Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame QBs — short term and long, WRs, assistants and O-line
Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Virginia Tech Edition. I'll tolerate whining this week, but let's keep it in moderation and make sure there's a question that follows it. PLEASE remember to include your NAME and hometown.
Buckle up. Here we go.
Tom from Lansing, Mich.: Thanks for taking my question, Eric. Most of the blame for Notre Dame's loss last Saturday and disappointing offense this season has been placed on poor performance by the offensive line. Are they aware of this criticism and how are they handling it? And a comment: Watching other teams it seems as though our quarterbacks are much slower and less dynamic than peers at places like Arizona State, BYU, UCLA, etc. Why? And our plays seem slow in developing. Watching games I usually can tell by the way we line up what is coming. Aren't the coaches aware of this slowness and predictability? Thanks!
Eric Hansen: I've had a chance to speak with Josh Lugg and Cain Madden in recent weeks from the O-line. No scholarship offensive linemen were included in last night's player availability. Yes, they are aware of the criticism, or at least they suspect it. Lugg told me he turns off his social media during the season, and many of the other linemen do too, he said. He also said, "We don't need to have someone else tell us we're not playing well. We know." He and Madden both seemed to think they weren't that far away from seeing some tangible progress. I think most Notre Dame players come there with the idea there's going to be intense scrutiny. I can't speak for how the younger linemen are handling it.
I've watched some of the teams you've mentioned, and I don't think Tyler Buchner's footspeed is lacking compared to those other QBs. Jack Coan, yes. ... As far as predictability on offense, the O-line issues dictating additional protections are going to limit formations and the plays you can run out of those formations. Two things will help that — better offensive line play and a quarterback who has more escapability.
Steve F from Dallas/Fort Worth: Hi Erix. Last week I was told changes to the O-line could not be made. Now we have a guard rotation. Comments??? 😂
Eric Hansen: This will be the fourth week in a row in which Andrew Kristofic will be part of a guard rotation. A change was made at left tackle because one player had a concussion and another's still-healing ankle wasn't allowing him to play at a high level. So I'm confused about the point you're trying to make. Let me re-make my point, so it's clear. It's a gamble to make personnel changes in the offensive line outside of a bye week or bowl prep because of the nature of the position group. There's an investment you make at the start of the season in building consistency, cohesion and continuity. If, as a coach, you decide to make a personnel change, then you're forfeiting part of that initial investment. In rare cases, it's worth it. It's much easier to flip personnel in other position groups.
Don from Cincinnati, Ohio: What is Brian Kelly's career winning percentage (bowl games included) against ranked teams? I assume the winning percentage is less than 40%. His teams just can't seem to win the big games — although it is a lot to expect to beat Alabama (and Clemson during its heyday — which he did in 2020!).
Eric Hansen: Brian Kelly's record vs. Top 25 teams (ranked at the time of the meeting) is 1-1 this season, 23-22 at Notre Dame, 31-27 in his FBS coaching career.
Eric Hansen: As you might expect, there are scads of offensive line questions. I promise to address those, but I also want to mix in some other topics so we don't get too monotonous here. And I don't blame you for asking the O-line questions.
Larry from Millersville, Pa.: Eric, I don't have any questions or comments about players, coaches or the loss to Cincinnati. At this point, we all know what the strengths and weaknesses of the 2021 team are. I attended the game last week, and I felt like the game was being played on a neutral field. Everywhere I looked I could see a lot of red. Will Notre Dame ever look at its ticket prices, ticket office procedures, season ticket options? The stands should never be full of so many fans from the opposition. The athletic department has antagonized fans for at least a decade. A few years ago, they threw loyal season ticket holders under the bus. They manipulate ticket prices through StubHub. They made older fans very angry this year by switching to mobile tickets only without any advanced warning. I have caught them lying to me on several occasions. When I called about tickets to the Cincinnati game in August, they told me it was sold out, so I purchased tickets on StubHub. The seller was ND, at a price above face value.
(Part 2) In short, why were so many Cincinnati fans sitting in Notre Dame Stadium?
Eric Hansen: Larry, off the top, I'll let you know that while I can sympathize with your issues, I don't have much personal experience in purchasing Notre Dame football tickets. When I came to the South Bend Tribune in 1988, I was besieged by people who wanted and/or expected me to help them obtain tickets. I realized that if I wanted to have a life, I needed to shut that down right away. In the few instances I have made exceptions, about half of them I regretted. ... But I do think I can help give you clarity on some of your issues, at least.
