Duranko’s Digest: What did we see in the Pinstripe Bowl?

Notre Dame Pinstripe Bowl
Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly and players celebrate with the Pinstripe Bowl trophy after defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aristide Economopoulos/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

A rested, healed, motivated Fighting Irish Squad scored early, never trailed and beat Rutgers 29-16.  The Irish offense controlled the Scarlet Knight defense, the ND defense manhandled the Rutgers offense, and the Irish got rolled on special teams. Two of the Senior Captains had “senior moments” in the first quarter, keeping the game closer than it ought have been. Further, the normally disciplined Irish had two monumentally knuckleheaded penalties from Tuitt and Niklas one of which moved Rutgers closer to a score, one of which pushed the Irish out of the red zone to make a score more difficult.

The Irish moved the opening kickoff with ease, settling for a field goal. Stopping Rutgers on the ensuing possession, Senior Captain T.J. Jones inexcusably fumbled the punt and Rutgers recovered, converting the field goal for a 3-3 score.

Later, after the Irish punched in a long touchdown drive, the Rutgers offensive brain trust searched for a weakness in the Irish defense, stopping at #2. In the drive, Bennett Jackson, Senior Captain, channeled his inner Elvis “Toast” Patterson (so nicknamed for the frequency and crispness with which he was burned while purportedly playing cornerback for the New York Football Giants) and allowed 25% of the day’s Rutgers offense on two completions to Brandon Coleman. The score was 10-10, but despite the senior silliness, the Irish doubled the Scarlet Knight yardage, doubled the Rutgers rushing yardage and nearly doubled the time of possession, 38:16-21:44, with the result of nearly doubling the score at 29-16. The Irish ran 90 plays, even without a hurry-up element, and had five drives of 10 plays or more, 6 drives of 40 yards or more.

Hiestand’s OL, playing without Chris Watt, Nick Martin and Christian Lombard, deployed subs Conor Hanratty, Matt “the Portsider” Hegarty and Steve Elmer, a SINO, “a sub in name only” to gash the strong Rutgers defensive front for 175 yards on 43 carries. Once again, Tommy Rees was not sacked. Hiestand is hereby anointed Assistant Coach of the Year.

Pleasant offensive surprises:

Chris Brown – welcome back, Chris! Used the bowl practices to revive himself, and position himself for 2014. He, along with Will Fuller has “elite” speed. “Elite” will be defined later.

Troy Niklas – one of the debates of the next twelve months will be whether Niklas is a blocking tight end who can receive or a receiving tight end who can block. Some dilemmas are more pleasant than others.

Pleasant defensive surprises:

Max Redfield – Max! Welcome to Notre Dame! Comfortable at last, will be a key figure in the 2014 secondary.

Kendalll “The Interceptor” Moore – more than just a hard-tackling novelty.

KeiVarae Russell – Outplayed his expectations. He arrived as a stud against Michigan State, but has taken his game up a notch. Diaco had said Russell could be the best cornerback in the country as a senior, and that seems less hyperbolic with each game. Remember, he is only about 600 days into being a cornerback.

A Farewell to Arms

The following offensive starters in the game have played their last tilt for Notre Dame:

  • Zach Martin
  • T. J. Jones
  • Tommy Rees

Next year, there are three additional players returning to the offense who have starting experience.

  • Christian Lombard
  • Everett Golson
  • Nick Martin

The following defensive starters in the game have played their last tilt for Notre Dame:

  • Prince Shembo
  • Dan Fox
  • Carlo Calabrese
  • Bennett Jackson
  • Stephon Tuitt may have played his last ND game.

Next year, Jarrett Grace is the only additional player returning to the defense who has starting experience.

