NCF Nation: Andrew Hendrix

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Maybe if Tommy Rees were like the rest of us, he would have laughed to himself throughout the second half Saturday.

Maybe, with his hoodie on and his night done after a vicious third-quarter hit, he would have looked out to the field and watched a Notre Dame offense that had been forced to run six meaningful drives without him. Maybe he would have struggled to contain an I-know-something-you-don't smirk as the Fighting Irish, accounting for penalties, netted 30 total yards and gained one first down in his absence. Maybe he would have offered a hearty chuckle when seeing his backup and friend, Andrew Hendrix, misfire on all four of his pass attempts.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBefore getting injured, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees was efficient vs. USC, completing 14 of 21 passes for 166 yards and two scores.
Yes, Notre Dame's offense was that ugly without Rees in its 14-10 win here over rival USC. And yes, the Irish's defense deserves plenty of credit for bailing out the offense with its back against the wall time and time again, even if the Trojans -- already without top running back Tre Madden -- lost star receiver Marqise Lee for the second half and did themselves no favors with several costly penalties late.

But a glimpse at life without Rees left everybody outside the program eating their words for most of the second half. Notre Dame wasn't just bad offensively; it was downright brutal, with even the sure-handed Cam McDaniel coughing up the ball late and not a soul among the raucous sellout crowd exhaling until the final zeroes were on the clock after Hendrix's two kneel-downs on his seventh and final drive.

And as it turns out, Rees had been one step ahead of everyone. His biggest play had actually come at halftime, two drives before he would be on the receiving end of a big knock from USC linebacker Lamar Dawson with just more than nine minutes to play in the third quarter. Rees was slow to even sit up, then walked gingerly off the field under his own power. He was standing up on the sidelines being interrogated by team medical personnel before heading to the locker room for further evaluation. Coach Brian Kelly said afterward that Rees had suffered a neck strain and was all there mentally, and that the team should know more in the next 24 hours.

But when the teams had gone to their locker rooms for halftime Saturday, Rees had taken it upon himself to deliver a speech that proved to be prescient in a game that featured no scoring during the final 30 minutes.

"It was a passionate speech, one of the more passionate things I've ever heard Tommy say," captain TJ Jones said. "It was really, 'Just keep your head in the game, don't give up. We've got this, 30 minutes wasn't enough. We need another 30 to win this game.' He had a lot of the guys almost in tears. It's the first time Tommy spoke out like that, and it was definitely emotional."

It had come after one of Rees' better performances to date. The senior finished the game 14-of-21 passing for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers over the course of one half and one more series. He had run the offense at a much quicker pace, and the unit even left some points on the board on the game's first drive after McDaniel failed to reach the end zone on four consecutive runs.

Rees had also passed Rick Mirer on the school's all-time passing yards list, becoming the fifth Notre Dame quarterback to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark for his career.

"I think it does say a lot about the kid and his perseverance," Kelly said of the milestone. "He's just a tough kid, and he just keeps battling. I'm sure he'll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, 'Hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn't that bad.' "

No kidding. From stepping up for an injured Dayne Crist and leading Notre Dame to four straight wins as a freshman, to surviving a turnover-plagued 2011; from getting arrested and then being relegated to a glorified graduate assistant role as Everett Golson took control, to then bailing Golson out late throughout last year's 12-0 run, Rees has nearly seen it all.

He has taken plenty of heat, too, whether it was getting booed by his home fans in his 2012 debut or withstanding a recent social-media firestorm that is coming his way only because of the poor academic judgment that the man initially in front of him displayed this past spring.

Golson, by the way, does not have to worry about schoolwork or bad weather the way Rees does, as he is training with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield out in sunny San Diego.

From there, Golson could see what the rest of us saw once his old teammate was no longer an option against the Trojans.

"As you could tell, our performance in the second half was a little difficult to adjust," tight end Troy Niklas said. "But I think we were able to make do with what we could."

Rees might have provided that extra lift just moments earlier, the son of an NFL scout always worrying about what's next.

"He was just kind of reiterating what the coaches had said, and probably a little something else," team captain Zack Martin said of Rees' halftime speech. "But we had an opportunity to beat SC at home and we hadn't done that in a long time. But to be able to win three out of four years for this class is pretty special."

