NCF Nation: Chris Brown

Louisville's first go-round in ACC play is over, but the Cardinals do get to experience one last perk of ACC life this Saturday when they travel to Notre Dame. Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna weigh in with their thoughts on why each team can win.

Adelson says Louisville: Louisville is a few plays away from a few more victories this season, so it's easy to see why the Cards have a chance to go into Notre Dame Stadium and win Saturday.

For starters, the Irish aren't an immovable force. Not only have they dropped two straight, they nearly lost to Navy and North Carolina. Louisville is better than both of those teams, and better than Northwestern, too, the team that just beat Notre Dame in overtime.

[+] EnlargeLouisville's DeVante Parker
Joe Robbins/Getty Images)DeVante Parker's return has given the Louisville offense an extra dimension.
But rather than simply state that Notre Dame is down, there are a few matchups that point to Louisville as well. Even though the Cards are starting freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, he has plenty of game experience and will not be rattled. The best news for him? Having running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker on his side.

Notre Dame has had some issues stopping the run this season and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in four of its last five games. Dyer ran for more than 100 yards in his first two games back from injury and gave the Florida State defense fits, scoring three touchdowns in a game the Cards lost in the fourth quarter.

Parker, meanwhile, has been virtually unstoppable in his three games since returning from a broken foot. He has been as dynamic as anticipated, with 25 catches for 490 yards -- an average of 19.6 yards per catch. Arizona State has a similar running back-receiver threat in D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong, and the Sun Devils beat the Irish thanks to them -- and, maybe more importantly, an opportunistic, aggressive defense.

Do you know what Louisville has? An opportunistic, aggressive defense. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson had five turnovers in the Arizona State game. In his last seven games, he has 19 total turnovers. That's not really the way to succeed against any team, let alone one that has forced 25 turnovers on the season, ranking No. 10 in the nation.

Of those turnovers gained by Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman has 13 interceptions -- just one away from tying the NCAA single-season mark. Golson has thrown 12 interceptions, so there is a pretty good chance Holliman will tie the record Saturday. As for the Louisville defense as a whole, coordinator Todd Grantham is not shy about blitzing and getting after the quarterback.

Louisville has 33 sacks this season. Going back to that Arizona State-Notre Dame game once again, the Sun Devils racked up seven sacks. Six of them came off the blitz, along with all five turnovers.

Here is one more stat that favors the Cardinals. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Louisville is allowing the lowest opponent Total QBR (16.3) in FBS; Golson is responsible for 73 percent of Notre Dame’s yards this season, the highest percentage of any Power 5 quarterback.

The plan for Louisville to win seems simple enough: get the ball into the hands of Dyer and Parker and have the defense put heavy pressure on Golson.

Fortuna says Notre Dame: If anyone can relate to the "few plays away from a few more victories" sentiment, it is Notre Dame. The Irish were a play away from dealing Florida State its first loss in two seasons and could have closed out Northwestern on any number of different instances this past Saturday. But that is neither here nor there.

For all of Notre Dame's recent troubles, this is still a dynamic offense, one that averages better than 35 points per game. Its miscues have been self-inflicted. Yes, Golson has been responsible for seven turnovers in his last two games -- and this may sound like faint praise here -- but two of the Irish's four turnovers against Northwestern came on fumbles from the unlikeliest sources at the worst possible time. How often does a receiver (Chris Brown) fumble into the end zone with a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter? How often does a senior captain (Cam McDaniel) fumble while trying to run out the clock?

And to take that one step further, how simple do the Irish's problems look right now if they have a functional holder in front of senior kicker Kyle Brindza, a problem that has come out of nowhere and complicated so much more for this team?

Of course, no one wants to hear excuses or what-ifs. But as Irish coach Brian Kelly said this week, Notre Dame at least knows what its problems are. It has a young defense that has been put in unfavorable positions time and time again by an offense that keeps tripping over itself. And the offense would have such an easier time keeping defenses off balance if it could establish a reliable running game, something FSU showed is entirely possible against this Louisville defense (173 yards, three TDs). It's not like the Cardinals' offense has been running defenses off the field. Yes, it looks different with the dynamic Parker split wide once again, and yes, Bonnafon may have plenty of experience, but a freshman quarterback walking into Notre Dame Stadium and pulling out a Senior Day win is no small task. The Louisville offense is still putting up less than 400 yards per game, a number that it will have a hard time topping in what should be another brutal day weather-wise in South Bend.

Joe Schmidt isn't walking through that door for Notre Dame's defense. Other injured guys might not, either. Still, we have seen this unit survive uneven performances before when its offense is clicking, most notably in a 50-43 win over UNC last month.

