Duranko’s Digest – What Did We See on Notre Dame Senior Day?

Cam McDaniel - Notre Dame vs. BYU
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Cam McDaniel (33) carries the ball as BYU Cougars linebacker Alani Fua (5) defends in the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Noteworthy performances

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.


(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.


GO Irish.


You may also like


  1. I tend to agree that this is going to be an extremely tough game for ND to win. Rees becomes unglued when he is under pressure, and that’s one of the things Stanford does well. ND’s O-line has to step up in a big way this week to protect Rees and make sure he is not under pressure. Our defense vs. their offense, I think is harder to say. It more or less depends on “which” defense shows up. They have had a few great games this year, and some not so great. I actually think defense will be a toss up.

    For ND to have a chance, the defense has to play it’s best game this weekend. They have the players to do it, they just have to execute and tackle properly. Offensively, getting the ball in the hands of the running backs is key. I would make sure all the running backs get touches. Keep Stanford guessing. I’d mix in some passes too, of course, so they don’t get 1 dimensional, but I think focusing on the run is the best way to get at Stanford. Esp. since Rees is prone to interceptions when under pressure. Get the ball out of his hands ASAP.

    1. I agree. They need to establish the run to set up the pass. I don’t think there are many occasions where I would line up without a RB in the backfield. McDaniel and Folston showed that they can run if you give them the ball. Let’s give them a chance against Stanford. I also agree with somebody’s remark earlier that ND needs to establish a passing game to their RBs. McDaniel ran a great route against BYU and just barely dropped it in the end zone. Give him another chance and Tommy Rees – please try and lead thos ereceivers a bit more.

      Go Irish!

  2. Cardinal George is probably more likely to vote Fr Phleger for Pope before we beat Stanford but here’s hoping against hope. At this point high hopes for the season are pretty much toast and while a win over Stanford might be ending on a good note, in the words of Hillary Clinton, “what difference does it make.” I’m already looking forward to next season and hoping we stay healthy. Until then I hope Cam can punch it in one more time

  3. I’ll never say there isn’t a chance we can’t win a game but I am not overly optimistic we will score a win. I think a lot depends on who wants this game more. If ND shows up, wants it, and has some inspiration anything can happen. Mr Rees, who historically doesn’t play especially well against seasoned D’s and make no mistake, the Cardinal D is seasoned, will have to make GOOD DECISIONS. He needs to play like he is a senior and not like a soph or frosh. Would love to see some TF, CM, & GA3 run the ball and see Rees play under center some.

    Go Irish

  4. Gonna miss Zach Martin and Chris Watt on the left side two of the best NDs had over there in a long while banged up even more after a great win on senior day this group of men have been through it at ND looking forward to seeing how these guys fight down on the farm against the most physical team in college football embrace the hate and let’s see what happens

  5. Here is an interesting tidbit:

    ND is the last team to beat MSU, ASU and USC. Since then those teams are a combined 18-0.

  6. Jack,

    Yes, absolutely. If we want to have this fast, athletic team, then we need good turf. That field yesterday reminded me of Heinz Field. Just awful.

    Memo to BK: 1) Work WITH Admissions and see what can be done to allow players like A. Muhammed to get a shot at ND; 2) Work WITH the AD to get Field Turf in ND Stadium ASAP.

    1. I was going to say it look like Heinz Field or the Linc in Philly. I wonder why ND has had a rash of high ankle sprains and torn ACL’s

      1. Let’s get some field turf. We need quality on our field and currently we don’t have it with our current grass field.

  7. “It’s time to tell the faux ‘traditionalists’ that we’re changing the field sod.”


    Well said, “duranko”!

    1. SteelFanRob,

      I have a rule, if the field is located above the Mason Dixon Line it needs field turf not real grass. To the Traditionalists weren’t up in arms when they got an electric scoreboard or added on in 1996. Field is horrible and has translated in a lot of injuries this year.

  8. After reviewing the Cardinal’s resume I don’t think the Irish can win. Here is why:

    1. ND beat MSU because their offense at the time was horrible. The Cardinal’s offense is good and can put points on the board.

