Notre Dame Football: Maryland Terrapins

Final 2011 opponent power rankings

January, 10, 2012
The 2011 college football season is officially over, leaving us 234 long days between now and Notre Dame's Sept. 1 showdown in Dublin against Navy.

In the meantime, let's look back at the Irish's 2011 opponents, seven of whom played in bowl games and three of whom (the Big Ten slate of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue) won bowl games.

1) Stanford (11-2, beat Notre Dame, 28-14, on Nov. 26): This was a close call between the Cardinal and the runner-up, the USC Trojans. But given Stanford's road win against USC and the fact it beat the Irish convincingly from start to finish — whereas Notre Dame had its chances to close in on the Trojans — the Cardinal get the edge here.

2) USC (10-2, won at Notre Dame, 31-17, on Oct. 22): It's a shame we couldn't see this team in a big bowl game against another quality opponent. These Trojans didn't really register on the national radar until their impressive showing in South Bend, jumping to a 17-0 lead to top their rival for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

3) Michigan State (11-3, lost at Notre Dame, 31-13, on Sept. 17): Few could have envisioned Sparty coming within a few plays of the Rose Bowl following the beating it suffered at Notre Dame Stadium. But the way Kirk Cousins and Co. handled the rest of their Big Ten slate proved that, if nothing else, the Irish certainly had at least one big "quality" win in 2011.

4) Michigan (11-2, beat Notre Dame, 35-31, on Sept. 10): Another case in which a team's game against the Irish was not at all telling about what the rest of the season had in store. You wonder what would have happened to the Wolverines in coach Brady Hoke's first year had the fourth quarter against Notre Dame never happened. Instead, Michigan rode the momentum of a miracle comeback to a renaissance season that culminated with a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.

5) Florida State (9-4, beat Notre Dame (in Orlando, Fla.), 18-14, on Dec. 29): The Champs Sports Bowl proved the Seminoles were the most worthy of opponents for the Irish. Both followed disappointing four-loss regular seasons with a defense-dominated, turnover-plagued contest that featured a late FSU comeback, allowing one team to end 2011 on a high note.

6) Wake Forest (6-7, lost to Notre Dame, 24-17, on Nov. 5): The Demon Deacons were responsible for one of the more surprising close contests the Irish played in all season long, jumping ahead early but not having enough gas left in the tank to finish off Notre Dame. Wake Forest did manage to beat FSU earlier in the season and gave eventual conference champion Clemson all it could handle a week after its loss to the Irish.

7) Air Force (7-6, lost at Notre Dame, 59-33, on Oct. 8): The Falcons certainly didn't lack for excitement, helping to put on an offensive clinic in their loss to the Irish and averaging nearly 35 points per game on the season. Their 42-41 Military Bowl loss to Toledo in many ways encapsulated all that was good and bad about this one-sided team.

8 ) Purdue (7-6, lost to Notre Dame, 38-10, on Oct. 1): What is it about Notre Dame and these Big Ten teams? The Irish were clearly much better than the Boilermakers all season long, but their thrashing of them at Ross-Ade Stadium looked all the more impressive after Purdue managed a solid season the rest of the way, beating a ranked Illinois team, Ohio State and winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan.

9) Pitt (6-7, lost to Notre Dame, 15-12, on Sept. 24): An underwhelming Panthers squad made the Irish earn their second win of the season in the ugliest of fashions, as their meeting at Heinz Field was brutal on the eyes before a late Tommy Rees touchdown drive sealed the win for Notre Dame.

10) Navy (5-7, lost at Notre Dame, 56-14, on Oct. 29): Perhaps no team had worse luck on the field all season long. Navy lost a couple nailbiters on a couple of questionable calls but managed to win three of its final four games after getting blown out in South Bend.

11) South Florida (5-7, won at Notre Dame, 23-20, on Sept. 1): No excusing this loss. The Bulls followed this win and three more nonconference victories by falling flat on their face, losing their first four Big East contests en route to a 1-6 record in conference play this season. Oh, and Pitt beat them 44-17 five days after the Panthers' loss to the Irish.

12) Boston College (4-8, lost at Notre Dame, 16-14, on Nov. 19): Two wins in the Eagles' final three games was too little, too late for a team that could never get it together this season. BC's defense was stingy — and that unit and its special teams units made for a much tighter contest in South Bend than anyone had reason to expect — but the Eagles could never get it clicking on all cylinders this season.

