NCF Nation: Austin Collinsworth

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Brian Kelly was finishing up his postgame press conference Saturday, an unexpected visitor made an appearance during the penultimate question.

"Jaylon, we'll be done in a second," Kelly said to Jaylon Smith, who had entered prematurely. "I know it's your press conference, but I'll be done in a second, and we'll let you get going. Is that all right?"

"Sorry," Smith said to the room of reporters. "I'm new to everything."

Within 24 hours, it turned out the freshman linebacker would be a seasoned veteran by Notre Dame's defense's standards. The Irish are hurting on that side of the ball -- just trying to get by, in a sense, with this weekend's game at Pitt preceding a much-needed bye before a two-game stretch against BYU and at Stanford.

[+] EnlargeEilar Hardy
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSafety Eliar Hardy (left) is one of several Notre Dame reserves that were pressed into action due to injuries.
BCS dreams have essentially taken a backseat to figuring out just who is going to play and where, and how the remaining available guy will get ready for when their time comes.

"I think this is probably close to the pinnacle," Kelly said during Sunday's teleconference when asked if this defense has been hit as hard as any he's had in 23 years as a head coach. He added: "They don't give you any points for complaining about it. If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

Ben Councell, the man behind Smith most of the season at the dog linebacker spot, was ruled out for the season Sunday after suffering a significant knee injury in the 38-34 win over Navy. Smith and Councell, of course, waged a preseason battle for a starting spot only after senior Danny Spond, last season's starter, was forced to retire because of hemiplegic migraines. And the linebacking corp is less than a month removed from its other big hit, when Jarrett Grace broke his leg in the Oct. 5 Arizona State game, costing the Mike linebacker the rest of his redshirt sophomore season.

It only gets worse up front, where Kona Schwenke is lost for at least this Saturday's game at Pitt because of a high-ankle sprain suffered on the Midshipmen's final drive. And Schwenke was only starting these last two games in place of nose guard Louis Nix III, who at first was ruled to have a shoulder injury suffered in the USC game, and then knee tendinitis, and now tendinitis and a small meniscus tear, though the school says he will practice this week after undergoing an MRI Sunday. Before that, Schwenke filled in for end Sheldon Day, who missed most of a three-game stretch after leaving a Sept. 14 game against Purdue with a high ankle sprain, and then re-aggravated said ankle sprain against Navy.

And no, it is not a coincidence that most of these injuries have come during this two-game stretch against Air Force and Navy, teams that often cut-block.

"It's unfortunate," Kelly said. "It's the style of offense that the academies play. It is what it is."

Kelly said it will make sense to possibly avoid scheduling multiple option teams in a single season, but that is a bridge he will cross when he gets to it. For now, his next-man-in philosophy is being tested by, well, a lack of next-men-in.

He said he guards against that by putting those who saw 15 or fewer plays in a game through extra conditioning that following Monday, while reserves get roughly half the work of the starters during 11-on-11 and scout team work in a given week.

"I think that we're so close that you don't really think about it in terms of, Oh, I've never seen you out here," redshirt senior linebacker Dan Fox said. "We get a lot of guys in at practice, there's a lot of reps to go around, so next man in and next man in."

Underclassmen such as Jarron Jones, Isaac Rochell and Romeo Okwara have been thrust into more meaningful time than most could have reasonably expected entering the season, while names unfamiliar to all but the closest of program observers -- Tyler Stockton, Justin Utupo and Eilar Hardy, to name a few -- saw extended action.

The last of those names, Hardy, helped set Smith up for the game-clinching tackle on Navy's Shawn Lynch during the visitors' final fourth-and-4 try. And he was only there because Austin Collinsworth suffered a neck strain that will require an MRI Monday.

Fellow safety Elijah Shumate, meanwhile, is expected to play against the Panthers after being sidelined the last three games with a hamstring injury, though Kelly had said the sophomore would play going into the Navy game, too.

There are also the knee injuries to left guard Chris Watt (PCL) and cat linebacker Ishaq Williams (ACL), both of whom left the Air Force game a week ago but only one of whom, Watt, could possibly return this week, depending on how quickly the redshirt senior can acclimate to the knee, which will not require surgery. Williams was in an immobilizer this week and could possibly return for the Nov. 23 BYU game.

