Notre Dame Football: Stanford

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

October, 3, 2011
A look back at the good, bad and ugly (yes, even a 38-10 win has some low points) from Notre Dame's thrashing of Purdue:

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame cornerback Gary Gray
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame cornerback Gary Gray's interception set the tone of the game for the Irish.
The Good: Notre Dame did not commit a turnover in its 38-10 win over Purdue. Tommy Rees threw three touchdown passes, the Fighting Irish averaged 7.2 yards per rush and Michael Floyd got back in the thick of things with 12 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. Oh, and the first-team defense did not give up a touchdown, either.

The Bad: Special teams play continues to be a head-scratcher. David Ruffer had one field goal blocked and missed another, and John Goodman netted -3 yards on two punt returns, which doesn't include letting one go right by him for a 61-yard punt in the first quarter. Brian Kelly said Sunday he wasn't impressed with kickoffs, either.

The Ugly: Long-snapper Jordan Cowart picked up a 15-yard personal foul penalty after a mini brouhaha on a second-quarter punt, drawing the ire of his head coach. Kelly revealed Sunday that Cowart broke his hand in the scuffle, something that has to infuriate him. The Irish will still try to play Cowart this Saturday. Purdue's 13 penalties for 118 yards weren't exactly pretty sights, either.

Turning point: Gary Gray's pick on the first pass of the game and Rees' ensuing 35-yard touchdown pass to Floyd two plays later never gave Purdue a chance in the game, starting the rout early and never looking back.

Best of the rest: Notre Dame's 551 total yards of offense were its most since a 592-yard performance Oct. 31, 2009 against Washington State. … The Irish's 34 first downs were two shy of the school record of 36, set against Army in 1974. … Notre Dame's 289 rushing yards were its most since a 320-yard effort Nov. 29, 2003 at Stanford. Likewise, the Irish's 6.9 yards per rush were their highest average since averaging 7.1 yards per rush Aug. 28, 1999 against Kansas (minimum 20 carries). … With defensive end Stephon Tuitt not making the trip because of a missed-class violation, sophomore Kona Schwenke lost his redshirt option by entering in the first half. … Dayne Crist entered late in the fourth quarter and completed his only pass attempt, a 10-yard throw to George Atkinson III. "I have a lot of respect for Dayne," Kelly said. "I'm not going to throw him in there in meaningless kinds of situations. But he wanted to get in the game."

Next Up: The Irish host an Air Force team that ranks third in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 364.5 yards on the ground per game. The Falcons improved to 3-1 on Saturday with a 35-34 overtime win over Navy that featured a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Midshipmen in overtime, forcing an extra-long extra point attempt that was blocked. Air Force's only defeat this season is a 35-19 loss to defending Rose Bowl champion TCU.
1) Protecting the ball makes for smooth sailing: It seemed like we'd never see the day Notre Dame went 60 minutes without a turnover, but Saturday changed that.

[+] EnlargeCierre Wood
AP Photo/AJ MastNotre Dame's Cierre Wood is 42nd in the nation in rush yards per game at 89.8.
The Fighting Irish eclipsed the 500-yard mark for the third time this season, but won while crossing that plateau for the first time, as they were doomed by five-turnover performances in Weeks 1 and 2. Saturday was huge for the offense, in particularly Tommy Rees, who eliminated many of the befuddling miscues that had Irish fans calling for a new quarterback after his first three-and-a-half games under center. Now, for the first time all season, we can no longer say Notre Dame leads the nation in turnovers or has the worst turnover margin. (The first honor belongs to East Carolina, with 17. The latter is shared by East Carolina, Iowa State and Western Kentucky, at -2.00).

2) The rush defense is for real: Notre Dame had another dominating performance up front Saturday, limiting the Big Ten's second-ranked rushing offense to 84 yards on 27 carries. This came two weeks after the Irish allowed just 29 rushing yards against Michigan State and one week after holding Pitt's Ray Graham to 89 yards, something that looks like more of accomplishment after Graham exploded for 226 yards Thursday against South Florida.

3) Special teams need to improve. Still: Brian Kelly said Saturday that he didn't want to sound like sour milk when listing what his team could have done better, but the Irish did leave points on the board. David Ruffer, a 2010 Lou Groza Award finalist, missed two field goals. And the punt return experiment once again looked like just that -- an experiment. John Goodman netted -3 yards on two returns and, in a real head-scratcher, watched one ball sail over his head and roll for a 61-yard punt in the first quarter.

4) Penalties still need clearing up: This one gets overshadowed because the Irish didn't turn the ball over, won by 28 points and saw their opponent commit an astounding 13 penalties for 118 yards. But Notre Dame itself committed eight penalties for 85 yards, including an ugly one when long snapper Jordan Cowart got tangled up with several Purdue players on a second-quarter punt. Mental lapses such as these are forgivable against the Boilermakers, not so much against USC or Stanford.

