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Notre Dame Football

Al Golden Notebook | Sun Bowl Week

December 26, 2023

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden spoke ahead of Tuesday's practice as the Fighting Irish prepare for Oregon State. 

On the Sun Bowl:
”We’re grateful to be here and the opportunity to play another Top 20 program. Those matchups are few and far between in the bowl season, so we have one of them. Obviously, Oregon State has our full attention. I’ve been very impressed with them from an offensive standpoint. 

“They’ve had some opt-outs, and we’ve had some opt-outs, but I don’t think that’s going to change who they are at the core, which is a very, very balanced offensive unit. From a personnel standpoint, they really challenge you with personnel groupings and formations.

“From that standpoint, we’re excited about the opportunity and have been working hard to defend them.” 

On how to emphasize the strengths of Jack Kiser:
”You can argue the last half of the season, he has been one of the more productive players and has really improved. We’re excited. Obviously, an early Christmas gift for us when he announced he was coming back along with Rylie (Mills) and Howard (Cross). We’re excited about Jack. He’ll still play outside in the 4-3 package and in the 4-2 package, he’ll be inside.” 

On the nickel position with Thomas Harper opting out:
”There’s been a couple different ways we can go with it. C-Lew (Clarence Lewis) can go in there. Christian (Gray) can take some reps in there and Micah (Bell) has been repping there too. There are three candidates there.” 

On what Christian Gray has shown during bowl prep:
”I think Christian has made a steady climb all year. He loves football. He’s constantly in one-on-one meetings with Coach Mickens, trying to improve, trying to get better, and trying to glean as much as he can in the film room. 

“He’s ready for this opportunity. He’s had some opportunities already this year, so we have a lot of confidence in Christian.” 

On Joshua Burnham’s growth at defensive end and his future position: 
”Really either side. I do think his frame will allow him to hold considerably more weight and still be a really, really fluid athlete. He is a fluid athlete. he can run. He’s longer than a lot of people think when you stand next to him.

“I do think he’s going to be a 255-pounder player this coming season. I think that’s really going to afford him the opportunity to hold up inside and be fast and fluid enough to rush the passer on the outside.” 

On what his time at Notre Dame has been like and adjusting to the climate of college football:
“There is a confluence of so many things coming together in December that make it challenging. I think what makes it easier for all of us as coaches is Coach Freeman. The steady approach to it. The leadership. Just steadfast in his values and beliefs in what we want to achieve as a program. That makes it easier to come to work. 

“You’re disappointed sometimes by the challenges that are in college football right now, but then you’re rewarded when you come down here and see our players interact with the Sun Bowl people and the people of El Paso. It makes it really rewarding and for that we’re grateful.” 

On the challenge of facing Oregon State QB Ben Gulbranson who hasn’t made a start in 2023: 
”I think it is challenging because you don’t know how they’re going to evolve on game day. We’re trying to keep it simple, but be broad and be adaptable on game day. At least in this situation, we have eight games where he started a year ago to go back and say what did he really do well. What might they do and then they might not do any of that. At least you have an idea of how they saw him in the offense a year ago and what they may do with him on Friday.” 

On how he approaches opt-outs:
”Each case is on an individual basis. I can speak from a defense standpoint, we kept a really good core together with the exception of three or maybe four, the unit we’ll put on the field on Friday will be the unit that will play for us next year. That in itself is a challenge to the guys, right? There is no excuses. It’s their unit now and they have to step up and defend a really good Oregon State offense. That’s No. 1. 

No. 2 it gives young people the opportunity to step up, to say, ‘You know what? I haven’t played as much, but I’ve been working all year,’ and those bowl practices give them an opportunity for exposure, among their peers, to show that they can play at the standard and contribute. I think there’s a lot of positives that can come from it as well.”

On the impact of Rylie Mills, Howard Cross III, Jack Kiser and potentially Xavier Watts returning in 2024:
”It’s a blessing to be able to coach young people like that, that have such a big-picture vision. Howard, he’s gonna get a master’s in the spring. I think he’s got a big picture of what he wants to achieve the next five years of his life, starting with getting the Masters in the spring. Then obviously, being one of our leaders on defense, and then ultimately being one of the best defensive tackles in the country. He’s got a big picture. He’s not in a rush to do that. He wants to be the best he can be. 

“I think Rylie and Jack, they all share the same thing. They want to be great. They want to be leaders and they want to be a part of really, really something special next year. Obviously when you have kids like that in your locker room, it makes it fun to come to work every day.”

On his impressions of early enrollee quarterback CJ Carr:
”If you want to bring Gino (Guidugli) back up to talk a little bit about CJ - All I can say is just, unselfish. Right off the bat, just unselfish. ‘What do you need, Coach? How can I help the defense with the looks?’

“There’s one thing that jumps out right away, it’s just his arm talent. I haven’t spent as much time with Gino or the offensive coaches with him, but he does have arm talent and velocity, and clearly that’s been a positive in this bowl season.”

On the time in El Paso:
”It’s been great. There’s been multiple events that my children and my wife have attended, as well as myself, which has been awesome. The hospitality has been great. I grew up watching this game, so many times. We were talking about it on the bus.

“I was thinking about the Thurman Thomas game. People are like, ‘What? You remember that?’ I think about some of those games over the years. It’s great to be here. It’s always been well-run, and it’s just great to be a part of it.”

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