The return of Watt would give Notre Dame four of its five starters back on the offensive line, as it lost right guard Christian Lombard for the season because of back surgery after the USC game. Still, the bruises have taken their biggest tolls on the other line, which during the spring and summer lost reserves Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and Tony Springmann (knee) for the season, in addition to seeing freshman signee Eddie Vanderdoes leave for UCLA.

All of it leaves the Irish, winners of four in a row, crawling to the finish line, every last piece of Kelly's three straight top-10 recruiting classes fitting into the plan for his push toward a second straight BCS-bowl berth.

"We are running out of next men. We're at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options," Kelly said, adding, "We'll figure something out. We'll get 11 guys out there. It's just not going to be one of those things where we're going to have the same group of guys out there all the time. As you know, we're going to have to find a way to stop a big, physical offensive line at Pittsburgh, and that is the thing that concerns you the most."
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."
After the NFL and the Manti Te'o questions came football talk, bringing some good and bad news to a 22-day-old Notre Dame offseason that has felt much longer.

Starting cornerback Bennett Jackson had surgery to repair a labrum tear. Starting inside linebacker Dan Fox had a similar operation. Both are expected to be limited to non-contact portions of spring practice, which starts March 20.

Safety Austin Collinsworth is expected to be ready this spring after missing the 2012 season because of separate shoulder and back surgeries. Brian Kelly also sounded optimistic about the playing future of center Matt Hegarty, who was shut down for the season following a Nov. 8 mini-stroke, while cornerback Lo Wood continues to recover from an Achllies tear suffered in fall camp.

Constant leg problems, meanwhile, may force offensive tackle Tate Nichols to take a medical redshirt.

Kelly pegged Hegarty, Nick Martin and Mark Harrell as players in the mix to replace Braxston Cave at center. Kelly said Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Jarrett Grace are the front-runners to replace Te'o at the MIKE linebacker spot, with Kendall Moore and potential incoming freshmen having a chance to be included as well.

The mentioning of Fox and Calabrese means both will likely be back for a fifth season in 2013, though Kelly said the official process needs to still take place.

"We're going to sit down when we get back, as we always have from recruiting, once we finish up our numbers in recruiting, then we start to talk about our fifth-year guys," Kelly said. "But they'll all, as we have in the past, they'll continue to train because they're in school anyway. And then we'll let them know our decisions as we talk to the university, relative to granting that additional year."

Kelly also said he is hoping the NCAA's ruling on safety Jamoris Slaughter's appeal for a sixth year will come before national signing day. Kelly said Slaughter is still in school.

Notre Dame mailblog

November, 30, 2012
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What's crackin'?

Mike from Turnersville, N.J., writes: Hey Matt, I just want to know one thing. How can there be no controversy this year in college football like ESPN states when Notre Dame won 3 games that were controversial. The Pittsburgh game should have been over, but the referee called Pass Interference on a 4th down play, that was the wrong call. The game should have been over and Notre Dame should have lost that game. Even the Stanford vs ND game was crooked, bc the guy for Stanford scored a TD to tie the game and the Referee didn't give him the TD. What are your thoughts about those calls? Doesn't those calls make Notre Dame a controversy to be in the National Championship?

Matt Fortuna: Mike, there is always controversy in college football. I think Notre Dame got a big break on both plays in the Pitt game, but what national title team hasn't received a couple of breaks along the way? As for the Stanford game, it was an early whistle on the Stepfan Taylor final play, but he was surrounded by Irish defenders, so to assume he would've scored is a stretch. And a score would have only set up an extra point in bad weather, which, if made, would have only extended the game, not won it. Two years ago Auburn won five games by three points or less. Last year Alabama got a chance at revenge in the title game against a team it lost to at home two months earlier -- over another one-loss team. Every eligible team has lost a game except for Notre Dame. The Irish are the most deserving No. 1 team right now.



