Notre Dame Football: Nicky Baratti

INDIANAPOLIS -- Remarkably, Purdue gave Notre Dame a good game. Again. This one was in doubt until the fourth quarter before the No. 11 Fighting Irish pulled away with a 30-14 win to improve to 3-0 and remain undefeated in Shamrock Series games. They now enter a bye week before facing Syracuse on Sept. 27 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson, Jalani Phillips
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesDespite being sacked four times, Everett Golson was able to make big plays with his arm and his legs against Purdue.
1) The Irish handle "adversity" well. Yes, that was the buzzword following a 16-point win, appropriate or not. In the context of the number of injuries Notre Dame's secondary suffered, that will work, as starting cornerback Cole Luke left the game with what coach Brian Kelly said was a neck injury and safety Nicky Baratti left with yet another shoulder injury. The unit was already down safety and captain Austin Collinsworth because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain. The Irish also lost receiver Amir Carlisle early in the game with an MCL sprain, were without defensive end Andrew Trumbetti, who was still banged up from the Michigan game, and did not use starting right guard Christian Lombard, still nursing a high-ankle sprain. That doesn't include the five players suspended due to the academic probe.

But seven penalties did not help matters, especially with starting safety Max Redfield getting ejected in the second quarter for targeting, further depleting a thin secondary. Hats off to true freshman Drue Tranquill, a former Purdue commit who was thrust into plenty of meaningful action and performed well.

"He did great," Kelly said. "He doesn't know what he's doing, but he's awesome. He's running around there. I say that kiddingly because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him out there. He was such a locked-in kid. We're able to do some things with him, and he's only been here, what, eight, 10 weeks? Where would we be without that young man? It's really pretty incredible."

2) Everett Golson's still got it going. At times, Notre Dame's offense looked like it went with the gameplan of "let Golson dance around and make something happen." More often than not, he did just that, hitting running back Greg Bryant for his first career catches -- a pair of 17-yarders off broken plays -- and finishing 25 of 40 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and, most importantly, no turnovers. Golson also was the Irish's leading rusher, notching 56 yards on the ground and another touchdown despite being sacked four times being hurried six times by the Boilermakers. His leaps will continue to be a big storyline all season long, and he now boasts a 13-1 record as a Notre Dame starting quarterback (.929), second to only Johnny Lujack (20-1-1, .932).

He has said and done all the right things off the field as well.

"I also missed a wide-open pass, I don't know if y'all watched the film," Golson said, critiquing his 15-yard touchdown run. "I definitely missed a pass. Yeah, it was good for us, we got a touchdown, but as far as me, I want to be more of a pocket-passer. I missed the pass. I just have to execute better."

3) Paging the offensive line. Far too early to hit the panic button here, but the play up front could use some improvements before Stanford comes to town Oct. 4. To be fair, the unit was missing its fifth-year senior in Lombard (Matt Hegarty replaced him), and though only one of the Irish's five offensive penalties came from a lineman (a Steve Elmer false start), Golson was sacked four times by Purdue. That number probably could have been higher if not for Golson's mobility. Notre Dame averaged just 3.7 yards per rush after averaging just 1.7 yards per rush in last week's rout of Michigan. Take away the quarterback on Saturday and that average against the Boilermakers drops to 3.46 yards per rush. Again, it is very early, but if there's one unit that needs to pick up its play as Notre Dame readies for the meat of their schedule, it is the offensive line.

"We're not sustaining," Kelly said. "I mean, we're in position. We're falling off a block here. We miss a fit here. And maybe it's just the continuity took us a little bit longer. It's nothing big, but it's everything.

"It's going to get better. They will get better. It's just we're not where we need to be. We're going to keep working, keep grinding. We'll get there. We're just not there yet. We're on the 3-yard line, we're running a double-team into the B-gap, we slip and fall. Somebody fires through the B-gap. Little things like that. They got to get cleaned up before we get to where we want to be offensively."
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Brian Kelly will not know the status of injured linebacker Jarrett Grace for another week, as the Notre Dame coach said he will meet with the Irish's training staff next Thursday.

Kelly said he is hopeful that Grace's right leg will be further stabilized after the redshirt junior underwent a second surgery on March 28 to insert a rod into the leg. There had been an estimated six-week timetable following that surgery to measure Grace's progress, as he is recovering from a broken tibia and fibula suffered during an Oct. 5 win over Arizona State.

