NCF Nation: Kyle Brindza
Oh, and a pair of horses looked on at the new artificial turf fields here at Culver Military Academy, where the Irish will practice the rest of the week before returning to campus Saturday.
Kelly said that his time with the receivers has not affected his ability to evaluate the quarterbacks, as the fifth-year Irish head coach subs in for offensive coordinator/outside receivers coach Mike Denbrock, who is out for the first several weeks of camp following an undisclosed operation.
Kelly said the program is happy to accommodate Denbrock however it can, as the staff is relaying video to him on an iPad. The date of Denbrock's return remains up in the air.
As for what else went down on Day 1 at Culver:
- First things first: The Under Armour effect reared its head from the get-go, with players donning new practice jerseys. The blue (offense) jersey features a white stripe down each side of the torso, while both the blue and white (defense) jersey has ditched the three adidas stripes on each shoulder.
- The first-team offensive line, from left to right, consisted of Ronnie Stanley, Matt Hegarty, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer. Stanley was carted off about midway through practice, but Kelly said that Stanley was simply dehydrated. The second-team line went, from left to right, Mike McGlinchey, Conor Hanratty, Mark Harrell, Colin McGovern and Quenton Nelson. The third-team line, again from left to right, was Jimmy Byrne, John Montelus, Hunter Bivin, Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars.
- Jarrett Grace (leg) was mostly inactive, though he followed the linebackers from drill to drill. Mike Heuerman (hernia) spent most of the day riding a stationary bike.
- Kyle Brindza had a noticeably stronger leg on punts than Tyler Newsome and John Chereson, with Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston and Florida transfer Cody Riggs in the role of punt returners. Riggs, by the way, ran with the second-team defense at corner, where he certainly passed the eye test, at least physically speaking.
- Looking for a Heisman moment? OK, so it's practice. And Day 1 at that. But during a 7-on-7 play Golson had the ball slip out of his hands before recovering mid-air and taking off for a solid run. Everett Football? Yeah, probably too soon, though it's worth repeating that Golson ran with the 1s and looked sharper than Malik Zaire, at least on this day.
- One more house-keeping item: Kelly said that former running back/slot receiver Will Mahone is "going to look at other options" as it relates to returning to school, this after the fallout from Mahone's June 14 arrest near his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
Notre Dame finally pulled away from Rutgers to escape Yankee Stadium with a 29-16 win Saturday in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Here's how it went down:
It was over when: Tarean Folston punched it in from three yards out with 3:38 remaining to make it 26-16 and give Notre Dame some much-needed breathing room. Redshirt senior Dan Fox picked off Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd on the ensuing drive to effectively seal the game. Kyle Brindza added a 49-yard field goal to make it 29-16.
Game ball goes to: Folston was named the starter by coach Brian Kelly earlier this week. Before the game, Kelly issued a statement saying that George Atkinson III (and cornerback Jalen Brown) would not play due to a violation of team rules, which Atkinson tweeted (and then deleted) was him texting during a team meal. In any event, Folston took advantage of Atkinson's absence and might have gained the front-runner status for the starting running back job heading into next season. He capped his rookie year with 73 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, adding three catches for 21 yards. Kudos to Cam McDaniel for being his reliable self, as he had 17 carries for 80 yards and added three catches for 29 yards. The duo did this behind an offensive line missing its three regular interior starters.
Stat of the game: Pick your poison: Notre Dame completely outdid Rutgers in first downs (31-16), total yards (494-236), takeaways (4-1) and time of possession (38:16-21:44). It is hard to imagine how the Scarlet Knights managed to stay in this game for so long (19-16 with four minutes left).
Unsung hero: Brindza connected on 5 of 6 field goal attempts on what was an uneven surface, helping Notre Dame put up points whenever its offense could not punch it in. That was two field goals clear of the Irish's bowl game record. Credit to TJ Jones for catching five balls for 66 yards and carrying it four times for 16 yards and a touchdown in his college finale as well. (Oh, and let's not overlook Louis Nix, who is injured and has signed with an agent, meaning he could not travel with the team. That did not stop him from providing terrific Twitter commentary throughout the afternoon.)