Kevin from Mandan, N.D., writes: First, I am glad Notre Dame beat USC. Not a fan of Lane Kiffin. That brings me to my question. Why have I not heard someone in the media ask Kiffin why he did not kick a FG with over 3:00 left in the game, down 9 points(2 scores) on fourth down? Kick the FG, use your 2 timeouts and hope to get the ball back with a chance to win the game. When you fail on fourth down, game over. You lose. Horrible decision. Not a very smart coach.

Matt Fortuna: Kevin, I wasn't in Lane's postgame presser, but I'll say that if you have eight chances to score from inside the 10-yard line, you need to score a touchdown on one of them. Not taking anything away from Notre Dame's defense, but if you can't punch it in from as close as USC was, you don't deserve to win the game. The Trojans needed a touchdown eventually, and that was easily their best shot. Hats off to the Irish.



Dave from Yokosuka, Japan writes: As a member of the Uniformed Services currently stationed overseas, I really appreciate your dedication to bringing news to ESPN at all hours! Every chance I have, I check the blog and other spots for updates. Here's my question: What's the status of Lo Wood, Austin Collinsworth, and others who were injured before the beginning of the season? Any chance we might see them in the Big Game or will they look for medical waivers? Thanks a lot!

Matt Fortuna: Thank YOU, Dave. I believe Collinsworth has done some limited work with the team in practice, but we won't see either of those guys in a game until next season. Both have redshirt options available, so it wouldn't be worth burning it on one game, tempting as it may be for those two guys.



Cory from Hazleton, Pa., writes: now you can eat your words saying nd 8-4 having no shot at OU n SC. 12-0 baby bring on the SEC

Matt Fortuna: NOW I can? Pretty sure I (and 99.9 percent of America) have been eating them all season long. Jack Swarbrick himself said after the USC game that he thought the Irish would be a year away from a national title run.

Notre Dame weekend rewind

September, 17, 2012
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Here's one last look back at the weekend that was as Notre Dame improved to 3-0 with a convincing 20-3 win at Michigan State.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Mike Carter/US PresswireCoach Brian Kelly has the Irish sitting at 3-0 this season and ranked No. 11 in the latest AP poll.
The good: Manti Te'o had a game-high 12 tackles. Stephon Tuitt notched his fifth sack of the season. The Irish defense kept Le'Veon Bell in check to the tune of 77 yards, and allowed MSU to cross midfield just once in the second half. (The Spartans also made zero red zone trips throughout the night.) You can't ask for much more from this unit, which propelled the Irish to their first 3-0 start in 10 years.

The bad: Everett Golson's first two (unofficial) plays in his first true road contest: False start, timeout. But what looked like it would be a long night was quickly turned around.

The ugly: Jamoris Slaughter ruptured his Achilles tendon on the first play of the second half and will miss the rest of the season. Matthias Farley is expected to step into his spot. The Irish have now suffered three season-ending injuries in the secondary -- Austin Collinsworth, Lo Wood and Slaughter -- and three of their four starters are converted offensive players: KeiVarae Russell (running back), Bennett Jackson (wide receiver) and Farley (receiver).

Still healing: Brian Kelly said Sunday that Kapron Lewis-Moore and DaVaris Daniels were not fully healthy following injuries suffered one week earlier. Both played sparingly. Sheldon Day suffered a bone bruise as well, though Kelly said it happened before he was jumping up and down after a botched attempt at an interception. He should be fine.

Next up: Notre Dame's second home night game in as many years features Michigan, which has delivered the Irish three crushing last-minute defeats in the last three years. The man responsible for two of them, Denard Robinson, is back for his senior year, and the Irish would like nothing more than to go through him en route to a 4-0 September.

Roster breakdown: Special teams

March, 30, 2012
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The third and final part of our breakdown of Notre Dame's 2012 roster wraps up today with the special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The (key) players: Kyle Brindza, Ben Turk, Jordan Cowart, Theo Riddick, John Goodman, George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Austin Collinsworth, Chris Salvi, Nick Tausch

The incoming: Scott Daly

The breakdown: New tight ends coach Scott Booker is now in charge of special teams, though the entire staff will take a more hands-on approach following a 2011 campaign in which the Irish averaged 0.3 yards per punt return before the bowl game. In addition to kickoffs, Brindza will likely be the Irish's field goal kicker as well following the loss of David Ruffer. Turk improved as the season went on last season and figures to be the starting punter again. Atkinson returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns last season and may see more action in the backfield this season, so it remains to be seen if his duties could be extended to the punt return game as well. Same goes for Collinsworth, who was solid on both the kick-return and kick-coverage teams but will likely see extended time at safety following the graduation of Harrison Smith. Carlisle is out for the spring with a broken ankle, but he returned kicks for USC at times last season and could possibly be a factor on either return team.