13) Maryland (2-10, lost at Notre Dame (in Landover, Md.), 45-21, on Nov. 12): Where do we even begin? The Terrapins lost their final eight games of the season, beat just one FBS opponent all year and capped their campaign by blowing a 27-point second-half lead in a 56-41 loss at North Carolina State.

Notre Dame picks rewind

January, 4, 2012
Here at the Notre Dame blog, we are all about accountability. So with 2012 upon us and the bowl season winding down, it is now time to (painfully) revisit game predictions from yours truly from Notre Dame's season. (As a side note, the blog got started after prediction time for the Irish's opener against South Florida. For what it's worth, like everyone else outside of Tampa, Fla., I did not expect Notre Dame to lose that game.)

In recapping my season, I'll choose to stick with the mantra of a former Irish coach: "9-3 is not good enough."

Sept. 10 at Michigan
Predicted score: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 27
Actual score: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31
Hindsight: I was feeling pretty good about myself with 30 seconds remaining in this one, as the Irish held a 31-28 lead. Alas, a Denard Robinson drive for the ages created a memorable first night game at the Big House, pushing Notre Dame to 0-2 and starting my picks off on the wrong foot.

Sept. 17 vs. Michigan State
Predicted score: Notre Dame 23 Michigan State 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 31, Michigan State 13
Hindsight: Aaron Lynch didn't even play the week before, so we still had no clue what to expect from him. A sack, forced fumble and six quarterback hurries later, and our eyes were open. Lynch keyed an angry Irish team that unleashed the frustrations of an 0-2 start on Kirk Cousins and the Spartans, notching what was the Irish's biggest win of 2011.

Sept. 24 at Pitt
Predicted score: Notre Dame 35, Pitt 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 15, Pitt 12
Hindsight: Do we really need to relive this one? It wasn't easy on the eyes, but Tommy Rees' eight straight completions on the Irish's game-winning drive were enough for Notre Dame to edge out the Panthers and get to .500.

Oct. 1 at Purdue
Predicted score: Notre Dame 24, Purdue 13
Actual score: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10
Hindsight: Purdue ended up playing much better later in the season, but the Irish's offense was simply too much in this one. Gary Gray's pick on the game's first play, Michael Floyd's ensuing touchdown catch and Notre Dame's first zero-turnover performance keyed this rout.

Oct. 8 vs. Air Force
Predicted score: Notre Dame 31, Air Force 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 59, Air Force 33
Hindsight: And we all thought Air Force had the offense that could be the difference. If you blinked you might have missed something in this one, as the Irish scored touchdowns on their first six possessions in a game that featured 1,125 yards of total offense.

Oct. 22 vs. USC
Predicted score: Notre Dame 35, USC 24
Actual score: USC 31, Notre Dame 17
Hindsight: No apologies here. The Trojans had shown nothing before this game to indicate they would jump all over Notre Dame, let alone go on to a 10-2 season that has them as an early title favorite for 2012. Despite an early 17-0 deficit, the Irish managed to come within a play of tying the game in the third quarter, a play that ultimately resulted in a fumble that USC returned 80 yards to stomp out any chance the Irish had.

Oct. 29 vs. Navy
Predicted score: Notre Dame 34, Navy 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 56, Navy 14
Hindsight: This prediction was in the books before Brian Kelly's controversial comments about his players and Charlie Weis', but that doesn't really change anything here. The only thing working for Navy was recent history, and that was not nearly enough to stop an Irish team that came together the day before in a team meeting that helped them move on from what could have been a debilitating episode.

Nov. 5 at Wake Forest
Predicted score: Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 17
Actual score: Notre Dame 24, Wake Forest 17
Hindsight: A slow start plagued Notre Dame in this one, but a key forced fumble deep in its own territory closed the door on the pesky Demon Deacons, who hung around all game but ultimately didn't have enough to break through and notch the upset.

Nov. 12 vs. Maryland (in Landover, Md.)
Predicted score: Notre Dame 34, Maryland 10
Actual score: Notre Dame 45, Maryland 21
Hindsight: Maryland was bad, as expected. Notre Dame's offense didn't take its opponent for granted, playing at a pace unforeseen in routing the Terrapins in a "home" game in the home state of its opponent.

