Chat Transcript: Dissecting Notre Dame's defense, its CFP standing and recruiting

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman greets players during Notre Dame football practice on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, at the Irish Athletics Center.

Eric Hansen: Greetings and welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, Navy Week Edition. PLEASE include your name and hometown along with your question. Let's get rolling.

Cheryl from Texas: Are the ND linebackers playing well enough to stop Navy’s massive running attack?

Eric Hansen: Hi Cheryl. It's been a couple of years since any of them have had to play a game against a triple-option team, but Drew White has been exceptional when facing it both in 2018 and 2019. I suspect JD Bertrand and Jack Kiser will be adept against it as well. Notre Dame playing so much nickel the past two weeks stressed the linebackers on running plays, because there was no rover on the field. ND might even play a fourth linebacker, something Marcus Freeman employed in a shutout of Navy in 2018 while he was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati.

Manny from San Pedro, Calif.: Eric!!!!!!!!!! As always, thank you for the chats. Even though I can’t attend live, the recaps make my Wednesday evenings! Love the questions and your in-depth answers!!! You are the best!! What is the fear of Drew Pyne transferring? The way Tyler Buchner runs seems to make him a huge injury risk, and I would hate to see us with no solid backup next year.

Eric Hansen: Manny!!!^%$#)(^^!! Thank you for being here and bringing the energy. Because of the change in transfer rules to no sitting out, I'm not sure there's such a thing as a silly or premature transfer question. Knowing how grounded Drew Pyne is and how confident he is in his abilities, though, I wouldn't see him leaning in that direction at this time. ... So here is how 2022 sets up: Jack Coan will be gone. You'll have Buchner, Pyne, Ron Powlus III, Steve Angeli and perhaps five-star Walker Howard. Buchner and Pyne will have sophomore eligibility (because of a 2020 redshirt for Pyne). The others will be true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

It makes sense for Pyne to stay and compete in the spring, and see where things fall. Even if he's No. 2, he's one play away from being No. 1. Now if one of the freshmen jump him on the depth chart, then maybe he ponders a transfer AFTER 2022. At that point he'd also have to weigh the value of an ND degree and waiting versus pondering a transfer until after getting it. All speculation, mind you. So much of rising to the top of the depth chart is timing. Tommy Rees is a great example of being able to do so in part because of injuries and suspensions.

Hansen:Analysis: First CFP rankings reveal puts No. 10 Notre Dame on a Peachy trajectory

Updated:Notre Dame football's depth chart for the Navy game

Dave from Ponte Vedra, Fla.: How amazing that the offense is now a strength while the defense is becoming a liability. I’m a long-time fan, and I don’t want to be a prisoner of the moment, but I simply cannot remember a game where the tackling was as pitiful as it was against UNC. I’d like to think the defense is progressing under the new coach, but I’m not sure that it is.

Eric Hansen: Dave, there's some validity to your angst and also an explanation that might mitigate some of it. 1. North Carolina is the most difficult offense ND will face this season, in my opinion — because of how balanced it is, because of Sam Howell's true dual threat, because an elite slot man (Josh Downs) almost forces you to play too much nickel with Kyle Hamilton out. With Hamilton available, ND could have played more base defense and been sounder against the run. (USC put ND in that same dilemma in the second half on Oct. 23).

I also think teams are exposing what ND doesn't do as well in the linebacking corps. I believe a Marist Liufau/Bertrand tag team would have been phenomenal at weakside linebacker. I think Bertrand is a more natural middle linebacker, and teams have exposed him in space a little more with some difficult matchups that Liufau could have handled. Not a knock on JD, just a reality. He's also playing too many snaps because of lack of depth (losing Simon as well as that position). ND also doesn't have a true rover. Not one with the skill set of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or even Drue Tranquill.

Injured rover Paul Moala did possess the more-varied skill set when healthy. He was lost for the season in the opener. Are there those types coming in 2022? I think Nolan Ziegler definitely fits at rover. Prince Kollie may eventually too. I think Jaylen Sneed could play any of the linebacker positions ... and early. There are answers in 2022 that don't exist this season.

Harold from Shreveport, La.: Eric, I've been a Notre Dame fan for 70 years, and I just wanted to thank you for all the great articles and the weekly chats. Hope you never have to cover another Independence Bowl. All the best.

