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Five things we learned: Notre Dame 23, BYU 13

Nov 23, 2013, 9:41 PM EDT

Matt Cashore - USA Today Matt Cashore - USA Today

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before an emotional Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly made sure the message to his team was very clear.

“We told them that, you’ll get a chance to kiss your mom again,” Kelly said after the game. “But you’ll remember winning the game. That’s the most important thing.”

And win they did, turning a frigid Saturday afternoon filled with wind and snow into a wonderful final chapter for the Class of 2013.

No, things didn’t turn out the way they could’ve for this group. But backed by a ground game that rushed for 235 yards, and a great defensive performance by a severely wounded unit, the Irish beat BYU for the second straight season in South Bend.

The victory sends the senior class out of South Bend with a win, and more important leads Notre Dame into Palo Alto with nothing to lose.

Let’s take a look at what we learned during the Irish’s 23-13 victory.

***

***

Needing to get back into character, Brian Kelly called on the 2012 game plan to cement a victory. 

The Irish had a bye week to wash away one of the more disappointing Saturdays in Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame. They also had a chance to go back and look at what’s worked, putting together a vintage 2012 performance.

In weather that demanded a strong running game, the Irish rushed for 235 yards, equaling the passing game total. Even without Louis Nix, the defense played physical in the front seven while the secondary refused to give up the deep ball. And Kyle Brindza came up with a clutch special teams kick, booting a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

A week after being its own worse enemy, the Irish found its long-missing identity.

“This is the way we’ve got to play football,” Kelly said. “This is Notre Dame football. This is the way we need to play. This is what we’re capable of playing. It’s a much more physical brand of football that we are capable of playing, and quite frankly, our team did that and they responded accordingly.”

***

***

Battered and bruised, Bob Diaco’s defense put together an impressive performance. 

Louis Nix took the field on Saturday, but only with the help of crutches to hug his mother at midfield. Kona Schwenke did his best to play through a high ankle sprain, but succumbed to the injury early. But Jarron Jones came out of nowhere to play inspired football, racking up seven tackles, a batted down pass, and a clutch field goal block.

After being plagued by inconsistencies all season, Bob Diaco’s defense looked an awful lot like the group many expected, limiting BYU to just 13 points. Senior Dan Fox was all over the field, leading the Irish in tackles with nine, including a sack of Taysom Hill and a pass breakup.

Stephon Tuitt looked every bit the All-American, notching seven stops of his own, a sack of Hill and three quarterback hurries, including the destruction of the pocket on the Cougars final fourth down attempt. 

Against one of the most difficult rushing attacks in the country to slow down, the Irish gave up 247 yards on the ground, but refused to give up the big play down field that has plagued this team.

“We gave up some things to hold up big plays,” Kelly said after the game.”We weren’t going to let them get over the top.”

The underneath stuff did lead to the Cougars converting 11 of 20 third downs. But the Irish defense stiffened in the red zone, allowing just one touchdown in four appearances inside the Irish 20.

Even with a group battered and bruised, Diaco’s defense managed to do more than just survive against the up-tempo BYU attack, holding the Cougars to just 13 points, matching their season low.

***

In a season where the running game has gone missing, Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and George Atkinson stepped up. 

With the wind swirling early and conditions far from ideal for the passing game, everybody in the stadium expected Notre Dame to try and establish the running game. But not that many expected it to work so convincingly.

The Irish establishing the ground game early with Tarean Folston and George Atkinson, before Tommy Rees hit DaVaris Daniels over the top for a 61 yard touchdown. On a day where Notre Dame absolutely needed a quick start, the offense did exactly that.

All afternoon the running attack pacing the Irish offense, even when Matt Hegarty subbed in for Nick Martin after the junior center hyperextended his knee. (Conor Hanratty also started in place of Steve Elmer, though both played.)  

While both Folston and Atkinson ran for at least six yards a carry, Kelly called on junior Cam McDaniel to carry the load down the stretch, and McDaniel answered the bell with 117 rushing yards on 24 carries. It was McDaniel’s first 100-yard game and the most carries in his career.

When asked after the game about the running game, Kelly talked about the decision to put the game on the Texan’s shoulders.

“Cam is more of a downhill, inside the tackle north and south runner,” Kelly explained. “The game style fits him, and I don’t want to box him into a particular kind of runner, but he’s a physical inside runner, and so he and Tarean got a lot of carries inside out.  And George really helped us out a lot today, too, with some good, physical running, as well.”

