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.
NOTRE DAME IN THE BOWLS; KELLY IN THE BOWLS AT NOTRE DAME
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
- 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!