Chat Transcript: Breaking down Notre Dame's WR challenges, options, next steps

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Georgia Tech Week Edition. Please include your NAME AND HOMETOWN with your question.

Manny from San Pedro: Eric!!!!!!! Been a minute since I have been able to send a question! Hope you and the family are well. My question is: Our defense has been amazing. To beat Clemson what’s the point total we have to hold them to? Less than 24?

Eric Hansen: Manny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was beginning to think I'd never get to use my exclamation point key ever again. Nice to have you back !!!!!!&&%$#)(*& Now, you do remember, Notre Dame is at Georgia Tech this week? To your question, I think the better Notre Dame is at limiting possessions in the game, and thus keeping the score down, the better chance it has against what justifiably will be a favored Clemson team on Nov. 7. Only one team in Clark Lea's three seasons at ND has scored more than 30. Clemson scored right at 30 in 2018. I'd say 24 is a good number for the ND defense, and maybe all the way to 27 to have a chance for the Irish offense to do its part.

Adam from Butler, Pa.: Long-time, read-first time commenter. Great job with the chats. Please tell Brian Kelly that they play better when he wears a visor.

Eric Hansen: Adam, thanks for your contribution. People usually ask questions, but since that was a nice suggestion and not a manifesto, I will put it out there.

John from Walled Lake, Mich.: Hi Eric, how are you doing today? I am sorry for my poor prediction last week on the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game, in which I picked Pittsburgh. You were right on the prediction. That is why they call you an expert. So finally, how do you think Notre Dame's defense will do against Georgia Tech's offense, which includes a huge offensive line, a dangerous dual-threat freshman quarterback, and a former four-star high school running back, also a freshman? You really think Notre Dame can hold Georgia Tech under 400 total yards? Thanks as always for your expertise responses.

Eric Hansen: John, good here. And no apologies necessary. That's what makes sports fun. It's only a matter of time before I'm way off on a prediction. ... Georgia Tech adds another good running back this week to the mix, in Jordan Mason, who missed the last four games and allowed freshman Jahmyr Gibbs to emerge. The key to limiting Georgia Tech's offense is pressuring freshman QB Jeff Sims. He's elusive, so he doesn't get sacked that much, but he is prone to mistakes under pressure. The last two teams, Clemson and BC, held the Yellow Jackets under 400 yards in total offense. Clemson held them way under (204). I think ND's defense is elite and will rise to the occasion. The Irish just need to stay out of a negative-turnover game in which Tech gets extra possessions, like its win over Louisville.

Jacob from Hobart, Ind.: Any news on Braden Lenzy's injury? Any chance he can play in the Clemson game? Who has to step up if he and Kevin Austin are out?

Eric Hansen: Tyler James reported on this Monday, that Lenzy is going to get all the time he needs to get that hamstring healthy, even though he wants to grind through it. So I wouldn't expect to see him this week and maybe not for Clemson, either. But keep in mind, ND has some other big games in November (and December) in which he could make an impact, mainly road games at Boston College and North Carolina.

Justin from Home of Philly Special: Why is Jordan Johnson not on the field? Big-time programs find a way to get their most talented players on the field, and ours is sitting on scout team. With Braden Lenzy and Kevin Austin out, you need to find a playmaker who can stretch the field. While Brian Kelly has shown the ability to beat less-talented teams consistently, he has only beaten a superior opponent (Oklahoma) once.

Eric Hansen: Justin, I'm going to disagree with you that Brian Kelly has beaten a superior team only once. It probably seems like that at times, but I can give you a lot of other examples. Quite frankly, it takes away from the question you really wanted to ask. ... Let me start with the news that will make you less frustrated, perhaps. During player interviews Tuesday night, Ian Book offered that Jordan had been elevated from the scout team and was practicing with the "varsity" Tuesday and making some "amazing catches." That doesn't mean it will translate to games or that he'll get that chance, but that's an important step.

How did he get on the outside looking in? Athletically, Johnson was impressive this summer. Off the field, he was not. At ND, both of those things need to be achieved for playing time. Once JJ made strides in those areas, other people had moved ahead of him. Because of no spring, a weird summer, condensed fall camp, a run of injuries and infections in the WR group, and the nine-day late September/early October pause in practices, Book's chemistry with the receivers wasn't as crisp as it could have been. So the reaction was to skinny down the rotation and hone in on the guys who the staff trusted the most. So it was the back burner for Johnson.