A season after leaning almost exclusively on the ground game to beat BYU, the Irish were able to win the football game thanks to a consistent rushing attack, utilizing all three backs in a must-win.

***

With the best game of his career, Jarron Jones might be the guy to replace Louis Nix at defensive tackle. 

While the future of Louis Nix hasn’t been determined, in all likelihood we’ve seen the last of Irish Chocolate at Notre Dame. But the wide spread panic about Nix’s replacement might have been quelled Saturday evening as Jarron Jones played a dominant game at the point of attack.

The sophomore defensive lineman shifted inside to nose guard almost out of necessity, making good on his coach’s early-week premonition that good things were coming for Jones.

“Jarron we felt like was coming on, and he played exceedingly well and I’m really happy for him,” Kelly said. “But we thought this was something that when we recruited him that he was capable of, and he showed that today.”

Getting that out of him hasn’t always been easy. Jones talked about the challenges he faced keeping focus and delivering the type of effort that gave the coaching staff faith in the sophomore from Rochester, New York.

“Just me being young and not focused,” Jones said, when asked about the early struggles he’s faced. “It was all over the place. It was in the classroom, it was also just me in general, I kinda saw myself like, ‘Where’s my life going?’ That’s when I kind of realized I needed to tighten the screw a lot.”

That tightening was on display this afternoon, with Jones making multiple plays at the point of attack and showing the type of promise you’d expect out of the 6-foot-5, 305-pounder with elite recruiting offers.

Injuries have pushed Jones’ time to now, one year ahead of even his own schedule. But when I asked him after the game if he wanted to be the guy to fill Nix’s shoes next season, the answer was clear.

“I would love to be that guy,” Jones said. “Obviously playing nose guard today, that was a lot of fun. This game was a lot of fun.” 

***

***

In a season where things didn’t quite go according to plan, Senior Day played out picture perfect. 

No, they weren’t playing for a BCS birth. But every player made available after the hard-fought victory had just about the same thing to say about leaving Notre Dame Stadium a winner.

“Words can’t describe how good it feels to win your last game here,” Tommy Rees said after the game. “That’s four years in a row for us, which is awesome, and unless you’ve experienced it, it’s a pretty special feeling.”

It’s the goal of every football player to leave a program in a better place than where they found it. And to that measure, this class has fulfilled that goal.

“They set a consistent mark of success, in terms of winning at home, which is a big, big deal for us,” Kelly said after the game.  They won 20 out of their last 23 regular‑season games as a core group.  All those numbers go towards consistency and that’s really what we’re looking for.”

On Monday, Kelly brought his team back from an off-week with a full-contact ones versus ones scrimmage. It was there that the head coach knew his team was going to be just fine this weekend.

“We had a great week of practice. I thought our Monday where we went ones versus ones and banged it around, I could just sense right there that we were going to play pretty good today,” Kelly said.

And on a cold, wintery day, the Irish won. It wasn’t perfect. But the Irish left Notre Dame Stadium for the last time a winner.

  1. nudeman - Nov 24, 2013 at 4:35 PM

    Some thoughts on the RBs:

    FOLSTON:
    Don’t know if I’d call him a “gamebreaker”, per the comment above. But he is ND’s best all around RB; runs hard, catches and blocks. Gets 3 yards when others would get none. Has that great jump-cut move that can break a defender’s ankles. But he doesn’t have after-burner speed, and sometimes jigs around a little too much, a la Ricky Watters. If Atkinson or Amir get past the first line of defense, no one catches them. TF has been caught a couple times. Hardly a mortal sin, because he’s getting into the secondary in the first place. He’s the best RB on the team, IMO.
    He’s an 8.5 (out of 10)

    GAIII:
    Easily ND’s most improved RB (maybe its most improved player). Had a couple runs yesterday where he lowered his shoulders and gave a great 2nd effort. He runs much harder than he ever has before. He’s still not Larry Csonka, but he’s very functional and of course has home run speed. But I don’t see how he’ll ever get the 15 touches/game he’d probably like, esp. next year with Bryant added to the mix.
    7.0 with 10.0 ability/speed/size and potential. I think if he was tougher we’d be looking at a #1 pick.

