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Pregame Six Pack: Bowling in the Big Apple

Dec 27, 2013, 4:56 PM EST

Zack Martin AP

Notre Dame finishes its 126th season on Saturday, going for a ninth win as they take on Rutgers in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. It’s the end of a season that many will remember for opportunities missed, though there was plenty of good to go along with the frustrating four losses.

With the Irish set to play a 6-6 Scarlet Knights team in balmy New York, let’s walk through our last pregame six pack before the offseason begins. As always, here are six tidbits, leftovers, fun facts, and miscellaneous musings before Notre Dame and Rutgers do battle.

***

1. For Kerry Cooks and Mike Denbrock, it’s not just an average Saturday. 

With Bob Diaco and Chuck Martin now in charge of the UConn and Miami programs, Kerry Cooks and Mike Denbrock get their first shots to coordinate the offense and defense. While losing both coordinators this time of year isn’t exactly normal, it’s something that programs playing in bowl games sometimes face.

Both coaches have carried leadership roles on the staff previous to this interim assignment. Cooks was named co-defensive coordinator before the 2012 season while Denbrock received the title of passing game coordinator. They both talked about what Saturday will be like earlier this week.

“I look at it more as an opportunity to step into a role that needed filling so our football team could come here and have success against Rutgers. That’s really all it is for me right now,” Denbrock told Irish Illustrated. “We haven’t talked about the stuff that I know is out there. We’ve concentrated on just trying to prepare these guys the best we can and fill that void as best I can so the kids can feel a sense of normalcy about the way we’re doing things and can play their best.”

Cooks was just as philosophical, though you get the feeling he’d embrace the job if it was made permanent.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Cooks told Irish Illustrated. “At least moving forward, whatever happens after this game, I can always say I was the defensive coordinator for Notre Dame, and I can always point back and say, ‘There it is for the Rutgers game.’”

***

2. It should be bombs away for Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame receiving corps. 

After starting his second game in Yankee Stadium, Tommy Rees will play his final college game on Saturday at the same place. And with the weather forecast looking perfect and Rutgers secondary historically bad, Rees could go out in a blaze of glory.

The Scarlet Knights fired defensive coordinator Dave Cohen just a day after the regular season ended. Interim coordinator Joe Rossi, who coordinated the Maine defense for three years, is now tasked with trying to fix a unit that’s 122nd in the country against the pass.

Rossi talked about the challenge of trying to make big changes in just nine practices.

“It’s hard. You really can’t do too much,” Rossi told the Star-Ledger. “At the end of the day, if you spend too much time changing things, you’re not going to get good at those things. So we’ve really looked at ways we can get a little better here and there.

“It’s been a challenge. But I think we’ve done a good job with it.”

Rees has been a strong downfield passer this season, ranking 14th in the country in touchdown passes and 30th in the nation in yards per attempt.  Expect the ball to go vertical early and often Saturday afternoon.

***

3. O Captain! My Captain! Part One: TJ Jones. 

This is it for TJ Jones, a four-year starter at wide receiver for the Irish. Jones’ final season has been his best, a productive, explosive year for a guy that grew into a No. 1 wide receiver after playing a complementary role for three seasons.

Forgotten in the loss to Stanford was Jones going over the 1,000 yard receiving mark. He’s also four catches from moving to second on the school’s all-time list, a surprising achievement that illustrates the impressive run Jones has had since arriving as an early enrollee freshman at the same time as Brian Kelly and company.

Jones has also done a good job as a punt returner this season. He’s averaging 8.7 yards a return, more than doubling the team’s productivity from last season. He’s also become a big play threat, averaging 16 yards a catch this year. If Jones gains over 130 yards on Saturday, he’ll move into the top five in Irish history for receiving yards.

While the lifetime achievements have been nice, Jones’ time at Notre Dame will be defined more by the man he has become. He’s been candid and open about that all year, discussing it after the Irish’s victory over BYU, an emotional Senior Day that also welcomed his late father Andre’s teammates back to campus to celebrate the 1988 national championship.

Earlier this week, Jones talked about the transformation he’s gone through since his father’s sudden passing in 2011.

“I believe I grew into the man that I am today at a very young age,” Jones told the Journal Gazette. “I matured quicker. I became the man of my house, and it taught me how to be a leader for my family. It allowed me to think bigger picture.”

***

4. O Captain! My Captain! Part Two: Bennett Jackson. 

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Bennett Jackson, with the New Jersey native playing this Saturday in front of more family and friends than he can count. For some, Jackson’s senior season was a bit of a disappointment, with the veteran cornerback not necessarily flashing the type of playmaking ability that he started to display in his first season as a starter.

