Notre Dame Football: Roy Roundtree

Week 4: Sept. 22 vs. Michigan (at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind.)
Time/TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Series: Michigan leads all-time, 23-15-1
2011 record: 11-2 (6-2 Big Ten; second place, Legends Division)
Head coach: Brady Hoke (11-2, one year)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Denard Robinson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, WR Roy Roundtree, WR Jeremy Gallon, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DE Craig Roh, LB Jake Ryan, LB Kenny Demens, LB Desmond Morgan, CB J.T. Floyd, CB Blake Countess, S Thomas Gordon, S Jordan Kovacs

Key losses

WR Junior Hemingway, WR Darryl Stonum, WR/KR Martavious Odoms, TE Kevin Koger, C David Molk, RT Mark Huyge, DT Mike Martin, DE/DT Ryan Van Bergen, DT Will Heininger

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Denard Robinson* (1,176 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson* (2,173 yards)

Receiving: Junior Hemingway (699 yards)

Tackles: Kenny Demens* (94)

Sacks: Ryan Van Bergen (5.5)

Interceptions: Courtney Avery* and J.T. Floyd* (2)

Three questions for ... WolverineNation reporter Michael Rothstein:

Brady Hoke has been a hit through one year at Michigan, both on the field and on the recruiting trail. What do you think has led to so much success so soon, and what makes you think this is sustainable?

Michael Rothstein: Multiple factors. One of the underlying things is the experience Michigan's players had the past two seasons under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines had an experienced defensive line, a secondary which had played a lot but been picked apart and a quarterback entering his second season as a starter. Combine that with a superior coaching staff -- especially at the coordinator spots with Al Borges on offense and Greg Mattison on defense -- and the chance to improve was there. The schedule, with Ohio State, Nebraska and Notre Dame at home last season, also helped.

As far as recruiting goes, Hoke knows the Midwest. He could sell playing time at certain positions and is turning into a dynamic closer. Plus, Mattison is one of the best recruiters in college football, period. He is the one who helped reel Tim Tebow in at Florida after a coaching transition. The staff is usually up front and genuine, which also helps. They've done a great job of evaluating talent early.

The Wolverines' defense returns plenty of talent, save for its defensive line. What can be expected from Greg Mattison's crew, and can this unit get to the quarterback on a consistent basis?

MR: So much of that is dependent on the defensive line. If the line can't pressure the quarterback at a good pace, it'll hamper what Mattison can call and force some of the more exotic packages he has to the shelf for a while. His back seven -- particularly the once-maligned secondary -- is going to be good. Michigan could have the best secondary in the Big Ten this season and the depth is growing. While it is unlikely he'll start, freshman Jarrod Wilson impressed coaches this spring. He could contend for playing time and give Mattison the chance to rotate the secondary somewhat similarly to the defensive line to keep players fresh throughout the season.

Three games. Three instant classics. Three Michigan wins. Why should Notre Dame fans feel like the fourth time will be the charm against Michigan?

MR: As the Notre Dame basketball coach, Mike Brey, used to like to say, Law of Averages, baby. The Irish defense should be good this season and Brian Kelly's staff is certainly going to try everything possible to neutralize Robinson. The main concern with Notre Dame is what will happen at quarterback. If the Irish haven't figured that out by week 4, it'll be four straight Michigan wins for sure. The one thing I will tell you, that I'm sure our bosses might not like, I plan to write very few words before the last 10 seconds of the game. Have scrapped most of it the past three years anyway.
In light of minor events at Michigan, Notre Dame and Tennessee, RecruitingNation senior writer Mitch Sherman aims to get to the bottom of social media and recruiting as it relates to current college players.

As it turns out, there seem to be more questions than answers.

Michigan's Roy Roundtree, for instance, sent congratulations to Wolverines verbal commit Mike McCray, who attended the same high school as him. Yet pre-existing relationships may not excuse him.
To repeat: Pre-existing relationships don't matter when a college coach or player comments in public on recruiting. The NCAA doesn't care if the prospect is the coach's son or the player's brother.