    McDANIEL:
    Don’t know about you, but I vastly underrated him. Pretty damn good player, all around: running, catching and blocking. He can’t move the pile, but the coaches have enormous faith in him, as witnessed by being the guy they pick to run the clock out. If there is a need to have one RB in there who will hit the right hole or pick up a blitzer, I guess it would be Cam. He’s not a guy to rip off a 91 yarder, but he’s never going to get you beat with a dumb mistake.
    7.0

    AMIR:
    I feel bad for this guy, and still believe he could be a terrific college back or slot guy. My opinion is ND has slightly misused him; he’s an “in-space” player, not a between-the-tackles guy. He hasn’t helped his own cause with a couple dropped passes and (I think) a fumble somewhere along the line too. And when there is this much position depth, a couple mistakes are devastating. Next year I’d love to see him return punts and maybe kickoffs too. GAIII has regressed on KOs and TJ will be gone.
    6.5 Great quickness and speeed; lacks size to ever be a featured RB

    OVERALL:
    I feel like if trades were allowed, Kelly would package Amir and GAIII for a quality ILB for 2014, and take his chances with Cam, Folston and Bryant. That’s not to say they’re bums, because they aren’t. Both are good players. But ND has an embarrassment of riches at RB and they are incredibly thin at ILB.
    RB and WR are the strongest areas of the team. With Golson back next year, this could be a tremendous offense.

    • yogihilt - Nov 24, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      Nice move, nude.. Let’s get Brian Cashman to trade GA3 and Amir for Shaq Thompson, LB, Wash U, Soph.

      • wisner74 - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:51 PM

        You mean Univ. of Washington, right? Not Wash U.

    • wisner74 - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:50 PM

      Bravo, Nude. Very nice analysis on the RBs. We are blessed. With all of his other talents, it really would be nice to see GAIII develop into an all-around RB, including an added measure of toughness. I think it took both Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray until their senior years to finally see the light (Although certainly GAIII is a different kind of runner than those two guys were.) I do feel sorry for Will Mahone, though. Maybe he can find a new position.

      Re ILB, unfortunately I think you’re right. The optimistic outlook: Jarrett Grace should be back at 100%, and maybe Kendall Moore will blossom. That’s happened with fifth-year guys before. Remember Oliver Gibson? Big under-achiever (at least based on his high school rep) who really came on his 5th year and ended up having a nice NFL career. Okwara? Deeb?

    • viktory2013 - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:06 PM

      Folston doesn’t go down with ankle tackles which is in itself refreshing; he’s not greased lightening but fast enough to worry defenses. Cam has that blue collar quality and determination, just not enough size or speed to be a go to back. Reminds me of back from Ara’s team, Gary Diminick; always there, always reliable. I can’t figure Amir Carlisle: he seems to have the right attitude and desire, and seems talented enough, but just seems like he can’t get himself together. I think punt returns might be his thing, as long as he can focus. Atkinson just needs to start emulating his dad’s toughness, although he did show signs of putting his head down last game. He doesn’t like dispensing or taking punishment and needs to overcome his clean uniform syndrome. Always get the feeling he’s tentative.
      Greg Bryant, the little I’ve seen of him, seems like potentially the top dog. Sometimes you just get a feeling.

      • nudeman - Nov 24, 2013 at 10:23 PM

        I remember Gary Diminick. #28. Slight and undersized, and a true Ara guy.
        But I don’t think he was as big as Cam. Diminick was probably 180 lbs soaking wet.
        And as my good friend don74 pointed out, he was a walk-on.
        (Ask him what the nickname was for Darrel Dewan)

        Next year is going to be even more crowded with no one graduating and Bryant and possibly Mahone coming into the mix.

        Bottom line: Great problem to have.

      • viktory2013 - Nov 25, 2013 at 2:31 AM

        Dewan. #10, I think? I remember he had a couple of good runs after catching Clement’s pass in that nightmarish Orange Bowl against Nebraska. He had a nickname? Another steady, blue collar back…Ara always had these boys with minimal talent but tough as nails. Bill Barz, Denny Allen, Ed Gulyas, John Czieszkowski, Larry Conjar, Bob Gladieux…only Nick Eddy, Eric Penick, and Al Hunter were fast. Yet two losses and a tie was considered an awful season. Damn, Ara was a coach.

    • c4evr - Nov 24, 2013 at 11:01 PM

      So you’re finally giving Cam(era ready) McDaniel some love with the NSA (Nude Seal of Approval) and had to admit that he’s more than just a prettier, smarter Rudy. Well done.

    • onward2victory - Nov 25, 2013 at 3:51 AM

      Spot on analysis nude.

      I feel bad for Amir too. Seems like a really great kid, been thru a lot the past couple years, and just hasn’t gotten a fair shot IMO. He was looking like the best back thru the first 2 games until he fumbled.

      I’d love to see a 2 back set next year with Golson. That’d be hard to defend I would imagine!

