NCF Nation: Kyle McCarthy


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Pat Eilers snuck in through the back of the postgame interview room, cellphone in-hand, ready to put Cole Luke in touch with his high school coach.

"I'm just watching you guys from over here and hope you guys finish the season off strong," Luke said on a voicemail left for Hamilton (Ariz.) High coach Steve Belles, a reserve quarterback on Notre Dame's last title team.

"He's doing you proud," added Eilers, Belle's teammate on that 1988 Irish squad.

Eilers had been the latest addition to this year's still-unbeaten outfit, a 48-year-old private equity firm director-turned-quality control assistant once graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy was diagnosed with cancer. Luke was fast-tracked as a sophomore starter once Notre Dame's academic probe sidelined cornerback KeiVarae Russell.

The Irish got to 5-0 Saturday by the skin of their teeth, outlasting Stanford, 17-14. A reeling North Carolina squad is on deck Saturday before an Oct. 18 trip to face defending national champion Florida State, where a meeting awaits between two possible 6-0 teams with playoff hopes. Notre Dame has put itself in this position because of the little things, which have been on display through the way head coach Brian Kelly has handled his team's academic suspensions to the contributions from unsung newcomers like Eilers and Luke, who was given a game ball Saturday for his efforts.

This seemed plausible way back when, if you forecasted this slate from a week-to-week standpoint and noticed that a young team would not be playing a true road game through the entire first half of the season. It seemed improbable as the season approached, when news came down that the Irish may be (and still are) without Everett Golson's only proven threat in the pass game, and without a pair of starters from a defense that was already dealing with tons of personnel losses while adjusting to a new coordinator.

Golson has thrived anyway, overcoming hiccups against the Cardinal to lead the game-winning touchdown drive against the nation's top defense. The Irish defense might just be the biggest surprise of the five-year Kelly era, trotting out seven new starters from a year ago Saturday and waking up Sunday tied for third nationally in lowest scoring average (12 points per game).

Luke kept the surprises coming, picking off two of Kevin Hogan's passes, sacking the quarterback and forcing a fumble.

"I think what I was most pleased with, it was a bounce back game in a sense," Kelly said of Luke. "He gave up a couple of big plays against Syracuse. I thought he tightened down his coverage in the fourth quarter against Syracuse when they went right back at him, and he continued to tighter coverage in the fourth quarter against Stanford.

"Two interceptions, he got the game ball from us. Could have had a couple of others if balls were thrown with more accuracy. So I would say that he's really picked up his game."

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBen Koyack's winning touchdown was the difference in Notre Dame's win.
There are others who have risen to the occasion, too, most notably Ben Koyack and his game-winning, fourth-down touchdown catch, a rare highlight for the senior who has thus far flown mostly under the radar.

"It was huge," Kelly said. "We were struggling with some of his blocking assignments. [Koyack] is so central and critical to what we're doing in our read-zone option stuff. And he had a lot going on there. We made some mistakes. And so it was great to see him get a big catch late."

These are the pieces that so often get overlooked when trying to pick apart what's right or wrong with a unit each incoming season. It's a highly successful guy approaching 50 and deciding to join his alma mater in a moment of need. It's a second-year corner rebounding from a rut to make key plays in the biggest game to date. It's a senior tight end answering the call when the game is on the line despite little else going his way.

It's also a coach who deserves some kind of a medal for the way he has handled an academic arm that's at 52 days and counting now without a decision on five of his players, a process that has left him as the lone public voice of information despite not exactly providing him all that much of it.

Few would look at this roster or even its performances through five games and say in a nutshell that it is one of the four best in the nation. But with five of the AP Poll's top eight teams falling Saturday, the Irish are rising, up to No. 6 (No. 5 in the coaches poll).

"It's obviously great copy for me on Monday when I talk to the team again about winning and how important it is to just stay in the moment, work on your preparation and enjoy every win as they come because they're so difficult," Kelly said. "Great opportunity for me to continue on that message that we've been on all year about how difficult it is to win and how important it is for us to keep moving in the right direction."

No one is ready to declare this 2012 just yet, not unless Tallahassee brings out the best in these Irish the way Norman did two years ago. But the fact that conversation can be had in early October is a testament to how the Irish have dealt with matters outside the hedges.

Kelly: No update on suspended five

September, 11, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The waiting game continues for No. 11 Notre Dame as it approaches its third game of the season still without answers regarding the five players being held out amid an internal academic investigation.

Coach Brian Kelly said Thursday that he still has not been updated on the status of the suspended players since he last shared information on the matter with reporters. Whether he was referring to his comments on Sept. 4 that none of the players had been through honesty committee hearings yet is unclear. What remains clear, though, is that Kelly and the Irish would welcome the players back for Saturday night's game against Purdue if they were cleared Friday.

[+] EnlargeDaniels
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsDaVaris Daniels and four other Notre Dame players remain suspended as an academic investigation continues.
"We'd get them down there as quickly as we could and welcome them and put them in the uniform," Kelly said, two days before the Irish face the Boilermakers in Indianapolis. "Whether we could get them to know what we're doing offensively, defensively and special teams, who knows about that? But they would certainly be welcomed as part of our football team."