Eric Hansen: Harold, I appreciate every SINGLE word of that, including the second-to-last line. There's some wonderful people in Shreveport, but the strengths of the city are in other areas besides putting on a bowl game. Thanks again.

Brian from Oceanside, N.Y.: How many five-stars do you expect us to get in this cycle, and what QB do you think we will get?

Eric Hansen: Brian, some of Notre Dame's current committed recruits could evolve into five-stars, because neither Rivals nor 247Sports has fully designated all of them yet. There will also be shifts in rankings. If the cycle ended today, Jaylen Sneed would be one and C.J. Williams would be within striking distance. As far as who ND is pursuing, S Xavier Nwankpa, DL Anthony Lucas, QB Walker Howard and DE Cyrus Moss are or likely will be five-stars by Rivals, 247 or both. I'd say ND has its best shot at Nwankpa and Howard, though no guarantee they'll get either. Now, ND is set up very well for multiple five-stars in the 2023 class as things are unfolding. ... And just my two cents, I think LB commit Joshua Burnham is way underrated, perhaps because he is playing quarterback (and very well) out of necessity this season. As far as QBs in the 2022 class, Steve Angeli is committed and the Irish are trying to add Howard. There are some elite targets in play in both 2023 and 2024.

Chad from Denver: Eric, another week, another great prediction! Do you have a psychic hotline gig on the side? In the past ND has had a Navy scout team of sorts to help the D prepare for Navy's offense.  Did this go away because of COVID or has ND been able to use this group to prepare for Navy? Do you see any more long runs in Jack's future? Thanks for these chats. It's always great to see your thoughts and the thoughts of others.

Eric Hansen: Chad, thank you. I definitely don't have a memory hotline, because I have no idea what I predicted that has you so fired up. But thanks anyway. Yes, Notre Dame has a group of walk-ons who focus on working on triple-option skills year 'round, specifically to give the Irish defense a realistic look to practice against for this game. (Cincinnati had one too under Freeman after they got whacked in the first meeting.) Chase Ketterer is the QB in that group, and Tom Noie will have a column about him and that group later this week. … More long runs in Jack Coan’s future? Well, I’m not sure even he would predict that. 

ND Bob: Eric, Love your work! I’m concerned about our outside pass rush ability beyond Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Isaiah Foskey. Anyone younger ones flash potential? Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Bob, can you add your hometown next time? Thanks. Jordan Botelho got 13 snaps against North Carolina and recorded a sack. With more snaps, I see more production from him. Kahanu Kia has some burst, but is undersized as a converted freshman linebacker. Alexander Ehrensberger, who's been battling injuries, has length and burst. ND has two defensive ends coming in this next recruiting class in Aiden Gobaira and Tyson Ford, and two 2023s who could both be five-stars, in Brenan Vernon and Keon Keeley.

Norris from Singer Island, Fla.: When within the opponent’s 10-yard line, and with Tyler Buchner, Kyren Williams, George Takacs, Michael Mayer’s (split), Kevin Austin/Deion Colzie (split) on the field, why not put a fast slot in motion from boundary side to field side, stretching the field horizontally, to create more play options and confusions for the defense?

Eric Hansen: Norris. I don't call the plays, just report on them. Tommy Rees is your man for suggestions on play-calling.

Wick from Estero, Fla.: Eric, love these chats. You do a great job covering Irish football. I noted with some surprise that coach Kelly was outwardly critical of his defensive coaches during his post-UNC game presser. Clearly, he was upset at so many players being out of position on big-chunk plays. In fact. NBC showed a sideline shot of him chewing out one of the defensive coaches after the Ty Chandler TD run. What is his dynamic with Marcus Freeman? Is it a good relationship or does Kelly really miss Clark Lea? Eric, how do you analyze the current state of the Irish defense?

Eric Hansen: Hi Wick. I hit the defensive analysis a little earlier in the chat, but there are still some good elements here I'd like to get to. I'm not sure I'd classify Kelly as critical as much as he was being honest. And how much credibility would he have with the media if he praised that performance? He did include himself in that analysis, about how the defense could play better. I think his relationship with Marcus Freeman is outstanding, but Kelly is demanding. Of his players. Of his coaches. Of himself. ... For more insight on the current state of the Irish defense, I'd suggest you listen to this week's Pod of Gold podcast with guest Rick Minter, a former ND defensive coordinator who's currently working for Clark Lea and who knows Marcus very well.

