Fast Break with Matt Farrell

9.10.14

Rachel Murphy ‘16 (@NDBlogMurph)

If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be? Coach Brey.

Who is your celebrity crush? Arianna Grande.

What is your favorite sport to watch? Basketball.

Who is your favorite NBA player? Steve Nash.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Paris.

What is your favorite TV Show? Seinfeld.

Who is your personal hero? My brother.

If you could have a super power what would it be? Fly.

Super man or Batman? Superman.

Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate.

North Dining Hall or South Dining Hall? South.

Most embarrassing song on your iPod? “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli.

If you didn’t play basketball, what sport would you play? Baseball.

What is your favorite thing about your team? Unity.

Funniest teammate? Burg. (Austin Burgett).

Worst dressed teammate? Steve (Vasturia).

After basketball, what would you love to do? Have a good job and become a member of a nice golf course.

What is your favorite place on campus? The Arena.

Why Notre Dame? Tradition and Family.

Irish In The NFL - Week Two

9.16.14

Aaron Horvath (@NDSportsBlogger)

Week two in the NFL is complete after a Monday Night Football thriller capped the slate. In all, 40 former Notre Dame football student-athletes (38 of which ended their college career with the Irish) are currently employed as players in the NFL.

Check out how they did in week one

Arizona Cardinals
Defeated the N.Y. Giants, 25-14

John Carlson - TE - Two catches, 43 yards receiving
Michael Floyd - WR - One catch, 19 yards receiving
Robert Hughes - RB - One carry, two yards receiving, fumble recovery
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Troy Niklas - TE - One catch, 16 yards receiving

Atlanta Falcons
Lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-10

Prince Shembo - LB - Made seven tackles
Zeke Motta - S - Injured Reserved

Baltimore Ravens
Defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-6

Kapron Lewis-Moore - DL - Injured Reserve

Carolina Panthers
Defeated the Detroit Lions, 24-7

J.J. Jansen - LS - Saw game action

Chicago Bears
Defeated the San Francisco 49ers, 28-20

Jimmy Clausen - QB - Did not see game action

Cincinnati Bengals
Defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 24-10

Tyler Eifert - TE - Injured Reserve
Trevor Robinson - OG - Practice Squad

Dallas Cowboys
Defeated the Tennessee Titans, 26-10

Zach Martin - OG - Started along the offensive line

Denver Broncos
Defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 24-17

David Bruton - S - Team Captain - Injured

Detroit Lions
Lost to the Carolina Panthers, 24-7

Theo Riddick - RB - One rush, zero yards rushing
Golden Tate - WR - Five catches, 57 yards receiving
T.J. Jones - WR - Injured Reserve

Houston Texans
Defeated the Oakland Raiders, 30-14

Louis Nix III - DT - Inactive

Indianapolis Colts
Lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 30-27

Sergio Brown - S - Injured Reserve

Jacksonville Jaguars
Lost to the Washington Redskins, 41-10

Sam Young - OT - Saw game action

Kansas City Chiefs
Lost to the Denver Broncos, 24-17

Anthony Fasano - TE - Three catches, 39 yards receiving
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Ryan Harris - OT - Saw game action
Kona Schwenke - DL - Practice Squad

Minnesota Vikings
Lost to the New England Patriots, 30-7

Robert Blanton - S - Six tackles
Kyle Rudolph - TE - Five catches, 53 yards receiving
Harrison Smith - S - Eight tackles
John Sullivan - C - Started along the offensive line

New England Patriots
Defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 30-7

Jonas Gray - RB - Practice Squad
Darius Fleming - LB - Inactive

New York Giants
Lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 25-14

Dan Fox - LB - Practice Squad
Bennett Jackson - CB - Practice Squad

New York Jets
Lost to the Green Bay Packers, 31-24

Darrin Walls - DB - Three tackles
Shaq Evans - WR - Transferred To UCLA - Injured Reserve

Oakland Raiders
Lost to the Houston Texans, 30-14

Justin Tuck - DE - Three tackles
George Atkinson III - RB - Practice Squad

Pittsburgh Steelers
Lost to the Baltimore Ravens, 26-6

Stephon Tuitt - DE - One tackle

San Diego Chargers
Defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 30-21

Manti Te’o - LB - Three tackles
Chris Watt - OG - Saw game action

San Francisco 49ers
Lost to the Chicago Bears, 28-20

Ian Williams - NT - One tackle
Aaron Lynch - DL - Transferred To USF - One tackle & blocked a FG

Washington Redskins
Defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 41-10

Braxston Cave - OL - Practice Squad

A Familiar Story

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                                                                                                AP Photo

9.14.14

Craig Chval ‘15

It would be pretty dishonest to sit here and say that I really enjoyed last night’s game. Purdue is probably the worst team on the schedule, having lost to Central Michigan last week by three touchdowns. Central Michigan lost to Syracuse by 37 yesterday. Syracuse needed double overtime to beat FCS Villanova.

It’s hard to tell if games like this are predictive of the season. Every year Purdue is a close game, and you never know if it’s a harbinger of things to come (2009) or a minor road bump (2012).

