ACC: Manti Te'o

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Some of Notre Dame's seniors committed following a three-win season. Others hopped aboard amidst staff uncertainty.

Three and four years later, the Irish are staring perfection in the eye with one home game remaining against Wake Forest, and their coach is hoping that is not lost among the sea of emotions that will accompany many for this weekend's senior day festivities.

"The most important thing is for them to get the proper perspective through the week," Brian Kelly said. "In other words, yes, it is your last home game, but we've got a lot in front of us. What you'll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there is any emotion let that be after the game. Let's have the emotion after the game celebrating a great victory.

"So, yeah, there is a little bit of dialogue and conversation about that. Our guys have been around it. They know what it's like. I expect them to handle it appropriately."

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireManti Te'o saw the raw emotions of senior day before he even committed to Notre Dame.
Consider the message the same for Saturday's visitors, who feel they let a huge upset chance slip away last year in a close loss at BB&T Field and are intrigued by the chance of eliminating a national title contender with two weeks left in the season.

"I feel like most of our team knows that it's football. This is a game that most of us have played since we were 5 years old," Demon Deacons fullback Tommy Bohanon said. "For me and a lot of the team, once we get out there and we're on the field with those guys, it's just business as usual, and we'll be able to play the game."

If the Irish are vulnerable this year, it has been at home.

Their starting quarterback, Everett Golson, has been pulled at one point or another in three home games and was knocked out of another, forcing him to miss one more contest. Notre Dame has needed four total overtime periods to come away with five wins by 23 combined points, and 10 of its 13 turnovers have come in front of the home crowd.

"I think what you find is that most good team find a way to win," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "It's not always the prettiest win, but a win is a win and they've won them all. You know that they know how to do it. I think if you have a chance late, you have to make plays. We have a big challenge. This is a really good Notre Dame football team."

Twenty-six Irish players will take part in a pregame ceremony to honor their final contest inside Notre Dame Stadium, and no one will draw a bigger reaction than Heisman candidate Manti Te'o.

The linebacker's first visit to Notre Dame was for the team's 2008 senior day, a loss to Syracuse that ended with the home players getting pelted with snowballs from the stands.

That memory has stuck with Te'o, though for a different reason.

"For that to be their last experience in that stadium, I could really feel that," he said. "So amongst the cold and the snow and all that, I think the worst part of that was to see the pain in the players' eyes as they were crying leaving the stadium -- not because they lost, but because that was their last experience playing under the dome."

Kelly has just one memory of his senior day, 29 years ago at Div. III Assumption, and he does not want it sticking with his players.

"I don't remember the emotion of the game as much as losing the game after," he said. "So I want to make sure that we don't have that experience for our guys."

Instant analysis: Notre Dame 21, BC 6

November, 10, 2012
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CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Notre Dame improved to 10-0 this season with a 21-6 win Saturday night at Boston College. Here's a quick recap of how it went down:

It was over when: One could argue Notre Dame eliminated any doubt about its advantage by marching for a season-high 90 yards on its first drive of the game, ending in a 2-yard touchdown rush by Everett Golson. This one was really over when Manti Te'o recorded his sixth pick of the season, with 5:14 left, his second prime-time, game-sealing interception in the past three weeks.

Game ball goes to: Golson continued his impressive play on the road, as the redshirt freshman directed a pair of first-half touchdown drives that went 90 and 87 yards, respectively. He finished the day 16-of-24 for 200 yards with two passing touchdowns. He added 39 yards and another score on 11 carries.

Stat of the game: The Irish converted their first 10 third-down tries. Boston College simply couldn't make a stop when needed, as Notre Dame was pretty much the only thing getting in its own way, fumbling it away twice.

ACC predictions: Week 11

November, 8, 2012
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Some things in the ACC are simply unpredictable. NC State’s loss to Virginia last week wasn’t on my radar, but it was the lone erroneous pick of the week for a 4-1 record. My overall record stands at 60-15 (80 percent) heading into Week 11. My apologies to Virginia for writing the Hoos off too early. Lesson learned?

Virginia 28, Miami 24: The Hoos have confidence and home-field advantage, a recipe for success against a Miami team looking to become bowl-eligible this week. The Cavaliers’ young defense is coming off its best performance of the year, with five takeaways and six sacks in a 33-6 win at NC State last week. The Cavs also had their best rushing performance of the season and will build upon that this weekend against a struggling Miami rushing defense.

