NCF Nation: Duval Kamara
But that's the story so far at the Coliseum. Notre Dame scored twice late after not being able to move the ball for most of the first half. Brian Kelly has been criticized for gambling too much at times this year, but it paid off this time. The Irish got down to the USC 1 with 10 seconds left and no timeouts. Instead of settling for the field goal, Kelly stayed aggressive and it resulted in a touchdown pass to Duval Kamara.
David Ruffer missed the extra point, but the Irish still lead 13-3 in a game they haven't won since 2001. They've been blown out the past four trips to L.A., but this one is playing out entirely differently.
The USC offense is struggling with backup Mitch Mustain replacing the injured Matt Barkley, but credit some of that to Notre Dame's defense. It hasn't allowed a touchdown since early in the Tulsa game, a span that now stretches more than 13 quarters. That's not a typo.
What an amazing turnaround by the defense since the Navy game. Just like the last two games, Notre Dame's opponent scored first with a field goal. The last two games, the Irish never allowed another another point.
I can't quite explain where this defense has come from, but if it keeps up, Notre Dame is going to write a very solid finish to this regular season.
"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I had to get away from there."
There's no other way to describe it: Notre Dame fans stormed the field. Against Utah. What would Rockne and Leahy think about that?
Releasing pent-up frustration can cause intense and unexpected celebration. The Irish's 28-3 upset of the No. 14 Utes was their first win against a ranked team in 12 tries, dating to 2006. They played easily their best game of the season while evening their record at 5-5, keeping previously unlikely bowl hopes alive. It was the first Senior Day victory since 2007.
And after three weeks of nothing but losing on and off the field, no team or school needed a moment like this more.
"Since I've been here, we haven't beaten a ranked opponent, and we really never put a game together like we did today," senior safety Harrison Smith said. "Just seeing ourselves do that is going to be good for the whole program moving forward."
Forget the names on the jerseys. Utah has had a much better program the past decade than Notre Dame. The Irish played like the underdogs with nothing to lose.
"We were taking a huge load off our shoulders and going back and just being college students and football players," coach Brian Kelly said. "Not carrying all the burdens of everything that goes along with being a Notre Dame football player and the great tradition and championships."
The Irish shrugged off their recent tradition of getting physically manhandled and wilting in the fourth quarter with a thoroughly dominant performance. That seemed wildly unlikely, given that their best team might have been wearing sweatpants; Kyle Rudolph, Armando Allen, Dayne Crist, Ian Williams, Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones were among the many walking wounded on the home sidelines. What kind of odds could you have gotten in August that Notre Dame would beat a Top 15 team in November behind the strength of guys like Kamara, Tommy Rees, Jonas Gray, Austin Collinsworth and Prince Shembo?
Kelly gambled with a risky pass-play call at the end of the Tulsa game that cost the team a victory. With true freshman Rees making his first start at quarterback, Kelly simplified things this time.
"Our theme this week was get it into the fourth quarter, and let's put this nonsense to bed that you can't win games in the fourth quarter," he said.
Instead of spreading the field, the Irish kept two tight ends in for most of the game, running the ball 29 times while passing it only 20. Kelly said he called "powers" -- running plays with two tight ends -- 18 times against Utah after using it only five times the entire season.
Notre Dame owned the trenches; Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said his team "never had any semblance of control of the line of scrimmage." The Irish forced three Utes turnovers while giving away none. Robert Blanton blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for Notre Dame's first non-offensive score of the season. Utah, looking punch drunk still from last week's 47-7 loss to TCU, failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 45 games.
The killer instinct that the Irish lacked all year? Thirteen seconds into the second half, they increased their lead to 21-3 by forcing a fumble on the kickoff and then pouncing for a touchdown pass the next play.
The rainy day seemed fitting for the home finale, as a black cloud had hung over Notre Dame for the past weeks. The stunning losses to Navy and Tulsa, the tragic death of student videographer Declan Sullivan, calls from some quarters for Kelly and others to be fired because of the Sullivan incident -- they all took their toll.
Players for the most part steered clear of talking about that adversity and said Saturday's win was about sending the senior class out on the right note. The past two senior classes suffered the indignation of losing to Syracuse and Connecticut in their final home game.
"Just knowing we got a big win on senior week when we haven't won one in years feels good," receiver Michael Floyd said. "That's what we really wanted."