If all of the healing comes back clean, Grace is expected to be ready this fall, which would provide the Irish linebacker corps a big boost inside. Grace, a Cincinnati native, had a team-best 41 tackles last season before suffering the injury.

Kelly also said that safety Nicky Baratti had suffered a dislocated right shoulder during last month's Blue-Gold spring game but would not need surgery. Baratti had missed all of last season after suffering a more serious shoulder dislocation during fall camp, that time in his left shoulder.

"There are different grades of dislocation. It wasn't one that needed to be surgically repaired," Kelly said of Baratti's most recent injury. "He will play like Bennett Jackson played the year before. He'll play with a harness, and we'll see where that goes."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Spring football can be used as a time for players to fully recover from injuries or to ease their way back into shape following surgery. Several Notre Dame assistants spoke with reporters Wednesday for the first time in a long time, and they addressed the condition of several recovering players.

[+] EnlargeDevin Butler
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiNotre Dame cornerback Devin Butler is cleared for everything but contact this spring after offseason shoulder surgery.
Defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, on cornerback Devin Butler (offseason shoulder surgery):
"Going into the fall, we thought that (Butler and Cole Luke) would definitely be competing right now in the spring. It's obviously a setback for him, anytime you're missing a new system, and he's missing new techniques and he's actually missing that full-speed opportunity to see it vs. the offense. But I've been grabbing him after practice and working him for 10-15 minutes. He's doing all of our individual work, so he's cleared for basically everything other than contact right now. ... We want to make sure that shoulder's healed up before we put him in that. So he's coming along well, he's staying into it mentally, he's locked into our meetings, he's asking a lot of questions. So he's doing everything that you can ask a kid who's injured to do."

Cooks on safety Nicky Baratti (shoulder injury that kept him out all of 2013 season):
"A little bit different for Nicky, because he missed basically all of training camp and all of the season. So he's almost back to, just from a mental standpoint, again, new system to that freshman year. So, 'OK, how do I do this? How do I get from Point A to Point B? What is he talking about?' And again, going through that reaction phase, his comfort level's got to come when he's actually engaging wide receivers, taking on blocks, making tackles to build confidence that that shoulder's OK."

And here's defensive line coach Mike Elston on Chase Hounshell, who has missed each of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries:
"Well, it's taken Chase a little bit to feel comfortable with using his shoulder and being aggressive. I think today I finally saw a different side of him that used to be Chase, so we'll see as the rest of the spring progresses. But your third one, you're a little apprehensive at times. I think now he's starting to get a little more comfortable with it and feel better about it."

Notre Dame mailblog

March, 28, 2014
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As always, submissions are welcome here or on Twitter.

Will Salvi from Chicago writes: Matt, you're the man. Chris and I are big fans. Coach [Brian] Kelly has been known to use multiple quarterbacks in the past, how likely do you think that situation is given the potential of Malik Zaire and the return of Everett Golson? Their styles seem similar, but they also have a lot of different qualities. Thoughts? Also, the safety situation is delicate, but also exciting. We have multiple safeties with plenty of experience, who do you see coming out with the most playing time. Special teams standout for next year? (I say Connor Cavalaris).Thanks, Matt. --Will

[+] EnlargeMalik Zaire
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsEven if he doesn't win the starting QB job, expect to see Malik Zaire on the field this fall.
Matt Fortuna: Is this our first mailbag submission from a former player? I believe so! Good to hear from you, Will, and thanks for the kind words. While I expect Everett Golson to be the starter come Week 1, I'd be surprised if the staff didn't find an in-game use for Zaire in some capacity; he's too talented to stand on the sideline for a second straight year. He actually has displayed a level of shiftiness that we haven't exactly seen out of Golson. And given the Irish's red zone issues in recent years, it would not surprise me at all if Zaire received some meaningful action down there in some specific packages inside the 20. As for safeties, I'd be surprised if we saw any two play significantly more than others, if only for the fact that there are so many bodies back there right now and it seems like all are going to get package-specific chances to see meaningful action. (Though I'd expect Austin Collinsworth to be the leader of that unit.) As for Connor Cavalaris, I'll be keeping a close eye on him this season and hold you to that prediction.


Kevin from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Besides the QB battle, what is the biggest position battle to watch during spring and summer practice?

