Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Nevada


The Irish’s 35-0 dismantling of Nevada has a lot of people wondering what this means for Notre Dame this season. I’m not quite ready to project the future, but it was certainly a good way to start. Here are five things we learned:

1) Jimmy Clausen is ready for his close-up.

Clausen was in complete control today, looking composed in the pocket, decisive with his reads, and deadly accurate with the football. Even his three incompletions were nice throws. Clausen did a nice job early stepping up in the pocket, especially on the first play of the game when the deep ball wasn’t open. Clausen’s passer rating was in the mid-300s, which I think qualifies as a pretty nice day at the office.

2) The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage.

Stat of the day: Notre Dame averaged 8.8 yards a play in the first half. For the first time since 2006, the Irish looked competent running the ball, which is especially encouraging with Nevada’s run defense ranked so highly last year. Armando Allen consistently got the corner when the Irish stretched the field on the ground, and the ability to run really opened up the play-action passing game.

3) The offensive weapons are legit.

Michael Floyd should be a first round draft pick. Golden Tate probably could be as well. And tight-end Kyle Rudolph might evolve into one as well. Add in Jimmy Clausen to the draft projections, and the sheer artillery is a sign of things to come. We won’t know quite how good Notre Dame truly is until next week when they play in enemy territory, but today’s impressive output was quite an airshow. Floyd’s touchdown catches, Tate’s explosiveness, and Rudolph’s first-quarter TD grab might be a sign that the vertical passing game that Weis established in his first two seasons has been resurrected.

4) Jon Tenuta is going to bring the house.

Tenuta served notice that he’ll be bringing the house early and often. With a 35-0 lead in the fourth quarter, Tenuta still brought the heat, not sitting back and playing it conservative, but attacking with linebackers, defensive backs, and anybody else on the field. The change back to the 4-3 seemed to go smoothly, and Tenuta’s the perfect coach to lead the transition. Expect even more heat next weekend, when Michigan breaks in a freshman quarterback against a team that doesn’t have a direction in its name.

5) Manti Te’o is a stud.

The freshman made quite a debut today. He was all over the field, running down Kaepernick from behind after blitzing off the snap on his first play. He made a great read on a middle screen and blew up two different Nevada players with some very big hits. Te’o will most likely see the field often against Rich Rodriguez’s Wolverines next week, utilizing his speed and ability to move in space to run down Michigan’s spread offense.

Even amidst chaos, Kelly expecting USC’s best

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rocky Hayes, Blaise Taylor

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was fired on Monday, with interim head coach Clay Helton taking the reins of the Trojan program during tumultuous times. Helton will be the fourth different USC head coach to face Notre Dame in as many years, illustrative of the chaos that’s shaken up Heritage Hall in the years since Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

All eyes are on the SC program, with heat on athletic director Pat Haden and the ensuing media circus that only Los Angeles can provide. But Brian Kelly doesn’t expect anything but their best when USC boards a plane to take on the Irish in South Bend.

While the majority of Notre Dame’s focus will be inward this week, Kelly did take the time on Sunday and Monday to talk with his team about the changes atop the Trojan program, and how they’ll likely impact the battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh.

“We talked about there would be an interim coach, and what that means,” Kelly said. “Teams come together under those circumstances and they’re going to play their very best. And I just reminded them of that.”

While nobody on this Notre Dame roster has experienced a coaching change, they’ve seen their share of scrutiny. The Irish managed to spring an upset not many saw coming against LSU last year in the Music City Bowl after a humiliating defeat against the Trojans and amidst the chaos of a quarterbacking controversy. And just last week, we saw Charlie Strong’s team spring an upset against arch rival Oklahoma when just about everybody left the Longhorns for dead.

“I think you look at the way Texas responded this past weekend with a lot of media scrutiny,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I expect USC to respond the same way, so we’re going to have to play extremely well.”

Outside of the head coaching departure, it’s difficult to know if there’ll be any significant difference between a team lead by Sarkisian or the one that Helton will lead into battle. The offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has been at USC for six years, and has already held the title of interim head coach when he led the Trojans to a 2013 Las Vegas Bowl title after Lane Kiffin was fired and Ed Orgeron left the program after he wasn’t given the full time position.

Helton will likely call plays, a role he partially handled even when Sarkisian was on the sideline. The defense will still be run by Justin Wilcox. And more importantly, the game plan will be executed by a group of players that are among the most talented in the country.

“They have some of the finest athletes in the country. I’ve recruited a lot of them, and they have an immense amount of pride for their program and personal pride,” Kelly said. “So they will come out with that here at Notre Dame, there is no question about that.”

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.