2013’s late season bloomers:

Jarron Jones – the sleeper has awakened! Showed early promise when he arrived in August 2012, then sunk without trace for a year and a half, adjusting to Notre Dame competitiveness, life and pressure. But the light bulb went on, and he played with great vigor against BYU before taking a (not unexpected) step backward against Stanford. Has found his groove. A big offseason can solidify his starting position, and a twosome of Jones and Springmann will put the Irish in good shape at nose guard for 2014-and beyond.

Kendall Moore – the injuries to Grace, Councell and Williams opened up playing time for Kendall, and he was a Notre Dame force against the Air Force. A robust and ferocious tackler, the bulb may have lit for him too. Will probably get the fifth year, and if he can figure out his role and responsibilities under the new linebacker coach, can get plenty of snaps at ILB in 2014 while Deeb, Randolph, Martini, Morgan (it would appear) and the rest get ready for prime time.

Conor Hanratty – After competing for a starting position in the Springs of 2012 and 2013, got his chance with the wipeout of the middle of the offensive line. Aggressive and robust, Conor was solid as a next man in. Can he hold off the 2013 frosh and earn a starting spot in the Spring? His experience and play quality will not hurt.

Matt Hegarty – highly rated prospect coming out of New Mexico, also used an injury to find his way into the starting lineup. Nick Martin may be out for the Spring, so Matt will try to channel his inner Wally Pipp. Regardless, the ND O Line of 2014 will have EXPERIENCED depth, the first time we’ve said that in years.


After the ’93 season, the Irish, for the second year in a row, defeated Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl, this time by 24-21. In the next 16 years, the Irish, under coaches Holtz, Davie, Willingham and Weis, won just ONE bowl game, over Hawaii in 2008, while losing 9, to Colorado, Florida State, LSU, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Oregon State, Ohio State and LSU.

Kelly, in his short stay here, has won twice as many bowl games (two, against two losses) as the preceding four coaches did in the 16 years prior to Kelly’s arrival.

The 2014 season may have begun on Jerome Ave. on Saturday, but officially starts with the arrival of Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti. Lost in the disappointing losses of 2013 is that the 2014 roster is far better, more talented, deeper and with far fewer holes than the 2012 roster that wound up in the National Championship game. Simply, the bottom forty players in 2014 would slaughter the bottom forty players of 2012 if they played a game. We will save in depth analysis for the Spring but in 2012 the Irish were glaringly weak and shallow in two key areas, OL and CB.

The 2012 Spring depth Chart at CB had Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson as the presumptive starters, with JOSH ATKINSON AND JALEN BROWN as the subs! That was not a BCS worthy crew, and only a magnificent front seven, using Shumate and Spond as nickels, and some bona fortuna allowed the Irish to whistle past the graveyard of its cornerbacks.

The 2014 Depth Chart would project as KeiVarae Russell and Cole Luke as starters, Devin Butler and Nick Watkins as the backups, with Rashad Kinlaw fighting to crack the top four. This area has gone from mediocrity to potential excellence, and there are similar examples throughout the roster. The OL battle in Spring is significant. The competition will be fierce, but out of excellence, not out of desperation. It’s been a while….. This 2014 roster, top to bottom is the most talented around here since 1993.

January is named after Janus, the Roman god with two faces. He looks both backward to the old and forward to the new. As Notre Dame fans, we look backward on a contentious 9-4.

Adieu to 2013

  • Lennay Kekua soap opera
  • 5 star Kiel departs
  • Golson!
  • 5 star Vanderdoes elects not to arrive
  • Baratti, (bigger absence than you think) Springmann, Hounshell injured (injuries occur to ALL football teams, but the concentration of volume and location can be a challenge.
  • ONLY 27 snaps together for Day, Nix and Tuitt
  • Middle of OL wiped out: Lombard, Watt and Martin.

We, like Janus, also look forward. The history of Notre Dame football is that offseason predictions, particularly from the insiders and the Linebacker (Bar) Illuminati are more often wrong than right. True from ’64 through ’67, true from ’71 through ’74. True from ’76-’78. True in ’80 and ’81. True in ’87 and ’88, ’90-through ’94. True from ’11-13. You can poll the predictors, or be smart and go the other way.

