Chat Transcript: Talking grad transfer QBs, playoff hypotheticals, Notre Dame unsung heroes

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Manipulated Bye Week Edition. A reminder: PLEASE include your name and hometown with your question. Without further blather ...

Travis from Manhattan, Kan.: Thank you for the time you put into the chats. The transcripts are always a fun read for me every week. Who do you think are the three best and three worst hires of the Brian Kelly Era and why?

Eric Hansen: Travis, thanks. Off the top of my head, the top three would be Mike Elston, Harry Hiestand and Clark Lea. The "why" will have to wait for another day, but they've all helped transform the program in multiple and various ways. And they're all reasons why Notre Dame has a chance to play for a national title this season, even though Hiestand is no longer on the staff. I'll change three worst, to "three bad fits." It goes down easier for me to label it as such. That group would be Brian VanGorder, Charley Molnar and Tom Hinton.

Lorne, Class of '78, from Carson City: Thanks for the chats and coverage. You're the best. Favorite play this week was Kyren's ankle-breaker. It looks like Clarence Lewis' emergence and TaRiq Bracy's struggles mean that there's a clear first and second string now. If so, what is TaRiq's role going forward? Next man in and breathers?

Eric Hansen: Lorne, I have a feeling you were a big fan of the Bonanza TV show growing up? ... I think there's plenty of ways TaRiq can help this team. He did play a handful of snaps against Syracuse. He's such a good athlete. He needs to get his confidence back. There may be matchups, situations in which you want to play three corners. Certainly depth is an area where he can help in case someone gets injured. Special teams. And especially against the receivers ND is going to see in its next 2-3 games, playing 70 snaps isn't ideal for Lewis.

Jude from Watertown, N.Y.: I learned this week that Ian Book took three courses last semester as "non-degree seeking student." They were all in the Irish Studies department. Is it more typical nowadays for fifth-year players to be taking "non-degree" classes or working toward their master's? I feel like we have no visibility on this anymore.

Eric Hansen: Jude, that's something I might be able to get into more depth on with Brian Kelly and/or Jack Swarbrick in the offseason. I don't think what Book is doing is uncommon, but it's not universal either. There are players who really want to get a master's degree, like Cody Riggs. Drue Tranquill used his fifth year to lighten his load academically and use that time for postgame recovery/therapy. So there are a lot of different paths available.

Denis from Niagara Falls, Ontario: Hi Eric! What would you rather see in reference to ND having the greater chance of winning a national championship? ND defence on their own 5-yard line, fourth down, three seconds left. Or the ND offence on opponent's 5-yard line, fourth down, three seconds left. Would you rather have it in Clark Lea's hands or Tommy Rees'.  Thanks a lot. Also enjoyed very much your podcasts with Tony Dungy and former ND lineman Bob Morton. He was was especially thoughtful and well-spoken.

Eric Hansen: Hi Denis. I'll remind our readers in the U.S. that Denis is spelling offense and defense as is commonplace to do so in Canada. Notre Dame's defense/defence has been better statistically all year, so I'll go with Clark Lea's defense/defence. And thanks for listening and for the feedback on the podcasts.

Jordan from Nashville: Hi Eric, can you comment on the multiple people and layers involved in pulling this season off, never mind the Irish's success on the field? This was a team that was supposed to start the season overseas against Navy in August and is now looking at playing in a conference championship game. So much has gone right for ND this season on and off the field, but it certainly seems like the administration and athletic department had a solid plan in place to allow its players to succeed. Looking at some of the programs in the Big Ten, for example, it seems that some of their programs have sputtered to get out of the gate due to COVID issues and a shortened schedule. Perhaps a topic for the end of the season retrospective, but I would love to read a column about this in the SBT!

Eric Hansen: Jordan, it's a great idea and one I plan to do after the season, so I can talk to everyone involved. You're right. The more people I talk to, the more intricate the plan appears to be.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you are doing well and staying safe. With the news of Brendon Clark's knee issues, and the potential for chronic knee problems, it seems ND will need to at least seriously consider the transfer portal for another QB. Who do you see as possibilities?  Does it have to be a grad transfer?  With the rules  likely changing and no longer requiring sitting out a year, would an undergrad be considered? And, if so, who might be a possibility? Do you think someone like Grayson McCall could be a good fit at ND?  Thanks for hosting the chats, always look forward to them even more so this year.