      • mediocrebob - Nov 25, 2013 at 7:24 AM

        Amir has had his opportunities. Just squandered them. He’ll be in the slot next year and get a few carries here and there

    • jdainko1 - Nov 25, 2013 at 2:03 PM

      Wanted to mention Good and Bad.
      Good – Got a picture of how good younger defensive players will be next year and beyond – Jarron Jones was awesome! K Russell making some good plays!
      Fox had his BEST game of, maybe, his career! Folston, Cam and now even GAIII are running hard and effectively. Oline has done a good job all year!
      Bad – I believe even though Martin is calling a better mix of plays, with Rees doing a better job on Play action, the offense is still predictable and defenses have watched video & are ready, particularly when we run that quick out. The defenses notice this alignment and often almost make an interception but almost always stop it for no gain. It would be good to do a screen pass! I do not remember when we have run a screen pass last. Farley has regressed, missed at least a couple tackles VS BYU and many throughout the year.
      But, overall, team believes in itself, knows how to win and with type of player Kelly and the Coaches are landing, future is very bright! GO ND

    • irishdrg1 - Nov 28, 2013 at 6:59 PM

      well said Nude, glad to see you using your thoughts for positive GO IRISH

  2. farwest99 - Nov 24, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    Like this BYU beat writer’s take on the game.

    South Bend, Ind.

    Under blue-gray skies that had long since forgotten October, BYU had to beat Notre Dame on Saturday in conditions even Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy would have hated. It was a late November day suited for penguins and polar bears, not modern quarterbacks and receivers, or any other normal human form, a day meant for raccoon coats and, if you absolutely had to play football, maybe single-wing offenses, not any kind of newfangled creativity.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>
    But, because of all that, mostly it was a day for grown men with rugged demeanors, cold hearts and frozen souls, for steeled football players who could execute when it mattered in harsh environs.>>>>>>>>>>>>

    In that regard, the Irish outdid the Cougars, beating them, 23-13.
    —-Gordon Monson

  3. knuterocknesghost - Nov 25, 2013 at 12:38 AM

    IRISH PUMA posted November 24th, at 3:28 a.m. “One last thing you may have all changed your tune in hindsight but most all of my off season prognosticating has come true and I have not received one “you were right” I apologize etc. Whereas I was quite outspoken saying I hope I am wrong and I will be the first one to come on here and issue a mea culpa. ….. All things I told you would happen….before the hate starts rolling I am by no means Nostradamus….as nude and others had my back and agreed and predicted the same outcome. But why we had to get blasted for it is beyond me.”

    Now…. join me in my time machine and let’s go back to where the great oracle of nbcsports.com made his predictions:

    IRISH PUMA posted August 29th, at 12:51 a.m. “Reesus Mary and Joseph….Prediction 1.5 turnovers per game 1,900 yards 18 TD 10 Picks…8-4…..Assuming he gets to play all 12. Big assumption.”

    Well, instead of an 18 TDs to 10 INTs ratio, TR has 25 TDs and 11 INTs so far, and at least two of the INTs were not his fault. 2,739 yards passing and counting. Likely a 3,000 yard season for TR. And, gee, no mention of the injuries sustained by the team, especially to key members of the defense, including Tuit’s slow recovery from back surgery, and Day being constantly fighting injury. No mention of how the defense failed to match last year’s defense, and even more, failed to match the expectation for the defense this season. So, of course, it makes all kinds of sense for us to pin this “disappointing” season all on Tommy Rees.

    Show of hands, who wants to give credit our sage, our wise man, our great and grand wizard PUMA for being so prescient, and offer a humble apology for thinking him rather absurd?

    • nudeman - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:14 AM

      Oh hi getsome,

      What was your prediction? IrishPuma at least put it out there in advance.
      I don’t remember you even being here back then

    • knuterocknesghost - Nov 25, 2013 at 10:35 AM

      Nude aka Puma: Here, here, pay attention now. Puma compounds his nonsense of predicting that ND will have a disappoointing season by predicting that the blame will be able to be placed entirely with Tommy Rees’ shoulders, and then compounds this nonsense again, now, after 11 games, by claiming that he was right in predicting that Rees is all, and he means, all to blame for it. It’s one thing to prognosticate, and another to claim you’re predictions came true (with hindsight staring you right in the face) when the outcome of the season was obviously far more the result of other causes.

      Total points scored by ND through 11 games: 2013 / 305; 2012 / 299. Total opponents points scored through 11 games: 2013 / 248; 2012 / 111.

  4. knuterocknesghost - Nov 25, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    Good night all from the West coast.

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