So fast forward to after the Pitt game on Saturday night. I asked Brian Kelly specifically about Jordan Johnson, given Braden Lenzy's and Kevin Austin's injuries. In the moment, his team just scored 45 points on the No. 7 defense in the country, and he dismissed that notion. But I think given time to think about it after watching the film, he decided to revisit the thought of using JJ, even if it might be in a limited capacity. So it sounds like Johnson is at least getting a chance to prove himself in practice this week. My hope is to give you all an update Thursday after Kelly's Zoom with the media. But keep one thing in mind, we don't know how good Jordan Johnson is. I think it's reasonable to try to find out this week.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif: Not looking past Georgia Tech. Pitt game showed some progress. To a certain extent do you think Rees’ play-calling is conditioned by knowing he has a great defense at his back? Time of possession is nice, but figure at least 30 points will be required to beat Clemson. Or is it a question of keeping under wraps what this offense can really do until Nov. 7?

Eric Hansen: Bill, play-calling is definitely affected by your defense. In 2012, Brian Kelly rarely took chances on fourth down or even third and long, because he knew his defense would get him the ball back. It's also affected by how you want to play, and Brian Kelly mentioned Monday, ND has slowed the tempo down because it wants to be multiple in formations and personnel groups. And no, other than maybe a left-handed play here or there, ND is trying to hone what it does well, not hide it.

Scott from Jonesborough, Tenn.: In the 2022 class, there are three tight end verbal commits, none that appear to be stellar. What do you think the logic is?

Eric Hansen: Scott, there are three commits in the 2022 class, but only one of them is a tight end. That one, Jack Nickel is a three-star prospect who figures to get a ratings bump once evaluations aren't so limited by COVID-19. Don't get too caught up in early ratings. Another Georgia product, Kyle Hamilton, was a three-star prospect when he committed to ND.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sorry to sign off without wishing you the best and please stay safe. Shih Tzu puppy has mind of her own. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Sending you and the puppy the same.

Phil from Foster City, Calif.: In your opinion have we ever seen in the Brian Kelly Era an ND defense that plays as many guys for as many high-leverage, meaningful minutes as this 2020 Irish squad does? I just looked at the two-deep announced for Georgia Tech and normalized it against what I saw during the Pitt beatdown. It seems Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Kyle Hamilton and Shaun Crawford are on the field for most every snap. (Great idea!) But the crazy thing against Pitt — even during the first half — is there appeared to be 19 other guys cycling through the remaining eight positions on the field. We had 10 different guys cycling through the four D-line positions! No wonder we are tough to run against. Your thoughts? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: We've seen a lot of rotation in the defensive line the past few years, ever since Mike Elston re-took that position group over, but the deep linebacker rotation is new. And they're rotating corners more than I can ever remember (though some of that is related to players coming back from COVID). I do think the depth is a big plus, because it's quality depth.

Will from New York:Any faith that Lawrence Keys will make an impact this year? Last year he flashed, and I figured he was gonna have a much bigger role.

Eric Hansen: He's just getting back from a concussion, and this was his first week of meaningful practice reps in a while, so over the next few weeks — if he can stay healthy — we should get that answer. I do think Avery Davis is playing well, and was doing so at the start of the season when both were healthy.

Robb from Delaplane, Va: What do you make of Brian Kelly's new approach of not worrying so much about not looking ahead to big games and coaching the team to not only win but to win in a punishing way even it means the final score gets run up? The approach of acknowledging that to win a championship we have to look good, too, when doing it, reminds of the Ara and Lou years when we simply took it to the opposition regardless of who they were or what ranking they brought into the game. And in turn, we were feared — not the other way around — in the run-up to the game and during the game itself. Or do I have it all wrong? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: I don't think you can do that with every team. But Brian thought this team had showed the maturity to be able to handle it. Look, kids are on social media all the time. They know what's coming up in a week and a half. Why not find a way to embrace that reality? I liked the approach, mainly because it worked.