What it means for Notre Dame: Let's just say the Irish had a lot more to lose in this one than they had to gain. But they can exit 2013 with a 9-4 record, their second-best mark since 2006. From an optimist's perspective, this is probably what was expected outside of the program when starting quarterback Everett Golson got suspended from school in May and once the injuries kept mounting as the season progressed. Stephon Tuitt's NFL decision will play a huge role in determining preseason expectations for this team, but getting Golson and many offensive weapons back will be huge for a program that has yet to really turn the corner offensively in four years under Kelly.
What it means for Rutgers: Goodbye American Athletic Conference, hello Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights had some opportunities to make this game a lot more interesting, but a number of questionable calls prevented them from gaining some much-needed momentum in this game, which in turn prevented them from gaining some positive momentum going into their new conference. First, coach Kyle Flood elected to decline an offside penalty on an 18-yard field goal by Kyle Federico, passing on an opportunity to go for a short touchdown in a game with little to lose and few touchdown opportunities to be gained. Later, the Scarlet Knights ran a halfback pass from the Irish 20 with Justin Goodwin, who tossed an interception to KeiVarae Russell. Michigan State made a similar mistake against the Irish earlier this year, and that one also was picked, a game-turning play in what turned out to be the Spartans' lone loss this season.
To watch the trophy presentation of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, click here.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jarron Jones walked to the corner of the Notre Dame Stadium interview room, the media members following him numbering in the dozens, all to hear the words of a guy who, before Saturday, had seven career tackles.
Jones had doubled that total in the minutes before his meeting with the press, tallying seven stops against BYU. He doubled his career blocked kick total, too, recording his second of the season. He had stepped in for an injured Kona Schwenke, who was stepping in for an injured Louis Nix, and he delivered a performance that at least momentarily quelled the fears of everyone surrounding the program about who could step in if (and likely when) Nix goes pro.
"Jarron we felt like was coming on, and he played exceedingly well and really happy for him. But we thought this was something that when we recruited him that he was capable of, and he showed that today."
Yet as much as Jones' play represented the future, Senior Day at Notre Dame was still about the present. The Irish led from start-to-finish in their 23-13 win over BYU, something they had not done since a Week 1 victory over Temple, back when all of their goals were still in front of them. That was no longer the case after their last outing, a harrowing loss at Pitt two weeks ago, but elimination from a BCS-bowl chase seemingly had a reverse effect on this group, which took care of the Cougars by playing as complete of a game as it has all season long.
"When we go out on the field, we're going to compete, we're going to compete to win, we expect to win when we go out on the field — we're not going to lay down," said Cam McDaniel, perplexed by the idea that the Irish had little left to play for. "Anybody that says that these last two games are irrelevant, that's just a completely ignorant statement, because of what we put into this thing, all the blood, sweat and tears that go into this, everything behind the scenes.
"I mean, if you make comments like that, you don't understand what this football team -- what we stand for and what we want to do. We expect to win every time we go out on the football field, and we're going to compete our tails off."
The junior running back did his part, rushing for a career-best 117 yards on a day in which the Irish eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark for just the third time this season -- despite losing center Nick Martin in the first quarter to a hyper-extended left knee, and despite a running loop of first-year starters at right guard in Conor Hanratty and Steve Elmer. The banged-up defense hunkered down when it mattered most. Notre Dame held a team that totaled 415 yards to just 13 points, thanks in large part to holding the Cougars to just one touchdown and three field goal attempts in four red zone trips.
And the Irish were not too shabby on special teams themselves, with Kyle Brindza aiding them offensively by going 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 51-yarder mid-way through the fourth quarter to make it a two-possession game.
"Yeah, we could be loose here and there during warmups and everything,” Brindza said, “but this was probably the most locked-in week we've ever had in a while, even dating back to last year when we went to a BCS-bowl game."