This game is, in many ways, a moment of truth for the Irish. Will they completely collapse after dropping two in a row and three of their last four? Or will they look like the team that was in the College Football Playoff hunt as recently as two weeks ago? The fact that they are capable of looking like the latter is what should scare Louisville -- along with the fact that Golson was in the Heisman mix during that hot start. It should be an emotionally charged afternoon for a group of seniors who helped usher in the return of this program. And Notre Dame at its best this season has looked better than Louisville at its best. The Irish just need to get out of their own way.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All of that drama surrounding the Notre Dame Fighting Irish the entire month was seemingly reduced to a pair of plays Saturday that yielded different results.

There was the first Everett Golson bomb to C.J. Prosise, which Prosise dropped. And there was the second Golson bomb to Prosise, which Prosise caught.

The 55-yarder was Golson making something out of nothing before launching a rocket that went right through the unguarded receiver's hands. The 53-yarder, two plays after a turnover and just five seconds before halftime, was Golson again making something out of nothing -- avoiding a sack, barely setting his feet and absorbing a hit as he threw the ball roughly 62 yards through the air and into the hands of Prosise for his first career touchdown.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame will need Everett Golson's big arm and big plays when Michigan visits on Saturday.
"He has a cannon, as you can see," Prosise said of Golson. "He winds up and that thing flies. It's really nice to have that."

That Golson shook off the small bit of in-game adversity to deliver Prosise his first career touchdown is one thing. That the Irish's quarterback made a pair of otherworldly throws look so routine is quite another.

Notre Dame was entering its 48-17 season-opening win against Rice under the cloud of four players being suspended as part of an internal academic probe. The Irish learned Thursday that a fifth would be held out. The same day, they lost another safety, this one a captain in Austin Collinsworth, who will also miss at least Saturday's game against Michigan with a Grade 2 MCL sprain.

They turned in about as complete of an opening-game performance as coach Brian Kelly could have hoped for, with Golson looking every bit like the key piece that can finally make this offense roll. They enter Michigan week, their last Michigan week for the forseeable future, uncertain about their five suspended players, three of whom would almost certainly be factors in a game as big as this one. The game is, seemingly, the biggest obstacle before October. It's part of a slate Kelly himself described last week as "manageable" before the heavy-hitters line up, and a game the Irish absolutely need to have if they are to go on to a successful season.

There is the anticipation of the last meeting for a while against the Wolverines, whom Kelly knows best as a team that has beaten him three times in four years. There is the Notre Dame Stadium night-game atmosphere, which has not exactly been kind to the home team since it returned in 2011 -- first with an embarrassing loss to USC, then with two strenuous wins against Michigan and USC by a combined 27-16 margin.

But the Irish should have little trouble avoiding the noise, as Kelly likes to say. They graded out spectacularly in that area in Week 1, and they had much more on their plates going into Rice than they do going into Michigan.

Kelly's answer Sunday when asked about avoiding this week's outside influences was telling:

"Similar to what I've done in past years," he said. "We really keep our focus on what our technique and our own individual work needs to get better at. For example, (Elijah) Shumate and Max Redfield, they can't be thinking about Michigan because they have to learn how to communicate better, really focus on that. Chris Brown has to do a better job of getting in and out of his breaks. We're really, really focusing on the individual and what they have to get better at this week.

"If we really focus on those things and really drill hard on those, it keeps their mind at what they need to get better at instead of thinking about big-picture items. That's kind of how we go about it. It keeps the guys so much on what will help them win."

So he mentioned Michigan, once. He mentioned little else as it relates to peripheral opponents. On the same day-after-opener teleconference last season, he had more or less fueled week-long hate talk by suggesting the Wolverines weren't a rival. Last season's Irish team, fresh off a title-game appearance, probably needed the fire lit under it more than this season's team does.

Kelly saw what this group did Saturday with bigger distractions when facing an inferior opponent. Now comes a truer test that will likely dictate what kind of season this could be.
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard made his 29th career start last Saturday against Youngstown State. Safety Isaiah Lewis missed the game with injury but still has 30 starts under his belt, tied for the most of any Spartan.

But when it comes to The Bus, Dennard and Lewis are glorified special teamers, barely hanging onto roster spots. See, The Bus doesn't care about career starts. All of its regular riders have those. You need to bring something more: All-Big Ten honors, All-America honors, a national award or two. Helping your team to a Big Ten championship -- and possibly more -- moves you up a few rows.