Whatever checks Notre Dame had written to the devil before last season had been cashed since the calendar turned to 2013 -- Manti Te'o's girlfriend hoax, four notable transfers and Golson's suspension getting sandwiched between the Alabama beatdown and the two losses the Irish had suffered through six games this season.

Then came Saturday night against USC, and everyone got a look at just how much worse it could get if the starter everyone wanted gone could no longer return.

Instant Analysis: OU 35, Notre Dame 21

September, 28, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Oklahoma escaped Notre Dame Stadium with its second-ever victory over the Irish, winning 35-21. Here are a few quick takeaways from this contest:

It was over when: Facing a third-and-3 from his own 46 early in the fourth quarter, Blake Bell hit Sterling Shepard for a 54-yard touchdown pass in which Shepard simply outran Irish linebacker Jarrett Grace. Shepard then caught the two-point conversion pass to give the Sooners a 35-21 lead.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma's defense gets to share this honor today. The Sooners picked off Tommy Rees three times and brought pressure early and often. Oklahoma was able to convert all three turnovers into touchdowns, including a 24-yard pick-six by Corey Nelson on the game's first drive. Frank Shannon's interception on the next Notre Dame offensive play helped set the Sooners up with a 14-0 lead not even three minutes into the game.

Stat of the game: During a contest in which Notre Dame finally established its ground game and got creative on offense by sprinkling in backup quarterback Andrew Hendrix here and there, the easy answer is turnovers. Notre Dame gave the ball away three times; Oklahoma gave it away zero times. It is sometimes that simple, as we saw last week in an ugly offensive game that the Irish were able to pull out against Michigan State thanks in large part to forcing the game's only turnover, which they turned into a touchdown.

What it means: At 4-0, Oklahoma has to feel good about its chances in the Big 12, especially after seeing Oklahoma State lose to West Virginia earlier Saturday. Notre Dame, meanwhile, will likely have to win out to make a BCS bowl game after falling to 3-2 on the season. The Irish's next test comes next week against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.

Video: Notre Dame QB Andrew Hendrix

August, 19, 2013
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The Irish signal-caller talks about expectations going into his fourth year and praises some of the offense's young weapons.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Andrew Hendrix is the backup quarterback this fall at Notre Dame. If Brian Kelly's 23-year track record is any indication, that could mean playing time for the redshirt junior.

"There's a clear pecking order here, 1-2-3. Andrew is clearly the number-two quarterback and ready to play," Kelly said. "I think I made it pretty clear that if I believe Andrew can help in winning football games, I am not a guy that's going to be hesitant to put him in at any time to help us win. The evaluation is always about, for me, Can you help us win football games?

"Andrew can help us win. And we'll see if there's a time and place necessary for him to come in and help us win games. Right now Tommy is the guy."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Hendrix
Kyle Terada/US PresswireAndrew Hendrix hasn't played much in his time at Notre Dame, but the quarterback's size and speed could make him useful in packages like the read-option.
Hendrix saw spot duty behind Tommy Rees in 2011, completing 48.6 percent of his passes for 249 yards and a touchdown while adding 162 yards and another score on the ground. He saw action in just three games last season, going 5-for-7 for 55 yards and rushing for another 41 yards.

The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Cincinnati native's blend of size and speed has always made him an intriguing prospect at the position, where he could be useful as a complementary piece in packages like the read-option.

"He does things differently," Kelly said. "Obviously he would be a guy that we would feature some more in Q-runs like we did with Everett Golson. He could still throw it. He could still run the offense. We're not going to change into an entirely different offense. But we would certainly feature some more quarterback-inspired runs and reads, which are already within our system. But I think you've already seen that from him.

"He's got enough of a resume that you know, and everybody else that is watching Andrew play knows, kind of what his background is. He's got a strong arm, he's athletic, he can run. He's just more comfortable in our system of offense and running our offense."

What that means for spring enrollee Malik Zaire remains to be seen, though Kelly has said that he wants the southpaw working with the regulars and not with the scout team.

That would put Zaire at No. 3 in the pecking order, though he's on an accelerated learning curve after the offseason departure of Golson.
Is it Aug. 31 yet?

Jan. 7 must feel like it was a lot more than six measly months ago for those in South Bend, Ind., as an offseason out of left field threatened to dissipate all of the goodwill built up during Notre Dame's renaissance 2012 campaign.