Chuck from Cleveland: Hi Eric. Your Wednesday Chats fill the void for me, as it is the only day without meaningful football or news. What a great bridge to upcoming sports weeks! I have abstained from the chats for a while, as I am happy — not sad or angry — about a mediocre Irish team going 7-1 at this point. My only question to you: Is Marcus Freeman playing the woeful three-man fronts, despite the gashing of yards because he has very little trust in his secondary? I must admit that I have grown frustrated with Clarence Lewis and TaRiq Bracy and on occasion, Griffith getting beat so often by quality receivers. Is his philosophy one of better to delay the drive and hope for something good vs. getting beat quickly via the pass? Who is our BEST cover corner? Thank you. Good to be back contributing to your epic episodes!

Eric Hansen: Thanks Chuck, from the city in which I was born. I know a lot of fans can't stand the three-man fronts. I get why. I think in 2022, you'll see those be more productive when employed. I think the problem is more what happens behind the three-man fronts. Notre Dame's misses in defensive backfield recruiting are showing up with Kyle Hamilton out. We've already discussed some of the shortcomings in the linebacker corps. The good news is all of those areas are trending positively in recruiting in the 2022 and 2023 cycles. You’re right about one of the corps philosophies. Keep the ball in front of you and don’t get beat over the top. Best cover corner is Cam Hart.

Larry from Millersville, Pa.: Eric, what did you think of the rankings by the playoff committee last night? I thought it was awful. However, with a lot of football games remaining on the schedule, I think the final rankings will be much better. Hopefully, we will win the rest of our games and play on Jan. 1.

Eric Hansen: Being a voter myself in the AP poll, I am careful not to criticize without offering my alternative and subjecting that to scrutiny. ... There were elements that I like about what the committee did — Mississippi State being ranked, for example, docking Oklahoma for its inconsistencies. I am stunned that NC State and Minnesota are ranked instead of some strong Group of Five schools such as Louisiana. I think ND at No. 10 is fair, though I have them at No. 8 in my AP poll. I can see the arguments for putting them at 10. The stunner is Cincinnati being too low. I also think Oregon is too high, given their struggles post-Ohio State, with a loss to Stanford (No. 64 in Sagarin) and a close call with Cal (No. 63). It's still early, so keep that in mind.

Doug from Sunny Florida: Eric, doesn't a 4-3 defense work better against the run?  Is there a reason the ND base defense wouldn't be a 4-3 against the triple option or is 3-4 better to allow the second level to read and react to the play?

Eric Hansen: It depends on who the personnel is and how the scheme works beyond the base alignment. Notre Dame was a 3-4 team in 2012 and was No. 11 in rushing defense nationally. The Irish were 16th last season in a 4-3. Those are the top two run defenses of the Kelly Era at ND. The top five rush defenses nationally in 2021 — Wisconsin, Georgia, UTSA, Alabama and Mississippi State — are all base 3-4. So there’s that. They’re also loaded with really good front-seven players.

Chafin from Newland, N.C.: Hey Eric, first off thank you for hosting these chats. You're the man! This is my first time writing in, but I am an avid reader. I am 26 and have been a ND fan my whole life, but I don't think I have ever been as excited for the future of this team as I am right now. It seems that recruiting is at the highest level it has been in my lifetime and this team is already full of young talent as well as having a veteran presence. My question is: Do you see ND being a legitimate title contender in '22 and/or '23 or do you believe we are still a little ways off from reclaiming the college football crown? Thank you again and Go Irish! Beat Navy!

Eric Hansen: Hi Chafin, and thanks for jumping into the question queue. Being that you are 26, you are right about the recruiting. If you were a tad older, you wouldn't have been able to say that about ND's recruiting, given the vintage Lou Holtz talent in the late '80s and early '90s. I think the window for Notre Dame to make its best run at a title under Kelly is about to open in 2022 and stay open thru 2024 (at least). There are some huge challenges in the 2022 and '23 schedules — Ohio State and Clemson both seasons; also BYU, USC and North Carolina in 2022. The 2024 opener is at Texas A&M. The recruiting must continue. Even then a title is not a probability, but an increasing possibility.