Matt Fortuna: Hey Kevin, I'd keep an eye defensively on linebacker and the secondary. Notre Dame has moved plenty of players around the field so far this spring, and we have seen much more of a 4-3 front so far. The Irish are very thin inside at linebacker but will get some re-enforcements from a healthy Jarrett Grace and the freshmen who arrive this summer. Speaking of re-enforcements, Cody Riggs will arrive from Florida this summer as well, adding further depth to a secondary that is not lacking for bodies. I don't think the eventual Week 1 depth chart will really tell the story with the Irish's defensive backs, as they have been mixing and matching their safeties (Austin Collinsworth, Elijah Shumate, Max Redfield, Nicky Baratti, to name a few) and corners (KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke, Matthias Farley), all of whom are expected to see significant time this fall.


Kenny Moore from Bluefield, W. Va., writes: As fans we have heard Coach Kelly talk about improving special team play especially on punt returns. Please tell me this is the year it gets fixed?

Matt Fortuna: OK: This is the year it gets fixed.

As for what Kelly has had to say about it recently, here are his comments from March 19, after he said they had practiced it every day this spring: "To me, where some of our shortcomings have been is the allocation of personnel in specific roles. We're spending time in breaking out specific players in specific roles right away. We're working on those fundamentals so they can carry those fundamentals into the summer and work on those fundamentals, so when we get here in August it's not the first time that they're working on specific fundamentals. We're allocating specific players to those fundamentals."


Matt Bortuna from Philadelphia writes: Hey Matt, first off, this is my real name. Difference is Bortuna is pronounced "BORT-eh-NA", a little different than Fortuna. I have a few questions regarding the depth chart. Should us Irish fans expect Cam McDaniel to eventually ride the pine by midseason or sooner if Bryant and Folston live up to the hype? Also, who are the favorites to return kickoffs and punts? Thanks for everything, Matt. Go Irish!

Matt Fortuna: This is incredible. Too bad I don't have any relatives in Philly. Anyway, to get to your question, I don't think we'll see McDaniel riding the pine this season. While I expect Greg Bryant to make a leap and Tarean Folston to continue to build off his strong finish to last season, it would be asking an awful lot of them to become so good that they completely cast aside the team's leading returning rusher last season, especially one who's a senior. As for kickoffs and punts, I'd imagine the two second-year running backs, C.J. Prosise and a couple of other receivers will get chances in the return game, but it's important to remember that the Irish didn't announce their punt returner for last season until late August.

New faces must step up as spring opens

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brian Kelly got into his car on Friday morning and saw that the outside temperature was minus-8 degrees -- as if there was any doubt Notre Dame would be indoors on Monday when the Irish commence Kelly's fifth spring here.

What he will see, though, are more new faces in new places than he probably has during his Irish tenure. And he's anxious to see who rises up from a team that said early goodbyes to three juniors after the 2013 season and welcomes two new staff members.

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsBrian Kelly is looking for some new faces to step forward in the spring.
"In an ideal world you'd want your best players to be your best leaders," Kelly said. "Sometimes that's not the case, so you observe daily and find out who those guys are and you try to cultivate those individuals. I think with this group in '14 our best players can be our best leaders and they may not all be seniors. I think we've got some great seniors, I think all of our seniors are committed, but we may have some great underclassmen who are great leaders, too."

The additions of assistants Matt LaFleur (quarterbacks) and Brian Van Gorder (defensive coordinator) have given the staff more flexibility as well, as Kelly said Friday that Kerry Cooks will now coach the entire secondary, not just the cornerbacks, while Bob Elliott will move from safeties coach to outside linebackers coach. Kelly also added graduate assistants in former NFL fullback Ryan Mahaffey (offense), former Irish safety Kyle McCarthy (defense) and Mike Hiestand (defense), son of current Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

As for switches on the field: Matthias Farley has moved from safety to corner, John Turner has gone from safety to outside linebacker, James Onwualu has moved from receiver to safety, Will Mahone has moved from running back to receiver, and Amir Carlisle is now a runner and a receiver. Everett Golson, meanwhile, has returned at a listed 200 pounds, 15 pounds heavier from his listed playing weight from 2012.

Personnel notes: Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Devin Butler (shoulder) are out for spring. … Nick Martin (MCL) and Ben Councell (ACL) will be limited to non-contact. … Nicky Baratti, Chase Hounshell and Doug Randolph (all shoulders) are good to go. … Receiver Luke Massa will not return for a fifth season after initially planning to come back. Kelly said Massa had received a job offer that was too good to pass up.

