Notre Dame Football: South Florida Bulls

Irish lunch links

May, 16, 2013
Man, Memphis.

Irish lunch links

May, 15, 2013
Keep the Midwest sun coming ..
Mel Kiper Jr. is taking the week to look at 2014 NFL draft prospects by position groups. Not surprisingly, Notre Dame makes its presence felt at the defensive end spot.

Kiper lists Stephon Tuitt as his No. 2 defensive end prospect for this draft class, pending Tuitt's decision on the NFL following this fall. He loves the junior's burst, and he says that, combined with nose guard Louis Nix, Tuitt can help the Irish form a scary defensive front this season.

Right behind Tuitt? That would be fellow ballyhooed 2011 recruit Aaron Lynch, now at USF. Kiper sees Lynch as a matchup nightmare this season, which is hardly a surprise considering he will be playing in the Big East two years after notching 5.5 sacks as a true freshman against Notre Dame's schedule in 2011.

Jadeveon Clowney tops the list, which should be a foregone conclusion at this point considering most analysts were in agreement that the South Carolina star would have been the No. 1 overall selection in this past month's draft.

Kiper this week has also looked at top-five receivers , top-five running backs and top-five safeties , many of whom -- Marqise Lee, Silas Redd, Damien Williams, Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards — Notre Dame will see during the 2013 season.

ND high on Kiper's 2014 board

May, 13, 2013
Mel Kiper Jr. said it, not me: "Just imagine for a moment how scary the Notre Dame defensive line would be in 2013 if [Aaron] Lynch had stayed in South Bend."

OK, so I actually hinted at the exact same thing 10 days ago when looking at Todd McShay's initial 2014 draft board.

Nonetheless, Kiper is in the same boat as McShay with this one, as he sees a 2014 NFL draft class that is top-heavy with current and former Notre Dame defensive linemen.

Kiper's first 25-man Big Board for next year's draft is up, and he has Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch all among the top-20.

Nix leads the pack at No. 7, with Tuitt coming in next at No. 13 and Lynch rounding out the trio at No. 20.

All three players will have at least one more year of eligibility remaining after the 2013 season. While Nix was faced with a decision this past winter and Lynch is, frankly, an unknown, Tuitt has given zero indication that he plans on leaving school early, though that could all change pending a monstrous fall.

And, as I wrote in the Big East blog recently, while playing the "What If …" game is always tempting, there's no guarantee everything would have worked out so swimmingly for the Irish last year had Lynch stayed with the program and not made some significant adjustments. To his credit, the reviews out of Tampa, Fla., have been positive so far.

Other familiar names on Kiper's Big Board include USC's Marqise Lee, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Alabama's Adrian Hubbard and Alabama's C.J. Mosley.

Kiper also has a "next 25" list, though no Irish players check in at Nos. 26-50.
Notre Dame just missed out on having two first-round draft picks for the second straight season. Next year's draft may offer the Irish a chance to make up for it.

Scouts Inc.'s Todd McShay has his early 2014 first-round draft board up, and, while it is easy to say "what if," he does include three players that could have formed Notre Dame's starting defensive line in 2014.

Louis Nix is No. 7, Stephon Tuitt is No. 18 and former Irish and current USF end Aaron Lynch is No. 28.

This is all, of course, pending each's decision with a year of eligibility remaining (or, in Lynch's case, two years).

Nix would seemingly take that chance after weighing his decision heavily this past winter, as he will have his degree and have little else to prove as well. Tuitt, for his part, has never indicated that he has any plans to leave early, but that decision is obviously not one he is in a rush to make.

This trio has been popping up all over the place during this past week following the draft.

Irish lunch links

March, 21, 2013
Best day in sports?
USF defensive end Aaron Lynch had his NCAA waiver for immediate eligiblity denied and will sit out this season, coach Skip Holtz said Thursday.

Lynch transferred to the Bulls from Notre Dame during the offseason, after playing in 12 games for the Irish last season as a freshman, with six starts. He ended the year with 33 total tackles, seven tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

USF held out slim hopes that the NCAA would rule in his favor. Now he must wait to be eligible in 2013.

When he is able to play, the Bulls should have some outstanding players on the defensive front. Ryne Giddins is going into his second year as a starter, and is poised for an outstanding season. USF also has linemen Elkino Watson, Tevin Mims, Todd Chandler, Clavion Nelson, JuJu Forte and Luke Sager.

The only significant player the front loses after this season is senior tackle Cory "Pork Chop" Grissom.

One other note: Holtz said reserve tight end Isaac Virgin has decided to transfer.

Irish lunch links

August, 7, 2012
That Justin Verlander guy is pretty good.

Irish lunch links

August, 1, 2012
Talking suspensions at 3:30 p.m. ET on "College Football Live" (ESPN). Tune in.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly didn't even give Jonas Gray a chance to think all was lost after his game-changing fumble on the first drive of what would be the first loss of the 2011 season.