Nov. 19 vs. Boston College
Predicted score: Notre Dame 38, Boston College 16
Actual score: Notre Dame 16, Boston College 14
Hindsight: Jonas Gray's season-ending ACL tear took a bit of the life out of the stadium and Irish offense, and BC's defense nearly capitalized. The Eagles pinned Notre Dame deep in its own territory time after time and scared everyone on Senior Day, which almost went the wrong way for the Irish. Sensing disappointment in his injury and the close result, Gray gave a speech in the locker room afterward to remind all that Notre Dame had just won.

Nov. 26 at Stanford
Predicted score: Stanford 31, Notre Dame 20
Actual score: Stanford 28, Notre Dame 14
Hindsight: Stanford's front-seven made life miserable for Tommy Rees and the running game, Andrew Luck was his top-pick self and the Cardinal's tight ends were too big for the Irish's secondary as Notre Dame missed its chance at a marquee win.

Champs Sports Bowl vs. Florida State
Predicted score: Notre Dame 21, Florida State 13
Actual score: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14
Hindsight: Another game where I felt really good about my pick until the fourth quarter. Notre Dame jumped to a 14-0 lead and FSU's offense could not do a thing until late in the third. A timely forced turnover and ensuing touchdown pass changed everything, and the Irish offense was no better, turning it over three times in the season-ending loss.

Notre Dame mailbag

December, 5, 2011
It's time to take a look at what's on your minds with the regular season over and a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl remaining.

Roald "Roe" Gonzalez from Austin, Texas, writes: Our 105,000 DKR memorial Stadium is awaiting for Notre Dame to Drop by annually for out Turkey Day Shoot out with Notre Dame. Any chance Notre Dame is even considering the invite from De Loss Dodds?

Matt Fortuna: Roe, I don't see that happening in the near future. Notre Dame plays Stanford until 2019, and the Irish's series with USC doesn't seem to be going anywhere. At least for the next eight years (imagine what the college sports landscape could look like in 2019?), I can't see Notre Dame adding Texas on an annual basis.

Ryan from McSherrystown, Pa., writes: Hi Matt,Love your work. Just finished reading your last chat on ESPN and just wanted to see what you think about my optimism for ND next year. This is mostly about the schedule. You point out these games as being the tough ones. USC, OU, STANFORD, MSTATE, MICH, MIA..right? Here is my case. The top 3 QB's in next years NFL draft will come from 3 of those schools. Barkley, Jones, Luck will all be gone and all those schools will be playing with new or young QB's. We are due to beat Mich and Cousins is gone at MSTATE..I don't see MIA as being that tough and they weren't very good this year. Mich is the only one of those teams who brings back their QB and we had them beat at MICH this year. Thoughts...Thanks

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Ryan. You bring up an interesting point with the quarterbacks, but I still don't see Notre Dame entering 2012 as a better team than most of the ones you mentioned. I think we'll learn a lot about Stanford when it no longer has Andrew Luck, so the Cardinal remain up in the air. Being due to beat Michigan means nothing when the Irish have lost three close ones to the Wolverines the last three years. Michigan will only get better in Brady Hoke's second year and with one more year of Denard Robinson. Michigan State, even without Kirk Cousins, is a program that is on the rise. None of this is to say the Irish can't win any of those games, but they do face an awful lot of opponents who are at least capable of beating them — even more than this year, and this was a more experienced team that lost to South Florida.

Joe from Telsau writes: Re: Crist article - REALLY?A rent a player is OK, Wow!!Please shut up, why do we always have to hear bspn peoples opinion. I hope the ncaa does away with this stupid LOOP HOLE.

Matt Fortuna: Sorry, Joe, I'm having trouble hearing you over all of those capital letters. Seriously, though, I see some instances where the rule is taken advantage of and not used for its intent (see: Jeremiah Masoli). And yes, clearly academics are not the main factor in players taking advantage of this rule. But since when did academics dictate where recruited athletes go to college? Sure, academics are often one of several factors. And yes, some schools adhere to higher academic standards than others while recruiting. But a player who graduates and lives up to his end of the bargain academically should be entirely free to go wherever he wants to after, provided the interest is mutual. What does Dayne Crist stand to benefit from staying one year at Notre Dame as a backup while already having a degree? He graduated early, before his scholarship would have expired, and he should be rewarded for that.