Notre Dame mailbag

September, 23, 2011
You request, I deliver. Here's what's been of your minds through an eventful three weeks of Notre Dame's season.

Mark Schadl from Atlanta writes: Matt, what's your thoughts on the future of Dayne Crist? He "was" eligible to come back for a 5th Year next year, but Brian Kelly's take on 5th Year Seniors is if they can't help and ND needs that scholarship spot, they generally don't get one. I liked Dayne a lot, I wish he would have had more success on the field. Thanks,Mark

Matt Fortuna: Mark, Dayne entered this year publicly with the approach that it would be his last. Obviously, he didn't expect to get pulled halfway through his first game. It's certainly an interesting scenario and a sidebar to watch as the season progresses. With nine games left, I highly doubt we've seen the last of him. Depending on how much (or how little) playing time he ends up getting, though, it wouldn't shock me if he chose to go to another school for one more year where he could play. Given his California roots, I'd imagine he'd head to the West Coast, though we are getting ahead of ourselves three weeks into 2011.

Greg from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: It is a shame that Michael Floyd is not being mentioned as a Heisman candidate!

Matt Fortuna: Greg, you clearly haven't been reading my weekly Heisman watch. Floyd's numbers are up there with anyone's nationally, but he isn't getting as much attention for the simple fact that Notre Dame is 1-2. Win a few more games, continue to produce at the rate he's at, and surely the national eyes will reach South Bend.

George Somerville from Lake Geneve, Wis., writes: Notre Dame should try putting Michael Floyd in for Wildcat and see how that works out.

Matt Fortuna: George, with the many ways the Irish have used Floyd so far this season, it wouldn't really surprise me. Seriously, though, he said he's lost a lot of weight, which has helped contribute to a quicker burst of speed off the ball. I wouldn't expect to see him in the Wildcat, however, with a still developing quarterback at the helm of a team that leads the nation in turnovers.

Paul S Grabsky from Alpine, Texas, writes: Hello Matt, with A&M about to bolt the Big 12 I have heard rumors that Notre Dame will replace the Aggies on Texas schedule for the annual battle Thanksgiving Night. Just wondering if you heard that as well? Of course the landscape of college sports is all hearsay these days. Thanx for reading.

Matt Fortuna: Paul, Notre Dame's series with Stanford won't end before 2019. And I can't see the day that the Irish's series with USC would ever end, though I suppose nothing would surprise me anymore. In short, it would take plenty of legwork for something like that to possibly happen.

Ty Winter from Trinidad, Colo., writes: I have 3 questions for you#1: What is your prediction on thier record, and what bowl will they land in?#2: Kelly is a proven coach that rebuilds teams and brings them to the top, is next year the year they will make a run for the BCS championship, and finally,#3: Will Notre Dame join a mega conference, and if so will they keep thier TV deal with NBC? Thank you; oh by the way do you have enough pull to get me two tickets to a ND home game, it's the #1 thing on my Bucket List. Thanks Ty

Matt Fortuna: That's a lot to dump on my plate at once, Ty. Here we go: 1) Nine wins are still possible, but the Irish can't even think about that if they continue to turn the ball over. The Champs Sports Bowl would seem most likely with anything less than nine wins. 2) Notre Dame will be in great position from a talent standpoint to compete next year, but the schedule is just brutal, with a date in Norman against the potential defending BCS champion Sooners standing out above others. 3) The carousel seems to be put on hold for now, and the Irish and their fans can continue enjoy their status as an independent. Lastly, if I had a dollar for every person who asked me for tickets, I may just be able to afford a few on my own.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- After finally getting in the win column Saturday against a ranked team, Notre Dame can turn its attention to Pitt, followed by Purdue, then Air Force, then six more teams on its schedule, four of which are unranked.

Tempting, no?

"I'll worry about that when they win six, seven, eight, nine in a row," Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said of looking ahead. "We're certainly not at that point yet. We have not been infected with success yet. I'll know when that happens. We need to win more, we need to be more consistent and attention to the detail things."

Two losses to start the season have given Notre Dame ample opportunity to put the brakes on getting ahead of itself, even if the slow beginning to 2011 could, in part, be attributed to a tough early season schedule. The Irish's first three opponents have a combined 8-1 record, two of them are ranked and the other, Michigan State, was ranked before falling to Notre Dame on Saturday.

No. 23 USC and No. 5 Stanford are the only ranked opponents remaining on the Irish's schedule. Every other team the Irish will face has at least one loss. Boston College, which Notre Dame will host for senior day Nov. 19, is off to an 0-3 start.