Kelly on Shembo: Kelly addressed Prince Shembo's comments during last weekend's NFL combine, when the former Irish linebacker said the coach told him not to talk in school about the the Lizzy Seeberg investigation.

"That was a collaborative decision," Kelly said Friday. "I don't make any decisions independent when it comes to major decisions at this university. The head football coach works in concert with our administration, so we made a decision based upon the information that we had that we felt it was in Prince's best interest that this was not a matter that needed to be discussed, but that was certainly something that he could've decided to discuss. We didn't threaten him with, he couldn't play or we were going to put him on the bench or throw him out of school. It was still his decision. But talking to his parents and talking to Prince we felt because of the information that we had in front of us that it was a matter that be left alone at the time."
Brian Kelly reiterated Friday that he will again call plays next season. New quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur will have full autonomy over his signal callers in the meeting room. And new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock will put it all together and oversee the entire offense.

That was the blueprint laid out during a joint news conference to announce Notre Dame's finalized staff for the 2014 season, with LaFleur coming over from the Washington Redskins and Denbrock adding more to his plate after coaching the Irish's outside receivers for the past two seasons (and tight ends in the two seasons before that).

[+] EnlargeBrian Kelly
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesHead coach Brian Kelly will call the plays this fall for Notre Dame.
"We're transitioning back to an offense that I feel is best suited for the personnel that we have, and I think it's important to really get that philosophy and influence back into the offense, and I know it the best," Kelly said. "And then, once we're able to lay that in there, I think it will give everyone a great visual look of what that offense will look like, and I think it starts with me. I think it's important that if I want that offense to have the look, it's important that I have the influence in some fashion, and this is the best way to do it."

Kelly also shed some light on personnel matters, saying that linebacker Doug Randolph (shoulder), end Chase Hounshell (shoulder) and offensive lineman John Montelus (shoulder) were all expected to be ready for spring ball come March 3. Safety Nicky Baratti, who, like the other three players, missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury, will be cleared for contact this spring but might be held until the fall as a precautionary measure.

Defensive lineman Tony Springman (ACL, infection) is progressing but has not been cleared for spring ball just yet after missing all of 2013, nor has linebacker Jarrett Grace (broken leg), with Kelly saying that Grace's recovery is taking a bit more time because he broke a bone in four different places when he left the field Oct. 5 against Arizona State.

Kelly did add that linebacker Ben Councell (ACL) and center Nick Martin (MCL) are both exceeding expectations, though neither is expected to be available this spring after suffering their injuries late in the season.

Notes: Kelly said that Notre Dame will still operate out of a 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, though it will again be about a 50-50 split based on personnel. … Fifth-year players will not be announced until after national signing day, following usual protocol, though Kelly said those players know where they stand. ESPN.com and other outlets have reported that Austin Collinsworth, Christian Lombard, Kendall Moore and Justin Utupo are the four fifth-year players who will be back for 2014. … Kelly said he still needs to fill out one more graduate assistant position. Former Irish and NFL safety Kyle McCarthy tweeted earlier Friday that he will be a GA this season.

Niklas expects to return for senior year

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tight end Troy Niklas doesn't know what he doesn't know, which for now means that he is expecting to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, unless something unforeseen changes before the Jan. 15 deadline for early entry into the draft.

"I mean, there's always the possibility," Niklas said, giving himself some room. "I can't really say — I'm pretty sure I'm coming back."

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)Troy Niklas is expecting to return for his senior season.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly submitted pro evaluations for three underclassmen: Niklas, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III. Niklas figures to be the only of the trio with a serious decision to make about his future, given the likelihood that Tuitt gets picked in the first round.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Niklas was one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award this season, as he caught 28 passes for 422 yards with five touchdowns as the former linebacker continued to evolve into a complete tight end.

"He does so much for us," Kelly said. "Eight sacks this year, and he's a big reason why. If you're looking at all the jobs he does for us during the game, if he's not catching the ball, he's extremely effective for us in other areas."

Niklas hopes the process of hearing back from the NFL can point him in the right direction on what he needs to work on for next season, though he's admittedly unfamiliar with the process.

"I have no idea. I'll be learning a lot," Niklas said. "We'll probably go over it after the bowl game, most likely, and then I'll be able to tell you what goes on and stuff like that. For now, I don't really know anything."