Daniel Lamott from Indianapolis: Which under-the-radar position group do you see having the biggest impact on the remainder of the season?

Eric Hansen: Wide receivers. Wide receivers. Wide receivers.

Jake from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Hello Eric, it's no secret that Brian Kelly will always go to a low-ceiling upperclassman instead of extremely talented underclassmen, because he feels that secures his nine-, 10-win season each year and keeps his job. Have you gotten the sense at all that top rated recruits are starting to question ND on the notion that Brian Kelly will not give them an opportunity early to compete. I mean, after the generational developmental gaffe with Phil Jurkovec (who I believe will end up being at top 5 NFL draft pick), if I'm Tyler Buchner's dad (and I played Div. II Basketball so I'm very familiar with all of this), we are having daily discussions about the thought of decommitting from ND, who under Brian Kelly has been atrocious with QBs and get to a school that not only develops QBs but also gives younger, talented skill players the opportunity to compete for playing time. Thank you for your thoughts.

Eric Hansen: Jake, I guess it's not happy hour in Saratoga Springs? Based on the statements you made, none of which I agree with, I'm not sure if there's anything I can say that would even make a dent in your thinking. Let's just look at the first point. FRESHMAN Michael Mayer is the team's leading receiver. FRESHMEN Chris Tyree is the No. 2 running back. REDSHIRT FRESHMAN Kyren Williams in the starting running back. FRESHMAN cornerback Clarence Lewis has started two games. FRESHMAN Rylie Mills has played on a very, very deep and veteran defensive line. REDSHIRT FRESHMEN Marist Liufau and Jack Kiser have started games at linebacker. ... And we had Tyler Buchner as a guest on our podcast this week. He doesn't see the program through whatever distorted prism you're looking through.

ND Harvey from South Philly: E, Happy Halloween. Are you surprised by the play of Clarence Lewis? I’m not. Saw him play in high school and was very impressed. Also, will TaRiq Bracy play this week? Be Safe. Go Irish

Eric Hansen: Happy Halloween, Harvey. I didn't Clarence play in high school, so I was surprised. But I shouldn't have been. First-year ND cornerback coach Mike Mickens has a track record of getting college corners up to speed early in their careers (including his own playing career). And once I researched Clarence, it was easier to see why he rose up the depth chart so quickly and convincingly:

Mike from King of Prussia, Pa.: With all the playing time the second team got last week, why not use that time to develop the backup QB? I believe he threw one pass and then handed off for the balance of the game. If Book goes down, how is Clark supposed to be ready for Clemson?

Eric Hansen: Brendon Clark actually through three passes, up 42 points, and played 18 snaps. He gets 40 percent of the snaps in practice. The most important thing re Clemson is not Clark being ready, but that Book's ready for Clemson.

Bruce from Centralia, Ill.: Eric, there is a lot of fan support for Clark Lea as the next head coach. Would he be looking to go somewhere else for a few years to get head coaching experience? If so, what level of program would have a shot at hiring him? There is risk in going that way. He could not succeed, which would make him a less viable head coaching candidate when the ND job opens up. On the other hand, I understand his likely impatience to get his first crack at head coaching somewhere. Thanks as always.

Eric Hansen: Bruce, I think Clark is in a position to be picky. He's not going to take a dead-end job where he has limited resources or limited commitment to winning. Boston College made sense last offseason, and he was the runner-up for that job. I don't think he's impatient, but I think he thinks he's ready for the RIGHT opportunity.

Will from New York: I personally think the reason Jordan Johnson isn’t playing is because ND clearly don’t want him to play at all? Thought?

Eric Hansen: Wait, what?

Kevin from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Eric, if ND is 11-1 (splits with Clemson after losing ACC Championship), Georgia wins out and beats Alabama in the SEC title game; and Georgia, Bama, Clemson and ND all have one loss to strong opponents, who of the four is left out of the College Football Playoff if undefeated OSU already is in as the Big Ten champ?

Eric Hansen: Ohio State might not be automatic, ESPECIALLY if it wins the Big Ten title with a loss or if it misses even one game because of COVID. It's going to be a very difficult comparison for the committee even if OSU is 9-0 and the ACC teams have played 12 games. We're just going to have to let it play out for now.