Yet Jackson looks to have once again gutted his way through an injury-riddled season, with a balky shoulder that barely held up last year looking to once again be the culprit. While Jackson’s career in South Bend will end, he’ll need to get to work before the NFL Scouting Combine and Notre Dame’s Pro Day, where he can show off his track speed and prototype size for scouts.

“I know I’m nowhere close to my full potential,” Jackson told MyCentralJersey.com. “I talk about it with my coaches all the time. I’m an unfinished product. I have raw talent, but I haven’t gotten all those reps that everyone else has gotten. I’m confident in myself and I think I’m going to grow each year.”

Notre Dame’s defensive leader leaves South Bend with his head held high, doing a lot of good during his four years with the Irish. Those contributions continue to be of great importance to Jackson, who has stayed close with friends, family and coaches throughout his time in college.

“You should never forget where you came from,” Jackson told his hometown paper. “I don’t look at myself as someone who’s bigger or better than anyone else. I think of myself as some small town Hazlet kid that just had an opportunity to play at Notre Dame and made the most of it.”

***

5. O Captain! My Captain! Part Three: Zack Martin. 

Perhaps the hardest player to say goodbye to is Zack Martin. Notre Dame’s four-time offensive lineman of the year is probably one of college football’s most underrated players, something very hard to accomplish while wearing Notre Dame’s blue and gold.

For the 52nd time, Martin will start for the Irish, a record that won’t likely be eclipsed any time soon, unless college football significantly expands its schedule. While fellow starters Chris Watt, brother Nick Martin, and Christian Lombard won’t be joining him, Martin will hold tight a unit now featuring four first-year starters in Conor Hanratty, Matt Hegarty, Steve Elmer and Ronnie Stanley.

Martin is just the 18th two-time captain in Notre Dame history. He’s as close to a mistake-free football player as the Irish have on their roster, and the margin isn’t even close. He may not be the biggest or the strongest or the most impressive athletically, but Martin does just about everything you could ask from a college left tackle.

We’ll spend a ton of time this offseason talking about what the Irish offensive line will look like without Martin. But before we do that, let’s watch Martin shut down an opposing defensive end one last time.

***

6. For one final Saturday, it’ll be Ws and Ls and Xs and Os. But after that, let the games begin. 

Consider this fair warning: For one more Saturday, we’ll have football to talk about. After that, all bets are off.

At this time last year, Notre Dame football felt in a pretty good place. The Irish were set to play for a national championship. Brian Kelly was the national coach of the year. Every assistant on staff was returning. Manti Te’o was the most decorated player in college football.

But it was all downhill once the BCS Championship game kicked off. Alabama pummeled the Irish in the first half, coasting to an easy victory. Kelly shocked Irish fans and the football world by going off the radar as he considered jumping to the NFL. Manti Te’o was defrocked, a catfishing story taking away the gloss that came with all those postseason awards. Eddie Vanderdoes tried to transfer out of South Bend before ever arriving. And Everett Golson’s academic suspension killed the Irish’s BCS hopes before they began.

It’s highly doubtful the Irish could have a calendar year as rocky as the one they just went through. But if you think it’s going to be a quiet nine months before Notre Dame kicks it off again, you’re nuts.

Monday will bring a handful of open NFL jobs. Mack Brown’s replacement at Texas still hasn’t been named. Recruits haven’t jumped in or out, with Signing Day still over a month away. And as Jerian Grant proved, the academic gauntlet at Notre Dame is something to always keep an eye on.

So let’s enjoy the ride Saturday afternoon. And then buckle up and expect the unexpected.

 

 

  1. papadec - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    This year is what it was & will be. A disappointment that can still be turned into some degree of respectability with a nice win tomorrow. I haven’t torn up my ND wins the 2013 NC wager ticket yet – I’ll probably burn it on New Year’s Eve & pour some beer on the ashes. My son is going back to Vegas this Spring – so I’ll throw another $100 on the Irish to win the NC in 2014. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!!

  2. NotreDan - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    Here we go boys.

    ND in a laffer.

    GO IRISH!

  3. paullhargis53 - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    I just want to take a few moments to set aside the antagonistic nonsense I’ve been wasting your time with. The University of Notre Dame is a top notch institution with an outstanding group of true student athletes. They have a passionate and intense fan base which any team would be fortunate to have supporting them. Good luck to Notre Dame in their bowl game and during the upcoming 2014 season, and Happy New Year to all of you and your families. God bless.

    • NotreDan - Dec 27, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      cute. 2 L’s in paul. I wonder if he’ll figure out who punked him.

      • 1historian - Dec 28, 2013 at 11:56 AM

        nobody punked him

    • papadec - Dec 27, 2013 at 7:58 PM

      Very funny – whoever did it – very funny. Made my day!!!!! Still laughing……….

