Chicago Colleges: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Louisville pulled off the upset in its first-ever meeting with Notre Dame, escaping Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium with a 31-28 win to improve to 8-3 and send the Irish to 7-4. Here's how it went down:

How the game was won: After Louisville's John Wallace missed a 37-yard field goal with 5:03 left, Notre Dame marched 65 yards on 11 plays, setting up Kyle Brindza's potential game-tying 32-yard field goal attempt, which sailed wide right with 51 seconds left.

Game ball goes to: Brandon Radcliff was a force to be reckoned with for Notre Dame's defense, carrying it 17 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. Kudos to true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, too, as he added 35 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns while completing 8 of 21 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.

What it means: Louisville still has an outside shot at the Discover Orange Bowl, depending on how the final selection committee rankings shake out. The No. 24 Cardinals will need Florida State to make the College Football Playoff — which includes Georgia Tech losing in the ACC title game — and will need to win out and hold off Clemson, which is ranked No. 22 as it readies for rival South Carolina next week. Notre Dame has now dropped four of five after a promising 6-0 start and remains searching for answers as to how it all came crashing down so fast.

What's next: It's rivalry week for both of these teams, as Notre Dame travels to USC for the regular-season finale, while Louisville closes its regular season at home against in-state nemesis Kentucky. Can the Irish stop the bleeding? Can the Cardinals keep the good times going after a standout Year 1 in the ACC?

Kelly, Irish push through rare slump

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
1:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly will coach his 63rd game at Notre Dame on Saturday, which is remarkable for the simple fact that the three men in his chair before him never made it this far.

Not Charlie Weis (62 games). Not Tyrone Willingham (36). Not Bob Davie (60).

No, the last time a Fighting Irish coach took the field for Game 63 of his tenure came Sept. 21, 1991, when Lou Holtz's squad rolled over Michigan State, 49-10. So much has changed since then. And yet so little has changed, too.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAfter some recent struggles, Brian Kelly's Irish look to finish the season strong.
 A win this weekend over Louisville would make Kelly the first Notre Dame coach to start his tenure with five straight seasons of eight-plus wins. No Irish coach has done that during any five-year stretch since 1987-93, a run that saw Holtz coach the program to its last national title.

Notre Dame will go yet another season without a title in 2014, a drought that now stretches 26 years, and a goal that probably looked like a distant dream this past weekend as the Irish fell to Northwestern for loss No. 3 on the year.

Of course, as recently as two weeks ago, before losing at Arizona State, the Irish were right in the thick of things. A month ago they looked ready to break through that title ceiling, unbeaten as they took defending champion Florida State down to the final seconds in a loss.

Reconciling the fall from grace has been a maddening task for the Irish as they enter Senior Day against the Cardinals.

"I think college football is such that it comes down to a couple of plays and a fine line," Kelly said. "And that's why it's so critical that when you turn the ball over like we do, and when we turn it over, it's critical. I mean it's catastrophic turnovers."

Of course, the frustration that comes with a three-loss season is a far cry from what those seniors experienced upon entering Notre Dame at the ground level of the Kelly era.

"I think definitely from freshman year to now, we definitely turned the program around," said offensive tackle Christian Lombard, who, like Kelly arrived to the Irish for the 2010 season. "It's a winning program now, and we expect to win every game. We expect to win every game at home, we expect to be right there with teams, it's just the way it is around here now. It's one of those institutions [like] it was back in the day, so we're all really proud of that."

Added end Justin Utupo, a fellow redshirt senior: "We're obviously the first class that was brought in and [the coaches] looked at us to help build what they were trying -- this winning culture. I was here from the start. I've seen when we were bad. I've seen when we were really good."

Holtz said Kelly has been able to implement such expectations because of his vision and because of his plan to execute that vision. It comes from the benefit of being a head coach at three other stops beforehand, a luxury Holtz was afforded as well, having been in the big seat at five different college and pro stops before taking the Notre Dame job.

Kelly's last three coordinators at Notre Dame earned head-coaching jobs elsewhere. Last year's Irish team had eight players drafted, the program's most in a single draft in 20 years. That the Irish started 6-0 without them -- and without four players lost to academic suspensions two weeks before the season -- speaks to what is in place. That three losses in their past four games has sparked a world-is-ending feeling around the fanbase speaks to the climb left to be done.

 "He's got a young football team this year," Holtz said of Kelly. "And I think next year may be his best football team."

Depending on one's preferred math, the Irish could be returning 20 starters in 2015. And that does not include the potential return of several of their currently suspended players.

That could make this final stretch all the more important for the near-term future of a program that is toeing the line between a 7-6 and a 10-3 campaign this year, a program soon-to-be filled with a new cast of characters that had little part of that 12-1 run to the national title game two years ago.

"They understand that there are some tough times," Kelly said. "But, relatively speaking, I remind them of some tough times, that we were here just a few years ago, when we were 4-5. Those are tough times. Those are difficult times. This pales in comparison. You're now in a winning environment. And you've won a lot of football games. Our seniors win on Saturday, that would be 182 in the last 20 games at home. So keep it in perspective."

Holtz, who lasted 132 games on the Notre Dame sideline, is doing just that when it comes to the man currently in charge.

"I hope Brian Kelly reaches the next 63," he said.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- His hair was a little thinner. The outside temperature was a lot lower. He was the one reining in his exuberant players this time around, not the one whom, he would say later Saturday, did not "have a clue" what was going on 19 years ago.

And yet after Northwestern pulled off another South Bend shocker, this one a 43-40 overtime victory that extended Notre Dame's late-season misery while resuscitating its own campaign, Pat Fitzgerald had a confession to make.