The attitude came down from Kelly, who, despite probably wishing the program was beyond it at this point, demanded a sharper effort and focus across the board.
Yes, that means preaching the can't-start-winning-till-you-stop-losing mantra, again. And yes, that means keeping the locker room clean, still.
"The locker-room thing was a big one," two-time captain Zack Martin said. “… We prepared a lot of plays this week. If we didn't have 11 guys doing the right thing, we'd do it again. Just little things like that that tried to focus our guys a little more. But tonight we were playing for the seniors, and hats off to our younger guys for coming in and playing their butts off."
Chief among them was Jones, still feeling the effects of his field goal block, which came near the four-minute mark with BYU threatening to slice the deficit back to a single possession.
It was the redshirt freshman's first blocked kick since getting a hand on a Temple kick back in Week 1.
"It hurts," Jones said, looking at his left hand, still stinging from the contact in what Notre Dame said was its coldest home game (26 degrees) in 22 years.
"I'm not going to lie. The ball feels like eight-times harder when it's coming at your hand like that. The Temple game, that wasn't as bad as this one."
Left guard Chris Watt was more impressed with the rest of Jones’ game.
"I just see [Dan] Fox, eight tackles, Jones -- I'm like, TJ Jones? I was like, 'Wow, seven,'" the redshirt senior laughed of Jarron Jones' breakout. "That's good for us, having younger guys stepping up in this program, especially going into next year."
Next year might look a little brighter after Saturday, but the Notre Dame is not ready to turn the page on this season just yet.
The Pinstripe Bowl figured to be there at the end for the Irish whether they went 7-5 or 9-3. Given two long weeks to ponder each scenario after stumbling in the Steel City, they came out and delivered their decision, a verdict validating this senior class' contributions in the process.
Back in the locker room was a gift that Brindza, Notre Dame's do-it-all special-teamer, wanted to give to his nephew: a game-ball he received for his efforts in the Irish's 17-13 win Saturday over Michigan State, their third straight win over the rival Spartans.
Yes, it was that kind of afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium, with the Irish getting out-gained in a game that featured less than 500 total yards of offense between the two squads, on a day that began with the program suffering its first blocked punt in five years, in a contest that saw TJ Jones fumble one punt and inadvertently touch another.
Notre Dame recovered both, and in the end, its zero turnovers to Michigan State's one might have been the difference. The Irish won their 10th straight home game, a feat they have not accomplished in 14 years. They made it seven for their past seven in games decided by one score. And they improved to 12-0 under coach Brian Kelly when they do not give the ball away.
This team learned all about winning ugly during last season's run. The question now is if a similar path is what it will take to have another successful campaign.
"I would characterize it a little bit differently," Kelly said when asked about an ugly win. "I think both defenses really carried the day here today. I think Michigan State has a great defense. They're very difficult to play against in so many fashions.
"If you would have asked me last week about what this kind of game was going to be, it wasn't going to be a beauty contest. I felt like it was going to be this kind of game."
Quarterback Tommy Rees had his worst game of the season, but avoided costly mistakes. He went 14-of-34 for 142 yards on a day that Kelly said that the senior simply missed open receivers.
Notre Dame's biggest offensive weapon, however, might have been the yellow flag.
Four pass-interference penalties gave the Irish 60 yards, with another hold, a 10-yarder, coming on a third-and-9 play in the first quarter on a drive that ended with a Brindza field goal.
One pass-interference call came on third down. Another came on a fourth-and-1 on a drive that ended with a Jones touchdown right before halftime.
DaVaris Daniels drew one on a third-quarter play that could have easily been ruled against him. Two plays later, Corey Robinson drew one. Two more plays later, and Cam McDaniel was in the end zone with a 7-yard touchdown.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had his view of pass-interference calls in a rather humorous postgame news conference. Kelly had his own view.
