Notre Dame Football: T.J. Yeldon

Between Manti Te'o's 2012 run and Jadaveon Clowney's 2013 promise, so much of the conversation surrounding the Heisman Trophy has been the seemingly inevitable moment when a pure defensive player will capture the trophy. Te'o was the closest to ever do it, gaining 321 first-place votes and 1,706 points in losing to Johnny Manziel in 2012. And Clowney's monstrous hit of Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl has set the stage for a season in which Clowney will likely have the opportunity to play himself into serious Heisman contention.

But the award has still belonged to players on the other side of the ball, and a recent well-regarded preseason watch lists only re-affirms that.

The Heisman Pundit, Chris Huston, has released his initial 30-man watch list for the 2013 award, and Notre Dame has one representative on it: Everett Golson.

Golson enters his third year at the school and second year as the starter, this after a 12-1 season that saw him amass 2,703 yards of offense, score 18 total touchdowns, complete 58.8 percent of his passes and turn the ball over 10 times.

The Irish return eight starters from what was the nation's second-best scoring defense in 2012, including potential first-round picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, but the quarterback is the man that has the chance for the biggest spotlight.

In fact, Clowney is the only defensive player among the 30 listed on the watch list, as there are 19 quarterbacks, eight running backs and two wide receivers.

Video had surfaced this offseason of Clowney sacking Golson on the first play of the 2010 South Carolina High School League AAA title game, a game that Golson's Myrtle Beach team ended up winning. Golson, much more comfortable entering his second season in the spotlight, gave a confident and complimentary answer when asked early this spring if he was quietly rooting for the fellow Palmetto State native to win the Heisman in 2013.
"I hope he does, but at the same time, I think I'm pushing for the same thing," Golson said. "I know it's maybe a goal some may say is a little bit far-fetched, but I want to be the best competitor I can be. So I want to see him do great, but I also want to be there at the same time."

As for other familiar names on Huston's list? Oklahoma's Blake Bell, Michigan's Devin Gardner, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and USC's Marqise Lee are all players Notre Dame will face this year. Miami's Duke Johnson, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and T.J. Yeldon, meanwhile, all played against the Irish last season.

Demoralizing first half for Irish

January, 7, 2013
MIAMI -- Notre Dame is down 28-0 to Alabama at halftime. The "S-E-C!" chants are out. And -- something that I find worse than anything else -- fifth-year senior captain Kapron Lewis-Moore had to be helped off the field after suffering what looked like a very painful right-knee injury.

It is ugly, and there is no sign of letting up.

Yes, possibly the worst call in national title-game history happened on the game's first punt, when Notre Dame recovered a Christion Jones fumble and the officials threw an illegal contact flag even though it was another Tide player who bumped into Jones. But there is no mistaking that Alabama is taking it right to Notre Dame, from T.J. Yeldon turning a Manti Te'o missed backfield tackle into a 10-yard gain, to Eddie Lacy tossing Danny Spond aside and getting a five-yard rush.

Notre Dame's defense was supposed to give it a chance. It surrendered just more than 10 points per game this season, the best in the nation. Instead it surrendered touchdowns on the game's first three drives, and the offense has not done much to keep it off the field.

Alabama is outgaining Notre Dame 309-124. The Tide have 153 rushing yards to the Irish's 31. They have dominated time of possession, holding it for 19 minutes, 46 seconds of the first half. They have held Notre Dame to 0-for-5 on third downs. The Irish have three penalties, too.

Notre Dame's improbable run to this night began with an unranked squad facing issues on both sides of the ball with a daunting slate ahead.

It will take something far more improbable during these next 30 minutes if the Irish wish to give themselves a chance in this Discover BCS National Championship.

Irish Lunch Links

December, 31, 2012
G-men still defending champs ... for another month, at least.

Talkin' Tide, Irish with TideNation

December, 6, 2012
Notre Dame and Alabama are squaring off Jan. 7 in the Discover BCS National Championship, in case you haven't heard. With the matchup more than a month away, TideNation's Alex Scarborough and Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna go back and forth on a number of topics between the Tide and Irish.

