Rocket Pep Rally

IBG: Burning the midnight oil


Apologies for the late arrival of this week’s Irish Blogger Gathering. Boarding a United flight out of LAX to O’Hare, I was wondering if I was boarding an episode of Pan Am, as the plane they rolled out for us was from a long forgotten era, and of course… it didn’t have wifi.

So this week’s IBG — hosted by our barrister blogger Domer Law — was done with less than adequate online support. (That’s my disclaimer before you go judging my answers, too harshly.)

Beside: It’s USC week. Save your energy for Saturday night. Finally, just a day away.

Here. We. Go.

I’m taking an old friend of mine to the USC game.  They were born and raised in South Bend near Notre Dame, and developed a dislike for the University at a young age from dealing with the frustrations and messes that come from Notre Dame home football weekends.  She’s never been to a Notre Dame game before (she’s an Ohio State fan).  We’re going to go tailgate and do all the usual tailgating stuff.  Any suggestions on what I could do to help her let go of her animosity towards Notre Dame?

Don’t shove it down her throat. If she has a pulse and she enjoys college football, it won’t be hard to have a good time on Saturday. By and large, Notre Dame fans are a hospitable group, but it isn’t hard to have negative preconceived notions about the school and its alums, especially if you grew up in South Bend and struggled with the divide between the school and the city.

If your friend happens to be Catholic, check out the Grotto, the Basilica, and take a walk around God Quad. If your friend is a football fanatic, check out the changes they’ve made to the JACC, where the Heisman Trophies and past glories are now proudly on display. If they’re neither, make sure you have a good tailgate scene set up with good food and spirits and better company.

You’re not in the business of converting somebody. Leave that to Brian Kelly. Let the game and environment speak for itself. If she doesn’t like Notre Dame any better after Saturday, save your next USC ticket for someone else next time!

On a related note, do you have any suggestions for improving the Notre Dame game weekend experience generally?  Are there traditions lost that you’d like to see restored, or new ideas that you’d like to see implemented to improve the gameday experience?

Having been to about 20-25 different college football stadiums in my lifetime, I think Notre Dame does a pretty great job with Saturdays. After swinging the pendulum too far in response to tailgating behavior, I think the university has done a good job in making gameday whatever you want it to be: a history lesson, a day filled with pageantry, or a nice setting to enjoy a cold one and some Ralph’s Side Door Deli fried chicken.

A lot of people seem to be getting bent out of shape for the changing of the players walk, but if there’s one thing that I really miss, it’s the old pep rallies. Back in the Holtz era, they used to be more exciting than the games. Now they kind of just happen. Whether it’s staged in front of a dorm or outside in the new Irish Green, the closest it’s come to being even close to exciting was when Rocket Ismail was screaming about “Unbelief.”

Getting into the pep rally used to be tougher than getting into the football game. While excluding people that want to go doesn’t make that much sense, I’m all in favor of bringing the pep rally back inside, using that big new video board in the JACC  and some light tricks to get people fired up and add some electricity to an event that’s gotten pretty lame.

(You want proof? Here’s Rocket’s speech from 2009. Even the players didn’t know what to make of it, as they’d been used to mediocre gatherings where they wave to their moms and smile at girls from PW. But Rocket remembered what the pep rallies used to be like. If this were the old days, you’d have students running through walls. Charlie should’ve thrown a uniform on Rocket. It probably would’ve been the different.)


(a) USC is (and always will be) our biggest rival.  Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  And if you agree, why do you feel that this is such an important rivalry? (b) Rank your top 10 college football rivalries and provide justifications for each.

USC is Notre Dame’s biggest rival. No question. For all the reasons everybody else on the internet has talked about all week. Why is it important? Frankly, because it lets me use the word  “intersectional” in a sentence once a year. It also gives me the opportunity to talk Notre Dame football with all my neighbors in Manhattan Beach, where 90 percent of the population loves the Trojans.

I’m not great at coming up with lists without internet access, but off the top of my head, in no particular order here are my ten favorite college football rivalries:

Notre Dame vs. USC: Whether it’s in South Bend or South Central, it’s my favorite game to go to in the autumn.

Michigan vs. Michigan State: It feels really good not to have any allegiances in this one. Lately, it’s felt like watching The Great Outdoors, only this time Chet (John Candy) gets to sucker-punch Roman (Dan Aykroyd) in the face and laugh at him.