That comes as news to many college coaches and administrators, who preach common sense in regard to the pre-existing-relationship topic.

Interestingly, not all social-media contact of a public nature between recruits and current players is off limits.

Says the NCAA: "There are no rules prohibiting that communication, as long as the student-athletes are not posting recruiting messages."

Again, two BCS-level recruiting coordinators interviewed this week said they remained unclear on this.

No problem if a college athlete tweets a birthday wish to his buddy, the recruit. But when the message involves football, interpretations get murky.

Of course, we're dealing with minor violations here, but Sherman's story does a great job illustrating just how unclear the territory of social media is when dealing with the NCAA.
The warning signs were there from the beginning.

Persistent thunder and lightning rocked South Bend, Ind., throughout halftime of Notre Dame's season opener against South Florida, culminating in a game that ended five hours, 59 minutes after it started. The final tally was Bulls 23, Irish 20, with a quarterback switch and nighttime falling somewhere in between.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Michael Floyd
Charles LeClaire/USPRESSWIREEven with Notre Dame's unsettled quarterback situation, receiver Michael Floyd rewrote the Irish record books this season.
The lights came on one week later in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Irish faced Michigan in the Big House's first-ever night game. But a 17-point lead entering the fourth quarter was not enough for Notre Dame, which surrendered 28 points to Denard Robinson and Co. in the game's final 15 minutes, with a pair of fumbles taking wrong turns, to add to the pain.

An 0-2 start rendered any preseason BCS-bowl expectations meaningless, and the manner in which those defeats took place were as sure a sign as any that this would be one strange season.

Consider:

  • Notre Dame then routed Michigan State 31-13 in Week 3, one of only two regular-season losses for a Spartans team that ended up falling a few plays shy of the Rose Bowl.
  • The Irish faced a third-and-goal from the 1, down seven, in the third quarter in Week 8 against USC before a fumbled snap resulted in an 80-yard touchdown the other way, effectively killing any chance of a win. It was the second fumble returned for a touchdown against the Irish when facing third-and-goal from the 1 during the season. (USF did it on Notre Dame's first drive of the season.)
  • Five days later, Brian Kelly made controversial comments about the difference between the players he recruited and those he inherited, leading to player backlash on Twitter and an apology to the team the next day.

The Irish won eight of their final 10 games to finish 8-4 and clinch a berth in the Dec. 29 Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State, another 8-4 team that saw lofty preseason expectations take a hit early. Tommy Rees will start for Notre Dame, the sophomore's 12th consecutive start after replacing Dayne Crist to start the second half against the Bulls in Week 1. Fellow sophomore Andrew Hendrix, who replaced Rees to start the second half at Stanford in the regular-season finale, is slated to see plenty of action against the Seminoles as well.

The status of Crist, meanwhile, is up in the air after the senior was granted his release to explore options outside of Notre Dame for next season, his final year of eligibility after graduating later this month.

Also leaving the Irish is senior receiver Michael Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books and hauled in 95 catches for 1,106 yards this season. Floyd, a projected first-round draft pick, could be joined by junior linebacker Manti Te'o, who is also projected as a first-round pick after leading the Irish defensively for the second consecutive season.

Personnel questions will be answered later. For now, let's take a look back at this campaign and hand out some hardware:

Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Michael Floyd

Floyd took full advantage of one last chance after a third alcohol-related offense last March put this season in jeopardy. The senior's 95 catches this season are an Irish record, as are the 266 for his career. His 3,645 career receiving yards are the most in school history. So, too, are his 36 career receiving touchdowns. Floyd was lined up virtually everywhere this season and dealt with three different quarterbacks. His downfield blocking improved greatly. And, big statistical performance or not, he remained a threat in every game and always required the full attention of opposing defenses. The Irish will certainly miss him next season.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Manti Te'o

Following his 133-tackle output from a year ago, the junior has racked up 115 more tackles through 12 games this season, by far the most on the team. He has become more familiar in the backfield, too, notching 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, both good for team highs. Add in the fact he dealt with an ankle injury midseason, and Te'o had himself quite a junior campaign. A big decision awaits him this offseason, as Te'o is projected as a first-round NFL pick should he choose to forego his final year of eligibility.

