Tuesday, December 9, 2014

White Sox Acquire Samardzija; Sign Robertson

The Chicago White Sox took a huge step towards contending in 2015 by acquiring right-handed starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija and closer David Robertson on the first day of the winter meetings.

To land Samardzija and pitching prospect Michael Ynoa, the White Sox sent infielder Marcus Semien, pitcher Chris Bassitt, catcher Josh Phegley, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo to the Oakland Athletics. While Samardzija only has one year remaining on his contract before he becomes a free-agent, this is a good trade considering the White Sox did not have to surrender any of their top prospects to get a top-tier starting pitcher. Samardzija will likely slide nicely between lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, giving the White Sox a formidable trio at the top of their rotation. Samardzija is coming of a 7-13 season in 33 starts, but his record is deceiving. The righty tossed a combined 219.2 innings with the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics, while striking out 202 batters and owning an impressive 2.99 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. It remains to be seen if the White Sox will be able to work out an extension to keep Samardzija on the south side for several years, but even if they don’t, the White Sox will receive a compensatory draft pick by simply offer Samardzija a qualifying offer at the end of the season.

Robertson comes to the White Sox as a free-agent after agreeing to a four-year, $46 million deal. I’ll be the first to admit that paying $46 million to closer is a hefty price, but if you saw the White Sox bullpen last season, you will agree that they desperately needed dramatic improvements. Robertson saved 39 games in 44 opportunities while striking out 96 batters in 64.1 innings during his first season as a closer with the New York Yankees. While that was the only season Robertson has served as his team’s closer, the veteran reliever has been remarkably consistent over the past four seasons. Robertson has hurled more than 60 innings pitched while striking out at least 77 batters and owning an ERA under 3.08 and a WHIP under 1.04 in each of the last four years. Considering that most relievers are a volatile bunch, Robertson’s consistency will be a welcomed addition to one the league’s worst bullpens in 2014.

With the two moves, the White Sox have fulfilled arguably their two biggest holes on the roster with two of the better options available on the market. Add that to the signings of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche (.259 avg, 26 HR, and 92 RBI) and left-handed reliever Zach Duke (2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 11.4 K/9); the White Sox appear to be going all-in in 2015. Having said that, there is still work that needs to be done if the White Sox want to be a serious threat to make a playoff run.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Week 12 Recap: USC 49, Notre Dame 14

Notre Dame’s disappointing finish to the 2014 season came to a disastrous end yesterday when the USC Trojans pummeled the Fighting Irish, 49-14. The Trojans got off to a fast start and never looked back as the Irish delivered a lackluster performance to close the campaign at 7-5. The only good news to take away from yesterday is that an excruciating season is finally over. Now, the Irish will have a few weeks to recover and prepare for a bowl game.

USC had no problems against a depleted Irish defense, scoring 35 points in the first half. Quarterback Cody Kessler lit up the Irish secondary with 372 yards passing and six touchdowns. The Trojans also added 205 rushing yards with Javorius Allen (93 yards) and Justin Davis (81 yards) leading the way. I knew that Notre Dame would have trouble against USC’s offense since I predicted the Trojans would put up 41 points, but they made it look even easier than I could have imagined. I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise considering all of the injuries, and it didn’t help with several more occurring during the blowout loss. At one point, Notre Dame had three true freshmen and a 5th-year journeyman in Justin Utupo playing the bulk of the defensive line snaps. Regardless of the injuries, this game should have been more competitive if the Notre Dame offense did its job.

In a game where everyone knew the Irish would have to keep up with the Trojans offensively, Notre Dame laid an egg. Quarterback Everett Golson was very erratic by completing just seven of his eighteen pass attempts for 75 yards and one interception. Golson was also credited with a fumble when he tried to throw a pass while being hit, which would eventually lead to him being benched before halftime. Sophomore Malik Zaire replaced Golson and played well by throwing for 170 yards and rushing for another 18 yards and a touchdown. Zaire showed his inexperience by completing just nine of his twenty passes, but he made some nice throws and at least provided a little bit of a spark to the offense. As promising as Zaire looked, the brightest spot of the game was Greg Bryant. The sophomore running back looked electric at times, rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Bryant has been hampered with injuries throughout much of his time at Notre Dame, but it appears that he is ready to breakout. It’ll be interesting to see how much Brian Kelly utilizes Bryant in the bowl game, but his future looks bright. With Cam McDaniel departing, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant should provide a formidable one-two punch for the Fighting Irish next season.

Before I wrap up the 2014 season, I’d like to take a moment to address a couple of things that I read over the weekend. Throughout the years, I have learned how to avoid reading emotionally charged comments from angry fans or Notre Dame haters after a loss, but yesterday the comments found me. I follow several Notre Dame beat reporters on Twitter, and a few of them either retweeted or responded to some fans’ reactions.

First, the idea that Notre Dame should reject an offer to go to a bowl game is moronic. While I am frustrated with how they are playing and don’t want to see another embarrassment, this team desperately needs the extra fifteen practices that you get for going to a bowl game. This team is very young and could use those three weeks to get better and playing in a bowl game against another quality opponent is a valuable experience for such a young team.

Second, the notion that Brian Kelly should be fired is idiotic. Obviously, this season was a disappointment (especially after starting 6-0), but that is not grounds for termination. Realistically, this team was projected to win about seven or eight games (I said nine) by just about every national pundit, so going 7-5 isn’t a shock to most people. I know people don’t want to hear the excuses, but this team was devastated with injuries on defense and were forced to play a lot of young players. With having a young team even prior to the injuries, Notre Dame should be positioned for a good season next year. At this point, firing Kelly would do more harm than it would help this program. Now, if the Irish win seven or eight games next year, then the “Fire Kelly” claims will warrant much greater attention.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 28, 2014

Week 12 Preview: Notre Dame at USC

The 2014 regular season comes to an end tomorrow afternoon when Notre Dame (7-4) travels to southern California to take on their rival USC Trojans (7-4). With both teams out of playoff contention and no chance of making a significant bowl game, this game is all about pride. The Trojans dominated this rivalry for nearly a decade in the 2000s, but the Irish have had the upper-hand in recent years by winning three of the last four matchups. Who will prevail tomorrow?

The story for Notre Dame on offense has become a broken record. They must protect the football and minimize careless mistakes. If the Irish can do that, they will likely win because they should be able to move the football with relative ease against a USC defense that ranks 71st in total defense (402.6 yards per game) and 53rd in scoring defense (24.6 points per game). Like they have all season, the Irish should have success through the air as the Trojans’ defense has struggled against the pass by allowing 267.5 yards per game, good for 108th in the country. Everett Golson will likely throw for over 300 yards, so if he can avoid multiple turnovers, then the Irish should score 30-plus points. Although the Trojans have played poorly against the pass, they have excelled versus the run by allowing 135.1 yards per game which places them 30th in the nation. While that means USC has an above average run defense, Notre Dame should be able to find some running room since I expect the Trojans to be more worried about the pass. Tarean Folston will get the bulk of the carries, but Brian Kelly hinted that Greg Bryant will likely get some carries now that he is fully healthy. It would be nice to see one of them break off a long touchdown run in a game that figures to be very tight.

The Irish defense has been a disaster over the last several weeks, and I do not think that will change much tomorrow. With a number of injuries and many inexperienced players playing significant minutes, the Irish will likely struggle to stop an explosive USC offense. Quarterback Cody Kessler (30 TDs and 4 INT) leads a Trojan offense that is averaging 441.5 yards per contest and 33.8 points per game. Kessler has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,133 yards which places him among the nation’s best passers. Considering that Notre Dame’s defensive line and secondary is very depleted, it could be a very long day for the Irish defense. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, then they will have to create some turnovers to give their offense more possessions to keep up the amount of points USC should be able to put up. If worrying about the passing game wasn’t enough, the Irish will have their hands full trying to stop USC’s rushing attack. Javorius Allen has been a workhorse for the Trojans by accounting for 1,244 yards and nine touchdowns on 231 carries. Allen has rushed for over 100 yards in eight out of eleven games, and I would be shocked if he didn’t rush for well over 100 yards tomorrow afternoon. As you can see, the Trojans should have no problems moving the football and putting up points against a defense that has been lousy for over a month.

Both teams will move the chains and light up the scoreboard, but Notre Dame’s tendency to make critical mistakes will cost them once again. USC wins a shootout.

Prediction: USC 41, Notre Dame 38


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, November 24, 2014

Week 11 Recap: Louisville 31, Notre Dame 28

Notre Dame’s recent struggles continued last Saturday when the Fighting Irish fell to the Louisville Cardinals, 31-28. The Irish started off slow and trailed the Cardinals 17-6 at halftime, but a nice second half effort made for an exciting finish. In fact, Notre Dame scored 14 unanswered points to take a 20-17 lead in the third quarter, but the Cardinals running game was virtually unstoppable which led to two more Louisville touchdowns to give them a 31-20 lead. The Irish would cut the lead to 31-28 when Everett Golson found Will Fuller for a 28 yard touchdown, and then added a two-point conversion on a Golson scramble. Notre Dame would have a chance to either take the lead or tie the game in the final minutes, but they came away empty when a promising drive stalled and Kyle Brindza missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal. With the defeat, the Irish have now lost four of their last five games to add to a disappointing finish to a once promising season.