Oklahoma vs. Texas: The Red River Shootout is a true experience. The geographical excellence of the Cotton Bowl between Norman and Austin, plus seeing the stadium cut perfectly down the middle between burnt orange and sooner crimson is pretty awesome.

Georgia vs. Florida: Even if it isn’t called the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party anymore, I can tell you from experience that it still is. The football is usually okay, too.

Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State: This one gets on my list for the tailgating scene and the co-eds alone.

Michigan vs. Ohio State: The best of Big Ten football. When both programs are good, this game is awesome.

Auburn vs. Alabama: The best of SEC football. When both programs are good, the teams might be over the NFL salary cap.

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: My hometown bias is certainly coming out, but these two teams play for the greatest rivalry trophy of all time. Celebrations like this vault it onto the list.

Harvard vs. Yale: If only because it lets me watch a brand of college football I was almost good enough to play. (Plus as a bonus, you can use the rosters to upgrade your LinkedIn profile.)

Oregon vs. Oregon State: Admittedly, I’m running out of steam here, but between the Civil War and the Apple Cup, the two Pacific Northwest rivalries deserve some credit.

Southern Cal is 5-1, with their only loss on the road at Arizona State.  They are unranked, sitting right behind us in the “also receiving votes” category.  How good is Southern Cal this year?  How do you see this game playing out?

We won’t know until after Saturday. For the first time in years, I’ve heard Notre Dame fans feeling outright brazen about this game, and possibly for good reason. USC is young and while they have some good talent on this roster, it’s a shell of what it was back in the Pete Carroll glory days.

That said, they probably have three first-rounders on their offense, and that’s as top heavy as any team Notre Dame will see this year. We’ve seen the Trojans give up a ton of points, look lost in pass coverage and really inconsistent on both sides of the ball.

That said, if you’re a Notre Dame fan and puffing your chest, Slow. Your. Roll. Like it or not, you’re one Ronald Johnson drop away from being in the midst of a really ugly losing streak.

If the Irish handle their business on Saturday, and I honestly think they should, there’ll be over a year to gloat to those Trojan fans you detest. But until then, keep quiet, save your vocal chords until Saturday night, and get ready to see what happens.

It appears that with a win over USC, we’ll re-enter the Top 25 rankings.  Now that we’re halfway through the season and have some actual evidence available to us from real games, how do you see the rest of the season playing out?  Predict:
For the record, I hate playing the predictions game. But since Domer Law is running this week’s IBG, I’m sure there’s some fine print at the bottom of his questions making me contractually obligated to participate. So here goes:
(a) Notre Dame’s final record: Let’s have fun. Run the table until Stanford. Then roll the dice and see what happens.
(b) Notre Dame’s bowl destination, opponent and outcome. Win out? BCS game. Lose one or two: Champ Sports Bowl.
(c) The BCS Championship game and result. Can they match two SEC teams up? I’m not buying Oklahoma yet.
(d) Notre Dame’s final AP ranking. If they win out? Top six. If not? Top 25.
(e) The winners of the major awards, including:
(i) Heisman Trophy Russell Wilson, just so some writer has to ask Tom O’Brien about the decision to let Wilson walk away from NC State for free.
(ii) Home Depot Coach of the Year Bret Bielema.
(iii) Davey O’Brien Award (best QB) Andrew Luck.
(iv) Doak Walker Award (best RB) LaMichael James.
(v) Fred Biletnikoff Award (best WR) Cretin-Derham Hall’s own Michael Floyd.
(vi) Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) Whoever the SEC media decides.

Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. Navy

Keenan Reynolds, Justin Utopo, Cole Luke

Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame and Navy will do battle for the 89th straight season. But if you’re not in South Bend, or can’t park in front of a computer, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of the Irish and Midshipmen features a pregame show on NBCSN and a postgame recap to follow. You can always watch on the NBC Sports Live Extra app.

Here’s how to watch Navy vs. Notre Dame:

3:00 p.m. — Pregame Show (NBCSN)
3:30 p.m.  — Navy vs. Notre Dame (NBC)
7:00 p.m.  — Postgame Show (NBCSN)


With an HD feed, DVR capabilities and a bonus camera, logging in and watching from your tablet or mobile phone makes it easier than ever to catch Notre Dame on NBC.

Pregame Six Pack: Anchors await


Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Jazz Singer ended the silent film era. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. And Notre Dame played Navy in football for the first time.

The Irish won that contest 19-6, and the two teams have played every year since then. So much has changed since that first game, yet the longest running intersectional rivalry is still rolling on, stronger now than maybe ever.