To recap, since losing to Alabama by 28 in the Discover BCS National Championship, the Irish have:

  • Spent days on their toes and watched four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone flip to Florida as head coach Brian Kelly flirted with the Philadelphia Eagles in the days following the national title game.
  • Suffered through the humiliation of the revelation of the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, which tainted much of the remarkable story behind the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
  • Watched three second-year players -- including quarterback Gunner Kiel -- leave for other destinations before or early in spring ball, leaving the Irish without their top four players from the class of 2012, according to ESPN. (Cornerback Tee Shepard left shortly after enrolling in the spring of 2012.)
  • Withstood a long battle with five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, a saga that ended with ESPN's No. 10 prospect going to UCLA after signing with Notre Dame, costing him a year of eligibility.
  • Lost quarterback Everett Golson, who had upward of 40 starts remaining in an Irish uniform, for at least this season because of what he called "poor academic judgment."

So yes, the 2013 season opener against Temple at Notre Dame Stadium probably cannot come soon enough for many who are tired of the negative headlines and stream of bad news.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly is well-versed in steering squads through quarterback issues.
That doesn't mean good things aren't happening in Kelly's fourth year, however. For one, even without Vanderdoes, he has another strong recruiting class that can make an immediate impact this fall. (It was ranked No. 4 nationally by ESPN when Vanderdoes was in the fold.)

Kelly also has experience navigating an uncertain quarterback field, though the position for the Irish is not as dire as it would be for most programs when losing a starter from a perfect regular season.

Just look at senior Tommy Rees, who saved Notre Dame in three of its first six games last season, who is 14-4 as a starter, knows the offense inside and out, and has the respect of the locker room.

Redshirt junior Andrew Hendrix has some experience and plenty of potential as well, and the promise of early-enrollee southpaw Malik Zaire, ESPN's No. 6 signal-caller from the class of 2013, impressed the staff this spring.

On the other side of the ball, there are eight starters back from a unit that finished second nationally in scoring defense last season, with a secondary that is much more experienced and should give coordinator Bob Diaco some flexibility with the unit as a whole.

Kelly once used five quarterbacks in a single season in Cincinnati during a season that ended in the Orange Bowl. If anyone can handle the haymakers the position has been thrown, it is he.

Rees' 20 turnovers during an 8-5 2011 campaign soured him on many fans, but if he can be more judicious, and if the defense can put forth a comparable performance to last season's, there is no reason this team cannot go BCS-bowling for the second consecutive year.

If it doesn't? Things may get complicated, but this is the last year Notre Dame will have to worry about a fallback plan.

Whether Golson returns and is back in form moving forward remains to be seen, but the program can feel the comfort of having a place at the table for the college football playoff from 2014 on, as the Irish will play five ACC teams each year and have much, much better bowl access.

No program is perfect, however picturesque Alabama might look from the outside.

Oregon? Hello, NCAA. TCU? Where do we even begin?

Notre Dame proved in 2012 that it is once again a big-boy program. Stuff happens to big-boy programs. That doesn't make the future any less bright for the Irish -- something they can't wait to prove come Week 1.
Two weeks ago I asked you who Notre Dame's starting quarterback would be by the end of the 2013 season. It seemed like a given that Tommy Rees would end up starting in Week 1 -- something Brian Kelly announced shortly after -- but would the coach stick with the senior the whole way?

Kelly obviously gives his quarterbacks a short leash. Rees turned the ball over 19 times while starting 12 games in 2011, but he bailed the Irish out a number of times in 2012, and he clearly knows the offense better than anyone. (Not to mention his 18 starts, which are 18 more than any other quarterback on the roster.)

Rees came away with 37 percent of the votes, while Andrew Hendrix notched 14.

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsAfter redshirting his freshman season, Malik Zaire has a chance to win the Irish starting QB job despite the return of Everett Golson.
The leader? True freshman Malik Zaire, who gained 49 percent.

Allow reader Greg from Buffalo, N.Y., to explain:
Choosing Malik Zaire because I think his development will be "on-the-field" opposite of Golson's of the past year. Instead of starting Golson and closing with Rees, it will be a more subtle steadily growing injection of Zaire as the change of pace QB as the season goes on. No one can trump Rees' experience, so leverage that while getting Zaire the in-game reps he needs to accumulate that experience. There are some soft games in the back half of the season where he can grow, and I could see him pushing to start by the Stanford game.