Notre Dame 28, Boston College 14: The Eagles won't get blown away in this game. The Irish aren’t known for their offense this year, and BC always gives a great, blue-collar effort, especially at home and in this rivalry game. A lack of a running game, though, will put too much pressure on quarterback Chase Rettig, and the Eagles won’t be able to get enough points against Manti Te’o & Co.

Clemson 48, Maryland 10: It should be yet another record-setting day for offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ offense. Maryland will be without its leading tackler, linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, who tore his ACL last week against Georgia Tech, and fifth-string quarterback Shawn Petty will make just his second career start. This one has disaster written all over it, but not for a lack of effort from Maryland.

Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 17: Quarterback Logan Thomas isn’t playing at a high enough level right now to pull off the upset, and too much pressure has been put on Bud Foster’s defense. It should start out as a close game because it’s a nationally televised Thursday night game in Blacksburg, but the Noles will eventually pull away behind a strong performance by quarterback EJ Manuel and the Noles’ stifling defense.

North Carolina 31, Georgia Tech 17: This is what happens when teams have extra time to prepare for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense. The Tar Heels are coming off a bye week, and they’ve got one thing the Jackets have been missing -- a go-to playmaker. Georgia Tech will struggle to slow down running back Giovani Bernard, and the Tar Heels will snap their three-game losing streak in this series.

NC State 24, Wake Forest 21: The Wolfpack will bounce back from last week’s 33-6 loss to Virginia and become bowl-eligible behind an impressive performance by quarterback Mike Glennon. His receivers will rise to the occasion, the Pack will win the turnover battle, and Wake Forest will need more than an all-star performance by receiver Michael Campanaro in this one.

1Q: Notre Dame 7, FSU 0

December, 29, 2011
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- A red zone turnover, an Aaron Lynch penalty ... typical Notre Dame game, right?

Not so fast.

Manti Te'o forced a Devonta Freeman fumble and Zeke Motta scooped it up and scored a 29-yard touchdown to provide the difference after the first quarter, as the Irish lead Florida State 7-0. The score came one play after Tommy Rees fired a pick to Lamarcus Joyner in the end zone on first-and-goal.

Andrew Hendrix entered on Notre Dame's third series and brought the Irish to the Seminoles' 30 before David Ruffer's field goal attempt sailed wide right.

Defensively, the Irish front-seven has made life miserable for E.J. Manuel, recording a pair of sacks and forcing the Seminoles to fight for every yard. They have just 18 total yards so far and will need to make some adjustments if they want any hope of handling Notre Dame's pass rush.

End of first: Irish 10, BC 0

November, 19, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Another opening drive touchdown from Notre Dame had many thinking this would be another rout early, but the Boston College defense and punt coverage unit have given the Eagles a chance to stick around so far.

Jonas Gray added to his spectacular senior campaign by rushing for a 26-yard touchdown, his eighth straight game with a score and his 12th during that stretch. The Irish added a field goal on their second drive, but they have been pinned inside their own 10 to start their last two possessions.

Luke Kuechly and Manti Te'o have played their lead roles fittingly so far, recording six and four tackles in the first period, respectively. Kuechly added a tackle for loss as well.

The Irish defense has been the better unit thus far, however, allowing just 43 total yards of offense. Boston College's defense could do its offense a big favor by creating a turnover deep in Irish territory and taking full advantage of the field position game. Notre Dame will start from its own 17 when the second quarter begins.

Banged-up Irish survive at Wake

November, 6, 2011
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jimmy Newman's 42-yard field goal sailed wide right, and Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood immediately wanted the ball.

Five-minutes, 24 seconds remained. And even though Wake Forest had all three timeouts remaining, there was not a doubt in either back's mind that the Demon Deacons' luck had run out in an eventual 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.

"Definitely, definitely," Gray said. "That was the first mindset we had. The guys were doing a great job blocking on the perimeter and inside. We knew what we had to do was run the clock out, and by doing that we had to run the ball."

Wood got the first two carries, totaling 11 yards. Gray, who made his second straight start, took it from there, rushing it five straight times for 16 yards, the final carry a third-and-1 conversion that sealed the game with 1:40 left.