At 1-11, Purdue was an FCS-caliber team last year, and the week following Notre Dame’s nailbiter win over them, the Irish beat a Michigan State team that finished third in the final polls. Go figure.

I’m often frustrated after wins like this, but I’m rarely afraid of losing them. It took me a few years to shake my Charlie Weis-induced terror of losing close games to inferior teams, but I might finally be there. There have been a lot more 2012 Pittsburghs than 2013 Pittsburghs in the Kelly era.

Nevertheless, watching the game from my couch was not the most fun experience, especially when people became less enthralled with the game. I grew up watching Notre Dame games in almost complete silence, so I don’t handle constant chatter well. At one point I began to mutter, “Guys, the game’s back” in monotone over and over again.

Sure, the game was frustrating on occasion, but that’s not to say there weren’t positives. The biggest one by far was the second half performance by the defense. Brian VanGorder’s unit was at one point missing KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, Kendall Moore, Eilar Hardy, Jarrett Grace, Austin Collinsworth, Andrew Trumbetti, Max Redfield, Nicky Baratti, and Cole Luke. Ouch.

Missing six defensive backs is a pretty terrifying prospect. The remaining crew of Cody Riggs, Devin Butler, Drue Tranquill, and Elijah Shumate played exceptionally, shutting out Purdue in the second half.

The theme of the defense this year has been youth, and with all the missing players, a huge number of freshmen and sophomores have made an impact. It’s only been three games, but the offseason hiring of VanGorder might turn out to be one of the biggest staff acquisitions in years.

For a unit with a lot of question marks before the season, the defense has been a pleasant surprise so far. The offense was up and down yesterday, with the run game a little troubling. Not being able to get anything going on the ground has become a yearly ritual against Purdue, so I’m trying not to read anything into it. A win’s a win. 

If Notre Dame wins its next 11 games by one point each, I would be ecstatic. Hopefully the issues that manifested themselves last night are an aberration from coming off a big game. Look for the Irish to bounce back against Syracuse with a bye week to address any issues. The real test comes in three weeks when Stanford comes to town. 

The biggest stat right now is that the Irish are 3-0 – for just the third time since Lou Holtz’s tenure.

Shaping the Shamrock Series

9.11.14

Craig Chval ‘15

As you know, Notre Dame will make the short trek to Indianapolis this weekend to face off against Purdue. Two Indiana teams playing in Indiana – it’s a departure from the usual matchups for the Shamrock Series, but what’s usual for this series?

With the hoopla surrounding the Shamrock Series over the last couple years, it’s hard to remember how the concept has developed. Any description of the series will tell you it began in 2009 against Washington State in San Antonio. Except Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate were wearing the usual blue and gold.

In 2010 the green jersey was added to highlight the historical significance of playing in one-year-old Yankee Stadium. Neither game featured any shamrocks or any mention of them.

As far as I can find, there was no existence of the phrase “Shamrock Series” before November 7, 2011, when Notre Dame announced new shamrock helmets with that gold surface reminiscent of holograms.  

The first line of the release is, “The University of Notre Dame will celebrate its Shamrock Series football matchup Saturday against the University of Maryland by wearing specially-designed helmets.”

And thus the Shamrock Series moniker was born. The release takes the name for granted, as if it had always been there, but in actuality the last five years have seen a gradual shaping of the series as we know it.

At first Notre Dame simply planned a series of off-site games from 2009-2013: Washington State in San Antonio, Army in New York, Maryland in Washington, Miami in Chicago, and Arizona State in Dallas. Despite the neutral location, Notre Dame would be the home team and NBC would televise the contests.

Like the name, the uniforms – one of the biggest parts of the Shamrock Series – developed gradually. Normal in 2009 to green in 2010 to shamrock in 2011, designs moved along slowly until the 2012 iteration was as polarizing as its helmet design. Since then, the uniforms have been, in my opinion, the two best of the series, offering something new for players without being too, um, outlandish.  

As the concept and execution of the series has developed, so have the accompanying events. Now the weekend goes far beyond the four hours of the game, including academic lectures, service projects, a 5k race, a game day mass, a pep rally, and a seven-hour “Fan Fest” featuring live music and special guest appearances. 

Since its beginnings as simply a neutral site game in San Antonio, the Shamrock Series has become a weekend to transport the Notre Dame community to a different city every year. It involves Notre Dame’s traditions of academics, service, Catholicism, and community with a football game thrown in to cap it all off. 

As big as the event is now, you would think that was the plan all along when Kevin White scheduled the games nearly a decade ago. But Swarbrick has gradually built the Shamrock Series into the spectacle that it is today. With all the progress it has undergone, who knows what will be in store for Fenway 2015? 

Irish Blogger Gathering - Purdue Week

9.11.14

Aaron Horvath (@NDSportsBlogger)

Each week during the football season, a collection of the self-proclaimed greatest Notre Dame football bloggers get together to answer questions that others posed to one another. In addition to me, a member of ND Nation, Her Loyal Sons, UHND.com and the Subway Domer himself take part in this glorious exercise.

Before you take a look at my answers below - head over to the other blogs to see how they answered them as well.

