Will Fuller, P.J. Williams

Bye week breather: Brighter days ahead


At this point, it doesn’t matter that the ACC has reversed course, deciding that the pass interference penalty was on C.J. Prosise after all. And that they’ve acknowledged that the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty they missed for P.J. Williams removing his helmet should’ve set up Notre Dame with a 1st-and-goal at the 9-yard line.

We’re moving on. (I promise.)

After seven games, Notre Dame sits at 6-1. While the polls are essentially meaningless, the AP has the Irish ranked 7th, behind one-loss Auburn, Alabama and Oregon. The Coaches have Notre Dame rated eighth, with a Michigan State team that lost to the Ducks by 19 points joining the previous trio of one-loss teams in front of the Irish as well.

If there’s a takeaway from last weekend other than pain, it’s that Notre Dame can play with the elite of college football. That the defense filled with first-year contributors and question marks can hold their own in the trenches and scheme their way into confusing even college football’s most prolific units has to have Irish fans very excited about the future.

Offensively, the Irish did their job as well. In a game plan that both controlled possession and pushed the pace, Notre Dame would’ve eclipsed 30-points if not for the offensive pass interference flag on C.J.-William Prosise-Fuller.

After sputtering against elite defenses for much of the Kelly era, Notre Dame showcased a running game that moved the chains, two sophomore receivers who showed game-breaking ability, and a quarterback who played impressive football in very hostile territory.

What does it all mean? Not much, if the Irish can’t handle their business down the stretch, which includes battles with Arizona State, Louisville and USC, and challenges from Northwestern and Navy.

But while most talked about Notre Dame’s dubious 1-16 record against Top 5 teams since 1998, there’s no mistaking this unit for a Davie, Willingham or Weis team. And while some still look back at the BCS title game in 2012 or Weis’ flop against LSU in the Sugar Bowl as proof that the Irish are still pretenders, it’s pretty clear this is a horse of a different color.

The Irish’s dream of a second undefeated regular season in three years under Brian Kelly is over. But any look forward can only be met with optimism. We’ll take advantage of this bye week by looking at the first seven games while also gazing forward to 2015.

Between the evolution of this football team and the roster Kelly builds for 2015 and beyond, it’s clear that while Saturday’s loss still stings, there are much brighter days ahead.

The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Florida State

Notre Dame at Florida State

Usually, Brian Kelly gives his team 24 hours to celebrate a win or get over a loss. That rule was likely tested — and you couldn’t blame him if it was slightly relaxed — after Saturday night’s 31-27 loss.

“We need to give our kids a break. They’ve been going since June,” Kelly said on Sunday. “Our first bye week we kept them here to stay on top of their academics. We’re going to give them a little time off.  But we’ll come back recharged, ready to go.”

[ Watch Notre Dame video ]

As both the Irish and their fandom begrudgingly put a controversial finish in the rearview mirror, let’s finally get around to the good, bad and ugly of the Florida State’s 31-27 victory over Notre Dame.



Tarean Folston. Notre Dame’s sophomore running back was the best ball carrier on the field Saturday night, looking equal parts elusive, powerful and explosive. He ran for 100 yards for the first time this season, getting 120 yards on 21 carries against a Seminoles front that was supposed to overpower Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Folston didn’t have one play go for negative yardage, and routinely maximized his opportunities. He was excellent on the cut back, showed great power, and with the one exception of a shoe-string tackle that took him down just short of the first down on a 4th-and-1, required a mob to take down.

This preseason, I tabbed Folston as the team’s best runner, and the one who had the best chance to turn into a featured back. He may have done that against the Seminoles.


Joe Schmidt. If Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were trying to kill Notre Dame fans playing the Joe Schmidt drinking game on Saturday night, they could’ve done it. Because every mention of “walk-on” or “Rudy” would’ve had you under the table and out cold by halftime.

