Notre Dame v Michigan State

Game Day: No. 9 Notre Dame vs. Miami


It’s been an interesting 48 hours covering Notre Dame football. While rumors swirled about the Irish quarterbacking position, Brian Kelly put them to rest with his declarative statement that Everett Golson was — and would remain — his starting quarterback this evening in Soldier Field. But that hasn’t slowed any of the rumblings down.

With an extra week to prepare, and Miami’s suspect defense a perfect opponent to get healthy against, the Notre Dame offense — whoever the quarterback is — needs to get back on track, struggling for three consecutive Saturdays against Big Ten opponents Purdue, Michigan State, and Michigan.

As we get ready for game time, here are a few final questions I’ve been thinking about.

Who will actually start at quarterback? 

While most of the quarterbacking debate was put to rest by Kelly on Thursday evening, I was told by two sources close to the situation late on Friday night that they still expected Tommy Rees to start on Saturday evening.

Those rumors were refuted by Notre Dame’s sports information department, but until the Irish take the field tonight, I’m not sure what to expect.

Can the Irish get production out of the quarterback position?

Regardless of who’s starting, Notre Dame needs to get some productivity out of the position. Nothing will open up the running game better than a quarterback that can take some shots down the field and challenge the Hurricanes vertically, and both Golson and Rees have that ability.

New quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin had an extra week to game plan for a Miami defense that’s very young and still prone to big mistakes. With All-American Tyler Eifert only catching one ball the past two weeks — his worst production since he was backing up Kyle Rudolph — it’s time for the Irish to figure out a way to get the ball into No. 80’s hands, the most dangerous offensive weapon the Irish have.

Will Notre Dame’s front seven be able to dominate the line of scrimmage? 

It’s a big test for Notre Dame’s stout defensive front, with running backs Duke Johnson and Mike James both big play threats.

More importantly, it’ll be up to the Irish pass rush to work its way through Miami’s youthful offensive line. There isn’t a fourth year player at the line of scrimmage for the Canes, and if the Irish can control the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback with a four and five man rush, then it’ll be a long evening for quarterback Stephen Morris.

Can the Irish secondary limit the big plays? 

It’s another good test for Notre Dame’s young secondary. Morris isn’t Denard Robinson running the football, but he’s got the ability to extend plays and has a really big arm that challenges defenses down the field.

Morris still struggles with his accuracy, but he’s averaging almost 330 yards a game passing, and that yardage is coming in big chunks. With freshman KeiVarae Russell still learning on the job, Matthias Farley making his second start in place of Jamoris Slaughter, and Zeke Motta holding the group together, it’s another great test for a group that’s done a very nice job through four games.

Is Cierre Wood going to take control of the running game? 

After sitting out the season’s first two games and struggling to find his way over the past few weeks, it’s finally time for senior Cierre Wood to take control of the running game. Wood has the best blend of speed, power, and vision in the Irish backfield, and while Theo Riddick has impressed, this is Wood’s game to dominate.

The Hurricanes are giving up 225 yards a game, giving up a healthy 4.49 yards per carry. With an extra week for Harry Hiestand‘s offensive line to work through some early kinks, it’s time for Notre Dame to dominate the line of scrimmage and break loose in the running game.

Can the Irish take care of business and play up to their ranking? 

Being ranked in the top ten is one thing. But playing consistent football against quality opponents for a long stretch of time is the next step in the evolutionary chain for Notre Dame football. Brian Kelly has continued to preach consistency and attention to detail for this team. But can the Irish take care of business in a unique environment against another good team?

The Hurricanes are 4-1, but a program still building. With a mature defense and an offense ready to break through, this is a game Notre Dame should win with authority if they want to stake a claim that they’re one of the country’s premiere teams.

UPDATE — Alex Flanagan confirms my reporting (both above and on Twitter), that Rees will start after Golson violated a team rule.

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.”