Notre Dame defensive end Isaiah Foskey (7) during the Notre Dame-USC game on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Mike from Lemont, Ill.: Eric, In your opinion, if you could pick one player on this year's team to come back another year, who would you choose? I think Kyle Hamilton would be the pick based on the lack of depth in the ND secondary, but for selfish reasons I'd want Kyren Williams. The guy is simply electric. In all of my years of watching ND football, I'd say he ranks up there with Tim Brown, Autry Denson, Ismail, Golden Tate and Julius Jones as guys you want to have the football in his hands. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting another year, especially opening in Columbus next year. He is the MVP of this year's team and the heartbeat. Hopefully, the boys finish 11-1 and win a New Year’s Six bowl game. Thanks for the chats. Cheers!

Eric Hansen: Hi Mike. You're right. I would pick Kyle Hamilton. But Hamilton and Kyren aren’t realistic returnees in my opinion. So let's focus on three standouts who realistically might be on the fence at the moment rather than players we're very or pretty sure would be in the draft. So for that, I'd offer C Jarrett Patterson, DE Isaiah Foskey and DT Jayson Ademilola. All really good players, so you have to also look at what's behind them on the depth chart. With Rylie Mills ascending and the other interior line depth, that eliminates Ademilola. So now it's Foskey and Patterson. I'd give Foskey the edge there, but Brian Kelly would love to have both back.

Jeff from Phoenix: Hey Eric. ND just had the second huge recruiting weekend in a row, and there are a lot of positive comments from those already committed and prospects. But, no new commitments. So, starting with the decision of Drayk Bowen (2023) tonight, do you think ND could get some momentum to close out the 2022 class this month and add a few more 2023s? Oh, how confident are you that Bowen will pick ND? Thanks!

Eric Hansen: Hi Jeff. Other than OG Billy Schrauth, I didn't expect the other 2022s who visited to be this month close to committing. And his decision timeline is perplexing. OT Aamil Wagner is set to announce next Thursday, and the lean seems to be Kentucky. S Xavier Nwankpa will announce on Dec. 8 and ND is very much in the running. I believe Bowen will pick ND tonight, which is a great pickup. The Irish are well-positioned in the 2023 class, but some kids want to take their time.

Sean from Greensboro, N.C.: Hope you did not fill up too much on Halloween candy. Two questions; is Marcus Freeman a great recruiter and a poor coach? I find the lack of adjustments and poor tackling inexcusable. Second, why do we have so much trouble in the red zone? Tommy Rees’ play-calling after the Bo Bauer interception was appalling. Stay safe, and thanks.

Eric Hansen: Sean, it sounds like you didn't get enough Halloween candy. I do think Marcus is a great recruiter, but come on, did you see the bowl game against Georgia last year or any of his last three Cincinnati teams play? If we're having this conversation in 2022 or 2023, I owe you an apology. The red zone possession to which you referred was appalling. But I think the red zone play-calling has improved overall.

Jim E from Canton, Ohio: Lifelong ND fan and 1969 ND grad. How do you explain the running yardage put up by Sam Howell?  He’s not super fast or super shifty, but he apparently is strong as a bull. Does ND need to spend more time on fundamental tackling drills?

Eric Hansen: OK, here's the scoop on Howell:  From UNC, he joined a group of only four FBS quarterbacks to ever have back-to-back games with 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards.

2007 - Chase Clement, Rice

2017 - Quinton Flowers, USF

2017 - Lamar Jackson, Louisville

2021 - Sam Howell, UNC

Here's more: Howell plays in the nation's No. 12 offense, at 482.8 yards a game, and one that is tremendously balanced — 29th in rush offense, 24th in pass offense, 13th in pass efficiency. So what do you try to take away as a defensive coordinator? You're almost always in a constant pass/rush dilemma. ... Howell AVERAGES, 74.2 yards a game rushing. That's third among FBS QBs and less than two yards from being No. 1. He averages just 14 fewer rushing yards a game than Kyren Williams.