The ESPN broadcast partners were likely getting a national audience up to speed on Schmidt’s impressive story, but it’s beyond overkill and takes away from the fact that he’s a really good football player that’s been a scholarship player for two seasons.

Schmidt led the Irish in tackles with nine, eight of those coming as solo stops. He also intercepted Jameis Winston, a critical play coming right on the heels of Notre Dame’s own turnover. The senior linebacker was a solid technician in the middle of the field. He was effective on blitzes (more early than late) and held his own in coverage.

Now Schmidt’s leadership off the field will be key as the Irish defense rallies after a disappointing second half against an excellent Florida State offense. With a matchup against Navy around the corner, there’s no time for looking back at missed opportunities.


The Offensive Line Play

After hearing all week that Notre Dame’s front five was likely doomed, Harry Hiestand’s offensive line went out and played their best football game of the season on Saturday. After Steve Elmer’s missed block created a negative play in the backfield on the game’s second play, the run game dominated — with Notre Dame running for 157 yards, with Folston going for 5.7 a carry.

While the Seminoles were able to create pressure on Everett Golson with blitz schemes and additional pressure, the line held at the point of attack and allowed Notre Dame to be two-dimensional offensively, a key to the ball game.

“I think we’re starting to gain some consistency on the offensive line,” Kelly said Sunday. “We made that big move on our first bye week. It’s a big move to make when you’re coming off a big win against Michigan, but one we needed to make. I think that’s starting to show itself.”


Jarron Jones. On Friday, I highlighted the matchup on the interior of the offensive line, with Jarron Jones getting the chance to faceoff against Seminoles center Ryan Hoefeld. Well Jones dominated at the point of attack — against Hoefeld and anybody else — as he made three tackles for loss and six total tackles.

With flags flying throughout the fourth quarter, Jones probably had three or four holds he could’ve drawn, joined by Sheldon Day as the Irish defensive tackles wreaked havoc all night in Tallahassee. For all the talk we heard about the Seminoles front, the Irish defensive line was the better unit on the field, and that’s led by Jones and Day.

The junior defensive tackles are playing football at a very high level right now.


Corey Robinson & Will Fuller. The sophomore duo played dynamic games, holding their own on a Saturday where all eyes were on Rashad Greene. Robinson’s two touchdowns and eight catches for 99 yards including an epic 4th-and-18 conversion, a world-class touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone, and almost a third touchdown that would’ve gone down in the history books.

Fuller showed an explosiveness that had him running away from Florida State defensive backs, something not many receivers — and certainly not Notre Dame players — can do. His touchdown on the quick screen showed those jets, and his ability to find another gear after making a catch on a quick throw was just another great development for the young receiver.


Everett Golson. With everybody worried about the Irish quarterback making mistakes, Golson went out and played a fearless football game. Yes, he was picked off in the first half (I’m unwilling to consider the last offensive play of the game a true interception) and struggled with a center exchange on an early 4th down attempt. But Golson was fantastic on Saturday night.

The senior quarterback used his legs and his arm to nearly beat the Seminoles, doing everything his head coach asked of him with the offense heaped on his shoulders.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. But Golson outplayed Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, and likely would’ve pushed himself into the Heisman discussion if some yellow laundry wasn’t dropped on 4th-and-goal.


Brian Kelly. If there’s a way to coach a perfect game in a losing effort, Kelly did it. Notre Dame did everything it wanted to on Saturday night except win the football game, and their head coach put them in a perfect position to do that.

Walking into the defending champs house, Kelly called the perfect game. He was aggressive and fearless, taking chances on 4th down. He was creative, unveiling a few new plays and wrinkles that we haven’t seen in the five years he’s been on the Irish sideline. And his calm demeanor and confidence down the stretch even had Chris Fowler in amazement.

“How can Brian Kelly be as calm as he appears calling plays right now?” Fowler said on the game’s final drive.

Sunday, Kelly didn’t mince words, doubling-down on his assertion that the Irish didn’t run an illegal play on 4th-and-goal. But he also acknowledged that you need to control your own destiny when you’re in a situation like the Irish were late in the game.

