Notre Dame Blog Archives

February 3, 2012

Signing Day 2012 – Defense

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

Last year, Notre Dame hit a home run on the defensive side of the ball, especially on the line.  This year they needed to continue build defensive depth and fill in key gaps in the secondary.  Here is how they did.
Defensive Line
Needed: 1     Wanted: 2    Got……
Sheldon Day      Warren Central High School      Indianapolis, Ind.    6-foot-2, 280-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 18 Defensive Tackle, No. 244 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Five-Star, No. 6 Defensive Tackle, No. 50 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-Star, No. 14 Defensive Tackle, No. 146 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-star, No. 10 Defensive Tackle, No. 81 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Florida

Jarron Jones     Aquinas Institute        Rochester, N.Y.       6-foot-6, 295-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 14 Defensive Tackle, No. 199 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 28 Offensive Tackle, No. 229 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 11 Offensive Tackle, No. 102 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-star, No. 10 Offensive Tackle, No. 107 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Penn State, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Ohio State, Michigan

With the haul Notre Dame took in last year, they did not need a whole lot on the defensive line this year.  The only thing they really needed was a guy that could play the nose tackle position in the future.  Sheldon Day is that guy and more.
The Irish have struggled, for several reasons, to get players from Indianapolis power Warren Central High School.  Landing Day was huge in that it opens up an avenue into that program.  Beyond that, Day is a sensational player that was recruited by big schools throughout the country.
Day could play tackle in a 4-3 system or he could play the nose in a 3-4.  With Notre Dame mixing up looks, Day fits into the scheme perfectly.  If he becomes a nose tackle at ND, he will not be the prototypical space eating nose man.  Day is very strong but also very quick.  He will look to make plays as opposed to just occupying bodies so other defensive players can get the job done.
Day has graduated from high school and is already taking classes at Notre Dame.
That would have been enough, but when Jarron Jones became interested, he was impossible to turn down.  The Rochester, N.Y. star originally committed to Penn State, but decided to look around long before the scandal broke in State College.  
Jones is a very large young man and many experts like his potential more at offensive tackle.  Three of the four recruiting services list him on offense, but he wanted a chance on defense and the Irish staff sees a future for him on that side of the ball.  
Jones’s size is ideal as a strong side end in a 3-4 defense, making Notre Dame a nice fit for the 6-foot-6, 295-pounder, assuming he stays on defense.
The Irish got two high four-star recruits at a position stacked with young talent.  This grade is easy.
Grade:  A

Outside Linebacker

Needed:  1      Wanted:  2, maybe   Got…..
Romeo Okwara      Ardrey Kell High School    Charlotte, N.C.      6-foot-4, 223-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star, No. 35 Weak side defensive end
Scout:  Three-star, No. 65 Defensive end
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 96 Defensive end
24/7:  Four-star, No. 22 Weak side defensive end
Also considered:  Clemson, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech
Much like on the defensive line, Notre Dame scored plenty of good prospects at the outside backer spots last year, so numbers were not needed this year.  It was a bit of a surprise when Notre Dame offered Okwara early in the process with several other seemingly good options still available.  
As it turned out, it was a good thing that they offered Okwara because he wound up being the only linebacker to sign with the Irish.  The Charlotte product began school at a young age and as a result, he is just 16 years old as a high school senior.
Obviously, Notre Dame will use a redshirt year on him so he can develop both physically and mentally.  But Okwara has lots of potential, it is just tough to really project out a player that is at least a year behind his graduating class.
Okwara is listed in all the recruiting databases as a defensive end, but in Notre Dame’s 3-4 scheme, he will be a linebacker that will look to get after the quarterback.  He will have to learn a new position, which is another reason he will redshirt.
Notre Dame really only needed to take one player at this spot and while Okwara is a fine athlete with lots of potential, he is not a top level recruit.  So basically, Notre Dame got by with the bare minimum at this position.
Grade:  C

Inside Linebacker

Needed:  None, I guess   Wanted:  None, I guess   Got……
Notre Dame didn’t really pursue any inside linebackers.  This is a little confusing to me since Jarrett Grace was the only inside guy they took last year, Kendall Moore was the only inside guy that signed in 2010, Manti Te’o  is entering his final season, and Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will be done after 2013.
Perhaps some of the freshman outside linebackers will move inside, but in a 3-4 defense, a specific type of player with a bigger, more physical body is needed.  In last year’s Signing Day recap, I projected that Notre Dame would take two inside linebackers this year.  I was wrong; horribly wrong.
The Irish didn’t have their eye on anyone, so it was obviously the plan.  I just don’t understand the plan.
Anyway, they got what they wanted at this position, so……
Grade:  N/A
Needed:  3    Wanted:  4  Got…..
Elijah Shumate      Don Bosco High School       Ramsey, N.J.        6-foot-0, 205-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 8 Safety, No. 113 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 4 Safety, No. 55 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 14 Safety
24/7:  Four-star, No. 103 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Rutgers, South Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, Nebraska

Nick Baratti       Klein Oak High School       Spring, Texas      6-foot-1, 190-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star, No. 29 Athlete
Scout:  Three-star, No. 17 Middle Linebacker
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 88 Athlete
24/7:  Three-star, No. 35 Athlete
Also Considered:  Texas Tech, Baylor, Arkansas, Arizona State, Northwestern

C.J. Prosise      Woodberry Forest School    Woodberry Forest, Va.    6-foot-1, 190-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star
Scout:  Four-star, No. 21 Safety, No. 276 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 22 Safety
24/7:  Three-star, No. 22 Safety
Also Considered:  Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Penn State

John Turner     Cathedral High School      Indianapolis, Ind.      6-foot-1, 194-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star
Scout:  Three-star, No. 48 Safety
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 62 Safety
24/7:  Three-star, No. 31 Safety
Also Considered:  Minnesota, Indiana, Western Michigan, Toledo, Ball State

Notre Dame needed bodies at safety and they got them.  But there are still questions with this group.
First, there is no sure-fire star amongst the signees.  Elijah Shumate is the highest rated prospect, but at this time he is more of an athlete than a football player.  There are also doubts as to whether he remains at safety or winds up growing into a linebacker.
The same is true of Nick Baratti.  The Texas native was a star quarterback in high school that is currently projected as a safety, but Scout lists him as a linebacker and he could find himself moving closer to the ball.  His size suggests that he will be a safety, probably a strong safety.
C.J. Prosise is a very good athlete, but his level of competition in high school was weak and he will have to adjust to the speed of the college game.  John Turner also has very good athleticism, but his offer list does not suggest that he is a high major prospect.
As stated, safeties were needed and they have arrived.  But really, are these guys just bodies or can they actually play?  Only time will tell.  I have heard people talk about moving one or two of these guys to corner because the numbers are thin there, too.  My hope is that one or two of these guys can actually play safety.
Added to this group is Chris Badger, who will return from his mission and will be starting his college career in the fall.  Coming out of high school, Badger had offers from Stanford, Florida State, LSU, and Oregon, so he obviously has some skills.  He is probably the most ready to play and will be counted on to provide some minutes next fall.
Grade:  B

Needed: 2     Wanted: 3    Got…..
Tee Shepard      Washington Union High School      Fresno, Calif.     6-foot-0, 180-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 4 Cornerback, No. 76 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Five-star, No. 3 Cornerback, No. 39 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 9 Cornerback, No. 90 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Four-star, No. 5 Cornerback, No. 50 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  USC, Arizona State, Alabama, California, Auburn

Tee Shepard did not play his senior year of high school due to high school transfer rules in California, yet he is still a consensus Top 100 prospect.  He played very well in two All Star games and looks like the best corner prospect to come to Notre Dame in a very long time.
But he is the only corner in the class.  Five-star prospect Ronald Darby was a commitment for a very long time but de-committed after the first of the year and signed with Florida State.  Yuri Wright, a teammate of Elijah Shumate at Don Bosco High School, was heavily recruited until a Twitter problem led to him being dropped by many programs, including ND.  And Anthony Standifer looked like a strong possibility, but he could not get by the Notre Dame admissions department.  
So there is only one.  He’s a very good one, but it was not enough.  Notre Dame will have Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood as returnees that have seen some playing time and freshmen Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson will also look to contribute.
Brian Kelly said in his 2011 Signing Day wrap up that the back end of the defense was a priority in 2012.  When the Irish secured early commitments from Shepard and Darby as well as landing several safeties early on, it looked like the Irish were well on their way to getting the job done in the secondary.  
But the Darby de-commitment hurt and ND was unable to pull in a replacement.  This makes corner an essential component in the class of 2013.  The problem is, with the exception of Shepard, Notre Dame has failed to land impact corners for many years.  Why will 2013 be any different?
They were so close to hitting a home run at this position.  Instead….
Grade:  D+, only because Shepard is so good.

Special Teams
Needed:  None    Wanted:  A long snapper      Got…..
Scott Daly     South High School       Downer’s Grove, Ill.        6-foot-3, 228-pounds
Rivals:  Two-star
Scout:  Two-star, No. 1 Long Snapper
ESPN:  Two-star, No. 3 Long Snapper
24/7:  Two-star, No. 2 Long Snapper
Also Considered:  Northwestern

I can’t tell you much about Scott Daly.  Notre Dame wanted a long snapper and he is supposedly very good.  As things unfolded, it didn’t waste a scholarship, so good for them.
Grade:  A  (I guess)

Overall Defense
Much like on offense, what might have been.  If Darby had stuck with ND and if Yuri Wright hadn’t opened a Twitter account, this could have been an exceptional group.
Cornerback is a problem going forward.  Sophomores-to-be Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson have to be good or ND will have serious issues defending the pass.  Shepard could be great but he is only one guy and in today’s spread offenses you need much more than that.
Safety is also a concern, but at least they have bodies.  Plus, Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are back to provide some experience and to ease the new guys in to the system.  Chris Badger is a wild card who is in his first year, but is older and can show some leadership right away.
As I said, I don’t understand the philosophy at linebacker, but they didn’t see it as a need this recruiting cycle.  Perhaps they will run more 4-3 in the coming years, lessening the need for inside linebackers.  Up front, the Irish nailed it getting two quality prospects to add to last year’s great group.
There are players in this group, but not enough of them.  And many of the guys on this side of the ball are projects.  
So I give them a…..
Grade:  C+

February 2, 2012

Signing Day 2012 - Offense

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at
Usually, Signing Day is eagerly anticipated by fans of all schools, especially those at Notre Dame.  Irish followers thought that this year was going to be different with few uncommitted players considering the Notre Dame.
But that changed when the program’s top offensive recruit switched his decision at the last minute, leaving a huge void in this class.
This year I have broken my Signing Day recaps into two sections:  offense and defense.  Today, I will analyze the offensive signees and in the next couple of days I will follow up with a report on the defense.  Finally, I will assess the entire class with a final summary.

So without further adieu, here is the Notre Dame offensive recruiting class of 2012.
Needed: 1   Wanted:  1   Got…….
Gunner Kiel    Columbus East High School    Columbus, Ind.     6-foot-3, 215-pounds
Rivals:  Five-star, No. 1 Pro Style Quarterback, No. 20 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Five-star, No. 1 Quarterback, No. 38 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 3 Quarterback, No. 52 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Five-star, No. 1 Quarterback, No. 24 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  LSU, Vanderbilt, Indiana, Alabama, Oklahoma

Before the season began, Notre Dame contemplated passing on a quarterback this season.  Therefore, they only targeted the very top players on their list.  Kiel and Maty Mauk of Kenton, Ohio were Notre Dame’s top two choices.  Early on, when Kiel picked Indiana and Mauk chose Missouri, it looked like the Irish would not take a signal caller in 2012.

But things changed.  The quarterback position for the Irish was a problem all season and Dayne Crist decided to use his last year of eligibility at Kansas, leaving Notre Dame with just three unproven scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

By that time, most of the top quarterbacks were gone.  As fate would have it, Kiel re-opened his recruitment and Notre Dame got right back in the mix.  Unfortunately, two days after Christmas, after eliminating Alabama and Oklahoma earlier in the process because of distance from home, Kiel picked LSU over ND and Vanderbilt.
However, just days before reporting to Baton Rouge, Kiel again had a change of heart and two weeks ago he enrolled early at Notre Dame.  The thing that eliminated Alabama and Oklahoma, distance from home, foiled LSU in the end.

What Notre Dame is getting is a quarterback without many flaws.  He has good size, has a quick release, and is accurate.  He is not a speedster, but he is quick enough to make plays with his feet in a spread system.  He doesn’t have a huge arm, but it is big enough to make all of the throws.  He is very smart and seems to have the toughness to succeed at football’s most demanding position.

The questions on Kiel are the same as they are with any quarterback.  Can he be a leader?  How well will he go through his progressions on the college level?  How often will he force throws?  Will he stand in the pocket and make the throw when 290-pound linemen are on top of him?

We don’t know the answers to these questions.  But we wouldn’t know the answers regardless of  who Notre Dame got as a quarterback in this class.  

What we do know is that he has the physical skills, he is the consensus top ranked quarterback in the land, and he is already enrolled at Notre Dame.  ND wanted one quarterback and they got the best in the country.  So from that perspective, grading this position is easy.

Grade:  A
Running Back
Needed: 2     Wanted:  2          Got…….
William Mahone      Austintown Fitch High School      Youngstown, Ohio    5-foot-10, 206-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 18 Running Back, No. 197 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 23 Running Back, No. 201 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 16 Running Back
24/7:  Three-star, No. 28 Running Back
Also Considered:  Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern, West Virginia

Keivarie Rusell      Mariner High School   Everett, Wash.     6-foot-0, 175-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 9 Athlete, No. 124 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 24 Running Back, No. 207 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 26 Running Back
24/7:  Four-star, No. 5 All Purpose Back, No. 122 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Washington, California, UCLA, Oregon

The name Amir Carlisle can also be added to this list.  Carlisle was a four-star prospect last year that chose USC over Notre Dame and Stanford.  After having a great camp and a solid freshman year, albeit one where he battled nagging injuries, Carlisle decided to transfer.  Remarkably, USC allowed him to go to Notre Dame.

What the Carlisle transfer does is give Notre Dame position flexibility with both he and Russell.  The Irish did not get a needed slot receiver in this class and one of Carlisle or Russell may wind up at that receiver spot.  Most likely, it will be Russell because Carlisle seems more like a true running back and Russell is very adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.

Carlisle is a good receiver too, but he has the shiftiness and speed to be a home run hitter at tailback.  Complicating matters is the fact that Carlisle will have to sit out this year and the Irish are thin at running back.  Ideally, having Russell move to the slot and redshirt in 2012 is probably the best option.  But the Irish may not have that luxury.

What Brian Kelly and the offensive staff do with Russell may be contingent upon where sophomore-to-be George Atkinson plays.  Atkinson was recruited as a wide receiver but played running back along with his kick return duties.  There is also Theo Riddick, who after two years at wide receiver was moved back to running back late in the year.  His position status will likely be determined in the spring.

Russell is a back with a nice burst that is tough to bring down, so if he stays in the backfield he will be an asset carrying the ball.  And whether it is Carlisle or Russell running with the ball in the future, Notre Dame will have the perfect complement in Mahone.

Mahone is a big, physical back that hits the hole quickly.  He has good enough speed to rip off big gains, but he certainly does not have sprinter speed.  

While neither Mahone nor Russell are can’t miss, five-star guys, they provide two quality backs that possess differing strengths.  Throw in a sensational transfer and this position of need was covered very nicely.

Grade:  A
Wide Receiver
Needed:  3    Wanted: 4     Got…….

Justin Ferguson    Charles W. Flanagan High School   Pembroke Pines, Fla.  6-foot-2, 200-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star, No. 58 Wide Receiver
Scout:  Three-star, No. 61 Wide Receiver
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 14 Wide Receiver, No. 85 Overall Prospect
24/7:  Three-star, No. 51 Wide Receiver
Also Considered:  Florida, Florida State, Miami, Wisconsin, Alabama

Chris Brown   Hanahan High School   Hanahan, S.C.   6-foot-2, 170-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star, No. 81 Wide Receiver
Scout:  Three-Star, No. 86 Wide Receiver
ESPN:  Three-star, No. 66 Wide Receiver
24/7:  Three-star, No. 26 Athlete
Also Considered:  South Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Cincinnati

There will be a big, gaping hole in the Notre Dame receiving corps next year with the graduation of Michael Floyd.  Wide receiver is a position where a freshman can make an impact and Notre Dame needed at least one, and preferably more than one, guy that is a weapon as soon as he arrives on campus.

Notre Dame planned on Deontay Greenberry being that guy.  The five-star prospect from Fresno committed to Notre Dame in May and despite taking other visits was solid to Notre Dame until Signing Day.  Then, incredibly, Greenberry faxed his letter of intent to Houston.

This was a huge blow to the Irish who will now have to hope that two less heralded prospects can step up.  One of those is Justin Ferguson.

Ferguson is a strong receiver with good hands.  He is not a blazer, but he is not slow either.  The south Florida star played against good competition and despite his three-star rankings, his offer sheet is very impressive.

While Chris Brown is a different type of receiver than Ferguson, he is just as underrated.  Brown is tall and very thin at this point in time.  He will need to add some size and strength and a redshirt year is probably in order.  But Brown can really run and he gives Notre Dame some outside speed that is needed to extend the field vertically.

Notre Dame missed on a slot receiver and that is important.  Theo Riddick is entering his last go-round and so is Roby Toma.  Keivarie Russell may step into that spot, but for the purposes of this discussion, we will keep him at running back.

While both of the receiver prospects are intriguing, neither brings the star power or the projected early impact that Greenberry would have carried to South Bend.  The Irish have to hope that one of the two newcomers emerges quicker than anticipated and that DaVaris Daniels, a 2011 signee that redshirted this season, can become a major threat.

In reality, the Greenberry defection was a killer.  

Grade:  C-
Tight End
Needed:  None   Wanted:  One if they could fit one in

With Tyler Eifert back and Ben Koyack and Alex Welch both having three years of eligibility left, ND didn’t need to take a body here unless it was a standout that would not block a roster spot for someone else.The only tight end the Irish really considered was Taylor McNamara of San Diego.  After weighing the options, the staff felt it was best to pass and go after other prospects that might fill their needs better.  McNamara signed with Oklahoma.

Now that there are roster spots available, it looks like the Irish could have taken McNamara, who probably would have selected ND.  Still, it was not a pressing need, so…..

Grade:  N/A
Offensive Line
Needed:  3    Wanted:  4

Ronnie Stanley    Bishop Gorman High School     Las Vegas, Nev.      6-foot-6, 285-pounds
Rivals:  Four-star, No. 15 Offensive Tackle, No. 176 Overall Prospect
Scout:  Four-star, No. 11 Offensive Tackle, No. 66 Overall Prospect
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 34 Offensive Tackle
24/7:  Four-star, No. 16 Offensive Tackle, No. 145 Overall Prospect
Also Considered:  Nebraska, Arkansas, USC, Oklahoma, Auburn

Mark Harrell     Charlotte Catholic High School    Charlotte, N.C.    6-foot-5, 260-pounds
Rivals:  Three-star, No. 25 Offensive Guard
Scout:  Three-star, No. 52 Offensive Tackle
ESPN:  Four-star, No. 41 Offensive Tackle
24/7:  Three-star, No. 52 Offensive Tackle
Also Considered:  Clemson, Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina, Auburn

Since last Signing Day, the Irish added Jordan Prestwood to the offensive line.  I gave the 2011 offensive line recruiting a B+ and the difference between that and an A was Prestwood de-committing and choosing Florida State.  But after enrolling early, Prestwood lasted just the spring semester in Tallahassee and transferred in to Notre Dame.

Still, the Irish were looking for more than two offensive linemen in this class.  They had a third in tackle Taylor Decker, but when both his recruiter and his future offensive line coach took jobs on the Ohio State staff, Decker switched his commitment to the Buckeyes.

The two players Notre Dame signed are solid players.  Ronnie Stanley is a big guy with very good athletic ability.  A very good basketball player at Bishop Gorman, Stanley looks the part of a left tackle.  

Mark Harrell is rated as a tackle by three of the four major recruiting services, but Notre Dame will play him inside.  He will probably start out as a guard, but with Braxton Cave entering his final season at ND, Harrell could get a look at center as well.  Harrell is not as highly regarded as Stanley, but he brings versatility to the Irish offensive front.

Notre Dame was in on several other top linemen, but they all chose other programs.  Getting Stanley and Harrell was nice, but more was expected.  They still have a lot of young depth thanks to last year’s class, so they should be okay going forward assuming that they get a huge haul in 2013.

The good news is that ND already has a commitment from Steve Elmer, one of the top offensive linemen in the class of 2013, and they are in good shape with several other top line prospects.  But as for this year’s grade….
Grade:  C-
Overall Offense
Notre Dame did hit on some key areas on the offensive side of the ball.  Quarterback is a question and perhaps Gunner Kiel is an answer going forward.  They needed to build running back depth and two four-star recruits and a big transfer help that category.  Ronnie Stanley looks like a good left tackle prospect

Even the less heralded recruits seem to fit well in this class.  Justin Ferguson has an offer list that would suggest that he is more than a three-star recruit.  Chris Brown has the speed needed at receiver.  And Mark Harrell was one of the staff’s earliest offers, suggesting that Brian Kelly and company really like his game.

But they could have used much, much more at receiver.  Also, they fell very short on the offensive line.  And one can now question the decision not to offer tight end Taylor McNamara seeing that they have open scholarships.

There is still one prospect out there:  wide receiver Davonte Neal.  He would most definitely fit in well as a slot receiver and would help ease the sting of the Greenberry decision.  But it currently appears that Neal will select someone other than the Irish.  

When analyzing this side of the ball, it was some good, some bad, and the Greenberry news was ugly.  In my view, the Kiel commitment was huge not only in terms of filling a need, but also in the perception of what landing a star quarterback brings to a program.  With all that happened at the end, without his enrollment the offensive class would not have been considered good at all.  Now, it is at least somewhat respectable.
Overall Offensive Grade:  C


December 29, 2011

Champs Sports Bowl Preview

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 


In a year of rather mediocre bowl match ups, the clash between Notre Dame and Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl is one of the more eagerly anticipated games this bowl season.  Both programs had disappointing autumns, finishing the season with identical 8-4 records.  Neither team had a truly monumental win with Notre Dame’s victory over 12th ranked Michigan State the most impressive victory by either program.

But it is what both of these programs represent that makes the contest intriguing.  There are national titles won by both schools.  There are the Heisman Trophy winners that have played their home games in Tallahassee and South Bend.  There are the traditions of “Play Like a Champion Today” and Chief Osceola.  

And there was The Game of the Century in 1993 when Shawn Wooden knocked down a Charlie Ward pass at the buzzer to preserve the Irish victory over the #1 Seminoles.  It does not matter that the Irish lost to Boston College the next week making the meaningless and giving the national title back to Florida State.  It was the most hyped game in the history of college football to that point prompting ESPN to send its Gameday crew on the road for the first time.

The Irish and the Seminoles have played four times since that day, with Florida State holding a 3-1 edge.  Notre Dame won in Tallahassee in 2002, but the Noles drubbed the Irish 37-0 the following year, the last time the two teams have met.

Here is a little primer to get you ready for Thursday’s showdown.
When Notre Dame has the Ball

The big question coming out of the Stanford game was who will start at quarterback for the Irish in the bowl game?  Head coach Brian Kelly answered that right off, announcing in early December that Tommy Rees will be under center to start the bowl game.

This was not what many Irish fans were expecting.  The Notre Dame offense appeared lifeless with Rees at the helm in the regular season finale against Stanford.  Andrew Hendrix replaced Rees and provided some energy that led to two Irish touchdowns.  But Kelly decided on the player that knows how to prepare for big games.  Undoubtedly, Hendrix will play and may play a lot if Rees struggles.

Running back is another position where the Irish have a question mark.  With Jonas Gray out for the year, Kelly has decided to move Theo Riddick from receiver to running back, the position he played as a freshman under Charlie Weis.  Kelly has stated that Theo looks comfortable and the switch maybe permanent.  

Riddick will be important, but junior Cierre Wood is the starter.  Wood rushed for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns this season, giving the Irish a strong one-two punch with Gray for most of the season.  Riddick’s position change may signal that freshman George Atkinson is not ready for an increased role.  Atkinson was an electrifying kick return man, but only saw limited duty as a ball carrier.

Riddick’s move to running back leaves a void at wide receiver.  Robby Toma filled in admirably for an injured Riddick and heads to Orlando with 15 catches for 173 yards.  T.J. Jones is a threat with 37 catches, but the Irish will rely heavily on their two star receivers:  Michael Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert.  And they had better be up to the challenge.

That is because the Seminoles are loaded in the defensive backfield.  Cornerbacks Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes are two of the nation’s best and former Notre Dame recruit Lamarcus Joyner is a formidable presence at safety.  Their play was a primary reason that the Seminoles ranked 19th in the nation in pass defense.

Another reason is the pressure supplied by the defensive front.  Defensive end Brandon Jenkins came into 2011 as an All American candidate and though he did not have the year many expected, he still finished with seven sacks and 11 tackles for lost yardage.  On the other end is Bjoern Werner, who blossomed as a sophomore this fall, and his six sacks and 10 tackles resulting in lost yardage.  The Seminoles rotate four players on the interior and freshman Tim Jernigan maybe the most talented of the group.

Notre Dame’s ability to control the FSU defensive line will be a big factor in how successful the Irish offense will be.  The Irish line made great strides in run blocking this season and ranked 17th in America in sacks allowed, giving up just 13 all year.  But five of those came in the game against Stanford to close out the regular season.
Rees’s troubles are compounded when there is a man in his face.  The Irish offensive line has to make sure that does not happen and they must also be able to open up holes for Wood, Riddick, and company.
When Florida State has the Ball

Notre Dame ranks 34th in total defense this season.  That is solid if not spectacular.  Coordinator Bob Diaco’s unit made strides as the season progressed and played a very good second half against Andrew Luck and Stanford Thanksgiving weekend.  They gave the team a chance to win while the offense failed to live up to their end of the bargain.

Meanwhile, Florida State struggled much of the year moving the football.  An early season injury to quarterback E.J. Manuel set the squad back, but even after his return the Seminoles’ offense sputtered at times.  Manuel put up good numbers, completing 65% of his passes for 2,417 yards and 16 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

The Seminoles, though, never got a running game going all year.  Devonta Freeman is the leading rusher with just 531 yards.  Second leading rusher Jermaine Thomas, who had 279 yards on the year, will miss the Champs Sports Bowl due to a suspension.  The Seminoles will need true freshman James Wilder to step up his production.

Coming into the season, most analysts expected the offensive line to be a strength for Florida State.  That did not happen.  They failed to run block effectively and FSU quarterbacks were sacked 35 times which ranked 106th in the land.  

Injuries have left the Florida State offensive line in a state of chaos.  According to some sources, four freshmen may see substantial playing time against Notre Dame.  As the season has progressed, and several linemen were lost, the offense has struggled.  In the season ending win over rival Florida, the offense tallied a woeful 95 total yards.

At receiver, Florida State is deep, but they have no one like Michael Floyd.  Freshman Rashad Greene led the Seminoles with 33 receptions for 497 yards and six scores.  Florida State has five players with at least 25 catches and four of them have at least four touchdown receptions.

This could be a problem for the Notre Dame secondary.  Corner Robert Blanton and safety Harrison Smith have had stellar seasons, but depth is an issue in the defensive backfield.  Florida State has a number of weapons to stretch out the Irish defense.  Zeke Motta, Lo Wood, and Bennett Jackson will be counted on to provide some help to the starting Irish defensive backs.
Special Teams

After watching the Irish for 12 games, it is easy to pick out the special teams strengths and weaknesses.  Kicker David Ruffer did not have the same year in 2011 that he had in 2010, but he is solid.  Snapping on his kicks has been an issue and exacerbated his problems.  Ben Turk is not great but his punts have not killed the Irish yet.  George Atkinson has done a wonderful job returning kicks and there is no punt return game at all.  The coverage units are okay.

Florida State has a lot more positives in their special units.  Joyner is the main kick returner and he is very good.  Greg Reid is one of the nation’s most dangerous punt returners.  Likewise, Dustin Hopkins is one of the nation’s best kickers.  Shawn Powell averaged a booming 47 yards per punt.  The kick coverage is very good and if there is a weakness it is in the punt coverage, where they rank in the middle of the pack.  Of course, that doesn’t matter when going against Notre Dame’s punt return game.

All Notre Dame can hope for is to break even in this match up.  They can’t allow Florida State to make big plays in special teams.  In a game that figures to be low scoring, a special team score could go a long in deciding who wins the game.

They key to this game, no matter who has the ball, is the play up front.  Notre Dame’s front seven, while not explosive, has done a good job of playing assignment football this year.  Against the inexperienced Florida State offensive line, the Irish may be able to take some chances in an effort to confuse the youthful Seminoles blockers.  But no matter how aggressive the Irish get, their defenders must avoid trying to do too much.  They must know their roles and do their jobs.

That is because Florida State has really had a difficult time blocking anyone lately.  The Seminoles have a deep group of receivers that could test a thin Irish secondary, but if the line can’t give Manuel time to throw, that becomes irrelevant.  FSU has trouble running the ball all year so it seems unlikely that they will start now.

The same holds true when Notre Dame is on offense.  Tommy Rees has had his problems and when faced with pressure his game suffers even more.  If Florida State is beating the Notre Dame blockers, Andrew Hendrix will be in at quarterback sooner rather than later.

Notre Dame has run the ball considerably better than their Champs Bowl opponents and they will look to Wood and Riddick to establish a ground game to keep Florida State off balance.  The Seminoles were second in the country against the run so any type of rushing yardage will be helpful.  That means the Irish may have to win on the arm of Rees and/or Hendrix.  Floyd and Eifert will have to best the talented Florida State secondary.

This should be a defensive slugfest or an offensive disaster, depending on your perspective.  Notre Dame has more weapons on offense, but the quarterback play cannot hold them back.  Florida State has the playmakers on defense and the more experienced quarterback.

Most times, the ability to score touchdowns instead of field goals is essential.  In this game, scoring points of any kind is important.  Also, if a team gets up by a couple of scores early, it will be hard for the trailing team to come back.

Close, low scoring games are often decided by special teams and mistakes.  Florida State has a clear advantage in special teams play.  It is also well known that Notre Dame’s season came unglued because of turnovers.  Florida State, on the other hand, is +.17 in turnover margin, placing them 43rd.  Notre Dame also is 93rd in penalty yardage per game, but Florida State is 118th with nearly 70 yards of penalties per game.

The Irish must limit their mistakes and not give the Seminoles extra possessions and then hope the quarterback play is good enough to win.

December 10, 2011

Notre Dame to Play Florida State in Champs Sports Bowl

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 


When Notre Dame was defeated by Stanford 28-14 on November 26th, Irish fans knew that their bowl destination was Orlando for the Champs Sports Bowl.  The question then became, who will be the opponent?
When Clemson beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship, it cemented Florida State’s spot on the other sideline for the December 29th clash.

Florida State, like Notre Dame, finished the regular season at 8-4 and their path to that record was very similar to the journey taken by the Irish.  The Seminoles came into 2011 with very high expectations.  Many prognosticators had them in their Top 10 and some even had them in the Top 5.

While Notre Dame’s struggles began with season opening losses to South Florida and Michigan, Florida State’s year started to unravel when they lost three straight games at the end of September and early October.  The loss to Oklahoma was not a surprise, but defeats to Clemson and especially Wake Forest were stunners.

Like the Irish, it appeared that Florida State had righted the ship as they rattled off six consecutive wins to go to 7-3.  But on November 19th, upstart Virginia came to Tallahassee and shocked the ‘Noles 14-13.  Florida State then closed out the regular season with an uninspired win over state rival Florida during Thanksgiving weekend.

Please check back to get a more detailed breakdown of the Champs Spots Bowl matchup as the game draws nearer.
Notre Dame Notes

Dayne Crist, who has one year of eligibility remaining, will leave Notre Dame after he graduates this month. He plans on transferring to another program, where he will be immediately eligible because he has graduated from Notre Dame.  Crist entered 2011 as the starting quarterback but lost his job at halftime of the season opener against South Florida and saw limited action the rest of the season.

Interestingly, one of the schools Crist is considering is Wisconsin.  According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel there is interest by both parties.  The Badgers had great success this season with Russell Wilson as their signal caller.  Wilson came to Madison in the exact same way after North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien decided that his services were no longer needed by the Wolfpack.

Head coach Brian Kelly has decided on Tommy Rees as the starting quarterback for the Champs Sports Bowl. Rees has struggled mightily over the last half of the season and sophomore Andrew Hendrix gave the team a spark in the second half of the Stanford game.  However, Kelly likes Rees’s experience as the Irish prepare for a very quick Seminoles defense.  Hendrix will play and one has to expect that Rees will be on a very short leash.

With Jonas Gray on the shelf, Kelly has decided to move Theo Riddick from wide receiver to running back for the bowl game.  Riddick was a running back as a freshman under Charlie Weis, but he was moved to receiver when Kelly came to South Bend.  

The University of Massachusetts will become an FBS program in 2012 as the Minutemen will join the MAC. They are in the process of finding a new head coach and according to multiple sources, Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar will be their choice.  Molnar would be familiar with the MAC having coached at Central Michigan under Brian Kelly.

November 24, 2011

Luck of the Irish, or Stanford's Luck?
By Sonny Martinez

The final game of the regular season – and possibly most anticipated game of the year – is just about here.
BCS ranked #22 Notre Dame travels to Stanford to take on the 10-1 and BCS #6 Cardinal in what is by far the Irish’s toughest game of the season.  

Notre Dame is coming off of a nice defensive win vs. Boston College.  They’re now at 8-3 on the season.  But the biggest news about this team is not the record, nor the ranking.  It’s a key injury.

As mentioned in the Boston College article, senior running back Jonas Gray will miss this game and the bowl game with a torn ACL.  This injury is devastating to the Irish backfield, as now it’ll be left to Cierre Wood to pick up most of the yards on the ground.  The man who was thought to take Gray’s spot at RB, former running back Theo Riddick, is questionable.  He’s missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.

Robby Toma, who has stepped in for Riddick, has been impressive in his two games.  Toma has 12 catches for 138 yards.  Not bad for a guy who was fourth on the depth chart to start the season, behind Riddick, TJ Jones, and Michael Floyd.

Meanwhile, the opponent, Stanford, is coming off of a 31-28 win over Cal, has lost only one game this season.  That loss came against then #7 Oregon by a score of 53-30.

When talking about Stanford, the first thing that comes to mind has to be Andrew Luck.  The Heisman frontrunner in some people’s minds, has 2,937 passing yards, and an incredible TD/INT ratio, with 31 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.  Luck has at least two touchdowns in every game for the Cardinal this season.  Luck has incredible accuracy and a smooth release that allows him to fit the football into a tight space.  He’s also a mobile quarterback, which avoids the sack.  Luck does it all – he’s thrown, rushed, and even made a very nice catch this season.

Luck will be without one of his top receivers this week, as Chris Owusu will miss another game with a concussion.  This will be a big loss for both Stanford and Luck, as Owusu has 35 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns.  Owusu is always a very reliable receiver and will be missed.

The two receivers that will be seen the most are Griff Whalen, who has 652 yards and 4 touchdowns, and Colby Fleener, with 551 yards and 8 touchdowns.  They’ll be a key in this game, for sure.  As for running backs for Stanford, Stepfan Taylor will be seen a lot.  He’s got 1,035 yards and rushing touchdowns this year.  He’ll be sure to look to improve those numbers against an inconsistent Irish rush defense.

Overall, Stanford averages 276.6 passing yards per game, and also 209 rushing yards per game.  If that’s not impressive enough, they’re 4th in the nation in points per game with 45, behind undefeated Houston, one loss Oklahoma State and two loss Oregon.  The defense isn’t bad either, giving up 20 points per game.

I think Notre Dame can score on Stanford.  If Tommy Rees can use Cierre Wood to bait the defense in and then pass to Michael Floyd, there should be no problem.  But Stanford can score on Notre Dame, or anyone for that matter.  The least amount of points they’ve scored in one game is 30.  75 teams in college football average 30 or less points per game.  Stanford’s met or topped their 45 PPG average four times.  They’ve been one point away from that twice.  

Not only that, but Stanford likes giving up points.  They’ve given up 20 or more points four times also, including being one point away once.  Stanford will gladly trade points with the Irish.

This game is going to come down to offense.  I don’t see a defensive game like last week.

I think Notre Dame can, and will keep up with Stanford…..until the third quarter.

Somewhere around the middle of the third quarter, Luck is going to take control of the game.  He’ll pass for over 300 yards and a few scores.  Notre Dame can win this game, they do have a shot.  I just don’t think they’re ready yet.  Rees needs a little more big game experience to win a huge road game.  I’ll stick with my pre-season pick for this game and say Stanford wins, and Andrew Luck cements himself as a top, if not THE top Heisman candidate.


Notre Dame: 24
Stanford: 41

November 22, 2011

Irish survive Senior Day
by Sonny Martinez

In a defensive battle, Notre Dame was able to pull out a hard fought win in the “Holy War” on Senior Day over Boston College by a score of 16-14.

"Winning is hard in college football," said Brian Kelly, whose teams have won 15 straight games in the month of November. "I just like the way our guys now understand how to win games. In November, it's hard to win unless you've got a great mental outlook, and our guys do. They have overcome so many injuries late, and they keep battling."

The Irish were solid on offense, compiling 417 total yards, but that could only translate into 16 points.  Tommy Rees passed for 256 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.  Cierre Wood had 94 yards on 26 rushes.
The biggest news to come out of the game was not the win, but a huge offensive loss.  Senior running back Jonas Gray injured his knee and will miss the remainder of the season.  This is a huge loss, as Gray had really turned his season around since the season-opening fumble against USF.  Gray’s season ends with 791 yards and 12 touchdowns.  This means that there’s a possibility that wide receiver Theo Riddick will serve as running back for the rest of the season.  Riddick, who missed the BC game, was a running back when he came to Notre Dame, but converted to a receiver in his sophomore season.

The offense, although it did get over 400 yards, was a little concerning at times.  The Irish were held to 20 or less yards on six of 13 yards.  That’s a little under half of their drives, which is not good considering the opponent next Saturday.  

Meanwhile, the Irish defense gave BC seven drives of three plays or less, which was huge in helping the Irish pick up the win.  "We had a lot of opportunities that we did not capitalize on," BC receiver Bobby Swigert said. "We moved the ball pretty well, but we did not convert a couple of short third downs. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot."  That they did, as BC was only three of 13 on third down attempts.  They were also held to only 250 total yards, including just 80 rushing yards.

There’s two ways to look at this game.

The first is yes, they won.  The offense had over 400 total yards and looked good at times.  Also, it was a good win in a close game.  A win’s a win, whether it’s by two or 200.

The other way is that BC is a three win team, and ND could only score 16 points on the defense.  Notre Dame also only won by two – which is a bit worrisome.  If they only score 16 points on Boston College, what are they going to do against a team like Stanford?  That could equal a disaster.

Obviously the loss of Jonas Gray hurts the offense, but if Riddick is moved back to running back, then it should not be a problem.  The offense shouldn’t skip a beat.  

But back to Boston College.

It was an ugly win, but it still counts.  The player of the game has to go to Tommy Rees, who was 24-39 with 256 passing yards.  Although he did not have a touchdown pass, he was key in some huge third down conversions and giving the Irish an edge in time of possession.

Next week: the biggest test of the year.  Notre Dame at Stanford.  The game is on ABC at 8:00.

For now though, let’s enjoy a good game last week.  This week, it could get ugly.

November 19, 2011

Boston College Preview

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

After their easy victory against Maryland last Saturday night, Notre Dame stands at 7-3 with a huge game looming next week at Stanford.  But they have a game this week too, and their opponent has caught the Irish napping in the past.

In 1993, Boston College stunned the top ranked Irish, who for much of the game appeared to still be focused on the Florida State team they upset the previous week.  The same scenario played out in 2002.  Unbeaten Notre  Dame, coming off a big win against Florida State, lost at home to BC.

Fortunately for the Irish, this year’s Boston College team is one of their worst in years.  They are currently 3-7 and for the first time since 1998 the Eagles will not be playing in a bowl game.

A win for the Irish would assure a spot in the Champs Sports Bowl with a very slim chance of a BCS appearance remaining should they win at Stanford next week.
When Notre Dame has the Ball

Priority one, two, three, and four for the Notre Dame offense this week is to locate where middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is at all times.  The 6-foot-3, 237-pound junior from Cincinnati led the nation in tackles last season and is far and away the leader in that category this year as well.  Kuechly has recorded 10 or more tackles in 32 consecutive games and is averaging 16.8 stops a contest in 2011.

Kuechly heads a unit that is 69th in the nation in total defense, but that number is a bit deceiving.  The BC offense is so porous that the defense is on the field much more than most units.  They did struggle to stop both Clemson and Florida State early in games, but most of their defensive woes have come as a result of wearing down late in games.

Also, this is an exceptionally young unit, with 10 true or redshirt freshmen on the two-deep defensive roster.  The Eagles were going to be a youthful group in 2011, but injuries have given the freshmen an even greater opportunity to play.  The most damaging setback was the lower leg injury sustained by sophomore linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, which has forced him to miss the past three games.  He is not on the most current depth chart, so it would seem unlikely that he would play this week.  Pierre-Louis is still the Eagles second leading tackler and linebacker Steele Divitto is third with 58 stops.  

Defensive end Max Holloway is the leader of the defensive front and he had a big game last week against North Carolina State.  He had his only two sacks on the year and batted down the final pass to close out the win against the Wolfpack.  He tops the defensive linemen with 36 total tackles.

The rest of the defensive line is very young with sophomore Kasim Edebali being the most experienced.  As a unit, the Eagles only have nine sacks on the year, with three coming last week.  Also, their 48 tackles for lost yardage ranks 89th in the country.

Their secondary has a bit more experience with Donnie Fletcher being the only senior on the defense.  Fletcher had his first interception on the year last week against NC State.  Junior safeties Hampton Hughes and Jim Noel also provide some leadership.  Hughes has 32 tackles and a pick on the season while Noel has 30 tackles, a sack, and an interception.  The rest of the unit is as young as the other positions with redshirt freshman Sean Sylvia chipping in with 32 tackles.  The Eagles will rotate plenty of bodies in the secondary.

Notre Dame has been running the ball well with Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood and there is no reason to anticipate a change.  The Irish should possess the ball for a good amount of time and they will look to tire out this young BC defense.  The Irish offensive line should have success against the inexperienced BC front.

The Eagles are 84th in the country against the pass so it is not like the Irish will disregard that aspect of the game.  Receiver Michael Floyd, tight end Tyler Eifert, and the other receivers should get plenty of match ups against less talented and less experienced defenders.  Quarterback Tommy Rees again should have time to throw and will have plenty at options at his disposal.
When Boston College has the Ball

There is no way around it:  Boston College is a bad offensive football team.  When star running back Montel Harris was lost for the season with a knee injury, the only real offensive weapon was gone.  

This is a program that usually relies on a big, physical offensive line, but much like on the defensive side of the ball they are very short on experience at the guard positions.  Senior left guard Nathan Richman is out with an injury forcing redshirt freshman Bobby Vardaro into action.  At the right guard, sophomore Ian White rotates with freshman Harris Williams.  

Center Mark Spinney is a senior that has played a lot of football as has junior right tackle Emmett Cleary.  Left tackle John Wetzel earned the starting job before the season and has held it all year.

The line has allowed 21 sacks, which is 70th in America, and is part of the 81st ranked rushing offense, but the offensive problems are hardly all on them.  With Harris lost for the season, Andre Williams and Rolandan Finch have split time at tailback.  Finch gained attention by running for 243 yards against Maryland but Williams saw the bulk of the carries against NC State last Saturday.  Finch still leads the team in rushing with 577 yards and Williams follows with 466.

While the running game is nothing spectacular, the passing game is downright dreadful.  They rank 104th in the nation at 166.6 yards per game and quarterback Chase Rettig ranks 101st in the nation with a 109.21 passer rating.  Rettig has completed just 53.1% of his passes with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Rettig is a drop back passer and BC has begun to implement freshman Josh Bordner into a spread look at times in recent weeks.  Bordner has only thrown two passes but he has run 13 times for 66 yards and he had a touchdown last Saturday.

The receiving corps does not have any big time threats, though junior Colin Larmond is the most dangerous.  His 31 catches rank second on the team and his 500 yards and three touchdown receptions lead the Eagles.  Sophomore Bobby Swigert, who had a big game against Notre Dame last year, leads the team with 35 receptions and classmate Alex Amidon has 18.  Senior tight end Chris Pantale has 12 catches, one of which resulted in a touchdown.

Last week, the Boston College offense rolled to 192 yards in the first half against North Carolina State.  But in the second half they were held to minus two yards and had just one first down.  On the day, the offense had just five total first downs in their 14-10 victory.

The Notre Dame defensive line, despite some injuries that have created some depth issues recently, has been playing at a very high level.  Freshmen Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt are progressing very well and senior Ethan Johnson returned from an injury last week to bolster the group even more.

The linebacking corps has been a bit inconsistent, but they all have made plays at times and had one of their most solid games last week against Maryland.  The same can be said for the secondary, who this week will defend the weakest non-academy group of receivers on the schedule.
Special Teams

The Boston College special teams are not all that special.  Punter Ryan Quigley averages under 38 yards per punt and kicker Nate Freese has been very inconsistent, connecting on five of his seven kicks from beyond 40 yards, including a long of 52, but missing four of eight from inside of 40.  

Swigert averages just five yards a punt return and Spiffy Evans and Tahj Kimble are solid kick returners that have not broken a big one this year.  BC is decent in both kick and punt coverage.

Of course, their punt coverage stats will go way up because Notre Dame is the worst punt return team in America.  While Swigert’s five yards per game is not good, it is more than the season yardage total for the Irish, who have a total of three punt return yards on the season.

Kick returns remain solid now that George Atkinson has assumed those duties.  Neither of ND’s coverage teams has been all that great, though only nine punts have been returned.

Kicker David Ruffer, after a slow start, has rounded back into form.  He nailed a 52-yard field goal last week.  Not coincidentally, Ruffer has improved as the snapping issues have been corrected.  Punter Ben Turk had a nice game against Maryland, booming a 58-yard punt and placing two kicks inside the 20.  Kyle Brindza’s kickoffs have gotten shorter and shorter each week.

When looking at it closely, this is a battle of two mediocre at best special teams.  Give the Irish an advantage because of Ruffer and Atkinson.

Take out that this is a game where Notre Dame could be looking ahead.  Take out that the name of the opposition is Boston College.  If you look at the performance of both teams this year, this game should not be close.

Boston College has a group of young guys on defense that play really hard.  But they will make mistakes because of their youth and they can be worn down by strong teams like Notre Dame.  If the Irish are able to neutralize Max Holloway in the passing game, something that most everyone besides NC State have been able to do, they should be okay offensively.

Luke Kuechly is a phenomenal player and is probably the leading candidate for the Butkus Award for the country’s best linebacker.  He will make tackles, there is no way to stop that.  But the Irish must get a push on the front line and on him so that these tackles occur five yards down field instead of at the line of scrimmage.
The Notre Dame defense will be playing the weakest overall opponent on the schedule.  The Boston College line has struggled, the quarterback has struggled, the receivers have struggled, and the running backs are not consistent.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame is starting to play some solid defense.  14 of Maryland’s 21 points came in garbage time and the Terrapins have more weapons than Boston College.  Aaron Lynch will spend a lot of time chasing Rettig and Manti Te’o will bottle up the Boston College running game.

Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Harrison Smith, and the other members of the secondary must be on guard because Larmond and Swigert, as he did last year with a 58-yard touchdown reception, can make plays on occasion.  But if the secondary just does their job, it is hard to imagine BC scoring much at all in this game.

As we have seen this year, the one unknown is turnovers.  While Notre Dame is among the worst in the country in turnover margin, BC is not far ahead of the Irish thanks to Rettig’s nine interceptions.  

I believe it is pretty simple.  If Notre Dame holds onto the ball and doesn’t set up easy opportunities for the Boston College offense, they should cruise to an easy victory this Saturday.

November 15, 2011

Notre Dame 45  Maryland 21

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Notre Dame has played a string of teams that have had trouble stopping the run and the Irish have taken advantage by putting running backs Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood to work.  On Saturday night, Maryland was the latest victim as Gray went for 136 yards and two touchdowns and Wood had 99 yards and a score in Notre Dame’s 45-21 victory over the Terrapins in Baltimore.

After forcing a quick Maryland punt on the opening series, Notre Dame marched 67 yards on eight plays in large part due to a 26-yard pass completion from quarterback Tommy Rees to wide receiver Roby Toma.  After rumbling 14 yards down to the one yard line, Gray took it over for his first touchdown of the game two plays later.

Later in the first quarter, after a Maryland punt pinned the Irish at their own eight yard line, Notre Dame embarked on another long drive.  Wood did much of the damage with runs of 13 and 21 yards.  When the drive bogged down at the Maryland 35, kicker David Ruffer came on and boomed a 52-yard field goal to give the Irish a 10-0 lead.

The Irish stretched the lead to 17 points midway through the second quarter when Rees hit receiver Michael Floyd on a 19-yard scoring strike.  The play that set up the touchdown was a 31-yard catch and run by Floyd down the right sideline.  

All the while the Notre Dame defense was stifling the Terps’ offense.  But on their next possession, Maryland showed some life, going 61 yards for their first score, a 13-yard hook up between quarterback Danny O’Brien and wide receiver Quintin McCree.  

The Irish then quickly put an end to any Maryland hopes.  After driving inside the Maryland 10 yard line, Rees took a sack on first down.  Two passes to tight end Tyler Eifert set up a fourth down at the Maryland one.  ND went for it and Gray took it in for the score with just 29 seconds left in the half.

The Irish got the second half kickoff and put the hammer down with another long touchdown drive.  The key sequence came early in the drive when on a third and 17 Gray rushed for 19 yards.  Cierre Wood went in from the three and the Irish put the game away when Lo Wood intercepted an O’Brien pass on the next series and returned it for a touchdown and a 38-7 Irish lead.

Maryland sandwiched two touchdowns around an Eifert score in the fourth quarter for the 45-21 final.

While the Irish run game was dominant, when Rees needed to throw he was very efficient completing 30 of 38 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.  One of the game’s only negatives was that the offensive line, after not surrendering a sack since the September 24th game at Pittsburgh, gave up three sacks on the night.  

Floyd and Eifert were major receiving weapons with nine and eight catches respectively, but Roby Toma, filling in for the injured Theo Riddick, was also a major factor with seven catches for 73 yards.  

The Irish will return home this coming Saturday for a game against Boston College.

November 11, 2011

Maryland vs. Notre Dame preview
by Sonny Martinez

Coming off of a sloppy win at Wake Forest last week, this Saturday night, the 6-3 Fighting Irish travel to Landover, Maryland for a “home” game vs. the 2-7 Terrapins of Maryland.

Maryland started their season with a nice win over Miami, Fl, but since then it has been all downhill.  Since that point, Maryland is 1-7, and of the seven losses, they have lost by double digits in all but one of those games.  Most of their games have been ugly losses, as for all nine of their games, the average score is Maryland 22.8, opponent 31.

Maryland will come in fired up, coming off of an embarrassing home loss to a surprising Virginia team.  That’s not even the most embarrassing loss, as in the third game of the year. Maryland was flat out dominated at home by a 6-4 Temple team from the MAC.

All of this is somewhat surprising, as in the pre-season, some considered quarterback Danny O’Brien one of the best not only in the ACC, but also in all of college football.  O’Brien’s “sophomore slump” has been a brutal one, as he is 136 of 245 throwing, and only has 1516 yards all season.  The worst part of this is that his TD/INT ratio is very poor, as he has thrown 6 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. To make matters worse for O’Brien, he splits time with second string QB CJ Brown, who has 403 yards with 5 touchdowns and 4 picks.  Brown is more of a rushing QB, with 48 rushes for 356 yards and two touchdowns, which ranks him second on the team in rushing.  Overall, the Terps average 217 passing yards per game, 74th in the nation.

The leading rusher is senior Dave Meggett, who has 677 rushing yards with only three touchdowns.  His season high for rushing in one game is only 113, and that came against West Virginia.  He also has 99 receiving yards.  Four WRs have over 300 receiving yards.  Those men are Ken Dorsey, Quintin McCree, Kerry Boykins, and Matt Furstenberg.

For injuries, Notre Dame could be hurt by theirs.  Theo Riddick is out, leaving more passes for TJ Jones.  Center Braxton Cave is out for the year, which creates a situation that Mike Golic, Jr., may not be ready for.  On the defensive side, defensive linemen Aaron Lynch and Ethan Johnson are both questionable, but both are expected to play.  The biggest injury is Manti T’eo, who is doubtful due to an ankle injury.  Te'o aggravated an ankle injury and is said to have been set back to where he was 2 to 3 weeks ago.

While the ND defense may not be as strong as they would be with T’eo, it means that Carlo Calabrese will most likely get the start.  He’s a solid tackler, and shouldn’t be a major downgrade.  

Either way, the defense should be able to stop Maryland’s offense which has not been very good.  In fact, in each offense, defense and special teams, Maryland is not in the top 60 in any statistical category.  This means that Notre Dame should have no problem beating the Terps, right?

The answer to that question depends on one thing: turnovers.  The same thing that has cost the Irish so many games could cost the Irish another.  Who should fans be most concerned with?  

Tommy Rees.  The special teams’ turnover problems have been fixed, and hopefully stay that way.  But consistently, Tommy Rees has found ways to throw directly to opponent’s secondary’s.  If this trend ends, then Notre Dame will come away with a win.  

One thing I do think will be seen more this game is Andrew Hendrix running with the ball.  It’s hard to imagine him not playing against a defense that has been so poor all season.  I think he’ll have at least 100 rushing yards.

But in the end, Rees will throw a pick, but the defense will come up big with one or two.  Notre Dame comes away with a convincing win.

Maryland: 10
Notre Dame: 42

November 9, 2011

Irish escape Wake Forest with win
by Sonny Martinez

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame suffered quite scare from Wake Forest on Saturday.  

Wake Forest was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the ACC by many people, but came into the game needing just one victory for bowl eligibility, as did the Irish.

Notre Dame was outplayed on both sides of the ball in the first half as, shown by the 17-10 halftime deficit.

The Irish had the chance to tie the game with 28 seconds left, but a Tommy Rees pick literally gave that chance away.  

The third quarter is what made the Irish get the win, as although Rees did throw another interception, he did throw a touchdown and Jonas Gray rushed for a TD, giving the Irish a 24-17 lead, which is how the game ended.  The defense played excellent in the entire second half, shutting out Wake Forest and only giving up 92 second half yards to the Demon Deacons. "I didn't think we were very sharp for two series to start the second half, on either side of the ball," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "And then we kind of got going pretty good again, and the offense moved the ball pretty good at times, but we didn't get anything out of it."

In that fourth quarter, Wake had the ball inside the Irish 10 twice while down by a touchdown.  Both times, they came away with zero points.  "That really killed us," WF wide receiver Chris Givens said. "It was devastating for our offense."

Overall, the Irish played kind of sloppy, including two turnovers from the quarterback.  "The words I would use? Gritty. Tough," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "You've got to win games like this where it's just a gritty, tough performance."

The biggest shock of the game, other than perhaps the final score, was cornerback Gary Gray recovering a fumble.  After getting burned in coverage multiple times this season, including a few dropped interceptions, this fumble recovery will hopefully give Gray his confidence back.

ND won in total yards, 341-297, lead by Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood combining for 179 total rushing yards. Gray had the only Irish rushing touchdown, but both him and Wood had some key carries and picked up some huge third downs.  They were a major key to the offense.  They needed all of that production from the backs, because QB Tommy Rees had one of his worst games of the season.

Rees was 14/23 for just 166 yards and two touchdowns. However, turnovers remained a problem for the Irish this season, as Rees also threw two interceptions, with the most important pick being just before half time, which was part of the reason that the Irish went into the locker room down by a touchdown.  Rees now has 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through 9 games this season, which is not a good ratio.  He has also fumbled a few times, which has cost the Irish a chance at some points.  

A good win, but there are a lot of improvements to be made.  Turnovers, obviously, have to be number one on the list.  Braxton Cave was also injured in the game, so Mike Golic, Jr. will be getting the start at center.  This means that the offensive line will need improvement.

Lucky for the Irish, the next two games lack punch, as this weekend, it’ll be Maryland, followed by Boston College before a game vs. Stanford that could unfortunately be filled with a lot of Luck.  This week though, it’s Maryland.  Improvements will be made.  Hopefully that can show.

As of now, the Irish are bowl eligible, at 6-3.  ND will face Maryland in Landover at 7:30 on NBC.

November 3, 2011

Wake Forest Preview

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

While most of the college football world will be focused on Tuscaloosa, Alabama this Saturday night, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be battling Wake Forest at the same time.  

The Demon Deacons sit at 5-3 and are 4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  With games against Clemson, Maryland, and Vanderbilt on the schedule after Notre Dame, Wake Forest has a good chance for a strong finish and an invitation to a respectable bowl game.

The Irish also sit at 5-3 and their bowl future seems to be headed in the direction of Orlando, Florida and the Champs Sports Bowl assuming they win their next three games, all against ACC foes.  If that happens, whether the Irish win or lose against Stanford in the season’s final game, their bowl destination appears set.
But that is only true if the Irish win their next three games.  The toughest of the three will most likely come this week in Winston-Salem, N.C.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

Last Saturday Notre Dame did whatever they wanted to against the Naval Academy.  They rushed for 182 yards and seven touchdowns while throwing for 260 yards and a score.  The offensive line manhandled their smaller opponent giving running backs Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood plenty of room to run while also providing Tommy Rees with time to throw.

This week Notre Dame faces a team from a major conference, but much of the same issues are in play.  Wake Forest is very small along their defensive front.  The heaviest starter on the defensive line is nose tackle Nikita Whitlock at 260-pounds.  Wake operates in a 3-4, so they do have two 240-pound linebackers, but this is still a small unit up front.

Despite the lack of size, they Demon Deacons have held their own in the run game.  They currently rank 48th in nation against the rush, surrendering  134.38 yards per game.  Their leading tackler is senior safety Cyhl Quarles who has 69 stops on the year.  Scott Betros paces the linebackers with 44 tackles and Whitlock has been a disruptive force on the nose with 41 tackles and three sacks.

Linebacker Kyle Wilber is the team leader in sacks with 3.5 and Wake Forest only has 10 sacks on the season which places them 105th in the country.  They have intercepted seven passes as a team, putting them in the middle of the pack nationally and safety Josh Bush leads the way in that department with three.

With a limited pass rush and few playmakers in the secondary, it is no surprise that the Demon Deacons are 88th in pass defense for 2011.  Last week, Bryn Renner of North Carolina threw for 338 against the Deacs and it would not shock anyone to see Irish receiver Michael Floyd have a big game on Saturday night.

But I believe that Notre Dame’s first order of business will be to once again establish a running game.  With the exception of the USC game, Notre Dame has done a good job of getting Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray carries.  Against a team like Wake Forest, Gray’s size and power could be very important in wearing down the smaller defenders.  Plus, the Notre Dame offensive line outweighs the Wake Forest front by nearly 50 pounds per man.  Over the course of 60 minutes, this disparity will definitely be a factor in the outcome.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball

The Demon Deacons could very well be 6-2 at this moment if quarterback Tanner Price did not get banged up in the opener against Syracuse.  Leading by 15 points early in the fourth quarter, Price left the game with an injury and the Orangemen stormed back for an overtime victory.

Price is undoubtedly the key to the Wake Forest offense.  He has completed 61% of his passes for 1,967 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions.  In the big upset of Florida State, Price was 21of 35 for 233 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.  

His favorite target is junior Chris Givens.  The 6-foot-0, 195-pound junior has caught 52 passes for 928 yards and eight scores.  Mike Campanaro is a gritty second option that has 35 receptions and Danny Dembry has 31 catches.  The two tight ends have combined to catch just nine balls in 2011.

Wake has been a lot less consistent running the football than they have been in the passing game.  Leading rusher Josh Harris had 136 of his 421 yards in the win over Florida State.  Brandon Pendergrass is a solid #2 back with 370 yards, but that is really it as the Demon Deacons have rushed for just 832 yards on the year placing them at 106th in the land.  

They also have a big, veteran offensive line that has combined for 102 starts in their careers.  Four of the starters are seniors and center Garrick Williams is a junior.  Left guard Joe Looney is the leader of this crew.
Wake Forest’s strength matches up pretty well with Notre Dame.  The stats say that the Irish are better at defending the pass; they rank 62nd against the run and 36th against the pass.  But games against Air Force and Navy have skewed both numbers.  On the whole, the Irish have done a good job defending the run so it is unlikely Wake Forest will be able to establish much on the ground.  

Expect the Deacs to begin the game by throwing the ball and end the game throwing the ball.  That is what they do best.  One key aspect to watch is whether Notre Dame can get pressure on Price to make his night uncomfortable.

Special Teams

Notre Dame’s punt return game is still stuck in the mud, something that has been a problem for several seasons.  But the Irish have found a kick return weapon in George Atkinson.  The freshman scored his second touchdown on a kick return in the loss to USC and he gave the Irish good field position in his three returns against Navy.

Kicker David Ruffer has not been asked to do too much recently and punter Ben Turk has continued to hover around the 38 yard per kick level this year which is similar to what he has done throughout his career.  Turk has experimented with the rugby style kick recently, with varying degrees of success.

It is tough to gauge ND’s punt coverage because Turk’s kicks are usually so short they cannot be returned, though the Irish have not done a great job covering the seven punts that have been taken back.  Notre Dame’s kick coverage has improved in recent weeks.

Wake Forest kicker Jimmy Newman has been outstanding this year converting on 14 of his 15 field goal attempts and he has been named as a Lou Groza Award semi-finalist.  He has missed two extra points and his long is from just 40 yards out.  However, that is Newman’s longest attempt and he did make a 48-yarder last year.  He has currently made 13 field goals in a row.

Punter Andrew Wulfeck has averaged just 38.9 yards per kick.  For that reason, it is possible that freshman Alexander Kinal sees some action this week.

Lovell Jackson is the primary kick returner and his 19.9 average is not all that impressive, but he did have one return of 65 yards.  Jackson has also returned punts with the same level of success.

The Demon Deacons cover kickoffs and punts pretty well.

Wake Forest has a strong passing game and a suspect running attack, therefore one would expect them to throw a lot and run very little.  Of course, that was also what was expected in the USC game and the Trojans proceeded to pound the Irish on the ground.

Also, Wake Forest did run the ball effectively against Florida State, so it is not something that can be totally dismissed.  But it is no secret that they make their bones throwing the football.  Expect to see a lot more of Notre Dame’s Jamoris Slaughter at the safety position allowing ND to place five true defensive backs on the field at the same time.

Notre Dame has 15 sacks on the year which places them 60th in the nation.  This may be the week they move up.  Wake throws a lot and their line, while very experienced, has not been stellar protecting Price, allowing 21 sacks.  Aaron Lynch did not play much against Navy, but that should change this week and his main chore will be to attack Price.

The Irish will again look to maintain a balance on offense and with that they may look to run the ball often early in the game.  The size differential on the lines has to be exploited and even if the run game is not totally successful early on, it behooves ND to keep pounding on the smaller defensive front.

Notre Dame has allowed just five sacks all year and Wake does not rush the passer that well.  That means Rees should have time to throw and pick out the proper target.  Tyler Eifert was not a big part of the offense last week, but look for the staff to incorporate him into the game more this week.   With Notre Dame expecting to run the ball a great deal, he could be especially productive in the play action game, posing as a blocker before sliding out as a receiver.  

This has been a special season for head coach Jim Grobe and the Demon Deacons.  They upset Florida State and will most likely be heading to a bowl game, their first since 2008.  Their offense is solid and they will score some points on Saturday night.  But it is hard to see how they will be able to hold down the Irish enough to win the game.

November 3, 2011

Notre Dame 56   Navy 14

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Last week, Notre Dame running backs carried the ball just eight times in the loss to USC.  Seven days and several Twitterverse comments later, the Irish rushed for 182 yards and seven scores in a 56-14 romp over the Naval Academy.

Jonas Gray paced Notre Dame with 69 yards and three touchdowns while Cierre Wood had 66 yards and two scores.  Freshman George Atkinson found paydirt once and wide receiver Michael Floyd scored on a lateral from ten yards out.  Floyd also caught the lone touchdown pass from quarterback Tommy Rees.

The real stars of the game, however, were the members of the Irish defensive unit.  They held Navy, who had averaged 325 yards per game on the ground, to just 196 rushing yards.  The Midshipmen passed for just 33 yards and their 229 total yards was their lowest output of the season.  Navy’s two touchdowns came on drives of 26 and 27 yards thanks to turnovers by the Irish.

Navy received the opening kickoff and drove down to the Notre Dame 30 yard line before stalling.  Their 47-yard field goal missed and six plays later Jonas Gray ran in from four yards out for the first Irish score.  After a Navy three and out, Notre Dame went 63 yards on six plays to go up 14-0.  A sideline pass to Theo Riddick went for 37 yards and Wood carried in from the one for the touchdown.

A fumble on a Rees swing pass to Riddick, one that was eerily similar to the fumbled lateral on a botched Rees to Wood connection in last week’s USC game, gave the Middies the ball at the Notre Dame 27.  On third and five from the Irish nine, Navy quarterback Trey Miller hit Gee Gee Greene for a touchdown to cut the Irish lead in half and gave the Midshipmen some hope.

Those hopes were squashed after George Atkinson returned the kickoff to the 44 yards line and Rees and Floyd hooked up on the first play of the drive for 56 yards and a touchdown.  Navy then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Jonas Gray scored his second touchdown of the game four plays later on a carry from the two yard line and the rout was on.

With the score 49-7 early in the fourth quarter, Tommy Rees threw an interception that led to Navy’s second touchdown, a 12-yard run by Jarvi Cummings.  The Irish pushed their total to 56 on their final drive when Atkinson ran in from the one.  

Despite the emphasis on the ground game this week, Rees did throw for 237 yards and a touchdown to go along with the interception.  Dayne Crist made a late appearance and was three for three for 23 yards.  

Floyd led the Irish receivers with six catches for 121 yards and that one touchdown reception.  

The Irish head to Winston-Salem, N.C. next Saturday to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  Wake Forest, like the Irish, stand at 5-3 but they are coming off a 49-24 loss to North Carolina.  Game time is 8pm.

October 29, 2011

Navy @ Notre Dame Preview
by Sonny Martinez

Coming off of a horrible home loss to USC, Notre Dame remains at home this week to play host to the Midshipmen of Navy.  Last season, Notre Dame was dominated by Navy, who went 9-4 last season.  Last year, the Irish surrendered 367 rushing yards in a 35-17 loss, its third in four years to the Midshipmen after having a 43 game win streak vs. Navy.  

This season, however, it a different story.  Navy comes into this game with a record of 2-5, with their only wins coming against FCS team Delaware, and lowly Western Kentucky.  They’re currently on a five game losing streak, filled with both heartbreaking losses and total blowouts.  

The biggest difference of this team is the loss of team leader Ricky Dobbs, who threw for over 1500 yards and ran for 833 with 14 touchdowns.  Losing all of that production from one player will, and has made a huge impact on the offense.

Replacing Dobbs was Kriss Proctor.  Proctor has thrown for 557 yards and 6 TDs, but of course this is an option offense, and Proctor has ran for 591 yards and 8 touchdowns so far.  Very, very lucky for Irish fans, Proctor is doubtful for the game, meaning we’ll likely see Trey Miller start at QB.  Miller has 172 passing yards and only 38 passing yards.  Even though Miller is most likely starting, the men with the ball will be two players who dominated the Irish’s defense a season ago.

Last year’s Irish killers, other than Dobbs, Alexander Teich and Gee Gee Greene, have combined for 806 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Green, and Teich are two of five Midshipmen with over 100 yards, and Mike Patrick is just four yards away from joining the club.

Navy’s defense has been inconsistent, playing good against Delaware and WKU, two relatively soft teams.  In their five game losing streak, Navy has been losing badly for the most part, giving up over 35 points three times, including an ugly 63 points to Southern Mississippi.  Starting CB David Wright, much like Proctor, is doubtful for Saturday.  He had 21 tackles, but also missed last week’s game vs. East Carolina.  Linebacker Matt Brewer is questionable, and this could be a huge loss even if he plays but isn’t at 100%.  He’s forced four fumbles this season, and also has 33 tackles.  Losing both these men on a defense that’s already not doing good could be huge for Navy.

The biggest news of the week for Notre Dame is that Kapron Lewis-Moore, a starting defensive end, is out for the entire season with a knee injury.  It was an MCL injury that took him down.  He lead the defensive line with 32 tackles.  Now, Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch will now start in his place.  The lineman opposite Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, is questionable with a hamstring injury.  He was still in a walking boot last week, so things don’t look too promising.

On the offensive side of the ball, Tommy Rees is probable after hyper extending his knee last week vs. USC, but was able to return.  He should be playing, but I think we’ll be seeing a lot of Andrew Hendrix this weekend.

When the game ends, I think Navy will get their fair share of rushing yards, especially with Lewis-Moore out.  I do think that having faced Air Force, another option team that the Irish gave up 363 rush yards too, Notre Dame will clean it up and play better.  I guess my “bold prediction” for the week is that between having faced an option offense already, and Kriss Proctor most likely out, Notre Dame will hold Navy to under 300 yards on the ground.  This sounds crazy now, but after a week of tough practices after a tough defensive game, isn’t crazy at all.

I do think that with Rees on a bad knee, we’ll see a lot of Andrew Hendrix, who will have over 100 rushing yards this game. I also think Jonas Gray will have a better game than Cierre Wood.  Gray has been the go-to back over the past few games and that trend will continue this week.

When the clock runs to zero, Notre Dame will have dominated the defense of Navy, and Navy getting their chances vs. the Irish defense.  This won’t really be a shootout, but Notre Dame will put some points on the board and come away with the win.

Navy:  24
Notre Dame: 45

October 26, 2011

Barkley, Trojans dominate Irish
by Sonny Martinez

In a game that had huge implications for both teams, the Trojans of USC were able to defeat the Irish by a score of 31-17 in South Bend.

USC scored two first half touchdowns, both passes from Matt Barkley, the first to Randall Telfer and the second to Robert Woods, along with a 25 yard field goal.  Notre Dame’s only touchdown of the first half came on a George Atkinson III 96 yard kickoff return.  They also had a 25 yard field goal.  Notre Dame was down by 7 at the half, and quite honestly, didn’t deserve to be within a touchdown of the lead.

When the second half started, the Irish looked like a new team.  Smarter plays, smarter decisions and overallbetter decisions made.  The Irish were on a great drive toward the end of the 3rd quarter and on the verge of scoring, when QB Tommy Rees got injured.  Dayne Crist came in the game and managed to get the Irish to the one yard line before a fumbled snap.  The fumble was bad, but what made it even worse was when Crist hit the ball behind him, allowing safety Jawanza Starling to pick up the ball, which had gotten to the 20 yard line, and take it back for a touchdown.  This was the end for the Irish, as all of the momentum was with USC.  More turnovers, including an interception thrown by Tommy Rees, lead to a final score of 31-17 USC.

In a season where some people said a 10-win BCS team, others, including me, said 11-0 when traveling to Stanford and some even said the Irish are darkhorse BCS Champion contenders.  But now here we sit, 7 games into the season, at 4-3.  On paper, Notre Dame had this game won.  On the field, not so much.

Notre Dame’s performance in the first half, although only down by 7, was pretty bad. They had two 3 and outs in the first half on 5 possessions, and at the end of the first quarter, only had only 14 yards of offense.  That’s not going to win many games at all.  In the third quarter, the Irish looked great until Rees went down with the knee injury.  The rest of the game was downhill.

I’m the farthest thing from a Trojan fan, which makes this even more painful to admit.  But USC dominated the Irish in every way, except passing yards, which ND had the 226-224 edge.  USC had the total yards edge at 443-267, lead in first downs at 29-17, and absolutely dominated in time of possession 39:41 to 20:19. Also, ND had 3 turnovers, and USC had zero.

Of course, this would probably be different had there not been a major kickoff return TD.  But maybe it wouldn’t.  Notre Dame had their strong points in the game.  But for the most part, they were consistent.
Consistently bad.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of return there is, USC having the ball for JUST under 2/3 of the game is quite pathetic.  Not to mention ND couldn’t eat up the clock because they couldn’t run the ball.  41 yards on 14 attempts, and that would be even less if Jonas Gray hadn’t had a 25 yard rushing TD.  If you take that away, that’s 16 yards rushing on 13 attempts.  Pathetic.

One thing I definitely didn’t agree with was playing Gary Gray on Robert Woods.  Yes, Gray is very talented, but yes, he’s made some very stupid plays this season, which have cost the Irish many points, including the possible win vs. Michigan.  Woods, on the other hand, is probably in the top 5, definitely top 10 wide receivers in college football. Why put a guy that has made so many mistakes in coverage on the biggest playmaker on the USC offense?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

The fumble was just…horrible.  It wasn’t even a shotgun snap.  It was an I formation snap. Pretty bad.  Then to knock it about 19 yards behind Crist, that’s even worse.  

The man who picked it up, Jawanza Starling, had this to say about the fumble.  "I didn't dribble it. I just had to wait for the perfect bounce because I didn't want to try and go for it too soon and miss it. So I was just taking my time with it. Scoop and score, everything we do in practice and I took it the house."

All things considered, and it pains me to admit this, but Notre Dame did not deserve to win this game.  They didn’t even deserve the 17 points they got.  They were totally outplayed on both sides of the ball.  Only because of the kickoff return, the Irish had slightly better special teams, but special teams can’t win many games for you when 33 points are allowed.

So now with the Irish’s BCS dreams over, Navy comes to town with their option offense.  If Navy wins, look for some major, major backlash from Irish fans.  That game will be at 3:30 on NBC.

October 20, 2011

USC Preview

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

In 2009, Notre Dame started the season with a win over Nevada followed by a loss at Michigan.  The Irish then won their next three games to go to 4-1 leading into the bye week before a much hyped home contest against USC.  At the time, Irish followers were thinking about a possible upset of the Pete Carroll led Trojans and a march towards a BCS bowl game.  Of course, the Irish lost their ninth in a row to USC and crashed and burned over the final month of the season.

It is now two years later and some things are different.  Brian Kelly now coaches the Irish instead of Charlie Weis.  Carroll is in Seattle and Lane Kiffin now leads the Trojans.  Notre Dame is now the team carrying the winning streak in the series and the Irish are actually favored in Saturday’s game.

But much is still the same.  The Irish are riding a four game winning streak and have BCS hopes.  If they lose this week, those dreams are over, much like they were squashed by USC in 2009.  And though Notre Dame did win at the Coliseum last November, they are still a team with much to prove.

USC may not be the same juggernaut that Carroll led to two national titles, but they are 5-1 and a win over the Trojans will vault Notre Dame back into the Top 25 and put them on track for that cherished BCS bid.
When Notre Dame has the ball

When Lane Kiffin was hired at USC everyone expected the Trojans to field a dominant defense because the new coach was bringing in his father, legendary NFL coach Monte Kiffin, as defensive coordinator.  For some reason, the USC defense has not been strong during the Kiffins time in Los Angeles.

Last season, USC ranked 83rd in the nation in total defense and they are 56th this season, despite games against some weak offensive units.  In the four games against California, Minnesota, Syracuse, and Utah the Trojans have surrendered just over 14 points a game.  But Arizona State put up 43 points and Arizona scored 41 on Papa Kiffin’s unit.

USC has been very solid against the run giving up 99.5 yards per game, which ranks them 19th in the country.  But they have been lit up through the air allowing 272 yards per game which puts them 105th in the land.

Strong side linebacker Dion Bailey currently leads the Trojans in tackles with 48, two interceptions, and two sacks on the year.  Weak side backer Hayes Pullard is second on the team with 34 tackles.  Both Bailey and Pullard are redshirt freshmen and while they may make plays, they will also make mistakes.  Senior Chris Galippo starts at middle backer and has made 29 stops in 2011.  

Junior free safety T.J. McDonald is the leader of the secondary.  The junior plays with reckless abandon, which is good at times, but unnecessary penalties have been a part of his game as well.  McDonald has 31 tackles and two interceptions so far this year.  Former Irish recruit Jawanza Starling is the other safety while Nickell Robey mans one corner position.  Torin Harris and Isaiah Wiley will split time at the other corner spot.

Defensive end Nick Perry is the most disruptive player up front.  The junior has 30 tackles, six for lost yardage, and four sacks.  Wes Horton has two sacks from the other end position while sharing time with former high school All American Devon Kennard.  Inside, DaJohn Harris has had a nice year with six tackles for lost yardage and one and a half sacks.  

Based on what USC has allowed this year, you would expect Notre Dame to throw the ball a lot on Saturday.  They probably will, but the Irish have been successful in running a balanced attack through the first six games.  They are 22nd in total offense, 29th in passing offense, and 31st in rushing offense in 2011.

Brian Kelly will probably not deviate from what he has done all year.  There will be as much Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray as there will be Michael Floyd and Tyler Eifert.  The offensive line has been outstanding during the four game winning streak and they will need that to continue.

