Monday Night Football makes a major change

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Monday Night Football makes a major change

From Comcast SportsNet
BRISTOL, Conn. (AP) -- "Monday Night Football" is switching to a two-man booth. Analyst Ron Jaworski has signed a five-year contract extension to appear on other programming on ESPN and will no longer join play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and color commentator Jon Gruden on Monday nights, the network said Wednesday. Jaworski, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, will work various ESPN studio shows year-round, often focusing on his specialty of breaking down video. "With him doing one game each week, we don't necessarily believe we were getting the best Ron Jaworski had to offer to the network," executive vice president Norby Williamson said. Jaworski called "Monday Night Football" games the past five seasons. Gruden, the former Raiders and Buccaneers coach, joined MNF in 2009 and agreed to a five-year extension in October. This is the first time in 15 years ESPN has used a two-person lead team on its NFL game coverage. "There was nothing broken about Monday Night Football,'" Williamson said. He said network executives believed Tirico and Gruden worked well as a two-man booth and there was no need to add a third person. "I fully expect Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden to be together for the foreseeable future," Williamson said.

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

Brian Kelly, before Sunday, hadn’t fired an assistant coach since coming to Notre Dame nearly seven years ago. But faced with a 1-3 record and an uncertain defensive future, Kelly came to the conclusion that a change at defensive coordinator was necessary to Notre Dame’s chances of turning around a season headed in the wrong direction. 

And with that, Brian VanGorder is out. Greg Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst and Purdue’s defensive coordinator from 2013-2015, is in. But what does Kelly want to see out of a defense that ranks at or near the bottom of the FBS level in so many defensive statistics and has been the main culprit in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke?

The first step, Kelly said on his teleconference Sunday, is injecting something enjoyable into an Irish defense that VanGorder defended in August as “likable and learnable.” 

“Guys played hard, but we lacked some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you're playing on defense,” Kelly said. 

Maybe better energy will result in better tackling, a fundamental area that’s been a glaring problem for this defense in 2016. Kelly said last week his defensive players were “anxious,” which contributed to the the team’s tackling problem. Better coaching, of course, would help there as well. 

But adding energy is sort of a nebulous, impossible-to-quantify concept. More concrete will be the tweaks to the defensive scheme and moving a few players into different positions to maximize their ability. 

Kelly said the terminology of the defense will remain the same, which makes sense given the installation process for VanGorder’s scheme began back during spring practice. Changing the terminology, Kelly said, would “pull the rug underneath the kids at this point in the season.”

What there will be, Kelly said, is a different focus trained on parts of the defense that have been installed but maybe not utilized frequently. 

“There's a lot,” Kelly said. “There's a very vast library that is easily tapped into from a different perspective, different terminology in terms of what has not been leaned on heavily in terms of fronts and coverages, but it's already installed.

“So there's a vast library. There's a lot there. I'm going to send around some of the things I believe our guys will feel comfortable with, and we'll go from there.”

Kelly dismissed the notion that VanGorder installed too much into his defensive scheme, but said he, Hudson and Irish coaches will “streamline” things to allow players to be fundamentally sound and play with that kind of speed and energy necessary. 

Kelly said, too, that he and his coaching staff will meet Sunday to discuss personnel changes — both from getting certain guys on the field (like defensive end Jay Hayes, who Kelly specifically addressed) and getting others into better positions to make plays. 

“We think that there might be some validity to moving around a couple of players,” Kelly said. “So that will be a conversation that I begin a little bit later this afternoon.”

It’s too early to tell what Notre Dame’s defense will look like on Saturday against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, but what’s clear is that a turnaround is necessary — and it’s needed immediately. At 1-3, with three games left against teams ranked in the top 15 of S&P+ (home games against Stanford, Miami and Virginia Tech), Notre Dame doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to reach a bowl game in 2016. 

The defense has made plenty of errors so far, to the point where Kelly took a step he never had in South Bend. Streamlining things, getting that energy back, tweaking the scheme — whatever it is, Notre Dame needs solutions on defense. 

