TJ Jones, Julian Wilson

Last look back: Wide receivers and tight ends


For the first time in forever, the Irish entered the season without an All-American candidate to catch the football. Gone were Tyler Eifert, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate and Jeff Samardzija, one of the best runs of receivers in school history.

But even lacking a leading man, this season proved to be a formidable ensemble. Even as the Irish broke in a bushel of young receivers and unproven tight ends, the passing game stayed on track, with TJ Jones stepping forward with a big year while Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack providing a more than adequate 1-2 punch at tight end.

Let’s take one last look at the receivers and tight ends.


Beyond Jones, it’s amazing that Irish fans weren’t more concerned about the receiving depth chart. Senior Daniel Smith was a receiver heralded for his blocking skills. Luke Massa was a converted quarterback still hobbled after a major knee injury. While DaVaris Daniels was poised for a breakout season, the depth chart behind him was all unproven players, including a slew of freshmen.

At tight end, it wasn’t much better. Niklas was expected to take a big step forward, but Koyack was coming off a brutal sophomore season and Alex Welch was still recovering from an ACL injury. Freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe weren’t expected to play.


GP-GS No. Yards Avg. TD Long
TJ Jones 13-7 70 1108 15.8 9 80
DaVaris Daniels 13-9 49 745 15.2 7 82
Troy Niklas 13-13 32 498 15.6 5 66
Chris Brown 13-4 15 209 13.9 1 40
Ben Koyack 13-5 10 171 17.1 3 38
Corey Robinson 13-3 9 157 17.4 1 35
CJ Prosise 13-2 7 72 10.3 0 16
William Fuller 13-3 6 160 26.7 1 47
James Onwualu 12-4 2 34 17.0 0 23
Daniel Smith 6-2 1 9 9.0 0 9



Bronze: TJ Jones vs. Temple

It was clear that Jones planned on turning 2013 into a season to remember. He got off to a quick start, breaking short passes for big gains and quickly established himself as the team’s No. 1 receiving option.

While it was DaVaris Daniels who caught two touchdowns over the top of the Temple defense, Jones made six catches for 138 yards, including a 51-yarder that he turned from nothing into a big gain.

Silver: TJ Jones vs. Arizona State

I toyed with giving this the gold, just because it was such a critical victory for the Irish. Jones did a little bit of everything for the Irish in this win. He caught eight balls for 135 yards, while also chipping in a touchdown.

He got over the top of the Sun Devils defense while also contributing two clutch first down catches late in the game. He also made a big play in the punt return game, taking one back 27 yards.

Clutch performance in a win that was one of the team’s most impressive.

Gold: DaVaris Daniels vs. Purdue

This is the kind of game Daniels is capable of playing. Utilizing his top-shelf speed, Daniels got over the top of the Purdue defense for a huge 82-yard touchdown catch, fighting his way to the end zone. Daniels also caught a beauty in the corner of the end zone, making a strong play for the football when that didn’t always happen this season (see Navy).

But on this September night in West Lafayette, Daniels played the type of football Irish fans would love to see from him next season, catching eight passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.





Will Fuller. This could’ve just as easily gone to Corey Robinson, but Fuller’s emergence as the over-the-top threat, in addition to some skills that show he can be more than just that, give him the narrow nod.

Fuller only made six catches this year, but looking at that stat line, the 26.7 yard average certainly sticks out. It’ll be interesting to see where Fuller lines up now that TJ Jones is gone and DaVaris Daniels is out for the spring semester.



DaVaris Daniels. His numbers took a step forward, but he left a lot of good football on the field. For a junior, there were just too many times were Daniels was in the wrong spot or making the wrong read, and too often 50-50 balls went up without Daniels coming down with them. Elite receivers make those plays. Daniels didn’t all the time this season.

Add to that the semester suspension for the spring because of academic issues. So while it’s hard to be disappointed with seven touchdowns and 745 yards, it wasn’t the true breakout season that it could have been.



With Jones and Niklas gone, it’ll be interesting to see how Brian Kelly reformulates his offense. If the Irish had two top-shelf tight ends, like they could have with Niklas and Koyack, the strength of this team was likely playing double tight end sets, something the Irish did quite well in 2012.

Now, that strength shifts to the perimeter, where a young depth chart could begin to showcase itself. This spring will give us our first look at Torii Hunter Jr. and Justin Brent, two young players that could make an early impact.

Without Daniels, who takes advantage of the additional reps? Is it Corey Robinson, who could have a field day with Golson’s touch and ability to throw jump balls? Do Chris Brown and CJ Prosise come into their own as upperclassmen?