Riddick's struggles returning punts last season are well-documented, but the staff likely isn't ready to give up on the big-play potential of which he is capable. Goodman had the sure hands and was basically back there last season as a safety net to prevent anything bad from happening, and the Irish hope that won't be needed again this year. (Goodman is in line to play a bigger role offensively, too.) Salvi earned a scholarship for being such a force on both kickoff teams, and Daly is the second scholarship long-snapper in school history, likely backing up Cowart this season before taking over the reins in 2013.

Roster breakdown: Defense

March, 29, 2012
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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 recruiting needs

January, 31, 2012
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With national signing day less than a week away, here's a look at what Notre Dame needs from its 2012 recruiting class:

Running backs: The reliable Cierre Wood has one more year left, and the answers behind him remain a mystery. We have not seen nearly enough of George Atkinson III or Cam McDaniel to know how they will turn out, and who knows where Theo Riddick will line up once the 2012 season kicks off? Help is on the way, however, in the form of William Mahone (Youngstown, OH/Austintown Fitch) and KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner), ESPNU's No. 16 and No. 26 running backs, respectively. Throw in USC transfer Amir Carlisle, and things are looking bright in the Irish backfield moving forward.

Wide receivers: You can't expect to replace Michael Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books. But the drop-off after Floyd is noticeable, and finding targets for the plethora of quarterbacks on the roster is a must. Fortunately for the Irish, they may have those coming in Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan), Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) and Chris Brown (Hanahan, S.C./Hanahan) — ESPNU's 14th, 17th and 66th best receivers from this class, respectively.

Cornerbacks: Two new starters will take the field next year. Bennett Jackson and Lo Wood saw playing time as reserves this past season, but the unit is pretty thin, with the inexperienced Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown behind them. ESPNU No. 9 cornerback Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) enrolled early and could provide immediate help, but depth could be an issue at this position.

Safety: Speaking of the secondary, Notre Dame will have to replace captain Harrison Smith and, soon enough, co-starters Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter, too. Austin Collinsworth could be a starter next season, and Eilar Hardy figures to see the field after redshirting this past season. ESPNU No. 14 safety Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J/Don Bosco), No. 22 C.J. Prosise (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest) and No. 62 John Turner (Indianapolis/Cathedral) are on the way, as is No. 87 athlete Nicky Baratti (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak). Chris Badger returns from a Mormon mission, too.

Notre Dame's to-do list for 2012

January, 20, 2012
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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 helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 6, 2011
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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.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

September, 26, 2011
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It wasn't easy on the eyes, but it's time to look back at the weekend that was for Notre Dame, which improved to .500 with a blue-collar 15-12 win over Pitt at Heinz Field.

The Good: The Fighting Irish had trouble converting short-yardage situations in the fourth quarter two weeks ago at Michigan, but those troubles were washed away with Saturday's performance. Notre Dame was 2-for-2 on fourth downs and 6-for-6 on third downs with three yards or less to go.

The Bad: The Irish committed eight more penalties for 85 yards, including a costly -- and controversial -- roughing the kicker call on Austin Collinsworth early in the second half. That gave Pitt new life, and the Panthers answered with a 19-play touchdown drive. With 7.75 penalties per game, Notre Dame is tied for 107th-least in the nation.

The Ugly: Did you not watch the game? Seventeen combined flags, a missed field goal, a 15-12 final -- in short, it was not a pretty sight. Whether the noon kickoff played a role in any of this is up for debate, but the Irish for now can be happy to escape on the winning end of this schoolyard brawl.