Notre Dame’s offense got off to a decent start against a great Louisville defense by converting on two field goal attempts in their first three drives, but the offense struggled for the rest of the first half. After Golson threw another ill-advised pass into the arms of a Louisville defender, it looked like the Irish offense would be plagued by turnovers once again. However, Golson responded quite nicely by playing well in the second half and finishing the afternoon with 236 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Tarean Folston had another impressive performance with 134 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, while wide receiver Will Fuller added 109 yards and a touchdown to his outstanding season. Unfortunately, the Irish offense was unable to overcome their struggles in the first half which ultimately proved to be the difference in the game.

The Irish struggled once again on defense by allowing 409 yards of total offense, highlighted by a dominating 229 yards rushing. The Notre Dame front seven proved to be no match versus the Louisville rushing attack as the Cardinals carried the ball 50 times on the afternoon which contributed to a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. After falling behind 17-6, Notre Dame’s defense did play pretty well during the second quarter and part of the third quarter, but Louisville was able to score when needed as the Irish tried to mount a comeback. If the struggles weren’t enough, the Irish also continue to lose impact players on their defense which led to nine freshman playing significant minutes on defense. Regardless of the inexperience, the Irish need to be much better on defense moving forward. The only real positive to take away from the recent struggles is that a lot of freshmen are getting valuable experience which should bode well for the future.

Unfortunately, many Irish fans are tired of waiting for next year…

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 21, 2014

Week 11 Preview: Notre Dame vs Louisville

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (7-3) will try to avoid a three-game losing streak when they host the Louisville Cardinals (7-3, 24th ranked) tomorrow afternoon. After last week’s debacle, Notre Dame’s hopes of playing in a prestigious bowl game have most likely evaporated, thus leaving the Irish to play for pride the rest of the season. After two disappointing defeats and losses in three of their last four games, Notre Dame should not need any extra motivation to get a much needed victory, but tomorrow is Senior Day. As is the case every year, the Irish will want to do whatever it takes to get a win and send the seniors off on a positive note.

Notre Dame’s offense will get their toughest test since facing Stanford because the Louisville Cardinals’ defense ranks 10th in the country in scoring defense at 17.8 points per game and 5th in total defense by allowing just 285.7 yards per contest. As well as Louisville has played defensively, they have not played many explosive offenses and they struggled to slow down Florida State when they surrendered 42 points. Given that, I believe the Irish can have success as they have all season. Of course, the biggest problem this season has been the turnovers and Louisville’s defense has thrived on creating takeaways. The Cardinals are tied for 11th in the country with 25 takeaways this season, so Everett Golson and company must protect the ball much better than they have the previous weeks. In addition to the turnovers, Louisville’s defense is tied for 9th in the nation with 33 team sacks, so protecting Golson could be an issue. To counter this, I expect to see plenty of wide receiver screens and short passes, so the offensive line must make solid initial contact to avoid a repeat performance from the Arizona State game. I’m sure Brian Kelly will attempt to establish a running game, but that could be difficult against the 2nd ranked rush defense that is allowing a measly 87.4 yards per game. Notre Dame’s success in the “run game” might have to come from less conventional plays such as read-options, jet-sweeps, draws, and the aforementioned screen passes that will essentially serve as a running play. Notre Dame will not be able to line up, and run it straight at this Cardinals’ defense, so Kelly will have to be creative in order to maintain solid drives throughout the game. Based on the expected game plan, I am predicting Will Fuller and Corey Robinson to put up some high reception and nice yardage totals to lead the Irish offensive attack.

To put it lightly, Notre Dame’s defense is an absolute mess right now. However, they have an opportunity to turn it around against a Louisville offense that will be led by a true freshman quarterback. Reggie Bonnafon has taken over the reins after starting quarterback Will Gardner fell to a season-ending injury. Bonnafon has attempted 92 passes while appearing in seven games, so he does have some experience under his belt. The most notable difference between Gardner and Bonnafon is his ability to run, so the Irish defense could be challenged considering their troubles against some mobile quarterbacks this season. Bonnafon rushed for 76 yards on 13 carries last week, so it will be important for the Irish front-seven to stay disciplined and keep containment. In addition to Bonnafon, the Irish will have to deal with a pair of 400-plus-yard rushers in Brandon Radcliff (445 yards) and Michael Dyer (414 yards). For Notre Dame to have success on defense, they must bottle up Radcliff and Dyer on first and second down to force obvious passing situations. If that occurs, then defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can dial up some blitzes and different coverage schemes to try to confuse the young quarterback. As much as Notre Dame’s offense has struggled to hold onto the football, the Irish defense has been opportunistic and I look for them to create a few turnovers tomorrow.

Both teams will likely turn the football over multiple times, but I think the Irish will come out with something to prove and make enough plays to win the game.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Louisville 27


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Week 10 Recap: Northwestern 43, Notre Dame 40

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame followed up their disappointing loss with another lousy performance that led to a 43-40 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats. With all due respect to Northwestern, this is a game that Notre Dame should have won, but they once again gave it away with too many costly errors and turnovers. The Irish had a 40-29 lead in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion to trim their deficit to 40-37. With the Irish trying to secure the game on their final drive, senior running back and team captain Cam McDaniel coughed up the football to give Northwestern a chance to kick a game tying 45-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining. After the Irish failed to get a first down on their first possession of overtime, Kyle Brindza missed a 42-yard field goal. That miss allowed Northwestern to kick a game winning 41-yard field goal to stun the Irish in South Bend.

Like last week, the offense had success moving the football and scoring points, but the turnovers ultimately sealed Notre Dame’s fate.  The Irish committed four turnovers on the afternoon, with Everett Golson being responsible for two of them with an interception and a fumble. Along with the aforementioned McDaniel fumble, Chris Brown also put the ball on the ground when the Irish were knocking on the door for another touchdown. Considering that Golson’s fumble also happened deep inside the red zone, the Irish literally took 14 points off the board. Couple that with Golson’s interception that was returned to the Notre Dame 5-yard line that set up an easy Northwestern touchdown, those three turnovers were at least a 21-point swing. Add the two missed field goals and a botch PAT attempt that resulted in two points for Northwestern, and that is another 9-point swing. Despite the mistakes, you have to give the Wildcats credit for capitalizing on all of the miscues, but this routine is getting really old, really fast. Notre Dame needs to clean up their mistakes right now before they find themselves sitting at 7-5 at the end of the season. Although it is hard to point out the positives from yesterday, it should be noted that wide receiver Will Fuller had another monster game with 159 yards and three touchdowns on nine receptions. Fuller now has 13 touchdowns on the season to tie him for the best in the country. Quite frankly, it is becoming a farce that he has yet to be listed among the 80-plus wide receivers on the Biletnikoff Award watch list.

While the offense is not doing the defense any favors with all the turnovers, Brian VanGorder’s unit has been playing extremely poorly the past five weeks. In fact, the Irish have surrendered 42.2 points per game over their last five contests. While injuries have forced several freshmen and inexperienced players into the lineup, the defense still needs to be better. The most worrisome aspect of the defense has been the inability to stop the opponent from running the football right down their throats. Especially in the past two weeks, the loss of defensive leader Joe Schmidt has proved to be even a bigger than anyone could have ever imagined. Notre Dame’s defense looks lost out there right now, and that was evident more than ever yesterday when they allowed a Northwestern offense to gain 547 yards of total offense and score 43 points. As a quick reminder, these are the same Wildcats that managed to score just nine points last week against a miserable Michigan team. With a pair of 7-3 teams remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule, this defense will have to grow up and improve very quickly if they want to finish the season with a couple of impressive wins.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, November 14, 2014

Week 10 Preview: Notre Dame vs Northwestern

Notre Dame (7-2) will try to get back on track tomorrow afternoon when they host the Northwestern Wildcats (3-6). While last week’s disappointing defeat eliminated the Fighting Irish from postseason contention, they still have plenty to play for down the stretch. Sitting at 18th ranked, Notre Dame will need to win their final three games to improve their resume in order to reach a more prestigious bowl game. How will the Irish respond?

Notre Dame’s offense can be summed up in one word, turnovers. When the Irish can avoid multiple turnovers, they can probably play with every team in the country. The problem is that they are averaging about three turnovers a game over the last six weeks, and it finally came back to haunt them against Arizona State. Tomorrow’s matchup will be the first chance for Everett Golson and company to improve on the discouraging trend. Northwestern has had rough season, but their defense has been a respectable unit for most of their games. The Wildcats rank 48th in country by allowing 373.7 yards per game (209.7 passing yards and 164 rushing yards); leading to an impressive 30th ranked scoring defense at just 22.3 points per game. As you can see, Northwestern’s defense is more susceptible to the run than the pass, so this should be a great opportunity for Notre Dame to get the running game going again. Tarean Folston was a disappointment last week mainly because the Irish fell behind so big and that he isn’t a great pass blocker, but he should rebound nicely this week. Look for Brian Kelly to try to establish the running game early and make a statement to play physical football against a Big Ten team. Kelly also hinted during his press conference that the Irish will have to take what Northwestern’s defense gives them, meaning that I expect to see plenty of screens, slants, and quick outs on the afternoon. While Northwestern has been good on defense, Notre Dame should have a big advantage talent wise, so hopefully they will be able to move the ball methodically down the field.