What is this magic bus? Let's let Pete Townshend, er, Mark Dantonio explain.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsCB Darqueze Dennard, like many other MSU players, wasn't considered an elite prospect coming out of high school but has developed into a top performer.
"I tell them I've been a secondary coach all my life, for 30 years," Dantonio told in August. "I kid them that we only travel 10 on my bus, on the All-Coach Dantonio secondary team. And Isaiah and Queze, they're both on the bus.

"So they're traveling, they're playing on special teams, but they've got to become a starter this year."

It won't be easy, looking at the group sitting at the front of The Bus.

There's Mike Doss, the former Ohio State safety who Dantonio coached in Columbus, a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and a unanimous consensus All-American in 2002, when the Buckeyes won the national title. Next to Doss is former Buckeyes teammate Chris Gamble, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2002 who also contributed on special teams and offense before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. Other D-Bus starters include Kwamie Lassiter, who Dantonio coached at Kansas; and safeties Aric Morris and Renaldo Hill, who Dantonio mentored at Michigan State during his first go-round as an assistant for Nick Saban.

"It's very humbling," Dennard said. "Me and Isaiah, we both think we are very blessed to be mentioned with those guys. Those are great players he always mentions on his bus. It’s a great thing to even be talked about at the same time. We have to have a mindset how it is, we have to be the top of the top of the top of the bus."

It's a lofty goal, but one that Dennard could reach as a senior. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last year after recording 52 tackles, three interceptions and seven pass breakups for one of the nation's best defenses. More impressive, he played most of the season with a sports hernia, likely suffered in September. Dennard underwent surgery after the season.

"He could have had his intestines hanging out, and he wouldn't have done anything about it," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "The kid's that tough."

Dennard entered the fall on the watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back, as well as the Bednarik and Nagurski awards, which go to the top defensive player. The 5-11, 197-pound senior should push Ohio State's Bradley Roby for the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award.

He's also a potential high pick in next April's NFL draft.

"He's probably the best corner we've coached," Narduzzi said this spring. "And he's a fun kid to coach."

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Lewis ties up South Florida running back Marcus Shaw.
Lewis also is on the Thorpe Award watch list after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors as a junior. He has recorded 154 tackles, six interceptions and nine pass breakups the past two seasons as Michigan State has blossomed as a top 10 defense.

Dantonio doesn't bring up names like Doss and Gamble with his current players, but he lets them know where they stand.

"For Coach Dantonio to tell you you're one of the best guys he has ever seen play this position, one of the best guys he has ever coached at this position, it means a lot, man," Lewis said. "You want to be the best and want to do better."

Dennard knows firsthand how preseason praise, whether it stems from his coaches or the outside, means nothing unless he can back it up on the field. Last year, he played opposite cornerback Johnny Adams, who entered the season projected as a potential first-round pick -- Mel Kiper had Adams at No. 14 on his initial Big Board -- but didn't take his game to the next level. Adams earned All-Big Ten honors but missed Michigan State's bowl game with an injury, wasn't drafted and twice was waived by NFL teams last month before making the Buffalo Bills' roster.

"Knowing all the things he did throughout his career here, it kind of gets you down," Dennard said. "But at the same time, I too much don’t think about it. … It's definitely motivation. Just going in every day, from my standpoint you can't be complacent with everything. Preseason is preseason."

Lewis is expected to join Dennard this week when Michigan State faces its first major test of the season on the road against No. 23 Notre Dame. Although the Spartans finally looked like a functional offense last Saturday against Youngstown State, they'll lean on their defense against an Irish team averaging 236 pass yards a game and deep threats T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown.

Big plays have been a theme early this season for the "Spartan Dawgs," who already have eight takeaways, tied for sixth most nationally and nearly half of their total (20) from all of 2012. Dennard and Lewis look to continue to trend in South Bend.

"We have to make more plays," Dennard said. "We have to make more interceptions for touchdowns and have to do more exciting things, like forcing fumbles or scoring touchdowns or doing whatever, big hits or whatever to make Coach D happy."

If they do, they'll earn permanent spots on the bus, seated toward the front.

" After this year, are they going to belong with the likes of Mike Doss, Chris Gamble, Kwamie Lassiter, Aric Morris, Renaldo Hill?" Dantonio said. "Those guys who are starting in front of them right now, guys that we've coached, they're very, very good players. [Denard and Lewis] are making their way onto the field, onto that team."
Get comfortable, Oregon State fans. It's going to be a long quarterback competition.

Addressing the media Tuesday in a pre-spring conference call, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said it's doubtful anything will be decided between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz this spring. Mannion is listed No. 1 on the depth chart -- only because Riley and Co. didn't include an "or" between the two names. Anyone looking for meaning to Mannion being No. 1 can keep looking.

