NCF Nation: Utes-Irish 111310

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When the first students poured out of the stands, Notre Dame receiver Duval Kamara reacted with trepidation.

"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "I had to get away from there."

Tommy Rees
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame simplified its game plan, and Tommy Rees responded with three touchdown passes.
The senior had never seen a scene quite like this. It's a tradition for senior to take pictures on the Notre Dame Stadium field after the final home game, but usually they'll stroll down the aisles. On Saturday, they raced out of the bleachers, underclassmen and non-students following suit to mob the players. The last time anyone remembers that even developing was the 2005 USC game, when the Bush Push sent disappointed students scurrying back into the stands.

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.

Robert Blanton and Duval Kamara
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDuval Kamara, right, caught two touchdown passes against Utah.
Kelly didn't have three of his top four receivers, his leading running back and his starting quarterback. But Rees threw three touchdown passes, and Kamara -- who had seven catches all season coming into Saturday -- caught two scores for his best game since his freshman year.

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."

Notre Dame wipes out Utah

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Don't count Notre Dame out of the postseason yet.

The Irish got their biggest win of the season Saturday, beating No. 14 Utah 28-3 in their home finale. That evened their record at 5-5 and leaves them just one win away from bowl eligibility with a game against Army at Yankee Stadium up next.

It was a thoroughly impressive performance by Notre Dame and a complete flop by the Utes, who were ranked No. 5 going into last weekend. Utah, which came in averaging 40 points a game and having scored a touchdown in 44 straight contests, failed to reach the end zone against the maligned Irish defense. In fact, the Utes' only points came on a long field goal after Notre Dame turned the ball over on downs near midfield on the game's very first possession.

The Irish also won on Senior Day for the first time since 2007, giving coach Brian Kelly his first win against a ranked team.

More to come after postgame interviews ...

All Irish after three quarters

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame is doing everything right, while Utah can't get anything going.

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.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everything is going right so far for Notre Dame.

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

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

Notre Dame has had big leads before, of course, and spit them out. But Utah will have to play a lot better to make a comeback in this one.

Halftime: Notre Dame 14, Utah 3

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Halftime analysis from Notre Dame Stadium, where the Irish lead No. 14 Utah 14-3:

Turning point: With both offenses struggling mightily in rainy and windy conditions, cornerback Robert Blanton blocked a Utah punt and returned it 6 yards late in the first quarter for the game's first touchdown. That pumped up the soggy Irish crowd and energized the home sideline for the rest of the half.

Stat of the half: Notre Dame has only 95 total yards, 61 of them coming on the lone touchdown drive of the half. Yet the Irish lead by two scores because they've made far fewer mistakes.

Stat of the half II: Utah has 10 penalties for 65 yards in the first half. That's a sign of a team that isn't focused and ready to play a big road game.

What Utah needs to do: Leave the disappointment from last week's loss to TCU in the locker room. Start playing with more discipline and focus. The Irish offense isn't doing much of anything, so it won't take a lot to get back in this game.

What Notre Dame needs to do: Keep playing with enthusiasm and excitement on defense. The Utah spread has been shut down, with only 118 total yards. Don't make mistakes or put Tommy Rees in bad positions.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Utah was ranked in the Top 5 going into last weekend.

One question: Really?

Perhaps the Utes are still dealing with a hangover from their 47-7 home beatdown from TCU last week. Because right now they look terrible against Notre Dame.

The Irish lead 14-3, and Utah already has nine penalties for 60 yards early in the second quarter. Lots of false starts and offside infractions, a sure sign of a team that's not mentally right. Notre Dame has zero penalties.

I wrote in the pregame post that some unsung heroes might have to come through for the banged up Irish. Well, how about Jonas Gray? The rarely used running back ripped off a 36-yard run and might have scored if he didn't slip on the wet grass. Michael Floyd helped spring him with a great block, then finished off the drive with a short touchdown pass from Tommy Rees.