Eric Hansen: Great question, Marie. I think it will become a little more clear once the postseason evaluation is done on Clark's knee and a recovery path is in place. Even in the best-case scenario with regard to Clark's knee, I think ND should and will keep an eye on the transfer portal. That doesn't mean they should act on it, but they need to be prepared for every eventuality, and they will. A case in point was Nick McCloud. ND was in contact in January, but the Irish didn't move on him until May, when the need went from a possibility to an absolute and the scholarship numbers aligned for ND to take another player.

The staff will also want to evaluate the readiness of Tyler Buchner and Drew Pyne. So unless Clark's knee is really iffy, I wouldn't expect ND to move on a grad transfer until after spring (and that's assuming spring practice will be somewhat normal this year). If it's not normal, a summer grad transfer would make even more sense. Grayson McCall is a fabulous player, but he's a redshirt freshman. I think Notre Dame would like only to commit to one year of a transfer QB. They're very high on Buchner.

Even with the new changes coming in transfer rules, underclassmen transfers are very difficult for Notre Dame to deal with because so often credits don't transfer cleanly. With grad transfers, there's not that issue, because they already have their degrees.

Austin Boss from Austin, Texas: If ND wins the national championship, what is the percentage likelihood Brian Kelly walks away before the 2021 season starts?

Eric Hansen: Probably the same percentage that I could go on The Voice and win it.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric. With only Top 5 teams ahead of the Irish this season, another victory for Book, while possible, will be very difficult. How ironic then that the one game that put Book at 30 wins versus the other three with 29 came as a result of Brandon Winbush being injured and not able to play. Or, that BK made the move to Book in 2018 when he did and not one week later!! Just sayin'....  Now for a question: Who do you think are some unsung heroes for this year's team? Guys like Jack Kiser, or Jayson Ademilola, or Brock Wright, who have not gotten the headlines but made a real contribution doing the important little things. I might even consider Michael Vinson, who stepped in as the long snapper this year. Thanks and be well and stay safe. Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, thanks, and you be well and safe, too. Wow, there are so many beyond those you named. A few more that come to mind: C'Bo Flemister, DJ Brown, Howard Cross, Rylie Mills and, on special teams, Jordan Botelho.

Terry from Cincinnati: With Tommy Kraemer back in at right guard, who do you think the Irish will start at center against Clemson, assuming both Zeke Correll and Josh Lugg are equally healthy? And why?

Eric Hansen: If they're equally healthy, Correll gives ND the edge of having been practicing at the position since he stepped on campus. Lugg gives you size and more game experience. I'll go with Zeke Correll, though it's not an easy decision, because of his deeper insight into the center position.

Dwight from Arkansas: With next year being a sort of "open invitation" for a free year, I know the question of what seniors might return has been asked a great deal. I understand that J. Doerer has expressed an interest, but no other seniors. I totally get it that these guys are ready to move on. A few may have an NFL future, but most will go in other directions. I'm not sure that pro scouts are knocking at Javon McKinley's door, and not certain he will be drafted. He has had such a breakout season, might another year not help his pro prospects?

Eric Hansen: Dwight, I actually just finished a story (that will run on the web Saturday night and in print on Sunday) on ND's pro prospects. Interestingly, McKinley has a mid-round grade. So unless he doesn't work out well or runs poorly, he's going to get drafted. In talking to draft analysts, the one guy they thought might benefit coming back — among the 13 Irish players who would have had expiring eligibility — is nose guard Kurt Hinish.

ND Harvey from Philly: E, the season is FAR from over. Any update on how many fans will be able to attend the game in Charlotte? Also do the Irish have any interest former Temple QB Anthony Russo? Be Safe. Go Irish

Eric Hansen: Attendance will be capped at 5,240, and tickets will be available ONLY through the participating schools. ... Haven't gauged ND's interest in Russo and I doubt they have at this point, but the Irish coaches are really thorough in their potential grad transfer evaluations, even if they don't end up moving on them.

