The Fighting Irish played their most balanced game of the year on Senior Day, winning 23-13. The Irish scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, and after allowing BYU’s only touchdown on the first Cougar drive, settled in. The Irish defense controlled the inside and off tackle running of Jamaal Williams. He averages 116 yards per game, but the Irish held him to just 43.
Williams’ power runs are the fulcrum of the Cougar offense. The runs by Hill and the as yet unsophisticated Cougar passing game require Williams to be established first. The Irish defenders said no.Depth matters. The Irish played smart football for three quarters, then repeated two old errors in the fourth quarter to keep the game gratuitously close.
With the ball at the BYU 22 and ND leading 20-10, the Irish threw an end zone interception on a forced pass, forfeiting the opportunity to make the score 23-10 or 27-10. Then with only five minutes left and the Irish leading 23-10, the Cougars had their ball on their 48. A missed tackle by a safety turned a short gain into a 46 yard romp terminated by KeiVarae Russell. Each of the 4th quarter miscues had occurred before, as recently as Pitt.
It was as if Currier and Ives had planned Senior Day. Snow fell lightly on the campus conifers; Notre Dame men and women, young and old, dreamed dreams and saw visions of Penn State ’92 and the frosty heroics of Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis and Reggie Brooks.
Notre Dame’s difference by the numbers.
Injured players are scrap-heaped and forgotten at the football factories.
We are Notre Dame. We are DIFFERENT.
Jaylon Smith offered a grateful homage to Danny Spond by wearing #13 for the tilt. ”Coach” Spond dressed, without pads, and smilingly sported his #13 jersey on the sidelines Ronnie Stanley wore the #69 jersey. He ceded his #78 sweater to Luke Massa, who wore it to commemorate his late friend, Matt James.
We are ND!
The turf was less elegant than the feet that trod on it. Sometimes, the banana peel sod was more of challenge than the Cougar front seven. Folston once, and McDaniel twice, both fell with space and a yellowish-greenish-brownish field in front of them. We are weak at turf.
On Senior Day, Tommy Rees moved to within one of the current holder for second on the Irish career TD passing list. Brady Quinn will not be caught by Rees. Rees seemed, finally, comfortable rolling out, and that may be critical in the next Irish game. TJ Jones, with a game to go, completed his lab project on being a prototype of the kind of player development that is going on in this regime.
- 2010 – 23 receptions, 306, Yards, 3 TDs
- 2011 – 38 receptions, 366, Yards, 3 TDs
- 2012 – 50 receptions, 649 Yards, 4 TDs
- 2013 – 59 receptions, 986 Yards, 9 TDs (8 touchdwn receptions, one touchdown run)
While less measurable, Zach Martin concluded a glistening home career, Chris Watt also. On defense, Carlo Calabree, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Kona Schwenke and Bennett Jackson played their last home game. Most likely, Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt appeared for their final home game.
While Senior Day makes fans nervous, Kelly has won four in a row of them, and, at Notre Dame, has kept alive his glistening record of winning the week after an open date, as he has lost only to USC in 2011 after an open date.
Tarean Folston – continued to show vision, elusiveness and power. While most posters over the next three years will want him to get all or most of the carries, the Notre Dame way is to share the ball, and next year’s returnees at tailback will continue to get touches. That’s just the way it is. Partly because of…
Cam McDaniel - power runner, energizer bunny, got his first hundred yard game.
Jarron Jones - sometimes, the light bulb goes on at different times for different players. Jones may have seen the light yesterday, and the idea of him sharing nose tackle with Tony Springmann in 2014 now seems less absurd. Caution: sometimes, emerging players take two steps forward and one step back. Don’t be shocked if that happens to Jones next Saturday.
Elijah Shumate – demonstrated that he is both past his injuries and now comfortable at safety. DOESN’T MISS TACKLES!
Matt Hegarty-sometimes talk is cheap, and slogans mere chatter. But “Next man in” is CODE and DUTY at Notre Dame. It involves setting the goal, preparing the players and the players not spitting the bit. The most noteworthy part about Hegarty replacing Martin yesterday is that there was nothing noteworthy. The quiet efficient hum of business as usual.
The Class of 2017
Lost in the anguish over the three losses this season was the performance of the freshman class. Ten of these stalwarts played:
Offensive Line – Steve Elmer-already blooded by playing Lawrence Williams and Larry Donald, it is a matter of time before defenses have to react to Steve
Running Back – Tarean Folston-the progress was gradual and he exploded for over 100 against Navy. Has ability to block and catch passes, and a future force.