Regarding digital tickets, I first wrote about those on May 18, so I think there was some warning. And last month I did a Q-and-A with AD Jack Swarbrick on the home football experience, in which Swarbrick mentioned there are all kinds of reconciliation booths. So if you don't have a smartphone or aren't adept at using it, you can go to any one of those and get a hard ticket. As far as the UC game "sellout," ND was trying to sell some three-game packages, so they originally set aside some UC tickets for that and stopped selling single-game tickets for that game. As the UC game got closer, they released the unsold tickets to be purchased for a single game.
As to why so many Cincinnati fans, the ND game might have been the biggest game in their history. It's less than a 5-hour drive. And ND Stadium is a bucket list destination for a lot of people. So the demand was there. Why was the supply? I can't answer that, and maybe it has something to do with the antagonization you mentioned. It could be some ND ticket holders are waiting to see how the large crowds play in terms of COVID cases before venturing to a game themselves. I have noticed the ND ticket office running specials, so I'd be on the lookout for those if you're still interested. If you feel they've lied to you, please be more specific.
Jake from Saratoga, N.Y.: Hi Eric, do you believe the use of the three QBs falls more on Tommy Rees or Brian Kelly? And regardless of that, wanted to know if you feel as though Tommy Rees is in a little over his head with play calling? I fear that last year’s success was more about how strong the O-line was and the running game that covered up the flaws in the offensive game plan. I think there will be a time when Rees is really good but don’t think he is anywhere near that at this point. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: It's interesting to me that Notre Dame has reached a level that losing to a top 10 team, that was favored, engenders so many big-picture questions. I actually think that's a good place to be. I can remember when those kinds of losses led to apathy. ... Jake to your question, we got into this topic in depth on our Pod of Gold podcast with 247Sports national director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. The fact that ND has played three quarterbacks isn't an issue for me, as long as you find the right one. The bigger question is this: Is the right one on the roster for 2022 and 2023?
Is Tommy Rees over his head in play-calling? I think by and large he does a good job. I think he's creative and works hard at getting better. The fair question is would it have been smart when Rees was elevated to that position (after 2019) with so little experience to have an experienced offensive mind also hired at that time to help groom Rees. I say yes to that concept, and there were able and willing candidates out there to do so. To be clear, I like what Rees' future looks like and how he's growing into it. But is there a cost in the present and the immediate future?
Jim from Terre Haute, Ind.: Hey, Eric. Hope you're doing well. With Jack Coan’s lack of mobility and the O-line struggles, wouldn’t we have more success with Drew Pyne in as the starter? He seems to have good mobility and pocket awareness, and also seemed to bring a little bit of a spark to the offense in both games he’s been on the field this year. I would love for him to get a shot as a starter against V-Tech.
Eric Hansen: Hi Jim. Hope you're doing well. I would be surprised if you didn't get your wish this week, and for the reasons you laid out so well.
Len from the Jersey Shore: Hello Eric. Thanks for hosting. I understand that it takes time for a line to gel, but during the Cincinnati game I saw blatantly simple concepts not used. On the screen pass that Jack Coan ended up throwing into the ground, Zeke Correll let his tackle pass him with no disguise at all. As you would expect, the tackle from Cincy smelled out the play. Not picking on Zeke. I can go on and on as I broke down many plays. Bad reach blocks, guards being run over by DT diverting running play to different gap, no communication on the Tyler Buchner pick. When the end delayed stunt around his tackle, our tackle, guard and back went with tackle and the looping ends up causing a pick. And very little push on run plays. I say somehow get through Virginia Tech, then redo the line during bye. I know this is drastic, but the errors in technique and communication are not improving enough. What do you say about the coaches’ willingness to do something that drastic? (Ditto QB situation). They need to find out who is ready to play. And when is TE Kevin Bauman back?
Eric Hansen: Hi Len. I'm not sure what your definition of drastic is regarding the quarterbacks. I think it's a matter of picking the one who gives you the best chance to win and getting him ready. I think that's what the coaching staff has in mind, based on Brian Kelly's comments both on Saturday and Monday. ... The bye week regading the offensive line is a balance between giving guys a break mentally and physically and making some fixes. ... The problems at tackle are mainly health. If you could get one of those four healthy for a stretch — Joe Alt, Michael Carmody, Tosh Baker (Blake Fisher's out long term) — you might start to see some progress there. At center, there's not a problem. Where you need to see most improvement is at the two guard spots and right tackle, but you've run out of tackle options.