Frank from Missouri: Is there a time limit when ND football seniors have to notify the university if they want another year of eligibility under the NCAA edict? Doesn’t this affect recruiting?

Eric Hansen: Frank, a few things here. Those 13 players who would have had expiring eligibility don't count against the NCAA max of 85 (next year only). Second, every player does have to declare for the draft if they're interested this year. That likely will be in mid to late January, but the date hasn't been firmed up. The numbers that affect recruiting have to do with the players who have two or more years left under the new COVID rule. Some of them will have their degrees and choose to do a grad transfer. Brian Kelly said recently he has spoken to the entire roster as to whether they plan to continue at ND in 2021 or not. So they're good to go with their final recruiting numbers.

Kevin from Fort Wayne: Eric, going forward, do you think athletic directors for college football programs will no longer require scheduling games a decade in advance, given how sudden changes ( i.e., BYU vs. Coastal Carolina, etc.) have been pulled off in 2020?

Eric Hansen: Those last-minute changes are made possible this year, because there's not full stadiums, people buying plane tickets and making hotel reservations, and planning wedding around games. Once the pandemic subsides/ends and stadiums are full, it will be back to business as usual.

John from St Pete, Fla.: Hi Eric , thanks for your great coverage of Irish football. My gut tells me that the Irish under offensive coordinator Tommy Rees have been much better in the red zone this year. Love how Tommy Tremble is used. Do the numbers bear that out? Also do you think the O-line wins the Joe Moore Award, coolest trophy in all of college football? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: John, thank you. The Notre Dame offense has improved in a number of ways. Unfortunately, your gut lied to you about the red zone rate. ND was 10th nationally last year at 93%, and is 79th out of 127 FBS teams this year at 80%. Had Jarrett Patterson not gotten hurt, I would have expected ND to win the Joe Moore Award. This Clemson game will be pivotal as to whether that's still the case.

Charlie from Medellin, Colombia: Thanks for another year of great insight. Congrats on your prediction two years ago that this would be the year that ND would be most likely to compete for a national championship. Now for the question: If you were on the playoff committee, would you argue for or against the inclusion of Ohio State in the top 4, using all the criteria that the committee uses? Why?

Eric Hansen: Charlie, thanks on both counts. And even better, thanks for bringing it to my attention. As a AP voter, I've been ranking Ohio State all season and have the Buckeyes fourth this week. To me the bigger issue isn't whether they're Big Ten champs are not (and it appears they will be given the chance to play for the title), it's the number of games. And the difference between playing seven games and six is significant for me. Now would I leave them out of the playoff? It depends on a number of things — how OSU plays against Northwestern, what Texas A&M, Florida and Cincinnati all do. I'd even consider putting a two-loss Clemson team ahead of Ohio State. I'd let it play out, but for me the Buckeyes are on double-secret probation.

Jim from Berlin, Conn.: Eric, I hope you and your family are doing well as we head into the holidays. I have a question concerning the Irish attendance at their home games this season. I thought they were allowed about 15,000 fans per game, but I kept seeing attendance figures of about 10,000 each time. Why were there so few fans in the stadium each time when there could have been 5,000 more? I remember last season there were two games that were not sold out, which broke the team's decades-long streak of sellouts. Is there an underlying reason why fans haven't come out to cheer the team on when seats were available? Thanks for all your weekly chats. We all look forward to the latest observations each week on our favorite football team.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. The 15,525 figure was set as a cap, per health and safety protocols. Then ND set qualifications as to who could comprise that possible 15,525. It turned out to be students. faculty and staff, players' families, and a much smaller visiting team allotment than originally planned for. So if that group didn't fill out 15,525 seats — and it didn't — they weren't going to sell tickets to people outside the ND bubble to reach that number. There was some consideration at some point for doing it for the Syracuse game, when students were gone, but they decided against it. Believe me, it certainly wasn't because of lack of interest.