This win was about more than that, though. It was about the pain from years of frustrating setbacks and oh-so-close losses finally releasing its grip. It was about embracing the possibility that maybe things will change -- and that it won't be so long before students storm the field again.
"That's how it should be," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "We should give our fans what they want."
It's almost like a bizarro version of the season to date, as the Irish are getting contributions from lots of unheralded players, ruling the game with defense and coming up with every key play. Duval Kamara has two touchdown catches, which may explain everything you need to know. Kamara had seven catches this season coming into Saturday.
Utah trails 28-3, and just failed on fourth-and-goal from the 8. It was the kind of drive that had killed the Irish in so many previous games; the Utes converted a key fourth down earlier as Shaky Smithson broke a Gary Gray tackle before the sticks. But the Notre Dame defense simply stiffened and got the ball back.
I don't think anybody saw this type of game coming. You know who likes this besides Irish fans? Boise State. This Utah team looks awful, and it's taking a bit of the luster off TCU's big victory in Salt Lake City last week.
Not even Notre Dame can blow this lead in the fourth quarter. I think.
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.
1. Irish eyes on the assignment: Defending the triple option requires major discipline. Players have to read their keys, stay at home on their assignments and not try to do too much (and watch out for being cut-blocked). Obviously, Notre Dame hasn't fared too well at this against Navy in the recent past. The Midshipmen ran for 348 yards during last year's win in South Bend. The Irish run defense has been surprisingly strong the last few weeks. Saturday brings a whole new challenge, and the linebackers in the 3-4 alignment must be on point.
2. Here's the catch: Notre Dame's biggest issue this week is its receiving unit. Second-leading pass-catcher Theo Riddick is out with an ankle injury and will be replaced by freshman T.J. Jones. Michael Floyd (hamstring) says he will play but he may be very limited. With Kyle Rudolph out, Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone need to continue contributing at tight end. Duval Kamara and John Goodman also must step up. Navy's ball control means fewer offensive opportunities for the Irish, and they can't afford to sputter in their possessions. Remember, too, that the wind can swirl at new Meadowlands Stadium, creating further potential problems for Dayne Crist and the passing game.
3. The red zone: Turnovers in the red zone led to Notre Dame's demise in last year's game. Earlier this season, Navy lost to Maryland after repeated turnovers and blown opportunities near the Terrapins' goal line. In a game like this, where the clock will be running a lot because of the running game, every red zone trip becomes more important. The team that converts more of its chances into seven points could be the one happily singing its alma mater at the end of the day.
Head coach Brian Kelly said on Tuesday that second-leading receiver Theo Riddick won't play Saturday against the Midshipmen because of a severely sprained ankle. Riddick is in a cast and there's no word on his recovery time, but the team believes he can avoid surgery. Riddick has really come on strong at slot receiver the past few games and has 38 catches for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
The only Irish player with more catches and yards is Michael Floyd, and he may not go this week either. Floyd had a huge game against Western Michigan last week but played through a hamstring injury that has worsened. Kelly said Floyd would not practice this week and would be a game-time decision for Saturday. Floyd will dress, and Kelly likened his situation to running back Armando Allen's last week. Allen ended up playing but in a very limited role.
The team is already without star tight end Kyle Rudolph, who underwent season-ending hamstring surgery last week.
That means the leading healthy receiver right now is true freshman T.J. Jones, who has 12 catches for 203 yards on the season. He'll take over Riddick's slot job. Senior Duval Kamara will get Floyd's reps in practice this week, while John Goodman and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone may have to play a larger role in the receiving game.
Not having offensive weapons could be crucial against Navy, a team that controls the clock with its option running game. Notre Dame will likely have much fewer snaps offensively and will have to make the most of each opportunity with the ball.
Kelly worked with a personal trainer this offseason to shed some pounds, and though he didn't give the exact amount of weight loss, he said he went down a couple of pant sizes.
Is his first Irish team in similarly good shape? Kelly addressed that on Tuesday, along with some interesting depth chart issues.
Just about every starter on the team has been decided outside of the kicking competition. Carlo Calabrese has won one of the inside linebacker spots by virtual default, since his main competitor -- Anthony McDonald -- will likely miss the opener against Purdue because of a knee injury. Every other nicked-up player, including tight end Kyle Rudolph (hamstring) should be ready to play against Purdue, Kelly said.
"With Carlo, it's consistency," Kelly said. "He'll have a good day and then a bad day. That's inexperience, and it's getting comfortable with what the role is at that part position."