Kelly reiterated that he does not know much about the process that has been going on for nearly a month now, after the school announced Aug. 15 that it was withholding DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore and KeiVarae Russell out from practices and games as it investigated academic misconduct. The school later announced, on Aug. 28, that Eilar Hardy would be withheld as well, and Kelly said that same day that the investigation was complete, meaning only hearings and potential appeals remained.

The players attend classes and have been welcomed back in the football complex, eating with teammates and working out with strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo, though Kelly has chosen to hold them out of team meetings.

The school had said that the Office of General Counsel initiated an immediate investigation when the compliance office was referred to evidence July 29.

Kelly said Thursday that he is anxious, that the players are anxious and that reporters are anxious, but that he does not know much, choosing to let the academic arm of the school conduct matters as it sees fit.

"This is separation from church and state in the sense," Kelly said. "This is the deans and they have their domain and that's their business, and it truly is their business, and I respect that. They don't give me advice about play-calling and that's the truth of the matter. Whether that's a poor analogy or not, they handle academic honesty and they handle those things and that's their domain and that's their world, and I want my guys back but I get it, and they work and that's their job and so I really don't have any say on it."

Notes: Kelly said that former Irish and NFL player and current graduate assistant Kyle McCarthy has not missed a day of practice despite undergoing chemotherapy treatments for cancer. The NCAA allowed the school to hire former player Pat Eilers as a GA in light of the matter, but Kelly said Eilers cannot coach a unit during practice while McCarthy is still there.

"Incredible," Kelly said of McCarthy. "His resolve and his [desire] to be out at practice, just [a] pretty inspirational young man. It's been awesome to be around him and to get to know him even more, it doesn't surprise me why he's been such a favorite around here. He's a pretty inspirational kid."

Kelly also said Torii Hunter Jr. (Grade 3 groin tear) will not play Saturday despite showing progress throughout the week.

Q&A with Harrison Smith

January, 27, 2012
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Harrison Smith's five-year Notre Dame career ended with him ninth on the school's career tackles list (309) and as the Irish's lone captain in 2011. He is now getting ready for the draft and will play in the 63rd Senior Bowl on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

The safety will suit up for the North team, coached by Leslie Frazier and the Minnesota Vikings' staff. The game kicks off at 4 p.m. and airs on the NFL Network.

After Monday's weigh-in for the game, Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay wrote that the 6-foot-2, 212-pound Smith passed the eyeball test with flying colors, something Smith said his brother texted him about. He joked that he's been getting feedback from plenty of sources -- Scouts Inc. thinks he's a potential Day 2 pick -- but he'll try to block it all out as he readies for the NFL.

You've been hearing so much from so many different people -- from media, from scouts. How do you take all that and put it aside and focus on the task at hand?

Harrison Smith: I think after playing at a place like Notre Dame, where the spotlight's always on you, the media's always there, people are watching you every weekend, you're always on TV -- I think it just becomes part of it. And that's something that, don't get me wrong, I'm nervous before all the games I play in, I'm nervous going out and playing in front of scouts and stuff like that, but it's not like a bad nervous. It's just part of it. And once you get used to it you don't realize that you focus on what you're doing and who you're looking at before the snap, and just the basics of football. All that other stuff isn't even in your mind until you walk off the field.

Can you take me a little bit through the process so far: Where you went after the bowl game, the process of choosing an agent, where you're training and what not?

[+] EnlargeHarrison Smith
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireIrish safety Harrison Smith finished up his senior season with 93 tackles and seven interceptions.
HS: I ended up going with a guy named Brian Murphy, who's actually a Notre Dame grad, and he's got a lot of Notre Dame guys that I've played with. That's just a little bonus, but I liked him. I liked what he's about. So there was that process and then after that I start training, getting ready for playing in the Senior Bowl, going to the combine, pro day. So I worked out a couple weeks at home with Charles Petrone. He's a guy I've always worked out with, and he's always done me right. I've never seen a guy make improvements on all the guys that he trains as well as he does. There was never a question as to where I was training. I always knew I would train with him if I ever got lucky enough to pursue the NFL. And before the Senior Bowl I actually went out and worked out with some other players, a lot of guys who signed with the same agency as me, just to get a feel of other guys who were going to the game and get some camaraderie and stuff like that, and that kind of leads me to this point.

You mentioned having the same agent as some other Notre Dame guys. Who specifically in the league right now, either Notre Dame or non-Notre Dame players, has been advising you? Have you developed any relationships and have any mentors in the NFL right now?

HS: From those guys, I played with David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy. I had a year with Tom Zbikowksi but I didn't get to know him as well as I got to know David and Kyle. And Kyle, I actually played alongside Kyle. So that's a guy who's kind of helped me through the process. And also Sergio Brown's a guy who's up there, stayed in touch with him. He's gotta be happy right now. (Brown's Patriots are in the Super Bowl.) But those guys have all been great. And then on top of that, Chad Pennington's a guy who worked out with Charles Petrone when he was coming up, because he's from my same area. He went to my rival high school. He's just a great guy. If I've ever had a question or needed advice, he's a guy who's done it all and he's a smart guy who just cares about people and doesn't mind spending some of his time helping me out. So he's another guy that I'm fortunate to be in contact with.