(Link will become live once posted)

ND Nation
Her Loyal Sons
UHND.com
Subway Domer

So let’s get going!

Since Michigan still hasn’t scored, let’s talk about the defense: who stood out for you against Michigan? (Her Loyal Sons)

@NDSportsBlogger: On defense a variety of guys stood out to me for the Irish in the 31-0 shutout of the Michigan Wolverines. Let’s just say that Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt will stand out each and every week. Specifically in the Michigan game, the secondary of Cody Riggs, Matthias Farley, Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield stood out to me with their ability to help contain Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner and ensure all-everything wideout Devon Funchess didn’t get free after a big first quarter for the potential NFL first round pick.

All in all, the defense played a stout game but were not perfect. The scoreboard may have had a goose egg on it, but head coach Brian Kelly said the defense made 34 mental errors in the game. That number has got to be pretty scary for opponents as the Irish played one of their best defensive games in years against the Wolverines.

While it will be difficult to make many definitive statements about the team this week due to the poor quality if opponent, what is one thing you really want to see them do against Purdue? (ND Nation)

@NDSportsBlogger: This week’s game against Purdue is an interesting one. Many see this game as a walkover, but if the last two year’s are telling, this game will be anything but. I actually see the Irish winning by a comfortable margin in the range of 15-20. As much as the Purdue student-athletes get up for this game each and every year, it seems to be closer than the experts predict.

One thing I do want to see the Irish do this weekend is dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I want to be able to see one of the running backs, whether it be Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston, run free on a big run and consistently gain yards on the ground. I expect a rushing average of over 5.0 yards per carry in this contest.

Notre Dame has struggled against Purdue the last two years even though the Boilers have had back to back down years.  1) Why has Purdue given Notre Dame such problems the last two seasons 2) what does Notre Dame have to do avoid a similar fate this weekend and 3) will Notre Dame be able to keep this game from being too close for comfort this year? (UHND.com)

@NDSportsBlogger: Purdue has given Notre Dame problems in the past because this is Purdue’s Super Bowl (Hey, NFL - I don’t mean to steal this copyrighted phrase). All of their in-state kids look forward to this game, against this opponent, Notre Dame. I think this year will be different. The student-athletes at Notre Dame have something to prove and are carrying a large chip on their shoulder. Additionally, the coaches have seen the same story each of the last two years and they are sick of it, expect a big game on the ground from the Irish and a systematic win over the Boilermakers.

With all of this recent talk of different series’ ending and scheduling issues, what are your opinions on scheduling b16 teams? How does Notre Dame keep a strong regional presence while continuing to live nationally? (Subway Domer)
As a B1G graduate, we are the Big Ten, not the Big 16 … Now that we have that out of the way … I honestly like that Notre Dame is stepping out of its regional footprint and playing teams on a national geographic base. Does this mean I wouldn’t like to see a Penn State or Indiana (A kid can dream, right?) on the schedule? No. It means that as times change and recruiting bases grow you need to change what your goals in scheduling games is. First off, I don’t believe Notre Dame needs to have a strong regional presence, but if they want to, a mixture of B1G teams will be waiting for a phone call to schedule a game. I do believe there are other schools than ones we have previously scheduled that can help with our regional base. For instance, we just recently announced that Ohio State will be on our schedule for a “home and home” series in the 2020’s. Adding different teams is a must in an effort to continue to grow the Notre Dame brand.

Fast Break with Bonzie Colson

9.10.14

Rachel Murphy ‘16 (@NDBlogMurph)

If you could be anyone for a day, who would you be? Shaquille O’Neal.

Who is your celebrity crush? Beyoncé.

What is your favorite sport to watch? Basketball.

Who is your favorite NBA player? Kevin Durant.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Brazil.

What is the first item on your bucket list? Go on a roller coaster. I’m scared of heights.

What is your favorite TV Show? Martin.

Who is your personal hero? My father.

If you could have a super power what would it be? Fly.

Super man or Batman? Batman.

Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate.

North Dining Hall or South Dining Hall? North.

If you didn’t play basketball, what sport would you play? Football.

What is your favorite thing about your team? Funny teammates.

Funniest teammate? Zach (Auguste).

Worst dressed teammate? Martin (Geben).

After basketball, what would you love to do? Basketball coach or be in NBA, of course.

What is your favorite place on campus? The gym.

Why Notre Dame? Education, great coaching staff and the atmosphere.

David Feherty Travels To Notre Dame

9.9.14

Aaron Horvath (@NDSportsBlogger)

If you have been around Notre Dame long enough, you grow accustomed to having celebrities pop up on football weekends. The Michigan weekend will probably go down as the most star-studded of the season with the likes of Major Leaguer Alex Rodriguez, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and a host of former football student-athletes and coaches. The one celebrity who stood out to me was someone who hadn’t stepped foot on campus until this past weekend, former professional golfer and current analyst David Feherty.

You never know what you’re going to get when you meet a celebrity. Will they take the time to say “hi,” or will they brush you off. With Feherty, it was like you were the only person in the room.