Matt from Rocket City, Ala.: I’m writing from Rocket City USA (formally known as Huntsville). Speaking of rockets, why doesn’t Brian Kelly use a more explosive punt returner? Matt Salerno is reliable and tough as nails, but he doesn’t pose a threat to take one to the house. Similarly, we gave up a lot of yards at North Carolina not fielding punts in the air. What’s the hesitation with putting a burner (i.e. Braden Lenzy) back there? Thanks for all you do for us fans!

Eric Hansen: Matt, thank you. I've asked myself the same question. And I would have asked Brian Kelly by this time if we had a little larger allotment of questions, as we do in a non-pandemic season. They did have Lawrence Keys back there to start the season. And if Kyren Williams hadn't blossomed into such a star at running back, I think he'd have gotten a shot. Bottom line, I will ask the question at some point, because I'm curious too and see the same things you see.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: No question from me. I’d like to apologize for doubting you and Mr. Book when earlier in the year you said that he could still develop as the season progressed. I thought it was nice of you, however, didn’t think you were correct. Mistake on my part. Book deserves a ton of credit. He’s a model citizen and a fun guy to watch. He should go down as an all-time great at ND. Good call, Eric. You nailed it! I shall never doubt you again!

Eric Hansen: Alex, please feel free to doubt me, but thanks for the no-doubting offer. There was no certainty that Book was going to improve this year, but I felt the circumstances holding back the passing game were eventually going to dissipate. I also felt Ian had worked so hard and seemed to have all the qualities to get better (like mental toughness, etc.), that I was willing to push my chips in on him. I also felt Tommy Rees being the coordinator weighed in Book's favor.

Bill from Thousand Oaks, Calif.: If Clark Lea leaves ND, how will it impact recruiting, Clemson, and playoff preparations? Don’t want to stand in the man’s way, but timing couldn’t be worse! Thanks for the chats Eric, and the work you put into them. Please stay safe!! Any Clemson predictions?? Go Irish!!

Eric Hansen: Bill, I'll leave my score prediction to next week, when I've done a little more research, know a little more about the ND O-line situation and get a good read on Brian Kelly's mood on Monday. ... As to Clark Lea, he could coach in the playoff/bowl game even if he gets the Vandy job. I don't think it will affect recruiting. Ohio State and Alabama go through this with their assistants all the time and find a way to survive. ND will too if it happens.

Robb from Delaplane, Va.: Picture ND winning big and an amazing performance from Ian Book against Clemson. Could he be the biggest ND surprise winner of the Heisman Trophy since John Huarte?

Eric Hansen: I don't think so, because the Heisman Trophy is such a numbers thing, and he doesn't have the freaky passing numbers. I'm not saying that's right. I'm saying that's reality. However, I do think he'd go from being a sixth-place finisher to perhaps third in your scenario.

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: I am not saying coach Kelly doesn’t come back if they win the national championship, but as far as The Voice competition odds go, I think you are forgetting about how far sex appeal can carry a contestant!!!!

Eric Hansen: Alex, thank you, thank you, thank you.  ... But is it happy hour in Jackson, Mo.?

Alex from Jackson, Mo.: Nope! In a work meeting!! Wish it was!!

Eric Hansen: You and me both.

James from Columbus, Ohio: Hi Eric. Thank you for all the great content this season. How does covering the team this season (and all that comes with it) compare to others for you?

Eric Hansen: James, thanks. It's frustrating and exhilarating all at the same time. But more of the latter. I ran into Pete Sampson of The Athletic at the grocery store not too long ago — late at night. I think we were the only two customers in there. And of course, we talked football, but specifically covering the team. It's really difficult with the limited access to do an in-depth feature the right way and to get the depth in stories that I like. I can't ask all the questions I'm used to asking. It's hard to form relationships with new players and get them to trust you. Now flip it. I get a chance to cover history and tell that story. There will never be another season like this (I hope) or at least not for the next 100 years.