USC has playmakers on defense, but they have not been consistent.  If they continue to make missteps, the Irish have the personnel to make them pay.
When USC has the ball

While the Notre Dame offense has been very balanced in 2011, USC’s has not.  The Trojans have had their struggles running the football while their passing game has carried the day.  USC is 19th in passing at 297 yards per game while running for 133.5 yards a game, which is good for 77th in the country.

When you look at the roster it is easy to see why that is the case.   Matt Barkley is on track to be a first round NFL draft choice and his top receiver, sophomore Robert Woods, will be a very high pick when it is his time.  Barkley has completed 68% of his passes in 2011 for 1,782 yards and 16 touchdowns against just four interceptions.  Woods has already caught 60 passes for 783 yards and six touchdowns.

Freshman Marqise Lee has emerged at the flanker position with 25 catches for 404 yards and four touchdowns.  But after Woods and Lee the production drops off dramatically.  Third receiver Brandon Carswell has 14 catches and tight end Rhett Ellison has 11 receptions.  

Marc Tyler is the leading receiver out of the backfield, but the senior suffered a dislocated shoulder in the game last Thursday night against California and is doubtful for Saturday’s game.  Tyler is the Trojans’ leading rusher with 368 yards and if he cannot go, Curtis McNeal will be the primary ball carrier.  McNeal has averaged seven yards per carry so far this year.  Freshman D.J. Morgan or sophomore Dillon Baxter will probably see action in a reserve role, though Baxter, who came to USC with much fanfare last year, has not played much at all and seems to be in Kiffin’s doghouse.

On the offensive line, left tackle Matt Kalil and center Khaled Holmes have played a lot of football, but there are depth concerns.  Starting right guard John Martinez is also the backup center and behind him at guard are two true freshmen.  Jeremy Galten is the top reserve at both right tackle and left guard.  

But the line has done a very good job of protecting Barkley this season as the senior signal caller has been sacked just four times all season.  The running game has sputtered so there is concern about their run blocking abilities.  

Notre Dame ranks 52nd in total defense and are 67th against the pass.  The Irish have contained the run much better, checking in at #48 despite Air Force running for 363 yards against them two weeks ago.  So expect USC to do what they do best:  throw the ball all day long.  

It will be interesting to see how the Irish defend Woods.  I would guess Robert Blanton would get the call with plenty of help from safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith.  Also, Notre Dame’s defensive line rotation will have to make Barkley uncomfortable in the pocket.
Special Teams

Andre Heidari has been great this year as the USC kicker.  He is 10 for 11 on field goals with a long of 48 yards.  Punting has been a bit of a problem as Kyle Negrete has averaged just 38.7 yards per kick.  Only three of Negrete’s punts have been returned, but those have been brought back an average of 16 yards.

Woods handles kickoff returns, so he is obviously a threat every time.  He has also returned three punts but Robey is the main punt returner and has a 9.8 yard average.  The kickoff coverage has been fine.

For the Irish, there have been some problems in the kicking game though some of those issues seem to have been resolved.  Snapper Jordan Cowart struggled at times but he is now out and starting center Braxton Cave will handle the snaps on field goals and extra points while holder Ryan Kavanagh will snap on punts.

Kicker David Ruffer seems to be rounding back into form though punter Ben Turk is still at just 37.3 yards per punt, which places ND at 109th in punting yardage.  Much like USC’s Negrete, only three of his kicks have been returned, but those three have been returned for a total of 65 yards.

George Atkinson has given life to the kick return game but the punt return situation remains the same:  fair catch, fair, catch, fair catch.  However, against Air Force Kelly put Michael Floyd back to return punts.  He fair caught one and let another bounce out of bounds.  He could possibly be back there this week though John Goodman is still at the top of the depth chart at that position.

The nine game losing streak is over so all the psychological questions should now be in the past.  Notre Dame knows that they can beat USC, it is just a matter of doing it again.

USC’s offensive strength will go against the weakest part of the ND defense.  Defending the pass has been troublesome at times for the Irish and USC will do all they can to get Woods matched up with Gary Gray, the Notre Dame corner that has struggled in coverage this year.  No matter where Woods goes, or who is the corner on him, a safety will be helping out.  Covering Woods one-on-one is about as smart as covering Floyd one-on-one.  Ask Purdue how that worked out.

For the most part, Notre Dame has defended the run very well, but USC will not run much, especially if Tyler can’t play.  USC will move the ball, but Notre Dame must stiffen in the red zone.  By the same token, I expect ND to move the ball as well and they must score six when they get the chance.  The team that has to settle for field goals will lose this game.

Notre Dame will not change a thing offensively and they shouldn’t.  The only times Notre Dame has been stopped this year they have stopped themselves with turnovers and penalties.  They need to keep doing what has been effective and clean up the mistakes, something that the bye week hopefully gave them time to work on.

While ND has had turnover problems, so has USC.  Barkley has just the four picks but they have lost eight fumbles.  They have forced ten turnovers but are minus two for the year in turnover margin.  Notre Dame must tackle solidly but when they wrap up they should know where that ball is being carried.

And penalties have plagued the Trojans as well as the Irish.  USC is talented but young and these inexperienced players are apt to make mistakes when pressured.

I expect this to be a high scoring game with, as I stated, the team scoring touchdowns and not field goals being victorious.  Hopefully, Notre Dame’s balanced attack in the red zone will give them an advantage.

October 15, 2011

Notre Dame 59  Air Force 33

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

While it was not a perfect game from a defensive standpoint, Notre Dame scored touchdowns on all six of their first half possessions and built up a 42-16 halftime lead en route to a 59-33 drubbing of Air Force.

The 59 points is the most points scored by a Notre Dame team since the 62-0 defeat of Rutgers in 1996.  The last time Notre Dame scored 42 points in a half was the 1990 contest against Navy when the Irish scored that many in the second half.  In 1989, Notre Dame put 42 on the board in the first half against SMU.  

The last time an Irish squad scored more than 42 in a half was during the second half of the 1977 Georgia Tech game when they scored 48.  In 1969 against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame scored 49 in the first half.  

The key sequence of the game occurred early in the contest.  Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and drove to the Air Force 34 where they faced a third and nine.  On that play, quarterback Tommy Rees connected with receiver Michael Floyd for a controversial touchdown.  Floyd caught the ball but his foot appeared to land out of bounds, though it was unclear if he had hit the pylon first, hit out of bounds first, or if the ball had crossed the plane of the end zone first in either case.  Unable to determine what actually happened, the ruling on the field, a touchdown, stood.

On Air Force’s first offensive play from scrimmage, Falcons’ running back Asher Clark raced 28 yards but had the ball stripped loose by Jamoris Slaughter and Robert Blanton recovered for the Irish.  On the ninth play of the ensuing drive, Rees hit tight end Tyler Eifert on a five yard touchdown pass and it was off to the races for Notre Dame.  

After an Air Force field goal, Rees hit Roby Toma for the junior’s first score as a collegian to make it 21-3.  At that point the Falcons started to pull out all the stops in an effort to get back in the game.  After a touchdown and a failed conversion, Air Force attempted an on-side kick that was recovered by the Irish.  That gave Notre Dame a short field and Jonas Gray carried the ball in from five yards out for his first of two touchdowns on the day.
Later in the second quarter, after a Cierre Wood touchdown run made the score 35-9, Air Force punter David Baska ran 19 yards on a fake punt to continue a Falcon drive that would result in a touchdown.  Air Force also attempted five fourth down conversions and they were successful every time.

Air Force actually outgained the Irish 565 to 560 and had four more first downs than ND.  But the Irish won the turnover battle two to zero and they gained their yardage on 23 fewer plays.

Notre Dame used sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix in certain situations and he wound up leading the Irish in rushing with 111 yards, thanks in large part to a 78 yard jaunt that set up the final Irish score.  Jonas Gray had 69 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries while Wood had 66 yards and a score on 10 carries.

Rees was an efficient 23 of 32 for 261 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers.  Hendrix was four for four passing, as well.  Theo Riddick and Eifert each had eight catches while Floyd had six.

Notre Dame has next week off before hosting the USC Trojans in prime time on October 22nd.

October 7, 2011

Air Force @ Notre Dame Preview
by Sonny Martinez

Now this is the definition of a trap game.

The 3-1 Air Force Falcons travel to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish, who are currently sitting at 3-2.  It’ll be a 3:30 game on NBC, like most other home Irish games.  Notre Dame is coming off a blowout of Purdue, while Air Force is coming off of a game against Navy in which they blew a 28-10 lead in the last 10 minutes of the game, but somehow won 35-34 in overtime.

The marquee matchup here is the Irish defense, who gives up 18.8 points per game, vs. the Air Force offense, which scores 38.5 points per game.  Air Force is lead by its rushing, and that’s what gets the Falcons most of their wins.  They average 364.5 yards on the ground per game, which is 3rd in the nation.  They have 5 players with over 100 rushing yards this season on their team.  Their leading rusher is Asher Clark, who will be wearing the #17 at tailback.  The 5’8”, 190 pound back averages an insane 9.3 yards per run, with three touchdowns.  While he’s the leading rusher, quarterback Tim Jefferson is the second reading rusher.

Jefferson has 49 rushes for 210 yards with four touchdowns.  Jefferson also has great vision and is able to read the defense well most of the time.  He can also throw the ball, even though he doesn’t that often.  Jefferson’s passed for  492 yards and 5 touchdowns.  When he throws, if he wants a go to guy, look for it to be #85 Zack Kauth, who leads the team with just 10 catches, but 122 yards to go with it.  He also has a touchdown catch.  If a deep threat is wanted, it’ll mostly go to #10 Mikel Hunter.  Hunter has only 6 catches but a great 156 yards to go with it, which makes for an average of 26 yards, and two touchdowns.  Hunter also runs, four rushes for 82 yards and one touchdown.

That was the marquee matchup for the game.  But the thing to watch and the biggest key is going to be the Air Force defense.

The defense won’t win any games for Air Force.  It will more than likely not win this one either, leaving the game to the offense.  The defense ranks no better than 70th in the four major defensive categories, being rushing, passing, total yards and scoring.  Between that, and the fact that two starting defensive linemen Zach Payne and Ryan Gardner will both be out this week, this could be a great sign for Notre Dame.  Also out will be cornerback Chris Miller, who suffered a leg injury that will keep him out for a month.  He was third on the team in tackles through the first three games.

A depleted line that already gives up 199.8 yards rushing per game will surely be ripped apart by the rush offense of the Irish, who average 179.6 yards rushing per game, lead by Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.  My “bold prediction” of the week is that both Gray and Wood leave the game with over 100 rushing yards each.

Another key is, yet again, turnovers.  Even though the Irish didn’t have any last game, they need to repeat that performance this week.  If you give Air Force the ball on their side of the field the offense will burn you.  That’s why the very talented defense of the Irish, lead by LB Manti T’eo,  S Harrison Smith and CB Robert Blanton will need to force some turnovers to limit the chances that the Falcons get.

Another key is the defensive line.  Playing one of the best rushing teams in the nation means the line will have to step up and play one of their best games all season.  That may be even tougher if starter Ethan Johnson can’t go due to a right ankle sprain.  This means Stephon Tuitt will see most of the playing time, and maybe even Aaron Lynch could see play more this game.  Both are very talented but will have to play great to replace Johnson.

When it comes down to the end, Notre Dame is going to put up some points on the Falcons.  If the Irish defense plays like they did vs. another rushing team last year, Navy, and even this year, USF, then Air Force will put up some points on the Irish.  This can easily become a shootout.

With three very key defensive players out on an already shaky Falcon defense, and a very talented Irish team, the advantage has to go to Notre Dame.  They’re going to be the favorites and should blow Air Force out, right?

We’ve fallen into that trap too much, most recently, USF.  A “should win” on paper comes back to haunt the Irish.  It’s happened too many times in recent history.  There’s always that one game that ND looks back on and says “How did we lose?”  The Irish need to stay away from the news papers where they’re bring praised, and not look ahead to a bye week next week and USC right after.  Don’t buy into any of the “Notre Dame is going to smash Air Force!” stuff you hear.  I think the Irish win, but it’ll be closer than people expect.

Air Force: 31
Notre Dame: 42

October 6, 2011

Notre Dame @ Purdue Review
by Sonny Martinez

Finally, a game all Irish fans can enjoy.

The 2-2 Irish traveled to West Lafayette to play the 2-1 Boilermakers of Purdue.  This game was a must win for the Irish, as a loss to a team that struggled against two Sun Belt teams (including one loss) would be simply embarrassing.

The game started out great – the first pass of the game was picked off by Gary Gray, who’s been burned multiple times this season.  After an incomplete pass, Tommy Rees threw to Michael Floyd, a 35 yard completion that went for a touchdown, and just 24 seconds into the game, the Irish had the lead. 7-0 ND.

After 5 plays for Purdue lead to 18 yards and a punt, the Irish began another good drive.  Jonas Gray lead the rushing – 5 rushes for 44 yards.  Rees was also 3/6 for 52 yards.  The Irish would have gotten points, but this week it was special teams that provided the problem as David Ruffer missed a rare field goal.  A 28 yarder was blocked, mostly due to how low the kick was.

After Purdue went 6 plays for 1 yard, due to sacks and penalties, the Irish got the ball back and went on a great drive.  Good rushing, passing, no penalties for the Irish, and a few key penalties on Purdue all worked in ND’s favor.  Tommy Rees threw 6 passes and completed 3 of them for 23 yards, but the biggest one wasn’t even completed.  A pass that was partly tipped and too high for Tyler Eifert got the penalty on 3rd and goal for the defender going to the stands and high-fiving a fan.  It gave Notre Dame a new set of downs, and on their first try, Jonas Gray rushed it two yards and got the touchdown, already giving the Irish more than enough points. 14-0 ND.

After the poor play of the Purdue offense couldn’t get anything going except for a 3 and out, ND went on another great drive but again special teams cost them.  Michael Floyd caught 3 passes for 36 yards on a mostly passing drive.  They managed 10 plays totaling 52 yards, but David Ruffer missed a field goal from 49 yards out.  

Somewhat shockingly, Purdue’s next drive was also a 3 and out.  3 plays, -1 yard, and 19 seconds.  That’s either very, very great defense, or very, very bad offense from Purdue.  I’m thinking it was a little of both.

But now, back to the Cierre Wood show.  Notre Dame also had a 3 and out – but this was because the 3rd play was a touchdown.  Two 12 yard runs for Wood, followed by a huge 55 yard run that put even more points up.  79 yards and a touchdown is a full game for some players, but for Wood, it was just 3 rushes. 21-0 ND.

Finally, Purdue was able to put something together longer than 5 plays, and it was a pretty nice drive.  Some key plays included a 19 yard pass to Antavian Edwards from Robert Marve, a 2 yard loss by Ralph Bolden that was attached with a 15 yard penalty and an 11 yard rush from Marve on 3rd and 10.  However, all Purdue could get from this drive was a 27 yard field goal. 21-3 ND.

After a 3 and out from Notre Dame, Purdue’s next drive only had 3 key plays – a personal foul on Rick Schmeig, a 15 yard facemask penalty on Darius Fleming and a 20 yard pass from Marve to Edison.  This brought the half to an end with ND up 21-3.

Notre Dame came out firing – literally.  46 passing yards, along with 23 rush yards all from Cierre Wood were key to setting up a 6 yard pass from Rees to Eifert for a touchdown.  69 yards in 3 minutes, impressive drive.  28-3 ND.

Purdue had a drive of 39 yards in 10 plays, but had to punt.  Notre Dame got the ball back and picked up where they left off.  The key play was a 12 yard rush by Jonas Gray that also had a 15 yard facemask call on Purdue.  Floyd was thrown to 4 of the 7 throws this drive, but it was TJ Jones who made the drive count as he caught an 11 yard touchdown pass.  This was officially a beatdown. 35-3 ND.

After another 3 and out for Purdue, the Irish got the ball back and went on a drive that ate up a over 7 minutes of clock, which is what needed to be done.  Cierre Wood had 7 rushes for 51 yards, and Jonas Gray had one rush for two yards.  The Irish tried to throw for a touchdown but couldn’t on either 2nd or 3rd down, and had to settle for a field goal. 38-3 ND.

Purdue and Notre Dame then traded 3 and outs, Purdue went on their best drive of the game, but it was against the second team defense for ND.  It was an 11 play, 95 yard drive that only featured two plays over 10 yards – a 24 yard pass from Caleb TerBush to Edison and the final play of the drive, a 13 yard touchdown pass again to Edison.  With 21 seconds left, Purdue finally got a TD. 38-10 ND.

That 38-10 score would be the final after the Irish went into victory formation and won.

Overall, this game was great.  Great rushing, passing, and no turnovers!  That’s something to be impressed with…kind of.  Rees looked like the QB everyone wanted and played great.

The defense was very, very impressive.  To force any team to 5 possessions of 3 plays or less is very good.  The highlight of the game had to be Gary Gray’s pick on the first offensive play of the game.  It give the Irish the momentum from the very start and it was never released.

After this very good game, the Irish return home to face a tough Air Force team this weekend.

   Play Like   
  A Champion  

September 29, 2011

Purdue Preview

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

It has been a crazy first four games for the Notre Dame football team.  There were two games that the Irish should have won but lost because of mistakes.  There was a better, though far from perfect effort, that resulted in a home win over Michigan State.  And there was last Saturday’s ugly victory at Pittsburgh.

The Irish are still searching for the magic formula that will help them click on all cylinders.  Turnovers, penalties, missed tackles, and blown coverages have been aplenty in the first four games of the year.  As a result, Notre Dame stands at 2-2.

Meanwhile, down in West Lafayette, Purdue stands at 2-1 though the Purdue faithful have reservations about this Boilermaker squad.  A preseason knee injury sidelined quarterback Rob Henry and with Robert Marve still recovering from his own ACL tear, Purdue was left with Caleb TerBush as the starting signal caller to open the year.

The Boilermakers narrowly beat Middle Tennessee State before losing a close game at Rice.  On Saturday Purdue destroyed Southeast Missouri State 59-0.  Though TerBush started and played well, Marve also saw his first action of the year and was seven of eight passing for 91 yards and a touchdown.

What will happen this week?
When Notre Dame has the ball

Purdue returns nine starters from a defense that finished sixth in the Big Ten in total defense giving up 379 yards per game.  So far on the season they are 33rd in the country in total defense at 322 yards per game, though Middle Tennessee State, Rice, and Southeast Missouri State may be the main reason they are ranked that highly.

When looking at Notre Dame on offense, the biggest problem has been the turnover issue.  The Irish still rank last in the nation in both total turnovers and turnover margin.  Purdue is even in turnover margin having forced three and given up three.  Of the three take aways, two have been off of interceptions.

Purdue has not put much heat on opposing quarterbacks so far in 2011 as they have just four sacks in their three games.  One of the reasons for the drop in quarterback pressures this year is that defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is now with the Washington Redskins.  Last year Kerrigan accounted for 12.5 sacks and that production is hard to replace.  Defensive tackle Kawaan Short was second on the team with six sacks last year and he has a half a sack in 2011.  Kerrigan’s replacement at end, Robert Maci, leads the team with two sacks.

Short has had a strong start to the year with 18 tackles, three and a half of which have resulted in lost yardage.  Four of Maci’s nine stops have come behind the line of scrimmage.  The two leading tacklers are outside backers Joe Holland and Will Lucas.

The secondary is very experienced, especially at safety with seniors Logan Link and Albert Evans.  Cornerback Ricardo Allen was on Phil Steele’s second team All Big Ten team and he has one interception so for this season.  
Purdue has been better against the run than they have been against the pass from a yards per game perspective, with the 330 yards allowed passing to Middle Tennessee State being the primary reason for the gap.  If you take out the game against FCS foe Southeast Missouri State, the Boilers are giving up an average of 286 yards per game through the air.

However, they have also given up 120 yards per game on the ground in those two contests.  So look for Notre Dame to continue to try and establish both aspects of their offense.  Pittsburgh effectively took Floyd out of the game last week and I expect Purdue to try and do the same.  Allen is their best cover man but even the best corners need safety help on Floyd, especially one that is 5-foot-9, 175-pounds.

Rees was able to use Tyler Eifert effectively against Pitt and the big tight end will have his opportunities this week as well.  But with the protection the Notre Dame line should be able to give Rees against this Purdue front, he should have time to find his wide receiver options as well.

I think the Irish will come out throwing in an attempt to soften up the Purdue defense for the run.  Purdue also knows that if they want to pressure Rees they will probably have to rush extra bodies at times, something Purdue does not do all that much.  Three and a half of the team’s four sacks have come from the defensive line.  If Rees and company can recognize when Purdue is blitzing, the screen game may pay dividends.

However, there is also the option of rushing just the four and dropping seven into coverage hoping that they can cover the Irish receivers long enough to make Rees get antsy.  In this case, there should be no rush on Rees and he must remain patient in the pocket.
When Purdue has the ball

While both Purdue quarterbacks played last week and no starter has been announced, I believe TerBush will open up under center. Marve will most likely see action and whoever is having greater success will probably see the bulk of the playing time.  After missing much of last year, all of spring practice, and all of training camp, it is hard to believe that suddenly Marve is 100%.

TerBush and Marve will look to wide receivers Justin Siller, O.J. Ross, and Antavian Edison.  Siller, a former quarterback, is a big target at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds.  He leads Purdue with 14 catches for 138 yards.  Ross and Edison are smaller receivers that are counted on to make big plays.  Edison only has six receptions on the season but he has accumulated 137 yards on those plays.  

Crosby Wright is the most effective pass catcher of the three Purdue tight ends, pulling in six balls for 80 yards and a score.  Purdue backs only have three receptions in 2011 that total just 14 yards.

But those backs have run the ball very well.  Ralph Bolden is back after he tore his ACL last season and is averaging 5.7 yards on 39 carries for a total of 223 yards.  Akeem Shavers has 186 yards rushing on 29 attempts for a 6.4 average.  Bolden has two touchdowns and Shavers has three.  TerBush has also done well carrying the ball, picking up 95 yards.

Purdue returned four offensive linemen from last year, but their positions have been shuffled around due to an injury to guard Ken Plue.  Dennis Kelly remains at left tackle but last year’s right tackle Nick Mondek has moved inside to guard.  Last year’s center, Peters Drey, is at left guard.  Rick Schmeig is now the center and Justin Kitchens is at right tackle.

Despite the shake up, the line has opened enough holes for Bolden and Shaver to make Purdue the nation’s No. 9 rushing team.  They have allowed seven sacks in the first three games, so that is an area that needs improvement.

However, Notre Dame brings a defensive talent level to West Lafayette that the Boilermakers have not seen so far this year.  Notre Dame has 11 sacks on the year and Prince Shembo, Aaron Lynch, and Darius Fleming put heat on Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri to close out the game last Saturday.

The Irish are also 25th against the run and that is with Michigan quarterback Dernard Robinson going for 94 yards against them in week two.  The Purdue ground attack is more similar to that of Michigan State, which the Irish held to just 29 yards rushing.

Purdue is not going to line the ball up and run it at Notre Dame, even though that is the strength of their offense.  The Notre Dame rotation in the front seven is too talented.  So Purdue will have to throw the ball and they will probably try to find Gary Gray.  The Irish senior has had a number of pass interference calls already this year because he has had trouble locating the ball in coverage.  

Also, at times Robert Blanton, as well as Gray, has allowed a considerable cushion to take away the deep ball.  Purdue will look for some shorter passes in an effort to move the chains.  This is Purdue, so Notre Dame also has to be aware of the bubble screen.
Special Teams

George Atkinson provided the Irish special teams a spark that has been missing with his 89 yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Michigan State.  He also had a solid game against Pittsburgh taking one kick out past the forty.

The punt return game continues to be nonexistent.  No matter who the Irish put back to return punts, the results are not good.  Much of the problem stems from poor blocking giving John Goodman or whoever is back there no room to move.  The big thing is the returners need to hold onto the ball and that has been a problem so far.

David Ruffer missed his second field goal of the year though it was a knuckleball snap that led to a bad hold that was the reason for the failure.  Kyle Brindza has done a good job kicking off though he did boot one ball out of bounds.  Ben Turk averaged only 37 yards on four punts, but he did drop three kicks inside the Pittsburgh 20.

Purdue’s Carson Wiggs is one of the best kickers in the Big Ten.  Last year he was 15 of 19 on field goals with a long of 52 yards.  This year he is five of seven with a long of 50 yards.  Wiggs has also punted some, but Cody Webster is the main punter and he is very good.  On the season he has averaged 49.8 yards on ten kicks.  

O.J. Ross has been solid on kickoff returns while Wayne Gravesande has been great returning punts at a 10.9 yard clip.

This is one area of the game where Purdue seems to have a decided advantage so if the Irish can just hold their own they should be fine.

Without a doubt, this is the weakest team Notre Dame has played so far this year.  TerBush has been fine but is the third string quarterback.  Marve is more talented but is coming off a major injury.  The running backs are very good but they are running behind a re-shuffled offensive line into the strength of the Notre Dame defense.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers’ defense does not put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.  This should give Rees time to find his best option.  The Purdue defensive backs are good and if the defensive strategy is to lay back and play maximum coverage, Rees will have to go through his progressions and find the right option without forcing passes to certain receivers.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has shown a desire for a balanced offense right from the start of every game this year.  I think that continues but only because of Rees’s ball protection woes over the early part of the season.  If they could come out flinging the ball with no worries of turnovers, they would against Purdue.   But that’s not the case.

Therefore, the game plan will remain the same.  Establish the run and look to get Floyd involved.  If Purdue is keying on Floyd, it is up to Rees to incorporate other receivers into the offense.  It is simple and will probably be the game plan every week.

Based strictly on personnel, this game should not be close.  The Purdue front seven should not be a problem for the Irish offensive line and the Notre Dame defensive front has decisively more talent than the Purdue blockers.  The skill positions also favor ND and even with Rees’s problems this year, the Purdue uncertainty at the quarterback position makes it at best a wash.  Purdue’s strength is in the secondary but they have to match up with Floyd, Eifert, and crew.

But does anyone really expect Notre Dame to blow out Purdue?  They have often struggled at Ross-Ade Stadium through the years and coupled with all the mistakes so far in 2011, I expect this game to be a lot closer than it should be.

September 26, 2011

Notre Dame 15  Pittsburgh 12
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 


In golf there is a saying, it’s not how, it’s how many.  That statement rings true for the Notre Dame football team who got no style points, but did gain a 15-12 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The mistake barrage continued for the Irish who turned the ball over two more times:  a Tommy Rees fumble at the Irish 26 and a Rees interception that was picked off by Pittsburgh’s Jason Hendricks inside the Panthers’ five yard line.  On top of the turnovers, the penalties again piled up.  This week Notre Dame was flagged eight times for a total of 85 yards.

But despite his miscues, when the Irish needed a play, Rees delivered by completing all eight of his passes for 75 yards and the go-ahead touchdown to tight end Tyler Eifert on the game’s deciding drive.  Rees then connected again with Eifert on the following two-point conversion.

Pittsburgh scored first near the end of the first quarter following the Rees fumble.  Though the Panthers could not move the ball closer, Kevin Harper booted through a 47 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.  Notre Dame took the lead in the first minute of the second quarter when Jonas Gray ran 79 yards for a touchdown.

Notre Dame kicker Kyle Brindza booted the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, allowing Pittsburgh to start their next drive at their own 40.  The Panthers then methodically moved the ball into the red zone, aided greatly by a Gary Gray pass interference penalty.  But on third and one at the Notre Dame two yard line, Pitt’s Ray Graham was hauled down for a four yard loss by Irish senior linebacker Darius Fleming and the Panthers had to settle for another field goal.

George Atkinson set up Notre Dame with a big kickoff return but Rees gave the ball back to Pittsburgh on the Hendricks interception six plays later.  The Irish then put together a long drive at the close of the first half, but a poor snap led to a botched 39 yard field goal attempt.

The Irish appeared to have forced a three and out on Pittsburgh’s initial possession after halftime, but Austin Collinsworth roughed the punter and the Panthers took advantage of their new opportunity.  On the 19th play of the drive, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri hit Hubie Graham from three yards out.  A two point conversion try failed and the Panthers took a 12-7 lead.

It appeared that that score may hold up as Notre Dame’s offense showed very little life early in the second half.  Fortunately, the Irish defense stepped up and limited Pittsburgh to just 41 yards the rest of the game.

With 11:24 remaining, Notre Dame began their go ahead drive on their own 15 yard line.  Pittsburgh had done an effective job taking Irish star receiver Michael Floyd out of the game, so Rees looked elsewhere.  He hit Roby Toma for 16 yards on the first play and after three Cierre Wood runs produced a first down, Rees looked to Theo Riddick and Eifert the rest of the way with Eifert grabbing the six yard scoring strike and the two point conversion pass.

Pitt did drive into Notre Dame territory with under three minutes remaining but sacks by Aaron Lynch and Prince Shembo put the Panthers in a fourth and 26 situation that they could not convert.  Notre Dame decided to go for it on fourth and one and when a Rees sneak proved successful, the Irish had their second victory of the year.

Rees finished 24 of 41 for 216 yards with a touchdown and that one interception.  With Floyd held to just four receptions for 27 yards, Eifert stepped up with eight catches for 75 yards and that big touchdown.  Cierre Wood carried the ball 23 times for 94 yards and Jonas Gray had three carries that totaled 84 yards, 79 of which came on his touchdown run.

Defensively, Manti Te’o was solid again with 10 tackles and a sack.  Fleming had a huge game with four tackles, three of which resulted in lost yardage, and two sacks.  Lynch and Shembo also had the sacks that killed Pittsburgh’s final drive.

Notre Dame is on the road again this weekend, traveling to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on old rival Purdue Saturday at 8pm.  The Boilermakers are 2-1 this year and are coming off a 59-0 win over Southeast Missouri State.

September 23, 2011

Notre Dame @ Pitt Preview
by Sonny Martinez

Coming off their first win of the season, the surprisingly 1-2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Heinz Field to take on the 2-1 Pitt Panthers.  This game could be considered very important to ND because they need to have a solid looking road win and get back to .500.  If they can get back there, the Irish may have a good season after all.  There is also one more thing the Irish desperately need: momentum.

Pitt’s two wins have not exactly been impressive, coming against Buffalo, one of the worst teams in the FBS, and a near loss vs. FCS team Maine.  Maine was a disaster for Pitt, even though the Panthers got the win.  QB Tino Sunseri threw two interceptions and was pulled in the 4th quarter after playing nowhere near as good as he should have.  Pitt had a 35-15 lead with a little over 8 minutes to go in the game, but Maine did not back down.  They scored the next and final 14 points of the game, and a failed onside kick attempt gave Pitt the ball back and kneeled the ball for a win.

Pitt comes into the game ranking middle-of-the-pack in most major starts, including pass yards per game, rush yards per game and points for per game.  The biggest offensive threat for the Panthers is running back Ray Graham, who already has 419 rush yards, which ranks 3rd in the nation.  He also has 6 rush touchdowns, which is 8th in the nation. He is also a good receiver when Sunseri is in trouble as Graham also has 13 catches, which ranks 3rd among RBs. He’s a do it all back.  Graham’s the heart of the offense and when he goes, Pitt goes.

But the good news to that is that Notre Dame’s rush defense has been very good as of late.  They gave up 126 yards to South Florida, 114 to Michigan and 29 to Michigan State.  Now of course it’s highly unlikely that the Michigan State defense will reoccur.  Graham is too solid of a back for that to happen as it wouldn’t shock me if he had 75 rush yards Saturday. Finding a medium between Michigan and Michigan State’s rushing stats would be a great game for the defense, especially against such a good back.

The major stat of the team is that Pitt gives up 25.3 points per game, ranking 70th out of 120.  The premiere player on defense is linebacker Brandon Lindsey, a 6’2” 250 pound redshirt senior.  Lindsey has two sacks already this season.  He possesses speed that causes mismatches on the offensive line and that allows him to get to the QB and increases his ability to rack up tackles for loss.

Of course, Tommy Rees will be starting this Saturday, and he’s looked impressive.  772 yards and 6 touchdown passes.  That’s pretty impressive for a guy who started the season as the backup QB.

But I think the man who will have the biggest impact on this game for Notre Dame will be RB Cierre Wood.  Wood is averaging just under 100 yards per game and has 4 touchdowns to go with it.  Pitt’s defense gives up just over 100 yards rushing per game, but has faced two weak offensive lines and one middle of the pack line.  Notre Dame’s offensive line has looked good all season, as proven by the running backs averaging 143 rush yards per game and only giving up 3 sacks in 3 games.

Of course, turnovers will be the biggest key in this game.  One of the major reasons the Irish are sitting at 1-2 is due to the high amount of turnovers.  Tommy Rees has thrown 5 interceptions, many of which seem to come at the worst possible time.  There is absolutely no reason that Notre Dame should be -8 in turnovers, which is 120th out of 120 teams.  That will need to change this weekend, and then continue throughout the season.

The second key could also be included turnovers, but to be more generalized, special teams.  On punts, John Goodman may also see limited time as a returner, and it’s possible one of my 5 under-the-radar players Robby Toma, will see significant return time.  He was #4 on my list, and can make a huge, huge splash if he makes the most of his opportunities.  Punts are also a major source of fumbles and turnovers, but that has been limited since Theo Riddick was benched as a punt returner.  Goodman muffed a punt last week that was recovered by Michigan State.  In terms of kickoffs, freshman George Atkinson III looked very good last week, including a big 89 yard kickoff return for a touchdown last week.

Pitt is expecting a sellout this weekend, which means that they will have a lot of fan support in an NFL stadium.  Even with people behind them, I don’t believe Pitt has the talent to hang with Notre Dame.  This is a good team, but the worst Notre Dame has faced yet.  I don’t think this game will be close, but it won’t be a blowout either.

ND: 38
Pitt: 17


September 21, 2011

Michigan State @ Notre Dame Review
by Sonny Martinez


Something that Irish fans have been waiting for since December 31st happened.  A win.

The 15th ranked and 2-0 Michigan State Spartans came to South Bend to take on the turnover-plagued and 0-2 Irish.  In a fact that me be surprising, Notre Dame was actually a 5 point favorite coming into the game.

The game started in a great way, with a nice 23 yard return by freshman George Atkinson III, who would have a major impact on the game.  Cierre Wood’s first run was a loss of 3 yards, but Wood didn’t look back after that, as the next play he gained 11 yards.  After getting the first down, Wood gained another 16. Wood then gained 2 yards, 11 yards, and then the big one, 22 yards, which went for a touchdown. The Irish showed they weren’t going to let an 0-2 start bring them down. 7-0 ND.

After the Irish forced a 3 and out of MSU, ND got the ball back, but the turnover bug hit again.  On 2nd and 12, Rees dropped back, was hit, and fumbled the ball.  It turned out to be ok, because on the next MSU possession, on 3rd down, Aaron Lynch hit QB Kirk Cousins and Cousins fumbled the ball.  Notre Dame had it right back.  But yet again, on the very next ND possession, on 2nd down, Rees threw an INT and gave MSU the ball right back.

The Spartans started at the ND 30, but only managed to move the ball to the 22.  They had to settle for a field goal, and cut the lead to four. 7-3 ND.

Michigan State kicked off, and Atkinson caught the ball at the 11 yard line.  Excellent blocking and great vision lead to the kickoff being returned for 89 yards for a Notre Dame touchdown.  It was a very exciting moment for the fans.  Possibly the first exciting moment enjoyed by the fans all season. 14-3 ND.

On MSU’s 3rd and 7, Cousins completed the long pass to BJ Cunningham.  Cousins completed 2 more to Cunningham for 28 yards that were key.  The big strike, however, went to Dion Sims for 6 yards.  This was a touchdown that cut the lead down again.  14-10 ND.

After back to back ND-MSU uneventful drives,  ND got the ball 92 yards away from the end zone.  Penalties helped ND early but the offense soon took charge.  Jonas Gray rushed for a total of 30 yards, and Rees threw for 58, but it was again Cierre Wood that made the difference, as he rushed for 6 yards on his way to yet another touchdown.  This was a big moment in the game.  21-10 ND.

The next MSU drive was successful…almost. All 51 yards were gained by Kirk Cousins through the air.  However when it came down to a pressure situation, the Spartans couldn’t handle it.  First and goal from the 8, an incomplete pass, followed by a 5 yard MSU penalty.  2nd and goal from the 13, another incomplete pass. 3rd and goal, 11 yard completion.  4th and goal from the 2, incomplete pass.  A disaster for MSU that lead to the end of the half with ND up 21-10.

A 3 and out for MSU to start the half lead to another great ND drive.  Cierre Wood did some damage, but it was two long passes by Tommy Rees that did the damage that showed up where it matters the most – on the scoreboard.  A 22 yard pass to Michael Floyd set up a 26 yard reception by TJ Jones, who put the Irish up by 14 points.  The offensive line looked great on this drive and gave excellent protection to Rees. 28-10 ND.

MSU’s next possession was 6 plays but due to sacks and penalties, MSU only gained 3 yards.  ND got the ball back, and Gray rushed for 9 yards, while Floyd caught one for 12 yards.  They had to punt back to the Spartans.  After uneventful MSU and ND possessions,   Michigan State gained 42 yards – 40 through the air – to set up a FG, that was good. 28-13 ND.

MSU then went on a huge drive, and looked pretty solid.  55 strong yards, mostly passing before another punt.  This time, returner John Goodman could not handle it, and gave MSU the ball right back.  Lucky for Goodman, the defense bailed him out, as on 1st and goal from the 3, CB Robert Blanton picked Cousins and returned it 82 yards.  Even though the offense didn’t do much, it did do enough to add 3 more points. 31-13 ND.

MSU turned the ball over on downs and that allowed the Irish to take the knee and the home win.

The Irish FINALLY got the win they needed.  0-3 would have not only killed the season, but in my opinion, also recruiting.  But luckily we don’t have to worry about that.  The defense played great, and the game ball has to go to either Blanton or Atkinson.  Both played HUGE roles in the game that crushed the Spartans.  

Now let’s hope that this momentum can carry over to Saturday, when the Irish play the Pitt Panthers.  I’ll have more information on them in my next post.  But for now, let’s just enjoy the win.

And let’s hope, these are the REAL Irish.

September 17, 2011

Michigan State Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

My preview of Notre Dame’s upcoming game is broken into into three segments:  when Notre Dame has the ball, when the opponent has the ball, and special teams.  But not this week.

That’s because none of that really matters.  It’s not about Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins and his deep corps of wide receivers.  It’s not about the Spartans’ three-headed running back monster of Edwin Baker, Le’Veon Bell, and Larry Caper running behind a typical MSU offensive line.

It’s not about the big and talented Spartan defensive front led by Jerel Worthy nor the revamped linebacking unit.  And it is certainly not about Trenton Robinson and the Michigan State secondary, though I think the last person any Notre Dame fan wants to see right now is a guy from Michigan named Robinson.

No, this game is all about the guys in the blue jerseys.  More specifically, it is about what is going on underneath those gold helmets.

The Irish are currently 13th in the nation in total offense at 510.5 yards per game.  They are also 52nd in total defense, giving up an average of 350 yards in two games.  The defensive numbers are not great, but they should be good enough for at least one win with their current offensive ranking.

But we know the story.  They are dead last in both total turnovers and turnover margin.  The -3.5 turnover margin could be worse had Michigan’s Dernard Robinson not thrown three interceptions last week.

All turnovers are bad, but the closer a turnover occurs to either of the goal lines the greater the sin.  Five of Notre Dame’s 10 total turnovers happened inside the red zone.  This has been a total team effort as well with Tommy Rees and Dayne Crist throwing bad passes, Theo Riddick dropping punts, Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood dropping the ball on the ground, and T.J. Jones not looking back for a pass.

The mistakes, though, are not just limited to turnovers.  Riddick dropped a number of passes in the South Florida game.  Gary Gray seemingly cannot look back for the ball in coverage.  There was a missed 30-yard field goal from 2010 Lou Groza award finalist David Ruffer.  Ben Turk currently ranks 112th in the nation in punting.  And the penalties.  God the penalties.

The Irish are 107th in the nation in penalty yardage per game.  These miscues always seem to be at key moments and are being committed not by young, inexperienced players, but veterans that have been around the program for a number of years.

So as you can see, it is not just about the turnovers, though winning that battle would go a long way in helping the Irish achieve some success.  Notre Dame has to clean up a lot of areas of its game before the Spartans come to town.

There is also the question of what Notre Dame intends on being from an offensive standpoint.  The Irish have showed a desire to be more of a power running team this year than they were at any time last year.  I applaud Brian Kelly for trying to develop that type of toughness, but when it mattered and the Irish needed to be physical, they failed on three third and one attempts in Ann Arbor this past Saturday.  

It is fine to use the power game as a change of pace in the spread system, but will it work when the opponent crowds the middle?  The bigger question is given the limited practice hours allowed by the NCAA, can a team be effective both as a spread and power team?

No one is questioning the talent on the Notre Dame roster.  The questions are all about the focus and, as a result, the psyche of the team going forward.

Michigan State is a very good team that is talented enough to beat the Irish if both squads play sound football. They are without question better than the two teams Notre Dame has played thus far, meaning that if ND continues making mistake after mistake, the Irish will not have to worry about losing on some last second miracle this coming Saturday.  The Spartans will see to that.

September 14, 2011

Michigan 35   Notre Dame 31
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

In the movie Animal House, Chip Diller was inducted into the Omega Theta Pi fraternity by taking a paddle on the back side courtesy of Omega member Douglas C. Neidermeyer.  After each crushing blow, Diller responded, “Thank you sir may I have another.”

Notre Dame fans can relate to Chip Diller.

After Michigan State and Tulsa last year along with countless other jaw dropping defeats throughout the years, it was Michigan the delivered the latest blow to the behind on Saturday night.  The improbable 35-31 Wolverines’ victory was finished off when quarterback Dernard Robinson connected with wide receiver Roy Roundtree on a 16-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left.

The final play was set up by a crazy last minute and twenty seconds that saw Notre Dame lose the game, then win the game, and eventually lose the game again.

The Irish held a 24-7 lead going into the fourth quarter thanks to over 100 yards rushing from Cierre Wood and the passing combination of Tommy Rees and Michael Floyd.  But much like they did the previous week, the Irish continued to make mistakes in key moments to thwart drives.

With a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter, Gary Gray intercepted a Robinson pass to set the Irish up at the Michigan 39 with a chance to give Notre Dame a three score lead.  But three plays later the Irish were punting and an opportunity was blown.  

Michigan moved the ball out of its end and though the drive stalled, they switched field position, pinning Notre Dame inside its own 20.  After a big connection with Floyd, Rees gave the ball back to Michigan by way of an interception.  On their second play of the drive, the Wolverines scored on a 43-yard pass from Robinson to Junior Hemmingway cutting the Irish lead to seven.

It looked like ND would respond in a positive manner when they drove all the way to the Michigan 18, but on a first and 10 play Rees attempted another throw to Floyd that was picked off by Michigan’s J.T. Floyd.  The Irish did force a punt and turned the next possession into a David Ruffer field goal.

Another chance was wasted early in the third quarter.  While still holding the 17-7 lead, Jonas Gray ripped off a 38 yard run setting the Irish up at the Michigan 30.  But on the next play Wood fumbled the ball back to the Wolverines.

A Zeke Motta interception got the ball right back and this time the Irish converted.  A big Wood run and a 16 yard completion from Rees to Floyd on third down were the big plays.  On 3rd down from the 16 yard line, Rees found T.J. Jones crossing over the middle and the sophomore receiver took it in for a 24-7 Notre Dame lead.

It was then that the game turned.  Robinson hit Hemmingway for a 77 yard gain near the end of the third quarter that put the ball at the ND six.  On the first play of the fourth quarter, Stephone Hopkins fumbled near the goal line.  The ball popped right back to Robinson who carried it in for the score.

A terrible Ben Turk punt set up Michigan’s next score, a 14 yard touchdown reception by Jeremy Gallon to make the score 24-21.  The Irish then embarked on a long, time consuming drive that brought them to the Michigan seven.  It was there that Rees lost control of the ball on an attempted pass.  The fumble was recovered by Michigan defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen.

When cornerback Robert Blanton intercepted a Robinson throw in his own end zone, it looked like the Irish were going to escape with a win.  But the Irish went three and out and Michigan got the ball back to set up the frenzied final two minutes.

The Wolverines marched 79 yards in less than a minute and took the lead for the first time.  The last 21 yards was covered when Robinson hit Vincent Smith out of the backfield.  The Irish were unfazed and Theo Riddick set the Irish up with a big return and a Wolverines personal foul put the ball in Michigan territory.  Four plays later, Rees found an uncovered Riddick for a go-ahead touchdown.

All the Irish had to do was hold on for 30 seconds.  They couldn’t.  While Roundtree scored the winner, the key play was a 64 yard Robinson pass to Gallon, who inexplicably was all alone running down the sideline.

Even though most of Robinson’s passes seemed to be thrown up for grabs, the Michigan receivers made the plays and that made the junior signal caller the unquestioned star of the game.  Robinson only completed 11 of 24 passes, but the completions totaled 338 yards and four of the throws went for touchdowns.  He also ran 94 yards and a score.

Rees was 27 of 39 for 315 yards and three touchdowns.  But his two interceptions and fumble were costly.  Floyd caught 13 balls for 159 yards and Wood ran for 127 yards and a score.

The Irish return home next Saturday to face the 15th ranked Michigan State Spartans.

September 9, 201

Notre Dame @ Michigan Preview
by Sonny Martinez

Coming off the home and season opener vs. South Florida that was filled with turnovers, the Irish travel to The Big House to take on the Michigan Wolverines, and QB Denard Robinson, who torched the Irish defense for over 500 total yards at Notre Dame Stadium last season.  This is a huge game, as ESPN’s College Gameday will be in Ann Arbor starting at 9:00 Eastern time, and it will be the first night game in the history of The Big House, starting at 8.  Both teams will also wear special uniforms, which if you have not seen them, are very nice looking.

Yes, Michigan’s offense was too much for Notre Dame’s defense to handle last season.  The key words being, “last season.”   But this is a much improved defense from the second game of 2010. They should learn from the mistakes not only last season vs. Michigan, but also last week vs. South Florida.

Michigan comes into the game with a new offensive style (Pro) which may work against Robinson’s rushing numbers, as they did in the first game last week.  Michigan also has a new 3-3-5 defensive style which they may still be getting used to, as they’ve only had one game under that system.  All of this is capped off by the firing of Rich Rodriguez.  This preceded the hire of a new head coach, Michigan Man Brady Hoke, former head man of San Diego State.  Yes, the same SDSU team that ND barely beat in 2008.

But 2008 doesn’t matter now.  Neither does 2009.  Or ’10.  Or even last week’s loss.  What matters is the here and the now.  And here, is Michigan. And right now is when it needs to be done.  And by it, I mean a win.
Michigan is coming off of a 34-10 win vs. Western Michigan.  It was called late in the 3rd quarter due to lightning, and in those less than 3 quarters, the UM defense gave up 279 yards.  The defense did force three turnovers however.

The offense did pretty well, with 288 total yards.  190 of those yards were rushing.  The biggest threat rushing of course is Denard Robinson, but Fitzgerald Toussaint led the team with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns.  There’s no doubt Toussaint would have rushed for over 100 yards had the game not ended.
Notre Dame’s defense, obviously not the problem last week as they only gave up 16 points, gave up only 254 yards in four full quarters of play.  They had some very solid plays on defense, such as the goal line stand on the one yard line.

I’m not saying the offense was the problem.  The offense had 506 total yards.  Yet the lost the game.  You may be asking, how?  One word: Turnovers.  Michigan forced 3 turnovers in only 3 quarters, and ND gave up 5 turnovers  in a full four quarter game.  This may not be a very good stat and may work against Notre Dame pretty bad.  If the Irish can limit turnovers, and special teams mistakes (Theo Riddick) this will be a very exciting, fast paced game.

The key player this week for Notre Dame is obviously newly named starting QB Tommy Rees.  Rees was named starter over Dayne Crist due to two things: turnovers and decision making.  Crist made many bad forced throws which really hurt ND and cost them points in the resulting drives.  His go-to guy was Michael Floyd.  Crist would throw the ball directly to Floyd, hence forced throws, whereas Rees would throw the ball high over Floyd’s head, in a spot where only Floyd could come down with the ball.  Yes, a few were too high, but I’ll take an incompletion over an interception any day of the week.

Coach Kelly said it best: Rees gives this team the very best chance to win.  He did last season, and he does now.  Yes, I did think he should be the backup.  But so did the Coach, and countless other Irish fans and even some critics.  But all of us were proved wrong, and shown that Rees is capable of bringing them to new heights.  

To make a prediction for this game is probably going to be the hardest one I’ll make all year.

Are we going to see the same Notre Dame team that gave up 5 turnovers and played very poorly at times, especially in the 1st half?  Will they continue a collapse and lose again?  Will they look like they did last season and let Denard Robinson run wild on them again? After all, Michigan is always a very tough game, especially on the road for a team with absolutely no momentum.

Or are we going to see the Notre Dame team we all expected?  You know, the one with a solid offense, great defense and good special teams?  We saw glimpses of it last week in the second half.  They could be brand new, rejuvenated team and come out firing in every way possible.  The offense may just be too fast for Michigan.

I think the last one will happen.  Notre Dame knows they NEED to win this game.  If they lose, bye bye BCS.  There’s too much riding on this game to lose. Plus, if Notre Dame wins, that puts the season right back on track.  Rees will throw for 300+ and Wood will rush for 100+ and Notre Dame will come away with a win, and I think it’ll be somewhat of a shootout.

The time is now.  They have to.  Today.  Time to do what famous words have been in Notre Dame Stadium for a while.

It’s time…to Play Like A Champion Today.

ND: 38
UM: 31

September 8, 2011

USF @ Notre Dame Recap - Sorry Theo Riddick
by Sonny Martinez

Great turnover numbers, a solid looking defense and flashy offense took the field Saturday in South Bend.
In case you didn’t see the game, I’m talking about South Florida.  For the most part, the Skip Holts led Bulls walked all over Notre Dame in a game much closer than it should have been.  But let’s get into the recap before going into the “what did I just watch..?” feeling gets let out.

The first drive of the game for the Irish was great…until they met the 2 yard line. 7 solid plays to move the ball 76 plays.  Cierre Wood caught a pass for 31 yards, and ran for 21 on the drive.  For some reason, with only 2 yards to go, Coach Kelly decided to give the ball to Jonas Gray, who was stripped of the ball, and returned 96 yards for a South Florida touchdown. 7-0 USF.

Notre Dame got the ball back but punted when they couldn’t do anything.  USF got the ball back and it was all BJ Daniels.  He ran for 15 yards and passed for 20 on the drive.  The Irish defense looked kind of shaky on the drive, but did keep the Bulls out of the end zone.  However they did get on the board with a field goal.  10-0 USF.

After a Notre Dame 3 and out, USF got the ball, yet again.  Lindsey Lamar rushed for 17 yards on the first play.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the most obvious facemasks I’ve seen was called to add 12 yards onto the run.  The very next play, yet another facemask call was made.  Thankfully, a nice goal line stand was made by the Irish defense, holding the Bulls to another field goal.  13-0 USF.

Notre Dame had the ball to start the 2nd quarter.  Dayne Crist and Cierre Wood looked great on the drive. They pretty much carried the drive that got down to the USF 7 yard line.  The drive ended with Crist throwing the ball into double coverage and being picked off by Devekeyan Lattimore in the end zone for a touchback.

South Florida then had a pretty solid 45 yard drive highlighted by 27 rushing yards.  Notre Dame got the ball back after a missed field goal, which was followed by another 3 and out for the Irish.

After a good defensive series for the Irish, South Florida punted the ball to Theo Riddick, who called for the fair catch, but fumbled the ball.  This set up yet another field goal for the Bulls. 16-0 USF.

Nothing much significant happened for the rest of the quarter.  Halftime is where things got interesting.  A major lightning storm crossed South Bend.  A 2 hour, 10 minute delay that provided fans with more of a show than the Irish offense really turned around the game.  After this delay which saw the stadium evacuated for the first time in history, Coach Kelly decided to put Tommy Rees in at quarterback.  After a 3 and out for the Bulls, ND got the ball back.

Tommy Rees’ go to guy was without a doubt, Michael Floyd.  The two hooked up 3 times for 26 yards, and almost hooked up for a 4th.  The reason that didn’t happen was because the turnover bug bit again, with Rees throwing an INT just five yards away from the end zone.  This was another devastating blow to the team.

Thankfully USF couldn’t move the ball too far, and the Irish got the ball back.  5 plays, all through the air. Two incomplete passes, followed by strikes to Tyler Eifert for 37, Cierre Wood for 5, and the big one, a touchdown pass to Michael Floyd.  This put the game within striking distance with plenty of time left.  16-7 USF.

After 6 plays for 11 yards, USF punted again, and again, Theo Riddick fumbled the ball.  Thankfully, he recovered the ball.  This would not matter, as a missed field goal a few plays later, that led to the outcome, resulted in absolutely nothing but 43 more pass yards for Tommy Rees.

As the 4th started, USF had the ball.  First play of the quarter was a 10 yard pass, but a 15 yard call against the Irish resulted in a total of a 25 yard gain.  After a few more contributing plays, the Bulls struck again – one of the biggest and most costly blows of the game – to take the big lead back.  Note here – Carlo Calabrese was in perfect, and I mean PERFECT position to intercept or at least block the pass.  But instead, he kept his back turned costing the Irish 7. 23-7 USF.

The Irish offense looked strong on this drive.  And for once, that isn’t a joke.  12 plays, 10 passes, 7 completions.  Michael Floyd caught 4 passes for 44 yards, TJ Jones had one for 15, Theo Riddick had 1 for 5, and Tyler Eifert had 1 for 7.  But the final play was one of two runs on the drive, the only one for positive yardage, that got Notre Dame the score.  After a USF time out, the Irish went for two – and overthrew Michael Floyd, who caught the ball about 5 yards out of the end zone.  23-13 USF.

After an uneventful USF possession, they punted to the Irish, who managed one play before the lightning returned, delaying the game yet again.  After this delay, the Irish only needed one play to turn the ball back over, another moment that lead to the downfall of the team.

After a USF 3 and out, the Irish built a good drive, but it was too late.  Rees was sacked, fumbled the ball and recovered the ball.  He then completed 7 big passes for 85 yards with the targets being Jones, Eifert, Wood, and the usual, Floyd.  8 of those yards went to Michael Floyd on the touchdown pass the made the game interesting…for a few seconds.  Notre Dame was within 3.  23-20 USF.

Notre Dame of course went for the onside kick, and it didn’t go their way.  USF got the ball and ran the clock out to win the game.  FINAL: USF 23, ND 20.

So here are my thoughts on this game: Is it bad that ND gave up 23 points? No. USF has a very good, fast offense and is on the rise in not only the Big East, but all of college football.  Is it bad that Notre Dame got only 20 points?  Eh.  There’s excuses.  First game, use of 2 QBs, delays, all that.  BUT.  Excuses only get you so far.

They should have scored at least 9 more points, with 3 failed red zone attempts.

Is it bad the Irish lost?  I can live with the loss.  Upsets happen and it was to a good team.  

Is it bad the Irish lost the way they did? ABSOLUTELY YES.  5 turnovers.  5 turnovers.  5 TURNOVERS, REALLY?  Bad games happen but come on!!!  Theo Riddick couldn’t catch a cold on special teams, turning the ball over once and fumbling a total of 3 times.  There’s no excuse.  Once is understandable.  But 3 fumbles is just ridiculous.  Not to mention the 3 interceptions.  3 picks, 2 fumbles lost.  All at home.  Come on people.

Wake up and get ready for Michigan.  Because if they play in the Big House the way they did at HOME vs. USF, they’re in for quite the beating.

But Tommy Rees will start Saturday.  Thankfully, he’s starting.  Maybe the turnover bug won’t bite, and hopefully Theo Riddick had to catch footballs all day, every day.  Or at least take a concentration class.  But personally, I think Theo shouldn’t see much playing time early.  I’m not saying bench him – the Irish need him. But just keep him out for 2 or 3 series.  That’ll teach him to pay attention.

But the time is now Notre Dame.  Wake up, show Michigan what glory is like.  And more importantly, show not only Michigan, but all of college football, that you just had a bump in the road.  Because you can be assured, the road to glory, is not an easy one.  Don’t focus on the future.  The time is now.

The Irish are 0-1 and going to the Big House, where College Gameday will be.  The game starts at 8:00 on ESPN.

September 1, 2011

 South Florida Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

On the last day of 2010, Notre Dame defeated Miami 33-17 to win the Sun Bowl.  Ever since the final gun sounded in that contest, Notre Dame fans have been eagerly awaiting the start of the 2011 season.  The four wins to close last season have led to great optimism amongst the Irish faithful and they can’t wait to see what year two under head coach Brian Kelly brings.

On Saturday, the wait is finally over.

The South Florida Bulls come to Notre Dame for the first time, though their head coach certainly knows his way around campus.  Skip Holtz graduated from ND and coached the Irish under his legendary father, Lou.

Most Irish fans will be happy to see him back, assuming his team ends up with fewer points than the Irish on Saturday night.

South Florida became a Division 1-A football team in 2001 after competing four years at the 1-AA level.  After two years as an independent and two years in Conference USA, the Bulls joined the Big East in 2005.  That year they were invited to their first bowl game (a 14-0 loss to North Carolina State in the Meineke Car Care Bowl) and they have played in a bowl every year since.

Holtz took over the program before last season and he may have the most talented squad ever assembled at USF.

Here is a look at how the Bulls match up with the Fighting Irish.
When South Florida has the ball

Everything South Florida does offensively revolves around quarterback B.J. Daniels.  The 5-foot-11, 214-pound junior is a threat throwing and running the ball, though he is definitely prone to mistakes.  Holtz told ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt that at times last year it seemed that Daniels threw for a score every time dropped back, though sometimes it was the other team that was running into the end zone.

Daniels completed 58.4% of his passes with 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2010.  He also ran for 423 yards, though sacks resulted in a net of 259 yards rushing.  He also rushed for five touchdowns.

Last year’s leading rusher Moise Plancher is gone but they should still get good production out of the running back position.  Junior Demetris Murray, who had 542 yards on the ground last fall, will share time with Colorado transfer Darrell Scott.  Scott was a one-time five-star prospect that never panned out in Boulder.  He has two years to revive his career in Tampa.

The receiving corps returns second leading receiver Evan Landi, who shifts to tight end this season after playing wide receiver the previous two years.  The group should also be bolstered by two players that sat out last year.  A.J. Love, who had 489 yards receiving in 2009, missed last season with a torn ACL and Sterling Griffin sat out with a dislocated ankle after a 289-yard freshman campaign in 2009.  The third receiver is senior Joel Miller, who caught 11 balls for 121 yards and a touchdown last year.

The South Florida offensive line has been in a state of flux since last season ended.  Last year’s starter at right guard, Chaz Hine, will shift over to center.  Jeremiah Warren is back at left guard, but the rest of the group is new.  Junior right guard Danous Estenor has played ten games in his career and right tackle Quinterrius Eatmon is a redshirt freshman.  Left tackle Mark Popek has played in most of the games during the past two years, but this is his first shot at the starting left tackle job from day one.  

South Florida has a decision to make entering this game.  Do we try to establish the run immediately or do we open up throwing hoping that they can soften the ND defense?  In the final four games of last season, Notre Dame only gave up more than 100 yards rushing once and that was to Army who they held to 117 yards below their season average.

The front three in the Notre Dame 3-4 that played the most minutes in the last four games are all back. Added to the mix are prized freshmen Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch along with massive sophomore Louis Nix, who sat out all last year.  Key reserves Hafis Williams and Kona Schwenke also return to give defensive ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore and nose tackle Sean Cwynar a break.

This group will look to put heat on the quarterback as well, but outside backers Darius Fleming and Prince Shembo combined for 10.5 sacks last year and you would expect that number to go up.  The Irish have decided to start Dan Fox at the inside position beside Manti Te’o, so maybe they believe USF will come out throwing.  

The third corner spot is the question for the Irish in the secondary.  Robert Blanton and Gary Gray have plenty of experience, but Lo Wood will have to step up and play a position that has become so important against the spread offenses in today’s world of college football.  Safety is deep with Zeke Motta backing up Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith.

South Florida ranked sixth in the Big East in rushing last year and with the questions on the line, I believe they will throw the ball early.  They will have to mix it up to keep Notre Dame honest, but they will put the ball in Daniels’s hands and hope the he plays like he did in last year’s Meineke Car Care Bowl and not like he did earlier in the season.
When Notre Dame has the ball

South Florida has a lot of speed on the defensive side of the ball, but this is a unit that returns six guys from a crew that was sixth in the Big East in scoring defense, fifth in total defense, and fifth in pass defense.  

The Bulls run a 4-3 and most of the returning starters are in the back seven.  Linebackers DeDe Lattimore and Sam Barrington were second and third on the team in tackles in 2010 and should pace South Florida in that category this year.  Redshirt freshman Reshard Cliett will open at the strong side linebacker spot.  Jon Lejiste and Jerrell Young are solid safeties and corner Quenton Washington was the fourth leading tackler last year. Kayvon Webster is not considered a returning starter, but the junior has started 10 games in his career.  

Three of the front four starters are new though two of those are seniors that have played quite a bit during their time at USF.  Defensive end Patrick Hampton has played in 30 games in his career and defensive tackle Keith McCaskill has seen extensive action as well.  Defensive end Ryne Giddens played in 12 games last year as a redshirt freshman and showed solid pass rushing skills in compiling 3.5 sacks, which was good for second on the team.  

Cory Grissom will return at nose tackle.  The 6-foot-2, 317-pounder is a space-eater that had 16 tackles and one sack in 13 games last fall.  Depth on the line could be an issue as the back ups are very inexperienced.

The Irish will start Dayne Crist at quarterback and he has four of the five starters back in front of him with Chris Watt, who played a lot in 2010, taking over at left guard for Chris Stewart.  Senior Andrew Nuss will fill in at all the spots, but behind him, things get very thin.

Depth at running back has been a big topic leading into this season and the Irish need Cierre Wood to stay healthy and Jonas Gray to contribute.  Kelly has repeatedly stated that establishing a solid ground game is essential this season, so that would lead one to believe that he will try and run the ball despite the depth issues.

There are receivers galore with Michael Floyd leading the charge, Theo Riddick looking to improve on a solid sophomore season, and several other players hoping to make an impact.  Tyler Eifert has the potential to be an All American contender at tight end and the Irish are deep there as well.

Kelly will have the Irish throwing the ball; he always does.  But with a lack of depth on the South Florida defensive front, he may try to pound it at them (as much as Kelly’s spread will pound the ball) and see if they can wear down the Bulls.  The USF corners have decent but not great size and Michael Floyd is a match up problem for anyone, so I am sure he will be featured.

I would not be surprised to see Riddick featured in a couple of gadget plays, either.
Special Teams

Maikon Bonani is a solid place kicker for South Florida, hitting 17 of 21 kicks last year with a long of 47.

Punting is an issue as Justin Brockhaus-Kann only averaged just 37.6 yards a punt, though he did drop 19 kicks inside the 20.

The return game is very good.  Terrence Mitchell averaged 11 yards a punt return and Lindsey Lamar returned two kick offs for touchdowns in 2010.  The USF coverage units need to improve, and with Brockhaus-Kann not punting the ball very far, punt coverage is a big concern.

Notre Dame got very little out of either return game last year, but David Ruffer was a Lou Groza finalist as a place kicker.  Ben Turk did not punt the ball a great distance on average last year, but there were very few returns so his net average was quite good.

Notre Dame has to hold the South Florida return games in check.  In games where a road team is an underdog, they will look to gain extra yardage in the special teams.  Notre Dame must negate this and look to make a big play or two of their own.

South Florida is an athletic team that many experts have contending for the Big East crown.  The Irish will be challenged, especially if B.J. Daniels is efficient with his play.  Defensively, the Bulls’ speed could give the Irish offense a test.

But Miami had speed on their defense last year and certainly USC did too and the Irish scored enough to win those games.  In an opening game, one never knows how a team will perform, but if the Irish continue last year’s momentum into 2010, they should be fine.

It may take a while but I do believe ND will control this game.  They are bigger and more experienced than their South Florida counterparts.  I think it will be close into the second half but the Irish will score midway through to seal the game.

Then it is on to the Big House on September 10th.

August 31, 2011

Five Under The Radar Players You Should Know
by Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame’s return to glory is just a few days away.

But of course for that to happen, a few players will need to have a big season.   While Notre Dame’s schedule looks soft, if you really look deep into it, ND’s worst case scenario would be 8 losses.  I’d bet that would not happen this year, and I’m still sticking with my 11-1 prediction.  But big play is going to be needed from a few lesser known and lesser expected players.

There are some obvious players such as Dayne Crist, Manti T’eo, and Harrison Smith that will have big years, and won’t be on the list because they’re expected for a good year.  Here’s my list of the top 5 under the radar players that you should know that will put up big numbers.

5. Jonas Gray, RB: Jonas is ready to overtake Gary as the number one Gray in South Bend.  Even though he is the backup to Cierre Wood, the senior will need to provide some good runs while Wood is on the sidelines. Notre Dame hasn’t had a solid RB in a while, but Gray has been looking strong in practice.  His experience and being around the program for a few seasons should help, and having a good offensive line should improve the numbers he had last season.

4. Robby Toma, WR: Toma is another player who won’t be starting, but will see significant playing time.  He didn’t have a standout year last season (14 catches for 187 yards, no touchdowns) which makes him perfect for this list.  Dayne Crist, now in his second season starting, will have better protection from his o-line, and won’t make the same mistakes he had last season.  Brian Kelly said that “He (Toma) is mirroring the kind of things we want to do on offense” and will most likely see more playing time this season than possibly in his previous 2 seasons combined.  He’s taken advantage of great opportunities this offseason, and is ready to show them off.

3. Lo Wood, CB: Possibly the least known player on this list, Lo Wood, like the previous two, won’t be starting. He’ll be behind Robert Blanton on the depth chart, but when Blanton is off the field, Wood will need to be productive.  Behind Blanton and Gray, Notre Dame is very short on experience at corner.  He is still young (sophomore) and he saw most of his playing time on special teams.  Much like his few plays at corner, he was burned badly a few times.  Of course, those were freshman mistakes, but he did benefit from learning from graduated CD Darrin Walls.  He has great speed and awareness, so if he can limit the mistakes he made in 2010, he’ll have a major impact on the Irish secondary.

2. Carlo Calabrese, LB: Calabrese did start last season, and will split time with Dan Fox.  That will not limit his abilities.  Last season he missed two games (Tulsa and Utah) yet still finished the season 5th on the team in tackles, to go along with 2.5 sacks.  Calabrese has the look of a solid linebacker (6’1, 245) and he plays like it. Playing next to All-American Manti T’eo makes him even better, even though T’eo gets all of the attention. Expect a healthy Calabrese, with more experience, to have an even bigger 2011 than 2010.

1. TJ Jones, WR: Ok, so maybe being a starting Wide Receiver at Notre Dame isn’t exactly under the radar or anything.  But when you’re playing behind All-American Michael Floyd, it may be.  Jones was pretty good as a freshman last season, 23 catches for 306 yards and 3 TD’s.  He struggled at times, like most freshman, but is poised for a breakout season.  Due to injury, most of his production came with Crist at QB, so Kelly’s announcement probably put a smile on Jones’ face.  He’s the second WR on the depth chart, (Behind Floyd, ahead of Theo Riddick) so he will be starting this season.  He has been very consistent in practice, which Coach Kelly is a huge fan of.  Jones’ father, Andre Jones, a member of the 1988 Championship team, passed away in June, adding to his motivation.  ESPN, Scout and Rivals all had Jones as a 4 star recruit. If Jones plays like he did in the first few games of last season, this could be the year that Jones goes from a 4 star recruit to a 5 star All-American.  

These five players will need to have a good, strong season for the Irish to be better than they were in 2010.  I believe all five will be good.  They may not get the recognition they deserve, but you can bet they will post some strong numbers.

If this happens, and all falls into place, the Irish’s return to the top of college football is right around the corner.
Let the countdown begin.

August 17, 2011

Micheal Floyd, the QB Battle and Other Media Day Notes
by Sonny Martinez

Camp has been opened. Media day has happened. Notre Dame football season is here.  With just under 3 weeks until the season opener vs. South Florida, the Irish have a lot of work ahead of them to determine a few key spots and get some answers.

Perhaps the biggest story of late is the reinstatement of Michael Floyd.  He was suspended in March after he was arrested for drunk driving.  There will be no games missed, which is great news for the Irish as he is one of their most explosive players on the team.  As a junior last season, he had 79 catches for 1,025 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He still has this year to play, but he has already caught more TDs than any player in team history.

On the matter, Floyd had this to say at Notre Dame’s Media Day: "After decision making like that you see what is in front of you, what you could lose in life, It made me realize I got to watch out for what I do."

However, Coach Brian Kelly said Floyd’s off the field problems will not be a distraction. "I don't think you forget about it.  You don't just throw it under the rug," Kelly said.  "But you don't spend time every day gnashing your teeth: 'Michael Floyd, what did you do to us?' It's past that in that sense.  But he's got to do the right things every day, and I think he has."

And Floyd is ready to put the past behind him.  "The past is the past. I'm moving forward, not even thinking about that. Just moving forward from there."

But the biggest question is undoubtedly who will be throwing the ball to him, Dayne Crist or Tommy Rees?  That has been the talk of Notre Dame since spring camp back in April.  Last season, Crist went 4-5 as starter before a season ending injury vs. Tulsa.  While 4-5 may not sound too good, he did this with a weak defense. 

Of the 5 lost as a starter, in all 5, 28 points or more were given up by the defense, and in 3 of the 5, Notre Dame lost by 4 points or less.  Also, it should be noted that the 5th and final loss was the game that cost Crist his season. Crist finished his season with the losing record, but also 2033 yards, 15 TDs, and 7 picks.

Then in came Tommy Rees.  In his first two starts, he lead beatdowns of the 14th ranked Utah Utes and a weaker Army team. He also beat rival USC in the Coliseum and former rival Miami in the Sun Bowl.  While the Irish dominated all of Rees’ 4 starts, the defense stepped up big time also. In all 4 games, no more than 17 points were given up. Rees finished his season with 1106 yards, 12 TDs and 8 INTs.

To put that in prospective, in 5 less games, Rees had 3 less TDs, but one more interception.  So while the record makes Rees look like he should be the starter, the numbers don’t lie.  If the defense played the same for Crist as it did for Rees, Crist may have been more successful.  That brings us to this question…who should be the Irish starter on September 3rd?

In the words of Brian Kelly, “It’s too close to call.”  Both Rees and Crist have been working to improve since April.  "They both have done very good things.  So right now I would say they are neck-and-neck," Kelly said.  "Dayne has been getting most of the first-team reps, so we wanted to be able to give a balanced evaluation.”  One thing that makes it tough is that Crist has the stronger arm, as seen last season also, but Rees has a nice touch and quicker release. 

Crist also added why he thinks the two are so close in the QB race. "I look at Tommy as my little brother.  We are constantly pushing each other to get better and we are both guys that will do whatever it takes to make the team better," Crist said.  "At the end of the day, we understand the competition dynamic and we understand there is only one starting quarterback for Notre Dame."

Another playmaker on offense, WR/RB Theo Riddick also offered his opinion.  "There is a whole lot of competition.  Each and every day you got to come in and they have to come in with the right mindset to get better.  And they have.  It has definitely improved our team."

Personally, if I had to pick now, I would have a very, very tough time deciding.  But as I stated before, stats don’t lie, so I would have to take Dayne Crist to be the starter.  Coach Brian Kelly agrees, as he named Crist the starter for the game vs. South Florida.

Here are some more highlights from Notre Dame’s Media Day…

Brian Kelly: “Expectations are always high at Notre Dame, but I can’t give you a whole lot about our football team until I get another 10 days to two weeks with them.  I can give you some early thoughts.  I can give you some clearer pictures relative to our football team to where are position-wise.  But we’re still cooking; we’re still developing who we are in 2011.”

“This group has been as focused about the task at hand relative to their preparation in 2011 than any team I’ve coached.  Extremely professionally, they go to work every day with a purpose.  It hasn’t been a camp where we’ve had to take out the stick and get these guys to practice.  They really enjoy practicing.  They really enjoy the preparation. I enjoy that as a coach.”

“We know what we’re capable of. We know we can do big things. We’re going into practice every day with a hunger mindset, just trying to compete.”

“They want and desire to be a championship football team.  It’s been a long time. They’ve only won six games two years ago and eight games [last season].  That doesn’t fill you up, I believe.”

Kapron Lewis-Moore: “I want to say ever since last season and the way we ended last season it’s been a different feel in the air around the program in what our potential can be as far as the football team.  We’ve been staying focused and chipping away.”

Harrison Smith: "We didn't come to Notre Dame to be preranked.  That's encouraging, but at the same time it doesn't mean anything.  Winning on the field on Saturdays is what means something.”

Next time I will look at under-the-radar players that could play a major role in the 2011 season.  Players that will have an obvious huge impact (such as Manti T’eo, Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick) will not be on the list.  One player, however, who will be on the list, is TJ Jones.  The rest of the list, with reasons, will be posted next time.

July 27, 2011

What is a Good Season?
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

This is the time of year when predictions for the upcoming college football season come out.  The polls will be unveiled soon, Vegas odds on number of wins can now be easily found, and anyone with a thought puts their opinion on the internet.

In his previous entry, Sonny Martinez went through the season game by game, offering his predictions on the Notre Dame slate, forecasting that the Irish will go 11-1.  Phil Steele has multiple computer programs that simulate each game of the college campaign and a few of his models call for an undefeated 2011 ND football team.  And many believe that the Irish will be favored by odds makers in all of their games except for Stanford.
But the season is not played on paper.  Even the best teams in the history of college football did not play their best football every week.  They all survived games where they did not execute properly or did not put forth a quality effort.  But these teams got through because their off games occurred against competitors that were overmatched talent-wise.  

And these let downs don’t always happen in what are considered trap games.  Predicting where poor efforts will come is impossible as sometimes they happen against a team’s most heated rival.

A perfect case in point is the 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide.  Nick Saban’s crew was cruising along, winning their first seven games by an average of 23 points.  But Tennessee, who was 3-3 but always a heated rival for Alabama, came into Tuscaloosa and gave the Tide all they could handle.  Alabama won 12-10 because of two blocked kicks by defensive tackle Terrence Cody.  Later in the year, Alabama was lucky to escape Auburn with a close victory.

The 2005 Texas Longhorns may have had the fewest letdowns.  Before the last-second win against USC in the Rose Bowl, Texas’s tightest contest was against highly ranked Ohio State early in the year.  But they had a huge scare on October 29th in Stillwater, Okla.  At halftime the Cowboys led 28-12 and looked like they would take the game to the wire.  Then Vince Young showed up and Texas rolled, but Horns gave an Oklahoma State team that would go 4-7 that year a chance.  Later on that year, 5-5 A&M fumbled twice in the fourth quarter while down by one score, including one at the Texas ten yard-line, and the Longhorns capped their undefeated regular season with a 40-29 win.

There are few teams that are considered more dominant than the 2001 Miami Hurricanes.  Miami held the #1 ranking most of the fall and destroyed just about everyone in their path.  But that team will never forget their trip to Boston College that year.  With less than a minute to go, the Eagles had the ball at the Miami nine yard-line.  A BC pass bounced off a Miami defender into the hands of defensive lineman Mike Walters.  Miami safety Ed Reed took the ball away from his teammate and ran the distance for a clinching touchdown.  Miami was also challenged by Virginia Tech, but a dropped pass on a Hokie two-point conversion proved to be the difference.

There is no way anyone is putting the 2011 Irish in the company of these classic teams, yet each of them had a couple of disappointing efforts.  So we must expect that Notre Dame will have at least a couple of not-so-hot performances this fall.

The question is which games on the schedule can Notre Dame come out flat in and still win?  Wake Forest may be the only one.  Perhaps Purdue, but going to West Lafayette is rarely easy for the Irish.  All of the other opponents are good enough to beat the Irish if Notre Dame has a bad day.

Certainly, the quality of ND’s play in each game will not be black or white.  It can, and probably will, range from outstanding to dreadful.  An “A” effort will defeat every team on the schedule and a “B” performance may as well, depending on how well the competition plays.  It is the “C” and “D” games that are the concerns.  It is likely that they will have a few of those games and how they survive those contests will be the key to a successful season.

Hopes are high for the Irish and they should be, but everyone also has to understand that a couple losses will not make this a disappointing season.  The Irish finished 8-5 last season and getting to 11-1 is a big jump.  Yes, Auburn went from 8-5 to 14-0 in Gene Chizik’s second season.  Alabama was 7-6 in year one of Nick Saban and 12-2 in year two.  Ohio State was 7-5 in Jim Tressel’s first season and 14-0 the following year.  11-

1 or better can be done.

But with this schedule, where they are facing quality opponents week after week, 9-3 or 10-2 would not be bad either.
Other Notes

With high expectations comes pre-season recognition.  Several Irish players have made award watch lists entering the 2011 season.  Quarterback Dayne Crist is on the Maxwell Award and Davey O’Brien Award watch lists.  The Maxwell Award goes to the nation’s top player while the O’Brien Award goes to the top quarterback.
Michael Floyd was also on the Maxwell Award list and the Fred Biletnikoff Award watch list, which is the prize to the top wide receiver.  Tyler Eifert is on the John Mackey Award watch list.  The award goes to college football’s top tight end and is named for the Hall of Famer that recently passed away.