"You can't read anything into that," Riley said. "We're going to split their time evenly. You don't need to ask them daily about what's going on because I probably won't make a decision until the end of fall camp. I'm just going to let them play and grow and try to get better this spring. We'll give them absolute even turns as we go -- unless somebody just takes the bull by the horns and separates. But I don't know if that's going to happen. I think they both did a lot of good things and they both had some rough moments. It's a matter of who comes out of it with the most consistent, best play. And that might take some time. I think they are both knowledgeable. They both work hard and are well-respected. We're going to let them get as much preparation as they can."

This will be one of the more closely watched quarterback competitions in the conference -- and nationally, as the Beavers are expected to start the season in the preseason top 25.

Mannion helped the Beavers to a hot start in 2012, guiding them to victories in their first four games before hurting his knee against Washington State. That paved the way for Vaz, who engineered back-to-back wins at BYU and against Utah.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireSean Mannion is listed as Oregon State's No. 1 QB, but nothing's been decided, coach Mike Riley said.
Then came the first loss of the season, to Washington, in which Mannion threw four interceptions. Oregon State was off and on the rest of the season -- as were its quarterbacks. After a 6-0 start, the Beavers went 3-4 down the stretch, culminating with a 31-27 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Mannion finished the year with 2,446 yards and 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on 64.7 percent passing. Vaz completed 58.9 percent of his throws for 1,480 yards, but also had 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

"We've talked to both of them about the fact there is going to be competition," Riley said. "They have to learn to handle that and be a great leader and a great teammate and focus on doing their best. I think it will be good for both of them. I think it will bring the best out in both of them and then we'll have to see what we're going to do from there. I suppose in the long run we could come out of it stronger."

Other notes:

  • Players who will miss spring ball include: Safety Tyrequek Zimmerman, left tackle Garrett Weinreich, defensive end Scott Crichton, wide receiver Richard Mullaney and fullback Tyler Anderson. Left guard Chase Eldredge and center Isaac Seumalo will be limited.
  • Riley talked about the competition between Sean Martin and junior-college transfer Steven Nelson to replace departed cornerback Jordan Poyer: "[Martin] got more opportunities to play last year and that was all good for him, and we'll see if he can step up into what can be a reliable starting role. ... [Nelson] is always around working out, and in a short amount of time has seemed to fit in real well. I anticipate good things from him in spring ball. The best thing that can happen to this team is really develop good competition with good players at the corner. "
  • Riley on the depth at running back with Storm Woods, Terron Ward and Chris Brown: "That right there is good depth. I hate losing Malcolm [Agnew] because he's a good football player. He's all over special teams and when you watch our cutups or games, he's always doing something. But I think we have good players there. Storm can build on his freshman year for sure and Terron Ward looked really good in the offseason running and has really worked hard. Chris Brown is a young talent trying to break in where he can hopefully fill some of those roles that Malcolm Agnew played and bust into the rotation of playing in the game."

Irish creating own luck

November, 6, 2012
Manti Te'oMatthew EmmonsManti Te'o's fourth-quarter pick against Oklahoma is just one of many plays that broke in the Irish's favor this season.
"I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it." -- Thomas Jefferson

What better way to start off a post on election day than with a quote from one of our nation's Founding Fathers?

One that is true, I might add.

A football team does not get to 9-0 on the back of luck, as Brian Kelly re-iterated Sunday.

"Most of the time you're making your luck, and you're playing through some rough spots," Kelly said. "I've never had a team that won because it was lucky. But I've had many teams that were fortunate because they were good football teams and they found a way to win, if that makes sense. Does that make sense?"

Yes, though it's tough to explain how Notre Dame won a game Saturday after losing the turnover margin 3-0, after what some would call a phantom pass interference call on a key fourth-down fourth-quarter play, and certainly after a dooming 33-yard field goal sailed wide right -- after the officials did not penalize the Irish for having two players on the field who wore the same jersey number (No. 2s Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown).

The simple fact is that the Irish have won every game they have played. They have done more than enough in tough situations to earn those victories, ones that probably don't come in years past, and certainly not during last year's remarkably unlucky campaign.

(Is it a coincidence, as Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sam Werner pointed out, that Notre Dame outscored Pitt 23-6 Saturday after the stadium played the Rudy theme song at the 14:06 mark of the fourth quarter? … OK, probably.)

In any event, here's a look at just how close this perfect season is to being imperfect, with a similar break shown from last year to illustrate some of the differences.

As Jerry Seinfeld says, these things usually have a way of evening out.

