Chicago Colleges: Zeke Motta

Historic draft weekend for Notre Dame

May, 12, 2014
May 12
9:00
AM CT
Notre Dame walked away from NFL draft weekend with eight of its former players getting picked, tied with Alabama for the second most of any school in the country, behind LSU's nine. The eight picks also marked the most in a single draft for the Irish in 20 years, as they had 10 draftees in 1994.

In addition, six former Notre Dame players signed with NFL clubs after the draft, with five of those players coming from last season's team.

Seven of Notre Dame's defensive starters from the Discover BCS National Championship following the 2012 season have now been drafted as well: Kapron Lewis-Moore (Ravens, 200th), Manti Te'o (Chargers, 38th) and Zeke Motta (Falcons, 244th) last year; Stephon Tuitt (Steelers, 46th), Louis Nix (Texans, 83rd), Prince Shembo (Falcons, 139th) and Bennett Jackson (Giants, 187th) this year.

It's not a stretch to say that linebacker Danny Spond, who also started against Alabama in the title game, was on track to be drafted prior to retiring before last season because of hemiplegic migraines. It's also worth noting that safety Jamoris Slaughter, who was drafted 175th overall by the Browns last year, started on the Irish's 2012 defense before suffering a season-ending Achilles' tear in Week 3. Two defensive starters from that title game, KeiVarae Russell and Matthias Farley, still have two years of eligibility left at Notre Dame.

Here's a recap of Notre Dame's 2014 draft weekend. Irish transfers Shaquelle Evans (fourth round, 114th overall) and Aaron Lynch (fifth, 150th) were both drafted as well.

DRAFTED

LT Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys (first round, 16th overall)

DE Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh Steelers (second, 46th)

TE Troy Niklas, Arizona Cardinals (second, 52nd)

NG Louis Nix, Houston Texans (third, 83rd)

LG Chris Watt, San Diego Chargers (third, 89th)

LB Prince Shembo, Atlanta Falcons (fourth, 139th)

CB Bennett Jackson, New York Giants (sixth, 187th)

WR TJ Jones, Detroit Lions (sixth, 189th)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENT SIGNINGS

RB George Atkinson III, Oakland Raiders

LB Dan Fox, New York Giants

LB Carlo Calabrese, Cleveland Browns

QB Tommy Rees, Washington Redskins

NG Kona Schwenke, Kansas City Chiefs

C/G Mike Golic Jr., New Orleans Saints

Farley excited to play new role

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
4:35
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Matthias Farley reasons that the story of his career has been adapting to new situations. From scout-team receiver to starting safety in a matter of a year in 2012, the redshirt junior has been all about maintaining flexibility for a defense often offering multiple looks.

So with new coordinator Brian VanGorder aboard for his first spring at Notre Dame, Farley more than welcomed the fresh start that the switch from safety to cornerback could offer him in 2014.

"I had no reservations about it," Farley said. "I'd never been so set in my ways in any way because I've only been playing for such a short period of time. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm very, very excited about it."

[+] EnlargeMatthias Farley
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMatthias Farley made interceptions in two of Notre Dame's biggest wins in 2013, against Michigan State and Arizona State.
Farley's production stagnated last season, his second as a starter, as he made 49 tackles for the second straight year. Head coach Brian Kelly believes the Fighting Irish might have stretched Farley too thin and didn't properly utilize the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Farley's skill set.

"We were trying to get him to replace Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith, two pretty good players and two physical players, and he's not that kind of player," Kelly said, referring to a pair of NFL players who had three inches and roughly 10 pounds on Farley during their college days. "And so he kind of got that tag of, 'Well he's not as physical.' Well, that's not his best trait. He's really smart. He's got some tools that, I think, if we play him in the right position, can really help our defense.

"So I'm not going to say he was unfairly evaluated in a sense, but he was put in a very difficult position last year and we think he can really help our defense in a role that doesn't focus on him being a hard-hit safety."

Farley believes he could have done a better job of playing more relaxed last season with the increased workload, though he never felt incapable.

The Charlotte, N.C., native is entering just his sixth season of organized football, and the adjustments this time around deal with playing closer to the line of scrimmage and playing with a narrower vision.

Farley played some nickel early in Notre Dame's first spring practice Monday, and he is confident that he will adapt to the accelerated learning curve wherever VanGorder decides to use him.

"He's been very upfront and honest about it the whole time," Farley said. "The conversation started several weeks ago -- here and there, nothing nailed down. And it was official last week. So I'm really excited about it. It's a new system, it's a fresh start, so why not change positions?"