Newcomer of the Year: Defensive end Aaron Lynch

The freshman burst onto the scene with a giant Week 3 performance against Michigan State, recording one sack, forcing a fumble and notching six quarterback hurries. To put that into proper context, no Notre Dame player recored that many throughout all of the 2010 season. Lynch enters the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State — a school he once committed to — with 5.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 13 hurries on the season. He was forced into extended playing time because of injury along the line, and he did not disappoint.

Coach of the Year: Running backs coach Tim Hinton

Hinton helped the rushing game exceed everyone's expectations but its own. Cierre Wood rushed for 1,042 yards and nine touchdowns, and Jonas Gray may have joined him in the 1,000-yard mark if not for an ACL tear Nov. 19. Gray, a senior, scored 12 touchdowns this season, including at least one in eight consecutive games, finishing his final campaign with 791 yards and a 6.9-yards-per-carry average. Hinton could draw interest from Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but for now the Irish are thankful for the work he put in this season.

Biggest surprise: Running back Jonas Gray

Speaking of Gray … Kelly said before the Irish's game against Boston College that he had never in his career seen a senior renaissance like Gray's. Gray overcame a potentially devastating Week 1 fumble against USF — one that resulted in a game-changing touchdown the other way — and ended up getting game captain honors against Air Force and starting four games. He spent much of the season in pursuit of George Gipp's single-season yards per carry record of 8.11, finishing with a 6.9 average. He had never scored a touchdown before notching 12 this season. Sadly, the campaign ended prematurely on Senior Day. Here's hoping Gray makes a speedy recovery and left enough of an impression on NFL scouts, as he was playing his way onto their radars before going down Nov. 19.

Biggest disappointment: Punt-return game

The Irish finished the season with a punt-return average of 0.30 yards per return, the worst among FBS teams. The Theo Riddick experiment backfired, as the junior fumbled one away in Week 1, and even the normally sure-handed John Goodman let one get away deep in his own territory Week 3 against Michigan State. Floyd voluntarily went back there to try to make something happen, but he never got a chance to return one this season. The Irish have plenty of work to do in this area in the offseason.

Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireThe first night game at Michigan Stadium featured a classic final quarter-- but one that didn't go Notre Dame's way in a 35-31 loss Sept. 10.
Game of the Year: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

The Sept. 10 contest had everything a college football fan could ask for: The first night game in the history of the Big House. Two of the three winningest programs in college football history. College GameDay on campus. The biggest crowd in college football history.

Then the game actually started, and it somehow surpassed the hype.

Michigan came back from a 24-7 deficit after three quarters, scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter and two in the final 1 minute, 12 seconds to shock the Irish. Vincent Smith's 21-yard touchdown catch made it 28-24 Michigan, Tommy Rees responded 42 seconds later with a 29-yard scoring strike to Riddick and Robinson closed things out with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds to play, capping off Michigan's third consecutive thrilling win over Notre Dame and a night for the ages. The Big House might as well quit while it's ahead; no night game there will ever surpass the first one.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Gary Gray initially described his situation coming off Notre Dame's Week 2 loss at Michigan as "just a little adversity" that his teammates helped him overcome.

Pressed further, the cornerback confessed it was more than that.

"I mean, it was a lot," he said. "We lost the game, but I mean, they stuck behind me, so they still believe in me and I still believe in myself, so that's all that matters."

[+] EnlargeGary Gray
AP Photo/AJ MastGary Gray has performed well since giving up the game-winning catch to the Wolverines.
Gray, a fifth-year senior who has started 26 straight games for the Irish, experienced a nightmare at the Big House, low-lighted by the game-winning touchdown catch he surrendered to Roy Roundtree with two seconds left.

Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks, not wanting the disappointing performance to get to Gray -- and knowing that the obligatory "24-hour rule" is easier spoken than exercised after a bad game -- immediately went into the film room and showed Gray that all wasn't lost.