Sept. 8 versus Purdue, 20-17 win: On third-and-6 from his own 49, Tommy Rees tried to call a timeout, then took the snap after the play clock had expired. Delay of game was not called, Rees hit John Goodman near the Irish sideline for 10 yards, and Notre Dame ended up capping the drive with a game-winning field goal with seven seconds left. 2011 equivalent: Dayne Crist marching the Irish downfield on the season's first drive against USF, only to have a Jonas Gray goal-line fumble get returned all the way back, changing the course of the game and setting an ominous tone for the season.

Oct. 6 versus Miami (in Chicago), 41-3 win: OK, so this had no effect on the game's outcome. But if Phillip Dorsett catches either of the deep balls thrown to him on the Hurricanes' first drive of the game, he scores. The complexion of this contest is forever changed then, though there is simply no way the Irish don't still overpower and wear down Miami en route to win No. 5. 2011 equivalent: If we're going by passing plays, then it's hard to overlook Michigan marching 80 yards in three plays over 28 seconds in Week 2 against the Irish last season, completing a 17-point fourth quarter comeback en route to a BCS-bowl season.

Oct. 13 versus Stanford, 20-13 win (OT): Where do we begin? We can skip the mis-spotted ball the officials gave the Cardinal in the fourth quarter, since they converted on the ensuing third-down play. But how about the whistle that coach David Shaw said was blown from the crowd, causing his players to let up while Matthias Farley tackled Stepfan Taylor for a seven-yard loss on third-and-2. That drive ended in a field goal to make it 13-10, and the Irish forced overtime on the next drive. (For my money, kudos to Farley for playing through, phantom whistle or not.) Then, of course, there's the game-ending goal-line stand. Was the whistle blown too soon? Does it matter? It's hard to imagine Taylor crossing the goal line any way since he was surrounded by seemingly the entire Notre Dame defense. And you can't overturn a call like that. And that would have just sent the game into double-overtime any way, with no guarantees either way. (I still contend that the Irish got jilted on Everett Golson's third fumble of that game, as he looked to have stepped out of bounds before losing it.) 2011 equivalent: Notre Dame about to complete a 17-0 comeback against USC before a Crist goal-line fumble gets returned the other way for a touchdown, crushing any remaining BCS-bowl dreams in the seventh game of the season.

Oct. 27 at Oklahoma, 30-13 win: Manti Te'o made a diving interception with Notre Dame up seven in the fourth quarter, a play that was upheld. Based on the initial Twitter reaction, I'm guessing that Oklahoma fans are probably still complaining about this one, but it's tough to overturn. And, well, the Irish were winning at the time and there's no guarantee that the Sooners would have mounted another scoring drive that game against that defense. 2011 equivalent: Notre Dame sacking Florida State five times, holding the Seminoles to 1.4 yards per rush, scoring a defensive touchdown, holding a 14-0 second-half lead … and still losing the Champs Sports Bowl.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
One last look back at the weekend that was in the Big East:

The good: Louisville continued to carry the conference flag, improving to 9-0. Cincinnati snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Syracuse. South Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Connecticut.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThere are 34 players from Florida on Louisville's roster, and Charlie Strong recruited 27 of them, including QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The bad: Some of the losing teams from Saturday surely will be scratching their heads, particularly Syracuse, which turned the ball over twice (leading to two Cincinnati touchdowns), committed 12 penalties and had one field goal blocked and missed another. And Pitt blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the house of the now-No. 4 team in the country, missing a potential game-winning field goal in double overtime and going with some questionable play calling late in regulation against Notre Dame.

The ugly: UConn fell at USF for its fourth straight loss. The Huskies did not reach the end zone, and though they kicked a third-quarter field goal, they still have not scored a second-half touchdown since the third quarter of their Sept. 29 home win over Buffalo.

Uh, refs: Losing the way Pitt did hurts enough. But it turns out after the fact that the Panthers should have gotten another chance. Tied at the end of double overtime with a chance to win the game with a 33-yard kick, Kevin Harper booted it wide right after a bad snap. But Notre Dame had two players wearing No. 2 on the field at the same time -- corner Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown -- which the refs didn't see. Pitt should have been awarded a first down and would have had another chance to score and seal the win. "It was a coaching mistake," Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

About time: USF had not one but two picks in its 13-6 win over UConn, becoming the last FBS team to record an interception this season. Better late than never.

Take a bow: USF quarterback B.J. Daniels' college career is over after he suffered a broken left ankle. Sad to see the senior go under those circumstances, especially less than 400 yards from breaking Matt Grothe's Big East record for total yards (10,875).