"I think it's much more enjoyable today," the ninth-year Wildcats coach said.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats pulled off another big win over the Irish on Saturday.
 He had entered the postgame press conference later than normal, the rare visiting coach who got to speak last in this building. Fitzgerald and Northwestern had waited 19 years for another shot at Notre Dame, its like-minded rival some 100 miles east. They came here in 1995 to open the season -- sun-baked, four-touchdown underdogs who would go on to do the unthinkable, recording the first of many upsets en route to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl trip.

No trophies or bowl games were clinched this time around, but a 4-6 team now finds itself in position to extend its season to a bowl game after pulling off the improbable here once again.

"[I] talked to them on Tuesday about a playoff mentality going back to high school: You get to November, the weather gets nasty, and that's when champions are crowned," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to win a Big Ten championship, we understand that. We can still achieve our goals, but we have to have our back against the wall, playoff-type mentality and win and advance. We've advanced to another week to keep this team alive for postseason play."

Northwestern football, he said, is in a totally different place now than it was the last time these Cats took the field here. All-Americans like himself -- All-Americans who grew up on Chicago's South Side bleeding blue and gold, yet somehow ended up in Evanston -- undertook a massive culture change, one that led to three Big Ten titles, and one that now sheds the weight of a season that had been cast in a negative light.

Fitzgerald can thank himself for that, too, as the man just a few weeks shy of his 40th birthday can get Northwestern to its sixth bowl game in its past seven seasons with just two more wins, over Purdue and Illinois.

Those might look like child's play compared to what his players pulled off here on the third Saturday of November, sizing up an Irish team just a week removed from the College Football Playoff picture and delivering it another gut punch.

There was a blocked extra-point try on Notre Dame's second touchdown, which Nick VanHoose returned all the way and made what should have been a 14-7 game a 13-9 one.

There was the fallout of those Irish special-teams miscues: Coach Brian Kelly's questionable decision to go for two after the Irish's final touchdown, an incomplete pass that kept it a 40-29 Irish lead instead of putting Northwestern in a position where it would have to score two touchdowns.

Then, of course, there was the fumble -- the fourth, final and most costly Irish turnover, this from sure-handed captain Cam McDaniel, which gave Northwestern the ball back with a three-point deficit and 1 minute, 28 seconds to work with.

"They're giving us a shot, guys," Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian said in the huddle. "Just let it rip."

Jack Mitchell's 45-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. His 41-yard kick -- which came after another Irish special-teams miscue, a missed 42-yard try in overtime -- set off a party nearly two decades in the making for the large contingent dressed in purple.

Said running back Justin Jackson, who could not bear to watch the game-winning kick: "First of all, that fumble was unbelievable, how we got that ball back. And then the drive, the field goal, and then for them to miss the field goal and for us to make a field goal -- it's a storybook ending to a crazy game. So it was really fun."

Fun for cornerback Matthew Harris, who was on the ledge of the stands celebrating with traveling fans long after the team had sung the alma mater. Fun for those traveling fans -- one of whom waved a purple T-shirt bearing a Chicago Sun-Times cover from 1995 that read: NU 17, ND 15. And fun for the man who had 11 tackles in that '95 meeting and sold this group on the belief that lightning could strike twice.

Fitzgerald held Siemian in a long embrace after the game. He made references to iPhones and Instagrams, luxuries and pitfalls of today's youth that will grant his players more attention than he ever received. He mentioned conversations with Ara Parseghian, the legendary former Northwestern and Notre Dame coach with whom he speaks regularly. He said boardrooms across Fortune 500 companies will feature more purple than usual Monday, as proud alumni revel in another victory at Notre Dame.

Nineteen years later, and here Fitzgerald was in a familiar position, at home once again after winning over a few more non-believers.

"I wouldn't want to play for anybody else in the country," Siemian said. "He's awesome. That's it. I just wouldn't want to play for anybody else."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Northwestern came back from an 11-point, fourth-quarter deficit to shock No. 18 Notre Dame on Saturday 43-40 and bring back memories of these teams’ latest meeting here, a Wildcats upset in 1995. Here’s how it went down:

How the game was won: With Notre Dame up three and looking to run out the clock, Cam McDaniel fumbled at the Northwestern 28 with 1:28 left. Northwestern drove into field goal range, and Jack Mitchell kicked a 45-yarder to send the game to overtime. Mitchell then hit a 41-yard field goal in overtime to win it after Kyle Brindza missed from 42.

Gameball goes to: Trevor Siemian played his behind off all game for Northwestern, overcame seemingly countless drops from his receivers and led the fourth-quarter surge. He finished 30-of-48 passing for 284 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and added 32 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

What it means: Northwestern has a chance to extend its season now. The Wildcats improved to 4-6 and have a shot at bowl eligibility if they win out. Notre Dame has now lost three of its past four games after a 6-0 start that had the Irish in the thick of the playoff conversation a month ago.

What’s next: Northwestern goes to Purdue before hosting Illinois; that's a great chance for the Wildcats to get bowl eligible. Notre Dame hosts Louisville and its nasty defense on Senior Day before traveling to rival USC.
As all great upsets go, this one started with a pregame speech that has only grown with time.

Gary Barnett's Northwestern team was a four-touchdown underdog as it entered Notre Dame Stadium for its 1995 opener. He knew his players could have a better season than most were expecting, but he doubled-down on them before taking the field, ordering them to act like they have been there when they win.

