Miami v Notre Dame

Another Saturday, another biggest game of the year

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It’s that kind of season. With Notre Dame off to a 5-0 start, it’s beginning to feel like a Yogi Berra quote. Another Saturday, another biggest game of the year.

If you wanted, you could probably make that argument just about every Saturday. The past three games certainly qualified. With Michigan State, the Irish had their chance to vanquish an ugly streak and beat a top ten team on the road. Brian Kelly called the Irish’s dominant 20-3 victory a “signature win,” and even if the Spartans have failed to hold up their end of the bargain, the victory certainly had a monumental feel to it at the time, if only because it got the mainstream media talking about this team and wondering if the Irish might just be for real.

If beating Michigan State was big for the team’s national profile, beating the Wolverines was gigantic for ND Nation. There were a lot of ghosts in Notre Dame Stadium that night — and the Irish defense slayed them all. With Manti Te’o etching his legend in stone and the defense playing up to their maxim of “B.I.A. — Best In America,” it was a cathartic evening in South Bend, and a perfect way for the Irish to send out Denard Robinson.

Different song, same dance for the Irish in Soldier Field. Putting up a score like 41-3 upped the Irish profile, especially when top ten teams around the country were exposed for being paper tigers hiding behind a soft schedule or big preseason expectations.

(Perhaps Les Miles was so angry about Gunner Kiel staying home in Indiana because he knew what he had at quarterback in Zach Mettenberger . It’s crazy to think that the Irish’s fourth-string QB could possibly be starting for LSU.)

Notre Dame’s convincing win against Miami was another therapeutic step for a fanbase still flinching every time they see the first sign of adversity, gun-shy after years of frustration. Just as important, it was the first time in a long time where a marquee opponent let the moment get too big for them.  Too often, it’s been easy for teams to play their best and rise to the occasion of playing Notre Dame. But not against this team. Miami head coach Al Golden said he had never seen anything like the case of drops his wide receivers had on Saturday night. Mental mistakes can come from pressing, and trying to do too much. They can also come from an intimidation factor. Not to say that’s the case, but it’s been a long time since you could call Notre Dame intimidating without hearing someone laugh.

And that brings us to Stanford. The next biggest game of the year. We all know ESPN will be in town, creating a circus-like atmosphere and bringing a ton of attention to the resurgent Irish. But looking at the schedule, there’s no game that the Irish truly need to have more than this one. When you’re 5-0, every game is critical, but from a pragmatic point of view, beating the Cardinal gives Notre Dame a good shot of losing just two games, even conceding tough Saturdays against Oklahoma and USC. With five winnable games where the Irish should be sizable favorites, a 10-2 season for Notre Dame means a BCS birth, especially with this schedule.

Sure, this kind of looking ahead is the type of thing that gets teams beat. It’s also the type of white noise that Brian Kelly has kept out of his locker room, with strong veteran leadership keeping this group focused on the task at hand.

Beating Stanford won’t be easy. The Irish haven’t been within two touchdowns of the Cardinal in Kelly’s two seasons in South Bend. The three-game losing streak against Stanford is the longest in the series, with the Irish never before losing even two-straight to the visitors from Palo Alto. Without Andrew Luck, the offense is still a work-in-progress, but they exploded for 54 points last weekend, winning a second-half shootout against Arizona. Stanford’s 3-4 defense, with two excellent outside linebackers in Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy, and stout defensive end Ben Gardner, poses a serious threat and will be Everett Golson’s largest test to date.

Stanford heads to South Bend ranked No. 17 and owning one very large W against Lane Kiffin’s USC squad. It may not be the brightest match-up on the marquee, but it certainly is the biggest game of the year.

(At least for another week.)

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.