Chat transcript: How does Notre Dame get more out of Chris Tyree, Prince Kollie and its receiving corps?
SOUTH BEND — ND Insider's Mike Berardino held his weekly Notre Dame football chat Tuesday afternoon. The following is the full transcript.
The Jet from Evansville: Why has Jacob Lacey entered the portal? Will he be a grad transfer?
Mike Berardino: Hey Jet, thanks for joining us today. Yes, Lacey plans to go the grad transfer route at semester's end. The sturdy defensive tackle's decision to take a redshirt season after playing in the first four games gives him two seasons of eligibility wherever he lands. Keep an eye on Michigan, where his former position coach (Mike Elston) now works, and Vanderbilt, where Lacey's first defensive coordinator (Clark Lea) is the head coach. As Marcus Freeman explained on his Thursday Zoom update, Lacey was part of an extremely deep defensive line unit, one that added Harvard grad transfer Chris Smith to the mix and has seen the recent emergence of Gabriel Rubio as well. It had to be frustrating for Lacey that his two-sack game in the win over Cal didn't entrench him in the rotation; Lacey's defensive snap count yo-yo'd from week to week through his first four games under this new defensive staff. He'll look for a new opportunity to build on his pro potential, and no one should hold that against him.
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Sean,Greensboro, N.C,: Thanks for the chats and insights. Why is our defense giving up so many big plays? My impression is that our linebackers are weak, and secondary is often confused as to their assignments.
Mike Berardino: Greensboro Sean. It's my pleasure. Explosive plays have become a topic/concern, especially with TaRiq Bracy banged up and Stanford QB Tanner McKee up next. Context is important here. Through five games, Notre Dame's defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 20-plus yards. That's tied for ninth-best out of 131 FBS programs. Move the search out to 30-plus yards, which has happened six times against Al Golden's defense, and the Irish are tied for 33rd with the likes of Alabama and Ohio State. Even at 40-plus yards, which has happened to Notre Dame four times (T63), you'll still see Jim Knowles' Buckeyes and reigning national champion Georgia among that group. Three times opponents have hit pass plays of 50-plus yards against the Irish (T92), but the same holds true against those same Buckeyes and unbeaten Syracuse (among others). It's only when you expand the search out to 60-plus yards (two times) that Notre Dame falls into the bottom 30 (T103) of the FBS.
I'm not saying explosive plays aren't a problem for this secondary, which regularly uses two freshmen (starter Ben Morrison and key reserve Jaden Mickey) in its five-man rotation. It would help greatly if Notre Dame got more pressure up front without having to gamble via blitzing DBs. That's been a component on several of those explosive pass plays, most recently on the 53-yard TD strike against BYU where Mickey again lost leverage and Brandon Joseph wasn't able to affect QB Jaren Hall on a blitz. As for the linebackers, keep in mind JD Bertrand, a skilled blitzer, has missed a full game over the past two contests due to targeting penalties.
Mike. Sacramento: A win is a win, we will take it but….. Rees took a huge step backwards after the NC game. I don’t know what’s more exciting watching paint dry or Rees offensive play calls. Run, run, pass to Mayer. Repeat, repeat, repeat, oh pass to Thomas. It is SO predictable. I can definitely see why we do not attract any explosive WR, can you imagine them watching that game. Defensively again we turn a blowout into a close game. Epps long touchdown with no DB within 10 yards, long 3rd down run inside the BYU 10 and the 20yd touchdown run untouched. Lots of work ahead, Rees better open things up/ be creative or he will be finding a new job. Need better LB play, DL doing great job but no LB plays at next level.
Mike Berardino: Sacramento Mike, hello. I'm not sure why you're unhappy with Tommy Rees after this one, especially when it comes to run/pass balance on first down. BYU caused a ton of early havoc with delayed blitzes from their linebackers. That's partly why you saw Notre Dame go run-pass-run-run on first down until opening things up on the third offensive series. Excluding kneel-downs, Notre Dame finished with a 19/11 run/pass ratio on first-down calls and Drew Pyne was 9 of 11 for 93 yards and his first interception in a month when passing on first down. That includes a Chris Tyree drop on a screen pass, a jet sweep to Lorenzo Styles (6 yards) and that underhand flip to Audric Estime (for 13 yards) after the Bulldozer whiffed on blitz pickup.