With the Senior Bowl prep this past week, how much have you learned about yourself going up against some of the better guys in the country? How much of a measuring stick has this week been for you?

HS: I think it's been a good measuring stick, but at the same time I think when you turn on tape, that's when you really find out what a guy's about. Tape from tough games, that's when it really counts. That's when everything's on the line, this is just kind of a smaller snippet of that. At practices here everything's on the line, too, because you got all the scouts, all the coaches on the team watching you, and you've got to perform under the spotlight. So I think this is a small snippet of everyone's college career. I think it kind of gives those guys who are checking us out and grading us an increased level of the athletes around and just a higher talent pool to see us perform.

Is there anything specific you hope to accomplish this week? Is there any specific weakness or something that's been pointed out to you that you're trying to improve?

HS: No, not really. I'm just going out and doing what I know how to do and being the player that I pride myself on being: a guy that works hard, a guy that can do a lot of things for the team, a guy that's athletic and can definitely play special teams for you. So really just being a guy who can do what the coaches ask: understand the defense, make the calls, stuff like that.

What's the next step for you after this weekend? Are you going to go back home and continue to train, or do you have a next stop on your list?

HS: I'm going back to Knoxville and training with Petrone and just getting after it until the combine.

I'm sure it will be a little crazier when you get to the combine, but how has this whole experience measured up to what you expected going in?

HS: It's been pretty much what I expect. It's obviously going to be hectic and there's going to be a lot of eyes on you the whole process, and in the in-between time there's a lot of work to be done. You always got to get up and you just got to get after it every day, get ready for the next test. That's just what it's about. That's what being a football player's about. It's not any different than my past four or five years, it's kind of more intense and kind of just crammed into a couple months I guess.

(Read full post)

Notre Dame had four players selected in the NFL draft over the weekend, and three more Irish players have inked free-agent deals.

Offensive tackle Paul Duncan and safety Kyle McCarthy both signed with Denver, where they will join center Eric Olsen, whom the Broncos drafted in the sixth round. Safety Sergio Brown signed with New England, where he'll be reunited with former Notre Dame defensive backs coach Corwin Brown.

Running back James Aldridge has been invited to the Miami Dolphins rookie minicamp, while wide receiver Robby Parris will attend rookie minicamp with the Cleveland Browns. David Grimes has been invited to try out with Kansas City, where former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis now serves as offensive coordinator.
No wonder Notre Dame turned down the option of going to a bowl with its 6-6 record. The Fighting Irish had already experienced enough drama to fill multiple seasons.

It was a year unlike any other in South Bend. There were 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, most of them coming down to the final minute and two of them going into overtime. The Irish won three of the first four of those nail-biters, but then the luck turned against them.

Jimmy Clausen finally lived up to his promise as the former No. 1 national recruit by having one of the finest seasons ever by a Notre Dame quarterback. Golden Tate broke every major single-season receiving record, and Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph had star-turning moments in between injuries. The offensive line turned a corner and became a credible unit.

But the offense stalled too often in the red zone, and it could never score enough points to mask the defensive deficiencies. Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta installed his patented blitz-heavy scheme, but the Irish couldn't tackle, get consistent pressure on the quarterback or cover receivers with any skill.

That's why they lost their last four games, and it's why Charlie Weis was fired after a third straight regular season without a postseason. It's time for a new drama to unfold under the Golden Dome.

Offensive MVP(s): Tate and Clausen. It's impossible to separate the two, who each had perhaps the best season in school history at his respective position. Clausen threw 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions, while Tate had more than 1,650 yards from scrimmage and 19 total scores. Each made the other look good, too.

Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy. The senior safety was one of the few players who had a good year on the defensive side of the ball. He was the heart and soul of the defense and made several key plays, including a game-saving interception against Michigan State, one of his five picks on the year. That a safety led the team in tackles probably says a lot about the defense, however.

Turning point: The Navy loss. Notre Dame was 6-2 and still had hopes of a BCS bid when it inexplicably got beat at home by Navy for the second time in three years. That pretty much sealed Weis's fate, and the team never won another game.

What's next: A new coach -- probably Cincinnati's Brian Kelly -- will try to come in and wake up the echoes that have mostly been quiet since the Lou Holtz days. Losing Clausen and Tate is a big blow, but there are still enough playmakers to cobble together a decent offense. The key will be somehow strengthening that porous defense, or else it's likely going to be another struggle in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The hull of the S.S. Charlie Weis has been breached. And the Notre Dame coach says it's time to batten down the hatches.

The Fighting Irish's season and Weis' job security are teetering after Saturday's upset loss to Navy. The BCS hopes have gone to Davy Jones' locker. How does the team respond with not much to play for besides the Gator Bowl?
 
 Matt Cashore/US Presswire
 Charlie Weis says he will be emphasizing "accountability and dependability" this week.