So let's look at guard. The player most likely to take over for either Zeke Correll or Cain Madden is Andrew Kristofic. He's been rotating in the last three weeks — with a fourth week of that coming up. If you're going to make him a starter, the bye week would be the time to do so. John Dirksen and Rocco Spindler are the most viable other options. Perhaps you replace both guards. You can also double down on technique work, film work and you can make some schematic changes that better fit the personnel. ... Thank you for asking about Kevin Bauman. I had kind of put him on the back burner, thinking he was out for the season. In reality, the original prognosis for his return from injury was six weeks. I'll make sure to ask about him on Thursday.
Jim from Terre Haute, Ind.: Hey Eric. Thank you for taking all of our questions and your honest answers and opinions.
Eric Hansen: Thank you, Jim.
KJ from near the Channel Isles, Calif.: Scary day today, Eric. Your Cards against my Dodgers! Should be a good one. Re ND, do you think we’re going to see more of the freshman receivers going forward? Reliability seems an issue with some of our vets.
Eric Hansen: KJ, the way I look at that baseball game, the Cardinals are playing with house money. If the Dodgers clobber them, I can live with that. If not, look out, Giants. ... Yes, I do think Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie have earned the trust of the coaching staff and have thus earned more playing time. If Joe Wilkins' injury turns out to be long term, that opens the door even wider.
Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Glad you're here to hear and let the ND nation vent a little. I watched Kelly's postgame presser, and I think he'll name Drew Pyne as the starting QB — as I believe he should. With our O-line being as it is, Pyne, with his mobility and experience, at least knowledge of most if not all of the playbook, "gives ND the best chance to win.” With Jack Coan, the opposing defenses just tee off on him, because they know he can't run. And the O-line isn't good enough yet to protect him. Do you agree, and do you think Kelly sees it the same way? Thanks for ALL your great work … and patience with us!
Eric Hansen: Dan, thanks for your patience with me! I think you nailed the quarterback choice and the reasons why. I'm not sure what this will look like long term, but right now Pyne has the best blend of skills — and didn't wither in high-leverage situations — to be QB1 in October.
Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric. Tough week for everyone. I'm sure there will be enough comments about the O-line, so my only comment there is that insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What is going on with Jordan Botelho? He only played four snaps against UC while Alex Ehrensberger played 10. I thought JB was to be one of our difference-makers. Is he not assignment-correct? This is supposed to be a defense that lets players play freely. This sounds contradictory. Also, what do we have to do to win this week ? Finally, can you remember an ND team that needed the bye week any worse than this team?? Sure hope we can find some answers. Go Irish!!!!
Eric Hansen: Tom, sometimes with a situation like that, there's a minor injury or there's a schematic reason. I too was surprised and hope we get an answer on Botelho on Thursday's Zoom with Brian Kelly. ... To win at Virginia Tech, ND needs to get ahead early, win the turnover battle, play very good defense. I do think the bye comes at a good time. Great time, actually.
Matt from Los Angeles: You've been anointed head coach of the ND Football team and have absolute authority over all team decisions (players, coaches, philosophy, strategy, you name it). What changes (if any) are you making right now? What changes are you saving to implement at the bye week? Finally, if the season ended today and you had an entire offseason to implement your changes, what are you doing?
Eric Hansen: Matt, I'll try to condense my answer so it fits in the chat format. I'll use the word “prioritize” over making changes per se. No. 1, I'm doubling down on recruiting in the 2022 and 2023 classes. By doing so, I'm trying to avoid some of the same issues in the future. And No. 1 is landing that elite QB in the junior class, whether it be Nico Iamaleava or Dante Moore. I know ND is also looking to try to flip LSU five-star QB commit Walker Howard in the 2022 class. Go for it. For the O-line, I'd fly in Aaron Taylor and see if Quenton Nelson can come up while he's on the Colts’ IR list to get their feedback. No egos involved if you're coaching. Do you want to get better — or not? I'd fast-track linebacker Prince Kollie the best I can to keep from wearing down JD Bertrand. I'd also maybe have Jack Kiser split time evenly between the will and the rover positions. ... At the end of the season, I'd evaluate everything. And if changes needed to be made then, I'd make them — that includes coaching staff changes. But the season needs to play out.
