Notre Dame Football: Purdue Boilermakers



SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson wanted a visor for his helmet. Brian Kelly gave him much more than that.

In naming Golson as Notre Dame's starting quarterback Thursday, the third-year Irish coach is showing a commitment to stabilizing the position once and for all, entrusting the car keys to the guy who ultimately can take the spread offense to the level everyone's been waiting to see since Kelly's arrival in 2010.

"You're starting DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown, two guys that are gonna play a lot for us on the perimeter that are first-time starters, and then George Atkinson didn't play very much at running back. You're gonna see a lot of him," Kelly said. "Troy Niklas. I could go on and on. So Everett Golson, there's four or five guys right there that are gonna be impactful in the games. So yeah, certainly there's gonna be some learning there. But one thing we don't have a lot of time on is that curve. We gotta come out running and doing our thing right away."

That starts with the redshirt freshman whose strong arm and nimble feet make him the ideal man behind this wheel. It's not like Notre Dame's offense is composed of all first- or second-year players, either: The Irish return seniors Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick, in addition to the nation's best tight end, Tyler Eifert, and an offensive line that is as solid as they come.

Those weapons present a perfect opportunity to help break Golson in, as will the relatively tame defenses he is set to face in the season's first two weeks -- Navy on Sept. 1 in Dublin, Ireland, and Purdue the following Saturday in South Bend.

"I would say what makes me more comfortable back there is just my teammates," Golson said. "You talk about the veterans, you’ve got the O-line, you’ve got veteran wide receivers. Like I said, the quarterbacks out there just helping me. That’s made me more comfortable."

Mistakes will come because they always do, especially for first-year players. Golson, calm and collected in facing every badgering reporter's question so far, showed a glimpse of some of that child-like giddiness when describing how he found out he won the job.

Golson had wanted a visor for his helmet before Wednesday's practice, an item Kelly said he would get once he was officially named the starter. Golson rushed over to the Romano Family Locker Room before class Thursday, only to see the same old gap between his facemask and helmet.

"I came back in [after class] and it was just there," he said of the visor. "I was kind of happy about that."

If Golson lives up to his potential, those happy times will continue for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame's 2012 schedule has been dissected, dissected again and dissected some more. And we're still more than two months away from the season actually beginning.

So, we'll change things up a bit today, with the help of The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel, who ranked nonconference schedules among BCS conference teams.

Here are where the Irish's upcoming opponents rank, with yours truly adding their conference slates.

1) Michigan: Alabama at Arlington, Texas; Air Force, Massachusetts, at Notre Dame. Now that's a schedule. Hail to the victors. One dud game out of four. Hey, Wolverines, you make 1973 proud.

Big Ten opponents: at Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, at Nebraska, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Iowa, at Ohio State

3) Miami: at Kansas State, Bethune-Cookman, Notre Dame at Chicago, South Florida. Super, super schedule. USF is only the third-best nonconference game.

ACC opponents: at Boston College, at Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech, at Virginia, at Duke

4) Michigan State: Boise State, at Central Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan. Wow, home games against Boise State and Notre Dame. The Spartans also host Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. That's a season ticket.

Big Ten opponents: Ohio State, at Indiana, Iowa, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern, at Minnesota

9) Pitt: Youngstown State, Virginia Tech, Gardner-Webb, at Buffalo, at Notre Dame. The Panthers have to feel a little deprived. They keep losing traditional rivals. Penn State won't play anymore. The Backyard Brawl with West Virginia is on hold until conference realignment settles down.

Big East opponents: at Cincinnati, at Syracuse, Louisville, Temple, at Connecticut, Rutgers, at South Florida

11) USC: Hawaii; Syracuse at East Rutherford, N.J.; Notre Dame. You can always count on the Trojans for quality entertainment.

Pac-12 opponents: at Stanford, California, at Utah, at Washington, Colorado, at Arizona, Oregon, Arizona State, at UCLA

20) Boston College: Maine, at Northwestern, at Army, Notre Dame. This schedule would rank No. 1 in the Big 12.

ACC opponents: Miami, Clemson, at Florida State, at Georgia Tech, Maryland, at Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, at North Carolina State

22) Stanford: San Jose State, Duke, at Notre Dame. The quality is starting to thin.