No more Munchie magic? Munchie Legaux was pulled from the Bearcats' win over Syracuse and backup Brendon Kay did not disappoint, leading consecutive scoring drives to put his team back in front. Kay's numbers don't say much -- 3-of-3 passing for 32 yards and a touchdown, three rushes for 18 yards -- but he played well, and the competition will reopen this week between him and Legaux.
Brian Kelly saw a different team post-victory Saturday night than the one he did a week earlier.

Such is the difference between a tight home win over BYU and a program-defining road triumph over a top-10 team.

"They were very excited about the win," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference of a 30-13 win over No. 8 Oklahoma. "They felt really good about how they won the game. It wasn't a giddy group; it was a group that felt like they had earned the win and celebrated accordingly. And we got on the bus and we got on the plane and you could barely hear a pin drop. The guys were out sleeping. You know when you gauge a win how your team reacts, and I thought it was an appropriate reaction after the game."

One that coincided with the best performance of the three-year Kelly era.

"It was in the four areas that we've asked our kids to play this game, it was on point," Kelly said. "We wanted to be smart, disciplined, physically and mentally we wanted to be tougher than our opponent, and we hit all four of those. So as it relates to what the message was and what we wanted to accomplish, it hit all four points for us."

Specificifally, Kelly was pleased to see a number of young players step up in big spots, particularly Chris Brown, whose game-changing 50-yard catch in the fourth quarter set up the go-ahead score.

The reception was the first of Brown's career.

"Three true freshmen making an impact in Chris Brown, Elijah Shumate and KeiVarae Russell — I think the tackling of our secondary against a very skilled group," Kelly said of what stood out the most Saturday. "We were going to give them the ball in space and we were going to have to make tackles, and I was very, very impressed with a guy like KeiVarae Russell, who's a true freshman who moved over there just a couple months ago, the way he tackles in space. And then Elijah Shumate, a guy who again, is just a true freshman playing in a very big environment.

"The way they handled themselves in that kind of environment — I wouldn't say surprised me, but those are the things that we're talking about in terms of guys really impressing us."

Flu-ridden: Six players had a stomach flu during the week, but Gunner Kiel was not one of them. Kelly said he left the freshman quarterback home because the team had several administrators on its plane and had to make some tough travel decisions.

Clean bill of health: Bennett Jackson (shoulder) and Matthias Farley (hand) are both fine, Kelly said.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame sent a message to the rest of college football with a 30-13 win over No. 8 Oklahoma at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. Here's a closer look at what happened and what it means for both teams.

How the game was won: In the trenches. Notre Dame shut down OU’s run game while rushing for 215 yards of its own. The Fighting Irish offensive and defensive lines manhandled the Sooners as Notre Dame improved to 8-0.

The game was over when: Irish kicker Kyle Brindza hit a 46-yard field goal to give Notre Dame a 23-13 lead with 3:22 remaining. The Irish tacked on a late touchdown to win by 17 points.

Turning point: After OU tied the game at 13 midway through the fourth quarter, the Irish stormed back on their next possession, sparked by a 50-yard reception from Chris Brown. It was a remarkable response to the Sooners. Everett Golson’s 1-yard touchdown run capped the drive and secured the win.

Stat of the game: 0.6. That’s the yards-per-carry average for Oklahoma. The Irish run defense was highly regarded when they arrived in Norman. And they didn’t disappoint, holding OU to 15 yards on 24 carries.

Player of the game: Manti Te’o. The Notre Dame linebacker was all over the field for the Irish. He sealed the victory with his fourth-quarter interception and finished the game with 11 tackles, one sack and one interception. He played like a Heisman candidate, leaving his mark on the game with his aggression and hustle.

Unsung hero of the game: Golson. The redshirt freshman quarterback showed exceptional maturity and savvy. He made plays when they were there, tossed the ball out of bounds when they weren't. He finished 13-of-25 for 177 yards with zero turnovers and added 11 rushes for 64 yards and one touchdown. He didn't play like a first-year player.

What Notre Dame learned: Brian Kelly’s rebuilding job appears to be nearing completion. Programs are built on wins like this. With a road win against the Sooners, Kelly’s team made its case earn a spot in the BCS title game. And, at the very least, Irish fans must be thrilled with the progress of Kelly’s program during his third season in South Bend.

What Oklahoma learned: Winning home games against top-25 opponents isn’t as easy as it seemed under Bob Stoops. After heading into the season undefeated against top-25 teams at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium under Stoops, the Sooners suffered their second loss to a Top-25 opponent this year. No. 3 Kansas State knocked off the Sooners on Sept. 22.

What it means: The Irish are for real. Notre Dame is making a strong case to rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings. With wins over Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and OU, the Irish have a solid résumé and can make a case for a spot in the BCS title game.