Bill from Idaho Falls, Idaho: Has there been a team in recent history that you are aware of that made an appearance in the four teams selected to play for the National Championship that was as one-dimensional as the Irish are this year, particularly at the running game? As always, your well thought out and educated answers are appreciated.
Eric Hansen: Hi Bill, and thank you. I can give you that answer as it pertains to the teams that have reached the national championship game since 1998. I don't have the data handy on the playoff teams that lost in the semis. ... So here goes. Teams that reach the title game AND win championships are usually at least top 25-30 in four of five categories — if not all five. Those are rushing offense, rushing defense, pass efficiency, total defense, turnover margin. Of the 46 teams to reach the title game since 1998 (23 champs and 23 runners-up) there have been six teams ranked below 50th nationally in rush offense. Florida State 1999 is the worst at 83, but that's still 41 spots higher than where ND currently ranks.
Every bit as troubling is ND's plummeting pass-efficiency ranking. The Irish are 71st this week. Of the 46 championship game participants only one team reached that plateau with a PE rating of 45th nationally or below. That was the 2012 Notre Dame team (73rd).
Joe Vrabec from Long Island: Hi Eric. Good questions at the Kelly presser. His opinion about the bye week as not being useful for getting in some technical work — he wants to rest players — well I think Deion Colzie, Lorenzo Styles, Drew Pyne, the backup tight ends all need more work and practice, not less! And developing Rocco Spindler and Tosh Baker and Joe Alt and Andrew Kristofic (more Reps) could be accomplished by “ grinding” on the 2s and scout team. Kelly doesn’t want to “ grind “ the 1s, and I agree, but the others certainly need reps. What are Brian Polian and Jeff Quinn and Del Alexander gonna do for five days? Go to Vegas?
Eric Hansen: Thanks, Joe. Usually the coaches spend part of the bye week recruiting ... going to see players play in their high school games in person. … I like the concept of kind of splitting up the squad and working the younger guys.
Eamonn from Portland, Ore.: Eric! Always look forward to Wednesday. Thanks again for doing these chats and giving us fans valuable insight! I’m sure there are tons of questions this week. I’d like to throw one in the queue about Cincinnati’s fan base and impact on recruiting. From what I read, a loss doesn’t seem to really impact a recruit’s decision. But what about the visiting team occupying a large chunk of the home team’s stadium and almost making it a home game for them? How does that influence a recruit’s perception of the home team’s fan base? (Please note, I did not attend the game. I only saw what was on TV and read Desmond Ridder’s comments).
Eric Hansen: Hi Eamonn. Thanks for being part of the chats. I don't think it's a deal-breaker, and I suppose there are ways to spin it. I would imagine it beats having a stadium that's half full. The USC game (Oct. 23) is going to be the biggest recruiting weekend of the year. That’s especially true for the 2022 kids who are splitting hairs among some really good options. So, the stadium needs to be electric that night.
Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Thanks for the chats! I mean no disrespect to Zeke Correll, but his play has been subpar. It’s tough for me to imagine Rocco Spindler being that much worse to not get any playing time. Given ND recruited Spindler as the next Quenton Nelson, what’s the hesitation with giving him a shot? Does the instability at left tackle play into it? He’d at least have experience to his right with Jarrett Patterson. Won’t solve all the problems either, but why not give it a try? What’s the downside?
Eric Hansen: Tyler, as I've mentioned in some other questions: Chemistry, cohesion and continuity. ... Actually, that should be on a T-shirt or a collectible plate. If ND was going to go with Rocco, it would have been easier to commit to him out of the gate than making that switch now. I've been asked about him enough that I need to do some more digging. But it's clear that the coaching staff feels Kristofic is the best non-starting option among the interior guys at this point. ... You mentioned the "next Quenton Nelson." Quenton did not play as a true freshman. In fact, in 50 years of freshman eligibility, there have been a combined NINE starts by Notre Dame freshman offensive guards in those five decades. None of them at left guard. Tyler, I'm thinking the same way you are. Rocco is intriguing. I know he has a bright future, but you have to play the players who are least likely to make mistakes now.