Notre Dame Fighting Irish spring wrap

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

2012 conference record: N/A

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

Top returners

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

Key losses

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

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Riddick (917 yards, 5 TDs)

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

Receiving: Eifert (685 yards, 4 TDs)

Tackles: Te'o (113)

Sacks: Tuitt* (12)

Interceptions: Te'o (7)

Spring answers

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

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

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

Fall questions

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

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

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

Elijah Shumate adjusting to new challenges

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
4:30
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Once the crowning of Alabama had become official, Robby Toma walked off the field first with his helmet still on. Theo Riddick struggled to hold back tears. Louis Nix insisted his team was not dominated in the 28-point loss.

Then there was Elijah Shumate, virtually clueless about this whole exercise.

Notre Dame's 42-14 loss in the Discover BCS National Championship ruined its perfect season, and it ruined Shumate's perfect streak.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Elijah Shumate
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsElijah Shumate had a personal 55-game winning streak snapped in the blowout loss to Alabama.
A football career that saw three perfect prep seasons and a perfect regular season in his first year of college ball had become re-acquainted with the sting of defeat, Shumate's first after a 55-game winning streak.

"That was a tough loss," Shumate said of the title game. "They came out and they played hard and they really beat us. They handed us a big loss. Before the game I didn't think they were any way better than us. They played better than us, they were the better team that night and I definitely think we have a great team and that we were young. And we're still kind of young, but we're getting better and we're learning, so I think we're just going to keep working. Hopefully we'll see them again."

Not since the second game of his freshman season at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic had Shumate experienced a loss, as the next eight games that season and the three ensuing years at powerhouse Don Bosco Prep all culminated with state titles.

Now the player who made his mark as a nickelback in Year 1 with the Irish is transitioning to a full-time safety, the spot he was initially recruited to play. He has emerged from the crowded field to this spring to take first-team reps much of the way.

"He is what we thought he was in terms of a tackler," coach Brian Kelly said. "He’s a very good tackler, a sure tackler, he’s physical. He can play the safety position. I think [safeties] coach [Bob] Elliott's done a nice job with the learning curve. That’s certainly what this is all going to be about, and picking up the nuances. Matthias [Farley] has done a very good job in helping him. But I think the entire defense is helping as well. So he’s our guy back there, and he’s got to continue to learn. The spring has been very good for him. He’s going to have to continue to take steps forward in the summer."

The 6-foot, 213-pound rising sophomore has attacked the challenge after a year spent mostly getting his feet wet in the secondary, where coverage responsibilities were fairly straightforward and he had the luxury of working with three-year starter Zeke Motta.

This year brings other challenges, such as making calls and pre-snap adjustments, responsibilities he says he is slowly but surely growing more comfortable with.

Anything, it would seem, in order to return to his version of normalcy, which looks nothing like the one the Crimson Tide painted Jan. 7.

"It was really hard, I never want to have to go through that again," Shumate said. "But it's part of life. And it's part of growing up: You're going to win some, you're going to lose some. Go hard and learn from it."

Collinsworth happy to be back on field

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
9:00
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Austin Collinsworth was careful not to say that he was completely, fully healed from shoulder and back surgeries in the past year, but returning to the field this spring has served as a final hurdle to cross after missing last season.

"I would say probably 98 percent, something like that," the rising fourth-year junior said. "But I'll be 100 percent by the end of the spring."

The safety underwent surgery following last year's spring season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that figured to sideline him for the 2012 campaign. That year-long wait became official when back pain that flared up in October eventually resulted in another operation, leaving him to watch the entirety of Notre Dame's run to the Discover BCS National Championship from the sideline.

"It's hard," said Collinsworth, the son of former NFL player and current analyst Cris Collinsworth. "It was a really exciting season. It was pretty terrible not being a part of it, but I liked watching my friends do well out on the field and it was a really fun season just to be a part of."

Collinsworth said that he began feeling great physically three weeks ago, and he impressed the staff in the weeks leading up to the start of spring practices.

"We had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements," coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring. "Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him because I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw."

Collinsworth has been seen working with the second-team defense this spring upon his return, alongside Eilar Hardy. (Rising sophomore Nick Baratti has been sidelined following his own shoulder surgery.) After recording 25 tackles and forcing one fumble while playing in all 26 games throughout his first two seasons with the Irish, Collinsworth is hoping to crack the rotation of a secondary that finally finds itself with a good numbers problem, this after the unit suffered three season-ending injuries by Week 3 of last season.