This makes perfect sense to me, and I think it's the reason Zaire won this poll, even if it may take a lot of wishful thinking on Irish fans' parts.

Zaire right now has to be one of the most popular players among the Notre Dame fan base — as is usually the case with any quarterback who has yet to play, and therefore has not made any mistakes to draw criticism.

He's the flavor of the month right now, a dual-threat who enrolled early and impressed the coaching staff during spring ball. He's a lefty, too.

While I think it is probable that Zaire sees the field at points this fall, the staff will have to see great improvements during camp and in the day-to-day operation of the program if it eventually turns the reins over to a true freshman, especially when there are two fourth-year players ahead of him who have plenty of game experience.
Tommy Rees' college career has been anything but conventional. At different stages of his Notre Dame tenure, Rees has been hailed as a rookie savior, a turnover machine and an elite closer. He led the Irish as a freshman to their first victory at rival USC in 10 years. He took over for Dayne Crist in Game 1 of a sophomore season that ended with 20 turnovers. He saved three of the Irish's first six games during their undefeated regular season in his junior campaign.

He has been arrested and booed by his home crowd, too.

Now, through circumstances beyond his control, Rees enters his final year as the odds-on favorite to open the 2013 season as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. His 18 career starts are 18 more than any other signal-caller on the roster, and he has a chance to enhance his complicated legacy by leading a team coming off a BCS title game appearance.

"It's tough, but you definitely don't take anything for granted," Rees said April 19, when asked about approaching his senior year. "You come out there every day excited because you never know when your last practice might be. And the group of guys that I've come through with and developed with, it's exciting and it's bittersweet, but we've got a lot of time left here and we're looking forward to a really good season."

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty ImagesThough coach Brian Kelly wouldn't name him Notre Dame's starting quarterback, senior Tommy Rees "knows exactly what the expectations are for him."
Rees will likely be a big key if the Irish are to have that kind of season, though coach Brian Kelly was noncommittal about naming a starter during a Tuesday conference call that addressed the school suspension of Everett Golson this fall. The fourth-year Irish coach said that Rees, redshirt junior Andrew Hendrix and true freshman Malik Zaire would all have opportunities to compete for the No. 1 role.

"It’s certainly going to be a challenge -- he was our starting quarterback, he started in the national championship game," Kelly said of moving forward without Golson. "But we’re very fortunate that we’ve got experienced quarterbacks in Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix. … These guys have been in the program now, they’ve been with us going on our fourth year. We have great relationships, a great understanding of our offense."

Rees has embodied Kelly's count-on-me mantra every step of the way. He has won the team's official Next Man In award twice in his first three years with the program, and the mentality that has earned him that hardware is the same one that can help minimize concern about Golson's departure.

"It's a team game; there can only be one quarterback," Rees said last month. "But all four of us go out there and compete like we want to be the guy. And we've done a good job balancing that out, and the coaches have done a good job of communicating and splitting the reps. I feel really good about the spring. I think all of us got better and all of us have been the best we have been, and I'm excited to move forward."

No one will mistake Rees' arm strength and agility with those of Golson, but the aspiring coach has the football IQ to overcome those deficiencies. Coaches and players talked last season about nuances that Rees would point out to Golson on the sideline and in the locker room during games, part of a relationship that carried over from when the two roomed in camp -- time that Golson used to ultimately win the job.

Now the opportunity is there for Rees to step in again, to prove that the "Turnover Tommy" moniker from 2011 is a thing of the past and that he can effectively guide a team with BCS aspirations for an extended period of time.

"Tommy knows exactly what the expectations are for him," Kelly said Tuesday. "He was a huge part of our undefeated season. He’s going to be a part of this season as well. He knows what we expect of him on a day-to-day basis. And just like a guy who can’t make tackles, you're probably not going to be on the field if you can’t tackle, and you’re probably not going to be on the field if you throw interceptions -- whether you’re Tommy Rees or Malik Zaire or Everett Golson. So that’s pretty established within our program as to what the expectations are."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With his first spring as The Guy at Notre Dame winding down, Everett Golson is scaling back.

He has had to do this before, whether it was relearning a few things after a rocky home debut last season or spending more time in the athletic trainer's room than he would have liked after his relatively small frame took too many hits throughout 2012.

