The good, the bad, the ugly: Pitt


So I took Sunday off from writing about the Irish. Mental health day let’s call it. It was a beautiful November day in Southern California,  not a cloud in the sky, a temperature you might as well have dialed up on the thermostat, and I had myself a nice lazy Sunday.

I have a feeling things weren’t the same in South Bend.

Notre Dame canceled Charlie Weis’ usual Sunday night press conference, citing a later than planned arrival back into town after last night’s game. While many of us would’ve liked to hear Weis’ take on Saturday night’s loss, it was probably for the best to give the man a break. As he said last night, he’s got to start worrying about UConn.

(And after seeing Stanford demolish USC, it’s clear that the Irish really need to worry about UConn, as that might be the only chance at an elusive seventh win…)

There’s plenty of time to talk about what’s to come, but until then, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.


I’m running out of superlatives for Golden Tate. If there’s a more impressive football player in college football, I haven’t seen him. Last night, Tate almost single-handedly brought the Irish back from the dead, and his punt return for a touchdown fulfilled the special teams compulsories of his Heisman worthy campaign.

Tate and Michael Floyd both went over 100 yards receiving, and while it might be a hollow comparison with the season going down the drain, the Irish have the collegiate version of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin starting at wide receiver, and if Tate sticks around, will return the dynamic duo next season as well.


While the defense played decent in the first half, they were still plagued by the explosive play, as Jonathan Baldwin’s 36-yard touchdown catch showed. And when the Irish defense needed to make plays in the second half, they simply couldn’t do it. Whether it was poor tackling, bad ball skills, or a nonexistent pass rush, the Irish defense came up empty when it mattered the most.

The Irish didn’t get a single sack on Bill Stull Saturday night, and only managed four quarterback hurries. Even worse was the tackling by the Irish defense on backup running back Ray Graham’s 53-yard touchdown run, where Graham made practically half the defense miss, including safety Sergio Brown twice. With the team desperately in need of the defense to step up in the second half, the Irish gave up 10 third quarter points, putting the offense into a hole they couldn’t get out of.


To put into perspective how woeful the Notre Dame punting game has been, I took a look at the high school alma maters of Eric Maust and Ben Turk, figuring that even their high school punters were doing better at their jobs than the two Notre Dame scholarship punters.

At Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia, where Maust was a standout baseball and football player, Riley Lyons averaged 36 yards a punt last season, with a long of 49 yards. At St. Thomas Aquinas, where Ben Turk punted last year, the Raiders are averaging over 39 yards a punt this season.

Meanwhile, the Irish punters have kicked 37 times for an average of 35.4 yards on the season, getting out-kicked by their high school equivalents. Even more detrimental, in Notre Dame’s four losses the Irish have been forced to punt 14 times and are only averaging 30 yards a kick. When you’re playing good teams, you can’t consistently put yourself in the hole in the field position battle, and that’s exactly what Notre Dame has done.

On Saturday, Notre Dame’s was forced to start, on average, at their own 21-yard line. Pitt’s average start was at the 30, and that’s not including Clausen’s interception or “fumble” that would skew this stat even more in Pitt’s favor. Notre Dame’s mediocre punting game has been just as detrimental to winning as the much maligned defense.

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”


Kelly confident Robinson will rebound

Notre Dame v Florida State

Corey Robinson‘s season was already off to a slow start. And that was before a difficult night at Clemson. The junior receiver came into last weekend with only four catches, held out against UMass after a pregame tweak of his knee put a scare into the Irish.

Robinson’s knee checked out fine. But mentally, it appears that the sure-handed junior is struggling.

Just before halftime against the Tigers, Robinson failed to reel in a long catch that would’ve given the Irish a much-needed touchdown heading into half. Early in the fourth quarter, a high throw from DeShone Kizer on the Irish’s first failed two-point conversion play slid through Robinson’s hands. Made worse was a mental mistake by Robinson, the Irish needing to use one of their second half timeouts when the junior wasn’t on the field.

Coached hard on the sideline by Brian Kelly and coached up by his position coach Mike Denbrock (as we saw on both Showtime and Fighting Irish Media’s ICON), the staff is doing it’s best to get Robinson’s confidence back.

With some wondering if Robinson’s struggles should open the door for talented freshman Equanimeous St. Brown, Kelly talked about their belief that the junior will return to form.

“Corey Robinson is going to get the job done. I had a very lengthy conversation with him yesterday,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I believe in Corey. Corey’s got to believe in himself, and he will. He’s got to go attack the football. He’s letting the football come to him. He’s letting it eat him up a little bit, but I believe in Corey.”

There’s no better place to showcase that belief than against Navy. The Midshipmen don’t have a defender physically capable of matching up with the 6-foot-5 Robinson, who will likely face his share of single coverage with Will Fuller likely demanding safety help.

Then it’s just a matter of Robinson showing the hands and confidence that made him one of last year’s most consistent performers.

“Once he starts attacking the football, I think we’re going to see somebody that can make the plays that we expect him to make,” Kelly said. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to see the guy that we need to see on Saturday.”