"When you know that the quarterback is going to throw it back shoulder, the defensive back does not know where it is, you have an advantage in that situation," Kelly said. "You're going to get some pass-interference calls when you put the ball in a good position."
Added Robinson, the 6-foot-4 freshman who led all players with 54 yards on three catches: "When the ball's in there I have to go get it, regardless of whether it's inside, outside, high or low, it doesn't matter. And I have to get around the cornerback to get the ball, and if I get the call then I get the call.
"But I have to make the catch regardless, and today I didn't make a couple of the catches, but I was fortunate to get the call. I don't got for pass interference; I'm trying to get the ball every single time, and that's the goal every time."
Matthias Farley accounted for the game's lone takeaway when he picked off Spartans freshman R.J. Shelton on an ill-advised halfback pass in the third quarter. Notre Dame scored on the very next drive.
The Irish came no closer to solving their backfield riddle, as they netted just 82 yards on 32 carries, with McDaniel again serving as the end-of-game back, getting the team's final 12 carries and even getting an unsportsmanlike-conduct call to boot.
Trailing by four with 3:12 to play and two timeouts left, Michigan State punted the ball from its own 35-yard line.
Which offense that was a bigger indictment of is a matter of debate, as Notre Dame returned favor with a three-and-out, only to see new Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell fall 12 yards short on his decisive fourth-and-20 run.
Notre Dame is 3-1 as it readies for Oklahoma. The Irish handed the nation's top defense its first loss of the season. And perhaps that's all that should be said about that.
"We know how to win close games," Rees said. "That's something we've done for a while now. I think all the guys understood what it took to close out a close one."
The good: Notre Dame ended a one-game losing streak that no one would stop talking about. The Irish's 28-6 win over Temple got them off to a sharp start in 2013, as they did not turn the ball over and had strong play from quarterback Tommy Rees and the rest of the offense.
Biggest surprise: Kelly had harped on it throughout camp, but Rees' ball distribution was evident Saturday, as he connected with seven different receivers, including four who hauled in multiple catches. Not among them were freshmen Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, or redshirt freshman C.J. Prosise, either.
Best quote: Kelly won his 200th career game, becoming the fifth fastest to accomplish the feat (270 games) and second youngest (51 years, 310 days old, second only to Pop Warner) to do it, per Notre Dame, among college coaches with at least five years of service or 50 victories at a school that was classified as a major college. Asked during a Sunday teleconference what 200 career wins mean, Kelly said: "That I'm a pretty good coach when I recruit good players."
Next up: Notre Dame travels to Michigan for the final scheduled time, and for the second-ever night game at the Big House. College GameDay will be in town, just like it was last time. And we all know how that one ended. If the past four years are any indication, this one will likely come down to the wire. And it will likely give the winner a huge boost on the path to a potential BCS bowl berth.
1. Rees looks better. There's no such thing as a perfectly clean opening game. But Notre Dame delivered about as crisp of a performance as one could have asked for offensively, starting with Tommy Rees. He led the Irish to touchdowns on their first two drives and avoided the bad decisions that had plagued him earlier in his career, allowing Irish nation to rest easy as Notre Dame heads to Michigan for Week 2.
2. Carlisle might become a major factor. Notre Dame's first play of the game? A 45-yard rush for Amir Carlisle, who was playing in his first game with the Irish after a broken ankle cost him last season after getting a waiver to play immediately following his transfer from USC. Carlisle had a team-best 68 rushing yards on just seven carries, adding two catches for 5 yards. He looked like the best of the five running backs the Irish used Saturday, and he could grow into a bigger role in the offense as the season progresses.
3. Kicking woes need to be resolved. Brian Kelly wanted Week 1 to be somewhat of a tryout between Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza. Kelly could not have liked what he saw, as each missed his lone field goal attempt. Michigan will be far less forgiving of such mistakes next week if Notre Dame cannot work out the kinks there.