Alex from Jackson, Mo.: With the possibility of a different starter this season, I have to wonder why it is so difficult for ND to get it right at the most important position? Jack Coan appears to have nervous feet due to the line’s play, and who could blame him? This appears to be a pattern of behavior mentally. Dayne Crist, Everett Golson, Brandon Wimbush, Ian Book not wanting to take shots downfield, and now Coan. Kelly is a good coach. No argument here. But he is the common denominator with all of them. Is he doing something to create a lack of confidence at the position? Any chance he ever realizes that pattern and does something, like after the 2016 season, to fix it? I honestly don’t know what that fix is, but he has to see it and realize it is keeping him from his ultimate goal.
Eric Hansen: Hi Alex. He wants to win more than he wants to be right. Even if ND makes it to a New Year's Six bowl, everything needs to be on the table in terms of evaluation after the season. Nick Saban has made changes when nothing was broken and it made him even more invincible. If BK wants to win a national title — and he does — then fixing things before they break needs to be part of that equation.
Tom from Grand Rapids thru Dowagiac: Eric, has the point come where a fire is/should be lit under the offensive coaches A$$e$? I know you have suggested that the mob going after O-line coach Jeff Quinn has been unfair. However, with the amount of time most of the starters have been in “his” system, the results are dismal. I saw Tim Prister’s article about the O-line, but what happened to the mantra of “next man up?” Also what happened to making practices so difficult that games are a walk in the park? Also, in your humble opinion, does No. 17 give ND the best chance to win?????
Eric Hansen: Hi Tom. What you see in a press conference and what reality is don't always sync up. The fire has been lit. ... Let me be clear on Jeff Quinn. My position earlier in the season was that we needed to give it time in order to give a fair evaluation. On top of that, I think there's a bias against Quinn, because he and Kelly had previously worked together and some perceived Quinn's hiring as doing a buddy a favor. I don't think that's fair. But after five weeks, I think Jeff Quinn has been put in a difficult situation that frankly he should be handling better. Does Jack Coan give ND the best chance to win? Not given his and the offensive line's limitations. No. Is he a good guy to have on your roster and under different circumstances would be more effective? I believe so.
Matt from Atlanta: Hey Eric, enjoy your podcasts, and you are very informative. My question is why is it that none of the reporters ask coach Kelly what I consider to be a key question, which is: Why do you think you are 3–10 against top 10 teams? Also curious as to why nobody questioned him about the scathing portion of his halftime speech showing on NBC where he tells the players that all of them will be evaluated. And if they don’t play up to the Notre Dame standard, they will not be playing? This seems pretty out of line to me, especially since it was clear the coaches did not have them ready to play, nor did the coaches make good in-game decisions such as when to put Drew Pyne in. I heard his comment that he would like a bronze outside the stadium, but he must realize what Holtz and Parseghian did against top 10 teams. While his 106 victories are impressive, his record against better-than-average teams is very unimpressive. I realize any reporter asking that question is going to encourage his wrath. I appreciate your comments.
Eric Hansen: Matt, thanks for the compliment and the question. Let's start with the halftime comments. The media in the stadium (in general) isn't watching that TV broadcast. We wouldn't know about it. Even if we did, how does questioning it provide valuable info for the reader? What if we don't agree that it's over the top? Over the years when the team loses a big game, people ask me why a certain question wasn't asked in a press conference. They already know the answer. It's just they think by asking the question, I would be shaming the coach into changing his behavior. Press conference questions don't work that way. Now you can write columns about those kinds of topics if you have a strong opinion about them.
The point is Brian Kelly has been asked about his record vs. top 10 teams. I've asked that question before. I know the answer. I'm not getting anything new. I've written EXTENSIVELY about that being one of the final stages of his evolution as a coach and how he gets there. I think if you ask the other people on here who are familiar with my work, I am not afraid of asking tough questions. But I try to do so with fairness and context so that I get the answer that helps bring clarity for the reader. It’s really that simple.
Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. I hope your week is looking up after the disappointing weekend. Why do our receivers have such a difficult time getting off the press coverage? Is this a technique/coaching issue? A very positive finish to this season would be in ND could get to a NY6 bowl and actually win the game. For that to happen, obviously, a lot of things need to improve. Did you see any improvements in the game on Saturday that will bode well for the rest of the year? Although the O-line is still a huge problem, I thought the pass protection was the best it had been so far this season. Not good, mind you, but better. Anything else you saw that will give the fans a glimmer of hope? Thanks for all your great insights.
Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. Thank you. One thing to keep in mind about Saturday's game. Cincinnati was and remains the No. 2 team nationally in pass-efficiency defense. Those two cornerbacks are elite. The next closest among remaining opponents in terms of PE defense are Stanford (30th) and Va Tech (34th). The rest are pretty poor: UNC (84th), USC (86th), Navy (88th), Virginia (101st), Georgia Tech (109th). Having said that, there needs to be better coaching in the WR position group, and this is a group I think is capable of being better than it is now — significantly. I think if ND gets strong quarterback play Saturday against a team with a VERY GOOD pass rush, it will help mitigate the O-Line issues as well. The defense needs to get back into the groove it was in against Wisconsin. It needs to carry this team while the offense grows. That’s the formula to make the most out of his season.
Robb from Manassas, Va.: I grew up watching Notre Dame football during the Era of Ara Parseghian. And the one thing I remember about Ara's teams is that he always wanted his quarterbacks' to have quick feet. Passing arm was important, but quick feet was the deciding factor as to who started. Only once in 11 years did he not have such a quarterback — Bill Zlock (1965) — but he still came within two quarters from being national champion (losing to Michigan State 12-3 after leading 3-0 at halftime). This is what I see missing with Jack Coan. He can't avoid the rush, or turn a broken play into positive yardage, or move around in the pocket buying time and waiting for a receiver to break free. I don't believe the problem is the offensive line. I see the problem being the need for mobility from the quarterback. If Kelly would just take a page from Ara, his quarterback decision is an easy one.
Eric Hansen: If I were coaching at Notre Dame, I'd take as many pages from Ara as I could get my hands on. I know BK had great respect for him. Every week until the very end, Ara would send Brian a hand-written note after every game.
Jim Tal from Valley Center, Calif.: Greetings, Eric — really enjoy the podcasts, by the way. Given the way things stand right now, I believe a 10-win regular season isn't likely to happen. Can you see any way that Kelly could possibly spin anything less than that as having been a successful year? Thanks, as always.
Eric Hansen: Jim, I don't think he'd want to spin 8-4, for instance, as successful. That's not the standard of where the program is. I still think 10 wins is realistic.
Sean from Portland, Ore.: I don't think there's any excuse for such poor O-line play. They recruit in the top 10 yearly, but are literally among the very worst in the whole country. With that being said, I feel like the obvious issues there are masking others: The play-calling has been subpar too. I.E.: First time in the red zone vs. Wisconsin, Notre Dame ran twice on first and second and goal from the 10. Wasted plays. Does Tommy Rees have a long leash with Brian Kelly?
Eric Hansen: Sean. I'm going to bypass your lead-in and just focus on your question. Long leash with play-calling, personnel? Yes, in a sense. Brian Kelly has a lot of confidence in Tommy, but he still has the Driver's Ed brake. … Long leash in terms of job security? I would say yes, but not an interminable one. No one has that. Not after 2016.
Tim from Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. Just a rant: Fellow Irish fans/chatters/bloggers/posters/amateur coaches: Please stop with the cries to hurry certain freshmen into the lineup at various positions. If they are ready to play, Kelly and staff will play them. They are the ones at practice every day. They know who can do whatever, and who can't. I know it's the nature of fandom to want quick fixes to complex problems and to want to see those young players develop quickly and to get them experience for the future, but Kelly has an obligation to his CURRENT players to make each season the best one possible for them, not to sacrifice this season, and their hard work, for the sake of next year's team and beyond. Thank you. GO IRISH!
Len from the Jersey Shore: Thanks for your answer to my previous question. I think we all agree another more-experienced, healthy tight end would be a great help, especially one who can get open and block as well as be part of two- and three-TE packages. We lost Joe Alt to tackle needs last week, so he was not available all game. A few healthy left tackle's and tight ends could help the running game and continuity everywhere. Just need to get past Virginia Tech and let the coaches figure it out. Defensive havoc becomes chaos when you are tired mentally and overthink, or tired physically. Ditto for the offense. This team, more than most years, needs that bye week.
Hank from Las Vegas: Good morning, Eric. I know I'm wasting my time, but here goes anyway. I was at the game Saturday and watched it again Sunday. Listening to Brian Kelly during both halftime and postgame interviews he showed his inability to place the blame squarely where it belongs. Mr. Kelly needs to take a good look in the mirror. The offensive line isn't a bunch of freshmen as he would like everyone to believe. There are two seniors, one junior and three sophomores to go along with a freshman left tackle. What they lack are the basic fundamentals and techniques needed to succeed. Whose fault is that? Jeff Quinn and Brian Kelly. Our starting receivers consist of three juniors and a senior, yet none of them except Avery Davis has the skills necessary to break press coverage. Yet Kelly goes out and says we need to give them a break, because they are working so hard running their routes. Maybe, just maybe, if (receivers coach) Del Alexander and Brian Kelly were teaching these players the techniques necessary to break press coverage, they wouldn't be working so hard.