Expect to see more out of the slot receiver this season, with some interesting candidates for the position already at wide receiver, but also with Amir Carlisle.

So while the talent on the edge continues to improve, the question marks certainly remain.


Kelly thinks simplicity might aid offensive production

Notre Dame quarterback Kizer DeShone makes a throw during the Blue-Gold spring NCAA college football game, Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. (Michael Caterina/South Bend Tribune via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
South Bend Tribune via AP

Back to the basics. If there’s a refrain we’ve heard—or one that’s made its way through the echo chamber these past few weeks—it’s that Brian Kelly and his coaching staff are drilling down, looking for any way to pull this team out of their slump.

We saw the changes defensively, a gigantic detour away from the scheme and philosophies of Brian VanGorder. And while that’s helped jump-start the defense, the impact of the move may have hit the offense’s productivity.

Kelly talked about some of those aftereffects this week, the changes on one side of the ball leaking over to the other.

“We’re keeping the points down, but we’re limiting possessions,” Kelly explained. “We went from 15 possessions earlier in the season to this past game we had four possessions in the first half. That’s like playing an option team. We’re going to keep the points down, we’re probably not going to get off the field quite as quick as we did earlier in the season.”

Those lack of opportunities have shown up in the box score. Throw away the game played in hurricane conditions and it’s still clear that the Irish offense didn’t capitalize on their chances against Stanford. And whether it was DeShone Kizer’s interceptions, Malik Zaire’s three short-circuited series or a general lack of running game, Kelly is taking a similar approach with his offense that he did with the opposite side of the ball—though not running anybody out of town.

“We have fallen into a similar trap that we were dealing with earlier defensively. We’re probably doing a little too much,” Kelly said. “When you do the things that you practice every single day, it becomes second nature. You can play free, you can play fast.

“I think from an offensive standpoint, we can just be who we are. Let’s practice what we’re good at and let’s be better at execution in this kind of game.”

Do what you do, but do it better. It’s an approach that’s worked under Greg Hudson’s direction, with a defense mastering the bare essentials as they try to stop the bleeding. Offensively, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this unit struggle. And while pointing in one direction usually takes the focus off of a multi-faceted problem, cutting down the inventory and letting the Irish talent play fast and loose could be a big help for a group that’s still really young.

“I think there’s an understanding now that we have to figure out what we are doing well and put emphasis on that,” Kizer said. “In the first half of the season there were some specific looks that are more successful than others, and we have to put emphasis on those looks.”

Behind the Irish: Leaders eat last


Leaders eat last. As the 2016 season continues to be a struggle for the Irish, holding firm to leadership mottos like the above is more than just lip service or an empty slogan.

In our latest Behind the Irish feature, several Notre Dame players talk about this season’s slogan and how it helps guide the team as they look to stay united through this stretch run.

And in that corner… The Miami Hurricanes


Sure, the high-wattage match-up might have lost some of its preseason luster. But even with both Notre Dame and Miami entering the weekend limping, bringing the Hurricanes and the Irish together—two of college football’s premier programs with quite a bit of history together—is always a game worth watching.

As the Irish return from an off week healthy and looking to rebound after two-straight losses, Mark Richt’s Miami team poses quite a challenge. Especially as the Hurricanes do what they can to stop a three game slide. They’ve got the ammo to do it, with junior quarterback Brad Kaaya one of the best Notre Dame will face this season and a defense that’s done a 180 under new coordinator Manny Diaz.

To get us ready for a very big weekend, Isaiah Kim-Martinez joins us. A sophomore studying broadcast journalism who also writes for the student-run Hurricane (in circulation since 1929!), Isaiah took time away from his busy schedule to answer some questions from on the ground in Coral Gables.

Hope you enjoy.


This season started with a four-game winning streak and gave way to a three-game losing streak—all ACC opponents. What do you make of the season so far, and how do you evaluate a Hurricanes team that has just one win against a Power Five opponent?

I would say that this season has brought what most fans were expecting – inconsistency. The team is just not quite there yet. This season isn’t a failure, nor is it really a success. There was supposed to be growing pains with a new coach and a new system, and we are seeing it now as the Hurricanes have played tougher opponents.


Before we get to the play on the field specifically, what’s the transition to Mark Richt been like? Getting a tenured head coach with connections to the university looked like a coup from a far. Is that the reaction amongst Canes faithful? What’s surprised you so far through seven games?

The transition has been great. The school and the fans have welcomed him with open arms. There is a general understanding that bringing the U back to national prominence would take some time, even with someone of Richt’s track record. So, Canes faithful is generally being patient with the head coach, understanding that this is a process.