AS: The other day Nick Saban called Notre Dame's front seven possibly the best in college football. How do you think it stacks up and what is it about the Irish defense that makes it special?

MF: One of the most overlooked pieces of Notre Dame's defense has been nose guard Louis Nix. He is a junior who came in overweight two years ago, dropped roughly 40 pounds, and then was told last year that he might not see 20 snaps a game. Injuries turned him into nearly a full-time starter last year, and he has taken his game to another level this year. His numbers -- five tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble -- simply do not do him justice. He regularly takes on two blockers at a time, freeing up athletic end Stephon Tuitt (12 sacks) and allowing the Irish linebackers to make more plays. The biggest question for me -- especially after the SEC title game -- is how much pressure can these guys get on AJ McCarron? Is this offensive line invincible?

AS: The offensive line is about as invincible as it gets in one respect -- the running game. When Alabama commits to handing the ball off the Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, there's not much a defense can do. The job Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and Co. do pushing the line of scrimmage is remarkable. But in another respect, the line is somewhat vulnerable. Georgia showed it's not very difficult to get pressure on the backfield. It's why Alabama committed to the running game like it did in Atlanta. There wasn't much of a choice with Jarvis Jones harassing McCarron.

If there's a spot to attack Alabama's defense, it's the passing game. Georgia hit the Tide up for big play after big play on Saturday. Does Notre Dame have enough with Everett Golson to stretch the field and keep the defense honest?

MF: I think the Irish do, although if they fall behind early it will be difficult. Golson's growth over the course of the season has been crucial to Notre Dame's 12-0 season, and you've seen the offense open up more almost every week. Golson netted negative-11 rushing yards over his first four games; he has netted 316 in his past seven games (he missed the BYU game because of a concussion). Tyler Eifert is arguably the best tight end in the country and has developed a better rapport with Golson as the season has progressed, and the Irish should be welcoming back deep threat DaVaris Daniels (broken left clavicle) for the title game as well.

AS: Much has been made of the way Brian Kelly has turned around the program in South Bend and how he's recreated it with an SEC flavor in mind. How do you evaluate the job he's done in such a short time and do you see an SEC-type formula in what he's built? Is it a team that you feel could contend in the conference that's come away with six straight national championships?

MF: The general feeling upon Kelly's hiring was that if he couldn't win at Notre Dame, who could? He's done it at every step of his career, from Div. II to the MAC to the Big East, and now at Notre Dame. The difference is he is now doing it with defense, something he said from Day 1 would be required to contend, especially given the variety of offenses the Irish face with their independent schedule. You see that now with their front-seven, and especially on the line, where all three of their starters (Kapron Lewis-Moore - Texas, Nix - Florida, Tuitt - Georgia) hail from SEC country. Even athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he felt that Year 4 would be the time that Notre Dame would contend for a national title, so it's safe to say that Kelly is ahead of schedule. This team is built like an SEC squad, and it could certainly contend in the nation's best conference this season. The question is if the Irish can sustain this kind of success.

From the outside looking in, it would appear that this Alabama team is less talented than the last two to win championships, and maybe even less talented than the 2010 squad that didn't win it. Is that a fair statement, and what's it say about Nick Saban that he has the Tide back on the sport's biggest stage yet again, despite taking everyone's best shot?

AS: It's tough to say the Tide are less talented today than they were a year or even two years ago. To me, it's a matter of performance as I can look out and see a number of future NFL prospects on both sides of the ball. I believe what we're seeing this season is a result of a lack of experience and seasoning, not ability. You have first- or second-year players starting at 10 or more positions at any given time. I think that a year from now we'll be saying something much different about the talent in Tuscaloosa. That said, you have to commend the job Saban and his coordinators have done to this point masking inexperience. Remember, Alabama lost 11 starters from a year ago. Saban replaced star cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with Dee Milliner, who some scouts believe might be the top defensive back available in this year's draft. Saban replaced the Trent Richardson/Eddie Lacy tailback combo with Lacy and freshman T.J. Yeldon, who has rushed for 1,000 yards this season. It's remarkable how the Tide haven't missed a beat, and that all traces back to the staff's ability to recruit and develop players. Alabama has finished with a top-3 recruiting class every year since 2008.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-0) vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (12-1)

Jan. 7, 8:30 p.m. ET, Miami (ESPN)

Notre Dame take from Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna: Haven't you heard? Notre Dame is back. No, not BCS-bowl back. BCS national title game back.