The departure of Davonte' Neal has led to more opportunities for Collinsworth to field punts, too, something the Fort Thomas, Ky., native did for three years in high school.

"We lost some really good guys," Collinsworth said of the secondary. "Jamoris [Slaughter] last year only got to play a couple games when he was back at safety. And Zeke [Motta] -- that kid's an animal back there. But we've got a lot of good players that are returning, and I don't think our defensive backfield is going to take a step back at all."

Video: Tough loss for Irish

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
12:15
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Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert, QB Everett Golson, LB Manti Te'o and S Zeke Motta after falling 42-14 to Alabama.

Recapping the Notre Dame Awards show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MVP, presented by Kelly
Winner: Manti Te'o

Irish stay perfect, turn attention to USC

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
10:59
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- With Notre Dame's 38-0 win over Wake Forest all wrapped up, the stands still full before the alma mater and everyone soaking in one last moment inside the building where the Irish went undefeated for the first time in 14 years, public address announcer Mike Collins went over the postgame itinerary for the final time this season:

Drive home safely, he said.

Thank your ushers, he recommended.

"And BEAT S-C!" he implored, drawing the biggest roar of the night.

Yes, it comes down to this for these Irish: beat the rival Trojans two days after Thanksgiving and lock up the first perfect Notre Dame regular season in 24 years.

[+] EnlargeKapron Lewis-Moore
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKapron Lewis-Moore's final regular-season game comes next week against USC.
"Definitely," receiver John Goodman said when asked if next week's opponent is fitting. "They're definitely a potent offense and pretty good defense, and that's something that we're going to have to game plan for. We're going to celebrate this win and take it all in with our families and everything, and then we're going to be fully focused on them, because one more game and things are going to work itself out."

The Irish don't control where they'll end up in the BCS standings. They need Kansas State or Oregon to fall to gain a national title berth. But a player like Goodman knows just how shocking it is to think that USC stands in Notre Dame's way next week, not the other way around.

Goodman came to Notre Dame in 2008, one year after a program-worst 3-9 season. USC had won the Rose Bowl in 2007, and the Trojans won it again during Goodman's first college season.

Both programs underwent coaching changes following the 2009 campaign, but USC seemed to weather NCAA sanctions, winning 10 games last season -- one of those wins coming at Notre Dame Stadium -- and entering this fall as the preseason's No. 1 team.

So yes, many figured next Saturday in Los Angeles could be where a national title ticket gets punched; few thought the visitors would be the ones with that opportunity.

"It's easier now because we have one game left," coach Brian Kelly said of avoiding big-picture talk. "So for us, the focus and all of those things, not looking ahead, we don't have to worry about that anymore. We have one game left on our schedule. Our guys know what's at stake now. This is about an undefeated season. They cannot do anything else but beat USC. The rest is up to other people to decide. But they can clearly focus.

"I told them tonight I'm proud of them. I voted them No. 1 in the country for a reason, because I think they're the best team in the country, and I think they played like that tonight."

For once at home, they did. The Irish scored on their first three possessions, jumping to a 21-0 lead just more than 10 minutes into the contest, a feat more noteworthy when considering that they had not scored more than 20 points in regulation in any of their five previous home games.

They had won those five contests by a combined 23 points, needing four total overtime periods to come away with the victories. This one was 31-0 at halftime, the final 30 minutes a mere formality. Everett Golson earned a seat for much of the second half after a 346-yard, three-touchdown performance.

Kelly took the circumstances to send some of his seniors out on a high, calling a timeout before Wake Forest took over at the 13:27 mark.

In came Sheldon Day, Chris Salvi and Ben Councell -- replacing Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta and Manti Te'o.

Naturally, Te'o received the biggest ovation, taking his helmet off, blowing kisses to the student section and chest-bumping Lewis-Moore as he reached the sideline.

"Just magic," Te'o said. "Like everything's come full circle, just very grateful. For Coach to do that; he could have easily taken us out and not even put us on the field. But it was a TV timeout, and he said I'm going to send you guys out there and then I'm going to call a timeout, and one by one I'm going to sub you guys out. So that's the type of coach that Coach Kelly is. I'm just very lucky to play for him."

Te'o was all but USC-bound in high school, stunning all with his last-minute pick of the Irish. He will get to play his final regular-season college game at the Los Angeles Coliseum with perfection on the line, and the irony will be thicker than the stack of leis draped around his neck after the game.

All that stands between these Irish and perfection are the Trojans, all their energies and emotions pitted toward one goal: Beat SC.