The stories this year, especially behind the scenes, are fascinating. And the uncertainty that surrounds us every day makes me grateful that not only do I get to wake up every day with plenty of reasons to smile, I get to do what I love to do.

Tom from Toronto: Hi Eric, Thank you for your continuing excellent work. A question, a comment and another question. Who got the game ball after the Syracuse win? It seems to me that one of ND's challenges is starting somewhat slowly after a couple of weeks off, or when the opponent seems to be outmatched. Doing that against Clemson might dig them into too deep of a hole to climb out of. Do you see that as an issue next week, and if so, what would be your recommendation to Brian Kelly on how best to handle this — coach to coach, so to speak? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Tom, Ian Book got the game ball after the Syracuse game. ... I'm not sure this team is built for strong starts, even when there's not a layoff involved. They've given up more points in the first quarters (54) than in the other three. You have two coordinators who are really good at kind of punching/counterpunching in the first quarter, then make great in-game adjustments in the second. Notre Dame's best quarter so far is the second, as the Irish are outscoring their opponents 141-35 in that frame. If Brian Kelly askes for my recommendation, there will be big welt on my back side from falling out of my chair. But I wouldn't show Clemson all my cards in the first quarter. I'd adjust my pressure, my defensive looks. And offensively, I'd break some of my tendencies in the second quarter.

Mike from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, I was wondering if you saw Kyle Hamilton's comments about playing in a conference this year and what your thoughts might be on the subject. As we have seen this year, playing in a conference is easier than ND's annual schedule. I have always thought that asking 18- to 22-year-olds to prepare for an option, spread, etc. offense from week to week while going to class and basically flying from coast to coast was a tough ask and try to win all games. Winning a title would be extremely difficult for any team under those conditions. Also, way too many dropped passes the last two games. Major area of improvement needed for the next three games. Thanks for the year-round great coverage! Go IRISH!

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks for the kind words. I did see his comments, because I was the one who asked him the question. I think his comments about more consistency in the types of offense he has seen makes sense. As much respect as I have for the Naval Academy, I don't think that needs to be an annual thing anymore. I think there's a payoff for playing a national schedule, though, and it's national recruiting. But here's the bottom line: Notre Dame isn't considering giving up its independence in football, so ...

Jim Tal fromValley Center, Calif.: Good day, Eric. In addition to your great print work, I really appreciate your efforts on the podcast and during question time with the coach. Speaking of which, what Brian Kelly has done over the last four years deserves to be recognized and saluted. The way he took a good, hard look at himself and readjusted has made all the difference in the world. And though he's destined to surpass Knute Rockne in wins and has achieved some other notable things that is getting him plenty of run, I still couldn't classify him any higher on the ND all-time coaching tree than fifth behind the Rock, Leahy, Parseghian and Holtz. Without a national championship to his credit, that's where he's destined to stay regardless of what else he may achieve. Do you agree that without going all the way, Kelly can never ascend any higher that where he currently sits. Thanks much.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks. We're going to do two podcasts this week, including one that's recruiting-oriented, so stay tuned. And thanks for listening. You ask a very good question but one that I haven't invested much time in thinking about, because my mind doesn't work that way. That doesn't lessen the validity of your question. So let me give it a go. I would say Brian Kelly is in a little bit different category than anyone else. But I agree the national title is an important consideration in ranking the coaches.

Dan from Vernon Hills Ill.: Eric … Really enjoy the chats. With Brendon Clark’s injury, is he still No. 2 or would Notre Dame go with Drew Pyne if they had to? Also, what are the main strengths of each? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Drew Pyne is No. 2 until further notice. I haven't seen enough of either one of them to go too in depth, but Clark leads well, is athletic, has good size and improvises well. Pyne is smaller, very cerebral, processes coverages and fronts very well. 

Tom from Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi Eric. As the postseason is here, will Braden Lenzy ever get back up to speed this year? It seems as if the time to get him going would have been against competition that gave him a chance at successful outcomes compared to elite competition that the Irish will be facing. Or is that hamstring still not where it should be? Also do the offensive and defensive coaches collaborate to attempt to minimize potential weaknesses?