Manti Te’o and Harrison Smith are defenders that appear on multiple lists.  They are both on the Bronko Nagurski Award list, an honor that goes to this year’s best defensive player.  Smith is also being considered for the Jim Thorpe Award for the best defensive back.  Te’o is up for the Dick Butkus Award, for the best linebacker; the Vince Lombardi Award, which goes to the best lineman; and the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the defensive player of the year.

After being a finalist for the Lou Groza Award last year, David Ruffer is looking to be the best kicker in the land in 2011.  Zach Martin is on the Outland Trophy watch list.  The Outland Trophy goes to the best interior lineman in the country.  Braxston Cave will be considered for the Dave Rimmington Award for the best center in the land.  And Cierre Wood is on the list for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the top collegiate running back.

A couple members of the Notre Dame football family passed away this summer.  Andre Jones, a linebacker on the great Irish teams of the late ‘80s, died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 42.  Jones’s son, T.J., is a wide receiver on the current Irish squad.

Former All American defensive lineman Pete Duranko died in early July after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Duranko was a member of the 1966 National Championship team and played for the Denver Broncos in both the AFL and the NFL.

July 10, 2011

Season Predictions
By Sonny Martinez

For years, Irish fans have been thinking, “Maybe next year.”  With July 9th marking only 56 days until the first Notre Dame football game of 2011, it’s not too soon to be thinking about expectations of the season.  Many people believe that the Irish can win 10 games this season.  Many believe that they could be favorites in 11 of their 12 games.  And most importantly, a lot believe that the Irish can make a BCS Bowl this season.

            Personally, I think that all of these thoughts will be true this season.  The schedule, with teams that are quietly on the rise, such as South Florida and Air Force, is not as easy as some think, and could set up for a few trap games.  Of course there are the traditional rivals such as Michigan, Michigan State and USC, which will also prove to be tests.

            Here are some game by game predictions for the Irish season.

9/3 – South Florida: The season opener at Notre Dame, with the return of a Holtz to Notre Dame Stadium.  Skip Holtz, who worked at Notre Dame for 4 years under his father, Lou, leads a young and talented team which could challenge for the Big East Championship. B.J. Daniels may be the best QB in the Big East, but with only 5 starters returning on offense, it may not be that easy, especially in week one.  I think Notre Dame’s offense can outscore USF and win the game by 14. Win.

9/10 – @ Michigan: Last year, Denard Robinson gave the Irish defense havoc. He alone had over 500 yards of total offense, yet the Wolverines only won by 4 points. Dayne Crist was knocked out early in the game, and didn’t return until the second half.  This year, with an improved Irish defense that knows what to expect from Robinson, and improved offense, the Irish can slow down the offensive attack of Michigan a little more than last year, and get revenge. Win.

9/17- Michigan State: Ohhhh, the fake.  The fake field goal in overtime in East Lansing. The finish was so epic, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio had a heart attack after the game.  The fake shocked many fans as nobody saw it coming. Again, a close loss that the Irish could have won.  With 6 starters back on offense for Michigan State including the 3 headed monster of QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker and WR B.J. Cunningham, the offense should still put up some points.  If this game was at Spartan Stadium, I’d give the win to Michigan State.  But with the game in South Bend and a better Notre Dame team all around, I’ll go with Notre Dame in a close one. Win.

9/24 - @ Pitt: Pitt will have a new secondary this season, along with a new coach.  Last year Notre Dame put up 23 points in a win.  Dion Lewis is also gone, and he was the go to guy, although he didn’t give the Irish a lot of trouble last season.  Pitt should be 2-1 at this point, with the two wins coming against a bad Buffalo team, and Maine, an FCS school.  They are at Iowa the next week, who’s rough and tough style could wear down the defense.  Notre Dame will get the win. Win.

10/1 - @ Purdue: Even with 9 returning starters on defense, Purdue will likely not be a good team this season.  They will be improved from the 4-8 team they were last season, but the key here is a loss on defense: Ryan Kerrigan.  He was giving Crist many problems, but with Kerrigan gone, Crist or Rees, whoever the starter may be, may have a little more time to make decisions.  The offensive line of the Boilermakers could be a question though, and Manti T’eo’s favorite thing to do is make a hit, which he should do a lot in this game. I think this will be a game with points in the mid 20’s for both teams, but Notre Dame will get the win this week also. Win.

10/8 – Air Force: Trap game. Those are two words that can be perfect to describe the game.  Coming off of a Commander In Chief’s Trophy win, their first in 8 years, the Falcons have some momentum heading into this season. The only 4 games they lost last season were to 3 top teams in the country being Oklahoma, TCU and Utah, with a loss to San Diego State thrown in.  Air Force could be a top team in the MWC, but they will be most likely be 3rd behind   TCU and newcomer Boise State.  Coming off of an away game vs. the fast paced offense of Navy, the fast paced offense of Notre Dame will give the defense some trouble.  I’ll take Notre Dame - and to take it a little farther - in 2 overtimes. Win.

10/22- USC: Over the past 2 years I have stated many times that I do not like USC. However, I never let that get in the way of my predictions, as before the season started last year, I called for a Trojan win over the Irish.  Personally, the game vs. the Trojans was the best one of the year, especially something Ronald Johnson did all alone in the red zone that I thought only USC did when noticing violations: dropping the ball.   But back to being unbiased. This will be a tough game for both sides.  USC still has a bowl ban this season and wants revenge, so they really have nothing to lose.  The defense needs to improve after ranking 63rd in the nation, which is very un-USC like.  Notre Dame won at the Coliseum last season.  This year they are improved, and coming off of a bye week, they will get the win at home this year.  Win.

10/29 – Navy: There is a lot of good news for Irish fans in this one, the most important being Ricky Dobbs graduating. Yes, he only went 2/2 in the game last year, but he did have 71 yards in those 2 passes.  He also had 90 yards rushing, with 3 touchdowns.  The other part of the good news being only 3 returning starters on a defense that gave Brian Kelly nightmares.  They only had 2 touchdowns in the game.  Navy dominated time of position last year – 35:49 to 24:11 – and picked off 2 passes.  But with no Dobbs, the Irish defense should be able to focus on Alexander Teich more, and give him less than the 210 yards he had last year.  Plus with a softer defense and the game in South Bend, Notre Dame gets the revenge.  Win.

11/5 - @ Wake Forrest: There’s really not much to say about this one.  Sure they have 17 total returning starters, but the team went 3-9 last year.  They had one of the worst defenses in the country, and even improving by 50 spots, which is very unlikely, would still leave them in the middle of the pack.  The offense wasn’t much better, ranking 91st in the nation.  They’re a few years away from being legitimate contenders in the ACC.  This season, they will be in a rough battle with Duke to stay out of the bottom of ACC rankings.  The backup quarterback of Notre Dame will see significant playing time in this one. Notre Dame by over 4 touchdowns. Win.

11/12 - Maryland: Another team from the ACC, the Maryland Terrapins come to town.  They were pretty surprising last year, as nobody expected much but they went 9-4.  They are still a bowl team this year, with 7 starters back on both sides of the ball.  QB Danny O’Brien is one of the best QBs in the nation and could cause some problems in the secondary.  New coach Randy Edsall won’t be able to get it done in South Bend.  Win.

11/19 – Boston College:  The Eagles don’t have much to offer on offense except for Montel Harris, and the Irish defense did a pretty good job of containing him last season.  Things will be the same again this year.  After a 31-13 win at Boston College last season, in Notre Dame Stadium, I will call for the same thing. Win.

11/29 - @ Stanford: Notre Dame’s hopes of a possible National Championship depend on this game.  The best QB in country in Andrew Luck faces Notre Dame this week, but with many questions.  They will still be a solid team, but will Luck have enough offensive support with only 4 other starters back?  Will the defense, with 6 starters back, be as good as last year?  Will new Head Coach David Shaw have the team as good as Jim Harbaugh did?  We’ll find out as the season goes on.  Personally, I think the Irish can win.  They could win by 10.  But they won’t.  I think the pressure will be too much, especially on the road. Stanford wins a close one. Loss.

So there you have it.  11-1. But that’s just the early preseason prediction.  Of course they will most likely lose a game they should win (Air Force, Michigan State, South Florida are most likely) like they have done for a few years now (Tulsa last year, Navy in ’09, Syracuse in ’08, Navy in ’07). 

This year is going to be exciting.  This year is going to be great to watch.  This year is the year the Defense comes together.  This year, the Irish will open, and close the season in the Top 25.  This year, the Irish will win 10 or more games and go to a BCS bowl.

This year, is finally “next year.”

May 14, 2011

Post-Spring Analysis

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Notre Dame fans anxiously awaited spring practice for several reasons.  Many simply needed a football fix after the exciting end to the 2010 campaign.  It also provided the first opportunity to see the five very talented early enrollee freshmen.  Most importantly, there were position battles to watch, especially at quarterback.

With the Blue-Gold game televised on Versus, those aching for football got exactly what they needed:  a game of any kind.  The five newcomers showed off their vast potential in that game and left Irish followers dreaming of what may be in the future.  As for the position battles, for various reasons it is unlikely that we learned much at all, but it sets the stage nicely for fall camp.

My previous entry chronicled things to look at going into spring.  Here is a rundown on what we know about those items now.


It really is difficult to get enough reps in practice for four quarterbacks.  Usually, there is no more than a two-way battle and those combatants get the majority of the snaps.  With four signal callers in the mix, time is of the essence.

Brian Kelly’s practices are run at a high octane pace, which allows for more snaps.  The fact that Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees have significant game experience helped as well.  It gave the staff an opportunity to get Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson into some meaningful action.

All four drew rave reviews at times during the spring and at other times showed their weaknesses.  Crist, according to various media reports, seemed to be the leader most of the way, but it was never etched in stone.  
Both Crist and Rees had good and bad moments in the Blue-Gold game, but one major difference stood out in my mind.  When Crist makes a mistake it may look ugly, like a couple of the outs that he threw early on, but the ball usually hits the ground.  When Rees errs, it often is caught by the other team.  This was true in the USC game and continued with corner Lo Wood making a pick of a Rees pass in the spring game.

Both of the youngsters showcased their strong arms and running ability, though they gain yardage on the ground in different ways.  Hendrix is stronger while Golson is faster and more elusive.

Entering spring practice I did not expect a starter to be named by this point, but I also did not expect it to still be a four-horse race.  In Kelly’s mind I’m sure there is a pecking order; we just don’t know what that is right now.

I think the battle for the starting spot will come down to Crist and Rees with Crist still holding a slight edge.  I do believe that either Hendrix or Golson will play in certain situations where their running skills can be utilized.

Because Golson is not the type of quarterback that will leave early for the NFL, holding him back this year would allow him to play for four years starting in 2012.  For that reason, I expect Hendrix will get the first crack at those snaps.

But, of course, only Brian Kelly knows for sure.
Wide Receiver

The receiver spot was obviously in a state of flux for much of the spring due to the Michael Floyd suspension. While their play was inconsistent for much of the spring, this is not surprising considering they were all bumped up one slot on the depth chart.

Theo Riddick will be fine and, hopefully, T.J. Jones will continue to make strides.  But it was two lesser knowns that grabbed some attention in the Blue-Gold game.

Junior-to-be Robby Toma caught six passes for 64 yards and showed that he could be an effective weapon as a slot receiver.  But the biggest surprise was senior Deion Walker.  The Christchurch, Va. native that has just one reception in his Notre Dame career caught five balls for 56 yards in the spring game.

At tight end, Alex Welch looked to lay claim to the #2 spot by catching four passes for 34 yards.  If he can contribute as a blocker, he should be a nice complement to Tyler Eifert this fall.

While the receiver play was up and down this spring, these players put their best foot forward and if/when Floyd is cleared to play, they should provide the Irish with significant depth in 2011.
Running Back

Cierre Wood carried the ball just seven times and Jonas Gray only five, but that was to be expected.  As the only two healthy running backs, the Irish could not afford either of them getting hurt.  Their time was certain to be cut even more after Gray suffered nagging injuries in the spring and Wood got up gingerly after one play in the first half.

Walk-on Patrick Coughlin carried the ball 11 times, five for the Gold team and six for the Blue.  He ran hard but we all know that if he logs any meaningful time this fall the Irish are in trouble.

Because of the injuries, we learned very little.  Wood and Gray will have to carry the load this fall and hope freshman Cam McDaniel, and perhaps George Atkinson, can help out in some way.
Offensive Line

Again, this is an area that was hard to judge.  The starters were broken up between the two squads and the continuity that was started at the end of last season was not there.  

However, there were times that certain defensive linemen flat out beat their offensive line counterpart.  That is not good, at least for this side of the ball.

It is obvious that the five guys that will man the front will be challenged by speed rushers.  Zach Martin is an athletic lineman, but the rest of the crew relies more on their strength than their quickness.  They will have to play with great technique or else quick pass rushers will give them trouble.

Thankfully, they won’t have to block Aaron Lynch on Saturdays in the fall.

Nose Tackle

Since the Irish played a lot of 4-3 in the Blue-Gold game, we didn’t see the nose tackles playing that position. But we did see them play and they did some very good things.

Sean Cwynar did not play in the Blue-Gold game because on an injury.  But he filled in admirably for Ian Williams at the end of last year and will be counted on a lot this year.  

I stated in my previous post that Hafis Williams is probably better suited to play end in the 3-4 rather than the nose.  I believe that to be true, but the guy gives an A effort every time and is someone that has proven that he can contribute.  He went down with an injury during the game, but returned, so he should be okay.

The nose tackle Irish fans were most excited to see was Louis Nix and he showed both his potential and his limitations this spring.  At times he was a dominant force in the Blue-Gold game, one that could not be stopped.  But he is still not in ideal shape.  He will need to drop a bit more weight in order to increase his stamina.

Also, Brandon Newman was very active, with two tackles and a fumble recovery.

The Irish may not have a player on the level of the departed Ian Williams, but between the four guys returning, Bob Diaco and the defensive staff should have no trouble creating a winning mix at nose tackle.

This is an area that is a lot like running back.  There is limited depth and because of that, Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, and Gary Gray did not see a lot of time in the Blue-Gold game.  Everyone knows what they can do and there was no need to risk an injury.

We did see a lot of Lo Wood, who impressed with his help coverage on the interception of Rees.  Bennett Jackson switched over to corner from wide receiver and there will definitely be an adjustment period.  But he is a smooth athlete that, as evidenced by his play on special teams last year, is very physical.

Austin Collinsworth also moved from receiver and will line up safety for the Irish going forward.  Like Jackson, he showed a nasty streak on special teams last year, so he should be able transition to the rough and tumble nature of defensive football quite easily.

The missed tackles and breakdowns in the secondary were generally committed by walk-ons after the regular contributors had exited the action, so the question in the secondary remains:  the front line guys are very good, but what happens if someone gets hurt?
Outside Linebacker

Darius Fleming will be on one side, who will be on the other?  At this point, it would look to be Prince Shembo. Shembo had a nice freshman year in 2010 and that continued into the spring.  But if he does not continue to progress, there are other options.

One is Danny Spond.  Spond was a high school quarterback that came to Notre Dame as an athlete.  Many speculated that he would play inside, but now he looks to have found a home on the outside.  He was all over the place in the Blue-Gold game and when he adds the inevitable size and strength, he could be a major impact player at ND.

One player that may get left behind in the mix is senior Steven Filer.  After years of threatening to crack the depth chart, he may end up getting passed by the underclassmen.  Which leads to…..
The Freshmen

Ishaq Williams is going to be very good.  The only question is whether that will begin in 2011.  This spring Williams had some growing pains, but his talents are clearly evident.  He was on the field for most of the Blue-Gold game and forced a fumble and had a tackle for lost yardage.

Speaking of someone whose name was called often during the Blue-Gold game, I give you Aaron Lynch.  Lynch was in the Gold backfield all day long and when you add in that he was playing mostly defensive tackle and not the defensive end position where he will see time this fall, his future production could be downright scary.

Both Williams and Lynch have to be wary of being too aggressive.  Versus analyst Mike Mayock mentioned on a play that Lynch crashed and tackled Jonas Gray behind the line of scrimmage that smart, athletic quarterbacks could take advantage of his eagerness by pulling the ball out of the back’s chest and running the other way.
Regardless, those are things that can be taught.  The athletic ability that Lynch and Williams have cannot.
Inside Linebacker next to Manti Te’o

Te’o didn’t play (except on punt coverage when the punt return teams fair caught every kick) and Carlo Calabrese, who started much of last season, played very little, as well.  Anthony McDonald, who has seemingly battled injuries his entire time in South Bend, did not even suit up.

That meant lots of action for Dan Fox, Kendall Moore, David Posluszny, and Justin Utopo.  Fox’s play stood out and Moore did enough to get himself into the battle for the starting spot next year.

Next fall, Calabrese will have the upper hand in the battle for the position with McDonald, Moore, and possibly Fox pushing for playing time.
Special Teams

There really wasn’t a whole lot to be learned by watching the Blue-Gold game with regards to special teams. There were no kick offs, no punt returns, and Kelly even gave the squad a do over after a botched extra point snap.

One thing that is certain is that the Irish are set at place kicker.  Stand out David Ruffer returns and both Nick Tausch and freshman Kyle Brindza were perfect in their field goal attempts.

Brindza was solid punting the ball, kicking three balls at a 42.7 average.  Returning starter Ben Turk punted twice at 40 yards a punt.  

With starters divided between the two sides and many regulars held out with minor injuries, it was difficult to get a good handle on how good the Irish will be.  But they are not alone.  If you have watched any of the dozens of college spring games on ESPN and other sports channels you will see the same things happening all over the country.

The quarterback situation will probably not be resolved until shortly before the opener against South Florida. They cannot afford any injury at running back and Michael Floyd must come back for this to be a dynamic offense.

Defensively, I believe that their depth in the front seven is much improved with an added year for guys like Nix and Moore and the influx of highly touted freshmen.  The secondary is thin, but the front line guys are very good and one or two of the incoming freshmen will look to spell the starters.

A good spring is essential for the development of a team and that may have been the case this year.  It’s just that not much is ever really shown in the spring game.
Other Notes

The Irish currently have six commitments with three coming on the weekend of the Blue-Gold game.  Ronald Darby, an athlete that will play corner for ND, and safety Nick Baratti will help shore up that thin secondary in years to come.  Most recently, wide receiver Justin Ferguson from Pembroke Pines, Florida selected the Irish over Florida and Florida State.

This Friday another Florida star will announce his decision and Notre Dame is a prime contender for his services.  Four-star linebacker Noor Davis is expected to choose between the Irish and Florida.

Former Irish tight end Kyle Rudolph was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.  He was the only Notre Dame player selected, which was bad news for defensive tackle Ian Williams and running back Armando Allen.

March 25, 2011

Notre Dame Begins Spring Practice
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

There is still some snow in my front yard, but the weather is getting warmer.  Baseball teams are in Florida and Arizona getting ready for their seasons.  Even the calendar says that it is now officially spring, so it is time for football to begin again.

Okay, so it is not game action, but the spring practices at Notre Dame are going to be very important this year. There will be serious competition at the game’s most important position and depth needs to be developed at several positions on offense.  Plus, the recent DUI arrest of Michael Floyd leaves the Irish without their best player for the foreseeable future.

On defense, Notre Dame returns a good nucleus, but the graduations of Ian Williams, Brian Smith, Kerry Neal, and Darrin Walls creates some voids that have to be filled.

Here are the questions and what we can hope to learn as we enter spring ball.

1.        Quarterback

This is the area that all Irish fans will be watching the closest.  The real question is, how much will we learn over the next month?

It looks to be a wide open competition and any one of four guys could be starting at quarterback next fall.  But Dayne Crist, whose season was cut short by a ruptured patella in the game against Tulsa on October 30th, will be limited this spring.  Because of that, it will be difficult to judge how he stacks up against the other signal callers.

Tommy Rees took over for the injured Crist and led the Irish to several big wins down the stretch.  He did a fairly good job managing the offense, the four interceptions against USC notwithstanding.  He will need to show even more improvement in this area because his physical skills are not equal to the other competitors. He is not fleet afoot and does not have a huge arm, but if he can read the defense properly, make quick and correct decisions, and deliver the ball on time and accurately, he can win the job.

Andrew Hendrix was redshirted last season but he impressed the coaches with his strong arm.  He also has good mobility making him kind of the anti-Rees.  No one questions his physical tools, but he has not shown that he can execute in game situations.  Granted, he did not have the opportunity that was presented to Rees. This spring he will and he has to show that he can provide leadership and throw the ball accurately to the right target.

Lastly, there is freshman Everett Golson.  The early-entry from Myrtle Beach, S.C. has all the skills one looks for in a spread quarterback.  He has a good arm and can really run.  At barely 6-foot-0, his height is a bit of a concern though that matters less in Brian Kelly’s style of offense.  Golson’s issue is learning this offense in a short period of time.  He is behind other talented quarterbacks in terms of experience.  How quickly he can pick things up will be something to watch this spring.

It is possible that someone clearly establishes themselves as the leader, but because of the Crist injury and in an effort to keep each guy motivated, Kelly will most assuredly not name a starter until fall.   What will happen is that at least one of the challengers will drop off.  It won’t be officially announced that this player (or players) is out of the running, but everyone will know.

And for that reason, the quarterback spot will be the most interesting area to watch over the next month.
2.       Wide Receiver

Three days ago, this may not have been the second biggest area of concern, but it is now.  Michael Floyd will not be on the field this spring and his future with the team is in serious doubt.  

There is no way that one person will step forward and take his place.  This has to be a group effort and Theo Riddick has to lead the way.  There was talk that the junior would be moving to running back, but it is hard to believe that that will now happen.  Perhaps he will be used out of the backfield and in the wildcat much like Charlie Weis used Golden Tate in 2009, however his primary job will most likely be at receiver.  

Riddick made strides at the position last year and TJ Jones must do the same as he enters his sophomore campaign.  Jones had his moments last fall, but also disappeared at times.  He will now be asked to do much more and he must become more consistent in everything he does.  

John Goodman is now a senior and like Jones must improve his consistency.  For a guy that has good enough hands to be the primary punt returner in 2010, he dropped a lot of passes.  This must be rectified.  He is not a burner, so catching the ball is of utmost importance.  This is an important year for Goodman.  He has a fifth year available, but if he is passed by the incoming freshmen, it is doubtful he gets another season.  His efforts must begin now.

Roby Toma saw some quality time last fall.  I think everyone knows what he is and what he can and can’t do. Deion Walker is getting ready for his last go around, one that will probably see him in the same position as the previous three years.  Daniel Smith was redshirted as a freshman and will get a chance this year to make an impact.  There was talk of him moving to safety, but he will be a receiver where he showed some promise in his practice time last year.

The Irish also lose tight end Kyle Rudolph, but he was injured for much of 2010 and Tyler Eifert did a fine job as his replacement.  Mike Ragone is back to spell him and Andrew Welch will be in the mix as well.
3.       Depth at running back

Cierre Wood was the leading rusher for the Irish in 2010 and he is back.  But Armando Allen’s injury plagued career is done and Robert Hughes, who came through when the Irish really needed him last year, has also graduated, making depth a big issue at running back.

Jonas Gray came to Notre Dame with big time accolades, but he has not seen much time due to his own problems (the biggest of which has been fumbling) and because guys like Allen, Hughes, and Wood beat him out.  Now is his best opportunity.  Kelly likes to use multiple backs and Wood does not appear to be the type of guy that can get 25 carries a game and thrive, so Gray will get his chance.

Beyond Gray, the Irish are even thinner.  Cameron Roberson redshirted in 2010 and will also get a long look this spring.  He is a bigger back, more like Gray than Wood, who will have to learn the nuances of the position, especially in the passing game.

And that is it for scholarship players.  Cam McDaniel arrives this summer and the freshman from Texas will also get a chance to get on the field in the fall.  You can see why Kelly considered moving Riddick to running back and he will still probably see some action in the backfield, but the hope has to be that Gray and Roberson can prove that they are worthy of more action.
4.       Cohesion on the offensive

Four starters return on the offensive line and the one new starter, Chris Watt, saw plenty of action last fall. With their experience, this is a unit that should shine this spring.

There may not be any All American candidates in this group, but Zach Martin proved to be a more than solid left tackle in his first year as starter.  He should only get better.  Trevor Robinson has seen a lot of time in his first three years and Braxton Cave and Taylor Dever improved every week of the 2010 season.

These players should know where each other is at all times.  They are very familiar with one another and it would be a disappointment if this unit is not a strength for the 2011 Irish.  With questions abound at all of the skill positions on offense, they better be.

Depth is solid as well with Andrew Nuss and Matt Romine returning for fifth years.  Tate Nichols and Christian Lombard are also looking to make a mark after redshirting last year.  

With the Irish returning several key components of the defensive front seven, the line battles will be fun to watch overthe next few weeks.

1.        Nose Tackle

Ian Williams, who was having a monster senior season before being injured, is gone and must be replaced. Sean Cwynar filled in admirably for Williams at the tail end of 2010, but at 6-foot-4, 280-pounds he does not fit the profile of a true nose tackle.  The concern is that over the course of the season he will wear down and get pushed around by bigger interior offensive linemen.

Most Irish fans will be watching Louis Nix very carefully.  At 6-foot-3, 350-pounds, he most definitely does fit the nose tackle profile.  He also has a quick burst for someone his size.  The concerns are obvious.  Nix was severely out of shape when he reported to Notre Dame and whether he has made significant strides in conditioning is essential in his development.  While he is big, a lack of strength goes along with the conditioning issues.  Paul Longo and the strength and conditioning team will be very important in Nix’s progress.

Hafis Williams spelled Cwynar a bit at this spot late last year, but he may be a better fit at defensive end in ND’s 3-4 and Tyler Stockton may be a bit undersized to really help on the nose.  Brandon Newman is still around but is not likely to be a factor.

Strong play on the nose will aid the other members of the front seven in a big way.  With playmakers like Manti Te’o, Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson, and Kapron Lewis-Moore at those positions, getting productive play at that position is important.
2.       Depth in the Secondary

Notre Dame only loses one member of its secondary, Walls, but the team was very thin last year making this spring a challenge in that area.  It is bad enough that Kelly has decided to move Bennett Jackson from wide receiver to corner and Austin Collinsworth from receiver to safety.  The latter move may not be written in stone and Floyd’s situation may change things, but many feel Collinsworth’s best spot is in the defensive backfield.

At corner, Lo Wood will be asked to step up to the #3 spot behind Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.  Wood was an early entry last year so he has had over a full year to learn the system.  He is not a blazer but can be physical, something ND likes in its corners.

At safety, the threesome of Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, and Zeke Motta returns.  Slaughter had nagging injuries throughout 2010 and will be looking to regain his form this month.  Danny McCarthy is the fourth safety and after that, things drop off drastically.

Freshmen will give this area depth in the fall, but for this spring, things will be tight.  Also, experience won’t be a problem at the top of the depth chart, but will be as far as the reserves go.
3.        Pass Rush……Outside Linebacker

Pass rush is a concern for every team.  In Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense, that rush comes primarily from the outside linebackers.  Darius Fleming has been a solid, if unspectacular, performer and returns at his DOG backer spot.  It is the other side where the questions arise.

Kerry Neal is gone and so is Brian Smith, who filled in at all of the linebacker positions.  Neal was not the pure rusher that many had hoped he would be, but he had tons of experience and knew where to be.

The player to watch this spring is Steven Filer.  Filer had a big spring game last year and at one point was on top of the depth chart as an outside backer.  That did not last long.  He has made an impact on special teams but not on defense, which is very frustrating to all that have witnessed his immense physical talents.  He is a senior without a fifth year option, so it is now or never for him.

Prince Shembo showed some big play abilities as a freshman and hopes to get more time on the field this year. He had 4.5 sacks and 5 tackles for lost yardage in his limited time this past fall.  He must show that he is more than just a pass rusher this fall to lock down the starting spot.

Danny Spond will see some time this fall, but there is one young player everyone is waiting to see this spring.
4.       The Freshmen

Ishaq Williams is a freakish athlete that may make his presence felt at the open CAT linebacker position.  He will have to add a little size, but his speed and quickness are off the charts.  People are anxious to get a glimpse as to what he can do for the next four years.

The same is true of defensive end Aaron Lynch.  Johnson and Lewis-Moore are veterans that will start, but Lynch is too talented to keep on the bench.  

Many saw these two, along with Notre Dame signee Stephon Tuitt, dominate at the Army All American game. We now get a chance to see them against experienced college offensive linemen.
5.        The other inside linebacker position

We all know Manti Te’o owns one spot.  Who plays next to him though?

Carlo Calabrese started 2010 at that position and was effective until he was bogged down by injuries. Calabrese is great in run support but struggles in pass coverage.  Anthony McDonald has had injury after injury at ND and it has limited his effectiveness.  One of these guys has to grab ahold of the spot because the safety net that appeared last year is gone.

Brian Smith played the best football of his life over the past four games of 2010.  An up and down career ended in a big way and, to the surprise of many who dogged him for the better part of three years, his presence will be missed.

Dan Fox could also factor in here, especially in passing situations.  He is good in coverage, but lacks the size needed in run support.

This is a Calabrese-McDonald battle.  We’ll see if one or the other can claim the spot this spring or if the fight carries over to the fall.
Special Teams

1.        Finding an option in the return game

John Goodman was the punt returner last season but spent most of the season raising his right hand for a fair catch.  Part of the problem was the blocking that allowed gunners to get on top of Goodman as he fielded the punt.  Part was Goodman’s tentativeness.  Regardless, it would be nice if Notre Dame could add some extra yardage on punt returns.

Kick returns were not a whole lot better.  Bennett Jackson took over in the middle of the year as the main return man and did a decent job, but never really threatened to break a long run.  Much like in the punt return area, part was Jackson, part was the blocking.  Regardless, it would be nice if Notre Dame could add some extra yardage on kick returns.
2.       Kyle Brindza’s leg on kickoffs

David Ruffer is the team’s place kicker; there will be no competition there.  But the YouTube videos of Brindza kicking the ball beyond the end zone were seen by all ND fans with internet access.  We all wait to see if that can carry over.  

A few years ago, Charlie Weis raved about the leg strength of Ryan Burkhart.  For the sake of Brindza and the Irish, let’s hope things turn out better this time around.
3.       Brindza’s leg punting

Ben Turk is the #1 punter, but consistency has been a problem.  If he slumps this spring, it may give Brindza an opportunity.  Brindza was recruited primarily as a kicker, but he can punt and it will be interesting to see how his kicking compares to his punting.
For those that have watched the Irish play over the past decade, it is odd to go into any camp with more concerns about the offense as compared to the defense.  That is exactly the case this year, however.  All the skill positions on offense bear watching while the returnees in the defensive front seven give the Irish a shot to be very stout on that side of the ball.

This spring will probably answer a few questions and inspire a few others.  The good news is that spring ball is finally here.  

Now if I could just get the rest the snow in my yard to melt.   

February 11, 2011

Signing Day 2011
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

While programs like Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina continue their 2011 recruiting, signing day marked the end for Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts for this season.  The Irish signed 23 players, of which five are already enrolled at Notre Dame.

This is a stellar class, but the Irish did miss out on a few big prospects.  Players like linebacker Clay Burton, offensive lineman Jordan Prestwood, and running back Justice Hayes were at one time committed to Notre Dame but signed with other schools.  The loss of Hayes may hurt the most because not only did the Irish come up a bit short at running back, but Hayes wound up signing with arch rival Michigan.

In the past few days, cornerback Bennett Okotcha switched his commitment from ND to Oklahoma.  He had previously switched to Notre Dame from Wisconsin.  The Irish did, however, see defensive ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt renege on their early Notre Dame commitments only to eventually find their way back to the Irish.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2011 Notre Dame recruiting class.  Who ends up at defensive end and who plays offensive line is tricky at this point, so I broke it into three categories:  definite offensive linemen, definite defensive ends, and the guys that could play on either side.  I lumped these three together and offer analysis at the end.
Needed: 0   Wanted: 1   Got……..
Everett Golson    Myrtle Beach High School    Myrtle Beach, SC    6-foot-0, 172-pounds
Rivals: 3-Star, No. 13 Dual-threat Quarterback
Scout: 4-star, No. 15 Quarterback, No. 254 overall prospect
ESPN:  4-Star, No. 25 Athlete
Also considered:  North Carolina, Florida, Clemson, Tennessee

After signing three quarterbacks in 2010, this was not a huge position of need this year.  The Irish targeted a few high profile guys early, missing out on Bubba Starling (Nebraska) and Kiehl Frazier (Auburn) in particular.  At that point, the Irish staff seemed content on waiting until next year to sign a signal caller.

But the problems at North Carolina put Golson back in play and the Irish closed the deal.  He is a throw-first guy that has a big arm, but also has good speed and is not afraid to run the ball.  The one knock is that he is not the biggest guy in the world, but in Brian Kelly’s spread system, that is not essential.  Plus, take a look at the other schools that were chasing him.  There is no doubt he can play.

He will have to bulk up, but that is fine because there is significant depth at the position.  He is already on campus and will have a chance to learn the offense this spring.

Grade:  A-
Running Back
Needed:  1 really good one   Wanted: 2    Got…..
Cam McDaniel    Coppell High School   Coppell, Texas    5-foot-10, 190-pounds
Rivals:  3-star
Scout:  3-star, No. 33 running back
ESPN:  3-star, No. 50 running back
Also considered:  Iowa, Stanford, Colorado, Minnesota

Notre Dame was set back when Justice Hayes de-committed, but responded quickly by getting a commitment from McDaniel.  The Irish took a chance on big-timers Savon Huggins and Amir Carlisle, only to see those recruits choose Rutgers and USC respectively.

McDaniel was a very productive back on the high school level.  He rushed for nearly 1,956 yards and 32 touchdowns against big boy competition as a senior.  He can be used in a variety of ways both as a back and as a receiver.

But he was not the home run Irish fans were looking for.  If ND had landed Huggins or Carlisle, McDaniel would have been seen as a fine complement.  But since he was the only back in the class, it has to be considered the one area where the staff whiffed.

Depth at the position will be pretty thin next year.  Cierre Wood will be the No. 1 guy with Jonas Gray backing him up. No one knows anything about Cameron Roberson, so McDaniel will have an opportunity to earn playing time, especially on passing downs, provided he can be reliable in blitz pick up.

With Gray entering his final year, it will be essential for Notre Dame to land at least two quality backs in 2012.

Grade:  C-
Wide Receiver
Needed: 2   Wanted: 2   Got….
Davaris Daniels    Vernon Hills High School   Vernon Hills, Ill   6-foot-2, 164-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 21 wide receiver, No. 178 overall prospect
Scout:  4-star, No. 23 wide receiver, No. 161 overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 12 wide receiver, No. 65 overall prospect
Also considered:  Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan, Michigan State
George Atkinson III   Granada High School   Livermore, Calif.   6-foot-2, 195-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 7 Athlete, No. 126 overall prospect
Scout:  3-star, No. 30 running back
ESPN:  3-star, No. 40 athlete
Also considered:  USC, Oregon, Miami, Alabama

Notre Dame landed two guys with loads of promise, though most likely neither one of them will contribute much in 2011.  The Irish bring all their receivers back, Atkinson will be looking to adjust to a new position after playing running back in high school, and Daniels is too thin at this time to be a real factor.

But down the line, the Irish staff expects big things from both of these guys.  Daniels has good height, runs precise routes, and has very good hands.  He is not a blazer, but he has enough speed to get deep.  His thin frame is not a concern long term to those that have seen his father’s work out videos on YouTube.  Redskins’ defensive end Philip Daniels said that his son’s commitment to the Vernon Hills basketball team prevented him from going into a lifting program to best prepare him for the gridiron.  That will begin shortly and will continue when Daniels becomes immersed in Paul Longo’s strength and conditioning program at ND.

Atkinson’s rankings are not exactly through the roof, but like Golson, look at the other schools that were after him.  If you are a California kid and Nick Saban wants you at Alabama, you can play.  Atkinson has speed to burn and like Daniels has the right genetic make up with his father being former Raiders standout George Atkinson II.  

These are two players that will look to add strength and learn the system in 2011.  When Michael Floyd leaves after next season, they will both be counted on as guys that will have to step in at that time.

Grade:  A-
Tight End
Needed: 1     Wanted: 1   Got…..
Ben Koyack      Oil City High School   Oil City, PA   6-foot-5, 228-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 7 tight end, No. 82 overall prospect
Scout:  5-star, No. 1 tight end, No. 25 overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 3 tight end, No. 77 overall prospect
Also considered:  Ohio State, Penn State, LSU, USC

The Irish wanted one tight end and got a consensus top 100 prospect.  It’s hard to find fault with that.
Koyack will obviously be compared to departing tight end Kyle Rudolph, which is understandable.  However, he is thinner than Rudolph was as a high school senior and is a less physical player.  Koyack is a very athletic player that can excel at stretching a defense from his position.  He has the frame necessary to add weight so that he can become an effective blocker.  

With Tyler Eifert returning as the starter, Alex Welch entering year two after showing promise on the scout team as a freshman, and Mike Ragone possibly returning for a fifth year, the opportunities may be limited for Koyack.  
But he will most assuredly be a factor in the following years.

Grade:  A
Definite Offensive Linemen
Needed: 4     Wanted: 5      Got……
Matt Hegarty     Aztec High School     Aztec, NM     6-foot-5, 265-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 6 Offensive tackle, No. 70 Overall prospect
Scout:  4-star, No. 11 Offensive tackle, No. 105 Overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 5 Offensive tackle, No. 36 Overall prospect
Also considered:  USC, Texas, Oklahoma, LSU
Connor Hanratty    New Canaan High School     New Canaan, CT    6-foot-4, 300-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 38 Offensive guard
Scout:  3-star, No. 31 Offensive tackle
ESPN:  3-star, No. 52 offensive guard
Also considered:  Florida State, Clemson, Stanford, Boston College
Nick Martin    Bishop Chatard High School    Indianapolis, Ind.   6-foot-4, 260-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 66 Offensive tackle
Scout:  3-star, No. 39 Offensive tackle
ESPN:  3-star, No. 39 Offensive tackle
Also considered:  Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Iowa
Definite Defensive Ends
Needed: 3    Wanted: 4      Got……
Aaron Lynch    Island Coast High School    Cape Coral, Fla.     6-foot-5, 250-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 3 Strongside defensive end, No. 28 Overall prospect
Scout:  5-star, No. 2 Defensive end, No. 10 Overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 3 Defensive end, No. 15 Overall prospect
Also considered:  Florida State, Florida, Miami, LSU
Stephon Tuitt       Monroe High School       Monroe, Ga.      6-foot-5, 255-pounds
Rivals:  5-star, No. 2 Strongside defensive end, No. 22 Overall prospect
Scout:  4-star, No. 10 Defensive end, No. 44 Overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 10 Defensive end, No. 90 Overall prospect
Also considered:  Georgia Tech, Auburn, Georgia, Miami
Troy Niklas            Servite High School        Anaheim, Calif.      6-foot-6, 245-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 24 Offensive tackle, No. 221 Overall prospect
Scout:  4-star, No. 8 Offensive tackle, No. 75 Overall prospect
ESPN:  3-star, No. 19 Tight end
Also considered:  USC, UCLA, Florida, Oklahoma
Tony Springmann     Bishop Dwenger High School      Fort Wayne, Ind.     6-foot-6, 255-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 39 Strongside defensive end
Scout:  3-star, No. 66 Defensive end
ESPN:  3-star, No. 43 Offensive tackle
Also considered:  Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Boston College
Brad Carrico        Dublin Coffman High School      Dublin, Ohio      6-foot-5, 260-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 52 Strongside defensive end
Scout:  3-star, No. 64 Offensive tackle
ESPN:  3-star, No. 90 Defensive end
Also considered:  Cincinnati, Purdue, Indiana, Kentucky
Chase Hounshell      Lake Catholic High School    Mentor, Ohio      6-foot-5, 245-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 59 Offensive tackle
Scout:  3-star, No. 97 Defensive end
ESPN:  3-star, No. 85 Defensive tackle
Also considered:  Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State

As you can see, even the three major recruiting services can’t decide which side of the ball that the four swing linemen are best suited to play in college.  During their recruitment, each of them was told at one time or another by the Notre Dame staff that they were being recruited as a defensive end.

You can take it to the bank that all four will not play defense.  Most likely, two of them will be on the offensive line.  The question is, which two?

Brad Carrico is the most likely candidate.  He has the frame and the footwork needed to excel as a tackle.  We will find out his position soon, as he is an early enrollee and is already on campus.  If he plays defense this spring, it probably means a couple others will be across from him in practice for the next few years.

Tony Springmann looks like an offensive tackle, but if you watch his tape, you will see a nasty streak that is possessed by a defensive player.  That certainly is not a bad thing, regardless of his position.

Troy Niklas was recruited by USC as an offensive lineman, but word is that ND wanted him as defensive player. Speculation is that it was a desire to play defense that led Niklas to South Bend.  Likewise, Chase Hounshell said when he committed about a month ago that the Irish coaches told them that they liked him on defense.  That may have been true at the time; Lynch was a Florida State commit and Tuitt was taking visits.  Things may be a little different know.

The reality is that these guys may have a better chance to see the field as offensive linemen.  Tuitt and Lynch look like stars in waiting.  Any Irish fan that watched the two of them on the same line in the U.S. Army All American Game had to be dreaming of what these ends may do for the next four years.  They are massive and they are extremely athletic.
Regardless of who joins Tuitt and Lynch on the defensive line, Notre Dame gets an A at that position.  If a couple of guys join them to fill in the depth chart, it’s an A+.  And that is exactly what I expect to happen.

The Irish staff had a small group of offensive linemen that they targeted.  When they got commitments from Connor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, and Jordan Prestwood early on, their wish list shrank essentially to one guy:  Antonio Richardson, who eventually signed with Tennessee.  When Prestwood de-committed, Notre Dame successfully scrambled to get Nick Martin, brother of current Irish left tackle Zach Martin.

Hegarty is a tackle that is highly regarded, though he had trouble in the U.S. Army game.  Then again, he probably hadn’t seen too many guys like Aaron Lynch during his high school days in Aztec, NM.  He needs to add considerable size and strength, but he has time as he will not be asked to compete for time in 2011.

Hanratty is the son of former Notre Dame and Steelers quarterback Terry Hanratty.  A good sized kid, Hanratty will have to re-shape his body a bit and will have a big competition adjustment coming out of Connecticut.  Martin is a different type player than his brother; he is less of an athlete and more of a mauler.  He will most likely be a guard or a right tackle.

The Notre Dame staff will have time to evaluate which guys are best suited for offense and which are the best fits on defense.  My guess is that two of the four swing linemen will be offensive tackles and if that is the case, the defensive end haul is a grand slam while the offensive line group has to be considered very good though Hegarty is the only truly elite prospect.

Defensive end:  A+
Offensive line:  B+
Nose Tackle
Needed:  0    Wanted:  0   Got……
No one

The Irish have Sean Cwynar coming back and Louis Nix hopefully will be ready to contribute.  Hafis Williams can slide into that spot and Brandon Newman is still around.  For those reasons, Brian Kelly and staff did not feel this was a priority in 2011.

In 2012, look for ND to add at least one guy that can play this position.

Grade:  N/A
Needed: 3 (1 inside, 2 outside)     Wanted: 4 (1 inside, 3 outside)   Got……
Ishaq Williams   Abraham Lincoln High School        Brooklyn, NY        6-foot-5, 225-pounds
Rivals:  5-star, No. 2 Weakside defensive end, No. 16  Overall prospect
Scout:  5-star, No. 4 Defensive end, No. 20 Overall prospect
ESPN:  4-star, No. 7 Defensive end, No. 42 Overall prospect
Also considered:  Penn State, Syracuse, Miami, USC
Anthony Rabasa     Christopher Columbus High School    Miami, Fla.     6-foot-3, 230-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 11 Weakside defensive end
Scout:  3-star, No. 50 Defensive end
ESPN:  4-star, No. 12 Defensive end, No. 123 Overall prospect
Also considered:  Miami, Florida, Florida State, LSU
Ben Councell     A.C. Reynolds High School      Asheville, NC     6-foot-4, 225-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 5 Weakside defensive end, No. 91 Overall prospect
Scout:  3-star, No. 32 Outside linebacker
ESPN:  4-star, No. 19 Outside linebacker
Also considered:  North Carolina, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Auburn
Jarrett Grace     Colerain High School      Cincinnati, Ohio     6-foot-3, 230-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 24 Inside linebacker
Scout:  4-star, No. 14 Outside linebacker, No. 235 Overall prospect
ESPN:  3-star, No. 46 Outside linebacker
Also considered:  Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Tennessee

While most of the services rank Williams, Rabasa, and Councell as defensive ends, in the Notre Dame scheme they will be outside linebackers.  Also, despite ESPN and Scout listing Grace as an outside backer, he will most likely play inside.

Williams is a recruit that was coveted by just about everyone and Rabasa and Councell are guys that had offers from some pretty good programs down south.  Councell had a huge week at the North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine game, which prompted his jump up the Rivals rankings.  Rabasa also had some good all star showings, especially at the U.S. vs. the World contest on signing night.

The best part of this group is how their skills complement each other.  Councell is a perfect fit for what Notre Dame calls its DOG linebacker position because he has good speed and can cover tight ends and backs in passing situations.  Williams and Rabasa are going to play the CAT position, which means they will be the ones looking to put the heat on the quarterback.

Early in the process, Notre Dame had a commitment from Florida prospect Clay Burton, who eventually signed with Florida.  It was a big deal at the time, but when Williams came aboard, ND fans forgot all about Burton.

Grace, like Councell, is a prospect that Notre Dame spotted early on.  A solid senior year led to interest from some schools, like Ohio State, that were not pursuing Grace initially.  But he never wavered and proved to be one of the key recruiters amongst the commits in this class.  Just about every Notre Dame recruit had contact with Grace at some point during the recruiting cycle.

Grace is a tough but athletic guy that will add some muscle before seeing the field.  He will have time because with Manti Te’o, Carlo Calabrese, and Anthony McDonald all returning and Kendall Moore getting his first shot at serious playing time, Grace will not have to play early.  That depth at inside linebacker is the reason ND only took one player at the position this season.

Adding to this is the possibility that Joe Schmidt for Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. may join the squad as a preferred walk-on.  The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Schmidt would not be your typical walk-on, as he has offers from Air Force and Cincinnati.  But his family has strong ties to ND and he has recently been accepted into school.  He is also considering a walk-on opportunity at USC plus offers from several Ivy League schools.

Much like at defensive end, things could not have worked out much better for the Irish.  They needed help on the edge and landed one of the truly elite outside players in America along with two players that they targeted right from the beginning.  The same is true in the middle, as Grace was the guy they wanted from the start.

There is little doubt about the grade at this position.

Grade:  A
Defensive Back
Needed: 4 (2 corners, 2 safeties)   Wanted: 5 (with an extra guy that could play either spot)
Jalen Brown    MacArthur High School       Irving, Texas        6-foot-0, 180-pounds
Rivals:  3-star
Scout:  3-star, No. 52 cornerback
ESPN:  3-star, No. 27 cornerback
Also considered:  Nebraska, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Wisconsin
Eilar Hardy    Picerington Central High School     Pickerington, Ohio     6-foot-0, 175-pounds
Rivals:  4-star, No. 15 Safety, No. 217 Overall prospect
Scout:  4-star, No. 12 Safety, No. 175 Overall prospect
ESPN:  3-star, No. 21 safety
Also considered:  Michigan State, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, West Virginia
Matthias Farley    Charlotte Christian School      Charlotte, NC       6-foot-1, 190-pounds
Rivals:  3-star
Scout:  3-star, No. 82 Cornerback
ESPN:  3-star, No. 92 Athlete
Also considered:  North Carolina, UCLA, Wisconsin, North Carolina State
Josh Atkinson     Granada High School      Livermore, Calif.     6-foot-0, 180-pounds
Rivals:  3-star, No. 41 Cornerback
Scout:  3-star, No. 46 Cornerback
ESPN:  3-star, No. 22 Cornerback
Also considered:  Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State

In the last week, the Irish lost committed cornerback Bennett Okotcha to Oklahoma.  He is a tough player and any prospect that Bob Stoops wants on defense must be able to play.  But it was announced shortly thereafter that Notre Dame wide receiver Bennett Jackson would be switching to corner, lessening the need at that position.  Also, there are rumors that Austin Collinsworth will be moved to safety.  Both of these players showed their physicality on special teams in 2010 and should have little trouble with a change in positions.

As for the guys ND brought in, the key is size.  All four are of similar build and have good height for defensive backs. They all are not afraid of physical play, which as we saw this season is necessary for everyone in the Kelly/Diaco defense. The tackling ability of corners Darrin Walls, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton were keys to the success of the defense this past fall and all of these recruits, regardless of whether they end up at corner or safety, show that they are not afraid of contact.

Jalen Brown was relatively unheralded, which is surprising considering that he hails from the Dallas metroplex area.  He is very smooth with his movements and is truly a natural corner.  While Rivals did not even rank him, coaches at many of the Big 12 schools took notice and were hot on his trail before he committed to the Irish.

Josh Atkinson, George’s brother, is a bit more raw than Brown, but he has all the physical tools needed to be a great corner.  He has good size and plenty of speed, along with his father’s nasty football attitude.

Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley are two guys that could play either safety or corner.  With Atkinson and Brown looking like corners, Hardy and Farley will probably start as safeties, but no one really knows long term where they’ll play.  Farley has only been playing football for two years, so he has a lot to learn.  But his athletic skills are off the charts and he has the size to compete immediately.  Hardy is more polished and could see the field in a special teams role in 2011.

The Irish landed four sold prospects in the secondary this year, but none of them sticks out as a sure-fire star.  At defensive end, they have Tuitt and Lynch.  At linebacker there is Ishaq.  Matt Hegarty is a big-time prospect on the offensive line.  There is not one of those guys in the defensive backfield, but all four can eventually contribute.

In his press conference, Brian Kelly specifically mentioned the back end of the defense being a high priority in 2012.  I suspect he means quality as well as quantity.  By the time the class of 2012 enters Notre Dame, there will be just seven defensive backs with at least two years of eligibility left, and that includes Chris Badger who is on his mission right now.

If Collinsworth moves to safety, that would be eight, but those numbers are still very thin.

Grade:   B
Special Teams
Needed:  0      Wanted:  1 or 2 (depending on the player and the scholarship situation)   Got……
Kyle Brindza         Plymouth High School        Canton, Mich.        6-foot-1, 198-pounds
Rivals:  2-star, No. 17 Kicker
Scout:  3-star, No. 1 Kicker
ESPN:  3-star, No. 6 Kicker
Also considered:  Michigan

Notre Dame also recruited long snapper Bruce Haynes, who signed with Ohio State.  It was unclear if ND had room for him, but he went with the Buckeyes, so in the end it was irrelevant.

The Irish landed Brindza very early, so early in fact that there was talk that he could have graduated last summer and enrolled last fall.  That was not the case, but he is on campus right now and will kick with the team this spring.

It is obvious to anyone that has watched his film that Brindza has a very strong leg.  It would be a shock if he was not kicking off in the opener against South Florida.  With David Ruffer back, it is unlikely that Brindza will handle the place kicking duties, but he will be ready for 2012.

Brindza can also punt and he will definitely push current punter Ben Turk, though his primary duties will probably be as a kicker.  It is conceivable that down the line that Brindza will be able to handle both duties.

In Brindza, the Irish secured someone they feel is the best kicker in America and has the versatility to punt, so Notre Dame’s grade in this area is…..

Grade:  A
Team Rankings
Rivals:  No. 10
Scout:  No. 8
ESPN:  No. 9

If the nation’s top prospect, Jedeveon Clowney, selects South Carolina on Valentine’s Day, it is possible that Notre Dame could get jumped by the Gamecocks in some of the final rankings.  However, what signing day meant to Notre Dame will not be affected.

No matter how you slice it, February 2nd was a very good day for Notre Dame.  On signing day 2010, head coach Brian Kelly spoke of the need to get defensive edge players in the class of 2011 and the Notre Dame staff came through in a big way.  Stephon Tuitt, Aaron Lynch, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Troy Niklas, and Ben Councell are the types of guys that litter the rosters of BCS bowl teams, especially those coming out of the SEC.  These guys will change the speed dynamic of the Notre Dame defense in the coming years.

Kelly and his staff also have great flexibility with all of the linemen that were signed.  Who ends up playing where is a mystery at this time, but the players that are coming in give the Irish plenty of options.

Quarterback Everett Golson looks like a guy made for Brian Kelly’s spread offense and Davaris Daniels and George Atkinson are electric athletes that will make plays in the future.  And Ben Koyack is one of the best tight ends in the land.

ND needed numbers in the defensive backfield and they signed four quality recruits and Kyle Brindza is the kicker they really wanted.

Things were not perfect, though.  They missed out at running back and it would have been nice to land another difference maker on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

Those are areas that will need to be addressed next year.  Also, while the Irish concentrated on edge players this year, next year they will have  to focus on the middle.  They will need at least one nose tackle in next year’s class.  On the next level, ND will probably look to take at least two inside linebackers.  Kelly has already stated the need for help in the secondary and I feel safety is an area that will be upgraded.

On offense, the middle is also important.  Braxston Cave has two years of eligibility left and someone will have to be groomed to take his place at center.  With Chris Watt most likely taking Chris Stewart’s spot at guard next year, very little depth remains and backup Mike Golic is a classmate of Cave.

Kelly has indicated a need for playmakers on offense in next year’s class and getting a running back that can contribute as soon as he steps on campus is essential.  The Irish will also look to take the best quarterback possible.

While there were a few misses this recruiting season, there were far more hits.  Many critics wondered about the ability of Kelly and his staff to recruit nationally and those questions were answered in a very positive way.  They also have generated a lot of positive momentum that they will carry over to their pursuit of the class of 2012.

Clearly, this is a class that can help lead Notre Dame back to BCS games.

Grade:  A-

January 4, 2011

Sun Bowl Review
by Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame vs. Miami.

Gone are the days of Catholics vs. Convicts, top 25 meetings and consistent contention for National Titles, and here are the days of fighting for momentum and recruits, and fighting for a spot in the Top 25.

The game still has appeal. It set a Sun Bowl record with tickets selling out in less than 21 hours. Most expected a close, defensive game. That didn’t go as thought.

Notre Dame got the ball to start the game, and Austin Collinsworth returned the kickoff 35 yards. The big play was a 3 yard Tommy Rees pass to Michael Floyd on 3rd and 15 that turned  into a huge 35 yard gain. On 2nd and 4, a Miami pass interference penalty gave the Irish a first down from the 3, and Rees again hit Floyd, this time for a Touchdown. Just 48 seconds into the game, Notre Dame had a 7-0 lead.

After the Notre Dame defense forced a 3 and out on QB Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes, Notre Dame took over at their 26, Theo Riddick and Robert Hughes took control of this drive early and ran the ball 6 times for 33 yards. Rees then completed a 2 yard pass to Riddick and once again, a 15 yard penalty hurt Miami, and directly after that, an underthrown ball was turned into a great Touchdown pass, and the Irish took a 14-0 lead.

Jacory Harris’ first pass attempt of the game was intercepted by Robert Blanton. Notre Dame didn’t do much, and only gained 13 yards on 6 plays. It was a 14-0 Irish lead at the end of one quarter.

When Miami had the ball, the 7th play of the good looking drive was the most important, as Harris once again threw an interception, this time to Harrison Smith, who was just getting started. The first attempted play by the Irish after the pick was blown dead after an offside call against the Hurricanes. Next play, Cierre Wood took the ball 34 yards and to the end zone, extending the lead even farther. It was now 21-0 Irish.

Two plays into the Canes possession, Jacory Harris once again threw a terrible pass that was caught by Harrison Smith once again. He didn’t get any yards on the INT but it gave the Irish the ball back.  After ND did nothing with the ball, Miami pulled Harris finally, and put Stephen Morris in the game. Morris looked good, completing 2 passes: one to Miami’s big play receiver Leonard Hankerson for 5 yards and one to LaRon Byrd for 24. His next pass was picked off by the Irish, as Harrison Smith tied a Sun Bowl record with his 3rd INT of the game.

Rees hooked up with Floyd once for 18 yards, and threw to Robert Hughes for 8 yards, to go along with Hughes’ 4 rushes for 10 yards. David Ruffer then came out to kick a 40 yard field goal, which he made. It was now 24-0 Irish.

After the ND defense forced another punt, Robert Hughes ran for 9 yards and Cierre Wood ran for 17. Those were the biggest plays, but David Ruffer again nailed a field goal, this time from 50 yards out. It was now 27-0 Notre Dame.

Leonard Hankerson (22 yards) and Travis Benjamin (17 yards) each caught a pass, which allowed kicker Matt Bosher to kick a 47 yard field goal. The Irish headed to the locker room with a 27-3 lead.

Miami got the ball back after the half, but took the ball 2 yards on 3 plays and Notre Dame got the ball back. The next ND possession was mostly running, as Hughes, Wood and even Theo Riddick ran 8 times for 38 yards. Floyd and Tyler Eifert caught a pass each and Ruffer hit a 19 yard field goal to extend the lead. Notre Dame was up 30-3.

After Storm Johnson’s 2 runs for 20 yards in the first 3 plays, the Canes drive stalled. Miami went for the first on fourth, and ended up losing a yard. The next Irish drive, Ruffer missed his first field goal of the year, but the Irish still had a safe lead at the end of 3.

The next 2 drives for the teams were uneventful, until Stephen Morris  took over and built a strong drive, completing 3 passes on 6 attempts for 46 yards, six of those yards being a TD pass to Hankerson, and the game became a little closer. Irish up 30-10.

The only notable play on this drive was a 30 yard completion to John Goodman. Miami got the ball back soon, and Morris took off, 94 yards on 6 completions for another Miami TD, as Tommy Streeter caught a 42 yard pass. 30-17 Irish still up.

TJ Jones’ 19 yard catch was the biggest play, although Nick Tausch nailed a 34 yard FG that sealed the game. When Miami got the ball back, Prince Shembo’s sack for a loss of 17 yards ended the game, and Notre Dame won 33-17.

Where do I start with this game?

Notre Dame is now on a 2 game Bowl win streak.

They looked great. Rees was on fire. Floyd had a great game. Harrison Smith was lights out. All around good game. Finally, Notre Dame has put together a series of games against good teams that’s actually fun to watch.

About 3 months ago, my “Venting Session” pointed out how bad the defense was, the offense couldn’t get anything done, and would lose to Utah and USC. Now here we are, 3 months later, and the Irish finish at 8-5 with one of, if not the hottest defense in the country. Talk about a turn around.  I’ll get to that more in my next blog.

Until then, let’s enjoy this victory. But get ready. Bigger things are coming next season.

December 6, 2010

Here Comes The Sun
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Notre Dame has accepted an invitation to play in the Hyundai Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on New Year’s Eve day.  The Irish will face the Miami Hurricanes, which will surely inspire renewed “Catholics vs. Convicts” talk, even though this Miami squad in no way resembles those late ‘80s Hurricane teams on or off the field.

Though Notre Dame did not play on Saturday, the outcomes of several games led to the Irish winding up in the Sun Bowl.  The Irish have an agreement with the Champs Sports Bowl that states that they can replace the #2 Big East team once in a four year span.  If the Champs Sports Bowl had no better options, they would have taken ND.  But when UConn clinched the Big East BCS spot and West Virginia beat Rutgers to finish at 9-3, the Mountaineers were picked for the Orlando based bowl.

But that was fine for the Irish.  Because the Pac Ten had only four bowl eligible teams, with two of them headed to BCS games, there were several vacant bowls with Pac Ten tie-ins.  Arizona will go to the Valero Alamo Bowl and Washington qualified for the Bridgeport Education Holiday Bowl by narrowly defeating Washington State in the Apple Cup on Saturday night.  

That left three Pac Ten bowls open, with the Sun Bowl being the best choice.  Sun Bowl selection chairman John Folmer told several media outlets earlier in the week that he would jump at the opportunity to select Notre Dame and Miami.  When it came to fruition, Folmer said in a press conference on Sunday, “In our 77 years and my 40 years (with the bowl), 35 years as chairman, I never thought this would happen. You gotta be kidding me."

Miami recently dismissed head coach Randy Shannon after losing to South Florida in the team’s final game to fall to 7-5 on the season.  The Hurricanes will be led by offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who came to Miami with Shannon four years ago.

Miami entered the season in everyone’s top 15.  But a loss at Ohio State in week two dropped them in the rankings and a 45-17 drubbing by Florida State four weeks later knocked them out.  There was also a terrible loss at Virginia and they wound up the campaign by losing to Virginia Tech and the aforementioned defeat at home to South Florida.

We will have more on the contest as the Sun Bowl draws closer.

December 2, 2010

Notre Dame @ USC Recap
by Sonny Martinez

The Notre Dame vs. USC rivalry was reborn this weekend.  It was a great game to watch for both fans, although it might have been a little more painful for some at the end. This week’s review will be a little different than usual, as I have a lot of thoughts on this game. I will only be doing the key drives of last week’s game.

USC’s first points of the game came off of a Tommy Rees INT. The Trojans intercepted at the ND 28, leaving them in great position to score. The offense, lead by Mitch Mustain, only got 3 total yards in this drive, but they did get a FG out of it. 3-0 USC.

Notre Dame didn’t respond until the second quarter. Cierre Wood ran 4 of the first 5 plays for 20 yards. Michael Floyd was the big WR in this drive, with 5 catches for 34 yards. One of those catches was a 1 yard touchdown pass and the Irish took a 7 point lead. 7-3 ND.

Then with about 40 seconds left in the half, Notre Dame got the ball at their 38. Cierre Wood gave this drive a good start as he ran for 28 yards to the USC 34. Tommy Rees then hit Floyd again for 19, followed by Eifert and Floyd, both for 7 yards. Then on second and goal, Duval Kamara got a 1 yard touchdown pass that increased the Irish lead. Ruffer missed the extra point however, so it was only a 10 point lead at half. 13-3 ND.

USC capitalized on yet another Rees INT, as they started at the ND 21. Marc Tyler ran 4 times for 15 yards. Mustain had 2 incomplete passes, and the Irish defense looked good again as USC had to settle for a FG. 13-6 ND.

USC again capitalized on a turnover, this time a Rees fumble, and it happened at the Notre Dame 2. The defense held SC the first 3 downs, but Mustain jumped over the pile and got into the end zone. The momentum had completely changed. 13-13 Tie.

With 14:05 left in the game, Rees threw yet another INT. And yet again, it lead to USC points.  Thankfully for ND, the defense held USC to only a field goal. But now, this game was a total 180 from what it was. 16-13 USC.

The Irish offense came onto the field again, and they picked up their slack. Floyd caught an 11 yard pass, followed by a 26 yard Cierre Wood run. Hughes then ran 3 times for 31 yards. He also added a 5 yard rushing touchdown, and Notre Dame had the lead yet again. 20-16 ND.

With 2:16 left in the game, USC had to get a touchdown. Robert Woods caught 2 passes for 16 yards. 2 plays later, Mustain had a perfect throw. Harrison Smith fell down and a deep pass to a wide open Ronald Johnson at the 10 yard line was dropped! It went in and out of the hands of Johnson, and that pass would have allowed USC to win. A few plays later, Mustain threw a ball into the end zone that was intercepted by Harrison Smith at the 1! Notre Dame had the win, and left LA with their 7th of the season. END OF GAME: ND 20, USC 16

I have so many thoughts on this game, as it is one of the best games I can remember.

FINALLY, Notre Dame beat USC, and not only was it a win over SC, it was a win in the Coliseum. This was the perfect moment for all Irish fans. It might have gotten a few fans a little worried, but in the end, thanks to another great defensive game, Notre Dame beat the Mighty Trojans.

Forget that Barkley was out, the fact remains that the Irish won. This was a win that Irish fans have been waiting for since 2001. They had their close games (2005) and they’ve had their blow outs (2007 comes to mind first) but after many long, hard years of waiting, it’s finally been done.

Robert Hughes, who hasn’t had a major impact on the team this season, has had 2 games in a row of great running. He, along with Cierre Wood, have done a great job filling in for injured RB Armando Allen.  Hughes had 39 and 69 yards the last 2 games, with a TD in both. What makes both TDs great are both were the game winning touchdowns.

Tommy Rees and his 3 INTs and 1 fumble were the reason for all of the Trojan points. He could have cost ND the game, but some very good, clutch defensive play kept them in the game. 16 points is the lowest USC has scored against USC since that same 2001 game, when the Irish won 27-16.

Dillon Baxter, who is possibly the best athlete on the team, was held to just 4 yards on 1 run. Even Marc Tyler, who has had 3 100 yard games, including (2) 150 yard games was held to 48 yards on 17 carries. Overall the team had just 80 yards rushing.

The fact that Mustain hadn’t started since 2006 really showed. He was 20/37 for 177 yards and 1 TD. Some of the incomplete passes were really bad WR drops, but some were just awful throws.

Was there a better moment this season than when Ronald Johnson dropped the ball while wide open at the 10? Nobody was within 15 yards of him. He cost SC the game. "It's part of the game. You drop balls," said Mustain.  "That one probably would have changed the outcome. I don't know if there's a worse feeling than that." Then Lane Kiffin had this to say: "It's just a shame, because now you've got a whole locker room and the whole Trojan Family all down in the tank at one play [that] could completely change the whole outcome.”

You have to try to keep a guy’s spirits up after a bad moment like that…but that could have, and would have won the game for the game for his team.  But as a head coach, that could be the worst thing you could say, especially to the media. “The whole team went down the tank because of him” is basically what he said. As a coach, you can’t say things like that.

What is USC playing for? A PAC 10 title? Nope, not good enough. A better bowl? Better recruits? No, your predecessors cheated and now, you can’t get that either. They’re playing for NOTHING. You have to keep a kid’s confidence up after that. And now because of that quote, who knows what kind of mindset Johnson will be in next week vs. UCLA. Congrats Kiffin, here’s your coach of the year award…

Anyways, this was a great game. Finally after 9 years they beat the mighty Trojans. It was a good game for the most part. ND might not have won if Barkley was in, but 2 things are for sure.

The Fall of Troy continues, and the Rise of the Irish is beginning.

And I couldn’t be happier about both.

November 26, 2010

USC vs Notre Dame Preview
By Sonny Martinez

Coming off a huge win against Army, the Irish now travel to Southern California to take on the not so mighty USC Trojans. Both head coaches are new, and want to make a good first impression in this rivalry.

This game is the biggest rivalry game for the Irish and they’d love to beat USC in LA.  Both teams have many problems, but I think USC has more.

Now let me throw this out there right now: I don’t like USC. I can’t stand USC, more than any other team in any other sport. All of my respect for USC was lost when the allegations of cheating, paying players and the Bush Push game happened. And then Lane Kiffin stabbed Tennessee in the back and left. But anyways…

Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s problems are well known. The defense, that has looked great as of late, is either lights out or awful.

TJ Jones will be close to 100% and should record some stats this week, something he didn’t do last Saturday. Also, not starting, but back for this week is Theo Riddick, who will definitely help the offense vs.  a banged up USC defense. “They are not in starting positions,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We’ll see how that works out as we go through the week. They’ll get more work as they feel more comfortable.” 

When asked about Riddick, Kelly said this: "He looked good in pregame against Army. I liked the way he looked. He moved well. At first glance you would say, 'Wow, he looks really ahead of where we thought he was.' Then he stiffened up a little bit as he stood on the sideline for the whole game. Our concern is how is he going to respond on a Tuesday backed up by a Wednesday. How does he really look on Wednesday? I think he's going to look pretty good today. How is he going to look on Wednesday? I think that's really the answer to the question specifically."

 Also this week Carlo Calabrese should have a bigger role than last week. Manti Te’o broke his nose in last week’s win, but will play this week.

Irish players and coaches are fired up for Saturday night. Te’o, who chose to come to ND over SC, is doing a good job to show that he’s taking this as an average game. “We just take it as another game,” said Te’o. “You’ve got to. You can’t have that anxiety out there. You have to take it one game at a time and take each opponent as the same. Don’t underestimate them and don’t get overanxious.”

Brian Kelly knows that this 6 win season is his fault. "Clearly 6-5 is not what I had in mind," he said at Tuesday's news conference. "So from a coach, I've got to do a lot of things better. I've got to continue to evaluate myself and decisions and game plans and things of that nature. But in 20 years I think what I've understood more than anything else is that you have to do that. You don't just arrive. Things change so much from year to year. I think that's the thing I look at most. Notre Dame is a high-profile job. With that comes a great deal of scrutiny. I think I was prepared for that. We got a lot of it this year."

But in most fans minds, a win at USC, even in a down year, can change all that. A win over the Trojans is what Irish fans have been waiting for since 2001, which feels like forever ago. But this week, they are primed to beat USC.


As the Irish come in, the Fall of Troy continues. USC has been on a major freefall as of late, and it’s not getting any better. USC hasn’t looked very impressive this season, their offense is hit or miss and the defense is very un-Trojan like. They have given up over 35 points 4 times this season, losing 3 of those. The offense has scored 17 or less points in 3 games. 

And now the injury bug bites. The status of QB Matt Barkley, who was injured in last week’s 36-7 beat down by Oregon State, remains in question. If he can’t go, it’ll be the fifth year senior Mitch Mustain who gets the start. Linebacker Chris Galippo is questionable with a concussion. RB Marc Tyler should play this week after dealing with an ankle injury.

The best news for the Trojans is that Dillon Baxter will be allowed to play. He repaid the $5 that he owed from a golf cart ride. "The hope is that he continues to grow and mature," Kiffin said Wednesday. "He's still young, a true freshman, and he'll just make better decisions, even though I'm sure a lot of people will look at this one as something that could happen to anybody. He wasn't necessarily in the wrong, but it doesn't matter. He's already put himself in a position where there isn't any room for poor judgment."

When asked about the running ability of Baxter, Kiffin said this: "He gives us some things that other guys don't," Kiffin said. "It's been an up-and-down season for him, and some of that is his fault, and some our fault. ... The last two days, he has done a really good job of preparation and execution with everything going on. With that behind him, hopefully he can have a good week of work."

RB Stanley Havilli is a double threat. He runs respectably, but is a great pass catcher. He is third on the team in catches to go along with his 173 rushing yards.

Robert Woods and Ron Johnson are the receivers to watch. Woods is a dangerous deep threat who gets the majority of his yards after he catches the ball. Johnson is the quicker of the two with better awareness and runs the majority of his routes to perfection.

USC’s good defensive line is going to give the Irish a hard time running. They get great pressure on the QB. The top 5 DL have at least 6 starts each, totaling 16 sacks. Jurell Casey is the total package. Coaches dream of having players like this on their line. He’s 305 pounds of raw strength. He’s also very quick. He has 59 tackles, leading the D-Line, and 4.5 sacks.

The USC linebacking group isn’t as talented as usual. Devon Kennard will be in the place of Galippo if he can’t go. Kennard is faster and lays out the harder hits, but he is not the better defender all around.  All of the linebackers are fast and physical, but not nearly as good as the defense from 2003-2009.

USC’s pass defense is ranked 95th in the country. USC DBs are often out of position and not doing the correct job. This often leads to big plays to big time receivers, which is why they need to tightly cover Michael Floyd.  This is the worst pass defense in the last 10 years, and Jawanza Starling isn’t good at stopping the run either.

Overall, the defense should be easier than usual for an Irish offense that is looking great for the circumstances it is under.


This game has “Upset” written all over it. Recent injury issues, Quarterback issues, and other minor things for the Trojans will help the Irish. I said at the beginning of the season that in this game Notre Dame would have more motivation. I still believe that to be true, as Notre Dame is playing for a better bowl, while USC can’t go to a bowl. The Irish need this win very much to get their first 7 win regular season since the Brady Quinn era. I’d love to call for a blow out win for the Irish, but that won’t happen. I do think, however, a win can happen. I said the Irish would lose 3 games this season: Pitt, Utah and USC. They beat both Pitt and Utah. In a game that can go either way, I’ll go with that trend to continue, as the Irish sneak out with a very close, exciting game.


Notre Dame: 24

USC: 20

November 22, 2010

Army-Notre Dame Preview
By Sonny Martinez

On Saturday night, Army came to Yankee Stadium to play the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame needed this win to become bowl eligible. And for this game, for the first time since 2007, they transformed into the Green Machine.

Notre Dame got the ball to start the game. This drive featured a lot of Cierre Wood, who had 5 runs for 50 yards. Tommy Rees went completed a pass to Robby Toma for 22 yards. When the Irish got to the Army 5, the Rees pass was intercepted in the end zone and things didn’t look good for the Irish to start the game. ND drive: 9 plays 69 yards, 4:05 ND INT.

Army really took their time on this drive. QB Trent Steelman completed his pass to Davyd Brooks for 27 yards. This is a run heavy team and they proved it on this drive. Brian Cobbs ran twice for 9 yards. Two plays later, Pat Mealy ran for 8 yards, followed by a Steelman 3 yard run. Army ran really well for the entire drive, and got 6 first downs on the ground. They also held the ball for almost 9 minutes, but the Irish defense looked strong and only gave up a field goal. ARMY drive: 17 plays 77 yards, 08:45 ARMY FG, 3-0 Army.

This didn’t give the Irish much time to get anything done. Tommy Rees completed to Michael Floyd for 33 yards, then Tyler Eifert for 3. Rees was then sacked as the quarter came to an end.  END OF FIRST: ARMY 3, ND 0. The pass to Duval Kamara was incomplete and the Irish had to settle for the field goal, and they got it. David Ruffer hit a 47 yard FG and the Irish tied the game. ND drive: 6 plays 36 yards, 2:20 ND FG, 3-3 Tie.

Army’s next possession wasn’t very good. They went 3 and out and gained 7 yards total. The punt awful, as Jonathan Bulls shanked the ball and it went only 12 yards, giving the Irish very good field position. ARMY drive: 3 plays 7 yards, 2:05 ARMY PUNT.

Rees ran for 4 yards, threw an incomplete pass and then completed to Eifert for 35 yards. This got ND to the Army 1, where they capitalized. Robert Hughes ran it in from a yard out and the Irish took the lead.  ND drive: 4 plays, 40 yards, 0:50 ND Touchdown, 10-3 ND.

The Irish defense really buckled down again this drive as Army went 3 and out again. Steelman wasn’t looking very good so far except for the first drive. ARMY drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 1:37 ARMY PUNT.

Cierre Wood ran for 12 yards, followed by a loss of 1 yard then a 6 yard gain. Rees then hit Floyd for 23 yards. Rees’ next target was Eifert, who he found for a touchdown. The Irish were looking solid to this point, and kept rolling. ND drive: 5 plays 71 yards, 2:17 ND Touchdown, 17-3 ND.

For the third Army possession in a row, the Irish defense held the Black Knights’ offense to a 3 and out. The only play that was big was a 6 yard run for Ray Maples. Once again, Army had to punt. ARMY drive: 3 plays 4 yards, 2:15 ARMY PUNT.

Jonas Gray ran for 7 yards on 2 runs. Robby Toma then caught a 20 yard pass, and Floyd ran for another 9. Those were really the only major plays of this drive as Notre Dame got to the Army 35. But instead of going for the field goal, Ben Turk punted, and did a good job of it. He pinned Army at their 6 with 1:26 left in the half. ND drive: 8 plays 41 yards, 4:20 ND PUNT.

There were 3 runs in this Army possession, two 3 yard runs and a 6 yard run, but the first half came to an end. END OF HALF: ARMY 3, ND 17

Army got the ball at their 23. Jared Hassin ran for 3 yards, then an incomplete pass. Steelman then under threw a ball that was intercepted by Darrin Walls at the Army 42 yard line. The INT was taken back all 42 yards and the Irish lead grew yet again. ARMY drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 1:00 ND INT, Returned 42 Yards for a Touchdown, 24-3 ND.

The Knights got the ball right back and for the first time since the first quarter, Army ran more than 3 offensive plays in one drive. But still, because of a Jonathan Crucitti fumble, Army got less than 10 yards on this drive. Army had to punt again. ARMY drive: 6 plays 8 yards, 4:06 ARMY PUNT.

In a change from the normal of the game, Notre Dame was forced to a 3 and out. ND drive: 3 plays 8 yards, 1:22 ND PUNT.

A false start lead to a 5 yard loss right away. 2 plays later, Steelman threw another pick, and this was pretty nice. Brian Smith made the INT, but was hit right away. His great awareness was showed off as he handed the ball off to Gary Gray who returned the ball 14 yards. It was a possible Notre Dame defensive play of the year nominee. ARMY drive: 2 plays -3 yards, 0:44 ARMY INT.

The biggest play here was a 19 yard catch for Robby Toma. This set up a 39 yard field goal, which was again nailed by Ruffer. ND drive: 6 plays 16 yards, 2:25 ND FG, 27-3 ND.

Trent Steelman threw only once on this possession, to George Jordan for 12 yards, The rest of the drive, 5 more plays, gained only 12 yards on the ground. Army was forced to punt again. ARMY drive: 6 plays 24 yards, 3:44 ARMY PUNT.

There were 3 plays before the end of the quarter: a 5 yard catch by Wood, a Hughes 2 yard run and an 8 yard catch by Eifert. END OF THIRD: ARMY 3, ND 27. Now it’s the fourth quarter and the goal of the Irish is to just run out the clock. Except for one play at the end, the rest of this drive was all rushing. Hughes and Wood did the majority of that. Rees hit Kamara for 5 yards on 3rd and 17, and the Irish had to punt. ND drive: 11 plays 40 yards, 7:38 ND PUNT.