Eric Hansen: OK that was the RANT segment. I'll let those stand on their own. Back to the questions. I've got to say, you all stepped up big this week. So many good ones in the queue, I'm going to go a little past 3 to try to get as many in as I can. Time to uptempo my typing. Please forgive the typos.
John from Des Moines, Iowa: Eric, thanks for your thoughtful attention to all our questions. It seems to me much of our offensive inadequacy is due to the ever-present, third-and-long situation, in large part created by almost predictable futile running attempts on early downs when a pass would have the benefit of encountering less defensive readiness and better chances for receivers to get open. Don't you believe it would help the offense if there were at least less predictability as to when a pass would be coming and less defensive expectation that the early down will likely be a running play?
Eric Hansen: I definitely think ND did a good job on first down at Florida State and has been less successful and innovative since. So, agreed.
Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi again, Eric! Sorry for the second question. Is there any chance of the ND-Virginia Tech game being broadcast on a national network other than the scheduled ACC Network? Does ND have a contractual obligation to have at least one game on the ACCN? What are the 90+% of the Irish fans nationwide supposed to do? Thanks again. I might need some Irish whiskey!
Eric Hansen: Dan, both this week's Virginia-Louisville game and Va Tech-ND games were given to the ACC Network by ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, to try to leverage the ACCN to get in more homes via cable/satellite agreements. So no, there will not be a change there. I'd start calling around to friends/bars. You might get lucky and find the game and the whiskey at the same location.
Bill from the Florida Keys: Any idea when we will know who Saturday's starting QB and left tackle will be? Thanks
Eric Hansen: Kelly said he won't announce the QB. If it's not Pyne, then we're all guessing wrong. I would expect Joe Alt to be the left tackle. If Michael Carmody and Tosh Baker are missing ANY practice time this week in trying to get back from injuries — and they likely are — it doesn't make sense to start them.
Josh from New York City: Is there a point in the season (three losses? four losses?) where the staff would seriously consider turning to Tyler Buchner as the full-time QB? I understand giving Pyne an opportunity based on his experience and knowledge of the offense while the team still has a chance to reach a New Year's Six Bowl (and they owe it to the upperclassmen to try to win as much as they can). But if the bigger question, as you put it, is whether the right QB is on the roster for 2022 and 2023, it seems based on reporting that the right QB would either be Buchner (if he pans out) or someone in high school right now. Of course, Pyne could prove that wrong, but there's a reason he couldn't beat out Coan. And Kelly was quick to point out his misreads in the Cincinnati game. If there are going to be growing pains, maybe it's best to have those with the person with the higher ceiling? Obviously, the staff knows better and will do what they think is best, but just curious if you see any scenario, absent injuries, where Buchner gets the starting job this year?
Eric Hansen: I think the only scenario in which Tyler Buchner becomes the starter THIS season outside of an injury scenario is if/when he proves in practice he's the better option. And he'll get that opportunity.
Matt from Nappanee: If Jarrett Patterson leaves for the NFL Draft this spring, what is the more difficult O-line rebuild: This year or next year?
Eric Hansen: This year. Lots of talent in the freshman and sophomore classes and a lot of those guys are getting valuable experience this year. How about a 2022 O-line of Blake Fisher, Rocco Spindler, Zeke Correll, Tosh Baker or Andrew Kristofic, Michael Carmody or Joe Alt?
Chad from Denver: Follow-up on another question in the chat: How does Brian Kelly's winning percentage compare to other ND coaches’ winning percentages against ranked opponents?
Eric Hansen: Don't have that handy. Will try to look that up for the future chats.
Sean from Portland, Ore.: In terms of blocking capabilities, did we have a big dropoff from last year to this year from our tight ends? Tommy Tremble is having a great start to his NFL career as a well-rounded tight end.
Eric Hansen: Huge dropoff.
James from Columbus: Hi Eric. Thank you for doing such excellent work during challenging times. Since it appears a QB change is in the works, can you provide some insight on Drew Pyne's strengths and weaknesses? How does his mobility help a struggling offensive line? Thanks and Go Irish!