ND spends time on tackling drills in practice, plenty of time. Granted, the tackling in the game made it look like they don't. But facing a difficult QB in a difficult-to-defend scheme with no Kyle Hamilton didn't help.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric. Hope you and the grandkids had a fun Halloween! Observations and questions: 1) Were you surprised that Logan Diggs went in for the goal-line plays early in the game instead of C'Bo Flemister? C'Bo has always been a hard runner and dependable. Surprising to me. 2) The Linebackers look like they are wearing down due to lack of depth. Linebackers are very important in the game plan against Navy — should we be concerned? Also, Marcus Freeman has played four linebackers against Navy in the past. If he goes to four linebackers on Saturday, who will the fourth one be? 3) Michael Mayer looked gassed against UNC. In the fourth quarter, he was caught on a holding call, which usually happens when a player is tired. He also got run over by a UNC linebacker he was trying to block. How can they get him some rest in the game?  Use a spread formation with multiple WR's??  Thanks for all of your great work to let us fans know what is really going on with ND football. Go Irish!!!  Oh, also way to go Braves!! World Champions!! Who saw that coming a couple of months ago?

Eric Hansen: Grandkids had a great one, though the 12-year-old's enthusiasm may be waning. He has braces, so his candy options are limited. And he went as himself, so creativity is not what it used to be. ... 1. C'Bo Flemister missed the first four games with an apparent suspension. He was left home another game (Va Tech) as a "coach's decision." Logan Diggs has taken advantage. He has the trust of the coaches and of the offensive line. 2. If ND goes with four linebackers, they could drop a safety down to the linebacker level for the fourth, or more likely, go with Jordan Botelho. 3. Mayer may be working his way back to his old self after taking time for his groin injury to heal. He's a hard guy to take off the field.

Steve from Chicago: Where do you think the Irish would be in the playoff rankings had they beaten Cincy in a close game? I am guessing fourth.

Eric Hansen: Wow, that's a great question. I'd say No. 4 instead of Oregon for this week only. Maybe 3. Their upcoming schedule wouldn't help them stay in the top 4 without some dominant performances. The committee would take into account Kyle Hamilton missing.

Gerry Labelle from Waltham, Quebec: Eric, hope you had a great weekend! College Football Playoff  poll seems irrational. Wake Forest, Oklahoma and Michigan ahead of ND. No. 1, who has Wake Forest beaten? No. 2 Michigan hasn't played a tough schedule other than Michigan State. No. 3 Oklahoma hasn't looked good for several weeks! And Alabama at No. 2 — really!! Alabama could have three losses and still be ranked in the top 10. I see a lot of bias here. Your thoughts!!

Eric Hansen: Hey Gerry, the order of those teams you mentioned on my ballot last week were: Oklahoma, ND, Michigan and Wake, for the record. I would say just because people disagree, doesn't mean the committee or I have bias. Sometimes voters/committees see things differently. I do think most of those will work itself out as the schedule plays out. Wake Forest doesn’t have a lot of quality wins, but the Demon Deacons did not struggle with Florida State and blew out Virginia. This week’s Wake-North Carolina game will be an interesting comparison point. Remember, those arguing for ND to be higher in the rankings have to defend close calls with Florida State and Toledo. And thanks, I did have a great (and very late) weekend.

Mike from Rochester NY: Hello, Eric, your article on last week’s game was published at 3:48 a.m.! That’s burning some midnight oil. Thanks for your dedication and for the fine article. Any insights on how an undefeated Cincinnati is ranked lower than one-loss Michigan and one-loss Oregon in the CFP rankings? How does Oregon even crack the top 10?

Eric Hansen: Mike, thanks. Coffee helps! I did the research for my top 25 and cast my vote AFTER THAT. Then I was a couch potato for Halloween. ... There are seven new committee members this year, and sometimes that turnover produces surprises. It's not just Cincinnati. There seems to be a real lack of respect for the Group of Five. Maybe it's warranted. Maybe it's not. It's not how I would vote. Cincinnati would definitely be in my top 4 (and is).

Bill from St Joe, Mich.: Eric, a request: I would suggest that when Navy comes on the field, that the student body and all our fans not boo the players. After all, many will be in positions in the very near future of putting their lives on the line to protect our country.

Eric Hansen: I have no control over that other than posting it here. I don't remember that happening, though. in the past, but may have not been paying attention. I get distracted by Navy's Bill The Goat mascot.

Marty from Sylvania Ohio. Thanks for your chats and great reporting on Irish Football. Can the Irish D get better at making adjustments and what would they be? Can they get there? Not having Hamilton is huge, and linebacker injuries also. Does anyone know if the Virginia game (Nov. 13) will be on the ACC Network?