The last five first-down plays of each half were runs for the Irish offense, but clock management was part of the consideration. And you had to like that 11-play, 75-yard, 6:55 scoring march to open the second half. Pyne threw on first down four straight times, and the Irish have now opened the second half with a touchdown in all three of Pyne's starts. That had happened just once in the previous 12 games for Notre Dame.
Frank Lakeside Park, Ky.: Nice win vs BYU but there is still a lot to clean up,particularly our deep red zone offense.With so much focus on Mike Mayer can’t Rees scheme up something for the other TE’s down there? Or just go to big Mike, but not on a screen! A lot of points were squandered.
Mike Berardino: Kentucky Frank, thanks for checking in. I broke down some of the red-zone issues in the notebook I filed on Monday afternoon at NDInsider.com, and I agree they were alarming. After scoring touchdowns on 10 of its first 12 trips into the red zone this season, Notre Dame went 1 for 4 against BYU, settling for chip-shot field goals after reaching the Cougars’ 8- and 2-yard-lines. An Estime plunge also was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the 4 midway through the second quarter. The Irish fell from a tie for 10th nationally (83 percent) to 46th after the BYU game dropped their touchdown-conversion rate to 69 percent. And that doesn't even count the failed two-point try (high pass off Mayer's hands) or the deflected pick Pyne threw on first down from the plus-26. Rees refers to red zone trips as four-point plays, and you're right; the Irish left at least 15 points on the field against BYU in those situations. Notre Dame wins comfortably with better output in that congested area.
Sean, Portland Ore: I believe Tyree was the highest rated running back recruit ND has had in a very long time, and may be the fastest guy on the roster. It also appears to my amateur eyes that he is not really as natural of a RB as Estime, or even Diggs... in terms of being patient at the right times, having field vision, timing the opening of a hole through the line, etc. Is there something holding him back? Should he get more run in the slot? How else can the team maximize his potential?
Mike Berardino: Portland Sean, how are you? Vegas was a definite disappointment for Tyree. After 19 touches for 104 yards at UNC, 80 of those yards coming on the ground, Tyree had the aforementioned drop on a screen pass that had big-play potential and managed just 40 total yards on 13 touches. That's barely 3 yards a pop for a player with far more than just speed going for him. As Rees said last Tuesday, Tyree "is a strong kid. Pound for pound, you ask coach (Matt) Balis, he might be as strong as anybody on our team." Rees said he had a conversation with Tyree after the Marshall game in which the challenge was to do more. Rees praised Tyree for his response in the wins over Cal and UNC, but even so the issue of untapped potential looms. "He can do pretty much anything he wants on a football field," Rees said. "We’ve got to find ways to continue to feature him."
According to Pro Football Focus, Tyree had 29 offensive snaps against BYU, the same number as Estime and three more than Logan Diggs. For Tyree that included four snaps where he lined up in the slot and two more where he was out wide. Now that Pyne has found his touch in terms of ball placement and leading his receivers on the shallow cross, you could see more usage of Tyree in that regard. Jet sweeps, bubble screens, anything that gets the ball in Tyree's hands while he's on the move sounds like a good idea to me. Running him between the tackles is much further down the list.
Steven from Athens, Ga.: Yo M.C. Mike! Thanks for the chats as always, and thanks for the 40-watt tag last week it's one of my favorite spots. While I will never ever ever walk back a statement I make in these chats, I will admit that MAYBE I was a little quick to judge Freeman. The team looks better every week. Hiestand is still a wizard and one of the best. My question is why do we not see Tyree in the slot more? With 2 other good backs, I think this is a great way to get him on the field.
Mike Berardino: 40 Watt! Appreciate your designation as well, although I prefer Mix Master Mike for obvious reasons. We just talked about Tyree and the best way to use him, but one other thing I might add is the importance of route precision. Just one of 14 receptions (on 15 targets) has come at a route depth of more than 9 yards. He has just 33 yards after catch on six grabs beyond the line of scrimmage. For a guy wearing the Rocket's old jersey number, that 5.5 YAC average should be so much better.
Sue Ko, Hollidaysburg, Pa.: When can Irish fans expect to see Prince Kollie’s role be expanded? Don’t know what others think but speed doesn’t seem to be his problem.