“We’ve got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays,” Kelly said.

Ultimately, the Irish didn’t do that. Kelly’s young defense struggled to get the stops that they needed in the second half and the Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown was wiped off the board with an offensive pass interference call.

But after watching Irish teams of the past sometimes struggle with all eyes on them, it’s clear that in his fifth season, this football team is playing in the head coach’s image.


Quick Hits:

* How good was the Notre Dame defense in the first half on first and second down? The average 3rd down attempt for the Seminoles was 3rd-and-10.3.

* Sneaky good day by Kyle Brindza. While he overcooked one of his first kickoffs, knocking it out of bounds, he made both field goal attempts and booted a critical 52-yard punt in the third quarter to help flip the field.

* Another solid day at the office for Chris Brown. He lacks the explosiveness of Fuller and doesn’t break as many tackles as you’d want, but five catches for 38 yards for a No. 3 (or 4) receiver isn’t too shabby.

Same thing for C.J. Prosise. It’s hard to see how close he was to coming down with the rocket that Golson threw at him on 2nd-and-goal, but six for 59 and showing clear over-the-top speed is a nice fourth option.

* Almost a game-changer early in the game for the Irish special teams. Scott Booker‘s punt-block team had pressure and just missed blocking a first-quarter punt. Could’ve been a huge momentum swing.

* Maybe I’m the only one, but if there’s a silver-lining statistically in this game, it’s that Notre Dame lost after running the ball 35 times. That stat had been one that many fans clung to, mistakenly citing a correlation that running means winning, rather than understanding that it’s mostly the other way around.

* It’s only just begun: Of the 48 players that saw the field for Notre Dame on Saturday night, 27 of them are in their first or second-season of eligibility.



Struggles in the secondary. No, Notre Dame’s defense shouldn’t have been expected to continue shutting down Jameis Winston. He’s too good of a quarterback, playing with too talented of weapons. But in the second half, the lack of depth in the Irish secondary showed, with tough one-on-one matchups making for some quick and explosive completions for the Seminoles.

Without knowing the coverage schemes, it’s difficult to peg these struggles on one particular player. But I’m guessing that in film study today, there will be plenty of talk about alignment and leverage, with the inside throw conceded far too easily on quick timing throws, like the touchdown by Rashad Greene or other posts and slants thrown in the rhythm of the offense.

After focusing on Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield on Friday, neither made any game-changing plays, with receptions consistently falling between the linebackers and safeties. Sometimes, you just need to tip your cap to the offense, and Winston’s 15 of 16 in the second half certainly deserves that.


Quick Hitters:

* For as good as Golson played, two plays highlighted here aren’t his best work. On his first-half interception, Golson missed his read to Tarean Folston, who escaped from the slot and filled the hole where the Seminoles blitz came from. Throw the ball quickly and it’s a nice gain instead of a turnover.

And secondly, the downfield heave to Ben Koyack that resulted in Koyack earning an offensive pass interference call? Put that one in the stands, son.

* Tough (but probably correct) call on Cody Riggs on a 3rd-and-2, called for holding Rashad Greene on a ball that sailed over his head. Keep your hands on the inside and that’s a field goal attempt, not a new set of downs.

* Don’t let that fumble ruin the rest of your season, Amir Carlisle.

* Come on, Andrew Trumbetti. The freshman had a chance to be a hero, with the chance to step in front of a throw to the flat by Winston. But Trumbetti got stuck not going for the pick and not going for the tackle, allowing the Seminoles to escape for a critical third-down conversion when it easily could’ve gone the other way.

* Not the way to get noticed, Jacob Matuska. That 15-yard penalty on kickoff return isn’t the one you want to commit.

* Hey ACC officials. You’ve probably heard enough at this point, but since when does a head coach need to use a timeout to get an official measurement?