4. Freshmen make presence felt. Notre Dame played 10 true freshmen in the opener, with Corey Robinson and Jaylon Smith earning the starts. Receivers James Onwualu and Will Fuller, cornerback Cole Luke and end Isaac Rochell saw action early, with Max Redfield and Devin Butler getting special teams action. Running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston carried the ball late in the game, finishing with 35 total yards. Folston was the only freshman to catch a pass, hauling in a 9-yard grab.
It was over when: George Atkinson III's two-yard touchdown rush with 5:37 left in the third quarter gave Notre Dame a 28-6 edge and some needed breathing room against a Temple team that hung around longer than most expected.
Game ball goes to: There is plenty of credit to go around on offense, but at the end of the day you have to go with Tommy Rees. The senior signal caller completed 16 of 24 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns. Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over.
Stat of the game: Four total missed field goals will stand out. So, too, will Temple's Jim Cooper having his extra-point attempt blocked by Jarron Jones. Irish coach Brian Kelly had said that Saturday would be somewhat of an audition for kickers Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza. Each missed a field goal try, leaving the Irish with a minor issue heading into Michigan next weekend.
Well, not really. But those positions are notable considering the Irish did not land anyone on the watch lists for the Davey O'Brien, Doak Walker, Rimington, Jim Thorpe or Ray Guy awards.
(Never mind that cornerback Bennett Jackson made the watch list for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player.)
Still, it was quite a run for the Irish, and particularly for Louis Nix, who made six different watch lists. (Stephon Tuitt wasn't too shabby himself, making five.)
Below is a roundup of the dozen different Irish players who made watch lists in the past two weeks. Notre Dame is the only school with multiple defensive players on the watch list for the Maxwell Award and the only school with multiple defensive players on the watch list for the Walter Camp player of the year award. The Irish's four Bednarik watch listers are the most in the nation, and their three players on the Butkus watch list are tied for the most in the nation.
Maxwell (best player): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Bednarik (defensive player): Bennett Jackson, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt
Mackey (tight end): Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas
Lou Groza (kicker): Kyle Brindza
Nagurski (defensive): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
Outland (interior lineman): Zack Martin, Louis Nix
Butkus (linebacker): Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, Prince Shembo
Rotary Lombardi (offensive/defensive lineman, linebacker): Zack Martin, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Stephon Tuitt
Biletnikoff (receiver): DaVaris Daniels, T.J. Jones
Walter Camp (best player): Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt
The two will sit out Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game as a precautionary measure, coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday.
Robinson is recovering from a hyper-extended elbow while Carlisle nurses a broken collarbone suffered March 23.
Kelly said that Carlisle returned to practice in pads Wednesday but was limited to no contact.
Robinson, who enrolled this spring, presumably injured his elbow while making a diving, one-handed catch during Saturday's scrimmage, the entirety of which was open to reporters and others on hand for the coaches clinic.
Carlisle has yet to take a snap in a Notre Dame uniform after transferring from USC following his freshman season of 2011, getting a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately and then breaking his ankle before last spring, forcing him to redshirt in the 2012 season.
Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson, Nicky Baratti, Chase Hounshell and Tyler Plantz are all out Saturday as well. The first three of those players have been used lightly this spring while recovering from offseason shoulder operations. Hounshell will miss the 2013 season after suffering a serious shoulder injury this spring, similar to the one that forced him to miss last season.
Kelly said the offense, wearing white, will be scored Saturday against the defense, wearing blue, with no live special-teams play, though Kyle Brindza will punt.
1. Stop the run: Alabama rushed for 350 yards in its SEC title game triumph over Georgia. That won't happen against Notre Dame, which boasts the nation's No. 4 rushing defense (92.42 ypg) and has surrendered just two scores on the ground all year long. But the Tide boast a pair of 1,000-yard backs who are capable of grinding down defenses, and the Irish front seven has to win first down to keep the ground game from getting into a rhythm.