"As a coach you pull out some of the old clips, and you remind Gary Gray what he did and how many plays he's made on numerous great wide receivers in big games and that shows him that, 'Hey OK, it wasn't a fluke, I just didn't play up to my abilities, I didn't play technically sound. Michigan's got good players and that is what it is, it's behind us now,' " Cooks said. "But you do things like that, you show him what he's done in the past to help him move forward in the future. Just kind of as a reminder that, 'You know, things happen. Short-term memory. This is what you've done. You didn't do it this game. But this is what you've done. This is what you're capable of. We've got confidence in you as a staff.'

"His teammates rallied around him and let him know that they have confidence in him as a player and he went out and just performed well."

Cooks shared with Gray a saying he often heard throughout his four-year NFL career, a cliche that helped him bounce back after rough outings:

"They get paid, too, to make plays," Cooks said of receivers.

Notre Dame touted Gray as one of the top cornerbacks in the country this season, though fellow starter Robert Blanton has garnered more attention so far through six games.

Gray, the most decorated recruit of the Irish's defensive backfield, admitted to being a little shaken after the Michigan game but was picked up by his teammates the next day.

"I think that throughout that game he was kind of wondering what was going on," Cooks said. "Because if you watch the game closely on tape, he was in position to make some of those plays and just didn't come up with them.

"But coming out that following week in practice there was nothing different. He knew that he had to come out and he needed to improve on some certain things from a technical standpoint and he did those. He was positive. He was excited. He went out that very next week and played ball."

Gray has steadily improved his play in the four games since, and his game-opening interception at Purdue in Week 5 set the tone for a rout.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco called Gray one of the stalwarts of the defense, saying he hasn't missed a beat in practice following the prime-time blemish.

"The demons he was going through, we all work with," Diaco said. "But he really didn't let them -- I don't know how long it caused him to decelerate, but we didn't see it. By the time he came to work he was ready."

Notre Dame weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 12, 2011
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Much to the dismay of Notre Dame and its fans, the Fighting Irish will likely be forced to re-live Saturday's loss to Michigan for quite some time. Painful as it was, the defeat will no doubt make the highlight reels for the rest of the season.

Fortunately for the Irish, we'll only touch on a few points from this past weekend's 35-31 loss:

The Good: The Irish put up more than 500 yards of offense for the second straight week, giving them 1,021 yards on the season, the 10th-most among FBS teams.

The Bad: What's that about the offense? Despite its top-10 ranking in yards, the unit is tied for 69th in the nation in points scored. That, of course, comes back to turnovers. Eight of the Irish's nation-leading 10 giveaways have come on the offensive end, with the unit giving the ball away four times Saturday. The team also ranks dead last (120th) among FBS teams in turnover margin at minus-3.50.

The Ugly: The blame here shifts to the defense, which gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter, including two touchdowns in a 1-minute, 10-second span. Roy Roundtree's game-winner with two seconds left was the dagger, but Jeremy Gallon's 64-yard reception one play earlier was simply inexcusable.

Turning point: It's tough to pick just one, but Michigan's stop of Cierre Wood on third-and-1 from the Irish 29 with less than three minutes left gave the Wolverines new life after a Robert Blanton interception in the end zone. The Irish were 0-for-3 in the second half when faced with third down and less than 4 yards to go.

Call of the day: Brady Hoke would have been playing the odds had he settled for a field goal attempt and a chance for overtime with eight seconds left. Instead, he called one more play for Denard Robinson, and Shoelace delivered. The 16-yard touchdown pass to Roundtree with two seconds left capped another wild finish in this rivalry and another Michigan win in it.

Next up: Speaking of crazy finishes, the Irish now get set to host 15th-ranked and defending Big Ten co-champion Michigan State. The Spartans shocked Notre Dame in similar fashion to the Wolverines last year, running a fake field goal in overtime to clinch a 34-31 win. MSU is ranked third in the nation in scoring defense and fourth in overall defense, a situation that doesn't bode well for an Irish offense that can't seem to protect the ball for an extended period of time.