Notes: Kelly, a Boston native, was thrilled about the Irish playing Boston College at Fenway Park in 2015, a game that was announced Friday. "You guys were all kind of talking about my contract last year — the reason that wasn't signed was the Fenway game. It was being negotiated. They're hard negotiators in Boston. We were finally able to get my family Green Monster seats, so then I signed the contract." … There are no new injuries to report since bowl practices began. As for the already injured, Chase Hounshell (shoulder) is practicing with the scout team, Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be held out of contact until the spring and Tony Springmann (ACL, then infection) might not return until next fall. … Kelly half-kiddingly said the first and second-team offensive lines are essentially working as one, with Conor Hanratty ready to move to center if necessary, and with Mark Harrell behind him at guard. Walk-on Kevin Carr is available as well.

Day to play against USC, other notes

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Sheldon Day is scheduled to speak with reporters Wednesday, as sure a sign as any that he will actually play Saturday after missing the majority of Notre Dame's last three games because of an ankle sprain.

[+] EnlargeSheldon Day
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame is expecting sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day back after he missed the better part of the last three games due to injury.
Brian Kelly said that Day practiced Monday and is expected to play against USC this weekend, though the head coach had sounded pretty confident publicly about Day's condition going into each of the last three games. Day missed the Michigan State and Oklahoma games and was very limited in the Arizona State contest two weeks ago.

Versatile lineman Kona Schwenke had started opposite Stephon Tuitt in Day's absence.

"He doesn't stay blocked," Kelly said of Day. "One of the things that makes a defensive lineman a great player is he gets off blocks. Sheldon gets off blocks and is a great pass rusher. He's a guy that early in the season was a great pass rusher and wasn't staying blocked. He'll figure into our game plan on Saturday."

Kelly also said that, among players already ruled out for the season, Chase Hounshell (shoulder surgery) is the closest to returning to full strength, with the end possibly getting to put pads on within the next 10-14 days.

Doug Randolph and Nicky Baratti (both shoulder) are in a light rehab process, while Tony Springmann (ACL tear) suffered an infection after surgery but is recovering well.

Kelly said that Torii Hunter Jr. probably would have been playing this year had he not suffered a broken left femur in during U.S. Army All-American bowl workouts, while Daniel Smith (ankle) and Jarrett Grace (leg) had successful surgeries following their injuries two weeks ago in Arlington, Texas.

Among those contributing this season, Kelly said that Tarean Folston has recovered from a hamstring injury suffered on his career-long 36-yard run in the Sept. 28 loss to Oklahoma.

"He looked better when we got a chance to run him out, and we expect him to be part of the mix for us," Kelly said. "That was the Oklahoma game moving forward. He just didn't feel like he could cut it loose. We had a play -- I think it was a series or two later -- where he was coming out of the backfield, and Tommy (Rees) overthrew him. He really couldn't cut it loose on a mesh route, and that's when we pulled him out of the game. He's a lot better. I think he's 100 percent. He feels a lot better, and he looked really good in practice yesterday."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame has suffered a season-ending injury in its secondary for the second straight fall camp, as sophomore safety Nicky Baratti dislocated his shoulder Saturday and will need surgery, coach Brian Kelly announced on Monday.

Baratti, who missed the spring after surgery on the same shoulder, was seen working with the second-team defense during the Fighting Irish's most recent open practice.

Baratti, a Tomball, Texas native, appeared in all 13 games last season as a freshman, notching eight total tackles and an interception, which came in the end zone during a 13-6 win over Michigan in Week 4.

Notre Dame had lost potential starting cornerback Lo Wood during last year's preseason camp to a season-ending Achilles injury, and it then lost starting safety Jamoris Slaughter to the same injury in a Week 3 win at Michigan State, further depleting what was an already-thin secondary.

The defensive backs are much more apt to handle a blow this time around, as the group brings back safety Austin Collinsworth — who also missed last season, following shoulder and back surgeries — and welcomes in four-star safety Max Redfield. Kelly praised junior Eilar Hardy and redshirt freshman John Turner as well.

Key questions heading into camp

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Notre Dame officially starts fall camp this Monday at the Shiloh Park Retreat and Conference Center in Marion, Ind. But head coach Brian Kelly will unofficially kick things off Friday at noon ET when he holds a press conference previewing camp and the 2013 season.

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III
Matt Cashore/US PresswireGeorge Atkinson III rushed for 361 yards and five TDs last season.
Here's a look at some pressing questions heading into camp, most of which will have no real answer until more than a handful of practices are in the books.