Weis says this week is all about "accountability and dependability." That's what he planned to emphasize in Sunday's film session.

"I think that there's going to be plenty of evidence of guys understanding who was at fault for what situations," he said. "As you know, after a loss, I'm not big on giving up players, ever. That's not my way.

"But I think when they watch the tape, there's going to be plenty of evidence. Don't sit there and point the finger at anyone other than yourself because here's what happened on the play."

Weis did call out one player on Sunday, in response to defensive lineman Ian Williams' comment on Saturday night that the Irish were "out-schemed" on defense. The coach noted that senior safety and team captain Kyle McCarthy told the media that players were put in the right positions but failed to execute.

"So there's a reason why one guy is a captain and one guy is not," Weis said.

But how much accountability should the coaching staff take? This, after all, was the second loss to Navy in three years under Weis after the Midshipmen went nearly a half-century without beating the Irish.

Though Weis said he always holds himself accountable first, he didn't think he had a bad game plan on offense. Notre Dame never punted and got into the red zone six times but came away with just two scores on those trips, missing two field goals and coughing the ball up twice.

The defense, which allowed Navy to run right through it all day, nevertheless only gave up 21 offensive points, which the Irish offense should have been able to overcome.

"I think that we have some dynamic players on our team, but it still comes down to situational football," Weis said. "Even the best players need to execute when it's that time."

Weis is calling on his team to play sharper in those situations this week at No. 12 Pitt. If the Fighting Irish don't come home with a victory, the S.S. Charlie Weis will likely have taken on too much water to stay afloat.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Handing out helmet stickers from Notre Dame's 20-16 win over Boston College:
  • Golden Tate, WR: He just keeps getting it done. Tate had 11 catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
  • Kyle McCarthy, S: Perhaps McCarthy should just change his name to Johnny Onthespot. He came up with two more crucial interceptions, both in the second half.

Notre Dame breaks BC streak

October, 24, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Notre Dame didn't need to go down to the final minute this week.

Nope, the Fighting Irish wrapped up a 20-16 win over Boston College with about 1:40 to spare. That's when Brian Smith grabbed the game-sealing interception.

It's crazy that this game was even close, since the Eagles committed five turnovers and Notre Dame had none. Kyle McCarthy had two key interceptions. But Boston College hit hard on defense and kept Notre Dame away from the end zone most of the day.

Jimmy Clausen's 36-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate with a little more than eight minutes left was the winning score. Clausen was battered around and hurt his throwing arm but while being held to 246 yards passing, well below his average.

But the most important thing for Notre Dame is the six-game losing streak to Boston College is over. The possibility of a BCS bowl still exists. The Irish should finally have a breather -- theoretically, anyway -- next time out against Washington State in San Antonio.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


There are no longer signs and chalk messages all over campus urging Notre Dame to maim this week's opponent. The national media isn't descending into South Bend. No huge perception breakthrough is on the line.

Still, the Fighting Irish need to emphasize this week's game against Boston College as much as they did last weekend's 34-27 loss to USC. At 4-2, they can't afford any more defeats if they want to keep alive their slim BCS bowl hopes.

And while Boston College might not present the same kind of line-in-the-sand game as USC, this is still another rivalry that has gone the wrong way too often for Notre Dame. The Eagles have won six straight in this series since the last Irish victory in 2000.

"Ending that streak would mean a whole lot," safety Kyle McCarthy said. "First and foremost getting our season back on track and what our goals are, that's the most important thing. Then the added flavor that it's BC adds fuel to the fire."

The team must first make sure it doesn't let the disappointment of last week's loss linger.

The players, coaches and entire campus put so much effort and emotion into ending the losing streak against the Trojans, only to come up four yards short of tying the game on the last play. Some of the players think they suffered a bit of a hangover last year after an overtime loss to Pitt; they went out and lost 17-0 to Boston College in the following game.

"Any time you lose a tough game, it's going to take a while to get yourself back to just kind of feeling normal," linebacker Scott Smith said. " I know after the (USC) game, kind of into Saturday, on Saturday night, Sunday, even Monday, I was still pretty crushed, because I knew that was my last time being in a game like that against USC."

Yet with a seasoned, veteran team this year, the Irish feel like they can get over a loss more quickly than before.

"I think we're better handling that situation because we've been there before," quarterback Jimmy Clausen said. "We've been there, done that. (Tuesday's) practice was really up-tempo.
Everyone was having fun. In years past, after a loss, everyone's down until probably Wednesday, Thursday of the next week. You know, I didn't see that at all yesterday. "

Notre Dame's campus is on a fall break this week, allowing the players to concentrate solely on football without any distractions. Clausen has been using the free time to get extra treatment on his turf toe injury.

It's wildly unlikely that Boston College will pitch another shutout this year against the Irish. Clausen had one of his worst days last year in Chestnut Hill, battling through an illness before the game and then coughing up four interceptions, one of which was returned 76 yards for a touchdown. Clausen has thrown only two interceptions this season.