Mitch writes: Ok, Matt. We know all about where FSU's defense is ranked. But doesn't their schedule put them in a position to do just that? Looking at the rushing attempts from the opponents they played, you see teams only having 10-15 rushing attempts all together. Seems to me like they haven't really been worn down since they allowed 100+ yards to Wake.

Matt Fortuna: Great point, Mitch. The best rushing offense Florida State played all season was Maryland's, which ranked 44th in the nation. I'm curious to see what Notre Dame can do with Jonas Gray no longer back there, and if Theo Riddick can make a difference at running back. Considering the Irish averaged just 1.8 yards per carry as a team against Stanford, the nation's No. 5 rush defense, they have some work to do.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The tempo Notre Dame's offense played at in Saturday's win against Maryland is closer to what Charley Molnar would like to see every week. But it is not something the Irish can rush into.

"Here's the biggest thing, it's the efficiency of it," the offensive coordinator said, "because if you go three-and-out, and you try to play up-tempo for that whole series, you might only have burned a minute off the clock, and now you're punting and the defense has barely gotten on the sideline. The coaches are just starting to drill down their adjustments. And all of a sudden the defense is getting their helmets back on ready to go. So using tempo can be a double-edged sword."

Notre Dame ran 84 plays Saturday, its most in two years under head coach Brian Kelly and nearly 17 more plays than its average of 67.2 in its nine previous games this season.

Molnar said the Irish begin every practice with a tempo period, and they will use different elements of it every game. But they had never kept up the pace for an entire game the way they did against the Terrapins.

Irish players said they could sense Maryland's defensive players not being able to keep up at times, and even Notre Dame running back Jonas Gray admitted to being winded himself at certain points Saturday.

Sophomore quarterback Tommy Rees said a big part of being able to play at such a fast pace starts with communication from the signal caller, who has to make sure that the offensive line is ready to go and that the wide receivers are set and lined up every play.

Having such a surprising powerful rushing attack 10 games into the season has certainly added another dimension.

"I think it's something that started when I first got here," Rees said. "One of the things Coach Kelly stresses is playing at a tempo where he sees fit, and sometimes it's slowing the game down and making sure we're checking at the line and doing a lot of that, and sometimes we wanna push the tempo and keep defenses off-balance and have a couple reads here and there, depending on the game-plan.

"Obviously it worked out pretty well in the past couple weeks, and it's something that the offense likes doing. It's fun going out there and kind of going and playing, so depending on the situation, what we want to do depends on how we're gonna keep the tempo."

Rees, Ruffer notch independent honors

November, 14, 2011
Notre Dame's 45-21 win Saturday over Maryland earned Tommy Rees and David Ruffer FBS independent player of the week honors.

Rees was 30-for-38 passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns — completing 17 of 18 passes during one stretch — in notching the offensive award for the second time this season.

Ruffer, an Oakton, Va., native, enjoyed his homecoming to the D.C. Metro area by hitting a career-long 52-yard field goal in the first quarter and connecting on all six extra-point attempts, earning the special teams distinction.

For the Terrapins, meanwhile, linebacker Alex Twine earned ACC rookie of the week honors after recording 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack against the Irish.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 14, 2011
It's time to take a look back at the weekend that was in Landover, Md., where the Irish notched their third consecutive victory.

The Good: Notre Dame played its most complete offensive game of the year Saturday, beating Maryland 45-21. The Irish notched more than 500 yards of total offense for the fifth time in 10 games this season, jumping out to a 17-0 lead early and never looking back. The victory — along with several other dominoes falling into place — has the Irish ranked for the first time since the season began.

[+] EnlargeLo Wood
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireLo Wood's 57-yard interception-return touchdown was the turning point against Maryland.
The Bad: Time to nitpick, and in this case the offensive line (and Tommy Rees) are the unlucky recipients of an extra big microscope in a week the Irish left little to complain about offensively. Still, Notre Dame surrendered three sacks Saturday after not allowing a single one in its last five games. The Irish had allowed just five sacks on the season prior to Saturday.

