Chicago Colleges: Tarean Folston

Kelly open to taking more transfers

May, 16, 2014
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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Notre Dame has one transfer on the way this summer in former Florida cornerback Cody Riggs. The Irish are not opposed to adding another one, either.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCould the Fighting Irish be interested in former USC tailback Ty Isaac?
With USC on Wednesday releasing running back Ty Isaac from his scholarship, and with the Joliet, Illinois, native expected to transfer closer to home, Notre Dame could be a destination for the former four-star prospect. Kelly, speaking in general terms Thursday, said he is looking at transfers as he is open to accepting players who make sense for his program.

"I always have an interest in adding transfers if they fit academically," Kelly said Thursday. "They've got to fit academically. We've got, obviously the young man coming in from Florida, fit into our accelerated one-year MBA program, was a great fit for us. Went for him. And he fit for us in terms of a veteran presence in the back end of our defense. It's unusual that you take a one-for-one guy, but it was the right time and it was the right place, so that worked.

"For a traditional transfer, my preference is that they have three years of eligibility and they're the right academic fit, and then of course, positionally it makes sense. You know what I mean? That there's not a backlog of players at that particular position. So I've always got my ear to the ground about transfers. There's transfers right now that we're looking at. So we're on top of what's going on."

Kelly said that there is not a backlog on running backs, if things time out the right way.

Riggs announced in February that he would attend Notre Dame as a graduate student following his graduation from Florida. The former Gators defensive back is expected to compete for playing time at cornerback.

With Notre Dame dismissing sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw from the program in April, the Irish are expected to be at 83 scholarship players when all of their incoming freshmen arrive, leaving them two short of the NCAA maximum.

Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries as a freshman last season with the Trojans, fits the mold of a traditional Notre Dame transfer, as he would have three years of eligibility remaining. The Irish were in the hunt for Isaac during the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect's recruitment, and there will be plenty of room on their running back depth chart when Cam McDaniel graduates following this season, as second-year players Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are the only running backs on the roster behind McDaniel. The Irish also lost out on North Carolina's Elijah Hood during this past recruiting cycle. The four-star running back decommitted from Notre Dame last summer before going to the home-state Tar Heels.

Kelly said that Riggs, who has just one season of eligibility remaining, fit a special case for Notre Dame and was more of the exception to the rule.

"I would only do it after your program is on good, solid ground, you know what I mean?" Kelly said. "That you're not going to upset the locker room. That your locker room is in a good position. Our locker room is in a very good position where you can bring in a guy and not feel like, you know, he's going to upset what's already developed in your locker room. The first couple years I would not have gone that route, but where we are right now, we can bring in a guy for a year and do that."

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 11, 2014
4/11/14
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One more time before the spring game ...

Derrick from Warsaw, Ill., writes: Matt, first off, thanks for doing such a great job covering the Irish! I always look forward to reading everything you write! My question is, with all the great options the Irish have at running back heading into the season, how do you see everything going at the running back position? Will one guy get the lion's share of the carries? Do they go with the hot hand? Or will each guy get a fairly equal share of touches? Thanks! And keep up the great work!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I think everyone will get a fair share early. Cam McDaniel is obviously the veteran of the group and will probably "start" the season with the first unit, but I don't see it being a traditional 1-2-3 pecking order. I said it last year (and was wrong) and will say it again now: I do think the bulk of the workload will go to Greg Bryant if he's playing near the top of his game. After all of his talk this spring about being "hungry and humbled," I think the light will click on for him in 2014.


Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: During the practices leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl, we heard a lot about how Torii Hunter was looking very good. There was some good hype around this kid before and after his injury. Spring practices are now nearly over and I haven't heard his name mentioned one time. How is he doing/progressing? It's just strange for his name to completely disappear lately.

Matt Fortuna: Brian, I was actually wondering the same thing recently, as he rebounded from his leg injury last year to win offensive scout team player of the year: Here's what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said when I asked him Monday: "He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road. Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet, but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."


