Chicago Colleges: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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.
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.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from this game, starting, of course, with the man under center:
"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."
- Brian VanGorder's personal touch helps players buy in, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- Jarron Jones matures in the classroom and on the field, Chris Hine writes for Chicago Tribune.com.
- Being a captain is an unbelievable honor for Austin Collinsworth, Pete Sampson writes on IrishIllustrated.com.
- A Michigan NBC affiliate looks at the Brian Kelly coaching tree. (And has some good old footage.)
- Will Mahone has landed at Youngstown State.
- Jimmy Clausen is your new No. 2 quarterback for the Bears.
- The Lions have moved TJ Jones to the PUP list, our Michael Rothstein writes.
- Former walk-ons Connor Cavalaris, Charlie Fiessinger and Tyler Plantz have all been granted scholarships for this season.
- Notre Dame is not worried about its running back dynamic, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- Everett Golson is now taking charge at Notre Dame, Chris Hine writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Yours truly joined ESPN Upstate earlier this week to talk some Notre Dame.
- Is the BYU series in jeopardy?
- Funny stuff from Tommy Rees and Mike Golic Jr., who took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge together.
- The read-option has become second nature to Everett Golson, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- The Wall Street Journal looks at how Brian Kelly and others fare against ranked teams.
The biggest surprise? Early enrollee Andrew Trumbetti will be the starter at weak-side defensive end, where Romeo Okwara had appeared to have the initial leg-up. Ishaq Williams is the other starting end.
"We think that he’s got a huge upside for us in so many areas that sometimes I don’t talk about him enough," Kelly said of Trumbetti. "But a great motor, physical, smart, does all the things that we ask him to do. But again, you’ve got to keep in mind we’re talking about first-and second-down players."
Another first-teamer, a name that is considerably less shocking than Trumbetti's, is Florida transfer Cody Riggs, who will start opposite KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.
Kelly repeatedly praised the approach of his defensive freshmen, saying that tackle Jonathan Bonner is in the two-deep, that linebacker Kolin Hill and lineman Jhonny Williams are third-down pass-rushers, and that linebacker Nyles Morgan will play.
While Kelly admitted that he probably would have been uneasy counting on so many rookies to contribute in the front seven, he says his eyes tell him different when he watches them every day on the practice field.
There is also, of course, a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder. Kelly was asked if the new scheme is easier to grasp than what former coordinator Bob Diaco ran.
"They can go. There’s a lot more going on. There’s a lot more pieces to this," Kelly said. "But Brian let’s them run and let’s them go. And so that’s why a lot of these young guys can just, in the places that he’s putting them, in the fronts that he’s calling with Nyles Morgan, he’s not asking him to two-gap anybody. He’s saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to cover everybody. Just go run. Go make a play.’ And some of the freshmen are getting similar kind of front calls where they can just pin their ears back and go."
- Everett Golson is taking command of Notre Dame's offense, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- NFL.com's Bucky Brooks looks at three areas of Golson pro scouts will study this fall.
- Greg Bryant is finally ready to roll, Chris Hine writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Great story here from the Cincinnati Enquirer's Tom Groeschen on Jake Golic, who's fighting back for his football career.
- Colleague Travis Haney says Notre Dame can spoil Florida State's season.
- Brady Quinn is back in business, finally getting a chance with the Miami Dolphins, our James Walker writes.
- Our friend Aaron Horvath recaps Monday's ESPN #BusBlitz at Notre Dame.
- SI.com's Brian Hamilton spends some time with Jaylon Smith, who seeks every answer in his pursuit of greatness.
- Did BlueandGold.com's Andrew Owens find the Fighting Irish's first Under Armour jersey?
- Tough news out of Houston concerning Week 1 Irish opponent Rice, as offensive lineman Drew Carroll has been forced to retire because of a kidney disease.
- KeiVarae Russell wants opponents to dread facing him, Rachel Terlep writes in the Elkhart Truth.
- Per LaMond Pope, Jeff Samardzija had some to say about the end of the Michigan rivalry.
Jeff Samardzija on MLB Network on end of #NotreDame-Michigan: "That's about as absurd as Notre Dame putting FieldTurf in instead of grass...— LaMond Pope (@lamondpope) August 6, 2014
but hey that's the way things are going these days and times are changing in college football. ...— LaMond Pope (@lamondpope) August 6, 2014
It's an awesome rivalry and hopefully they find a way to mix it in some more down the road for sure."— LaMond Pope (@lamondpope) August 6, 2014
- The Chicago Sun-Times' Steve Greenberg says Notre Dame is looking to rediscover its mojo.
- CSNChicago's JJ Stankevitz explains some of his rankings of the top 25 Notre Dame players.
- BlueandGold.com's Andrew Owens says Jaylon Smith deserves to be named captain, regardless of age. (Subscription required)
- The Chicago Tribune's Chris Hine looks at how Ben Koyack is dealing with increased expectations.
- Everett Golson is ready to compete, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- Tempo stood out to Brian Kelly during the Irish's first practice, Andrew Owens writes on BlueandGold.com.
- IrishIllustrated's Tim Prister and Pete Sampson break down practice No. 1.
- The best college football coach for the money? Forbes says it's Kelly.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is in the eye of the beholder.
Vegas is apparently not too high on the Irish with the season this far out. The Irish are underdogs in four of the 11 games currently open for betting, and they aren't exactly overwhelming favorites in most of them. (The Aug. 30 opener vs. Rice was not listed.)
The lines that immediately jump out are the double-digit ones — two of which have Notre Dame on the losing end. Defending national champion Florida State is a 24-point favorite over the Irish for their Oct. 18 matchup. Archrival USC, meanwhile, is a 10-point favorite over Notre Dame for the Nov. 29 regular-season finale.
While a line as high as 24 points always stands out, the latter line seems to be a bit more surprising than the former, considering the Trojans have a new coach in Steve Sarkisian, are playing in the daunting Pac-12 and have lost three of their last four to the Irish. Favorites? Maybe. But the Irish being double-digit 'dogs against their nemesis probably will not go unnoticed.
Notre Dame is also the underdog against Stanford (minus-6) and at Arizona State (minus-4.5).
The two lines favoring the Irish that jump off the page? Giving Purdue 21 points in their Week 3 tilt seems a bit much, given how close the Boilermakers have played the Irish in recent years. Conversely, being just a 3-point favorite at Navy is probably a little alarming, despite the fact the Midshipmen almost pulled off the upset last year in South Bend, Ind.
The first line listed is probably the most favorable one for Irish fans, as Notre Dame is a 3-point favorite over Michigan in the last scheduled meeting between the rivals.
If recent history and the odds currently out now are any indication, how the Irish fare against the Wolverines could go a long way toward determining what kind of campaign awaits them in 2014.
Ironically enough, the man in front of Koyack at No. 2 is Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman, the older brother of Mike Heuerman, who is expected to be one of Koyack's primary backups this fall at Notre Dame.
We touched on Koyack's stock a little bit last week when Phil Steele named him as a third-team preseason All-American. The Oil City, Pa., native came on strong down the stretch last season, catching nine passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns during the Irish's final six games. (He had only one catch, a 19-yard touchdown grab, in the seven games prior.)
Koyack is well aware of the Notre Dame tight end lineage he is stepping into. It seems now as though more and more are becoming aware of Koyack, which would be a big boost for the Irish passing game in 2014.
- Bob Diaco shows off his culinary skills, and they look amazing.
- Bollingbrook (Ill.) defensive end Micah Dew-Treadway committed to Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
- Brian Kelly hopes OTAs will get freshmen on the fast track, JJ Stankevitz writes on CSNChicago.com.
- IrishIllustrated's Tim Prister chats with Brian Ratigan, head of orthopedic sports medicine for football and baseball. (Subscription required)
- BlueandGold.com's Dan Murphy previews Isaac Rochell's 2014 season. (Subscription required)
Russell had some more love this week from another list that projects big things for him in 2014, as SportsOnEarth's Matt Brown named him to college football breakout team for this fall.
Both writers laud Russell's impact from the get-go with the Irish, as he was thrust into a starting role from Day 1 following Lo Wood's camp Achilles' tear. Russell had arrived at Notre Dame that summer as a running back. Kiper likes Russell's tackling, while Brown sees a bigger spotlight — along with a new defensive coordinator who favors press coverage, as Brian VanGorder does — resulting in an opportunity for Russell to emerge as a star. Brown cites an underrated secondary from last season that returns most of its key bodies, as the Irish ranked 16th in the nation in yards per pass attempt allowed (6.3) last year.
If Notre Dame's defense is going to be strong in VanGorder's first season, the secondary will likely be a big reason why. That could mean more big things for Russell, a player who does not shy away from the spotlight.
"He’s obviously physically done a lot of work in the time away and he’s in very good shape and now it’s just a matter of getting his legs back," coach Brian Kelly said minutes earlier, before the annual charity event put on by him and his wife, Paqui.
Kelly is happy to have Daniels back after his spring-semester suspension for what the receiver deemed as academic-related shortcomings. Daniels brings another dimension to an Irish offense looking to take off in Year 5 of the Kelly era, as the redshirt junior is the team's best vertical threat and the only wideout with any extensive game experience playing with quarterback Everett Golson.
Daniels has 80 career catches for 1,235 yards and seven touchdowns. He spent this spring working out at EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park, Illinois.
Getting to spend more summer time with Daniels and the rest of the roster as part of relaxed NCAA rules this year, Kelly is eager to reinstall offensive and defensive packages, especially with 20 of his 21 incoming freshmen arriving this weekend and starting classes Monday.
"We'll get a chance to work with them next Wednesday, so they'll come in on Sunday, they'll get their physicals on Monday," Kelly said. "We should be able to clear them all -- except for Tyler Luatua, who will not be here because of graduation, until Wednesday -- so they should all be cleared for our OTA on Wednesday. We'll get our first look at it, and we've got kind of an idea of where we'll move those guys, and then I'll probably have a better sense by next week."
Another one of those newcomers, transfer cornerback Cody Riggs from Florida, is already on campus and working with the team, as are freshmen Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Weber State 14 19 Arizona State 45
Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31 Final West Virginia 23 2 Alabama 33 Final South Dakota 13 3 Oregon 62 Final Louisiana Tech 16 4 Oklahoma 48 Final 5 Ohio State 34 Navy 17 Final Arkansas 21 6 Auburn 45 Final 7 UCLA 28 Virginia 20 Final UC Davis 0 11 Stanford 45 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final 14 Wisconsin 24 13 LSU 28 Final Fresno State 13 15 USC 52 Final Rice 17 17 Notre Dame 48 Final Stephen F. Austin 16 20 Kansas State 55 Final Florida Atlantic 7 22 Nebraska 55 Final Liberty 29 23 North Carolina 56 Final South Dakota State 18 24 Missouri 38 Final 25 Washington 17 Hawaii 16