While the Irish’s four game winning streak has extended their already lopsided series lead (Notre Dame holds a 74-12-1 edge), the ledger is hardly what makes the game special. An annual David & Goliath matchup, both schools remain committed the game, part of the unique bond that exists between the two institutions.

So much of this week has been made about the mutual respect between the two programs. A 30-minute documentary aired earlier this week. Both teams will share part of their uniform—as will the coaches on the sidelines—a tip of their cap to the shared history (and nifty corporate synergy) between respected opponents once again doing battle.

But make no mistake: All the respect talk this week doesn’t make this a friendly Saturday.

There is no love lost between the Irish and the Midshipmen on the field.  So while both teams may honor the other by standing during their respective alma mater, this is a game that each team desperately wants to win.

After a rain-soaked weekend in South Carolina, it looks like a dry Saturday in South Bend. So let’s put away the rain panchos and get to the Pregame Six Pack.


After watching the Georgia Tech game from the sideline, Max Redfield steps back into the starting lineup. 

Drue Tranquill begins his recovery from ACL surgery today, as fearless as ever. And while Matthias Farley has shown some playmaking ability against option attacks, Brian Kelly confirmed that Max Redfield would stay in the starting lineup against Navy.

Redfield is coming off his most productive game as a college football player, making 14 tackles—including 11 solo stops—against Clemson. Now Redfield will step into the one-high safety role, while Elijah Shumate will take over for Tranquill in the box.

“He plays the role that Shu played. Shu played the role that Tranquill played,” Kelly said.

That means it’ll be Shumate running the alley and handling the pitch man. And Redfield will be asked to serve both as the last line of defense and also make a difference in the option game as well.

Just about everybody who watched Redfield last week saw a different player than the one who was largely ineffective against Virginia as he tried to play through a broken thumb. And Kelly talked Thursday evening a little bit about the journey Redfield has taken to get there.

“Each kid is a little bit different in the way that football strikes them,” Kelly said. “He’s somebody that I think is looking at football through a different lens and understands that there are so many details to it… He wants to play at the highest level, he wants to play on Sundays. He wants to get his degree from Notre Dame. I think he’s just maturing and developing at a pace that’s comfortable to him.”


DeShone Kizer did more than just survive at Clemson. Can his silver-lining performance trigger a more explosive offense?

With the game on the line and Hurricane Joaquin creating a relentless rain storm, nobody would’ve thought putting the game on the shoulders of DeShone Kizer would be Notre Dame’s best chance to win. Yet that’s what Brian Kelly did, and Kizer very nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Navy doesn’t play defense like Clemson. While the Midshipmen’s defense is vastly improved (they rank just one spot behind Notre Dame in total defense heading into Saturday’s contest), they’ll be in a physical mismatch for most of the day, relying on turnovers and stops to limit the Irish offense.

But after serving as the unexpected engine of Notre Dame’s comeback last Saturday, Kizer looks capable of doing more than just game managing, especially for an offense that’s averaged seven touchdowns a game against Navy the past four years.

“I just think when you get opportunities to play on the road, leading your team back in the fourth quarter, you gain more of an understanding of a quarterback who’s got to make plays,” Kelly said. “I think we knew he was the guy that could handle the moment, he certainly was able to do that… I think it just added on to the fact that we’ve got a quarterback that can help us win a championship.”


For as challenging as slowing down Navy’s option is every year, Notre Dame fans sometimes forget that Navy’s got to find a way to stop the Irish, too. 

As mentioned just before, Notre Dame is scoring 48.25 points against Navy during their four-game winning steak. And one of the biggest challenges that Navy faces is Brian Kelly the playcaller.

Earlier this week, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo talked about what makes Kelly’s offense so good and why Notre Dame’s head coach is so difficult to stop.

“Coach Kelly, I’ve always admired the way he calls plays. Some play-callers bury their face in their call sheet, but he’s watching the game,” Niumatalolo said. “But if he sees something, he’s going to exploit it. He’s got a great feel for the game. We’ve got to be able to adjust. We’ve got some ideas of what we can do, but he’s going to adjust very quickly to us and we’ve got to be able to adjust.”

Expect Kelly to try and get the ground game back rolling again after a difficult weekend at Clemson. And with veteran safety Kwazel Betrand likely lost for the year with after suffering a broken ankle against Air Force, the back end will be tested as well.