One of Notre Dame's goals this week is to come out strong offensively so it can build a lead and not have to go through a sixth straight final-minute thriller. Whether that materializes shouldn't have anything to do with a lack of focus on this week's opponent, pre-game hype or no pre-game hype.

"I know there's not a question in my mind they'll come out fighting again like they've been," coach Charlie Weis said. "People worry about being flat. How can be you flat when you are playing a team that just beat you six times in a row?"

Midseason review: Notre Dame

October, 20, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

No team in America has played more exciting games than Notre Dame. Which is not the same as saying the Fighting Irish have had a great season.

Their last five games have all come down to the last minute, last second or last play of overtime. The offense has given the team a chance to win each week, while the defense has usually made sure the opponent has ample opportunity as well.

Notre Dame entered this year with high hopes and some even predicting a run at the BCS title game. That dream is shot, while a berth in a BCS bowl looks like a remote possibility with two losses already on the slate. Still, the Irish have shown vast improvement over the past two years, which was evident in last week's 34-27 loss to USC. They had several chances to tie that game in the final seconds after not even being competitive against the Trojans since 2005.

There's still a healthy debate to be had about just how good this team actually is. The second half should answer most questions.

Here's a quick review of the highlights of the first half.

Offensive MVP: Jimmy Clausen. The junior has blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the country, making clutch plays and pinpoint throws all season. And he's done it in recent weeks while playing through a painful turf toe injury. Clausen makes sure the Irish are never out of a game.

Defensive MVP: Kyle McCarthy. The safety has literally been the team's last line of defense and usually comes up with big plays when his team needs them most. His interception at the end of the Michigan State game is one of the most important plays of the season.

Surprise: The offensive line is starting basically the same guys who were so disappointing the past two years. Whether it's experience or new position coach Frank Verducci, they've finally come together to form a respectable unit. They've paved the way for a workable running game and have for the most part given Clausen time to do his thing. They got overpowered at times by USC, but many teams would against that defense.

Disappointment: The defense was supposed to get better with veteran coordinator Jon Tenuta taking over and installing more pressure. Instead, the Irish are allowing 419 yards per game, which is about 90 more per game than a year ago. After shutting out Nevada in the opener, the defense has given up an average of more than 30 points in the last five games. It's hard to win consistently like that.

Best game: How do you pick out just one in a season full of storybook thrillers? Let's go with the 37-30 win over Washington, which featured a pair of two-minute scoring drives, lots of momentum swings and an overtime.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Brian Bennett


There's always a lot to talk about when USC and Notre Dame hook up, but Saturday's game might be even more saucy than recent tilts for one reason.

The consensus is the Fighting Irish have a fighting chance, unlike the previous two seasons, when they were throttled by a combined count of 76-3.

Fact is, five of USC's seven consecutive wins in the series have come by 31 or more points.

Sure, USC is ranked sixth and is again a national title contender, while No. 25 Notre Dame has struggled against middling foes like Purdue and Washington.

Wait. Didn't Washington and USC play?

Anyway, it seemed like a good time to check in with Notre Dame and Big East blogger Brian Bennett to see what's shaking with the Irish.
 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Charlie Weis is still seeking his first victory against USC.
Ted Miller: Sorry I'm late, Brian. I was just trying to finish the 7,400-word transcript of Charlie Dickens' -- make that Charlie Weis' -- news conference. As much as I want to be snide, I actually found Weis refreshingly candid and insightful. He wasn't at all like that back in 2005. Before we engage on the big battle this weekend, what's your take on how Weis has developed -- dare I say grown? -- along with his program?

Brian Bennett: Well, it was only about six weeks ago when some alumni bought a billboard calling Weis an intern. I do get the sense that he's more comfortable now in his position, and really, he should be. The offense, which is his calling card, is now completely in his hands, and he's basically leaving the defense up to Jon Tenuta. While you can debate how much of a schematic advantage Notre Dame has, there's no questioning that Weis is a terrific offensive playcaller who's been at his best in that area this season. Sometimes it seems he believes in his intellectual superiority too much, like at the end of the Michigan game. Whether he makes it through this year remains to be seen, but he seems confident that things are on the right track.

It's an interesting parallel between him and Pete Carroll, two NFL guys who have vastly different personalities. Is it just me, or does Carroll relish beating Weis to a pulp?

Ted Miller: It doesn't appear to be a warm relationship, starting with the fact that Weis is tight with Bill Belichick, who replaced Carroll when he was fired by the New England Patriots. Their personalities, of course, couldn't be more different, with most -- at least media sorts -- giving Carroll a big advantage there.

And the whole "strategic advantage" hiring boast from Weis probably plays well with Carroll when he's celebrating another blowout win in the rivalry.

It didn't seem, however, that either tossed a barb in east or west this week. Weis, obviously, has been humbled and has to act graciously, while Carroll might want Weis to keep his job so he can continue to dominate the series.

Now, if Weis were to win a couple in a row, it's not hard to imagine there might be a tweak or two from him sent special delivery to Heritage Hall. And that might reignite the tensions, which would be great fun.