But with Season 1 as Notre Dame's starting quarterback in the rear-view mirror, with the experience of a national title game under his belt and with outside starting threat Gunner Kiel off to Cincinnati, Golson, at times, simply has not stopped talking.

[+] EnlargeGolson
Mike DiNovo/US PresswireNotre Dame coach Brian Kelly is impressed with Everett Golson as the quarterback prepares for his second season as the starter. "His communication and command and his leadership has been evident as we started spring ball," Kelly says.
Now the fun begins for the Fighting Irish offense, a unit that faces at least the possibility of having the same man directing it for 39 more games, this after each of coach Brian Kelly's previous three springs with the program began with quarterback uncertainty.

"I don’t know that you could even put him in the same category with where he started last year to where he is now," Kelly said of Golson. "Strong command of our offense. I think where we’re at with him more than anything else is we have to now begin to pull back a little bit. He wants to do a little bit too much. He knows his toolbox very well. He didn’t know anything relative to what he had for tools last year in terms of what he could do with the offense.

"Now, he wants to maybe do a little too much, so we’re at a totally different point in his development. I think the thing that stands out the most to me, though, is his command. His communication and command and his leadership has been evident as we started spring ball."

Whereas Golson entered last spring as one of four candidates fighting for the starting job, this year, he is being more assertive, taking coaching better and strengthening his relationship with position coach Chuck Martin by exchanging calls and texts or by shooting around on the basketball court when time allows for it.

Golson is becoming a more vocal presence on the field, and he is making the leap in what Kelly hopes will eventually be a quarterback-driven offense.

Notre Dame finished 80th nationally in scoring offense last season, getting to 12-1 in large part on the back of the nation's No. 2 scoring defense and by minimizing the turnover chaos that had plagued it a season earlier.

"I think for me personally it's more on us, just because I expect more of us," said Golson, who netted 2,703 total yards, 18 touchdowns (12 passing, six running) and 10 turnovers while completing better than 58 percent of his throws last season.

"Last year, 2012, we didn't really make our mark. You can kind of blame it on excuses -- it was our fist year going through it -- but at the end of the day, we didn't do our job. So that's definitely an emphasis for me personally to make this offense better and have a better season."

Fifth-year left tackle Zack Martin said of Golson: "Every week he was better, and better not only on the field but in practice with the offensive line, with the other receivers. That's the stuff we see from him on a consistent basis now. We expect Everett to be out front, telling the offense what to do. We expect him to be out there, and he's done a great job this spring."

Golson was listed at 185 pounds last season but was likely 10 or so pounds lighter by the end of the season. Bulking up was deemed a point of emphasis in the months after the Jan. 7 title-game loss to Alabama and a 94-carry season. The third-year sophomore is currently listed as nine pounds shy of the goal of 195.

With Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix back for their fourth seasons, Golson knows there is little time to rest on his laurels, especially after an inaugural starting campaign that saw him get yanked three different times, leave another game with a concussion -- which forced him to miss the next game -- and miss the first series of one more contest because he was late for a meeting.

Golson might not be looking over his shoulder the way he had to a season ago, but that does not make him any less cognizant of what he has to do moving forward.

"I don't think I necessarily think about that a lot," he said. "The No. 1 [position] is only good for so much. You go out there and throw a couple picks, who knows? Maybe it's another controversy again and your job is back up. So my thing was I'll never be complacent. I never want to get complacent. Just always stay hungry and stay driven, and that's how I kind of went through this whole process."

Irish QB Gunner Kiel to transfer

March, 7, 2013
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Notre Dame quarterback Gunner Kiel intends to transfer, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.

The website Irish Sports Daily earlier reported that Kiel would transfer.

Notre Dame had no comment. A message left for Kiel's father, Kip, was not returned.

A four-star quarterback from the class of 2012, Kiel drew notoriety for his recruitment after defecting from both Indiana and LSU.

The Columbus (Ind.) High School product redshirted this past fall during the Fighting Irish's run to the Discover BCS National Championship. He is the nephew of former Notre Dame quarterback Blair Kiel, who died last Easter at age 50.

Redshirt freshman Everett Golson won the starting job last fall, with junior Tommy Rees seeing extensive playing time, too.