The Ugly: Maryland's uniforms? Or the Terrapins' play? Tough call here, though watching quarterback Danny O'Brien's season come to an early end because of a broken bone in his upper left arm added injury to insult.

Turning point: Inserted for Robert Blanton (stinger), cornerback Lo Wood came up with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Irish's second third-quarter score, to make it 38-7. It probably would not have been much of a competitive game anyway, but this one sealed the deal with plenty of time remaining.

Call of the day: Jonas Gray punched it in from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal in the final minute of the first half, making it 24-7 Irish at the half. Sure, it's not that difficult to gain a yard (or have faith in your team to), but Maryland had just scored on the previous possession to cut the lead to 10, and a Terrapins stop there could have changed the momentum of the game.

Next up: Notre Dame's next challenge after beating a two-win Maryland team will be beating a three-win Boston College team. The Eagles are coming off a 14-10 win over North Carolina State, their second victory in three games. Keep an eye on linebacker Luke Kuechly, who could finish this season as the leading tackler in the FBS for the second consecutive season. Saturday will also be Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.

Irish stayed sharp, focused vs. Maryland

November, 14, 2011
Jonas Gray was the last man standing Saturday night in the bowels of FedEx Field, trying to put into words what made Notre Dame so sharp in a game so many could have excused it for not being motivated to play.

"It's just knowing that we can play better," the senior said. "Even when we do play well, just knowing that we have a lot to take and still can play better. Just doing the small things, paying attention to detail — it's all about our preparation during the week."

Whatever that message was got through to an Irish squad whose bowl forecast would have likely looked similar at 6-6 or 9-3, though a 45-21 win over Maryland now has them trending toward the latter. Preparing to face a pair of ACC bottom-feeders could make life dull at the LaBar Practice Complex, but whatever Brian Kelly said throughout last week got through to his players.

The Irish's rout of the Terrapins was more than just a beatdown of an overmatched opponent. It was a sign of maturity for a team that has been plagued by simple mistakes and slow starts at times this season.

They are a big reason for the Irish's three losses. They would not result in a fourth -- Maryland was not winning Saturday, period -- but the fact Notre Dame did not let anyone's mind wander spoke of the team's focus in the final quarter of the season.

"It's one of the big things the coaches talked to us about, is it's a great win but it came from hard work and consistency throughout the week," Tommy Rees said of staying sharp. "And we just gotta keep that going week-in and week-out."

Perhaps the results should not be surprising. Kelly, after all, has won 21 of his last 23 regular-season November and December contests, including 15 in a row. The Irish are now 5-0 in such contests under Kelly after losing their previous six November games.

And Kelly, the second-year Irish coach, does not post depth charts in the locker room, leaving the unnamed No. 2s on their heels for moments like Saturday, when Robby Toma, Mike Golic Jr. and Lo Wood played big roles in key spots.

"In terms of the way we rep out our 1s and 2s, they get similar quality reps," Kelly said Sunday. "So I think all those things lead to when you have an injury or you have somebody that can't go, that next guy knows he's prepared and knows that you have confidence in him to do his job."

Gray has blurred the line between 1 and 2 as well as anyone this season, coming off the bench to begin the season before starting the last three contests. Expectations varied for the senior coming entering 2011, and they sunk lower following his season-opening fumble that resulted in a 14-point turnaround.

But after scoring his 10th and 11th touchdown in his last seven games Saturday, in addition to notching his first career 100-yard performance, Gray made it clear those expectations have never been higher.

"I could've done a little bit better on blitz pick-up," Gray said. "Just finishing the game, playing consistent and trying to have just an entire good game and a complete game, and I've yet to do that."

The numbers told a different story Saturday. Do even better against three-win Boston College, and you may just prove even more skeptics wrong.

Looking at bowl projections

November, 14, 2011
Before Notre Dame's win Saturday night over Maryland, representatives from the Champs Sports Bowl passed out pins to media members in the FedEx Field press box.

Telling? Likely.

Another week, another round of bowl projections with Notre Dame pegged for Orlando, Fla., as our experts Brad Edwards and Mark Schlabach think Insider the Irish are destined for Disney World, against Florida State. ACC blogger Heather Dinich currently has the Seminoles in the Champs Sports Bowl as well.