The Irish defense has fallen on hard times after starting the season strong, but this week presents a great chance to improve. Northwestern has had a difficult time moving the ball all season by averaging a mere 322.7 yards of total offense which places them 114th in the nation. The Wildcats’ struggles on offense have been both on the ground (109.9 yards per game) and through the air (212.8 yards per game), so there is no reason why the Irish can’t have success on defense. Quarterback Trevor Siemian leads the Northwestern offense, but he has had trouble this season by throwing eight interceptions and only five touchdowns. If Northwestern is going to attack the Notre Dame defense, then running back Justin Jackson would be their best option. Jackson has 761 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 175 carries, so he could find so running lanes against the banged up Irish defense. Freshman linebacker Nyles Morgan didn’t play well last week against Arizona State’s up-tempo attack, but I expect the youngster to play much better tomorrow with less pressure surrounding him. Along with Morgan, the Irish also have five other freshmen playing significant snaps, so now is perfect time for them to get some much needed experience against a less-powered offense.

I think the Irish will come out strong and fast to prove that last week’s performance was a fluke by jumping out to an early lead and never look back.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Northwestern 13


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 9 Recap: Arizona State 55, Notre Dame 31

In a must win game to stay alive for playoff consideration, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame laid an egg against the Arizona State Sun Devils. The afternoon started off nicely with Kyle Brindza converting on a 46-yard field goal attempt after a 14-play, 59 yard opening drive. From there, a series of mistakes and unfortunate bounces led to five turnovers that would be too much for the Irish to overcome. Three of the five turnovers fueled the Sun Devils to a 34-3 lead late in the first half, but Notre Dame would score four unanswered touchdowns to cut the lead to 34-31 with 6:37 remaining in the game. However, the furious comeback would prove to be false hope as the Sun Devils responded with a quick 5-play, 75 yard touchdown drive to extend the lead to 41-31. Arizona State would add two more scores on a pick-six that bounced off of Corey Robinson’s chest, and a Taylor Kelly touchdown run in the final minute. Overall, it was a disappointing performance for the Irish because the turnovers were what ultimately proved to be the difference. Don’t get me wrong, Arizona State deserves all the credit in the world for capitalizing on those mistakes, but the final score was not indicative to how closely matched these two teams should have been.

Obviously, the big story on offense was the turnovers. Everett Golson has flirted with disaster several times this season, but this time it finally came back to end Notre Dame’s playoffs. Golson committed five turnovers on the afternoon, and those mistakes proved to be the difference in the game. Even though all five turnovers were not entirely Golson’s fault, the bottom line is that these mistakes need to stop. Golson has committed 17 turnovers in the last 6 games, and Notre Dame will not be a playoff contender next season if the trend continues. With three games remaining, I’d like to see if Golson can limit the mistakes and prove that he actually understands that he can’t be careless with the football. The two batted balls and the Robinson bobble were mostly fluky plays, but the fumble and the interception in the end zone were inexcusable. Those are “freshman mistakes” and ones that can’t continue to happen. It seems foolish to consider making a switch at the quarterback position considering how many touchdowns Golson has been responsible for, but there needs to be some accountability for his actions. Personally, I’d love to see Brian Kelly bench Golson next Saturday for a series if he commits another unacceptable turnover. With the playoffs no longer a possibility, Golson needs to learn that he can’t continue to play sloppy and careless football.

When the other team scores 55 points, it is hard to make a case that the defense played well, but I will give them credit for keeping the Irish in the game during the second half. Considering the Sun Devils had touchdown drives of 13 yards, 23 yards, 8 yards, and two pick-sixes, Notre Dame’s offense basically handed the Sun Devils 35 points. Having said that, Arizona State deserves credit for playing up-tempo and forcing Notre Dame to make quick adjustments at the line. I thought that Notre Dame had trouble stopping the run up the middle, demonstrating how important the loss of Joe Schmidt will be moving forward. The Sun Devils rushed for 188 yards on 45 carries and really moved the ball with ease at critical times of the game. Notre Dame’s defense played their best football during the third quarter and for half of the fourth quarter when they forced four punts and an interception during a span of five Arizona State drives. That stretch allowed Notre Dame’s offense to mount a comeback, but in the end they dug themselves too big of a hole to overcome.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Friday, November 7, 2014

Week 9 Preview: Notre Dame at Arizona State

When Notre Dame (7-1, 10th ranked) travels to Tempe to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils (7-1, 9th), it is essentially an elimination game. Both programs would have to win out and need some help to make the playoffs, but the loser is definitely out of contention for one of the final four spots. Last season, the Fighting Irish defeated the Sun Devils 37-34 in the Shamrock Series, but who will prevail tomorrow afternoon?

Notre Dame’s offense has been one of the better units in the country by averaging 35.4 points per game (30th ranked) and gaining 458.3 yards per contest (33rd ranked), and they will look to continue that success against an improving Arizona State defense. The Sun Devils have allowed 24.1 points per game (50th ranked) and 385.3 yards per contest (58th ranked), but they have not allowed more than 16 points in their last three games. While the Sun Devils’ defense is trending upwards, they have not faced an offense like Notre Dame’s in recent weeks. Everett Golson has been responsible for the majority of Notre Dame’s scoring this season, accounting for 29 touchdowns (22 passing and 7 rushing) on 2,311 yards passing and 272 yards rushing. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, Golson will have to shine once again while also limiting his turnovers to zero or one. In what figures to be an offensive game, the Irish must score on most of their possessions and they can’t help the Sun Devils out by giving them a short field. Although Golson should play well, the key to this game could be the running game led by Tarean Folston. Arizona State has struggled against the run by allowing 180.9 yards per game, which places them 88th in the country. In addition, Folston has been on quite a roll lately by rushing for 367 yards in the past three games, so I expect him to have another big game by easily eclipsing the 100-yard rushing plateau for the third consecutive week. If that happens, the Irish have a great chance at winning this game.

The Irish suffered a huge blow by losing their linebacker and defensive leader in Joe Schmidt last week. Schmidt is out for the season after dislocating and fracturing his ankle, so Notre Dame will need to move on quickly. True freshman Nyles Morgan will start and take over the play calling duties on defense, so we’ll find out real quickly how he and the Irish will respond to the loss of Schmidt. There is no doubt that Morgan has the talent considering he was a “blue-chip” recruit, but his discipline, knowledge, and maturity will no doubt be tested tomorrow. I expect Morgan to play well, but the pre-snap alignment for the entire defense might be a step behind if the Sun Devils play up-tempo offensively. Notre Dame’s defense got off to a great start to the season, but they have struggled mightily during the past three weeks by surrendering a combined 113 points.  Despite the recent struggles, Brian VanGorder’s defense still ranks 29th in scoring defense at 21.6 points per game and 40th in total defense by allowing 359.1 yards per contest. Arizona State possesses a balanced attack offensively by averaging 291.1 yards passing and 192.5 yards rushing per game which has led to a scoring average of 34.4 points per game. The Sun Devils are led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, running back D.J. Foster, and wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Kelly missed three games due to injury, but the senior has played well this season by passing for 1,010 yards and rushing for 230 yards, while accounting for 11 touchdowns (nine passing and two rushing). I think that VanGorder needs to dial up the blitz early and often to force Kelly to make early throws and to see how well his healing right foot responds to the pressure. Another reason to bring the blitz is to limit the amount of time the Irish secondary needs to cover Jaelen Strong. Strong is one of the top receivers in the country and he poses serious matchup problems with his 6-3, 212 pound frame and explosive speed. Strong has had a fantastic season so far with 821 yards and eight touchdowns on 57 catches, so limiting his big play potential will be another key for the Irish. If worrying about Strong wasn’t enough, Notre Dame also will need to focus on stopping D.J. Foster. The junior running back has 1,153 yards of total offense with 701 yards rushing and 452 yards passing, so shutting him down completely will be a difficult task. Notre Dame’s rushing defense has been great all season, but last week’s contest against the run-heavy Navy Midshipmen has dropped the Irish to 31st in the nation by allowing an average on 131.9 yards per game. Based on their success the first seven games, I think that the Irish have a great shot of holding Foster to under 100 yards, and they might have to in order to win this game. Arizona State will likely need to match Notre Dame score-for-score, and it appears they have the talent to do so.

This game should be a shootout, but I think Everett Golson will prove to be the difference. Golson has an ability to make plays in the clutch and he has thrived in big-game situations.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Arizona State 34


Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Week 8 Recap: Notre Dame 49, Navy 39

Notre Dame started off fast last night versus Navy by jumping out to a 28-7 lead, but the Midshipmen fought their way back to score 24 unanswered points to take a 31-28 lead late in the third quarter. However, the Irish responded with two touchdowns to start the fourth quarter and they added another score late to seal the 49-39 victory. It wasn’t the prettiest game for the Irish, but they got the win. Unfortunately, a close win against a service academy will likely not impress the playoff committee. Regardless of what the committee thinks right now, Notre Dame just needs to keep winning and they will probably be hard to leave out of the final four come December.