"There is no next week," Te'o said. "It's USC. There is no game after that. If we take care of USC, we'll be fine. All we have to do is take care of USC and prepare the right way. USC is a really good team, as we all know. The USC-Notre Dame game is always a battle. So we understand that and we're going to prepare the way we know how."

ND sweeps FBS honors, Motta a Thorpe finalists

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
7:23
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Manti Te'o won his fifth FBS independent defensive player of the week award this season, but he was joined by a pair of Notre Dame teammates after the Irish's 30-13 win Saturday night at Oklahoma.

Quarterback Everett Golson notched the offensive honor after completing 13 of 25 passes for 177 yards and rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown, with no turnovers. Kyle Brindza picked up the special teams honor after going 3-for-4 on field goal attempts in the victory.

Golson and Brindza have each been honored twice.

Te'o was also named Monday as a semifinalist for both the Maxwell and the Bednarik awards, given to the national player of the year and the defensive player of the year, respectively. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is the only other player on both lists.

Zeke Motta received some recognition Monday, too, as the safety was named one of 15 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. Three finalists will be named Nov. 19 and the winner will be announced Dec. 6 at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show, with a banquet following Feb. 5, 2013, in Oklahoma City.

Notre Dame was also honored as the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl national team of the week for the first time since 2006, following its win that year at Michigan State.

ND defense preps for toughest task yet

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
10:30
AM CT
Landry JonesAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherNotre Dame has yet to face anybody like Landry Jones this season.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The closest thing Notre Dame has seen to someone like Landry Jones this season is debatable. The closest thing Jones has seen to Notre Dame?

Allow the fifth-year Oklahoma quarterback to explain the early-season loss to Kansas State.

"It still kind of hurts," Jones said. "You don't ever want a game to slip away from you and you don't ever want to lose that early in the season. Yes, Kansas State is a good team, for sure -- no doubt about that. But it still hurts.

"You still think about it, and you can go, 'What if?' all you want, but that game is behind us now. Yes, it still does hurt, but you have to move on from it, and we are playing ball now."

Notre Dame is hoping to pressure Jones into looking more like the man who turned it over twice in a Sept. 22 home loss to the Wildcats than the one who has responded by throwing for a total of 880 yards in three straight wins.

Jones was hurried twice and sacked twice in his team's lone defeat, and he had a fumble returned for a score. He has not been officially hurried since, absorbing just two sacks and throwing for seven touchdowns with just one pick.

"He's gotten into a good rhythm," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He hasn't been disrupted very much. And I think, like most good quarterbacks, if you can get into a good rhythm and you're not disrupted, you're going to be pretty effective. You can see that's been the case."

The Irish secondary has lost two first-teamers for the season and is starting just one player who's been on defense his whole career, but the unit has put together the nation's No. 14 passing defense through its 7-0 start. However, six of Notre Dame's opponents rank outside the top 60 in passing, with Miami the lone outlier at No. 23. (Oklahoma is 26th).

The Hurricanes dropped a pair of would-be touchdown passes on their opening drive versus the Irish and never really threatened after, scoring just three points.

"It's exciting for us, and we know that they're a team that likes to throw the ball, especially try and get the ball over the defensive backs' heads," senior safety Zeke Motta said of Oklahoma. "But I think it's going to be a good challenge for us, and we've seen something similar to that in Miami, so at least we have a little taste and we know kind of what to expect. So it's all in our preparation this week and we're really excited about it."

Jones is not a threat to run, but he is quick to get rid of the ball.

"Pocket presence, his ability to put the ball where he needs to, his accuracy," Motta said, rattling off what he noticed from film. "He's probably the best quarterback we're going to face to date."

Which puts the onus on the nation's No. 2 scoring defense to slow down a machine that averaged 52 points over its past three games.

"I am a lot different now," Jones said of his past three games. "I have been playing a lot better. Obviously, after games like Texas Tech, Texas and last week against Kansas, you are going to have a lot higher confidence, and I think everyone on this team is going to have higher confidence because of the way we have been playing."

Notre Dame: Looking back and forward

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
7:51
PM CT
The first month of the season is in the books. Let's revisit some of it, and look at what October could bring us.

Best

1. Notre Dame is 4-0. This is a big deal. The Irish have not had a 4-0 start since 2002. They have beaten three of the Big Ten's better teams (sly word choice there, eh?) and have put themselves in a good position to make a run at a BCS game.