2. Let Everett Golson create: Brian Kelly said no one has benefited from the layoff more than his redshirt freshman signal-caller, and seeing what it is in store from him is the biggest X factor entering the game. Golson has kicked his turnover woes, and he has become much more evasive on the run. Can he handle whatever Nick Saban & Co. have drawn up to attack him? Kelly said his players can't be conservative and hope that the game comes to them.
3. Capitalize on red zone opportunities: Kyle Brindza set Notre Dame's single-season record for field goals this season, making 23 kicks despite not starting Week 1. But a large part of that has been because of the offense's struggles inside the 20. The Irish rank 76th nationally in red zone efficiency and have to score touchdowns when they get chances against the Tide's defense.
"I invite pressure. I love pressure," Brindza said. "That's one of the weirdest things for a kicker. My kicking coach always asked me: 'Why do you like pressure?' I just like it. You're out there, everything's on you — what are you going to do? You're going to make it or you miss it.
"People are going to put odds against you. I love when people put odds against me, and I've faced them all my life. I'm just one of those kids that invites pressure."
The last of five surgeries to repair club foot -- a birth condition in which Brindza's feet were rotated internally, with doctors saying he'll never play, let alone kick -- came eight years ago, and Brindza's historic season has only validated his and his mother's decision to defy orders.
Taking over for an injured Nick Tausch in the home opener against Purdue, Brindza missed his first career try, a 40-yarder, before his 27-yarder late beat Purdue. A season-defining win over Stanford was made possible by his 22-yarder on the soaked Notre Dame Stadium grass that forced overtime.
He is 23 of 31 on the season, with four notable misses coming from inside 40 yards. But he has missed consecutive tries only once, in his first two attempts against BYU, and Brian Kelly has had little to worry about when it comes to Brindza's mental makeup.
"If there’s one word, he’s been pretty clutch for us," the Irish coach said. "When we needed that big kick, when the game's on the line, he’s delivered every single time. What I like about him is he doesn’t get rattled. He may miss one here or there, but there’s generally not a pattern for him."
With Alabama and Notre Dame ranking 1-2 in red-zone defense, opportunities figure to strike for Brindza on the nation's biggest stage. His earlier obstacles, on and off the field, have only hardened him for the moment.
"You can't get rid of a miss right away. You have to understand what you did wrong and then get rid of it," Brindza said. "Just like in golf. You miss a putt — what'd you do wrong? Don't do that next time, punch it away. So it's pretty much understanding what you did wrong and being able to go out there the next time and do the correct fundamentals rather than what did you do wrong."
The good: Notre Dame is going to the national title game following a perfect regular season capped by a 22-13 win at rival USC. Everett Golson threw for 217 yards, Theo Riddick rushed for 146 and the defense was its usual stellar self, holding both of USC's big-play wideouts to fewer than 100 yards.
The bad: Since we have to get picky ... that red zone offense has plenty of room for improvement. Five times the Irish had to settle for field goals after marching into the red zone, with Kyle Brindza connecting on four of them. Brindza, by the way, set the school single-season record with 23 made field goals (out of 31). John Carney (21, 1986) was the previous record-holder.
The ugly: Eight snaps from inside the 10 for USC down the stretch, zero points. The play-action on fourth down is not a bad option, but redshirt freshman fullback Soma Vainuku, he of eight career catches, is hardly the go-to guy on the biggest remaining play of the season. (And, yes, plenty of credit must be given to Notre Dame's defense, too.)
More history: Tyler Eifert's four catches for 69 yards Saturday gave him 1,779 career receiving yards, surpassing Ken MacAfee for the most among tight ends in school history. Eifert's 134 career receptions are also a school record.
Next up: Notre Dame awaits the winner of this weekend's SEC title-game matchup between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia, as the winner is almost assured of a trip to Miami for the national title game on Jan. 7.
If it did, Brian Kelly would be much more concerned.
But the last thing the third-year Notre Dame head coach is worried about nine games in is the mental makeup of his kicker, who took the job in Week 2 because of Nick Tausch's groin injury.