Other than the third quarter, Notre Dame was terrific on offense last night by racking up 533 yards of total offense and scoring seven touchdowns. The Irish were led by the impressive performances of Everett Golson and Tarean Folston. Golson threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns while adding 33 yards of rushing and another three scores. Folston enjoyed his third consecutive outstanding game with 149 yards rushing and 38 yards receiving. Folston has totaled 367 yards rushing and 109 yards receiving over the past three weeks to solidify his case as the lead running back. Right now, it is hard to imagine that there are many quarterback-running back duos playing more effectively than Golson and Folston, so the Irish offense should continue to cause problems for the remaining four teams on their schedule. While the offense was successful for most of the night, there was one error that changed the momentum of the game. Whether it was a bad play call, wrong route, or just a bad throw; the interception thrown by Golson right before the half was simply inexcusable. That turnover, followed by an unacceptable cover bust, led to a Navy field goal that cut the Irish lead to 28-17 at halftime. Since Notre Dame was driving and appeared capable of scoring again before the half, the costly miscue resulted in a likely 10-point swing and wiped away the probability of a commanding 35-14 lead at halftime. As a result, Navy was able to continue playing their game offensively and they gave the Irish all they could handle for four quarters. Ultimately, Notre Dame’s talent would prevail, but it was another frustrating game in this historic series.

Notre Dame’s defense had plenty of difficulties stopping Navy’s triple option attack by allowing the Midshipmen to accumulate 454 yards of total offense. Of course, most of the success came on the ground with 336 yard rushing on 60 attempts, but Keenan Reynolds completed a few big passes to help Navy keep up with the Irish offense, including a 42 yard completion and two touchdowns. Reynolds also added 47 yards on the ground, but the big threat in the running game was Noah Copeland. Copeland scampered for 138 yards on 16 carries and gashed the Irish defense for a 54 yard gain on fourth-and-two. That long run set up a Navy touchdown on the next play to give them a 31-28 lead. Everyone knew what Navy was going to do offensively, but the Irish couldn’t stop them. Part of Notre Dame’s struggles on defense was the injuries that forced the Irish to play even more of their younger players. At one point, I believe the Irish had five true freshmen and four sophomores playing together on defense. That combination is not ideal when you need discipline and knowledge to effectively stop Navy’s triple option. With or without the injuries, Navy’s offense just executed better than Notre Dame’s defense and the Midshipmen deserve all the credit for playing such a great game.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, October 31, 2014

Week 8 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Notre Dame (6-1, 10th ranked) will look to get back on track tomorrow night when they travel to Landover, Maryland to take on the Navy Midshipmen (4-4) at FedEx Field. After the tough loss at Florida State, the Fighting Irish have had plenty of time to move on and get ready for Navy following a bye week. This week, the Irish also learned where they stand initially in the new college football rankings by being slotted at number ten. Despite the lower than expected ranking, Notre Dame’s mission remains the same. If the Irish win their final five games, they should find themselves right in the thick of things at the end of the year. With many teams ranked inside the top 15 playing each other over the next month or so, the Irish have an opportunity to rise in the polls if they keep winning. Will the Midshipmen end Notre Dame’s playoff hopes, or will the Irish take care of business and keep the dream alive?

Notre Dame’s offense will have to be efficient because they don’t know how many times they will possess the ball with Navy’s ball control offense. Depending on how successful Navy’s rushing attack is, the Irish might only have 6-8 possession for the entire game, so scoring on every possession is ideal. The good news is that Navy’s defense isn’t particularly strong considering they have allowed 411.5 yards per game and 27.6 points per game, both ranking 75th in the country. Furthermore, the Midshipmen are equally below average against the run and pass, checking in at 75th (170.9 yards per game) and 73rd (240.6 yards per game) respectively. Given that, it would be safe to assume the Irish should have no trouble moving the ball and scoring plenty of points. Of course, the main issue has been the turnovers committed by mainly Everett Golson, so ball security will be critical in game where every possession is valuable. Since Brian Kelly knows that they need to be efficient on offense, look for him to call plenty of high percentage passing plays. I expect the Irish to run the ball very well with Tarean Folston leading the way after two impressive weeks in a row, and we should see a ton of short and intermediate passing routes. Don’t get me wrong, Brian Kelly will take a few shots down the field, but Notre Dame doesn’t need a bunch of deep passes to win. If Golson can get the ball out of his hands quickly to his talented wide receivers, then they should be able to get a ton of yards after the catch with their speed and athleticism. Overall, it should be a comfortable day for the Irish on offense.

When Navy’s offense lines up against Notre Dame’s defense we all know what to expect. The Midshipmen run the triple option probably about 90 percent of the time, so it will be all about discipline and assignments for the Irish defense. The first read in the triple option is the fullback dive, so Notre Dame’s inside linebackers Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt will need to read the play immediately and tackle the fullback close to the line of scrimmage. If the option extends to either edge of the defense, containment and proper assignments is the key to stopping Navy. There isn’t a whole lot to break down with Navy’s offense, since they run the same play all game long, but the Irish still need to be aware of the pass when it does occur. Navy loves to run it until the secondary is cheating and selling out on the run, and then that’s when they will hit the defense over the top with a pass. The best way to stop Navy’s offense is to hold them on first and second down to little or no gain and force an obvious pass on third down. That will allow Notre Dame’s defense to make a play and create a key turnover which would kill Navy’s chance at staying in the game. Navy is not built to come from behind, so if Notre Dame can get a few stops early on, it’ll be a long day for Navy on offense.

Navy will have some success early offensively, but Notre Dame’s offense scores early and often which makes it too hard for the Midshipmen to keep up.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Navy 14


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week 7 Recap: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27

Notre Dame’s undefeated season came to an end on Saturday when Florida State prevailed in an instant classic, 31-27. The Fighting Irish played a tremendous game both offensively and defensively, giving the Seminoles everything they could handle for 60 minutes. Of course, the game ended with a little drama when an offensive pass interference penalty wiped out the likely game-winning touchdown for Notre Dame. Before I get into the recap, I have something to say about call.

I initially thought the call was on C.J. Prosise (#20), and that would have been atrocious considering the Florida State defensive back initiated the contact on Prosise and held him the entire time. Later, I learned that the call was actually on Will Fuller (#7) who was the outside receiver. Fuller did run into the Florida State defender, and I can see why the flag was thrown. However, the defensive back that was covering Fuller broke to the inside to stay with Fuller and Florida State’s secondary busted the coverage. There was no one in the vicinity of Corey Robinson (even with the contact made by Fuller), and thus the contact had no impact on the outcome of the play. By rule, it was the correct call. All I will say is that I wish the referee would have put the play into context and understand that the contact was meaningless to the play. Regardless of my opinion, the officials saw it the other way and they made the call. I won’t say that Notre Dame got screwed over, but I do think it was an unfortunate way for the game to end. The bottom line is that Notre Dame just could not make one last play to finish off the Seminoles. It was one the greatest college football games I have ever watched, but I just wish it ended in an Irish victory. Despite the loss, Notre Dame proved that they are one of the elite programs in the nation and showed that they can play with anyone in the country. If the Irish win out, I think the selection committee will have a hard time leaving Notre Dame out of the final four. The Irish may need some help from other teams, but the championship quest is not over. Hopefully, Notre Dame will get another crack at Florida State in the playoffs.

Brian Kelly put together one of the best offensive game plans I have ever seen since he came to Notre Dame. The play calling was nearly perfect throughout the game, allowing the Irish to gain 470 yards against the Seminoles. Everett Golson was sharp on the evening by completing 60 percent of his passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns. I thought he played with great poise and composure in a hostile environment by leading the Irish offense on several long drives. Golson was able to spread the ball around nicely with six receivers catching multiple passes, but his top targets were once again Corey Robinson and Will Fuller. Robinson caught eight passes for 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Fuller added eight receptions, 79 yards, and one touchdown. Perhaps the key to Notre Dame’s offensive success was the running game powered by the push that their offensive line was able to maintain against the Seminole front. Running back Tarean Folston was the beneficiary of the wide running lanes by ripping off 120 yards on 21 carries. Golson added 33 yards with a few scrambles, but Brian Kelly rode the hot-handed Folston all night long with Cam McDaniel and Greg Bryant each only carrying the ball once. As successful as the Irish were offensively, it wasn’t enough to pull out the road win. However, I believe this was arguably their best effort of the season and it should bode well for the remaining five games if they can repeat this performance.

Just like Brian Kelly did with the offense, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder installed the best game plan possible to defeat Florida State. VanGorder did a great job designing schemes to disguise the blitz and give Jameis Winston a variety of different looks. Notre Dame’s defensive front seven was pressuring Winston all night long and they made it difficult for Florida State to move the ball. As good as the pass rush was, Notre Dame’s defensive success was fueled by a dominating performance to shut down the Florida State running game. The Irish held the Seminoles to just 1.9 yards per carry with 50 yards on 26 attempts. In fact, Notre Dame’s run defense was so stout that the Seminoles practically abandoned the running game and went with short, quick throws in the second half. While the Irish were still pressuring Winston, he was able to get the ball out quickly and expose Notre Dame’s depleted secondary.  That would end up being the difference in the game as Florida State was able to score just enough in the second half to defeat Notre Dame.