Joe H Williams from Green Bay, Wis.: Hi Eric. Look forward to your chat each week. I was wondering what your thoughts are on one why hasn’t Houston Griffith made more of and impact and, two, why haven’t we seen more of Isaiah Foskey on the field, especially on passing situations? Thanks, and Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Houston Griffith continues to be a mystery to me. Great kid. Hard worker. Always has one of the best winters in the weight room. Usually starts spring on fire. He's playing the position that I think is his best fit. Really good athlete. I am scratching my head. Foskey's time is coming. He had more snaps than any other defensive end for the Irish against Pitt. Thanks Joe, for the kind words.

Adam from Dayton, Ohio: Eric, love your work and chats ... for years. You the man! Three questions. 1.) Ian Book has always been gutsy, an underrated athlete, and, at times, very accurate (but, with more inconsistency than you would want). He has never seemed to turn it loose down the field in ways that playoff-caliber QBs do though, but did so against Pitt. Is this a new mindset/potential for the offense, or just a one-off that we can't trust to see with any consistency? 2.) Besides Book and Michael Mayer, who is a a realistic offensive option that can athletically challenge Clemson to give the Irish a chance? 3.) Irish D is good, and we know that No. 6 (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah), and No. 14 (Kyle Hamilton) are truly special, but Clemson will still roll over a merely "good" defense. Is there any reason to legitimately believe the defense can actually put pressure on/slow down Clemson's offense? Thanks for all you do!

Eric Hansen: Adam, thank you. OK on question 1: I wondered the same thing myself about it being a new mentality/approach. It was great to see it. Now we need to see if it's sustainable. It needs to be. 2. A healthy Tommy Tremble, maybe Avery Davis, a healthy Braden Lenzy, Kyren Williams in the passing game, and Ben Skowronek may be able to convince me. 3. If the pass rush evolves, my answer is yes. Now none of that means I am predicting an ND win against Clemson or that this is a pick 'em game, but these are POSSIBLE pathways to victory for the Irish to pull an upset.

Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif..: Hi Eric, I really enjoyed your podcast interview with with Tyler Buchner. He seems like a sharp young man who just might have the wherewithal to possibly start next season if he gets in early as planned. That aside, my questions concern special teams. Is there any concern over punter Jay Bramlett's performance to date. He doesn't seem to be nearly as long or as consistent as he was last season? And why is it that ND seems to have so much difficulty finding someone who can both catch the ball and then do something with it when it comes to punt returning? No knock on Matt Salerno, who is dependable in securing a punt but he is not a bona fide threat to pick up valuable yardage so important in creating field position. Isn't it time the coaching staff finds someone who offers something more dynamic? I can't believe the Irish don't have someone who can do both.

Eric Hansen: Thanks Jim, for listening. We enjoyed having Tyler Buchner on the Pod of Gold podcast, too. He delayed eating his lunch for us. As for the punting, Jay Bramblett is actually up in both raw punting average (41.7 yards per punt from 39.6) and in the all-important net punting (39.4 from 37.7). He has only one touchback on 18 punts and four inside the 20. He's not yet an elite guy, so that's probably what is catching your eye. I do agree with the punt return philosophy. It is important to not turn the ball over, but you're giving away field position if all your going to do is catch it. Kevin Austin was just about to take that over when he got hurt. I think Lawrence Keys will get the job back soon, but he did muff a punt earlier this year.

Steve from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eric: Now that you have spent a couple weekends covering the Irish through TV, I am wondering if you are frustrated with the experience. I find it hard on TV to assess which personnel are in (especially on defense) and to focus on anything away from the ball. I miss the broader perspective. I start and stop my game feed to the point where my wife gives up on the "film session" and moves to HGTV. Can live TV viewing give you what you need to cover the game? Guessing you have to supplement that experience with stat lines.

Eric Hansen: Steve, you are inside my head. I'm not frustrated, because we're living in a time when we all need to adjust and be happy we have college football at all. But it's difficult doing the things you mentioned — seeing personnel rotations, coverage downfield, sideline stuff. I miss that. We do have live stats, but we have those in the stadiums as well. I am glad I will be in the stadium for Clemson for a number of reasons.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, did Greg from Oakland move to Saratoga Springs?