The worst thing that could happen to Army, a 3 and out, did happen. Brian Austin’s 6 yard run on 3rd and 12 was the biggest play that happened, and Army had to punt again. ARMY drive: 3 plays 4 yards, 1:47 ARMY PUNT.

This was all run. Hughes, Gray and Wood all got carries, 6 for 20 yards. It killed over 4 minutes off the clock so they did their job. ND drive: 6 plays 20 yards, 4:11 ND PUNT.

Army had little time left and had to do something. So what did they do? Another 3 and out. Definitely a spirit crusher for the Knights.  ARMY drive: 3 plays 6 yards, 1:45 ARMY PUNT.

The Irish then went into victory formation, and came out with a win. END OF GAME: ARMY 3, NOTRE DAME 27.

Overall Thoughts

-          First I have to talk about Tyler Eifert. He has done an excellent job of replacing Kyle Rudolph. He can catch almost anything thrown his way and has great blocking ability. When Rudolph went down, a lot of people said that the Irish offense wouldn’t be as good. I think that a few weeks ago Eifert has proved the haters wrong.

-          After the last 2 games, all I can say is wow. A few weeks ago I ripped the entire team, especially the defense. Now look at them. They’ve played 2 of the best defensive games in the past 5 years. A week ago, they held a Utah team that was averaging 41 PPG to 3, and now they held a good Army offense to 3. Talk about a turnaround.  Now yes, it is just Army, but the same type of offense burned Notre Dame on October 23rd. How times have changed.

-          Tommy Rees is a great QB for being just a freshman. He’s played great in place of Dayne Crist. At times, maybe even better.

The real defensive test comes next week when the Irish travel to Southern California, in a game that looks more winnable now than in September.

November 20, 2010

Army vs Notre Dame Preview
By Sonny Martinez

First things first: I apologize for totally blowing the game call last week. I was absolutely shocked to see how the Irish handled Utah and looked solid. I called 44-17 Utah, the final was 28-3 ND. Hopefully I’ll make up for it this week.

Now onto business. Personally, this week’s game is the best game on the Notre Dame schedule. Not the toughest, the one I’ve been looking forward to the most. In a game that will be fun for fans, the 5-5 Irish travel to The Bronx, NY for a meeting with Army. This game has a lot behind it because of all the memories at the old Yankee stadium between the two schools. Throughout the home schedule, NBC has been showing “Notre Dame-Army Greatest Moments.”

There were a lot of great moments. The first Army-ND game is often referred to as the game that put college football where it is today. The most classic game was in 1946. The 6-0 Fighting Irish played the 6-0 Cadets. The game, called the “Game of the Century,” finished in a 0-0 tie.

And look how times have changed. Army has 4 losses with its 6 wins and ND is fighting for 6 wins itself. This game has a lot riding on it for both teams.

Army wins, and they’ll most certainly go to a bowl with 7 wins, most likely the Armed Forces Bowl. Notre Dame wins, with 6 wins they should go to a bowl and get the all important 15 extra practices.

Notre Dame

First on the injury side, most likely TJ Jones and Carlo Calabrese will be back in action this weekend, adding playmakers to a team that already looked solid last week.

Speaking of solid, for his first start, Tommy Rees looked pretty good last week. He hit 13/20 for 129 yards. He also had 3 passing TDs and no INTs to go along with that. In terms of the running backs, both Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray looked good. Gray, even though he didn’t touch the ball that often, (3 carries,) he tore it up when he did, with 44 yards. Wood had 71 yards on 19 runs, neither had a touchdown.

The defense will need to shape up against the run this week. I’m not talking about last week, because they looked great. Army runs the same offense that Navy has, and that didn’t end well. Navy dominated. Manti T’eo is one of the best LBs in the country, and as only a sophomore, he is in the top 5 of tackles in the entire country.

This game is so big that even the most famous player in Notre Dame History, Daniel “Rudy” Ruttinger is at Yankee Stadium. He talked to some of the students and players and gave them a pep talk of sorts. He can’t be at the game tomorrow though, as he has to be in Las Vegas for his son’s soccer game.

The Irish are even transforming into the Green Machine this weekend. It’ll be the first time since 2007, a 38-0 loss to USC.

As usual, here are some quotes from the head man, Brian Kelly. “They know they’re going to New York. I don’t think I’ve ever had more injured guys ask me if they were traveling this week,” coach Brian Kelly said. “They’re all excited about that. The fact of the matter is, they want to play well again. They want to obviously, on the stage, in New York, they understand playing well is the most important thing.”

On Army’s offensive style: “They do a very good job with the option and they also add some traditional offense. You’ll see fly sweeps, counter, a passing game that is a little bit more diverse than a typical option team,” Kelly said.

One thing the Irish have worked on is cut blocking, which really hurt the Irish against Navy.  So here’s Kelly on the defense blocking: “We just didn’t defend it. We couldn’t get to the areas that we needed to get to,” Kelly said. ‘The guys know what to expect from it this time around. I don’t think we’ll overemphasize it. They know the schemes. This is strictly about, again, controlling the line of scrimmage than worrying about cut blocks.”


This isn’t the same Army team that Notre Dame smashed 41-9 in 2006. This is the best Army team since 1996. For the first time since that year, Army is bowl eligible with 6 wins.

Now those six wins: Eastern Michigan, North Texas, Duke, Tulane, VMI (an FCS school) and Kent State aren’t in the top 60 of best teams.

They are dead last in passing yards per game, with 81.8 yards per game. Trent Steelman has 56 completions on just 99 attempts, 798 yards and 5 TDs.

What they lack in one spot, they definitely make up for in another, as they rank 8th in the country in rushing yards per game with 273, and have 2728 total rush yards on the season, good for 9th.

FB Jared Hassin leads the team with 858 yards. He has 9 TDs to go along with that. Steelman has 596 yards and 11 TDs. In total, 6 players have over 100 rushing yards and 3 of those players have at least 5 TDs.

The offense isn’t exactly “explosive,” as they average 31 PPG. But Navy’s wasn’t either before the ND game. (A few weeks later they scored 76, wow.)

There are only 3 major injuries for the Black Knights (AKA Cadets) to report. After back surgery in mid September, LB Andrew Rodriguez is out possibly for the rest of the season. He was a key player on the Defense. KR Malcolm Brown and starting DB Antuan Aaron are questionable.

On defense, Mike Gann is their best defensive lineman and their best run stopper. At 6’2”, 280, he plugs up the line and looks good while doing it.  In the place of Rodriguez, Josh McNary is going to be key in rushing in on Rees. Overall the Army defense is average, and if I had to give it a grade, I’d say C.


This game is huge and the outcome could determine the rest of the year for the Irish. If they lose, they have no momentum and head to Southern California to face USC. If they win, they will most likely go to a bowl and the SC game looks more winnable. Army’s offense is going to give ND’s defense a headache. They run very well, not as good as Navy, but they’re solid. To counter, the Irish will need to establish the run early. Rees needs to throw the ball a little more and can’t be afraid to go deep. I think Notre Dame is the more complete team, and with WR TJ Jones and LB Carlo Calabrese most likely back, Notre Dame gets their 6th win Saturday night.

Hopefully the game isn’t as much of a mess at the Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley.

Final Score

Army: 17

Notre Dame: 34

November 13, 2010

Utah @ Notre Dame Preview
By Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame is now 4-5 and coming off a bye week, which means they should be in a great position to win this week. They’ve had 2 weeks to prepare for the test that is ahead of them. So they should look good this week, right? Wrong. The very upset and #15 Utah Utes come to town, looking to rebound off of a humiliating 47-7 smashing by the now #3 TCU Horned Frogs. Utah is looking to bounce back, while Notre Dame is trying to bounce back into bowl eligibility.

Notre Dame

First to the injury report, this looks a little clearer than last blog.

Crist and Allen are the latest players to be injured and ruled out for the season. As has been said for a while now, Rudolph is also out. Now, added to that, OL Ian Williams is now officially out for the year as well. He finished his season with 36 tackles. LB Carlo Calabrese is questionable, while WR TJ Jones is also. 

This means freshman QB Tommy Rees will get the start this week. The question is, which Tommy Rees will show up?  The one who went 0/2 with an INT vs. Michigan? Or the one who went 33/54 and 4 TDs? You know he’s going to have INT problems this week, he’s had 4 INTs in 63 attempts. You know this by watching last week, but Utah’s defense is pretty good, and gets a ton of pressure on the QB.

Also now Cierre Wood will get most of the carries this week for the remainder of the season. Robert Hughes will also get a chance to run some more.

Lucky for the Irish, their biggest threat, Michael Floyd, is doing good. Theo Riddick won’t be back either, so it looks like Roby Toma is going to get some more receptions this weekend.

Coach Kelly had some things to say about the Utes team. "Certainly this is a team that has won a lot of football games," Kelly said at his Tuesday news conference. "[Coach Kyle Whittingham] knows his football team probably didn't play its best. Generally, my experience has been a team that has a lot of confidence coming in is not all of the sudden going to lose all their confidence."

"They're going to chalk it up and say, 'Hey, we had a bad day. Let's put that behind us. Maybe we don't even look at the film. Let's get going on Notre Dame,'" Kelly said.

"Well, it's a confident group, certainly," Kelly responded when asked if Saturday's opponent reminded him of his former teams at Cincinnati. "You look at the scores that they've had, they really believe in what they do offensively. I think what I take away from Utah is a personality. They clearly have a personality on the football field -- very confident about what they can do. They've exhibited that on a very consistent basis."


The Utes, as stated before, are coming off one of their worst losses in the past 5 seasons. They got beat down pretty bad. The team, overall, is a very good team. They have wins over Pitt and Air Force, and have scored over 50 4 times (New Mexico, San Jose State, Iowa State, and Colorado State.)

QB Jordan Wynn is a very good player, as he has completed 65% of his passes, with 1579 yards, 14 TDs and 8 INTs, leading his team to average 41 points per game. His best game came in a 59-6 massacre of Colorado State, where he was 23 of 29 for 321 yards and 3 Yds with no INTs. 

Utah has 2 major running threats.  The main threat is Eddie Wide, who has 523 yards on 107 carries and 7 touchdowns. And if Wide’s not tearing up the defense, then Matt Asiata will be the guy that’s doing it. Asiata has 515 yards on 110 rushes and 6 TDs. He also has 124 receiving yards with a TD.  

On the receiving end, DeVonte Christopher’s going to hurt you. He has 32 catches, 572 yards and 5 TDs, and he’s on pace for another 100+ yard game at some point. Reggie Dunn is a very fast WR who averages 10.9 yards per rush on reverses.

They use the spread offense, which is what ND runs, so more than likely the ND defense has seen the majority of these plays before.

Utah’s defensive line is great, maybe the deepest in the country. They rotate 9 backups with their starters. Sealver Siliga, is the biggest run stopper on the line, as he is 6-foot-3, 299 pounds. He’s a monster.  The linebacking group is a little thin, with starter Chad Manis questionable after missing last week’s game vs. TCU. One of the backups, Junior Tui’One is doubtful. Utah’s DB’s are great and specialize in shutting down the big play receivers, like Michael Floyd. Brandon Burton will be the man on Floyd. Burton, who has great speed, is the leader of the defense.


This game might be a…a lot hard on the eyes of Irish fans at time. Utah is clearly the better team in this game. With all the injuries on the offensive side of the ball, the ND offense vs. the Utah defense isn’t a very good matchup for the Irish. If Calabrese is out, that makes things a lot easier on Wide and Asiata. So basically, I don’t think ND can come close to the win.


UTAH: 44


November 6, 2010

Notre Dame Venting Session
by Sonny Martinez

Maybe next year.

We’re sick of hearing it. It’s something Irish fans have heard for the past 4 years. This is no exception this season. There’s no way to get around this fact: in 2010, South Bend has been a complete disaster.

Needless to say this is…kind of…understandable, considering a brand new coach, coordinators, quarterback, and entire system. The reason I use “kind of” is because many fans, including myself, and people in the media believed in the Irish. Many saw potential for a 9 win season.  

Many terms were used at the beginning of the season for Notre Dame: believe, hope, return to glory, and even BCS. However, if you take the C out of BCS, that describes this season almost perfect.

Pathetic losses, (fake field goals), games where it looked like the team didn’t even want to be there (37-14 loss) and just plain embarrassing stats (502 total yards to ONE player) have really hurt the Irish this season. Sure, teams get burned every now and then, but not as much as this team has. This is mostly because of poor, pathetic defensive play.

The majority of the time, the defense is horrible. There are no All-American candidates on the defense except for LB Manti T’eo. One player can’t carry the defense. Talent wise, their good, but when they hit the field, you want to look away. They’re 80th out of 120 FBS teams in the NCAA in yards per game, which is not good at all, especially when you look at the teams ahead of them. Idaho, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana-Monroe,  Middle Tennessee and even a 2-5 team in Florida International, just to name a few.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe it’s stupid for me to think that the University of Notre Dame, who’s had 11 National Championships, more All Americans than any other school and perhaps the most recognizable name in the NCAA should be ahead of Florida International and Idaho in yards allowed per game. But to be quite honest, I really don’t think that’s too much to ask.

This is the University of Notre Dame…give me one reason why they can’t convince good players to play here. Why can’t they recruit guys like Patrick Peterson, Von Miller, or Ryan Kerrigan? Big, strong, physical guys who don’t just look big, strong and physical, guys who can actually play that way instead of getting burned by 502 yards from one player.. Ask them one simple question: “Do you want to play for the best team in NCAA history , win a National Championship and restore glory?”

I’m not asking for play like TCU’s defense, but this team isn’t going anywhere unless the defense wakes up and plays AT LEAST average. Here’s another embarrassing stat: they have given up more total yards than the 1-7 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Yes, you read that right. The same Western Kentucky team that has just one win in its past 28 games.

What caused this? Where do I start? Maybe giving up 502 yards to QB Denard Robinson?  258 of those yards were rushing. 250+ rush yards to a QB?  The only time stats like that should occur, for ANY team, is if you’re a high school team playing the New England Patriots. 258 rushing yards to a Sophomore QB...a Sophomore QB…That’s the definition of pathetic.

Maybe the disaster against Navy?  Example, 71 yards on 2 completions.  Or maybe the 99 yard drive they let Navy have in 6 plays, where they were burned in every play. That could do it. Giving up 367 rush yards in that game didn’t help at all. When you let Navy have the ball for over 35 minutes, they’ll hurt you.  The only thing that helped ND vs. Navy was their third down defense…oh wait…Navy converted on 10 of 13 3rd downs. 5 touchdowns on 8 drives is ridiculous.

Maybe the poor, pathetic, unbelievable effort vs. Stanford? Once again third downs killed the Irish (Like they would have been in the game anyways) as Stanford was 11-16, while ND was 4-13. Stanford had the ball for over 36 minutes. They let Stanford get into field goal way too much and Nate Whitaker hit 5 FGs in the game.  That can’t happen! It may seem like I just said the obvious, but it can’t be if the Irish defense couldn’t figure that out.

Now last game in a home loss to Tulsa, the defense was pretty good. But there’s always something, as this week it was the special teams that were awful and cost the Irish. What really hurt the Irish was the blocked EP, because without that, ND would have won by 3 points. The special teams couldn’t stop the ball being returned for 2 points for Tulsa. If you want to overlook that, how about the Damaris Johnson 59 yard punt return put the Hurricane right back into the game.

And now the Irish hit the meat of their schedule. Can you think of a better time for the injury bug to bite the Irish? 

Players out for the year are OL Dan Wenger, TE Kyle Rudolph and QB Dayne Crist. But the most recent player to be ruled out for the season is to RB Armando Allen, as he had hip flexor surgery. NT Ian Williams could also be out for the remainder of the season, as he suffered a leg injury in week 8. Michael Floyd is still not 100%, although he’s pretty close. WR Theo Riddick is out until at least the USC game, possibly the entire season. LB Carlo Calabrese is questionable as of now with a hamstring injury.

In some more general thoughts of the Irish, they went from being picked for a 9 win season to a team that’s going to win 5 games at most. There really is no point of having an offensive coordinator considering Brian Kelly calls most of the plays. The offense is fine the way it is. Well, the way it was before the injuries.

This is a team that hasn’t won 7 regular season games since 2006. A former coach once said that “6-6 isn’t good enough.” But most Notre Dame fans don’t know what that feels like, because there hasn’t been more than 6 wins in a regular season since the Brady Quinn era, which seems like forever ago.

Here’s an idea: How about they stop loading up on running backs (You need 3, not 6) and start using some of that time on a linebacker or two? The problem for the past few years is this: Talent can NOT be taught. You either have it, or you don’t. Finally, there’s a coach that knows this, but it isn’t showing.

But like I said, this is understandable. Everything’s different, from the coaching staff to the QB to the type of offense. 5 wins is not too bad when you add all that together.

But come on! How much longer do us fans have to sit through this train wreck that we call Notre Dame football? We’ve been sitting through this for a very long time now. It’s getting kind of…well…VERY old. But let’s look on the bright side, this season will get better.

And by better, I mean better for all the Notre Dame haters of the world. What do we get for watching this mess? Another disaster.

How lucky are we, because next week, us fans get to sit through the beating that the #5 ranked (as of now) Utah Utes come to town.  Utah is most likely going to hammer ND, as their defense is great (Take some notes Bob Diaco) and offense is very good, as well. This has all the makings for a good, old fashioned beat down.

The week after that we get what should be a win, against Army at Yankee Stadium.

Then we get to watch another disaster as the Irish travel to LA to take on a very…”unhappy”  USC Trojans team who is just looking for a bad defense. They’ll get that wish November 27.

We all say we’re not going to watch next week. There are better things that could be done. But all of us will be watching next week.

This is a lost season. Just get used to the system, try new things and see what works.  But in terms of winning…

…Maybe next year.

October 28, 2010

Tulsa Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

It has been exceptionally tough week around Notre Dame.  First, the Irish got mauled by Navy.  In that contest, nose guard Ian Williams, one of the most consistent defensive performers this season, was injured and may be lost for the year.  Then, linebacker Clay Burton de-committed from Notre Dame and pledged to Florida.  

But all of those crises paled in comparison to the tragedy that occurred Wednesday afternoon when a lift holding a Notre Dame student filming practice crashed to the ground.  Declan Sullivan of Long Grove, Ill. died in the fall.  

Despite the calamities, the Irish will play a football game on Saturday against Tulsa.  Here is a breakdown of that match up.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

Notre Dame moved the ball at times against Navy on Saturday, totaling 363 yards of total offense.  But mistakes did in the Irish.  On their first drive, ND drove to the Navy one-yard line, only to be stopped on downs when Dayne Crist’s quarterback sneak was denied.  He was also intercepted twice, the first of which set up a key Navy touchdown just before halftime.

Notre Dame was hampered by injuries that kept wide receivers Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick on the sideline.  Floyd will be back this week and that is good news because, despite the miscues in the passing game last week, the Irish will be throwing a lot on Saturday.

That’s because out of 120 FBS schools, Tulsa ranks last in pass defense, surrendering 330 yards per game through the air.  The team at #119, Texas Tech, gives up more than 30 yards less per game.  

Because teams throw so often against the Golden Hurricane, there are some good defensive pass numbers.  For example, the team has 17 sacks on the year.  Defensive end Tyrunn Walker leads the way with 3.5 sacks and five other players have more than one.  

They also have nine interceptions this season.  Safeties Dexter McCoil and Marco Nelson have three each.  But McCoil is just a sophomore and Nelson is a true freshman, an indication of the youth on this defense.  There is just one senior and three junior starters on the Tulsa defensive unit.

One of the juniors, linebacker Curnelius Arnick, leads the team in tackles with 63.  The other two backers have also had their moments.  Tanner Antle has six tackles for lost yardage and Shawn Jackson has seven.

Tulsa is #20 in rushing defense, giving up 113 yards per game.  Because their pass defense is so porous, teams are not attempting to run against them too often, though their 3.47 yards per carry against ranks #26 in the country.

Seeing how Notre Dame ranks #98 in rushing offense, expect the Irish to come out winging the ball around.  The Irish had difficulty protecting Crist last Saturday and Tulsa’s pass rush could be problematic for Notre Dame.

That being said, this is a woeful pass defense and the Irish should be able to move the ball through the air all day long.
When Tulsa Has the Ball

Tulsa is led by quarterback G.J. Kinne (no relation that I know of).  Kinne signed with Texas out of high school, but transferred to Tulsa after his freshman season.  In his two seasons with the Golden Hurricane, he has started every game.

This season Kinne has thrown for 1,855 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.  He has also run for 261 yards and four scores.  

Kinne is very good at finding the receiver that is open.  Eight different Tulsa receivers have double digit receptions and six different players have caught touchdown throws.  H-Back Charles Clay leads the squad with 27 catches for 330 yards.

Right behind him is wide out Damaris Johnson, who also has 27 catches that have accumulated 323 yards.

Tulsa employs a spread formation that uses just one running back at a time, but they will rotate several guys in and out during the course of the game.  Currently, Jamad Williams is listed at the top of the depth chart, though he only has 66 yards rushing this year.  The leading ball carrier is Alex Singleton with 306 yards on 57 carries.  Despite not having one feature back, Tulsa ranks #13 in rushing with 221 yards per game.

Tulsa will do a lot of different things out of their spread sets and one of them is handing the ball off to Johnson. The receiver has carried 26 times and has averaged over ten yards per rush.  They do use a tight end occasionally, but Clay Sears only has two receptions on the year.  They also rarely throw to the backs.

It is a young offensive line featuring two juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman.  They have only allowed nine sacks so far, though the style of offense with short, precise routes helps protect Kinne.  The line has also done a very good job opening up holes in the running game.

Tulsa will throw the ball but they most assuredly watched tapes of the Navy game.  The Irish defense could not stop the Middies and though Tulsa employs a different type of offensive system, the Golden Hurricane will also look for different ways to generate yardage on the ground this Saturday.

Once again, assignment football is the key.  Tulsa can get you going one way and attack you in another.  They can also mix in the pass much more than Navy can.  If the Irish cannot contain Tulsa’s running game, it will be a long day.

With Ian Williams out, it is up to Sean Cwynar to hold down the fort at the nose.  The other linemen must get a push to disrupt the timing of Tulsa’s running game.  This will enable linebackers Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese opportunities, which is exactly what did not happen last week.  The Navy offensive line was able to get to the second level and finished their blocks on the Irish linebackers.

It is imperative that the front seven perform well because the Notre Dame secondary will have more to defend this week. Kinne is a dangerous passer that has some weapons and if Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta, and the other ND safeties find themselves cheating up against the run, they could get burned.
Special Teams

Davis Ruffer’s streak continues.  The Irish place kicker hit his only field goal attempt from 45 yards out and he is now 13 of 13 on the season.  His kickoffs were again short and the coverage was decent.  Ben Turk punted just once, a 43-yard boot.  Bennett Jackson returned six kickoffs at about 20 yards a pop.

Johnson is just a junior but he is the all-time Tulsa leader in kick return yardage.  He also returns punts at a ten yard average.  Tulsa is in the top five nationally in both kick and punt coverage.  Kevin Fitzpatrick is 11 for 16 on field goals with a long 47 yards.  He is just two for six from beyond 40, however, and has had three kicks blocked.  Michael Such has had a good year, averaging 44 yards a punt.

With the exception of Ruffer, the Notre Dame special teams have not been all that exciting this year.  The coverage units have been good, but there have been no big plays in the return game.  They have not been a huge factor, either way, in any of the games this year and I don’t expect much to change this week.

Coming off last week’s dismal performance, no one knows what will happen this Saturday.  Will an angered Irish squad show up focused on drilling Tulsa or will a 4-4 team ravaged with injuries see little reason to play hard against a school from Conference USA?

This is not a Notre Dame team that can take any team lightly, especially one that averages 38 points a game. The Notre Dame defense seemed to be making strides before last week’s disaster in the Meadowlands.  While Tulsa does not run the option (or veer) offense like Navy, they do a lot of things to confuse defenses.  That is what they will be looking to do to the Irish.

Tulsa has seen the Navy film and they know that a well executed running game can hurt the Irish.  If they establish a competent rushing attack and sprinkle in play action, Tulsa will be able to score points on ND.

They better because the Tulsa pass defense will give up yardage to Dayne Crist and his receivers.  Some have questioned Crist’s progress this season and if he cannot light up this group of defenders, the chirping will get even louder.

I expect this to be a high scoring affair.  Tulsa is a well coached offensive unit and has too many offensive options for Notre Dame to consistently defend.  On the other side, Tulsa does not have the personnel to match up with Notre Dame’s offense.  The difference in this game is that the Irish do have defenders capable of making big plays here and there where Tulsa does not.

October 25, 2010

Navy 35   Notre Dame 17
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Charlie Weis began two new traditions during the annual battle between Notre Dame and Navy:  standing with the Midshipmen while their band plays the school’s alma mater and losing the game.  In the first year of the Brian Kelly era, both traditions continued.

After 43 consecutive victories in the series, the Irish have now lost three of the last four, including the last two.  Saturday’s defeat, unlike the two previous losses, was not a close game that was decided late in the fourth quarter.  It was a complete Naval domination that was even greater than the 35-17 final score would indicate.

As is their custom, Notre Dame won the opening coin toss and elected to receive.  With receivers Michael Floyd and Theo Riddick not available, Notre Dame rode Armando Allen and Cierre Wood, along with the scrambling ability of Dayne Crist, to the Navy one-yard line, where they faced fourth down.  Brian Kelly elected to go for the touchdown, but Crist’s sneak effort was snuffed out by the Middies.

And at that point, Navy went to work.  On a third and one, fullback Alexander Teich rumbled 54 yards down to the Irish 36.  Three plays later, Teich took a Ricky Dobbs screen pass 31 yards for the first Navy score.
After a Notre Dame field goal, Navy went at it again, traveling 77 yards on 12 plays.  The key play on the drive was a pass interference call on Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith in a second and 12 situation.  Dobbs took it in from three yards out to put Navy up 14-3.

For the only time in the game, Notre Dame answered.  The Irish drove 72 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to four.  Crist hit four different receivers on the drive, which was capped with a 16-yard touchdown toss to T.J. Jones.

That set up an end of the half situation that pretty much sealed Notre Dame’s fate.  After forcing a Navy punt for the only time in the half, Notre Dame got the ball back at their own three-yard line with 2:37 left.  After an incompletion and a designed Crist run, the Irish were staring at third and six.  Crist then threw a pass right to Navy’s De’Von Richardson at the Notre Dame 30-yard line.  Five plays later, Gee Gee Greene broke a Carlo Calabrese tackle and ran in for the third Navy score.

Instead of going to the half in a tight game the Irish were now down 21-10 and because they had not deferred the opening kick off, Navy got the ball to start the second half.  When they took the ball 77 yards on just seven plays for another score, a second Dobbs touchdown run, it was all over but the singing.

Crist threw another pick to set up another Navy score on the next possession, a third Dobbs touchdown, and Wood put one in for the Irish during garbage time for the 35-17 final.

Navy only attempted three passes during the game, but they were productive.  The first one was the screen to Teich for the first touchdown, the next resulted in the pass interference on Smith, and the final pass was a 40-yarder to Greg Jones to set up the first score of the second half.  

Seeing that Navy rushed for 367 yards on 60 carries, an average of over six yards a carry, never turned the ball over, and did not have a penalty all game, there was no need to throw.  Teich led the way with a whopping 210 yards and Dobbs chipped in with 90 and three touchdowns.  

Armando Allen led the Irish with 66 yards rushing while Crist was 19 of 31 for 178 yards, a touchdown, and two big interceptions.  Tommy Rees replaced Crist late in the game and completed six of seven passes for 79 yards.

The 4-4 Irish return to action at home on Saturday against Tulsa.

October 22, 2010

Notre Dame vs. Navy Preview
by Sonny Martinez

The 4-3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be traveling to take on the 4-2 Navy Midshipmen in a neutral site game in the new  Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey this Saturday. Notre Dame is coming off of a 44-20 smashing of Western Michigan, while Navy barely defeated SMU by a score of 28-21.

Even with only 2 losses on the year, Navy has had a disappointing season so far. They came against Maryland in the season opener by a score of 17-14, and Air Force 14-6. Both of those games were very winnable both on paper and in reality.  

Notre Dame had won 43 in a row against Navy up until 2007, but the Irish have lost 2 of the last 3 games the two schools have played. Notre Dame holds the series lead 71-11-1. Let’s take a look at the Notre Dame team.


The Irish are coming into this game with a 3 game winning streak. This game is huge, as it always is. If Notre Dame wins, it would be a morale booster, and put the Irish in prime position to clinch bowl eligibility next week at home vs. Tulsa. If they lose, it makes next week look a little tougher, and may even make bowl eligibility unreachable.

In some injury news, Michael Floyd suffered a  pulled hamstring in last week’s win. However he has not been ruled out for this week. "Floyd, he was a little sore today, he played through a Grade 1 hamstring (pull). So we're getting further testing done on him today to see there he is."

Theo Riddick is out this week with a “severely sprained ankle.” Freshman TJ Jones is expected to start in place of Riddick this week. Also out this week is safety Jamoris Slaughter. Kelly said he’ll likely need two, maybe even three more weeks to recover.

In the Wide Receivers department, as noted before TJ Jones will likely start in place of Theo Riddick. Michael Floyd might also be out this week. When asked about Floyd, Kelly said “I don’t know. I guess that could influence my thinking. I try to look at it as an individual. If he feels like he can play and play at a high level, I want to play him every play that he can play for the University of Notre Dame. I guess that’s how I feel about it, individually as we talk about Michael Floyd. I think he also feels that he has left a lot of games out there too with injuries. So you really have two things going on here; Mike really wants to play because he has missed a lot of time over the past couple of years. Then from my standpoint, I look at him individually and say if he is healthy to play, get out there and play. We don’t want to hold you back from playing.”

And if weather will have an effect, “Not for games because we have so many modalities to get those guys ready, more so than in practice. We are going on the road to get ready to play a game. There will be treatments and all the things that are necessary. It’s more in practice where you want to be a little more careful. But the weather won’t have any influence on whether we decide to play him or not.”

If Floyd can’t go, it’ll be Duval Kamara to start. Regardless, he will get some time this week. When asked about Kamara, Kelly said, “I think he’s like any other player who needs to have a couple catches and have a little success. I don’t think he can go out there and drop the first two or three and be brimming with confidence. He’s a veteran player and he knows his role. He knows Michael Floyd is going to be there if he can be but, having said that, because he is a little bit older, I don’t think it is as much a concern as if he were a freshman out there.”


QB Ricky Dobbs only has 657 passing yards this season. And at 109.5 yards per game, that ranks 117th in the country. He also has just one TD pass. While Navy is a running team, under 110 passing yards per game is not very good no matter how many rushing yards you have.

When talking about Navy, its biggest threat is obviously its running. They have 1935 yards on the ground, good for  6th in the NCAA, ahead of some top teams in the country, including AP #1 Oregon (7) and BCS #1 Oklahoma (65.) In terms of per-game, they average 259 yards per game, a solid 8th in the NCAA.

The biggest running threat is the QB Dobbs, who has 132 rushes for 379 yards and 5 TDs. For a QB, he has unbelievable speed and is very hard to bring down. RB Vince Murray is also hard to tackle, as he has 54 rushes, 283 rushes and 1 TD. A total of 5 players, Dobbs, Murray, Gee Gee Greene, Alex Teich, and Andre Byrd have over 100 rushing yards each.

Gee Gee Greene can also catch the ball, as he leads the team in receptions with 14 and is 2nd  on the team in yards with 205 yards. First place in the yards category goes to Greg Jones, who has 11 catches for 216 yards. Only those two players have over 100 receiving yards.

When asked about his team so far this season, Ken Niumatalolo said “We feel like we’re three plays away from being undefeated. It seems like every week we go through this. I had some thoughts prepared, but the captains had already had a team meeting, and they told the team, ‘We have so much to play for. We’re not going to let that loss destroy the rest of our season’ ”

QB Dobbs said “The drive and determination that we have offensively and defensively -- the never die, never quit mentality we have – is what makes the difference. We know we have to finish strong.”


Navy’s offense can and most likely will be a problem for Notre Dame’s defense. But Irish QB Dayne Crist will also be a problem for Navy’s defense. TJ Jones is a darkhorse for the player of the game this weekend.  Armando Allen is expected to be back, so ND can use a solid passing game and an alright running game that gets better with Allen against Navy.

At the beginning of the season I said that the Irish would beat Navy and get the key win that would also impress Irish fans. I expect this game to be somewhat of a shootout, but I’ll stick with my pre-season pick.


Notre Dame: 38

Navy: 34

October 19, 2010

Notre Dame 44   Western Michigan 20
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Despite putting up 27 points, Notre Dame was not at its best over the first 30 minutes of their game against Western Michigan on Saturday.  But they cleaned things up at the break and the running game, spearheaded by Cierre Wood, and a stingy defense propelled the Irish to a 44-20 victory in South Bend.

After the first play of the game it looked as though Notre Dame would coast all afternoon as Dayne Crist hit Michael Floyd for an 80-yard touchdown just 12 seconds into the contest.  When the Notre Dame defense forced the Bronco offense off the field after three plays, it looked like the Irish could deliver a crushing blow before many fans had settled into their seats.

But the first of Western Michigan’s three sacks led to a Notre Dame punt and this time the Broncos took advantage.  WMU went on a 15-play, 59-yard drive that was completed when quarterback Alex Carder snuck over from the one on fourth down to tie the game at 7-7.  On the drive, Carder was five for six for 42 yards.

A big defensive play early in the second quarter led to the score that put ND up to stay.  Irish linebacker DariusFleming intercepted a Carder throw on the Bronco 32-yard line.  On the first play after the pick, Notre Dame ran a reverse out of which receiver John Goodman threw a touchdown pass to Floyd.

Western Michigan fumbled on the next series, putting the field position game in Notre Dame’s favor.  A poor Bronco punt a couple of series later from deep in their own territory gave the Irish great field position at the WMU 35-yard line.  After completions to Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, and Floyd, Crist ran in for the score from nine yards out.  The extra point was blocked, making the Irish lead 20-7.

After a Western Michigan field goal, Notre Dame seemed to step on the Broncos’ neck when Crist hit Eifert on fourth down and five for a 39-yard score with 2:19 left in the half.  However, WMU fought back, driving 80 yards for a score just before halftime.  Carder ran in from three yards out for the touchdown.  The drive was aided in large part by a pass interference call on Notre Dame cornerback Darrin Walls.

In the third quarter, Notre Dame erased any Western Michigan hopes.  After a quick Bronco three and out, ND scored on their second play of the half when Cierre Wood raced 39 yards for the first touchdown of his career.  
Another three and out gave the Irish good field position again and Crist completed a nine play, 53-yard drive by hitting Floyd from two yards out for the junior receiver’s third touchdown of the day.  At 41-17, the game was over.

The Irish substituted liberally in the final stanza as Robert Hughes got a bunch of carries and both Nate Montana and Tommy Rees saw action at quarterback.  The teams swapped field goals in the fourth period for the final of 44-20.

The Irish had minus four yards rushing in the first half but finished the game with 149.  Wood had 94 yards and Hughes had 63.  Armando Allen was battling a hip flexor injury and was limited to just three carries for no yardage.

Crist was 18 of 28 for 255 yards and three touchdowns, though he did throw an interception in an otherwise flawless second half.  His favorite target was Floyd, who caught nine passes for 157 yards and three scores. Eifert performed well in his first start, replacing the injured Kyle Rudolph, with four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.

The Irish defense held Western Michigan to just 37 net yards rushing.  Manti Te’o led the way again with 10 total tackles.  Carder did throw for 277 yards, but he was picked off twice and sacked four times.  Ethan Johnson had perhaps his best game of 2010 with five tackles and 1.5 sacks.

The Irish travel to the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. for a game against Navy next Saturday at noon. 

October 15, 2010

Western Michigan @ Notre Dame Preview
by Sonny Martinez

This Saturday, the Irish play what should be their easiest game of the year, facing a team from the MAC: the Western Michigan Broncos. Notre Dame is coming off an important win vs. Pittsburgh. They are now 3-3, and looking into a 3 week stretch (including this week) where all 3 games are definitely winnable.

On the other end, Western Michigan is 2-3, with their only wins coming against Division 1 AA (FCS) Nicholls State and a less than impressive Ball State team. They have an alright offense but not a very good defense. Now for the team breakdowns. We’ll start with the home team Notre Dame Fighting Irish.


First for the biggest news: injury news. The most important injury is one that will effect Notre Dame for the rest of the season: Tight End Kyle Rudolph. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound junior tight end needs surgery after severely injuring his hamstring and his recovery could take six months. This injury has been bothering Rudolph since camp.

“Certainly, you lose one of the best tight ends in the country that's a loss. But, you know, not one player is going to stop what we do,” Kelly said when asked about the injury. "It was a Sunday conversation, literally with our training staff and doctors. It was a daily interaction we had with Kyle," Kelly said. "Just one of those unfortunate things that occurs in a sport like this, and this is an injury that's unfortunately is becoming a lot more common because of the explosiveness of these young men."  Tyler Eifert will get most of the playing time, with Mike Ragone and Jake Golic also getting some time.

In more injury news, RB Armando Allen is a game time decision for Saturday. “He's going to dress, and he's going to want to play," coach Brian Kelly said. "We're going to have to see what he looks like on Saturday. He's already told me he's got to play." If Allen does not play, Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes will do most of the running. If Allen does play, I would only expect about 4-5 plays for him, as he wants to play, but there is no reason for him to play. In a game against Western Michigan, that many expect to be a blowout, why risk anymore injuries?

In some good “injury” news, Manti T’eo is now 100% recovered from the flu.

In some noteworthy news that will have no effect on the outcome of the game, Notre Dame will be wearing new jerseys for this game.

This is a game where Notre Dame can get above .500, have their offense look good, and maybe even get the defense rolling. Everyone has a chance to shine. However a key for the defense is to stop the pass. One of WMU’s strengths is throwing the ball. They average almost 275 yards per game. That’s good for 23rd in all of college football. I’ll get more into that now.


WMU has 1371 total passing yards, ahead of teams such as Florida, Florida State, Utah, Wisconsin and Texas, to name a few.  QB Alex Carder’s favorite receiver is Jordan White. The 6’1”, 215 pound receiver has 37 receptions for 535 yards, to go along with 3 Touchdown catches. If White isn’t open, Carder will look for another 6’1” senior Juan Nunez. Nunez has almost the same amount of catches as White (34) but far less yards (296) and 2 touchdowns.

If WMU coach Bill Cubit wants to run it, he has 2 options, in QB Carter and RB Aaron Winchester. Carter is a duel threat QB, as his rushing stats are almost the same (53 carries, 141 yards, 2.7 yard average for Carder and 53 carries, 146 yards, and 2.8 yard average for Winchester,) although Carder does have 4 touchdowns to Winchester’s 0.  They average 103 yards on the ground, good (or not so good) for 102nd in the country.

Their defense is not very impressive, as they have given up 38, 14, 37, 33 and 16 points so far. The only big team they have played is Michigan State, and their RB, Le’Veon Bell lit up the run defense with 141 yards. That doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering that he got all those yards on just 10 carries, it was a huge day. Last week, even Ball State’s RBs got to the UWM defense, getting 209 yards on the ground. Idaho burned the Broncos secondary with 380 passing yards.

The entire Western Michigan team is ready for this test.  When asked about the noise level from the crowd, he said "No, it's the noise factor. That's why we play music and to get guys back on track. It was a great win for us this past week [against Ball State]. But I don't want these kids to think they've arrived. ... OK, we're playing a great, great football team this week with great tradition. I just want to make sure our kids know, ‘Hey, this is who you're playing now. You better ratchet it up because it's going to be hard."


Notre Dame should blow Western Michigan out of the water in this game. This is the game for the offense to shine and get on track. The defense can also make themselves look good. Both of these things will happen this weekend, Notre Dame will move to 4-3, and Brian Kelly will become 4-1 against the Broncos.

And if Notre Dame loses, there will be many calls for change already in South Bend.  But that won’t happen.




October 13, 2010

Pitt @ Notre Dame Recap
by Sonny Martinez

In a game that at the beginning of the season many expected the Irish to lose in, the Pittsburgh Panthers traveled to South Bend to play the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Before the season, I said that Notre Dame would lose to Pitt by at least 10. And at this time, most saw Pitt as National Title contenders.

However, that was before we discovered how inconsistent, and at times, just plain awful the Pitt offense is. This game was a big game, and Notre Dame needed the win to become 3-3, and that would mean that they are half way to bowl eligibility.

The very first play from scrimmage had Irish fans screaming, as Jabaal Sheard sacked Dayne Crist for a loss of 6 yards. He then completed a pass to John Goodman for 6 yards, then an incomplete pass to Goodman lead to a 3 and out.   ND drive: 3 plays 0 yards, ND PUNT.

Tino Sunseri is Pitt’s QB, and he completed a pass to Mike Shanahan for 7 yards. RB Dion Lewis, the freshman sensation/Heisman contender turned inconsistent starter gained 8 yards. Jon Baldwin had only one catch for 7 yards on this play. Lewis had a total of 5 rushes for 15 yards. A good, long, 6 minute, 22 second drive put Pitt in place for a 26 yard field goal from Kicker Dan Hutchins. PITT drive: 12 plays 68 yards, PITT FG, 3-0 Pitt.

It was time for the Irish offense to get going after their previous awful drive. Allen had 2 runs in the first 4 plays for 13 yards. Crist then completed  4 passes in a row, Theo Riddick for 14, Michael Floyd for 5, Kyle Rudolph for 9, and Floyd for 14, along with another Allen 10 yard run in the middle. First and Goal, Crist was sacked, but next play, on 2nd and goal from the Pitt 14, a pass interference call put ND at the 1. That one yard was gained on a pass to Michael Floyd for a ND touchdown. EP Good.  ND drive: 13 plays 77 yards, ND TD, 7-3 ND.

That drive left Pitt 2:36 left in the first quarter to do something, maybe even get in the red zone. This happened after Pitt’s biggest WR threat, Jon Baldwin caught a 32 yard pass. A few plays later, RB Ray Graham, ran twice, for 12 and 4 yards. Pitt was on the ND 14, and the first quarter came to an end. END OF 1ST: PITT 3, ND 7. 2 incomplete passes lead to a Pitt FG attempt, and Pitt kicked the FG…and missed from 27 yards off.  PITT drive: 8 plays 66 yards, PITT FG Missed.

Cierre Wood started the Irish drive with 3 runs for a total of 13 yards. Crist then completed 2 passes, Rudolph for 12 and Floyd for 5. Allen ran for 7 yards and another ND first down. We had to wait 2 plays for another big play, and that came when Theo Riddick caught an 11 yard pass on 3rd and 7. Allen caught a 7 yard pass, also. Wood came back with 2 runs for 6 yards.  TE Mike Ragone caught an 11 yard pass. A few plays later, on second and goal at the 10, Crist was hit twice, and decided to run to just make something happen. He made 6 points happen on that great run, and the EP was good. ND drive: 15 plays 80 yards, ND TD, 14-3 ND.

Pitt needed something to happen on this drive. It was good at times, but a total mess at others. Darius Fleming sacked Sunseri for a loss of 8. Then 2 plays later, Harrison Smith got an interception that he returned for 15 yards. PITT drive: 5 plays 16 yards, PITT INT.

There was little time wasted on this drive as Crist got TJ Jones for 37 yards and to the Pitt 8. Nothing else major happened, believe it or not. David Ruffer kicked a 32 yard FG to extend the lead. ND drive: 5 plays 30 yards, ND FG, 17-3 ND.

With 3:22 left in the half, the momentum was all Notre Dame. Shanahan caught a 13 yard pass, then Sunseri ran for 7. Shanahan caught another for 6 yards and a first down. 3 plays later on 3rd down, Devin Street caught a 16 yard pass. Baldwin caught 2 passes for 9 yards. Pitt went for the first on 4th down and Andrew Janocko was not only stopped, and not only did he lose yards, he fumbled the ball. PITT drive: 14 plays 53 yards, PITT FUMB.

No harm done, as ND took a knee to end the half. END OF HALF: PITT 3, ND 17.

Pitt gets the ball to start the half. 3 and out, but they went for it on 4th down and came up short. PITT drive: 4 plays 6 yards, PITT SOD.

Notre Dame started at the Pitt 34. Allen had a 1 yard run and that was it. The great field position allowed for another 3 points though. ND drive: 4 plays 1 yards, ND FG, 20-3 ND.

The Pitt offensive mess continued, as Graham had 14 rush yards, but the bad play of Sunseri lead to another punt. PITT drive: 4 plays, 8 yards, PITT PUNT.

This ND drive started with a 10 yard penalty. Crist ran for 8 yards after, and that was it for this drive. ND drive: 3 plays -2 yards, ND PUNT.

Sunseri finally took over the drive. He had 4 passes, and completed 3 for a total of 30 yards, Dion Lewis ran for 30 yards on one run, followed by  2 runs for 6 yards. Sunseri then ran for 4 yards for the Pitt Touchdown, EP good. PITT drive: 10 plays 77 yards, PITT TD, 20-10 ND.

This rebound drive for the Irish wasn’t very good. Allen ran for 7, followed by an 8 yard completion. A penalty cost the Irish, as they went for 16 yards in 3 downs, leaving them 4 short of the First Down. ND drive: 5 plays 17 yards, ND PUNT.

Graham ran for 3 yards to bring the 3rd to an end. END OF THIRD: PITT 10, ND 3. Sunseri then found Graham for 17 yards, and that was the last big play of the drive. PITT drive: 5 plays 28 yards, PITT PUNT.

Crist found Theo Riddick 3 times in a row for 41 yards, and Floyd for 13. Wood added a 9 yard run and then a 1 yard run by Allen for the first.  Rudolph caught a pass,  and 2 straight incomplete passes lead to a ND field goal. ND drive: 11 plays 69 yards, ND FG, 23-10 ND.

The first 2 plays were nothing for Pitt,  but Sunseri threw a great 56 yard pass to Baldwin for the Pitt touchdown. PITT drive: 3 plays 64 yards, PITT TD, 23-17 ND.

Thus ND drive wasn’t good, in 7 plays they gained only 16 yards. The biggest play was an Armando Allen 9 yard run. ND drive: 7 plays 16 yards, ND PUNT.

The Pitt offense then returned to regular form and could not follow up a TD drive. They had a 3 and out, but they did help ND by killing some time. PITT drive: 3 plays 5 yards, PITT PUNT.

Floyd caught a pass for 13 yards, followed by a 6 yard run by Allen. That was it for this drive. ND drive: 4 plays 19 yards, 00:00 ND PUNT.

Pitt had yet another 3 and out, and once again, failed the 4th down try. This killed all hopes of a Pitt comeback. PITT drive: 4 plays 6 yards, PITT SOD.

ND took 2 knees, and along with it, the win. FINAL: PITTSBURGH 17, NOTRE DAME 23.


I really don’t know what to make of this game. ND looked solid in the first half, and not so much in the second. Overall, based off stats, Pittsburgh should have won. They had a 382-329 yard edge, longer Time of Possession, and less penalties. However, they also did have 2 turnovers, and Notre Dame had 0. In my opinion, ND was clearly the better team in the first half, but the same can be said for Pitt in the second half.  

It was a great way to get back to .500 record though, and I liked the game. Now not to get too far ahead, but ND should get to 6 wins in the next 3 games. Their next game is probably the easiest game of the year.


Home, vs. Western Michigan, 2:30 on NBC.

October 7, 2010

Pittsburgh Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

It will most certainly not be shown time and again on ESPN Classic, but Notre Dame secured a much needed victory over Boston College on Saturday night.  The 31-13 win upped the Irish record to 2-3 and makes this week’s game very important.

If the Irish can secure a win at home against Pittsburgh on Saturday they will have survived the stiffest part of their schedule with a .500 record.  With games against Western Michigan, a Navy team that appears down this season, and Tulsa looming on the horizon, Notre Dame has a chance to get on a run to build some momentum going into the final stretch where Utah and USC appear in the final three games.  A loss to Pitt would drop the Irish to 2-4 and would make it difficult for Notre Dame to show much improvement record-wise from last season’s 6-6 mark.  

The Panthers find themselves in a similar situation.  They entered the season with high expectations but have gotten off to a disappointing 2-2 start thanks in large part to some key injuries.  Pittsburgh does not want to enter into the bulk of their Big East schedule with a sub-.500 record, which will happen with a loss to Notre Dame.

Here are some things to keep an eye on this weekend.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

During the first ten minutes of the Boston College game, the Irish offense looked like world beaters.  For the remainder of the game, the unit fell back into the inconsistent funk it has been in much of the year.  Luckily, an inept BC offense could do nothing, making the easy win possible.

The biggest problem for the ND offense last Saturday night is a problem that has haunted them most of the year:  turnovers.  Cierre Wood and Armando Allen both lost fumbles and Dayne Crist threw an interception, giving BC three extra cracks on offense.  Against more potent offensive teams, this has been and will continue to be a problem.

The Irish rank 98th in the country in fumbles lost with six and they rank 92nd with the same number of interceptions thrown.  The Irish defense has forced 8 turnovers, giving them a -4 turnover ratio, placing them 94th in the land.  This has to improve.

Pittsburgh has been a middle of the road team at forcing turnovers, recovering three fumbles and intercepting four passes.  The Notre Dame miscues, for the most part, seem to be unforced errors so whether Pitt is a ball hawking team or not is less relevant than ND’s own ball security.

Notre Dame did run the ball a bit better against BC gaining 112 yards.  Allen led the way with 90 yards, but on the whole it was still not a spectacular effort as they averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.  Boston College has a strong rush defense, but Pittsburgh is not bad either.  The Panthers are 14th nationally against the run in 2010 with just 97 yards allowed on the ground per game.

Defending the pass, though, has been a problem for Pittsburgh.  They have given up 245 yards per game via the pass placing them 92nd in that category.  Each of the Panthers’ first three opponents has thrown for at least 223 yards, so you can expect the Irish to put the ball in the air early and often.

Injuries on each level of defense have hindered the progress of the defensive unit, especially the pass defense. Greg Romeus was a preseason All American candidate before he went down with a back injury.  Safety Dom DeCicco has been in and out of the lineup so far this year due to a hamstring issue, though he will start this week.  And most recently, linebacker Dan Mason seriously injured his right knee and is out for the year.

Through it all, defensive end Jabal Sheard has emerged has a playmaker for the Panthers.  Sheard has 20 tackles, with six resulting in lost yardage, and three sacks.  Brandon Lindsey, who has stepped in for the injured Romeus, also has three sacks along with four tackles for lost yardage.  Defensive tackle Chas Alecxih has also had a fine year, leading the team with four sacks and compiling 4.5 tackles for lost yardage.  Despite all of the numbers posted by Lindsey and Alecxih, Sheard is the guy the ND offensive line will have to pay closest attention to.

Max Gruder has moved from his outside linebacker position to the inside spot to replace Mason.  Gruder leads the team in tackles and he is followed by SAM backer Greg Williams.  DeCicco is the leader of the secondary, but free safety Jarred Holley has three interceptions already this season and is also solid in run support.  Both corners are new starters in 2010 and both have had their ups and downs.  Neither Ricky Gary nor Antwuan Reed have an interception and they combine for just two passes broken up, both by Reed.

This is a solid defensive unit that plays hard, but they are vulnerable in pass coverage and there is no doubt that Notre Dame will try to exploit that weakness.
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball

Dion Lewis entered the year as a Heisman Trophy candidate.  Just five weeks into the season, he is now the team’s second leading rusher.  Due to a shoulder injury and Ray Graham’s strong start, questions have arisen over whether Lewis should even be the starter.  Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt says that Lewis will start the game, but the Irish expect to see a large dose of Graham, as well.

Pittsburgh has three new starters on the offensive line this season and in their two games against quality competition they have struggled.  Against Utah, the Panthers rushed for just 82 yards and surrendered two sacks.  The Panthers did rush for over 100 yards against Miami, but a trio of Pittsburgh quarterbacks were sacked a total of five times.

Even with weapons like Lewis, Graham, and wide receiver Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh still ranks 77th in total offense.  Much of the blame must fall on the offensive line.

And the quarterback play.  Tino Sunseri is still the starter even though he was replaced by Pat Bostick in the Miami game.  The Panthers rank in the 80s in both passing offense and passing efficiency.  It is not because the quarterbacks don’t have reliable targets.  Baldwin is a potential first round pick and Mike Shanahan is a sold possession receiver.  5’7” Cameron Saddler has given Pittsburgh a different look, though he has had a couple of miscues while handling the ball.  The tight end is not a big threat this year after the team lost Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson to graduation.  Mike Cruz has caught four passes so far on the season.

Pittsburgh is one of the few teams that really try to use its fullback.  Henry Hynoski is a very good blocker, has caught four passes for 35 yards and a score, and is quite effective in short yardage situations.

The most impressive thing about Notre Dame’s performance against Boston College was how the Irish front seven handled a veteran Boston College offensive line.  Notre Dame held the Eagles to five yards rushing and forced the inexperienced BC quarterbacks to throw.  They also had five sacks, which helped rattle the young BC signal callers.  The Irish will look to do the same this week to Sunseri.
Special Teams

David Ruffer’s kickoffs were short and one went out of bounds, but once again he connected on his only field goal attempt and nailed all of his extra points.  Punter Ben Turk certainly had a memorable night.  He was awful to start out, which prompted a tongue lashing from head coach Brian Kelly.  But he settled in and averaged 39.1 yards on eight kicks, which is not great, but is okay after how the night began.

John Goodman fair caught all of the punts except for one, which he lost four yards on the return.  Kelly does not seem eager to put Allen and his injured thumb back on punt returns, so this looks to be Goodman’s job as long as he doesn’t drop the ball.  Bennett Jackson had a nice game, his first as the starting kickoff returner, averaging 28 yards a return with a long of 43.

Dan Hutchins, who has seemingly been at Pittsburgh for about eight years, is a solid kicker for the Panthers. He is 8 of 11 on the year, though he is 0 for 3 beyond 40 yards.  Last year, his long was 45, so he does not have a huge leg.  They are very good in kickoff coverage ranking 13th in the country at 17.88 yards a return.

Hutchins also punts and he has done a great job averaging 46 yards a punt.  Like on kick coverage, the Panthers are very good in coverage, 4th among FBS schools at less than a yard a return.  Get used to seeing Goodman fair catch some more punts this week.

Saddler is Pittsburgh’s main return man and has been exciting in both positive and negative ways.  He has averaged 10.6 yards a punt return and 20.1 yards a kick return but has also put the ball on the ground.  The Irish coverage teams have been very good and they will look to keep Saddler contained this Saturday.

As I stated earlier, the dominating performance of the Irish defensive front against the Boston College offensive line was the most important aspect of last week’s game.  BC’s Montel Harris is a very good back and the Eagles have a big, experienced offensive line, but the Irish had their way with them.

Pittsburgh’s offensive line is not nearly as good, so that bodes well going into this contest.  Like the Eagles, the Panthers have an inexperienced quarterback that can be forced into mistakes.  Ian Williams has been a beast for the Irish at nose tackle this season and that must continue this week. Ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore must combine with the outside backers to be a disruptive force in the Pitt backfield.  Inside linebackers Carlo Calabrese and, especially, Manti Te’o have had fine seasons, with Te’o placing third in nation with 63 tackles.

There is, however, one big difference between Pittsburgh and Boston College.  The Eagles have absolutely no receivers that will make you sweat while the Panthers have ample threats in Baldwin, Shanahan, and Saddler.  
The game plan, though, must remain the same.  Contain the run, take away the deep ball, and pressure Sunseri into making mistakes.  If Sunseri has the skill and patience to lead Pittsburgh on long drives by hitting one short pass after another, the Irish may have to re-think their strategy.  But this plan worked for Utah and Miami, so the Irish will go with it on Saturday.

Offensively, Notre Dame will look for the match up that they like best in the passing game.  The Pittsburgh corners are not good enough to go one on one with the Notre Dame receivers.  With Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones, and Kyle Rudolph, the Panthers defenders will have to choose who to shift their coverage towards.  Most likely, it will be Floyd, so Riddick and Jones will again have chances.  I would also not be surprised to see the Irish try to isolate Rudolph on DeCicco in a battle of nagging hamstring injuries.

The guys up front, who at times were at the receiving end of a Brian Kelly tirade during the BC game, must give Dayne Crist time to throw.  Sheard is a big time player and he has help up front.  Notre Dame will try to run the ball, but since they have had little success so far this year, it is unlikely they’ll have much luck on Saturday.  They will try to run just enough to keep Pittsburgh honest.

In the end, I think this game comes down to holding onto the football plus the protection and performance of Crist.  There will be someone open, it will be his job to recognize the coverage and hit the open man.  His play has fluctuated a bit this year and he needs to stabilize things this week.

Pitt has good skill players, but their line and quarterback are shaky.  Because of that, I don’t see them putting up huge numbers on the Irish defense.  If Crist is efficient, Notre Dame can and will pull out this victory.

October 1, 2010

Notre Dame Blog-Notre Dame @ Boston College Preview
by Sonny Martinez

Last week, Notre Dame got smashed by Stanford. This week, it’s the battle for the Ireland Trophy.

Just when you think the Irish’s 1-3 record is bad enough, here come the Boston College Eagles. To make things even worse, this year’s version of the Holy War is in Chestnut Hill.

Notre Dame didn’t look very good against the Cardinal last week. In fact, they actually looked awful. They were smashed at home by the now 4-0 Cardinal 37-14. And the message is clear to Kelly: The Irish need to win. Now. “They’ll be no excuse. There wasn’t any excuse against Stanford, they beat us, but there won’t be any excuse in terms of our guys not seeing the kind of defense that they’re going to get.”

However, the same bad play could be said about Boston College.  They were shut out at home, 19-0 by Virginia Tech. Yes, the same Virginia Tech team that lost to James Madison at home.

Both teams need this win. While Boston College is 2-1, they have some problems of their own.  Let’s talk about the away team first.


The Notre Dame offense has been described as a “Work in progress” by Brian Kelly. “We have some really good signs” said Kelly. He also said that the Irish need all 11 offensive players on the same page.  Needless to say, the key to the offense is Dayne Crist.  While Kelly is not blaming the poor offensive showing on Crist, he said he needs his starting Quarterback ready to go. “We’re going through that process of developing a spread quarterback,” Kelly said. “He’s not a pocket quarterback, that’s not the system we run…We’re not changing, we’re going to be a spread offense.” 

Although, one thing that might change is Kelly might run the Wild Cat, or as he likes to call it, Leprechaun. Kelly hinted that we might see a little more of it this week. Aside from running from that formation, we could also see some passing from either RB Armando Allen or RB turned WR Theo Riddick. "You haven't asked about the passes yet, have you? I would," Kelly said on Wednesday. "I would definitely ask about all the passes you saw today."

On the defensive side of the ball, perhaps the best player this season on Defense is Manti Te’o. Last week he had 21 tackles in one game, the most in 4 years.  He’s had great production on the field, and is usually quiet off the field. This week has that has changed. "I think if anybody's more frustrated about our record and how we've done, nobody's as frustrated as ourselves," Te'o said. "And if you were in our locker room, especially this past week, we talked and it does not feel good."

Plain and simple, Te’o is sick of losing. And so is the rest of the Irish defense.

Safety Harrison Smith had some words for the media, also. "After some of the losses that we've had, you can see it in everyone's face that not that we're actually dying, but that's what it's like," Smith said Wednesday. "We have to win. We want to win. That is the only reason we're here."
Even Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco had some thoughts. He said developing a winning program is not like making instant popcorn, microwave dinners and hot-out-of-the-oven doughnuts where "you can just go in and it magically happens."  He also said "Well, this is going to take some time as Coach Kelly develops a system," he said. "They [the players] know that. And we're going to do it the right way."

Right away better come soon for the Irish.

Now to the home team.


First, every true college football fan knows the name Mark Herzlich. He battled back from cancer and hasn’t missed a beat since. The Irish offense will have a tough time getting around him. Personally, I’d like to see him have a good game.

But now to the most important story on the BC campus:  26 year old Sophomore QB Dave Shinskie, last year’s starter for Boston College,  has been pulled as the starter for this week’s game. "We're going to make a change at quarterback," Eagles coach Frank Spaziani said at his weekly news conference. "We'll have Mike [Marscovetra] and Chase [Rettig] compete for the job this week, and we'll make a decision at the end of the week." The decision still has still not been made.

"Chase has the liveliest arm, he throws it the hardest out of all of them," freshman receiver Johnathan Coleman said at a press luncheon Wednesday. "He can definitely throw the ball deep. As long as he puts the ball where it needs to be, I’m fine with that. I would say Chase is still trying to learn things and Mike is more experienced, but Chase still has a big upside to him."

"I'm comfortable with whoever the coaches are comfortable starting," Alex Albright, BC Defensive End said on the controversy. "For me, the change doesn't play a big role. I'm comfortable with whoever they throw in there -- Chase or [Marscovetra] or a walk-on. If they put him in there, I have to be behind them 100 percent."
And of course, Brian Kelly had a comment on the QB switch. "Well, I still think you're going to go with the concepts that are part of your offensive system because you don't want to re-teach everybody else as well," Kelly said. "You're kind of getting the quarterback up to snuff, but you're not going to go far from what you do.” Basically, he said the Irish defense will be ready for whatever Spaziani throws at them.

The key to the Boston College offense is a very underrated Running Back: Montel Harris. He’s one of the best RBs in the country that nobody talks about. On 67 carries he has 306 yards, averaging 4.6 Yards per Carry. However, he still needs to have his “break out” game.  "As I mentioned, [Montel] Harris is going to be featured quite a bit [at running back]. They've got a big, physical offensive line. ... So it's not that hard to connect the dots from that standpoint." Spaziani said.

“Despite their 1-3 record they’re a very good football team,” said coach Frank Spaziani. “They’re big, strong and fast and extremely well-coached. They have all the pieces to the puzzle, they just ran into a little bit of a buzz saw early on in a new regime. We’re looking for a very good football team to come in here, a very hungry team.” The BC defense is not taking the Irish lightly.

The Defense for BC has looked ok so far this season. They held Virginia Tech’s high powered offense to only 19 points in a very winnable game.


This game kind of scared me a little…until I saw last week’s BC game against Virginia Tech. The defense looked good, even though star RB Ryan Williams was out for VT, but BC still held VT’s offense to a low point total.

If Notre Dame’s offense clicks, it can definitely take over the game and score some points. It’s ND’s defense that scares me. They looked terrible last week. Just absolutely awful. I understand Stanford’s offense is great and BC doesn’t have a QB like Andrew Luck on their roster. But the defense hasn’t looked good since the first game. But for every bad, there’s usually a good.

Boston College’s offense went down the drain last week. The same VT defense that had 21 scored on them in a loss to FCS school James Madison shut down the Eagles offense. Add to that, a new QB to start for Boston College.

I think that Notre Dame’s defense can hold up the new QB, and keep BC’s offense under 21 points.  The ND offense will find a groove and can score over 21.

Kelly said “I’m very confident that we’re going to win the football game.”  

I agree with him.


Notre Dame: 24

Boston College: 20

September 24, 2010

Stanford Preview 
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Another week, another brutal loss.  Notre Dame will look to make things right this week back on their home turf.  Unfortunately, they will face a 3-0 Stanford squad that appears to be coming into its own.

The Cardinal is ranked in the top 20 after easy wins over Sacramento State, UCLA, and Wake Forest.  While Stanford will probably be Notre Dame’s toughest opponent to date, the Irish will also be Stanford’s toughest test of the young season.

Here are some things to look for this Saturday.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

The Cardinal defense has given up just 13.7 yards per game this season, though they have not exactly gone up against anyone resembling the ’08 Oklahoma Sooners.  Wake Forest is the most potent offensive squad that Stanford has played and they did expose some potential weaknesses.

Wake Forest has a young quarterback and their passing game was rendered meaningless by the Cardinal defense.  However, Wake netted 207 yards on the ground and that included five sacks that took away 37 yards.  The Demon Deacons rotated carries amongst several running backs and they were all fairly productive, though their leading rusher was quarterback Tanner Price.

UCLA struggled offensively the week before against Stanford, but even in that game, the Bruins gained 152 yards on the ground.  Stanford places #51 nationally in rushing defense, but the ranking is that high only because of their week one performance against out-manned Sacramento State.  

The Cardinal has been much better at defending the pass.  They currently lead the nation in pass defense, giving up an average of just 90 yards per game.  Of course, the fact that Wake’s Price and UCLA’s Kevin Prince were the two quarterbacks throwing against the Cardinal defense may make this statistic a bit misleading.  

The Stanford front seven returns four starters, including stand outs in defensive tackle Sione Fua and outside linebackers Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser.  The three have combined for seven of the team’s 11 quarterback sacks, a stat that ties them for third in the country.  Junior Michael Thomas is the leading tackler from his free safety position and is followed by inside linebacker Max Bergen, who filled in the first two games for the injured Shayne Skov.  Skov is now back, recovered from what was believed to be a knee infection.

Owen Marecic starts at the other inside linebacker spot and he is profiled in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Marecic also starts for the Cardinal at fullback and is the only two-way starter among FBS teams.  The senior has seven tackles and a sack.

Assuming that Stanford’s pass defense is the result of their good play as opposed to poor opposition pass attacks, the Stanford defense would seem to be a bad match up for the Irish.  Notre Dame ranks 84th in rushing offense and seemed to abandon the run at times against Michigan State.  

But it may be necessary if Stanford continues their dazzling pass coverage.  Notre Dame is eighth nationally in pass offense and is eighth in pass attempts.  This could be a battle of wills.  Notre Dame’s strong passing game versus Stanford’s top rank pass defense.
When Stanford Has the Ball

For the past few years, Stanford has relied on the talents of running back Toby Gerhart.  Gerhart is now in Minnesota with the Vikings and many experts felt that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh would put the ground game on the back burner this season and let sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck show what he can do.  And Luck has been very good in his first three games this year, throwing for 674 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception.

But it is not as though the Cardinal has forgotten about running the ball.  Stepfan Taylor has led a unit that has totaled 727 yards on the ground.  Luck is also a weapon with his feet as he has rushed for 140 yards, second on the team.

Wide receiver Ryan Whalen is the co-leader on the team with 10 receptions, but he is not listed on the depth chart this week.  Stanford does not release injury information, but Whalen is thought to have hurt his arm in the Wake Forest game.  Doug Baldwin also has 10 receptions and has three touchdowns and will start on one side.  Dynamic return man Chris Owusu is listed as the other starting receiver and Notre Dame transfer Konrad Reuland will be the tight end.

The strength of the Stanford offense is up front where they return four starters from last year.  Right guard David DeCastro is the star and he is surrounded by veterans that have been through the Pac Ten wars.  They have only allowed one sack in the first three games and have been opening up holes for the new Cardinal backs.

Defenisvely, Notre Dame must take the same approach as last week.  Stopping, or at least controlling, the run is very important.  The Irish showed some character defensively by making some big stops late in last week’s game despite being punished all night by the hulking Spartan offensive line.  But depth was a problem and figures to be an issue again.

Jamoris Slaughter will return at safety this week and that is huge.  Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta played virtually the entire game and the loss of Slaughter prevented the Irish from using their nickel packages in many passing situations.

The Irish used Hafis Williams and Sean Cwynar to sub in for the three defensive line starters, though the drop off in production was noticeable when they were on the field.  Their play will again be a key aspect in Notre Dame’s success on defense this week.
Special Teams

When Nate Whitaker was a kicker at Notre Dame, he looked like all the other guys that struggled to make a kick for the Irish.  Now that he is in Palo Alto, he has transformed into a weapon.  Whitaker has kicked three short field goals this year, though he has missed a couple of extra points.  Last year, he made 16 of 22 field goals on the year with a long of 54 yards.  

Owusu was an exciting kick returner last year taking three kicks back for scores.  However, he has not returned kicks this season, leaving that up to Usua Amanam.  Amanam has done a great job with a 35.2 return yard average.  Owusu is listed as the co-starter as the kick returner this week along with Amanam. Baldwin has returned the punts and has averaged eight yards a return.

David Green was the punter last year and he is back, but he was beaten out by sophomore Daniel Zychlinski. Zychlinski only has six punts, but he has boomed them at a 48.17 yard average.  

His net punting average, though, is not that great.  Stanford ranks last in punt coverage at 28 yards per return.  There have only been three punts returned against the Cardinal, but one of them resulted in a score. Opponents have also averaged over 22 yards a kick return.

Notre Dame’s special teams continued their solid, if unspectacular, play against Michigan State.  They have still not had a punt returned against them, though Ben Turk only averaged 36.2 yards a punt in the contest. Three of his punts did pin the Spartans inside their own 20 yards line.  David Ruffer hit his only field goal attempt, the one in overtime, and his kickoffs continued to impress.

John Goodman took over the punt return duties from Armando Allen due to Allen’s dislocated finger.  Cierre Wood did not have much room to run on the kick returns and the coverage units were again solid.

One big moment in the Michigan State game was a block in the back penalty by freshman Lo Wood on a punt return.  It was a call that could have gone either way, but it took away good field position from the Irish and eliminated the chance to win the game in regulation.  These types of mistakes cannot happen, especially late in close games.

Notre Dame’s coverage units must continue to shine this week.  Whether it is Owusu or Amanam back receiving the ball, Stanford is dangerous.  If the Irish can contain the Cardinal in this area, Notre Dame may win the special teams match up if the weak Stanford coverage allows the Irish to get or set up an easy score.

On both sides of the ball, the match ups seem to favor Stanford.  Much like last week with Michigan State, Stanford will try to pound Notre Dame on the ground and open up area for their receivers, who are not all that special.  The big difference is that Andrew Luck is a better quarterback than Kirk Cousins.  And Cousins looked like an All American in the second half.

I know that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly does not look at time of possession very much.  But in this game, and perhaps this season, it could be very important.  Notre Dame is thin on defense and if the opposition has the ball for long periods of time, the Irish defense will get worn down.  Because of this, making stops and getting the offense back on the field quickly will be big.

For the same reason, it would be nice to see Notre Dame run the ball to control the clock.  Especially against a Stanford defense that has not done a great job of stopping the run.  But I don’t see that happening.  I expect Notre Dame to go with their strength and throw the ball at Stanford’s top ranked pass defense.  Stanford has not seen a quarterback like Dayne Crist or receivers like Notre Dame’s, so perhaps it will work.

Either through the air or on the ground, Notre Dame will have to score because Stanford certainly will.  Special teams and turnovers could be even more important than usual in this game.  Stanford has not thrown an interception this year and has lost two fumbles.  Creating shorter fields by forcing a turnover or taking advantage of a special teams opportunity would be very helpful to the Irish cause.

On the flip side, Notre Dame has put the ball on the ground and thrown it to the other team too many times. They are way down the list when it comes to turnover margin and this has to change beginning Saturday.

Stanford is a very good team that plays a physical style of football.  Notre Dame will have to be at their very best on Saturday or 1-3 is a certainty. 

September 17, 2010

Michigan State Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

There were not many people suggesting that Notre Dame was going to win the national title this season, so the loss to Michigan/Dernard Robinson last week is definitely not a season ending blow.  But it makes this week’s game that much more important as the Irish do not want to make losing a habit.

The fact that the opposition is Michigan State, a team that Notre Dame as struggled with in recent past, and the game is at their place gives Irish fans some reasons for concern.  The Spartans fell in South Bend last year when quarterback Kirk Cousins was intercepted in the final minute by Irish safety Kyle McCarthy.
Here is a breakdown of this week’s game.
When The Irish Have the Ball

The Spartans return six starters from last year’s defensive unit and there is no doubt where the strength of this team lies.  Greg Jones is an All American middle linebacker that had 154 tackles in 2009 and has 20 total stops so far this year.  Next to him, on the strong side, is Eric Gordon, who was second on the team in tackles last year and has 19 in the Spartans’ first two games.  Chris Norman, the other backer at what MSU calls the Star position, has 18 tackles.

Colin Neely leads the way up front as the defensive end has eight tackles with four of those resulting in lost yardage.  Jerel Worthy is the other returning starter on the line.  The defensive tackle had a very good freshman campaign in 2009 with 35 tackles and 4.5 sacks.  The other two spots see several players rotating in and out.  

Corner Chris Rucker and safety Trenton Robinson are the leaders in the secondary and have combined for 25 tackles.  Senior strong safety Marcus Hyde has the squad’s only interception on the year and Johnny Adams mans the other corner.

Analyzing the Spartans performance so far this year is a bit difficult because their opponents were Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic.  But one thing that jumps out is that those two teams combined to rush for 1.97 yards per carry, which is 8th in the country so far.  With a duo like Jones and Gordon at linebacker, that is not surprising.

However, both Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic hurt the Spartans through the air.  WMU threw for 238 yards and FAU went for 256.  There is a caveat, however, in that Michigan State got out to an early lead in both games, forcing both of their opponents to throw early.  The Spartans had to defend 90 passes in the two games.

Two negatives go hand in hand with all of those passes.  Despite all of those throws, the Spartans only have three sacks and one interception.  It seems that by not pressuring the opposing quarterback, MSU is not creating interception possibilities.  They have, however, forced five fumbles and recovered three.

The Notre Dame offensive line has done a pretty good job of protecting the quarterback in their first two games against Big Ten programs, allowing just three sacks.  Michigan State is a team that generally does not do crazy things to create pressure, but it is possible that if Irish quarterback Dayne Crist gets ample time to throw the ball early, the Spartans may look to get their linebackers involved in rushing the passer, which would take Michigan State out of their comfort zone.

Notre Dame had a much different offense last year, but they did throw for over 300 yards in the 2009 contest. I think the aerial attack will again be the primary option in this game.  Kyle Rudolph looked much healthier in the game against Michigan than he did opening week against Purdue and he figures to be a key target this week.

Michael Floyd has yet to really break out this season and he should be very motivated to have success this week after being injured in the Michigan State game in last fall.  Crist also must not be afraid of dumping the ball off to the backs.  Last week, he missed a couple of check downs, including on his one interception when Armando Allen was open underneath.

Jones and Gordon are going to be in the box and will be looking to tackle anything that moves.  Perhaps, though, the Irish passing attack can get Norman to take a couple of steps back, allowing the running game to make an impact.  As we saw last week when Crist went out, without a viable passing option, Notre Dame will not be able to run the ball.
When Michigan State Has the Ball

When you think of the Spartans you think of big offensive lines and a running back carrying the ball.  This year is no different as the Spartans rank #2 in America with 7.79 yards per carry after two games.  Sophomore Edwin Baker leads the way with 300 yards on the ground and a 9.4 average yards per carry.  Backup Le’Veon Bell is not bad either with 190 yards and an average of 9.5 yards every time he carries the ball.

With that type of ground game, quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t been needed to do much so far this year.  The junior has thrown just 38 times in the two games for 328 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.  Last year, he was the main cog in the offense, throwing for 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns.

The Spartans lost 2009 leading receiver Blair White, but have back Mark Dell and B.J. Cunnigham.  Tight end Charlie Gantt has just two catches this year, but he caught 22 passes last season.  The Spartans may not have the best group of receivers in the land, but they have enough weapons to complement their strong running game.

Michigan State’s offensive line is once again big, averaging well over 300 pounds, but it is also young.  There is just one returning starter, left guard Joel Foreman.  You can’t argue with success, though, and the rushing stats are impressive.  Like the Irish, they have also given up three sacks, but since they have not thrown the ball that much, this could be an area of concern.

If you look at the rushing defense stats for the first two weeks, you will see Notre Dame way down at #96.  Of course, that is deceiving because Denard Robinson torched them this past Saturday.  However, it was rushing yardage and Purdue, with their young line and backs, gained over 100 yards rushing against the Irish.

There is no question that Notre Dame is tackling better as a team this year and that must continue this week. In my mind, the key to this game defensively is the front seven.  If Ian Williams, Ethan Johnson, and the ever-improving Kapron Lewis-Moore are able to get a push and take up multiple blockers, it will give Manti T’eo and the other linebackers room to operate.  

On the flip side, if Michigan State’s offensive line controls the line of scrimmage and continues to run the ball effectively, it could be a long day for the Irish.  It will force safeties Jamoris Slaughter, Harrison Smith, andZeke Motta to focus more on the run, allowing for less help for the corners.  

This is true in every game, but against the Spartans it has another effect.  If Michigan State is running the ball well, they will continue to pound it at the Irish.  The more running plays, the more beating the Irish defensive line will take.  Sean Cwynar and Hafis Williams will have to play well in this game because the starters will need an occasional rest against this big offensive line.
Special Teams

Brett Swenson was a great kicker for the Spartans for a long time.  Finally, he is gone, though there has not been any drop off in production.  Dan Conroy is 4 for 4 on field goals and 8 of 8 on extra points.  3 of the 4 field goals have come from beyond 40 yards, so he is not just a short range kicker.  Aaron Bates is one of the better punters in the Big Ten and he has started the year by booting eight punts an average of 46.1 yards.

Keshawn Martin has done a solid job returning punts and he shares kick return duties with Trenton Robinson. The Spartans have done a good job covering punts and kickoffs.