At one of the outside linebacker spots, known as the "Dog" position, Kerry Neal continues to lead senior Brian Smith, somewhat surprisingly. Kelly said Smith has played better in recent days, but that Neal "is a pretty good football player, too."
In a real twist, Kelly said Chris Watt is pushing senior Chris Stewart at guard. Stewart was seen as one of the no-brainer starters all offseason. (And I'd still be very surprised if he isn't No. 1 on Sept. 4).
Talented sophomore Cierre Wood has climbed to No. 2 at running back behind Armando Allen. Duval Kamara and TJ Jones are fighting it out for the starting spot at 'X' receiver. And true freshmen quarterbacks Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa appear destined for the scout team, with Nate Montana and Tommy Rees backing up Dayne Crist, Kelly said.
Kelly plans to start easing up on the players in the next couple of days. He said some players have asked him when they'll get their legs back, which he always sees as a sure sign that they're ready to start playing some games.
Kelly looks ready. For better or worse, the Irish need to be in 11 days.
The media was allowed to watch the first 30 minutes of practice, and I'd be lying if I said it was an illuminating time (we saw mostly stretching and some positional work, and of course the players are just in shorts and jerseys at this point). But here are a few minor observations from the first Irish practice of the 2010 season:
- Much of the spring was about the players getting used to Kelly's fast-paced drills. They look better equipped to handle that today. The first drill after stretching for the offense is called "Tempo," where the quarterback, running back, receivers and linemen sprint through a series of plays down half the field. The pace is dizzying, and a few players were breathing heavily after the first couple of minutes. But they got through it.
- Well, maybe they're not totally accustomed to the pace. During a drill where teammates try to strip the ball from each other, wide receivers coach Tony Alford screamed, "Is that as fast as you can run? Because if not, you're screwing the drill!"
- Quarterback Dayne Crist wore a brace on his surgically-repaired right knee, but he ran full speed and looked sharp. Health is no longer a concern for him.
- Kelly spent most of his time in the open part of practice with the quarterbacks, which isn't surprising since that position needs a lot of attention. Freshmen Luke Massa and Andrew Hendrix got their first indoctrination into a Kelly practice, and their arrival gave the team six quarterbacks to work with. Massa is tall -- listed at 6-foot-4 -- and very lanky at 215 pounds.
- There weren't any depth chart surprises. Freshman TJ Jones lined up with the first-stringers at receiver instead of senior Duval Kamara, who was listed at No. 1. The starting offensive linemen, as expected, were Zack Martin at left tackle, Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson at guard, Dan Wenger at center and Taylor Dever at right tackle. Kelly said Friday that the offensive line is the one position where there could be a lot of moving and shaking, though Stewart and Robinson sure seem like locks.
- Freshman defensive tackle Louis Nix is listed at 350 pounds and if it's possible, looked even bigger. He appeared to be struggling in some of the basic conditioning drills to start practice. It's too early to say he won't contribute this year, but Nix has a long way to go at a position that lacks depth.
- Not much to glean from the defense on a day when it isn't in pads or hitting anybody or even covering an offense during the open period. I did notice that nose guard Ian Williams -- whom Kelly singled out on Friday as one of the biggest weight room gainers -- appeared noticeably bigger than a year ago and certainly passes the look test for a run-stuffer.
- Only four weeks until the 2010 opener against Purdue.
1. Kelly has made his mark: This was always Kelly's dream job, and he has ingratiated himself in the Notre Dame community quickly and impressively. He's also instilled a toughness about the team. He proudly pointed to the fact that every player practiced this spring, even the ones who were coming off of surgeries. Kelly understands all the many things it takes to be the Notre Dame coach; now all he has to do is win.
2. T.J. Jones is ready to compete now: The freshman wide receiver and January enrollee had a terrific spring, and Kelly said Jones would be a starter if the season started today. He had four catches for 56 yards and a score in the spring game. It looks like he's primed for a standout first season and a great career.
3. Offense won't be a problem: Sure, the Irish are breaking in Dayne Crist at quarterback, but he figures to improve as he gains more mobility in his surgically repaired knee. The receiving corps is deep with Michael Floyd, Jones, Shaq Evans, John Goodman, Duval Kamara and Theo Riddick, who was moved from running back to slot receiver. Armando Allen is a solid lead running back, while Cierre Wood did some good things in the spring game. And Kyle Rudolph is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the nation. Add in Kelly's offensive mind, and Notre Dame won't hurt for points in its new spread offense this season. The key, again, will be making sure the defense comes along for the ride.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Michael Floyd returned to practice in pads on Tuesday. To Jimmy Clausen's chagrin, he didn't go through any pass-catching drills.