During his most meeting with reporters on Jan. 5, Kiel said the thought of transferring had not crossed his mind.

"It honestly hasn't," Kiel said during media day at Sun Life Stadium. "I've been more focused on the season and been more focused on school and other things that are more important to me."

Redshirt sophomore Andrew Hendrix was ahead of Kiel on the depth chart last year as well, and Notre Dame welcomed in another signal caller this semester in early enrollee Malik Zaire.

To read the full story, click here.

Video: Notre Dame's Andrew Hendrix

January, 5, 2013
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Andrew Hendrix and the rest of the Notre Dame quarterbacks are ready to help any way they can to beat Alabama for the national championship.

Kiel says he's not going anywhere

January, 5, 2013
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MIAMI -- Gunner Kiel says he will be at Notre Dame this spring, and he says the thought of transferring has never crossed his mind.

"It honestly hasn't," Kiel said at Sun Life Stadium. "I've been more focused on the season and been more focused on school and other things that are more important to me."

The ballyhooed quarterback recruit-turned-scout-team ace has watched as Everett Golson ascended from a similar role last season to starting quarterback in Monday's Discover BCS National Championship against Alabama.

Junior Tommy Rees has relieved Golson when necessary this season, with redshirt sophomore Andrew Hendrix seeing sparse action as well.

The math shows four men competing for one spot through next season, with Golson holding two more years of eligibility after that and Hendrix one. The domino effect equaling just one potential year for Kiel to be front and center in the quarterback race.

He sees other possibilities, and that starts with entering the competition with the right mindset come spring.

"Anything could happen," Kiel said. "[Golson] could go to the NFL -- you never know. He could also get hurt, other people could get hurt -- there's so many doors that could be opened that I just have to be patient, just wait my turn, wait to get better."

"I'm gonna try, but he's a great quarterback," he added when asked about unseating Golson this spring. "He's going to lead this team and he's going to keep getting better, so I just need to keep getting better and learn from him, and also learn from coach [Brian] Kelly and just try to keep getting better each year."

Saturday's media day being Kiel's first availability to reporters since fall camp, the Les Miles issue came up again. But Kiel took the high road, saying he can't blame the LSU coach for publicly questioning his heart after de-committing from the Tigers in favor of the Irish at the 11th hour.

"Once he said it, I don't blame him at all -- I was dumb during the recruiting process," said Kiel, who had de-committed from Indiana earlier as well. "I couldn't really make up my mind, but I was also doing what was best for me at that time, and that was picking a college. That much pressure and being so highly ranked, I couldn't make up my mind.

"It was hard, but I'm very happy with the decision I made, and I've always respected coach Miles. I'm not going to throw him under the bus, because I think he's a great coach. Everything he stands for I think is great. He's a winning coach. There's nothing more to say. I can't take back what I did, so I respect coach Miles and everything he stands for."

Notes: Redshrt junior running back Cierre Wood said he will announce his decision about his future shortly after Monday's game. … Redshirt senior safety Jamoris Slaughter has filed paperwork to the NCAA to petition for a sixth year and expects to hear in the weeks after Monday's game. Slaughter tore his Achilles in a Week 3 win at Michigan State. … Running back Amir Carlisle said nerve damage suffered during his ankle injury from the spring was what delayed his recovery and forced him to redshirt this season, which he had been granted a waiver to play in following his January transfer from USC after one year there.

Notre Dame weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
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One last look back at the weekend that was for Notre Dame.

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.

It's game day at Notre Dame Stadium

October, 20, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Greetings from Notre Dame Stadium, where quarterback play is again the subject surrounding the No. 5 Irish.

Tommy Rees will start today after Everett Golson suffered a concussion late in last week's win against Stanford. Golson is out on the field fully dressed and taking reps, but he's been getting the snaps from Mike Golic Jr. Rees has been getting the snaps from Braxston Cave while Andrew Hendrix lined up behind Matt Hegarty.

Beautiful day here, a far cry from last week's showers, and it will be interesting to see how the Irish offense fares against a BYU defense that ranks fifth nationally in overall defense, and seventh in scoring defense. The Cougars are No. 13 in sacks and in tackles for loss, too, so we'll see if the lack of mobility without Golson under center proves to be an issue.

On the other side, look for Notre Dame to have a field day defensively. BYU's offense is, to put it kindly, not very good, and the Cougars will have a lot of trouble establishing any kind of ground game against this Irish front.