Feherty was coming to the Fighting Irish Digital Media studio to record a short video with former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz prior to the pep rally before the Michigan football game. Both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s golf teams were present in hopes to take a quick photo with Feherty before he had to leave for his public appearance in front of the Library, but what came next was completely unexpected.

Not only did Feherty take numerous photos with the student-athletes, he took questions, asked about their lives as student-athletes and goals for the upcoming season. Spending a quality 20 minutes with the team, the student-athletes walked away afterwards with a great story about the time they were able to “hang out” with one of the golf announcers in the business to date.

On Tuesday, September 9th at 10pm (ET), tune to the Golf Channel to see Feherty’s conversation with Holtz and his time on campus at Notre Dame.

9.9.14

Anna Gonzalez (@NDBlogGonzo)

Welcome to Linemates, the show where you get to learn more about ND Hockey players than their height, weight, position, and hometown. This first episode features four NHL players and ND Hockey alumni. Anders Lee (NY Islanders), Riley Sheahan (Detroit Redwings), Mark Van Guilder (Nashville Predators), and Ian Cole (St. Louis Blues) all came back to Notre Dame at the end of August for the 3rd annual Pro Camp, and they sat down to play “Linemates” with us.

I would also like to add that I was mildly starstruck and nervous about being on camera, so my brain wasn’t working at full capacity. As I was editing this video, I did notice that I pronounced Riley Sheahan’s name wrong every time I said it. (It’s actually pronounced SHAY-an.) I’m not proud of it, and I wish I could take it all back, but it happened, and it won’t happen again. Riley, my sincerest apologies.

Otherwise, enjoy this first edition of Linemates, and look forward to seeing episodes with the current Notre Dame hockey players coming up in the next few months!

If you have suggestions for questions you’d like us to ask the hockey players, tweet them at me (@NDBlogGonzo) or use the hashtag #NDLinemates, and maybe you’ll see them on future episodes!

Carlisle Thriving at New Position

                                                                                        Getty Images

9.9.14

Craig Chval ‘15

One of the staples of a Brian Kelly press conference is talk about getting players open in space. Kelly knows his athletes can match up with almost anyone else in the country, and his offensive goal is to get them in position to exploit that advantage.

Since his 2012 transfer to Notre Dame from USC, Amir Carlisle has been one of those players looking to attack defenses. The former blue-chip recruit made his first appearance for the Irish last year at running back, coming back from an injury that kept him out the previous season. 

Although he started the first game, Carlisle found himself in a crowded running back stable that included Cam McDaniel, George Atkinson, and Tarean Folston. And with Greg Bryant coming back from injury this season, that corps didn’t get any smaller, despite Atkinson’s departure.

But Notre Dame lost half of its 2013 receiving production with the losses of T.J. Jones and Troy Niklas, so wide receivers coach and new offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock saw a way to strengthen his young group.

“Coach Denbrock just came to me in the offseason and asked me about the position switch,” Carlisle said. “Obviously there are a lot of new challenges with a position that I’ve never really played. But I’ve just been getting in the film room, doing the extra work, and catching balls and running routes – really working with the timing with the quarterbacks during the offseason.”

It’s only been two games, but it seems the offense has found a way to exploit Carlisle’s athleticism. Against Rice – his first game as a receiver – he trailed only Will Fuller with 54 reception yards on two catches.

Kelly and Denbrock moved Carlisle to slot to exploit his speed and running ability, but he showed off his hands with both catches, which included a 22-yard grab on 3rd and nine. To top it off, he started the game with a 36-yard kickoff return.

Against Michigan, Carlisle scored his first touchdown as a Notre Dame player with a nice snag in the end zone to put the Irish up 14-0. His second touchdown looked like the type of plays the coaching staff dreamed up when they made the position switch. Catching the ball in the middle of the field, he took advantage of his blockers, made a defender miss, and scampered into the end zone to seal the game at 28-0.

“The receiver position obviously has a lot more space to operate than running back,” Carlisle said. “It’s been really fun to work on the outside and operate with that type of space. I really thank Coach Denbrock for trusting me to make that playcall in the game.”

Despite never playing receiver before this offseason, Carlisle appears to have solidified himself as one of the Golson’s top targets. He is second on the team in receptions and yards and tied for first in touchdowns with two. It’s hard to believe he’s still adjusting to his new position.

“I’m feeling solid, but it’s always a learning process. Each and every day presents new challenges and each and every day presents a chance to get better,” he said. “So it’s always an ongoing process – you’ve never arrived. That’s the mindset that I take to the receiving position.”

This week Carlisle will try to build on his progress at the slot against Purdue in the Shamrock Series. The game will have special significance for him, as his father, Duane, is Purdue’s strength and conditioning coach.

“I approach it as just another game,” Carlisle said. “In regards to my dad, it’s fun to compete against my dad, but at the end of the day, I have to get ready for Purdue. I just have to approach it professionally and focus on the preparation.”

After last week’s exhilarating victory, Carlisle knows the team needs to avoid a letdown Saturday in Indianapolis, but he’s confident in the team’s process to get to 3-0.