No carrying the coach off the field. No Gatorade shower. When they win, not if.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPat Fitzgerald has a win over Notre Dame as a Northwestern player. On Saturday, he'll try to nab one as the Wildcats' head coach.
"I was just trying to build confidence in our team," Barnett told ESPN.com. "I was telling them that we all know we're going to win, and when we do win let's not act like this is the biggest win of the century; let's just act like we're used to doing this thing, and everybody needs to get used to us doing this sort of thing, and that's the message we'll send."

Did they ever. Nostalgia has been in the air this week as the Wildcats resume their rivalry Saturday with the Irish, the schools' first meeting on the gridiron since that fateful Sept. 2 matchup 19 years ago. The 17-15 stunner that propelled Northwestern to a Big Ten title that season is arguably the greatest Wildcats victory of them all, and one of its engineers will take center stage this weekend on that same visiting sideline in South Bend, Indiana.

"Contrary maybe to popular belief, I think we think that about every game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a linebacker on that 1995 team, said of Barnett's expectation to win. "Otherwise I don't know why you compete."

Fitzgerald recorded 11 tackles in that win, en route to the first of consecutive consensus All-America honors. An Orland Park, Illinois, native, Fitzgerald, naturally, grew up a fan of the Irish.

"I'm Catholic from the South Side -- you didn't have a choice," he cracked. "Absolutely. And then we had a great player from my high school, Jeff Alm, play. Unfortunately he's passed away, but Jeff was a great player at Notre Dame. He was an All-American. So he'd come back and work out, things of that nature, at Sandburg [High]."

How and why Fitzgerald did not end up in South Bend remains somewhat of a mystery, with the ninth-year Northwestern coach saying this week that he had attended a camp, but that he never took an official visit.

Notre Dame's loss ended up being Northwestern's gain, with Barnett just happy to land the prized linebacker regardless of how he fell into his lap.

"I think all along he wanted to go to Notre Dame and he was putting off committing to us, waiting to hear from Notre Dame, if they were going to offer him," Barnett said. "He was one of our last commitments, actually. So I'm not sure, he'll have to tell you how that all went down. And I didn't really care. We were recruiting him, we didn't care if Notre Dame turned him down or whatever. We wanted him on our football team, so we were fortunate that whatever happened, happened."

Barnett gets a kick out of how everything will have come full-circle for Fitzgerald this weekend. He recalled telling his assistants during training camp of Fitzgerald's sophomore year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that they would be jockeying to hire Fitzgerald as an assistant if any of them ever took head coaching jobs down the line.

Ninth-ranked Notre Dame proved to be the first of several heavyweights Northwestern would take down in 1995, as the Wildcats won at No. 7 Michigan and beat No. 12 Penn State before falling to No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. Barnett looks at that campaign -- and, by extension, that Notre Dame game -- as the launching point for the past two decades of Northwestern football, as the program has gone from a conference bottom-feeder to one that went on to share two more Big Ten titles, and one that has reached five bowl games under Fitzgerald.

A loss at 7-2 Notre Dame on Saturday would make it consecutive seasons without a bowl for Northwestern. Still, bigger upsets have happened, as everyone from these teams' last meeting knows.

That 1995 tilt ended up being decided, in large part, on Irish quarterback Ron Powlus tripping during a two-point conversion. Two months before the game, sophomore defensive back Marcel Price was fatally shot while home in Nashville. His memory stuck with the Wildcats throughout their historic run.

"I remembered watching Powlus go back and slip, and somebody on the sideline said, 'Marcel made that tackle,'" Barnett said. "I think after we look back, it certainly is a big play. But at the time I don't recall thinking other than we just maintained our lead. That's what you're thinking at the time, and what do you do next."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Corey Robinson surrendered himself into his father's arms, his career night gone for naught.

[+] EnlargeCorey Robinson
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCorey Robinson knows how to handle success -- and failures -- thanks to his dad, former NBA great David Robinson.
His fourth-and-long catch would not go down in program lore. His fourth-and-short touchdown had been wiped away. Notre Dame had fallen at Florida State.

So the sophomore sauntered over to his dad, a guy who knows a few things about big games, and shared an embrace that served as necessary for father as it was for son.

"Don't miss the moment," David Robinson recalled telling his son. "You guys did what you were supposed to do: You took the ball, drove it right down their throats, you put it in the end zone. You can't be mad at yourself when you did what you were supposed to do.

"… I was just telling him: This is sports. In sports you win and you lose. That's the nature of sports. You can't get away from that part of it. And if you get too hung up on the losing part, then you miss the boat. The competition part, a game like that is why you play sports. That is as good as it gets."

That the Basketball Hall of Famer saw his son come so close to stealing the spotlight from the defending national champions was rewarding. That the Naval Academy graduate will follow that up by rooting against his alma mater on Saturday is somewhat surreal. But he finds himself in this position for a second straight year, this time near his old backyard, as the Midshipmen host the Fighting Irish in Landover, Maryland.

"It’s nice because all my family is going to come up -- my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents," Corey said. "For them it’s going to be really special. But for me it’s just another game we have to go and perform and win."

His father will visit the Annapolis campus for the first time since 2011, when he was back for a 25-year reunion of Navy's 1986 Elite Eight team.

Notre Dame's last outing -- and specifically his son's role in it -- reminded the San Antonio Spurs great of his own coming-of-age moment, one year before that NCAA run, also as a sophomore.

The second round of the 1985 tournament pitted 13th-seeded Navy against fifth-seeded Maryland, led by the late Len Bias. David scored 22, Bias tallied 20 and the Terrapins won by five, but David took away plenty.

"My confidence just went through the roof at that point, and I just realized, ‘You know what, there's nobody that I cannot play with,’" David said. "And I think for Corey, coming from a small school and getting on that big stage and realizing that, ‘Hey, there's nobody that you can't play with’ -- I could see that coming out of him."

