Duranko’s Diget: What did we see vs. Rice?

Everett Golson - Notre Dame vs. Rcie
Everett Golson was outstanding in his return to action for Notre Dame on Saturday as he accounted for five different Irish scores. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

After a brief acclimatizing warmup with two 3-and-outs, the Irish offense exploded early and often, the refurbished Notre Dame defense held down the refurbished Rice offense, and the Irish nicely plucked, stuffed and and mounted the Owls of Rice 48-17. First games are usually fraught, unless played in Dublin, with mistakes of timing, coordination and ball security. and the Irish checked most of the boxes:

(1) Missed field goal by Brindza

(2) Dropped touchdown pass by C.J. Prosise

(3) Two strange procedure penalties by CC (“Center Captain”) Nick Martin

(4) Sack on a rare misplay by the precise Elmer

(5) Two early coverage busts by 11th hour replacement Shumate, for the late injury scratch Austin Collinsworth

Golson was outstanding in his return.

Everett seems to have benefited from his sabbatical and his tutorial with George Whitfield. The calendar declares him a senior and he played like a senior Notre Dame quarterback. Notwithstanding, reducing his number of runs to fewer than 12 a game would be wise.

Golson demonstrated he was all the way back with his signature play, the scramble and touchdown pass to C.J. Prosise. With the second quarter waning, he felt pressure, drifted left, first avoiding a blitzer in perfect position.

Golson then drifted further left, always, and remarkably, maintaining eye discipline downfield. He reset with a tackler with bad intent bearing down on him and fired the strike to Prosise. There are few in college football who can execute that play so elegantly.

The offensive line opened gaping holes for the rushing troika of Bryant, Folson and McDaniel and allowed that one sack on Elmer’s non-habitual mulligan. The wide receivers actually behaved like a “bevy.” The receiving corps will be fighting fiercely for snaps and receptions, and that is precisely where we need to be.


On the sidelines, that is. It was nice to see Everett there once again. It’s different this time

Sort of made you want to slay a fatted calf to honor the returned prodigal.

cf: Luke 15:23-25: “and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’

And they began to celebrate……….”

It was comforting to see Brian Van Gorder on the sideline “tamquam leo rugiens,” (like a raging lion). Just as Diaco was appropriately in the pressbox for his mien and his defense, Van Gorder is appropriately on the sideline, consistent with his personality and the many, ornate

tentacles of what someday be an octopus of a defense. It is diverse and can not be slotted. It overcame the three safety busts and the issues with the alleged Middle Linebacker.

But know this: Brian Van Gorder will be an outstanding defensive coordinator for the Fighting Irish. He’s only just begun.

The offense somewhat resembled the last half of 2012, but with a much stronger offensive line, a more mature quarterback, and much, much more depth at wide receiver. But our Fighting Irish are now athletic and explosive. Five of the touchdown drives lasted less than three minutes. This is the pace of the game in Eugene, Oregon.

The defense is different in scheme, flexibility, personnel and versatility. The tilt is toward the higher risk/higher reward type of defensive football. It is different in size. Last year’s LBs averaged 6’3″ 249 pounds. This year’s average 6’1″ 230 lbs. More speed, less bulk. Such tradeoffs have consequences. Stay tuned, there are many chickens, and even a forthcoming hirsute rodent, the Wolverine, which will come home to “attempt” to roost.

Joe Schmidt? Nice kid, cute, aw shucks story. Dreadful performance. No range, missed tackles and slid off tackles. The team’s Achilles Heel, or entire left foot.

The performance reflected the personnel and status mismatch.

It’s a wonder the Audubon society didn’t try to stop it at halftime, and establish a sanctuary for the beleaguered Owl.

2014 Pet Stat-yards per point

The Irish had an offensive yards per point of 12, a defensive yards per point of 21.6. For reference, FSU’s 2013 champions took 10.6 yards per point and their bristling defense required 23.2 yards per allowed point.

What did we LEARN on Saturday?

At the end of the day, not much. Saturday’s festival had only slightly more probative and predictive value than the Blue-Gold game.