Eric Hansen: I'm going to pretend I don't understand that question.

Lawrence from San Diego: Looks like Georgia Tech can get diced by the run. Where do you see opportunities to attack them in the passing game, and how does that fit with the development we are looking for in that area?

Eric Hansen: Their loss to BC was really weird in that one of the worst rushing teams in the country ran all over Tech and they labored in the passing game to the point Phil Jurkovec is now behind Ian Book in the national pass-efficiency rankings. The two teams that passed at will against Georgia Tech were UCF and Clemson. I think ND's ability to run well will open up opportunities in the passing game.

Chris from Albuquerque:Great chats. Any news good/bad coming for us soon in recruiting?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Chris. I think the most immediate concern is getting to the bottom of what happened with DE commitment David Abiara on the legal front. Other than that, I think ND has moved back into a position of positive momentum on the recruiting trail.

Ed from Golden, Colo.: Long-time reader, haven't been very active in the question department. Love the chats, especially your level-headed answers to most questions, and your great answers to some of the ridiculous questions. Loved Doug from Sunny Florida's comment, and your subsequent reply. Laughed hard at that. After Clemson, which game do you see as the toughest for the rest of the season, considering the talent of the opposing team, the game location, and the spot in the schedule? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Ed, thanks so much for the feedback and for jumping in with a question this week. North Carolina is really, really good offensively, so I'd put them as the next hardest game behind Clemson, plus it's on the road and with a short week. But the BC game, between Clemson and NC, is a trap game. BC isn't nearly as good as those other two teams, but we all know the dynamic in play there. The good news is BC's offensive line is one of the worst in the ACC at protecting its quarterback. An improving Wake Forest team (Dec. 12) may be a tougher out than if the Irish had played them on Sept. 26.

Steve from Grand Rapids: Eric: Forgot to give you the props your work deserves. Your commitment, patience and perspective are very appreciated. First time live listener, as the virus has forced my wife and I inside and home. It's awesome to sneak in my nightly reading during the day. Thanks for helping our spirits and speeding our recovery.

Eric Hansen: Steve, really appreciate it. Other than the games, this is my favorite work thing to do all week.

Irish Rob from Scranton, Pa.: Eric, I have been wondering if Clark Lea has a feel for how often "Wu" (Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah) needs to be in coverage vs. near the line of scrimmage? Before I plopped down to enjoy the Pitt thrashing, I got to wondering why he hadn't been as impactful, seemingly, as he was week 1. It seems to be a coverage vs. the LOS thing from what I can see, though he does impact both, of course. Is it opponent/formation specific, in terms of what his responsibilities are. And if so, what do you think his greatest usage will be vs. Clemson who has athletes all over the field?

Eric Hansen: Rob, it really is opponent/matchup specific and the ability to sometimes hide that intention pre-snap is valuable too. I think Clark has found a better balance with this than Brian VanGorder did with Jaylon Smith. As great as Jaylon was in coverage, there were missed opportunities to use him in pass-rush situations. I haven't studied Clemson's personnel in depth yet, because I really do take them one at a time. But knowing what they have in general, I'd say pass rush and making plays in the run game near the line of scrimmage is the more valuable asset in that game, even though he won't do that exclusively.

Don from Phoenix: Hope you are well. Haven't made a chat for a long time but read them all. Interesting to see Brian Kelly look forward. When watching the games, I see the performance coach on the sidelines and she is always one of the first to greet a player off the field after a good play. Do you think she had anything to do with the change in looking beyond the next game?

Eric Hansen: Don, I am well. Thanks for asking. Notre Dame is 38-6 since bringing Dr. Amber Selking on board as a consultant. Obviously, there are many other reasons for that run after the 4-8 season, but the players routinely cite Selking and how she's helped them individually. I'm not sure she figured into BK's decision to change his outlook re Clemson, but she does a lot to help the team.