Eric Hansen: Tom, he got 17 snaps against Syracuse, but didn't really get untracked. He's healthy now, so it's more about shaking the rust. You're not going to see him in large doses, but I still think he can make plays that would be impactful in a game. ... And yes, the offensive and defensive coaches absolutely collaborate.

Mike McFadden from Williamsport, Pa.: Good afternoon, Eric. First, I want to credit AD Jack Swarbrick for all he has done for UND, the school. I cannot disagree with anything he has done. He is always spot on. Do you agree? So, I noticed Ron Powlus' title on Saturday as assistant AD. Is Ron next in line for Jack's job, as you may see it, OR national search? I saw Ron play QB many times here in Williamsport, Pa. for Berwick High School. Main question Eric, is Brian Kelly seriously recruiting QB Ron Powlus III, as I have not heard anything new recently? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Mike, there are a lot of associate and assistant ADs at ND, more than I can count. I would imagine, though, with all the successful athletic directors in the FBS that have Notre Dame ties AND extensive experience, one of them would get the job ahead of someone with limited experience. QB Ron Powlus III has offers from Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Indiana State, Kentucky and Yale.

Kerry from Irving, Texas: Thank you for the content that you provide. I recently read an article (can't remember where, nor the author) that stated Matt Campbell only has an interest in either one of two college coaching positions: Ohio State and Notre Dame. Should Clark Lea be offered the Vanderbilt job and he accepts, plus Brian Kelly retires after winning a national championship, what is the likelihood that Notre Dame hires Matt Campbell? Would that be a hire to where Notre Dame is able to continue building on the success Brian Kelly has established?

Eric Hansen: Kerry, that's quite a hypothetical. But yes if those things happen, I think Matt Campbell would be worth a serious look. 

Kevin from Lake Geneva, Wis.: With all of the COVID-related cancellations, is there a plan for conference championship week or the two playoff weeks if a team has to drop out? Losing one of the final two would seem particularly difficult.

Eric Hansen: I believe if a playoff team had an outbreak, the semifinals and finals would be moved, not canceled.

Kim from Wichita, Kansas: Eric thanks for the wonderful chats. Is Zeke Correll going to be good to go on Dec. 19? Who will be the most impactful on defense and offense?

Eric Hansen: Kim, I'll know more about Zeke on Monday, but there's the expectation he will be healthy and available. Those ankle injuries sometimes are hard to gauge. Most impactful on defense vs. Clemson on the 19th? Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, but there better be a pass rusher not too far behind him in impact. Offensively, it's got to be the Irish offensive line.

Tom from Downers Grove, Ill.: Hi Eric. I've got a couple for you today. Do you see a similar situation where Notre Dame joins the ACC/or another conference if the COVID conditions are similar next year as they were this year? Also, which position groups/potential players do you see transferring out after this season? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: I don't anticipate we'll be in a pandemic next season, and more importantly neither does Dr. Fauci. But if there is, yes Notre Dame would try to do what it did this year and play a conference schedule. I don't think it's fair to project individual transfers. You can kind of guess by looking at the depth charts and who's coming in in the new recruiting class as to who might be in search of playing time elsewhere.

Billy G from Buffalo, N.Y.: Hi Eric from warm and sunny Buffalo. Hope your as excited as I am for our Irish to take on Clemson for round two. My question is this: Do you think the success of Ian Book these past three years will help in drawing a top-notch quarterback prospect to Sound Bend? I believe the last "big-name recruit" to commit to us was Jimmy Clausen. Why do you think the Irish haven't been able to attract the four- and five-star QBs? We have a national audience every week and play in front of sold-out crowds consistently. Maybe it's the weather, but what are your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: Hi Billy, the list of four-star QBs Kelly has signed include Andrew Hendrix, Malik Zaire, DeShone Kiser, Brandon Wimbush, Phil Jurkovec, Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner, and five-star Gunner Kiel. ... But to answer your question about Book's impact on recruiting, I think it will help Tommy Rees. His recruiting rhetoric doesn't have to be a promise or a projection anymore. He can show prospects a track record.

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