"How do you want to be remembered?" Kelly asked Gray after the game. "As that guy that fumbled on the one-yard line or as that guy in your senior year that bounced back from some adversity and had an incredible season?

"You know what, I think he's going to have a very good season."

That would mean overcoming the fumble-itis that surfaced at the worst possible time this past Saturday. Notre Dame, knocking on the door of the goal line after an efficient opening drive, turned to Gray, its 230-pound bruising tailback, to punch it in from one-yard out on third-and-goal.

South Florida's Jerrell Young jarred the ball out of Gray's hands, Kayvon Webster picked it up at the 4 and the Fighting Irish were facing a 7-0 deficit before the crowd had even settled into its seats.

Said Gray, who has five career fumbles: "There's definitely a bigger chip on my shoulder."

Gray carried the ball just two more times the rest of the day, finishing with a pedestrian four rushes for 17 yards.

He knows more is expected of a senior tasked with providing defenses a different look as the Irish's change-of-pace back.

"It's just playing my game," Gray said. "Playing with confidence, playing with the abilities that I know I have and just going out and just playing my game. Playing for my teammates, playing for this university, playing for my family."

Kelly's confidence in Gray hasn't wavered. After all, he committed just one of the five turnovers and none of the eight penalties that helped doom the Irish in the 23-20 loss.

"He's got to go back out there," Kelly said. "He's got to play for us. He's physically able to do it. Mentally he's got to be able to do it. We're not sitting him down. He's got to play for us against Michigan, and he's got to play for us all year."

For Gray, the seal of approval after a disappointing start to the final season of his collegiate career meant everything. And it's something the Pontiac, Mich., native hopes to live up to in front of at least 20 friends and family members who will be in the Big House Saturday when the Irish take on Michigan.

"It was a bit of a relief that the coach is still behind me," Gray said. "And you can just tell by the way he worded that question, where he wanted me to go, where his direction wanted me to be, and it just means a lot."
[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
AP Photo/Michael ConroyQB Tommy Rees played well against South Florida in spite of harsh conditions.
1. The QB battle is back open: It lasted all spring, most of summer and through 19 preseason practices, but here we go again. Dayne Crist couldn't get the offense going following his opening drive, something Tommy Rees had little trouble doing in the second half. Rees' numbers (24 of 34, 296 yards) were impressive in harsh weather conditions and against a USF defense playing the pass the entire time he was in. During the summer and again Saturday, the rest of the offense has seemed to see little difference between which signal caller was running the offense. Still, a decision on Crist -- a senior who overcame two devastating knee injuries before winning the job -- will be interesting.

2. The red zone is a nightmare: There are reasons the Irish dropped a game despite outgaining the opposition by exactly a 2-to-1 margin (508 yards to 254). Five turnovers, for one. And, more specifically, three giveaways inside the USF 20 yard line. Jonas Gray fumbled at the goal line, resulting in a 96-yard Bulls touchdown, and Crist and Rees each tossed an interception inside the 10. Notre Dame has to capitalize when it gets scoring chances, a task that will be all the more difficult this Saturday as a guest inside the sport's biggest stadium.

3. Special teams must improve: Theo Riddick failed to impress on returns Saturday, fumbling a punt that USF recovered at the Irish 20 and struggling to handle several other returns. David Ruffer whiffed on his only field goal attempt, a 30-yarder late in the third quarter. Brian Kelly sounded like he was determined to keep Riddick in the return role, saying after the game: "I told him to get his butt back out there. If we're going to have the kind of playmakers we need at that position, we don't have a waiver wire, we can't trade for anybody."

4. Penalties need to be curtailed: The Irish committed eight penalties for 73 yards, including five gaffes on defense that resulted in 53 yards. Cornerback Gary Gray's fourth-quarter pass interference on third-and-goal from the Irish 6 proved the most costly, as USF scored a touchdown on its very next play to go up 23-7. The defense, impressive as it was, will need to shore up loose ends before Saturday, as Denard Robinson presents another huge challenge.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 4, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There are considerably fewer of these to hand out following a loss, but several Notre Dame players managed to stand out in a 23-20 defeat:

Michael Floyd: The senior hauled in a career-high 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He passed Jeff Samardzija's previous school record of 179 career receptions, finishing the day with 183 for his career. And he moved into second on the school's all-time receiving yards list (2,693), trailing only Golden Tate (2,707).

Cierre Wood: Wood ran for 104 yards on 21 carries, becoming the first Irish back to eclipse the century mark in a game since Armando Allen did against UConn in 2009. He added three catches for 44 yards, including a career-best 31-yarder on the Irish's first play from scrimmage.

Manti Te'o: The defense as a whole deserves plenty of credit for holding USF to just one touchdown in less than ideal circumstances, and it was led by Te'o. The junior linebacker had a team-high nine tackles, including a sack on third-and-9 in the second quarter that forced a 52-yard field goal attempt Maikon Bonani couldn't connect on.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was nothing to prepare Tommy Rees to wait 2 hours, 53 minutes during a game that no one else thought he had any stake in.

