Cody Kessler

Orgeron set to lead Trojans to South Bend

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When USC heads to South Bend for their annual rivalry game against Notre Dame, they’ll bring a team that’s battered by injuries, coached by a staff likely to be looking for jobs in 90 days, and fanbase that nearly abandoned the program under Lane Kiffin. But in many ways, they’re the Irish’s biggest nightmare.

Gone is the impending gloom that’s hung over Kiffin for much of the last year. After NCAA sanctions crippled the Trojans depth and the pressure that came with a preseason No. 1 ranking eventually swallowed up the young head coach, athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin after five games this season, walking away from the embattled head coach that had lost just about every Trojan fan not living under the same roof when he dropped seven of his last eleven games. Among the losses that cost Kiffin his job were two of three to Notre Dame, something that certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Trojan fans that had seen dominant success against the Irish lately.

This season’s battle for the Jeweled Shillelagh will feature a coach that’s been a part of that success against Notre Dame. Only interim head coach Ed Orgeron‘s success came as the raspy voiced creole responsible for Pete Carroll’s star-studded defensive line, an assistant coach that won eight straight against the Irish. It was a rivalry that Carroll and Orgeron relished, the importance of the game taught to them early in their tenures in Los Angeles by another one-time snarling Trojan, former assistant Marv Goux.

“When we first got her, Marv Goux sat down with me and coach Carroll about the importance of this game to the university, to the fans, some of the traditions,” Orgereon said. “We still carry on those traditions.”

One tradition Brian Kelly would certainly like to end is the Trojans’ dominance in Notre Dame Stadium. It’s been over 10 years and five head coaches since Bob Davie defeated Pete Carroll in 2001. Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister talked about some of the heartache the Irish have had when playing their West Coast rivals, especially in these past few years where a victory could have changed the team’s trajectory.

This weekend, when the Irish host USC at night, Notre Dame has another trend it would like to end. The Trojans have defeated the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium five straight times, including the 31-17 loss in 2011.

The last time the Irish defeated USC at home was in Pete Carroll’s first year as head coach of the Trojans in 2001 when the Irish – who would finish 5-6 in Davie’s last season as head coach – claimed a 27-16 victory.

In the 2011 loss to the Trojans, the Irish laid an egg with a lot at stake. It was the first night game in Notre Dame Stadium since the 1990 season-opener against Michigan. The Irish broke out new gold helmets, and the atmosphere was embellished with piped in music to make Notre Dame Stadium a more intimidating place.

But in front of more than a dozen official visitors in the biggest recruiting weekend of the season, the Irish fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 17-0 in the second quarter. Just when it appeared they would tie the game late in the third quarter, Jawanza Starling returned a Dayne Crist fumble 80 yards for a score and the losing streak in Notre Dame Stadium against the Trojans increased to five.

(Prister went on to recount the pummeling that Carroll inflicted on Ty Willingham as well, but his point was already well made.)

This weekend, the Irish have the deck stacked in recruiting as well, with several West Coast prospects and a handful of national targets taking their official look at Notre Dame. And while the game might not rate as important with USC transitioning coaches and both teams already saddled with two losses, you can argue that this game is the most important of the season, considering how well set up the Irish are for a late-season run.

This is not Pete Carroll’s Trojan team. But it’s not Lane Kiffin’s anymore, either. And that means a football team that’s still got many concerns but is also one of the more talented that the Irish will face this season. CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman talked about the reinvigorated attitude that the Trojans played with last weekend. Expect the same in South Bend.

So while the game might not have the national intrigue that some have had in the past, there’s certainly no shortage of subplots this Saturday night.

 

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.