Mike Berardino: Altoona Sue, welcome! The talented sophomore has only been out there for 18 combined defensive snaps the past two games, but he already has a tackle for loss (when the back slipped at UNC) and his first career sack (of BYU's Jaren Hall near the sideline). Marcus Freeman said he challenged Kollie last week to become a "great practice player" in order to get more chances on Saturdays. "There is no such thing as a 'gamer,' " he told Kollie, a reference in all sports to players who turn it on when it matters most but don't always perform in practice. The sooner Kollie starts to dominate during the week, the sooner you'll see him out there for more snaps on Saturdays. It was also interesting to hear Freeman mention Marist Liufau as "a guy that we need to play better." Because the Irish only use two linebackers so frequently, the idea of "a little competition," as Freeman put it Monday, to determine the starters seemed like a thinly veiled way to put Liufau on alert. He had just two tackles and missed another against BYU while easily leading the linebackers with 37 defensive snaps.
Rusty Irish: I am curious to your opinion on the Jason Garrett\Jac Collingsworth pairing. I have a definite opinion but am curious to see what yours is? Also, any perspective on why the BYU players targeting call was overturned allowing him to play while JD Bertrands appeal wasn't even though there was clear video evidence he made contact with the shoulder and not the head? Seems to be some clear bias on that one.
Mike Berardino: Yo, Rusty. I haven't listened closely enough to NBC's new ND broadcast team to form a strong opinion either way, but from what I've heard I'd say the energy is good and their chemistry is still developing. It is distracting, however, just how much Jac sounds like his dad. There's not much he can do about that, but in the long tradition of sports broadcasting families (Buck, Caray, Brennaman, Albert et al), I can't recall two voices that were both as distinctive and nearly indistinguishable as the Collinsworths.
As for the targeting review process, you got me there. It seems as shadowy and inscrutable as what goes into the original call itself. At least this time it didn't make a difference in the outcome of the game. Bertrand had five tackles in the two quarters he was allowed to play and his team won. Cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally had three tackles, including a touchdown-saving stop of Estime on his 46-yard rumble, but the Cougars still lost. Karma?
Domer Ed, Montgomery Al via Dowagiac: Lots of improvement from the Marshall debacle- do you think lack of 2nd half consistency on defense is fueling the lack of respect in the polls? The offense has really come around Estime in the run game and our newest stud receiver Jayden Thomas.
Mike Berardino: Domer Ed, welcome! I hear what you're saying about those second-half breakdowns, but style points aren't supposed to matter in the national rankings. Do they? Perhaps. As a rookie voter in the AP Top 25, all I can tell you is I moved Notre Dame back up to No. 18 after it beat a BYU team I had at No. 15 the week before. Plus, the Irish gain a little more credibility with Game 4 victim UNC's strong outings the past two weeks in wins over Virginia Tech and Miami (on the road). The esteemed math wizard Jeff Sagarin has the Irish 14th in his computer rankings for USA Today, due in part to the nation's fifth-toughest schedule thus far. Sagarin also has Ohio State No. 1, but 2-loss Marshall's collapse to 81st in the computer rankings has been a head-scratcher after what seemed like a program-defining moment at Notre Dame Stadium.
Bert from Windermere: Can you explain what “trust” means at ND. I do not hear other coaches using the term. MF has said he wants to establish the run to give us third and short and open the passing game. If we eliminate the two long runs our runners averaged 3.9, 3.1 and 2.9 y per carry. Is this enough? Lastlly, any thoughts on why we don’t do well on one or two yards third or fourth down plays.
Mike Berardino: Windy Bert, hello! First time I recall hearing a coach emphasize the concept of "trust" so regularly was when I was writing columns about Erik Spoelstra's Miami Heat at the start of LeBron James' "college years." I see nothing wrong with Freeman using that term, publicly or privately. It helped the "Super Friends" Heat reach four straight NBA Finals and win two of them, and it's a vital part of the program culture Freeman is building at Notre Dame. As for the short-yardage issues, we touched on that a little earlier. No doubt the loss of Kevin Bauman, the team's best blocking tight end, to a season-ending ACL tear was a big setback. Freshman Eli Raridon and former walk-on Davis Sherwood has stepped in nicely, but those adjectives are there for a reason. I might suggest Estime receive the vast majority of those short-yardage opportunities moving forward. His 17 missed tackles forced are more than all other Irish ball-carriers combined.
Jake Saratoga Springs, N.Y. : Hello, how long do you think Freeman can continue with Tommy Rees remaining in the Brian Kelly mode of not playing young talented receivers in favor of low ceiling upperclassmen because they know the playbook better. But rather adjusting himself to get the most talent on the field such as Lincoln Riley, Ryan Day, Dabo Swinney, etc?