"But the pressure -- I always look for, is the game affecting a player? Are the circumstances affecting a player? That doesn't affect him. It's mechanical, and I'm going over there saying, 'Hey, listen, get on the side, kick it again, we're going to need you. How do you feel?' 'I feel good.' That's all I am looking for."
Brindza bounced back Saturday from a missed 43-yarder at the end the first half and the wide extra point to send the game into double overtime with a 37-yarder, his third made field goal of the day.
The sophomore is 17-of-23 on the season and 17-of-18 on extra-point attempts, though he's been the victim of some bad snaps, as well. Brindza's longest make is 47 yards, and he remains one of the key cogs of the Irish's special teams, which reared its ugly head Saturday with a number of misplayed punt returns and poor return coverage.
"I guess the area that we need to continue to grow towards consistency is the skill area," Kelly said. "It's fielding all those punts. It's kicking the ball consistently. It's snapping the ball consistently. I guess those are the areas that I want to see improvement on.
"But by and large, our special teams have not been a reason for me to stay up all night. It's those catching the punt, snapping, it's holding, it's kicking. Those are the things. Those are skill players. That's a craft that they just practice every day, and we've got to keep them going."
1. Everett Golson withstands test: The young quarterback passed a different kind of test Saturday. Yes, one week earlier in Norman, Okla., might have been his coming-out party, but his ability to bounce back from getting curiously pulled, then recover from a potential game-changing interception shows the poise the Irish need under center. The redshirt freshman climbed another big step.
2. Louis Nix, Matthias Farley rise to occasion: Nix did not start after spending two nights in the infirmary, but he played plenty and finished with four tackles and half a sack. Farley suffered a right hand injury in last week's win and, according to coach Brian Kelly, had two plates and six screws inserted into his hand Tuesday. He practiced the next two days with a cast, which he played with Saturday.
3. Defense, for once, was not perfect: Ray Graham broke free for a 55-yard run on Pitt's first offensive play and set the tone early. Graham finished with 197 total yards and a rushing touchdown, the first the Irish have surrendered to a running back this season and just the second rushing touchdown they have given up in 2012. The Panthers took advantage of good field position and did not turn the ball over, giving themselves a good chance to win. The Irish's defense did not have its best performance, although it stepped up late and finished the day with five sacks.
4. Special teams, anyone? Kudos to Kyle Brindza for tying the game in double overtime with a 37-yard field goal. But he missed one earlier, and an extra point, though not all of it was his fault. The coverage unit gave up 25.6 yards per kick return and 19 yards per punt return, and Davonte Neal fumbled one punt and misplayed two others.
The good: Notre Dame is 7-0 for the first time since 2002. It rushed for 270 yards against what was the nation's No. 3 rushing defense, as BYU entered allowing just 67.9 rushing yards per game.
The bad: No one would flat out say it was a "trap," but the Irish certainly lacked the punch they had a week earlier against a ranked Stanford team. Look at NBC Sports' Alex Flanagan's description for further evidence. Notre Dame had just enough in the end, feeling more relief than elation after its seventh straight win to start the season.
The ugly: Troy Niklas is lucky he wasn't ejected after a post-whistle blow to the head of Spencer Hadley. Matthias Farley had a late hit that he certainly would like to have back. Kyle Brindza's two missed field goals almost proved costly, too.
Nice to see you again: Andrew Hendrix entered in the second quarter Saturday, rushing for 14 yards on his first play and hitting Niklas for 2 on his next play before leaving for good. The appearance marked the redshirt sophomore's first action since garbage time in the opener against Navy. "If we were throwing the ball around more and spreading it out and now you have a quarterback that could run the football, maybe he would have seen some more time," Brian Kelly said afterward. "But the way the game played just didn't play into him getting any more reps."
Next up: The undefeated Irish travel to No. 8 Oklahoma to take on the one-loss Sooners. "College GameDay" will be on the scene, and the game will kick off at 8 p.m. ET. The setting will prove the ultimate test for a Notre Dame squad with national title aspirations.