2. The defense has been phenomenal. We knew the defense would be good. But this good? No. 3 scoring defense in the country (9 points per game) good? With an early-season Heisman contender at linebacker and a pass-rusher as lethal as any in the country? Check out this stat unearthed yesterday by media relations director John Heisler: Notre Dame is now the only FBS football team in the country that has never trailed in a game so far in 2012.

3. The turnover margin. Want the biggest reason the Irish are undefeated? Look no further than their plus-2.25 turnover margin, third in the nation. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in four games, one shy of its season total from 2011. And more importantly, the offense has protected the ball, giving it away just four times this season. (It had five turnovers in each of its first two games last season.)

Worst

1. The quarterback situation is unsettled. Everett Golson has shown flashes of potential here and there, and he was a terrific game manager in both of the Irish's road contests. But he looked overwhelmed by the stage against Michigan, and Tommy Rees came in to save the day for the second time. The Irish are winning, so there's not much room to complain, but there is plenty of room for improvement from the quarterback of the future, regardless of how well Rees plays when he is in.

2. Little help from receiving unit. Defenses have wisely focused on Tyler Eifert, leaving the best tight end in America with just one catch over the past two games. No one has stepped up to make the plays with Eifert covered, leaving much room for the passing game as a whole. DaVaris Daniels, who left one game with an ankle sprain and barely played in another, leads the team with 159 receiving yards on the season.

3. Injury bug. The secondary will eventually be tested. Losing a fifth-year senior such as Jamoris Slaughter makes that eventual test all the more difficult. Make no mistake, the three starting newcomers, particularly Bennett Jackson, have done everything the Irish could have hoped for so far. Zeke Motta has emerged as a leader. But Slaughter's versatility is a big loss, and Notre Dame can't just rely on its front seven to be so dominant in every game this season.

Top storylines in October

1. Can the Irish run the table? Hey, they've done it so far. And it's easy for many to look ahead and think of a possible 7-0 Notre Dame team entering Norman, Okla., on Oct. 27. The daunting schedule looks far less daunting, and the Irish have every reason so far to feel that they can win every game. But they also have enough shortcomings that have kept them from running away in games they should win easily, so there is little margin for error against every October opponent.

2. Will the offense come through when needed? Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin made the point that the offense has delivered when called upon so far: against Purdue and against Michigan. But if the defense doesn't play at the same insanely high level it has so far, will the offense be consistent enough for four quarters to pick everyone up? Eventually the Irish will be tested to win a game with their offense, not in spite of it, and development there over the next month is crucial.

3. Quarterback situation. Check back next month, though I don't think this section will change.

Roster breakdown: Defense

March, 29, 2012
3/29/12
8:00
AM CT
Our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster continues today with the defensive side of the ball.

DEFENSIVE LINE

The players: Aaron Lynch, Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell, Sheldon Day, Tyler Stockton, Kona Schwenke

The incoming: Jarron Jones, Romeo Okwara

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTackle Louis Nix is a key cog in what should be a strong, experienced defensive line for Notre Dame.
The breakdown: Injuries forced all three current starters — Lynch, Nix and Tuitt — to play much more than expected last season, and none disappointed. They are all second-year players now, and their pass-rushing ability should have opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks on their heels. Lewis-Moore has been cleared for spring following a season-ending knee injury in 2011 but might not start, though he will likely see plenty of playing time as the line rotates. Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is not cleared yet, but he will likely see significant time this fall after playing as a true freshman last year as well.

LINEBACKERS

The players: Danny Spond, Manti Te'o, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Kendall Moore, Ishaq Williams, Anthony Rabasa, Carlo Calabrese, Jarrett Grace, Justin Utopo, Connor Little, Ben Councell, Joe Schmidt

The incoming: None

The breakdown: As we said with Tyler Eifert yesterday, everyone knows what Te'o is capable of, as he likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick had he left school following his junior year. Fox and Calabrese shared the other inside role last year, and their experience should prove valuable. Shembo has been working at the cat spot this spring, and up-and-coming talents like Williams and Spond figure to see extensive playing time.

SECONDARY

The players: Bennett Jackson, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth, Dan McCarthy, Jalen Brown, Cam McDaniel, Eilar Hardy, Chris Salvi, Joe Romano, Will Salvi, Connor Cavalaris, Matthias Farley, Blake Breslau

The incoming: Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, C.J. Prosise, John Turner

The breakdown: The loss of Tee Shepard really stings this group, which is down to four scholarship corners with a combined zero career starts. Jackson and Wood are in position to take over as the new starters, and playing time last season should help with the transition. At safety, Slaughter and Motta saw plenty of time the last two seasons, and Slaughter in particular has shown a nose for the ball and the capability of providing a leadership force that Harrison Smith is leaving behind. Collinsworth will likely also see plenty of snaps after playing last year.