It’s still tough to get beyond the end of this football game. Even the fourth quarter, when flags started flying and the refs’ imprint on the game started to take shape. When you have a classic football game, let it be decided on the field, not by the guys in the stripes.

In the era of heart-stomping defeats, this loss certainly qualifies. But in the college football playoff era, it’s not the back-breaker it once was.

The ACC’s head of officiating released a video-statement to say (shockingly) that the call on the field was correct. That they didn’t mention the player who committed the violation, or focus on what that violation was, is fairly telling.



In the end, it doesn’t matter. Florida State won a close football game, one that was in doubt down to the final seconds of the game. Now Irish fans need to understand that the more games the Seminoles win, the better it is for the Irish. Then just hope that Notre Dame gets a chance to play them again in January.


Kelly: Less clarity on FSU’s “blown coverage”

Notre Dame at Florida State

Upon second inspection, Brian Kelly hasn’t gained any clarity on the offensive pass interference call that took a game-winning touchdown off the board. While the head coach has moved on, and the Irish are getting some much-needed time off during fall break, Kelly’s opinion on the play — now that he’s realized the penalty was on Will Fuller, not C.J. Prosise — is even more muddled.

“I have less clarity. I guess it was actually called on Will Fuller, not C.J. Just adds more uncertainty as to the final play,” Kelly said Sunday, during his weekly teleconference. “Again, the play itself in terms of what we ask our kids to do, it was pretty clear what happened on the play. Florida State blew the coverage and they got rewarded for it. So it’s unfortunate.”

If you’re looking for a stronger statement by Kelly, you won’t likely find one. (It’s also my opinion of the play from last night.)

At this point, it all feels relatively meaningless in the final equation, though just about everybody on the internet, and certainly in the broadcast booth, thought the penalty was on Prosise, who was actively engaged with his defender from the snap.

Kelly talked about Prosise’s assignment on that play, which wasn’t flagged by the officials.

“C.J.’s job is to get into the end zone and turn around and be a big target,” Kelly explained. “He was immediately grabbed at the line of scrimmage. He’s trying to get depth into the line of scrimmage, into the end zone, so Corey can clear a path. As that contact was being made, it was seen, I guess, I don’t know who saw it as interference, but you’ve got two guys that are trying to fight for space. We saw it as such.

“He’s supposed to find space, sit down and be a target. Again, it’s a play that is a pretty common play in NCAA football where you’re setting a point, the guy turns around, the ball is thrown. The ball was thrown quickly. C.J. didn’t even have a chance to turn around, which may have led to some of the optics that people were talking about on TV, that was blocking. But he was simply trying to get his space in the end zone.”



Kelly has a call with the ACC’s coordinator of officiating, where he’ll also talk about the fact that Florida State’s P.J. Williams took his helmet off at the end of the play, another penalty that by rule could’ve given the Irish a 1st-and-goal, half the distance to the goal after the penalty was marked off. Kelly said that the officials already acknowledged that they missed that call, though expects even “less clarifiaction” after the call.

But on a Saturday where the Irish could’ve built a bigger first half lead after dominating and let the game seemingly slip through their fingers in the end, it’s an important lesson for a young team that still has everything to play for.

“You got to take the belt from the champion. You can’t leave it up to a decision that’s made at the end,” Kelly said. “We’ll talk about. If we’re in this situation again, you got to close, you got to finish.”

Five things we learned: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27

Jameis Winston,Everett Golson

With 13 seconds left, Corey Robinson caught the 4th-down pass from Everett Golson and walked into the end zone, all but uncovered. And for a moment, it looked like Notre Dame pulled off a win for the ages.

But with a yellow hanky on the garnet end zone grass in Doak Campbell Stadium, everything changed. And instead of the most memorable victory since maybe the last time the Irish shocked the Seminoles, Notre Dame’s 31-27 defeat goes joins the 2005 USC game and 1991 Orange Bowl loss to Colorado as the most controversial heartbreaks of the last 25 years.