  4. goirishgo - Dec 27, 2013 at 6:37 PM

    It doesn’t matter to me who the opponent is or where the game is played. There’s an Irish football game tomorrow and I’m fired up!

    Go Irish!

  5. fnc111 - Dec 27, 2013 at 6:47 PM

    Why would the game plan be put in TR’s hands? Run run run runnnnn all day long. Let the turnover machine throw all game? It will go down to the wire.

    • papadec - Dec 27, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      Looking @ the RU defensive numbers, they are stronger vs the run than the pass attack. Expect a lot of passing to setup the run game -sameo, sameo. Big win for the seniors. GO IRISH!!!!!!

      • ndgoldandblue - Dec 28, 2013 at 9:10 AM

        Still, there’s no reason to be afraid to run the ball. I remember all the talk before the Pitt game was about their one decent defensive lineman, Aaron Donald. It sounded like BK was practically afraid of the guy, and he coached like it. Donald was double-teamed all day, and Kelly didn’t call too many runs in his direction.

        It was the same thing with the Michigan State game. Kelly, himself, said that the Irish weren’t going to win running the ball against them. What we got was the “chuck it up on the sidelines and hope the receivers come down with it” approach.

        Just once, I would love to see an exchange between BK and a reporter that goes like this: “Coach, statistically speaking, Rutgers has one of the better run defenses in the country.” “Does it look like I care?” “Well, do you suspect you’ll have any kind of success running the ball against them?” “Yep. I don’t care what the statistics say. We have a great offensive line and a great stable of running backs. We feel we can run on anyone.” That would be refreshing to see.

  6. paulhargis53 - Dec 27, 2013 at 8:06 PM

    That right there is the ultimate compliment. Can’t fight your battles under your own screen name, so you have to resort to this. How pathetic for you, but thank you yet the same.

    • mcirish27 - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:05 AM

      Looking forward to some football commentary from you after tomorrow, friend. Since you’ve joined us here I don’t recall that actually being a part of your schtick. No worries if you need an extra day or so to break down the tape a couple times. Cheers, guy.

    • mediocrebob - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:01 AM

      Yes. What a battle. Fight to the death!

      Paul,

      This is a blog. There will never be a “winner” or a “loser” no matter how many times you type it out on your computer. A blog is an open forum to discuss topics, in this case Irish football, and state your opinion on the said topics. You do none of these and think you’re picking fights on here but in reality as easy as it is for you to post on here, it’s just as easy for everyone else to do the same for you. Nobody is going out of their way for you.

      People don’t like you because you’re not contributing to anything and you say the same things over and over. In my experience, it’s the “internet bullies” such as yourself that had a rough time growing up and in high school. Maybe got made fun of themselves, this being a way to make themselves feel better ( from behind a computer screen) bc when they aren’t behind a computer screen, they aren’t as tough.

      Ready…go

  7. bearcatirishfan - Dec 27, 2013 at 9:00 PM

    Ahhh the bowl game is always bitter sweet, love that there is one last time to see the Irish play. Hate that it signals the long football-less abyss that is between now and labor day with only a sprinkling of foot ball treats like hors d’oeuvres at a really crowded reception you get one period taste of stuffed mushrooms (spring ball) just to remind you how hungry you are with the main course nowhere in sight.

    Here’s hoping that this last big meal leaves one heck of a great taste in our mouths and leaves us full for awhile.

  8. 25kgold - Dec 27, 2013 at 9:24 PM

    Who’s excited to see this game? -_-

    • ekalderf - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:08 PM

      If Golson or Zaire were playing I would be interested in the 2014 preview…as it is I will watch with detached indifference and hopefully see a dominant performance.

      Go Irish!

  9. newmexicoirish - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:02 PM

    I am! Getting together with my brother and some friends at a local watering hole. We will have brunch (the game airs at 10:00 am here) talk all things Irish football and watch Notre Dame beat hell out of Rutgers.

    I prefer a better bowl, and more competitive opponent, but like many of you I’m grateful for one more chance to see the guys play. Blessedly it will be Tommy’s last game and Nude’s last comments on Reese – neither one can get here fast enough.

    Go Irish – whip Rutgers!

    • domer77blowsgoats - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:22 PM

      Amen brother! Gonna log in on multiple computers to give more thumbs up

      Amazing nude calls out fnc for playing the same tune every post…

      Pot meet kettle…. Come on man!!

      I for one will be at the Rees family tailgate tomorrow!! Go Tommy!!

      • nudeman - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:38 PM

        You have defined yourself here as an idiot.
        A clown among.clowns.
        Never once have you posted a thing about football.
        Just trolling blather vs. me and weird crap about your alleged time at ND playing solitaire.