Pac-12 opponents: USC, at Washington, Arizona, at California, Washington State, at Colorado, Oregon State, at Oregon, at UCLA

24) Wake Forest: Liberty, Army, at Notre Dame, Vanderbilt. If anyone had reason to dumb down a schedule, it's Wake. But this is smart and solid.

ACC opponents: North Carolina, at Florida State, Duke, at Maryland, at Virginia, Clemson, Boston College, at North Carolina State

27) Oklahoma: at UTEP, Florida A&M, Notre Dame. Play a real game, like the Fighting Irish, and you zoom to the top of the Big 12 list.

Big 12 opponents: Kansas State, at Texas Tech, Texas, Kansas, at Iowa State, Baylor, at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at TCU

43) Purdue: Eastern Kentucky, at Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Marshall. Notre Dame saves the day.

Big Ten opponents: Michigan, Wisconsin, at Ohio State, at Minnesota, Penn State, at Iowa, at Illinois, Indiana

My takeaway: Notre Dame's opponents don't necessarily have the easy road, either. That's three opponents in the top four of tough schedules, four in the top-10 and six in the top-20. Two of those teams, Miami and Pitt, don't necessarily walk into this fall with the expectations of Notre Dame and some of the Irish's other high-profile opponents.

Let's also not forget that a number of these teams (particularly Michigan, MSU, USC and Stanford) have realistic chances of winning their divisions, which would give them another pre-bowl game against a top-notch opponent. Navy and BYU, of course, were not included on Tramel's list, as they are independents.

Look at the body of work of each of these schools and compare them to the week-in, week-out slate that Notre Dame is faced with. Do the Irish still have the most difficult road? My quick response is yes, as even the toughest schedules, like Michigan's and Miami's, still feature cupcakes like UMass and Bethune-Cookman, which offer more of a break than anything the Irish face this fall.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you guys on this subject. Which schedule is the toughest? Why? Drop me a note in the mailbag and I'll run the best responses here.

4-star LB Jaylon Smith commits to Irish

June, 2, 2012
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ANGOLA, Ind. -- Long rumored to be a heavy Notre Dame lean, four-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers) ended all speculation with a pledge to the Fighting Irish on Saturday at the inaugural R.A.S Football Camp hosted by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer at Trine University.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Smith is ranked No. 46 in the ESPN 150 and is the top prospect in Indiana. He reported offers from Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.

"Every (Notre Dame) coach has the same stand character-wise," Smith said. "Other coaches tell you what you want to hear, and I saw that with my brother." Rod Smith, a running back, is entering his sophomore season at Ohio State.

Smith is Notre Dame's top 2013 commit, its third commit in the ESPN 150 and its 13th overall.
Colleague Mark Schlabach's latest way-too-early preseason top 25 is out, and Notre Dame did not make the cut.

The Irish had been Nos. 23 and 24 in the first two early 2012 rankings, respectively.

Five of Notre Dame's 2012 opponents are in the top 25, including three in the top 10. All five are in the top 12.
  • No. 2 USC
  • No. 6 Oklahoma
  • No. 9 Michigan
  • No. 11 Michigan State
  • No. 12 Stanford

Our conference bloggers also released their latest conference power rankings. Here's how the Irish's upcoming opponents fared in those rankings:
  • Purdue (No. 7 Big Ten)
  • Michigan State (No. 1 Big Ten)
  • Michigan (No. 2 Big Ten)
  • Miami (No. 9 ACC)
  • Stanford (No. 3 Pac-12)
  • Oklahoma (No. 1 Big 12)
  • Pitt (No. 5 Big East)
  • Boston College (No. 11 ACC)
  • Wake Forest (No. 6 ACC)
  • USC (No. 1 Pac-12)

A potential early sleeper?

May, 8, 2012
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The gang over at AthlonSports previewed Notre Dame today, with the Irish coming in at No. 20. That ranking is the highest I've come across in early preseason rankings.

The site does a thorough job breaking down top players and discussing whether Brian Kelly can lead the Irish to a BCS bowl. The most intriguing part for me, however, comes in the predictions. There are plenty of awards and surprises that we can all debate endlessly here (and believe me, we will), but the trap game is what stands out to me:
Trap Game: Purdue, Sept. 8
It’s not often you see a trap game in Week 2, but the Irish need to be on upset alert against the Boilermakers. Notre Dame has a long flight to play in Dublin, Ireland in Week 1 and has a date at Michigan State on Sept. 15. Purdue hasn’t won in South Bend since 2004 and will be an underdog in this game. However, with a game in Dublin in Week 1 and a revenge matchup against Michigan State in Week 3, the Irish need to be careful not to overlook the Boilermakers.