Don’t get caught watching the paint dry, lads!

The future begins now!

Go Irish

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  1. Well Burgundy and BJ, I agree a top 20 finish at 9 and 4 is no accomplishment but it seems to be hard for ND to achieve that. As far as the BCS bowls, my point is those teams play a different caliber of football. ND had their hands full with Rutgers for gods sake. I do believe. I believe in reality!

  2. “Not so fast my friend! We all realize that RU is just barely a .500 team and that they have gotten clobbered by a few teams this year. Their QB situation is not good, no matter which one they use. Wuith that being said and the fact that previous ND / RU games have been a blowout, don’t count the Knights short. They are playing what amounts to a home game and they have nothing to lose. Do I think RU can realistically beat ND…..no, but stranger things have happen especially this year in the NCAA. let’s hope Rees is on his game, whatever that is because is he turns the ball over anything could happen. Realistically ND 27 RU 10! Go Irish!”

    I agree… stranger things do happen… especially on this site!

  3. Here’s what you saw! You saw one of the worst games played in this year’s bowl season. Two teams that looked inept throughout most of the game. Rutgers shouldn’t have been in a bowl game. They continue to be the laughing stock of college football. Even Duke, a football program that has been to the bottom of the bowl, had a spectacular season. Rutgers needs to get a real “big name” coach and stop playing around with these assistants with really no big time track record. The closest thing to that was Schiano and he bolted and went to Tampa, to get fired after two years.
    Spend some of that state money and get a big name coach and then maybe real success will finally come to RU! ND didn’t look much better. The offense with Rees running the show was horrible. Good bye Tommy, I doubt whether or not anyone will really miss you and your pass only offense. Talk about boring, wow, that game was that and more! It’s a good thing ND didn’t play a real opponent, they would have gotten smashed! Go ND!

    1. Thanks Rich, that was an incredible synopsis. Did you DVR the game and just watch it? I thought we pretty well covered this game after it was played nearly 2 weeks ago.

  4. green day, no no no no no

    “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” vince lombardi

    its about belief overcoming everything

    1. “It’s about belief overcoming everything”

      “I just dont believe in Kelly”

      Why should we listen to you when you can’t even hear yourself?

      1. i believe in the players, the team, i just dont understand why kelly doesnt do things that seem so obvious to us all, best to u

      2. You believe in the players?

        Really? These players? The Notre Dame Football Players?

        Even the “PATHETIC” ones?

        You believe in the team?

        This team? The one that had the nerve to lose one game in 2012? The one that you said had no spirit, was always flat, and continully let you down? That team?

        Or perhaps you meant the 1988 team?

        You don’t understand Kelly?

        I thought you understood him perfectly, after all, wasn’t it all his fault that Everett Golson got expelled and Gunner Kiel left the team?
        And wasn’t it you who went on and on about it for months?

        You sounded so convincing, surely you had to be absolutly correct in your understanding oh wise one.

        And here I thought you were just confused about Jack Swibrick and how he sold us down the river by teaming up with the ACC?

        Obvious, yes, now that you mention it there are many things that seem obvious.

        Sorry I doubted you.

        Get well soon.

  5. Well fellow fans, after watching all the BCS games I think many will agree ND could not hold up to any of those teams. They are bigger, faster, more athletic and probably could never get into ND academically. That said all this hype getting back to a BCS bowl, deep six it for now. Just focus on the goal of rebuilding the program to a respectable level as it should be. Finish in the top 20 every year would make most people happy unless your delusional on what ND’s football program really is.

    1. I disagree with most of your opinion. First, the BCS Bowl games are done so remove that terminology from your brain. While I agree that the days of Rockne are gone finishing in the Top 20 is no accomplishment. They finished 20th this year and they quite frankly were very average so I don’t want to see this again.