        Seriously man, it’s time. Donate hour body to.science so.once a.d for all we can learn the effects of a 30 year Dunkin Donut 3 x day diet.

        I’m thinking you have very bad gas most if the time. A screen name that includes “blows goats”? Dude …

      • domer77blowsgoats - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:44 PM

        Huh…????

        Paul its to Mediocre bob as goat boy is to __________

        Anyone else keeping score? You are so quick to point out others getting smacked but can’t take a little urself??

        All hail Nude, king of Nd nation blogosphere!!

        Man that hook stings a bit yeah?

      • heartofgoldandblue - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:16 AM

        Goats… Didn’t even get to Nude’s comment and was thinking how every time you post it’s got nothing to do w football and 90% of the time it has at least some content if not most that involves Nude. Give it a rest, not defending Nude, but you’re boorish drivel is just painful to get through. No one cares…

  10. irishpuma - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    Nude I know you are in the cave prepping for the final rant make it count, make it legendary, make it epic and transcendent!!

    • nudeman - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:29 PM

      Trying man. Trying

      • papadec - Dec 28, 2013 at 3:20 AM

        nude – where’s my autographed picture of Fran?

      • nudeman - Dec 28, 2013 at 11:13 AM

        papa
        Working on it. You ok with one of his selfies?
        Please advise

      • irishpuma - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        Rees 15-29 5,8 an attempt….high and long on numerous passes….0 red zone efficiency…the graphic that we are 100th in FBS red zone….where are the Rees lovers crying that is a mistake….

        Just giving you some ammo for Tommy’s epitaph!!

  11. nudeman - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    I expect a rout. RU has a horrific pass D, a la USAF.

    Rees has the chance go out a hero. 31/38 for 400 yds.
    And you’ll all jump me. Wisner and.Keith, let.me.write your opening:
    “Against the outline.of a gray December sky, Tommy Rees added Rutgers to his list of conquests that already included Army, Navy, USAF, Maryland and several other bottom feeders”

    Clown QB

    OMG

    • getsome99 - Dec 27, 2013 at 11:35 PM

      Mich St, ASU, USC, BYU?

    • viktory2013 - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:31 AM

      Been watching ND qb’s since 1964, and without a doubt Rees is easily among the worst. Statistics are wonderful and can be arranged to prove any point, but he just has a knack of folding when the game is on the line. Even his biggest fans know it’s true. I will be literally sobbing tears of joy next year when Golson or Zaire leading the offense.

      And guys, go easy on each other! It’s football, not the end of the world. We all just love our team…we’re on the same side. Laugh a little

  12. c4evr - Dec 27, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    Just read on scout.com that the Lions contacted BK.

    Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus… And he posts by the name fnc11.

  13. c4evr - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:17 AM

    Anyone here want to venture a guess of the run/pass ratio and score in today’s game just for fun?
    I’m 70% pass to 30%run
    ND 23 Rutgers 16

    • papadec - Dec 28, 2013 at 1:29 AM

      Ohhhhh what the hey – 2-1 pass-run plays, ND 41-14.

  14. onward2victory - Dec 28, 2013 at 2:06 AM

    Redfield is getting the start tomorrow!

  15. scottatnd - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    With Atkinson not playing today, looks like there will be no run game. ~sarcasm~

  16. paullhargis53 - Dec 28, 2013 at 10:33 AM

    Gameday. Go Irish!

  17. 1historian - Dec 28, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    Ordinarily I would be confident expecting ND to win this game big-time, but I’m just not. You never know what team is going to show up.

  18. paulhargis53 - Dec 28, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    Bob, Where did that apropos of nothing that I posted on this article diatribe come from? Been saving that rage for a few days, have ya?

    Listen dunce. I have told EVERYONE from pretty much the beginning what I am up to here. You are one of the few that just doesn’t f’n get it.
    Winning or losing? Are you serial?!

    Just because some of your fellow ND fans are saying you are getting waxed, you have your Victoria’s Secrets all in a twist? Why do you care what ANYONE on here types or thinks?
    Internet bully? That’s rich. Just remember Junior, it takes 2 people to have a debate.
    Why do you continue to respond to me?
    I’ve made it abundantly clear that i am a troll. Yet you keep on responding, or in this case, initiating things

    You must think there is something to be “won” here, otherwise, you’d just walk away and ignore me.

    Your psychoanalysis, is way off target.
    A lot of people on here find the humor in my postings and don’t take me all that serious, follow their lead….or get laid or something.
    Quit playing with your dipstick and go out and meet a girl, hell I will pay for it for you, if I have too.

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