Eric Hansen: Hi Marty, thank you. Virginia is a high-powered passing offense (actually No. 1 in total offense) but without the balance of North Carolina, and with a QB that might not be eager to run (with a rib injury). Getting Kyle Hamilton back for that game would be a game-changer. Without him, Notre Dame's offense is going to have to carry more of the load, against a defense that's 10th-worst in the FBS (121 out of 130 in total defense) and even worse against the run (124th). The kick time and network will be announced after this Saturday's games are finished. It's HIGHLY unlikely to be an ACC Network game.

Dan from Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hi Eric. Thanks again for hosting these chats. Is Kyle Hamilton definitely out for the Navy game? If so, can ND please do a better job of tackling and taking better angles to the runner? You ARE the best!

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Dan. Kyle Hamilton is definitely out this week. The triple-option offers completely different challenges than what ND faced against USC or North Carolina. Look for Drew White to be a force for the Irish this week.

Steve from Findlay, Ohio: Eric, with Ohio State s  poor performance against unranked Penn State (playoff committee ranking), do you see Notre Dame jumping them next week?

Eric Hansen: Steve, if that had been a factor, it would have happened THIS week. So the answer is no. With Nebraska, Purdue and two top 10 teams — Michigan State and Michigan — left, Ohio State controls its own destiny. Notre Dame does not.

Mark from St Louis: Morning Eric. Since the CFP committee has released its initial rankings, how does it feel to be that far off in what they see and you and your peers and the actual football coaches see? The AP poll and coaches poll means nothing. Since your rankings don't lead to jack or squat as far as the bowls, playoffs  Another question to you is why even submit a ballot. There's no point to it, as we should not have preseason or in-season rankings ‘til November, after there has been an established schedule. The CFP committee does it right, by waiting till two-thirds of the season has been played to see what teams are where.

Eric Hansen: The AP voters don't even agree with each other or the coaches, why would it be any different with the CFP? How does it feel? Normal. And why do those polls need to lead to something? I think the preseason and early-season polls generate some interest, debate and excitement. The CFP rankings serve a different function. What's wrong with having both? (I know you outlined that, I just don't agree with you).

Len from the Jersey Shore: Hello Eric. Thanks for hosting. I will use spell check this week to hopefully avoid last week’s spelling errors. Your article on defending Navy was well done. You answered defensive scheme questions for me already. As a follow-up, since linebackers and safeties will play such a big role this week, and considering the depth chart and player wear and tear, is there a new player who may see some action this week? I usually do not look down the road to see what other teams need to do and only care about ND winning, but after CFP poll, would you speculate — with this newly constituted  committee — if it is better for ND for Cincinnati to win out or lose one?

Eric Hansen: Hi Len. There are sometimes new players or players in new roles who do emerge in these Navy games. And since Navy and the Irish didn't play last year, that pool of candidates could be larger than we think. If I had to take a stab (which your question dictates), I'd say Jordan Botelho or Xavier Watts. ... I still think it's better for ND if Cincinnati wins out.

Matt from Los Angeles: Eric, the offensive line finally seems to be trending in the right direction, though certainly not as dominant as some of the previous units. When Blake Fisher comes back, do you see him and Joe Alt as the starting tackles (and who starts on the left)? If Fisher comes back this season, do you see either eating into Lugg's snaps? What is your way-too-early prediction for next year's starting O-line?  Last question (I promise): Watching Kyren Williams is downright fun, considering his toughness, patience, and body control in tight spaces. Who is your best pro comparison for him?  Thank you!

Eric Hansen: Matt, I would say Fisher will be the left tackle next year and Alt the right tackle. If Fisher came back this year, maybe it's reversed, and you kick Lugg inside to right guard. If Patterson comes back in 2022, he's the starting center, with Fisher and Alt the tackles. Lots of competition at the guards among Andrew Kristofic, Rocco Spindler, Tosh Baker and Michael Carmody. Zeke Correll or Kristofic would be the center if Patterson does not come back. Matt, I don't watch enough NFL (except playoffs) to give you an honest answer to the Kyren question. I work every Sunday on an analysis piece that runs Sunday night or Monday, and it involves a lot of research. So my NFL time is really limited. It's not for lack of interest.

Frank from Lakeside Park, Ky.: I believe Notre Dame settled for field goals three times with first and goal vs. USC and UNC. Why do they not go to the nation’s best tight end, Michael Mayer, in those situations? It is both disappointing and frustrating.Thanks for the great coverage.