  • Greg Bryant – though a soph, we’re counting him. Whoosh! Bam! Has a gear we haven’t seen around here. Still room to improve in using his blockers. The limiting constraints on his production this year may be only Taurean Folston and Cam McDaniel, quietly on the path to be a 1,000 yard career rusher for the Irish.
  • Andrew Trumbetti – seemed settled, mature for a true freshman. If he is 251, he’s not as undersized as you think for a DE. Rough and aggressive.
  • Daniel Cage – hard to miss, wide, thick, squatting in the line, Cage’s quickness belies his physique. Raw, but with a brilliant future Malik Zaire-For the first time, we have an explosive backup quarterback. Malik won’t want to hear this, but his time gestating and with Lafleur will serve him well while he waits to replace Golson.
  • Grant Blankenship – tall, physical (but not at Trumbetti’s level yet) and can move. Almost got his first sack.
  • Cody Riggs – hey, he’s new to St. Joseph County. Can tackle, decent cover skills and is a fearless, instinctive punt returner
  • Drue Tranquill – as fast as advertised, nose for ball and finishes tackles. Could play safety or the Onwualu position. At the risk of “profiling” think Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta.


  • Will Fuller – Elite speed, takes the top off the defense, and scares the bejeezus out of the opposing defensive coordinator.
  • Cole Luke – a great tackler, necessary in Van Gorder’s defense as a CB, and improving cover skills.
  • Isaac Rochell – plays with good clean violence. Quick enough.
  • Ben Koyack – as of this time a year ago, still labeled a disappointment, but has improved (habla player development?) so he’s a comfy option for Golson and easily one of America’s top 10 tight ends.


Jaylon Smith. Words fail. His greatness must be witnessed. It transcends description. Another like him may not pass this way again.


Outperformed expectations:

USC – the stench of Kiffin and his shenanigans is gone. What was Nick Saban thinking? Lots of NFL talent on the squad. It’s hard to watch Juju Smith and think what might have been.

Met expectations

  • Michigan  – Offense moved the ball against the boys from Boone, NC.
  • Navy – Keenan Reynolds/Navy = Dee Dowis/Air Force. Pesky, tough to put away.
  • FSU – Winston still remarkable, but is the defense weaker or is that a tribute to Mike Gundy and his tough-as-nails Cowpokes?
  • Purdue – beat MAC doormat Western Michigan, but they are still probably our weakest opponent
  • Louisville – fine-had not played at press time
  • North Carolina – exploded late against Falwell’s Liberty, but may still be a defense away from ACC divisional contention
  • Stanford – handled UC Davis and its band of crunchy granola scions of the hippies.

Expected performance and margin but in wrong sport:

  • Syracuse by 1 over ‘Nova in 2OTS in Carrier Dome. Massimino? Boeheim? Pinckney? Seikaly? Bueller? Bueller?

Below expectations

  • Arizona State – tepid in late-forming blowout of Weber State. But Jalen Strong will contend with Nelson Agholor for title of best Pac-12 receiver. Northwestern-been down and out since last year’s emotional loss to Ohio State. May not be one of Fitzgerald’s best squads.


(1) a litmus test for the offense. If this offense, with all the pieces in place, is to be all that and a bag of chips, then the minimum production standards are 425 yards total offense (from whatever means derived) and 6 scores, at least four of which must be touchdowns. That’s 34 points. Anything less than that is a portent of impending disappointment.

(2) Do or Die moment for Joe Schmidt. The FIVE on the Front Four of Rochell, Okwara, Trumbetti, Jones and Day will stand their ground.

(3) One more and last time around with Greg Mattison. He is in his football twilight, the crow’s feet in his eyes evoking the opening shot of “the Hunt for Red October” with the piercing, wizened eyes of Sean Connery’s turn as Marco Ramius. Mattison has been on both sidelines in Notre Dame-Michigan games. He has a National Championship from his Florida days with Strong and Meyer, and coached a few pretty good athletes like Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and future Hall-of-Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis in Baltimore.

He can coach great talent, but he can also make chicken salad out of chicken feathers. His defense will play hard for him on Saturday.

(4) “A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” Churchill was talking about Russia, not Devin Gardner, but the Churchillian shoe fits. Gardner has great and awful performances. Is it true what they say? That he performs better in Ann Arbor than on the road?

Michigan scored over 40 points 5 times in Washtenaw County last year, but only once hit 40 on the road, in a weird 43-40 loss at Penn State. Mr. Gardner, meet Mr. van Gorder. Devin will see a defense radically different from the one he saw last September.

(5) A non-proportional expectation matrix. Notre Dame gets little credibility for winning against Michigan on Saturday, but a loss would be devastating. Disproportionate.

Well, Boo-hoo!. Suck it up and win!