Irish go from BCS hopefuls to 0-2

September, 11, 2011
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The story of two smiles in two vastly different interview rooms told the story of Michigan-Notre Dame, another heartbreak for Brian Kelly that's become seemingly inevitable whenever he enters this state as the Irish head football coach.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
AP Photo/Bill FundaroBrian Kelly and Notre Dame are off to a frustrating 0-2 start after a wild 35-31 loss to Michigan on Saturday.
No, this wasn't a fake-field goal in overtime that left him smirking after loss No. 2 a year ago in East Lansing, though the Michigan Wolverines seemed capable of pulling that off under the lights as well had Roy Roundtree not come down with the winning grab with two seconds left in Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31.

But Roundtree did make that catch, a 16-yard touchdown on a lob by Denard Robinson that sent the biggest crowd in college football history into a frenzy and left Kelly scratching his head and staring at an 0-2 hole with -- guess who -- Michigan State coming to town next week.

A five-turnover performance a week ago compelled Kelly to call Week 1 his most frustrating loss. When asked where this one ranks, the Fighting Irish coach paused for a few seconds while offering a smirk.

"I don't know that I've got a great definition for this one other than our kids, I feel for them," Kelly said. "And this one in particular. They battled back on the road after things turned on them, came back with a great last two-minute drive. And not to see it finish off, I feel really bad for them."

For the second straight week, Notre Dame broke the 500-yard mark on offense, a unit that ran with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

But Kelly knows there are no trophies for being the most talented 0-2 team in the nation, and he delivered that message stone-faced immediately after the loss.

"We're not good enough," Kelly said. "There's not one individual in that locker room, including all of the coaches, that are good enough right now. And consequently we lost the football game. And I mean across the board. It's turnovers, it's sub-par special teams play, it's the inability to make a stop, it's all of those things. So [I] pretty much told our football team that when we're better as a football team, we'll start winning."

It's not exactly the message he thought he'd be telling his players and the rest of Irish nation two weeks into a season that began with BCS bowl dreams, especially not before facing a Spartans team that is superior on paper to the Michigan and South Florida squads that have capitalized on 10 Notre Dame turnovers through two weeks.

The blooper-real ran again Saturday night, the Irish giving it away five times after pleading so thoroughly to cut down on the mistakes that doomed them a week ago.

"Stunned is not the word, I'm surprised obviously we weren't able to hold on," Kelly said when asked if he was stunned by the way things unfolded. "Nobody would sit here and say, 'Well, 30 seconds, we got a pretty good chance to win the game.' I think that's probably the one area. They made a great play. But no I'm not stunned, I've been in this business way too long."

Minutes later in the home interview room, Robinson flashed a smile much more fulfilling than Kelly's. It told the fortunes of these two teams after a third straight Michigan win that improbably topped the previous two and validated all of the hype surrounding the first night game in the Big House.

"Every time you see the game, you know both team's gotta fight till the end," Shoelace said. "And it's never over until you see zeroes on the clock."

Saturday was Exhibit A of that statement, with Notre Dame starting the fourth quarter up 17, watching a forced fumble turn into a Michigan touchdown one play later and eventually surrendering four touchdowns to the Maize and Blue in the final 15 minutes, none more shocking than the last two in a span of 1 minute, 12 seconds.

Asked if he had ever experienced a minute and a quarter of football like that, linebacker Manti Te'o said: "No. Never. And something that I hope I don't experience again."

Sounds familiar? Sure. But Week 2 provided further proof that drama and Notre Dame football are tied together at the hip, especially when crossing the Indiana-Michigan border.

Notre Dame will need to disprove that theory to avoid an unthinkable 0-3 start.

Final: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

September, 10, 2011
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Notre Dame once again suffered at the Big House of Horrors, losing 35-31 on Roy Roundtree's 16-yard touchdown catch with two seconds remaining.

Seconds earlier, Michigan's Tommy Rees hit Theo Riddick for a 29-yard touchdown with 30 seconds left, which came 34 seconds after the Wolverines' third touchdown of the fourth quarter had given the home team the 28-24 edge.

Unbelievable.

Much more to come after postgame interviews.

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