Eric Hansen: I am surprised Michael Mayer doesn't have more TDs in the red zone, but some of that is defenses making it a priority to take him away. So, do you force the ball to him in coverage or pick another option? I get your frustration, though.

Bert from Windermere, Fla.. Hi Eric. I have two observations and would like your comments. The offensive line has improved in the last two games, but mainly in its pass protection. For the running game, they are not pushing or making openings. Kyren has done it by his will, grit and determination. The blocking by the receivers had been down by previous standards, but has improved. The defense is something else. They do not seem to be improving, and in the last two games when it has mattered, they have not been able to come up with stops. The tackling is poor and does not improve. Kelly is running out of excuses and “we must do a better job of coaching” is tiresome.

Eric Hansen: I've addressed some of these points earlier, but will touch on one of them here. There was very little continuity in defensive scheme going from Clark Lea to Marcus Freeman. There was plenty of that going from Mike Elko to Lea. That transition year to the new scheme, even though the players like it, is not necessarily easy on them. And then taking Hamilton out of the equation makes it harder.

Tim from  Pleasant Prairie, Wis.: Hi Eric. Several weeks ago, I read an article or saw a video (I forget which) discussing the history of the ND-USC rivalry. One former USC player mentioned the lousy visitors locker room at ND, and cold water in the showers, and having to stay in a "crappy little hotel in Michigan City" or something to that effect. That made me wonder: Knowing the schedule years in advance, why wouldn't USC have made reservations far ahead of time in a nice South Bend hotel? Do visiting teams not control their own hotel accommodations? Sounded weird to me.

Eric Hansen: Tim, this is WAY WAY out of my lane. It's something I'll have to ask about. None of the visiting teams have asked to stay at my house, which is my lane. I used to live near Michigan City in my first four years at the Trib. I do remember that being a pretty regular occurrence back then for visiting teams, in part because of the price-gouging and limited inventory in South Bend and in part not being in a hotel with a bunch of drunk and/or loud fans making noise all night. The South Bend area has many more hotels now than back then, so maybe this practice has changed.

Buddy from Oakland, Calif.: Eric, thanks for being a lifeline for those of us who live miles away from South Bend. I'm a guy who has lived and died with ND football every autumn Saturday since 1964, the beginning of the era of Ara. Coach Kelly's body of work since the 2017 reboot has been elite. The 2021 season is not over by any means, but this might be Kelly's most impressive coaching effort. With a rebuilt offense line, a transfer quarterback, new wideouts, a knee injury to his best player, and a new defensive coordinator he has found a way to win seven games. It hasn't been pretty. But now, as we enter November, I sense an Irish team that has found its identity and has become quite formidable. In many respects, I think they are more dangerous with Jack Coan at QB than Ian Book. I just have a really positive feeling about how this team has developed and where it might end up. Eric, do you agree this might be Coach Kelly's finest coaching job?

Eric Hansen: Hi Buddy, and thank you. I think it's been one of his more challenging coaching jobs, which is why Kelly loves this team so much — the way they've responded. I'll reserve judgment on "the best" until after the season ends.

Denny from Beaverton, Ore.: Hi Eric. It seems to me that as the season has progressed, the offense, despite its growing pains, has made very good improvement. The defense remains a concern to me.  They have played very well at times but lack consistency and a close-the-door mentality, from my perspective. The loss of Kyle Hamilton hurts, but DJ Brown is a very good player in his own right and the porousness of the defense in the last couple games is not due to him. How does Notre Dame compare statistically two-thirds of the way through the season defensively with other teams. In the past when I have asked a similar question, you usually give me a perspective that I have missed and I thank you for that.

Eric Hansen: Hi Denny. Here are the numbers for ND in the national defensive stats (out of 130). Rushing D: 48th. Pass-eff. D: 32nd. Total D: 76th. Scoring D: 59th. Sacks: 26th. Tackles for loss: 57th. Red zone D: 54th. 3rd-down D: 37th. Turnovers gained: 7th. Brown has graded out well, but he’s played within himself, which is a huge positive. But Hamilton has a skill set that allows a coordinator to do so many things you couldn’t normally do with a safety. Like put him one-on-one on David Bell (from Purdue). 

Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Eric, what is your opinion on why C'Bo Flemister is not receiving playing time? I am not criticizing the running backs who are playing, I am just curious as to why Flemister has completely fallen out of the rotation? Thank you,

Eric Hansen: Off the field stuff and others stepping up in his absence.