It is not that the 6-foot-4.5, 215-pound Corey ever lacked for athleticism. But he never played much football until high school. And at San Antonio Christian -- with a prep enrollment under 400 -- validation was hard to find.

His coaches convinced him that the gridiron could take him places, but football was mostly foreign to the Robinsons.

Two-time NBA champion David confessed he knows little about the game other than the competitive mindset it takes to succeed at the highest level. Such potential is what drove Corey away from his old man's alma mater, as he drew heavy Division I interest.

David said Notre Dame and Corey are in some ways built for each other. Coach Brian Kelly used a signature mantra -- gentlemen off the field, tough guy on it -- in describing Corey.

"That's fun as a coach and teacher when you get somebody that is in so many ways learning every day that he steps on the practice field," Kelly said.

The tough guy in Corey was evident as he played through September with a broken right thumb. He said the pain forced him to focus on other nuances of his game. He is second on the team in catches (27), yards (359) and touchdowns receptions (four).


The gentleman in Corey comes through in mission trips, like this past summer's to Brazil. Or through jam sessions with teammates. Corey plays the piano, bass and guitar, among other instruments. His father takes credit for his son's love of music, but he cannot pinpoint the source of talent.

The Admiral can, however, trace his son's eccentricity to his forebears, including his own father, Ambrose, also a Navy man.

"My grandfather grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and there was all the racism at that time, and Central High there had the segregation issues," David said. "I grew up around the tail end of a lot of that stuff, where my parents and my grandparents had to deal with that. So I always admired how they stood strong and how my father overcame a lot of that stuff and joined the Navy and gave me opportunities that he didn't have, and I wanted to do that for my next generation and the generations after that."

Such opportunities have meant spending Veterans Day with President Obama and visiting troops in Afghanistan. David won the 2013 Heisman Humanitarian Award for charitable endeavors. Corey sees this, David said, and he knows how to handle success.

"All this stuff doesn't happen to you for your own sake," David said. "It doesn't happen to you so you can fill your shelves with trophies or line your pockets with cash; it happens so you can have a positive influence and encourage other people. It's what you leave behind that's far more important, because everything else is just going to be snatched up by somebody else. Your bank account's going to somebody else. All your records are going to go to somebody else.

"But what you really leave behind is that love that you put into other people's lives, and I think that's what he sees in my life over the years."

Instant analysis: ND 31, Syracuse 15

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:35
AM CT
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Notre Dame beat Syracuse 31-15 on Saturday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Here's how the Irish got to 4-0:

How the game was won: Good question. Notre Dame turned the ball over five times but still won by double digits. You don't see that every day, but it speaks to how great this young defense has been in Year 1 under new coordinator Brian VanGorder, as it gave Syracuse nothing offensively. Six of the Orange's points came on a pick-six. They had little else going for them from a scoring standpoint.

Gameball goes to: Everett Golson will get plenty of credit, and he deserves some of it: 32-of-39 passing for 362 yards and four touchdown passes. He completed 25 consecutive passes at one point, one shy of the FBS record. But he also had two picks and two lost fumbles, so we'll give this nod to sophomore Will Fuller, who had the game's first two touchdowns on consecutive plays in the second quarter and finished with six grabs for 119 yards.

What it means: Notre Dame did not play very well on Saturday, but if you turn the ball over five times and still win -- fairly easily, at that -- you have to take the W and not look back. Teams play poorly, and they often suffer consequences for it. The Irish didn't, and they can go into the Stanford game 4-0, with a blank slate and thankful a sloppy performance such as this is in the past and they don't have a blemish to show for it.

Playoff implication: No. 8 Notre Dame is still undefeated, so the Irish are certainly alive in this discussion. We will probably know more about them, however, after they face rival Stanford at home next Saturday. Again, they can be thankful they got this sloppy performance out of the way. But to say this looks like one of the four best teams in the country right now is probably a bit much as we move to October.

What's next: Notre Dame has three games -- Stanford, North Carolina and at Florida State -- before its next bye. Syracuse's upcoming slate is actually less kind: Louisville, FSU, at Wake Forest, at Clemson. The Orange might have had their best opportunity to steal a tough game during this rugged stretch (sorry, Wake Forest) with five takeaways Saturday, but they will have to go back to the drawing board and see what they can get going offensively Friday against a Cardinals team that showed flaws in Saturday's win over Wake Forest.

ND 30, Purdue 14: Three things we learned

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:31
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Remarkably, Purdue gave Notre Dame a good game. Again. This one was in doubt until the fourth quarter before the No. 11 Fighting Irish pulled away with a 30-14 win to improve to 3-0 and remain undefeated in Shamrock Series games. They now enter a bye week before facing Syracuse on Sept. 27 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson, Jalani Phillips
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesDespite being sacked four times, Everett Golson was able to make big plays with his arm and his legs against Purdue.
1) The Irish handle "adversity" well. Yes, that was the buzzword following a 16-point win, appropriate or not. In the context of the number of injuries Notre Dame's secondary suffered, that will work, as starting cornerback Cole Luke left the game with what coach Brian Kelly said was a neck injury and safety Nicky Baratti left with yet another shoulder injury. The unit was already down safety and captain Austin Collinsworth because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain. The Irish also lost receiver Amir Carlisle early in the game with an MCL sprain, were without defensive end Andrew Trumbetti, who was still banged up from the Michigan game, and did not use starting right guard Christian Lombard, still nursing a high-ankle sprain. That doesn't include the five players suspended due to the academic probe.

But seven penalties did not help matters, especially with starting safety Max Redfield getting ejected in the second quarter for targeting, further depleting a thin secondary. Hats off to true freshman Drue Tranquill, a former Purdue commit who was thrust into plenty of meaningful action and performed well.