1. How will the backfield shape up? This has been among the most popular questions I've received in the offseason mailbag, at least among those still on the team. George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel have the most experience as they enter their junior years, with Atkinson figuring to be the guy to get the initial start. Amir Carlisle looked ready to break out in the spring before breaking his collarbone, and he could serve as a dual threat in the slot. Four-star freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are talented enough to make immediate impacts, and William Mahone is now in the mix after redshirting during his first season in South Bend.

2. How will the O-line holes be filled? Nick Martin appeared to have the edge over Matt Hegarty at center during spring, with Conor Hanratty taking most of the No. 1 reps at right guard. Will things hold steady, or is it possible Ronnie Stanley becomes too good to ignore, perhaps forcing returning starting right tackle Christian Lombard into the right guard spot to make room for Stanley to his right?

3. Who starts in the secondary? Notre Dame has a good numbers problem among its defensive backs, as it returns three starters and a handful of other contributors who are now healthy. Bennett Jackson figures to start again, likely at the boundary, but returning starter KeiVarae Russell will likely have a big battle on his hands from Lo Wood, who is back after tearing his Achilles during last year's camp. Safety Elijah Shumate ran mostly with the first-team during the spring and should compete with Nicky Baratti and Austin Collinsworth, who is back from shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to miss all of last season. Collinsworth could play a role on the punt return unit, too.

4. What can we expect from Malik Zaire? With Everett Golson and three other scholarship quarterbacks in the fold when Zaire enrolled, it seemed unlikely that the lefty could forge a path to the field this fall. Then Gunner Kiel transferred to Cincinnati, and Golson got suspended from school for the fall shortly after. Zaire's growth was likely accelerated after a strong spring and the ensuing position losses, as there remains a chance he could gain some valuable playing time this fall with only Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix ahead of him.
Today brings us to the eighth-most memorable moment from Notre Dame's 2012 season.

As always, my mailbag is open to hear your suggestions on rankings such as these.

Sept. 22, 2012: ND gets revenge on Robinson, UM in night win to cap perfect opening month (Stories here, here and here)

For a Notre Dame fans who watched Michigan quarterbacks rally to last-second wins over the Irish in each of the previous three years, this was perfect. The Irish forced Denard Robinson into the worst performance of his career — on his 22nd birthday, no less — as Shoelace turned it over five times to all but doom the Wolverines' chances.

Everett Golson wasn't much better himself, getting replaced by Tommy Rees early. But Rees came through again for the Irish, even rushing it in himself for the game's only touchdown. (Seriously, who predicted Rees to get more rushing touchdowns than Robinson?)

Michigan had a stretch in the first half of five straight passes getting picked off, as running back Vincent Smith tossed an interception to Nicky Baratti in the end zone.

The win made the Irish perfect through month No. 1, giving them their first 4-0 start in 10 years. At the time, the post-game celebration was considered one of the best scenes of the college football season, with "Oh, What a Night!" blasting over the speakers as the fans -- decked in leis to support Manti Te'o through what was then believed to be a double-dose of tragedy -- stayed in their seats while the players jumped into the crowd.

The revelation of the Te'o girlfriend hoax no doubt takes some luster off the night as a whole -- he recorded two picks, landed on the Sports Illustrated cover the following week and said that the game was the same day as his purported girlfriend's funeral -- but there is no denying what a big win this was for the Notre Dame program as a whole, especially after losing to rival USC at home a year earlier in what was the first Notre Dame Stadium night game in 21 years.

(This was also the same night that Jack Swarbrick handed David Brandon an envelope calling off the series after the 2015 season, but Irish fans will always have this night to remember.)

Previously

No. 10: Rees replaces Golson on final drive, leads Irish to win over Purdue

No. 9: Irish open season in Dublin with rout of Navy
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The first public plays in Notre Dame uniforms for Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle are being put on hold.

The two will sit out Saturday's Blue-Gold spring game as a precautionary measure, coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday.

Robinson is recovering from a hyper-extended elbow while Carlisle nurses a broken collarbone suffered March 23.

Kelly said that Carlisle returned to practice in pads Wednesday but was limited to no contact.

Robinson, who enrolled this spring, presumably injured his elbow while making a diving, one-handed catch during Saturday's scrimmage, the entirety of which was open to reporters and others on hand for the coaches clinic.

Carlisle has yet to take a snap in a Notre Dame uniform after transferring from USC following his freshman season of 2011, getting a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately and then breaking his ankle before last spring, forcing him to redshirt in the 2012 season.