Notre Dame needs this win a whole lot more than the Utes. And so far, it's easy to tell by the way both are playing.

Irish lead with no offense

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- No Dayne Crist. No Armando Allen. No Kyle Rudolph. No Theo Riddick and no T.J. Jones.

And with all those guys out, right now it's no offense for Notre Dame.

The Irish have had three possessions and have managed just 8 total yards and no first downs. On their first drive, they ran the ball four straight times with Cierre Wood, turning the ball over on downs.

Tommy Rees missed his first three passes and his fourth attempt was complete for just three yards. It's raining and Brian Kelly probably doesn't want to take too many chances with so many young players.

Still, the Irish somehow lead 7-3, thanks to a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Robert Blanton. The Irish defense has been really good so far, yielding only a field goal after the fourth-down failure. Harrison Smith picked off Jordan Wynn to end another drive.

It may be a defense and special teams kind of day for the Irish.

Irish offense going nowhere

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- No Dayne Crist. No Armando Allen. No Kyle Rudolph. No Theo Riddick and no T.J. Jones.

And with all those guys out, right now it's no offense for Notre Dame.

The Irish have had three possessions and managed eight total yards and no first downs. On their first drive, they ran the ball four straight times with Cierre Wood, turning the ball over on downs.

Tommy Rees missed his first three passes, and his fourth attempt was complete for just three yards. It's raining and Brian Kelly probably doesn't want to take too many chances with so many young players. But Notre Dame has no chance against Utah if things don't improve.

At least the Irish defense has been decent so far, yielding only a field goal after the fourth-down failure. Harrison Smith picked off Jordan Wynn to end another drive. Can the defense, which seemingly hasn't come up with a score since the Lyndon Johnson administration, carry the load today?

Utah-Notre Dame kickoff notes

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- I'm pretty sure this is not a home game for Utah, but there's an awful lot of visiting red at Notre Dame Stadium. A steady rain is falling, too.

Senior walk-on Brian Costello will serve as the No. 3 Irish quarterback in case something happens to Tommy Rees and Nate Montana. Coach Brian Kelly wants to preserve freshman Andrew Hendrix's redshirt for now.

There's a lot of talent in sweatsuits for Notre Dame: Dayne Crist, Kyle Rudolph, Ian Williams, Armando Allen, Theo Riddick and T.J. Jones, to name a few. Kelly had hoped Jones would be available for this game, but instead the Irish will be without three of their top receivers against the Utes. Robby Toma was running with the first-string offense at slot receiver during warm-ups.

If Notre Dame wins this game, it will likely be with some help from some previously unsung heroes.

Utah-Notre Dame pregame ponderables

November, 13, 2010
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Greetings from Notre Dame Stadium, where we're enjoying fine November football weather. It's cloudy with temperatures in the 60s, with only a slight chance of rain.

Of course, there has been a big, black cloud hanging over the Irish for a couple of weeks now, starting with the Navy loss and continuing with the Declan Sullivan tragedy and the Tulsa home loss before last week's bye. It's Senior Day on Saturday, and Notre Dame would love to send the seniors out with a win and give people around here reason to smile for the first time in a while (and the first time on Senior Day since 2007).

It won't come easy against the No. 15 Utes, but the Irish have more to play for. If they can win this game, they can reach bowl eligibility by beating Army next week or USC in the finale. Utah (8-1) is probably ticketed for the Las Vegas Bowl no matter what.

Before last week's 47-7 loss to TCU, Utah had very impressive stats on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame isn't nearly as good as TCU, and with freshman quarterback Tommy Rees and Cierre Wood at tailback, you wonder how effective the Irish offense will be. Meanwhile, the Utah spread offense could give the Notre Dame defense fits if quarterback Jordan Wynn is mentally and physically recovered from his battering at the hands of the Horned Frogs last week.

Saw a lot of Utah red in the parking lot and early on in the stadium. The Utes are hoping to come out of here with a win in the schools' first-ever meeting.

More to come ...