"He wasn't ready for it," Clausen said. "But he'll be back soon enough."
Actually, having the star wide receiver make a miracle return this week against USC would qualify as soon enough for Notre Dame. But Floyd's broken collarbone won't be healed sufficiently for him to play until November at the earliest.
Floyd was playing as well as any wideout in the country before he got hurt in the second quarter of the Michigan State game, compiling 13 catches for 358 yards and five touchdowns in just over two games. His size and explosiveness would give the Irish one its few clear mismatches to exploit against the powerful Trojans.
Since Floyd's injury, though, the Notre Dame passing game hasn't seen a noticeable dip. That's because the Irish have found other ways and other players to make up for his production.
"We knew there wasn't going to be just one person to step up and fill his role, because I don't know if there are many players in the country who could do that," receiver Robby Parris said. "We knew we just had to do what we did best as individuals, and go out there rally collectively as a team."
Without Floyd, Golden Tate has become the unquestioned go-to receiver. He has had some huge games despite defenses knowing that status, including his nine-catch, 244-yard outburst against Washington. Head coach Charlie Weis has moved Tate all over the field to keep the double teams at bay. He's lined up in the backfield and motioned out, as well as running routes out of the slot.
"We've asked a lot from him since Michael got hurt," Weis said. "Because if you just line him up at 'X' where he normally plays, I think that you'd just be asking for a long day for Golden. Whether they'd roll him into zone or whether they'd double him in man, he'd have a tough day at the office. So we've had to put a lot of him mentally so we could put him in different positions to give him an opportunity to have the ball in his hands and he's handled that very well."
"He is like a running back at receiver," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "We just have to keep track of him and know the tendencies when he moves. There are so many things you can do, it's very difficult."
Tight end Kyle Rudolph has also seen his role grow exponentially since Floyd's injury. In the first two games, Rudolph had 7 catches for 67 yards. In the last three, he has hauled in 14 balls for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
Rudolph was a star basketball player in high school, and he uses that athleticism at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds to pose nightmares for opposing linebackers and corners. Weis isn't afraid to split Rudolph out wide, especially in the red zone, where he's run many of Floyd's plays.
"I feel pretty comfortable being split out," Rudolph said. "I'm just as comfortable coming out of a two-point stance as I am in a three-point stance."
Others have also had to step up and fill Floyd's role by committee. Parris, a senior who missed most of last year with injuries, had six catches for 77 yards in the last three games after not getting a reception in the first two. True freshman Shaquelle Evans has had his development accelerated and made four catches against Washington. Junior Duval Kamara could be used more as he recovers from preseason knee surgery.
"I think the offense has responded very well, and the receivers have responded well," Parris said. "We know that (Floyd) makes a great difference, but we know have other players who can come and fill in."
The real test of life without Floyd arrives Saturday. According to ESPN's Next Level Statistics, Clausen went 5-of-8 for 204 yards and three touchdowns when throwing the ball 20-plus yards downfield to Floyd. To all other receivers at that distance, he is just 4-of-17 for 150 yards and one touchdown. Tate has all four of those receptions (he has several big plays, but many of those were thrown under 20 yards until Tate turned them into something bigger).
So Notre Dame's true big-play, downfield threat will be on the sidelines instead of stretching USC's defense Saturday. It's up to his replacements to keep making up the difference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Notre Dame's dynamic duo at wide receiver is down to a Golden one.
Sophomore Michael Floyd is likely out for the regular season after breaking his collarbone in Saturday's win over Michigan State, head coach Charlie Weis said. Floyd was playing as well as any receiver in America, with 13 catches for 358 yards and five touchdowns before the first-half injury.
"You can never really replace a Michael Floyd, a guy who's that caliber of player," Weis said.
The Fighting Irish learned that firsthand last season, when Floyd missed some time with another injury. Defenses loaded up against their other star wideout, Golden Tate, and the offense sputtered along. Weis is determined to not to let that happen this year.
"Last night before I went to sleep, I already had a pretty good idea about how to handle this," he said. "What you have to do is put other people in position to go ahead and pick up some of that responsibility, and having some veterans in there, in that mix, certainly makes it easier."