    2. Tommy is horrible against great front sevens and turns the ball over a lot.

    3. I don’t think ND can run the ball on the Cardinal which would put it on Tommy’s shoulders. Remember most teams load the box with 8 and dare ND to beat them with Tommy’s arm. If that is the case they will do nothing on offense.

    4. ND’s kick off team is down right horrible and their punt return team is not much better. The Cardinal will have at least one special team touch down and get great field position on every series.

    5. Lack of depth on D-line and LB. This will cause them to wear down in the 4th qt.

    My predictions is 34-10 Stanford.

    1. Jack

      I agree with you on points 4 and 5. The punt coverage has been terrible and lets face it we will probably be punting often against that defense. The depth on the D-line and LBs is not only a concern for the Stanford game but next year as well. Nix and Tuitt are likely gone and Calabrese and Fox out of time. Grace may not even be healthy enough next season. May come back slower with that knee. Hoping for a miracle and Nix and Tuitt return.

    2. Stanford is not much of passing team, 5 efforts of 150 yds or less on the year. So, those 34 points are going to come via a lot of turnovers or a humiliating overpowering ground game. They don’t fare well in close games, 2 – 2. Big if, IF Tommy doesn’t throw a pick, we can win. I can’t see them blowing us off the ball even without Big Lou, unless we get worn out. If they were so awesome they would have beat USC and Utah.

      1. FXM,

        Both of the games you mention were on the road. SC had marked this on the Calendar as a big game and it was right after the win against Oregon. I see a game like two years ago when Tommy was knocked out of the game right away by their front seven. I just don’t think ND can play a physical game with them.

  9. Duranko

    Dont forget about Greg Bryant. He may be better than Folston. Had he not got injured we may not of seen much of Folston this year.

    1. jeff, you are correct about Bryant. One of the little discussed issues about Bryant is that he is already an accomplished pass receiver.

      This year we never quite got the passing game to the RBS going, but hopefully that will be another arrow in the quiver in 2014.

      Frankly, I’m more worried about our turf than I am about our RB depth chart.

      It’s time to tell the
      faux “traditionalists” that we’re changing the field sod.

  10. I really wasn’t that impressed with the play of ND this past weekend but I never got the feeling that BYU ever really had a chance to win the game. Of course this weekend is totally another story. I honestly don’t think ND has a chance in “hell” of beating the Cardinal. The 3 games listed above do not change my mind and here’s why. Last year ND had it’s best team in recent memory. Plain and simple this year they do not. I don’t think the defense will be able to stop Stanford. If the ND defense comes up big, real big and the offense gives the ball to Tarean and if Rees doesn’t throw 2-3 inceptions, then they might, just might have a chance, a slim one at that. No Nix really hurts! The bottome line for me is Stanford 31 ND 17. The season ends in disappointment with a mediocre 8-4
    record. They could salvage the season somewhat with a bowl win. Go ND!

    1. Rich

      You may be right, but Stanford will predictably run at you. Let’s hope Shumate plays safety “in the box” (like duranko’s subtle implication); he hits and tackles like a LB and reminds me of Jamoris Slaughter of recent past more and more each game. IMHO, we gamble with man-to-man coverage with our CBs. LBs need to stunt and fill the gaps, not drop into half-ass pass D, pressuring instead of reacting. If $C can stifle their run, we can. Oh, to have Grace, Counsell, Nix, and a healthy Kona. That would have maximized our chances. But, “next-man-in” gets its final exam this Saturday.The key will be how well our O’ can control the ball, with less than 2 TOs, and special teams stopping their top-rated special teams from big plays. And let’s score 7 instead of 3 each chance we get. We have nothin’ to lose, as few outsiders and “experts” expect much from us.

      I’m less concerned with the final score than the final effort. I said that after the Golson news and before Temple, and I’m still good with that.

      Go Irish !

  11. “Duranko’s Digest – What Did We See on Notre Dame Senior Day?”

    A running game / attack / balanced attack.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button