The good, the bad, the ugly: Michigan State


We’re almost 36 hours after the dust has settled in South Bend, and the Irish walk away from the game with a 2-1 record. It’s certainly not what people hoped for, but not a doomsday scenario.

While the 33-30 victory was too close for comfort, and the see-saw performance once again calls into question the legitimacy of this Irish squad, a win against Michigan State is always a good thing.

Let’s take a quick look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Offensively, the Irish once again showed their ability to put up points. Jimmy Clausen has ascended into an elite quarterback, showing great touch, good decision making, and world-class accuracy. His toughness was also put on display, as he battled a foot injury for much of the second half while leading the Irish to victory. Armando Allen also continued to assert himself, proving that the faith the coaching staff had in him was warranted. While the sackless streak for the offensive line is over, the line of scrimmage was once again won by the Irish interior lineman, and the offense was incredibly effective in short-yardage situations. More importantly, the Irish showed they could win playing fundamentally balanced offensive football, even without Michael Floyd, who now looks to be lost for the remainder of the regular season.

Also lumped in the good category was the late game interception of Kyle McCarthy. Psychologically, this could be the best thing to come from this game. Notre Dame desperately needed someone to make a play and win the game and the fifth-year senior did it. Time will tell if this was the break the Irish needed, but it sure felt like a defining moment for the Irish defense, and on Saturday, the Irish came out on the right side of it.


The defense once again looked shaky, giving up over 30 points for the 2nd consecutive week. Playcaller Jon Tenuta dialed up plenty of blitzes, but struggled to apply any real pressure on the Spartan quarterbacking combination. The past two games are the first time in Notre Dame football history with both teams scoring 30 (or more) points in both games. That’s a good thing for the Irish offense and a really bad thing for the defense. While Kyle McCarthy stopped Armageddon from happening with his late game interception, the defense needs to find an identity quickly.

Another equally bad — almost ugly — situation is the penalties. In his post-game comments Coach Weis mentioned he was disappointed “not only at the volume of penalties but the type of penalties we had in a couple cases.” He should have been pointing directly at senior Sam Young, whose dead ball penalty late in the 4th quarter almost cost the Irish dearly. Other than the crisp and efficient play of the Irish against Nevada, the team has been plagued by inopportune penalties by the handful, something that will cripple the Irish if the trend continues.


The injury to Michael Floyd was a punch to the stomach to Irish fans everywhere, and a gigantic blow to Charlie Weis’ offensive arsenal. In Floyd’s two seasons with the Irish, injuries could prevent him from playing in 12 of Notre Dame’s possible 26 games. Yet his production in those games, and his eye-popping potential, have made him Notre Dame’s best skill position player since the Lou Holtz era.

Rumors also were flying over the last 24 hours of a broken bone in quarterback Jimmy Clausen’s foot. Weis stayed light-hearted when dealing with his star quarterback’s injury, but admitted that the team would be having an MRI done on Clausen’s toe and arch area of his foot to identify what the problem is. 

Losing the two best skill position players from the Irish offense for any amount of time is a crushing blow, especially to an Irish team with very little margin for error.

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.