      Now going undefeated every year and winning multiple NC’s is unrealistic. Heck, Bama has won its division of its conference only once in the last 4 years and they dominate college football.

      I think the goal should be double digit win seasons and in the mix for the playoffs every year. The best you can realistically hope for is one title over the course of BK’s run which probably only lasts for 6-7 more years. While I don’t see many 12-0 seasons in the future based on the schedule I do hope for and expect many 10, 11 win seasons and in the mix for the 4 playoff spots.

      I really don’t think finishing in the Top 20 is any sort of accomplishment if all it takes is 9-4.

    2. GreenDay,

      I disagree that both of those teams were so stacked with talent. FSU was stacked with talent and Auburn ran behnid an excellent offensive scheme with a great runner. I feel that ND with a QB hangs with both of those teams.

      The key to ND playing well next year is the running game. Also, they need to continue to recruit front 7 defensive lineman and continue the stellar pick ups on the offensive line. Saban said that the difference between the SEC and the rest of the country is the lines. The issue with ND this year was no depth on the d-line. With Van Gorder they will run a 3-4 hyrid 4-3. This will allow them to not need a man like Louis Nix to clog the middle. It will also allow hybrid player like #11 to play either standing up or his hand in the dirt. Plust depth will come with several key players coming back. I follow recruiting and FSU has had some hauls but Auburn and ND have recruited the same. Look at the injuries ND had on the offensive line this year. Most schools would have been in deep trouble, but ND plugged along.

      The problem with the running game was some of the backs can’t read holes. Cam might not be fast or be able to break an 80 yd run but he gets you five yards and is their best back that reads holes. With Folston and Bryant coming back next year it will be interesting to see how the running game goes. Amir needs to go to a slot receiver/jet sweep type of guy. It will also be interesting to see if the Golson opens up the speed of the offense. The defense will be fine under VanGorder, not like 2012 but no where near a Weis defense.

      1. Jack

        I agree with you about the offense. The running game will be the key and I think Greg Bryant will be the guy who emerges as the #1 RB. I dont see why we cant be similar to Auburns offense and even better in the passing game.

        The Defense is what worries me the most especially the front seven. We are dangerously thin and if any key players suffer any significant injuries were in trouble.

        The one thing that i dont really care for with BKs offense is how he utilizes to many RBs. I think Bryant can be that guy that gets 25 – 30 touches per game. He is a Beast

  6. Listening to King Saban last night he bascially stated that the reason the SEC is dominating is the fact they have better offensive and defensive lines. Especially defensive lines. BK are you listening, the front 7 shall set you free.

    1. New defensive co-ordinator Brian VanGorder spent several seasons at Georgia and Auburn.

      Perhaps his high school recruiting connections in SEC country will now pay off for ND?

      His defences (and the talent he assembled) at the University of Georgia were some of the best in all of college football at the time.

  7. After watching Auburns Offense in the first half of NC game I cant help but think that ND should look every bit as good in 2014. We should be able to run this same up-tempo offense and it should be better with the athletes and speed we have. But I can see it now EG looking towards the sideline for the play and cant get it quick enough. Timeout! Timeout!


    Alan Page

    Canton, OH
    Height / Weight:
    6-5 / 230
    Defensive End

    Years Played:

    Consensus All-America pick in 1966 and three-year starter as defensive right end from 1964-66 . . . had 63 tackles in ’66 while helping Irish to national title . . . made 134 career tackles; recovered four fumbles; broke up two passes and scored one touchdown . . . 1967 participant in East-West Shrine game and College All-Star game . . . first-round choice of Minnesota in 1967 NFL draft as 15th overall selection . . . also played with Chicago Bears . . . played in four Super Bowls with Vikings and earned NFL MVP one year . . . received NCAA Silver Anniversary award in 1992 . . . elected to National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1993 . . . recipient of the 2001 Dick Enberg Award given annually to a person whose actions and commitment have furthered the meaning and reach of the Verizon Academic All-America® Programs and/or the student-athlete while promoting the values of education and academics . . .voted one of the top 100 Minnesotans of the century and 100 most important Minnesota sport figures in history… lawyer elected to Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992.