Still, it's not like Kelly is in his players' ears reminding them of everything that went wrong two weeks into the season.

"They know," he said. "They know where they are. We try to correct everything that occurs as we move forward. So we don't go back to those things relative to what happened in the past, other than we try to correct those mistakes and then move forward. They know where they are. I know where -- we're all trying to get better based upon being a 1-2 team."

Kelly said after Saturday's win that his team needed validation sooner or later after a pair of close defeats, and his message to them was simple: Finish.

The message now, he said, is to try to carry that same chip on their shoulders with win No. 1 is out of the way.

"Continue to develop in practice, continue with the same kind of mindset," Kelly said. "You can't come to practice now that you've won a game and feel as though, 'OK, we've arrived,' because we certainly haven't.

"There are a lot things that we need to get better at if we're gonna be a consistent winner. Right now, they know that they've got a lot of work ahead of 'em. So I want to continue to see that same kind of focus and attention to the way we practice and then carry that over into Saturday."

Notre Dame Heisman watch: Week 4

September, 20, 2011
Notre Dame finally got in the win column this past weekend. Ahead of it is a schedule that the Fighting Irish will likely be favored in every step of the way until heading to Stanford for the season finale.

Before we all get ahead of ourselves, however, let's take a look at the one man who undoubtedly will be in the spotlight from now until season's end, giving Notre Dame an outside shot at a record eighth Heisman Trophy winner.

Michael Floyd: The wide receiver eclipsed the 200-catch mark for his career Saturday, becoming the first Notre Dame player to do so. Calling his six-catch, 84-yard effort against Michigan State pedestrian speaks to just how good he has been for the Irish offense. Coming off his worst statistical performance of the season, Floyd trails only USC's Robert Woods for the nation-lead in catches (33 to 31) and only Washington State's Marquess Wilson for the country's most receiving yards (429 to 397). His stock should only improve this weekend at Pitt, which has the 119th-ranked pass defense in the nation.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 3

September, 18, 2011
1. These guys can rush: Aaron Lynch set the tone early by sacking Kirk Cousins and forcing a fumble. The defense continued the assault all day long, getting to Cousins time and time again and rendering the Spartans' run game moot.

2. Special teams can make all the difference: George Atkinson III's kickoff return for a score made it 14-3 early and the Irish never looked back. The return came after MSU's first scoring drive and gave Notre Dame plenty of momentum and distance the rest of the way.

3. Turnovers need to be curtailed: Three turnovers are still too many. Tommy Rees, at 19, is still growing as a quarterback and will make mistakes, but senior John Goodman's fumble of a punt return deep in his own territory could have been costly if not for Blanton's pick three plays later. Three is better than five, and the Irish have at least showed they're capable of bouncing back from mistakes by not letting up against MSU on Saturday. But at some point the bleeding has to stop.

4. Don't look now, but the Irish could be in business: The Irish should be favored in every game moving forward except for the final one, at Stanford. For now, they can focus on a Pitt team that looked more vulnerable Saturday than the Irish themselves through the first two weeks, as the Panthers blew a 21-point lead to Iowa in a 31-27 loss. Purdue and Air Force follow for Notre Dame before its bye, after which it will host rival USC in its first home night game in 21 years.

Irish game at Pitt to be televised by ABC

September, 12, 2011
The Big East announced that Notre Dame's Sept. 24 game at Pitt will be a noon kickoff and be televised by ABC.

The Fighting Irish's Nov. 5 contest at Wake Forest is its only remaining game without an announced start time or television network yet.

The Irish's Oct. 1 game at Purdue will be on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, as will their regular-season finale Nov. 26 at Stanford.

Irish drop out of rankings

September, 6, 2011
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- To the surprise of no one, Notre Dame is no longer a ranked team.

A 23-20 loss to South Florida this past Saturday dropped the then-No. 16 Fighting Irish out of the Week 2 Associated Press poll, as they received just 22 votes, which is technically good for 36th in the nation. Michigan comes in right behind the Irish with 17 votes.

Notre Dame is one of four preseason ranked teams to fall out of the AP poll, joining Georgia, Auburn and future Irish opponent USC. Unlike the Irish, the latter two schools won their Week 1 games.

USF debuted at No. 22 following its win at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish's regular season-ending opponent, Stanford, moved from No. 7 to No. 6 in the rankings. Michigan State, which plays at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 17, remained at No. 17.

Notre Dame also dropped out of the coaches poll, which it began the season in as the 18th-ranked team. The Irish received eight votes this week, 42nd-most in the nation.


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Saturday, 12/27
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Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
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Thursday, 1/1
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