"He did great," Kelly said. "He doesn't know what he's doing, but he's awesome. He's running around there. I say that kiddingly because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him out there. He was such a locked-in kid. We're able to do some things with him, and he's only been here, what, eight, 10 weeks? Where would we be without that young man? It's really pretty incredible."

2) Everett Golson's still got it going. At times, Notre Dame's offense looked like it went with the gameplan of "let Golson dance around and make something happen." More often than not, he did just that, hitting running back Greg Bryant for his first career catches -- a pair of 17-yarders off broken plays -- and finishing 25 of 40 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and, most importantly, no turnovers. Golson also was the Irish's leading rusher, notching 56 yards on the ground and another touchdown despite being sacked four times being hurried six times by the Boilermakers. His leaps will continue to be a big storyline all season long, and he now boasts a 13-1 record as a Notre Dame starting quarterback (.929), second to only Johnny Lujack (20-1-1, .932).

He has said and done all the right things off the field as well.

"I also missed a wide-open pass, I don't know if y'all watched the film," Golson said, critiquing his 15-yard touchdown run. "I definitely missed a pass. Yeah, it was good for us, we got a touchdown, but as far as me, I want to be more of a pocket-passer. I missed the pass. I just have to execute better."

3) Paging the offensive line. Far too early to hit the panic button here, but the play up front could use some improvements before Stanford comes to town Oct. 4. To be fair, the unit was missing its fifth-year senior in Lombard (Matt Hegarty replaced him), and though only one of the Irish's five offensive penalties came from a lineman (a Steve Elmer false start), Golson was sacked four times by Purdue. That number probably could have been higher if not for Golson's mobility. Notre Dame averaged just 3.7 yards per rush after averaging just 1.7 yards per rush in last week's rout of Michigan. Take away the quarterback on Saturday and that average against the Boilermakers drops to 3.46 yards per rush. Again, it is very early, but if there's one unit that needs to pick up its play as Notre Dame readies for the meat of their schedule, it is the offensive line.

"We're not sustaining," Kelly said. "I mean, we're in position. We're falling off a block here. We miss a fit here. And maybe it's just the continuity took us a little bit longer. It's nothing big, but it's everything.

"It's going to get better. They will get better. It's just we're not where we need to be. We're going to keep working, keep grinding. We'll get there. We're just not there yet. We're on the 3-yard line, we're running a double-team into the B-gap, we slip and fall. Somebody fires through the B-gap. Little things like that. They got to get cleaned up before we get to where we want to be offensively."

Notre Dame prediction: Week 3 vs. Purdue

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
9:00
AM CT
No. 11 Notre Dame "hosts" in-state rival Purdue in Indianapolis. Do the Boilermakers have a shot?

How Purdue can win: For all the talk of the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan rivalry as we know it last week, this is also marks the final Irish-Boilermakers matchup for six years, ending a 69-year streak of matchups between the Indiana schools. This game seems to brings out the best in Purdue, and they certainly will try to catch Notre Dame off guard as the Irish ride high off a shutout over the Wolverines. Take chances. Hit them hard, fast and first. Try to establish a ground game, the thing Purdue has succeeded most at through two games. If Danny Etling starts under center, continue to let him loose a little, to try to keep the Irish defense honest. And hope for the Irish to lay an egg, on top of all that.

How Notre Dame can win: Show up early and don't let the pesky Boilermakers hang around. That's the easiest formula for an Irish W. As for what would look like progress, let Everett Golson continue his magic, and try to get as many receivers involved as possible. Chris Brown, for one, could use a little love his way. Don't abandon the ground game, either, as there is a plethora of talented backs who surely were glad to see Brian Kelly continue to trust them last week, even when things weren't going so smoothly in that department. Defensively, the safeties can build off last week's success.

Breakout player: Amir Carlisle has certainly looked the part the last two weeks, but we'll go with him here as he faces his father's team. (Duane Carlisle is Purdue's director of sports performance.) Last year's trip to West Lafayette is when things began to come apart for Carlisle last year, with a late-game fumble. But he has turned things around after converting to slot receiver from running back, giving the Irish another dimension in the passing game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 35, Purdue 10. Purdue has played Notre Dame ridiculously close the last two years, but the Boilermakers were also facing Irish teams that had some questions on offense. The 2014 version of Golson brings a different dynamic to Notre Dame.

Irish deliver final blow in Michigan rivalry

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
3:06
AM CT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Joe Schmidt is a former walk-on who worked his way to a scholarship before earning Notre Dame's starting middle linebacker role. He is a coach's dream who never makes one game or snap out to be bigger than it really is.

Yet when Schmidt entered the media room after Notre Dame's 31-0 win over Michigan, the optimist in him was outdone by the sheer absurdity of the goodbye his young and unproven defense had just delivered the Wolverines.

"You want to believe that this is something you can accomplish every time you go on the field," Schmidt said. "And there's still a lot of things we could've done better today, but …"

He paused for three seconds and collected himself with a deep breath.

"Shoot. This is a great feeling right now."

As finales go, this was more Sopranos than Breaking Bad, a much-hyped shootout that turned into a dramatic letdown. Notre Dame didn't just send Michigan back to Ann Arbor with a 1-1 record and a bad taste in its mouth from being on the losing end of these programs' final meeting. No, the Irish flat-out demoralized the Wolverines. They bullied their hapless offensive line, shredded their patchwork secondary and delivered one indignity after another following a week that did nothing but suggest the visitors would be the ones who would enter with chips on their shoulders.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Cody Riggs and Joe Schmidt
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsCody Riggs, right, and Joe Schmidt celebrate one of Notre Dame's three interceptions against Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.
Michigan had played 365 straight games in which they scored points before Saturday. These Irish met them in a dark alley here in Week 2, and they rendered them rudderless.