“Don’t run into him, just get in his way,” Will Fuller told BlueandGold.com’s Douglas Farmer after the game, when asked about the coaching points on the controversial pick play. But while the internet continues to melt in a debate that both Brady Quinn and Reggie Bush weighed in on, offensive pass interference was called, turning six Notre Dame points into a 4th-and-forever that wasn’t even close.

Notre Dame falls to 6-1 in a game that somehow managed to live up to its hype. Let’s find out what we learned.


Right call or not, it doesn’t make it any easier to digest. 

Brian Kelly reserved comment. Anything he’d say after the game wouldn’t play well, and it certainly wouldn’t change things. But that doesn’t make the flag thrown against Will Fuller any easier to take.

“We execute that play every day,” Kelly said. “And we do it legally and that’s the way we coach it. We don’t coach illegal plays.”


Rewatching the play a few hundred times (literally), a penalty on Fuller is tough to find. A call on Prosise? That’s something you can understand. But even after straining to hear the ACC official’s declaration over the roaring Florida State crowd, it sure sounds like the penalty was on Fuller, even if in the chaos they pegged the wrong guy.

Making things worse, the Irish didn’t need to make it that close. Robinson was open from the moment he ran to the pylon, with the Seminoles seemingly caught off guard by the play call. It was the same play and execution that sprung Robinson earlier in the game.

While Fox’s officiating guru Mike Pereira echoed the sentiments from the broadcast booth that the call seemed to be the right one, it appears that just about everyone focused on Prosise’s contact with the Florida State defensive back, contact that wasn’t instigated by Prosise, by the way.

Of course, flip that call the other way, and you’d likely be hearing from Seminole fans for the next decade or two. It’s easy to be wide open when two guys are interfering, they might understandably say.

On a classic Saturday night, this call will go down as the largest part of the narrative. Not the way you want to see a game like this ended, but so it goes.


The Irish dominated the Seminoles everywhere but the scoreboard. 

Notre Dame outgained Florida State 470-323. They out-rushed the Seminoles 157-50. Everett Golson all but out-played Jameis Winston, though his final desperation heave will perhaps change that story on paper. But in the end, Notre Dame didn’t do enough to win the football game.

“We needed to make one more play,” Brian Kelly said after the game.

While not many people believed the Irish would be in a game that went down to the wire, the Irish did more than play with the Seminoles — they all but out-played them. The young defensive line gave the Seminoles offensive line all it could handle. Notre Dame’s playmakers did just as much as Florida State’s.

Florida State converted just two of eight third down attempts with the Irish sacking Winston three times and intercepting him once. The Irish dominated time of possession while making the Seminoles completely one-dimensional.

But in the end, only one stat matters, and that one had the Irish coming up four points shy.


In the second half, Notre Dame’s secondary just couldn’t hang with Florida State’s rhythm passing game. 

The Florida State receivers are the best personnel the Irish will face this year. And they showed it on Saturday night, beating the Irish defensive backs on intermediate throws, continually eating the Irish up on in-cuts and post routes. Rashad Greene sparked the comeback with eight catches for 108 yards. Freshman Travis Rudolph made Matthias Farley miss on a first-half touchdown catch.

While the Irish only had one true breakdown in coverage, Winston was able to pick up large chunks of yardage hitting his receivers in stride on perfect three- and five-step drops. After showing signs of being flustered in the first half, Winston was brilliant in the second half, marching the Seminoles to a game-winning touchdown drive and completing 15 of 16 throws.

The lack of depth in the Irish secondary was hard to miss, especially with Matthias Farley forced to matchup in man coverage on receivers in the slot. And with only Drue Tranquill there to spell Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, the Irish safeties seemed to be a step behind on the throws that seemed to find the soft spots.


On the biggest stage in college football, Notre Dame certainly didn’t back down. 