I've said this several times in chats, and colleague Travis Haney has written about it as well: There is just really no telling how this team will adjust from a long trip back home to start the season. There is not much precedent here. We do know that this game will be pumped up endlessly. (It already has started, as we touched on earlier today.) Awaiting in Week 2 will be an opponent who is annually overmatched by the Irish, but one that could be poised for a darkhorse season in the Big Ten. Throw in the fact the Boilermakers open their season against FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky, and the squad should be relatively well-rested for a Week 2 game against an Irish team coming down from the high of an international opener.

That's not to say Notre Dame won't get up for it. But look at the Irish's opponents immediately after Purdue: at Michigan State (a Big Ten favorite), Michigan (night game), Miami (a rival in an NFL stadium) and Stanford (rival). BYU, which Athlon cites as an "upset alert" game, comes right after that, followed by a trip to Norman, Okla., to face the Big 12 favorite. There are no breaks in this schedule, and the Irish must know better than to treat their home opener as one.

Irish Lunch Links

May, 3, 2012
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Irish Lunch Links

March, 14, 2012
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Dwight Howard's still talking?

Where ND's opponents rank

February, 7, 2012
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On Monday we took another crack at ranking Notre Dame's 2012 opponents. The rest of the bloggers ranked their conference's teams. Here's a look at where the Irish's opponents stacked up against their conference brethren:
  • Purdue: No. 7 Big Ten
  • Michigan State: No. 1 Big Ten
  • Michigan: No. 2 Big Ten
  • Miami: No. 6 ACC
  • Stanford: No. 3 Pac-12
  • Oklahoma: No. 1 Big 12
  • Pitt: No. 6 Big East
  • Boston College: No. 11 ACC
  • Wake Forest: No. 8 ACC
  • USC: No. 1 Pac-12

Navy (Sept. 1, independent) and BYU (Oct. 20, independent) were not ranked since they don't play in a BCS conference.

Early '12 opponent Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
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Our Mark Schlabach took another crack at his way-too early top 25 today. In response, we'll try again to rank Notre Dame's 2012 opponents.

1. USC (Nov. 24, away): Virtually every early outlook has the Trojans slated as the preseason No. 1 or No. 2 team, and rightfully so. Matt Barkley enters 2012 as the Heisman front-runner and USC will return to the familiar position of having the target on its back throughout the season.

2. Oklahoma (Oct. 27, away): Considering Notre Dame is the only current official, penned-in game that is absolutely going to happen for the Big 12 favorites next season, I'd imagine the Sooners would get up for that.

3. Michigan State (Sept. 15, away): A growing defense will keep Sparty plowing ahead in Year 6 of the Mark Dantonio era, which may just begin with MSU as the Big Ten favorite.

4. Michigan (Sept. 22, home): A number of early polls suggest Michigan as the leading Big Ten contender, but I think some of its losses on defense will be tough to replace. Nonetheless, any team with Denard Robinson under center has a chance to make big things happen, as Notre Dame fans are all too aware of.

5. Stanford (Oct. 13, home): Who needs Andrew Luck when you have that much time in the pocket? Throw anyone under center behind that offensive line and he'll have all the time he needs to make something happen.

6. Miami (Oct. 6, Chicago): The Hurricanes make the biggest jump from the last time we looked at the Irish's opponents. An experienced defense and a great recruiting year for Al Golden suggest this program is back on the rise, pending NCAA sanctions.

7. BYU (Oct. 20, home): I said it before and I'll say it again: If Riley Nelson has a big year, watch out.

8. Purdue (Sept. 8, home): This contest scares me if I'm an Irish fan. First game back from what is sure to be an exhausting season-opening trip in Dublin, with a hungry in-state rival waiting for them and looking to build on momentum following a strong 2011 finish and weak 2012 opener (Eastern Kentucky).

9. Wake Forest (Nov. 17, home): Jim Grobe teams usually perform better than they should, but the Deacs must recover from a weak finish in 2011.