"I just got the stat from [SID Michael] Bertsch: 1984 was the last time these guys were shut out?" Schmidt said as he double-checked with reporters. "I think that kind of speaks for itself on how great this feels right now for me and for this defense and for this team."

Michigan left here last time feeling disrespected, with athletic director David Brandon on the receiving end of a cancellation letter from counterpart Jack Swarbrick. The Wolverines had said what Notre Dame did to them was a slap in the face. To add insult to injury, the Irish announced Thursday they would play a future series against Michigan's arch-rival, Ohio State.

What Notre Dame did to Michigan before a sellout crowd under the lights was far more humiliating.

The Wolverines seemingly dared Everett Golson to beat them with his arm. He looked every bit as lethal as he did last week against Conference USA member Rice and completed 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns.

Michigan's quarterback, Devin Gardner, received help from no one but Devin Funchess, which led coach Brady Hoke to defend why he stuck with his signal caller after Gardner threw three interceptions and lost a third-quarter fumble on a reckless spin move Schmidt saw coming from a mile away.

"Sometimes it just opens up, and as a defensive player, that's the stuff you lay awake at night dreaming of," Schmidt said. "Quarterback's back, ball's right there, you know you can force the fumble."

Gardner's predecessor, Denard Robinson, had tossed four picks and lost one fumble in a 2012 loss to Notre Dame. That was against the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, the catalyst behind an Irish team that went all the way to the BCS title game.

This year's defense started eight new faces from a year ago in its second game under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who himself turned into an overnight internet celebrity for a raucous late-game celebration.

"I would say it really just ceases all the doubts about, We're young, 'Can we execute?'" Jaylon Smith (10 tackles) said.

VanGorder can be forgiven for his excitement, but the best was yet to come.

Whereas Hoke had quipped last year that Notre Dame was chickening-out of this rivalry — a brushfire Michigan threw gasoline on by playing the "Chicken Dance" after its win over Notre Dame in 2013 — Notre Dame fans took matters into their own hands in the closing minutes and started a stadium-wide rendition of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye."

And that wasn't even the final indignity.

On what looked like it would be the final play of the game, Gardner was picked off one last time by Elijah Shumate, who returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. Michigan personnel had already made their way to the locker room, having escaped the hysteria engulfing Notre Dame Stadium — except the officials ruled Max Redfield had roughed the passer on the return, the touchdown didn't count and the game couldn't end on a defensive penalty. This made for an awkward delay, as the playing grounds cleared and a chunk of the Wolverines' roster made the long walk back through the tunnel and onto the FieldTurf before going right back up after the Irish showed mercy and took a knee.

"We temper it by knowing that we got a long season ahead of us, and it counts as one, it doesn't count as two," said coach Brian Kelly, who tried so hard all week to not give in to the hype. "If it counted as two, we would probably be a little bit happier, but it counts as one.

"But there's no question -- I would be lying if I told you that it doesn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31-0."

Michigan-Notre Dame: It's complicated

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
10:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Divorce is always messy, especially when the opposing attorneys are two of the biggest fan bases in all of college football.

[+] EnlargeMichigan, Notre Dame
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesA rocky relationship may finally come to an end when Notre Dame and Michigan meet Saturday.
Notre Dame broke up with Michigan. Heck, the Fighting Irish had been flat-out flirting with other prospects beforehand, arranging to see the ACC five times a year from 2014 to 2025. The Wolverines are the scorned ex-spouse, refusing to see the Irish for the foreseeable future while letting it be known at every turn that "they" started it, not "us." The Wolverines accused the Irish of chickening-out, and in case that had gotten lost on anyone, they made darn sure to serve a reminder by playing the visitors out of the Big House last year to the tune of the "Chicken Dance."

The Irish? Why, the Golden Domers are way too cool for Michigan anyway. It's the Wolverines who are distraught, remember? "We" dumped "them." "They" need "us" more, because Michigan doesn't have another big game (or two) to circle on its calendar every year. Nope. And in case you weren't already convinced just how little Notre Dame concerns itself with Michigan, Irish fans are shelling out only $349 per person to get into the building Saturday. You know, just to prove that they don't care.

Michigan and Notre Dame will have gotten together only 42 times after this weekend. But the fact this relationship has been put on hiatus so often speaks to the complicated feelings between the two sides. Breaking up is hard to do.

Want mixed messages? Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick may have delivered the divorce papers to Michigan AD David Brandon before the 2012 game, but the Wolverines had given off the vibe that this was an open relationship. Less than three weeks before delivering the edict, the Irish had set up future dates with the ACC and were feeling a little claustrophobic. There was a three-year out clause in the Michigan agreement that simply made this affair the easiest for Swarbrick to get out of. Four months beforehand, Brandon himself had been non-committal about anything long-term. And there was already a fork in the road awaiting both parties in 2018 and 2019.

Brandon said he was blindsided in 2012. Swarbrick told the AP this week that he had let Brandon know in a phone call beforehand. In case that wasn't clear, Notre Dame announced Thursday -- two days before its last meeting with Michigan -- that it has a pair of dates with Ohio State.

We've heard you've been talking about us, Michigan. Now excuse us while we make arrangements to see the homecoming queen down the road ...

"For a team to opt out of that contract, and to opt out of playing another team that is a great rival and is one of those great games, it's almost like a slap in the face," Michigan defensive end Frank Clark told reporters.