“Our success as a team just makes me want to get that much better for our teammates,” he said. “Coach Kelly really has our focus pinpointed. We enjoyed the win Saturday night and Sunday. We got into the film Monday and learned from the film. Once we’re done with the film it’s on to the next game.”

This Saturday, Carlisle will look to build on his impressive start to his new life as a slot receiver. Between transferring, injuries, and position switches, his ascendance in the offense has been a testament to his mindset and motivation.

“I attribute all of that to my faith – just having to stay strong. Life throws adversity at you and my faith was my stronghold,” he said. “Just hard work as well. So I am where I am today and I still have to keep getting better and working hard to help contribute to helping the team win.”

Irish In The NFL - Week One

9.9.14

Aaron Horvath (@NDSportsBlogger)

Week one in the NFL is complete after a pair of Monday Night Football games capped the slate. In all, 40 former Notre Dame football student-athletes (38 of which ended their college career with the Irish) are currently employed as players in the NFL.

Check out how they did in week one

Arizona Cardinals
Defeated the San Diego Chargers, 18-17.

John Carlson - TE - One catch, 20 yards receiving
Michael Floyd - WR - Five catches, 119 yards receiving
Robert Hughes - RB - One catch, seven yards receiving
Troy Niklas - TE - Saw game action

Atlanta Falcons
Defeated the New Orleans Saints, 37-34.

Prince Shembo - LB - Saw game action
Zeke Motta - S - Injured Reserved

Baltimore Ravens
Lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-16.

Kapron Lewis-Moore - DL - Injured Reserve

Carolina Panthers
Defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-14

J.J. Jansen - LS - Saw game action

Chicago Bears
Lost to the Buffalo Bills, 23-20.

Jimmy Clausen - QB - Did not see game action

Cincinnati Bengals
Defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 23-16.

Tyler Eifert - TE - Three catches, 37 yards receiving (injured)
Trevor Robinson - OG - Practice Squad

Dallas Cowboys
Lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 28-17.

Zach Martin - OG - Started along the offensive line

Denver Broncos
Defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-24.

David Bruton - S - Team Captain - Injured

Detroit Lions
Defeated the New York Giants, 35-14.

Theo Riddick - RB - One rush, four yards rushing
Golden Tate - WR - Six catches, 93 yards receiving
T.J. Jones - WR - Injured Reserve

Houston Texans
Defeated the Washington Redskins, 17-6.

Louis Nix III - DT - Inactive

Indianapolis Colts
Lost to the Denver Broncos, 31-24.

Sergio Brown - S - Injured Reserve

Jacksonville Jaguars
Lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 34-17.

Sam Young - OT - Saw game action

Kansas City Chiefs
Lost to the Tennessee Titans, 26-10.

Anthony Fasano - TE - Three catches, 29 yards receiving & a Touchdown
Ryan Harris - OT - Saw game action
Kona Schwenke - DL - Practice Squad

Minnesota Vikings
Defeated the St. Louis Rams, 34-16.

Robert Blanton - S - Seven tackles
Kyle Rudolph - TE - Two catches, 16 yards receiving & a Touchdown
Harrison Smith - S - Two tackles, a sack & an 81-yard Interception returned for a touchdown
John Sullivan - C - Started along the offensive line

New England Patriots
Lost to the Miami Dolphins, 33-20.

Jonas Gray - RB - Practice Squad
Darius Fleming - LB - Inactive

New York Giants
Lost to the Denver Broncos, 35-14.

Dan Fox - LB - Practice Squad
Bennett Jackson - CB - Practice Squad

New York Jets
Defeated the Oakland Raiders, 19-14.

Darrin Walls - DB -Two tackles
Shaq Evans - WR - Transferred To UCLA - Injured Reserve

Oakland Raiders
Lost to the New York Jets, 19-14.

Justin Tuck - DE - Three tackles
George Atkinson III - RB - Practice Squad

Pittsburgh Steelers
Defeated the Cleveland Browns, 30-27.

Stephon Tuitt - DE - Saw game action

San Diego Chargers
Lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 18-17.

Manti Te’o - LB - Six tackles, one tackle for loss
Chris Watt - OG - Saw game action

San Francisco 49ers
Defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 28-17.

Ian Williams - NT - Two tackles
Aaron Lynch - DL - Transferred To USF - Saw game action

Washington Redskins
Lost to the Houston Texans, 17-6.

Braxston Cave - OL - Practice Squad

Finding Redemption

                                                                                           AP Photo

9.7.14

Craig Chval ‘15

During one of last week’s press conference someone asked Brian Kelly about Michigan’s musical choices for the end of last year’s game.

“Yeah, I mean, that’s their prerogative. They won the game. They can play whatever they want. We’re going to play the alma mater.”

That’s about the best response he could have had. At the conclusion of Saturday’s 37 31-point drubbing of Michigan, the stadium resonated with the loudest rendition of “Notre Dame, Our Mother” that I’ve ever heard.

In the student section, we waited nevertheless in case we treated the departing Wolverines to “Hit the Road Jack” or something. But Kelly was true to his word, and I’m glad our administration took the high road.