Overall, it was an outstanding game played on both sides of the ball for the Irish. I truly believe that Notre Dame outplayed Florida State (particularly in the trenches), so I am hoping that this does not eliminate the Irish from playoff contention. I think I can speak for many true college football fans that a rematch on New Year’s Day would be warranted if Notre Dame can win their final five games. We’ll see what happens; there is a ton of football still to be played.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, October 17, 2014

Week 7 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

College Football’s biggest game of the weekend and arguably the season will take place tomorrow night when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (6-0, 5th ranked) head down to Tallahassee to take on the defending champion Florida State Seminoles (6-0, 2nd ranked). This game serves as essentially a playoff game as both programs might not be able to withstand losing one game and still make the playoffs. While both teams are undefeated, I would argue that neither team has played their best football yet. Which team will put it all together for one night and make a statement with a big victory?

The Irish offense starts and ends with Everett Golson. While Golson has been tremendous through six games this season with 1,683 yards passing, 209 yards rushing, and 20 total touchdowns, he has also turned the ball over nine times in the last three games. Obviously, Notre Dame will not beat Florida State if Golson turns the ball over three times, so that is a big key to the game. However, I don’t think Golson will have to be flawless to pull out a victory because Florida State has had their own issues with turnovers as well with a margin of -1 that ranks 77th in the country. That is important to note because while Golson has been careless with the ball at times, the last thing he needs to do is be conservative. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, Golson will have to be aggressive and take chances by trying to fit the ball in some tight windows and pick up some key yardage with his legs. Although Golson is the leader of this offense, he also has some help. Wide receiver Will Fuller has had a breakout season so far with 504 yards receiving and seven touchdowns on 35 catches. Fuller has emerged as both a deep threat and a guy that can make a play with the ball in his hands after a short pass, and I don’t think there is a defensive back in the country that can cover him one-on-one. As great as the Irish passing game has been, the rushing attack has been sluggish at times. Last week, Notre Dame had their best day on the ground since the opener versus Rice by rushing for 219 yards. Contrary to what people might think, Florida State’s run defense hasn’t been great this season. The Seminoles are ranked a mediocre 53rd in country by allowing 144.8 yards per game, so look for Brian Kelly to try to run the ball early and often to control the clock and set up some play action passes for later in the game.

Notre Dame’s defense looked terrible at times last week, but they made enough plays to win the game. Simply put, the Irish can’t be as sloppy and confused as they were last week against this Florida State offense. The Seminoles are led by their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Rashad Greene. Winston has thrown for 1,605 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing an impressive 70 percent of his passes, but he has also thrown five interceptions in five games. Winston favorite target is the aforementioned Greene, who has 683 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 44 catches. Notre Dame will have to double cover Greene or bracket him on certain passing downs to force Winston to throw the ball to somebody else. The Seminoles also have a good rushing attack, but they will be without sophomore Mario Pender who has averaged 6.3 yards a carry. Therefore, Florida State will rely heavily on Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook. Williams, a senior, is the more notable back that missed last week with injury, but he still has 353 yards and five touchdowns in five games. With Williams out last week, Cook had a breakout performance with 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Those two backs will likely have their hands full against a Notre Dame rushing defense that ranks 18th in the nation with 110.5 yards allowed per game. In my opinion, the Irish will win this game if they can pressure Winston without overload blitzing. Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder needs to show Winston numerous different looks by disguising where the blitz is coming from and changing coverage schemes. If Notre Dame can put pressure on Winston with just four or five rushers, then I think they will force him to make some mistakes and allow the Irish to make a big play on defense.

Before the season started, I had this game penciled as the only automatic loss on the schedule, but that’s changed a little bit. I do not think that Florida State is as good as they were last year, and I believe that Notre Dame is a little better than I thought they would be back in August. Having said that, I still think the Seminoles are slightly better than the Irish and will have an advantage playing at home. This game will be very close and it could come down to the final possession which would leave the door barely open for the loser to remain in playoff contention.

When I started doing these predictions I told myself I would be objective no matter what, so…Florida State wins, but I hope that I am wrong!

Prediction: Florida State 30, Notre Dame 27


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week 6 Recap: Notre Dame 50, North Carolina 43

Notre Dame survived a major scare last Saturday when they narrowly defeated North Carolina, 50-43. The Tar Heels were aided by another three turnovers by Everett Golson that helped spot them a 14-0 lead. Despite the turnovers and overall sloppy play, the Irish were able to move the ball efficiently all afternoon and made enough plays on defense to win the game. Coming away with a win is always a good thing, but the Irish will have to be much better this Saturday when the take on the defending champion Florida State Seminoles.

As expected, Notre Dame had a ton of success offensively to the tune of 50 points and 519 yards of total offense. Everett Golson did commit three turnovers that led to three easy North Carolina touchdowns, but he also did a lot of great things. Golson threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns while adding another 71 yards on the ground. Golson continues to lead this Irish offense to one of the most explosive units I have ever seen at Notre Dame, but they can still be better if they limit the mistakes. I was hoping that either Tarean Folston or Greg Bryant would rip off a long run, but Folston definitely provided many big chunk plays that were desperately needed out of the running back position. Folston got the Irish offense started after trailing 14-0 by catching a screen pass and running for 37 yards. Overall, Folston was the best player for the Irish on offense and racked up 169 yards of total offense and three touchdowns.  In addition to Folston, wide receiver Will Fuller continued his strong season by adding two more touchdown receptions and 133 yards on seven catches. Notre Dame will need more big performances and a lot fewer turnovers going forward if they want to remain undefeated.

As bad as the defense struggled at times, they also were not helped out by the Irish offense. The three Golson turnovers directly led to 21 points due to one pick-six and two short fields, so the 43 points surrendered made it seem like the defense struggle the entire game. Notre Dame allowed a staggering 510 yards of total offense and they had plenty of difficulties with North Carolina’s up-tempo attack. The Irish had a hard time lining up defensively and were caught off guard by allowing many big plays. However, Notre Dame’s defense did step up and make some plays when it was needed the most.  When Notre Dame scored to make it 14-7, the defense forced a punt after the Tar Heels gained one first down and they had a three-and-out after the Irish tied the game 14-14. With those two stops, the Irish were able to score three unanswered touchdowns to give them a 21-14 lead and some momentum going forward. In addition to the key stops, Notre Dame’s defense came away with two huge turnovers that led to two Irish touchdowns, one of which coming right before halftime that set up a Folston 6-yd touchdown run to give Notre Dame a 28-20 lead. Then with Notre Dame leading 43-36 midway through the fourth quarter, Cole Luke intercepted an ill-advised pass that allowed the Irish to go on a 10-play, 81 yard touchdown drive to seal the victory. It certainly wasn’t the defense’s best effort, but it was enough to win the game.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, October 10, 2014

Week 6 Preview: Notre Dame vs. North Carolina

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (5-0, 6th ranked) will look to continue their undefeated season when they host the North Carolina Tar Heels (2-3) tomorrow afternoon. When the season began this game looked like it would be one of the tougher matchups on the schedule, but North Carolina has struggled mightily on defense which has hampered their success. Despite that, the Tar Heels still possess a prolific offense and could challenge the Irish if they are looking ahead to next week’s tilt at Florida State.

The Irish faced the nation’s top defense last week, but they will now see one of the worst units in the country. North Carolina has allowed a staggering 42 points and 505.8 yards per game, so expect Notre Dame to have a ton of success. My only concern in this game would be if the Irish came out flat after last weeks’ emotional high from beating Stanford. To avoid any let down, I hope and believe that Brian Kelly will be very aggressive early on to try and score a quick touchdown or two in the first quarter. Considering that the Tar Heels are efficient on offense as well, Notre Dame will need to score early and often to keep North Carolina from staying in this game. I expect Everett Golson to have another great performance in the passing game against 121st ranked passing defense, but it would be encouraging to see a turnover free afternoon from the quarterback. If everything goes as planned, the Irish should have a decent lead in the second half which will allow Notre Dame to work on their running game. We all know that Cam McDaniel is a reliable back, but the Irish need more explosiveness from their running backs. I’d love to see either Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston break a 50+ yard run at some point tomorrow to showcase that the Irish are capable of big plays out of their running game. Stanford dropped 8 defenders on many occasions last week because they were much more fearful of the pass than the rush. If Notre Dame wants to be at their best offensively, they need to be more balanced with their big play potential. If not, then Golson will continue to see extra defenders in his throwing lanes which will make it difficult to move the ball consistently.

While Stanford was unquestionably Notre Dame’s toughest opponent of the season, North Carolina will probably be the best offense the Irish have seen so far. The Tar Heels are averaging 36 points and 415.4 yards per contest, so Notre Dame’s 3rd ranked scoring defense will certainly be tested. North Carolina owns the 89th ranked rushing offense at 138.6 yards per game, so I don’t think they will be able to pound the ball against Notre Dame’s 10th ranked rushing defense at 95.8 yards per game. In addition, it is likely that North Carolina will be playing from behind most of the afternoon, so expect the Tar Heels to rely heavily on their passing game which checks in at 35th in the country with 276.8 yards per game. The Tar Heels are led by their quarterback Marquise Williams who has been outstanding this season with 1,083 yards passing, 243 yards rushing, and 11 total touchdowns. Williams is undoubtedly the Tar Heels’ best player on offense and containing him will be the key for Notre Dame’s defense. Considering how mobile Williams can be, I would expect defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to be less aggressive in his play calling then he was last week. While the heavy blitz packages may disrupt any college quarterback, it could also free up a ton of running room for the quarterback if he can make the first guy miss. In any event, I’m sure Jaylon Smith will be asked to shadow Williams on some plays and he should be able to run him down in most instances. Notre Dame has yet to allow more than 17 points in a game this season, but they’ll have to be at their best to keep that streak going.