At least not in the 12 days since coach Brian Kelly sat down with him and Dayne Crist and delivered the decision that would keep the sophomore on the sidelines when the Notre Dame offense took the field for the first time Saturday, a day that ended with a 23-20 loss to South Florida.

"Dayne will be the starter and I expect him to be the starter for 13 weeks," Kelly told reporters a day after making his choice. "We have great confidence in his ability to lead us to a championship."

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRETommy Rees completed 24 of 34 passes for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions after taking over as quarterback in the second half.
Eleven days, five turnovers and a 5-hour, 59-minute game later, Kelly, Reese and Crist find themselves at the same crossroads they entered preseason practices with. A fork in the road that was only supposed to arise had one of Crist's two surgically repaired knees not withstood the challenge of live-game action.

Crist looked fine health-wise, and everyone can be thankful for that. But nearly 11 months without game action and an inability to generate any momentum on an offense that looked so good so early has re-opened the battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot.

Distraction, Tommy?

"We have no choice," the sophomore said. "As the quarterback you're the leader, and you can't have a distraction like that take over the team. It's a long season and we can't let that get a hold of us."

Kelly didn't need to waste a moment of his team's 2-hour, 10-minute version of halftime before informing Nos. 10 and 11 of the change to open the third quarter.

A 16-0 deficit, a pair of turnovers in the red zone and four three-and-outs -- including three straight to end the first half -- was all Kelly needed to see before yanking his starter.

After the rain had subsided, after the 12-and-a-half-minute warm-up period had elapsed and after much of the 220th straight home sellout crowd had left and re-entered Notre Dame Stadium, Rees trotted out with the Irish offense at the 13:32 mark of the third quarter, much to the surprise of the teammates he took the huddle with.

"It's nothing that we haven't seen, so we know what we're gonna get," said running back Cierre Wood, whose 104 yards made him the first Irish back to eclipse the century mark since 2009. "As soon as he came out, 'All right, let's do this. It's time to move.'"

Oh, Rees knew the drill. The circumstances were different from Oct. 30, 2010, against Tulsa, sure. In that game he had to lift an offense that was looking for guidance after Crist went down with a ruptured patella tendon in his left knee that ended his season. Saturday he was faced with the same task when Crist simply couldn't get it done after his most promising drive, his first one, ended with a 96-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 7-0 deficit, setting the tone for a frustrating first half.

The results last year and Saturday were similar for Rees, both ending in losses after high passing numbers, dazzling touchdown tosses and head-scratching interceptions.

"Completely," Rees said when asked how last year helped him. "Getting plenty of time and plenty of experience has put me in a good spot."

Rees completed his first four passes Saturday, then he threw a costly pick in the red zone on a day the Irish simply couldn't punch it in from close.

He finished 24-of-34 for 296 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, numbers that came in one half. And numbers that don't reflect the Irish's several dropped balls or lack of a running threat down two scores the entire time.

"I don't want to put him in that situation," Kelly said of Rees. "I want him to have the luxury of a running game which we had established when Dayne was in there. We just did not complete the circle relative to all the other things that needed to occur.

"We believe we can run the football. If Tommy has a good running game, if we decide that he's our guy, that's going to take a lot of the load off of him. He didn't have that luxury in the second half, so it's really hard to evaluate it per se."

Crist was the first person Rees turned to after losing the starting job, and he said Crist was there supporting him throughout the second half after being replaced.

The little brother, big brother relationship has eased this dynamic for the rest of the offense, which has seemed to tune out what in many locker rooms would be a distraction.

But make no mistake about it. Notre Dame, a BCS bowl game hopeful, is staring at an 0-1 start and a textbook quarterback controversy as it prepares for the first night game in Michigan Stadium history next Saturday.

"We didn't expect to have to make this move, obviously, so it's going to require us to obviously evaluate the quarterback situation and make another decision," Kelly said. "This was a step back for us as it relates to where we thought we were going. We certainly did not believe or think that we would have to make the decision that we made today."

Video: Notre Dame's Brian Kelly

September, 4, 2011

Coach Brian Kelly discusses Notre Dame's loss to South Florida.

Irish fall flat in opener against USF

September, 3, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two rain delays and two quarterbacks equaled a difficult season-opening loss for Notre Dame on Saturday, as the Fighting Irish dropped a 23-20 decision to South Florida.

Five turnovers -- including three in the red zone -- ultimately doomed the Irish, who outgained the Bulls, 508-254. USF did not commit any turnovers on the day.

USF coach Skip Holtz joined Gerry DiNardo (LSU) and Eddie Anderson (Iowa) as the only other Notre Dame graduates to defeat their alma mater as a head coach.

Sophomore Tommy Rees replaced starter Dayne Crist to open the second half after Crist went just 7 of 15 for 95 yards in the first two quarters.

Rees finished 24 of 34 with 296 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.


Notre Dame To Hold Out Another Player Due To Probe
Matt Fortuna discusses Eilar Hardy being held out of practice and games as Notre Dame continues its internal investigation into academic misconduct.


Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30