Mike Berardino: As I have noted, when Freeman mentioned publicly the need to get the ball in the hands of Tyree (Cal week) and Mayer (UNC week) more often, he got his wish a few days later. When it comes to snaps for talented but unproven weapons on offense, the onus has been placed as much (or more) on the player and the position coach as on the coordinator. Trust is a two-way street, Freeman has said, but that hasn't kept freshman tight ends like Raridon and Holden Staes from getting more snaps the past two games since Bauman went down. Tobias Merriweather has been out there for four snaps against Cal and three more against BYU. Judging from the way his teammates still have to help position him before the snap — most recently Braden Lenzy waving at him in Vegas — there's a learning curve to negotiate.
Pat Springfield Ill.: The 2024 schedule has 11 teams listed. Any insight on who the 12th opponent might be?Second question if you don’t mind. Do you see even more players being targeted offensively from this point forward?
Mike Berardino: Springfield Pat, I do not. As you may have heard, the college football landscape remains in a bit of flux for that season and beyond. The two open dates on Notre Dame's 2024 schedule fall on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 (weeks 5 and 6). Considering the slate already includes a season opener at Texas A&M and a Week 3 game at Purdue, that might be a good opportunity to work Western Michigan back in after the 2020 meeting was canceled due to the pandemic. The Broncos visit a pair of Big Ten teams early that season (Wisconsin and Ohio State), but they appear to be available on either date Notre Dame would be looking to fill. Alas, the Irish already have Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) scheduled in their first four weeks, so a third MAC opponent probably doesn't make sense in what could the maiden voyage of the 12-team College Football Playoff. As for your second question, it would be nice to see Deion Colzie get back in the mix if his knee cooperates, and both freshman tight ends, especially Staes, are hard to miss.
Jack Bates, Shorewood, Ill.: I was wondering if Tyler Buchner ND's quarterback is done for this season or may play at year end? Also what is the chance of Steve Angeli seeing action this season at QB.
Mike Berardino: Shorewood Jack, welcome. The timeline for Buchner, whose left shoulder remains in a sling, was a four-month recovery post-surgery. That puts him at mid-January, so he'll just focus on being fully cleared for spring practice when it starts in mid-to-late March. As for Angeli, giving him a few game snaps still seems like a good idea, but the right spot hasn't presented itself yet. Perhaps that happens on Oct. 22 against UNLV, although the 4-2 Rebels had been surprisingly solid until a 40-7 road loss to San Jose State last Friday.
Alan from Whiteland: Since Head Coach Marcus Freeman has a background as a defensive coordinator, does he get involved on a weekly basis in devising the defensive game plan or does he delegate that to his assistant coaches? I am always curious when a coordinator gets elevated to the head coaching job, how involved do they remain in their specialty? Thank you for answering my question.
Mike Berardino: Whiteland, Alan. Freeman has made it clear since the rollout of his new coaching staff in February that he wasn't looking to micromanage anyone, least of all Al Golden. Freeman has so much on his plate (recruiting, media, brand-building, player relations, roster management) that it would be foolish for him to get too granular when it comes to game-day play calling. He shared at Monday's news conference that he hadn't had a chance to watch much Stanford film after the return flight from Las Vegas didn't arrive until 6 a.m. Sunday. That doesn't sound like an HC that can't let go of his DC routine. Does he sit in on position group and overall defensive meetings? By his own account, he does, but he also spends time with Tommy Rees and his offensive staff during the week. No doubt this allocation of Freeman's time will evolve as the season unfolds, but it seems as if he's finding his stride with a big-picture, broad-strokes approach.
Ryan, Mars Pa.: What do you think about the play of Mayer vs BYU?
Mike Berardino: Mars Man! Good to see you slip in under the wire. I'll defer to Pyne's pithy review after the 11-catch tour de force in Vegas: "Yeah, I mean, he's kind of uncoverable." To which I can only add: Kind of?
Ken, Pensacola, Fla.: What’s the greatest weakness of this team & can it be overcome as we face a Clemson (whom I think we will beat).
Mike Berardino: Pensacola Ken, I've been staring at your mind-bending question for hours and decided to save it for the very end of this arduous process. Before Vegas, I would've said the biggest issue against Clemson would be the ability of the Irish receivers to get open for Pyne downfield. Now that I think about it, that's still an open question. Plus, Pyne's modest stature could make it difficult for him to find throwing lanes from the pocket against 6-5 Myles Murphy, 6-5 Bryan Bresee and friends.
Follow Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.