Jay from Chicago: Hi Eric, a very important priority for any successful organization is succession planning. Do you know to what extent that the ND football/university administration prioritizes this? Obviously it is a very fluid situation with the rapid pace of coaching changes, etc., but I am curious whether any planning is done proactively or whether it is more of a reactive thing once a coach exits. I have a growing fear with the passage of every game that Clark Lea will be gone sooner rather than later. I just hope the excellent ND defense he has groomed does not go with him.

Eric Hansen: Clark is outstanding, no question. But there's not a weak link in that coaching staff right now, and I think Mike Elston would get first crack at defensive coordinator and would be very, very good. I think if they go outside, I'd look at Cincinnati's Marcus Freeman. As far as the philosophical part of succession planning, here is my exchange on that topic with athletic director Jack Swarbrick in August of 2019:

Q: I get asked this a lot, even though an end date for Brian Kelly here isn’t imminent: "Does Jack Swarbrick have a list in his desk in case Brian was abducted by aliens or whatever tomorrow?" Do you actually have a list in your desk if something happened to Brian unforeseen?

Swarbrick: "No. I’m very conscious about not having a list. And it goes back to what we talked about a minute ago — I think if you have that list and you start from that list, you get a little blinded by it.

"Listen, we track coaches all the time. We know who’s doing what. But if the aliens abducted Brian Kelly tomorrow, the first question we ask is: What does the program need right now?

"And depending upon what happened in the last six months or the next six months, that assessment really changes. And so (I need) to have the discipline to always have that perspective. At this point, to bring someone in to run this program, what does the program need?

"And it’ll take you to a short list that is almost self-defining."

Matt from Nappanee, Ind.: Eric. are you concerned at the lack of defensive sacks? Curious if the number of blitzes thus far have been low as well?

Eric Hansen: Not concerned, but that's an area that needs to show improvement this week and beyond.

Whitey from Alpha, N.J.: Hi Eric. Thanks for the holding these chats. Do you think we will see a few more two-back sets with both Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree on the field? Can't imagine either could be covered by a linebacker. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: It really depends on matchups and how you want to leverage that. Do you gain more than you lose bringing a second back onto the field and taking off a second tight end or third wide receiver? If you can get Tyree or Kyren isolated in a bad matchup on a pass play, I could see sprinkling some of that in.

Larry from Terre Haute, Ind.: Slightly different question: ABC last Saturday had "fan" noise so loud that it was hard to hear the announcers. Hope they do better this Saturday Talked to other ND fans and they agree. It was terrible.

Eric Hansen: Mike Golic Sr. is going to do the color commentary, so I trust him to talk over the noise.

Andy from San Antonio, Texas: Eric, Happy Wednesday from South Texas! Should C'Bo Flemister be the No. 2 back behind Kryen Williams? All the backs have been very impressive this year, but I think C'Bo has been more productive (or maybe powerful is the right word) with his carries. Best regards. Looking forward to the Clemson Chat next week!!

Eric Hansen: Andy, Happy everything to you. You seem like a happy person in general. That's awesome. I think there are situations where C'Bo makes sense, but Tyree can hit the home runs with this speed that C'Bo can't. And the Irish don't have an abundance of that on their roster right now. So I think there's a role for both.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric, wanted to get your perspective on whether teams seem to be running up the score in this season where many teams have a shorter season and thus a condensed résumé that could influence the polls and playoff selection committee. Evidence to support my concern would be Ohio State's final TD and some weird timeout stuff/field goal at the end of the Oklahoma game (admittedly a short list of examples). Coaches are giving the reason that players need the reps. Is this a concern, especially with the Pac-12 coming online?

Eric Hansen: The Pac-12 is going to have an incredibly difficult time getting the playoff committee's attention playing only seven games, and they know it. Rearding running up the score, the committee watches the games and does deep dives into these teams. They're not going to be fooled by a stray TD here or there.

John from Chicago: What are your thoughts on where the Irish go with Javon McKinley? It's pretty clear he will never be a dynamic weapon in the passing game, but I'm hesitant to take him off the field given he's been a beast blocking on the outside.

Eric Hansen: I think there's a role for him, but he needs to get more consistent when it comes to making contested catches. If Braden Lenzy is ever 100 percent and able to become a consistent deep threat, Ben Skowronek could move to the boundary receiver, which would squeeze McKinley's playing time. Javon's got an open window right now to prove he can be consistent.