Does another low-scoring slugfest await us? Probably not, though there won't exactly be tons of fireworks, either.

As always, I'll be tweeting the action throughout, so be sure to follow there. Any developments or breaking news will be here in the blog, and we will have complete postgame coverage, too.

Should be another fun one. Enjoy.

Notre Dame mailblog

September, 14, 2012
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Lots of good questions this week. Let's get right to it.

Harry from Dalton, Ga., writes: Hey Matt. I'm wondering where this puts Hendrix in as far as getting playing time. It appears he is number 3 now and might not get much playing time with Rees having the more experience.

Matt Fortuna: Harry, [Andrew] Hendrix is certainly caught in a bit of a rough situation. He's not good enough to supplant [Everett] Golson as the starter, and he doesn't have the intangibles and experience that [Tommy] Rees has. But I think he still has assets Notre Dame likes. Brian Kelly has not named either the No. 2 quarterback. I'd expect Hendrix to see mostly late-game action in contests that are already decided, much like the Navy opener. Whether that will be enough to help his development -- or enough to surpass either quarterback in their respective roles -- remains to be seen.




Evan Sharp from South Lyon, Mich., writes: Hey Matt. With all of the recent injuries to the defense especially how do you think that will affect an already questionable defense against RB Bell and an improving QB Maxwell next week? Also what is YOUR input on who will get more reps in East Lansing between Golson vs. Hendrix, Rees and Riddick vs. Atkinson and a returning Wood? Thanks, Evan

Matt Fortuna: Evan, I don't think any of the injuries were serious enough to limit any of the defensive players this week. The only player who won't be able to go is kicker Nick Tausch, who hurt his groin late last week. Golson will start, and the plan is for him to finish. But if he has trouble late like he did last week and the outcome is still up in the air, it will be very interesting to see if Kelly makes the switch to Rees. Theo Riddick will start, and though Cierre Wood and George Atkinson are listed as the co-No. 2 running backs this week, I'd expect Wood to see more carries.




Mike Lozano from Orlando, Fla., writes: Hi Matt, I'm not sure how to feel about the recent move by ND to affiliate with the ACC. While I'm happy ND will get more exposure to recruits in the southeast & access to the Orange/other bowl games, the 5 game scheduling requirement against ACC teams makes me feel uneasy. Your thoughts?

Matt Fortuna: Mike, it shouldn't. Notre Dame plays four ACC games this season already, if you include Pittsburgh. It played four last season, if you include Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. This move is a home run for the Irish, and it gives them plenty of bowl access, which has been arguably the biggest issue the program has faced in recent years.




Jason from Fishers, Ind., writes: I am just curious where the idea that the Purdue rivalry doesn't have the same history as the others in the Big Ten comes from. ND has played something like 84 games against the Boilers all time, which I believe puts it second on the number of times played list behind Navy. I have been having a discussion with my buddies about this and they are sort of in your camp, believing that the Purdue rivalry will be sacrificed with the new scheduling that takes place. I argue that this rivalry is more important to keep going than all others aside from Navy and USC. The Michigan rivalry has been on again, off again and Stanford is not a true rivalry, just an excuse to get out west. I am of the belief that now, more than previously, the Purdue game matters most because it continues to help recruiting and relevance to the midwest. My thought is that the west coast connection is already fulfilled by USC and always has been. The ACC games give you the southeast on up the east coast. A neutral site game can give you the east and even Texas/Oklahoma. If you get rid of all of the B1G rivalries, you basically remove all annual Midwest games that aren't played at home. Keeping Purdue is very important because it keeps an in-state rival to help bolster area recruiting. I know that ND recruits itself many times, but many kids that want to play in the ACC or out west would be better served by just going somewhere in the conference. To truly continue to be "National", ND should play Nationally, not just out west and down south, when away from Notre Dame Stadium. What are your thoughts on this idea? I can't find many that agree with my stance, but I truly see the Purdue rivalry as one very rich in history and necessary for the future. It gets the nod over MSU because of the fact that it is in-state, which holds its own importance.