It’s a challenge at every level for Navy. And with Kelly, Mike Denbrock and Mike Sanford keeping the offense moving, it’ll stress the Midshipmen like no other game on their schedule.


Even with one loss, Kelly still thinks Notre Dame controls their own destiny. 

Earlier this week, Brian Kelly hopped on SiriusXM radio with Stephen A. Smith. And while on Tuesday Kelly said he wasn’t sure if a one-loss team could get into the College Football Playoff, he sounded more confident that the Irish still controlled their own destiny when he was talking to Smith.

“After you lose, you’re going to take that bump. That’s really part of it,” Kelly said, sounding unworried about the slide to No. 15. “I think we have a really good football team. We did not play up to the level we’re capable of and you should fall considerably because of it.”

But Kelly thinks the Irish have a schedule in front of them that can allow them to step back into the race. And while it’s still way, way, way too soon to be wondering if the Irish have the schedule needed to qualify without a conference title game, Kelly seemed to think winning out would solve all of those problems. (Even with USC’s Thursday night loss to Washington.)

“The great part of it is that we’ve got a schedule in front of us that’ll allow us to control our own destiny,” Kelly said. “If we continue to play better football and we’re a better football team in November than we are right now, we’ve got a chance to be where we need to be at the end of the year.”



For Notre Dame to win, they need to slow down Navy’s option specialist, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds

Justin Thomas may have gotten all the preseason attention from Irish fans. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the more dangerous of the option trigger-men. The senior quarterback and leader of the Midshipmen will finish his college career as one of the most prolific players in college football history.

Reynolds has already scored nine touchdowns this season and his 73 career rushing touchdowns tied for second most in college football history, only four behind Montee Ball‘s record. At 25-11, his 25 wins as a starter are the most in Navy history, third most among active NCAA players.

Reynolds saw his first action as a freshman in 2012, thrown into action in Dublin after starting quarterback Trey Miller went down. Looking for his first victory against the Irish, Reynolds cherishes the opportunity to come to South Bend and fight for one.

“I’m excited. Playing at Notre Dame Stadium. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way,” Reynolds said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a tough challenge. They’re a very, very good team. It’s the best team we’re going to see, they’re a Top 10 team in the country, even with a loss.”


This is Ken Niumatalolo’s best Navy team. And he knows it needs to play perfect to beat Notre Dame. 

During this week’s Onward Notre Dame: Mutual Respect documentary, we saw the large photo that hangs on the office wall of Ken Niumatalolo—the chaos and happiness of Midshipmen celebrating after they shocked Notre Dame in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak.

While Niumatalolo was just the offensive line coach at the time, he acknowledged just how important that victory was to his program.

“For us it was a great accomplishment. I have [the picture] up there because they’re hard to beat and it doesn’t come too often, so we had to relish that one time we beat them in 2007,” Niumatalolo said in the documentary. “A big part of that picture just shows the jubilation of years trying to get over the hump.”

If there was ever a Navy team that’s well positioned to make a shocking statement at Notre Dame Stadium again, it might be this team. Outside of sophomore right tackle Robert Lindsey and sophomore linebacker D.J. Palmore, every starter on Navy is an upperclassman.

The offensive line doesn’t have a man smaller than 275 pounds, a much larger unit than you’re used to from Navy’s standards. The entire backfield is seniors, led by Reynolds but tag-teamed with fullback Chris Swain and slotbacks Desmond Brown and DeBrandon Sanders.

Even with Reynolds and a veteran group of talent, this group knows it can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially in the turnover column.

“It’s priority each and every week. But especially this week,” Reynolds said. “We can’t give them any [turnovers]. They’re very very good on offense, we can’t put our defense in a bind by giving them a short field. We understand the importance of ball security this week and having zero turnovers.”

Defensively, Dale Pehrson has taken over for Buddy Green as defensive coordinator while Green recovers from offseason surgery. With a veteran front seven and some talent on the back end, this isn’t a hapless defense just hoping to capitalize on an Irish mistake, but rather a defense that Kelly said is befitting of a Top 25 team.

Still, it’ll take more than just Niumatalolo’s best team to beat Notre Dame—they’ll need the Irish to falter. But in the midst of a four-game losing streak against the Irish, expect Navy to empty their arsenal to do anything to get a win.

“We’ve had a hard time making the plays,” Niumatalolo said about the last four years. But this is our best defense that we’ve had. We’ll go in there and take a shot at them. They’re really good. Always have been.”