Countered Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson: "I don't think I get into all of the hype of the game and things like that. But at the same time, you have to take care of business and you have to prepare."

This latest wave of accusations from each side of the family simply follows what's in their bloodlines.

Michigan may have taught Notre Dame how to play football ... but then the Wolverines blocked the Irish from Big Ten entry.

Michigan may have canceled the 1910 game a year after its first defeat in the series ... but Notre Dame had been using ineligible players.

On and on it goes, from the Fielding Yost-Knute Rockne feud that kept the union on ice for a 32-year stretch, to the tit-for-tat on the all-time winning percentage record -- a battle that, fittingly, is at stake Saturday.

"Who knows when is going to be the last game?" Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. "We just know we aren't going to play them in the near future."

Irish coach Brian Kelly is also looking ahead.

"We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game, and if it could have worked, it would have worked," Kelly said. "But it does open up some pretty exciting games in the future."

It was hardly a picture-perfect marriage, but it was far more than a fling. Here's to one more fond memory Saturday night.

The Notre Dame-Michigan series goes on pause Saturday night, most likely for a while. Some are sad to see the annual game go, but there are positives for both sides.

So which team benefits more from the series ending: Notre Dame or Michigan?

Reporters Matt Fortuna (Notre Dame/ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) debate.

Take 1: Matt Fortuna

We can probably agree that each side will blame the other for ending this series. We can probably agree that the losing side of Saturday's game will end up doing most of the complaining. But if we're looking at who benefits more from this rivalry ending, it has to be Notre Dame.

Brian Kelly wouldn't say that ending the series with the Wolverines is a good idea. What Kelly did say was that not playing Michigan "opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us."

First things first, though: Notre Dame's scheduling concerns. The Irish now have five mandatory ACC games a year. They have their three non-negotiable rivalry games in Navy, Stanford and USC, the latter two ensuring one trip to California every year. That leaves them four games a year in which to get creative, and they have done what they can within that framework to not abandon some of their Midwest rivalries (Michigan State, Purdue) in the Big Ten.

There is also a future series with Texas and one with Georgia, both later this decade.

For Michigan, losing Notre Dame means adding a neutral-site game with Florida in 2017, a home-and-home with Arkansas in 2018-19 and a whole lot of meh. Yes, Virginia Tech, UCLA and Oklahoma all make for enticing opponents, but they are very far down the line, and it would be foolish to think Notre Dame doesn't have a comparable slate of games it is looking into. This is a Notre Dame program, after all, that opened its 2012 season in Ireland and had once discussed playing a game against Stanford in Japan.

Notre Dame is set up for the immediate future with one of the nation's most appealing annual slates. With the way Michigan has started to schedule, the Wolverines might not be far behind in the next decade.

It would be great if they can find a way to play again, but both have already gained plenty on their own. And if you're going to blame Notre Dame for ending this late-summer classic, then you have to credit the Irish for all of those attractive future opponents, too.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

I'm worried about you, Matt. You and Brian Kelly already have the same stylist, and while those blazers are fashion-forward, no matter what anyone tells you, I'm concerned that being around him has brainwashed you about who really benefits from this series ending. It's Michigan. Hands down.

There are several factors that go into scheduling, but the top priority always should be the new playoff. Notre Dame and Michigan can exalt the past all the way, but if both don't start making the playoff relatively soon, they will become less and less nationally relevant.

While you're right that Notre Dame's scheduling gets trickier with the ACC partnership, the Irish will have a playoff-worthy schedule every year, barring all hell breaking loose around the country. They'll almost always get credit for playing Stanford and USC. Not all of the ACC games will help Notre Dame's playoff cause, but Florida State and/or Clemson will in most seasons. And if other programs rise up (North Carolina, Duke, Miami, etc.), the Irish will get a bump. I really think the playoff comes down to the one-loss and two-loss teams with the strongest résumés. Notre Dame is in that category with or without the Michigan series.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, desperately needed more diversity in their schedule (diversity that Notre Dame naturally has as an independent). Don't gloss over future opponents such as Florida, Arkansas, Washington, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. Many of these games don't happen if Notre Dame remains an annual opponent, especially with the Big Ten adopting a nine-game league schedule in 2016.

Beating Notre Dame hasn't helped Michigan's national profile in recent years. The Wolverines should get a bigger playoff boost from beating some of their future opponents.

Coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon make it clear that Notre Dame is at fault for ending the annual series. But in terms of reaching the playoff, Touchdown Jesus might have provided Michigan a blessing in disguise.

Kelly, Irish sing right tunes after opener

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All of that drama surrounding the Notre Dame Fighting Irish the entire month was seemingly reduced to a pair of plays Saturday that yielded different results.

There was the first Everett Golson bomb to C.J. Prosise, which Prosise dropped. And there was the second Golson bomb to Prosise, which Prosise caught.

The 55-yarder was Golson making something out of nothing before launching a rocket that went right through the unguarded receiver's hands. The 53-yarder, two plays after a turnover and just five seconds before halftime, was Golson again making something out of nothing -- avoiding a sack, barely setting his feet and absorbing a hit as he threw the ball roughly 62 yards through the air and into the hands of Prosise for his first career touchdown.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame will need Everett Golson's big arm and big plays when Michigan visits on Saturday.
"He has a cannon, as you can see," Prosise said of Golson. "He winds up and that thing flies. It's really nice to have that."

That Golson shook off the small bit of in-game adversity to deliver Prosise his first career touchdown is one thing. That the Irish's quarterback made a pair of otherworldly throws look so routine is quite another.

Notre Dame was entering its 48-17 season-opening win against Rice under the cloud of four players being suspended as part of an internal academic probe. The Irish learned Thursday that a fifth would be held out. The same day, they lost another safety, this one a captain in Austin Collinsworth, who will also miss at least Saturday's game against Michigan with a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

They turned in about as complete of an opening-game performance as coach Brian Kelly could have hoped for, with Golson looking every bit like the key piece that can finally make this offense roll. They enter Michigan week, their last Michigan week for the forseeable future, uncertain about their five suspended players, three of whom would almost certainly be factors in a game as big as this one. The game is, seemingly, the biggest obstacle before October. It's part of a slate Kelly himself described last week as "manageable" before the heavy-hitters line up, and a game the Irish absolutely need to have if they are to go on to a successful season.

There is the anticipation of the last meeting for a while against the Wolverines, whom Kelly knows best as a team that has beaten him three times in four years. There is the Notre Dame Stadium night-game atmosphere, which has not exactly been kind to the home team since it returned in 2011 -- first with an embarrassing loss to USC, then with two strenuous wins against Michigan and USC by a combined 27-16 margin.

But the Irish should have little trouble avoiding the noise, as Kelly likes to say. They graded out spectacularly in that area in Week 1, and they had much more on their plates going into Rice than they do going into Michigan.

Kelly's answer Sunday when asked about avoiding this week's outside influences was telling:

"Similar to what I've done in past years," he said. "We really keep our focus on what our technique and our own individual work needs to get better at. For example, (Elijah) Shumate and Max Redfield, they can't be thinking about Michigan because they have to learn how to communicate better, really focus on that. Chris Brown has to do a better job of getting in and out of his breaks. We're really, really focusing on the individual and what they have to get better at this week.

"If we really focus on those things and really drill hard on those, it keeps their mind at what they need to get better at instead of thinking about big-picture items. That's kind of how we go about it. It keeps the guys so much on what will help them win."

So he mentioned Michigan, once. He mentioned little else as it relates to peripheral opponents. On the same day-after-opener teleconference last season, he had more or less fueled week-long hate talk by suggesting the Wolverines weren't a rival. Last season's Irish team, fresh off a title-game appearance, probably needed the fire lit under it more than this season's team does.

Kelly saw what this group did Saturday with bigger distractions when facing an inferior opponent. Now comes a truer test that will likely dictate what kind of season this could be.

ND 48, Rice 17: 3 Things We Learned

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
9:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson looked much better than the last time he took the field for Notre Dame, tallying five total touchdowns and protecting the football as he led the No. 17 Fighting Irish to a 48-17 season-opening win over Rice.

Here are our three biggest takeaways from this game, starting, of course, with the man under center:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson was a one-man wrecking crew for Notre Dame in its 48-17 rout of Rice on Saturday.
1) Golson is back and he's better than ever. Brian Kelly finally has an elite quarterback running his offense, and that is not a Week 1 exaggeration. Save for one errant throw he was able to survive -- a mistimed third-down toss intended for Ben Koyack, which could have been six the other way had Rice's Gabe Kaper reacted quicker -- Golson was on-point all day. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns -- a 75-yarder and a 53-yarder. He ran for three touchdowns himself, part of his 12 carries for 41 yards. Two of those touchdown runs came on third down, as Golson proved to be the red-zone threat the Irish have sorely lacked in recent years. They went 6-for-6 in the red zone Saturday. And let's not forget C.J. Prosise's 55-yard touchdown drop, a marvelous throw Golson made under pressure that would've given him six total touchdowns and a career high in passing yards.

"Obviously the story of Golson was electric," Kelly said. "He kept his eyes downfield. Knew when to run, knew when to throw it, and those are things we really talked about. We didn't want to overcoach him in that we were going to allow him today to get outside the pocket and be a football player, and just naturally go play the game. And I thought he did that today extraordinarily well. He came back today and I think really showed the kind of player that he can be."

2) Golson's weapons aren't too bad either. Will Fuller was the receiver of a choice Saturday. And while his line (four catches, 85 yards, TD) is hardly eye-opening, it's worth noting that three other players eclipsed the 50-yard receiving plateau. Golson hit seven different targets against the Owls, and with the signal caller being one of five Irish players to rush for 40 or more yards, he showed just how explosive this offense can potentially be later on this season. The Irish showed great balance, tallying 295 passing yards and 281 rushing yards.

"I think I needed to polish a lot of things," Golson said. "There was a couple throws where I stayed in there and made a throw. That's what is in my mind now, but I think just being more on timing I think a lot of stuff today, I was kind of getting out of the pocket and making plays and having the guy scramble and things like that. Definitely going to get the timing down and be more precise."

3) Special teams might finally be a threat. Florida cornerback transfer Cody Riggs' biggest attribute Saturday was as a punt returner, as he brought back the first two punts for 24 and 25 yards, respectively. Greg Bryant added three returns for 31 yards (including a 10-yard return that he probably should not have picked up at the 1.) Notre Dame's average starting field position was at its own 36-yard line. They punted it just three times. Add that with an offense capable of spreading the field and the strain on a young defense is lessened considerably.

"It was driven by personnel and it was driven by wanting to improve in that area," Kelly said. "We had (80) yards in punt returns, and we only had (106) the entire year last year. I think we've improved there. We need to do it consistently.

"Cody Riggs was gassed and we had to take him out. He had not played that much football at Florida I think in a couple years. But Greg Bryant is fearless and does not know what a fair catch is. So all those people wondering why he was catching the ball, he came up with the, 'I can't hear you, my earplug is in.'

"So we have got guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial. And we have guys that are committed to covering people up. So we have got the want to and the resolve to do and we have to continue to do it."

Fighting Irish morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
7:00
AM CT
Well that was fun last night ...

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