Weis said he would elaborate later in the week on the specifics of his plan. But his comments about veterans would seem to indicate a larger role for junior Duval Kamara and senior Robby Parris, each of whom saw more time Saturday after Floyd's injury.
The most talented wideout on the roster other than Tate might be true freshman Shaquelle Evans, who has two catches this season.
"You can anticipate seeing him a heck of a lot more," Weis said of Evans.
Notre Dame may also look more to tight end Kyle Rudolph, a terrific pass-catcher at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds. Rudolph has 13 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown this season. But Weis said one thing he wouldn't do is line up Rudolph out wide.
"Kyle is best with his hand on the ground," Weis said. "When you're that tall, one of the things is it's a little tougher to get off the line of scrimmage when you're in a two-point stance as opposed to a three-point stance.
"Part of Kyle's production will be based on making sure we've got receivers opposite of Golden, where the defense can't say, 'That's just a guy out there.'"
In other news, Weis said quarterback Jimmy Clausen's injury is either turf toe or an arch problem, and he'll have an MRI Sunday. Weis expects Clausen to play Saturday at Purdue even if he's hobbled, but said he has confidence in backup Dayne Crist if that's not the case.
Weis also said he didn't understand why the play in which Floyd was injured in the end zone was not ruled a touchdown catch. That was one of the plays Notre Dame sent to the Big East office for review. But he declined to complain much about it, unlike last week when he aired his beefs about the officiating in the Michigan loss.
"We're not going to get into Notre Dame being the weekly whiners of officiating," he said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
What we learned about Notre Dame in the Fighting Irish's 33-30 win over Michigan State ...
1. The defense is in code-red crisis mode: So much for all the good vibes from the opening-week shutout of Nevada. A week after being shredded by Michigan, Notre Dame gave up 459 total yards and 7.1 yards per play to a pedestrian Michigan State offense. The team's supposed strength -- its pass defense -- allowed 302 yards to Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins. He wasn't sacked all day despite defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's constant pressure, although he did throw the game-turning interception while trying to avoid a heavy rush. This is the same Michigan State team that managed just 316 yards last week at home against Central Michigan.
2. Notre Dame needs another playmaker at wideout: Star receiver Michael Floyd could possibly miss a month or two with a broken clavicle. When he got hurt last year, opponents double-teamed Golden Tate and slowed down the Irish offense. For some reason, the Spartans didn't go that route on Saturday, and Tate caught the game-winning touchdown. Future opponents will surely not make that same mistake. Charlie Weis will have to find someone to take pressure off Tate on the other side, whether that's the heretofore underachieving Duval Kamara, freshman Shaquelle Evans or someone else. At least Notre Dame has a reliable running game to lean on, as Armando Allen went over 100 yards for the second straight game.
3. Jimmy Clausen is more than just hype: Any doubts about Clausen's toughness and leadership should have been erased Saturday. Despite hurting his toe while being sacked early in the game, the quarterback limped his way through yet another standout performance. He completed his first 10 passes, threw for 300 yards and made many perfect throws that were dropped. There's no question who this team's most important and best player is.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
NBC is reporting that Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd has a broken collarbone.
Of course, that's a devastating loss for the Irish, as Floyd could be out quite a while with that kind of injury. It's a shame for him, too, because Floyd was having a spectacular season.
Notre Dame is going to have to find another threat to go alongside Golden Tate, whether that's freshman Shaquelle Evans or Duval Kamara or maybe even more looks to tight end Kyle Rudolph.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- No major news from warmups, as both teams appear to have a full complement of healthy players. Notre Dame's one injury concern was receiver Duval Kamara, who had a knee scope last month. But he looked to be moving around just fine in warmups.
The Irish did seem to have a lot more size while they were on the field at the same time as Nevada. But whether that counts for much, we'll have to wait and see. And we'll see shortly.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
The junior is expected to be ready for the Sept. 5 opener against Nevada.
"You can practice and play (with the injury)," Weis told reporters. "But the practicing and playing is not completely at full speed. If you get it fixed today, he will be at full speed (by the opener)."
The 6-foot-5 Kamara has started 14 games in his career, including nine last season when he had 20 catches for 206 yards.
Hamilton also is reporting that starting cornerback Darrin Walls is being held out of practice with a tweaked hamstring, but the injury is not considered serious.