After an emotional victory last week against Stanford, the Irish could come out sluggish, but Notre Dame’s offense will be way too much for North Carolina to handle.

Prediction: Notre Dame 48, North Carolina 24


Twitter: @etichel07

Monday, October 6, 2014

Week 5 Recap: Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14

Notre Dame got their first signature win of the season on Saturday when the Fighting Irish prevailed over Stanford in an instant classic. After the Cardinal scored a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining to give Stanford a 14-10 lead, Everett Golson led the Irish on a game-winning 65-yard touchdown drive. On fourth-and-11, Golson found Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown with 61 seconds left in give the Irish a 17-14 lead. Stanford tried to make a late push to set up a game-tying field goal attempt, but the game ended when defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder dialed up a safety blitz. The aggressive play call allowed Elijah Shumate to get to Kevin Hogan untouched, forcing Hogan to throw the ball away as he was falling to the ground. With no receiver in sight and Hogan still in the pocket, intentional grounding was called, thus ending the game with a 10-second run off since Stanford was out of timeouts. In the end, this rivalry lived up to the hype and the Irish came away with a thrilling victory to improve to 5-0.

Based on the score it would look like Notre Dame struggled to move the ball on offense, but that wasn’t the case. While the Irish were certainly not at their best offensively, they did accumulate 370 yards of total offense versus the nation’s top defense, but they also left a lot of points off the board by botching two field goal attempts and committing a turnover inside the red zone. Ultimately, the Irish were able to overcome those errors thanks to several big chunk plays throughout the afternoon. The Irish did gain 129 yards rushing on 32 carries, but a majority of those yards came on a 33-yard draw by Everett Golson and 26-yard run by C.J. Prosise. Without those two plays, Notre Dame had just 70 yards rushing on 30 carries. Despite averaging only 2.33 yards per carry on those 30 attempts, Brian Kelly stayed committed to the run game to set up the passing game and help control the tempo of the game. Golson was not his sharpest by completing 20 of 43 passes for 241 yards, but he connected for several big passes (five completions of 15+ yards) and accounted for both touchdowns. Golson’s completion percentage took a hit, but that was mainly due to him making wise decisions and throwing the ball away on multiple occasions. Golson did force a few throws, one of which resulted in a costly interception inside the red zone, but overall he played smart. Despite the interception and also losing the ball on a fumble in the first quarter that set up Stanford’s first score, Golson responded in a big way and made some huge plays that fueled the Irish to victory.

As well as Stanford’s defense played, Notre Dame’s defense was even better. In fact, I would consider their performance as a dominant effort by holding the Cardinal to 205 yards of offense. The Irish simply shutdown the Cardinal rushing attack by holding them to 47 yards on 32 carries. Any time that you can hold your opponent to 1.5 yards per carry, you will force your opponent in third-and-long situations all game long. Because of that, Kevin Hogan connected on 50 percent of his passes for a low total of 158 yards passing. Coming into the game, I thought Ty Montgomery could give the Irish fits, but Notre Dame’s defense did an outstanding job by limiting the talented wide receiver to 26 yards on nine touches. Notre Dame got many key contributions from several players, but two players stood out in particular. Jaylon Smith played like a man possessed by racking up 14 tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. The other was cornerback Cole Luke who intercepted two passes, had one sack, four tackles, and one pass breakup. Honestly, I was concerned about the defense coming into the season due to lack of experience. However, I think it is safe to say that this unit is very fast, very talented, and very aggressive. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been a great addition to the coaching staff and has this unit playing as well as it ever has under Brian Kelly.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, October 3, 2014

Week 5 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

With no disrespect to the first four opponents, Notre Dame (4-0, 9th ranked) will get their toughest test of the young season when Stanford (3-1, 14th ranked) visits South Bend tomorrow afternoon. This game marks the first of four major hurdles that stand in the way of Notre Dame’s path to the playoffs. Make no mistake about it, the Irish must play a much cleaner game if they want to get past the Cardinal in what should be a close contest.

Notre Dame’s biggest advantage over Stanford is the explosive nature of their offense led by Everett Golson. Minus the turnovers last weekend, Golson has been spectacular this season, but he will face the nation’s top passing defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Stanford is allowing just 74 passing yards per game, 198 total yards per game, and 6.5 points per game. As good as the Cardinal has been defensively, I think it is safe to say that the Irish offense will far exceed those averages. It is no secret that Brian Kelly wants to get the running game going, but I don’t think Notre Dame can pound the ball consistently against Stanford’s stout defense. If Notre Dame is going to win this game, they will have to execute the screen passes like they did last week, then hit Stanford’s secondary hard with the vertical passing game. Brian Kelly might be conservative early on to settle his offense in, but I expect to see many deep passes to Will Fuller, Corey Robinson, and company. I think Notre Dame has a distinct advantage with the speed, height, and athleticism that their receiving corps possesses and they need to try to prove that often. If Notre Dame wins this game, it will be because they connected on several passes of 20 yards or more.

Stanford’s defense deserves all the hype they have received, but don’t overlook Notre Dame’s defensive unit either. The Irish rank 4th in scoring defense at 11.5 points per game, and have excelled by allowing their opponents to reach the red zone only nine times in four games. Furthermore, the Irish have done a good job keeping their opponents off the board by allowing just six scores in those nine occasions. On the other hand, Stanford has had problems of their own when they have entered into the red zone. The Cardinal has only scored on 12 of their 19 red zone appearances that ranks them 118th in the country. A big key to this game will be whether or not Stanford can improve on that mark and get the ball in the end zone. When Stanford does get into the red zone, Notre Dame’s biggest concern will be wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery caught ten touchdowns last season and already has three scores this season. Everyone knows that Stanford loves to run the ball, but Montgomery is probably their best player on offense, so the Irish need to double cover him in certain situations. One thing to watch will be how aggressive defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is with his game plan. Notre Dame has faced several mobile quarterbacks this season which has hampered their ability to blitz as much as they would like. While Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is an underrated athlete and can pick up some yards with his legs, look for VanGorder to dial up plenty of blitzes to keep Hogan off balance and force some bad throws. Turnovers and big plays will be decisive in any close game, so the Irish need to pressure Hogan to try to get an edge in those areas.

This game will be a dog fight like always, but the difference between Notre Dame’s offense and Stanford’s offense is greater than the two defensive units. Notre Dame will make enough big plays to pull off a close win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 20, Stanford 16


Monday, September 29, 2014

Week 4 Recap: Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15

Notre Dame improved to 4-0 with a sloppy 31-15 win over Syracuse last Saturday night. The Fighting Irish overcame five turnovers and actually won pretty handily despite all of the miscues. The fact that Notre Dame was able to still win by 16 points after committing five turnovers speaks volumes for how much more talent the Irish were and how well they executed their offensive and defensive game plans. If the Irish didn’t turn the ball over multiple times, then this score would have been a much bigger margin of victory.

The obvious negative to the game offensively were the careless mistakes that resulted in the five turnovers. Everett Golson was responsible for four of those turnovers by throwing two interceptions and fumbling twice. Both interceptions were poor decisions and throws, while one fumble was due to carrying the ball too loosely and the other was a botched attempt at spiking the ball. I’ll give Golson a break on the fumble while attempting to spike the ball because it was a fluky play, but the other three turnovers need to be corrected before Stanford comes to South Bend this Saturday. Hopefully, Golson and the Irish got their turnovers out of the way and will be more careful going forward.

Other than the turnovers, the Irish moved the ball tremendously well against the Orange. Notre Dame racked up 523 yards of total offense, with 362 yards passing and 161 yards rushing. The Orange tried to blitz Golson all night, so Brian Kelly called numerous screens and short passes that led to Golson completing 25 consecutive passes at one point, and 32 of 39 passes overall. Golson connected on four touchdowns to Will Fuller (2), Corey Robinson, and Torii Hunter Jr. Both Fuller and Robinson had huge nights with 119 yards and 91 yards respectively, and it was nice to see Torii Hunter Jr. get involved in the offense after returning from an injury. The play of the game was probably a 72-yard touchdown strike from Golson to Fuller on a play action pass. Golson hit Fuller in-stride and gave the Irish a 14-0 lead. The long touchdown was the first play of the drive immediately following an 11-play, 95-yard touchdown drive earlier in the second quarter. After a sluggish start, the Irish would maintain at least a two-score lead throughout the rest of the night. While the passing game was clicking, the rushing attack was just okay. Notre Dame did manage to gain 161 yards on 41 carries, but there weren’t many big holes opened up to result in big gains. Greg Bryant lead the way with 55 yards, but the only rushing attempt to exceed 15 yards was a 22-yard scamper by Golson that resulted in a fumble. I give Brian Kelly credit for committing to the run and having a balanced attack (41 runs, 39 passes), but Notre Dame still needs to work on the running game if they want to win some bigger games later in the year. Overall, it was a good night for the Irish offensively, but there are certainly areas in which they can improve.

