Brian Kelly calls out, lashes out at Irish players lacking ‘fire and grit’

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If you thought the Notre Dame coaching staff, specifically the defensive side of the ball, would be publicly held accountable by the head coach, you’d be dead wrong.

Following a 38-35 home loss to Duke that featured a blown 14-0 lead and fourth-quarter defensive shrinking, Brian Kelly decided instead to lash out against those players listed as first-teamers on his depth chart.  Most notably, starting quarterback DeShone Kizer was singled out after a performance that included 381 yards passing and 60 yards rushing was labeled by Kelly as “below standard” and “not acceptable” thanks to a pair of turnovers.

Aside from the longsnapper, though, Kizer wasn’t alone in feeling his head coach’s postgame wrath.

Every position, all 22 of them, will be evaluated. Each and every position. There is no position that is untouchable on this football team. And that’s the quarterback, all the way down to — maybe the long snapper’s OK. We’re not going to touch him. But everybody else is vulnerable. …

“Guys that have fire and grit [will be on the field] — we had one guy in the entire football team that had emotion and fire. That is [running back] Dexter Williams. He’s the only one. He’s the only one that I saw. One guy.

“So, if you want to play for me moving forward, you better — I don’t care what your résumé says, I don’t care if you were a five-star [recruit], if you had 100 tackles or 80 receptions or 30 touchdown passes — you better have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. We lack it. Severely.

I’ve never coached above the high school level so I could be wrong here, but isn’t it the responsibility of the coaching staff to get their players ready to play, to show “some damn fire and energy?”  And, if that doesn’t happen and if they “lack it” — “severely” — shouldn’t the coaching staff, the head coach specifically, shoulder that failure instead of publicly throwing their players under the bus?

Unlike the players, though, one person who won’t see the undercarriage of said bus, apparently, is defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

In falling to 1-3 on the year, the Irish’s defense has been a significant part of the problem.  In each of the three losses, the Domers gave up at least 36 points, leading Kelly to give what could’ve been a dreaded vote of confidence earlier in the week.

Even after the 94th-ranked scoring offense in the country hung 38 on the Irish, and that same lacking offense marched down the field on a back-breaking 10-play drive that resulted in what turned out to be a game-winning field goal with 1:24 remaining, Kelly steadfastly stood by his defensive man.  In fact, Kelly was decidedly pleased with that side of the ball — the coaching side, that is.

“Actually, that’s probably the one area that I feel better about today,” Kelly said of his defensive coaches’ efforts. “We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today. I was pleased from that perspective.”

UPDATED 12:04 a.m. ET: I would be remiss if I didn’t include the following note from the Notre Dame sports information department.

Asked the reason for the lack of energy, Kelly said, “I must be doing a poor job. I’ve got to do a better job of finding out what those things are that are putting our football team in that position.

LSU students will go to class on Saturday to make up for national title game

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LSU students who got to skip class for the national title game (and the ensuing celebrations…) were hit with a dose of reality returning to Baton Rouge on Friday.

According to an announcement from the university, classes that were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday for the championship game have been rescheduled. As a result, students will have to go to class on Saturday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 8.

So yes, Saturdays in the fall have resulted in a few Saturdays of work in the spring.

The school had received a bit of criticism when it was announced that classes were cancelled on the dates surrounding the championship game. While the practice has happened elsewhere, the nature of the game being less than an hour from campus in New Orleans certainly made things unique for the Tigers and their large fan base.

While some students no doubt had hoped that the classes at the time were indeed cancelled, it turns out they were in fact just being rescheduled. Going to school on a Saturday probably isn’t what many had in mind when signing up for the spring semester but there’s probably not a soul in purple and gold will take issue with the change given that it comes as a result of hoisting the ultimate football trophy on Monday night in the Big Easy.

Virginia safety Chris Moore enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal has claimed another name.

As first noted by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Virginia safety Chris Moore has entered his name into the database as he explores a move out of Charlottesville.

Moore started five of his nine appearances for the Cavaliers in 2019 and wound up recording 42 tackles. While he was in line to become one of the key members in the secondary going forward, a prior  suspension for violating team rules back in November may have wound up playing a role in his departure and standing with the team.

The safety had previously missed all of the 2018 season with an injury as well.

Moore was originally a three-star recruit out of Ashburn, Va. in 2016 and, assuming the redshirt senior has a degree, likely has a season remaining as a grad transfer.

DL Jay Tufele, WR Tyler Vaughns skipping draft to stay at USC

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Clay Helton has a lot of issues to deal with at the moment. Having a talented USC football team is not one of them.

The Trojans received a rare bit of good news on Thursday evening as two key players announced they were skipping the 2020 NFL Draft. In back-to-back announcements, defensive lineman Jay Tufele and wideout Tyler Vaughns confirmed they would remain in Los Angeles for the 2020 season.

Tufele is one of USC’s best defensive players. He recorded 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore despite dealing with a handful of injuries. With leading sacker Drake Jackson also back, there’s a nice tandem up front for whoever the team hires as defensive coordinator to work with going forward.

Vaughns returning also makes a dangerous receiving corps that much deeper. Michael Pittman Jr. was lost to graduation but the next three top wideouts are set to be back in 2020. Add in a group of solid tailbacks and both J.T. Daniels and Kedon Slovis at QB and USC will once again have one of the top offenses in the Pac-12.

Whether it will all help save Helton’s job again remains to be seen. If nothing else though, there’s at least there’s some positive news for the cardinal and gold this offseason with Tufele and Vaughns back in the fold going forward.

Nebraska and OC Troy Walters “mutually agreed to part ways”

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A year after significantly falling short of expectations, an offseason of change has commenced at Nebraska.

In one of the first big moves since Scott Frost took over at his alma mater, the Cornhuskers and offensive coordinator Troy Walters announced on Friday that they had ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’

“Troy has been a valued member of our coaching staff for the past four years,” Frost said in a statement. “Troy is a good mentor for his players, provides great energy on and off the field, and carries himself with a presence off the field that will be missed. I want to thank him for his work on our coaching staff, and wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

The duo first came together when Frost was hired at UCF and led a number of prolific offenses, including the undefeated 2017 team for the Knights. Walters was a finalist for the Broyles Award that same season though has not called plays for either team.

Walters had a distinguished career as a player at Stanford that included All-American honors and a Biletnikoff Award in 1999. He spent several years in the NFL before going into coaching during stops at Texas A&M, N.C. State and Colorado.

The departure of Walters could interestingly lead to a reunion between Frost and a familiar name in Mark Helfrich. The latter was head coach at Oregon when Frost was elevated to offensive coordinator for the Ducks and is in search of a job after being let go by the Chicago Bears from a similar role.