That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly love serenading Michigan on their way out the door.  Over the last 16 years, I’ve been to nearly 60 Notre Dame games, and this was by far my favorite – even better than beating Stanford, MSU, Miami and Michigan in 2012.

I pretty freely acknowledge the unhealthy nature of my attachment to Notre Dame football. With that in mind, yesterday’s second half was one of the greatest 90-minute periods of my life. With the shutout intact, I cheered on each defensive play like it was a tied championship game.

On the fourth down stop, my reaction was pretty similar to that of my new favorite coordinator. On the final penultimate play of the game, I (and the rest of the students) cheered as if it was the deciding touchdown. It was the perfect ending to the series.

But when the game was over and the songs were sung, the usual exodus out of the student section just didn’t happen. We merely stood there, refusing to acknowledge that the game was over. Once we left that stadium, the game was over – no more touchdowns, no more interceptions, no more cheers.

As I finally began my walk out of the student section, the contrast with the 2011 game flashed through my mind. Almost before Roy Roundtree made that catch, I was heading up those long Michigan Stadium stairs, sweatshirt hood hiding my face. Our two-mile speedwalk from the stadium to the car would have rivaled a Chinese Olympic team.

That night can never be erased from my memory, but Saturday brings me the closest I can get. I’ve often wondered over the years if my emotional investment in Notre Dame football is worth the return. There will always be those games, the ’12 Alabamas, the ’11 Michigans, the ’05 USCs. 

They’re as old as Notre Dame’s history itself, from ’93 Boston College to ’89 Miami to ’70 USC to ’64 USC to ’38 USC. God, I hate USC.

But those games make nights like Saturday that much sweeter. Sports are a tale of highs and lows, revenge and redemption – It’s no fun if you win the World Series every year. I’ll miss the vitriol of the Michigan series, but I’ll enjoy this parting shot for a long time to come.

These games are special because they’re not common – no one remembers when we annihilate inferior opponents. This was the most lopsided victory of the entire history of the Michigan series and the only shutout.

So when it concluded, no one wanted to admit it was over. But even more than those heartbreakers, nights like Saturday live on forever. And on those nights my absurd, irrational, unhealthy investment in Notre Dame football couldn’t have a greater return.

Week Two - Michigan

9.6.14

In the minutes, hours and days following Notre Dame’s victory over the University of Michigan, 31-0, WatchND, The Notre Dame Blog Network and the University’s Athletic Media Relations office created a variety of content from the game.

Check it all out below:

POST-GAME VICTORY PODCAST

FINDING REDEMPTION (By Craig Chval)

IRISH CONNECTION - STAY TOGETHER

IRISH CONNECTION - ND BLANKS MICHIGAN

HIGHLIGHTS

BRIAN KELLY POST-GAME INTERVIEW

ON-FIELD INTERVIEW WITH AMIR CARLISLE

POST-GAME PLAYER INTERVIEWS

The Chicken Dance

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9.5.14

Craig Chval ‘15

While walking around Ann Arbor last year, I’m not sure I saw a Michigan fan who didn’t make some sort of chicken sound.

It was invariably accompanied by a guffaw and high fives from surrounding bros as if they had just nailed an SNL monologue. Who would have thought that fan base would so uniformly latch onto a juvenile sound bite?

And of course everyone remembers the “Chicken Dance” celebration played at the end of last year’s game. The phrase and its ubiquity in Michigandom began when head coach Brady Hoke told a group of fans in Grand Rapids that Notre Dame was “chickening out” of the series.

Notre Dame fans are familiar with the way the ending of the series was announced in 2012, with Jack Swarbrick giving Dave Brandon a letter on the sideline exercising the option to cancel future matchups after 2014, a provision of the teams’ contract.

Despite facts to the contrary, the storyline became that Notre Dame “chickened out.”

Let’s examine that claim.

Scheduling

The chain of events that led to the cancellation stretches well before 2012, and starts with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany. It all began in December 2009 when he announced the Big Ten was looking to add a 12th member.

That new school turned out to be Nebraska, and in August 2011 the Big Ten announced a move to a nine-game conference schedule. That December Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon reaffirmed an immutable attachment to a seven-game home schedule.

“‘We have a clear scheduling principle of having a minimum of seven home games each year,’ he wrote. “‘And that will not change.’”

Having a huge imbalance of home games is a Michigan tradition they would never abandon. In its history Michigan has played 773 home games and 434 road games. That is a 64/36 split. No wonder they have the second highest win percentage in college football despite not winning a consensus national championship since 1948.

(Despite playing considerably fewer seasons of football, Notre Dame has actually played more total road games than Michigan.)

The problem with a seven-game home schedule is this: when you play nine Big Ten home games, some years you will have five conference road games. That leaves no room for a non-conference road game, which means you can play one team at home that year and play that same team on the road the next year.

You can offer no return home games to your other two non-conference opponents, so they must be progams satisfied with a large money guarantee in lieu of a return game at their stadium. With a nine-game Big Ten schedule and seven-game home schedule, Michigan can only play one major non-conference team a year.