Go Irish!

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  1. I also agree with the assessment of Schmidt. Looked very small in the middle heck every hit he gave looked like he was on the receiving end of them! This defense has a weakness and it is in front of our eyes. Michigan i can assure you is aware of this..

  2. PS Jaylon Smith is a freak!!! Concur with Duranko about BVG. This will be fun to watch! (BTW, wasn’t BVG’s hair and stache a hoot. LOL)

  3. Observations:

    Loved the enthusiasm on ND sideline. Kids were pumped!!!! EG was spectacular. He makes Irish O undefendable.

    Trumbetti is explosive! Very impressed with his pop.

    Schmidt is underrated by Duranko…..I hope :>)


  4. Duranko,

    Always the optimist. If the are able to score 40 they beat Michigan. If they can’t they will not. I like Schmidt, but Safety play and defensive communication was horrible at times on Saturday. That must improve or Mr. 98 and Mr. 1 will eat ND alive like Gallon did last year.

  5. I agree with the assessment of Joe Schmidt. Good, hard working kid, but lacking at this level of D1 play. Missed many tackles and lacked the power and strength to take down running backs with initial hit and often was dragged several yards. Not acceptable for an elite team.

  6. fxm, I love Schmidt’s story, and am ever indebted to him because of the pass breakup against USC last year. And fxm, if I recall a couple of our prior exchanges, I’ve found you insightful. He popped a couple of people who were held up (when they couldn’t move) and he is noble for his effort. But he had some bad plays. I welcome your comments if you get a chance to view a replay. I really, really, really hope I’m wrong on Schmidt.

    Jarron Jones, to my view, was well North of steady. Cage is a few more games from being a reliable backup. Utopu and Rabasa are serviceable. But we might have a real DL rotation by the October gauntlet.

    1. Indeed, duranko.
      That pass break-up by Schmidt against $C was legendary ( as was Jaylon’s play that evening on a pass). I was there, and I’ll never forget those two. Can Joe Schmidt be enough until Grace returns and Morgan is ready.?
      His play against Michigan this week is a critical piece in beating Mich., like we should have been beating them regularly these last 6 years or so.
      We gotta find ways to win this one . . .

  7. I haven’t had a chance to go back and “grade”/scout yesterday’s performance. I watched it live and have to say I don’t agree with your assessment of Schmidt. First of all, what are your expectations? He was good in run support and (from what I saw live) didn’t look out of place in coverage. If there is one player
    To be absolutely critical of, it’s Elijiah Schumate. He was getting exposed early and that really scared me. Michigan’s offensive staff is going to go after him early and often. They’re are gonna go 4-wide and try to isolate him. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Farley slide back to Safety and Shummate at Nickel. But your assessments of Schmidt are a little unfair. I think BK is a great coach and has an incredible football eye. There’s a reason why Shummate hasn’t been able to start consistently. Look at his performance against michigan in 2012 and 2013. They’re licking their proverbial chops. Schmidt on the other had played decently. Remember he’s a walk-on. The staff is bringing Morgan along but this is an NFL defensive scheme. Hard for a freshman ‘backer to pick everything up

    1. To Nick and Melton. I know what I saw.

      On Shumate, he was NOT the starter but was inserted with fewer than 48 hours to go until kickoff. That is an explanation, not an excuse.

      First, I think they will coach Shumate up, second, I expect Collinsworth back by
      the October gauntlet of
      Stanford, North Carolina and FSU.

      I think Kelly is a great, not a good, coach, but always has his players’ backs. Go back and look at his comments about Golic in the 2012 season. Did they reflect his calculated judgement, or his dad’s, coach’s protective instincts to be sure that
      the player is not the piñata of the Notre Dame press nincompoopery.

      To the poster who predicted a 6-6 season, be pluperfectly clear that I will not respond
      to any of your posts this season. None.

      Homey don’t play hysteria-or bed-wetting

  8. Brian Kelly (!!) and Irish Illustrated said Joe Schmidt was the best player we had on defense yesterday! Where is the disconnect here, Mr. Durango?

  9. I got the sense that fan’s had a scathing assessment of Mr. Schmidt, while pundits seemed pleased. You seem to be aligned with the former. I will rely on your assessment since I had to follow the game on line. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, are for losers, but I can’t help but think absent the scholar-scandal this team could have had an upside surprise year. Real pleased that Jarron Jones was steady.

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