[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees' legacy at Notre Dame will likely grow with time.
Jeremy from Bethlehem, Ga., writes: Hey Matt, great job on the blog! I was curious on your take of Tommy Rees' legacy. He has been on the losing side of some games that they should have won, like Stanford. But he has won some big games in his career, such as against No. 14 Utah in 2010, being the closer in 2012 to go on to the BCS championship game, and against Michigan State this past year.

Matt Fortuna: Jeremy, like most things, I think it will only grow with time. Sure, a lot of the turnovers are what stick out in most fans' minds right now, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Notre Dame had flat-out awful quarterback luck in three of Rees' four seasons there. And yet, the Irish were lucky beyond relief to have a guy like Rees who not only knew, but embraced his role, stepping in unfazed every step of the way. And in the one year they had good quarterback luck, in 2012? That 12-0 regular season doesn't happen without Rees being the great teammate he was, relieving the guy who took his job and leading the Irish to some crucial wins. Speaking of which, that locker room absolutely loved him, which speaks louder to anything the rest of us could say.


Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey Matt! I've been looking at the offensive line for this year and it seems like there is a lot of talent overall. I've seen on various sites that they have Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey playing tackle, but do you think Steve Elmer could get a chance, too? Also, I was excited last year when they got Hunter Bivin because he seemed like a great player. How do you see him factoring into the mix in the coming years/this year? Lastly, it seems that the talent of the offensive line has increased a lot. Do you think the offensive line could change from good to great in the coming years or even this year? As always, I love reading your blog!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Thomas. Brian Kelly actually addressed this topic Wednesday, saying that the left guard spot could very well be affected by the right tackle spot, which would be between Elmer and McGlinchey. That could provide an opening at left guard for Matt Hegarty, who has plenty of experience across the line and has filled in at center for Nick Martin this spring. As for the depth question, we'e seen Notre Dame sign nine offensive linemen across the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. So while the numbers are down this spring -- especially on days such as Wednesday, when Elmer had a stomach ailment and the Irish were down to eight healthy offensive linemen -- the addition of four more come fall camp should be a big boost to this group's daily progress.

Irish in no rush to name starting QB

April, 3, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just because the relationship between Notre Dame's top quarterbacks is different this time around doesn't necessarily mean Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are stealing each other's playbooks.

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time."

Golson-Tommy Rees, this is not, as coach Brian Kelly made pretty clear earlier this spring. And the frontrunner to be the Irish's starter will likely have to wait four-plus months to be officially declared the No. 1 guy.

LaFleur, the first-year Irish assistant, said he has been more focused this spring on getting everyone on the same page before drawing any comparisons between the two signal callers, be it through stats or other tangible measurements.

"Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference right now," LaFleur said of knowing a starter this early. "I think each guy, whether you're an offensive lineman, receiver, running back -- you're kind of focused on your job. And No. 1, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You've got to do your job before you can even worry about anyone else or any other situation. I think from an offensive standpoint, I think everybody's just focused on improving their own skills and improving each day."

Both quarterbacks have heeded that advice, stressing that their concerns have lied inward, not on what the other was doing.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," Zaire said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's gotten better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year."

Notes: LaFleur, a Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, said he will recruit Michigan locally while having responsibilities on the West Coast, from the Los Angeles area up through Washington. He has Hawaii, as well. … Notre Dame was finally able to practice outside Monday and Wednesday, making conditions more ideal for the always-intriguing punt return unit. Running backs coach Tony Alford mentioned Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr. and Josh Atkinson as players who have gotten looks in the return game.

Irish lunch links

March, 31, 2014
3/31/14
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Entered the weekend with all my Final Four teams alive. Left it with ... one.

McDaniel, RBs eager to take next step

March, 13, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The light is not just clicking on for Cam McDaniel because he's entering his senior season. No, the way the Notre Dame fan favorite sees it, those seeds have been planted for three years running now, and not just with him assuming the role of elder statesman in a crowded Irish backfield.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame senior tailback Cam McDaniel, who rushed for 705 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, has big goals for next season.
"To be completely honest, I have had to have that before, and leadership doesn't start when you're a senior, it starts when you're a freshman," McDaniel said. "It starts with the ability to recognize, 'Hey,' and even like the ability to jump in and follow when you need to follow and observe like, who's doing what right and who's doing what wrong, and how you can compound and build off of that going into the next year.

"And so to just I guess jump into a leadership role isn't really possible -- you've got to have the tangibles of being a leader, and I feel like that's something that I carry. And for me leadership is natural. It's stepping into a position to be a standard-bearer for the team."

While that quote is sure to tug at the heartstrings of Notre Dame Nation, McDaniel is eager to push forward a ground game that he feels could be as complete as any in the nation, as a backfield that was uneven at times in 2013 returns everyone but George Atkinson III (draft defection) and welcomes back a mobile signal-caller in Everett Golson, who rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

As for his goals this season, McDaniel, the team's leading returning rusher (705 yards in 2013), delivered another gem.

"Winning a national championship, that's the end goal for this team," the Coppell, Texas, native said. "And [with] the talent that we have, I feel like we're very capable of doing that. That's our team goal, and if anybody else says anything otherwise then they shouldn't be here."

Coming just within the vicinity of that goal will likely depend in large part on the development of the sophomores behind McDaniel: Tarean Folston (470 yards) and Greg Bryant (14), a pair of former ESPN four-star prospects from Florida.

Coach Brian Kelly likes the bruising mentality of Bryant, who's looking to put behind a forgettable rookie campaign that was plagued by injury. But the fifth-year coach knows he'll need more than a single major backfield contributor this season if the Irish want to return to 2012 form.

"I think he's probably what we've always thought about him -- his workouts, top of the line in everything that he does," Kelly said of Bryant. "I know our guys don't like to tackle him. He's physical. He's got all the tools to be a premier running back, and so you add him to the mix with Cam and Tarean, we feel really fortunate to have three great running backs."

Notre Dame spring predictions: No. 4

February, 25, 2014
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Our series predicting spring happenings continues today with No. 4.

Prediction No. 4: Folston and Bryant show promise for fall

[+] EnlargeTarean Folston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsWill Tarean Folston get more touches in Year 2 with the Fighting Irish?
There was a point during last season when it seemed like you couldn't mention the name "Greg Bryant" without immediately being peppered with questions regarding a potential transfer. He was a four-star recruit who saw action in just three games, tallying 14 rushing yards before being shut down for the season because of tendinitis, with the intent of him receiving a medical redshirt.

Tarean Folston, meanwhile, picked things up as the season progressed, finishing with 470 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries, with him carrying the ball 11 or more times for 47 or more yards in five of Notre Dame's final six games. Bryant, meanwhile, returned to practice with the team late last season, meaning there shouldn't be any rough transition period for him to return to the field this spring.

The spring should be a nice opportunity for both of these former blue-chip prospects to build on what they started in Year 1. Obviously Folston has much more to build off after a successful first season, but Bryant could definitely use a re-boot after things got off to a slow start. The talent is definitely there, as the 5-foot-10, 204-pounder was ranked by ESPN as the nation's No. 2 running back from the class of 2013.

With George Atkinson III off to the NFL, there will be more carries to go around for these two, who could team with Cam McDaniel and perhaps even Amir Carlisle to help bolster a ground game that finished just 80th nationally in 2013. Bryant and Folston can go a long way toward earning that increased workload by displaying maturity and savvy in their first spring with the program.

Position battles to watch: No. 2

February, 20, 2014
2/20/14
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Our series looking at the top position battles this spring turns its attention to the backfield.

Running backs

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCam McDaniel was a surprising leading rusher for Notre Dame in 2013.
George Atkinson III is off to try his hand at the NFL after a sub-par junior campaign in which he entered the season as the top option before falling out of favor with the coaching staff, which suspended him for the for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Atkinson was second on the team in carries (93) and rushing yards (555), adding three touchdowns. Notre Dame as a whole had a down year running the ball, checking in at No. 80 nationally, at 151 yards per game. But as KC Joyner mentioned a few weeks ago, the running backs might have been better than advertised, as they avoided losses and return some experienced blockers up front. Having a mobile quarterback in the backfield will only help bolster the running attack, too.

The leading returning back is the surprising Cam McDaniel, who enters his senior year coming off a 2013 campaign that saw him tally 705 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 152 carries. Notre Dame knows what it has in McDaniel, a valuable piece to have in this relatively young backfield moving forward.

The biggest guys to keep an eye on this spring, however, are Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. The four-star prospects came in with plenty of hype last season but only one really delivered on it, with Folston going for 470 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries. The bulk of his production came late in the season, as he earned a heavier workload and carried the ball 11 or more times for 47 or more yards in five of the Irish's final six games.

Bryant, meanwhile, carried the ball just three times for 14 yards in three games and he was shut down for the season because of tendinitis, likely earning a medical redshirt. He is back at full health and practiced with the team late in the season, though, leaving many to wonder if he can begin to show glimpses of the potential he flashed in high school and help further the Irish ground game.

Let's not forget about Amir Carlisle, either, as the USC transfer played in every game and tallied 204 rushing yards on 47 carries. All of the backs need to become better pass-catchers to help open things up for the offense, and while none of these players lack for experience, the potential they show moving forward makes for an intriguing battle to watch unfold this spring.

ND players leaving early and replacements

January, 22, 2014
1/22/14
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For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.

Instant Analysis: Notre Dame 29, Rutgers 16

December, 28, 2013
12/28/13
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Notre Dame finally pulled away from Rutgers to escape Yankee Stadium with a 29-16 win Saturday in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Tarean Folston punched it in from three yards out with 3:38 remaining to make it 26-16 and give Notre Dame some much-needed breathing room. Redshirt senior Dan Fox picked off Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd on the ensuing drive to effectively seal the game. Kyle Brindza added a 49-yard field goal to make it 29-16.

Game ball goes to: Folston was named the starter by coach Brian Kelly earlier this week. Before the game, Kelly issued a statement saying that George Atkinson III (and cornerback Jalen Brown) would not play due to a violation of team rules, which Atkinson tweeted (and then deleted) was him texting during a team meal. In any event, Folston took advantage of Atkinson's absence and might have gained the front-runner status for the starting running back job heading into next season. He capped his rookie year with 73 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, adding three catches for 21 yards. Kudos to Cam McDaniel for being his reliable self, as he had 17 carries for 80 yards and added three catches for 29 yards. The duo did this behind an offensive line missing its three regular interior starters.

Stat of the game: Pick your poison: Notre Dame completely outdid Rutgers in first downs (31-16), total yards (494-236), takeaways (4-1) and time of possession (38:16-21:44). It is hard to imagine how the Scarlet Knights managed to stay in this game for so long (19-16 with four minutes left).

Unsung hero: Brindza connected on 5 of 6 field goal attempts on what was an uneven surface, helping Notre Dame put up points whenever its offense could not punch it in. That was two field goals clear of the Irish's bowl game record. Credit to TJ Jones for catching five balls for 66 yards and carrying it four times for 16 yards and a touchdown in his college finale as well. (Oh, and let's not overlook Louis Nix, who is injured and has signed with an agent, meaning he could not travel with the team. That did not stop him from providing terrific Twitter commentary throughout the afternoon.)

What it means for Notre Dame: Let's just say the Irish had a lot more to lose in this one than they had to gain. But they can exit 2013 with a 9-4 record, their second-best mark since 2006. From an optimist's perspective, this is probably what was expected outside of the program when starting quarterback Everett Golson got suspended from school in May and once the injuries kept mounting as the season progressed. Stephon Tuitt's NFL decision will play a huge role in determining preseason expectations for this team, but getting Golson and many offensive weapons back will be huge for a program that has yet to really turn the corner offensively in four years under Kelly.

What it means for Rutgers: Goodbye American Athletic Conference, hello Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights had some opportunities to make this game a lot more interesting, but a number of questionable calls prevented them from gaining some much-needed momentum in this game, which in turn prevented them from gaining some positive momentum going into their new conference. First, coach Kyle Flood elected to decline an offside penalty on an 18-yard field goal by Kyle Federico, passing on an opportunity to go for a short touchdown in a game with little to lose and few touchdown opportunities to be gained. Later, the Scarlet Knights ran a halfback pass from the Irish 20 with Justin Goodwin, who tossed an interception to KeiVarae Russell. Michigan State made a similar mistake against the Irish earlier this year, and that one also was picked, a game-turning play in what turned out to be the Spartans' lone loss this season.

To watch the trophy presentation of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, click here.

Recapping Friday's 'The Echoes'

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
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Brian Kelly's bigger workload was on display already Friday night, when the Notre Dame head coach presented not one, not two, not three, but four different awards during the Irish's awards banquet, named "The Echoes" for the second straight year.

He did say on Saturday, however, that he does not expect any more of his assistants to leave, and that was seemingly confirmed shortly afterward by defensive line coach Mike Elston, whose first-ever tweet was the announcement he's staying at Notre Dame. (There had been some chatter that he could follow Bob Diaco to UConn to become the Huskies' defensive coordinator.)

As for the awards show, TJ Jones took home team MVP honors in a team vote that Kelly said wasn't even close. (Yours truly had predicted Jones as the winner beforehand, just as he had predicted the correct final score of the Stanford game.)

Jones easily took home best-dressed honors on the night, wearing a burgundy suit with a bowtie and some hipster glasses. Corey Robinson and Chris Watt were among the bowtie-wearers as well.

The biggest news, or non-news, of the night came when Stephon Tuitt met with the media afterward, saying he remains undecided on his future.

As for the big winners on Friday...
There was also in-show fan voting for best hit and best catch honors, which went to Tuitt and Jones for their plays against USC.

Previewing 'The Echoes'

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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A dozen or so Notre Dame players will take home hardware Friday night at the team's awards banquet, which, for the second year in a row, is going by the name "The Echoes." (Just like the Grammys, or Emmys, or something.)

With that on the docket, we figure we can get a headstart here and take a peek into our magic crystal ball to look at who may be some of the lucky winners.

This is my third year on the Irish beat. The first awards show I covered had 12 awards, while the second had 17.

[+] EnlargeTJ Jones
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Irish host their team awards banquet -- "The Echoes" -- on Friday night and TJ Jones would be our vote for the MVP award.
Among the constants: MVP, scout team players of the year (O and D), newcomers of the year (O and D), special teamer of the year, linemen of the year (O and D) and Next Man In, which Tommy Rees could receive for the third time in four years.

Zack Martin has won the offensive lineman award three years running, so I think that is likely the safest bet of the night. Unless, perhaps, he wins team MVP, in which case the lineman honor could go to one of his teammates, with Chris Watt probably having the best chances then. My pick for MVP would be TJ Jones.

Scout team honors are anyone's guess, considering we in the media have not seen a single minute of practice since the season started. Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt shared the defensive lineman award last year, something that could happen again. And you have to think Kyle Brindza repeating as special teamer of the year is a very real possibility as well.

Newcomers will also be interesting, though Jaylon Smith and Tarean Folston may have gained some breathing room in those races with their performances down the stretch.

There seem to be new awards every year, so there will be plenty of props to go around throughout the night. And I would be absolutely shocked if Danny Spond does not get some kind of honor, given the model that he has become for the program after all he had been through and given back to Notre Dame.

We have probably seen the last of Bob Diaco at these events, which is a shame, since, as many saw during his introductory press conference Thursday at UConn, he is usually the best-dressed man in the room. Matthias Farley rarely disappoints in that department, either. (Hey, there's a new award idea right there.)

What do you guys think? Shoot me your suggestions in the mailbag or on Twitter on those you believe are most deserving of credit at Notre Dame this year.

Kelly: Irish built to endure late-season push

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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Eight offensive linemen have seen serious action for Notre Dame this season. Eight defensive linemen have seen serious action, too.

Being down so many players in the trenches is hardly an ideal situation when bracing for Stanford, but the Irish have built themselves to be ready for a moment like this, with their backs against the wall and unfamiliar names stepping to the forefront.

[+] EnlargeTarean Folston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsFreshman running back Tarean Folston has started to pick up his production in recent weeks.
"We've trained ourselves year-round to get to this point, where even though we may be thin in some areas, we play a lot of players," Irish coach Brian Kelly said during his Tuesday press conference. "And we'll move them in and out, like we did on Saturday. You saw our units moving players in and out. So I'm not concerned about wearing out. I'm more concerned about us taking care of the football and doing the things that I talked about before."

Those include keeping the big plays to a minimum as well as getting more production out of the running game, a task that becomes more challenging without center Nick Martin, whom Kelly said suffered an MCL tear in his left knee that will sideline him for six months, including spring ball.

Next-man-in Matt Hegarty will look to build off his three-quarter performance last Saturday, when the Irish rushed for 235 yards, 78 of which came from touted freshman Tarean Folston.

Kelly had high praise for Folston, who has increased his production as of late and has had an easier time fitting in this year than other highly recruited rookies. Safety Max Redfield is among them, as he's had trouble getting on the field despite being the No. 23 overall recruit in the 2013 ESPN 300.

When you think, you stink, Kelly said, and Redfield has been charged with understanding a lot more in the defensive backfield than Folston has in the offensive backfield.

"Let's just take Tarean Folston and Max Redfield, two very gifted young men," Kelly said. "Tarean has had to wait for his chance, he's getting more of it as the season progresses. Max has 10 times as much on his plate at that position as Tarean Folston -- 10 times -- in terms of coverage checks and formation adjustments and communication, all of those things, which are all going into the knowledge base for him.

"He's going to be a dynamite player for us. But there's so much knowledge in our system in the way we play. If we were a close-the-middle-of-the-field, cover-1 team, he probably would have been standing back there in Week 1, if that's what we did. That's not our system. We're a two-deep team and there's a lot going on and he's learned a lot, he's grown a lot and he's at a position now where he's starting to feel pretty comfortable."

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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Here is what we take away from Notre Dame's 23-13 win over BYU.

1. There is still plenty of pride left in this team. Cam McDaniel looked at me in disbelief when I brought up the fact Notre Dame is probably going to the same bowl game no matter what it does these final couple of weeks. And that's a good thing for Notre Dame, which can finish with a 10-win season if it wins out. The Irish played arguably their most complete game of the season, with the stakes arguably at their lowest. That says a lot about this program, and particularly about the seniors, who had two long weeks to think about this after losing at Pitt and came out and played inspired ball against a good BYU team.

[+] EnlargeTarean Folston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsTarean Folston had 78 yards for a resurgent running game.
2. The ground game has some movement. Notre Dame eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark for the third time this season, and when the Irish needed to most. The weather conditions called for it Saturday, with snowfall and cold temperatures throughout the afternoon. Then they lost center Nick Martin in the first quarter to a hyperextended left knee. But Matt Hegarty filled in nicely as the Irish tallied 235 rushing yards. McDaniel led the way with a career-high 117 yards, and Tarean Folston added 78 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Notre Dame will need all of the help it can get from the backfield this coming week when it heads to Stanford.

3. Special teams improving. Jarron Jones blocked a crucial field goal attempt late in the fourth quarter to seal the win, his second block of the season. Kyle Brindza has turned in quite an impressive season, hitting all three of his field goal attempts on Saturday, including a 51-yarder to give the Irish a 10-point lead. And TJ Jones was oh-so-close to breaking off a big punt return, possibly for a touchdown, had the playing surface not been so poor. Kick coverage can certainly be better, but the Irish's special-teams strides, as a whole, were evident on Senior Day against BYU.

Irish lunch links

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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The 30 for 30 lineup continues to get better.

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