Brian, I watched the Notre Dame-Washington before the USC-Cal game and many colorful adjectives were tossed around to describe Notre Dame's defense by the sportswriters on hand. Some are not fit for a family blog, but suffice it to say none were good. What's wrong with the Irish defense and how can it stop the Trojans?

BB: Oh, boy. How much time do we have? Well, to begin with, if you compare Notre Dame's defensive line to USC's front four, it's an almost comical mismatch. Weis has not done a good job recruiting those positions, and it shows each week. The linebackers are decent but not overwhelming, and they've been blitzing a lot under Tenuta's aggressive scheme, which is leaving holes on the field. The defensive backfield was supposed to be one of the strengths, but the corners have not played well at all. Tackling, all across the board, has been a major problem.
 
 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
 Freshman QB Matt Barkley has thrown for 958 yards and three touchdowns this season.


The best way for them to stop USC? Say a lot of prayers at the Grotto before the game. Seriously, the best thing you can say about the Irish defense is that it has come up with plays at opportunistic times, like the goal-line stands against Washington and Kyle McCarthy's interception against Michigan State. The Irish will have to pressure Matt Barkley and not break too much after a lot of bending.

Speaking of Barkley, how will the true freshman handle this atmosphere? He's already won at Ohio State, after all. And is Joe McKnight the X factor here?

Ted Miller: Notre Dame won't be as rowdy as Ohio State, and Barkley seemed to handle himself well in The Horseshoe -- see the dramatic game-winning drive he directed -- so I don't know if playing in the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus" will bother him.

There are two issues worth noting, though. Barkley is all southern California. He's accustomed to sun and warmth -- ideal conditions for a quarterback. He's never played in the cold, though an unusual amount of rain this week around Los Angeles probably helped him become aware of challenges from the elements.

Problem with that is it appears that the weather will be fairly nice -- probably a bit chilly in the second half, but certainly not frigid. Still, if it's below freezing in the fourth quarter, or perhaps colder than expected, that could throw Barkley off his game.

Second, Barkley is a cool character, but he's also very competitive. He's buddies with Jimmy Clausen. Both are from southern California and they've known each other for a long time because they've shared a quarterback coach. Seeing Clausen across the field may make Barkley want to outshine the Heisman Trophy candidate. He might press a bit or force a throw, trying to make a big play, and that could cost the Trojans.

Of course, McKnight could solve the need for big plays in the passing game by running through and around the Irish defense. The Trojans' O-line is strong and experienced, and it looks like they have a substantial advantage vs. the ND front seven. McKnight has been playing well, so he could be the X factor.

Of course, he's also had some fumbling issues through the years. That could be a Z-factor.

Let's get down the brass tacks.

Weis and company talked this week about, perhaps for the first time since 2005, believing the Irish could win. First, do they really believe that? And, second, do you? In other words, how do you see this playing out and what's your prediction?

BB: I talked to a couple of players this week, and they really do seem confident. I think all these last-minute wins have them believing this is a storybook season, and this is an experienced bunch. Do I think they can win? Well, everything would have to go perfectly, and there would have to be plenty of leprechaun magic. I can see Notre Dame keeping it close because USC's offense doesn't look that explosive and Clausen will make sure the Irish put up some points. But in the end I think the Trojans pull away by about two touchdowns.

What is your prediction for the game?

TM: My prediction is 31-20, USC.

Clausen and the Irish will make some plays, and I think Barkley will make at least one major mistake that keeps this one close.

But, ultimately, I think the Trojans' advantage on defense is too significant. They will be able to make key stops and the ND defense won't.

Still, since the Trojans started dominating the series, I've paused over one thought before picking this game: At some point, the Fighting Irish are going to beat Carroll and USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


A healthy amount of skepticism hovers over Notre Dame right now, and understandably so.

The Fighting Irish are 4-1 but aren't ranked in either major poll. The one team they've played that currently has a winning record, Michigan, beat them on a late touchdown, while their last three victories have come down to the final minute -- or beyond, like Saturday's 37-30 overtime win against Washington.
 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Jimmy Clausen is making last-minute comebacks seem routine.


Is this team any good, or does it just play to the level of its competition? Coach Charlie Weis acknowledges that his team has many flaws but wonders who doesn't.

"I think if you look at some of the other teams that are playing and look at how their games have gone, tell me where the difference is," Weis said. "I can go right up to the top 10 and work right on down. You tell me what teams that are in there haven't had some trouble in their schedule. I mean, almost everybody has.

"We've had one loss by four points on the road with 11 seconds to go in the game. So the flip side of it, we're 11 seconds away from being undefeated right now. If you compare apples to apples, I think that we deserve to be there right with everybody else."

Notre Dame will get its chance at a legitimizing victory in its next game, when USC comes to South Bend on Oct. 17. This week's bye will be used for healing injuries and developing youngsters, followed by a long weekend break so players can go home if they want. Many aspects must improve before the Irish can hope to knock off the Trojans, with tackling somewhere near the top of the list.

But the offense behind Heisman Trophy candidate Jimmy Clausen provides a puncher's chance every week. Did anyone doubt that Clausen would lead a touchdown drive on Saturday against Washington when Notre Dame got the ball back with a little under three minutes left?