The opponent could vary, given the muddied middle of the ACC. Virginia and Georgia Tech could be potential Champs Sports Bowl teams with strong finishes. But with the Big East having no teams in the latest BCS standings, the conference's second-most attractive team -- behind the conference champion -- will probably be a longshot when pitted against the Irish, who have more talent and a larger traveling fan base than any school in the Big East.

The Champs Sports Bowl can replace its pick of the next-available Big East team for Notre Dame once in a four-year cycle, and it would be tough to pass the Irish up this season, given the current climate of the Big East.

Big East blogger Andrea Adelson has the Irish headed to the Champs Sports Bowl as well.

Wrapping up Maryland

November, 13, 2011
Notre Dame entered the outskirts of the nation's capital and left with a 45-21 win over Maryland, its second win in as many tries against the Terrapins. The Irish won their third straight game this season and fifth straight in the month of November. They totaled 508 yard of offense, surpassing the 500-yard plateau for the fifth time in 10 games.

Let's take a look at a few more fun facts from Saturday, courtesy of Notre Dame's sports information department:
  • Tommy Rees' 30 completions were a season-high. His 19 touchdown touchdown passes this season are tied with Ron Powlus (1994) for fifth in single-season school history. The sophomore's 31 career touchdown passes match Joe Theismann (1968-70) for sixth in school history.
  • Jonas Gray's 11 touchdowns this season are the most by an Irish running back since 1998, when Autry Denson had 15. His seven straight games with a touchdown are also the most since 1998, when Denson scored in 10 straight games.
  • Michael Floyd's 36th career touchdown tied him with Louis (Red) Salmon (1900-03) for third-most in school history, behind Denson (47, 1995-98) and Allen Pinkett (53, 1982-85).
  • Tyler Eifert is just the second Notre Dame tight end with five touchdowns in a season. He trails only Ken MacAfee, who had six in 1977.
  • Having outscored their opponents in the third quarter by a 77-13 margin this season, the Irish are on pace to surrender just 17 points in the third frame, their fewest points in a quarter since 1988. Then, they allowed 16 first-quarter points the entire season.
Brian Kelly's fourth different head-coaching job has been a challenge, as each new job has been. But the stepping stones, roadblocks, triumphs and losses in Year 2 at Notre Dame are nothing Kelly has not encountered in 19 seasons of head coaching prior to taking over the Irish.

"I think I've probably worn this out, but we're in the same process that I've been in in every job that I've had," Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "We're doing the same things. I'm seeing the same kinds of results. They don't always equal wins, but we're clearly moving in the right direction with our football players and our football program. And sometimes it's disappointing and painful, but I would tell you that this is a very similar feeling that I've had before."

The Irish's 45-21 victory Saturday over Maryland notched them a spot in the national polls -- 24th in the AP, 25th in USA Today -- for the first time since the preseason, a sign of progress Kelly simply measured as meaning "we've played better football since that 0-2 start."

Kelly insisted, however, that winning has by no means become a habit yet for his 7-3 squad.

Separate win streaks of four and three games this season are not enough.

"Well just by the way we have shown over the past year-and-a-half, we can put together four wins in a row, and so we don't have the right to say that we have put it together yet," Kelly said. "When we put together eight, nine, 10 in a row, then we can clearly say we have moved from that constant-reminder phase to habit phase. And we haven't proven that that's the case yet."

Notes: Kelly probably won't know the status of Theo Riddick (hamstring), who missed Saturday's game, until he goes full-speed in the middle of the week, likely on Wednesday. Kelly said doctors met with Riddick on Sunday and liked his range of motion, adding that the receiver was pain-free. ... Manti Te'o (ankle) reported Sunday "as well as he has in the last three weeks," according to Kelly, who added that the junior should be back on track to getting on the field for every down. Te'o was limited to first- and second-down plays Saturday. ... Steve Filer (knee) will put off surgery to enjoy Senior Day festivities with his teammates this Saturday against Boston College.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 11

November, 13, 2011
1. Tempo too much for Terps: Notre Dame ran 84 plays Saturday, its most in the Brian Kelly era. By comparison, the Irish entered the game averaging 67.2 plays per game. They got out to an early 17-0 lead, and the confusion and exhaustion of Maryland's defensive players were evident both through their play and through comments afterward.