Wide Receiver – Corey Robinson, Devin Fuller and James Onwualu-each different, each valuable each successful
Defensive Line – Isaac Rochell-rangy and quick with good pursuit. A Longo Winter will have him ready for Spring
Linebacker – Jaylon Smith-it’s strange to think of him as a frosh. His drop and interception aginst USC was one of the greatest defensive plays ever seen at Notre Dame Stadium
Cornerbacks – Cole Luke and Devin Butler-this is what guys who played cornerback in high school, who have profile size and who like to tackle as much as they like to cover deliver. If Longo does to their bodies what he did to Russell, we will be outstanding at Cornerback in 2014.
Safety - Max Redfield – who guessed that of the ten he would have the least impact this season. A prototype of the tall rangy safety that the best secondaries have.
The conventional rule is that players improve the most between the freshman and sophomore seasons. If that holds for these 10, then 2014 will be fun.
What will we see against Stanford?
Past performance in physical punishment is no prediction of future results. The Cougars were a tough “middleweight.” Stanford, unless it’s Bama or LSU, is the toughest of the “Heavyweights.” Rich Rod’s plucking of Oregon Ducks is a small benefit to Notre Dame. The Cardinal must still play tricky ASU on Pearl Harbor day for the PacXII automatic BCS bid. The Irish can let it all hang out.
(1) A physical, powerful football team on both sides of the ball. Easily the best offensive line we will have seen since Bama’s juggernaut OL in Miami. Remember, neither Josh Garnett nor Kyle Murphy can crack the starting lineup, yet they will both be outstanding collegiate offensive linemen.
(2) A team that will try to bludgeon you with the OL and Gaffney so you cry “Uncle Leland” in the fourth quarter. They are good at it, but this sort of warfare is something for which Tuitt, Dy, Shembo and Calabrese are not ill-equipped. Jones and Stockton will be RELENTLESSLY ATTACKED by Stanford. The use of Jaylon Smith, eluding, slashing, surprising, will be interesting to watch. Notre Dame, which is conservative in scheme, will be in a chess match to see how long the defense can hold out before they drop a safety into the box.
(3) A Stanford defensive line that is very good at generating a pass rush with just four players, which tilts the defensive calculations in their favor. But our OL excels in pass protection, and held the Michigan State and USC pass rushers at bay.
(4) An interesting “progression”. Here are the margins for the last three games
- 2010 STANFORD by 23
- 2011 STANFORD by 14
- 2012 Notre Dame by 7 (in OT)
(5) The internal numbers the last three years
- 2010 – STAN – 166 rushing, 404 total offense; Notre Dame – 44 rushing, 351 total offense; STAN +122 rushing STAN +53 total
- 2011 – STAN – 196 rushing, 429 total offense; Notre Dame – 57 rushing, 309 total offense; STAN +139 rushing STAN +120 total
- 2012 – STAN – 147 rushing, 272 total offense; Notre Dame – 150 rushing; 334 total offense; ND +3 rushing, ND +62 total
(6) BACKGROUND – after Stanford walloped the Irish in 2010, triggered by Owen Marecic’s two TDs in less than a minute, Coach Kelly had an unusual reaction. He was clear that Stanford played football the way that Notre Dame intended to. He was not angry or dismissive of the Cardinal, but rather held them up as a role model of physical football on both sides of the ball. He has mentioned no other program in the same light.
(7) In 2012 the Irish ran the ball 44 times and passed it 28 times against the Cardinal. If the game is close, expect a similar ratio. If ND’s front seven can control Gaffney early, Kelly will be patient pounding and punting. We may be reminded of Jim Tressel’s old adage “a punt is a good play.”
(8) Expect a big game, even if blocking, from Troy Niklas. He got played by the Stanford defenders last year, and was most culpable for Golson’s end zone fumble which gave Stanford a touchdown through Chase Thomas’ auspices. That was Stanford’s only touchdown of the day.
(9) IF OUR SAFETIES DO NOT WRAP UP IN THE SECOND AND THIRD LEVEL, WE WILL LOSE, PERHAPS IN AN UGLY MANOR.
(10) While the national media will focus its attention on Bama-Auburn, Florida State-Florida, Ohio State-Michigan, A&M-Mizzou and other games, these two teams realize it is a big game for each program. Expect War.! the most physical game we’ve played, since, well, Stanford 2012.