We have seen improvements in the Irish special teams, especially from kicker David Ruffer.  He has not missed a kick and he has been much better kicking the ball off.  Punter Ben Turk has averaged only 36.8 yards a punt. The good news is that there has not been a punt returned this year and the kick coverage has been great.  The Irish have returned only two punts, but they have 47 yards on those returns thanks to Armando Allen’s big 38 yard return against Purdue.  On kick returns, the Irish are in the middle of the pack nationally.

Ruffer must continue to do his job Saturday night in order for the Irish to keep up with the Michigan State kickers.  Getting more out of Turk would be nice because Notre Dame would love to force the Spartans to play on a long field.

Games against Michigan State always come down to line play.  On offense, the Irish front needs to have a good effort if they have any intention of running the ball against this defensive crew.  MSU has not done a great job of putting pressure on the passer so Crist should have time to throw.  If Michigan State gets heat on the Notre Dame quarterback it could signal a long day because it probably means the Irish offensive line is getting whipped in the run game, too.

Michael Floyd has to step to the forefront in this game.  He is the most talented player in the Notre Dame offense and his presence should be felt Saturday night.  Michigan State’s defensive backs have decent size, but with Crist having time to throw, the Irish receivers should get open.

Defensively, the Irish will be starting a stretch in their schedule of similar teams.  Michigan State has Baker as its featured offensive player.  Stanford does have quarterback Andrew Luck, but they also are coached by Jim Harbaugh, so the Cardinal will try to run the ball.  Then comes Boston College with Montel Harris followed by Pittsburgh and Dion Lewis.  Run defense will be vital over the next four weeks.

Michigan State will not get fancy; they want to win the time possession battle and keep the ND offense on the sideline.  Cousins can throw when he has to but their game plan will be to batter and bruise the Irish.  The front seven for Notre Dame must play physical and once again make sure tackles.  The reserves will be counted on, especially if the Spartans go on long, sustained drives.

Michigan State has not yet played its best football.  In each of their first two games against lesser opponents, the Spartans have jumped out early but struggled to fully put the opposition away.  The talent level they will face on Saturday night is quite different than they saw in weeks one and two.  

This is a battle between the last two Cincinnati coaches, Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly. Despite their similar backgrounds, their offensive philosophies are much different.  It should be a great contrast in styles that should lead to an entertaining game.  Whatever team executes its plan the best (Notre Dame speeding up the game and Michigan State pounding the ball on the ground) will win this game.

September 17, 2010

Notre Dame @ Michigan State Preview
by Sonny Martinez

It’s week 3 of the college football season, and the 1-1 Irish are preparing to take on their 3rd straight Big 10 team in the 2-0 Michigan State Spartans.  It is also Notre Dame’s 3rd big rivalry game already. Most fans might not look at this game as a “big rivalry” game. However I do.

Notre Dame travels to East Lansing almost 5 years to the day that Michigan State planted the Green and White Spartan flag at the 50 yard line of Notre Dame Stadium.  That was the point that made Michigan State my number 2 rival for the Irish. Only 2 because nobody can top USC.

But that’s enough about the 2005 season. What really matters will happen this Saturday. Notre Dame is coming off a devastating loss to Michigan at home, while Michigan State comes off of a 30-17 win at home against Florida Atlantic. Lucky for the Irish, MSU QB Kirk Cousins is not as mobile as Denard Robinson. Here are some stats, key players and key info for the away Notre Dame Fighting Irish.


A huge loss to Michigan also saw QB Dayne Crist go down. He suffered the injury while rushing head first into the end zone (ND’s 3rd TD of the drive, one was ruled a TD the review revealed  the runner was down at the 6 inch line, and the second was a run called back due to a holding penalty) on the first drive. Crist should be ready to go, as he looked pretty good all week in practice. That’s a good thing because as proven last week, the Irish need Crist in the game to be competitive. Although, the game probably could have been won if Brian Kelly had switched the last play before half.

Whether it’s Crist, Nate Montana or Tommy Rees, they have a lot of targets to get the ball to. ND’s receivers have lived up to the hype. The leading man? If you guessed the obvious answer of Michael Floyd, well, you’re wrong. The leading receiver is actually Kyle Rudolph, who has 13 catches for  205 yards, including last week’s 95 yard Touchdown catch.

Floyd is second on the team with 10 catches for 148 yards, but so far he has no Touchdowns. All the end zone glory has gone to TJ Jones has 6 catches for 114 yards and 2 Touchdowns. Running Back turned Wide Receiver Theo Riddick is 4th on the team with 4 receptions for 52 yards. 9 different Irish receivers have at least 1 catch. Perhaps the most surprising of the group is Duval Kamara. He was my choice for the Irish’s 3rd receiver spot, and this through 2 games he’s let me down as he only has 1 catch for 12 yards.

And if one of the 3 QB’s don’t feel like passing, he can hand it off to one of his 2 big play RBs. The #1 RB is Armando Allen, with 33 carries and 182 yards. He only has one touchdown this season, however. Second RB Cierre Wood has 13 rushes for 68 yards. Both are just as good, as Allen only averages 0.3 Yards per Carry more than Wood. Of the two, only Allen has a TD. The Irish have 2 rushing TDs, with the other going to Crist.

In terms of defense…I’m not even sure what to say. The defense that played Purdue seemed like a completely different unit that took the field against Michigan. Sacks, hard hits and turnovers were the name of Bob Diaco’s defense vs. Purdue. Last week, the name was getting run and thrown all over by one player. If I had to pick one player to watch from the defense, I’d say Ian Williams. Williams has 6 tackles and one sack. He also has 2 passes broken up and 1 Interception.


The Spartans come into this game 2-0 and unranked. Their 2 opponents so far are not exactly National powers, (Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic) so most Big 10 teams (Except maybe Minnesota, but if they keep it a game with USC into the 4th quarter Saturday I’ll rethink that) would expect to open up 2-0. Last week they earned 15 AP Top 25 votes and 35 USA Today votes. This is MSU’s first true test of the season.

Of course we all know Kirk Cousins is the Michigan State starter. This season he’s 22/38 with 328 yards. He has 2 Touchdowns and 1 INT.

Unlike Notre Dame, Michigan State only has one 100 yard receiver in Mark Dell, who has 7 receptions. Keshawn Martin (2, 53) Charlie Gantt (2, 49) BJ Cunningham (3, 46) and Keith Nichol (2, 32) round out Michigan State’s top 5 receivers.  Only Cunningham and Nichol have Touchdown receptions.

As you can tell, Michigan State is much more reliant on the run. The 2 Spartans to watch out for are Edwin Baker, who has 32 carries for 300 yards, and Le’Veon Bell, who has 20 carries for 190 yards. They each have 3 Touchdowns.

Michigan State’s defense is only allowing 15.5 PPG, but then again, look at the competition. The defense against big opponents isn’t very good, and middle opponents is ok, so I expect the defense to play somewhere in the middle.  The player I’m going to be watch is Chris Rucker, the starting CB. He’s coming off of a sub-par week last week. Add to that, he dropped a pick that would have clinched the victory vs. Notre Dame last season. He’ll be extra motivated for this weekend.


In the last 10 years, this series has been filled with drama. Late wins, blowouts, Overtime thrillers, flags at the 50 yard line. The away team has dominated this series. It feels like Notre Dame can’t beat Michigan State in South Bend, but can’t lose to the Spartans away from home. I expect this game to be a higher scoring game. The key to this game is Dayne Crist. If he plays all 4 quarters, the Irish will win. If he only plays a half, I’ll take Michigan State. As if this game wasn’t enough of a tossup before, Crist is a concern. I think Crist will be 100% or pretty close. If the offensive line protects, the game goes to the Irish. I think it’ll do just that.


Notre Dame: 31

Michigan State: 28

September 14, 2010

Notre Dame Blog- Michigan @ Notre Dame Recap
and Brian Kelly's First Mistake
by Sonny Martinez

One of the best rivalries in all of college athletics…Notre Dame and Michigan.  This was expected to be a great game, and it was. This game turned into one of the biggest questions of the year. Where the heck was the defense?

It started out great.  A 22 yard Cierre Wood return for the Irish and they started at their own 29. This was a Crist heavy drive. He completed 5/7 passes for 36 yards. Passes went out to Floyd, Riddick, and Rudolph.  He also ran 3 times for 30 yards, including a 1 yard TD run. The Irish were looking solid.  EP Good. ND drive: 13 plays 71 yards, 3:41 ND TD, 7-0 ND.

Then, the Denard Robinson show then began. A 4 yard run, 7 yard pass, 2 rushes for 5 yards, and an incomplete pass. Michigan had to punt. It doesn’t sound like much. It was more of a preview to the disaster that was the Notre Dame defense, and the Heisman Trophy contender that is Denard Robinson. UM drive: 5 plays 16 yards, 2:23 UM PUNT.

Back out comes the Irish offense lead by…Tommy Rees? Rees came in for an injured (Although it wasn’t known at the time) Crist. Cierre Wood with the 1 yard run, and Rees then threw a 15 yard pass that was intercepted. Jonas Mouton was in the right place at the right time. I do have to say, it was a pretty nice pick. ND drive: 2 plays 1 yards, 0:44 ND INT.

If you blinked, you missed this drive. 6 seconds was all it took for Michigan to tie the game. Roy Roundtree with a 31 yard catch, EP good. The problems began. UM drive: 1 play 31 yards, 0:06 UM TD. 7-7 Tie.

This drive was awful. Rees incomplete pass, Wood lost 5 yards, then a 10 yard gain. That was wiped out with a 5 yard penalty. Then came the punt team. ND drive: 3 plays -1 yards, 1:47 ND PUNT.

Michael Shaw with 2 runs for 5 yards, and a completion for a loss of 2 by Robinson. Finally, a 3 and out. UM drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 1:47 UM PUNT.

The son of the great Joe Montana made his Notre Dame debut, and he didn’t look good. Nothing big on this ND drive, only a 7 yard run for Montana. 3 and out. ND drive: 3 plays 7 yards, 1:26 ND PUNT.

The Robinson to Martavious Odoms connection was great this drive. Of the 5 plays, 3 went to Odoms. Catches were 9, 11, and 31 yards. 51 yards on 3 passes for Robinson on that drive alone. Stephen Hopkins finished it with a 1 yard TD. EP good. UM drive: 5 plays 65 yards, 1:40 UM TD. 14-7 Michigan.

Montana came back out and ran for 10 yards. Allen then ran twice for 3 yards, and that ended the first quarter. END OF FIRST: MICH 14, ND 7 A 6 yard pass on 3rd and 7 and ND had to punt. ND drive: 5 plays 19 yards, 1:51 ND PUNT.

Although there was only one big play on this 4 play drive, it was big. Denard Robinson ran for 36 yards to get from Michigan’s 8 to their 44. The only other notable play was a 6 yard run by Robinson.  Michigan had to punt. UM drive: 4 plays 43 yards, 1:56 UM PUNT.

Nate Montana threw a pass to TE Tyler Eifert for 17 yards. Wood had an 8 yard run, then a 3 yard loss. ND must punt. The Irish were looking bad.  ND drive: 5 plays 22 yards, 02:42 ND PUNT.

Robinson to Odoms again for 2o yards, then 2 plays later, he ran for 14 yards. That was the last major play on this drive and Michigan had to punt.  UM drive: 6 plays 40 yards, 2:18 UM PUNT.

Allen had 23 yards on 2 runs. It looked like a promising drive until…Nate Montana throws an INT to TJ Floyd. ND drive: 3 plays 23 yards, 1:03 ND INT.

Nothing at all on this drive. After a 15 yard penalty, 3 INC passes and a Michigan punt came. Montana had the luck of the Irish with him. UM drive: 3 plays -15 yards, 00:43 UM PUNT.

Montana 2 passes to Rudolph for 15 yards. Allen had 2 runs for 9 yards also. Still not good, as the Irish once again failed to cross the 50 yard line. ND drive: 5 plays 24 yards, 2:06 ND PUNT.

Now this Michigan drive was unbelievable. I’ll skip to the 5th play of this drive. Denard Robinson with the fake hand off to Vincent Smith. At the UM 13, Robinson took off, and was only touched once. It was an 87 yard TD run for the QB Robinson. I have never seen such pathetic play from any defense as I saw on that play. But I’ll get back to that after. UM drive: 5 plays 98 yards, 1:56 UM TD. 21-7 Michigan.

Montana completes 4/8 passes for 66 yards. Kelly decided to go for it on 1st and goal at the UM 3. Montana threw the ball out of bounds. Remember this play. END OF SECOND: MICH 21, ND 7

Michigan got the ball to start the second half. Robinson had 1 rush yard and 6 passing yards, A short lived drive and UM had to punt. UM drive: 3 plays 2 yards, 2:06 UM PUNT.

Dayne Crist is back. Incomplete first pass. Then a 53 yard bomb to freshman TJ Jones for a ND score. Beautiful pass and it’s a game again. EP Good. ND drive: 2 plays 53 yards, 0:12 ND TD. 21-14 Michigan.

A 3 and out for the ND Defense, and ND gets the ball back not even 2 minutes later. UM drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 1:40 UM PUNT.

Armando Allen sets the tone for this drive with a 29 yard run. Crist connects to Floyd for 17 yards. Jonas Gray makes his season debut with a 10 yard run. Crist to Floyd again for 11 yards, That was all ND could get, but they did get to the UM 7, so they got 3 points out of it. ND drive: 8 plays 66 yards,02:14 ND FG. 21-17 Michigan.

In the next UM possession, Robinson connected with Roundtree 3 times for 25 yards. Robinson added another 31 yards on the ground. They managed to get to the ND 22, but kicker Brandon Gibbons missed the field goal. UM drive: 10 plays 51 yards, 3:59 UM FG Missed.

ND starts from their own 22. Crist’s pass is intercepted at the ND 35, and that quickly put an end to that. ND drive: 1 play 0 yards, 0:11 ND INT Thrown.

Nothing but a loss of 8 yards on this drive. Not noteworthy at all. UM drive: 4 plays -8 yards, 1:12 UM PUNT.

Allen runs for 9, 12, and 3 yards on 3 carries, then a sack by Thomas Gordon. Jonas Gray came up with the 13 yard catch but was still well short of the first down. ND drive: 5 plays 26 yards, 2:48 ND PUNT.

Vincent Smith ran for 3 yards as the 3rd quarter came to an end. END OF THIRD: MICH 21, ND 17. Robinson added 11 rush yards 18 pass yards. By now, UM was in position to go up by a touchdown, but once again, Gibbons missed a field goal. UM drive: 9 plays 36 yards, 4:08 UM FG Missed.

The key play on this drive was a 20 yard pass to Rudolph. Crist had 2 more passes to Rudolph, but both were incomplete. ND had to punt once again. ND drive: 5 plays 25 yards, 1:50 ND PUNT.

Robinson had 3 completions (7,7,5) and then an 11 yard run. UM lost 14 yards on a penalty as it was 1st and 24. Robinson ran and threw 11 yards each to go along with another incomplete pass, but it wasn’t enough as Michigan had to punt again. UM drive: 7 plays 38 yards, 3:35 UM PUNT.

Crist had 3 incomplete passes for yet another 3 and out. ND drive: 3 plays 0 yards, 0:24 ND PUNT.

Lucky for the Irish, Robinson only ran a yard and threw for 3, as UM had a 3 and out also. UM drive: 3 plays 4 yards, 1:26 UM PUNT.

4:15 to go. Something has to happen. And what is it that happens? Holding, offense, half the distance of the goal. 1st and 14 at the ND 5. Crist stands in the end zone, all the time in the world, throws, and gets it to Rudolph about 20 yards out. The problem came where everyone on UM’s defense forgot about him. He went all 95 yards for the score and the ND lead. EP good. ND drive: 1 play 91 yards, 00:34 ND TD. 24-21 ND.

ND lead, finally. Irish fans can breathe finally. But not for long. This drive was like most others, all Robinson, all the time. He completed 5 of 6 for 55 yards and ran 6 times for 17 yards. The last run was a 2 yard TD run. EP good. UM drive: 12 plays 72 yards, 03:14 UM TD, 28-24 Michigan.

It feels like 2009 all over again, except 10 less points. Crist had 2 passes for 16 yards each to Floyd. Now, 6 seconds left from the UM 27. Crist in shotgun, drops back, and fires the worst game ending Hail Mary pass I’ve ever seen. He threw the ball into the fans. And that ends the game. END OF GAME: MICHIGAN 28, NOTRE DAME 24.

Where do I start with this disaster?

How about halftime. Remember I said to remember the last play of the first half? If Kelly would have kicked the FG, it would have most likely been made. It was an easy kick. But no, he wanted the full 7. If he would have taken the 3, with 6 seconds left in the game, they would have been down by 1 point. From the UM 27, it would have been about a 40 yard field goal. I see no reason why Ruffer couldn’t have made it. And if that happens, boom. ND’s 2-0 and ranked. But now, Michigan is the team that’s 2-0 and ranked.  

I blame this game on that play. To me, this loss is all on Kelly. Kick the FG at half, kick at the end, ND wins. Its that simple.

Player of the game…who else but Denard Robinson? He ran AND threw wild in an awful ND defense. 244 passing yards and 258 rush yards. That’s truly unbelievable. Over the first 2 games, he by himself has outgained some teams. I hope Irish fans liked a look at a future (maybe not this season) Heisman winner.

Overall, the team’s nothing without Crist. The Defense can’t stop anybody. Yet they still stayed in the game till the end. This team has the fight. They have the tools. But can they put it together? We’ll see next week when Notre Dame travels to East Lansing to face the Spartans of Michigan State. It’s an 8:00 game on ABC.

September 10, 2010

  Michigan Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

After two years of turmoil and an increasingly warm seat, nothing could have lifted the spirits of Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez more than the play of Dernard Robinson in the season opener against Connecticut.  The sophomore quarterback rushed for 197 yards and threw for 187 more in the 30-10 Wolverine victory.

While Notre Dame did not have a performer quite as dynamic as Robinson, they did put together a solid effort in beating Purdue 23-12.  Now Michigan and the Irish line up against each other for the 38th time, this year in South Bend.

Here are my thoughts on what to watch for on Saturday.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

The Irish offense last Saturday looked much different than the 2009 version.  Dayne Crist running Brian Kelly’s spread was not the same as Jimmy Clausen in Charlie Weis’s pro-set.  The 2009 team averaged 452 yards of total offense and had 383 yards against Purdue while the 2010 version accumulated 358 yards on Saturday.They also fell short of the 30.1 points per game that 2009 unit scored.

But that is not to say that all was bad.  Purdue has a very good front seven and the Irish were able to move the ball fairly consistently.  The offensive line, especially early on, opened up running lanes for Armando Allen and Cierre Wood, something that has been lacking for quite some time.  Notre Dame averaged 4.3 yards per carry which is a half yard improvement over last year and was held down by Crist’s nine carries for six yards.

Also, Crist may not have had an explosive day, but what he did have was an efficient game, protecting the ball and spreading passes out to seven different receivers.

Up in Ann Arbor, the Michigan defense did a pretty good job of holding down the UConn Huskies.  UConn did rack up 343 yards, but they only scored 10 points.  Michigan stiffened when necessary and benefitted from a UConn fumble inside the Wolverine five yard line.

Michigan made a big change in the offseason, switching from the 4-3 to the 3-3-5 alignment that Rich Rodriguez ran at West Virginia.  It was an interesting decision because Michigan ranked tenth in the Big Ten against the run in 2009 and the 3-3-5 can be susceptible to power running teams.  UConn, and their star tailback Jordan Todman, ran for 138 yards last Saturday.

Notre Dame will try to establish the run, but the passing game could be a much bigger factor in the game this week.  While Michigan may have given up yards on the ground last year, their secondary is currently in shambles.  After Donovan Warren and Stevie Brown left for NFL riches, the Wolverines saw their best returning starter, Troy Woolfolk, tear his ACL in the preseason.  

To make matters worse, freshman Carvin Johnson sprained his knee in the UConn game and though he is still listed at the top of the depth chart at the moment, Rodriguez called him “very doubtful” in his Monday press conference.  If Johnson is out, it weakens Michigan’s softest spot on defense.

Interestingly, despite their success on Saturday, the Michigan defense never sacked UConn quarterback Zach Fraser.  This could be a potential problem for the Wolverines.  If Notre Dame can establish any type of running game, something UConn did against Michigan and Notre Dame did against Purdue, and Crist has time to throw, Michael Floyd and the other Notre Dame receivers should be able to exploit the troubled Michigan defensive backs.
When Michigan Has the Ball

This seems really simple:  stop Dernard Robinson.  Of course, that was the game plan for Connecticut as well. Whether it was lack of execution by the Huskies or lack of talent, it did not happen.

Other than Robinson, the Michigan offensive linemen were the stars of the show.  Robinson was not sacked and they opened up holes all day for Robinson the runner.  There were several times that UConn defenders were in position to make a play and did not come through.  But for the most part, the Michigan linemen did their jobs.

Everyone knew of Robinson’s rushing ability, but his throwing surprised many.  19 of 22 and a touchdown is a very good week for just about anyone, especially for someone whose passing was questioned.

Notre Dame made huge strides on defense in their opening game.  They gave up 398 yards per game in 2009 and Purdue had 322 on Saturday.  224 of those yards came on three possessions; one which resulted in a touchdown, one a field goal, and one in an interception near the Notre Dame goal line.

The biggest surprise was the tackling by the Irish defense.  After seeing Notre Dame defenders whiff time and again on tackles last year, it was encouraging to see Purdue backs and receivers go down on contact. Cornerbacks Gary Gray and Darrin Walls had huge games with nine and seven tackles respectively.  They will be important again this week as they will have to fight through blocks and help keep containment on Robinson.
The one player that did miss a couple of tackles on Saturday was linebacker Manti Te’o.  He will have to be more sound this week because Robinson has a way of eluding tacklers.  Just ask Scott Lutrus, Lawrence Wilson, and the other UConn linebackers.

The Notre Dame pass defense will have a different type of responsibility.  Because of Robinson’s running skills, there will be a lot of decisions to be made by the Irish defensive backs.  Come up field too quickly and a receiver may run free.  Sit back too far and Robinson may be able to dart for positive yardage before anyone can react.
Everyone must know their responsibilities and this includes the defense linemen.  They were able to get to Purdue quarterback Robert Marve four times last week, but Robinson is an entirely different problem.  If the Irish attack too quickly, he will run around them.  He may have had a good day passing on Saturday, but keeping him in the pocket and making him win the game with his arm may be the best strategy.

Running backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith were okay against UConn, combining for 99 yards.  Eight players caught passes and the receiving corps is solid, though it lacks star power.  They also will be affected by the possible loss of leading returning receiver Roy Rountree, who is doubtful after suffering internal injuries on a hit in Saturday’s win.

I guess that means that their quarterback may have to do even more.
Special Teams

Along with the running game and tackling, the Irish special teams were the biggest strength against Purdue. Ben Turk could have punted better and David Ruffer’s kickoffs were inconsistent, but everything else was great.  Bennett Jackson was a beast in coverage.  Wood was solid returning kicks and Allen had a big punt return.  Throw in Ruffer’s two field goals, including a 46-yarder, and it was a good day for Notre Dame’s special units.

Michigan’s kicking was a bit shaky.  Brendan Gibbons won the kicking job in fall camp and he had a bit of a rough game against UConn.  He did kick a 24 yard field goal, but missed badly from 42 yards and also failed to convert their final extra point.  Punter Will Hagerup only punted once but it went for 51 yards.  Both the coverage and the return games were okay.

One of the big plays in last year’s Michigan-Notre Dame game was the touchdown return of a kickoff by Daryl Stonum.  Much like for the defense, the members of the coverage units need to execute their assignments and not try to do too much.  Notre Dame has athletes to make plays in the return game and the place kicking would seem to favor the Irish going into this game.
This game is not Dernard Robinson vs. Notre Dame, it just seems that way.  Michigan has solid performers on offense, but Robinson is the show.  He’s going to make plays, but what Notre Dame has to do is keep him from ripping off long gainers whether it is through the air or on the ground.  He led the Wolverines on four drives of ten or more plays against UConn, but the Irish have to see if he can manage long drives again this week.

One of the reasons that Michigan had so many long possessions was poor tackling by the Huskies.  Notre Dame needs to be fundamentally sound in their defensive approach and they also need to be physical.  They must bring down Robinson and the other Michigan skill players while making them pay for the yardage they get.  A couple of big, physical licks may slow down the smaller Michigan playmakers.

It will also be interesting to see what Robinson can do in the passing game if the Notre Dame front can get some push to get in his face.  The pass rushers can’t go crazy in their pursuit of Robinson, but speeding up his decision making process will be helpful to the Irish.

On offense, Notre Dame needs to protect Dayne Crist.  He missed a few receivers in week one, but if he has time to throw his receivers are more skilled than the Michigan defensive backs and should be able to make plays.  Armando Allen and Cierre Wood can also be effective pass catching options as receivers Michael Floyd and T.J. Jones stretch the field.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph had a solid game against Purdue though he did appear to still be hampered by his preseason knee injury.  He could also be a huge target this weekend.

Brian Kelly will look to run the ball again which, if effective, will make life even easier for Crist.  Allen and Wood got the season started right and that success needs to continue.  Protecting the football is always important and Notre Dame put the ball on the ground three times against Purdue, losing Floyd’s muff inside theBoilermaker five.  They need to do a better job securing the ball.

But so does Michigan.  They did not lose a fumble, but they also dropped the ball three times.  You can’t expect to recover every fumble so the key is to not put it down in the first place.  

By the looks of things after Saturday’s games, Notre Dame has a big advantage at place kicker.  In a rivalry game, that is always a factor.  They should also be able to at least hold their own in the other facets of special teams.

I believe that Notre Dame will score points.  The question, as always, comes on the defensive side.  If the Irish make Michigan work for everything they get and win the special teams battle, it should be a good day for the home team on Saturday.

September 7, 2010

Purdue @ Notre Dame Recap
by Sonny Martinez

A new era has begun. The 2010 Notre Dame football season has officially started, and for the home/season opener, the Irish played a familiar opponent:  the Purdue Boilermakers. Last season Purdue was 5-7, and this season, breaking in a new QB, former Miami Hurricane, Robert Marve.


Notre Dame came out and won the opening toss, electing to receive the ball first. The season started with PUR kicker Carson Wiggs’ 70 yard kick for a touchback. The first play of the season was a 4 yard rush by Senior RB Armando Allen. Crist’s first pass was incomplete, but the next 2 plays, TE Kyle Rudolph caught a 12 yard pass, and WR TJ Jones caught a 15 yard pass. Nothing else really happened this drive, as the Irish had to punt 3 plays later.  ND drive: 7 plays 26 yards, ND PUNT.

Purdue’s offense took the field now, and this had a lot of people worried as the ND defense has not been good in the past few years. The biggest play was a 7 yard rush by QB Robert Marve. Purdue got 3 plays before they had to punt. 3 plays 9 yards, PUR PUNT.

The Irish offense again came out, 2 passes to newly converted WR Theo Riddick for 6 yards and Rudolph for 7 yards. Allen then ran for 4, before fumbling, but it was picked up by Allen at the ND 32. Crist added 4 more passing yards before ND had to punt once again. ND drive: 5 plays, 21 yards, ND PUNT.

The next drive had ND’s defense looking like last year’s team. Keith Smith had a 14 yard catch, RB Jared Crank and Marve combined for 9 yards and a first down. 5 plays later, on the ND 35,Marve drops back, throws and completes a nice pass…to ND Corner Darrin Walls for the INT. PUR drive: 9 plays 37 yards, PUR INT.

The Irish can thank RB Cierre Wood for this drive. Wood had 4 rushes for 46 yards. Duval Kamara made his first catch of the season for 12 yards. Allen finished the run heavy drive with a 22 yard TD run, and they had their first score of the season. EP good. ND drive: 7 plays , 84 yards, ND TD. 7-0 ND

Marve had an 8 yard pass and a 2 yard rush to go along with Al-Terek McBurse’s 2  runs for 3 yards. That’s all they had time for as the first quarter came to an end. END OF 1ST: PUR 0, ND 7 The next play was a 3 yard run by Antavain Edison and an INC pass by Marve. Wiggs then had to punt, and it was not good as the ball only went 20 yards. PUR drive: 6 plays 15 yards, PUR PUNT

Notre Dame’s offense again came out, and it started with 2 runs, Allen for 2 yds and Crist for 12 yds. Michael Floyd. Allen then had 2 rushes for 18 more yards, and that was it as ND was on the 4 yard line of Purdue and just took the 3 points. ND drive: 8 plays 50 yards, ND FG, 10-0 ND

Keith Smith and Rob Henry had the biggest impacts of this drive, as Smith had 4 catches for 22 yards, and Henry had 3 rushes for 15 yards. The drive ended with a 25 yard FG. PUR drive: 15 plays 79 yards, PUR FG, 10-3 ND

Notre Dame ball, Crist to Wood for 11 yards, then a Wood rush for 2 yards. The biggest play came when Crist threw a 21 yard pass to TJ Jones. Wood for 2 more yards, then 2 INC passes from Crist to Riddick. Notre Dame decided to go for the 46 yard FG, and it paid off as ND took a 13-3 lead. ND drive: 9 plays 45 yards, ND FG, 13-3 ND

At this point there was 43 seconds left in the half. Purdue wanted some momentum as they would receive the ball I the second half. Marve to Smith for 16 yards. After 2 INC passes, Jeff Lindsay caught a 9 yard pass, and that was it. Purdue had to punt.  PUR drive: 4 plays 20 yards, PUR PUNT.

Notre Dame had 13 seconds to make something happen. But instead, they played it safe, and took a knee.  END OF 2ND: PUR 3, ND 13.

Purdue starts the half on the 20, and ended the drive on the 21. Needless to say, 3 and out, although Kapron Lewis Moore did get a sack. PUR drive: 3 plays 1 yards, PUR PUNT.

Crist to Floyd for 7 yards, Wood run for 13 yards and now the Irish are inside the PUR 10.  The last play of the drive came when Crist threw a 5 yard TD pass to TJ Jones. EP good.  ND drive: 5 plays 30 yards, ND TD, 20-3 ND.

Purdue needs some good play now. The first 2 plays, very good. Next 3? Not so much. Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams and Kerry Neal all got sacks. PUR had to punt on 4th and 33. PUR drive: 5 plays -9 yards,  PUR PUNT.

The only notable play from this drive was Crist to Floyd for 34 yards. 3 plays later, Floyd with another catch, but fumbled, and Purdue’s Logan Link. A long drive, but not very good.  ND drive: 4 plays 53 yards, ND FUMB.

Long drive for Purdue. Dan Dierking had 3 rushes in 4 plays for 19 yards. Marve to Crank, Cortez Smith and Siller for 14, 11, and 11 yards. Siller soon had a 15 yard catch, and after 14 plays in this drive alone, the 3rd quarter finally came to an end. END OF 3RD: PUR 3, ND 20. Hard work always pays off, and this was a lot of hard work for the Boilermakers. Well, hard work pays off sooner or later. In this case, later. Marve threw an interception to Ian Williams on the ND 5. Not a good end to a great drive. PUR drive: 15 plays 89 yards, PUR INT.

The hard work of Purdue paid off now, as the first play Allen lost 3 yards, and Purdue got 2 points. ND drive: 1 play -3 yards, 00:00 PUR SAF, 20-5 ND.

Marve had to go to work. Plays 2-5 on this drive were key, as Marve had 40 passing yards. Marve finished on 4th down as he ran for 23 yards, completely untouched. EP good. PUR drive: 7 plays 55 yards, PUR TD, 20-12 ND.

On the kickoff, Cierre Wood returned the kickoff for 38 yards, but fumbled. Lucky for him, Zeke Motta recovered the ball. What would be better than chewing up 5 minutes on the clock? If your answer was “3 and out” then you must have agreed with the offense, as that’s exactly what they did. ND drive: 3 plays, -2 yards, ND PUNT.

Purdue has the Irish right where they want them. Down by 8, over 10 minutes left. The start to the drive was a 5 yard false start penalty. An incomplete pass, then a pass for no gain didn’t help. After another penalty and another incomplete pass, Wiggs punted from his 4 yard line. PUR drive: 3 plays -8 yards, PUR PUNT.

With some points, ND can seal the win. Allen was big on plays 2-5, 3 rushes for 34 yards. Rudolph caught an 11 yard pass, and that was the last major play. ND went for a 37 yard FG, and made it. ND drive: 10 plays 39 yards, ND FG, 23-12 ND.

Purdue has 4:30 left to make something happen. Edison ran for 11 yards, and that was all the good that happened. Ethan Johnson had a sack, though. Not very good for Purdue, and that pretty much put the game to an end. PUR drive: 5 plays 16 yards, 00:00 PUR TOD.

Notre Dame didn’t have much time to waste and they did just that. 5 plays, not much big happening, and the Irish came away with the win. FINAL SCORE: PUR 12, ND 23.


Overall, I was pretty happy with the new look Irish.

The offense did its job, even if it wasn’t pretty. I was getting sick of the Draw/Option plays, I felt like it was overused. At times, they were very sloppy with the ball. Michael Floyd had a pretty good game with 5 catches for 82 yards. Dayne Crist had a good game for his first start, going 19/26 for 205 yards and 1 TD.

The defense looked very shaky for the first 2 drives, and then became solid, especially after halftime. Johnson and Williams had the best games of the defense, having 2.5 sacks and 2 INTs in total. The defense looked strong for the most part.

The kicking game was great. It looks like the Irish finally have a kicker. David Ruffer had a 22, 46, and 37 yard FGs.

The game was well played. At times it didn’t look good, but the Irish came away with the win, and that’s all that matters after the last 3 seasons.


For me, this was kind of an easy choice. I agree with the Irish in giving Brian Kelly the game ball, but if I had to give a player the ball, I’d go with RB Cierre Wood, finishing just ahead of Armando Allen. Sure, Allen got more yards and carries, but go deeper into the stats. Allen had 9 more rushes but only 35 yards more. Wood averaged 8.3 yards per carry. And if you do the math and gave Wood the 18 runs instead of Allen, he was on pace for 149 yards. Though he didn’t have a TD, I’d still take him over Allen.


The Irish’s next game will be against probably their biggest rival, the Michigan Wolverines. It’ll be a home game, 3:30 start on NBC.

September 7, 2010

Irish Eyes Smiling
By Eric Healy

I’m watching Brian Kelly (coach of Notre Dame) very closely.  I have always hated Notre Dame.  I grew up a self-indoctrinated Miami fan, so the loathing of the Irish was natural.  I wasn’t Catholic, my parents really didn’t like college football, and the “establishment” tagged the game “Catholics vs. Convicts” which was an unfair label to the Miami and Notre Dame rivalry.  I have since become Catholic and have always been proud of my Irish heritage.  So, every year I look to Notre Dame and its rich tradition and I want to route for them, or at least try.  However, all I see is a bunch of privileged athletes who lack humility and have a fan base that hates my favorite team, let alone what my favorite team (Miami) has done (turned the traditional football establishment on its head). 

Before God lights me on fire for such blasphemous comments, let me give ONE example from last year’s Notre Dame vs. Navy game.  It’s one moment in time, but it’s one of those moments that embodies more than just the actual time it took place.  This moment, to me, epitomizes the Charlie Weiss era at Notre Dame.  Notre Dame was frustrated last year to be losing to Navy.  The frustration was understandable, because Notre Dame LOST that game more than Navy won it.  Regardless, late in the game after throwing an interception, Clausen (ND QB) shoved a Midshipmen to the turf way after the whistle.  Of course it didn’t get much coverage – didn’t even get a flag, this is after all the hallowed institution of Notre Dame and they win and lose “with class”.  I was shocked – mouth literally open.  Think about this, a future NFL quarterback (at least a back up) who will be comfortable and never have to leave his family, just shoved a member of the U.S. Navy, who by the way, will be shortly shipping off to protect Clausen’s interests and freedom.  It was an iconic image for me.  Then Charlie and the arrogant shamble he built collapsed and was burnt. 

See, I like Lou Holtz and EVERYTHING he stands for and I agree with everything he says that I can understand (he’s getting older and slurring a lot).  However, as a child, I didn’t give a rip about what he stood for.  I had a hard enough time navigating the sports world (remember this was pre-civilian Internet era).  I wonder now if old Lou was back at the helm if I would support the Irish.  After all, I’m an Irish Catholic.  I have fallen in love with Penn State and Navy for the very reasons I believe I would love what Notre Dame USED to stand for (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the movie Rudy).  Navy and PSU play the game as it should be played.  Maybe I’m getting old, and some say fatherhood will do this to you – but I long for institutions that win with class and lose with dignity.  

I’m watching Brian Kelly because I noticed humility in their victory over Purdue.  It was quiet and reverent.  I’m waiting for that first loss (which may be this week) and I’m watching for these Irish to lose with dignity. Maybe then my Irish eyes will be smiling.

August 31, 2010

Purdue Preview
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

It is always difficult to preview the first game of the year.  This year, for Notre Dame, it is even harder.  They have a new head coach, a new offensive philosophy, and a shift to the 3-4 defense.  Jimmy Clausen is now playing for the Carolina Panthers and Golden Tate is in Seattle.

Analyzing their opponent is not much easier.  Purdue made strides last fall and there are some very strong Boilermaker units, but there is uncertainty in both backfields and along the offensive line.

When you put these two teams on opposite sides in week one, the game could play out any number of ways.

Here is what I think we should look for when they kickoff on Saturday afternoon.
When Notre Dame Has the Ball

As I stated, the Clausen to Tate combination has departed.  Dayne Crist takes over as the signal caller and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal.  Kyle Rudolph is a leading contender for the Mackey Award, which goes to the best tight end in the land, and Michael Floyd looks to be Notre Dame’s second Biletnikoff winner in a row after Tate took home the award as the nation’s top receiver in 2009.  

Tate’s departure does leave a huge opening opposite Floyd.  Freshman T.J. Jones, as of this moment, is the receiver slotted to start at that position.  Jones beat out senior Duval Kamara, whose final season will begin as a reserve after starting 15 games in his career.  Converted running back Theo Riddick will man the slot while Kamara, John Goodman, and Roby Toma round out the two-deep at receiver.  Heralded recruits Shaq Evans and Deion Walker appear to be on the outside looking in.

The depth at running back appears solid with Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, and Robert Hughes spelling starter Armando Allen.  Allen, whose speed and elusiveness makes him dangerous in open spaces, appears to be a better fit for the Brian Kelly spread offense than he was in Charlie Weis’s pro-set.

But the success of Notre Dame’s offense hinges on two things:  Crist and the offensive line.  Crist was a five-star recruit that has all the attributes necessary to play quarterback at the highest level.  While not as accurate as Clausen, he has a big arm and, when healthy, good mobility.  Crist also possesses exceptional leadership skills, something that is vital for a winning quarterback.  But he does not have much experience and is coming off the ACL tear suffered against Washington State last Halloween.

How quickly he adapts to the role of starter will be key for the 2010 Irish.  It would be helpful if he got some support from his offensive line.  After securing major commitments on the offensive front during his tenure at Notre Dame, Weis was never able to get this unit to play to its fullest potential.  Now, we will see what Kelly and line coach Ed Warriner can do with this group.

Right tackle Sam Young, left tackle Paul Duncan, and center Eric Olsen are gone.  Zach Martin will take over at left tackle, signifying a change to a more athletic style of line play in this new offense.  Taylor Dever is atop the depth chart at right tackle, ahead of Matt Romine and Andrew Nuss.  Center is ongoing battle between junior Braxston Cave and fifth year senior, and former starter, Dan Wenger.  Wenger has had concussion issues in camp and at this time it appears Cave will get the nod.

The two spots with returning starters are the guard positions.  Trevor Robinson is firmly entrenched at right guard though fifth year senior Chris Stewart is getting a challenge from sophomore Chris Watt on the other side.  Stewart is slated to start, but Watt will see action.

That is a lot of turnover from last year.  But is that a bad thing after what we have seen recently from the offensive line?  It is clear that Kelly is looking for more of a nimble, athletic line in his spread offense rather than the powerful plodders we have seen in the past.

The Irish line will be tested right away.  Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is one of the top players in the country.  He had 13 sacks last year and he will be joined on the line by returning starters Gerald Gooden at the other end and Kawaan Short at tackle.  The other tackle spot is up for grabs after Kevin Pamphile suffered stress fracture in his foot just before camp opened.  The Purdue staff will rotate guys in that position in his absence.

All three Boiler linebackers return.  Joe Holland, Jason Werner, and Chris Carlino finished second, third, and fourth on the team in tackles last season.  Carlino mans the middle while Holland handles the weak side and Werner plays over the tight end.  However, Dwayne Beckford looks like he has overtaken Carlino as the starting middle linebacker.  Werner was injured in the spring and though he is okay now, as a sixth year player due to injury issues in the past, any problem must be watched.  

Purdue’s secondary is where they will be tested.  They have no returning starters and those projected at the top of the depth chart had a total of 38 tackles, two passes broken up, and no interceptions in 2009.  30 of the tackles and both PBUs came from free safety Albert Evans.  True freshman Ricardo Allen is making a serious push for playing time at corner.

Purdue has a lot of guys back up front, but this was a unit that was #94 in America against the run last year.

The Irish, who struggled establishing a ground game in 2009, ran for 167 yards in their contest at West Lafayette.  Look for Notre Dame, with a new-look line and an inexperienced quarterback, to run the ball early and often.  

Purdue was solid against the pass last year, but that was with an experienced secondary.  If the Irish can gain some yardage on the ground early, it will keep Purdue’s defensive front, and Ryan Kerrigan in particular, from pinning their ears back and going after Crist.  
When Purdue Has the Ball

The Boilermakers ranked 75th in rushing offense and 34th in passing offense last year.  However, both their 3,000 yard passer and 900 yard rusher are gone.

Robert Marve takes over at quarterback for Joey Elliott this fall.  Marve had a miserable experience both on and off the field at Miami before transferring to Purdue.  While much has been made of Crist’s torn ACL, Marve did the same last summer immediately after arriving in West Lafayette.  By all accounts, though, he had a solid spring and is clearly the number one signal caller.

This is all well and good, but it is hard to imagine Marve playing better than Elliott did in ’09.  The fifth-year senior completed over 60% of his passes for 3,026 yards, 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.  One good thing for Marve is that leading receiver Keith Smith returns.  Smith hauled in 91 balls for 1,100 yards and six scores last fall.  The Boilermakers will go three wide again this year with former quarterback Justin Siller and Cortez Smith, who caught 17 passes last year, as the other starters.  Kyle Adams is also a threat as the tight end.

As long as Marve plays up to his capabilities, the passing game should be okay.  It is the other aspects of the offense that are troubling.  The line returns just two starters, left tackle Dennis Kelly and right guard Ken Plue.

Center Peters Drey has never played the position before and there were some snap problems early in camp, though he has improved greatly in recent days.  Plue and Kelly are more than solid players and they will be asked to guide the line this fall.

Creating a bigger problem is the lack of depth, and experience, at running back.  Ralph Bolden went for 935 yards last fall, but he tore his ACL in the spring.  Al-Terek McBurse assumed the starting role when camp opened, but he has been slowed by a left leg injury.  He is expected to play on Saturday though he has not participated yet in contact drills.  On top of that, back up Keith Carlos has been sidelined by a stress fracture in his foot.  

Right now, senior Dan Dierking is getting most of the reps in practice and will probably start if McBurse is not able to go.  Dierking carried the ball 42 times in 2007, but has only had 12 carries the past two years.
Notre Dame is switching to the 3-4 this season after playing the 4-3 the past two years.  The interesting thing is that the Irish played the 3-4 in ’07 and many of their defensive players were recruited for that system.

Ethan Johnson at defensive end is a prime example.  He seemed to get outmuscled as an inside guy last year.

Put him outside one more slot and his size is perfect and his quickness can be better utilized.  On the other side, Kapron Lewis-Moore did not seem quite quick enough in his role as a 4-3 end.  But in the 3-4, at 6-foot-4, 283-pounds, he is plenty quick enough.  

The key aspect of Notre Dame’s defensive front is how strong they are up the middle.  Ian Williams has to be able to hold the nose and someone must emerge as a reliable backup.  Manti Te’o is set at one middle backer spot and there are few concerns about him.  He is big, strong, and fast and with a year under his belt, he should be able to grasp the complexities of his role a little better.

Carlo Calabrese looks like he will line up at the other inside spot when the game begins this Saturday.  This will be Calabrese’s first action and everyone wonders if he is getting the job because of his stellar play or because the other options are not that appealing.  Anthony McDonald entered camp as the starter but a knee injury allowed Calabrese to claim the top spot.

Calabrese should have no problem defending the run.  It is in pass coverage that he will be challenged.  Purdue may struggle running the ball anyway, at which point Calabrese may be replaced by an extra defensive back.
Outside linebacker looks like a strength for Notre Dame.  They have several athletic players that will all see time against Purdue.  Darius Fleming and Brian Smith were thought to be the starters, but recently Kerry Neal started running with the ones at Smith’s DOG linebacker position.  Neal and Smith both had solid freshman seasons playing the 3-4 in 2007 and had their difficulties in the 4-3, Neal at defensive end and Smith in the middle.  Smith will not go back inside despite going to #2 on the depth chart.

Fleming is solid as the CAT linebacker and freshman Prince Shembo is #2.  Steve Filer had a huge spring game and had jumped ahead of Smith as the #1 DOG backer before Neal supplanted him.  Now, he is not on the two-deep roster.  It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Bob Diaco uses all of his outside linebackers.

The secondary was supposed to be a strength last year.  It wasn’t.  Harrison Smith struggled at the safety position in ‘09.  He was moved up to linebacker late in the year, a position at which he had some success in ’08, and he was a bit better, though he is drastically undersized for the position.  Now he is back as a starter at strong safety alongside Jamoris Slaughter, who was flipped back and forth from safety to corner by the previous administration.

While the starters have question marks near their names, so too do the reserves.  Dan McCarthy needs to step up as does Zeke Motta.  Motta has impressed everyone this camp and will play quite a bit this fall.

Corner is an interesting position for the Irish.  Darrin Walls, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton have all seen considerable action during their years at Notre Dame.  They have all had good moments that have often been followed up by disappointing moments.  These are experienced guys that need to play like experienced guys.  

After those three, the depth is thin.  Freshman Lo Wood enrolled in January has worked his way up the depth chart.  That is in part because E.J. Banks left the team, though he is now back in a reduced role.  There is a lot of pressure on those top three to produce because there are no good options behind them.

It will be interesting to see how Purdue attacks Notre Dame.  With a young offensive line and virtually no healthy running backs, it is hard to believe that the Boilers will line it up and ram it down Notre Dame’s throat.

If they do, the Irish have big problems.

Purdue will probably lean heavily on Marve and Keith Smith to move the football.  I’m sure Marve will try and spread it around, but Smith is the target and will be the primary option the vast majority of the time.
Special Teams

Notre Dame has been terrible on special teams in recent years.  Last year they ranked 105th in covering punts and 68th in covering kicks, allowing two kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns.  They ranked 110th in punting average and 64th in kickoff yardage, though if you watched the games it is hard to believe that there were 56 teams that kicked the ball off worse than the Irish.

Thanks to Golden Tate, the Irish punt return game was in the top 20, but their kickoff returns were #65, though it always appeared that Theo Riddick was on the verge of breaking one.  

The placekicking was better last year as Nick Tausch was 14-17 and David Ruffer was 5 of 5 on field goals.

They did combine to miss four extra points and Tausch missed two big kicks in the Navy game.  By all reports this spring, kicking was an area of concern.  Tausch will again handle the placekicking and Ruffer will kickoff.

One very good note is that Ben Turk punted very well in the spring game.

Purdue returns Carson Wiggs as their kicker.  He was a little eratic last year, going 14 for 21, but he has a huge leg, as the long of 59 yards attests.  Freshman Cody Webster will handle the punting duties.

Wayne Gravesande was the primary punt returner last year, but he has a leg injury and though he may play against Notre Dame, Antavian Edison will get the call first.  McBurse is still listed as the #1 kick returner, though with a nagging injury and being the first team running back, don’t be surprised to see Edison handle these duties as well.

The Boilers were terrible covering kicks last year and were in the middle of the pack in punt coverage.
Kelly has always emphasized special teams, so it will be interesting to see if the Irish have made any improvements in this area.

Notre Dame will look to establish the run.  With a new group of blockers, I believe that Kelly will look to force some aggression by getting them to be physical with Purdue in the running game.  If it works, Kerrigan and company will have to be aware of both aspects of the offense.

Because eventually Notre Dame will throw.  The Purdue secondary is so inexperienced that they must be tested.  Also, the Irish will want to get Floyd, Rudolph, and the other Irish receiving threats, including Armando Allen out of the backfield, involved in the game plan.  And let’s face it, Kelly likes to toss the ball around.

Getting a ground game going will create some confusion on the Purdue defensive front, giving Crist more time to find his best available target on each play.  I would also not be surprised to see Kelly call a running play for Crist early, just to show that he is okay and he will be used in that manner at times.  But for the most part, Crist will be asked to throw and hand off.

Defensively, the Irish may be weakest against power offenses that can run it right at them.  I don’t think Purdue is one of those teams.  Their young line and decimated backfield do not mesh with this game plan.  So Purdue will have to go with their strength, which is to throw the ball all around.

Someone from Notre Dame, probably more than one person, should be on Keith Smart the moment he wakes up Saturday morning.  He is the main weapon for the Purdue offense and if he is contained, this offense will most likely sputter.  

The reports out of Purdue camp gave Marve rave reviews, but this is his first game and it is on the road behind a rebuilt line with only one dynamic option in this offense.  He needs to be great in this game; good will not be enough.

Notre Dame has a lot of athletes that can come off the edge of the defense.  While I don’t expect them to send blitzes a la Jon Tenuta circa 2009, they will look to put as much pressure as possible on Marve.  

The Irish have better offensive personnel and should win this game.  I don’t think it will be a blowout, but I also don’t think it will go down to the wire.

Of course, that has been the case many times on paper in the past three years with varying results.  Now it’s time to see if the start of the Brian Kelly era looks different than the end of the Charlie Weis years.

August 18, 2010

Media Day, Early Win/Loss Record and Other Notes
by Sonny Martinez

Great position battles, a new starting Quarterback, a new Defensive look, a new coach, and high expectations are going around South Bend this summer. With under 20 days to prove they’re worthy of being at Notre Dame, time can’t be wasted.

Nobody can afford to lose any ground, as the depth chart is beginning to take shape. We already know some things, like that Crist is the starter, Allen is the #1 RB, Floyd is the #1 WR, and Brian Smith and Manti Te’o are the leaders on defense. Let’s take a look at some other happenings on the campus of the University Of Notre Dame…

Media Day

Coach Brian Kelly spoke August 17th at Notre Dame’s Media Day. Kelly spoke to the media for about 40 minutes about his plans, depth chart and took questions. Here’s a quick recap of what the head man at Notre Dame had to say.

QBs Tommy Rees (Freshman) and Nate Montana, (Junior) son of the great Joe Montana, are locked in what Kelly calls a "a very close, competitive situation" for the backup QB job behind Sophomore Dayne Crist. It’s good to see such a competitive battle for a backup spot. There is a large gap between Crist, Rees and Montana and the other 2 QBs.

When asked about the switch from Charlie Weis to himself, Kelly said this: "All the players have done exactly what we've asked them to do," he said. "They knew there had to be a sense of urgency. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired too. It's just different leadership styles." It seems like the players are a lot happier under Kelly, and a happier team usually means a more relaxed team with less mistakes.

Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood will return kickoffs, and Kelly called the two "dynamic." Armando Allen leads John Goodman for the punt returner spot.

The spread offense “has room for the Wildcat,” Kelly said. The three men that he might look to are Allen, Theo Riddick, and TE Kyle Rudolph.

Kelly is extremely high on Freshman WR TJ Jones, saying he could see the field a lot in 2010. It would be very positive if he does, especially as a Freshman. Could he be the next Michael Floyd? He has the talent. And the possibility of Floyd leaving the Irish for the NFL is certainly there.

Anthony McDonald and Carlo Calabrese are the leading men for the ILB spot opposite Manti Te’o. "Mac needs to be more physical, and Calabrese needs to be more finesse." Lucky for Kelly, Te’o is both.

In what could be the most shocking statement made by Kelly since he joined the Irish, he said that he thought his new number 1 WR Michael Floyd was “overhyped” when he first watched film of the Irish after he took over the coaching job. However, his opinion has been changed, and he has realized he was wrong thanks to a little hard work. “In 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked," Kelly said. "He has outworked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the point where he has singlehandedly set the bar for where everybody else needs to bring their play. He's been dominant."

Here are some other quotes from Kelly.

On their way of practicing: “I don’t want to force it and I don’t want us to be something that we’re not. However, they understand how I  want them to practice, so coming to work every day has been a consistent theme relative to mental toughness and pushing through owies.”

On his depth chart: “Players are starting to separate themselves as far as what we believe to be their roles. We’re identifying and defining at the same time, roles for our players.”

On team moral and size of roles: “I’m not going to put a senior out there who does not deserve to be in there,” said Kelly, who noted that sometimes one-on-one conversations are needed. “In some instances it might be, ‘Listen, here’s your role. Do you accept your role on our football team? If you do, great. If you don’t, then maybe we’ve got to do something else.”

It looks like he has his team right where he wants them. The goal is to win, and he wants to in the first year. I don’t think it’ll happen the first year, but he definitely has talent.

Can Kelly Put The “Fight” Back In The Fighting Irish?

Now not to sound harsh (3-9, 7-6, 6-6 in 3 years, that’s harsh enough) but the Fighting Irish have been more like the Surrendering Irish over the past 3 years, giving away games on stupid mistakes that they should have won (Example: Syracuse.) But the message sent to his players is short, sweet and to the point: WIN.

When will this happen, if ever?

Looking at the schedule, it’s pretty tough for a first year coach, but with the talent on the team and the way they’ve played over the last few years, it’s anyone’s guess. They only have 3 true road games to go along with 2 neutral site games. But the first 6 games are brutal and could do major damage. They could make or break the season. Now that we know a little more about this year’s team, here’s my early season win/loss projection.

September 4 vs. Purdue: Notre Dame won last season on a late TD pass by Clausen. WR Keith Smith is the biggest threat in the Boilermaker offense. Purdue’s DBs are not very good, and very inexperienced. Purdue looks like a 5-6 win team this season, but one of the wins will not be over the Irish. WIN

September 11 vs. Michigan:  Last season Michigan “upset” ND. I put upset in quotes because if the Irish weren’t ranked, it really wouldn’t be. But that was in Ann Arbor. This time around, it’s a home game for the Irish. And if you remember correctly, down by 4 points, for some reason, 3 seconds were taken off the clock, and the last second was taken off when it shouldn’t have been. ND had a shot for a last minute win taken away, and this isn’t “ND bias,” look it up on YouTube. Irish come away with the win at home. WIN

September 18 @ Michigan State:  Mr. Dependable Kyle McCarthy picked off QB Kirk Cousins to win the game at home. This season, no McCarthy, and the game is in East Lansing. This game will come down to defense. I think ND can shock MSU because so many people will think MSU will come away with the win. This game will be decided by under 7 points, but in the end, the Irish defense takes advantage of a fairly inexperienced Spartan OL. WIN

September 25 vs. Stanford: This game is at home. No Toby Gerhart. Yes, Andrew Luck is still QB, but they just won’t be the same team without Gerhart. Notre Dame comes out on top. WIN

October 2 @ Boston College: This will be a close game. The BC Defense is better this season with the return of LB Mark Herzlich. The D gets that much better, QB Dave Shinskie will have a good game. However, the Irish’s offense will outduel the BC offense for a win. WIN

October 9 vs. Pittsburgh:  This game is at home. But ohhhh, this game could get ugly for the Irish. Very ugly. The Defense will not be able to stop RB Dion Lewis. ND loses by at least 10 points. LOSS

October 16 vs. Western Michigan:  A higher-middle team in the MAC, but then again, it is the MAC. No Tim Hiller. They also lose Brandon West, a 1000 yard rusher. Also, Austin Pritchard and Justin Braska, the top 2 tacklers.  A MAC team. They went 5-7 last season.  Lost its 2 best players on both sides of the ball. Game in South Bend.  Again, not to sound too harsh, but if Notre Dame loses, Brian Kelly should be fired on the field. WIN

October 23 vs. Navy (In East Rutherford, NJ) So the Irish have had problems with Navy as of late. Navy could win 10 games this season. Notre Dame lost by 2 last season. Kelly wants to restore order with ND, and a major step would be another win streak vs. Navy. Kelly gets it done in his first year. WIN

October 3 vs. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane are not good away from home vs. BCS schools. A 5-7 team in ’09 is now a team that that could win the C-USA (but Houston will) and will not beat the Irish. WIN

November 6th is a week off. They better use it to prepare for what could be the biggest test on the schedule. And that major test is at home, but one of the top teams in all of College Football.

November 13 vs. Utah: Yeah, no. No way Notre Dame wins unless QB Jordan Wynn, RB Eddie Wide, CB Brandon Burton, and NT Sealver Silver are all out. That won’t happen.  Utah by 7+. LOSS

November 20 vs. Army (at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY) For me, this is the game of the year. ND-Army at Yankee Stadium is a National game that will grab National attention. ND could be going for a 10 win season at this point, while Army looks to go to a Bowl for the first time since 1996. Army won’t match up against ND. Make it 2-2 vs. Military Academies. WIN

November 27 @ USC: The season closer. This game could go either way. The Trojans keep losing players, and have a new coach. While they really have nothing to play for (2 year Bowl ban) they might not play like they care. I said might. But they will. As someone who can’t stand the Trojans and has no respect for them (sorry Trojan fans) I would love to make this a win. But at home, USC doesn’t lose. And in general, USC doesn’t lose to Notre Dame. ND will have a lot more motivation then USC, but I don’t see the Irish winning. LOSS

So this team is a good 8-10 win team, although I see 9 wins. The MSU and USC games really could go either way, although I have them split.

So what does 9 wins mean?

9 wins would most likely mean just missing a BCS Bowl (although even I will say pollsters tend to rank ND too high.) It could happen, but with 9 wins, a Gator Bowl or Champs Sports Bowl appearance is definitely possible. Is that winning? In fans mind, it should be. In Kelly’s mind, it should be. But it won’t. It would feel great to be ranked at the end of the season…it could happen.

Other Notes

Other news and notes from around the campus…

TE Mike Ragone was released from an area hospital last Thursday as he suffered from a heat illness at practice. He might not be back until next week.

CB Gary Gray has been inconsistent this summer. There is not much behind Gray, Darrin Walls, and Robert Blanton. Kelly will be very hard on the 3 to get them in line and ready for September 4th.

Kelly said that SS Harrison Smith has been the most consistent on defense.

S Zeke Motta has had a great week and a half at practice after being sub-par the first few days.

Manti Te’o, Brian Smith, Kapron Lewis-Moore, and Darius Fleming were all mentioned as leaders on defense by Kelly. These players were leaders last season, and with a new look defense, have to step up to the challenge. None of them will have a problem doing that.

Kelly loves where he’s at with his kickers.

EJ Banks is not with the Irish at this time, but could be back either this week or next week.

Still, a time has not yet been announced for the Boston College game.

August 10, 2010

Notre Dame Blog- 5 Things To Watch Over The Next 25 Days
by Sonny Martinez

Friday, August 6th, 2010. The date that the Brian Kelly era officially began as Notre Dame opened fall camp. “There’s been enough talk” Kelly told reporters. ” We've analyzed, we've looked at the roster, we've talked about expectations. Now it's about doing, it's about getting the job done."

With just 25 days (as of August 10) until Notre Dame’s season opener at home vs. Purdue, Kelly has little time. There’s many questions to go along with this season. Many people think the Irish will be a good team in 2010. But to borrow a line from an old Irish coach, “6-6 isn’t good enough.” And to borrow a line from the current Irish coach, “It’s BCS or bust.”

Players, fans, students and coaches have been waiting since November 28th of last year. However everyone goes in with some worries. Here are some key storylines to follow over the next few weeks.

Dayne Crist’s repaired ACL: Nah, not a worry anymore. He practiced without a brace all summer, and the injury "is not even a topic for conversation anymore." So that ends that, and it’s not even worth paying attention to. Here are real things to watch.

The offensive line: Offensive Line coach Ed Warinner has his work cut out for him as 36 starts graduated. The line only has 3 returning starters, Chris Stewart, who is an absolute monster at 6’5” 351 pounds, Dan Wenger, and Trevor Robinson. I would expect Wenger to get the start at center over Braxston Cave, but he’ll be pushed hard. Wenger has been probably the most surprising player of the summer. Kelly had this comment when asked: “It’s going to be hotly contested. You probably are going to see both of them play.”  Redshirt freshman Zack Martin is expected to get the start at LT. The line looks a lot leaner, which should be expected with the transition to the spread offense. As of this moment, however, the starting five right now is sophomore Zack Martin at left tackle, Stewart, Cave, junior Trevor Robinson at right guard and senior Taylor Dever at right tackle.

Second wide receiver spot: With WR coach Tony Alford, there’s no need to talk about the “battle for #1” as there is none. Michael Floyd is clearly #1. No surprise as Duval Kamara is listed as #2. However, he sat out practice with what’s been described as “incomplete paperwork.” TJ Jones, who has a great future, instead lined up with the first team. Jones should be the #3 receiver. A WR to watch is converted RB Theo Riddick.

Other offensive coaches include Tim Hinton at Running Back, and Mike Denbrock at Tight End.

Overall, I think new Offensive Coordinator Charley Molnar will be happy with what he has to work with and his supporting cast.

The new 3-4 defense: This is a major change that’s being made and the biggest question. Line coach Mike Elston’s work looks to be paying off as the entire defensive line looks bigger and stronger. Ethan Johnson is probably the most “improved” as he has gained a lot of muscle. Louis Nix is listed at 350 pounds and if it's possible, looks even bigger. He’s going to have to drop about 40-50 pounds. 11 starters return, so there’s experience. The one position, however, where there will be a new starter is key. And it’s the…

Inside linebacker position battle: ILB coach Bob Diaco (also Defensive Coordinator) has a lot to work with. There’s a ton of talent in this spot. It’s just who has the most. The 2 we’ve seen the most are Anthony McDonald and David Posluszny, but Kendall Moore could play a role. When asked, Kelly had this to say: “It’s a fluid situation. Manti (Te’o) is in a pretty good position where he is. Add Carlos Calabrese to that. Prince Shembo is a very, very good football player. He’s going to be hard to keep out of the mix as well. There probably is going to have to be a combination of inside/outside guy that is going to have to play a little bit. Maybe Shembo can do that; maybe he can play some inside and outside. That probably is going to be the one position that is going to be fluid. In other words, you are probably going to see a lot of guys playing it.”

The other Defensive coach is the Outside Linebacker coach Kerry Cooks.

Coordinator Bob Diaco has probably the most difficult job other than Kelly. Keeping this new style of Defense in line will be a tough job. Most of the players played under Weis’ system. It’s going to take time, but it should pay off.

The kicker battle: Coach Kelly had this comment: “No, I’m fairly pleased with what we have. Both of them are doing a nice job. (David) Ruffer is kicking the heck out of it on kickoffs. Right now, I’m feeling pretty good. We have some more work to do with our return game. We are kind of sorting out the bodies because we have so many guys back there. I know we have to start paring them down.”  Ruffer, Nick Tausch and Brandon Walker. I’d personally like to see Ruffer, just because of Walker’s horrible ’08 season and Tausch’s sub-par ’09 season, most notably the USC game.

Mike Elston is the Special Teams coach, and this unit could be good. 3 kickers have all proved that they can be great, 2 punters are proven, and the return game has some stars as Theo Riddick will return most of the kicks and maybe even punts. This could be their best ST year in the past 10 years.

Needless to say, there are a few key points on both sides of the ball the need to be addressed. Kelly has a long road ahead of him. The team has a lot of talent, but even more questions. It’s a good team, and the defense has some good stars, but the transition to the 3-4 could hurt. On paper, all but one game is very winnable, but last year many said the same. Kelly’s “5 minute plan” has to kick in effect soon. Expect a bowl for the Irish. BCS? That’s up in the air. Here are some other team notes.

Dayne Crist has impressed with his physical appearance, looking big and strong while moving really well.

Nate Montana’s throws and footwork looked “labored” in comparison to Crist, according to one reporter. He looks a little bit unsure of himself and his balls don’t have the same zip that Crist’s or some of the freshman do. Then again, camp hasn’t been open for a week yet, so that can change.

All 4 running backs, Sr. Armando Allen, Sr. Robert Hughes, Jr. Jonas Gray and Redshirt So. Cierre Wood have all added muscle and have gained speed.

As expected, everyone marvels at the physical specimen that is Kyle Rudolph. However, he did tweak a hamstring and may be taking it slow for a while.

Mike Ragone, for whatever reason, either talent or in response to the arrest in spring, has been dropped down to 3rd team. He will likely not play against Purdue.

Senior linebacker Kerry Neal has shed some fat and added muscle.

Still, the time for the Boston College game has not been announced.

August 1, 2010

An Amazing 22 Hours
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

For several weeks, Notre Dame fans had targeted this past weekend as key for the future of Irish football.  A prized running back would be announcing his college choice and one of the top players in the nation would be coming to South Bend.  Little did anyone know just how rewarding it would be for those inside the Guglielmo Center.
If, like me, you get e-mails from any of the various recruiting sites when a player commits to Notre Dame, you saw your Blackberry or I-Phone or Droid explode from 11am Friday until 9am Saturday.  During that time, Notre Dame accepted commitments from four highly regarded players that filled huge needs.  Irish followers had hoped for two of these commitments, were surprised by another, and downright stunned by the fourth.
Getting four key commitments in that span is great even in late January or the first few days of February as signing day looms.  To have it happen in late July, a week before fall camp opens, is exceptionally uncommon.
Here is a timeline of how things developed during this 22 hour span.
The process actually started last Wednesday when defensive end/outside linebacker Anthony Rabasa of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami took an unofficial visit South Bend.  Rabasa said that regardless of how his trip went, he would still take all five of his official visits.  
Famous last words.
By the time he left campus on Thursday, it was clear that Notre Dame was Rabasa’s leader.  His timeframe for making a decision was still unclear, but Steve Wiltfong of Irish Sports Daily said that he would not be surprised if Rabasa made his college choice known within a week.
Friday morning at 11, running back Justice Hayes of Grand Blanc, Michigan had a press conference scheduled to announce his collegiate decision.  Early on Hayes seemed like a Michigan State lean, but after two trips to Notre Dame, his mind was swayed.  He became the first shoe to drop when he committed to the Irish.
At 5-foot-10, 180-pounds, Hayes possesses a skill set that would seem to match up perfectly with the new Notre Dame spread offense.  He is a shifty back with good speed that is also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.  He ran for 1,295 yards and 12 scores as a junior despite battling injuries and had 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore.  In those two years, Hayes also had 41 receptions for nearly 450 yards.
Notre Dame may only take one running back this recruiting cycle (unless super prospect Savon Huggins of New Jersey selects the Irish in February) and Hayes is a good fit.  All four of the major services rate him as a four-star prospect with Rivals giving him the best marks as the class of 2011’s No. 5 all-purpose back and No. 75 overall recruit.  He had offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern.
The Hayes commitment was expected as was a commitment from superstar defensive end Aaron Lynch of Cape Coral, Florida, who was visiting campus with his mother on Friday and Saturday.  Lynch was expected to commit on Saturday morning and the Chicago Tribune, with the help of recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, announced to the world on Friday that Lynch would be doing just that.  So when my Blackberry chimed again at 8pm on Friday that ND had another commitment, I was confident I knew who it was.
I was wrong.
Anthony Rabasa, the same Rabasa that earlier in the week had said that he would take all five official visits, committed to Notre Dame.  On signing day 2010, new Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said that Notre Dame’s biggest needs for 2011 were outside linebacker and defensive end.  The Irish needed more people that could put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  Rabasa joined Clay Burton, Ben Councell, Tony Springmann, and Brad Carrico as future Domers at those positions.  And, of course, there would be someone else coming in short order.
Rabasa is a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder that plays hard all the time.  Notre Dame anticipates him playing a Mike Vrabel-like role in their new 3-4; sometimes putting his hand down, but most times standing up as their CAT outside linebacker.  
Rabasa’s abilities have been widely debated by the various recruiting agencies.  Scout lists him as a three-star prospect and the nation’s No. 51 defensive end.  Rivals also has him as a three-star with a ranking as the No. 14 weakside defensive end.  ESPN has a much more optimistic view of his potential, listing him as a four-star, the No. 98 prospect regardless of position, and as the No. 10 defensive end in the land.
His offer list even has a bit of vagueness to it.  Florida and Miami had offered, but there were rumors that neither school would accept his commitment until they heard back from other players that they found more desirable.  But it is not like his other offers were weak:  Florida State, Nebraska, Auburn, UCLA, LSU, and South Carolina, to name a few.  He is a talented player at a position that Notre Dame is very thin, making his commitment quite important.
Saturday promised even more excitement with the anticipated Lynch announcement.  But as I logged onto Irish Sports Daily at around 8am, I saw that defensive back Jalen Brown from Irving, Texas had committed to Notre Dame late Friday night.  This was a complete surprise because most analysts had written off the Irish as a possible Brown destination when he decided to announce his college choice before he visited the South Bend campus.
Brown is listed as a three-star corner by both ESPN and Scout while Rivals has yet to give him a ranking.  But Notre Dame loves his size (listed at 6-foot-0, 180-pounds) and his athleticism.  His relationship with Irish assistant Kerry Cooks was very important in his decision making process.
The one area where Notre Dame’s recruiting seemed to be stalling was in the defensive backfield.  They had commitments from Matthias Farley and Eilar Hardy, but they needed at least two more and there did not appear to be a lot of good options left on their board.  Brown, despite his rankings, was the guy the Irish staff really wanted, so this was a huge get for Brian Kelly and company.
Like Rabasa, Brown’s options were quite plentiful, even if Rivals, Scout, and ESPN do not think all that highly of him.  Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Baylor, and Arizona were some of the schools that offered Brown a spot.  LSU and Oklahoma are two programs that had been monitoring his progress but had not offered a scholarship.
Finally, at just after 9am on Saturday, Aaron Lynch announced on WNDU TV that he would be attending Notre Dame in 2011.  There had been a few tense moments along the way, but Lynch had had Notre Dame as his leader the whole way and when his mother began posting on an Irish message board during the past few weeks, everyone knew that this day would come eventually.
Unlike Rabasa or Brown, there are no questions about committable offers with Lynch.  Everyone in America was after him and if he did not have an offer from a program it was because they knew Lynch was not interested.  A Cape Coral, Florida kid with offers from Florida, Florida State, Miami, LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson is a serious prospect.
Right now, he claims to be 6-foot-6, 266-pounds and anyone that has seen him would not dispute those numbers.  He is huge and will only get bigger once he enters a college weight program.  Lynch is a player that needs technical refinement in his game and that is why he is not listed in the top ten of any of the rankings.  But each of the services has him in their top 100 because of his off the charts athletic ability.  
Lynch is the type of player that the Irish got when they landed Manti Te’o.  He is the type of player they thought they had when they received a commitment from Chris Martin.  He is an SEC-type of difference maker that will make guys around him, like Rabasa and Brown, that much better.  He also plans to enroll at ND in January so that he can get a head start on the 2011 season.
The Irish now have just a few spots left in this recruiting class.  It could be as few as three or as many as six, depending on which fifth year seniors return and whether Kyle Rudolph and/or Michael Floyd declare for the 2011 NFL draft.  
This spurt will vault Notre Dame up the recruiting rankings, but make no mistake, there is a long way to go.  They have to hold on to the 16 commitments they have until signing day, something that has been difficult to do in the past.  Guys like Rabasa and Brown, who either have conditional offers or have major powers eyeing their progress, may be tempted by others down the line.  Also, the remaining spots on the roster must be filled with impact guys because that is exactly what the national contenders are getting and the Irish are certainly not at that level yet.  
But more days like Friday and Saturday will help move them in the right direction.  And it was definitely fun listening to my phone beep so often.

July 15, 2010

Expectations Based on History
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Lou Holtz once told his team that he didn’t come to Notre Dame to win some of the games or most of the games, he came to win all of the games and each player should also have that as a goal.  For good or bad, that is the view of many Irish supporters and going into this season, Brian Kelly, in those fans eyes, must achieve immediate success.
Ara Parseghian did it.  He took a rag-tag Notre Dame squad that was 2-7 in 1963 and transformed them into a 9-1 juggernaut that was perhaps one phantom holding penalty away from a victory at USC and an undefeated national championship.  
Charlie Weis did it, leading the 2005 team to the Fiesta Bowl following the 6-6 2004 season.  Hell, even Tyrone Willingham did it in 2002, rattling off eight straight victories to open the season on the way to a Gator Bowl berth after the Bob Davie led 2001 unit struggled to a 5-6 record.  If he can do it, most certainly Kelly, with a history of turning programs around, can get the Irish into contention in year one.  
But how realistic is that?  And how important is this first year in the grand scheme of things?  Despite their great first seasons, Weis and Willingham did not have sustainable success, something the Irish faithful long for.  
If one looks to Irish history in an effort to gauge that future, one should also look elsewhere in college football to see how great coaches have developed.  And when you do, one thing is obvious:  Parseghian’s early results are clearly the exception.
When Kelly was hired last December, many Irish fans’ first choice was Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.  Stoops has a national title to his credit and has played in the title game three other times.  But his first season ended at 7-5 with a loss to Ole Miss in the Independence Bowl.  That year was an improvement over the John Blake years that preceded Stoops, but the 1998 Sooners finished 5-6, so 7-5 was not exactly a meteoric rise.
At Ohio State, Jim Tressel took over for John Cooper in 2001.  Cooper had fielded very good teams in Columbus, but they could never win the big one, meaning he couldn’t beat Michigan.  During Cooper’s final season, the Buckeyes went 8-4 including a loss to Michigan and a loss in the Outback Bowl to South Carolina. In Tressel’s first Ohio State campaign, the Buckeyes did finally win in Ann Arbor, but they finished one game worse than the year before, at 7-5, and lost again to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
The three truly great college coaches in recent years have been Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, and Urban Meyer. Their first seasons on the job were certainly not an indicator of their future successes.  The USC Trojans of Paul Hackett finished 5-7 in 2000.  Carroll, who many considered a joke of a hire after his failures in the NFL, guided USC to a 6-6 record in 2001.  No one would have predicted in 2001 that USC would emerge the way it did.
Urban Meyer’s first year at Florida definitely showed promise.  Attitudes were changed and a belief started to develop.  The record improved from the previous year, though Meyer did not land his team immediately in a BCS game.  The 2005 Gators were a 9-3 squad that closed the season with a win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl.  In 2004, Florida was 7-5 with a loss to Miami in the Peach Bowl.  The two game improvement is substantial, but in Notre Dame’s case, that would mean an 8-4 2010 season.  Is that enough to please the Irish contingent?
Saban turned two once proud SEC programs into champions, though in neither case did he do so in his first year.  At LSU, he did lforge a remarkable turnaround in year one, leading a team that was 3-8 in 1999 to an 8-4 season in 2000.  At Alabama, the change was not quite as quick.  Mike Shula’s Tide finished 6-7 in 2006 and the only reason Alabama improved to 7-6 in 2007 was a result of its Independence Bowl win over Colorado where the 2006 team lost in the same game to Oklahoma State.  The 2007 season included losses in the last four regular season games, including an embarrassing defeat in Tuscaloosa to Louisiana-Monroe and the following week at arch rival Auburn.
These first year results are not limited to current head coaches.  Very few of college football’s legendary coaches contended for national honors in their first year on the job.  Bear Bryant may be the biggest name in the history of college football and he went 5-4-1 in his first year at Alabama.  Joe Paterno went 5-5 in 1966, the same record posted by the 1965 Penn State team coached by Rip Engle.
Bo Schembechler inherited a Michigan squad that went 8-2 in 1968 under the guidance of Bump Elliott. Schembechler’s 1969 unit finished at 8-3, though like Tressel in 2001, his team won the Michigan-Ohio State contest, sending positive vibes throughout the state.  Bo’s arch rival, Woody Hayes, went 4-3-2 during his first year in Columbus after Paul Brown saw the Buckeyes to a 6-3 record the year before.
Ara Parseghian’s nemesis, John McKay, went 4-6 in 1960, a big step back from the 8-2 1959 team.  And, of course, Lou Holtz went 5-6 in 1986, the same record Gerry Faust posted in 1985.
Two legendary coaches that stepped into positions that allowed them to contend right off for national championships were bitter rivals:  Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer and Nebraska’s Tom Osborne.  In both cases, they were left with a full plate.  Chuck Fairbanks left Oklahoma for the New England Patriots after an 11-1 season, leaving Switzer with a loaded group that went 10-0-1 in 1973.  Osborne took over when Hall of Famer Bob Devaney retired in 1972.  Osborne’s first team went 9-2-1, identical to the record of Devaney’s last team, finishing behind Switzer’s first group in the Big Eight.  Seeing that the Irish are 16-21 over the past three seasons, it is hard to compare those situations to the one awaiting Kelly in 2010.
It is true that college football is littered with failed coaches that got off to mediocre or poor starts.  But one thing all of these coaches have in common is what happened after that first year.  With the exception of Saban at LSU, Paterno, and Schembechler, every one of these coaches won a national championship by their third year.  Saban won in his fourth year with the Tigers and Paterno went 11-0 in years three and four, but never got higher than #2 in the polls.  Schembechler, as we know, never won a national title, but in years two through six of his tenure, the Wolverines lost a total of five games.  
This is not to say that Kelly cannot achieve immediate, sustainable success just because others have struggled in similar situations.   The schedule, while not nearly as weak as some will make it out to be, is unquestionably a manageable slate, with only three true road games.  Irish fans should hope for the best and a nine or ten win season is possible.
But if you look at history, a three or four game turnaround in year one of a coaching regime is very rare.  And if it does not happen, and the Irish go 7-5 or even 6-6, it does not mean Kelly will never succeed.  But if the struggles continue into years two and three……
Just look at history.

