Chicago Colleges: Stanford Cardinal

Cardinal not looking forward or back vs. ND

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
4:30
PM CT
Stanford coach David Shaw often points to last year’s Notre Dame game as a turning point for his program.

You might recall the rainy, overtime ending steeped in controversy that fueled the Cardinal’s us-versus-the-world mentality following the 20-13 loss. It was the kick in the bark that propelled Stanford to eight straight wins and a Rose Bowl victory to close out the year.

And when the Irish roll into Palo Alto this weekend for the regular-season finale for both teams, Shaw knows this much: Last year’s game has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s.

“The replay official said we didn’t cross the line so the game was over. It’s on Stanford’s football team from last year for not getting it done and Notre Dame for getting it done. That’s what happened last year.

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Trent Murphy says Stanford isn't dwelling on last year's controversial loss at Notre Dame.
“ … A football season has highs and lows and the good teams bounce back because you can’t have a season of all highs. When things don’t go your way you regroup and you retool and you go back after it again. That’s what we did last year after the Notre Dame game. That’s what we did this year after the USC game. This is going to be a great game that’s not going to hinge at all on what happened last year.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by his players.

“That was a long time ago,” Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said. “I think last year’s game doesn’t really have any carryover into this season. It’s a new team and a new year … [but] there is always something to learn from.”

Added quarterback Kevin Hogan: “We can’t treat this like a revenge game. It’s over. We have a new team, they have a completely new team.”

Saturday’s game has zero bearing on the outcome of the Pac-12 standings. The Cardinal have already locked up the Pac-12 North Division and will be playing in the championship game for the second straight year. Home field advantage isn’t even an issue for the title game, because it all hinges on what happens between Arizona and Arizona State. If the Sun Devils win, they’ll host the title game in Tempe. If not, it will be in Palo Alto again.

But that’s not to say the Cardinal still don’t have plenty of motivation. They are riding a 15-game home winning streak, second longest in the nation behind South Carolina, and since 2009 they are 12-1 against teams ranked in either the AP or coaches poll. Notre Dame is 25th in the BCS and AP polls.

To say nothing of the roller coaster that has been the 2013 Stanford season. Touted early on as a national champion contender, the Cardinal lost on the road to Utah, but bounced back strong with their second-straight win over Oregon. Then a loss to USC essentially wrapped up the conference crown for the Ducks. But Arizona had different thoughts.

Now, the Cardinal are back in the championship game. According to Shaw, that wackiness is just par for the course in the Pac-12.

“It’s college football,” Shaw said. “And I remind people that we don’t go through all the ups and downs that maybe the media and even the fans go through because we’ve got more games to play. If we win a big game they don’t cancel the next week and if we lose a game they don’t cancel the next week. During the week when people are lamenting and calling me names and the sky is falling when we lose and when people are exalting us and telling us how wonderful we are when we win, those things can’t ever affect the football team or the coaches because we move on and play the next week.”

And this week’s opportunity offers the Cardinal a chance to snap Notre Dame’s 2013 stranglehold on the Pac-12. The Irish have already knocked off ASU, the South Division champs, and USC. So there is plenty of reason from a national perspective for the Cardinal not to look over the horizon to Arizona State in next week’s title game.

“One of our team goals is going 1-0 every week and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Murphy said. “We got into Cal week and we had to go 1-0, keep the Axe and it was a big game for us. Now we’re facing Notre Dame and it’s the biggest game for us and we need this victory.”

Up for debate: Notre Dame vs. Pac-12

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
9:00
AM CT
Notre Dame kicks off the first of three games this year against the Pac-12 with Saturday’s showdown against No. 22 Arizona State in Arlington, Texas. What should you be looking for? Glad you asked. Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell talk it over.

Matt Fortuna: Arizona State is a newcomer to the Pac-12 portion of Notre Dame's schedule this year, Kevin. The Sun Devils have looked great against USC, not so great against Stanford and, well, fortuitous in their win over Wisconsin. They put up 62 points last week against what was believed to be a good Trojans defense, getting Lane Kiffin fired in the process. So I guess we'll start there, given Notre Dame's defensive struggles so far this season: What makes Todd Graham's unit so explosive offensively, and what do the Irish need to really keep an eye on Saturday to keep the points down?

Kevin Gemmell: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who Graham trusts to run the show offensively, uses “tempo” as a verb, not an adjective. As in, he wants to tempo teams into submission.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriNotre Dame will have to find a way to slow down D.J. Foster and the Arizona State offense.
They want to have as many possessions as possible. And they get that with a fast-paced attack that stretches and then compacts a defense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is off to another outstanding start, and a huge reason for that is the addition of wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer who already has 31 catches for 433 yards. He gives Kelly that sideline threat the Sun Devils were lacking last season, and Kelly has been fantastic at spotting him on the outside shoulder and letting him make plays. Strong has been targeted 51 times, so it’s only a 60-percent completion rate when they look to him. But when he does catch it, it’s usually for a substantial gain; he averages 14 yards per reception.

They use running backs Marion Grice (12 touchdowns already!) and D.J. Foster in creative ways in the screen game and like to splt Foster out into the slot. Tight end Chris Coyle has also emerged as one of the top players at his position in the country.

How about the Irish? Things don’t seem to be going as swimmingly as they did last year. Only 25.4 points per game. ASU is going to blitz early and often. What does Notre Dame have to do to get its offense moving in the right direction?