This makes Michigan money, but also creates the problem of having a home schedule that causes attendance problems. This year, the visitors to Michigan Stadium (before the Big Ten’s move to nine games) are Appalachian State, Miami (OH), Utah, Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana, and Maryland.

Having the same decent non-conference team on the slate for all eternity probably wouldn’t sit well with Michigan, especially if said opponent is in a neighboring state. As Michigan taught us when they got the other Big Ten schools to boycott us in Rockne’s days, playing a national schedule can be pretty advantageous.

So the continuation of the series looked dubious at best before the Big East imploded. In early 2012 – before Notre Dame joined the ACC – the prospects looked pretty bad.

"What I personally know at this point is that we’re going to play for the next three years," Brandon said. "I don’t have any control over what Notre Dame may be thinking moving forward beyond that. And the world is changing pretty rapidly. All I can assure you of is we’re going to play them the next three years."

Complicating the matter was Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany’s hope that Notre Dame would finally join his conference, winners of 1.5 national championships among its various teams since 1970. Notre Dame itself has, of course, won twice as many.

When the ACC deal happened instead on Sept. 12, the chances of a series renewal were essentially zero, with the final games of the current contract in doubt. If Notre Dame canceled the series by that year’s game 10 days later, the final matchup would be in 2014 at Notre Dame Stadium. If Swarbrick waited – or let Michigan cancel the series – Michigan would host the last game in ’15.

The cancellation was pretty much a fait accompli, and Swarbrick was the one to officially cancel the remaining games due to the timing of the contract. He also didn’t “end the series” – he canceled the games from 2015-’17.

For the sake of argument…

…let’s say that Michigan had no plans to cancel the series. Let’s say on September 23, 2012, Michigan was completely willing to renew the contract for 100 years.

By dropping Michigan, Notre Dame was actually upgrading their schedule.

Since Jack Swarbrick abandoned Kevin White’s own seven-game home schedule in 2011, Notre Dame has averaged three historically top programs** on its schedule.

  • 2011: Michigan, USC

  • 2012: Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma, USC

  • 2013: Michigan, Oklahoma, USC

  • 2014: Michigan, Florida State, USC

Obviously, Michigan’s a staple on that list. What about after this season?

  • 2015: Texas, USC

  • 2016: Texas, Miami, USC

  • 2017: Georgia, USC, probably Florida State

  • 2018: USC, possibly Miami

  • 2019: Texas, Georgia, USC, possibly Miami

  • 2020: Texas, USC, possibly Florida State

Notre Dame is still looking at around three top teams on its schedule each year. That doesn’t include Stanford or Clemson, two historically second-tier programs that have played very well in recent years.

Texas, Georgia, Miami, and Florida State will fill the void left by Michigan. Their combined record over the last six seasons? 215-100 (.683). Michigan’s? 41-35 (.539). That also doesn’t include the future series with Ohio State.

From 2015-2024 Michigan is currently scheduled to play one nonconference game against college football’s top teams - a neutral site matchup with Florida in 2017.

Why play Texas and Georgia when you can play Minnesota and Indiana at home every year?

Yeah: we’re “chickening out.”

**If we go by win percentage among major teams, the historically top college football programs are Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Texas, Alabama, Nebraska, USC, Tennessee, Florida State, Penn State, LSU, Georgia, Miami, Auburn, and Florida. 

Irish Blogger Gathering: Wolverine Week

9.4.14

Aaron Horvath (@NDSportsBlogger)

Each week during the football season, a collection of the self-proclaimed greatest Notre Dame football bloggers get together to answer questions that others posed to one another. In addition to me, a member of ND Nation, Her Loyal Sons, UHND.com and the Subway Domer himself take part in this glorious exercise.

Before you take a look at my answers below - head over to the other blogs to see how they answered them as well.

(Link will become live once posted)

ND Nation
Her Loyal Sons
UHND.com
Subway Domer

So let’s get going!

What must the Notre Dame defense do on Saturday to prevent Devin Garder from having another career performance against Notre Dame similar to what we’ve seen happen in the past with both Gardner (last year) and Denard Robinson (2010, 2011) before him? (From UHND.com) 

Horvath: I think this question is one that has been asked a few hundred times this week, not only from fans but also from pundits and the Irish football coaches as well. I believe that this will be easier than in years past due to the overhaul of the Irish defense, especially in the linebacking corps. The outside ‘backers at Notre Dame have become much quicker than previous years and Jaylon Smith can run with Gardner sideline to sideline. I’m not saying this game will be easier, I just look for this weekend’s Michigan offense to be less potent against the Notre Dame defense than in past years. Additionally, I expect Coach Van Gorder to bring additional pressure at different parts of the game and mix it with three-man rushes with one to two “spies” in the linebacking corps to keep Gardner in the pocket and not breaking contain.

Regardless to any historical or personal interest in this game, rate the level of importance this Saturday night’s matchup has for this season. What will define this season more, a win or a loss? (From Subway Domer) 
What’s the highest level of importance on the scale? Whatever it is, I’m choosing that one. This game is the single most important game of the season for Notre Dame. With a victory on Saturday, the Irish have a great chance to be 4-0 when Stanford comes to town in early October. Additionally, doesn’t it seem like you always look back on the season and think about what could have been when Michigan wins and how awesome the season was when Notre Dame does.