The Irish had let other hosts stick around in primetime games before, and they had been bitten, most notably when they struggled in short-yardage situations late in a last-second loss at Michigan. But Gray, who has improved as much as anyone during the course of the season, said the team takes on a different mentality now.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJonas Gray had 92 yards on 19 carries with a long run of 25.
"We welcome it," the senior said.

Gray finished with 92 yards on 19 carries -- again, ironically, hurting his yards per rush average in his chase of George Gipp's single-season school record of 8.1.

For that, he can blame a review that followed his 26-yard third-quarter rush into the end zone, as it got marked down at the 1, where he punched it in from two plays later for his ninth touchdown in the last six games.

That score tied things up at 17 after the Irish went into the half down seven, Wake Forest's offense keeping the banged-up defense on its toes with the elusive Tanner Price running the show.

Brian Kelly won his 14th straight November/December regular-season game, and his 20th in his last 22 tries. And he did it the hard way.

When a third-quarter flea-flicker resulted in a 54-yard interception return and eventually first-and-goal for Wake Forest, down seven in the third, Harrison Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by Gary Gray.

The next time the Demon Deacons got so close, Stephon Tuitt recorded a sack, Smith blew up a backfield pass for another loss and Newman missed from 42 yards.

Notre Dame played the majority of the game with Mike Golic Jr. at center instead of Braxston Cave, who left the game after the first play of the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. All-everything linebacker Manti Te'o "was playing on one leg," Kelly said, after the junior left Wake Forest's last drive of the third quarter before returning on the next series.

Defensive end Aaron Lynch had to leave the game on two separate occasions, further depleting an already depleted defensive line, and T.J. Jones somehow made it back after taking a vicious hit on an impressive six-yard grab early in the third quarter.

"We got a lot of guys banged up. A lot of guys banged up," Kelly said. "We'll give you a full report on that when I get a sense of, we got guys that are gonna be -- hey, listen, it's November, too. So there's gonna be some guys that come to practice on Tuesday not full-speed. But these guys are tough, they're gritty and they'll answer the bell."

Earlier, Kelly was less pleased with a question about Notre Dame's passing game. Tommy Rees finished the night 14-of-23 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.

"I mean is there a negative to everything? Is there a negative?" Kelly said. "We just won a football game, on the road. I mean, what kind of, really, what kind of question, what do you want me to say? What's the answer? We won 24 to 17 against a good football team, and you want to know what's wrong with the passing game. You know what's wrong with it? Um, the coach doesn't call good plays. How's that? There's nothing wrong with it. We're fine. We just won a good game."

It's the best game Notre Dame can win before Nov. 26, as it will face hapless Maryland and Boston College before traveling to what Kelly said will be "hopefully an undefeated Stanford team."

Kelly was later asked if he was looking forward to Stanford, and he made sure to not look ahead with two games left before the regular-season finale.

"No, no, we're on the right track," Kelly said. "We're not too far ahead. The guys know what they're playing for. We're playing for a consistent performance. We have a sign, I don't know if you know this, but we have a sign that says 'Play Like A Champion.' And to play like a champion you have to play consistently. You can't have spurts.

"Tonight was a great step in that direction, of playing on the road, against good competition, down at halftime, come back a couple of times -- that's resolve. That's toughness. That's gritty. We've been trying to build this and it's starting to come and you can see it. And that's why I'm proud of my guys tonight."
Jonas GrayMatt Quinnan/Icon SMIJonas Gray and the Fighting Irish will get a taste of ACC action the next three weekends.
Before Notre Dame can get to its regular-season finale at Stanford, it has to get through the ACC.

The Irish's next three games are against Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College. Two of the three are away from South Bend, but two of the three serve as Irish home games. (Confusing, we know.)

With the Irish 5-3 and set for confere ... er, ACC, play, Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and ACC blogger Heather Dinich preview this week's matchup in Winston-Salem, along with the other two contests.

Matt Fortuna: Heather, first off, what do you make of this Wake Forest team? It is tough to judge from the Midwest -- it beats FSU, gets rocked by UNC and Virginia Tech. Also, the decision to make this a night game struck me as interesting. Are the folks down there treating this one like their biggest home game of the season?