What’s surprised me most has been the ups and downs of the offense. Miami averaged over 40 points through the first four games, and that quickly dropped to under 20 for the next three. I understand that the difficulty of the opponent was higher over the last three weeks, but that is more of a drop off in offensive production than I expected.


When we looked at the 2016 Notre Dame season in August, Brad Kaaya looked like the best quarterback the Irish would face. The junior has a big-time national profile and has nice numbers so far, 12 TDs, 5 INTs, completing almost 62 percent of his throws. Evaluate Kaaya’s junior season.

Kaaya has played well, but has clearly not met the expectations that most fans had set for him prior to the season. The numbers look fine on paper, but what is misleading about stats is that they don’t tell you when the touchdowns and interceptions happened. In the biggest games of the season, Kaaya’s touchdowns have mainly come with the team being down, which to me, negates some of the luster of them. Many of the touchdowns have not been that impactful. Kaaya hasn’t buried any team over the past few weeks with a series of plays he has made. He has also already thrown more interceptions this season than he had thrown all of last season.

That being said, it is not all his fault. The offensive line has not been good, so Kaaya has not had the adequate time to consistently throw in the pocket. It seems that part of the reason for the struggle has been the adjustment to the new system and the play-calling of a new coach, which is perfectly understandable. Once again, it is not all on Kaaya, however I do not believe he has taken a legitimate step forward to this point in the season. He has been good, just not great.


Defensively, Manny Diaz has done a stellar job, the Hurricanes defense taking a huge step forward from 2015. What’s the strength of the unit? And how will they attack an Irish offense that looks in a bit of a slump?

The strength of the unit, especially early on, has been the defensive line. It is getting pressure to the quarterback. I expect the team to do the same against Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, thus forcing him to make errors.


On the other side of the ball, Kaaya’s struggled with protection and the ground game isn’t necessarily putting up great numbers. What are the keys for the Hurricane offense, especially with Notre Dame finding its footing on the defensive side of the ball?

The key is the offensive line giving Kaaya the time he needs in the pocket to be effective, and making holes for running backs Mark Walton and Joseph Yearby to rush in between the tackles, which they have not been able to do effectively since before playing Florida State.


This is a rivalry with some history, though not many games against each other. Neither team is playing particularly good football, but it still was a game Irish fans circled on the schedule. How big of a game is this for the Hurricanes and their fans?

Indeed, it can be agreed upon that both teams expected to be in better situations come this matchup, so the implications are quite different. However, this is a huge game for the moral of the Hurricanes’ team and fans. Miami may have lost three straight games, but all the losses have come to opponents with records over .500. UM as a whole is being patient with the program, but I doubt there will be much tolerance if the Canes lose to a team that is currently 2-5.


Any prediction on how this game goes? Any keys that’ll determine a victor in your mind?

The Hurricanes defense is dealing with the injury bug, but I expect it to come out with a vengeance after allowing Virginia Tech to drop 37 points on it. The defense will hold the Fighting Irish to fewer than 25 points, and the Canes run game will finally see some day light and have a big day.

Keys to the game:

· Establish offensive presence early (strike first blood)

· No big plays allowed on defense

· Offensive line must play strong

Score Prediction: Miami 31 – Notre Dame 21

Kelly stays in the moment

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts in the first half of the game against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Coming off a bye week, you could excuse Brian Kelly if he started looking ahead. To his impending hire at defensive coordinator, or his shifting focus to a recruiting class that suffered its first defection since Blake Barnett bolted for Alabama.

But the seventh-year head coach has his hands full fixing his current predicament, leaving any planning beyond Miami to the weeks after the regular season.

“My time is spent on the present right now. I don’t look too far ahead,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I think I’ve stayed with very similar thoughts about not mortgaging the future, not dwelling too much on the past, but living in the present right now.”

That commitment to right now hasn’t translated into wins yet. But it’s the best way to beat Miami, a talented football team with what might be the best quarterback the Irish will face, coming in on a three-game losing streak.

So while Irish fans wonder how this team will find a way to straighten out and win four of their next five to qualify for a bowl game, Kelly talked about the internal motivation this team has, playing for each other more than any postseason bonus.

“All these kids, they come to Notre Dame because they want to be challenged,” Kelly said. “They have incredible intrinsic motivation every day to get up, to go to class, to want to succeed. It’s why they come here. There’s an immense amount of pride. They want to freakin’ win. They want to win. They really don’t care whether they get a Visa gift card in the bowl game.

“They want to practice more. They want to be with their teammates. They want to be with their guys. They want to win football games. They want to be successful in the classroom. They want to be successful on the football field. That’s why they came here. That’s why I’m here. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we do every day, is think about how we can be more successful.”