What to Watch: Week 9 at Oklahoma

October, 25, 2012
Here are three things to keep an eye out for Saturday night.

1. Deep throw early. Look for Chris Brown to make an early cameo and for Everett Golson to try to hit him behind the secondary early. That could do wonders for the offense and complexion of this game -- if successful.

2. Irish front seven vs. "Bell"-dozer. If Oklahoma gets deep in the red zone, this will be very fun to watch. A Notre Dame defense whose biggest win has come on a goal-line stand going up against a 6-foot-5, 254-pound freshman quarterback? Football in its purest form.

3. A composed Golson. Don't expect the young QB to get rattled by the hostile environment or turn it over multiple times. He already handled a trip to then-No. 10 Michigan State very well. The problem, of course, is that Oklahoma is much better than MSU, and a sound game might not be enough, though I don't expect any Tommy Rees appearances Saturday.
1. This ground game is good: And it's going to be even better when Cierre Wood returns. Of course, not every defense will be as easy to run on as Navy's was, but there are several valuable options -- don't forget about USC transfer Amir Carlisle, either -- that will help alleviate the pressure on Everett Golson.

2. Golson has poise: Yes, that's a vague, cliche term coaches and writers alike love to throw around. But give the redshirt freshman credit: First start, overseas, the pressure of playing quarterback for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly -- and he was never rattled. Golson was an efficient game manager, which was more than enough against the Midshipmen.

3. There may be a punt-return game: Notre Dame averaged 3.7 yards per punt return in 2011 -- and that was after Michael Floyd's 41-yard return in the Champs Sports Bowl. Davonte Neal returned one punt 11 yards. Earth-shattering? No. But after last season's opening-week fiasco, it's enough reason to think this could be a source of production for the Irish, with the true freshman leading the charge.

4. Freshmen will contribute: Neal had the punt return (and a negative-5-yard catch), Justin Ferguson had a 9-yard reception. Ferguson, Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti were special teams regulars. KeiVarae Russell became Notre Dame's first true freshman starting corner. Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Sheldon Day saw some time. And even Ronnie Stanley played with the second-team line, a rarity for a freshman offensive lineman.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson wanted a visor for his helmet. Brian Kelly gave him much more than that.

In naming Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback Thursday, the third-year Irish coach is showing a commitment to stabilizing the position once and for all, entrusting the car keys to the guy who ultimately can take the spread offense to the level everyone's been waiting to see since Kelly's arrival in 2010.

"You're starting DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, two guys that are gonna play a lot for us on the perimeter that are first-time starters, and then George Atkinson didn't play very much at running back. You're gonna see a lot of him," Kelly said. "Troy Niklas. I could go on and on. So Everett Golson, there's four or five guys right there that are gonna be impactful in the games. So yeah, certainly there's gonna be some learning there. But one thing we don't have a lot of time on is that curve. We gotta come out running and doing our thing right away."

That starts with the redshirt freshman whose strong arm and nimble feet make him the ideal man behind this wheel. It's not like Notre Dame's offense is composed of all first- or second-year players, either: The Irish return seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, in addition to the nation's best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and an offensive line that is as solid as they come.

Those weapons present a perfect opportunity to help break Golson in, as will the relatively tame defenses he is set to face in the season's first two weeks -- Navy on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, and Purdue the following Saturday in South Bend.

"I would say what makes me more comfortable back there is just my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about the veterans, you’ve got the O-line, you’ve got veteran wide receivers. Like I said, the quarterbacks out there just helping me. That’s made me more comfortable."

Mistakes will come because they always do, especially for first-year players. Golson, calm and collected in facing every badgering reporter's question so far, showed a glimpse of some of that child-like giddiness when describing how he found out he won the job.

Golson had wanted a visor for his helmet before Wednesday's practice, an item Kelly said he would get once he was officially named the starter. Golson rushed over to the Romano Family Locker Room before class Thursday, only to see the same old gap between his facemask and helmet.

"I came back in [after class] and it was just there," he said of the visor. "I was kind of happy about that."

If Golson lives up to his potential, those happy times will continue for Notre Dame.

National signing day overview

February, 2, 2012
National signing day is in the books. And though it was not without its surprises for Notre Dame, we won't know the true impact of Wednesday's additions until years from now.

With that, we take our best shot at predicting the future while recapping what went down.

Biggest surprise: There's only one choice to make here, and it's the flip of Deontay Greenberry to Houston on Wednesday morning. Notre Dame's 17-man class seemed all but set entering the day, but Greenberry changed that with the last-minute decision. Having his cousin, Tee Shepard, already enrolled at Notre Dame certainly makes this more surprising.