    1. Stephon Tuitt. 3 year starter, All American, 127 career tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick, 2 TD’s.

      Now it will be difficult to match what Mr. Page did off the field but Tuitt was a hell of a player that Kelly found for you.

  9. any thoughts on this guy?

    Jake Spavital, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Texas A&M
    After working with Case Keenum at Houston and Geno Smith at West Virginia, Spavital gets to tutor Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in 2013. The Oklahoma native has been on a fast track through the assistant ranks, starting his career at Tulsa under Gus Malzahn in 2008, before joining Dana Holgorsen at Houston in 2009. Spavital worked for two years under Holgorsen at West Virginia, serving as the team’s quarterbacks coach. Clarence McKinney is expected to call the plays for the Aggies in 2013, but Spavital’s experience working under Holgorsen and Kliff Kingsbury will help ease the transition for Manziel. Expect Spavital to be a hot name in coordinator searches at the end of 2013. – See more at: http://athlonsports.com/college-football/college-footballs-top-10-assistant-coaches-rise-2013#sthash.MpNr3ZYR.dpuf

    1. Yes, you would want him fired after the first 3 and out. Lou never had a 3 and out.

      Notre Dame our mother pray for us.

  10. bj, kindly dazzle me with your factual research. When was the last time Brian Kelly hired a coach from Grand Valley State or Central Michigan?

    What can you research and write about the background of Harry Hiestand?

    What, can you research and write about the background of Bob Elliott?

    What can you research and write about the background of Brian VanGorder?

    Facts, FACTS, FACTS. Please

    Or, in the alternative, would you just like to post another
    recommendation that we hire Mike Haywood, whose last great hurrah in South Bend
    was being arrested on felony domestic violence charges?

    1. Suuure, we can follow your 4th grade research skillset:

      “See Spot Run, See Spot Play!”

      Facts for the 1/2 A$$ Fact Checker! The charges were dropped rocket scientist! Amazing how you spew your bile so freely on fellow alums! Please quote some scripture on your behavior Arch Bishop! Don’t forget to forgive Te’o either on your “sealed lips and key board!”


      Child’s play compaired to the medical field!

  11. fxm, Hiestand is fun to watch. Remember, when Kelly made his first round of replacements, it was Hiestand, Elliott and Booker. Now it looks like Van Gorder is next.

    But, fxm, you really hit it on the chemistry he has with the players. His sideline huddles are remarkable, the five starters arrayed like a small choir, the subs in the back. He and Ronnie Stanley were yukking it up on the sidelines near the end of the Pinstripe.

  12. if you want to win, really win you dont hire guys from grand valley state or central michigan, you go buy scott frost, oregon, everyone wants to come to nd, if you dont try to get these guys, other guys will go and pay up for them, show him the money, he already knows kelly is a dope. and wont be here forever. a kid like that could stay at nd for a decade.

    “Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” vince lombardi

    1. bj,

      Very interesting that you think the D-coordinator from MSU is who ND should go after. I do believe that was one of your suggestions. Well he has been with Mark D. since Cincinnatti, before that Miami of Ohio and before that the University of Rhode Island. Now that’s a stellar resume. Realize moat of these coordinators have a relationship with the head coach they work for, if mist leave they leave for head coaching jobs .

      1. Wait a minute, so your saying bj doesn’t use facts to support his inane ramblings??

        Say it isn’t so!

    2. bj,

      Jack is right, in essence, BK is entitled to use his network of assistant coaches when he signed on with ND. However, it is OK to continue to suggest higher quality people, absolutely nothing wrong with that! I admire you’re passion for a return to glory! A common goal for most of us!