2. Toma making most of time: After relaying the news last week that Theo Riddick (hamstring) would be out for Saturday's game, Brian Kelly said he didn't look at Robby Toma as a backup. A career-high seven catches for 73 yards proved Kelly right, and it proved the tiny junior can make a difference when given the chance. He did the same last year in place of an injured Riddick, making 14 catches for 187 yards. It will be tough to keep him off the field once Riddick returns.

3. If Notre Dame Stadium were to get a Jumbotron …: Saturday provided a taste of what a Jumbotron might look like if Notre Dame ever got one. The Irish had a long pregame show on the big screen at FedEx Field, and interspersed highlights of all of their athletic teams throughout the night in what was technically a Notre Dame home game.

4. Third-quarter dominance continues: I guess we actually didn't learn this Saturday, as the Irish have been dominant in the third quarter all season long. But the lesson was certainly reinforced against Maryland. Cierre Wood had a 3-yard touchdown run, and Lo Wood picked off a Danny O'Brien pass just more than a minute later, returning it 57 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame outscored the Terrapins 14-0 in the third period. The Irish now hold a 77-13 edge in the third quarter this season.

Notre Dame helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 13, 2011
LANDOVER, Md. -- A dominant 45-21 win over Maryland lands the following Notre Dame players extra accessories for their already flashy helmets:

Jonas Gray: What more can you say about the senior, who entered this season without a touchdown? He now has 11 in his past seven games, scoring in all seven. He had his first career 100-yard rushing game, going for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

Cierre Wood: The junior was every bit as good as Gray, adding a 3-yard touchdown himself. Wood finished with 99 yards on just 18 carries, and the duo was relentless against the Maryland front-seven all night long. Wood also had a key block that sprung open Tyler Eifert on the tight end's 34-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.

Michael Floyd: The senior made a nice 19-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to make it 17-0 Irish early. Floyd finished with nine catches for 90 yards and proved trouble for Maryland's defense all night long.

Robby Toma: The little guy finally got his chance and took advantage of it. Replacing the injured Theo Riddick, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Toma finished with a career-high seven catches for 73 yards.

Tyler Eifert: The junior matched a career-high with eight catches and finished with 83 receiving yards. His 34-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter made it 45-14 late.

Tommy Rees: The sophomore did a terrific job running the offense, completing 30 of 38 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. He hit seven different receivers and, during one stretch, completed 17 of 18 passes.

Lo Wood: Not a bad way to get your first pick. The sophomore intercepted Danny O'Brien and raced it back the other way for a 57-yard touchdown to make it 38-7 with 7:18 left in the third quarter. Notre Dame now has pick-sixes in consecutive Shamrock Series games, as Darrin Walls had a 42-yard interception return for a score against Army last season at Yankee Stadium.

Ben Turk: The junior was not needed much, but he delivered when called upon. Turk landed two punts inside the Maryland 10, and the only one he didn't went for a career-long 58 yards.

Irish pick up tempo in rout of Maryland

November, 13, 2011

LANDOVER, Md. — Robby Toma was fielding postgame questions from reporters Saturday night when Tony Alford stuck his head in.

"What did you do?" the receivers coach asked. "What did you do?"

"I don't know," Toma replied with a smile. "This is new to me."

The career-best seven catches for 73 yards was new. The starting role in place of the injured Theo Riddick (hamstring) was a change. And the ability to capably fulfill Notre Dame's next-man-in philosophy in the Irish's 45-21 rout of a hapless Maryland team made the not-so-easy look not only simple, but rewarding.

Notre Dame beat a two-win Terrapins team, as expected. But they did it by improving their play in nearly all facets of the game, most notably on offense.

In notching their fifth 500-plus-yard offensive performance this season, the Irish ran 84 plays, the most in the Brian Kelly era. They showed a steady balance, with 46 runs and 38 passes. And they ran the offense at a tempo that embodied the pace Kelly has wanted to push at, one his quarterback ran efficiently throughout the evening.

"We wanted to kind of go with a hurry up, no-huddle — we're always no-huddle, more of a hurry-up, push the tempo a little bit," Tommy Rees said. "I think it worked out. I think we caught them and they weren't lined up. And you can tell throughout the game that — hats off to Maryland — but throughout the game the guys were getting tired, and I think that has a lot to do with how we pushed our tempo."