Joey G. from Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Eric! It’s Navy week! And I’m hoping it’s freshman week too! I’m hoping Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie can get significant reps and showcase their talents. Quite honestly, the starting wide receiver group has been a disappointment. not only this year, but the last few years. If ND wants to win a national championship in the next few years, they must get these guys meaningful reps. Do you think ND can keep waiting on recruits to solve this problem or should they be looking at the transfer portal? Alabama is now finding gems in the portal!

Eric Hansen: I think with Colzie, Styles, Thomas followed by Williams, Merriweather, Walker and how ND is trending in 2023, they're doing the right things in recruiting to make that move. The portal only if there's unexpected attrition.

Marie for Atlanta: Hi Eric, I hope you are having a great week. Has ND made any additional offers in the class of 2022 at WR? It seems depth could be an issue next year. If I am counting correctly, currently there are five active scholarship wide receivers (assuming Thomas is redshirting this year). I think we all assume Avery Davis won't come back for a sixth year. Everyone agrees Kevin Austin Jr. and Braden Lenzy should come back, but if Lenzy gets passed by Styles, he could possibly transfer for his last year. Joe Wilkins Jr. is a question mark with regard to his injury and may also want to transfer for more playing time. I know we have two solid commitments from Tobias Merriweather and C.J. Williams, but Amorion Walker put in print last week that he and his family will be deciding between ND and Michigan soon, so he is clearly not a lock. That makes next year’s numbers very low. Any other prospects on the horizon? How many decent WRs can you count on from the transfer portal? What happened with Xayvion Bradshaw? Thanks for all your great work and the recruiting info.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie. I think Wilkins is committed to returning. So the equation hinges on Austin and Lenzy. If they both leave, then scanning the portal makes some sense or adding receivers in the current cycle. If they both come back, the portal makes no sense. ND still would like to add a fourth receiver in this class but aren't pushing hard for anyone right now. Just kind of treading water. Keep in mind if ND continues to play multiple tight ends and multiple backs in their formations, they don't need as many wide receivers. So it's a delicate numbers game right now. Bradshaw is one of the prospects ND has remained in touch with and is "keeping warm," so to speak. Walker is a tricky part of this too. Whatever happens with him, I think ND would be smart to bring in a speedy slot type.

Tim from Vancouver, Wash.: As always, thanks Eric and Tyler. You guys have a way of comforting me (lol) for all my angst from being an Irish fan. Anyhow, my question is: Do you like our current bowl scenario? I don’t think we gain a lot by beating Wake in the Peach, but a loss, it would be like losing to Oregon State so many years ago.

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Tim. Wake doesn't have the curb appeal of say Michigan or Texas A&M, so I get your rationale there and agree with it. An 11-1 ND team likely could draw one of those teams I mentioned as the season players out. Without getting too many hypotheticals on the table right now, I think ND will be in a good position for a desirable matchup should the Irish win the rest of their regular-season games. I can get into greater detail in the coming weeks when their options are less plentiful.

Joe from Reno. As a new Grandpa whose granddaughter lives in the Valley of the Sun, I’m rooting for the Fiesta Bowl. Nothing better than sunshine and swimming pools in January. What are your thoughts?

Eric Hansen: It's likely the best Group of Five team ends up in the Fiesta, since the Peach had that last year (Cincinnati). So unless the committee fancies a rematch, I think the Peach is the more likely destination for an 11-1 ND team.

Mark from St Louis: The games themselves generate interest, debate and excitement. The polls are just talking heads.

Eric Hansen: They're for fans, too. Just not for you. If it bothers you that much, maybe you can stick your fingers in your ears when they start talking about them?

Greg in Chicago: DBs: Is it time to start letting some younger talent show what they can do?  Or too risky at this point. Want to get your perspective on balancing growth for the future with success today.  The youth movement train is rolling this season and our secondary hasn’t been shutting down or tacking well of late.

Eric Hansen: Greg, if there were better options, they'd be playing. They've tried to fast-track Xavier Watts, but his health has slowed that down. That says something about the recruiting and development in the back end, which should start to trend upward next season, even with Hamilton departing.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for this week. Thanks to Sarasota Mike for your message, and thanks for all the great questions. We'll be back to do it all over again next Wednesday at noon EST.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI