Chicago Colleges: Robby Toma

Big Ten viewer’s guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
AM CT
Week 7 is here, and let’s not sugarcoat it: Big Ten football has looked more interesting on other weekends. This first Saturday of the season without nonconference action lacks marquee matchups. Still, the division races will continue to take shape.

Here’s a look at the five games (all times Eastern):

Noon

Illinois (3-3) and Wisconsin (3-2), ESPN2: Will Melvin Gordon run for 300 yards? If the Badgers wanted it to happen, Illinois’ 119th-ranked rushing defense would likely comply. More of the intrigue in Madison involves the quarterbacks. For Wisconsin, Joel Stave, who returned last week against Northwestern, will see time, in addition to Tanner McEvoy, who might also take a shot at receiver. And with Illinois’ Wes Lunt out with a fractured leg, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, who was set to redshirt, have competed in practice this week.

Indiana (3-2) and Iowa (4-1), ESPNU: Indiana has shown it can win on the road in tough spots, handing Missouri its lone loss on Sept. 20. The Hoosiers are more explosive on offense than any foe Iowa has faced. But Indiana still can’t defend well, in particular against proficient quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are going back to Jake Rudock at the start, but C.J. Beathard will play. How well can Greg Davis manage this? If it’s a disaster, Indiana might just find itself in the right place at the right time for an upset bid.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cobb
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDavid Cobb and Minnesota can take a big step in their quest for a Western Division crown by beating Northwestern on Saturday.
Northwestern (3-2) at Minnesota (4-1), BTN: Who would have guessed a month ago, as the Golden Gophers fell flat at TCU and the Wildcats sat winless, that this game would have legitimate implications for the West Division title race? It does, with NU in quest of a third straight unexpected win to open league play. Its defense led the charge against Penn State and Wisconsin. Minnesota is simply solid, led by David Cobb, statistically the league’s most valuable offensive player. Minnesota has defended the pass especially well in recent games and will test Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian, 13th in the Big Ten in QBR.

3:30 p.m.

No. 8 Michigan State (4-1) at Purdue (3-3), ESPN2: At least it’s not the best team in the Big Ten against the worst. Purdue escaped the low spot last week with a win over Illinois. And sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby looked good in the victory. Very good, in fact. Back at home, he figures to find a much more difficult situation against the Spartans, who might come in a bit angry after nearly blowing a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead against Nebraska.

7 p.m.

Penn State (4-1) at Michigan (2-4), ESPN2: The visitors from Happy Valley, after an off week, get an opportunity to show that their anemic performance against Northwestern was just a fluke. With an upcoming stretch of three challenging games, no better time exists for PSU to get healthy than at Michigan, trying to avoid its first 0-3 start in the Big Ten since 1965. Against a good Penn State front, the Wolverines must protect Devin Gardner and throw the football, neither of which they’ve done well in recent weeks.

Required reading

Notre Dame Fighting Irish spring wrap

May, 9, 2013
5/09/13
9:00
AM CT
2012 record: 12-1

2012 conference record: N/A

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Everett Golson, WR TJ Jones, WR DaVaris Daniels, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, RT Christian Lombard, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, LB Dan Fox, LB Carlo Calabrese, LB Danny Spond, LB Prince Shembo, CB Bennett Jackson, CB KeiVarae Russell, S Matthias Farley

Key losses

RB Theo Riddick, RB Cierre Wood, WR Robby Toma, TE Tyler Eifert, C Braxston Cave, RG Mike Golic Jr., DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, LB Manti Te'o, S Zeke Motta

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

Passing: Golson* (187-of-318 for 2,405 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

1. Golson in charge of offense. Now in his second year as the starting quarterback, Golson is in charge of what Brian Kelly hopes will become a quarterback-driven offense. Golson has been much more vocal on and off the field since the 2012 season, and the hope is that he can help the offense dictate the pace of the game week to week this fall.

2. Jarrett Grace ready to step up. Te'o leaves a giant hole in the middle of the Irish defense after three-straight 100-plus tackle seasons, but Grace looks ready to step in and assume the starting role. Will he notch seven interceptions this season, like Te'o in 2012? Unlikely. But the staff has liked his progress from the get-go, and he has not been fazed by all of the hoopla surrounding the "Mike" position since Te'o's departure.

3. DB depth. Last season, the Irish entered the fall with two new starting cornerbacks. By Week 3, they were down Lo Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter because of Achilles injuries. This year Wood is back, as is safety Austin Collinsworth, adding plenty of depth to a secondary that returns three starters. It will give the defense much more flexibility after the unit broke in three new starters in 2012. Several talented safety recruits are on the way, too.

Fall questions

1. Backfield answers. George Atkinson III is the most experienced of the backs, bulking up this offseason and readying for the closest thing to a No. 1 role that the Irish offense allows. Cam McDaniel has been reliable in limited action, and USC transfer Amir Carlisle impressed the staff before going down with another injury, this time a broken collarbone that kept him out for most of the spring. There is Will Mahone and a pair of four-star recruits on the way as well, but the bottom line is that none have handled a majority of the carries at the college level yet and are filling big shoes from last season in Riddick and Cierre Wood.

2. Receiver depth. Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson transferred this spring, leaving the Irish with a bit of a numbers issue. C.J. Prosise has converted to a full-time receiver and could compete for the starting slot role for 2013, but a group already down four of its top six pass-catchers from 2012 can ill-afford another injury or defection, and will likely need some early production from a talented group of freshmen.

3. Defensive leaders. This isn't necessarily an issue so much as an unknown. Last year's three seniors were tremendous vocal presences, helping the defense become greater than the sum of its parts in finishing second nationally in scoring. This year's unit could be deeper and more talented, and if it can work together like last year's, it could see similar success in 2013. Jackson, Farley and Nix figure to emerge as front-runners for defensive captain spots this fall.

All hands on-deck for receiving corps

April, 9, 2013
4/09/13
10:00
AM CT
Asked if early enrollee freshman James Onwualu would line up in the slot or outside this season, Mike Denbrock offered an answer befitting his depleted group: "Yes."

The Notre Dame outside receivers coach has found himself with a smaller pool of talent to work with this spring following the transfers of sophomores Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson, forcing him to mix and match faces all over the place in hopes of finding the best solution for the Irish passing game.

"We're kind of trying to find a way to incorporate everybody that we've got available to us right now kind of in the mix, and kind of put them in some different places and give some other guys some opportunities," Denbrock said. "Anytime that you're a little bit short numbers-wise, you've got to find them somewhere. So we're not going to practice any shorter, we're not going to take any fewer reps, so we've got to find bodies to do it."

Eight scholarship receivers remain on the roster, with two more, Torii Hunter Jr. and William Fuller, on the way this summer.

Denbrock likes the two freshmen he has right now, saying that Onwualu and Corey Robinson have impressed in their short time on campus.

"Corey Robinson, everything he does that comes near him -- his catch radius reminds me a lot of Tyler Eifert in that even if the ball's somewhere on the perimeter, he's going to find a way," Denbrock said. "Great ball skills, good knowledge of the game of football, surprisingly, even though he's from a small school in Texas and is basketball-oriented maybe family-wise, but has done a really nice job.

"James Onwualu is a tough guy, physical, loves the game, plays with tremendous passion. Good skill-set. Those guys are a pleasant surprise. And when you sit down and you think -- and we talk about this sometimes when we're watching practice film -- and you go, 'This guy's supposed to be getting dressed for the prom, and here he is out here competing,' and those guys are doing a great job."

The Irish lose four of their top-six pass-catchers from a year ago, but even the returnees could see themselves spread to different spots of the field.

Senior TJ Jones, whose 50 grabs last year tied for the team lead, is a candidate to play in the slot after the loss of Neal and the graduation of Robby Toma. So, too, is converted safety C.J. Prosise.

"I'd say the jobs open for anybody, all comers," Denbrock said. "Anybody who proves they've got the ability to go in there and do something positive for our offense is going play in there. We don't obviously have as much depth as we'd like to have, so that's a great opportunity for a lot of guys to do a lot of different things and not pigeonhole themselves into one specific position, but get out there and perform and earn your reps."

All goes wrong for Irish in title-game rout

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
2:43
AM CT
Jim Kelly Streeter Lecka/Getty Images"Pretty darned good football team," coach Brian Kelly said of his Irish, "but not good enough."


MIAMI -- The "Rudy" theme is playing over the loudspeakers. And when the Rudy theme is playing over the loudspeakers, it is usually playing late in a tight game to inspire Notre Dame to pull out one more thriller in a season full of them.

This was the case two months ago against Pittsburgh. The Fighting Irish defied everyone by winning at Oklahoma a week earlier, got off to a lethargic start against Pitt and fell behind 14. But this was Notre Dame and this was the Irish's year, and so the Notre Dame Stadium speakers blared that famous tune less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Notre Dame scored 23 of the game's final 29 points, won in triple overtime, extended its perfect campaign and marched onward.

Now the song is playing inside Sun Life Stadium, Notre Dame again needing another miracle. The Irish have just failed to convert on fourth down. Alabama has gotten the ball back. The Crimson Tide have had the ball plenty already, and they have scored every single time they have had it.

This is with 13 minutes, 20 seconds left in the second quarter.

This is with Alabama boasting a three-touchdown lead, well on its way to a 42-14 victory in the Discover BCS National Championship.

This is reality crashing down hard on a team amid a renaissance campaign, no history nor luck nor year-three magic on its way to the rescue.

"Maybe Alabama doesn't come back in the second half," an almost-resigned coach Brian Kelly says at halftime. "It's all Alabama. I mean, we can't tackle them right now, and, you know, who knows why? You know, they're big and physical; I guess I do know why. It's just that our guys have not tackled the way they have all year. We've got to go in there and we've got to get after it and play with some pride in the second half and try to get this thing closer so we can try to find a way to win."

Notre Dame gets the ball back first, and its offense finally gets something going. A 6-yard run here, a 21-yard pass there, nine more yards on a completion … and here the Irish are at the Alabama 36-yard line, the closest that they have come to the end zone all night.

Everett Golson takes a shot deep down the right sideline to DaVaris Daniels, and Dee Milliner is ready to pick it off, except he doesn't. No matter, because Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is close enough to dive and catch the tip while falling out of bounds, one more blow to a Notre Dame team that has already taken all it can handle.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesManti Te'o couldn't find the momentum-shifting play that marked his, and Notre Dame's, run to Miami.
This was the case all night for the Irish, from a highly questionable kick-catching interference call on Matthias Farley that took away a chance for early momentum, to Manti Te'o's diving attempt at a second-quarter interception going just off his fingertips -- or the exact opposite of what happened to him in a season-defining pick at Oklahoma.

Breaks? There was Davonte Neal's fumble of a second-quarter punt return bouncing out of bounds, allowing the Irish to keep the ball. Or AJ McCarron's inches-too-long throw to Amari Cooper, who had outrushed two Irish defenders and fell just shy of a ball that would have accounted for a 59-yard score and a 28-0 Tide lead.

Instead, the Tide simply scored on their next possession to make it 28-0. They rushed for 265 yards against a defense that had allowed 92 per game. They had scoring drives of 82, 80, 97 and 86 yards; Notre Dame had not allowed one longer than 75 yards entering Monday night.

"I think Coach Kelly told us before the game that there are eight minutes that are very important in the game," said Te'o, whose legendary career came to a close. "The first two minutes of the game, the last two minutes in the second quarter, the first two minutes of the third quarter and the last two minutes of the game."

Alabama scored on the first drive of the game and on the last drive of the second quarter. The Tide picked off Notre Dame in the first two minutes of the third quarter, and by the last two minutes of the game the "S-E-C" chants were making their final appearance of the night.

Just before then, a pin drop could be heard on the Irish sideline, players staring everywhere and nowhere at once, the hopes and dreams of capping this magical season with a crystal football all but officially dead for three hours now.

"Pretty darned good football team," Kelly would say, "but not good enough."

Robby Toma walked off the field first, helmet on, a stoic stride into the tunnel. Everyone soon followed, and when the locker room opened Theo Riddick was crying all by himself in front of his stall. Roommate and backfield mate Cierre Wood eventually appeared, tapping his left hand on Riddick's head every now and then for comfort during interviews. Eventually the emotions of this season and a four-year, whirlwind career gave in, and soon a towel was covering Riddick's face in its entirety.

Kelly was the last to emerge from the locker room, his mission to fulfill the third-year destiny of great Notre Dame leaders falling short, the coach stopping to thank a couple of men in orange jackets for their hospitality while a fan's cry of "Get 'em next year, Coach" faded in the background.

There were 25 teams ranked ahead of his in the Associated Press preseason poll, and there were 23 mostly unfulfilling seasons preceding this year's outfit.

Loss No. 1 came four months later than anyone had expected, and it was on to 2013 and finishing the gap-closing that the 125th team in the history of Notre Dame football thought it was so close to completing.

"There are 121 FBS schools," Kelly's boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, would say, "and we're in pretty good shape relative to all but one of them."

Video: Notre Dame WR Robby Toma

January, 6, 2013
1/06/13
11:00
AM CT


Mark Schlabach talks with Notre Dame wide receiver Robby Toma.

Brian Kelly aims to have Irish relaxed

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
8:05
PM CT
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Brian Kelly was the first off the plane, joined by Jack Swarbrick and both men's families. Kelly was greeted by a couple of men in orange jackets, and he looked out into a sea of orange blazers and shirts — and yes, the orange mascot — while taking in the number of cheers from a segment of fans who made the trip for Notre Dame's arrival here.

Then he walked the orange carpet and proceeded to a bus, stopping to kid that there was no way in the world he was squeezing into the small opening that the media pack had left for him before it crowded the Irish head coach even further.

[+] EnlargeRobby Toma
AP Photo/Alan DiazOn the schedule for Robby Toma and his Notre Dame teammates in Florida: watching LeBron James in action.
Every Notre Dame player who should be here for the Discover BCS National Championship is here, Kelly said. DaVaris Daniels, seven weeks removed from a broken left clavicle, will play a role against Alabama, the coach re-affirmed. And even though the third-year Irish head man has stated that this is a business trip, he can appreciate the attention bestowed upon his program following a 24-year absence from a stage like this, and he hopes his players can, too.

"We want to have fun while were here, too," Kelly said. "It's a business trip; there's no question we're here to play the game. But I want our guys relaxed. They've done all the work. We got some practices that we got to take care of, but I want them relaxed and ready to play."

"We're going to get our work done and we're going to enjoy our time here," he later added, "but we're going to get the proper rest necessary. Look, you don't go 35 days and condition your team to come out here and blow it for three days, so we've had plenty of fun. We'll enjoy our time here, but we're here to win a football game."

The team playing for a championship Monday against the team that has won two of the past three will get an up-close look at another title winner later Wednesday, as the Irish players are going to the Miami Heat's home tilt with the Dallas Mavericks.

The other heat will await the Irish on Thursday, with temperatures expected to be near the 80s in the days leading up to the game.

Indoor practices in the frigid South Bend, Ind., winter have been the best the Irish can do until now, when the waiting has turned into something more tangible with the game just five days away.

"I'm definitely a little nervous right now," receiver Robby Toma said. "But if you don't feel nerves then something's wrong with you. This is a huge game. This is what you grow up for and what you want to play for when you're young."

Kelly saw a different look in his players' eyes in boarding this flight, their fifth and final one of the season.

"Absolutely," he said. "They're going to play the national championship game in Miami. It's not like any trip that they've had before. It's not like any trip that I've had before. So there was anticipation that when we got on the buses to the airport that they were really excited about this trip. It's something that you dream about when you play this game and when you coach this game."

Recapping the Notre Dame Awards show

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
9:50
PM CT
Befitting a season seemingly from the past, Notre Dame made the theme for its Friday night awards banquet "The Echoes."

Seventeen "Echoes" were handed out at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center by the entire Notre Dame staff, including the team MVP echo to Manti Te'o, who accepted the award live via satellite from atop 30 Rock in New York. Te'o was for the Heisman Trophy presentation the following night.

The highlights of the night: Matthias Farley's bowtie, Theo Riddick's Armani belt and Louis Nix's brief acceptance speech: "I'd like to thank my mom. She had a beautiful son and he's here today." The senior parents' video was a hit for the second straight year as well.

Here's a list of the night's winners:

Offensive scout team player of the year, presented by offensive GA Bill Brechin
Winner: Nick Fitzpatrick (also nominated: Bruce Heggie, William Mahone)

Defensive scout team player of the year, presented by defensive GA Josh Reardon
Winner: Tyler Stockton (also nominated: Joe Romano, Joe Schmidt)

Offensive newcomer of the year, presented by offensive coordinator Chuck Martin
Winner: Everett Golson (also nominated: DaVaris Daniels, Christian Lombard, Troy Niklas)

Defensive newcomer of the year, presented by co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks
Winner: KeiVarae Russell (also nominated: Sheldon Day, Matthias Farley, Danny Spond)

Irish Around the Bend award (community service), presented by director of player development and engagement Ernest Jones
Winner: Mike Golic Jr.

A-Team award (accountability, appreciation, achievement), presented by defensive line coach Mike Elston
Winner: Kapron Lewis-Moore

Count On Me award (reliable, unselfish), presented by running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford
Winner: Theo Riddick

Father Lange Iron Cross award, presented by strength and conditioning director Paul Longo
Winner: Braxston Cave

Special teams award, presented by tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Scott Booker
Winner: Kyle Brindza

Pietrosante award (courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, pride), presented by outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock
Winner: John Goodman, Robby Toma

Moose Krause defensive lineman of the year, presented by assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco
Winner: Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt

Offensive lineman of the year, presented by offensive line coach Harry Hiestand
Winner: Zack Martin

Rockne Student-Athlete award, presented by safeties coach Bob Elliott
Winner: Danny Spond

Next Man In award, presented by head coach Brian Kelly
Winner: Tommy Rees

Offensive player of the year, presented by Kelly
Winner: Tyler Eifert

Defensive player of the year, presented by Kelly
Winner: Zeke Motta

MVP, presented by Kelly
Winner: Manti Te'o

Video: Notre Dame WR Robby Toma

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
7:11
PM CT


The Irish senior talks about taking the home field for the final time for undefeated Notre Dame, which hosts Wake Forest.

Daniels coming on strong for Irish

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
9:30
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- DaVaris Daniels had to stop himself.

The redshirt freshman receiver knows more lucrative days likely await him and some of Notre Dame's other younger players, and yet it's hard to do much better than his team's 9-0 start in his first year seeing the field.

"We talk about [that] this is ... we don't want to say the future," Daniels said, "but we've got to step up and make plays for the team, for all the seniors on the team and everybody. So we kind of take on that 'count on me role' as young guys and kind of run with it."

Two of those first-year players accounted for the biggest play in Saturday's win, Daniels staying active deep and winning a 45-yard jump ball from Everett Golson after the other redshirt freshman found himself scrambling on the first play of a game-tying drive.

[+] EnlargeDaVaris Daniels
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireReceiver DaVaris Daniels is finding that his redshirt season, and plenty of practice, are paying off.
Daniels hauled in career bests of seven catches for 86 yards in the victory over Pitt and is just starting to scratch the surface after a season on the sideline, one that he now sees the benefits from -- the biggest of which probably remain ahead of the No. 4 Irish.

"I think they've gotten more confident with each other," his father, former NFL defensive lineman Phillip Daniels, said of DaVaris and Golson. "DaVaris will run the right routes, get open and [Golson] will find DaVaris and throw him the ball, so I think they're going really well. And for them to have the season they're having right now, an undefeated season, next year they'll go out and play and have the confidence to do the same thing."

Team combine testing before this past spring revealed a player with a 4.5-second time in the 40-yard dash, a 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump and a 38-inch vertical, though Daniels' father has said his son has leapt 41.5 inches before.

Ask anyone about the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Daniels, and all signs of his breakout point to a talent now understanding what it takes to succeed every day on a national title contender.

"His blocking has gotten a lot better," receiver Robby Toma said. "He's getting in there, he's throwing his body around there to try to protect his guys. It really shows when we watch film, and he's grown a lot."

Added coach Brian Kelly: "When he goes and runs his routes, he's pretty difficult to defend. Then when he doesn't think he's getting the ball, it's one of those things he is learning every week about how to be that elite receiver in the BCS. It requires practice preparation, it requires the attention to detail, all those things, and he's starting to get there."

Daniels got a head start on such improvements from NFL Films clips his father would show him as a kid, with highlights of Isaac Bruce and Reggie Wayne serving as inspiration.

Right now better footwork and diversified route-running have helped give way to a deep threat for an offense still opening up the playbook, and a 23-catch, 353-yard debut campaign that was slowed early on by an ankle injury looks to be taking shape at just the right time.

"I think it's just learning," Daniels said of his progress. "You shouldn't expect to be completely open in college football, very rarely does that happen. Going up, getting contested balls is something that I've practiced over the last couple months -- it just happened in a game and I'm happy it's happening."

What to watch: Week 6 vs. Miami

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
9:15
AM CT
Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday at Soldier Field:

1) Uniforms! C'mon! These have been talked about more than the game. The Irish finally break out their 60/40 split uniform helmets -- more than half sparking gold, less than half navy, with a leprechaun for good measure -- along with darker jersey and striped pants. As Robby Toma recalled Wednesday, coach Brian Kelly said October is the month everyone dresses up in, so have some fun.

2) Irish's D-line. Eyes will be on that young secondary waiting for it to show its age, but much of the defensive backs' success or failure will depend on the pressure Notre Dame gets up front. Facing a young offensive line that lost a redshirt senior last week, the Irish should have as clear an edge as they've had since facing Navy in Week 1.

3) Quarterback. Coaches and players remain convinced that Everett Golson's bad night against Michigan was just that -- one bad night. The jitters will have to be put aside for another prime-time performance this weekend, and the Irish offense has to take advantage against a struggling Miami defense.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
5:09
PM CT
No. 20 Notre Dame had quite a few noteworthy performances in Saturday's 20-3 win at No. 10 Michigan State. Here's who stepped up the most:

Manti Te'o, LB: What more can you say about the guy? Days after his grandmother and his girlfriend passed away, Te'o notched a game-high 12 tackles, one for loss, while adding a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

Prince Shembo, LB: The Cat linebacker had the best game of his college career Saturday, recording nine tackles, two for loss, while adding a sack and two quarterback hurries.

Robby Toma, WR: Toma had arguably his biggest game in a Notre Dame uniform as well, hauling in a game-high five receptions for 58 yards and helping to keep the MSU defense honest.

Ben Turk, P: Field position played a big part in this game early, and Turk helped Notre Dame maintain an edge in that department. The punter had eight kicks go a total of 339 yards, an average of 42.4 yards per punt. He pinned the Spartans inside their own 20 four times.

Te'o leads Irish after tragic week

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
1:31
AM CT

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- So this was how Manti Te'o would respond to a week out of left field, tragedy striking him not once but twice, two of the most important women in his life gone in a matter of hours.

The postgame television interview was done and here he came, the linebacker the last one to meet his fellow students in the northeast corner of Spartan Stadium, their adoration slowly carrying him through the final words of the Notre Dame alma mater after a 20-3 victory over Michigan State.

"We love you Manti!" the gathering repeatedly shouted, with Te'o responding by blowing them kisses.

He had fought his way to a game-high 12 tackles, five of them on Le'Veon Bell, the Heisman candidate he helped limit to 77 yards on a night the Spartans struggled to move the ball against the Irish's defense.

And still, here he was, extending his hand toward the crowd, leaping and greeting Irish basketball players Eric Atkins and Joey Brooks, two of the hundreds who made the 150-mile trip to watch Notre Dame go 3-0.

This was validation of Te'o's return for his senior year, his decision to pass up millions repaying him now, letters and support coming from all over after he said goodbye to his grandmother and his girlfriend earlier in the week.

"My family and my girlfriend's family have received so much love and support from the Notre Dame family," Te'o said. "Michigan State fans showed some love. And it goes to show that people understand that football is just a game, and it's a game that we play, and we have fun doing it.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Matt Cashore/US PresswireManti Te'o, playing days after the deaths of his grandmother and his girlfriend, had 12 tackles and a fumble recovery against Michigan State.
"But at the end of the day what matters is the people who are around you, and family. I appreciate all the love and support that everybody's given my family and my girlfriend's family."

He had made it to practice every day last week, stopping right before one to remind his teammates that he loved them, that he wasn't going anywhere, that he'd be playing for them and for his family.

"He's just one of our great leaders and one of our best all-time players," receiver John Goodman said, "and if you don't rally around a player like that, the camaraderie isn't right, and I think the camaraderie is right on our team."

He had gotten a big lift, too, from the little man who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Five-foot-nine Robby Toma led Notre Dame with five catches covering 58 yards, but his biggest impact came earlier in the week.

So close with Te'o back in Hawaii that he calls Teo's father "Uncle Brian," Toma has been there for Te'o throughout their college careers -- from the earlier deaths of Te'o's grandfather and two of their good friends from home, to the past week, when they chatted in their apartment together and in the hotel room before Saturday night's game.

"Earlier in the week he told me he needed me," Toma said. "I've known him since we were 5 years old. And I was just there for him when he needed to talk or whatnot.

"He's a real strong guy -- spiritually, mentally, physically -- and I was just there to be his backbone."

When Te'o stopped Bell a yard behind the line of scrimmage early in the third quarter, he got up, kissed his fingers and gently pointed to the sky, a thank-you to the grandmother and the girlfriend who helped bring him to the brink of stardom.

"There's nobody," Brian Kelly said when asked if he'd ever had someone like Te'o over his 22 years of coaching. "He's so strong for everybody that when he was at a time, everybody wanted to help him out, and I've never seen that dynamic amongst a team and a group of players. It's a pretty close locker room."

With Notre Dame up by 14 late, Bell was shoved out of bounds on his 19th and final carry of the game, the ball popping loose and landing in Te'o's arms for his second career fumble recovery.

The remaining fans let out their biggest roar of the night, and the worst week of Manti Te'o's life was on its way to a good ending, though the pain was still alive.

"Yeah," he said when asked if Saturday could have ended any better. "I could call my girlfriend right now and talk about the game.

"But I've just got to get on my knees, say a prayer and I can talk to her that way."

Instant Analysis: Notre Dame 50, Navy 10

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
11:59
AM CT
The Everett Golson era got off to a great start Saturday for Notre Dame, which dominated Navy in a 50-10 season-opening win at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Golson completed 12 of 18 passes for 144 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Let's take a closer look at how it happened:

It was over when: Theo Riddick rushed for an 11-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 75-yard drive over 5:48. Nick Tausch's missed extra point was the only flaw for the Irish, who, unlike last season, completed a stellar opening drive and established their dominance early.

Game ball goes to: Starting in place of suspended Cierre Wood, Riddick rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, adding two catches for 25 yards. George Atkinson III added 99 yards and two TDs on just nine carries.

Stat of the game: Notre Dame outrushing Navy 293 to 149 certainly stands out, but the Midshipmen throwing for 192 might be more surprising, given the history of their ground game.

Unsung hero of the game: Stephon Tuitt had a sack and, in the play of the game, returned a Trey Miller fumble 77 yards. No one came within sight of the 303-pound defensive end, who made it 27-0 in the second quarter. Manti Te'o added a fumble recovery and an interception, both of which, surprisingly enough, were firsts for the senior linebacker.

Second-guessing: Golson will want back a second-quarter telegraphed throw to Tyler Eifert, which was picked off at the 4 by Parrish Gaines. It brought back bad red zone memories from a year ago. Still, better to get such gaffes out of the way early in a blowout.

What it means: Notre Dame couldn't ask for much more, as it took care of business and eliminated any doubt early. Golson looked good in his debut despite the interception. The Irish absolutely dominated in the trenches, and everyone got involved: From Dan McCarthy (fumble recovery) to Robby Toma (9-yard touchdown rush). Big questions remain at cornerback, with KeiVarae Russell at times looking like the true freshman he is, but it will be an enjoyable flight back to the States for Notre Dame.

Rookie receivers making strong impression

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
8:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- National signing day never seemed so far away.

Back then, more than six months ago, the story line of Notre Dame's recruiting haul surrounded the player the Irish didn't get, as touted California wide receiver Deontay Greenberry flipped to Houston at the 11th hour. But with three receivers highlighting the group of nine freshmen who met the media for the first time, Monday's discussions shifted to those who will take the field for the Irish this fall.

And if reviews from 10 preseason practices are any indication, those freshman wideouts will, in fact, be seeing the field this fall.

"We're all looking to play early," Justin Ferguson said between practices 10 and 11. "The spots [are] open, and we just gotta make the best of our opportunities."

[+] EnlargeDavonte Neal
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comDavonte' Neal has been able to pick the brain of former Notre Dame star Michael Floyd.
Examples of that include Chris Brown's touchdown reception from Everett Golson last Wednesday that spanned more than half the field. Or Davonte' Neal learning the intricacies of the slot position from senior Robby Toma, while also trying to make his mark on the punt- and kick-return teams.

Neal, whose whirlwind recruitment ended with a commitment to the Irish three weeks after signing day -- and hours after failing to show at his former elementary school for his originally scheduled announcement because of what his father had said was a family issue -- used something of a cheat sheet before arriving on campus.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Scottsdale, Ariz., native enlisted the help of Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd this spring.

"It's a big help, just because Michael Floyd, he's a great receiver," Neal said. "And he has size on him, so he knows the size part of it and the swift part of it, and he's obviously under Larry Fitzgerald, who is another great receiver. So I feel I have a little advantage just because Michael Floyd has helped me out."

Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books before graduating, has left a considerable production hole to fill, though depth among the receiving unit has helped breed competition.

"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production, but as a unit we just gotta come together and fill that role," Brown said.

Brown, a high school track star, is the speediest of the trio. Neal, ESPN's No. 1 athlete from the class of 2012, is the most decorated. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Ferguson is the most physical of the new wideouts.

Each has described comfort with the playbook, which, as least thus far, has spared them from the inevitable wrath of their superiors.

"The coaches have been very supportive, we haven't gotten chewed out or anything," Ferguson said. "If we do something wrong — not politely — but they make sure we know what we're doing. They know the right way to get the message across, so they help us a lot."

Playmaking ability certainly helps, too.

With assistant Tony Alford in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, the line between each position will be further blurred, as both are expected to provide crucial elements to the passing game -- even if those passes are coming from just a few yards away.

"Coach [Brian] Kelly, he knows best, and coach Kelly knows what to do with the football," Neal said. "We have a lot of playmakers that can take that three-yard catch or three-yard run for 30 yards, 40 yards, and I just feel that I'm just another asset to the team."

Best of Notre Dame's spring

May, 10, 2012
5/10/12
10:30
AM CT
Best spring game performance: Everett Golson, considered the biggest mystery in the four-man quarterback battle entering the spring, was 11 of 15 for 120 yards and two scores. He carried it six times for 25 yards. Most importantly, he was the only quarterback to not turn the ball over.

Best overall unit: The running back/slot receiver group coached by Tony Alford is loaded with talent. Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III made big play after big play in the spring game (though Atkinson will have to protect the ball better after fumbling twice). We all know what Cierre Wood is capable of after a 1,000-yard season while splitting carries with Jonas Gray in 2011. And we might even see a bit of Robby Toma in the backfield, though the senior remains an invaluable pass-catcher for the Irish.

Best position battle: Other than under center? Let's go with the right side of the offensive line, where Mike Golic Jr., Nick Martin and Christian Lombard look to have the inside track for the two open spots.

Biggest surprise (good): John Goodman raised some eyebrows with his play this spring, earning most improved player on the offensive side of the ball and getting to be a captain for the spring game. Coach Brian Kelly said he's been the go-to receiver this spring, and Goodman wants to reward the staff's faith in him after he was invited back for a fifth year.

Biggest surprise (bad): Aaron Lynch has transferred to South Florida, leaving the Irish down a man on the defensive line. Kapron Lewis-Moore, a previous starter, will slide back into Lynch's role, but the loss of an elite pass-rusher who had no trouble bursting onto the scene as a freshman is a blow to the team.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/23
Friday, 10/24
Saturday, 10/25
TOP PERFORMERS