Turning point: Tommy Rees completed all eight of his passes on the Irish's second-to-last drive, hitting Tyler Eifert the final three times, including for the go-ahead score. He hit Eifert for the two-point conversion, too, and rewarded Brian Kelly's faith in him after uninspiring play through three quarters.

Call of the day: How about Kelly sticking defensive end Stephon Tuitt in at the nose guard spot? The pass rush was on in full effect with the freshman there on Pitt's final drive, as the Irish sacked Tino Sunseri twice and set up a desperation fourth-and-26 situation that the Panthers couldn't convert.

Next up: Notre Dame will head to West Lafayette, Ind., for its second of five night games this season. The Irish will face their third and final Big Ten opponent in a Purdue team that has had two weeks to prepare since a 59-0 win over Southeast Missouri State. The Boilermakers rank second in the Big Ten in total offense and rushing offense but, like the Irish, have accumulated plenty of penalties, averaging 7.67 through their 1-2 start.

Changes afoot for Irish spring

March, 22, 2011
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The absence of Michael Floyd isn't the only noticeable difference for Notre Dame as it prepares to begin spring practice on Wednesday. Here are some other changes and tidbits that head coach Brian Kelly outlined on Tuesday:
  • Austin Collinsworth has moved from receiver to safety. Kelly said the coaching staff loved Collinsworth's tackling and instincts on kickoff coverage last year.
  • Early enrollee Brad Carrico, listed as a defensive lineman when recruited, will move to offensive line. "He showed us in a short period of time in conditioning that he has quick feet and moves well," Kelly said. "He's a guy who we'll be able to get out in space, and he gives us some size and athleticism on the offensive line."
  • As previously reported, quarterback Luke Massa is headed to wide receiver, while Bennett Jackson goes from receiver to cornerback.
  • Assistant coach Kerry Cooks will move from outside linebackers coach to working strictly with the cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will handle the outside linebackers. Chuck Martin now will oversee the safeties. Ed Warriner becomes the running game coordinator, allowing offensive coordinator Charley Molnar a little more time for overall planning.
  • Defensive lineman Sean Cwynar is in a boot after surgery on a foot fracture and will not participate in the spring. Cwynar also had back surgery in the offseason and recovered well from that, Kelly said.
  • Star linebacker Manti Te'o had a scope done on his knee, and the Irish will be cautious with him this spring. "I think it's pretty safe to say right now we know a lot about what Manti Te'o can do," Kelly said.
  • As for the quarterbacks, Kelly said Dayne Crist (knee surgery) will be limited but should follow the same plan as he did last spring when he was recovering from an ACL surgery. That means he'll go through most drills but be held out of live contact. Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson, who are more mobile quarterbacks, will get tackled some this spring to get a true evaluation of what they can do while running. Kelly said Crist's availability should make for a true competition this spring and that hopefully a pecking order would be established by the end of spring. But he said he had no idea of how the competition will go.
  • Though Theo Riddick will stay at slot receiver, there will be some packages where he and running back Cierre Wood are moved all over the field.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everything is going right so far for Notre Dame.

It took the Irish just 13 seconds to build their 14-3 halftime lead to 21-3. Utah's Shaky Smithson fumbled the opening kickoff return after being hit by Austin Collinsworth. On the next play, Tommy Rees hit Duval Kamara for a 26-yard touchdown.

See? Unsung heroes. Kamara is a senior who hasn't done a whole lot since a promising freshman year. And Collinsworth is a true freshman.

Notre Dame has had big leads before, of course, and spit them out. But Utah will have to play a lot better to make a comeback in this one.
Tuesday was media day in South Bend, and here's a quick recap of what head coach Brian Kelly had to say in his 40-minute news conference:

  • [+] EnlargeKelly
    AP Photo/Joe Raymond"All the players have done exactly what we've asked them to do," said Brian Kelly in a 40-minute press conference on Tuesday.
    Kelly said his spread offense has a place for the Wildcat formation. The three guys he's looking at to run the Wildcat are tailback Armando Allen, receiver Theo Riddick and somewhat surprisingly, tight end Kyle Rudolph.

  • Kelly said there has been little resistance from the players since he came in to replace Charlie Weis. "All the players have done exactly what we've asked them to do," he said. "They knew there had to be a sense of urgency. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired too. It's just different leadership styles."