June 25, 2010

College Expansion: What Would/Could Have Been, A Thank You to Texas and Other Notes

By Sonny Martinez

South Bend, Indiana has been a center of wide speculation for quite some time now. Rumors have been going around for the past few years about the Fighting Irish joining the Big 10. The Big 10 has 11 teams, and 12 are needed for a conference championship game, so all the Big 10 needs is one more member to qualify for a conference championship game. They got that one team that they needed, but it’s not Notre Dame. Let’s take a look at the entire college landscape and see what has happened and how these moves could affect Notre Dame.

The Big 10 was the only conference looking to expand. However, that quickly changed, thanks to the Pac 10.

In the weeks leading up to this, the Big 12 looked like it was going to implode.  The Pac 10 came from seemingly out of nowhere, also looking to expand, possibly to 16 teams. On June 3rd, The Pac 10 invited 6 teams from the Big 12. Half the conference could have left. And these weren’t the bad teams like Baylor or Iowa State. These were 6 major players in Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado all being invited.

At this time, there were also rumors that both Nebraska and Missouri would bolt to the Big 10, making that conference have 13 teams, leaving all of college football on the brink of 4 16-team super-conferences.  On June 12th, it became official, and Nebraska was the first team to fall, as they went to the Big 10, and they got out of the Big 12 before they were on the outside and any other teams left.

Just two short days later on June 14th, Colorado also moved, but to the Pac 10. The Big 12 had 10 teams, and was in danger of falling to just 5. Later that day, the move of Texas to the Pac 10 was described as “imminent” and if Texas had moved, the other 4 schools would have followed. One source said Commissioner Dan Beebe's last-minute plan to save the conference has "zero" chance to succeed. Another source said it is "very unlikely" to succeed, and the Big 12 and its legacy would fall.
However, nothing happened that day with the Texas and Oklahoma schools, and the next day Texas declined, and this caused the other 4 teams to also decline. Texas A&M was involved in moving to the SEC to get away from Texas, and A&M already had its bags packed for a move to the SEC, but they decided to stick with Texas.

In the middle of all this the Boise State Broncos left the Western Athletic Conference to join the Mountain West in hopes that the MWC would become an automatic BCS bowl qualifier. The MWC now had the top 3 Non-BCS schools in Boise State, Utah and TCU. They also had power BYU, and the MWC looked in good shape.

The Pac 10 now had 11 teams, so what would they do to get the ultimate goal of a conference championship game? They would go to that very same Mountain West Conference and pick up one of those powers. On June 17th, the Utah Utes joined the Pac 10.  

And it might not be over yet, as the Big East is rumored to be interested in Central Florida and Memphis, or possible FCS schools.

So look at it this way: The Big 10 has 12 teams, the Pac 10 has 12 teams, and Big 12 has 10 teams.

Confused yet?

Here’s what each conference got and lost.

Big 10: Got Nebraska

Big 12: Lost Nebraska and Colorado

Pac 10: Got Colorado and Utah

Mountain West: Got Boise State, lost Utah

WAC: Lost Boise State

Now what does all of this have to do with Notre Dame and why did they not join a conference?

Well, the fans of the Irish must say a thank-you to Texas. Even though Texas not only gets a large amount of money for staying in the conference, money from TV revenue, and their own TV network, and probably becomes the team with the most income in the country, they helped Notre Dame keep their independence.

If Texas would have gone to the Pac 10, Tech, A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would have also went. And IF this would have happened, the Pac 10 would not have invited Utah, causing a 16 team conference, not 17. The MWC would have got the BCS spot they want, although they still might by 2012. This would have meant that most likely the Big 10, SEC and either the Big 12 or ACC would have had to expand to 16 teams also. Notre Dame would have had to join the Big 10, or it would have been on the outside looking in.

But why not join a conference? Well the simple answer is…why would you?

The Irish do play traditional rivals such as Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Navy and USC every year, but they also get to play other great games. Over the next few years, the Irish play great neutral-site games, most notably this season against Army and Yankee Stadium and in 2012 against Navy in Ireland. If ND was in a conference, they wouldn’t get the chance to play these games.  And sure, there are some low key games played such as a home date with Western Michigan. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.

Of course, the schedule.  How about that deal with NBC to televise all home games, a deal that extends to 2015? Keeping the fans, players and coaches happy?

Now, that doesn’t mean that somewhere down the like the Irish won’t have to join. I, as a fan, am strongly against it. But where would they go? The Big 10, a geological fit, with traditional rivals such as Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and occasionally Penn State? Or the Big East, where they’re members in everything but football?

My guess would be the Big 10.

There’s a lot of ifs here though. If there were 4 16-team conferences, then most likely, the Big East would be raided. It’s almost happened a few times before. There are rumors now that the Big East could call basketball member Villanova and possibly Appalachian State from the FCS. Remember App State? They won 3 consecutive FCS Championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Ask a Michigan fan.

That would make a 10 team Big East now. But, if the Big 10 did go to the Big East, and pick up a Syracuse, or a UConn, then Nova and App State would most likely have to go back to the FCS, so in my opinion the FCS to FBS move for App State and Nova won’t happen. Notre Dame would go to the Big 10, and all would be wrong in College Football. The only good thing that might come from that? A possible playoff.

Wow, that’s a lot to think about. But this won’t happen for a few years and the Irish would do whatever it takes to keep their independence.  Let’s take a look at other notes from the University of Notre Dame.

Four star DT Clay Burton committed to Notre Dame.  This 6-foot-3, 230-pound defender should really help the defensive line in 2011.

TE Mike Ragone returned to the team after a May 8 arrest on suspicion of possessing marijuana.

TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Michael Floyd have been named to the preseason All American watch list.

Still no news on the WR front in terms of second receiver, although it’s said it’s a 2 player race between  Tai-ler Jones and Duval Kamara.

Lou Holtz had a change of heart and said the Irish should consider joining the Big 10.

Strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo is said to be loved by all players, especially Kyle Rudolph.

QB Dayne Crist and coach Brian Kelly have a good relationship, which should make for a few happy players. “He demands perfection, and I like that” Crist said.

The Navy-Notre Dame game from the Meadowlands has had its time announced. It will be a Noon game.

The time for the Boston College game still has not been announced.

May 24, 2010

Notre Dame in the Expansion World

 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at 

Since the end of spring practice, one topic has dominated the news both nationally and at Notre Dame:  Big Ten expansion and its ramifications.

When Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney announced several months ago that the conference was pondering the prospect of adding teams, it set off a firestorm of rumors.  There have been reports of formal invitations and e-mails that have been sent, or not sent, to conference athletic directors denying that any school had been officially asked to join.  Every day there seems to be a new story, with schools from Texas to New Jersey mentioned as new members.

As usual, when Big Ten expansion is brought up, Notre Dame is at the heart of the conversation.  The geographical fit and the fact that several Big Ten squads appear annually on Notre Dame’s schedule make their inclusion in these discussions a natural.

However, the majority of Notre Dame fans and alumni want the program to retain its independent status.  The football team built its reputation in the early 20th century when it was denied access to the Western Conference (which is now the Big Ten) and was forced to schedule teams all over the nation.  It was how Notre Dame fan bases developed in every pocket of the country, creating the famed Subway Alumni.

Many believe that if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, their schedule would regionalize, hampering recruiting in areas that have been fertile in the past.  The Irish regularly get players from Florida, California, Texas, and other regions outside the Big Ten footprint with the knowledge that the Irish will probably have games in those states during the athlete’s tenure in South Bend.  A Big Ten schedule would most likely mean nine conference games, USC, Navy, and a home game from now until eternity.

The issue of revenues is one that is open for debate because no one truly knows the figures.  The Big Ten office claims that each member institution receives around $22 million per year from the Big Ten Network.  It is believed that Notre Dame, by joining the conference, would also become a member of the Association of American Universities, a consortium of major research universities.  As a result, they would receive a $40 million research grant.

Notre Dame’s NBC contract is thought to bring in roughly $15 million a year, though in a recent AP article, Notre Dame finance professor Richard Sheehan, who was part of the NBC negotiations, says that the deal is “more lucrative than pretty much anyone knows.”  Regardless, on the surface it looks like it would be a financial boon to join the Big Ten.

However, even if Notre Dame generates a few million more a year from a move to the Big Ten, that amount is really nothing compared to the school’s other streams of income. With an endowment of $5.5 billion, as reported by The Observer on October 2, 2009, the school could earn (or lose) vastly more yearly just because of market fluctuations.  Also, with so many alums and friends of the university opposed to a move, it is fair to say that donations to the annual fund could be greatly affected.

As of this moment, the Notre Dame athletic department is saying the right things.  They are steadfast in their claims that they want to remain independent, but also indicate that they want to monitor the situation closely.  
Irish athletic officials will keep an especially close watch on the Big East, where sports other than football and hockey compete.  Rumors have the Big Ten, ACC, and even the SEC pursuing Big East schools.  Should Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, UConn, and/or West Virginia switch conference affiliation, the league could crumble, leaving Notre Dame without a home for many if its sports.

In my mind, it is in Notre Dame’s best interests to remain independent, unless either or both of two circumstances occur.  If a scenario develops where Notre Dame is locked out of a possibility of competing for a national title, they should look for a conference.  There have been rumblings that four super-conferences could form, break away from the NCAA, and create their own postseason system.  If that happens, Notre Dame needs to be part of that mix.  At the moment, this looks to be a far-fetched idea.

Secondly, if Notre Dame finds it cannot schedule properly, they would need to join some league.  It is inconceivable to think that all of ND’s sports can go the independent route in today’s college athletics, so the Big East has to survive or there has to be a suitable landing spot if something were to happen to Notre Dame’s current non-football home.  On the football side, if the Irish can continue to schedule at a fairly high level, there is no reason for a change.

Many people will point out that the Notre Dame schedule has not been as difficult in recent years and that their independence is the reason.  But it can be argued that the school’s decision to go to a 7-4-1 scheduling system is a greater cause.  With seven home games, four road tilts, and one neutral site contest, it is difficult to set up games with national powers that want home and home series.  The Irish already have long standing traditional games with Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC, and have recently played Stanford and Pittsburgh every season.  Under the 7-4-1 set up, Notre Dame is looking for home games only and as a result, teams like Duke, San Diego State, Nevada, Tulsa, and Western Michigan have started appearing on the schedule.

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick has indicated that perhaps Notre Dame would abandon this formula in favor of a 6-5-1 or 7-5 setup that would make it easier to schedule more home and home series.  According to many reports, the Irish are in discussions with Miami to play at Soldier Field in 2012 and have a home and home match up in 2014 and 2016.  With teams such as Oklahoma and Arizona State supposedly on future schedules along with the traditional contests, scheduling does not seem to be an immediate concern.

There have been reports that the 20 year agreement to play Michigan has not yet been signed.  However, all indications seem to suggest that the signatures from both sides are a formality and the series will continue on.
As will, hopefully, Notre Dame’s independent status.
Other Notes
How this season will play out is anybody’s guess.  But new coach Brian Kelly will have some talent to work with if you believe some of the services that cover college football.  Lindy’s Magazine recently named tight end Kyle Rudolph and wide receiver Michael Floyd to their preseason All American team.  Rudolph, along with defensive end Ethan Johnson and linebacker Manti T’eo, was also named to the 2010 Lombardi Award watch list.  The Lombardi Award is given to the best down lineman on either side of the ball.

Four Notre Dame players were selected in the 2010 NFL Draft.  Quarterback Jimmy Clausen was expected to go in the top half of the first round, but he fell to round two, where he was picked by the Carolina Panthers.

Wide receiver Golden Tate also came off the board in the second round, going to Seattle, who is now coached by former USC head man Pete Carroll.  Two Irish offensive linemen were selected in round six.  Tackle Sam Young went to Dallas and center/guard Eric Olsen was taken by Denver.

Former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on May 21st. Holtz compiled a record of 100-30-2 over 11 years at Notre Dame.  

Tight end Mike Ragone was recently arrested on a marijuana possession charge and pled not guilty in a LaGrange County courtroom.  His status on the roster will most likely be out of coach Kelly’s hands.  Ragone’s discipline will come from the legal system and, perhaps more importantly, Notre Dame’s Office of Residence Life.  Ragone was #2 on the depth chart, behind Rudolph, following spring sessions.

April 25, 2010

The Spring in South Bend: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

By Sonny Martinez

This spring in South Bend has been a very eventful one.  There’s been a new Offensive system, the first spring with a new Head Coach, WR and Offensive Line worries, and so much more. There are only 15 practices in spring, so for the Irish to have any success in 2010, they will have to make things happen, and quick.

Coach Kelly, in only a few practices, has already shown he’s not afraid to speak his mind. Dayne Crist has shown he has all it takes to take Notre Dame back to the top of College Football. There’s been some good, a lot of bad and one event that has been just plain ugly. Let’s take a look at some of each.


Coach Kelly’s Fire:  All I can say is wow. The first time I heard this, especially in one of the first practices, I was in shock. The players were not practicing how they should, and Kelly did not like it. "We stink right now," Kelly said. "We're just so far from where we need to be in terms of attention to detail. This is a step back today…You're an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old, you're playing at Notre Dame and its 70 degrees out and I've got to motivate you? That's why we're not on the same page yet." Kelly wants his team perfect on and off the field. He’s going to make sure it happens one way or another.

The Spread Offense: Sure, some players haven’t adjusted well, but look at the results Kelly has had running this offense. As I’ve stated before, he’s a proven winner under the system. Cincinnati was the latest to install this offense, and Kelly led them to an undefeated regular season and the Big East Championship. Notre Dame has faith in trust in returning starters like Floyd and Allen. With the athletes that Notre Dame can and will recruit, this system will work. It’s just a matter of time.

The Running Backs: The Irish are going to go with Armando Allen as starting RB in 2010, and Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes and freshman Cierre Wood are all battling for the backup RB spot. Any time you have 3 guys going for a backup spot, that position on that team will not be weak. It looks like the Irish are going to have some good depth at RB in 2010.

Dayne Crist’s Arm: Crist has a rocket arm. He can bomb the ball, and has pretty good accuracy. He hasn’t been able to show it much in actual games, but the spring practices say it all. He is able to put all his weight on his repaired ACL and throw well. He’ll have a tough time replacing Clausen, but he has all the right tools to do the job and lead the Irish to more than 6 wins.


"You mean positively?" Kelly said. "Because we could go about 20 minutes with the negative."

What a good way to put things in prospective Coach, nobody could have put it any better. That’s another quote from Coach Kelly’s terror on the Media about Notre Dame’s awful practicing that Charlie Weis showed them. Anyways…

Dayne Crist’s Footwork: Not many people have noticed this, and it might not be that big of a problem, but for the first few practices, Crist had not looked comfortable in the pocket. His 5 step drop looks awkward compared to now and when he played last season. He will play in the annual Blue-Gold spring game, but will be protected and not hit that many times at the request of Kelly, unless things change. Yes, I know that he just came off of ACL surgery, and that’s why it’s not that big of a deal, but it’s just something to keep an eye on.

The Spread Offense: In the “Good” I went over the good, but there is also a lot of bad that comes with it. Crist is having trouble adjusting. Kelly said he may have installed too much of the offense too quickly and may have to scale it back. But he said he doesn't have time to be patient with the Irish learning the new system. "We've got to do it now. It's got to be done the right way. You get 15 practices. That's all you get," he said. "I can't wait until August to put this team in position to win in 2010. It's got to happen today."

The Offensive Line: New spring, same problem. Actually, the more I think about it, it’s the defensive line too. It seems like this has been said by every Irish fan for the past 3 years. The lines looks very weak right now. Trevor Robinson and Taylor Dever remain being switched back and forth to determine the best possibility for the spread on the O-Line. An inexperienced quarterback and a young offensive line -- only two starters return (guards Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson) -- could be a bad combination...unless major strides are taken this spring.  A lot of work is needed, but on last Saturday’s practice, the linemen showed that they are starting to shape up and become what the coaching staff would like to see.

“I learned that this group of kids loves to play football and they love to play hard and they compete and that we’ve made a lot of progress since the first day. We still have a long way to go, but I was really pleased with that,” Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner said.

The Wide Receivers:  Michael Floyd and…..who knows? As of right now Floyd is the #1 receiver, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But the second WR position is a wide open competition. A transition was made, as RB Theo Riddick is now a WR to try to help solve the problem.  Riddick, Duval Kamara, Dion Walker, Tai-ler Jones and Shaq Evans are all going for that second spot. I’d like to see Duval Kamara, who had a pretty good junior season while covering for the loss of Floyd, take the job. He has the most experience and could really help an inexperienced Crist develop at QB. Riddick hasn’t had enough time, only a few practices, to become a true WR. Evans had a little time last season as a freshman, with his best game coming against Washington, where he had 4 catches for 34 yards. He has a height advantage over Tate, and he’s only a sophomore so he’ll have a lot of time to develop. So if Kamara doesn’t work out, I’d go with Evans.

On April 3rd, Irish recruit Matt James, a 6-foot-6, 291-pound offensive tackle died. He was on vacation in Florida with a few friends on spring break. James, who had been drinking, leaned over a rail on a third floor balcony and fell to his death. In his last season, he was a USA Today All American pick, and was one of the main pieces in Kelly’s transition. He was only 17.
Other thoughts and info:

Former Irish great Joe Montana was at practice and was working with his son, Nate, on his drop. Nate Montana is expected to challenge Crist for the starting QB job, although I don’t see Montana winning.
On the Apr. 17th practice, John Goodman had head trainer Jim Russ observe his left ankle during the scrimmage. He wasn’t seen back in action.
Taking advantage of a good group of linebackers, Notre Dame will switch to a 3-4 defensive front this spring.

Another note on new WR Theo Riddick. Riddick (shoulder) will be limited during spring practice as he switches from running back. Coach Brian Kelly wants to use Riddick's speed and playmaking ability on the outside, able to make the switch because of depth at running back.

OLB Kerry Neal is having injury problems. The 6’2” 244 pound senior has had tape on his leg and rode the stationary bike, worked with the tug rope and lifted the kettle weights with a strength trainer through practice.

RB Armando Allen was seen with heavy tape on his left ankle.

Some times have been announced for the season schedule. As of now, only 3 games have not had times announced. Also, for all but 3 games, the TV network that will broadcast the games have been announced. The schedule now looks like this:

Date Opponent Time Television
Sept. 4 Purdue 3:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Sept. 11 Michigan 3:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Sept. 18 at Michigan State 8:00 p.m. EDT ABC
Sept. 25 Stanford 3:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Oct. 2 at Boston College TBA TBD
Oct. 9 Pittsburgh 3:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Oct. 16 Western Michigan 2:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Oct. 23 vs. Navy (Meadowlands) TBA TBD
Oct. 30 Tulsa 2:30 p.m. EDT NBC (national)
Nov. 13 Utah 2:30 p.m. EST NBC (national)
Nov. 20 vs. Army (Yankee Stadium) 7:00 p.m. EST NBC (national)
Nov. 27 at USC TBA TBD

I’m already looking forward to the ND-Army game at Yankee Stadium. For me, it’s the game I’m waiting for the most.

Next time I’ll give reasoning why Notre Dame should stay independent and also a review of the Blue-Gold game. If anyone is interested, the 81st Blue-Gold game will be shown live on on Saturday, April 24th at 1:30.

February 10, 2010

Notre Dame Blog-Success in South Bend, When Can We Expect It?

By Sonny Martinez

How long will it take new Head Coach Brian Kelly to take Notre Dame back to the top of the College Football world, a place they have not been since 1988? Nobody is really expecting much success in his first year. But when is success expected?
Kelly calls it his “Dream Job,” and for good reason. “Growing up as an Irish Catholic in Boston, Massachusetts, I'd come home from church after driving my parents crazy and listen to the reruns or the replays of Notre Dame football, and indelibly etched in my mind, in my vision was the great Lindsey Nelson talking about as we move further into the third quarter, the action, and Notre Dame playing that day.” Said Kelly in his first press conference. “That was all that was on the TV in the Kelly house.”
“There is a football coach and then there's the football coach at Notre Dame, because nobody, nobody does it like Notre Dame. The excellence in academics and in the athletic arena is second to none, and that challenge for me was one that I was so anxious to take on. We hear about academic standards. That is what the mission is of this University. That is the mission of Notre Dame, excellence in academics and athletics, and I wanted that challenge, and I'm excited about that challenge, that you can do it both in the classroom and be prominent in the athletic arena, as well.”
He doesn’t just want good players on the field. He wants players that can do great in the classroom. But he doesn’t want players who just do good on the field and in the classroom. He wants the program to be built around respect. Basically, he doesn’t want a QB that can throw 50 TDs in a season but is constantly in trouble with the law and in trouble with the NCAA. “So what I can tell you today is that our football players will continue to represent the model of Notre Dame. I want tough gentlemen. I want football players that are mentally and physically tough that will play for four quarters, and I want gentlemen off the field that we all can be proud of. And we will do that here at Notre Dame.”

Kelly knows the pressure started on day one on the job. Coaches don’t last long at Notre Dame unless they bring championships, something that has not happened in South Bend in 22 years. And like Coach Kelly said: Not conference championships, National Championships. That makes the job twice as hard since Notre Dame is an independent school. The only championships they can win are National Titles, unless the Irish join the Big 10, which probably won’t happen any time soon.
No conference does have its advantages though. The Irish can schedule pretty much anyone in the country. But still, since the 1-AA (FCS) expansion,  Notre Dame remains one of only a few schools to never have played a 1-AA school. But also, ND does have to face usual National powers like Michigan, USC and Michigan State. Win some games, end up #8 or higher in the BCS polls at the end of the season and your guaranteed a BCS spot. Finish at #15 through #9 and you are considered. And a win in any BCS bowl is what Brian Kelly wants and the Notre Dame fans have been waiting for. Charlie Weis proved a Hawaii Bowl win just doesn’t cut it.
2010 is a time of new beginning for the Irish. New coach, new staff, new star QB. Their schedule looks like this:
Sept. 4 PURDUE
Sept. 18 at Michigan State
Oct. 2 at Boston College
Oct. 23 at Navy (at Meadowlands - East Rutherford, N.J.)
Oct. 30 TULSA
Nov. 6 Open Date
Nov. 13 UTAH
Nov. 20 ARMY (at Yankee Stadium - Bronx, N.Y.)
Nov. 27 at USC
Looking at this, most Irish fans would say 8 wins. Of coarse the key game is USC, and believe it or not, Michigan is a close second. 8 wins would be good for a first year coach, and most likely a trip to the Gator Bowl  would be included.
But is 8 wins really success?
Irish fans want perfection. To me, the schedule shows 2011 as the year. The current planed schedule shows Michigan State, USC, Navy, UConn, and South Florida all at home. Michigan, Pitt, Purdue and Stanford are road games, with a game at the Citrus Bowl vs. Army thrown in. Still, there are 2 open dates. But looking at all that, a 10 or 11 win season is possible.
Who knows, maybe the Irish can shock the College Football world in 2010. Maybe they can win 10 games this season. Maybe they are a surprise National Title contender. Maybe this is the year we beat USC.
But one thing is for sure.
The Irish’s return to glory is near.

February 5, 2010

Notre Dame Signing Day

 By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

There are few days on the college football calendar that are anticipated as much as signing day.  With Charlie Weis terminated in December and Brian Kelly hired shortly thereafter, this recruiting year was especially challenging for Notre Dame.  Making matters worse was the 16-21 record that the Irish had compiled during the past three seasons.

However, those details did not dampen the excitement for most Irish fans going into this past Wednesday.  With a few big targets left on the board, Notre Dame still had a chance to make some noise nationally by pulling a few surprises.

When the dust had settled and the letters of intent had been signed, Notre Dame’s efforts were best summed up by Kelly, who said in his signing day press conference, “It was a good start.”

Of the players that made their decisions on signing day, only two selected Notre Dame, though the others were considered long shots.  Ego Ferguson, Seantrel Henderson, Christian Jones, and Dietrich Riley picked other programs and coaching staffs they had known a lot longer than Kelly and crew.

Notre Dame was hurt by the defections of four players that had committed to Weis.  It was no surprise when star defensive end Chris Martin de-committed shortly after Weis was let go.  Kelly had hoped to hold onto cornerback Toney Hurd, who switched his pledge to Texas A&M, running back Gio Bernard, who signed with North Carolina, and defensive end Blake Lueders, who went over to Stanford.

Of these, Lueders was probably the biggest loss for the Irish.  He is an Indiana kid that plays a position where the Irish are exceptionally thin.  To have him not only de-commit, but to end up with a team that is annually on Notre Dame’s schedule, hurt badly.

The loss of athlete Anthony Barr to UCLA was also very painful.  The California native’s mother went to St. Mary’s, his father is former Irish running back Tony Brooks, making his uncle Reggie Brooks, who currently works for the university.  But Barr’s girlfriend goes to UCLA and he is friendly with the son of UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.  That relationship was difficult for Kelly to overcome in the span of six weeks.

Notre Dame did have some recruiting successes this year, though.  While this is not a star studded class, it is loaded with players that fill many needs with very versatile athletes.  

Here is a look at the position-by-position breakdown of the Irish recruiting class.

Andrew Hendrix   Moeller High School   Cincinnati, Ohio  6-foot-3, 226-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #13 quarterback, #235 overall prospect
Scout 3 star, #29 quarterback
ESPN 4 star, #11 quarterback
Other offers:  Ohio State, Florida, Miami, Tennessee

Luke Massa    St. Xavier High School    Cincinnati, Ohio   6-foot-5, 205-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #28 quarterback
Scout 3 star, #75 quarterback
ESPN 2 star, #129 quarterback
Other offers:  Wisconsin, Cincinnati

Tommy Rees   Lake Forest High School  Lake Forest, IL  6-foot-3, 192-pounds

Rivals 3 star, #31 quarterback
Scout 3 star, #65 quarterback
ESPN 3 star, #19 quarterback
Other offers:  Stanford, Tennessee

With Jimmy Clausen’s early departure and Evan Sharpley graduating, the Irish only have one returning scholarship quarterback and Dayne Crist is coming off ACL surgery.  That means an infusion of talent was needed.  The plan, most likely, was to take two, but when the opportunity to get Massa presented itself, Kelly went after the player that he had recruited to Cincinnati.

Hendrix is the most touted of the bunch and Kelly admitted on Rivals radio that he is the most physically gifted of the three.  Rees has an advantage in that he has already enrolled at Notre Dame.

This was not a good year for high school senior quarterbacks, so the Irish decided to go with quantity and they have to hope that one these prospects develops as quickly as the signal callers that Kelly coached at Cincinnati.

Running Backs
Cameron Roberson   Newbury Park High School    Newbury Park, Calif.    6-foot-1, 220-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #17 running back, #231 overall prospect
Scout 3 star, #2 fullback
ESPN 3 star, #39 running back
Other offers:  Washington, Arizona, Brigham Young, Northwestern
The Irish lost Gio Bernard to North Carolina, but this was not a huge position of need with Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood signing last year and Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray still on the roster.
Roberson is a player that gets mixed reviews, as noted by his rankings from the three major recruiting services.  He is a big back that was very productive in high school.  Kelly was effusive in his praise of Roberson during his signing day press conference.  
One big component to Roberson’s game is his ability to perform in all facets:  running, blocking, and receiving.  All three of those qualities are necessary for a running back to excel in Kelly’s spread offense.
Wide Receivers
Tai-ler Jones    Gainesville High School    Gainesville, Ga.    6-foot-0, 183-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #19 wide receiver, #141 overall prospect
Scout 4 Star, #21 wide receiver, #138 overall prospect
ESPN 4 star, #10 wide receiver, #68 overall prospect
Other offers:  Stanford, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State
Bennett Jackson   Raritan High School    Hazlet, N.J.   6-foot-1, 170-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #61 wide receiver
Scout 3 star, #51 wide receiver
ESPN 3 star, #97 wide receiver
Other offers:  Rutgers, Boston College, Michigan State, Pittsburgh
Daniel Smith    Clay High School    South Bend, Ind.   6-foot-4, 215-pounds

Rivals 3 star, #89 wide receiver
Scout 3 star, #53 wide receiver
ESPN 3 star, #72 wide receiver
Other offers:  Indiana, Purdue
Austin Collinsworth    Highlands High School    Fort Thomas, KY   6-foot-1, 195-pounds
Rivals 3 star, NR
Scout 3 star, #99 safety
ESPN 2 star, #121 safety
Other offers:  Cincinnati, Kentucky, Oregon, Stanford
Plenty of numbers here.  Tai-ler Jones is by far the most decorated.  He is slight, but has good quickness, runs great routes, and catches everything.  He is an early enrollee, so he may get in the mix early.  Bennett Jackson is dangerous with the ball in his hands and may help as a return specialist.
Daniel Smith is a local kid that is a big target.  If he adds weight, combined with his physical nature, he could possibly be moved to defense.  Austin Collinsworth, son of former NFL star and current NBC analyst Chris Collinsworth, was recruited by most schools as a safety, but Kelly sees him as an offensive weapon.
This is a solid group with Jones the only recruit that jumps out as someone that could make an early impact.

Tight End
Alex Welch    Elder High School    Cincinnati, Ohio   6-foot-5, 225-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #12 tight end
Scout 4 star, #4 tight end, #111 overall prospect
ESPN 3 star, #13 tight end
Other offers:  Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida State
Derek Roback   Waverly High School    Waverly, Ohio    6-foot-3, 225-pounds
Rivals 3 star, NR
Scout 2 star, #103 quarterback
ESPN 2 star, #98 quarterback
Other offers:  Toledo, Cincinnati, Bowling Green, Marshall
The Irish needed some depth at this position and getting two guys will be helpful.  Welch is very well regarded and has an impressive offer list.  He comes from the same high school as Kyle Rudolph.
Roback was a high school quarterback that committed to play that position at Toledo.  Now that he is coming to Notre Dame, he will shift to H-Back.  He played receiver early in his high school career, so the switch should not be foreign to him.  He is a good athlete that will need time to develop.
Like at receiver, the Irish did okay and if Welch becomes as good as the current Elder tight end on the Irish roster, it will be considered much better than okay.

Offensive Line
Christian Lombard   Fremd High School    Palantine, IL   6-foot-5, 293-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #5 tackle, #221 overall prospect
ESPN 3 star, #20 tackle
Scout 4 star, #2 guard, #62 overall prospect
Other offers:  Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois
Matt James   St. Xavier High School    Cincinnati, Ohio   6-foot-6, 291-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #14 tackle, #86 overall prospect
Scout 4 star, #11 tackle, #91 overall prospect
ESPN 4 star, #14 tackle
Other offers:  Ohio State, Cincinnati, Florida, Tennessee
Tate Nichols   Ryle High School    Union, KY      6-foot-7, 291-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #62 tackle
Scout 3 star, #70 tackle
ESPN 3 star, #101 tackle
Other offers:  Stanford, Cincinnati, Illinois, Kentucky
Offensive tackle was perhaps Notre Dame’s biggest position of need.  They were looking to get as many as they could and when Weis left, they only had one committed.  Kelly has to get credit for getting two more solid prospects to sign.
Lombard is highly thought of by all, though some believe that he better suited inside at guard.  A good athlete, he will be a tackle to start out with at Notre Dame.  
James is a prospect that Kelly has known for a long time.  He has a massive frame that will be able to carry a lot more weight.  He moves pretty well for his size and could find time at either tackle spot.
Nichols is a very intriguing prospect.  He has put on 60 pounds recently to get into the 290 range.  He was a tight end in high school and will have to learn the tackle position, but he has the athleticism to be effective on the college level.
Guard was not a high priority and the Irish did not get one, though Lombard could swing there if needed.  Kelly will have to continue to build depth by recruiting the offensive line well next year, but these three recruits will be key to future success.
Defensive Tackle
Louis Nix   Raines High School     Jacksonville, Fla.       6-foot-3, 315-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #7 defensive tackle, #85 overall prospect
Scout 4 star, #9 defensive tackle, #102 overall prospect
ESPN 4 star, #6 defensive tackle, #64 overall prospect
Other offers:  Miami, Florida, Florida State, Clemson
With the shift to the 3-4 defense, the Irish don’t need a lot of tackles and those that they get have to be of a special type to play the nose.  Nix fits this mold perfectly.
Nix committed to the Irish after Weis was fired but before Kelly was hired.  For a prospect that had offers from the big 3 Florida schools and had been committed to Miami, this is shocking.  
Due to his skill level and the position he plays, Nix’s signature was probably the biggest in this class.  As Kelly said in his press conference, Nix can come in and learn from senior-to-be Ian Williams and look to really make his presence felt in 2011.

Defensive End
Justin Utopo    Lakewood High School    Lakewood, Calif.     6-foot-3, 250-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #62 defensive tackle
Scout 3 star, #50 defensive end
ESPN 3 star, #78 defensive end
Other offers:  UCLA, Nebraska, Washington, Oregon State
Kona Schwenke   Kahuku High School    Kahuku, HI    6-foot-4, 227-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #34 defensive end
Scout 4 star, #33 defensive end, #267 overall prospect
ESPN 3 star, #61 defensive end
Other offers:  Brigham Young, Washington, Colorado, Oregon State
Bruce Heggie   Mount Dora High School     Mount Dora, Fla.      6-foot-6, 240-pounds
Rivals 2 star tight end, NR
Scout 2 star defensive end, NR
ESPN unranked defensive end
Like offensive line, this is a position that Notre Dame needs more talent.  It gets tricky determining what is a defensive end and what is a linebacker, but these look like three guys that can play with a hand on the ground.
Utopo committed over the summer after a good junior season and held his commitment firm.  He blew up his senior year and was named first team all-state as well as defensive lineman of the year by the Los Angeles Times.  His low rankings by the services are the result of his tweener size, but his production earned him those awards and the impressive offer list.
Getting Schwenke at the last minute, especially after losing Lueders, was very important.  A former BYU commitment, Schwenke keeps the Hawaiian pipeline going, after the Irish signed Manti Te’o and Roby Toma in 2009.
Heggie was as under the radar as any recruit could ever be.  He was probably headed to William & Mary until the Irish extended an offer.  All we know about him right now is that he has a very large frame and could be a factor on the offensive line if it does not work out on defense.
These are three solid players with potential, but Notre Dame will need to get even more explosive defensive ends in the class of 2011.

Prince Shembo     Ardrey Kell High School      Charlotte, N.C.      6-foot-2, 232-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #7 inside linebacker, #238 overall prospect
Scout 3 star, #42 outside linebacker
ESPN 3 star, #47 defensive end
Other offers:  North Carolina, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia Tech
Kendall Moore     Southeast Raleigh High School     Raleigh, N.C.   6-foot-3, 235-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #22 outside linebacker
Scout 3 star, #18 middle linebacker
ESPN 3 star, #17 inside linebacker
Other offers:  Florida State, South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina State
Danny Spond    Columbine High School     Littleton, Colo.     6-foot-3, 232-pounds
Rivals 4 star, #27 athlete
Scout 3 star, #14 middle linebacker
ESPN 3 star, #43 athlete
Other offers:  Colorado, TCU, Stanford, Duke
The three linebacker recruits, like those at many other positions, will provide good depth.  All three are athletic players with size that will probably take a couple of years to develop.
Shembo and Moore are two North Carolina stars that opened their recruitments back up after Weis was fired, but were convinced by Kelly to come back into the Notre Dame fold.  They both are versatile enough to play inside or outside, with Moore more likely to be slotted at one of the two middle spots in the Irish 3-4.
Spond was a high school quarterback that also line up at safety.  He will play either inside or on the strong side but will have to learn the intricacies of being a linebacker.
If ever a position symbolizes Kelly’s statement, “it was a good start”, it’s linebacker.  Next year the Irish will need to land at least one top flight prospect.
Lo Wood     Apopka High School     Apopka, Fla.         5-foot-11, 176-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #44 cornerback
Scout 3 star, #46 cornerback
ESPN 3 star, #28 cornerback
Other offers:  Michigan, Georgia Tech, Stanford, Ole Miss
Spencer Boyd     Cape Coral High School     Cape Coral, Fla.        5-foot-10, 175-pounds

Rivals 3 star, #39 cornerback
Scout 3 star, #59 cornerback
ESPN 3 star, #33 athlete
Other offers:  Michigan, Georgia, Miami, Ole Miss
If you look at their sizes, rankings and offers lists, you would think that Wood and Boyd are similar types of corners.  But the Florida guys are a bit different.
Wood is a physical player that does not have blazing speed.  He relies more on his size and smarts to make plays.  That is not to say that he is slow, just that his strengths are elsewhere.
Boyd is a speedster.  He is a competent tackler, but is greatest tool is what he can do with his feet.
Both corners are enrolled at Notre Dame and hope to make a contribution in the fall.  Getting two corners is fine, though signing Hurd would have been nice.  Especially since Wood may be asked to eventually switch to……….
Chris Badger       Timpview High School      Provo, Utah      6-foot-1, 192-pounds
Rivals 3 star, #41 safety
Scout 3 star, #28 safety
ESPN 3 star, #21 safety
Other offers:  Stanford, Florida State, Oregon, LSU
Badger is another early enrollee that could see the field in the fall, especially on special teams.  He is a player whose game translates to the strong safety position, but his size says free safety.  In many ways, he is a lot like Utopo in that many don’t see a true position for him.
But also like Utopo, he makes plays, which is why schools like Florida State and LSU were interested.  Badger originally committed to Stanford last spring, but changed to Notre Dame during the summer.
This is one area where Notre Dame missed in a big way.  Badger is a nice player but the Irish needed much more, especially at the free safety.  Last year, Notre Dame got only one defensive back and E.J. Banks is coming off a major injury.  In 2008, Dan McCarthy was the only safety signee, though corner Jamoris Slaughter may be forced to slide over. As stated, it is possible that Lo Wood could also develop into a safety.
The numbers will be lean this fall, especially with Harrison Smith seemingly more comfortable closer to the line of scrimmage.  Therefore, this becomes an area of vital importance in 2011.

Rivals   Class ranking  #14
ESPN    Class ranking  #21
Scout    Class ranking  #19
Notre Dame secured players at many of their big need areas.  Getting three offensive linemen was huge as was getting defensive end Kona Schwenke late.  Obviously, quarterback was extremely important and the Irish did a good job of building depth across the board.
One very good thing about this class, especially with the guys that Kelly landed late in the process, is that many of these prospects can play multiple positions making it easier for the coaching staff to place them where they are needed.
Lombard and James will play tackle, but they both played guard in their high school all star games.  Wood, as noted, could play safety as well as corner.  Heggie could play either end as well as offensive tackle.  Roback and Spond could line up at any one of a number of spots.  Smith is a wide receiver that could become a safety or perhaps even a linebacker. Collinsworth could wind up on either side of the ball.  All the linebackers and ends have the potential to be interchangeable.  Plus, so many of the players will see significant time on special teams.
Building depth is exactly what this class was all about.  Next year will be different.  While they will still need bodies at certain positions like defensive end, offensive line, and safety, high impact players will be required in 2011 if the Irish want to make a serious step forward.
Without a doubt, winning games on the field in the fall will be the thing that will help next year’s recruiting the most. Kelly talked about how it was difficult to build relationships in such a short period of time.  While he speaks the truth, it would have been easier for him if the Irish had not been so dismal over the past three years.
Be assured, a fun fall for Irish fans will result in a fun signing day in 2011.

January 11, 2010

Now is the Time

By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

When Notre Dame went looking for a new coach in December of 2004, it was clear who they wanted.  Former Irish assistant Urban Meyer had just led Utah to an 11-0, Mountain West Conference championship season. The Utes appeared in and won a BCS bowl game for the first time in school history when they dismantled Pittsburgh 35-7 in the Fiesta Bowl.  Meyer was the perfect candidate.
But there was one thing that was not perfect:  timing.
The University of Florida fired head coach Ron Zook on October 25th, giving them a jump start on the coaching search.  By the time Notre Dame fired Tyrone Willingham on December 1st, Meyer was all but signed by the Gators.
In 2009, things were different.  After the loss to Navy, Irish coach Charlie Weis was in trouble.  When Notre Dame followed up the Navy loss with defeats to Pittsburgh and Connecticut, his fate was sealed.  This time around, Notre Dame was the program first in line to nab the country’s hottest coach.
In 2004 Notre Dame was forced to scramble after their public courtship of Meyer failed.  This time around, Kelly was the guy and soon after his regular season ended at Cincinnati, he was named the Irish coach.  
Many will argue that Brian Kelly in 2009 is not Urban Meyer in 2004 or that Notre Dame could have hired a more established coach like Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, though there is no proof to support that belief.  However, whether Kelly will succeed is irrelevant to this discussion, which is about the opportunity they had.  Notre Dame was fortunate enough to have their pick of the litter and they took Kelly.
While the timing worked in Notre Dame’s favor this time around, it also seems to be smiling upon Kelly as well. While many fans want to see the Irish contend for national titles yesterday, they are a program coming off 3-9, 7-6, and 6-6 seasons.  Kelly will be given time to develop this program and any upward progression in 2010, following the losses of many key players including quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate, has to be viewed as a success.
And though everyone Irish wants to see Notre Dame compete on a national stage with the elite teams, that is not an immediate concern for Kelly's squad.  The first step in the rebuilding process is being better than the teams on the schedule.
Before the Irish can battle Ohio State, Alabama, and Texas they have to be able to handle Stanford, Michigan State, Navy, and Pittsburgh on a consistent basis.  While those programs are solid, Notre Dame has the resources and the history to recruit better athletes than all of those programs.  If the Irish are to return to power, Kelly at a minimum has to establish dominance over those teams along with Purdue, Connecticut, and other such programs.
But we all know that year in and year out, there are two powers on the Notre Dame schedule and the timing of Kelly’s arrival corresponds with issues at both of those schools.
The Michigan Wolverines are coming off two straight losing seasons and many are questioning whether Rich Rodriguez’s system is suited for Big Ten life.  He signed top 20 recruiting classes in both 2008 and 2009 and appears to have another one lined up in 2010, but sheer talent is not the question.  The question is, will  this talent, in this system, win enough Big Ten games to keep the masses happy?  
While recruiting their current talent, the Michigan staff has looked outside the state for prospects.  In their current class, just four of their 24 commitments come from the state of Michigan.  Only three of the top ten high school prospects from Michigan have committed to the Wolverines.  Last year, just one of the top ten signed on with Michigan.  
While the state is not a football hotbed like Florida, Texas, or Ohio, Michigan is certainly not bereft of talent. Kelly, a former head coach at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan, takes over Notre Dame at a time when key recruits in the area he knows best are being neglected by State U.
Rodriguez has also been under fire for the amount of time his team devotes to practice.  The school’s investigation began before the start of the season and while it may just be an issue of documenting the practice times properly, any cloud over the program after winning just eight of its last 24 games is not helpful.
The NCAA has also been knocking on USC’s door for a few years now, but their most pressing concern is finding a coach to replace Pete Carroll.  Carroll guided the Trojans to two national titles and seven consecutive Pac Ten crowns.  This weekend, he agreed to become the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.
The timing of his move could not be worse for USC.  They are coming off a disappointing 9-4 season, their worst campaign since 2001.  At a time when leadership from the upper classes is needed, several Trojan juniors have decided to join Carroll in the NFL.  During the last couple of weeks, defensive end Everson Griffen, wide receiver Damien Williams, and running back Joe McKnight have announced that they will skip their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft.  McKnight, who was held out of the Emerald Bowl against Boston College as a result of an NCAA investigation over the improper use of a vehicle, is the latest to declare.
Also, National Signing Day is less than a month away and USC is without a head coach.  Much like what happened at Notre Dame a month ago, the staff that remains will have to pick up the recruiting efforts even though a new head man will most likely bring his own staff.
Adding to the recruiting problems is that early enrollees were scheduled to arrive on campus January 11th. Kyle Prater, one of the top wide receivers in the land, was scheduled to be one of those early enrollees, but he will now wait and see what develops.  Prater also considered Notre Dame before committing to the Trojans and if he eventually becomes Irish, it will be another example of timing working in Brian Kelly’s favor.
The question now becomes, who will be the next USC coach?  Once again, the timing is not good.  Kelly may have been the choice six weeks ago, but now he is not an option.  Tennessee Titans head coach, and USC alum, Jeff Fisher and Oregon State’s Mike Riley have already removed their names from consideration.  Other names being mentioned include Jacksonville Jaguars Jack Del Rio, Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, and former NFL coach Herm Edwards.
Any one of these guys might be someone that can continue the USC success.  But going forward, Carroll steering the ship was certainly the preferred option.
On top of everything, the NCAA is still buzzing around, investigating transgressions that may have occurred during the Reggie Bush era.  There is speculation that Carroll knows that NCAA sanctions are forthcoming and he is running to the NFL to escape the posse, though he denied that contention to the Los Angeles Times on Monday.  
Whether the NCAA comes down on USC and/or Michigan, there is an uneasiness inside both programs right now.  And Notre Dame is a prime beneficiary of the uncertainty in Los Angeles and Ann Arbor.  
Five years from now, Brian Kelly’s success will be determined by how well he does on the field.  No one can tell how the situations at Michigan and USC will play out.  But make no mistake, the table has been set.  Kelly's timing could not have been better.
Kelly’s Coaching Staff

It appears that Brian Kelly has finalized his first coaching staff at Notre Dame.
The only holdover from the Weis regime is running backs coach Tony Alford.  Alford spent just one year at Notre Dame and helped hold the current Irish recruiting class together during the transition.  He even secured a commitment from top 100 defensive tackle Louis Nix of Jacksonville, Fla. shortly after Weis’ ouster.
Charley Molnar will be the new Notre Dame offensive coordinator.  Molnar worked with Kelly at Cincinnati, where he served as wide receivers coach and assisted in the development of Bearcat star Mardy Gilyard. Interestingly, Molnar has had stops at Eastern, Western, and Central Michigan, where he also served under Kelly.
Bob Diaco, Kelly’s defensive coordinator this past year at Cincinnati, will assume the same responsibility at Notre Dame.  Diaco’s unit finished the regular season with the nation’s 25th ranked scoring defense despite losing ten starters from the 2008 team.  He came to Cincinnati from Virginia, where he coached linebackers. Diaco was an all-Big Ten linebacker during his days at Iowa.
Mike Denbrock, who was on Tyrone Willingham’s staff at Notre Dame from 2002-2004, returns to coach tight ends.  Denbrock has a long history with Kelly as they both got their starts together as graduate assistants at Grand Valley State in the late ’80s.  He also coached under Willingham at Stanford and Washington.  He most recently served as assistant head coach and special teams coordinator at Indiana State.
Ed Warriner, the former offensive coordinator at Kansas, has been hired as the offensive line coach.  Warriner is well versed in the spread offense, working with Jayhawk quarterback Todd Reesing for the past three seasons.  In 2007, his Kansas offense ranked second nationally in scoring.  Warriner initially came to Kansas in 2003 as the offensive line coach, took the offensive coordinator position at Illinois in 2005, then returned to Kansas to run their offense in 2007.
Tim Hinton, who was the running backs coach at Cincinnati in 2009, will also be on the Notre Dame staff in some capacity.  It is believed that Alford will continue his duties as running backs coach, so Hinton may be asked to coach the wide receivers.  Hinton has spent time working with receivers, defensive line, and linebackers during his career at Ohio and Cincinnati.
Moving over to defense, Mike Elston will be the defensive line coach.  Elston did the same job at Cincinnati and also coached special teams.  Like Molnar, Elston followed Kelly from Central Michigan to Cincinnati.  Cincinnati ranked in the top ten nationally in sacks in each of Elston’s three seasons with the Bearcats.
The linebackers will be coached by Kerry Cooks, who has spent his entire career coaching defensive backs. Cooks coached the past the past four years at Wisconsin.  He is another Iowa Hawkeye that played four seasons in the NFL.  He spent a year at Western Illinois and a year at Minnesota before landing on Bret Bielema’s staff at Wisconsin.
Chuck Martin succeeded Kelly at Grand Valley State and won national championships in 2005 and 2006.  The Chicagoland native made it known that if Kelly offered him a spot on the Notre Dame staff, he would accept. Kelly did and now Martin is the defensive backs coach at Notre Dame.  Martin’s Lakers lost in this year’s national championship game 30-23 to Northwest Missouri State.
Rounding out the staff will be strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo.  Longo spent eleven years at Iowa and was the strength coach while both Cooks and Diaco were in school.  Kelly hired Longo when he was named head coach at Central Michigan in 2004.

Te’o Will Return

Manti Te’o announced that he will not be going on a Mormon mission this year and will return to Notre Dame to play for the Irish in 2010.  Previously, Te’o stated that he would return to his native Hawaii for Christmas and discuss the matter with his family.  The Te’os determined that it was in Manti’s best interest to return to Notre Dame for his sophomore season.
Te’o told Notre Dame director of media relations Brian Hardin that it was possible that he could take the mission after next season, though it is more likely that he will wait and go on his mission later in life.  

December 28, 2009

The Loss of Key Players, Why You Will Like Brian Kelly,
and Other Questions Around South Bend
By Sonny Martinez

So, a lot has been happening around South Bend. We lost our star QB. We lost one of the top WRs in the country. We gained a new head coach that for the first time in a very long time, is proven as a coach in college, not an NFL Coordinator. Let’s start with some key players going to the NFL.
The loss of Clausen and Tate will hurt, there’s no way around it. Clausen had the best year since Brady Quinn in his senior year in 2006. If Notre Dame had won 4-5 more games, which they could have and should have done, he could have won the Heisman. Golden Tate had the best year since going as far back as 1987 and Tim Brown. The Irish are losing both, two of the best in College Football, and both are good enough to go in the First Round in April. . But if you compare the 2006 season losses to the 2009 losses, I’d rather have these. Lets look at some key players leaving South Bend, other than Clausen and Tate.
Dan Wenger, OL. This is a bigger loss than most people would think. Wenger was also a Center, but moved all around the O-Line.
Sam Young, OT. Another part of the Offensive Line, this 6’8” 330 pound lineman was key in not letting the other Defense get to Clausen.
Darrin Walls, CB. He had a few key INTs and was huge on the goal line stand vs. Washington.
Evan Sharpley, QB. To me, he’s best known as “That guy that took over for that other guy who wasn’t much better in 2007.” Of course, “That other guy who wasn’t much better” is Jimmy Clausen. And he wasn’t much better as a freshman. But Sharpley is a loss that can impact depth at QB.
Robby Parris, WR. Here’s a guy, who must people didn’t know much about before this season. He was pretty good in ‘07 but seemingly fell off the earth in ‘08. He was key in replacing Floyd when he was injured. He helped lead the Irish to an almost comeback against USC. He’ll be missed.
James Aldridge, RB. He was a halfback who moved to fullback before the ‘09 season. I know he was non-existent this year, but ‘07 and ‘08 were huge for him. His injury cost him a great ND career.
Kyle McCarthy, S. For me, the biggest loss next to Clausen and Tate. He was called “Mr. Dependable” and for good reason. 101 tackles, 5 INTs, 4 of which won the game. He’ll be missed big time on an already shaky ND Defense.
Now, these are all just the Seniors. Not many Jrs. are known to leave yet. And look who’s coming back! Floyd, Rudolph, possibly Allen, Crist, T’eo. It goes on and on. Us Irish fans have a lot to be excited about for next season.
And how about new Head Coach Brian Kelly?
I like the guy. He’s proven as a head coach in college. Not a coordinator from the NFL with some rings. But he does bring some rings with him. He was coach at Division 2 Grand Valley State to start. In 2001, his team 77 NCAA, GLIAC, and school records, including setting the all-time Division II scoring record, averaging 58.4 points per game. In 2002, they were 14-0 and won the Division 2 National Title. In 2003, 14-1 with a title. His record in 13 years at Grand Valley State University was 118-35-2
But soon, it was on to bigger and better things: Division 1A (FBS) and the MAC’s Central Michigan. In 2004, they were only 4-7. 2005 was better, at 6-5 record, the first winning season in seven years for the Chippewas. 2006 was their best year. They posted a 9-4 record under Coach Kelly and won the MAC Championship. Coach Kelly's record at Central Michigan in three seasons was 19-16, not bad for a team that had been a doormat for so many years.
Next, it was on to Cincinnati. His first game, they won the International Bowl 27-24 over Western Michigan. In ‘07 they went 9-3 and won the Bowl over Southern Miss. 2008 was a good year, they won the Big East, but lost the Orange Bowl to ACC Champs Virginia Tech 20-7. In 2009, they were one SECOND away from playing for the BCS Title. If McCoy had thrown the ball one second later, UC would be in the title game.
And now, here we are, with Brian Kelly as the Irish head coach. He has won everywhere he has been. I like him, he is a good fit. I vote “Yes” for the 2008 Coach Of The Year.
And now some other questions from around South Bend.

Who’s the QB?
I know your first thought is Dayne Crist. But, you might not be right. How is his torn ACL? Is he going to be ready? If it’s not Crist, who is it? I think if Crist isn’t ready, it’ll be Nate Montana, son of ND great Joe Montana.
Who are the starting WRs?
Michael Floyd and….Roby Toma? No, didn’t play enough. John Goodman? He’s got the experience a coach would want, but I don’t think he’s a starter. Deion Walker? I’m not sure we know enough about him. Shaq Evans? In the VERY early stages, he’s my pick. He’s played in some tough spots, and he’ll be a Sophomore. Everything I would want. But the Blue-Gold game is weeks away, so we’ll see what happens.
Here’s one I’ve heard a lot…Should ND offer Charlie Weis a spot as Offensive Coordinator?
Nope. Next question.
Are the 2010 recruits good enough?
It’s kind of early, but I can tell you someone I’m very excited about is DE Blake Lueders. He’s 6’5” and weighs 250 pounds. He’s the type of guy Notre Dame needs on Defense. Will he start right away? I have no idea. I would guess not.
Who will replace Recruiting Coordinator Rob Ianello?
Ianello left to be the Coach at Akron. And to this question, I can honesty say I have no idea and couldn’t even make a guess. My best guess is Brian Kelly since he’s known to connect with the students and parents so well.
And finally, something almost everyone got wrong this year…
How’s the schedule looking?
Ok, so once again it’s very early. But knowing what I know now, this is what I see.
Wins-Purdue, Michigan, @ Boston College, Western Michigan, @ Navy, Tulsa, Army
Losses-@ Michigan State, Stanford, Pitt, Utah, USC
So we’re looking at a 7-5 football team as of now. Not bad for the losses on offense we have, and the new coach, new system, pretty much new everything. We do have a lot to be excited about for a while to come, but Kelly‘s first year doesn’t look like a BCS year. But it looks like a few good years are ahead of us in South Bend.

December 17, 2009

What If?
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

We have all heard that football is a game of inches.  This year, it was a game of seconds.
Actually, one second.
The one second that was added to the clock at the end of the Big XII Championship changed the landscape of college football this season and beyond.
Just to refresh your memory, here is a link to a YouTube clip showing ESPN highlights of the game.

First off, the call was correct.  Despite the fact that Texas butchered the final minute of the game, there was one second still remaining when the ball hit the ground.  Texas was entitled to one more play and they took advantage, kicking a 46-yard field goal to set up the showdown with Alabama.
But what if?  What if Colt McCoy rolled out a little deeper and the play took one more second?  What if Ndamukong Suh doesn’t get pressure on McCoy and he holds the ball a little longer?  What if Texas takes one more second before they snap the ball?  What if Hunter Lawrence missed the field goal?  
What if Nebraska had won?
Obviously, Texas would not be playing in the championship game.  That’s the easy part.  But who would have played Alabama and how that would have affected college football is the interesting part.
The final BCS standings had Cincinnati at #3 and TCU at #4.  But if Texas had lost, the Bearcats would not necessarily have stayed in front of the Horned Frogs.  Cincinnati finished just .0042 ahead of TCU to get the #3 spot, despite being slotted behind TCU in both human polls.  They got the #3 spot because of they were well liked by the computers.  Cincinnati was actually rated as the #2 team in the land ahead of Texas in the computer rankings.
Texas finished #3 in the computers, behind Cincy but ahead of TCU.  A Texas loss would have pushed TCU up a notch while not impacting the Bearcats, and that may have given Gary Patterson’s crew a shot at the #2 ranking.
But what definitely would have happened, whether Cincinnati or TCU were in the National Championship game, is chaos.  You would have heard cries of injustice from Fort Worth or Cincinnati and perhaps Boise, where the Broncos’ undefeated season would be looked at differently without a traditional power like Texas in the mix.
There would also be howls from Gainesville, Fla.  The Florida Gator fans, though their team lost decisively in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama, would clamor for a rematch, arguing that none of the undefeated teams would have survived an SEC schedule unscathed.
In short, it would have been another black eye for the BCS.  More arguments, more debates.  While this has never caused the BCS powers that be to act in the past, they now have Congress looking over their shoulder, watching their every move.  
For those that long for change to the current system, that was one long second.  Because now, the BCS has its neat, little package:  Texas vs. Alabama.  No one can argue that these are the two best teams and the conference commissioners that run the BCS will again declare that their system worked.  
As a result, there will be no discussion of change.  Forget a plus one game, there won’t even be a tweak.  We got Texas-Alabama.  The system worked.  
For this year, at least.
The one second had another big affect on college football.  Sam Chi, who runs, told Bill King of Rivals Radio that while TCU would have narrowed the gap, he still believes that Cincinnati would have remained ahead of the Frogs if Texas had lost.
If that was the case, Brian Kelly would be coaching Cincinnati in the national championship game.  Kelly told several media outlets that he would not have accepted the Notre Dame position in that situation and was unsure if ND Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick would have waited until mid-January to offer him the job.
I can give Kelly that answer right now:  no.
Swarbrick wanted someone in place as quickly as possible.  He knew that a whole month without a coach would mean it was open season on Notre Dame commitments.  It would also make it difficult for Notre Dame to recruit the uncommitted prospects they were interested in.
Plus, the media would have had a field day reporting day after day on another bungled Notre Dame coaching search.  Especially, if in the end, Kelly decided to stay at Cincinnati.
Swarbrick would have moved on and Irish fans would be discussing the merits and warts of their new coach.  If that selection was Randy Edsall or Tommy Tuberville, the screams from Fort Worth or Gainesville would have been drowned out by those from South Bend.
This is not to say that Kelly will be more successful at Notre Dame than Edsall or anyone else would have been. We don’t know.  But whether Kelly becomes another Ara Parseghian or Charlie Weis, the future would have been different with someone else in charge.
However, that one second remained.  Lawrence kicked the ball through and Texas will be playing for all the marbles on January 7th.  And Brian Kelly will be watching the game as the Notre Dame head coach.

December 14, 2009

Brian Kelly Named Head Coach at Notre Dame
By Jon Kinne

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

On Friday, after ten days of rumors and speculation, Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly as its new head football coach, replacing Charlie Weis, who was fired three days after the season ending loss to Stanford.
From Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops to Randy Edsall and Tommy Tuberville, a different rumor about a different coach coming to Notre Dame seemed to pop up every few minutes.
But Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick stated in Kelly’s introductory press conference that the first call he made was to the new Irish coach.  The negotiations got off to a bit of a slow start because Kelly’s 2009 season at Cincinnati did not end until five days after Weis was let go.  Once they got going, Kelly stated that the process moved rapidly.
Swarbrick’s courtship of Kelly may actually go back a full year.  After Notre Dame finished the 2008 regular season at 6-6, stories began circulating that Weis was in trouble and that Brian Kelly, fresh off leading Cincinnati to its first Big East title and first BCS appearance, was high on the list of candidates.
But Weis remained at ND and Kelly stayed with the Bearcats, where he led them to their second consecutive Big East crown and the accompanying BCS bowl bid by going 12-0.  Cincinnati will be facing off against Florida in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st.
Kelly will be in South Bend, though, as his offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn will lead the Bearcats into New Orleans.  
Kelly began his coaching career at Grand Valley State as a graduate assistant in 1987.  Two years later, he was promoted to defensive coordinator.  When Grand Valley head coach Tom Beck left to take the offensive coordinator position on Lou Holtz’s staff at Notre Dame in 1991, Kelly was named his replacement.
Kelly spent 13 years as the Lakers head coach going 118-35-2 and winning two Division 2 national championships.
In 2004, Kelly accepted the head coaching position at Central Michigan.  He was 19-16 in his three years with the Chippewas and took them to their first bowl game in twelve seasons with a Motor City Bowl bid in 2006.
But before coaching in the bowl game, Kelly was named as the head coach at Cincinnati, replacing Mark Dantonio.  His first game as Bearcat coach was the 2006 International Bowl, where he guided his new team to a 27-24 win over Western Michigan.
In his first season at Cincinnati, the Bearcats won 10 games for the first time since 1949.  Among those ten wins was a victory over Southern Mississippi in the Bowl.  Kelly was rewarded with the first of his three consecutive Big East Coach of the Year awards.
As stated, 2008 brought the school’s first Big East title and an Orange Bowl bid.   2009 brought the Bearcats even more success as they finished No. 3 in the final BCS rankings.  Cincinnati accomplished all of these things despite a state of flux at the quarterback position.  The Bearcats had five different quarterbacks during the 2008 and 2009 seasons due to injuries.  
Kelly closed out his career at Cincinnati with three double-digit win seasons and a record of 34-6.
While Kelly’s accomplishments are impressive, there are concerns.  He has never coached, either as a head coach or as an assistant, at a program bigger than Cincinnati.  The Notre Dame head coaching job, and all it entails, will be a whole new world for him.
Those that long for a power running game will be very disappointed.  Like Weis, the pass sets up the run in the Kelly offense.  Cincinnati was able to run the ball in certain games, but Kelly’s teams have never ranked very highly in rushing yardage.
There are many that are concerned that a program that struggled on the defensive side of the ball brought in a coach that is so accomplished on offense and whose Cincinnati team seemed to only win shoot-outs at the end of 2009.
However, the Bearcat defense finished 12th in scoring defense in 2007 and 25th in 2008.  This year, despite giving up 37 points per game in their last four contests, the Bearcats still rank 25th nationally because they gave up just 13 a game in their first eight contests.
The simple fact is, no one knows what the results will be.  Check back in four or five years.  But while many Notre Dame supporters may have dreamed of Meyer or Stoops, Brian Kelly is unquestionably the most qualified hire by the school since Holtz took the job in 1986.
Irish Will Not Go Bowling

With uncertainty surrounding the coaching situation, Notre Dame announced that it would not be accepting a bowl bid this season.  Reportedly, both the players and the administration were in agreement.
Had a coach been in place, things may have been different.  But Kelly was still the coach at Cincinnati when the decision needed to be made.
As a result, Kelly’s first game as coach will be September 4th at home against Purdue.
Clausen And Tate To Enter The NFL Draft

Shortly after Notre Dame announced that it would not be heading to a bowl game in 2009, quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate declared for the NFL Draft.
Clausen finished 2009 with 3,722 yards passing, 28 touchdown passes, and just four interceptions.  In his career, he threw for 8,148 yards and 60 touchdowns.  Most projections have Clausen being selected with one of the top 10 picks in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Golden Tate, who has been named to just about everyone’s All America team and was selected as the winner of the 2009 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, caught 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns this fall.  He also scored two rushing touchdowns and returned a punt for a score.  Much of his draft stock will depend on how he performs at the combine, though most mock drafts currently have him going in the late first or early second round.
Ianello Named Akron Head Coach

Last week, Notre Dame wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello was named head coach at Akron.  Ianello was at Notre Dame during the five years that Charlie Weis served as head coach.  
Ianello played a key role in the recruiting efforts that landed the Irish top-15 classes every year from 2006-2009 according to ESPN.  He also was the position coach for players such as Jeff Samardzija, Maurice Stovall, Rhema McKnight, Michael Floyd, and Golden Tate.
Prior to his arrival in South Bend, Ianello spent time at Arizona and Wisconsin coaching both tight ends and wide receivers.  In 1999, while at Arizona, both and the Sporting News listed him as one of college football’s best recruiters.
Ianello had been overseeing the day-to-day football operations for Notre Dame following the dismissal of Weis. There was some talk that Kelly was interested in retaining Ianello on the Notre Dame staff.
The Zips were 3-9 in 2009.  Ianello joins Mike Haywood at Miami as former Weis assistants now leading Mid American Conference teams.
Two Irish Greats Earn Hall of Fame Honors

Former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last Tuesday night at a ceremony in New York.  Brown became the 43rd Notre Dame player enshrined in the Hall. Brown’s former coach, Lou Holtz, was inducted last year.
Brown was a two-time All American and won the Heisman in 1987, the last Notre Dame player to win the award.  He also played in nine Pro Bowls during his 16 seasons with Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders.  
On the same day that Brown was inducted, Chris Zorich was elected to the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame.  The defensive tackle from Chicago participated in two Orange Bowls and was named defensive MVP of the 1991 game against Colorado.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

December 1, 2009

Notre Dame @ Stanford Review
and The Firing Of Charlie Weis
By Sonny Martinez

So a lot has happened at Notre Dame over the past few days. This week’s blog will be a little different. This week’s blog will have the game review as always, but it will be a short one. I want to go a little deeper into the 5 years of Notre Dame Football under Charlie Weis after the game wrap-up is over.

To start the game, the 1st quarter had a lot to it. Notre Dame’s first drive was ended quickly by a Theo Riddick fumble after a Stanford punt. Toby Gerhart had 3 straight rushes, the final being a Cardinal touchdown. ND’s next possession ended in 3 plays, but a special teams fumble by Stanford gave the Irish the ball back. This led to a Golden Tate touchdown that tied the game at 7. The next Stanford drive gave them a 40-yard field goal to put Stanford ahead 10-7. The next drive the Irish offense bailed out the defense (How many times have we said that?) and Michael Floyd caught a touchdown for 18 yards. This gave the Irish the lead and ended the quarter with ND up 14-10.

QB Andrew Luck and RB Toby Gerhart once again ripped apart the Irish defense, but only managed to get a 47-yard field goal to cut the Irish lead to 1 point. As the Irish offense has proved, it can keep up with any offense in the country. Hughes and Riddick did good for the injured Allen. They led ND to a field goal to regain the 4 point lead. After a good Irish defensive series, the offense took the ball back. Penalties killed Stanford on this drive. Tate came up BIG and made it look easy with a 78 yard touchdown catch. Now it’s a 24-13 Irish lead. Luck and Gerhart are at the Irish again. They get a touchdown with 11 seconds left. Now at the end of 2, its Notre Dame 24 and Stanford 20.

4 plays into the quarter Floyd had a 46-yard touchdown catch for another Irish 11 point lead. Toby Gerhart was at it again, as he had 4 rushes for 23 yards and a Cardinal touchdown in what looked like a high scoring shootout. Notre Dame didn’t do much with the ball next drive . They punted and Stanford put together a pretty good drive, that got the ball to the ND 11. The quarter then ended.

Right as the 4th began, a Stanford field goal gave the Cardinal only a 1 point hole. Clausen on the next drive again goes to Tate and finds him for a 28 yard TD. The next drive was a Stanford touchdown nobody could have expected. It was an 18 yard pass to Whalen…from Gerhart. Notre Dame did nothing on their next drive. They punted again. They gave Stanford the ball and again Stanford punched them in the mouth. Weis made the decision to let Gerhart score with 59 seconds left. Then ND couldn’t recover and lost the game, 45-38.

The game was good. I thought both teams played a pretty good game. But, it’s what happened after the game that made all the news.

Monday, November 30 it was announced that Charlie Weis had been fired. It will be effective December 1st. Let’s go a little deeper into Weis’ time as the Notre Dame Head Football Coach.

December 12th, 2004 Notre Dame hired New England Patriots OC Charlie Weis to take over the program from Ty Willingham. It was a 6-year deal worth $2 million per year.  He had some ties to Notre Dame as he was a graduate. He had some high expectations, that he almost lived up to.

In his first year as ND coach, he had an easy job with all of Willingham’s recruits. Brady Quinn was the star, and Jeff Samardzija was a close second. The team went on to finish 9-2, almost 10-1 if it wasn’t for the Bush Push. They finished the year ranked 6th in the BCS. That earned them a BCS birth into the Fiesta Bowl. This game didn’t look too good, as the Irish fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes 34-20. They finished 9th in the AP Poll and Weis’ year didn’t go unnoticed. He was the winner of the Eddie Robinson Coach Of The Year Award.

After that Bush Push game, the Irish gave Weis a 10 year extension. He still had 5 and a half years on his previous contract. Looked good at the time.

The 2006 season was a good one, as Weis led the Fighting Irish to a 10–2 regular season record, and a second straight BCS berth. This time, it was the Sugar Bowl where the Irish would get embarrassed 41-14 by the LSU Tigers. The Irish finished #17 in the final AP poll, and #19 in the final Coach’s Poll. While this season could be considered a disappointment based on Notre Dame's #2 pre-season ranking, Weis led the Irish to its second straight season of nine wins or more, something not achieved since the 1992 and 1993 seasons under Lou Holtz.

After the season, Weis lost his big players. Quinn was the worst loss. But Notre Dame recruits well, and brought in top recruit Jimmy Clausen, and Weis had to rely on his own recruits now.

In the 2007 season, Notre Dame went 3–9, with their only wins coming against UCLA, Duke and Stanford. They lost at home to Navy. That says a lot. It was the first loss vs. Navy in 43 years. Weis attributed the team's downfall to his own mistakes, including his failure to use full-speed practices and to develop his players properly, as well as to the graduation of star quarterback Quinn.

In 2008, The Irish started 4–1, but completed the regular season with a 6–6 record, including a 24–23 loss to Syracuse, the first time that Notre Dame had fallen to an eight-loss team. The Syracuse game was on Homecoming. It was so bad that the fans in the student section were throwing snowballs at Kicker Brandon Walker. Weis' Notre Dame squad ended the season on a positive note, finally breaking the Irish's NCAA record nine-game bowl losing streak by beating Hawaii 49-21, ending their 9 game Bowl losing streak. This game would help springboard to the2009 season. We all know how that ended, 6-6.

Now with the firing of Weis, I have 2 opinions: The fan view and the professional view. Some are the same.

Personal: Charlie needed to go. There was no other way around it. Two 6-6 seasons in a row. Sure, he did great when players and recruits from the Willingham era were handed to him. But. He couldn’t do a thing with his own guys. And the entire time with his own recruits, the offense had been great. It seemed like they always scored 30+ points. It’s the defense. When you score 38 points in a game and still lose, it’s not good. There is no excuses unless your playing Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald. He had enough time to prove himself, The change was right.

Fan: Wow am I glad to see him go!!! Sure I feel bad for him, but he needs to go back to the NFL. Not that ND was any good before he got there but two 6-6 seasons in a row is awful. I mean, come on. It was time for him to go. He wasn’t doing anything good. He wasn’t cashing the checks his mouth was writing. If 6-5 isn’t good enough, why is 6-6? If he thought because there is now 12 games instead of 11, he’s wrong. He doesn’t belong as a head coach, and he especially doesn’t belong at Notre Dame.

So what do we do from here? Well, we start as making Rob Ianello, WR Coach as our interim coach. But what about the full time coach? Could it be Jim Harbaugh? Or Gary Patterson? Maybe Chris Peterson? Bronco Mendenhall? Brian Kelly? Bob Stoops? Urban Meyer? For now your guess is as good as mine.

But for now, Coach Weis is now just a thing of the past.

And I will end this with the famous first words, that lead to his last words.

“You are what you are folks. And right now what you are is a 6-5 football team. 6-5 isn’t good enough for you, and it certainly won’t be good enough for me.”

November 25, 2009

Stanford Preview
By: Jon Kinne

On Saturday, a season that began with high expectations and promise will come to a disappointing end for the Notre Dame football team.  With 15 returning starters and a favorable schedule, a New Year’s Day bowl was expected and a BCS bid was within the realm of possibility.
Now, a loss at Stanford Saturday night may mean that the Irish will not be going bowling at all.  Win or lose, head coach Charlie Weis will most assuredly be looking for work sometime next week.
Stanford has no such worries.  At 7-4, Stanford will be playing in their first bowl game since 2001 when Tyrone Willingham led the Cardinal to the Seattle Bowl in his final year in Palo Alto.
Here is what we can expect on Saturday night.

When Notre Dame has the Ball

Despite the fact that Notre Dame has lost three games in a row, Jimmy Clausen continues to shine.  His 329 yards and two touchdowns passing gives him 3,382 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season.  Golden Tate has probably locked up a spot as an All-American and Michael Floyd has played very well since his return from his broken collarbone.
It will be interesting to see how the passing game is affected by what happened late Saturday night.  Clausen sustained injuries to his face during an altercation outside a South Bend bar.  He will play, but if his vision is hampered at all, the Irish aerial attack may suffer.
Clausen playing well is imperative because the way to beat Stanford is through the air.  They rank 97th nationally in pass defense, giving up 244 yards per game.  They are tied with Notre Dame at 74th in the country with 19 sacks, so applying consistent pressure has been an issue.  When they put heat on the quarterback, it usually comes from sophomore Thomas Keiser, who has eight sacks.  He also leads the team with 13 tackles for lost yardage.
The Cardinal only have four defenders that have started all 11 games.  The rest of the defense is loaded with players that rotate in and out of the line up.  That is especially true at linebacker where the leading tackler at the position, Clinton Snyder, has played in just eight games.  A huge bright spot at the position has been the performance of true freshman Shayne Skov.  The Piedmont, Calif. product that prepped at Trinity-Pawling School in Pawling, N.Y. has 41 tackles and has started five games.
Stanford’s two leading tacklers are their safeties.  Bo McNally and Delano Howell each have 69 total tackles, pointing out that not only are opponents attacking the Cardinal through the air but runners are breaking through the first line of defense.  Stanford has given up 148 yards per game on the ground, ranking 66th among FBS teams.
The Stanford run defense may be irrelevant as the Irish running game has been an enigma all season.  Armando Allen had a good game against UConn and has 733 yards on the season, but the Irish seem to rely so heavily on the pass game that the rushing attack disappears for long stretches.
Notre Dame gains a lot of their rushing yardage on draw plays.  When the Irish need to power the football on the ground, they have struggled.  That problem has been a key reason why they have struggled so mightily in the red zone this year.
Don’t expect to see much change this week.  Clausen will throw the ball a lot.  Whether or not the Irish put up a big number on the scoreboard will be determined by how they perform inside the Stanford 20 yard line.  They have gotten there against every team on the schedule and they will again this week.  The question is, can they punch it in or will they continue to settle for field goals?

When Stanford has the Ball

The Stanford offense is kind of the anti-Notre Dame.  While the Irish use the pass to set up the run, the Cardinal uses the run to set up the pass.
Without question, Stanford’s main offensive weapon is running back Toby Gerhart.  The senior has rushed for 1,531 yards on the season and, to prove that Stanford does not have the same red zone concerns that Irish have, Gerhart has found the end zone 23 times.  Stepfan Taylor is Gerhart’s sub and he has 263 yards on 43 carries for a 6.1 yard average.
Andrew Luck has had a very good first season as the Stanford quarterback.  The red shirt freshman has completed 55.2% of his passes for 2,377 yards and 13 touchdowns with just four interceptions.  However, one of those four interceptions came last week in The Game against Cal at the Bear 13 yard line as Stanford was looking for the go ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining in the game.  Luck had his worst game of the season against California, completing just 10 of 30 passes for 157 yards.
Luck has three main targets in wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu along with tight end Coby Fleener.  Whalen leads the team with 48 catches for 786 yards while Owusu has five touchdown receptions.  Fleener is the only other player on the roster with a double digit reception total, checking in with 16.
The true strength of the Stanford team, however, may be their offensive line.  Two red shirt freshmen start along the front, left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro, but the other three linemen are multiple year starters that have been through the wars.  Right tackle Chris Marinelli, who spoke openly last year about his dislike of Notre Dame, will be strongly considered as an All-Pac Ten selection.  Left guard Andrew Phillips and center Chase Beeler have also had strong seasons.
After stabilizing their rush defense in the middle of the year, the Irish have regressed in that area during their three game losing streak.  Last week, both of UConn’s running backs, Jordon Todman and Andre Dixon, went for over 100 yards.
That does not bode well entering this week’s game against Stanford.  Gerhart will run right at the interior of that Notre Dame front seven.  Safety Kyle McCarthy is far and away Notre Dame’s leading tackler and he will probably have plenty of opportunities again this week.
Notre Dame’s statistics on pass defense have improved over the past few weeks because Navy and UConn do not throw the ball well and they had so much success on the ground that they did not have to throw.  While Stanford will run and run and run, their passing game is good enough that they can keep the Notre Dame defense honest.
This is the type of offense that can wear a defense down.  So even if the Irish stop the Cardinal early, Stanford will continue what they do.  Notre Dame will have to be both physically and mentally tough for all 60 minutes.