Considering that Syracuse had a plus-four turnover margin, it is pretty impressive that Notre Dame only gave up 15 points. Then when you take into account that six of those points came from a pick-six, the Irish defense only allowed nine points despite being put in some bad situations by the Notre Dame offense.  I thought Notre Dame did a great job slowing down Syracuse’s running game by holding the Orange to 135 yards on 30 carries. If you take out a 42 yard run by Riley Dixon, then the Orange only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Notre Dame also did an outstanding job making sure that quarterback Terrel Hunt wouldn’t kill them with his legs. Hunt had just 26 yards on seven carries after coming off of a 156 yard performance the previous week. Notre Dame did allow Hunt to throw for 294 yards on 38 passing attempts, but most of that production was due in large part to Notre Dame having a big lead that forced Syracuse to throw more often than they would like. Once again, Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt led the defense with nine and seven tackles respectively. Sheldon Day also had a good night with two tackles for loss and five total tackles. Matthias Farley added five tackles and came away with the lone turnover for the Irish with an interception in the third quarter that would set up a touchdown drive to give the Irish a commanding 21-3 lead. Notre Dame’s defense played well for the fourth straight week and they have allowed just 11.5 points per game this season. That number is good for the fourth best scoring defense in the nation, which is impressive given how inexperienced the defense is as a whole. However, there is still room for improvement because Notre Dame hasn’t played a great offense yet, so we’ll see how they respond versus tougher opponents as the season progresses.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, September 26, 2014

Week 4 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Syracuse

Notre Dame (3-0, 8th ranked) will play their third primetime game of the season tomorrow night when the Fighting Irish travel to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the Syracuse Orange (2-1) at MetLife Stadium. Notre Dame is coming off their first bye week and should be much healthier than they were when they last left the field against Purdue on September 13th. On the other hand, Syracuse will be looking to have a bounce-back performance after a disappointing 34-20 loss to Maryland last Saturday.  How will the Irish fare in their first official ACC contest under the new agreement?

Notre Dame has had a good start to the season offensively, and they will look to continue that success tomorrow night. The Irish have averaged 36.3 points in their first three games, but they will get their best test in the early season against a Syracuse defense that has allowed just 21.0 points per game. Syracuse has thrived at stopping the run by allowing opponents to rush for only 104.3 yards per game, good for 26th best in the country. I know Notre Dame really wants to get their ground game going, but this might not be the best week for that to happen. I expect Brian Kelly to try to establish a running game early on to see if they have any advantages in the trenches. As a result of the early season struggles, Notre Dame has made four changes to the offensive line unit. Matt Hegarty will start at center while Connor Hanratty has been removed from the starting left guard spot. As a result, former center Nick Martin will shift to occupy the vacant position. Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer will swap positions with Lombard moving to right tackle and Elmer to right guard. In the end, the only player retaining the same position will be Ronnie Stanley at left tackle. Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand believe this will help give the Irish a bigger push up front, especially by having arguably their two best linemen (Stanley and Martin) handling the left side of the line.

Despite the issues up front, Everett Golson has played at an elite level through the first three games. Golson has accounted for 11 touchdowns, but more importantly no turnovers. Golson should be able to throw against the Orange who rank 53rd in the country with 220.7 passing yards allowed per game, but he will be without Amir Carlisle. Carlisle sprained his MCL against Purdue, so C.J. Prosise and a now healthy Torii Hunter Jr. will be asked to fill in. Prosise has flashed some explosiveness in the past, most notably a 53-yard touchdown in the opener versus Rice, but Hunter has yet to see the field after battling injuries since arriving at Notre Dame. Brian Kelly says that Hunter looks great in practice, so I’m excited to see what the once high-profile recruit has to offer. I think Notre Dame has too many weapons in the passing game for Syracuse to handle, so look for Golson and company to excel once again.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Syracuse offensively, but I do know that Notre Dame will have their hands full with quarterback Terrel Hunt. The senior only has only completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 488 yards and one touchdown, but Hunt is most dangerous with his legs. Hunt has rushed for 273 yards and five touchdowns on 39 attempts, with 156 yards coming last week. Notre Dame will have to be disciplined enough on the edge to keep Hunt between the tackles to allow Joe Schmidt and Jaylon Smith to make the tackle. Notre Dame’s front four will need to get a big enough push to ensure that Schmidt and Smith remained unblocked as much as possible. If Hunt is able to get wide running lanes and break through the first level, then it could be a long day for the Irish defense. The good news is that Notre Dame’s defense has done a great job early on dealing with mobile quarterbacks and potent rushing attacks by allowing just 99 yards a game. That 19th ranked rush defense is due in large part to Notre Dame establishing some bigger leads causing teams to abandon the run, but there is no doubt that this Irish defense is one of the fastest and most athletic units they have had in a while. If Syracuse wants to win this game they will need to run the ball consistently all game long. Hunt is not a great passer and I expect defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to dial up plenty of blitzes and different coverage schemes to confuse Hunt all night long.

Notre Dame might start off rusty after the bye week, but I expect the Irish to win comfortably after they establish a lead and force Syracuse into throwing the ball more than they would like.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Syracuse 17


Twitter: @etichel07

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Week 3 Recap: Notre Dame 30, Purdue 14

The Shamrock Series didn’t go quite as planned last Saturday night, but Notre Dame pulled away with a “comfortable” 30-14 win over Purdue. The Boilermakers gave the Fighting Irish all they could handle for nearly three quarters, and actually held a 14-10 lead over Notre Dame with 3 minutes remaining in the first half. However, the Irish responded with an 8-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard scramble for a touchdown by Everett Golson to give Notre Dame a 17-14 lead going into halftime. From that point on, Notre Dame would take control and add a touchdown and two field goals to put the Boilermakers away.

Notre Dame was good, but not great on offense which allowed Purdue to stay in the game longer than expected. The Irish moved the ball fairly well in the first half, but a missed field goal, a stalled drive that ended in a field goal, and a fumble in their own territory kept the score close. For the second week in a row, Notre Dame struggled to run the ball as well as they would like, forcing Everett Golson to carry the load offensively. Golson accounted for all three touchdowns (one rushing) and threw for 259 yards on the night. The Irish had 139 yards rushing on 38 attempts, but Golson was also their leading rusher with 56 yards. Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, and Greg Bryant combined for only 83 yards on 24 carries, good for just 3.46 yards per carry. I thought Notre Dame would be able to run the ball with relative ease against Purdue, so Saturday’s effort is a bit discouraging. Part of the struggles may have been due to 5th-year senior Christian Lombard missing the game due to injury, but hopefully the Irish will be able to work out their kinks with the offensive line during their bye week. Other than Golson’s performance, the most encouraging thing that came from the offense was the continued emergence of Will Fuller. Fuller led the Irish with six receptions for 51 yards and one touchdown. Fuller has been Golson’s favorite target through three games with 19 catches for225 yards and three scores. Somebody needed to step up with DaVaris Daniels suspended and T.J. Jones graduated, so it is nice to see Fuller break out in a big way.

The Irish played pretty well defensively, but they really turned it on in the second half. Purdue gained 290 yards on offense, but they were held scoreless in the second half due to two interceptions, three points, and a turnover on downs. Notre Dame’s success was due in large part to their suffocating run defense. Purdue was held to just 56 yards on 26 attempts, leaving quarterback Danny Etling vulnerable to sacks and turnovers due to pressure as the game progressed. In fact, the Notre Dame defense was so tough that the Boilermakers failed to reach the red zone in the second half. The defensive standouts of the game were Romeo Okwara, Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, and Devin Butler. Okwara led the Irish with 11 tackles and made his presence felt by combining for a sack and forcing a fumble. Smith accounted for nine tackles, a sack, and another tackle for loss. Schmidt tallied 8 tackles on the evening and also put an exclamation point on the victory by intercepting a pass with 1:46 remaining in the game. Butler’s interception with 8:19 remaining all but sealed the game and the sophomore also chipped in with four solo tackles. Overall, it was another good performance by a young Irish defense that should only get better as the season continues.

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Friday, September 12, 2014

Week 3 Preview: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

The sixth annual installment of the Shamrock Series will get underway tomorrow night when the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (2-0, 11th ranked) take on the Purdue Boilermakers (1-1) from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. While this game is at a “neutral” field, this is technically a home game for the Irish and the crowd will heavily be in their favor. However, no matter where the game is being played, Notre Dame would be substantial favorites over a struggling Purdue program.

Offensively, Notre Dame should be able to continue the success that they have had during the first two games of the year. Purdue has allowed 72 combined points versus Western Michigan and Central Michigan, so it would be safe to assume that the Irish will score a lot as well. If Purdue has any chance of making this a close game, it will be because Notre Dame lets them hang around too long. To avoid that and any possible hangover after the Michigan win, I expect Brian Kelly to be very aggressive early on. I would like to see the Irish come out throwing the football early and often while taking shots deep down the field. Notre Dame has a plethora of wide receivers to choose from, and I’m sure that Kelly will try to involve as many as he can against a seemingly weaker opponent. Once the Irish build up a nice lead, then it will be time for the running attack to put the game away. It would not surprise me to see Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, and Cam McDaniel all reaching double digits in carries as Notre Dame should have the game in hand early in the second half.