Matt Fortuna: It will get overlooked because Notre Dame lost Saturday, but the Irish were finally able to establish a ground game, tallying 220 rushing yards against the Sooners. They had eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team just once before, in the opener against Temple. Junior George Atkinson III, who was the No. 1 back entering the season, finally played like it, lowering his shoulder and looking more like a downhill runner. He finished with a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Aside from not turning it over on their first two possessions and falling behind 14-0, it is very important for the Irish to continue to establish the ground threat early, as they often can become predictable in second- and third-and-long with a non-mobile quarterback under center in Tommy Rees, though Brian Kelly did insert Andrew Hendrix in for some zone-read, change-of-pace packages against the Sooners. Receivers must run better routes, too. TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels have been big playmakers, but they both had route-running miscues Saturday that were costly. Kelly has said that ordinary things need to be done better. The Irish also regularly play three true freshmen wideouts (Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Will Fuller).

I'm interested in ASU's defense, particularly Will Sutton. Before the season, everyone had pegged this as a matchup of the two best interior defensive linemen in the country, between Sutton and Notre Dame's Louis Nix. It's been hard to gauge Nix's performance so far, as the Irish have faced some mobile quarterbacks and quick-strike offenses that have utilized the short passing game early to essentially take the line out of the game. What challenges do Sutton and the rest of the Sun Devils' defense present?

Kevin Gemmell: They like to blitz a lot. Todd Graham fashions his defense as a “hybrid attacking defense,” meaning at times they’ll substitute speed for bulk to create pressure from anywhere on the field.

Sutton hadn’t made much of an impact the first few games for a couple of reasons: One, they were facing mostly run-based power teams like Wisconsin and Stanford; two, he’s been seeing a lot of double and triple teams. Makes sense. His first step is so quick that it precedes his reputation. But he finally broke out against the Trojans with two tackles for a loss and a sack. I think, as the season pushes on, we’re going to see more pressure from the front seven based on the teams they’ll face.

That said, you have to look out for safety Alden Darby, who is coming off a fantastic performance against the Trojans. He had two picks (one returned for a touchdown) and has 19 tackles on the year. Hybrid linebacker Carl Bradford is explosive and Chris Young has really emerged, leading the team with 29 tackles.

The front seven is a little undersized, but it’s quick and if your protections aren’t set, someone will get missed with as much as the Sun Devils like to blitz.

Now that the Sun Devils are back in the top 25, it’s a huge game for them to keep some of that momentum going on a national stage. The Pac-12 is already coming off of the nonconference season with a 29-4 record.

Notre Dame, however, seems to be scrambling to salvage its national reputation. And with three games against the Pac-12, which many believe is the deepest conference in college football, it seems the Irish could restore some of that lost credibility. How do you see them matching up with the now Lane-less Trojans or Stanford in the season finale?

Matt Fortuna: Based on everything we have seen from both Notre Dame and Stanford so far, that matchup might not be a very pretty one for the Irish. Fortunately for them, it is not until the regular-season finale, meaning they have plenty of time to fix their issues in the six games before then.

The bigger question pertains to what kind of team the Irish will be heading into that matchup in Palo Alto, a status that will largely be dictated by their performances in both the ASU and USC games. The Irish need to get it together, fast, and Rees has to avoid a repeat performance of this past Saturday (three first-half interceptions) and get the offense going again. In theory, that should be enough to beat a USC team that looks to be reeling after the firing of its coach, though that kind of midseason move can have different lingering effects, good or bad. It's not like the Trojans aren't talented, and it's not like they won't be up for another night game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Still, I say the Irish win that one, especially coming off a bye. And especially with the threat of falling under .500, as a loss to ASU would make them 3-3 on the season. Notre Dame might be the better team, but the Irish have shown me little over the last four weeks that suggests that they are capable of keeping up with the Sun Devils' offense.

So that's an early 1-2 prediction for Notre Dame against the Pac-12 this season. What say you, Kevin?

Kevin Gemmell: I’m an ASU lean right now simply because of how explosive that offense can be. And if the Sun Devils can fix a couple of assignment issues on defense, I think they have the firepower to be a top-20, maybe even top-15 team. But they have to show they can do it away from home. A neutral field setting provides a nice opportunity. It’s close enough for their fans to travel, but it’s not a true road game.

As of today, we’re in lock-step when it comes to the Stanford matchup. The Cardinal offense is looking better and better each week. I thought back in April that Tyler Gaffney was going to be a game-changer for Stanford, and so far he’s shown that he is. That season finale could also have huge BCS implications, and I don’t see the Cardinal tossing one away at home in a game that could potentially lock them into a fourth straight BCS game.

As for USC, well, who knows? Haven’t heard any USC players come out and condemn the firing of Lane Kiffin. Maybe this move reinvigorates them? The Trojans certainly have talent. But as of today (as always, I reserve the right to change my mind), I’d go with Notre Dame at home.

Pereira: Stanford did score TD on 4th down

October, 13, 2012
10/13/12
8:40
PM CT
Yes, Stanford scored a touchdown and should have been a PAT away from tying Notre Dame and forcing a second overtime, according to Mike Pereira, former NFL vice president of officiating and current rules analyst at Fox Sports.

It doesn't matter, of course. The 20-13 final score will remain in the favor of Notre Dame. And there were plenty of ways Stanford could have left no doubt.

But if it feels good -- or good in a bad way -- to hear this then hear this: Stanford, you did get screwed.

At least, that's Pereira's take.

Pereira told the Fox studio and then later explained with his Tweets afterwards that the Pac-12 officiating crew blew the call.
Tweet one: "We have looked at ND/STA last play from every angle & feel that it is a TD. Progress was not ruled & runner was not down. Ball broke plain [sic]."

Tweet two: "Back to ND/STA. Piece all the shots together. Field level shot from inside near the goal post shows the left elbow is not down before TD."

Said Stanford coach David Shaw after the game: "Well, I didn't get to view the last play. Stepfan [Taylor] swore to me that he got in and that he put the ball over the goal line on the second effort. Officials looked at it and they said he didn't get in, so we didn't get in."

When asked to comment on the officials, Shaw said: "I'm not going to comment on the officials."

Officials blow calls all the time. Don't forget this was a Pac-12 crew. And it was a close call.

But the sting of a tough loss probably will sting a little bit more on the Farm based on how it ended.

It was wet and often times ugly with No. 17 Stanford at No. 7 Notre Dame. As expected, it was physical and the weather made for some sloppy play on Saturday. Sixty minutes wasn't enough. The Irish clutched up and won 20-13 in overtime. Here's how it all went down:

It was over when: After Notre Dame went ahead in overtime on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Rees (in for the injured Everett Golson) to TJ Jones, the Irish defense stopped Stepfan Taylor from the 1-yard line on third and fourth down. The final play even went to review to determine when Taylor's forward progress was stopped. The call on the field was upheld. It was high drama until the very end.

Game ball goes to: The Notre Dame front seven. They clutched up when it mattered in overtime with two huge stops. It was ugly, it was messy and it was a heck of a football game.

Unsung hero: Though he's part of that front seven, Notre Dame's Manti Te'o was huge, leading all players with 11 tackles. A fantastic performance from one of college football's marquee players.

Unsung hero II: Fans were screaming for Rees, but they didn't get him until Golson was injured. He came in off the bench and was 4-for-4 for 43 yards and the touchdown in overtime.

Unsung hero III: Give some credit to the Cardinal defense as well. It provided Stanford with its only touchdown of the game when Ben Gardner sacked Golson in the end zone and forced a fumble that Chase Thomas recovered for a touchdown in the second quarter.

What it means for Notre Dame: The Irish remain undefeated, showed they can win ugly, and now have three wins over teams ranked in the Top 20. Expect a nice slot for them when the BCS rankings come out Sunday.

What it means for Stanford: It was the second straight week the Cardinal have gone to overtime, though the outcome was different last week. Stanford needs to figure out how to score on the road. The Cardinal have two touchdowns in two road games this year and both came from the defense. They are on the road again next week at Cal.

Blogger talk: Stanford at Notre Dame

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
9:00
AM CT
Nunes-Teo Getty ImagesHow will Josh Nunes and the Cardinal fare against Manti Te'o and Notre Dame's shut-down defense?
"College GameDay" will be in South Bend this week, bringing more hype to an already highly anticipated matchup between No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 17 Stanford. Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 blogger Kevin Gemmell got together to throw out some early thoughts on the game.

Kevin Gemmell: Well Matt, I'd imagine this is going to be a much different blogger discussion than the one we did to close out the 2011 season, when Andrew Luck was gunning for a Heisman, Stanford was looking for a BCS bowl berth and Notre Dame was playing quarterback roulette.

Lots of changes from both teams since the end of last November.

Kick it off and give those of us on the Left Coast a feel for what's happening with the Irish right now. I know they are a spread team. But it's different from the spread Stanford saw last week against Arizona and the one they will see later this year at Oregon. What's the skinny?

Matt Fortuna: Kevin, the Irish offense is still very much in the developmental stages, largely because its quarterback, Everett Golson, is a redshirt freshman who has played only five games. They let him loose a bit against Miami, as he showed some running ability that the Irish haven't seen at the position in recent years, but he was not exactly facing Stanford's defense, either.

Notre Dame has a big, physical offensive line that allows the team to run the ball effectively and take much of the pressure off Golson. Tyler Eifert may be the best tight end in America, but he has been the focus of every defense so far and has not put up the numbers he did last season. The Irish have a number of reliable upperclassmen receivers, but no real game-breaker who has stepped up to be that go-to guy yet.

Conversely, what in the world do we make of this Stanford defense? I thought we'd be looking at two similar teams slugging it out in a 10-7 battle, but then I saw this past Saturday, when Arizona put up 48 points on the Cardinal.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson had one of his best games of the season against Miami on Saturday.
Matt Cashore/US PresswireEverett Golson had one of his best games of the season against Miami on Saturday.
Kevin Gemmell: First off, bold statement to make about Eifert with the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo coming to town. Toilolo caught five balls for 141 yards and a score against Arizona and Ertz had six catches for 64 yards and a score. The Cardinal are 10-1 when Ertz catches a touchdown ... just sayin'.

Now, about that defense. Yikes, indeed. The Wildcats had 617 total yards. But the most disturbing part about it -- according to Stanford head coach David Shaw -- was that Arizona got some big plays over the top of the secondary. The Cardinal are happy to give up the short passes, so long as they make tackles at the point of the catch. But getting beat over the top is a no-no. Shaw said that's just a technique issue and can be corrected in the film room. We'll see.

But we can't dump on the defense too much. Because when they absolutely needed a stop -- or a couple of them -- they got it. They clutched up in the fourth quarter, got the ball back for the offense and the Cardinal scored twice in the fourth to overcome a 14-point deficit. And Chase Thomas had the interception in overtime that led to Stanford's win.

Tell me about the Notre Dame defense. No touchdowns in the past three games and the state of Michigan is 0-for-end zone against the Irish. Are they as advertised?

Matt Fortuna: Miami didn't score a touchdown, either, making it three straight games that this defense has held an opponent out of the end zone. The simple answer so far is yes. The Irish are giving up 7.8 points per game, second-lowest in the country. They have forced 13 turnovers and recorded 14 sacks. The front seven has looked as good as any in the country, and Manti Te'o may just be the best defensive player in the country.

The secondary has had two starters go down since camp -- and was entering this campaign with no returning starts at cornerback to begin with -- but has more than held its own through five games, surviving a couple of early drops against Miami and not letting any Canes receivers get over the top after the game's opening drive.

Does Josh Nunes have the ability to make life difficult for the defensive backs this week?

Kevin Gemmell: And therein lies the $1 million question. Nunes was adequate the first two games, solid in the second half against USC, terrible at Washington and then he blew up last week against Arizona, throwing a pair of touchdowns and running for three more. So far, he has done his best work at home and his worst performance was in their only game away from Stanford Stadium.

So this will be a huge test for him to see if he can get it done outside of Palo Alto. A lot of people were calling for his ouster after the Washington debacle, so credit Nunes for pushing out the noise and refocusing with a possible season-saving performance against the Wildcats. He's still not where Shaw and the Cardinal need him to be from a consistency standpoint. But I don't think anyone is going to question his toughness, determination or character after last week.

As for whether he can make it tough -- a lot of that falls on the Stanford receivers. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery needs to play better. Jamal-Rashad Patterson came through with a big catch and, of course, the tight ends will play a major role. If the Cardinal can run the ball effectively (no promises against a good Notre Dame front), then it will force those safeties down and create some matchup problems with the tight ends. Nunes has to consistently get them the ball as he did against Arizona. Because if he falters on the road as he did against Washington, it will be another touchdown-free performance for the Irish.

So closing it out, it seems as though Stanford's tight ends will be the biggest X factor for the Notre Dame defense. Can they hang with the 6-foot-6 Ertz and 6-8 Toilolo?

Matt Fortuna: I still have images of Stanford's tight ends dragging Irish corners during last year's contest. Those were a pair of seniors with multiple starting seasons under their belts. This is a pair of first-year starters who came to Notre Dame as offensive players.

I still think a big part of it comes down to the pressure Notre Dame gets up front. It didn't have any sacks against Miami, but it took the pocket away from Stephen Morris and threw off timing. That has been the Irish's defensive formula so far, and I expect them to try it again Saturday, even against an offensive line as good as the Cardinal's.

Cardiac Cardinal head to Notre Dame

October, 8, 2012
10/08/12
7:40
PM CT
Fans love a good shootout, and Saturday afternoon Stanford and Arizona gave fans a game they'll be talking about for a longtime. Coaches, however, aren't as keen on the high-scoring nail biters.

"Awful, awful, awful," said Stanford coach David Shaw when prompted to describe his emotions during the Cardinal's 54-48 overtime victory. "Same for coaches' wives. But I told the team, this was the kind of game we needed. We needed a fight. We needed a battle. We needed to be into the fourth quarter and be down and fight back to test our character. We believe we have that kind of character to be able to fight back to the end, even when we are down. But it's great when you are tested and you respond to that challenge and we did that [Saturday]."

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
Shaw & Co. might have to get used to the tight ones. Unlike last year, when the Cardinal enjoyed -- on average -- a 32-point margin of victory, this year's squad seems more prone to white knuckles. Three of Stanford's four victories have come by a touchdown or less and their only loss was by four points.

Cardiac Cardinal. Has a nice, if not disconcerting, ring to it.

The stakes are raised Saturday when the No. 17 Cardinal travel to South Bend to face No. 7 Notre Dame. This is the second-straight year that both teams meet ranked in the top 25 and just the third time in the history of the nonconference rivalry that each team is ranked at kickoff. Last year, No. 4 Stanford beat No. 22 Notre Dame 28-14 in Palo Alto. And in 1992, No. 19 Stanford topped the No. 7 Irish in South Bend 33-16. The Cardinal have won the last three matchups.

The Irish, meanwhile, are off to their best start since 2002, having already taken down a pair of ranked teams from the state of Michigan.

Looking forward, Saturday's win was both a blessing and an omen for the Cardinal. On one hand, they showed some offensive grit with a fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime and the win. It was exactly the type of explosion Shaw needed to see after a bad offensive outing the previous week in Seattle.

But in the process, the defense looked leaky, allowing the Wildcats 617 yards. The good news, though, is that when a stop was needed, a stop was made.

"It's huge [for our confidence]," said Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the critical interception in overtime that stopped Arizona's march and led to Stanford's game-winner. "It shows that we can face adversity and overcome it and have that 16-round knockout fight. It really shows we're a high-character team with a never-give-up, never-quit mentality. Not many teams can say that."

Saturday's win may have altered the entire trajectory of Stanford's season. A 4-1 record, naturally, looks and feels better than 3-2. But with this week's game at Notre Dame and then The Big Game on Oct. 20 against a down-but-not-out Cal team, a loss would have been seen as a significant step backwards for a program that still hopes to contend for the Pac-12 North.

Quarterback Josh Nunes and running back Stepfan Taylor also got back on track after rough games against Washington. Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two scores while Nunes accounted for five touchdowns, three on the ground and two in the air, on 21 of 34 passing for 360 yards and no interceptions.

"It's not what we learned [about Nunes], I think other people learned," Shaw said. "He's a tough kid. He bounces back. He doesn't listen to the noise. He's steady."

Notre Dame among most overrated in '11

January, 19, 2012
1/19/12
9:15
AM CT
Notre Dame entered 2011 as the Associated Press' preseason No. 16 team, expectations high and a BCS-bowl berth in sight.

Things didn't go according to plan. But were the Irish the biggest disappointment of this past college football season?

Turns out they'll have to settle for No. 2 in that category.

CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy broke down the preseason AP poll, using it as a measuring stick to see whom the voters were right (or close to being right) about while acknowledging those they whiffed on. McMurphy listed the 48 schools that received a vote in the preseason poll and calculated the difference from where they finished in the final poll.

The numbers showed that preseason No. 8 Texas A&M, at minus-41, was the biggest disappointment of 2011, with Notre Dame right behind the Aggies at minus-33. Ohio State (minus-31), Mississippi State (minus-29) and Florida (minus-27) rounded out the top five disappointments. Those five, plus Missouri (preseason No. 21, minus-8) and Auburn (preseason No. 23, minus-4) made up the seven schools that were not ranked in the final poll after being ranked in the preseason.

Preseason unranked Baylor (plus-36) finished as the biggest surprise.

And, in a reassuring sign for sportswriters everywhere, No. 7 Stanford, No. 14 TCU and No. 19 Georgia finished in the exact same spots as their preseason rankings.

Rees, Hendrix supportive off field

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
8:19
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- At some point during Thursday's Champs Sports Bowl, Andrew Hendrix will replace Tommy Rees. It might be for just a few plays, it might be for the rest of the game, but Rees' reaction will likely be the same regardless of the circumstance.

"When I went in versus Stanford, that was really the first time it had been switched," Hendrix said. "And just like I was supportive to him when he comes off the sidelines, I'll say stuff to him, I'll try to get him pumped up -- he could not have been more supportive in the Stanford game. When I went in he said, 'If there's anything you need. Even during a play look over, I'll try to help you out the best I can.'

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMITommy Rees (11) and Andrew Hendrix remain close despite their competition on the field.
"And I really felt like that was maybe a defining moment for me in our friendship, is that this guy has my back no matter what."

The sophomore signal-callers are among the best of friends away from the field, a task that is considerably easier when they are not directly competing for playing time. But as Hendrix and Rees face Florida State and audition for next season's starting quarterback spot, the bond between the two has only strengthened.

"Yeah, we put that away," Rees said. "We don't really talk about football when we're not here. We joke around with each other a lot, give each other a hard time, and that's just kind of the relationship we've had. And it's definitely helped us out just kind of bonding and keeping the quarterback room close."

Hendrix befriended Rees, an early enrollee, from the beginning of his Notre Dame career. Last winter -- after Rees assumed starting duties following Dayne Crist's season-ending injury and while Hendrix bided his time during a freshman season relegated to the sideline -- Rees visited Hendrix and his family in Cincinnati. They went to a basketball game at Moeller High School, Hendrix's alma mater, and they visited Rees' sister at her school, Miami University of Ohio.

Rees returned the favor by hosting Hendrix in Lake Forest, Ill., last summer for Independence Day.

"It was fun. It was fun," Hendrix said. "Apparently the Lake Forest parade is something to celebrate. But it was fun. They had this big party on their lawn, so it was cool."

During down time together, the Irish quarterbacks have a less-than typical way of socializing.

"Sometimes we're singing," Hendrix quipped. "He's not very good."

As for Hendrix?

"I'm OK," Hendrix said. "I think I'm good but he says I'm not. He says I sing like a girl. We watch 'Glee' every Tuesday. That's kind of our show."

For now, the two have a much more serious competition taking place on the football field, though this battle is free of trash-talk.

"I think we were kind of forced to do it a little bit," Rees said of their relationship developing. "We had talked before we even got here, and both being the two quarterbacks in the class, and just being together so much within football, we just formed a really strong bond. I consider him one of my closest teammates and it's just something, he's a great guy and something that's kind of turned into a pretty good relationship."

Irish, Noles get one last shot on Dec. 29

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
6:08
PM CT
One more chance.

A season defined by turnovers, quarterback changes and big losses on big stages will end Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla., where Notre Dame has one more chance to make a statement on a national stage against an opponent in a similar spot.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Hendrix
Kyle Terada/US PresswireWill Notre Dame play QB Andrew Hendrix in its bowl game against Florida State?
This isn't 1993, and it's not a BCS bowl. The only thing at stake here for the Irish and the Florida State Seminoles is a ninth win in seasons that failed to meet lofty expectations.

But it's another chance for Notre Dame to make a statement against a brand-name opponent. And, judging from the fact the Irish are starting the now-experienced Tommy Rees over flavor-of-the-moment pick Andrew Hendrix, they aren't taking this one for granted.

Sure, Hendrix will see more action. He'll see plenty more in the lead-up to the game, too, given the uncertainty surrounding Dayne Crist's status for the bowl. And Hendrix's relief performance Dec. 29 may just go a long way toward clearing up next seasons's quarterback picture, but that's a long way down the road.

For now, it's Notre Dame and it's Florida State battling for that ninth win, possibly enough to earn (or, in the AP No. 25 Seminoles' case, hang on to) a place in the national rankings that began with both of them safely in. It's the Irish going for a second win against an AP-ranked opponent after dropping three of four against teams that finished ranked. It's the Seminoles going for a first win against a ranked team after an 0-2 regular-season mark when put to the test.

Sure, Notre Dame has a quality win this year. Let's not forget how the Irish manhandled then-No. 15 Michigan State in Week 3, overcoming three turnovers to defensively dominate a Spartans team that came within a play or two of the Rose Bowl. If anything for the Irish, watching a team they beat so thoroughly go on to have such a special season should only add to the frustration of a season that currently stands at 8-4.

Frustration? Notre Dame has been there, letting two wins slip away to start the season before unleashing that anger on the Spartans by a 31-13 score Sept. 17. Perhaps that same chip on their collective shoulder can manifest itself once again, this time following a convincing loss at Stanford and preceding a test against the best defense they will have faced all season long.

"It's not what Notre Dame should be," Harrison Smith told reporters after the loss at Stanford put his team at 8-4. "It's not what we expect to be. [But] that's all we are. At Notre Dame, that's not good enough."

"That's what we have right now," Manti Te'o said. "There's nothing else we can [do] but go out and get that ninth win. That's the bottom line."

The bottom line reads Notre Dame hasn't had a nine-win season in five years. That can change with an Irish win over a Seminoles team in a similar situation.

Two teams that began their seasons with dreams that would have pitted them against each other on a bigger stage. Smaller stage, smaller seasons. Same directive.

Notre Dame mailbag

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
6:08
PM CT
It's time to take a look at what's on your minds with the regular season over and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl remaining.

Roald "Roe" Gonzalez from Austin, Texas, writes: Our 105,000 DKR memorial Stadium is awaiting for Notre Dame to Drop by annually for out Turkey Day Shoot out with Notre Dame. Any chance Notre Dame is even considering the invite from De Loss Dodds?

Matt Fortuna: Roe, I don't see that happening in the near future. Notre Dame plays Stanford until 2019, and the Irish's series with USC doesn't seem to be going anywhere. At least for the next eight years (imagine what the college sports landscape could look like in 2019?), I can't see Notre Dame adding Texas on an annual basis.

Ryan from McSherrystown, Pa., writes: Hi Matt,Love your work. Just finished reading your last chat on ESPN and just wanted to see what you think about my optimism for ND next year. This is mostly about the schedule. You point out these games as being the tough ones. USC, OU, STANFORD, MSTATE, MICH, MIA..right? Here is my case. The top 3 QB's in next years NFL draft will come from 3 of those schools. Barkley, Jones, Luck will all be gone and all those schools will be playing with new or young QB's. We are due to beat Mich and Cousins is gone at MSTATE..I don't see MIA as being that tough and they weren't very good this year. Mich is the only one of those teams who brings back their QB and we had them beat at MICH this year. Thoughts...Thanks

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Ryan. You bring up an interesting point with the quarterbacks, but I still don't see Notre Dame entering 2012 as a better team than most of the ones you mentioned. I think we'll learn a lot about Stanford when it no longer has Andrew Luck, so the Cardinal remain up in the air. Being due to beat Michigan means nothing when the Irish have lost three close ones to the Wolverines the last three years. Michigan will only get better in Brady Hoke's second year and with one more year of Denard Robinson. Michigan State, even without Kirk Cousins, is a program that is on the rise. None of this is to say the Irish can't win any of those games, but they do face an awful lot of opponents who are at least capable of beating them — even more than this year, and this was a more experienced team that lost to South Florida.

Joe from Telsau writes: Re: Crist article - REALLY?A rent a player is OK, Wow!!Please shut up, why do we always have to hear bspn peoples opinion. I hope the ncaa does away with this stupid LOOP HOLE.

Matt Fortuna: Sorry, Joe, I'm having trouble hearing you over all of those capital letters. Seriously, though, I see some instances where the rule is taken advantage of and not used for its intent (see: Jeremiah Masoli). And yes, clearly academics are not the main factor in players taking advantage of this rule. But since when did academics dictate where recruited athletes go to college? Sure, academics are often one of several factors. And yes, some schools adhere to higher academic standards than others while recruiting. But a player who graduates and lives up to his end of the bargain academically should be entirely free to go wherever he wants to after, provided the interest is mutual. What does Dayne Crist stand to benefit from staying one year at Notre Dame as a backup while already having a degree? He graduated early, before his scholarship would have expired, and he should be rewarded for that.

Mitch writes: Ok, Matt. We know all about where FSU's defense is ranked. But doesn't their schedule put them in a position to do just that? Looking at the rushing attempts from the opponents they played, you see teams only having 10-15 rushing attempts all together. Seems to me like they haven't really been worn down since they allowed 100+ yards to Wake.

Matt Fortuna: Great point, Mitch. The best rushing offense Florida State played all season was Maryland's, which ranked 44th in the nation. I'm curious to see what Notre Dame can do with Jonas Gray no longer back there, and if Theo Riddick can make a difference at running back. Considering the Irish averaged just 1.8 yards per carry as a team against Stanford, the nation's No. 5 rush defense, they have some work to do.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
12:00
PM CT
It's time to take one more look back at Notre Dame's regular-season ending 28-14 loss at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Hendrix
Kyle Terada/US PresswireQuarterback Andrew Hendrix saw extensive playing time in Notre Dame's loss against Stanford.
The Good: Better late than never, right? Andrew Hendrix saw his first extended action since Oct. 22 against USC, playing the entire second half. The sophomore completed 11 of 24 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown, and added 20 rushing yards and another touchdown on 12 carries.

The Bad: Whatever BCS-bowl hopes Notre Dame hung onto went up in flames with a convincing road loss against a likely BCS bowl team. The Irish were out-gained 287-75 in a first half that ended with them trailing 21-0.

The Ugly: In falling to 1-3 against ranked opponents this season, Notre Dame surrendered five sacks, missed a 20-yard field goal and committed 10 penalties for 68 yards. Not the recipe for beating a top-10 team on the road.

Turning point: After Darius Fleming picked off Andrew Luck in the second quarter and returned the ball -- with the help of a horse-collar penalty -- to the Stanford 11, David Ruffer missed a 20-yard field goal. Luck and the Cardinal then marched 80 yards in 10 plays, ending with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Coby Fleener that made it 14-0 and swung the momentum.

Call of the day: Hard to point to just one call, but Stanford did a tremendous job of taking advantage of its massive tight ends against the Irish's small cornerbacks. Luck hit 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo for a three-yard touchdown pass on a first-quarter fade route when Toilolo was matched up against the 5-11 Gary Gray. For his second touchdown pass, Luck hit the 6-6, 244-pound Fleener near the 14-yard line when he was covered by the 6-1 Robert Blanton. Fleener essentially dragged Blanton the rest of the way into the end zone, resulting in a 28-yard touchdown pass and 14-0 Stanford lead in the second quarter.

Next up: Despite its 3-0 ACC record (4-0 if you include soon-to-be ACC school Pittsburgh), Notre Dame will not be playing in this Saturday's ACC title game. That contest will feature Clemson and Virginia Tech. The Irish might get Clemson in the Champs Sports Bowl if the Tigers fall Saturday, but the Irish's bowl and opponent is, at the moment, not yet officially determined.

Despite Stanford win, questions still linger

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
1:20
AM CT


STANFORD, Calif. -- On the volume meter, Stanford head coach David Shaw usually speaks at a three. On Tuesday, he spoke at an 11 (cue the “This is Spinal Tap” reference).

Shaw called for the national spotlight -- on his team, on his quarterback and on the entire Bowl Championship Series -- and, for better or worse, he got it.

The question, however, is whether a 28-14 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night at Stanford Stadium was enough to change anyone’s mind -- either the BCS pollsters or the Heisman voters.

“I wasn’t trying to change minds,” Shaw said. “I wasn’t bashing the BCS. I wasn’t bashing any other teams. Just the explanations that I kept getting didn’t make sense to me and I’m a common-sense person and I just don’t understand the whys of where we were.”

Andrew Luck
Kyle Terada/US Presswire"I've seen a lot of the other guys and there are a lot of really, really good football players," Stanford coach David Shaw said of quarterback Andrew Luck. "There's nobody like this guy."
As for the Heisman -- as expected -- Andrew Luck said he doesn’t care. You’d sooner get Condoleezza Rice to spill state secrets than to get Luck to talk about Heisman aspirations.

“I don’t worry about what kind of impression I make on anybody,” Luck said.

That’s when tight end Coby Fleener interjected.

“Andrew Luck has my vote,” Fleener said, raising his hand.

“Mine too,” said safety Michael Thomas, raising his hand. “I think he’s the best player in college football.”

“Me too,” said linebacker Chase Thomas, raising his hand.

Luck laughed off the moment, even though it encompassed everything that matters to the quarterback: the respect of his coaches and teammates.

“I don’t have a vote,” Shaw said. “We’ll see what happens. I just know that he’s one of a kind. He’s one of a kind. It’s apples and oranges in my opinion between him and everybody else and I’ve seen a lot of the other guys and there are a lot of really, really good football players. There’s nobody like this guy.”

Luck threw four touchdowns against the Irish -- three in the first half to help the Cardinal build a 21-0 lead at the break -- before closing out with a 55-yard touchdown to Fleener. The tight end finished with four catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns.

All three of Luck’s touchdowns came against Notre Dame blitzes* and both of Fleener’s scores came off of play-action. Against the blitz, Luck was 7-of-8 with three touchdowns, no interceptions and an average of 15.4 yards per completion. He finished the game 20-of-30 for 233 yards and an interception.

“I think, one loss, that’s great,” Luck said. “We’ve done a lot of good things. Someone just mentioned that we’ve been on a 23-2 run. I think that’s very impressive. We put ourselves in position to be in a good bowl game and that’s something we wanted to do.”

Which bowl game remains to be seen. The Cardinal (11-1) needed this win to stay in the conversation for a BCS at-large bid. Stanford could climb into the top 4, assuring it a BCS berth.

“All we can do is play our butts off and prepare and let the voters or whoever else makes the stuff up choose,” Fleener said. “All I know is you gotta win. That’s all I understand. They want to see 12-0 and win out and that’s how you go to the national championship. Other than that, I don’t know how everyone else falls in the pecking order.”

Speaking of pecking -- the defense spent most of the game pecking away at Notre Dame’s quarterbacks. Chase Thomas led a relentless pass rush that sacked Notre Dame’s quarterbacks five times. Thomas accounted for two while forcing a fumble and Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro and A.J. Tarpley all added one. In all, the Cardinal had eight tackles for a loss, holding Notre Dame to 57 yards on the ground. Michael Thomas and Corey Gatewood also logged interceptions.

“We went out and tried to play our game,” Tarpley said. “Maybe [the voters] liked it. Maybe they didn’t. You never really know what to think the way those things are. We played a good game. We could have played better. But we got the win. That’s all that’s important.”

Stepfan Taylor turned in his steady-as-always performance, rushing for 118 yards on 20 carries as the Cardinal accumulated 429 yards of offense.

Notre Dame mounted a minor second-half comeback -- cutting the score to 21-7 after getting a 6-yard touchdown strike from Andrew Hendrix to Michael Floyd. Notre Dame’s big-game receiver had eight catches for 92 yards and the score.

Luck’s first touchdown came on a 3-yard jump ball to 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo. The second was a 28-yarder to Fleener -- who pulled his defender into the end zone with him, and Ty Montgomery added an 11-yard touchdown reception with 10 seconds left in the first half.

Shaw’s comments last week caused a national stir. The timing certainly seemed calculated. Whether his players’ actions backed up the coach’s words will linger until the BCS bowl games are announced.

“I’m behind coach Shaw 100 percent,” offensive guard David DeCastro said. “He knows what he’s doing. That’s for sure. We don’t care what anyone else thinks. We got the win. That’s all we care about.”

But was the win enough for the team and/or Luck? To be continued ...

*Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

Final: Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
10:36
PM CT
video
STANFORD, Calif. -- The Stanford Cardinal overcame a sluggish second half to top Notre Dame 28-14 in the regular season finale for both teams at Stanford Stadium.

The Cardinal now await the outcome of games next week before finding out their postseason destination -- which more than likely will include an at-large bid to a BCS game.

Quarterback Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes -- three in the first half and then a 55-yarder to tight end Coby Fleener late in the fourth to seal the victory.

Luck and Fleener also hooked up for a 28-yard touchdown in the first half.

Senior Night quickly turned into Andrew Luck night as the Heisman Trophy candidate set the Stanford record for most career touchdown passes (80) and the single-season mark (35). Luck finished the game 20-of-30 for 233 yards, four touchdowns and an interception.

Notre Dame turned the ball over three times and never really found a rhythm on offense, switching between quarterback Tommy Rees in the first half to Andrew Hendrix in the second half. Hendrix and Michael Floyd hooked up for a 6-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter.

The Cardinal’s relentless pass rush sacked Notre Dame’s quarterbacks five times -- it was the fourth time this season Stanford has had five or more sacks in a game.

Irish prep for Luck, Stanford

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
5:18
PM CT
Notre Dame enters Saturday's regular-season finale at Stanford as an underdog for the first time this season. But Brian Kelly is not quite playing the us-against-the-world card this week.

"I don't know that I see ourselves as a spoiler, to be quite honest with you," Kelly said Tuesday. "We have a great deal of respect for Stanford, and they've earned everything. They're a darn good football team. We see this as just another opportunity to play our last regular-season game. I know our guys are excited. It's a relevant game in November and it's on national television. That gets 18-21-year-olds' attention more than being a spoiler so to speak."

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI"It's a relevant game in November and it's on national television," Brian Kelly said. "That gets 18-21-year-olds' attention more than being a spoiler so to speak."
The stakes are high, but they are also unclear. The No. 6 Cardinal (10-1) are likely playing for a spot in a BCS-bowl game. The No. 22 Irish? At 8-3, there is a very remote chance they could jump eight spots and become BCS-bowl eligible themselves with a win -- with an emphasis on the very remote part.

More pressing, however, is the validation that would come with a road win over a top-10 opponent in the second year of a new regime, which would also give the Irish a chance at a 10-win season.

They finished last season on a four-game winning streak to go 8-5.

"Well, it's still about, for us, you know, preparing the right way and then performing on Saturdays," Kelly said. "I've said this a number of times. I like the way we've prepared. We haven't performed on Saturdays the way we need to consistently. We're showing that at times.

"This is just another one of those — it's not a referendum on our season, but it's another step towards where we want to be in consistency in November. We have done very well in November, and we want to continue to build on that in this game against Stanford."

Notre Dame has won all six of its November games since Kelly took over. The second-year Irish coach has actually won 16 straight regular-season contests in November and December, dating back to 2007, when he coached Cincinnati.

He has already faced quarterback Andrew Luck, the likely top NFL draft pick and a strong Heisman Trophy contender.

Luck has completed more than 70 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 2,937 yards, 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions, and he will likely be playing the final home game of his career.

In a 37-14 win at Notre Dame last season, Luck was 19-for-32 for 238 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.

"Boy's under pressure more than anything else," Kelly said. "Some of the throws that he made against us last year. We brought an allout blitz inside the 15-yard line, and we had a freeblitzer and he just kept back-pedalling and hit a tight end on a choice route in the end zone.

"That's poise under pressure. He has the ability to make the throws when he's under duress as well. And to have that, you've got to have the skill, but also the utmost confidence in your ability. He has all this intrinsic things necessary to be a great quarterback."

The onus on Notre Dame's quarterback, Tommy Rees, may be heavier this week. Starting running back Jonas Gray's season is over after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Saturday, and a pair of unproven freshmen — George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel — will back-up junior Cierre Wood.

Freshman end Stephon Tuitt's status is uncertain after missing the last game with an illness as well.

"It's huge," Rees said after Saturday's game. "To go finish November strong, finish the season strong against a good opponent, and I think it would just give us some momentum heading into a bowl, and we look forward to it just like any other opponent. We can't focus too much on everything that's going around us. We're ready to play another football game."

Next two games lack punch

November, 7, 2011
11/07/11
5:43
PM CT
Notre Dame plays Stanford on Nov. 26 in a game that could have national title implications for the Cardinal. On the two Saturdays before then, the Irish play ACC teams with identical 2-7 records (and identical 1-5 conference records).

Brian Kelly's record in November/December regular-season games should improve to 24-6 by the time he and his team hop on a plane to Palo Alto, Calif. And he should be riding a 16-game late-season winning streak by then, too.

Whether or not Manti Te'o plays his regular number of snaps -- which means almost all of them -- in those two games should not affect those potential marks for what should be an 8-3 Notre Dame team going into its regular-season finale. Whether or not Braxston Cave is snapping the ball back to Tommy Rees should not affect them, either.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Andrew Hendrix should have some say in how Kelly and the Irish get to their respective marks through 11 games, as the sophomore change-of-pace quarterback has not seen the field in two consecutive games and will figure to challenge for much more playing time -- if not the starting job entirely -- in 2012.

Notre Dame survived a road scare against a stingy Wake Forest team Saturday, winning for the first time under Kelly when trailing at halftime. There is something to be said for that, regardless of opponent. And especially just nine days after a collapse in the locker room seemed like a legitimate possibility.

The Irish beat the Demon Deacons while missing Cave for the majority of three quarters, with a banged-up Te'o for the fourth quarter and without Aaron Lynch in spurts. (And without senior ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson, something they're getting used to.)

If Rees, Jonas Gray, Cierre Wood, Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Harrison Smith or Robert Blanton wanted to sit either of these next two games out, the Irish would probably cruise past the Terrapins or Eagles without one -- or even a few -- of them, too.

"I want winning to become a habit," Kelly said Sunday. "I don't want it to be something that comes and goes. We want to get to that level where we expect to win each and every week. That's something that we're not there yet, but we're on that journey. That's about playing consistently, as well, not having any games that you don't play your best. So I would say, as we continue to check off a lot of the boxes, the next one is to make winning a habit."

No problem, at least for the immediate future. But we really won't know much more than that until Stanford.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TOP 25 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20