Eric Hansen: Thanks, James. Cliffs Notes version: Pyne knows the playbook the best, reads coverages well for his experience level, has great energy and attitude and enough mobility that he's not a sitting duck for the pass rush. Weaknesses? Not recognizing all the reads yet properly, arm strength, size.
Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Eric, I respect your insights and opinion and share your love of BBQ. So, how can a guy with Coach Kelly’ s experience mishandle the QB situation and the offense so badly? A line that cannot block, wideouts who run poor routes and drop passes, and do not fight for congested balls. Is he tripping over his own hubris? Thanks.
Eric Hansen: The short answer is there are recruiting missteps and mishaps baked into that formula that have to be dealt with now. That's why it's very important that ND maintains and builds on the recruiting momentum it has in the 2022 and 2023 classes.
Kevin from Jacksonville, Fla.: Hello Eric. It has been obvious that Jack Coan is not a good fit in this year's offense from game 1. Not all his fault, but with the O-line not able to give the QBs any time, they need a playmaker who is mobile. This season is reminiscent of 2018, when Ian Book was better than Brandon Wimbush in every facet of the game and didn't start until game 4. I called for the change on this chat after game two, but my views were rejected for some reason. Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner are the future and ready to lead the Irish. I stated this in my comments last week, which you did not get to. ND has a very good, but not yet great team. Pyne should start. Too many drops, penalties, and turnovers last week. Yet, they were still in the game late. Also, why insert Buchner for one play, taking away all the momentum? That is a desperate coaching move by an average coach. My apologies to my TV for yelling those profanities after that rookie move. Stick with one QB — a future QB of which two are ready. BK is not Nick Saban, but can win with this team. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: Kevin, sorry you felt disrespected one year and ignored the next. There are so many more questions in the queue, especially on weeks like this, than I could ever dream of getting to. I try to answer those that won't delay the chat too long for me to look things up. Also if the questions are similar, I try to pick one that's representative of several. And those who don't include the name and hometown go to the back of the line in most cases. Nothing personal. And don't get mopey if I don't agree with you. That's not rejection. It's life. We don't always agree. That makes life — and sports — interesting.
Michael from Elkview, W.Va.: I'm glad on Monday there were questions asked to coach Kelly about Tommy Rees and Jeff Quinn. I am not in the business for coaches being fired, but I did not like the hiring of Rees. I thought Notre Dame needed a more-proven coordinator for the offense to take the next step. My question for today is it time for the wide receivers coach to be fired? They do not get open, and the receivers have struggled for three years now. Is it talent or coaching? Looking forward to Lorenzo Styles Jr. and Deion Colzie getting more playing time. Thanks.
Eric Hansen: I think other than the Brian VanGorder firing. I can't think of a circumstance, during the BK Era at least, in which a midseason firing at Notre Dame made sense. I think that's an evaluation you make after the season is over.
Christopher from Tulsa: Do you see a scenario where someone might come back instead of going into the draft because they can make an income off their NIL (name, image, likeness) now? Perhaps being able to make money, get your degree and live the college life might not be so bad. Thanks. Go Irish.
Eric Hansen: I think it's possible if there's a dire income need and it's a player who is a more marginal draft prospect. For elite draft prospects, there's still the risk of injury, and I don't think the NIL is enough to override that.
Tom from Georgia: Several players were suddenly made not available to the media on Tuesday. To what do you ascribe the switch to walk-on access?
Eric Hansen: It is my understanding Brian Kelly was trying to have a lighter moment with his team and had the team pick some players, who turned out to be walk-ons. Not sure that made sense for the players involved or the media. I felt bad for the players. People didn't know them or what to ask them. Not good for the program really. There were some good stories out there this week, and now there's a void and a lot of bad feelings. Not the end of the world, and it's our job to overcome things like that, but it just seems unnecessary and poorly thought out.
Mike from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, why does it take so long to get on the ball and call the next play? ND was down by 11, and they were taking their sweet time to call the play and go. Play clock was down below 10 seconds, and they were looking at the sideline. Do you think Kevin Austin comes back next year, considering how up and down he has been? Along with many other readers, I think you are fair, honest and refreshing. Thanks and Go IRISH!
Eric Hansen: Mike, I'm running out of time here, so let me answer part II. I don't think Kevin Austin is leaning toward coming back at this point, but he should strongly consider that if he wants to play in the NFL.
Eric Hansen: That's it. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon EDT.
Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI