Chicago Colleges: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Q&A with Cierre Wood

November, 12, 2011
Cierre Wood began the season as Notre Dame's starting running back. Jonas Gray has started the Irish's last two games. No, there isn't an injury or dip in performance. The two have just been seemingly interchangeable in the backfield this season.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame's Cierre Wood is 42nd in the nation in rush yards per game at 89.8.
Wood is 42nd in the nation with 89.8 rushing yards per game. Gray, who averages 66 rushing yards per game, ranks 83rd. Notre Dame is one of just eights teams with multiple players among the top 100 in rushing yards per game.

Here, Wood, a junior, talks about the dynamic with Gray, the improved short-yardage game and the running backs' blocking efforts.

It may not have registered until everyone looked up the stats the next day, but Saturday was your first-ever second-half comeback win under Brian Kelly. Do you look at that as maybe a step or a sign? Is that something that's talked about on the team?

CW: Not really. It's just fighting back, really just that will to not give up and keep going, which we base everything we do off of, which is the next man in. A lot of guys were playing injured that game, but everybody just kept going in because we knew what the task was to come back and win. And we got the job done.

Jonas said after [Wake Forest] missed that field goal late, his first thought on the sideline was, Give me and Cierre the ball, we're gonna run this clock out, we're gonna win. And he said that's a mentality that's kind of had to foster over the course of the year. How have you seen the confidence in the run game grow and know that's your situation right there?

CW: The run game has been a huge factor this whole year. It started off good in the beginning and it's still going strong. Now we base everything off of our run game. We have to have a physical presence in the run game in order for everything else to fall into place and stuff like that. So in order to get our jobs done at all times, we always need to start running the ball.

How much easier is your life when you have a back who can step in and do the things you do?

CW: It's extremely easy, to be honest with you. While he's in there, he's doing his thing. While I'm in there I'm doing my thing. We both go in there, we're both gonna produce. So somebody's gonna get the job done.

Is it particularly fulfilling to see the light kind of click on for him during his last chance, to overcome the fumbles in the past and really have a strong senior season?

CW: Yeah. Since the beginning of the summer I told him we're gonna have to run the tables. We're gonna have to start everything and put the team on our backs and stuff like that. And that's what we did. I told him we're gonna start the run game and it was gonna come from us too, as far as starting it off and getting everything rolling, and that's exactly what we did. I'm happy to see Jonas doing great. I'm his No. 1 fan. Every time he scores I'm always the first one out there to give him a high-five and stuff like that. Coming here, Jonas wasn't playing that much and I'm very very happy to see him making it.

It didn't seem like you guys really missed a step when Braxston [Cave] went out, but when you do see a member of the offensive line go down, particularly at such a big spot like the center, what's the running backs' philosophy there? Obviously you're not on the line with them, but what are you thinking?

CW: I wasn't worried about anything. As soon as Mike [Golic Jr.] came in there I told him, "Let's go. The ball is dropped. We're rolling with or without you, really." But he knew that coming in. Just like you said, we didn't miss a beat.

One of the things you guys have talked about throughout the year — and that doesn't really get a lot of attention — is the blocking by the running backs. It's one of those things [running backs coach Tim] Hinton was saying earlier: People won't know you're doing a good job until you do a bad job and there's a sack or something that was your responsibility. How much pride do you guys take in that, and how much have you learned to embrace that?

CW: We take a huge amount of pride in that. That's very very important to us as running backs and to our team as a whole. We haven't allowed a sack, as far as from the backs, this whole season. We wanna go the whole season without allowing any sacks as far as from our end. Our coach always says to be a Notre Dame running back you have to play physical and you have to pass-protect. And that's one of our code of conduct rules that we have. That's basically what we live by and we just get the job done.

It seems like the short-yardage game, that was something at Michigan that wasn't there for you guys late in the game but obviously was this past week at Wake Forest. Is that more of a mentality thing? Is it a physical thing? How has that kind of manifested itself over the course of seven or eight weeks?

CW: It's a mindset really. You've gotta get into that mindset where you just feel like, hey, nobody's stopping you, no one man can take you down. Coming into the season I put that on myself and that's been there this whole time. I told Jonas we both have to have that mentality at all times. And he jumped on-board with it. We just hit the ground running ever since.

Next two games lack punch

November, 7, 2011
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.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 7, 2011
Here's a look at the weekend that was for the Irish in their first-ever trip to Winston-Salem, N.C.:

The Good: Notre Dame overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to beat Wake Forest 24-17. The Irish became bowl eligible and won their first-ever game under Brian Kelly after trailing at halftime. Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood combined for 179 yards on the ground and the Irish defense stifled Wake Forest's offense during the final 30 minutes.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Matt Cashore/US PresswireJonas Gray added a touchdown to go with his 92 rushing yards against Wake Forest.
The Bad: Notre Dame turned the ball over twice, most notably when Josh Bush intercepted a Tommy Rees pass off a flea flicker and returned it 54 yards, putting the Demon Deacons in position to tie the game. Ultimately, it went for naught.

The Ugly: Braxston Cave left after the first play of the second quarter with a mid-foot sprain. Manti Te'o missed Wake Forest's final drive of the third quarter because of an ankle injury before re-entering the next series. Aaron Lynch left the game twice and has a lateral sprain. And, in the truly ugly department, T.J. Jones took a big hit and had a rough landing on a 6-yard catch in the third quarter, though, amazingly, he re-entered the game and is apparently doing better than his other three injured teammates.

Turning point: Wake Forest was knocking on the door, down seven in the third with a second-and-goal following a huge interception return. Then Harrison Smith jarred the ball loose from Brandon Pendergrass and Gary Gray pounced on it, and the Irish came up with a huge turnover, stopping the Demon Deacons on what would be their best chance at tying the game in the second half.

Call of the day: Going into nickel packages for a majority of the second half paid huge dividends for the Notre Dame defense, which did not allow a second-half point after giving up 17 in the first half. Jamoris Slaughter played the hybrid role for the Irish, replacing drop linebacker Prince Shembo.

Next up: Notre Dame plays Maryland in what is technically an Irish home game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The Terrapins, in their first year under coach Randy Edsall, are an abysmal 2-7 this season, and just 1-5 in ACC play. They also have a way with uniforms.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 6, 2011
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- It's time to honor those who played the biggest roles in Notre Dame's 24-17 win over Wake Forest.

Jonas Gray: The senior had 92 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown, scoring in his sixth straight game and for the ninth time during that stretch. Keep in mind, folks, that he had zero career touchdowns before Week 4 at Pitt. Gray's 1-yard scoring plunge in the third tied the game and his 1-yard plunge from the Wake Forest 44 in the fourth sealed the game.

Cierre Wood: Wood finished with 87 yards on just 14 carries, throwing in a couple of nice jukes along the way. The junior had several big carries to start the Irish's final drive, ultimately leading them to victory.

Harrison Smith: A game-high 11 tackles. A huge forced fumble on second-and-goal for Wake Forest in a seven-point game. And a huge backfield tackle for a loss of 4 yards on another second-and-goal play. Smith was everywhere, leading the banged-up defense throughout the night.

Robert Blanton: Happy Homecoming. The game captain enjoyed his return to North Carolina by notching 10 tackles, including two for loss, and he was a force in stopping the Demon Deacons' passes into the flat.

Stephon Tuitt: Two big tackles for a loss, including a momentum-shifting sack for an 11-yard loss on first goal, earn the freshman this sticker. He was a workhorse on the line all night, as it was once again without Ethan Johnson and even missed fellow rookie Aaron Lynch for portions of the game as well.

Austin Collinsworth: Collinsworth had two kick returns for 67 yards, including a 41-yarder, giving the Irish great field position for their first two scores in a back-and-forth first quarter. He added a nice hit on the Demon Deacons' Lovell Jackson on a third-quarter kickoff return as well.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 10

November, 6, 2011
1. Third quarters belong to the Irish: Notre Dame has outscored its opponents in the third quarter this season by a 63-13 count. The Irish scored touchdowns on their first two drives to open the second half Saturday night, propelling them to a 24-17 victory. Seven of those 13 points they surrendered, by the way, came on USC's fumble return for a touchdown two weeks ago.

2. Sudden-change defense is still great: This has gotten lost as Notre Dame has slowly cut down on its turnover plague from early in the season, but the Irish defense sure knows how to respond when its back is against the wall. Following Josh Bush's interception return and the first-and-goal Wake Forest faced shortly afterward, Harrison Smith came up with a huge forced fumble that Gary Gray recovered, turning the momentum as it looked like the Demon Deacons were set to tie the game.

3. Second-half adjustments on D proves vital: The nickel packages used in the third and fourth quarter, which featured safety Jamoris Slaughter in a hybrid-like role, played a big part in slowing down Wake Forest's offense, particularly its short passing game. The Irish defense pitched a shutout over the final 30 minutes after giving up 17 first-half points.

4. D-line doing all it can: Hats off to Stephon Tuitt, who became the linchpin of the line for much of Saturday night. Aaron Lynch was hobbled, and the team was already without ends Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore again. Tuitt, the freshman, had a huge first-and-goal sack for a loss of 11 on Wake Forest's final drive, and he was big against the run as well.

Ankle injuries linger

November, 6, 2011
Linebacker Manti Te'o turned the same ankle that hobbled him in early October. Center Braxston Cave has a mid-foot sprain. And defensive end Aaron Lynch has a lateral sprain.

During his Sunday teleconference, coach Brian Kelly went over the list of bumps and bruises from Notre Dame's 24-17 victory at Wake Forest a day earlier, though it remains to be seen how these injuries will affect the Irish this week as they prepare to face Maryland in Landover, Md.

Te'o left during the Demon Deacons' final drive of the third quarter Saturday before coming back in for the next series and "playing on one leg," Kelly said after the game. Cave left after the first play of the second quarter Saturday, and Kelly was waiting on some more information on the senior.

"But it was a lot better today than it looked sometimes last night," he added.

Lynch, the freshman end, left the game on two separate occasions but sounded like the least likely of the trio to miss any action.

TJ Jones also took a big hit on a 6-yard catch early in the third quarter, forcing him out of the game momentarily. Kelly said doctors wanted to make sure the sophomore receiver had no concussion symptoms before he re-entered.

"We'll put him through a battery of tests again this week just to make sure he's good to go," Kelly said.

Mopping up after Wake Forest

November, 6, 2011
Notre Dame escaped Winston-Salem, N.C., with a 24-17 win against Wake Forest in the first meeting between the two schools. The Demon Deacons were, according to Notre Dame's sports information department, the 141st different opponent the Irish have faced, and the Irish are now 118-20-3 (.848) in first meetings with opponents.

Here are a few more nuggets from the fine folks in Notre Dame's media relations:
  • Notre Dame is 34-7 (.829) in road games against teams they had never played before, winning their past 18 dating to 1921.
  • Josh Harris was just the third running back to score a touchdown against the Irish in the past 18 games, joining Navy's Gee Gee Greene and Air Force's Jon Lee. Wake Forest had just 20 rushing yards on 15 carries in the second half Saturday night.
  • Tommy Rees' two touchdown passes give him 29 for his career, passing Angelo Bertelli for seventh in school history. Rees' 17 touchdown passes this season have him tied for 17th.
  • Jonas Gray is the first Notre Dame running back with a rushing touchdown in six straight games since Ryan Grant in 2002.
  • Michael Floyd's 35 total touchdowns are tied with Vagas Ferguson for fourth in school history.

Banged-up Irish survive at Wake

November, 6, 2011

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Jimmy Newman's 42-yard field goal sailed wide right, and Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood immediately wanted the ball.

Five-minutes, 24 seconds remained. And even though Wake Forest had all three timeouts remaining, there was not a doubt in either back's mind that the Demon Deacons' luck had run out in an eventual 24-17 loss to Notre Dame.

"Definitely, definitely," Gray said. "That was the first mindset we had. The guys were doing a great job blocking on the perimeter and inside. We knew what we had to do was run the clock out, and by doing that we had to run the ball."

Wood got the first two carries, totaling 11 yards. Gray, who made his second straight start, took it from there, rushing it five straight times for 16 yards, the final carry a third-and-1 conversion that sealed the game with 1:40 left.

The Irish had let other hosts stick around in primetime games before, and they had been bitten, most notably when they struggled in short-yardage situations late in a last-second loss at Michigan. But Gray, who has improved as much as anyone during the course of the season, said the team takes on a different mentality now.

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJonas Gray had 92 yards on 19 carries with a long run of 25.
"We welcome it," the senior said.

Gray finished with 92 yards on 19 carries -- again, ironically, hurting his yards per rush average in his chase of George Gipp's single-season school record of 8.1.

For that, he can blame a review that followed his 26-yard third-quarter rush into the end zone, as it got marked down at the 1, where he punched it in from two plays later for his ninth touchdown in the last six games.

That score tied things up at 17 after the Irish went into the half down seven, Wake Forest's offense keeping the banged-up defense on its toes with the elusive Tanner Price running the show.

Brian Kelly won his 14th straight November/December regular-season game, and his 20th in his last 22 tries. And he did it the hard way.

When a third-quarter flea-flicker resulted in a 54-yard interception return and eventually first-and-goal for Wake Forest, down seven in the third, Harrison Smith forced a fumble that was recovered by Gary Gray.

The next time the Demon Deacons got so close, Stephon Tuitt recorded a sack, Smith blew up a backfield pass for another loss and Newman missed from 42 yards.

Notre Dame played the majority of the game with Mike Golic Jr. at center instead of Braxston Cave, who left the game after the first play of the second quarter with an undisclosed injury. All-everything linebacker Manti Te'o "was playing on one leg," Kelly said, after the junior left Wake Forest's last drive of the third quarter before returning on the next series.

Defensive end Aaron Lynch had to leave the game on two separate occasions, further depleting an already depleted defensive line, and T.J. Jones somehow made it back after taking a vicious hit on an impressive six-yard grab early in the third quarter.

"We got a lot of guys banged up. A lot of guys banged up," Kelly said. "We'll give you a full report on that when I get a sense of, we got guys that are gonna be -- hey, listen, it's November, too. So there's gonna be some guys that come to practice on Tuesday not full-speed. But these guys are tough, they're gritty and they'll answer the bell."

Earlier, Kelly was less pleased with a question about Notre Dame's passing game. Tommy Rees finished the night 14-of-23 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two picks.

"I mean is there a negative to everything? Is there a negative?" Kelly said. "We just won a football game, on the road. I mean, what kind of, really, what kind of question, what do you want me to say? What's the answer? We won 24 to 17 against a good football team, and you want to know what's wrong with the passing game. You know what's wrong with it? Um, the coach doesn't call good plays. How's that? There's nothing wrong with it. We're fine. We just won a good game."

It's the best game Notre Dame can win before Nov. 26, as it will face hapless Maryland and Boston College before traveling to what Kelly said will be "hopefully an undefeated Stanford team."

Kelly was later asked if he was looking forward to Stanford, and he made sure to not look ahead with two games left before the regular-season finale.

"No, no, we're on the right track," Kelly said. "We're not too far ahead. The guys know what they're playing for. We're playing for a consistent performance. We have a sign, I don't know if you know this, but we have a sign that says 'Play Like A Champion.' And to play like a champion you have to play consistently. You can't have spurts.

"Tonight was a great step in that direction, of playing on the road, against good competition, down at halftime, come back a couple of times -- that's resolve. That's toughness. That's gritty. We've been trying to build this and it's starting to come and you can see it. And that's why I'm proud of my guys tonight."

Final: Irish 24, Wake Forest 17

November, 5, 2011

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- That was a close one, no?

Notre Dame overcame a pair of turnovers Saturday night to escape BB&T Field with a 24-17 win over Wake Forest, making the Irish bowl-eligible at 6-3.

A couple of big defensive plays in the second half played a role in deciding this one, as Harrison Smith forced Brandon Pendergrass to fumble with Wake Forest facing second-and-goal late in the third quarter. Gary Gray recovered for the Irish.

Wake Forest received another chance to even things up in the fourth quarter, getting as close as first-and-goal from the 10. But Stephon Tuitt came up with a sack for a loss of 11, a pass in the backfield was blown up by Smith for a four-yard loss and Tanner Price overthrew on 3rd-and-goal from the 25.

Jimmy Newman then missed a 42-yard field goal attempt with 5:24 remaining, and the Irish were able to run out the clock from there.

Be sure to keep it here for postgame reaction from a close one at BB&T Field.

End of third: Irish 24, Wake Forest 17

November, 5, 2011
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — If we could sum up Notre Dame's season in 15 minutes, the third quarter of tonight's game would do the trick.

The Irish offense looked flawless on its first two drives, resulting in Jonas Gray and Michael Floyd touchdowns to give them their current 24-17 lead. But it could have been more.

And it could have been worse.

Tommy Rees and Gray ran a flea flicker that resulted in a Josh Bush interception, returned 54 yards and punctuated by a flat-out awful roughness call on Zack Martin, who simply tackled Bush out of bounds. That had Notre Dame's staff irate, but three plays later Harrison Smith changed everyone's mood by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Gary Gray.

Wake Forest got the ball back and will face a third-and-19 in Notre Dame territory to start the fourth quarter, and this may be its best shot at evening the score.

Unless, of course, the Irish commit another turnover ...

Halftime: Wake Forest 17, Notre Dame 10

November, 5, 2011
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Notre Dame trails Wake Forest by seven entering halftime. Here's a quick look at what went down in the first 30 minutes.

Turning point: The Demon Deacons capped the first half with an 11-play, 81-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by Josh Harris and a 17-10 lead. Aaron Lynch missed some time on the drive after appearing to hurt an ankle but returned for the end of it. Wake Forest's offense has been very impressive against the Irish's defense so far.

Yards per rush: The teams are tied at 4.4 yards per carry going into the break, especially surprising given what was seemingly a mismatch of lines heading into this one. Wake Forest's small defensive front has done a solid job early against the Irish offensive line, which is currently without center Braxston Cave. Let's see if the Demon Deacons' D-line can hold up in the second half.

Best player in the half: Wake Forest's Tanner Price has done a great job of escaping the rush and keeping plays alive with his feet. The sophomore quarterback has completed 10 of 14 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown, adding two carries for 21 yards. The Irish defense has to do a better job of containing him in the final 30 minutes.

End of first: Irish 10, Wake Forest 10

November, 5, 2011
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — We've got a wild one here early, with each offense scoring on its first two possessions and each being aided by long kickoff returns.

Notre Dame and Wake Forest are tied at 10 entering the second quarter, with two big coverage breakdowns resulting in wide open touchdown passes.

The first came from the Demon Deacons' Tanner Price to Brandon Pendergrass for 20 yards for an early 7-0 lead. Tommy Rees later answered by finding a wide open Tyler Eifert for a 38-yard touchdown pass to tie things up at 10.

Wake Forest had the first punt of the game right before the first quarter ended, giving the Irish the chance to take their first lead of the night.

I can't say the early fireworks are too surprising, as Wake has a tendency to jump out to early leads. The key, as always, has been sustaining that for four quarters, something that will be all the more difficult with a depleted backfield and undersized defensive front. We'll see if the Irish try to take advantage of that when the second quarter begins.

Brian Kelly radio show recap

November, 4, 2011
A slate of games against ACC opponents -- amid the back-drop of conference expansion, no less -- has given way to even more talk about Notre Dame's football future.

During his Thursday radio show at Legends of Notre Dame, Kelly once again re-iterated his stance when asked if Notre Dame would ever join a conference.

"Well never's a tough word," Kelly said. "I think that the super-conferences are here to stay. I don't think that's gonna change. We're seeing the models coming together right now -- 14, 16 teams in a conference. So we feel like we're still in a solid position as an independent. We feel like we have a great schedule we can play every year. ... Certainly the Big East has been a great home for [our other sports], but those aren't my decisions. I can tell you from a football standpoint we're on top of it. But again, I think we're in a pretty good position right now to be independent."

Once again, the subject of a potential Jumbotron at Notre Dame Stadium came up as well, with Kelly only saying: "It's on order. How about that? It's on order."

Earlier, Kelly began his post-practice session with reporters by providing an obligatory Ethan Johnson update without being asked, simply stating that the senior defensive end is progressing.

Johnson has not played since the first snap Oct. 1 at Purdue, when he sprained his right ankle. He dressed for the past two games, but was held out both times.

Notes: Kelly said freshman Everett Golson was named offensive scout team player of the week for his role in simulating Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price. ... The coach also said freshman defensive back Eilar Hardy (knee surgery) should return to the team at full strength this spring.

Notre Dame-Wake Forest to kick at 8 p.m.

October, 30, 2011
Notre Dame's game this Saturday at Wake Forest will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and air on ABC/ESPN 2.

The ACC last week originally announced the game as a 7 p.m. start but left open the possibility it could move back an hour, which it has.

The Irish will have played six night games this season, plus a delayed-filled opener against South Florida that ended close to 10 p.m.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 9

October, 30, 2011
1. Winning is the best medicine of all: This week will be a lot easier for everyone associated with the Notre Dame football program following a 42-point win against a team that beat it three times in the previous four years. The USC loss is in the rearview mirror and, at least at the moment, the fallout from Brian Kelly's comments Thursday seems to have come and gone, with the Irish responding in convincing fashion Saturday. Now comes the ACC portion of the schedule, with Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College up next.

2. The Irish have done a solid job against the option: Notre Dame's defense put on a very impressive performance against the nation's third-ranked rushing team Saturday, holding Navy to 196 yards on the ground. To put that in perspective, the Midshipmen averaged 325.14 rushing yards per game entering Saturday. The defense's performance forced a pair of turnovers against an Air Force offense that chunked up plenty of yards but had little to show for it against the Irish's first-team. Notre Dame has come a long way from its eighth game of last year, a 35-17 loss to Navy that featured 367 rushing yards from the Midshipmen.

3. Floyd will get his: Games 7 and 8 looked an awful lot like Games 4 and 5, didn't they? At Pitt five weeks ago, Michael Floyd was held to four catches for 27 yards before tallying 12 catches for 137 yards a week later at Purdue. Last week Floyd had four catches for 28 yards, responding Saturday with a six-catch, 121-yard performance in which he scored a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Floyd can be held in check every now and then, but there is no key to stopping him on a consistent basis.

4. Jonas Gray is having himself quite the farewell tour: Seriously, Gray didn't have a single career touchdown before Week 4 at Pitt. He's scored in every game since, including three Saturday, giving him eight touchdowns for the season to tie Cierre Wood for the lead among Irish backs and receivers. Gray's 12-carry, 69-yard effort Saturday actually lowered his yards per carry average from 8.5 to 8, though the senior likely isn't complaining.