Notre Dame's to-do list for 2012

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
4:00
PM CT
With the season over, it is time to take a look at which areas Notre Dame must shore up entering 2012.

Figure out the quarterback picture. Tommy Rees is 12-4 as a starter, but his season ended on a sour note, with two consecutive losses. Andrew Hendrix showed promise in limited action but only started one drive in the Champs Sports Bowl when given the chance to split time with Rees. Everett Golson redshirted. And there's apparently a new kid in town. As important as the decision coach Brian Kelly makes is the communication process with his pupils, as none of the two or three eventual non-starters wants to feel misled, which could force an uncomfortable dynamic for all moving forward. Regardless, Notre Dame finds itself with a good problem to have.

Establish a punt return game. Michael Floyd's 41-yard punt return in the Champs Sports Bowl was notable for the fact it was 38 yards more than what the Irish netted returning punts all season long. The normally sure-handed John Goodman is reportedly back for a fifth year, but Kelly has said that Notre Dame needs more of a gamebreaker back there to make a difference in returns. Whether that potential gamebreaker can be Theo Riddick, George Atkinson, Austin Collinsworth or someone unforeseen is anyone's guess.

Retool the secondary. At least three starters are gone from last season's unit, including captain Harrison Smith. On a team that will face elite quarterbacks like Matt Barkley and Landry Jones next season, this is crucial. Zeke Motta and likely Jamoris Slaughter return, with reserves such as Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood and Collinsworth potentially competing for starting spots.

Notre Dame's most improved players

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
2:00
PM CT
As the wrapping-up of the 2011 season continues, we take a look at those who improved the most for Notre Dame from 2010 to 2011.

Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Jonas Gray, running back. Coach Brian Kelly said he had never seen a skill-position player make the kind of leap his senior year the way Gray had this season. Sadly, Gray's season came to an end several days after those comments, as he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Boston College on Nov. 19. Still, Gray left Notre Dame in style, rushing for 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. He had 309 career yards and zero touchdowns before 2011.

Louis Nix, nose guard. A bit of a wild card here, considering he did not play his freshman season. Still, he made a tremendous leap from 2010 to 2011, starting 11 games and seeing plenty of time in the middle when Sean Cwynar broke his right hand. Nix finished with 45 tackles, 0.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, and, perhaps more importantly, he obliterated his coaches' spring prediction of seeing less than 20 snaps per game.

Jamoris Slaughter, safety. Plagued by an ankle injury much of 2010, Slaughter starred when healthy this season, splitting time at safety with Zeke Motta and contributing in a hybrid-like role as linebacker in nickel coverage as well. He finished with 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a pick and two sacks. No announcement has been made about his future, but it would be shocking if the senior was not back for a fifth year in 2012.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Champs Sports Bowl

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
10:36
PM CT
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Here are the players who stood out in defeat, as Notre Dame closes it season with an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl to finish 8-5.

Manti Te'o: The junior could have improved his draft stock had he not already announced his intentions to come back. Te'o had a game-high 13 tackles and forced a fumble that Zeke Motta recovered and returned 29 yards for the lone score of the first half.

Michael Floyd: The senior who re-wrote the Irish record books impressed in his finale, making a ridiculous 5-yard touchdown grab and returning the game's first punt 41 yards, which was 38 yards more than the Irish had amassed on punt returns the entire season. A dropped deep ball and an upper body injury that forced him to sit out much of the second half does not dent the night he had. The game captain had five catches for 41 yards.

Tyler Eifert: The junior tight end still has not decided on his future yet, but if this was his last college game, he went out in style. Eifert caught a game-high six passes for 90 yards, repeatedly making Florida State pay over the middle.

Jamoris Slaughter: The hybrid linebacker/safety recorded a pair of sacks, which were two more than he had his entire career entering the game. He helped a pass rush that sacked E.J. Manuel five times and made life difficult for the Seminoles offense for three quarters.

Aaron Lynch/Stephon Tuitt: The freshmen ends were a force to be reckoned with all night, combining for eight tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and four hurries.

George Atkinson III: The freshman return man had a 37-yard kick return to open the second half, setting up Notre Dame for its first and only touchdown drive. He then made a saving tackle on Lamarcus Joyner on the ensuing kick return, which went for 77 yards and set up an FSU field goal.

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