Player you'll see next season: Shepard figures to see playing time in the secondary upon his arrival. Brian Kelly called him the best cornerback in the country, and with the lack of depth there currently on the Notre Dame roster, Shepard will have the chance to earn extended minutes with an impressive spring and summer.

Dark horse contributors: Chris Brown and Nicky Baratti are both three-star prospects, but Kelly thinks they are both steals. Neither has a physique that will help him stand out on the field, but Brown is a versatile threat with the ball in his hands, short or deep. Baratti, labeled an "athlete," projects as a safety but displays the kind of adaptability and attitude that Kelly loves.
John Turner kicked things off for Notre Dame's 2012 recruiting class shortly after 7 a.m. today, becoming the first of what is expected to be 14 high schoolers to fax in his signed letter of intent.

The names trickled in after — Romeo Okwara, Mark Harrell, Justin Ferguson, C.J. Prosise, Chris Brown, William Mahone, Scott Daly, Jarron Jones, Nicky Baratti and Elijah Shumate.

Gunner Kiel, Tee Shepard and Sheldon Day have already enrolled.

We'll speak to coach Brian Kelly in less than two hours, by which time the Irish hope their three verbal pledges from the West Coast -- Deontay Greenberry, Ronnie Stanleyand KeiVarae Russell -- make their new homes official.

Where ND stands on signing day

February, 1, 2012
Happy New Year?! Well, not quite. But it is national signing day, a chance for fans of every team to celebrate the promise of the future.

For Notre Dame, that future is brighter than most. The Irish are expected to sign the No. 9 recruiting class for the Class of 2012, according to ESPNU. And barring anything unforeseen, the class might just stand at 17 prospects when the day is done.

Brian Kelly will hold a news conference at 1 p.m. today, but until then, here's a recap of who you should expect to see in a Notre Dame uniform next season. (*indicates early enrollee already on campus)

*Four-star QB Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East)
  • 6'3", 215, No. 3 QB, No. 52 overall, 82 Scout Grade, Signed Jan. 17, 2012

Four-star WR Justin Ferguson (Pembroke Pikes, Fla./Flanagan)
  • 6'1", 205, No. 14 WR, No. 85 overall, 81 Scout Grade, Committed May 2, 2011

Four-star OT Jarron Jones (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas)
  • 6'6", 295, No. 11 OT, No. 102 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed April 12, 2011

Four-star WR Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'2", 185, No. 17 WR, No. 106 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Four-star OT Ronnie Stanley (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman)
  • 6'6", 285, No. 34 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 15, 2011

Four-star RB William Mahone (Youngstown, Ohio/Austintown Fitch)
  • 5'10", 206, No. 16 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 30, 2011

Four-star OT Mark Harrell (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)
  • 6'5", 260, No. 41 OT, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 19, 2011

Three-star RB KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash./Mariner)
  • 6'0", 175, No. 26 RB, 79 Scout Grade, Committed Dec. 29, 2011

Three-star WR Chris Brown (Hanahan, S.C./Hanahan)
  • 6'2", 170, No. 66 WR, 78 Scout Grade, Committed Sept. 18, 2011

Two-star LS Scott Daly (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South)
  • 6'3", 228, No. 3 LS, 73 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011
*Four-star CB Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union)
  • 6'0", 180, No. 9 CB, No. 90 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed March 2, 2011

*Four-star DT Sheldon Day (Indianapolis/Warren Central)
  • 6'2", 280, No. 14 DT, No. 143 overall, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Aug. 3, 2011

Four-star S Elijah Shumate (Ramsey, N.J./Don Bosco)
  • 6'0", 205, No. 14 S, 80 Scout Grade, Committed Jan. 7, 2012

Three-star S C.J. Prosise (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 22 S, 79 Scout Grade, Committed May 27, 2011

Three-star DE Romeo Okwara (Charlotte, N.C./Ardrey Kell)
  • 6'4", 223, No. 96 DE, 77 Scout Grade, Committed July 10, 2011

Three-star ATH Nicky Baratti (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak)
  • 6'1", 190, No. 87 ATH, 77 Scout Grade, Committed April 16, 2011

Three-star S John Turner (Indianapolis/Cathedral)
  • 6'0", 194, No. 62 S, 76 Scout Grade, Committed June 28, 2011
Note: Amir Carlisle (Sunnyvale, Calif./Kings Academy) has also enrolled this spring after a semester at USC. He was a four-star recruit, ESPNU's No. 17 athlete, and the 114th-best player overall in the Class of 2011. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder rushed for 118 yards on 19 carries and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown with the Trojans in 2011.

Notre Dame recruiting needs

January, 31, 2012
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.