Dan Fox, Bennett Jackson, Nicky Baratti, Chase Hounshell and Tyler Plantz are all out Saturday as well. The first three of those players have been used lightly this spring while recovering from offseason shoulder operations. Hounshell will miss the 2013 season after suffering a serious shoulder injury this spring, similar to the one that forced him to miss last season.

Kelly said the offense, wearing white, will be scored Saturday against the defense, wearing blue, with no live special-teams play, though Kyle Brindza will punt.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Austin Collinsworth was careful not to say that he was completely, fully healed from shoulder and back surgeries in the past year, but returning to the field this spring has served as a final hurdle to cross after missing last season.

"I would say probably 98 percent, something like that," the rising fourth-year junior said. "But I'll be 100 percent by the end of the spring."

The safety underwent surgery following last year's spring season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that figured to sideline him for the 2012 campaign. That year-long wait became official when back pain that flared up in October eventually resulted in another operation, leaving him to watch the entirety of Notre Dame's run to the Discover BCS National Championship from the sideline.

"It's hard," said Collinsworth, the son of former NFL player and current analyst Cris Collinsworth. "It was a really exciting season. It was pretty terrible not being a part of it, but I liked watching my friends do well out on the field and it was a really fun season just to be a part of."

Collinsworth said that he began feeling great physically three weeks ago, and he impressed the staff in the weeks leading up to the start of spring practices.

"We had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements," coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring. "Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him because I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw."

Collinsworth has been seen working with the second-team defense this spring upon his return, alongside Eilar Hardy. (Rising sophomore Nick Baratti has been sidelined following his own shoulder surgery.) After recording 25 tackles and forcing one fumble while playing in all 26 games throughout his first two seasons with the Irish, Collinsworth is hoping to crack the rotation of a secondary that finally finds itself with a good numbers problem, this after the unit suffered three season-ending injuries by Week 3 of last season.

The departure of Davonte' Neal has led to more opportunities for Collinsworth to field punts, too, something the Fort Thomas, Ky., native did for three years in high school.

"We lost some really good guys," Collinsworth said of the secondary. "Jamoris [Slaughter] last year only got to play a couple games when he was back at safety. And Zeke [Motta] -- that kid's an animal back there. But we've got a lot of good players that are returning, and I don't think our defensive backfield is going to take a step back at all."

Pre-spring breakdown: Secondary

March, 19, 2013
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Our series wraps up with the defensive backs.

Starters returning: Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, Matthias Farley
Players returning: Austin Collinsworth, Lo Wood, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Eilar Hardy, C.J. Prosise, Chris Badger, John Turner
Players departing: Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy, Chris Salvi
Newcomers: Max Redfield, Devin Butler, Cole Luke, Rashad Kinlaw

The breakdown: The secondary was the biggest concern going into 2012, and it ended up becoming the biggest surprise. Though the group had a night to forget on Jan. 7 in Miami against Alabama, three starters are back from a stingy unit that suddenly finds itself with another numbers problem -- this time a good one.

Russell, a converted freshman running back, did better than anyone could have ever imagined after rising to the No. 1 spot when Wood went down with a preseason Achilles tear. Jackson lived up to the high preseason words of the coaching staff, finishing third on the team in tackles (65) and adding four picks. Farley, another converted player who made his first appearance in the secondary on a college field (after a redshirt season), adapted well as a tackler. He put in all the necessary post-practice work with safeties coach Bob Elliott to emerge as a strong starter after Slaughter -- who is done after being denied a sixth year by the NCAA -- went down with an Achilles tear of his own. Like Russell, Farley has three years left at Notre Dame.

Wood, a projected starter last season before getting hurt, enters the mix this season as well, though how much he'll be able to do this spring remains to be seen. Collinsworth saw extensive action at safety as a sophomore but underwent both shoulder and back surgeries that forced him to sit out all of last season. He is expected to be back this spring. He will surely give Notre Dame another proven body in the defensive backfield.

Baratti saw plenty of time on defense in his first college season, and you can expect to see him on the field often in one capacity or another. He played often on special teams last season too. Shumate was essentially the Irish's nickelback after converting from safety, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up given the numbers situation back there in 2013.

Among newcomers, Redfield has received the most attention, as he was the No. 23 overall player from the Class of 2013, according to ESPN. He will not enroll until the summer.

Irish lunch links

February, 8, 2013
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