10. Boston College (Nov. 10, away): No more Luke Kuechly means happier offenses everywhere. The Eagles just hope that means theirs, too, which will be in its first year under coordinator Doug Martin.

11. Navy (Sept. 1, Dublin): The Midshipmen have a brutal start to the 2012 schedule, facing the Irish in Dublin before going to Happy Valley to face Penn State, but things get easier afterward. Can they put the awful luck of 2011 behind them and beat the beatable opponents?

12. Pitt (Nov. 3, home): Paul Chryst seems like the right fit, but asking him to lift the Panthers out of their underachieving ways in Year 1 is a bit much.

Looking at returning starters

January, 24, 2012
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Phil Steele recently broke down the returning starters for each FBS team in 2012, with Notre Dame coming in a 20-way tie at No. 44, with 15 total starters back among offense (8), defense (6) and special teams.

Boston College has the most among Irish opponents with 19 returning starters, good for fourth in the nation.

BYU, Oklahoma and USC each have 17 returning starters, good for 20th.

Purdue and Michigan tied at 29th with 16 apiece. Pitt tied with Notre Dame at 44th, while Michigan State and Stanford come in at No. 64, with 14 starters returning.

Navy, which has 13 returning starters, is 81st. Miami and Wake Forest are 96th with just 12 returning.

A couple other schools of note: Champs Sports Bowl opponent Florida State is one of the teams tied with the Irish at No. 44 with 15 starters coming back. Charley Molnar's new school, Massachusetts, is also tied for 44th.

Where ND's opponents stack up

January, 13, 2012
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ESPN.com's college football bloggers made early 2012 power rankings this week. Here's how Notre Dame's opponents stack up amongst their conference brethren heading into next season:
  • Purdue: No. 8 Big Ten
  • Michigan State: No. 1 Big Ten
  • Michigan: No. 2 Big Ten
  • Miami: No. 10 ACC
  • Stanford: No. 4 Pac-12
  • Oklahoma: No. 1 Big 12
  • Pitt: No. 6 Big East
  • Boston College: No. 9 ACC
  • Wake Forest: No. 7 ACC
  • USC: No. 1 Pac-12

Early 2012 opponent power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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With 2011 in the rearview mirror, here is an early look at Notre Dame's 2012 opponents, with the game date and site in parantheses.

1. USC (Nov. 24, away): Matt Barkley's return makes the Trojans a trendy preseason national title pick and Barkley a likely preseason Heisman frontrunner. They host the Irish in the regular-season finale, and how sweet it would be for Notre Dame should they knock their rivals off with the highest stakes on the line.

2. Oklahoma (Oct. 27, away): Like the Trojans, the Sooners return their prized quarterback (Landry Jones) and will, at the very least, enter 2012 as the Big 12 favorite.

3. Michigan State (Sept. 15, away): Kirk Cousins and Keshawn Martin are gone, but the Spartans return four offensive linemen and plenty of production on the defensive side of the ball as they go for a third-straight 11-win season.

4. Michigan (Sept. 22, home): Denard Robinson and several key skill players likely return, but the Wolverines lose a lot on each line and will rely on several young players to fill the void.

5. Stanford (Oct. 13, home): Perhaps the biggest mystery entering 2012. We just don't know how much this team will drop off following the likely loss of Andrew Luck. Time will tell.

6. BYU (Oct. 20, home): Another wild card. Much will depend on the growth of dual-threat QB Riley Nelson and the Cougars' offense.

7. Purdue (Sept. 8, home): The Boilermakers finished 2011 with back-to-back wins for the first time this season and have a bit of momentum under Danny Hope. Some see them as a darkhorse Leaders Division contender in 2012.

8. Miami (Oct. 6, Chicago): The Hurricanes will likely be led by a defense that returns eight starters for Al Golden's second year.

9. Wake Forest (Nov. 17, home): Quarterback Tanner Price is back, but the Demon Deacons must eliminate the mistakes that cost them five of their final six games and two assistants their jobs.

10. Boston College (Nov. 10, away): The Eagles got better as the season went on and hope new offensive coordinator Doug Martin can bring the unit up to speed with the defense, which loses Luke Kuechly.

11. Navy (Sept. 1, Dublin): Can Trey Miller build off 2011, when he was forced in midseason for the injured Kriss Proctor?