Will Vandiver from Seattle: Eric, I heard the podcast with Tyler Buchner the other night. He was incredibly poised and sounds ready for Heisman interviews — or the broadcast booth. Does his poise at this stage remind you of any previous Irish QB, and does it portend good things?

Eric Hansen: He reminds me of Dayne Crist from a personality/maturity standpoint. And that's a high compliment as far as I'm concerned. I think mental/emotional maturity does matter when it comes to handling the Notre Dame experience.

Cory from Connecticut: Hi Eric, thanks as always for these! I asked last week and you didn't have time, so I'll make this real quick: Could you fill me and others in on why Brian Kelly always chooses to receive the kickoff first? It seems like most other coaches (especially the ones that win a lot) kick first. Kicking seems like the more advantageous strategy, and I even saw an article saying that the number of coaches in the NFL that kick first has gone up quite a bit in the last 10 years. Stay safe and thanks again!

Eric Hansen: Cory, I get asked this question every year and have done some deeper dives on it that I did between chats. I don't have time to look up my old research today and not slow the flow down. It really comes down to how your team is constructed and how likely it is you can score on your opening drive if you receive. Brian Kelly's numbers when ND scores first and leads at halftime are much higher than his overall winning percentage, so he's got numbers in his favor.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you’re keeping safe with the numbers going up in Indiana. I heard a well-known wide receiver say that getting separation is more about route-running than pure speed. Better route-running seems like it would have a lot to do with coaching. Do you agree? And is there something that can be done in the short term to coach up the wide receivers prior to the Clemson game? Also, do you see Avery Davis getting more targets? He seems to be the wide receiver with the best ability to gain yards after catching the ball. As always, thanks for hosting the chat.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. I wish we could buy you a beer in Atlanta this weekend. Maybe post-COVID. I think both qualities help, but you're right about route-running. And I've always wondered about Del Alexander's ability to teach it. I don't have a definitive answer, but I know Mike Denbrock was very good at teaching it. I think Avery Davis has played himself into a position to get more opportunities, yes.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Eric, I am not a fan of allowing the Big Ten and other late-joining teams being included in the playoff picture. To me it is like joining a Marathon Race at the 10-mile mark. Less distance to travel, less wear and tear, less chance for that "bad day". I understand that those players had nothing to do with the decision to start late and they shouldn't be punished. I just think things should be on an even playing field. This has nothing to do with the possibility of team like Ohio State keeping ND out of the playoffs. ... OK, maybe it does just a little. Your thoughts. Here's a good sign: the Dodgers last World Series Championship was 1988 just like Notre Dame's. Maybe this year can be our year too. Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: The game differential thing is going to be an intriguing/weird aspect I can't wait to see how the Playoff committee handles. And the reason is because in the past they made such a statement about the 13th "data point" vs. teams that played 12 games. Do they grade on a COVID curve? I think with nine conferences games, the Big Ten probably has earned some of that. But I say no to the Pac-12 and its seven games.

GB from Wasilla, Alaska: Eric, ND upped the passing game against Pitt but accuracy still seemed to be an issue. One of the other SBT columnists said this, "Certainly chemistry with Book is a huge factor at wide receiver, and the challenge in introducing new options is that an unwieldy rotation doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that." What do you think?. Why aren’t we talking about Rees’ role in QB development since he has been QB coach? Why aren’t we talking about Alexander in his development of receivers?

Eric Hansen: GB, actually that was me who wrote that, so I'll be happy to agree with myself on that point. I do think it's a fair point to wonder about Alexander and the wide receivers. In fact, I just did a couple of questions ago.

Bob: From Rochester, N.Y.: Jafar Armstrong looked extremely tentative last week. Any perspective on why he looks like a shell of his 2018 form?

Eric Hansen: Some athletes have a tough time mentally coming back from a certain injury. He has NEVER looked the same since coming back from the abdominal injury. Doesn't look like the same player.

Eric Hansen: OK, I've run out of time, but not great questions. I will continue to work on my typing speed (actually it's more a matter of thinking speed). Thanks for being part of the chat. We'll be back to do it all over again next week — Clemson Week — Wednesday at noon EST.

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