It is hard to imagine that Notre Dame can play any better defensively than they did last week, but Purdue’s offense is certainly not as explosive as Michigan’s. In fact, it is still unclear who will be under center for the Boilermakers. Sophomore’s Danny Etling and Austin Appleby will both likely see playing time tomorrow night, but Etling is expected to get the bulk of the snaps. Etling has completed just 51.4 percent of his passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions after two weeks, but he did rush for 53 yards on ten carries last week. Despite who is at quarterback, the Irish defense should be just fine if they play like they have the first two weeks. With several freshmen seeing more action last week, this defense should only get better as the season progress. This week will be a perfect opportunity for the younger players to gain more playing time and valuable experience before the Irish start to play better opponents.

This one might be close for a quarter at most, but the Irish should roll easily.

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Purdue 13

Twitter: @etichel07

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Week 2 Recap: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0

The final scheduled installment of the Notre Dame versus Michigan rivalry left Irish fans happy as their team defeated the Wolverines 31-0 last Saturday night. The game was close early on, but the Irish pulled away in the second quarter, and dominated the rest of the game. It was the first time in the storied series that Notre Dame shutout Michigan, and it was the first time that the Wolverines were blanked by any opponent in 30 years. As much as I have enjoyed the many nail-bitters between these two programs throughout the years, Saturday night felt incredible after last year’s outcome. It saddens me that this rivalry will be on hiatus, but I’m glad it ended the way that it did.

Notre Dame didn’t quite have the night I expected offensively, but they certainly were productive and efficient enough for a victory. The Irish gained 280 yards of total offense, with 226 coming through the air. As you can tell, Notre Dame couldn’t get anything going in the running game with just 54 yards on 31 attempts, but the commitment to the running game helped open up the passing game. Everett Golson looked sharp once again by completing 23 of his 34 passing attempts and three touchdowns. Seven different Irish players had a reception, with Will Fuller (9) and Amir Carlisle (7) leading the way. Fuller led the Irish with 89 yards on the night, highlighted by a 24-yard touchdown before halftime, while Carlisle accounted for two touchdowns and 61 yards. Overall, it was a nice performance for the offense that benefitted from great field position all night long.

As good as the offense was, Notre Dame’s defense was the story on Saturday night. I already mentioned the significance of the shutout, but how they did it was even more inspiring. The Irish defense forced four turnovers and never allowed the Michigan offense to reach the red zone, not even once! Notre Dame was able to slow down the Michigan’s rushing attack by holding the Wolverine’s to 100 yards on 35 carries. An average of 2.9 yards per carry forced the Wolverine’s into 2nd long and 3rd and long situations where Devin Gardner struggled. Because of that, Notre Dame was able to get pressure on Gardner and force him to make some costly errors. Gardner was responsible for all four turnovers and was sacked three times on the evening. Leading the charge defensively, were Jaylon Smith (10 tackles), Elijah Shumate (10 tackles), and Joe Schmidt (7 tackles). Smith was all over the place and continues to impress with his speed and athleticism, Schmidt forced a fumble with a big hit on Gardner, and Shumate had the interception as time expired to cap off the victory. Cody Riggs and Max Redfield also picked off Gardner in the second half, to add to an impressive night by the secondary. Freshman linebacker Kolin Hill had a breakout performance with 1.5 sacks and demonstrated an ability to rush the passer from the edge, something that the Irish are missing with Prince Shembo now gone. Overall, it was a surprising and remarkable performance by a young and inexperienced Notre Dame defense. This game should do wonders for their confidence going forward, and I’m excited to watch them develop throughout the season. If Saturday night is any indication of how good they can be, then the 2014 season looks very promising!

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Week 2: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

Tonight is a big one! Later this evening, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will host the Michigan Wolverines for the final scheduled meeting. While I do believe this historic series will resume in the future, bragging rights are on the line for now. Both teams are coming off of lopsided wins against inferior opponents, so tonight’s tilt will be a challenge for both programs.

For Notre Dame to win, they’ll have to score early and often. Everett Golson looked spectacular in his return versus Rice, but now he’ll have to prove it against better competition. In 2012, Golson was yanked in the first half after a poor performance versus the Wolverines, but he matured later in that season and now looks like a different player. I expect Golson to play extremely well with all the talent around him. Notre Dame’s depth at receiver is probably the best it has been under Brian Kelly, and it showed last week. Golson has plenty of speedy, lengthy, and physical options to throw to, so it is just question of which one will make plays this week. Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant, and Cam McDaniel all have different running styles, so it will be hard for Michigan to stop all three of them. We’re still waiting for Greg Bryant to have a breakout game, and tonight it might be the night. I like how he is fearless with the ball in his hands and I really feel he is going to be playmaker this season. Overall, Notre Dame should have no problem offensively.

While Notre Dame will likely find the end zone several times, Michigan should have success offensively as well. Last year, Devin Gardner lit up an experienced Irish defense, and he should have no problem doing the same this season against an inexperienced secondary. Gardner’s biggest weapon will be Devin Funchess. Funchess is coming off of a three touchdown performance last week, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds the end zone three more times tonight. The Irish don’t have anyone in the defensive backfield that can matchup with Funchess and his 6’5, 230 pound body. If Notre Dame has any hopes of slowing down Funchess, then safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate must play much better than they did last weekend. They seemed confused on some of their coverage schemes throughout the afternoon. If that happens again, it will be a long night for the Irish.  One advantage that Notre Dame might have on defense is their defensive line versus Michigan’s young offensive line. Sheldon Day and Andrew Trumbetti looked good last week, so hopefully they can get a pass rush on Gardner and force some bad throws. If Gardner tries to run, linebacker Jaylon Smith should be able to stop him in his tracks with his elite speed and athleticism.

This rivalry has provided many exciting games, and I expect the same thing tonight. It will be a shootout, but I think Everett Golson is ready to for this game and the Irish will pull it out at home.

Prediction: Notre Dame 45, Michigan 38

-Eric Tichelbaut

Twitter: @etichel07

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Week 1 Recap: Notre Dame 48, Rice 17

The season opener for Notre Dame could not have gone any better when the Fighting Irish defeated the Rice Owls 48-17 yesterday afternoon. The biggest story entering this contest was the return of Everett Golson, and the redshirt junior delivered in a big way. Golson and the Irish started off a bit slow, but the offense was clicking on cylinders after they settled in. Golson accounted for five total touchdowns on the afternoon by throwing for two scores and adding three more on the ground. Golson was able avoid a few sacks and extended several plays with his legs that resulted in either touchdowns or big gains. Golson’s mobility was most noticeable in the red zone where he was able to run the ball in the end zone when a couple of plays broke down. Golson’s presence will likely do wonders to improve Notre Dame’s red efficiency this season. In all, Golson completed 14 of his 22 passes for 295 yards and added another 41 yards on the ground. I think it is safe to say that any doubts about Golson’s ability to lead this offense are no longer an issue.

While Golson was the star of the game, he was also aided by his supporting cast. Yesterday was a prime example of just how deep the Irish are at their offensive skill positions. Greg Bryant (71 yards), Tarean Folston (71 yards), and Cam McDaniel (40 yards) split the ball carrying duties quite well by combining for 182 yards on 28 carries. At 6.5 yards per carry, the Notre Dame offense was able to do whatever they wanted against the Owls defense. The most encouraging sign of Golson big day through the air was how he was able to spread the ball around to several receivers. Seven Irish players caught a pass on Saturday, with five players hauling in a reception of 25 yards or more. Those type of big plays have been missing for the Irish in recent years, so hopefully that will continue and happen consistently throughout the year. Obviously, the Irish will face tougher defenses later this season, but this offense should be able to move the ball and put up some points against just about every team in the country. For the first team since Brian Kelly has arrived, he finally has the quarterback situation and an abundance of skill players to run his offense effectively. If Saturday is any indication of what the rest of the season will look like, then 2014 season will be very exciting to watch offensively.

Although the offense had a field day, the defense showed some weaknesses against the Owls offense. Prior to game, the Irish got some bad news with starting safety Austin Collinsworth who injured his MCL on Thursday. Collinsworth was unable to play Saturday and he is expected to miss two to four more weeks. Hopefully, his absence will be shorter than four weeks because the Irish secondary could use him. Rice was able to connect on two long touchdown passes, with Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield looking lost on the first score when Zach Wright ran directly through the middle of the Irish secondary. If Notre Dame wants to beat Michigan next week, the secondary will have to communicate better and sure up those mistakes. Outside of that, the Irish defense played fairly well. They were able to create two turnovers and they didn’t allow too much success on the ground. The most surprising aspect of the defense was Joe Schmidt’s performance. The senior linebacker made eight tackles on the day, and showed a lot of skill for a former walk-on. I was not expecting Schmidt to be a huge contributor this season, so hopefully there will be more games like yesterday.

Last, but certainly not least, it appears that the Irish might finally have a punt return game! Florida transfer Cody Riggs had two returns of 24 and 25 yards, while Greg Bryant added 31 yards on his three returns. Those 80 yards helped give the offense excellent field position and provided a spark in an area that has lacked excitement for several season now. Let’s see if that type of production is sustainable throughout the season.

-Eric Tichelbaut


Twitter: @etichel07