Those solutions weren’t coming with VanGorder and now have to come with Hudson, as well as Kelly taking a more involved supervisor role in the defense. 

“It starts with the coaches,” Kelly said. “I think it's got to be coach-led and they have got to start the fire. And then those players that have that intrinsic motivation, that fire within, they will come along with us. Those that don't, we're going to leave them along the side. But this is going to start with the coaches.”

Schedule remains daunting, but Badgers playing like Playoff contenders

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Schedule remains daunting, but Badgers playing like Playoff contenders

A month ago, the thought of the Wisconsin Badgers making it through their early season gauntlet unscathed would’ve sounded just plain insane.

A season-opening tilt with a top-five LSU team, then a brutal start to Big Ten play, with games against Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska, three of those coming on the road, didn’t seem survivable for anyone, these Badgers included.

But after two wins over top-10 teams in their first four games, the sanity of that notion seems to be of no consequence. Because, apparently, the Badgers can do it.

Saturday, Wisconsin went from a fine team with an impossible schedule to a full-blown College Football Playoff contender. The Badgers paid a visit to East Lansing and put on a dominating performance on both sides of the ball, blowing the doors off a Michigan State Spartans team that is the reigning conference champion and just a week earlier scored what seemed like a huge road win at Notre Dame.

No one expected the 30-6 beatdown Wisconsin delivered. And therefore expectations must be changed moving forward.

The Badgers’ defense, which lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU in the offseason and lost starting linebacker Chris Orr to a season-ending injury in Week 1, has been incredible. Through four games, Wisconsin ranks in the top 12 in the country in both scoring defense (seventh, 11.8 points per game) and total defense (12th, 277 yards per game). And while the season-opening effort against one of the best running backs in the nation, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, was terrific, Saturday’s was perhaps more impressive. The Badgers kept the Spartans out of the end zone, no small feat considering Michigan State rattled off 36 straight points against Notre Dame the weekend prior. Wisconsin also intercepted Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor three times, and the fourth takeaway was a brilliant forced fumble, picked up and taken back 66 yards for a touchdown. There was no rushing attack for the Spartans, who gained just 75 yards on the ground, and if the trio of picks wasn’t enough indication of the pressure on O’Connor, the four sacks ought to do it.

As it has been in recent seasons, this defense is again looking like one of the best in college football. That right there is enough to keep the Badgers in any game and to power them through the remainder of this gauntlet of games.

And let’s adjust expectations for the Badgers’ offense, too, after freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook looked like a legitimate playmaker against a talented Spartans defense in his first career start Saturday. His stat line won’t jump off the page – 16-for-26 for 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a fumble – but he was mighty impressive, wowing with the placement and accuracy on a good number of his passes.

For a team that has so often looked for a game-manager at quarterback who allows for the always-productive rushing attack to take over, Hornibrook and receiving targets Jazz Peavy, Robert Wheelwright and Troy Fumagalli might be changing that narrative.

So perhaps it’s time to treat the Badgers like the contenders they’ve played like. At least for a little while. The next two games are towering obstacles, another trip to the Great Lakes State, this time to take on a Michigan team that is pouring points on opponents and playing equally sensational defense. The Wolverines rank ahead of the Badgers in total defense. And then comes a date with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have looked as good as any team in the country in their three games. And even with Wisconsin’s seeming emergence as the Big Ten West’s new favorite, Iowa and Nebraska provide stiff challenges, as well.

Caution is certainly advised when ramping up expectations for this group of Badgers, as that schedule hasn’t gotten any less daunting. But with the way Wisconsin has played through its 4-0 start, envisioning the Badgers as the Big Ten champ is not something that requires a powerful hallucinogen. And with that comes – at least at the moment – a much more realistic chance for the Badgers to reach the sport’s final four.

It’s not crazy. It’s Wisconsin making one heck of a statement.