Heather Dinich: Matt, there’s no question the Deacs are taking this one seriously, especially after such a poor performance against North Carolina. What to make of Wake Forest? This is a much, much better team than the one that finished 3-9 a year ago. They’re one win away from bowl eligibility and would like nothing more than to wrap that up this weekend against the Irish. Heading into this game, I thought Wake was overmatched, but now I think they’ll make it an interesting game. With both teams at 5-3, are they more alike than many thought they’d be? It’s hard to tell with such different schedules, but I think Notre Dame has the better win over Michigan State. Turnovers were a huge factor last week for the Deacs. Wake had turned it over just five times all season and then against UNC it had five turnovers. It was an uncharacteristic performance, to say the least. If the Deacs can take care of the ball and get the passing game going, they stand a chance. The bigger question to me is, are the next three weeks a foreshadowing of what’s to come with Notre Dame and the ACC? What are you hearing out of South Bend?

MF: Five turnovers in one game? No kidding, they really are alike. As for your question, Notre Dame will strive to remain independent in football at all costs. Right now I think the Irish are content to watch the dominoes fall in front of them until they are forced to make a move. If that time does come, however, I do think the ACC would be its best bet. For one, Notre Dame would be marginalized in the Big Ten, serving as just another regional power along with Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State. In the ACC it can still expand its recruiting bases from as South as Florida to as North as New York and Boston. Mike Brey, the men's basketball coach, has stated his preference is to remain somewhere East if Notre Dame is forced to move. Also, it is pretty funny that, in addition to this slate of games, the Irish have already traveled to future ACC member Pitt this season, and they currently seem bound for the Champs Sports Bowl, where they would face another ACC school. That would be five out of 13 games this season against current or future ACC schools, for those keeping count at home. While we're at it, Heather, who do you think looks like Notre Dame's likely bowl opponent should it find itself in Orlando?

HD: Right now I’ve got Florida State heading to the Champs Sports Bowl, Matt, and it seems like the most likely scenario. That would be a great matchup of two traditional programs, but let’s stick with the ones we know right now. Heading into this season, I predicted the ACC would strike out against the Irish with an 0-3 record. I still don’t see BC winning at Notre Dame on Nov. 19, considering what a dreadful season it’s been for the Eagles, and if BC isn’t going to get the W, there’s no reason to think Maryland can, even though that game is a virtual home game for the Terps in FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Maryland can’t even fill its own stadium, though, let alone a pro venue, and the Terps just lost at home to Boston College. It’s been a rough first season for Randy Edsall. So, it looks like the Deacs are the ACC’s best hope at picking up a W against Notre Dame, at least from my perspective. What are you predicting the Irish do against the ACC in three games?

MF: I'm with you, Heather. I just cannot see Maryland or Boston College beating Notre Dame, making Wake the favorite among the ACC teams to do so. Even then, the Deacs are clearly overmatched and will have a tough time keeping up with the Irish on both sides of the ball. I circled this one as a potential upset when making second-half predictions a little more than three weeks ago, but Wake has done little since (its only win was over Duke ... by 1) to convince me it can pull off the victory. Who do you got?

HD: I’m sticking with my preseason prediction, Matt, and going with the Irish. I’ll leave the score for tomorrow’s predictions post, but I just don’t see Wake Forest beating Notre Dame’s offensive line or slowing down that running game. Notre Dame’s offense line averages 305.6 pounds. Wake Forest’s undersized D-line checks in at an average of 247.5. No wonder Jonas Gray is averaging 8 yards per carry, and the Irish didn’t allow one sack in October. And of course, they’ve got one of the top linebackers in the country in Manti Te’o. Wake Forest will correct a lot of the mistakes it made last week against North Carolina, but it will come up short in a close game. Since you’re the visitor to ACC country, though, I’ll give you the final word.

MF: Not sure if that qualifies as southern hospitality, but it is appreciated nonetheless. I expect Gray to have a huge game as well. He's a guy who had zero career touchdowns until Week 4 at Pitt. He has had eight since, including three this past Saturday. Brian Kelly's teams are built for November and December, as evidenced by his 21-6 mark in the regular season's final two months. I think Wake Forest has a chance to keep it close early, but it lacks the depth and size to hang with the Irish throughout the night.

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