't read the postgame coverage, I can understand the frustration. But given the context of what went on behind the scenes, it was a pretty impressive outcome. Saturday night was about survival and re-establishing the traction the team lost during the layoff.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: God bless, Eric. One question and a few thoughts. First: Who does Kyren Williams remind you of from backs of ND’s past? It has been a long time since someone has been that athletic, IMO. A worse pass catcher than Theo Riddick, but more of a bruiser than him. Maybe Ricky Watters? Really interested to hear your thoughts? Hope you enjoy watching Williams play as much as I am. My thoughts are it was a fun game to watch Ian Book play. He looked calm and decisive for the most part. Stepping up calmly in the pocket and checking down was on point, which is easier to do with the O-Line play. They are also really fun to watch with the semi truck holes they open and the pass protection. Best line by far since Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, and crew. And kudos to Tommy Rees. Exceeding expectations in the offensive coordinator department.

Eric Hansen: Alex, thank you. I'm not great at comparisons, but Watters was the guy who came to mind of being able to blend the physicality with the finesse and pass-catching ability.

Joseph from Los Angeles: Eric, while only three games is a small sample size, I have found Tommy Rees’ play-calling to be very dynamic since the first half of the Duke game. Great to see so many personnel packages, ways to run the ball, ways to influence and have to block defenders on certain players, etc. How would you compare his play-calling style with the Chip Long style that we have seen the last couple of years? Thank you!

Eric Hansen: In Tommy's four games vs. Chip's 38, the biggest difference is Tommy's willingness to go under center when needed, to vary formations more and be more creative in the run game without getting gimmicky.

Rick Dierolf from Sinking Spring, Pa. Hey Eric, Is our O-line this good or is the performance a product of the competition? I’m afraid Clemson will stack the box and dare ND to beat them with their wide revivers and they have not exactly set the world on fire. Please give me hope we can have success running the ball against Clemson. I know I’m getting ahead of things, but I think we are all fairly or unfairly judging the success of the season on Nov. 7.

Eric Hansen: Don't forget Nov. 27 in that thought process. There's a top five team on the road that Friday night.

Cliff from Battle Creek: Hi Eric, great chat last week! I had concerns the first week with the O-line that you advised to just wait on. You were right LOL. Brian Kelly said that this is the best offensive line unit he's had. My question is do you think that's true versus Nelson\McGlinchy years? If you do think this is a better unit, does any of the credit go to the running backs? The running back room feels completely different than we've seen in quite a while. Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Absolutely, there's a lot of credit to go around. But it starts with the O-line. I'm not ready for the comparisons yet. I need to see the O-line perform in a big game.

Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! I wish they had let the backup offensive line take that first and goal late in the game to get four meaningful reps on tape and see if they can punch it in. What was the point of leaving the starters in when they had nothing to prove/learn and we weren’t technically trying to run up the score anyway? Is it dangerous for “cold” players to come in late like that?

Eric Hansen: I think with the 21-day layoff, Brian Kelly was focused on getting the starters as much work as he could to get them back to game speed and timing.

Peter in Provo: Hi Eric, with a reasonable amount of continuity in regards to player availability going forward, how much better can this defense be, and will it be enough to keep us in the game with Clemson?

Eric Hansen: I think this defense does have a lot of room to grow and will grow. As far as how it stacks up against Clemson, ask me again the week of the Clemson game (but not on Election Day).

Joe from Asbury Park, N.J.: Working on the premise that this is Ian Book's last season at ND, would you consider a grad transfer QB with this year's class?

Eric Hansen: If I'm Brian Kelly, I have that in my back pocket, especially if spring practice isn't normal spring practice, or if there's a QB injury in spring practice. The Irish did that with cornerback Nick McCloud last cycle. They contacted him in January but didn't move on him until late spring.

John from Walled Lake, Mich.: Hi Eric, how are you doing? How does the rest of the schedule look like to you? Besides a loss to Clemson, who else do think Notre Dame will lose to?

Eric Hansen: Doing well here, John. I hope all is well in Michigan. I am not predicting a loss to a team outside of Clemson. I do think November is going to be a tough month, but I think ND will be peaking at that point.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ont.: Hey Eric. Which of the offensive position coaches do you think has the most input with Tommy Rees? I know they all have equal input in theory, but if you had to say one, who would you say it is? Also, if you had the power to choose only one of the assistants who could provide input, who would that be? I'm a big fan of John McNulty. Thanks a lot.

Eric Hansen: I think Tommy listens to McNulty a lot, because they have a previous relationship, because John has been a college offensive coordinator and because he's coached multiple positions on offense before. But I Tommy's strength is communicating with all of the offensive assistants.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: This is the first time thre ACC teams (counting ND) are in the top 5. Do you agree with North Carolina at No. 5? Seems a little high to me.

Eric Hansen: They're going to need to improve on defense, but I had North Carolina very close to that on my ballot — No. 6.

Brent from Elkhart: Greetings Eric. Thank you for your wonderful information on ND Football, really appreciate it. My question is concerning the passing game. Was Kevin Austin still a bit gimpy during the Florida State game? I am still waiting to see how he can impact the downfield passing. I also believe that having him on the field at the same time as Javon McKinley makes it a tough matchup for opposing defenses. Do you think we will see more of that moving forward? Seems to me with both of them on the field, and add our very talented tight ends to the mix, makes it a nightmare for the opposing defenses. What are your thoughts on that?

Eric Hansen: Kevin only played three plays, so it was hard to cast much of an impression. Absolutely. I think we'll see more and more McKinley and Austin together as the weeks go by. And thanks for the kind words.

Eric Hansen: OK, I fell short of getting to all the questions by a lot and even went overtime. I'm going to have to work on my typing speed and brain speed. Thanks for all the great questions, answered and otherwise. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon.

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