  • Riddick and Cierre Wood will be the kick returners, and Kelly called them "dynamic." Allen leads John Goodman for punt return duties.

  • Plenty of young players could see the field right now. Kelly identified nine true freshmen which his staff is preparing to play this year. They are, on offense, Rees, receiver T.J. Jones, linemen Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard tight end Alex Welch and receiver Austin Collinsworth, who will play a lot on special teams. On defense, freshmen Lo Wood (cornerback) and Prince Shembo (linebacker) and Danny Spond (safety/special teams) have impressed. Kelly said this is the most true freshmen he's readied to play in his career.

  • Injured linemen Dan Wenger and Matt Romine (concussion symptoms) have returned to practice, but Kelly said Nichols and Lombard asserted themselves in their absence. Mike Ragone (heat illness) and Rudolph (hamstring) are back to doing individual work.

  • The battle for the inside linebacker job continues to rage on between Anthony McDonald and Carlo Calabrese. Both bring separate strengths."Mac needs to be more physical, and Calabrese needs to be more finesse," Kelly said.

  • In maybe the most interesting exchange, Kelly said he thought star receiver Michael Floyd was "overhyped" when he first watched film upon taking the Irish job. His opinion has changed 180 degrees."In 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd has worked," Kelly said. "He has outworked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the point where he has singlehandedly set the bar for where everybody else needs to bring their play. He's been dominant."

  • Finally, Kelly said his goal is for his team to "be better in November than they are in September." That certainly hasn't been the case in recent years.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The image on the cover of Notre Dame's media guide tells the story of what kind of team Brian Kelly wants. Instead of depicting any current players or the new head coach, the guide has a portrait of old-school, anonymous players emerging from the stadium tunnel in leather helmets.

Kelly is seeking a return to the glory days of Irish football, which some cynics may say has been gone as long as that leather headgear.

"I think that is the pervasive theme here," Kelly said. "Let's get back to understanding the great tradition, who we are and how we play the game. I won't go as far as no facemasks. But I will tell you that toughness, the Fighting Irish theme, is what I want to continue to advance forward."

[+] EnlargeDayne Crist
Robin Alam/Icon SMIDayne Crist is the only Irish quarterback with game experience.
Kelly didn't make any grand pronouncements at Friday's kickoff luncheon, held one day before Notre Dame opens fall practice. He seemed more upbeat about the team's prospects than he did at times during the spring when the players were still learning the system. Kelly said the Irish have strengths, vulnerabilities and questions marks, which he listed as the following:

  • Strengths: Depth on the offensive line, "great depth" at running back and defensive playmakers on the perimeter.
  • Vulnerabilities: Experience at quarterback (only Dayne Crist has played in a game, and he's never started) and depth on the defensive line.
  • Question marks: Consistency from the secondary and kicking game.

Kelly said the key battles of fall camp will occur on the offensive line, where he believes he has 10 players capable of contributing; at one of the inside linebacker spots, where Anthony McDonald, Steve Paskorz and David Posluszny are among those fighting for time; and safety.

Dan McCarthy, Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Harrison Smith are all in the mix for starting safety spots. Behind them, the team is thin with Spencer Boyd transferring and Chris Badger opting to go on a Mormon mission to Ecuador. Kelly said he'll consider moving some players there from the offense, but he wouldn't disclose who that might be until he has discussed it with them.

Of the freshmen who arrived this summer, Kelly singled out receivers Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth as having impressed the most and having perhaps the best chance to make the travel roster. One freshman who appears to have a long way to go is highly touted defensive lineman Louis Nix.

Nix weighed in at a whopping 350 pounds, or about 35 pounds more than he was listed at on signing day. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Nix was working with the training staff to shed the weight.

"It's going to be a while," said Diaco, who added that he wants his noseguards to weigh between 290 and 300 pounds.

Kelly said he usually wishes he had more time when fall camp rolls around, but that he can't wait to get back to work with this group. He wants the players to embrace the tradition and take on a tough attitude. And he only mentioned one goal.

"We're here to win championships," he said.

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