Matt Fortuna: Jason, I think there will be some kind of scheduling cycle with all of the Big Ten rivalries that Notre Dame has, so I'm not sure the Boilermakers would be just wiped off the schedule for good. As for recruiting? I really don't think playing two hours down the road does much for the Irish. They're pretty well-known in the Midwest regardless. None of those Big Ten rivalries, in Notre Dame's eyes, are as important as the tradition that a Navy game has every year, or as valuable as getting West every year at USC and/or Stanford.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On Thursday, Notre Dame launched its Take a StaND campaign, an initiative geared toward getting the crowd more involved in the game. Coach Brian Kelly had his team practice inside Notre Dame Stadium that day in order to take away some of the awe factor that comes with entering a building just seven times a year.

Music was piped in throughout Saturday's home opener against Purdue, with Irish defensive players regularly imploring the crowd to add to the noise on key third-down plays. Then, at the 2:12 mark in the fourth quarter of a tied game, the stadium's public address announcer offered a familiar phrase:

"Tommy Rees now at quarterback for Notre Dame."

Either out of disgust with another possible quarterback controversy or frustration from seeing a man who turned the ball over 19 times last year enter the game on its most crucial drive, a number of fans from the student section started booing the former starting signal-caller.

Whether Rees can ever regain his No. 1 throne remains to be seen, but he made as strong a case as he possibly could in his return from suspension, directing Notre Dame on a 12-play, 55-yard drive in just over two minutes, setting up Kyle Brindza for a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining to beat Purdue 20-17.

"The story finishes with Tommy Rees coming in for [Everett] Golson and leading us on a two-minute drive to win the game," Kelly said. "I'm good to go. A good day for Notre Dame football."

But, Kelly said, the Irish do not have a quarterback controversy.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PresswireThe Irish turned to Tommy Rees to lead the game-winning drive, but coach Brian Kelly insists there's no QB controversy in South Bend.
"Everett Golson is our starter," the third-year Irish coach said. "He will start against Michigan State. But we know that we've got assets at that position with Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees."

Maybe even better ones than they thought. Rees entered 2012 as the only one of the team's four scholarship quarterbacks with any starting experience, going 12-4 the past two years. He severely handicapped his chances at remaining the starter when he was arrested this spring at an off-campus party, forcing him to watch last week's tilt in Dublin from home.

But when Notre Dame needed someone to engineer a scoring drive after Purdue converted a fourth-down scoring chance to even things up, the Irish turned to their veteran.

Golson, who was given much more freedom in career start No. 2, was having a strong game before his final drive, completing 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He was sacked five times and hit countless others, bouncing back each time. But on what would be his last play of the game, the redshirt freshman had the ball pried loose by Purdue's Josh Johnson, setting the Boilermakers up at the Irish 15 with less than four minutes to go.

Kelly said Golson had trouble gripping the ball and probably could have played, but the coach felt more comfortable with the experienced Rees in the two-minute drill, a move few saw coming.

With zero timeouts at his disposal, Rees tossed three completions for 35 yards, including a huge 10-yard strike to John Goodman on third-and-6. He took the Irish to the 8, spiking it twice and taking a knee before setting up Brindza's game-winning kick.

Coaches and players raved about Rees' demeanor throughout camp, the aspiring coach doing everything he can to help his competitors while knowing his opportunity was dwindling. Rees backed up those claims Saturday, absorbing the boos from his fellow students after entering and some more after his first misfire.

Rees, along with everyone other than Zack Martin and Manti Te'o, was not made available to speak after the game.

"I don't agree with that at all," Martin said of the booing. "A guy like Tommy, it just fuels his fire. He's been through a lot. I'm so proud of him and so happy for him that he was able to answer the bell today and lead us down the field."

"Everett didn't get, like, booted from the game," Martin later added. "He played a great game. I think it was just situation, two-minute drill. Tommy's more of a pocket passer. So I think it's kind of one of those things. Everyone has a 100 percent confidence in Everett and what he does on the field. We're ready to go with him next week."

So here come the Irish, riding a 2-0 start for the first time in four years, marching into East Lansing with a chance to pull off their first upset. Michigan State has a defensive line every bit as lethal as Purdue's, and all the Boilermakers did was hold the Irish to 52 rushing yards one week after Notre Dame racked up 293 against Navy.

And here comes Golson, whose last play under center was his worst, going into his third game still holding the title of starting quarterback.

The competition gets tougher from Week 3 on, but the drama may already be ahead of schedule for the Irish.

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