The No. 1 Irish ran the table in the regular season and are the only bowl-eligible team left that is spotless in the loss column. They navigated a tough stretch featuring opponents from five BCS conferences and two independents. And now they will get one more chance to prove this was no fluke on Jan. 7, when they take on a team from the one conference they have yet to face in 2012: the SEC, winners of the past six national titles.

The key for Notre Dame all season has been the defense, which gives up just 10.33 points per game and has surrendered just 10 touchdowns all season long, with one of those scores coming from the opposing team's defense (Stanford). The Irish showed their toughness in the trenches by utilizing goal-line stands to hold off a pair of Pac-12 opponents in Stanford and USC, and their offense has started to come along after some early-season missteps.

Redshirt freshman Everett Golson went the final three games without getting yanked for performance issues, and he has turned the ball over just once during that stretch. He has been aided by a ground game averaging 202.5 yards per game, and he has flashed his ability to run much more as the season has progressed. He has rushed for 316 yards in his last seven games after netting negative-11 yards on the ground through his first four outings, in which he was benched twice in favor of Tommy Rees.

Speaking of rushing … good luck moving the ball on the ground against this defense. Notre Dame ranks fifth nationally against the run, surrendering just 92.42 yards per game. The Irish did not give up a rushing touchdown until the eighth game of the season, against Oklahoma's Blake Bell. Heisman candidate Manti Te'o gets much of the attention, and he deserves every bit of it, but don't overlook future early-round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt up front.

For all the national talk about the SEC, America probably won't see something much further from last year's title game, as the Irish fit the blueprint of a successful SEC team this season.

Alabama take by TideNation's Alex Scarborough: Believe it or not, the Crimson Tide are finishing the season right where they started. Despite losing eight starters to the NFL draft in April -- including three first-rounders and one Heisman Trophy finalist -- the expectation for Nick Saban's squad remained "BCS or bust" with a preseason No. 2 ranking. After beating Georgia to win the SEC championship on Saturday night, No. 2 is where Alabama will finish in the final BCS Standings of the season.

The talent in Tuscaloosa, Ala., was never in question. Five straight top-3 recruiting classes filled the coffers, and the coaching staff used their young players wisely, incorporating a pair of potential Freshmen All-Americans in running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. With junior AJ McCarron under center again, the offense has gone to new heights.

The defense rallied around a handful of veterans to maintain its top-dog status. Alabama led the country in total defense for the second straight season after losing stars like Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick , Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower. A fresh set of leaders emerged to reinvent the Alabama defense as something possibly less dominant, but more stingy. The Tide created more takeaways and sacks than a year ago, and practiced a bend-but-don't-break mindset in the biggest games.

Like last season, Alabama's path to the national championship game was not without a speed bump, and this time it wasn't LSU blocking the Tide's way. A week after surviving Death Valley and the LSU Tigers, Alabama was shocked at home by freshman phenom Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies, dropping the Tide out of the title race from No. 1 to No. 4 in the BCS Standings. A week later, No. 1 Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon fell on the same night, paving Alabama's way back to Miami.

Alabama assured itself a berth in the title game by beating No. 3 Georgia in remarkable fashion, surviving an SEC-title record five lead changes. It was the Tide's fourth win against a ranked team this season. Net up is a chance for a fifth, against No. 1 Notre Dame. Alabama will be the seventh consecutive SEC team to compete in the BCS National Championship Game. It's Alabama's third trip to the title game in four years.


The latest from Gustin at The Opening
ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.


Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30