      1. JC & BJ,

        I agree that BK should be trying to find the best people for the position. I am just saying as someone who has coached, when you get that superstar coordinator he better buy into your philosphy or it can do more harm than good.

        Again, I am not saying he is the coach to return ND to glory, I am just saying he needs to run the program the way he sees fit. If it is not going to work, he works through his contract and does not get renewed. This constant search for the right guy will make any coach not want to come to the school. Coaches don’t want a challenge that can not be achieved.

    1. I’ll 2nd that!

      Hey Rob, maybe we hire back CW as OC since most of his guys were on 12-1 bcs team! I know our inhouse Arch Bishop and profound corporate expert would love having Te’o back!

      Matter-of-factly: Te’o was an outstanding POSITIVE true inspirational team leader we now miss greatly! Howbeit, no surprise with Te’o almost winning the Heisman! Which very few can claim and match the character to go with it! Albeit, the good news, the young freshman Smith may be on his way there too! Only the positive test of time will tell!

  13. It’s now 4 years into the Kelly regime and ND has lost 4 games 3 of the 4 years and got blown out in the BCS title game. ND needs to step up and become a consistent top 15 team and be in the BCS mix more often than not and start winning some real BCS games vs real teams. Right now I feel the program is treading water of being a top 25 team and no more, no less.

  14. Is Hiestand not far and away our best assistant? And can we actually hold onto to him? Awesome recruiter, teacher, and they seem to love him.

  15. Beyond the EG loss, only 27 snaps together with Nix, Day and Tuitt,
    the losses of Springman and Hounsell, and the late season setbacks
    to Ishaq, Kona, and three key OLs truly diminished the potential
    “trench strength” we counted on.

    Injuries happen- but this year’s linemen’s setbacks were beyond any norm.

    I remain most impressed with the OL protection of not college’s most nimble mobile QB,
    despite the loss of three key OL. That Zach Martin wasn’t even included on some third team
    All-American teams was the most outrageous slight of all. Ask Stanford’s Murphy and AZ. St.
    and Pitt’s All-American DTs how they did against Zach. Looking forward to watching Zach
    on Sundays next year. Much Thanks to our two-time captain for your leadership
    and consistent excellence, Zach.

  16. Great article, what about Hardy, Amir, Ben Council and the guy in the ‘red’ hat? thanks again for all you do

  17. Just in case you missed it Arch Bishop:


    With 26 years of losers and counting! I like to say the return to glory is possible, however, this is indeed the same whining, same chapter, same redundant page year after year!

    Further to our demise, who picked the 6-6 team over the 9-3 team? Surely it demonstrates the loser mentality in full focus! Real high expectations, suuure! Other than money, what did we have to gain from the prinstripe/jock-strap bowl? Oh yes, recruit retention with an impressive win! In the old days with 8 wins we would decline to go bowling, now it is purely marketing to keep the four horseman alive! You’re right! No one is really serious about winning a championship! The pronosticators are all ready touting feckless BK magic for next year! I’ll laugh my ass of if he bolts to the NFL! The KellyCare Bromance guys will definitely fill their pants going off the cliff! Then again, sit back and relax and witness how these crafty snake oil salesman spin 2014! The rearranging of the chairs on the bk titanic has begun!

    Championships talk and the rest walk! Just being in the conversation Mr. Swarbrick is not good enough!

    Happy New Year bj to you and your family!

    1. @HJ – good compliment (I too think it’s a well-thought out post) and I do like your humorous question about “bona fortuna.” My dad’s 77-y/o and is an old-schooler. Even though we’re from Boston (like BK) dad doesn’t like BK. What we all must remember – illustrated indeed by your “walk-on” humor, is that victory cannot be assembled. Coaches can/should put players in the best spots to optimize their skills in the execution of a game plan. But bona fortuna needs to be a permanent team-mate, not a walk-on.

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