And in that corner… The Navy Midshipmen

Keenan Reynolds, Jamar Summers

The theme of this week’s game might very well be mutual respect. But if Notre Dame is going to get their season back on track, they’ll need to very quickly get past any sort of reverence they have for Ken Niumatalolo and the Navy Midshipmen and look for any way to beat them.

Sandwiched between showdowns against Clemson and USC, Navy comes to town, one of the below-the-radar unbeaten teams in the country. With option superstar Keenan Reynolds in the final year of a career that is already one of the most prolific in college football history, the Irish defense goes into triple-option mode for the second time in this young season, asked to once again find an answer for an attack that not many people have solved.

Helping us to prepare for the Midshipmen is the play-by-play voice of Navy athletics, Pete Medhurst. Covering Navy football since 1997, Pete was kind enough to get us ready for the 89th meeting between Notre Dame and the Naval Academy.

Hope you enjoy.


Lost in the misery Notre Dame fans feel after the Irish’s undefeated hopes washed away in Clemson last weekend, is that the Navy team coming to South Bend is really, really good. I know it’s early, but you’ve been covering the Midshipmen for a long time. Can you rank where this team stacks up compared to some of the others you’ve seen?

I think its the best overall Navy team, considering the play of both units right now and special teams as well. The defense is giving up  just 15 points a game, and based on the prowess of the offense, that’s going to lead to a lot of victories if you play at that level.


Is Keenan Reynolds the best triple-option QB in Navy history? As someone who has watched his career evolve, can you speak to his improvements as a quarterback and a player? How important has he been to the evolution of this program?

I believe production speaks for itself. Good health could make him the leading touchdown scorer of all-time in the sport. He’s a coach on the field. Speaks like a coach, has a want to get better. Each day is a mission for him and the unit to get better and they hold themselves to a high standard to meet each day, he’s the leader of that group.



Joining the American Conference was a huge decision, but one that looks to be paying dividends. Have you noticed a difference in the program now that they’re chasing a conference title?

Coaches say it is. They have been met with quality response on the road recruiting. We get to states that are important footprints for us and just adds another goal where our players can be rewarded for their hard work. The conference has been very, very, good so far this year.


Defensively, this game should stress Navy. Notre Dame’s big-play potential is the best of the Brian Kelly era. (The Irish already have more 50-plus yard touchdowns than they’ve had in any other season under Kelly.)

Takeaways and preventing big plays seem to be a tenet of a Buddy Green defense. Are those the big keys for the Midshipmen defensively?

No question this is by far the fastest team Notre Dame has ever had. I go all the way back to the great Lindsay Nelson days when I used to watch the Notre Dame football report every Sunday morning. They can attack you anywhere at anytime with several people. Double cover one, they have three others in the formation who can beat you any play. Brian has put together a great plan and his coaches have delivered great recruits to the program. Many teams can’t survive an injury to the QB, but they have.

Mids have turned teams over this year and that’s a huge key for any defense. With Dale Pehrson taking over the defense (note: Green is taking a sabbatical to recover from major neck surgery this season) those goals have not changed. Eleven guys getting to the football, ball comes out, you have a great chance to get it!


Notre Dame had success earlier this season against Georgia Tech, and Brian Kelly spent a gigantic portion of his offseason preparing for the triple-option, going as far as recruiting a walk-on option quarterback who runs an option-specific scout team.

Do you think the success the Irish defense had against Paul Johnson’s triple-option will help this weekend? Or do you see subtle, but important differences between what Ken Niumatalolo does than his predecessor?

Coach Kelly is a good football coach. After we beat them at the Meadowlands, 35-17, you sensed, he was going to work hard to find a solution because for them to achieve their goals, they have to beat us.

Im not sure how many huge differences their are in our two offenses, one though is the QB. His ability to get Navy into the right play is huge no matter how a team lines up. Defensive personnel has improved in a huge way for Notre Dame too. They have quality people who can run and get to the ball. Last couple have been barn burners. Hopefully Saturday can be the same.