While you could argue that games against Michigan State, Purdue and Washington didn't need to go down to the final play, the team found a way to win those in the end. That's the biggest difference between this year and last year, when Notre Dame also started 4-1, Weis said. Nothing defined the season more than Saturday's three goal-line stands, in which the defense allowed just three total points.

"This team has got a lot of heart," he said. "It's apparent."

If they keep playing games like these, however, the Irish may have -- and cause -- a lot of heart attacks.

"I thought about that," said safety Kyle McCarthy, who's been in the middle of many blood-pumping final moments. "I'm more worried about our coaches, because they're older than us."

It's hard to walk a tightrope every week and not fall off. But heart-stopping wins are sure better than heart-breaking losses.

"The only thing I would design differently about this season," linebacker Brian Smith said, "is I would design us to be 5-0."

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis waited to celebrate when he saw the ball pop out of Washington receiver D'Andre Goodwin's hands on the final play of Saturday's game. Weis still worried that it would end up in another Husky's bread basket.

"With the way that game went," Weis said, "would it have surprised you?"

Anything short of Touchdown Jesus coming to life and kicking a winning field goal fails to rate as a surprise at this point with Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish seem determined to build their own library full of bad sports movie clichés with every passing game.
 
 Brian Spurlock/US Presswire
 Notre Dame celebrates its overtime victory over Washington on Saturday.


The previous three weeks all came down to the final minute; as with most bloated sequels, they took Vol. 4 to absurd new levels in Saturday's 37-30 overtime win over Washington. It's almost as if they wanted the Huskies to stay in the game the way they kicked five field goals instead of producing touchdowns, and how Jimmy Clausen inexplicably gave away seven points with a lateral pass to nowhere.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense could only stop Washington when it ran out room left to defend. Then it became impenetrable.

Huskies quarterback Jake Locker was stopped twice on sneaks inside the 1 near the end of the third quarter, which was only a prelude to the preposterous fourth-quarter goal-line sequence.

Washington had first-and-goal from the 1, needing a touchdown for a nearly insurmountable two-score lead. Notre Dame made another stand until Ian Williams was called for a bizarre roughing-the-snapper penalty on the field goal try. That gave the Huskies another set of downs from the 1.

"We were thinking, 'They can't score,'" Irish defensive lineman Kerry Neal said. "We worked on goal line all during camp against our own guys."

Sure, but had the defense ever won three straight battles in those practice situations?

"No, not at all," Neal admitted.

Improbably, the Huskies once again failed to reach the end zone and settled for three points. The entire sequence burned nearly five minutes off the clock. But Clausen still had plenty of time to direct a go-ahead touchdown drive for the second straight week.

"We were smiling," receiver Golden Tate said. "We were like, 'Here we go again.'"
 
 AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 Charlie Weis' team has made a habit this season of taking things down to the wire.


After Clausen's touchdown strike to tight end Kyle Rudolph, the Irish went for two for a 30-27 lead. Tailback Robert Hughes was met well short of the goal line but kept chugging forward. He got some assistance from his offensive linemen on a play that was highly reminiscent of the infamous "Bush Push" on this very field in 2005.

Ironically enough, former USC assistants Steve Sarkisian and Nick Holt -- now the Huskies' head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively -- argued that the play should be disallowed. A flag was thrown but then waved off.

You can't make this stuff up.

Winning with a full 1:20 left on the clock would be boring, though. So, of course, Washington drove for a tying field goal in the waning seconds. Notre Dame needed just two plays to score in overtime, then pinned Washington on a third-and-19 thanks to a Neal sack.

Locker's fourth-down fling hit a leaping Goodwin in the paws just in front of the end zone. But safeties Kyle McCarthy and Harrison Smith sandwiched him in a helmet-freeing slobberknocker.

Exhale. Celebrate.

"A win is a win," linebacker Brian Smith said. "I'll take ugly wins, close wins, 100-point wins -- they all count."

The Irish (4-1) only get one type of win any more: by the slimmest of shamrock leaves. Are they clutch or just lucky?

"There's no way the last three weeks can be attributed to luck," McCarthy insisted. "I think it's the character of this team and the resiliency of this team that allows us to make the play at the end."

As fans filed out of Notre Dame Stadium, rolling cheers filled the concourses. Some started chanting, "Beat SC," already looking forward to the Oct. 17 showdown with Southern Cal. The Irish figure to be a significant underdog.

But, really, would anything surprise you any more about this team?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Three plays, all of them in the final minute, are the difference in Notre Dame's season right now. The Fighting Irish could easily be 1-3 had a couple of them gone differently.

Instead, they're sitting at 3-1 with Washington coming to South Bend this week. And though it's not the sturdiest 3-1 record ever produced, head coach Charlie Weis isn't making any apologies for it.

"It's not exactly utopia where you have to play like that," Weis said. "People can debate on the status of a team, but the bottom line is you're 3-and-1, and you're 3-and-1 for a reason.