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTommy Rees and the Notre Dame offense turned in an efficient performance against Maryland.
Rees finished 30 of 38 for 296 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. During one stretch that ended in the third quarter, the sophomore completed 17 of 18 passes.

The run game, which has looked dominant at times, was never as sharp as it was before a Notre Dame-heavy crowd at FedEx Field.

Jonas Gray finished with a career-high 136 yards and two touchdowns. Cierre Wood finished with 99 yards and a score.

But the numbers cannot convey the helplessness of the Maryland defense, evident on two separate plays involving the two running backs.

Facing a third-and-10 from his own 8 on Notre Dame's third drive, Wood rushed for 13 yards. Facing a third-and-17 from his own 20 on the Irish's first drive of the second half, Gray bursted up the middle for 19 yards.

Notre Dame ended up scoring on both drives, the latter kicking off a 14-point third quarter that extended the Irish lead to 38-7 and their third-quarter margin this season to 77-13.

"I think our guys settle into the game, they're tuned in, we can talk to them and they know exactly what we want to do in the third quarter and they go out and do it," Kelly said. "Again, our guys understand how important it is to get some adjustments made at halftime. There's good communication. Our guys go out and execute."

There were other signs of improvement across the board aside from Toma, the run game and Rees. Namely, reserve cornerback Lo Wood stepping in for Robert Blanton (stinger), taking a third-quarter interception back 57 yards for a touchdown and making it 38-7.

There was Mike Golic Jr. filling in nicely for Braxston Cave at center, and Ethan Johnson bringing his veteran presence to the defensive line in his first game since Oct. 1.

And, of course, there was that tempo, which showed that opponent and circumstance were irrelevant in the Irish's attempt to make something of this week and next, when three-win Boston College comes to town.

"It was a big emphasis this week, to play at a fast tempo, and we did that well," Gray said. "A few guys were getting gassed — we're not used to doing it, even myself. But that's a dimension of this offense we're trying to continue to keep doing. And when we do that we're a pretty good offense and hard to stop."

And if the offense was getting gassed, does that make for an exhausted defense?

"Oh yeah, yeah," Gray said. "Just a lot of exhaustion. They can't line up as fast as they want to, just small things like that. And Coach Kelly's done a great job of dialing plays up."

Final: Irish 45, Maryland 21

November, 12, 2011
LANDOVER, Md. — Notre Dame ran all over Maryland in a 45-21 victory Saturday night at FedEx Field.

Jonas Gray rushed for 136 yards, Cierre Wood added 99 and Tommy Rees completed 30 of 37 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns, hitting seven different receivers and completing 17 of 18 passes during one stretch.

Lo Wood starred defensively for Notre Dame, making a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter to extend the lead to 38-7.

The Irish have now won three in a row since their loss to USC, improving to 7-3 on the season, which matches last year's regular-season win total. They beat an ACC opponent for the second week in a row, and they will face a third, Boston College, for Senior Day next Saturday.

Be sure to keep it here for more postgame coverage.

End of third: Irish 38, Maryland 7

November, 12, 2011
LANDOVER, Md. -- Will Andrew Hendrix get in for the first time in three games? Will Notre Dame finish with two different 100-yard rushers?

These are the relevant questions as we enter the fourth quarter with Notre Dame holding a 38-7 lead over Maryland.

Cierre Wood and Lo Wood were the scorers in the third period -- the former notching a three-yard touchdown run, the latter taking an interception 57 yards the other way for a touchdown.

Wood has 79 yards on 14 carries. Jonas Gray has his first career 100-yard game, with 125 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The most telling play may have been a third-and-17 from the Irish 20, when Gray rushed it 19 yards up the middle for a first down on a drive that ended with Cierre Wood's score. Maryland simply has no answer for the run.

Notre Dame has now outscored its opponents in the third quarter this season by a 77-13 margin, and it has not allowed a third-quarter offensives score in nine of 10 games.


Drive Through: Stanford at Notre Dame Preview
A look at some key matches in this weekend's game between No. 14 Stanford and No. 9 Notre Dame.


Friday, 10/3
Saturday, 10/4