Special Teams

All it takes is one special teams break down for the day to be considered a failure.  That is exactly what happened against UConn.  Take away Jordon Todman’s 96 yard kickoff return and the Irish are probably victorious last Saturday.  But just like the Michigan game, it happened and the Irish lost.
Whether it is the loss of David Bruton to the NFL or that Mike Anello is not fully recovered from last season’s injury or that the coaching has not been as effective this year, the coverage units have not been strong for Notre Dame in 2009.  And the return game is a big weapon for Stanford.
Owusu returns kickoffs at a 32.5 yard clip and has brought three back for touchdowns.  As a team, Stanford is #2 in the country in average kickoff return yardage.  Richard Sherman has averaged 10.2 yards on each of his 14 punt returns and he returned one for a score.
The Stanford kicker is Notre Dame transfer Nate Whitaker.  Whitaker has made 11 of his 17 field goal tries.  From inside the 40, he is seven of eight.  He has made all of his extra points.  David Green averages 41.3 yards per punt and has had 10 downed inside the 20.
David Ruffer has taken over as the Irish kicker due to the injury to Nick Tausch.  He is four for four on his field goal attempts and his kickoffs have improved greatly as the season has gone on.
Speaking of improving, Ben Turk had a good game against UConn, averaging 47 yards on his five punts.  This is a good sign going forward as the freshman will be counted on to handle the duties alone in 2010.
Notre Dame has a lot to worry about in this game.  The last thing they need is Owusu giving Stanford great field position time after time.  The other aspects of the Irish special teams have performed okay recently, but the coverage has to improve against Stanford.


It appears that Notre Dame is walking into a really bad situation.  The Irish have had difficulties stopping the run and Stanford is a big, physical team with punishing ground game.  Stanford is also extremely motivated.  The Notre Dame game will go a long way in determining the quality of bowl Stanford will attend.
On the flip side, what is the Irish motivation?  They have a coach that is on his way out, a quarterback that will probably be heading to the NFL, a wide receiver that may do the same, all concluding a season that has fallen far below expectations.
Based on how these teams are constructed, I don’t see either offense being stopped by the opposing defense.  Clausen and his receivers will move the ball easily between the twenties.  If they can figure out a way to score touchdowns, Notre Dame will stay in the game.
But I fear that Stanford will wear down the Irish defense.  By the end of the game, they will probably make it look easy.  I expect the Irish to make it a game for three quarters before Stanford throws the knockout punch in the fourth.

November 23, 2009

UConn 33 Notre Dame 30
By: Jon Kinne

After Notre Dame defeated Washington State on Halloween, there was no question about Charlie Weis’s job security.  Three games later and there is still no question, but the answer has changed.

After UConn beat the Irish 33-30 in double overtime this Saturday, the Weis tenure appears to have just one game remaining.

The Notre Dame team showed support for their coach, walking onto the Notre Dame Stadium field arm-in-arm with Weis.  The game started with the Irish playing with passion expected on Senior Day.  After Connecticut was forced to punt three plays into the game, Notre Dame drove 69 yards in nine plays and scored on a touchdown pass from Jimmy Clausen to Golden Tate.

The Irish scored again on the first play of the second quarter when Clausen snuck in from one yard out.  At that point, Notre Dame’s defense looked like it would have few problems with the UConn offense and the Irish offense seemed poised for a big day.  At that point, Armando Allen already had 36 yards rushing, Tate had 96 yards receiving, and Clausen had thrown for 135 yards and a score.

Then, in what has been a bad trend for Notre Dame during the Charlie Weis era, the game changed.  The Huskies went 75 yards for a touchdown.  On the third play of that drive, the Irish appeared to have forced a punt when Zach Frazer’s pass sailed over the head of receiver Michael Smith.  But safety Sergio Brown hit Smith late and the drive was extended, allowing Jordan Todman to run 43 yards five plays later.
Connecticut made it 14-10 when Dave Teggart knocked home a 39-yard field goal.  After the Clausen touchdown to open the second quarter, the Irish had three four-play drives for a total of 44 yards the rest of the quarter and the half ended with Notre Dame up by four.

Notre Dame opened the second half with a long, sustained drive.  But the red zone issues that killed the offense in the games against Navy and Pittsburgh returned.  Allen ran 26 yards to the UConn seven and on second and goal, Robert Hughes carried down to the one.  But when Allen was stuffed at the goal line, Weis opted for a short David Ruffer field goal and a 17-10 lead.

That lead did not last long, as Todman took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a tying touchdown.  On the day, Todman had 286 all-purpose yards.

The Irish red zone woes continued later in the quarter.  On a drive starting at their own 25, Notre Dame moved the ball deep into Husky territory.  Clausen found Michael Floyd open down the middle and the sophomore turned it up field, only to have the ball stripped loose at the UConn 14 yard line.  

After forcing a three and out, the Irish got the ball back at midfield.  Three first downs put the ball at the Connecticut 11 yard line, where the Irish offense stalled again.  Ruffer came on to give the Irish a 20-17 lead.  
The Huskies had three chances in the fourth quarter to win the game in regulation.  They had first down at the Notre Dame 12 when Frazer made a poor decision and threw the ball directly to Irish linebacker Brian Smith.  

With less than two minutes remaining, Andre Dixon ran to the Notre Dame five, but the play was called back on the drive’s second holding penalty.  UConn settled for a tying field goal and the Irish had one shot to get into range for a game-winning field goal.

But after a 19-yard catch and run by Allen, the junior running back put the ball on the ground, giving it back to UConn at the ND 41.  Dixon ran 18 yards to give Teggart a shot from 37, a kick that sailed wide left as regulation time expired.

UConn opened overtime by hitting Kashif Moore with a touchdown strike from 11 yards.  Notre Dame evened the count when Clausen connected with Floyd on a four-yard touchdown pass.  When the Irish had to settle for a field goal in the second overtime, the door was opened for the Huskies.  Dixon ran through that door from four yards out and UConn had an emotional 33-30 victory.

As difficult as this loss was for the Irish, it was that sweet for the Huskies.  They have had to endure one close loss after another this year as well as the shocking death of cornerback Jasper Howard.  The win puts them at 5-5 and a win in upcoming games against either Syracuse or South Florida will make them bowl eligible.
The Huskies had two players rush for over 100 yards.  Todman finished the day with 130 and Dixon wound up with 114.  

For the Irish, it was another Saturday of wasted offensive output.  Clausen threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns.  Tate had another big game with 123 yards and a touchdown while Floyd caught eight passes for 104 yards and a score.  Allen had 106 yards rushing and 64 receiving.

The 6-5 Irish now limp into Stanford to play the 7-4 Stanford Cardinal on Saturday night.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

November 20, 2009

UCONN @ Notre Dame Preview
By: Sonny Martinez

For the UConn Huskies, in terms of record, the season is over standing at 4-5. But the team still has a lot to play for.  They have more to play for, and it’s more important than any football game they will ever play. On October 18, CB Jasper Howard was murdered during an on-campus party. The players have had heavy hearts ever since, and they just haven’t been the same.  

Notre Dame is also playing a lost season. BCS dreams have turned into a 6-4 record. They too are playing for more. Charlie Weis’ future depends on these last 2 games. A lot of fans want him fired. These last 2 games could do just that.


The Irish are playing an average defense at best.  The upper hand for Clausen, Floyd and Tate is without a doubt the Huskies’ pass defense. They rank near the bottom in completion percent and yards per attempt.

Floyd needs to show more.

Notre Dame is just 1-3 with him in the lineup, not including the game he was injured in vs. Michigan State.  He’s had some great catches but Golden Tate has taken all the glory. Tate has more yards, more catches, and more touchdowns. Now given, Tate has played more games than Floyd. But with Tate in the lineup and Floyd not, The Irish are 5-1. And with no Kyle Rudolph, Floyd needs to find the end zone more.

Clausen can’t afford to be hurt this late in the season with only 2 games left and backup Dayne Crist out, especially with John Goodman as 3rd string. Clausen was a Heisman hopeful before the loss to Navy.  His numbers are still good, but not Heisman anymore.

The defense has to step up, too. The UConn offense is pretty good, especially in the Red Zone.


UConn is good in the Red Zone. They are 85%, good for 35th. But that’s not where they stand out. Red Zone TD efficiency. They are 70.5%, 19th in the country.

Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is a run-first play-caller and the Husky offense has an effective ground game. That is half the reason for the Red Zone production.  I don’t even know who to say the best RB is. Jordan Todman has 159 carries, 825 yards and12 TDs. Andre Dixon has 158 carries, 730 yards and 7 TDs. Pretty good for UConn to have 2 RBs that can do that.  Both backs are very capable and ensure a fresh set of legs for the duration of the game, and can cause some havoc for Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta.

Does Zach Frazer ring a bell anyone?

The former Irish QB is now the UConn QB. He isn’t the starter though. Cody Endres is the preferred option and has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1354 yards, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. The 4 INTs don’t really help, but beat Frazer’s 7.

And the offensive line. They’re not exactly the best in college football. 19 sacks surrendered, good (Or not too good) for 70th. Seven Husky receivers have double-digit receptions but Marcus Easley has nearly twice as many yards as any other target. He will have to be guarded tight.

Even with that, the offense is still pretty good, 409 Yards Per Game - 255 pass, 168 rush- and 29.7 Points per Game. That beats the Irish’s 29.3 Points per Game.


 This game from the looks of it is going to be tough. Not based just on stats, but so much more. For Notre Dame: The pressure. The Coach. The BCS dreams that have turned into a disaster of a season.  And UConn. What better way for the Huskies to pay tribute to fallen player Jasper Howard than a win AT Notre Dame Stadium? This will be either a coach-firing game or an emotional and painful loss. In the end…I have to go with Notre Dame, by a game winning field goal.


 UConn – 31

Notre Dame - 34

November 17, 2009

Notre Dame @ Pitt Recap
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame and Pitt was a game that at the beginning of the season looked like the game that determined which BCS Bowl the Irish would go to. But after a potential season-killing loss last week at home to Navy, in reality the BCS looked out of reach. Entering this game, Notre Dame was 6-3. Pittsburgh only had one loss, with a record of 8-1. Now, on the day of the game, it looked 100 times tougher than it did before the season started. Added to that, Kyle Rudolph was out, probably for the rest of the regular season. Coach Charlie Weis is once again on the hot seat after last week’s loss. His job depends on the last games. First, he had to worry about the Panthers, who came out without any worries and plenty of BCS dreams.

Pitt gets the ball to start the game and puts together a pretty good drive.  The first play is a 12 yard pass from QB Bill Stull to Oderick Turner for 12 yards. Dion Lewis then picks up 8 through the air to the Pitt 41. John Baldwin caught a 14 yard pass.  Dion Lewis rushes 2 times in 3 plays, not well enough for the 1st down. Pitt has to punt. Tate calls for the fair catch, and what do you know, already a flag. Roughing the kicker is the call on Notre Dame. Pitt has the ball back now, and they capitalize. 5 plays and 11 yards later, Kicker Dan Hutchins gets the 34 yard field goal to give Pitt the early lead. PITTSBURGH drive: 13 plays 62 yards, 05:20 PITTSBURGH FG. 3-0 Pitt

Notre Dame has an explosive offense that can keep up with almost any team in the country. This drive it didn’t show. Allen and Tate rush back to back for 11 yards. Tate then gets a 22 yard catch for another first down. After a wasted time out by the Irish, Allen rushes twice for 10 yards, a sack to Clausen and an 8 yard rush bring an end to Notre Dame Drive. ND drive: 9 plays 43 yards, 05:14 ND Punt.

Not much here for Pitt.  Stull to Dickerson for 10 yards. Lewis had 3 rushes in 4 plays for a total of 17 yards. Pitt punts for the first time. PITTSBURGH drive: 6 plays 31 yards, 03:26 PITTSBURGH Punt.

Only 2 plays for the Irish before the end of the quarter.  Tate and Theo Riddick both rushed for a loss of 3 yards each to bring the first quarter to an end. END OF FIRST: ND 0 PITT 3. Clausen to Allen for 10 but ND has to punt again. ND drive: 3 plays 4 yards, 01:32 ND Punt

Not much here for the Panthers. Only a 2 yard rush and 2 incomplete Stull passes end a 3 and out. PITTSBURGH drive: 3 plays 2 yards, 00:59 PITTSBURGH Punt.

2 good passes that start the drive are for a total of 12 yards. After an incompletion, Jarred Holley had a nice interception.  ND drive: 4 plays 13 yards, 01:17 ND INT.

Lucky for the Irish, Pitt didn’t capitalize. They had a 3 and out, mostly caused by a 12 yard fumble by Stull. PITTSBURGH drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 02:11 PITTSBURGH Punt

Jimmy Clausen finally connects with Floyd for 10 yards.  Allen has a 15 yard rush and a catch for a loss of 5. Clausen passes to Allen and Kamara for 16 yards. 2 plays later, a Clausen 5 yard rush lead to a David Ruffer 42 yard field goal. ND drive: 9 plays 43 yards, 04:21 ND FG. 3-3.

Pitt did not back down. Lewis rushed 3 times for 23 yards. Stull completes 2 passes in a row, both to Baldwin. The first was 21 yards. The second is what counted. It was a 36 yard touchdown pass. Pitt struck quick. They have the lead, XP good. PITTSBURGH drive: 6 plays 80 yards, 03:09 PITTSBURGH TD. 10-3 Pitt

Clausen connected with Tate on first down for 11 yards. That’s all that was happening for the Irish, as Clausen’s next 3 passes were incomplete. Another ND punt. ND drive: 4 plays 11 yards, 01:00 ND Punt.

Stull and the Panthers came out with an incomplete pass. Lewis picked up 7 yards, AND got out of bounds. Stull then threw 4 times in a row: 10 yards to Byham, incomplete, 7 to McGee and incomplete. Pitt’s turn to punt after a very quick 6 play drive. PITTSBURGH drive: 6 plays 24 yards, 00:52 PITTSBURGH Punt.

This drive for Notre Dame was only one play. Allen rush for 5 yards to the ND 22. The half was over. END OF HALF. ND 3 PITT 10

The good news is the Irish get the ball to start the half. Allen rushes 3 times in 4 plays, 22 yards gained. Clausen with a good pass to Tate and ND gets another first. Floyd caught a ball for a loss of a yard. And Notre Dame decides to do what it has done well this season: waste a time out for no reason. 12:08 left in the 3rd and a time out is called. And they did waste it, because all that happened was 2 incomplete passes. Maust in for the punt, and hits booming 17 yard punt. ND drive: 8 plays 43 yards, 03:13 ND Punt.

Only one play worth note in this drive other than the score. Stull connects with Baldwin for 51 yards making the Irish defense look pretty bad.  Lewis runs 2 times for 9 yards. One play later, Hutchins hits a field goal to extend the Pitt lead. PITTSBURGH drive: 3 plays 59 yards, 02:32 PITTSBURGH FG. 13-3 Pitt

Notre Dame isn’t looking good. This drive (If you can call it that) made them look worse. Clausen incomplete, Riddick with a one yard loss and an Allen catch for 4 yards.  Maust is in to punt. This time was a lot better. A nice 20 punt giving the Panthers great offense good field position. ND drive: 3 plays 3 yards, 01:52 ND Punt.

If you thought the Notre Dame defense looked bad before, you probably did not want to see this. Ray Graham gets a 53 yard rush making the D looking like high school players. Actually, the high school players could have done better. He caps off his 53 yard run with a 2 yard touchdown run. XP Good. PITTSBURGH drive: 2 plays 55 yards, 00:47 PITTSBURGH TD. 20-3 Pitt

Notre Dame decides it’s a good time to turn it up. Clausen with 3 passes: 11 to Floyd, 6 to Allen and 2 to Tate. One play later, Floyd reminds us why he was one of the top WRs in the country before his injury. Floyd caught a 45 yard pass the really helped ND. ND once again somehow finds themselves in penalty trouble. A 10 yard call for holding and 5 for an illegal formation.  Lucky for Clausen, Tate and Floyd always come up big. They have 2 catches for a total of 22 yards. Allen then in for 2 rushes for 2 yards. The 3rd is over. END OF QUARTER.  ND 3 PITT 20 This long drive is looking good, and that’s because it was. Clausen takes it in himself for a one yard TD. XP No Good. Another last minute decider???  ND drive: 11 plays 80 yards, 06:40 ND TD. 20-9 Pitt

If you thought this would scare the Panthers, you’re wrong. The heart of the drive was Lewis who had 13 yards on 2 of the first 4 plays. The fifth was again by Lewis, who pulled off another long 50 yard run on ND for a touchdown. Now, it looks out of reach. EP Good. PITTSBURGH drive: 5 plays 80 yards, 02:12 PITTSBURGH TD. 27-9 Pitt

The next drive was all Clausen. An incomplete pass started, but Tate caught the next ball for 11 and a first down. A sack then followed.  A play later, Clausen to Floyd for 21 yards, then another 9. Clausen ran it for 10 yards on 2 runs. Kamara then caught an 11 yard pass. Next play was to Tate for 18 yards and a Notre Dame TD. EP Good. ND drive: 11 plays 71 yards, 03:34 ND TD. 27-16 Pitt

The next drive for Pitt wasn’t good. Nothing happened for the Panthers, and they had another 3 and out. Notice I said nothing happened for Pitt. The punt return. Golden Tate again comes up big, 87 yard punt return for the Irish and Notre Dame Touchdown. But the 2 point conversion failed. PITTSBURGH drive: 3 plays 9 yards, 01:54 PITTSBURGH Punt. ND Return for TD, 87 yards. 27-22 Pitt

And now, we have a game. A good one. Pitt’s ball and for once, ND stops Lewis. The 2 big plays were a 19 yard pass to Baldwin and 7 to Dickerson. That’s all that happened, Pitt must punt.  And this time, it’s a touchback. PITTSBURGH drive: 5 plays 28 yards, 05:06 PITTSBURGH Punt.

Now here is where the problems start.  Clausen completes 3 in a row for 22 yards. One play later, Clausen throws an incomplete pass. But it’s not incomplete. It’s a fumble that Pitt recovers. I’ll get to the “Fumble” later. ND drive: 9 plays 19 yards, 03:39 ND Fumble.

Pitt’s next drive is your every day time killer. All rushes, at most 14 yards, and the clock runs out. END OF GAME. ND 22 PITT 27

Ok, now to the “Fumble.” When a QB drops back, his arm comes forward and the ball comes loose as his arm comes forward, is it a fumble, or incompletion?  If you guessed the correct answer of “Incomplete Pass,” you are wrong. How, I have no idea. This is the second time the referees have cost us a game we should have won.

Now before you start with the ‘Oh what a sore loser, blaming the refs” garbage, take a look.

Bad refereeing #1: Notre Dame @ Michigan.

Ok, we lost by 4 points. 4 points. And when a 4 point hole can be made into a 3 point win, it matters. There was clearly ONE SECOND LEFT in this game. Now I know some of you say “One second wouldn’t have mattered.” Well news flash…When you are down by 4 and a TD can win it, it matters big time. One second left. Don’t believe me? Take a look.

And we lose. The announcers know it. Everyone knows it.

Bad refereeing #2: Notre Dame @ Pitt.

This has already been explained. His arm is CLEARLY coming forward. Start about 35 seconds in.

And there you go. Twice this season.

As for the game, it was good. ND’s BCS dreams are dead, and they shouldn’t be. Overall, a good game. ND needs to prepare well for UConn next week. I don’t see the Irish winning both of their last two games. In the end, ND suffers another disappointment. Charlie, your seat is hotter than ever.

November 9, 2009

Navy Review
By: Jon Kinne


Just like they did in 2007, the Navy Midshipmen came into Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday and knocked off the Fighting Irish.  While two years ago, Navy beat a Notre Dame team that finished the season with just three wins, this year they defeated an Irish squad that still held BCS bowl hopes.

On a day where quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 452 yards, 141 of which went to the now healthy Michael Floyd, it was missed opportunities in the red zone and the inability of the Irish defense to stop the Navy running attack that were the stories of the game.

The Middies rushed for 347 yards and seemed to control the clock much more than the 32 to 28 minute time of possession advantage would attest.  That advantage was especially notable when the Irish tried to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter.  Navy was able to hold onto the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the final stanza, at a time when the Notre Dame offense was finally starting to find a rhythm.  

Fullback Vince Murray did extensive damage as the first of Navy’s three options.  Murray ran the ball straight at the Irish defense 14 times for 158 yards and a touchdown.  Quarterback Ricky Dobbs carried 31 times for 102 yards and scored on a 1-yard sneak for the first score of the game.

Dobbs only threw the ball three times, but after Notre Dame cut the Navy lead to 14-7 in third quarter on a one yard Robert Hughes touchdown run, Dobbs fooled the Irish defense by hitting Greg Jones for 52 yards and a score.

While Navy did all they could to win the game, Notre Dame did all they could to lose it.  Until the Irish scored twice late in the fourth quarter, they had pushed the ball inside the Navy 25-yard line six times and came away with just seven points.  Nick Tausch missed two field goals after making 14 in a row coming into the game.  The Irish lost one possession on downs after going for a touchdown on fourth down at the three.  Jimmy Clausen fumbled at the one yard line after absorbing a big hit and had a pass intercepted when the ball bounced off the back of Floyd, who failed to turn around to look for the ball.

Despite all of these issues, Notre Dame still had a chance late in the fourth quarter.  After Clausen hit Floyd for a 12 yard touchdown to cut the gap to 21-14, they were able to stop Navy and got the ball back at their own 20 with 1:48 remaining.  Following two incomplete passes, Navy twice sacked Clausen with second resulting in a safety and a 23-14 lead.

Notre Dame recovered the ensuing onside kick and found paydirt just 36 seconds later when Clausen connected with Golden Tate for a 31-yard touchdown.  However, the next onside kick went out of bounds giving Navy the ball and the victory.

The loss puts Notre Dame at 6-3 and ends any BCS dreams.  It will be interesting to see the motivation of the Irish squad next week when they go into Pittsburgh to play the 12th ranked Panthers.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at

November 6, 2009

Notre Dame-Navy Preview
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame is coming off a huge 40-14 win over Washington State, ending the trend of games ending in the final seconds.  The Irish don’t have time to celebrate though, as they prepare for a tough Navy team. Notre Dame is once again #23 and Navy is unranked. If Navy wins this game, they are bowl eligible, as they are 6-2. There are many keys for both teams to win. This could be the toughest game Navy has played yet.


First, the news every Notre Dame fan wants.

One of their top wide receivers, not just theirs, but before his injury, one of the top in the country, Michael Floyd is back from injury. He suffered a broken collarbone in a win against Michigan State. Floyd was cleared by doctors Monday night. He has been missed by Clausen, but Clausen didn’t let a big loss get to him, but he is still very happy to welcome Floyd back.  “He came back and said he was ready to go," Coach Charlie Weis said. "It wasn't too long before I was already getting a text from No. 7 (Clausen). He might have been just as happy as No. 3 [Floyd]."

But now some news Notre Dame fans didn’t want to hear.

Last week, Clausen was taken out of the game in San Antonio vs. Washington State. The good news is Clausen did not suffer an injury or aggravate his turf toe.  Charlie Weis didn’t want his starting QB lost with a 30-7 lead. Notice, I said HE didn’t get hurt. Back up Dayne Crist, who was brought in for Clausen, did. He tore his ACL. He had surgery on Monday and is out for the rest of the year. The depth chart at QB is now:

1.       Jimmy Clausen

2.       Evan Sharply

3.       John Goodman

Yes, you read that right, John Goodman. One of the ND wide-outs that was key in replacing Floyd. He is now taking snaps with the 3rd string team at QB, and Second and First at WR.

Notre Dame has a 71-10-1 all time lead on the Midshipmen, including losing once in 45 years, that being 45-42 in OT.


The Naval Academy is led by head coach Ken Niumatalolo. He loves to run the ball. There are 11 returning starters from the 9-4 team last season that ND beat.

This season, the wins look pretty good, and so do the losses. They almost beat Ohio State, losing 31-27 in the last minutes. They lost by 3 to Temple, which was not by far a thrilling moment for Niumatalolo. They stayed in the game with the 7-1 Pitt Panthers, who ND plays next week.  Wins were Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, an OT game vs. Air Force, a 63-14 blowout at Rice, OT at SMU and Wake Forest.

Running the ball is a strategy they use the most, and that’s because they do it very well. They have fumbled six times all season. The ground game isn’t overly efficient, but it certainly is effective. The offense averages 4.6 yards per carry (34 in NCAA), better than 279 yards a game (3), and have rushed for 30 scores (2.) Quarterback Ricky Dobbs and fullback Vince Murray lead the way for a good option offense. Dobbs averages 3 .5 yards per carry and nearly 75 yards per game. Murray gains 4.7 yards per rush and almost 71 yards per game.

The passing game is fairly average. Dobbs has completed 50 percent of his passes on the year for 77.2 yards per game, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. However, Dobbs decides to go downfield, he has success. Navy is second in the country averaging a remarkable 18.4 yards per completion.

The Navy defense is not too bad. Just like any defense, it has it’s moments. The rankings for major stats for this D is anywhere from 6th (3rd Down efficiency: 28.9%) to 104th (Sacks: 11) Not too bad, but most of the rankings are from 40th to 65th.

They have to contain Floyd, Rudolph and Tate. That is going to be tough as they have never faced a trio of WR threats like these 3. They have only allowed 9 TD passes and  178.1 YPG. But look at who they have faced. Not too impressive. The stats are, but the teams are not.


Notre Dame needs this win. It could be a very easy win for the Irish, but I don’t think it will be. And I am not basing this on stats. Schedule. I think there is a possibility ND looks over Navy . They want Pitt. They NEED Pitt. And the 2 play next week, and it’s @ the Panthers, too. This is your classic “Trap” game. But in the end, I still like ND by 10.



Notre Dame-31


November 3, 2009

Subject: Notre Dame-Washington State Recap
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame is ranked #23 in the BCS polls heading into their game in San Antonio, Texas. They are coming off a thriller (Once again) vs. Boston College. A neutral site game between the 2 teams, it looked like a huge mismatch. Notre Dame, #23, is 5-2, needing this win to become Bowl eligible. Washington State is 1-6, with their only win coming against Southern Methodist in overtime. It looked like an easy win for the Irish, and a game that could end the streak of games decided by 7 points or less. WSU gets the ball to start the game. One play in there is already a flag. It is a holding penalty on WSU. This makes for a 2nd and 20, QB Jeff Tuel with another incomplete pass. He then runs and picks up 6, not close to the First. One drive, one 3 and out. WSU drive: 3 plays -4 yards, 00:53 WSU Punt

Notre Dame ball. First pass complete to Rudolph for 16 yards. But, an Eric Olsen holding penalty results in nothing. The ball is brought back. Another penalty is another 15 yards back. But that’s why we have Robert Hughes. Hughes rushes twice for 15 yards each and ND has a new set of downs. Clausen then with 2 passes, caught by Golden Tate and Rudolph, for 11 yards each. On 2nd and goal at the 4, Hughes fumbles for a 7 yard loss, but gets the ball back. One play later, Nick Tausch gets a ND Field Goal, and ND has the early lead.
ND drive: 10 plays 45 yards, 04:23 ND FG. 3-0 ND

Once again for WSU, not much to say. Jeff Solomon gets a 5 yard catch and that’s it. Another 3 and out for WSU, and it’s starting to look like a long day. WSU 3 plays 3 yards, 01:36 WSU Punt

Robert Hughes with 3 straight runs, and gets 12 yards total. A one yard sack on Clausen was followed by a Hughes 8 yard run, but Clausen’s incompletion leads to a punt. The punt was a whole different story. Ben Turk is the punter. The snap was horrible, and the punt was awful. Only 11 yards out of it.ND drive: 6 plays 19 yards, 03:05 ND Punt

First play of the drive for Tuel, Ethan Johnson comes in for a 9 yard sack. Nothing much after that. Another 3 and out. WSU drive: 3 plays 7 yards, 01:45 WSU Punt

Hughes shows he can catch too with an 8 yard catch. Golden Tate then gets 2 runs out of the Wildcat for a total of 43 yards. Is there anything he can’t do? Hughes then gets 2 rushes for 16 yards. Jimmy Clausen then finds Duval Kamara for a ND TD. EP Blocked. ND drive: 6 plays 80 yards, 03:04 ND TD. 9-0 ND

Last play of the first, Jeff Tuel gets a first down, finally.

So WSU finally has a first down. That’s as good as it would get in this drive, as a Kerry Neal and Ethan Johnson sack killed the drive. 3 plays later, another punt, but Tate dropped the ball. Lucky for the Irish, Jamoris Slaughter recovered.WSU drive: 4 plays 5 yards, 01:44 WSU Punt

ND is still up by 9, and thought it was time they extend that lead. 3 rushes for Riddick, for a total of 21 yards. Clausen to Hughes for 13, incomplete pass and a 17 yard pass to Kamara follow. Hughes runs for 4, and Golden Tate runs it in for a 16 yard TD run. EP Good. ND drive: 8 plays 71 yards, 04:01 ND TD. 16-0 ND

The first play for WSU made it look like a good drive. 12 yards to Jared Byres. Then a 4 yard run and 2 incomplete passes end the drive. WSU drive: 4 plays 16 yards, 01:22 WSU Punt

Jimmy Clausen then has 3 straight passes, 15 yards to Hughes, 22 to Tate and 6 to Mike Ragone, and then a 10 yard Hughes rush. Clausen to Rudolph follows, and a 9 yard face mask call gives ND another first down. Hughes ends the drive with a 1 yard run. EP good. ND drive: 8 plays 80 yards, 04:02 ND TD. 23-0 ND

Dwight Tardy, Logwone Mitz, and Tuel run 3 times for 38 yards. Tuel then threw a 15 yard pass to Tony Thompson. A play later, Karstetter caught an 11 yard pass for a TD. EP Good. WSU drive: 7 plays 69 yards, 02:49 WSU TD, 23-7 ND

Two ND penalties early didn’t help. Clausen to Riddick twice for 18 yards and 12 to Kamara. ND calls a time out with 7 seconds left. One last play. Clausen drops back, bombs the ball to Tate in triple coverage, and the ball in intercepted to end the half…but wait…the refs rule Tate did have the ball and came down, and ND gets a 50 yard pass for a TD! EP Good.


After that beautiful catch, ND has the ball back. Only 2 first downs for the Irish, one a Rudolph 7 yard catch and the other a Hughes 5 yard run, then a ND punt. ND drive: 8 plays 25 yards, 04:11 ND Punt

Another possession for WSU, and again, nothing to say. Another 3 and out by the Notre Dame defense. WSU drive: 3 plays 7 yards, 01:23 WSU Punt

Robert Hughes and Theo Riddick were the life of this drive. They combined for 20 yards rushing and 14 passing. The story of this drive is not either player. Jimmy Clausen was sacked and came up limping. Dayne Crist was brought in at QB. Clausen didn’t look to hurt, but it was smart because no team wants to lose their QB in a 30-7 game. Anyways, Nick Tausch kicked a 23 yard field goal to extend the blow out. ND drive: 11 plays 40 yards, 06:10 ND FG, 33-7 ND

The next drive for WSU was great. They decided they have had enough 3 and outs. So instead of another, they throw a beautiful pass…To Robert Blanton. ND gets the ball back. WSU drive: 1 play 0 yards, 00:13 WSU INT

ND did not cash in on this drive, as Hughes gained all 15 yards. Penalties didn’t help at all. ND has to punt. ND drive: 6 plays 15 yards, 02:29 ND Punt

Carl Winston picks up 4 on the ground, but a 10 yard holding penalty erases it, bringing the quarter to an end.


Tuel, on 3rd and 17, throws a 15 yard pass. That is good for another 3 and out. WSU drive: 3 plays 8 yards, 00:49 WSU Punt

The next drive only had one good play, an 11 yard rush by Riddick. 4 plays later ND has to punt. ND drive: 4 plays 16 yards, 01:27 ND Punt

Carl Winston rushed for 4 yards…a loss of 4 yards. Tuel is then sacked twice, once by Fleming and the other by Steve Filer. And guess what? Another 3 and out. WSU drive: 3 plays -20 yards, 02:06 WSU Punt

A one yard run by Riddick and 2 penalties started the drive. Then, Dayne Crist shows us why he is the future QB of ND. A 64 yard pass to John Goodman for a touchdown. EP Good. ND Drive: 2 plays 55 yards, 01:11 ND TD, 40-7 ND

Once again, the offense of WSU gets mad at all the 3 and outs. So they avoid another 3 and out with a first throw INT by Ian Williams. WSU Drive: 1 play 0 yards, 01:24 WSU INT

The next drive was not good for ND. It starts with an 8 yard loss from Jonas Gray. It ends with a Crist fumble. ND drive: 3 plays -9 yards, 01:27 ND Fumble

Mitz and Tardy run 4 times for a total of 43 yards. Tuel then ends the drive with an 8 yard pass for a touchdown to Karstetter. EP Good. WSU drive: 7 plays 65 yards, 03:21 WSU TD

The next drive as all Jonas Gray to kill the clock. Gray had 19 yards on this drive. ND has to punt though. ND drive: 6 plays 19 yards, 04:13 ND Punt Tuel to Winston was working good as they connected 3 times for 27 yards. The last play was a sack on Tuel that ends the game.


Golden Tate. There’s just nothing bad you can say about him as a ND fan. He can catch, he can throw and he can return punts. He had really picked it up for the injured Michael Floyd. When Floyd comes back, after seeing this from Tate for a few games, there’s no reason Notre Dame can’t win out, especially in a shootout. Those two, along with Rudolph, and even Kamara are the heart of the ND offense. Golden Tate should be in the Heisman race. Overall the game was exactly what ND needed. It wasn’t a last minute win, it was a blow out. This win should help going into a home game with Navy. Not only that, recruiting. This game should also help the recruiting, especially in the state of Texas. ND shouldn’t get over confident with this win, as it was only Washington State. But, the Irish might still be in the track to the BCS. Don’t over look Navy though. But in the end, a 26 point win the Irish needed.


October 30, 2009

Washington State Preview
By: Jon Kinne

Week after week, it has been a grind for the Notre Dame football team.  Two last minute losses and four heart stopping wins have left Irish fans wondering if an easy victory will ever come.

It will this week.

At least, it better.  Washington State is by far the worst team on the Irish schedule this season and if the Irish do what they should, the game should not be close.

When Notre Dame has the Ball

This is really easy.  Washington State is No. 118 out of 120 FBS programs at defending the pass.  That is not good when your next match up is against Jimmy Clausen and company.  The Cougars have given up an average of 284.1 yards per game while the Irish are No. 11 in passing offense at 305.9 yards per game.

The funny thing is that the Cougars returned all four starters in their defensive backfield this year.  Well, that was until corners Devin Giles and Romeo Pellum were suspended from and then left the team after some off the field incidents.  Terrance Haywood and Brandon Jones have filled in as starters and the results have not been good.


Furthermore, the Cougars have not put much pressure on the quarterback.  They rank 112th nationally with just seven sacks.  Ends Casey Hamlett and Travis Long lead the team with two each.

Usually, when a team is this poor at defending the pass, their rush defense numbers are decent because there is no need for the opposing team to run the ball.  That is not the case with Washington State.  They rank 114th at defending the run, giving up 215.3 yards every contest.  Their two safeties lead the team in tackles, Chima Nwachukwu has 55 and Xavier Hicks has 45.

You add it all together and the Cougars are No. 119 in total defense and No. 115 in scoring defense.

It is a situation where the Irish should be able to do whatever they want this week.  If they want to establish the run, they can.  If they want to bury the Cougs early with the pass, that should be there as well.

Boston College took away the deep passes last week, forcing Clausen to hit Golden Tate and Duval Kamara on a lot of short routes.  It also opened up some running lanes for Armando Allen.  It will be interesting to see if Washington State has the same game plan.

It really won't matter, the Irish will score plenty of points.

When Washington State has the Ball

On the other side of the ball, things are not a whole lot better for the Cougars.  Washington State ranks No. 112 in total offense with 290 yards per game and they are scoring just 15.1 points per game, which puts them at 116th in the land.

They have had a very tough time running the football.  They manage just 72.57 yards per game on the ground and their leading rusher, Dwight Tardy, has just 186 yards in seven games.  The starter coming into the year, James Montgomery, suffered a season-ending leg injury in game number three against SMU.  Last week against Cal, Carl Winston showed some life by gaining 51 yards.  But the guy at the top of the depth chart this week is Logwone Mitz, who has 112 yards in 2009.

Quarterback had been just as unsettled as running back, but the Cougars have now found their man under center.  Sophomore Marshall Lobbestael has started six games, but after completing just 46.7% of his passes with two touchdowns and five picks, freshman Jeff Tuel was put in charge.  In the Cal game, Tuel completed 28 of 42 for 354 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.

Tuel spread the ball out well last week with four receivers catching at least four passes.  Jared Karstetter is Washington Stateís top receiver on the year with 24 catches and three touchdowns.  Tuel will also look at wide receivers Jeffrey Solomon, Gino Simone, and Johnny Forzani.  Tight end Tony Thompson has caught just six passes this season and Zach Tatman has just two receptions.  However, both of Tatmanís catches came from Tuel in last weekís Cal game.

This is a bit of a concern because Notre Dameís pass defense has been less than spectacular this season.  They are currently just one spot ahead of Washington State at No. 117 in defending the pass.

They do, however, have nine interceptions.  So while they have given up yardage, they have made big plays at times, as witnessed by the ends of the Michigan State and Boston College games.  Tuel has thrown three interceptions to go with four touchdown throws.

The offensive line is also in a state of flux.  On the most recent Washington State depth chart, both tackle spots have two guys listed as co-starters.  Like with quarterbacks, if you have two starters, it generally means you have none.  They have not opened up many holes for the backs this season and they have given up an average of five sacks a game, worst among all FBS teams.

Notre Dame would like to get pressure on the freshman and see if he can be rattled.  Because Washington Stateís line has done such a poor job in pass protection, the Irish may see if they can get a pass rush by sending a limited number of people.  If this does not work, Tenuta will probably uncork his blitz packages once again, trusting that the maligned Notre Dame secondary can cover the Washington State receiving corps in more individualized coverages.

Special Teams

To top things off for Washington State, kicker Nick Grasu has not been all that consistent in 2009.  After making 9 of 13 field goals last year, he is just 6 of 10 this year.  He has also missed 2 of 12 extra points.  His long field goal is 44 yards and he has missed from 49, 39, 34, and 21 yards.  His kickoffs are also very short, worse actually than Notre Dameís, which is saying something.

Punter Reid Forrest is having a very good campaign.  A rugby-style punter, he has averaged 43.8 yards on 49 punts.  14 of his kicks have been downed inside the 20.

Neither return game is spectacular.  Dwight Tardy and Carl Winston will return kick offs and both have return averages of less than 20 yards.  Jeffrey Solomon will handle the punts, where he has 32 total return yards on the season.

The Notre Dame punting game has been a problem this season.  After a poor game against Boston College by freshman Ben Turk, head coach Charlie Weis opened up the punting competition again this week.  Turk retained his job by once again beating out former starter Eric Maust.


If Notre Dame struggles in any way, shape, or form this week it will be a major disappointment.  Washington State is very young and they are a bad team right now.

On offense, the Cougars may be able to move the ball through the air.  Tuel has progressed and the Irish have struggled defending the pass.  It is unlikely, though, that Washington State will be able to establish much on the ground.  They donít run the ball well at all and this is an Irish rush defense that held Boston College star Montel Harris to just 38 yards just a week after he had 264 against North Carolina State..

Defensively, the Washington State major weakness corresponds to the Notre Dame strength.  They canít defend the pass and the Irish have been able to throw the ball well every week.  We have seen a bit of a slip in the Notre Dame passing production over the past two weeks due to the fact that USC and BC defend the pass better than some of the other teams on the schedule and without Michael Floyd on the other side of Golden Tate, the Irish have not been as prolific.

That will change this week.  Clausen should have plenty of time to throw the ball and his receivers are vastly more talented than the secondary of Washington State.

Armando Allen and Robert Hughes are a bit dinged up, so we may see more of Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick this week running the ball.

This is a game that Notre Dame can get up early and play a lot of people on both sides of the ball.  They would love to get Dayne Crist some extended action at quarterback to let him get a better feel for the offense in game situations.

NBC is putting this game on in prime time on Halloween night.  By the third quarter, many college football fans will be looking for their treats on another channel.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at


October 26, 2009

Notre Dame 20   Boston College 16
By: Jon Kinne

For the sixth game in a row, Notre Dame‚s fate was decided in the final two minutes.  This time it was not over until the last of Boston College‚s five turnovers, David Shinskie‚s third interception, rested securely in the arms of Notre Dame‚s Brian Smith, preserving a 20-16 Irish victory.
The game was in doubt until the end despite the fact that Notre Dame outgained the Eagles and won the turnover battle 5-0.  In the end it was the big plays made by the big players on both sides of the ball that carried the Irish to victory.
On offense, Notre Dame scored the winning touchdown on a 36-yard pass from Jimmy Clausen to Golden Tate with 8:12 remaining in the game.  Clausen completed 26 of 39 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns.  Once again, Tate was his favorite target.  The junior wide out caught 11 passes for 128 yards and received both of Clausen‚s touchdown passes.  
Defensively, Kyle McCarthy stood out again.  The senior safety intercepted two passes to bring his season total to five.  Along with his game-saving pick, Brian Smith also had six tackles and a fumble recovery.  And freshman linebacker Manti Te‚o led the team with nine total tackles, including two that resulted in lost yardage.
The game began with a Notre Dame drive stalling in the BC red zone.  Nick Tausch came on and drilled a 37-yard field goal to give the Irish an early 3-0 lead.  
The next time Notre Dame got the ball, points were put up by the Eagles.  After a tripping penalty put the Irish in a hole at their own 15 yard line, Clausen dropped back to pass but was flushed out of the pocket.  He threw the ball away, but because the pass did not reach the line of scrimmage and there was no receiver in the area, it was ruled intentional grounding.  And because Clausen was in the end zone when he threw the ball, the result of the play was a safety.
Notre Dame added another field goal midway through the second quarter moments after it looked like the Irish had a touchdown.  Holder Eric Maust ran a fake in to the end zone for an apparent score, but Lane Clelland was called for holding, nullifying the play.  Tausch then knocked through a 34-yarder for a 6-2 Irish lead.
The Eagles immediately grabbed a 9-7 lead on a nine play, 68 yard drive culminating with a seven yard Shinskie touchdown pass to Rich Gunnell.  
Notre Dame got the lead back just before halftime on an 11-yard pass from Clausen to Tate, but BC came out of the locker room on fire.  Starting at their own 44, the Eagles reached the end zone in just six plays, the final one being a two-yard touchdown run by Montel Harris.  The two key plays on the drive were completions of 20 and 28 yards from Shinskie to Gunnell.
Boston College was in position to take total control later in the third quarter.  The Eagles embarked on a 10-play, 85-yard drive to inside the Irish five.  But when Irish safety Sergio Brown knocked the ball away from Harris at the one and it was recovered by Brian Smith, Notre Dame had held the score at 16-13 Eagles.
Notre Dame had their own shot from inside the BC five in the fourth quarter.  On third down, Clausen scrambled down to the Eagle one.  Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis decided to go for it and after a timeout, the Irish came out in a Wildcat formation with Robert Hughes taking the snap.  Hughes ran inside, but was met head on and dropped at the one by BC‚s Marcellus Bowman.  
But after a three and out by Boston College, Notre Dame got the ball back with good field position.  On the fourth play of the drive, Clausen threw to Tate who ran 36-yards for the deciding score.
Boston College was led by Gunnell, who caught 10 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown.  Shinskie threw for 279 yards, but also had those three costly picks.  Harris, a week after running for 264 yards and five score against North Carolina State, had just 38 yards on 22 carries and lost the first two fumbles of his collegiate career.
Notre Dame plays lowly Washington State next Saturday night in San Antonio.  

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at .  


October 24, 2009

Boston College-Notre Dame Preview
By: Sonny Martinez

Boston College is another big rival of the Irish. It's not as storied as USC, but still always a big game on both team's schedules. The game is known as the "Holy War," and it is played for the Ireland Trophy, and in addition, it is also played for the Frank Leahy Memorial Bowl. The teams have met 18 times dating back to 1975. The series is tied 9-9, but BC has dominated as of late. They have one 6 in a row since 2001. Against a weak BC Defense, it should be easy. Should.


First, Jimmy Clausen will have to play like he did against USC. Without LB Mark Herzlich, it's not as tough of an Eagles defense. It's not the worst in the country, but by far not in the top 20. Clausen was great in the loss to SC, and needs to copy that. He had a respectable 56% completion rate, even against a rock solid SC Defense. The Clausen-to-Tate connection was working great. Tate had 117 yards and 2 TDs.

And the WRs for the Irish need to work. Kamara has to make up for game-costing end zone slip last week. And not only that group, but also Clausen's favorite Red Zone target Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has 24 catches for 276 yards, already ahead of his 2008 freshman total.

The biggest step-up player for Michael Floyd (who might return Nov. 14 @ Pitt) has been Robby Parris. Parris is a workhorse. He made the big catches for Notre Dame, even though he got a little roughed up at the end. Ok, so Ankle, Knee and Hip injuries from one hit are more than a little. He has 16 catches for 179 yards, including some game-changing catches at Purdue and vs. USC.

For Notre Dame, another key is to win the battles up front. They need to bo a better job of spreading the field against the Eagle secondary. Frank Spaziani is one of the best Defensive men in all of football. Not just college, all of football. He knows he has to defend Notre Dame’s spread passing attack; drop seven or eight, rush three or four, and force Jimmy Clausen to hold onto the ball.


As simple as it can be put, the Eagle offense takes advantages of scoring opportunities and can run the football. And run it well.

BC is good in the red zone. They are 3rd in efficiency and tenth in red zone touchdown efficiency. But, the Eagles are not thrilling on 3rd down. They are only 32.3 percent, good for 102 out of 120 teams. That's not good. But what is good, the good red zone offense has led to over 30 points per game, although they are not good at moving the ball. They only average 326 yards per game, but they have generated 27 touchdowns (compared to 453 yards per game and 23 touchdowns for the Irish.)

Offensive Coordinator Gary Tranquill loves to run the ball.

And with Montel Harris leading the the way for a rushing attack that averages 155.3 yards per game, there is a good reason to. Not only is Harris a threat for a long run, Josh Haden is as well. Sure, he doesn't have the same 807 yards and 10 TDs, but he is a good 3rd down back. 

Boston College's passing, however, is not top of the line. Dave Shinskie is only completing 53.9% of his passes, with 815 yards and a 9:4 Touchdown to INT ratio, as compared to Jimmy Clausen and his 64.9%, 1804 yards, and 14:2  TD to INT ratio. This coming for Shinskie, even though BC's front line has only given up 11 sacks (16 pas attempts per sack) is shocking. With that kind of protection, he should be one of the top passers in the NCAA.

BC's pass defense is not near the top. They rank worse than 30th in every meaningful statistical category. Even with that, they only allow 10.9 yards per completion.Additionally, Boston College doesn’t have a very good pass rush. They only have 10 sacks, which ranks 86th in the nation. Only half have come from the front four. They only have one sack per 22.3 attempts, 91st in the nation.


This isn't the best Eagles team ND has seen. 5 wins have been against weak teams (Northeastern, Kent State, Wake Forest, Florida State, and NC State) and are not very impressive wins. If the Irish play within themselves, this game won’t be close. It'll be a blow out. But if the Irish defense plays down to Boston College, it'll be another last minute game. Clausen faces an okay defense, and should score a lot even without Floyd and potentially Parris, which would hurt.  Overall, Notre Dame should win based on a number of factors. On paper, it should be a LARGE win for the Irish, but that's why they play on the field. In the end, I have to go with Notre Dame, larger than their 8 point spread.


BC 14
ND 41


October 4, 2009

Notre Dame 37    Washington 30
By: Jon Kinne

On a day where Jimmy Clausen threw for 422 yards, including 244 to Golden Tate alone, it was the Notre Dame goal-line defense that stole the show in a 37-30 overtime win over Washington.

Aided by a bizarre roughing the snapper call, Washington had seven opportunities from inside the Notre Dame two yard line in the last 18 minutes of the game and came away with just three points.  If Washington had managed a touchdown on any of those plays, they would have led by two scores.

At the end of the third quarter, Washington‚s Jake Locker was denied a touchdown by the Irish defense on 3rd and 4th down quarterback sneaks from the one yard line.  But the goal line stand in the third quarter was just a prelude to what would happen late in the fourth quarter.

Up 24-22, the Huskies seemingly put the game out of reach when running back Chris Polk ran six yards for a touchdown.  However, after an official review the ball was spotted on the ∏ yard line, first and goal for Washington.  Polk lost a yard on first down and Locker threw an incomplete pass on second down.  When the Irish stopped Locker for no gain on 3rd down, Husky coach Steve Sarkisian sent out the field goal team.

But Notre Dame defensive tackle Ian Williams was called for roughing the snappper on the attempt, giving Washington four more cracks at the end zone from the one.  Once again, the Irish defense held firm, helped by an illegal motion penalty on second down that put the ball back at the six.  On third down at the one, Locker again tried a sneak that was stopped short of the goal line, setting up a field goal that kept it as a one possession game.

Clausen and company made the most of their one possession.  Starting the drive with 3:04 left in the game, Clausen hit Shaquelle Evans for eight yards, Robby Parris for 20, and Tate for 17 before connecting with tight end Kyle Rudolph on a 12-yard fade pattern for a score.  

With Notre Dame up one, Robert Hughes, subbing for a banged up Armando Allen, took a direct snap on the two-point conversion and was met at the line of scrimmage by several Washington defenders.  But he kept his legs churning and moved the pile into the end zone to put the Irish up 30-27.

That conversion wound up being huge as Locker immediately drove his team into field goal range.  The big play was a 37-yard completion to James Johnson that got the Huskies to the Notre Dame 26.  With six seconds left, Eric Folk booted through a 37-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime.

The Irish got the first crack in the extra session and scored in two plays.  Clausen hit Tate, who flipped his way down to the three yard line.  After a Washington offsides penalty inched the ball closer, Robert Hughes rumbled in from the two.

The Notre Dame defense then stepped up.  After an incomplete pass, Kerry Neal sacked Locker for a nine yard loss, putting the Huskies in third and long.  The third down pass sailed through the hands of Jermaine Kearse, leaving Washington one more chance.

On the game‚s final play, Locker found D‚Andre Goodwin at the two yard line.  But Kyle McCarthy made a big hit on Goodwin, separating him from the ball, and preserving an Irish victory.

While Washington‚s failure to convert from the one proved to be their undoing, early in the game it was Notre Dame that was having red zone troubles.  After Washington scored a touchdown on its opening possession, Notre Dame drove down to the Husky eight before stalling.  Nick Tausch kicked the first of his team-record tying five field goals from 34 yards.

The next two Irish drives ended at the 21 and 16 yard lines respectively, with Tausch converting both times for a 9-7 Notre Dame lead.

With the Irish defense starting to make life miserable for the Washington offense, Clausen made a huge mistake that gave the Huskies seven points and the lead.  On third and seven at the Notre Dame 30, Clausen threw a swing pass that sailed over the head of Allen.  The pass, however, was not actually a pass but a lateral that was picked up and run in by Washington freshman Desmond Trufant.

Notre Dame retook the lead on a 67-yard catch and run by Tate.  The junior from Hendersonville, Tenn. had a career day with nine catches for 244 yards and that touchdown.

Folk kicked a field goal as the first half expired, giving the Huskies a 17-16 lead going to the break.

Another stalled ND red zone chance led to another Tausch field goal to open the third quarter.  But Washington had a quick answer, going 76 yards in just five plays, the last being an eight yard touchdown pass from Locker to Kearse to go back on top 24-19.  

After the third quarter goal line stand, Notre Dame again drove the ball deep into Washington territory.  The key player on the drive was Hughes, who caught a Clausen pass for 25 yards and also had a 37 yard run.  But again, the Irish offense sputtered inside the Washington ten and they had to settle for another short Tausch field goal making the score 24-22 Washington and setting the stage for the exciting finish.

Clausen finished the day 23 of 31 for 422 yards and two touchdowns.  He was intercepted once on a pass that went through the hands of Allen.  He connected with six different receivers, with his favorite target being the aforementioned Tate.

For second week in a row, Robert Hughes came up huge.  He rushed for 70 yards on eight carries, had a touchdown to go along with the all-important two-point conversion.

The Irish defense gave up 457 yards, but when it mattered most, they played their best.  Kyle McCarthy again led the way with 12 total tackles and was followed by freshman Manti Te‚o with 10.

Notre Dame has next week off before the USC Trojans come to town on October 17th.  

October 3, 2009

Washington at Notre Dame Preview
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame has a big home game this week.. Sure it is at home, and sure, it is Washington, the same 0-12 Huskies from 2008, but let's take a minute to think about this. Washington upset USC 2 weeks ago, and ranked #24 lost to Stanford last week. Washington wants payback, and a win over Notre Dame in South Bend will do just that. They want respect in the PAC 10. They NEED respect in the PAC 10. So let's take a look at these two teams.


Notre Dame, when playing at home, is 2-0, while Washington is 0-1 on the road. The Irish have one of the top offenses in the nation. In fact, they're 15th in total yards with 455.0 yards per game. Not bad for Charlie Weis. 306.3 yards passing per game. Jimmy Clausen should be good to play in this game after seeing limited playing time at Purdue because of turf toe..

Clausen has shown his leadership the past few weeks, leading two last minute wins in 3 weeks. He needs to do well in this game. Tate and Rudolph should be good to go, and Kamara and Parris add some more weapons. Even though Floyd has missed a game and a half, and will miss the rest of the season, he and Tate still are tied with 358 yards. Tate does have 24 catches.

The receivers have the advantage over the pass defense of Washington. Clausen enters the weekend as the nation’s fourth-most efficient quarterback with a rating of 172.86. Kamara and Parris have done a good job pf taking over for Floyd. While they don't make up for everything lost, which is a lot, they have made Clausen's life a little easier that it could have been. Not only this, Tate is great in the wildcat. His runs are great and exciting. Expect to see many rushing yards for Tate again..

Speaking of the run....Washington’s run defense has been terrible to say the very least. Against LSU and USC, the Huskies surrendered nearly 200 yards per game on the ground. But that is LSU and USC, and Notre Dame is not either by a long shot. And with not one, not two, but 3 great RBs, expect a big time game. Allen, Hughes and Gray. Allen has 326 yards and 3 TDs. He should greatly improve those stats. Just like Gray should get his season total over 150 (He's at 92 now) and get his first TD or two. Hughes had a good game against Purdue, and it should carry over to this week.


There is not enough I can say good about Jake Locker. In my opinion he has could go ahead of Sam Bradford in the NFL Draft. Last year he was 0-12, but ND fans know this all to well, that's what Tyrone Willingham's recruiting will get you. He is one of the best QBs in the country. I know he has 3 INTs, but he did beat the "Mighty" Trojans. And they were ranked just games after an 0-12 season. He's one of the best leaders in all of college football. I can go on and on about Locker, but there is some other players on this team that are key.

Steve Sarkisian, the new head coach of Washington coming from USC, has already improved this team. He knows what has to be done to get them back to the Huskies of old. And that's exactly what he's doing. He runs his team very well, and it's already showing.

Washington's passing should be successful against ND's defense. Notre Dame’s defensive backfield has hardly lived up to expectations while ranking in the bottom quarter of the NCAA, #82 in pass efficiency defense.. Locker is a major threat with a very strong arm, as is receiver James Johnson. He is their best wide-out, and he has 220 yards on 19 catches with 2 of Locker's 6 TD passes.

Rushing offense vs rushing defense is dead even. Yea right...ND has the advantage. Washington's rushing is a joke. But, anything can happen, and that's why they play the game. Washington is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Only 3 yards per rush, even with Chris Polk's 316 yards. They haven't even had 100 yard TOTAL of yards in the last 2 games. And the Irish's run defense. Wow. 4.4 yards per carry and 130.5 yards per game through four games. Wow. Washington's run should be a non-factor in this game if all goes right. If.


This game is huge for Notre Dame. They need this win.

This week, Washington at home. Next week, off. A chance to recover. Then their biggest must-win of them all. October 17, USC at HOME. If Notre Dame wins big, they might make it back into the AP Top 25, and maybe the top 20 if it's a good enough win.

Washington needs this win also.

They beat USC then lose to Stanford. That is just not right. Even if it is an "Upset" of SC, you should beat Stanford. The Huskies need to prove they're for real, and what better place to do it than in front of 80,095 Irish fans on NBC.

Both teams are fighting for something. Notre Dame for BCS dreams, Washington for PAC 10 respect. It's tough to tell who will come out more fired up. ND has the advantage in almost every aspect of the game. They are a 7 point favorite, but I think they will win by more than 7.

In the end, Notre Dame gets a good win and gets some much needed momentum headed into battle with USC in two weeks, as the Trojans face off with Cal.


Washington 21
Notre Dame 34


September 29, 2009

Notre Dame @ Purdue Recap
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame and Purdue. Another rivalry game for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Michael Floyd is out. Armando Allen might not see much playing time. Jimmy Clausen has turf toe. Add to this, the game is in West Lafayette. All of the sudden, this game looks tougher than it did on September 5. Purdue could really use a win at home. Notre Dame needs a win on the road.
The game starts with the Boilermakers having the ball at the PUR 20. Joey Elliott gets the ball to Kevin Smith for a 4 yard gain. RB Ralph Bolden picks up 2. The play of the drive was a 26 yard rush on 3rd and 2 by Bolden. Two plays later Elliott with a 36 yard pass to Aaron Valentin and that didn't take long, Purdue is on the board with an early lead. EP good. 7-0 Purdue. Purdue drive: 8 plays 80 yards, 03:07 Purdue TD
Notre Dame gets the ball for the first time. Right off the start, Purdue with a 5 yard penalty for offsides. Three plays of Jonas Gray in a row, 3 yard rush, 19 yard reception, and 6 yard loss on a rush. Penalties on ND and PUR offset, On 3rd and 16, Clausen to Kamara for 15, one yard short. Weis goes for it, and Gray gets 3 yards. The problem? It was a LOSS of 3 yards. Turnover. 7-0 Purdue. ND drive: 6 plays 33 yards, 03:20 ND TOD.
After a 2 yard rush and an incomplete pass, Elliott connects with Smith for 22 yards and a first down. After 3 more plays that result in a loss of a yard, Purdue punts. 7-0 Purdue. Purdue drive: 6 plays 27 yards, 02:13 Purdue Punt.
Even with the toe, Clausen stays out. First play is a 23 yard catch by Gray. Clausen incomplete, then to Golden Tate for 9. Because of a penalty, it's 3rd and 6. But a 15 yard Purdue penalty gives the Irish a first down. Gray rush for 4, incompletion and a sack to Clausen. 3rd down again. But, once again, a penalty on PUR for 15 yards for taunting Clausen. Three plays later on 4th and 10, Nick Tausch with a 34 yard field goal. 7-3 Purdue. ND drive: 10 plays 60 yards, 03:57 ND Field Goal.
Cortez Smith gets a 9 yard catch and 3 rushes in a row for 13 yards brings and end to the 1st. END OF FIRST QUARTER- ND 3 PUR 7. Then one play later it's 4th down and PUR has to punt, 7-3 Purdue. Purdue drive: 5 plays 22 yards, 02:33 Purdue Punt.
Jimmy Clausen is no longer QB. Dayne Crist comes in and makes an impact on his first play by rushing for 16 yards. After a Tate rush, and an incompletion to Kamara, Tate gets 2 more rushes for 16 yards. 4 runs in a row for Robert Hughes, 37 yards total, and the last run, the most important, a 2 yard TD rush. EP good, ND has the lead. 10-7 ND. ND drive: 9 plays 73 yards, 04:07 ND Touchdown.
Next PUR drive only has one big play. It was a 13 yard catch by Smith. After this, 3 more plays and a punt. 10-7 ND. Purdue drive: 4 plays 18 yards, 02:11 Purdue Punt.
Tate with a 3 yard run for the Irish, then a 24 yard run by Theo Riddick. This entire drive was rushing. All they needed was 5 more rushes and 35 yards to find the end zone thanks to Golden Tate. EP Good, 17-7 ND. ND drive: 7 plays 62 yards, 03:49 ND Touchdown.
Elliott to Adams was successful twice for 12 yards, then twice it was not. Elliott trys to get things going on the ground, but only one yard gained. PUR has to punt again. 17-7 ND. Purdue drive: 5 plays 13 yards, 01:55 Purdue Punt.
Clausen's back on the field. Two hook ups with Kamara, only for 5 total yards though. A timeout by PUR. Then an incomplete pass. Maust on for the punt after a quick 3 and out. 17-7 ND. ND drive: 3 plays 5 yards, 00:54 ND Punt.
Purdue has to get something done now, as this would most likely be their last drive of the half. But instead a 10 yard PUR penalty gives a 1st and 20. Two plays for a total of 17 yards got a 3rd and 3, but a drop by Smith killed the drive. Punt. 17-7 ND. Purdue drive: 4 plays 7 yards, 00:51 Purdue TOD.
ND ball, just trying to kill time. A Rudolph 16 yard catch gave ND the ball at PUR's 48. Shaq Evans with a 12 yard catch. then a long throw in the end zone is Purdue. 17-7 ND. ND drive: 5 plays 29 yards, 00:45 ND INT.
18 seconds left. Purdue gets 3 plays off. Nothing. End of the half. END OF HALF: ND 17 PUR 7.
ND's ball to start the half. Jonas Gray with 2 rushes for 9 yards. Crist with a rush for 4. Clausen is back in the game now, Golden Tate is the main man in the next 2 plays, with a catch and rush for 7 yards each. Gray with another 6 yard run, then back to back rushes with no gain.Once again, Maust on for the punt. 17-7 ND. ND drive: 8 plays 28 yards, 05:20 ND Punt.
Another Purdue drive with only one big play. Again, Smith with a 16 yard catch, and nothing the rest of the drive. 3 more plays of nothing. 17-7 ND. Purdue drive: 4 plays 10 yards, 01:18 Purdue Punt.
Dayne Crist is back in at QB, Hughes picks up 3 on the ground and 5 in the air on back to back plays. Hughes again on 2 rushes for 10 yards. Rudolph then picks up 12 yards and another ND first. So far, this looks like a very good drive. Crist's next 3 throws went 2/3 with 21 yards. Then 3 plays of no gain and a Crist sack on 4th down results in a turnover. 17-7 ND. ND drive: 13 plays 42 yards, 06:20 ND TOD.
First play on the next PUR drive is a 28 yard catch to who else but Kevin Smith. He's been open all game long. 2 plays later, another catch for 14  yards. Kevin Smith....again. Bolden loses a yard and the 3rd is over. END OF 3RD QUARTER ND 17 PUR 7.  And again, one play into the 4th, Smith with a 13 yard catch. 2 plays later, Elliott with at TD pass to......Kevin Smith. EP Good. 17-14 ND. Purdue drive: 10 plays 59 yards, 03:21 Purdue Touchdown.
3 VERY quick plays for the Irish. A 3 and out. Really a beautiful drive. 17-14 ND. ND drive: 3 plays -2 yards, 01:11 ND Punt.
On a 3rd and 10, Elliott with an 11 yard pass to Royce Adams. Smith then gets the ball again, a 6 yard rush. 2 penalties in a row of 5 yards to PUR. Then a 12 yard gain to K. Adams. 2 plays later, an interception by Walls at the 22 stops the PUR threat. 17-14 ND. Purdue drive: 7 plays 18 yards, 04:56 Purdue INT.
Notre Dame gets the ball back but can't do anything with it. Another 3 and out. 17-14 ND. ND drive: 3 plays 1 yards, 01:38 ND Punt.
Bolden gets 15 on the ground, Carlos with a 20 yard catch, and Bolden with a 2 yard run. The, the big play. The one all ND fans did not want, a PUR TD. A 38 yard strike to Jaycen Taylor. EP good. 21-17 Purdue.. Purdue drive: 5 plays 69 yards, 02:15 Purdue Touchdown.
This is Clausen's time to prove that he is a leader. This is Charlie Weis' time to prove that his job is his. This is the Irish's time to shine. Clausen, turf toe and all, 3 passes for 35 yards. Hughes with the run for 4 yards. Next play, Clausen is sacked. But Clausen is even more fired up now, as he completes 2/3 of his next passes for 32. Incomplete to Parris and a Hughes with a 2 yard rush. Now the clock is ticking, and ND has to spike the ball only giving them one play for a TD. But PURDUE uses a timeout. Even as an Irish fan, I'm still wondering about that. The next play was an incomplete pass. The game would have been over. But one more chance, and with 0:24 left, Kyle Rudolph with a ND TOUCHDOWN!!! EP Good. 24-21 ND.. ND drive: 12 plays 72 yards, 03:17 ND Touchdown.
Purdue needs 3 to tie. But 2 plays in, a FUMBLE that is recovered by ND. ND takes the knee and wins. FINAL SCORE ND 24 PUR 21.
WOW. That game scared every ND fan. It was a great game. Clausen is a true leader. Purdue couldn't have lost in a worse way. Notre Dame couldn't have won in a worse way. It was a good game, not great, but good. ND got the win they needed on the road. Now they can relax as 4 of 6 are at home.

September 22, 2009

Purdue Preview
By: Jon Kinne

When the game ended on Saturday night, the scoreboard read, Notre Dame 33, Michigan State 30.‰  It was hard, though, for Notre Dame fans to feel all that euphoric.

Maybe it was the 459 yards of total offense surrendered to Michigan State, 354 of which came through the air against the supposed strength of the Irish defense, the secondary.  Maybe it was the lack of a pass rush despite the constant Tenuta blitzes.  There no sacks and few pressures until Darius Fleming got into the face of Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins, forcing the Kyle McCarthy interception that preserved the Irish victory.

Maybe it was Jimmy Clausen limping around.  Maybe it was Armando Allen doing the same.  Maybe it was Michael Floyd being lost for the season with a broken collarbone.  

Maybe it was all of this and more.  As a result, Saturday night did not feel like a night for victorious celebration.  

But it was a win, the Irish are 2-1, and look at complete the Big Ten portion of their schedule when they visit Purdue on Saturday night.

When Notre Dame Has the Ball
The loss of Michael Floyd is huge.  A talented receiver will line up in his spot on Saturday, but neither Duval Kamara nor Robby Parris nor Shaq Evans is Michael Floyd.  When you tie Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown in career touchdown receptions in the third game of your sophomore season, you are special and not easily replaced.
The Irish do have plenty of other weapons and their diversity on offense will go a long way in determining how effective they will be without Floyd.  While a #2 receiver behind Golden Tate must emerge, so to does tight end Kyle Rudolph.  Rudolph had a nice game against Michigan State catching six passes for 95 yards.  He had seven catches for 75 yards in the first two games combined and the Notre Dame staff is hoping that his play this past week will continue.
Rudolph also appeared to improve his blocking this week, helping Armando Allen gain 115 yards on the ground.  Allen, along with an improved offensive line, has given the Irish a viable rushing attack, something they have lacked since Darius Walker‚s departure following the 2006 season.
The running game could be especially important this weekend.  Purdue, in three games this season, has given up an average of 181 rushing yards per game.  Northern Illinois bashed the Boilermakers with 280 yards rushing in their upset win in West Lafayette on Saturday.  
The Purdue defense returns seven starters from last year‚s unit.  They ranked 93rd in the nation against the run, so they did not have much success in that category last year with much of the same personnel.
The unit was supposed to be strong against the pass this season.  So far, though, they have given up 253.3 yards per game passing.  When you combine their woes stopping the run with the deficiencies in coverage, you have big problems.
Ryan Kerrigan is being counted on to spearhead the defensive group.  Last season he had 56 tackles, 11.5 of which resulted in lost yardage, and seven sacks.  In 2009, he has 11 tackles and one sack.  Linebacker Justin Werner has been by far the Boilers most effective defender with 27 tackles with six for lost yardage.  He also has a sack and an interception.
The secondary returns three starters.  Senior corner David Pender has five pass break ups this year and senior safety Torri Williams is second on the team with 23 total tackles.
For Notre Dame on offense this week, it comes down to execution over strategy.  They could run the ball against Purdue if they so choose or they could spread the field and let Jimmy Clausen air it out.  Look for the Irish to try to achieve offensive balance early in the game, keeping Purdue defensive coordinator Donn Landholm guessing all night long.
If Purdue is able to contain the run and the Irish are forced to pass exclusively, Notre Dame should still be able to move the ball on the Boilermakers.  As noted, Purdue has had issues defending the pass and they have not yet seen a team that can throw it around like the Irish.
Notre Dame‚s offensive line has done a good job protecting Clausen through three games and Michigan and Michigan State feature better front seven athletes than Purdue.  Also, even without Floyd, Notre Dame‚s receivers are superior to the Purdue defensive backs and few teams have an answer for Rudolph.
The Irish offense has only turned the ball over once in three games.  Obviously, turnovers could be the great equalizer, but this Notre Dame seems to value the ball.  
In short, expect the Irish fireworks to continue.

When Purdue Has the Ball
It is an old adage, but Purdue‚s best defense may be holding onto the ball on offense.
Going into last week‚s game against Michigan State, Notre Dame‚s worries were against the run.  The final stats show that the Spartans had 105 rushing yards, which is a huge success for the Irish defense as compared to the first two games.  At the same time, Michigan State‚s passing game took the contest right down to the wire.
Looking at Purdue, there is no question that the strength of their offense is running Ralph Bolden behind their veteran offensive line.  Three of last year‚s starters return up front, the only offensive starters that return from 2008.
While Kory Sheets ran for 1,131 yards last season, Bolden has picked up right where Sheets left off.  Bolden has gone for 421 yards and four scores in 2009 and has also caught eight passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.  
Keeping Bolden in check will be the highest priority for the Notre Dame defense.  The Boilers have thrown for 230 yards per game, but it is a unit with very little experience.  Quarterback Joey Elliott is a fifth-year senior that is getting his first opportunity as a starter after spending time backing up Curtis Painter.  While he has completed 61% of his passes and thrown four touchdown passes so far this year season, he has also been intercepted five times.  Avoiding mistakes that allow the Notre Dame offense more opportunities will be critical for Purdue on Saturday night.
The receiving corps is entirely new this year, as well.  Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin have developed into Elliott‚s favorite targets, catching 17 and 16 passes respectively.  They each have one touchdown reception.  Tight end Kyle Adams has 10 receptions for 85 yards.
Once again, stopping the run will be key for the Irish.  They need to put Elliott in long yardage situations on second and third downs.  The Purdue receivers have talent but are not the type of players that can be counted on to carry the team without help from the running game.
The thought was the same last week, though it is even more crucial against Purdue.  Ralph Bolden is better than any of the Michigan State backs and the Boilermakers do not have anyone as dangerous as Blair White or Mark Dell at wide receiver.  Also, Elliott has been prone to the pick.  Forcing Purdue to put the ball in the air is most definitely the Irish game plan.
The only problem with this theory is that the Irish blitz packages have not produced much the past two weeks.  If Notre Dame continues to blitz without putting any heat on the quarterback, even mediocre receivers will gain big chunks of yardage.  
It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame changes their defensive strategy or if their current system works better this week.  If it is the same old, same old, Purdue will have little trouble moving the football.

Special Teams
Nick Tausch missed an extra point when he started his approach way too early.  It was so early that he was called for illegal motion.  That is early.  His kickoffs were once again short and the Spartans returned the opening kick off out to their own 45 yard line.  The coverage did improve as the game wore on, but this continues to be a problem area.
The good news is that Tausch was two for two on field goal attempts including a 46-yarder.  He is now four for five on the year.  
Eric Maust had a better week, averaging 41.3 yards per punt with one downed inside the 20.  More importantly, Michigan State had no return yardage on his three punts.
The return game was again okay with Theo Riddick showing a burst on his 38-yard kick off return.
Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs is two for three on field goals, but only one of his attempts has come from inside 50 yards.  Chris Summers is a solid punter that averages 44.8 yards per kick.  
Aaron Valentin returns punts at a 12.7 yard clip, though much of his yardage was accumulated on one 62-yard touchdown return.  He also serves as the kick returner.
Once again, Notre Dame just needs a solid effort on special teams with no beak downs.  They cannot afford to give Purdue confidence by allowing a return for a touchdown or a blocked kick that sets up a score.
It is nice to see that the Irish have seemed to find a competent kicker in Nick Tausch.

Purdue started the season strong with a win over Toledo and followed that up by going out to Autzen Stadium and playing the Oregon Ducks very tough.  They then came home and laid an egg against Northern Illinois.  Which Purdue team will show up is something Boilermaker fans are wondering.
It is a night game at Ross-Ade Stadium and the Boilers are always fired up when Notre Dame comes to town.  
That being said, Notre Dame has more talent than Purdue.  Their offensive line, a soft spot for several years, has performed very well this season.  Armando Allen has run hard and Jimmy Clausen has been as good as any passer in the country.  
On defense, the Irish have struggled at times stopping the run.  When they have controlled the ground game, they have not been able to defend the pass.  
This is a Purdue offense that will do all it can to run the ball.  Joey Elliott is not as good as the other quarterbacks that the Irish have defended.  The Irish have to put Purdue in spots where Elliott has to make plays.  
That is easier said than done because Ralph Bolden is a very good back.  He will gain yardage, but the Notre Dame defense must make him work for every yard he gets.  They cannot allow him to get into the open field where he is extremely dangerous.
Again this week, it falls on the front seven.  Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith leading the team in tackles is not a good thing.   Brian and Toryan Smith must begin to make their presence known in defending the run.  Ethan Johnson and Ian Williams did show some life against Michigan State, something they must build upon going forward.
The front seven also must sustain a pass rush.  Brian Smith and Darius Fleming need to show their explosiveness on a more consistent basis.  It appears that Kerry Neal has been passed by John Ryan, who is not known for his pass rushing skills, so the Irish need the rush from somewhere else.  That could come from Kapron Lewis-Moore, who has been way too quiet in the first three games.
The crowd could play a factor in this game if Purdue does compete early on.  They will get loud and Notre Dame has not responded well in hostile environments recently.  The Irish are 3-9 in their last 12 road games going back to 2006.  Interestingly, two of those wins came during the nightmare known as the 2007 season.  
Purdue will score, so they will most likely hang around.  Notre Dame will score much easier.  The grind will become too much for Purdue.  They will know that stops against Notre Dame will be tough to get, meaning they will have a sense of urgency to score every time they have the ball.  In the end, that will be too much.
I expect the Irish to win, but I don‚t think it will be easy.  It never is.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily at <> .

September 21, 2009

Michigan St at Notre Dame Recap
By: Sonny Martinez

The Michigan State-Notre Dame week 3 game was a big one. Both teams needed a win to avoid an unexpected 1-2 start. Notre Dame needed a win for many more reasons. Coming off a huge loss to then unranked Michigan, the Irish felt the pressure. If the Irish lost this game at home, the BCS dreams could be gone. And maybe more than that, a possibility that Charlie Weis would lose his job. So Notre Dame needed to come up big. And that they did.
Notre Dame won the coin toss, but wanted the ball in the second half instead. After a 34 yard return by Glenn Winston, Mich. St's ball at the MSU 45. On the first play from scrimmage, Caulton Ray rushed for 5 yards, leaving Irish fans wondering. The drive would stall. Back to back Kirk Cousins incompletions resulted in a MSU 3 and out. MSU drive: 3 plays 5 yards, 00:59 MSU Punt.

Now it was Jimmy Clausen's turn. After a 6 yard pass to Roddy Parris, an offsides call on MSU gave the Irish a first down. Clausen, from his own 27, threw a beautiful pass to a wide-open Kyle Rudolph. He picked up 52 yards on the pass, bringing the ball to the 21. After another Rudolph catch, a handoff to Armando Allen resulted in a ND touchdown. EP good. 7-0 ND. ND drive: 4 plays 84 yards, 01:40 ND Touchdown.

A nice drive for Michigan State was put together,  mostly by Cousins and Blair White, who hooked up 3 times for 24 yards. However, 3 rushes that resulted in a loss of 3 yards did not help. On 4th and 11 on the ND 25, MSU called on one of the best kickers in the country, Brett Swenson, for a 43 yard field goal. Swenson made it with no problem. 7-3 ND. MSU drive: 12 plays 43 yards, 05:10 MSU Field Goal.

On the next Irish possession, Clausen had no problem spreading out the ball. 6 yard pass to Tate, 9 yard rush by Clausen, 16 yarder to Floyd and 2 yards to Rudolph brought the Irish to the MSU 22. Clausen then threw a 22 yard strike to Floyd once again, who got the touchdown. This time, however, Nick Tausch missed the extra point. 13-3 ND. ND drive: 5 plays 55 yards, 02:12 ND Touchdown.

MSU down 10 early. Not what Sparty wanted. With the ball at the MSU 25, Ray ran for 18 yards. A 13 yard catch by Mark Dell was the next play, and just like that, MSU had something going. A near INT. by Kyle McCarthy on 1st and 10, and the Michigan State drive came to a sudden end. A Ray Rush that went for no gain and an incomplete pass left Michigan State with nothing. Almost. They called on Swenson once again, this time for a 51 yarder. Swenson kicks, and hits the right upright. No good. 13-3 ND. MSU drive: 8 plays 41 yards, 03:12 MSU Field Goal Missed.

Irish ball. Clausen with another strike to Rudolph, 12 yard pick up. A Tate reception and a 2 yard rush by Clausen brought an eventful First Quarter to an end. END OF THE 1ST QUARTER- MSU 3 ND 13. A good looking drive turned into a mess, 4 plays later, Clausen was sacked, the first sack the line has given up this season. That was not the news. Clausen was injured on the play, what was believed a foot injury.  Dayne Crist came in the game. Nothing. ND had to punt. 13-3 ND. ND drive: 6 plays -2 yards, 06:05 ND Punt.