12. Pitt (Nov. 3, home): New coach Paul Chryst will have his work cut out for him on a team with quarterback, protection and, at least in the past calendar year, coaching issues.

Notre Dame picks rewind

January, 4, 2012
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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.
1. Winning is the best medicine of all: This week will be a lot easier for everyone associated with the Notre Dame football program following a 42-point win against a team that beat it three times in the previous four years. The USC loss is in the rearview mirror and, at least at the moment, the fallout from Brian Kelly's comments Thursday seems to have come and gone, with the Irish responding in convincing fashion Saturday. Now comes the ACC portion of the schedule, with Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College up next.

2. The Irish have done a solid job against the option: Notre Dame's defense put on a very impressive performance against the nation's third-ranked rushing team Saturday, holding Navy to 196 yards on the ground. To put that in perspective, the Midshipmen averaged 325.14 rushing yards per game entering Saturday. The defense's performance forced a pair of turnovers against an Air Force offense that chunked up plenty of yards but had little to show for it against the Irish's first-team. Notre Dame has come a long way from its eighth game of last year, a 35-17 loss to Navy that featured 367 rushing yards from the Midshipmen.

3. Floyd will get his: Games 7 and 8 looked an awful lot like Games 4 and 5, didn't they? At Pitt five weeks ago, Michael Floyd was held to four catches for 27 yards before tallying 12 catches for 137 yards a week later at Purdue. Last week Floyd had four catches for 28 yards, responding Saturday with a six-catch, 121-yard performance in which he scored a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Floyd can be held in check every now and then, but there is no key to stopping him on a consistent basis.

4. Jonas Gray is having himself quite the farewell tour: Seriously, Gray didn't have a single career touchdown before Week 4 at Pitt. He's scored in every game since, including three Saturday, giving him eight touchdowns for the season to tie Cierre Wood for the lead among Irish backs and receivers. Gray's 12-carry, 69-yard effort Saturday actually lowered his yards per carry average from 8.5 to 8, though the senior likely isn't complaining.

Irish D-line weathers injuries

October, 25, 2011
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ethan Johnson doesn't talk about practice.

He doesn't talk about odds, either, though he admitted Tuesday that his sprained right ankle was improving.

"I'm not into doing probabilities, but I'm definitely better than I was yesterday and the day before yesterday," Johnson said after practice Tuesday. "So I'm just improving every day and just taking it a day at a time."

Brian Kelly said during his noon news conference Tuesday that Johnson would practice that afternoon for the first time since he injured his ankle in an Oct. 1 win at Purdue.

Johnson would not divulge practice details but his return, which remains up in the air, is now all the more important given the season-ending knee injury to fellow senior starting end Kapron Lewis-Moore.

"The young guys are playing roles they really shouldn't have to be playing right now," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "They're really not ready to play the amount of reps that they're having to play each week. So getting them ready for this type of offense definitely doesn't suit that -- assignment football, play after play, the discipline and the mental focus necessary to play four quarters against a team like this and be assignment correct on every play. So it becomes a challenge."

Lewis-Moore marks the third of three injuries to Notre Dame's season-opening starting defensive linemen, as he will miss the final five games and a potential bowl game.

Nose guard Sean Cwynar, who is now at full strenghth, missed Week 2 at Michigan with a broken hand. He was also held out against Air Force in Week 6 because of a broken right hand, which caused him to play with a club for a hand.

Johnson missed the majority of the past three games after being hurt on the first play at Purdue three weeks ago, and he tried to help freshmen ends Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt along the way while he was sidelined.

"You have to," Johnson said. "If I'm not out there, [if] I see someone do something that they shouldn't be doing, I'm gonna let them know; I'll let them know in a reasonable way. I mean, it's game day. You can't be trying to coach up everything; you got to let them play and not worry about too many other things because it's just game day. You're out there having fun."

Johnson's injury -- along with that of Cwynar's -- made Lynch and Tuitt have to grow up fast.

With Lewis-Moore now out for the season., the spotlight will be on the freshmen even more.

"Both of them are playing more than we really want them to play, and more than they're ready to play," defensive line coach Mike Elston said. "So sometimes that can hurt their growth, it can stunt their growth. So that's kind of the process we're going through with Aaron and making sure you don't put too much on his plate right now but more than he's ready for."

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