Given that this is the last scheduled game, how do you feel about the series with Michigan ending, and what priority should ND put on getting them back on the schedule? (From NDNation)

I am sad about the series ending, but have actually come to grips with it within the last few months. The main reason for that is I thought about it and this game always tests my nerves. From being in “The Big House” stands in 2011, to standing on the sideline watching the Irish grind out a victory in 2012 - this game tests you as a fan.

I’m ready for some new blood for at least the next few years - Texas, Virginia Tech, Clemson.

Give me a call in five years, my mood may be changed and I may want the opportunity to tweet out this clip on game week once again.

Everett Golson certainly put on quite a show against Rice. Should we temper optimism because it was just Rice or can we dare to dream of Heisman campaigns? (From Her Loyal Sons)

Channelling my inner Susan Boyle, I say “I dreamed a dream.” Yeah, that doesn’t make a ton of sense, but I do think that this dream can easily me turned into reality with a few more solid performances in September. In recent past, you have to be in the discussion by October (or have a late game against Notre Dame) to give yourself a real opportunity and last time I checked, Golson can’t play against Notre Dame.

Nonetheless, I think before Golson is done here at Notre Dame he will be in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

The Other Return

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9.2.14

Craig Chval ‘15

Teams that gain more yards typically score more points. In case you don’t believe me, here’s a chart.

Now that we’ve covered our basic football facts, this chart can actually tell us some cool things. For instance, if you average 300 yards per game, you’re probably going to score about 18 points a game. If you average 406 yards per game (like Notre Dame did in 2013), you’re looking at around 29.3 points.

So yards are good. One way to get them is right off the bat on return yardage, which Notre Dame has been rather deficient in lately. At least, up until Saturday.

In five returns against Rice, Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant combined for 80 yards, the most for an Irish team since 2009, when Golden Tate was back there fielding punts.

Here’s a look at the last four seasons of punt return yards per game, plus Saturday.

2010: 7.0 YPG

2011: 3.7 YPG

2012: 3.5 YPG

2013: 8.2 YPG

2014: 80 yards

Back to our chart, 80 yards of offense gets you about 8.7 extra points. Now, punt return yardage and offensive yardage aren’t interchangeable, but a yard is a yard is a yard. If the Irish get 80 yards from punt returns every week, they can expect to score about 101.2 more points this year than last year – just from punt returns.

Punt return yards are less valuable than offensive yards, but not by a lot. It’s safe to say that increasing your punt returning by 70 yards a game could yield an extra 5-7 points every week on average. In the Brian Kelly era, Notre Dame has lost six games by fewer than five points.

As a pretty big proponent of sound special teams play, I was very excited to see the marked improvement in the season opener. I’m not sure we’ll be able to get 80 yards against everyone on our schedule, but the game showed a significant emphasis on making the punt return team better.

To get an insight into new-look returns, yesterday I sat down with Greg Bryant, who shared his approach to the return game.

“If you’re on punt return, you can’t be scared to make plays,” he said. “You’ve just got to do what you’ve been doing since you were little. You can’t be cautious and always just throw your hand up for a fair catch every time. You’ve just got to be a playmaker and a difference maker.”

Although Bryant and Riggs did indeed make a big difference, there was notable improvement in the whole team, particularly with blocking. But Coach Kelly knows the importance of that big-play potential from his two returners.

“We have got guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial,” Kelly said in his post-game press conference. “And we have guys that are committed to covering people up. So we have got the want to and the resolve to do and we have to continue to do it.”

Kelly also joked that Bryant “does not know what a fair catch is,” referring to a play when he attempted a return surrounded by a number of Owl players. Onlookers thought perhaps a fair catch was the prudent move, but the sophomore back isn’t so sure.

“Maybe, but even if I would have fair caught it, I would have been at the same spot I was, and I probably picked up another two yards,” he pointed out with a laugh. “When the ball’s in the air, they [defenders] can’t see the ball, they only can see you. And I feel like I’m quick enough with the ball in my hands to make a person miss as soon as I’ve got the ball.

“I’m going to make a play by any means, so I’m not worried. I’ve just got that swagger about myself that it’s going to be hard to tackle me.”

To be fair, he did get the team three yards with the play.

With his contributions to both offense and special teams, Bryant wowed Notre Dame fans with his ability. He gained 71 yards on the ground on just eight carries in addition to his impact on returns. It was his first game action since Michigan State last year, before an injury caused him to miss the rest of 2013.

A hard-fought punt return may give the team an extra three yards, but it also gives Bryant just a little more time on the field he has sorely missed.

“Last year, that was one of the most disappointing times of my life, not playing football, which I love,” he said. “So coming back this year, I just wanted to get better at every aspect of the game and come back and make plays.”

Bryant will face a bit of a bigger challenge this week against Michigan. I asked him if we’ll see him out there returning punts again this season.

“Yeah, definitely,” he assured me. “Definitely, don’t worry.”

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