"The critical factor more than anything is the fact that we've gotten back-to-back wins, one at home, one on the road, one by the defense, won one by the offense. And I think that bodes well for the future of this team."

A quick review of the recent past:
  • Notre Dame lost 38-34 to Michigan when Tate Forcier threw a touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in Ann Arbor. The Irish had a chance to run out the clock before the Wolverines' game-winning drive but failed to do so.
  • Safety Kyle McCarthy intercepted a pass at his own 4-yard line with 57 seconds to go as Notre Dame held off Michigan State 33-30. Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins had missed a wide open receiver in the end zone moments earlier.
  • Jimmy Clausen, returning to the game for the final drive on his injured toe, fired a touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24 seconds left to give the Irish a 24-21 win at Purdue on Saturday. Purdue coach Danny Hope curiously called a timeout with 16 seconds left, allowing Weis a chance to draw up two more plays instead of having to spike the ball and stop the clock.

So is Notre Dame lucky to have won two of those three toss-up games? Or is the team showing some late-game fortitude? Remember, after all, that last week's win came on the road without injured offensive stars Michael Floyd and Armando Allen and with Clausen nowhere near 100 percent.

Weis, not surprisingly, prefers the grittiness explanation. He said he thinks this team turned a corner when it pulled out the Michigan State game

"When Kyle (McCarthy) made that play, the team said, 'Oh, something good can happen at the end of the game,'" Weis said. "And I think the composure the team showed at the end of the game (at Purdue) was excellent, because normally on the sideline you could feel a deflated team, and you never felt that at all. With Jimmy out there, and him being so confident about running the team, you never felt that way."

Clausen's demeanor, Weis said, has totally changed this year to the point where he's the undisputed leader. During that timeout before the touchdown at Purdue, Clausen knew he was going to throw a touchdown pass, Weis said.

"He's always been a confident kid but not with the air of confidence he has now," Weis said. "It's not just his confidence, it's everyone's confidence in him."

The Irish won't get spooked if they end up in another down-to-the-wire game because of their experience and because of their quarterback. And the way things are going, there's a good chance they'll find themselves in that situation again this week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Linebacker Kyle McCarthy, left, has an interception in each of Notre Dame's first three games.

Kyle McCarthy gave a simple, cliched explanation for how he came up with last week's game saving -- and possibly season-saving -- interception at Notre Dame's 4-yard line with 57 seconds left against Michigan State.

"I was just in the right spot at the right time, I guess," he said.

The problem with that answer is that it gives the impression that McCarthy was somehow fortunate to be in that position. Do it once, and maybe that's true. Keep doing it, as the fifth-year senior has, and it means something else entirely.

"Kyle has really done this going on two years for us," head coach Charlie Weis said. "He always seems to make a big play."

McCarthy has grabbed an interception in each of Notre Dame's first three games and is one of only 16 players nationally to have at least three picks. He has interceptions in four straight regular-season games dating back to last year.

"Being a fifth-year guy, I have seen a whole bunch of offenses, and I recognize some things that have happened in the past, and I think it's paying off for me," he said.

The story of how McCarthy got to Notre Dame -- now that's a case of being in the right spot at the right time.

He seemed like a natural fit for the Irish from the beginning, and not just because of that last name. His grandfather, Jack Mayo, was the captain of the 1947 Notre Dame baseball team and went on to play for the "Whiz Kids" Phillies team that made the World Series. His older brother, Brian, graduated from Notre Dame in 2006 and is now in law school. Younger brother Dan is a sophomore reserve safety for the Irish.

The basement of the McCarthy family's home in Youngstown, Ohio, is full of Irish gear. When the four boys and their dad, John, would take to the yard for their annual turkey bowl Thanksgiving game, they'd first all touch the "Play Like A Champion Today" flag that John had nailed to the door.

But Kyle was a quarterback in high school and didn't get much attention from Notre Dame when Ty Willingham was the head coach. He was planning on going to Navy to be the quarterback there. His recruitment picked up when he had an Ohio record 93-yard interception return in the 2004 state championship game, and a neighbor who had been an Irish graduate assistant urged new coach Weis to give McCarthy another look that winter.

McCarthy, who was also being recruited by Ohio State, committed to the Irish after being hosted by Brady Quinn and Tom Zbikowski on his visit.

"Once Notre Dame came on, I knew where he was going," John McCarthy said.

Kyle had a hard time getting on the field his first three years, sitting behind Zbikowski, Chinedum Ndukwe and David Bruton, all of whom are now in the NFL. When he finally got a chance last year, he seized it. He led the team with 110 tackles, becoming the first Notre Dame defensive back ever to eclipse 100 stops. He has a team-high 27 tackles this year.

McCarthy might not turn a lot of heads just by walking on the field with his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame. But Weis said all the NFL scouts that come through South Bend ask about him, because they've seen on film how he's always in position to make plays.

"He's turned into one of the most consistent tacklers in the secondary since I've been here," Weis said. "He still contends he could have been a good option quarterback here if allowed to be."

McCarthy, though, is clearly in the right spot at the right time right now for Notre Dame.

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