You knew from the start the attitude Brian Kelly planned on taking Saturday night. Faced with a 4th-and-short early in the game, Kelly didn’t hesitate, keeping his offense on the field to try and move the chains. The center exchange between Matt Hegarty and Everett Golson short-circuited the play before it could get going, but it set the tone for the aggressiveness Notre Dame would show all evening.

Kelly kept his foot on the gas all evening, and even after a slightly sluggish start by the Irish offensive line, the Irish responded wonderfully. The offensive line everybody worried about? They opened holes for Tarean Folston, who had his first career 100-yard day.

The young defense most expected to be “exposed?” They hung in there just fine, helping set up seven points off a key Joe Schmidt turnover as they won the battle in the trenches against the Seminoles veteran blockers.

There are no such thing as moral victories. But in the new College Football Playoff era, the Irish didn’t hurt their ultimate goals, especially with Baylor losing and both Mississippi and Mississippi State having roadblocks ahead of them before their Egg Bowl showdown.

Don’t be surprised to see the Irish hold steady in the polls even after their first defeat.


Everett Golson played like a champion Saturday night. 

Yes, the box score shows two Everett Golson interceptions. But the Irish quarterback silenced all the critics that spent the week focused on his turnover problems and went out and played a heckuva football game.

With 13 seconds left, Golson looked as if he’d once again accomplished the impossible. On 4th-and-18, he found Corey Robinson after running for his life, throwing a bullet to the lanky receiver to keep the game alive. And while the controversial penalty flag kept the Irish off the scoreboard and helped the Seminoles escape, Golson did everything he could do.

“I thought our quarterback played better than theirs tonight, just didn’t show up on the scoreboard,” Kelly said.

While just about everyone in the stadium was expecting the football to come loose at some point, Golson was a weapon with both his arm and legs. His 313 yards and three (almost four) touchdowns were the engine that drove the Irish offense against a tough Florida State secondary. And he was excellent in the run game, moving the chains and gaining 33 yards on 11 attempts with some designed plays.

With a chance to march the Irish down the field to win the game, Golson did it, with a very large asterisk. So while the victory wasn’t Notre Dame’s on Saturday night, the confidence of once again putting together a crucial drive should serve the Irish well.


The Seminoles escaped with a victory. Notre Dame leaves with their Playoff dreams intact. 

Notre Dame’s dream of a perfect season is over. But the Irish are alive and well in the College Football Playoff. Last season, this loss would’ve likely relegated the Irish to scoreboard watching and hoping they’re capable of securing a lucrative BCS bid. But in the playoff era, an 11-1 Notre Dame team still likely has a good shot at being one of the four, especially as the SEC continues to beat itself up.

Florida State doesn’t face another ranked team, and might not even in the ACC title game. And there is more blood to spill in the SEC, with two teams still likely to come out of the power conference, though who they’ll be still needs some determining.

From there, a beauty pageant likely favors the Irish if they can win out. A one-loss Oregon team has a stumble against Arizona to explain. Baylor couldn’t escape Morgantown this weekend. And if you think a committee is going to see Michigan State or Ohio State’s loss as a better one than Notre Dame’s, be very surprised.

It doesn’t make the loss feel any better. But it does help recalibrate the narrative on a Notre Dame team most thought was smoke and mirrors.

“They were on a national stage and I think they showed everybody what kind of football team they are tonight,” Kelly said.

Joe Schmidt might have said it even better on Twitter after the game.



Live blog — Notre Dame vs. Florida State

William Fuller, Julian Whigham, Durell Eskridge

It’s finally here. Not just the biggest game of the year, but the ultimate test for this Notre Dame football team. Entering Doak Campbell Stadium against the defending national champs and Heisman Trophy winner, we’ll see if the Irish have what it takes to upset the Seminoles.

As usual, we’re here for a live chat. It’ll look a little bit different, but the same group-therapy session will be taking place, you might just need to push a few new buttons to participate.

So on a Saturday with all eyes on the Irish, let’s see if Notre Dame has what it takes to end Florida State’s 22-game winning streak.