MSU ball at their 20. A 15 yard penalty to ND after a Keith Nichol 5 yard rush brought the ball to the 40. Another rush, this time by Larry Caper, give MSU a 2nd and 4. Another 9 yarder by Nichol with another 15 yard penalty gave MSU the ball at the ball at the ND 30. Keshawn Martin 30 yard pass to White gave a touchdown to the Spartans. EP good. 13-10 ND. MSU drive: 4 plays 80 yards, 01:12 MSU Touchdown.

MSU shocked everyone. Onside kick! Nothing much happened when they recovered, except a forced fumble by Kapron Lewis-Moore, recovered by ND Toryan Smith at the ND 45. 13-10 ND. MSU drive: 4 plays 17 yards, 01:32 MSU Fumble.

Clausen returned to the game, but Allen was a key player in this drive. 34 yards on 5 rushes. Over half the yards on this drive were from Allen alone. A major controversy was the big story on this drive. A 6 yard touchdown pass was thrown to Michael Floyd. It looked like a good catch, with full control and both feet in the end zone. The refs said it was no TD. Weis disagreed and threw the red flag onto the grass. After a long look, it was said as no TD. This isn't the only news on this play. Floyd came down on his shoulder hard. He got up and rushed to the sidelines. Floyd suffered a broken collar bone. He is out for the game. Maybe the season. ND took the 3 insted. 16-10 ND. ND drive: 11 plays 50 yards, 04:44 ND Field Goal.

A nice MSU drive was started with a 20 yard pass to Dell, and then a 5 yard penalty for 12 men on the field. A 12 yard pass and 1st down to Cunningham. 2 back to back penalties on MSU and ND. And then back to back 11 yard passes to Cunningham. An 11 yard rush by Caper was capped off bu a 1 yard TD by Caper. EP good. 17-16 MSU. MSU drive: 6 plays 81 yards, 01:50 MSU Touchdown.

ND only had 1:01 to make something happen. Nothing much did. Clausen got a head start to the locker room, and a Crist pas that was intercepted by Trenton Robinson ended the half. END OF HALF- MSU 17 ND 16

Notre Dame gets the ball to start the 3rd. After 3 plays with 9 yards gained, Clausen found Tate deep for a 54 yard reception. An Armando Allen, yes, the running back, threw Robby Parris a 5 yard TD. EP good. 23-17 ND. ND drive: 6 plays 70 yards, 03:11 ND Touchdown.

A 6 yard rush by Caper was erased because of a 5 yard false start penalty in John Stipek. This led to a 3 and out for Michigan State, just what they did not need at that time. 23-17 ND. MSU drive: 3 plays 1 yards, 02:04 MSU Punt.

An incomplete pass to Robby Parris started off the drive. Then Allen, who already has a rushing and passing TD, along with Jonas Gray, turned it on. 20 yards for the two, and still, because of a holding penalty, they only ended up with 18 yards on the drive. All was not lost though, as a 46 yard field goal was hit by Tausch. 26-17 ND. ND drive: 10 plays 18 yards, 04:11 ND Field Goal.

Now, with just over 5 minutes left in the game, MSU needed to start their offense. And they did. 3 passes, 53 yards. Larry Caper took the ball in for the 6. EP blocked. 26-23 ND. MSU drive: 8 plays, 70 yards, 04:10 MSU Touchdown.

And again, with the quarter coming to an end, ND had the ball. Clausen pass to Kamara for 10 yards, incomplete to Rudolph, and 8 yards to Rudolph and the 3/4 of the game was over. END OF 3RD QUARTER- MSU 23 ND 26. So the Irish have the lead going into the 4th for the 3rd time in 3 weeks. Could they hold on this week? Later in the drive, Clausen was once again sacked. ND had to punt. 26-23 ND. ND drive: 9 plays 30 yards, 04:24 ND Punt.

On 3rd and 3 for MSU, Cousins found Dell deep. 57 yards deep. Now just 22 yards away from once again taking the lead, Winston took the ball for 5 yards. Cousins then found White. 17 yards, Michigan State TD. EP good. 30-26 MSU. MSU drive: 5 plays 86 yards, 02:27 MSU Touchdown.

A 3 yard rush by Allen added with a 5 yard offsides call on MSU gave ND a 2nd and 1. Allen had a 5 yard catch next play, then an incomplete pass by Clausen. He then hit Rudolph for 13 and Kamara 8,while Allen had 6 yards on 2 rushes. A 33 yard pass from Clausen to Tate lead to a ND touchdown, a big one. EP good. 33-30 ND. ND drive: 8 plays 73 yards, 04:15 ND Touchdown.

3 incomplete passes in a row by Cousins, 2 to Cunningham, and 1 to Brian Linthicum lead to another 3 and out. 33-30 ND. MSU drive: 3 plays 0 yards, 00:30 MSU Punt.

A nice time killing drive was put together by the Irish, including an 18 yard pass to Tate. MSU had to use 2 time outs to keep from more time going away. ND punted the ball to Michigan State with 2:58 left. That was more than enough time, but as we have learned, anything can happen in South Bend. 33-30 ND. ND drive: 5 plays 15 yards, 01:50 ND Punt.

Right off the snap, an illegal block penalty hit MSU. More time killed. 5 complete passes in a row  for 50 yards. An incomplete pass to Mark Dell didn't phase Cousins. 2 more complete passes followed by another incomplete pass. Michigan State used it's last time out. Cousins drops back, throws, and INTERCEPTED by Kyle McCarthy!!! 33-30 ND. MSU drive: 10 plays 52 yards, 01:59 MSU INT.

ND takes the knee, ending the scare and coming out with the win. FINAL- MSU 30 ND 30.

In the end, this was a very good game for Notre Dame, Michigan State and the fans. Both teams can hold their heads high. ND got the win it was looking for, and keeping the BCS dreams alive, and saving the job of Weis. Floyd is a huge loss, as he is out for the year. But with all the talent that can take over, Parris, Goodman, Kamara, it shouldn't be that big of a loss. Overall, it was a great game that the Irish needed, as they go to Purdue next week.


September 17, 2009

Michigan State Preview
By: Jon Kinne

The two teams taking the field at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday have quite a bit in common.  They both entered the season with high expectations.  They both won their first games easily only to suffer demoralizing, last second losses to teams from Michigan in week two.  
By Saturday night, either Notre Dame or Michigan State will have rebounded, a successful season still within reach.  The loser will sit at 1-2 with little margin for error the rest of the way.  If that team is Notre Dame, the drama surrounding the job security of head coach Charlie Weis will be omnipresent.
Here is a look at what might transpire in this week‚s Notre Dame-Michigan State game.

When Notre Dame Has the Ball

It is no secret what Notre Dame‚s strength is at this point.  It is Jimmy Clausen dropping back and throwing to one of several dangerous options.  Michael Floyd leads the team with 320 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the first two games.  He went down late in the Michigan game and had to be taken to the locker room for stitches.  Floyd has been practicing and is expected to play against the Spartans.
Armando Allen has given the Irish a solid ground attack so far this season.  He has 211 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.  Like Floyd, Allen was banged up late in the Michigan game.  He rolled an ankle, but he also should be ready to go this weekend.
Evaluating this Michigan State defense is a bit tricky at this point.  They were dominant in the 44-3 victory in week one.  However, that was against Montana State, who is picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the FCS Big Sky Conference and struggled in week two with Division Two Dixie State.  
This past week, Central Michigan and quarterback Dan LeFevour scorched the Spartans through the air, throwing for a total of 352 yards.  The Chippewas rebuilt running attack only managed 66 yards on 29 carries, but Central Michigan‚s offensive line and running backs are not nearly as strong as Notre Dame‚s.
Michigan State does return eight starters from a defense that pushed Notre Dame around last year in East Lansing.  The unquestioned star of the defense is middle linebacker Greg Jones.  The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder had 127 tackles last season and has 29 in two games this year.  
Eric Gordon and Brandon Denson round out a very good linebacking corps.  Denson is third on the team with 13 tackles while Gordon is fifth with ten.  
The defense has six sacks, with three coming in each game.  1.5 of those come from Jones, with the rest spread out between several defensive linemen.
The Spartans return three starters in the secondary, but one of them lost his starting position this week.  Safety Dan Fortener will be replaced by sophomore Trenton Robinson.  Head coach Mike D‚Antonio said in his Tuesday press conference that it was more a result of what Robinson has done right rather than what Fortener has done wrong.
As noted, Michigan State gave up a great deal of passing yardage to Central Michigan.  LeFevour is very good and he has some solid receivers.  They are not, however, the caliber of Floyd, Golden Tate, and Kyle Rudolph.  
The way the Spartans can slow down the Irish is with their physicality up front.  Their defensive line has to bully the Irish line and get pressure on Clausen with as few people as possible.  Michigan State is not a blitz crazy team.  If they need to send extra guys to sustain pressure, the one-on-one matchups outside favor the Irish.
Last year in East Lansing, the Irish had just 16 yards rushing and Clausen was sacked three times.  The line of scrimmage battle was clearly won by the guys in green.  That must change for the Irish to win.

When Michigan State Has the Ball

Last year, it was the Javon Ringer show.  The All-American carried the ball a whopping 390 times for 1,637 yards and 22 touchdowns.  Against the Irish, he went for 201 yards and two scores on 39 carries.
The Spartans still want to run the ball, but now the carries are much more spread out.  Redshirt freshman Caulton Ray has led the way with 124 yards on 28 tries in the first two games.  True freshmen Larry Caper and Edwin Baker have been called on to spell Ray when need be.
They run behind an offensive line that returns three starters from last year‚s unit.  Like their defensive counterparts, they had their way with the Irish.  This will be an area to watch this Saturday.  The Irish defensive front has not been spectacular so far this season and they need to hold their own against the experienced Spartan blockers.
The line is also important in protecting the two young quarterbacks.  Brian Hoyer is now with the New England Patriots and he has been replaced by the combination of Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol.  Cousins has started both games and has been more effective throwing the ball.  Nichol is more of a weapon on the ground and is the teamŒs third leading rusher.  
Senior Blair White has been the go-to guy for both quarterbacks this season.  The former walk-on has caught 16 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns.  Sophomore B.J. Cunningham has seven receptions and after him, no one has more than three.  Junior Mark Dell was a starter last season and caught 36 balls for 679 yards and three touchdowns.  He has not played this season due to a shoulder injury.  That may change this week as he is listed as a co-starter along with Cunningham on the current depth chart.  Tight end Charlie Gantt had 19 catches in 2008 and has just three so far in 2009.
The Spartans have not turned the ball over at all this season, so they obviously make ball security a high priority.  They have been whistled for 13 penalties which has cost them 127 yards.
For the Michigan State offense to be successful on Saturday, their offensive line must outperform the Notre Dame defensive front.  The Spartan receivers are not talented enough to beat the Irish secondary without help from the running game, which will not occur without a solid effort from the line.  If Michigan State can achieve balance, White, Cunningham, and perhaps Dell will be able to get free enough to cause problems.
Conversely, Notre Dame needs to stop the run and that falls on the front seven.  This is going to be a common theme for this defense this year.  So far, they have not accomplished that goal.  Despite being shutout, Nevada rushed for 153 yards and 5.3 yards per carry while Michigan ran for 190 yards and 5 yards per carry.
One thing possibly working in Notre Dame‚s favor is that Michigan State features a more conventional running game than either of ND‚s two previous opponents.  The Nevada Pistol and the Michigan spread are different looks that are difficult to replicate in practice, especially for a team that runs a conventional system themselves.  Also, Jon Tenuta‚s defenses have always been more effective against teams that run more pro-set looks.
It will also be interesting to see how the linebacker rotation shakes out.  Manti Te‚o stared last week but Toryan Smith was in for most of the snaps.  Toryan Smith in the middle and Brian Smith on the outside would seem to be the best combination to defend the run and that is how the first team is listed on the current depth chart.  As the game develops, things may (and most assuredly will) change.

Special Teams

Brett Swenson is a very good kicker.  In 2008, he made 22 of 28 field goals with a long of 50 yards.  Two of his six misses came from beyond 50 yards.  He is yet to miss this year, going 4 for 4 with a long of 45 yards.  Punter Aaron Bates had a solid sophomore season, averaging 42 yards per kick and has improved so far as a junior.  He has averaged 48.9 yards on his seven punts with five of them downed inside the 20.  
The MSU return game has been decent.  Glenn Winston has averaged 23 yards per kick off return and Keshawn Martin has averaged 12.2 yards on four punt returns.  Blair White has returned just one punt, but it went for 27 yards.
The Irish special teams have not been all that special.  Kicker Nick Tausch missed a short field goal against Michigan, his first attempt as a collegian.  He bounced back to make two others, including a 42-yarder, later in the game.  His kickoffs have been fairly short and Daryl Stonum of Michigan returned one for a touchdown last week.
Punter Eric Maust has been okay, averaging 40.3 yards.  His 28-yard effort, however, gave Michigan good field position to start their game-winning drive.
The Irish have only returned three punts this year with John Goodman‚s 24-yard jaunt in the Nevada game the season long.  We all know that Golden Tate is dangerous when he is able to get into space.  With James Aldridge injured, senior Barry Gallup stepped into the kickoff return duties last Saturday and performed well, returning one kick 52 yards.  Still, the Notre Dame staff would prefer to have freshman Theo Riddick touching the ball on kickoff returns.
We have also not seen the real Mike Anello emerge in kick coverage.  David Bruton was a force as the other gunner last season and his presence is missed, though Sergio Brown has been making plays.
While winning the special teams contest is always desired, most Irish fans would take a stalemate this week after watching the breakdowns last Saturday.  A game with solid coverage, consistent punting, and no missed short field goals would have to be considered a success.


At the skill positions, this game is a mismatch.  Notre Dame has the better quarterback, better running backs, better receivers, and better cover guys.  But that has also been true in the past, including last year.  
It is no coincidence that Michigan State and Boston College are two teams that have given Notre Dame fits over the past several years.  They are two programs that have featured big, strong, physical offensive and defensive lines.  They have both dominated Notre Dame at the point of attack.
In the four games against Notre Dame during the Charlie Weis era, Michigan State has averaged 208 yards rushing.  And the 2009 Notre Dame defensive line has looked vulnerable once again.
But this is a different Michigan State team.  Ringer is gone and they are relying on young guys to carry the load.  The offensive line is good, though they have not put up eye-popping rushing numbers this year, even against Montana State.  
On offense, Notre Dame will look to run the ball.  Michigan State has not faced a team with the talent that Notre Dame has on the line and in the backfield.  If the Irish can run the ball, the Spartan defense will be in big trouble.  Central Michigan threw the ball on Michigan State, so the Irish certainly should not have a problem.  It goes without saying that the Notre Dame offensive line has to protect Jimmy Clausen, something they‚ve done very well so far this season.
Obviously, turnovers can change the complexion of the game.  As stated, Michigan State has yet to commit a turnover.  Notre Dame has just one, albeit a big one.  Jonas Gray‚s fumble set up Michigan‚s go-ahead touchdown early in the second half.  
The Spartans have an edge when their offensive line goes against the Irish defensive line.  As a result, they will score points.  The running game should open things up enough to bring at least one safety down in the box, giving their receivers more area to roam.  Notre Dame has shown little pass rush, even with all of Tenuta‚s blitzing schemes, so Cousins and Nichol should have time to throw.
But Notre Dame is the better team.  There is no doubt about that.  The play of the offensive line has developed rapidly under new line coach Frank Verducci, to the point where Michigan State‚s advantage in that clash may have vanished.  Assuming Floyd is healthy, the Spartans will have a difficult time defending everything the Irish can throw at them.
Notre Dame needs this game in a big way.  The Irish don‚t have to be spectacular.  A solid, mistake free effort will get the Irish to 2-1 and keep the drama at bay.  At least until next week.


September 13, 2009

Michigan 38  Notre Dame 34
By: Jon Kinne

On a day when each offense was lighting up the opposing defense, it was not a surprise that the game was won by the team that had the last real scoring chance.

Unfortunately for the Irish, that team was Michigan.

Tate Forcier threw a five yard touchdown pass to Greg Matthews with 11 seconds left giving the Michigan Wolverines a 38-34 victory over Notre Dame in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Brandon Minor.  After a Nick Tausch field goal got the Irish on the board, Michigan went up 14-3 when Daryl Stonum returned the ensuing kick off 94 yards for a score.

Notre Dame struck back early in the second quarter.  Jimmy Clausen hit Michael Floyd for 37 yards to get the Irish down  to the Michigan 25 yard line and three plays later connected with Golden Tate on a four yard touchdown pass.

After a Michigan three and out, the Irish took a 17-14 lead on an 11 yard touchdown pass from Clausen to Floyd.  The key play in the series occurred immediately following the Michigan punt.  The Irish committed two penalties, putting them in a first and 25 hole.  Clausen promptly hit Floyd for 33 yards and an Irish first down.

The teams swapped field goals before halftime.   On their first possession of the half, Wolverines drove inside the Notre Dame five yard line only to see kicker Jason Olesnavage hook a 26 yard field goal wide left.

But Irish running back Jonas Gray fumbled, giving Michigan the ball back on the Notre Dame 26 yard line.  This time the Wolverines converted.

Three runs by Minor and one by freshman Wildcat quarterback Dernard Robinson got the ball to the Irish three where Forcier hit tight end Kevin Koger for a touchdown and a 24-20 lead.

Michigan extended its lead to 11 points early in the fourth quarter on a touchdown run by Forcier.  On the previous play, the Irish dropped Minor for a loss in a third and two situation, setting up a fourth and three.  Michigan went for the first down and got much more when Forcier faked out Notre Dame linebacker Darius Fleming and went 31 yards for the score.

Notre Dame responded by going 80 yards for a touchdown to make the score 31-26.  During the drive, the usually sure handed Tate dropped two passes that would have resulted in touchdowns, but made amends by hauling in a 21 yard touchdown reception.  Notre Dame went for two, but the conversion failed.

Kyle McCarthy got the Irish right back in business by intercepting a Forcier throw, giving Notre Dame the ball back on the Michigan 36.  The Irish then leaned heavily on Armando Allen, who gained 20 yards on three carries during the drive, the last of which resulted in an eight yard touchdown run.  Allen also ran in the two point conversion on a beautiful Statue of Liberty play by Clausen.

Notre Dame then forced Michigan to punt, getting the ball back with a 34-31 lead and 3:07 remaining.  Armando Allen gained 11 yards for a first down, but was banged up on the play and had to come out.  Robert Hughes ran for a yard on the next play, which was then followed by two incomplete passes, giving the ball back to Michigan after the punt at their own 43 with 2:13 remaining.  

The big play in the deciding drive came following a Michigan timeout with 30 seconds remaining in the game.  With ball at the ND 22, Forcier found LaTerryal Savoy for a 17 yard gain.  At that point, Michigan‚s focus changed from a tying field goal to a winning touchdown, which they scored two plays later on the pass from Forcier to Matthews.

Forcier was the star of the game, completing 22 of 33 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns to go along with the one interception.  Brandon Minor gashed the Irish at times, gaining 106  yards on 16 carries.

For Notre Dame, Clausen had a great game, going 25 for 42 for 336 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.  Allen gained 139 yards, giving the Irish their first 100 yard rushing game since the 110 yard effort by Robert Hughes against Duke two years ago.  

Notre Dame comes home next week to face Michigan State, who suffered their own crushing defeat at the hands of Central Michigan.

September 11, 2009

Notre Dame @ Michigan Preview
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame vs Michigan. The two most winning programs in the history of college football. One of the best rivalries in all of college football, one that dates back to 1887.  With both teams coming off a bad 2008 season, but an excellent first game, there is a lot riding on this game.
Sure, Michigan does lead the series 20-15-1. And sure, Michigan did win 38-0 last time the Irish traveled to the Big House in Ann Arbor. In that 2007 game, QB Jimmy Clausen threw 7, yes 7 interceptions. He was also sacked 8 times. But, that was the last trip to Ann Arbor, and it was 2 years ago.. That was then, this is now.
Tate Forcier, Michigan's freshman quarterback, threw for 3 touchdowns in his collegiate debut to lead Michigan (1-0) to a great 31-7 win over Western Michigan. While throwing his 3 touchdowns, Forcier was 13 of 20 for 179 yards and 0 INTs. Not bad for his first game. "He's a good leader for us -- even as a freshman," Michigan's junior guard Steve Schilling said. "He's confident, and we're confident with him back there." This week, however, the Wolverines will not be facing the Western Michigan defense they put up 31 points on. And Michigan will not be taking on Westen Michigan and the 7 points their offense scored.
Charlie Weis knows that Clausen is playing good in his last 2 games, but that doesn't matter. "He's playing pretty well right now," Weis said. "But he knows that now we've got to go on the road to the "Big House," and he knows he's going to be a formidable challenge, and you're not going to just throw up 85 percent every time you go out there."  Weis is correct. Notre Dame's last win in The Big House came in 2005.
3 Players to watch for Notre Dame
Jimmy Clausen: Clausen has 9 TDs in his last 2 games. He only completed only 10 of 21 passes, with 2 INTs along with the 2 TDs in his last trip to Michigan. This will his 2nd start at Michigan. This time, he is a bigger,more experienced junior with more weapons. Him and all the men around him are more experienced. Those 2 things added together should help for a great game.
Golden Tate: Tate had 127 yards on 4 catches last season vs Michigan. Against Nevada last week, he had just 59 yards on 3 catches. Tate is primed for a break-out game. Michigan's defense will look to double cover Michael Floyd after his excellent game vs Nevada, giving Tate more options and less coverage.
Robert Hughes: This may come as a suprise to some. But Hughes was the starting RB for this week's game after serving his one-half suspension last week. Notice the word, "was." Starting fullback James Aldridge will be out for this week's game. Hughes will now be this week's starter at fullback. This week, and possibly beyond. This means Armando Allen should get the start at RB this week.
3 players to watch for Michigan
Tate Forcier: This is Forcier's second start. I know it is against Notre Dame, but it is a home game for the Wolverines. And the team looked great against Western Michigan. Everyone around Forcier did, including on the other side of the ball. The recevers and RBs are going to have to be perfect. Forcier has proven he is a good QB, not great, but good. But can he handle the pressure of ND-Michigan?
Junior Hemingway and Kevin Koger: Two for one. Hemingway, the wide recever, and Koger, the tight end. They combined for 8 catches, 135 yards and 3 touchdowns last week. Koger is going to have to get more than 32 yards. He needs to catch everything that comes his way. He is a good tight end and can block pretty good. Hemingway had 2 of the 3 TD receptions and 103 yards. He was great last week. He is going to need to copy that performance..
Final anlysis
This is a great Notre Dame team with high (BCS) hopes, going up against a young Michigan team with not so high hopes coming off a terrible 3-9 year. Notre Dame has the edge in this game. But still, it should be a close, exciting game. Expect Notre Dame to get revenge for the 38-0 beat down at the hands of Michigan in 2007.
Final Score
Notre Dame- 38
Michigan- 24

September 8, 2009

Nevada at Notre Dame recap
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame's first football game of 2009 was Saturday, and the Irish picked up right where they left off in Hawaii in December.. When Notre Dame came out of that tunnel, the stadium was excited, even though some people picked Nevada to win the game.
The fans, players and coaches were very excited. Still, however, they had no idea how well the Irish would play.
The first quarter, Nevada won the coin toss, but gave Notre Dame the ball to start the game. In the first quarter after a nice kickoff return, Notre Dame started on their own 33 yard line. The Irish took the ball down the Field, and on 3rd and 16 on the Nevada 19, Jimmy Clausen completed a pass to TE Kyle Rudolph for 19 yards and a Notre Dame score. Nick Tausch, who won the kicking job from Brandon Walker, hit the extra point. 7-0 ND. ND drive: 12 plays 67 yards, 6:18 ND Touchdown.

The Wolfpack then took control of the ball at their own 30. Now, it was tome for much talked about Kyle Kaepernick to take over. After 8 plays, on 4th and 8 to go, Nevada called on their kicker Richard Drake for the FG. A 38 yard field goal was missed. Still 7-0 ND. Nevada drive: 8 plays 52 yards, 4:24 Nevada FG missed.

The Irish took over the ball at the ND 22 with 4:18 left in the 1st quarter. Before the quarter was over, Notre Dame had gotten down to the Nevada 24. End of first quarter; Notre Dame 7, Nevada 0. As the second quarter began, Notre Dame was in great position to add to their lead. And that they did. Only 6 seconds into the second,  Clausen threw a 24 yard Touchdown to Michael Floyd. Once again, Tausch nailed the extra point. 14-0 ND. ND drive: 9 plays 79 yards, 4:24 ND Touchdown.

Nevada's next drive was not good for the Pack. On the first play, Brian Smith had his first sack of the game. It would not be his last. It turned out to be a 3 and out for Nevada. Nevada drive: 3 plays 6 yards, 2:26 Nevada Punt.

Notre Dame's ball now, at the Irish's 21. The first play was a James Aldridge 9 yard rush, The next play would be a big one. Clausen, once again to Floyd, this time a 70 yard screen pass for a touchdown. That was ND's 3rd TD in 3 trys. 21-0 ND. ND drive: 2 plays 79 yards, 0:46 ND Touchdown.

From this point on, Nevada was a mess. They received a 5 yard penalty  for a delay of game. This caused another 3 and out. Nevada drive: 3 plays 5 yards, 1:03 Nevada Punt.

Dayne Crist, back up to Clausen saw some action next drive, but only had 2 yards from a pass to Rudolph. This drive was not a highlight for the Irish, as they went 3 and out as well. ND drive: 3 plays 1 yards, 2:13 ND Punt.

Nevada's next possession was not a bad one. The Pack took the bass from their 43 all the way to ND's 19 and went for it on 4th down, with only one to go instead of taking the 3.  Nevada was stopped. Nevada drive: 7 plays 37 yards, 5:06 Nevada TOD.

Notre Dame starts on the 20. A very good drive for the Irish. The key player in this drive was Armando Allen. Allen caught a 26 yard first down on 2nd and 10 to get into Nevada territory. Four plays later, Allen also had a 1 yard rushing Touchdown, and the EP was hit. 28-0 ND. ND drive: 8 plays 80 yards, 3:45 ND Touchdown.

Nevada took the ball with only 1:59 remaining in the half. They did get down to the Irish 35 with about 10 seconds left, and Kaepernick's last pass was intercepted by Robert Blanton in the end zone. END OF HALF- Nevada 0 Notre Dame 28.

Nevada got the ball to start off the second half. Vai Tura, Nevada RB picked up 27 rushing yards on the drive. But, Kaepernick did not help. He had 2 incomplete passes to end the drive. Nevada drive: 5 plays 33 yards, 2:50 Nevada Punt.

On the next Irish possession, Notre Dame had their backs against the wall. Nevada punter Brad Langley had a perfect punt. A 46 yard punt, forcing the Irish to start at their one. This would be no problem for the Irish. After Armando Allen gained 11 yards rushing, Clausen threw an 88 yard Touchdown to Michael Floyd. The EP was good, once again. 35-0 ND.. ND drive: 4 plays 99 yards, 1:58 ND Touchdown.

Nevada then had the ball at the Nevada 46. On 3rd and 7, at the ND 39, a Kaepernick pass was intercepted by Kyle McCarthy at the ND 31. It was returned for 23 yards to the Nevada 46 and out-of-bounds. Nevada drive: 4 plays 20 yards, 02:10 Nevada INT.

Notre Dame then had a 3 and out. But coach Weis went for the first down. It was an incomplete pass to Golden Tate. ND drive: 4 plays 7 yards, 02:12 ND TOD.

Nevada's next drive was a good one. The Wolfpack took the ball 54 yards. They got as far as 2nd and goal an the Irish 5. Vai Tura fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by Kapron Lewis-Moore at the ND 7.  Nevada drive: 7 plays 54 yards, 3:44 Nevada Fumble.

Notre Dame had the ball for the rest of the 2:06 left in the 3rd quarter. There was a 10 yard holding penalty on Dan Wenger that cause the Irish to have a 2nd and 23 at the 8. End of third quarter; Notre Dame 35, Nevada 0.  The Irish had the ball for the opening 2:47 of the 4th. They had to punt the ball on 4th and 1.  ND drive: 7 plays 40 yards, 4:53 ND Punt.

Nevada managed to get 3 first downs on their next possession, taking the ball from the 11 to the 44. Nevada had to punt however, and this would turn out to be Kaepernick's last drive. Nevada drive: 7 plays 33 yards, 2:46 Nevada Punt.

The next ND possession was all Theo Riddick. He had 5 runs on 6 plays. 20 yards for Riddick. ND had to punt once again. ND drive: 6 plays 34 yards, 3:44 ND Punt.

Tyler Lantrip took over at QB. Nevada got a first down from a 15 yard face mask penalty accepted for a 1st down. But, there was a  14 yard pass interference penalty on Chris Wellington accepted, and that caused a 2nd and 24, which the Pack never recovered from. Nevada had to punt again. Nevada drive: 5 plays 6 yards, 2:16 Nevada Punt.

Notre Dame took over at the Nevada 40. With only 3:27 left in the game, Robert Hughes ran out the clock, giving Notre Dame the win. FINIAL- Nevada 0 Notre Dame 35.

What a game for the Irish! The next one will not be easy, as they go to the Big House to face Michigan.
ND Top Performers
Clausen- 15/18, 315 yds, 4 TDs, 0 INT.
Allen-  15 Car, 72 yds, 1 TD.
Floyd- 4 rec, 189 yds, 3 TDs.
NEVADA Top Performers
Kaepernick- 12/23, 149 yds, 0 TDs, 2 INTs.
Taua- 18 Car, 114 yds, 0 TD.
Session- 5 rec, 51 yds, 0 TD.
ND- 332 pass yds, 178 rush yds, 510 Total, 33:40 TOP.
NEVADA-  154 pass yds, 153 rush yds, 332 Total, 26:20 TOP.


September 3, 2009

Nevada Preview
By: Jon Kinne

Notre Dame opens their 2009 season this Saturday by hosting the Nevada Wolf Pack.  The Irish seem to be fairly healthy, with just about every player that missed time in camp ready for Nevada.  Before breaking down the game, let‚s look at who will be playing where for the Irish on Saturday.

Depth Chart Released

First off, this is the depth chart as of September 1st.  By the time they line up on Saturday, things may be completely different.
The offense has more returning starters than the defense, but they also have more surprises on the depth chart.  Of course, Jimmy Clausen will be throwing to Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph and he will be handing off to Armando Allen.  But the second stringers may have caught many off guard.
Robby Parris is listed as the backup behind Floyd at the Z receiver spot and Duval Kamara, despite missing time after arthroscopic knee surgery, is on the two-deep at the X behind Golden Tate.  Parris is the real shocker, as he beat out sophomores John Goodman and Deion Walker as well as freshman Shaquelle Evans.  In his press conference announcing the depth chart, head coach Charlie Weis cited Parris‚s knowledge of the system as a key reason for his ascension.
Other offensive depth chart items of note include Jonas Gray as the #2 running back behind Allen, pushing Robert Hughes to third team.  Also, last year‚s starting center Dan Wenger is listed as a co-starter with Chris Stewart at left guard.  There are also co-starters at left tackle, though it is believed that Paul Duncan will see the majority of snaps while Matt Romine will also see action.
On defense, the big news is that Toryan Smith is listed as the starting middle linebacker and Brian Smith will be on the weak side with Manti Te‚o as his back up.  This may be because Toryan Smith matches up better against Nevada‚s high-powered running game.  We will see how this plays out down the line.
Darrin Walls missed plenty of time this camp nursing a hamstring injury.   As a result, he is listed as a back up to Raeshon McNeil at one corner position with Robert Blanton starting on the other side.  
Interestingly, James Aldridge is slated to return kicks along with Theo Riddick.  Weis indicated that Riddick will likely handle most of the kick offs and will benefit from Aldridge‚s blocking skills.  Aldridge is also the #1 fullback with Bobby Burger in reserve.

When Nevada Has the Ball

Colin Kaepernick is the key to the Nevada Pistol offense.  In 2008, he threw for 2,849 yards and 22 touchdowns while throwing just seven interceptions.  However, this year, and particularly this game, could come down to the Nevada running game.
The Wolf Pack lost their top two receivers, Marko Mitchell and Mike McCoy, who combined for 114 receptions for 1,733 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Chris Wellington, who caught 42 balls for 632 yards and six scores, is back.  But the receiver losses, coupled with Notre Dame‚s experienced secondary, may have the Wolf Pack looking for other ways to move the ball.
That would be by running the football, something Nevada has done very well the past couple of years.  Last year they ranked third nationally by rushing for 277.8 yards per game.  Kaepernick was a major threat, running for 1,130 yards and 17 touchdowns.  Via Taua led the WAC with 1,521 yards while reaching pay dirt 15 times.  Taua only played because of an early season injury to Luke Lippincott, who led the WAC in 2007 with 1,420 yards rushing.
Run defense is a question mark for the Irish defense.  The front line of Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, and Kerry Neal is short on experience and, in the case of Neal, size.  As mentioned earlier, Toryan Smith could be a key factor in stopping the Nevada ground attack.  Also, someone has to account for Kaepernick, who can gain yardage on designed or broken plays.

When the Irish Have the Ball

As Notre Dame fans know, the strength of the offense is the passing game.  This week, that sets up very well.  Nevada ranked dead last among FBS schools in pass defense last season, giving up 311.6 yards per game.  
Nevada did have 36 sacks last season.  Their two ends, Dontay Moch and Kevin Basped, both had double digit sack numbers in 2008 and they both return.  Also, Nevada ranked sixth in the nation rush defense.
However, the inability in defending the pass could have played a part in those positive results.  Because teams were so successful throwing the ball, opponents did not need to run the ball.  Also, the opposition threw the ball a lot, giving Moch and Basped plenty of sack opportunities.
This year‚s Wolf Pack defense could be similar to last year‚s as seven starters are back.  The hope in Reno is that some of their young defenders, specifically sophomore linebackers Brandon Marshall and James Michael-Johnson, make significant improvements this fall.
One of the main questions going into this Notre Dame season is whether or not the Irish can run the ball.  If Notre Dame opens up a lead, they may try to grind out the clock in the second half.  But don‚t expect the Irish to come out and try to pound the ball.  They will probably throw early and often, using their aerial weapons to exploit Nevada‚s biggest weakness.


Early on, look to see how well the Irish offensive line protects Clausen.  If they can hold back Nevada‚s defensive ends and Notre Dame‚s quarterback has time to throw, the offense will put up big numbers.  And if the Notre Dame running game produces anything early on it should open up the defense, making Clausen‚s job a whole lot easier.
Also, if the Irish defense can make a couple of stops early on and they can get up by two scores early, it changes the entire complexion of the game.  A one-dimensional Nevada offense, one that has to throw a vast majority of the time to get back in the game, plays right into Notre Dame‚s hands.  The secondary is strong and defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will pull out all the stops in pressuring Kaepernick.
Conversely, if Nevada is allowed to hang around early and they are able to mix the run and pass, things will be trickier for the Notre Dame defense.  The success of the Pistol offense is predicated on balance.  The Irish also cannot kill chances and give Nevada add opportunities by turning the ball over and committing silly penalties.
Adding to the flavor of this game is that it is the first game of 2009.  With exception of Weis‚s first game as Notre Dame‚s head coach against Pittsburgh in 2005, the Irish have not exactly been stellar in their season openers during the Weis era.  Last year, they struggled with a vastly inferior San Diego State team.
Nevada may put some points on the board, but Notre Dame is superior in just about every aspect of the game.  If they keep Clausen upright and hold onto the football, the Irish should win this contest fairly comfortably.

August 27, 2009

Special Teams Questions Answered
By: Jon Kinne


As practice began three weeks ago, there were many questions regarding special teams.  And as time went on, other questions emerged.  Some things have now been cleared up as we wait in joyful hope of the coming of the 2009 season.
The official depth chart will not be released until September 1st, but head coach Charlie Weis told the local media on Monday that several special teams spots had been decided.

Tausch Beats Out Walker

Brandon Walker had a rough start to 2008, only making one of his first seven field goal attempts.  But when he converted 13 of his last 17, most expected that he would carry that momentum into 2009.  
It didn't happen.
Weis announced that freshman Nick Tausch would be kicking the field goals and extra points this season, saying that Tausch won the competition "rather significantly."
Weis also said that Tausch had beaten out David Ruffer and incumbent Ryan Burkhart for the kick-off duties.  Weis cited the elevation of his kick-offs as a primary reason that he won the job.

Maust is a Scholarship Punter

Eric Maust beat out freshman Ben Turk in a pretty close contest.  This will be Maust‚s third season as the starting Irish punter.
Maust earned more than just a starting spot this week.  Weis also announced that Maust, along with tight end Bobby Burger, were awarded scholarships for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Maust averaged 41.1 yards per punt last season with a long of 54 yards.  He also pinned the opposition inside the 20 yard line 16 times.

Return Men

Weis also said that Armando Allen and Golden Tate would split time returning punts.  This is not a surprise seeing that most of the other options were freshmen and putting inexperienced players in that spot is not something that coaches like to do.
Kick-off returns are a different matter and Weis said that that spot is still to be determined.  Allen and Tate are still in the mix for the position, as are Shaquelle Evans, Theo Riddick, and Cierre Wood.

The Snappers

In 2009, the Irish will have one player snap for punts and another snapping for field goals and extra points.
When the Irish offered Jordan Cowart a scholarship last year, many people rolled their eyes and wondered why they would waste a free ride on a long snapper.  But St. Thomas Aquinas grad will be on the field on September 5th against Nevada as the punt snapper.  
Braxston Cave, listed on the latest depth chart as the second team left guard, will be the first team short snapper.  

Other Notes

Wide receiver Duval Kamara will resume practicing next week after having arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago.  The third receiver spot is still open and Kamara hopes to be on the field against Nevada.
Other than Kamara, all other players should be full go as the Irish begin preparing for Nevada.  That includes freshman linebacker Manti Te‚o, who had missed some practices with a tight hamstring.
Nevada's Pistol Offense is difficult to defend primarily because of the talents of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.   For the remainder of camp, Evan Sharpley is Colin Kaepernick.  The fifth year senior will play the roll of the Wolfpack signal caller on the scout team as the Irish defense tries to figure out a way to slow down the Nevada attack.


August 23, 2009

Notes from Notre Dame Camp
By: Sonny Martinez


Notre Dame's 2009 football camp has been open for about 2 weeks now, and football season will be starting in about 2 weeks also. Both Notre Dame's coaches and players have been very happy about how the team has been practicing. Here are some notes from the last few days of practice.
One of the first things that may have been noticed by the fans as the Irish opened camp was that the team has new practice jerseys. There was a blue strip from the front shoulder to the back shoulder going underneath the arm of the white jerseys for the defense, and vice versa for the offense. Three strips were also down each side of the jerseys. They have been compared to soccer jerseys.
Manti Te’o already looks like an upperclassman with what he has been showing Coach Weis and defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. He’s got the size, athleticism and versatility to be a key contributor on the defense for the 2009 Irish. At all times, Te'o knows where he is on the field, and where the football is.
Assistant Head Coach (Off)/Receivers Coach  Rob Ianello seems very encouraged about Shaq Evans as he was one of the few players that he called on during their bag drill. "Here we go, Shaq," the position coach said. Evans likes to hold the ball high and tight.
Charlie Weis was upset at Sergio Brown, who said it was hot outside. Weis had a simple comment on that directed at the entire team during warm ups. “That’s the last time I want to hear that comment. Just shut the hell up and get loose!”
There were  many NFL scouts present at Notre Dame camp. Scouts came from the Cleveland Browns (2), Detroit Lions (2) and Miami Dolphins (1) on day 3 of Irish practice. Corwin Brown asked one of the Lions’ scouts for a business card, but he didn’t have one handy.
Armando Allen ran straight forward while the others moved laterally. He later had his ankle re-taped before the start of the individual period.
Zeke Motta brings a great physical presence to the linebacking position by having the size of an outside linebacker and athleticism of a safety. The 6'2, 207 pound freshman had a nice interception on day 7.
P Eric Maust punted away deep balls that consistently reached a length of 55 yards with a strong hang time. Ben Turk started strong with a 56-yard punt, but then dropped to 40 and 35 yards before finishing off with another high, 56-yarder.
Rob Ianello was trying to get everything he could out of WR Golden Tate on day 11. He even went into a full-out sprint in an attempt to beat him through a drill where they sprinted out, circled around a cone facing forward and repeated at a different cone before catching a pass.
James Aldridge, Armando Allen, and Jonas Gray are still pushing for the running back job over Robert Hughes, who Coach Weis made clear is the started until someone steps up and takes it from him. Hughes has been great at practice as of late.
Everyone is in the running for the 3rd wide receiver slot, with Golden Tate number one and Michael Floyd as the second receiver. Duval Kamara, Robby Parris, John Goodman, Deion Walker, and even freshman Shaq Evans are competing for the job. When asked about his rise at Notre Dame, Evans had some comments. “It was little overwhelming at first, coming from high school where you don’t really do anything,” Evans said with a wry smile. “To come here and actually have to work, it was a little overwhelming at first, but as time went on after a couple of weeks, I got used to it and I settled down a little bit.” Evans was originally committed to USC, but he took an official visit to Notre Dame for the Purdue game on Sept. 27 and had a change of heart.
The pre-season AP Top 25 polls were released, and Notre Dame, like in the Coach's poll, is ranked #23, their first time being ranked since the end of the 2006 season. Florida was #1.

August 19, 2009

Irish Open Practice
By: Jon Kinne


Notre Dame held their only practice open to the general public this past Saturday, with about 2,000 fans in attendance.  Though not a whole lot can be gleamed in this type of setting, a few things were evident.

Manti Te‚o Will Play

Not that there was any question about this, but Saturday he was seen running with the first team much of the day.  He was on the weak side and Brian Smith was at the Mike during the team drills.  Te‚o has missed a couple of practices with what is described as a „tweaked‰ hamstring, so his status with the first team is a bit telling.  
Unfortunately, the hamstring issue is not going away.  Te‚o did not practice on Monday and Tuesday because of the ailment.  Weis has indicated that Te‚o, like several of his teammates, is being held out as a precaution to prevent a serious injury.
Toryan Smith, who is listed as the starter at middle linebacker on the ND depth chart, was with the first team in the walk-through, but did not see any reps in the team drills.  He may be banged up even though he has not been mentioned as a player with an injury.

Other Freshman Standouts

Armando Allen and Jonas Gray did not take part in the team drills on Saturday, meaning the two freshman running backs handled the ball often.  Cierre Wood had a few nice runs against the second team defense, including a 50-yard gain that he broke down the sideline.  Theo Riddick was also productive, showing a shiftiness that makes him hard to bring down.  He did fumble the first time he touched the ball in the team drills, but regrouped and had a 13-yard gain on one carry.
One of the two will probably see action this year even though the Irish are deep in the backfield with Allen, Gray, Robert Hughes, and James Aldridge.
Shaquelle Evans also had a very good practice.  With Duval Kamara out for a couple of weeks after having his knee scoped, an opportunity is there for other receivers.  Evans, who spent some time running plays with the first team, seems to be one player getting attention.  
However, the most popular freshman on the team after Saturday‚s practice had to be kicker Nick Tausch.   The Irish closed the practice with Tausch attempting a 39-yard field goal to determine whether or not the team would run laps before heading home.  The Dallas native drilled it through, prompting a team-wide celebration.

Dever in for Young

Right tackle Sam Young had missed a couple of practices with a minor injury.  He was a go for some of the individual drills, but was held out of the team portion of the workout.
Taylor Dever filled in for Young with the first team.  Dever will provide depth this season and is an important piece down the road.  Young is entering his final season and Dever will have first crack at the right tackle spot in 2010.

Kick Returners

The Irish primarily used Armando Allen as the kick returner and Golden Tate as the punt returner in 2008.  Having two prime offensive weapons in this capacity can be a bit dangerous and it appears that the Irish are looking at some other options.
Allen and Tate saw some action with the return teams during Saturday‚s practice and will probably still see plenty of time in that capacity this season.  But Roby Toma, Robby Parris, Shaquelle Evans, and Theo Riddick also practiced returning kicks.
Interestingly, Cierre Wood did not.  Wood was a dynamic return man at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard, Calif.  Many expected Wood to be the starting kick returner the moment he stepped on campus.  On Saturday, at least, he was not.

Captains Named

The Irish voted on team captains last Friday and head coach Charlie Weis announced the names on Saturday.  Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen and senior center Eric Olsen are the offensive captains, senior safety Kyle McCarthy is the defensive captain, and senior linebacker Scott Smith is the special teams captain.
The Irish also announced their leadership committee.  The nine players selected are special teams standout Mike Anello, defensive ends Kerry Neal and John Ryan, linebacker Brian Smith, safety Sergio Brown, offensive tackle Sam Young, wide receiver Michael Floyd, running back James Aldridge, and tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Other Notes

Weis cancelled Saturday‚s evening practice, taking the team to a nearby lake for a cook-out instead.  The NCAA mandates how many practices each program can conduct and it is unclear if the Irish will make up the time missed on Saturday night.
Jimmy Clausen practiced fully on Saturday but was held out of practice on Monday because he was sick.  He told reporters on Monday afternoon that he was starting to feel better and he was back with the team on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that Notre Dame will play two games against Syracuse at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in 2014 and 2016.  The paper also reported that these two games will be considered Syracuse home games.

August 12, 2009

What to Look For in Camp - Defense
By: Jon Kinne

Notre Dame's success on offense may come down to whether or not they can run the football effectively.  The major issues on defense will most likely revolve around a similar premise.  Here are some things to watch as the Irish defense prepares for week one.

1.  Stopping the Run

A quick look at the numbers will show that Notre Dame gave up an average of 134 yards rushing per game in 2008, ranking 45th in the nation.  That is not a terrible showing, but if you look at things closer, the results may have been a bit misleading.
By holding Washington to 26 yards rushing and Hawaii to 32, the Irish were able to keep their numbers respectable.  In the remaining ten games, the Irish gave up 169 yards per game on the ground, which would have ranked 88th, and the failure in this department was a key factor in many of their losses.  Michigan State ran for 203 yards, Pittsburgh 178, Boston College 167, Syracuse 170, and USC 175.
Now, the Irish will be without the graduated Pat Kuntz, their most productive lineman in 2008.  The defensive line will be a young group, but there is a great deal of talent.  Coach Charlie Weis has stated that defensive tackle Ian Williams is in tremendous shape.  The junior showed a great deal of promise in 2007, but did not take a major step forward last season.  The hope is that that progression is made this year.  
The same can be said for defensive end Kerry Neal.  Playing from an upright position in the 3-4 defense featured by the Irish in 2007, Neal created problems for opposing offenses.  Last year, with his hand on the ground as a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment, his numbers did not spike up the way many expected.  Whether he is more suited to the 3-4 as opposed to the 4-3 or whether he needed another year to develop is to be determined.
Ethan Johnson will be the other starting defensive tackle and he has the makings of a star.  Johnson can shift outside if needed, but he will begin the year as a tackle.  At 280-pounds, he will have to use his quickness more than sheer power in order to defend the better running teams.
Kapron Lewis-Moore is the strong side defensive end.  The sophomore has added nearly 50 pounds since arriving at Notre Dame, going from 220-pounds to nearly 270.  He did not play at all last season though the coaching staff was impressed by his development in year one.
Depth on the inside comes from sophomores Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman while two seniors, Morrice Richardson and John Ryan, are the second team ends.  
The Irish face several teams with big, physical offensive lines.  How this young and relatively undersized line holds up will go a long way in determining defensive success.
While many of the concerns with Notre Dame‚s run defense start with the front four, there is also the question of∑..

2.  Will Toryan Smith Be the Middle Linebacker

Toryan Smith enters fall camp as the #1 middle linebacker primarily because he is the person best suited to stop the run.  The senior may be a liability in pass coverage and in those situations he will probably be substituted out.  But at the start, he is the man in the middle.
If he holds onto the starting spot, it allows the staff to play Brian Smith on the weak side, which is his more natural position.  Brian Smith was needed on the inside last year and though he was productive and gave his usual 100% effort, it was apparent that he is better suited operating in more space.  He will be freed up to make more plays on the outside if Toryan can deal with the traffic on the inside.
If Toryan struggles, Brian Smith will mostly likely move inside again, opening the door for freshman sensation Manti Te‚o.  Physically, Te‚o at 245-pounds appears ready to make an impact.   And he most likely will in passing situations.  But the Irish will be best served if Toryan plays, Brian Smith stays outside, and Te‚o subs in on passing downs.
The strong side position will likely be manned by Darius Fleming, though the current depth chart lists him as a co-#1 along with Scott Smith and Steve Filer.  Fleming did not participate in the spring drills due to a   shoulder injury.  Asked to pressure the quarterback as a freshman, his role will expand greatly in 2009 as he will be needed in run support and in pass coverage.
The linebacking corps is very similar to the defensive line.  They are inexperienced, but are more athletic than any Notre Dame group in recent memory.  

3.  Blitz or no Blitz - Get to the Quarterback

Who‚s kidding who?  With John Tenuta taking even more control of the Notre Dame defense, the Irish will blitz early and often.  Too often last year, Notre Dame seemed to blitz from the wrong angles or the timing was off just a bit, leading to increased time for the quarterback.  That has to change.
The athleticism of those closest to the ball will help greatly.  Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson are big, strong, athletes that should create a push on the front line.  Fleming, Brian Smith, and Te‚o are guys cut from the Tenuta mold.  Kerry Neal has the quickness needed on the edge.  And reserve Steve Filer may be the most athletic of the bunch.
The problem is, with just about all of these guys, we‚re talking about potential because it has yet to be consistently shown in game situations.  Brian Smith has had a very good two years for the Irish and Kerry Neal has shown flashes of pass rushing ability.  Johnson and Fleming played in reserve roles most of 2008 and Lewis-Moore and Te‚o will be seeing their first action this fall.
If this group can pick up the Tenuta schemes, the talent will lead to results.  2010 may be the year they really explode, both against the run and pressuring the quarterback.  But this year, it will be interesting to see how they develop.

4.  Harrison Smith Back to Safety

Oftentimes you will see a program recruit a safety and build him into a linebacker.  It is rare, however, when that player then moves back to safety.
Not only is Harrison Smith moving back to safety, he is moving to free safety where he has to cover sideline to sideline on every play.
This is where Harrison Smith should be.  He was a safety coming out of high school that was needed at outside linebacker last year.  He was clearly undersized for the position, often gobbled up by much bigger offensive linemen.
One thing that is clear is that the Knoxville native is more than athletic enough for the free safety spot.  With David Bruton moving on to the Denver Broncos, the free safety position was open in the spring and Smith seized the opportunity.  Combine his speed and quickness with the toughness he gained playing closer to the ball last season and the Irish will have another weapon in their deep secondary.
The one question is how well he picks up the free safety assignments.  While it is his natural position, he must re-learn where to be in all defensive situations.   That hurdle may already be cleared and if it is, Smith will make a serious impact right off the bat.

5.  Welcome Back Darrin Walls and Gary Gray

Darrin Walls, perhaps the team‚s best cover corner in 2007, was suspended because of academic issues in 2008.  Gary Gray provided depth in 2008, but was suspended in the spring for reasons similar to Walls.  They are both back and fighting for playing time at the deep cornerback positions.
Walls seems to have the better chance at stepping in and playing immediately.  The senior has speed that the other corner contenders do not possess.  He has apparently bulked up a bit making him more of a presence in man coverage and against the run.
Walls suffered what Weis described as a „tweaked hamstring‰ early in camp.  It is not expected to be serious and he is expected to be back at practice soon.
Gray is currently running with the second team.  With Robert Blanton, Raeshon McNeil, and the always improving Jamoris Slaughter competing for time, the battles should be fierce.

6.  Tenuta and the 4-3

With John Tenuta taking over as defensive coordinator, the Irish will remain in the 4-3 alignment that they used much of last season.  Weis has said that the differences between the two packages are overstated, however, the question remains:  do the Irish have better 4-3 or 3-4 personnel?
Ian Williams had a better year in 2007 as the nose in the 3-4 than he did in the 4-3 last year.  Kerry Neal had a better year as a linebacker in 2007 than he did as a defensive end in 2008.  Ethan Johnson seems to be a perfect 3-4 defensive end.  
So why are the Irish sticking with the 4-3 in 2009?
First off, that is what Tenuta is comfortable running.  With Weis concentrating more on the offense again this season, he is putting all his trust on defense in Tenuta and assistant head coach Corwin Brown.  Brown devised the 2007 3-4, but is much more adaptable than Tenuta, who has been running 4-3 defenses for years.  The Irish will be in a 4-3 defense for as long as Tenuta is on their staff.
Also, the 3-4 requires bigger inside linebackers, which the Irish just don‚t have.  The Irish feature more guys like Brian Smith, Manti Te‚o, Steven Filer, and Darius Fleming, athletic guys that are not suited to play in the middle of a 3-4.
Finally, for the first time in several years, the Irish have some options along the defensive line.  Lewis-Moore needs to play.  Ethan Johnson needs to play.  Kerry Neal needs to play.
Simply put, to get the best seven guys on the field, the Irish feel that the 4-3 is a better option.


There is talent galore on the defensive side of the ball.  As stated, it is very young talent.
The defensive front seven may be the most athletic group ever to see the field at Notre Dame.  At the same time, with the exception of Ian Williams, this is not a very big group.  They must avoid getting pushed around again by the likes of Michigan State, Boston College, and USC.  They must use their quickness and precisely execute their assignments in order to hold their own with these big offensive lines.  
Toryan Smith locking down the middle linebacker spot would be beneficial.  It really comes down to whether Toryan inside and Brian Smith outside is better than Brian Smith inside and Te‚o outside.  We all know Te‚o is going to be very good, so if Toryan is on the field, you know that he is playing well, too.
There seem to be few questions in the secondary and that is a good thing.  They will be tested as Tenuta sends one blitz after another in an effort to rattle the opposing quarterback.
Getting good pressure from the front four will aid these blitz packages.  Also, the more athletic linebackers should have more success providing pressure than in past years, especially the more reps these young guys get during the course of the season.
Overall, Irish fans have to hope that this team is decent against the run and is able to provide more pressure from the blitzes.  At worst, this defense should improve to the point that people will consider them a strength entering the 2010 season.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily. You can visit Irish Sports Daily at <> .

Notre Dame Opens Camp
By: Sonny Martinez

Friday, August 8th was the "official" Notre Dame media day at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, and camp was opened the next day. However, before media day could start, Notre Dame had some issues. Hawaii coach Greg McMackin used a gay slur to describe the Irish's pre-Hawaii Bowl dance. A few quotes from Coach Weis on the topic, "Yesterday, Coach McMackin demonstrated poor judgment when, while making comments critical of our football program, he used a derogatory word. Speaking only for our football program, we were offended by the remarks. This afternoon I received a phone call from Coach McMackin and he apologized to me and asked I pass that along to my players and coaches. We accept his apology and we will move on."  McMackin was suspended 30 days without pay, and lost a total of $169,000 from his salary this season.
Coach Weis talked to the media for a while on Friday, addressing many issues. Expectations were at the top of that list. "Don't tell me about expectations, fellas'," Weis said, "Show me." Weis stated "I'm really not worried about the past, today, the only thing I'm worried about is the start of the season." Coming off a 10-15 record over the past two years and with this a make or break year for Weis, he has no other choice. He also talked about taking over play calling duties. "That (offensive play calling) will be given up no time soon, Part of that has to do with my confidence in the defensive staff. I'm very confident that the defensive staff can handle things with minimal interference by the head coach." Weis takes over for Mike Haywood, who is now Miami OH head coach. Weis was also happy with the compitition between QBs Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist.
A week before the Irish players were due back to campus to report this summer, quarterback Jimmy Clausen invited WRs Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, along with TE Kyle Rudolph to fly to Westlake Village, California to go to Clausen's parent's house. They spent some time on the beach and in the pool. They also went to Clausen's old high school to play catch and  then work out with a personal trainer. "I think it's huge for us, because those four guys are always on the field with me," Clausen said. "They know what I'm thinking during certain plays and certain routes, and I know what they're thinking as well. I think it's going to be really good for us."
Also some big news in terms of the depth chart. Senior Eric Olsen, who started all 13 games at left guard last season, is now listed as the first-team center, taking the spot from injured 2008 starter Dan Wenger.  Sophomore Trevor Robinson is now No. 1 at right guard and '08 RG Chris Stewart has moved to the left side. "We intend to play the best five guys," Weis said. "If Danny can beat out one of those three guys, then we'll shuffle accordingly. Right now, going into day one, that's where they are." Coach Weis also made it clear that Armando Allen is the man to beat for the starting running back position. Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray and even fullback James Aldridge are some of the men looking to take Allen's starting job.
Some other news from the first few days of camp:
 Freshman linebacker Manti Te'o is said to be "every bit the physical as he was reputed to be." He doesn't look like a Freshman. He is good in the physical part, but can he hold up in the mental part?
Coach Weis looks much trimmer and can move a lot better that he could last season when he was battling his knee problems. He was also very happy with the practice conditions.
Weis said Friday every player is able to practice without limitations with the exception of backup defensive lineman Hafis Williams, who  is waiting for clearance from some medical tests. This is still very good news for the Irish, who had many players out for the Blue-Gold game in the spring.
Wide receiver Golden Tate was one of 30 players nominated for the Walter Camp Award, which is given to the nation's top player. Other players on this list include Tim Tebow,  Jordan Shipley, Evan Royster, Jacquizz Rodgers, Colt McCoy, and Sam Bradford among others.  
OT Sam Young is listed on the Outland Trophy watch list. The award is given out to the best lineman in the nation. Some on this list include Terrence Cody, Gerald McCoy, Kristofer O'Dowd, and the Pouncey brothers from Florida.
WR Duval Kamara underwent surgery on his right knee. The 6'3 wideout expects to to return to practice in about two weeks, but should be ready for the season opener on September 5th.


August 7, 2009

By: Jon Kinne

As it is every year, the anticipation level is extremely high as the Notre Dame football team opens camp this weekend. While the Irish have key elements in place on both sides of the ball, the success of the 2009 season may be determined by how well they answer some of the questions that have lingered since the 2008 campaign concluded.

Here are some of the concerns that Notre Dame will look to resolve on offense before Nevada comes to town on September 5th. I will look at the defense in a couple of days.


1. The Running Game

Notre Dame has struggled to find a competent running game since Charlie Weis arrived in 2005. Some have blamed the offensive line. Others the running backs. Still others say it is the philosophy of Weis that creates a finesse offense. The answer may in fact be all of the above and this is the #1 issue that needs to be resolved heading into fall camp.

Phil Steele rates the 2009 Notre Dame offensive line as the #5 unit in the country due to the number of experienced players returning. They did improve significantly in pass protection in 2008, allowing 22 sacks as opposed to the 58 allowed in 2007. But the running game did not make the same strides.

In 2007, the Irish ran for just 75 yards per game, ranking 116th in the nation. While they improved to 110 yards per game and 101st in the country last year, it must also be pointed out that they played with a lead much more often in 2008 than they did during the 3-9 2007 season, meaning the need and opportunity to run the ball was much greater last fall.

It will be interesting to see who lines up where on the offensive line for the Nevada game. Paul Duncan will take Mike Turkovich’s spot at left tackle and Sam Young will be back at right tackle. But on the interior, the foursome of Trevor Robinson, Eric Olsen, Chris Stewart, and Dan Wenger are vying for the three starting positions.

Olsen enters camp as the starter at center with Stewart at left guard and Robinson at right guard. Charlie Weis said in his press conference on August 7th that if Wenger can beat out Olsen, the line will then be shuffled accordingly.

There are plenty of options at running back. Armando Allen heads into the fall as the #1 back, though he rushed for just 585 yards last season. Robert Hughes aims to look more like the Robert Hughes at the tail end of Œ07 as opposed to the Hughes of last year. Jonas Gray showed flashes at times last year and freshmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick are looking to make an impact.

Notre Dame has a new running backs coach in Tony Alford and a new offensive line coach in Frank Verducci, who is also serving as running game coordinator. It will be interesting to see if their arrival corresponds to a more physical rushing attack or if the Irish remain sluggish on the ground.

With the weapons Notre Dame has in the passing game, they do not need a Georgia Tech running game. And that is a good thing because the best rushing season of the Charlie Weis era was in 2005 when the Irish ranked 55th by gaining 147 yards per game on the ground.

2. Jimmy Clausen’s Decision Making

A quick look at the statistics tells you all you need to know. In the seven Notre Dame wins, Jimmy Clausen threw 17 touchdowns and had seven passes intercepted. In the six Irish losses, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

But it was more than just the numbers. There were bad throws at bad times that led to bad results in key situations. The two interceptions by Otis Wiley of Michigan State and the pick by Quan Sturdivant to start the second half of the North Carolina game come immediately to mind.

However, when Clausen was good in 2008, he was very good. The Hawaii Bowl was record-setting and he had back-to-back three touchdown, no interception games against Purdue and Stanford.

That Clausen must emerge on a more consistent basis in 2009. Getting back to point #1, an improved running game would help immensely by taking the pressure off the passing game.

Clausen’s play is probably just as vital to the Irish success as the ground game. The difference is that there is much more confidence in Clausen taking the next step than there is in the running game emerging as a consistent threat.

With two years in the system, a veteran line that was greatly improved in pass protection last year, and Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Kyle Rudolph returning, the pieces are in place. If Clausen makes the right decisions and values the football a little more, he should have a huge season.

3. Tight End Depth

With Joseph Fauria leaving the program, Notre Dame finds itself thin at tight end. Sophomore Kyle Rudolph is the unquestioned #1 and seems primed to burst on the national scene. Behind him, questions abound.

Mike Ragone is the back up at this time with walk-on transfer Bobby Burger and freshmen Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic rounding out the depth chart.

Ragone was a coveted recruit coming out of high school whose progress has been hampered by two ACL tears. Charlie Weis said in his pre-camp presser that Ragone is good to go with no restrictions. Before the knee surgeries, Ragone possessed good speed, making him a potential match up problem for most linebackers. The Irish staff hope that he has not lost a step due to the injuries.

However, blocking is something coaches look for in a second tight end and Ragone has always been known as a catch first, block second type of tight end. This is an area in which he must show improvement, especially in short yardage situations when multiple tight ends are needed.

Burger impressed the Irish coaches in spring after transferring in from Dayton. Weis stated after the conclusion of spring ball that he would not be afraid to play Burger for meaningful minutes. As for the freshmen, Eifert seems the more ready and could be effective getting down field, but both he and Golic need to add some weight before they are able to contribute as blockers.

4. The Fullback Situation

The fullback has not been featured much during the Weis tenure. Whether that is because his offense does not call for much from the fullback or because of his lack of confidence in Asaph Schwapp, the only real fullback on the roster the past three years, is unclear.

This season, James Aldridge moves from tailback to fullback for his senior season. After spending three years concentrating on running the football, Aldridge must now focus much of his time on blocking.

The fullback position takes on added importance this season with lack of quality blockers at tight end. The Irish have often used two tight ends instead of a fullback when running the football. If Aldridge cannot adapt to fullback and Ragone does not develop as a blocker, Notre Dame will be hard pressed to make significant gains in the running game.

One X-factor could be Steve Paskorz. The Pennsylvania native came to ND as a linebacker and now is listed as the #2 fullback. The Irish could line him up in the backfield or put him at H-back and have him go in motion to optimize blocking angles.

Notre Dame will oftentimes spread the field with three and four wide receivers. But with the running game being such an important factor, an effective fullback and/or blocking tight end is necessary.

5. Finding Two Wide Receivers Behind Tate and Floyd

When looking at the depth chart, it is not really a question of if a couple of players will step up at wide receiver, but rather, who will they be?

The time is now for Duval Kamara. After a productive freshman year, Kamara took a step back as a sophomore, losing his starting position to Michael Floyd shortly after the start of the season. At 6-foot-5, 219-pounds, Kamara has great size and is a very athletic player.

He was fourth among Notre Dame wide receivers in receptions last fall, behind Tate, Floyd, and the graduated David Grimes. It is hard to imagine Kamara not being in the mix, though if he should slip at all, there are plenty of youngsters poised to pass him by.

As of right now, senior Robby Parris is slated as the back up to Floyd at the Z-receiver spot. Parris was lauded by the staff for his performance in the spring and has 36 career receptions, making him the most experienced of the remaining Irish receivers.

John Goodman and Deion Walker did not play as freshmen so they still have four years of eligibility left. Both are very talented and will push for playing time. So will freshman Shaq Evans, a highly regarded recruit from California.

George West has been in the program for three years, but seems to be looking up at all of the other receivers.


Clausen’s progression is important and the development of the supporting wide receivers will be interesting to watch. But they are also the two questions that most Irish fans feel will be answered in a positive manner.

It really comes down to the running game. Will Weis commit to it? Can the line run block effectively enough? Will the backs hit the right holes? Will the fullback be an able lead blocker? Do the Irish have a blocking tight end?

With quality of their aerial attack, if the Irish feature a running game that falls in the middle of the FBS pack, the Notre Dame offense will flourish. However, if they continue to hover around 100 rushing yards per game, a January bowl game appearance is highly unlikely.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily. You can visit Irish Sports Daily at

July 28, 2009

Looking Ahead
By: Sonny Martinez

Notre Dame’s 2009 football season is almost here! There are going to be many great things to look forward to this season for Irish fans. This season after only 10 wins in the past 2 seasons, the least amount over any 2 year stretch in Notre Dame’s history, Coach Charlie Weis is under some heavy pressure. Over the spring, he admitted to talking to his family about leaving Notre Dame, but decided not to. He has been working hard with his 2009 team. Weis about his 2009 football team: “I never said we are good enough; we have a lot of room for improvement. I’ll let you know that in September. Right now we have a long way to go. I just think that it was a very good spring; we improved in a lot of areas and we have a long way to go to be a really good football team. But at least potentially the elements are in place to be a good team.”
Weis will now be calling the Offensive plays, as the Offensive Coordinator Mike Haywood left his spot at Notre Dame to become the head coach at Miami, OH. With Rob Ianello still Assistant Head Coach on Offense, this should be a high scoring offense. Last season’s running game was good for the Irish with Robert Hughes, James Aldridge, and Armando Allen. James Aldridge was moved to Fullback to provide some depth at that position and due to injury. Although WR Golden Tate could only practice 5 times during the spring due to his commitments with the Irish baseball team, Weis still expects him to be ready for the upcoming season and that he did do to much this spring. “I’ve worked out with (Irish baseball coach Dave Schrage) the days he’ll be with baseball and the days he’ll be with football without going over his limit (of hours),” Weis said. Weis also said that his QB, Jimmy Clausen remains the “absolute” starter. Weis does expect, however, backup QB Dayne Crist to push Clausen in what Weis called a “pedal-to-the-metal” battle for the quarterback position.
There were some other players who were unable to attend full spring practices for either injury, academics, or in Tate’s case, another sport. Those players besides Tate include receiver George West, guard Trevor Robinson, tackle Taylor Dever, wideout Barry Gallup, Jr., defensive end Kallen Wade, defensive tackle Sean Cwynar, defensive end Kerry Neal, linebacker Darius Fleming, cornerback Mike Anello, linebacker Anthony McDonald and cornerback E.J. Banks.
Notre Dame also has some 5th year seniors, including safety Kyle McCarthy, who should be the starter at the strong safety position. Another star of the 08 season back is offensive tackle Paul Duncan, who Weis described as the “most impressive prospective left tackle of the spring.” Also returning for year 5 are cornerback Mike Anello, a former walk-on and a special teams star in 2008 for punt and kick returns. He was forced to miss the 2009 spring due to a broken leg suffered in the 38-3 loss to USC. Linebacker Scott Smith will also be back. Smith has mostly been a backup during his time at Notre Dame, but looks to add some leadership to the LB core wilt the loss of Maurice Crum. The final player is Ray Herring. He will be part of a very deep secondary this season. Charlie Weis had this to say about his 5 returning 5th year seniors: “Today I received the news that five of our current seniors who applied for a fifth year have all been approved,” Irish head football coach Charlie Weis said. “We are happy to officially include all five players onto our roster. Their leadership is greatly appreciated.”
Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown are the co-defensive coordinators back this season. Cornerback Darrin Walls returned to the team this spring. He was not enrolled last season because of what were called “personal reasons.” Another big defensive note for the Irish is Linebacker Harrison Smith. Smith is no longer a LB as he moved to his old free safety position to replace David Bruton. Also 3 freshman defensemen attended spring practice. LB Zeke Motta, DL Tyler Stockton and CB E.J. Banks were all there. Special teams will be good again with Golden Tate and Michael Floyd returning kicks and punts. Erik Maust returns as punter and Brandon Walker as kicker. Fans want to see the Walker of the last 5 games of the season, not the first 8.
Notre Dame camp opens up on Friday, August 7. The first game will be 29 days from that date vs. Nevada. I’m sure Irish fans cant wait for those 2 dates, I know I sure can’t!

Notre Dame in solid position for 2009 season
By: Jake Taylor

2009 is going to be an exciting year for Notre Dame football. They are coming off two disappointing seasons in 2007 and 2008, due in large part to a drop in talent, and a lack of experience at key positions. 2009 will be very different. Charlie Weis has recruited exceptionally well lately and it should pay dividends this year.
Notre Dame has skill position talent on par with that of USC and Texas. Jimmy Clausen is entering his third year as the starter for the Fighting Irish. He is joined by a very talented WR corps of Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, Duval Kamara, Deion Walker, and John Goodman. Add in Kyle Rudolph, and the return of Mike Ragone, and Clausen=2 0will have his share of targets to choose from. The running back position is stocked. Armando Allen, James Aldridge, Robert Hughes, and Jonas Gray all return.

The biggest disappointment over the last two years has clearly been the offensive line. Notre Dame has not been able to run the football successfully, and it has certainly impacted what they were able to do on offense. As a result, Charlie Weis made a change during the off-season. He replaced John Latina with Frank Verducci as the offensive line coach. Verducci has been designated “run-game co.ordinator” for Notre Dame. Verducci will have an experienced group to work with, Notre Dame is returning the most experienced offensive line among every team in a BCS conference. They have amassed over 100 career starts.

Mike Haywood has also left Notre Dame to become the head coach at Miami of Ohio. Haywood served as running backs coach and was the offensive coordinator for the first half of the 2008 season. Tony Alford has replaced Haywood. There is a significant buzz about the impact Alford has had on the running backs.

The defense has also absorbed some significant changes. Corwin Brown was promoted to Assistant Head Coach, and that move made Jon Tenuta the defensive play caller. Tenuta has been considered to be among the very best defensive coordinators in college football. Tenuta has moved Notre Dame back into a more traditional 4-3 defense, and fans should expect to see a much more aggressive defensive team this fall.

The front four is beginning to develop some depth, but is probably the weakest group on defense. This is a position where Charlie Weis made an additional coaching change. Randy Hart, who spent the last 20 years at the University of Washington replaces Jappy Oliver. Ian Williams, Hafis Williams, Ethan Johnson, and Kapron Lewis-Moore are among those that will make up this unit.

LB is a different story. This position is loaded for Notre Dame. In February, Notre Dame signed Manti Te’o. A consensus high school all-american from Hawaii who is expected to make an immediate impact for Notre Dame. Brian Smith, Steve Filer, and Scott Smith return. Brian Smith has all the physical tools to develop into an outstanding linebacker. Tenuta has shown that he is willing to find the very best position for his players, which means Smith, Te’o, Filer could find themselves moving around quite a bit to find what position gives ND the best position to win.

The secondary is also very deep. Darrin Wall s returns after missing 2008, and Robert Blanton returns after a very impressive freshman season. Behind those two, Notre Dame will have Raeshon McNeil, and perhaps Gary Gray as well. C2 Harrison Smith has moved back to safety, and Tenuta loves what Smith can do for him. The other safety spot should be occupied by Kyle McCarthy.

Overall, Notre Dame has depth and experience at key positions. Charlie Weis and his staff have recruited very well and the schedule is favorable.

After two disappointing seasons it may seem foolish to expect big things from Notre Dame, but that is exactly what is going to happen. Notre Dame will win 10 regular season games, and will be playing in BCS bowl game in January.

Side notes.

An Irish Breakdown
By Jon Kinne

Welcome to my Notre Dame blog. I look forward to the upcoming season and providing you with all the information that I can.

It has been a relatively uneventful off-season so far for the Notre Dame football program. The Irish open camp on August 8th to prepare for their season opener on September 5th at home against Nevada. A couple more quiet weeks before the start of camp and head coach Charlie Weis will be a very happy man.

Which freshmen will play?

The Irish signed 18 recruits in February and all of them reported to campus on time in June. With most of the offense returning and a strong sophomore class buoying the defense, opportunities for playing time for most of the freshmen will be scarce.

The major exception is Manti T’eo, the No. 1 linebacker prospect in the class of 2009. The Irish will play mostly a 4-3 defense in 2009 and Toryan Smith will enter fall on top of the depth chart at middle linebacker, pushing last year’s starter Brian Smith out to his more natural weak side spot. But if Toryan Smith cannot hold on to the starting position, Brian Smith will probably move back inside, opening up playing time for T’eo and sophomore Steve Filer.

Toryan is strong in run support and has limitations in pass coverage, so T’eo will get snaps in passing situations. He also may see time on special teams.

Freshman linebacker/safety Zeke Motta may also see action on special teams. The Vero Beach, Fla. native enrolled at Notre Dame in January, along with defensive back E.J. Banks and defensive tackle Tyler Stockton, and impressed the Irish staff with his aggressiveness and athleticism during the spring.

With senior James Aldridge moving to fullback, the Irish will need depth at running back. Freshmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick come in looking to contribute. They may need to be ready right away seeing that junior Robert Hughes will have to sit out the first half of the September 5th opener against Nevada for his participation in a fight in the game against USC last November.

Wood, who was viewed as an immediate return weapon, has reportedly bulked up to 215-pounds. The Notre Dame staff hopes that the weight gain will not affect his speed and shiftiness.

With David Grimes graduating, the third wide receiver position is up for grabs. Freshman Shaquelle Evans will be in the hunt to claim that spot. Evans will be battling for playing time with several returning players (Duval Kamara, John Goodman, Deion Walker, and Robbie Parris. Evans has the tools to be an impact player, he just needs to pick up the system quickly if he wants to compete with his more experienced teammates.

The rest of the freshman class will most likely be serving on the scout teams, preserving a year of eligibility, and looking to make an impact in 2010 and beyond.

The Quarterback Shuffle

Quarterback Evan Sharpley decided to return to Notre Dame for a fifth year. Sharpley had intended to pursue a career in baseball, but after hitting just .223 with five home runs in the spring, his major league draft stock dropped. He was selected in the 50th round by the Seattle Mariners, but determined that it was in his best interests to come back to Notre Dame in the fall.

Sharpley has played in 16 games in is career with two starts, throwing for 743 yards and three touchdowns.

The importance of Sharpley’s change of heart increased when it was recently announced that walk-on Nate Montana was enrolling at Pasadena (Calif.) City College. Montana finished the spring as the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist.

Montana told the South Bend Tribune that he is going to junior college in order to gain more game experience. He was a back up at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. and saw no action in his freshman year at Notre Dame.

Montana did throw for 51 yards in the Blue-Gold game this past April.

Position Battles

Notre Dame returns most of its offense in 2009, so the starting spots appear set. Mike Turkovich is gone at left tackle, but this spring fifth-year senior Paul Duncan reclaimed the position he held in 2007. A hip injury forced him to sit out all of 2008.

There may, however, be some shuffling on the interior of the offensive line. Guard Eric Olsen saw some time at center this spring and may push last year’s starter Dan Wenger. Olsen rotated in at guard last year with Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart. If Wenger holds on to his starting spot, that rotation will continue, with Robinson likely to see the most action.

The defense is a bit more muddled, but that may be a good thing. For the first time in a long time, the Irish appear to have depth at many key positions. The defensive line seems set with Kerry Neal and Kapron Lewis-Moore flanking Ethan Johnson and Ian Williams. The reserves are inexperienced, though they showed potential in the spring.

At linebacker, Darius Fleming will start on the strong side, joining Toryan Smith, Brian Smith, T’eo, and Filer in the rotation.

Harrison Smith, who was an under-sized linebacker last year, has moved back to his natural free safety position. Starting 2007 corner Darrin Walls returns after a years suspension and joins Raeshon McNeil, Bobert Blanton, and Gary Gray, all of whom saw considerable playing time last year.

Notre Dame-Army in 2010

The biggest off-season news may have been the announcement that Notre Dame will play Army in 2010 in the first football game ever at the new Yankee Stadium. The old stadium was the site of one of college football’s most storied games, the 1946 0-0 tie between the Irish and the Cadets.

By adding Army to the 2010 schedule, Notre Dame is left with two open dates next season. There have been rumors over the past couple of weeks on talks with Tulsa and TCU about filling those vacancies, though nothing has been confirmed.

Legends Game

Lastly, a group of former Notre Dame players traveled to Tokyo to play the Japanese National team on Saturday. The Irish Legends won 19-3. Jay Vickers was named game MVP after rushing for 139 yards.

The Irish were coached by Lou Holtz, who saw touchdowns scored by Vickers and Tony Rice.

Jon Kinne also writes national recruiting articles for Irish Sports Daily. You can visit Irish Sports Daily at