Irish flip blue-chip QB Brandon Wimbush


Notre Dame has added the all important quarterback to their 2015 recruiting class. Former Penn State commitment Brandon Wimbush has joined the Irish recruiting class, officially flipping his commitment after a weekend visit to South Bend.

Wimbush is a Top 100 prospect and one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. The future Under Armour All-American fills a vacancy at quarterback that’s existed since Blake Barnett backed out from his Irish commitment and eventually decided to head to Alabama.

Wimbush caught up with Irish Illustrated’s Jake Brown and detailed the decision.

“It was the best decision I could’ve made for myself,” Wimbush told Rivals.com. “It was in my best interests and it gives me the opportunity that I need for myself to succeed.”

Brian Kelly all but made the news official, with his tweet signifying a new commitment. And for the second time in this recruiting cycle, Notre Dame has plucked a crown jewel from Penn State’s class, joining linebacker Josh Barajas making the flip from Happy Valley to South Bend.



The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Stanford

Ben Koyack

The shockwaves from a crazy college football Saturday are still being felt. But after beating Stanford 17-14, Notre Dame is one of the few Top 10 teams that survived and advanced this weekend, with Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA all getting tripped up.

In the fourth-straight meeting between ranked Stanford and Notre Dame teams, the Irish escaped with a victory, sticking with the trend of the home team winning. That came courtesy of some late game magic by Everett Golson, who found tight end Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone.

With the dramatic events still playing through most Irish fans’ heads, let’s run through the good, bad and ugly from a Saturday to remember in South Bend.



The Rush Defense. Notre Dame knew it faced its stiffest test in the trenches when they battled Stanford. That it was such a one-sided victory remains one of the best outcomes of the weekend.

Stopping the Cardinal running game was a key to the Irish’s success, and limiting Stanford to just 1.5 yards per carry certainly qualifies as a tremendous victory. With worries that Notre Dame’s linebackers were too small and the front four too inexperienced and thin, the “D-Boys” certainly silenced those critics.

The Pass Defense. That Notre Dame took dead aim at Ty Montgomery, Stanford’s best offensive playmaker, and shut him down completely says quite a bit about the play of cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke. Playing man coverage for a lot of the afternoon, the Irish duo held Montgomery to just 12 yards on four catches. Add in Montgomery’s five carries, the Cardinal’s All-American candidate gained just 26 yards on 10 touches.

Cole Luke was the first Irish defender since Manti Te’o to have two interceptions in a game. He also chipped in a sack, a forced fumble and another pass breakup for good measure.

Riggs was solid in coverage, playing excellent in run support as well with six total tackles. While he gave Irish fans another heart attack with a bobble on punt return, the diminutive senior is so important in the Irish’s defensive blueprint.

While Austin Collinsworth got on the field for the first time this season, safety Elijah Shumate isn’t going anywhere. Not after another six tackle performance, where he was also credited with a sack on the game’s final play, a perfect blitz that forced Kevin Hogan’s intentional grounding penalty.

Collinsworth gave Max Redfield a break for a series when he picked up his first tackle on the year, likely revealing how well Shumate’s been playing at strong safety. Add in Matthias Farley and the secondary might have given up one or two more than they wanted to, but holding Kevin Hogan to 18 of 36 for just 158 yards and two interceptions, and it’s a good day at the office.

The Offensive Line. Now hear me out. I saw Steve Elmer and Christian Lombard struggle early. I saw tire tracks down Matt Hegarty’s jersey, too. But if you were to place a guess which team would average 2.5 yards per carry more than the other, you likely wouldn’t have put your money on Notre Dame.

After a slow start, we saw Harry Hiestand’s offensive line start to come together. That bodes very well for the next few weeks, which will be critical as this team tries to achieve its goals.

“We did a really good job in the last drive of picking up some stunts and blitzes with our offensive line,” Kelly said. “I was really pleased with that.

“And we started to come together on our combinations and our run game, which is very, very important. So we’re getting there, because we saw the kind of defense that we’re playing. We’re consistently playing at a high level.”

Surviving Stanford is an accomplishment, especially protecting the quarterback at a time in the game where failing meant a loss. But the next step is establishing some dominance up front. They’ll have that opportunity against a North Carolina team that’s struggling on defense.

Everett Golson. He didn’t play great football. And maybe he even ended all the stupid Heisman speculation that turned September’s performances into some silly measuring stick.

But after making two critical mistakes in the first half, Golson did what he needed to do, throwing the football well in really difficult conditions, and rallying the Irish to a victory. After coming out of the game in 2012 when the moment was at its largest, Golson made the game-changing play that was needed.

“This was really his first two-minute drive,” Kelly said after the game. “If you really look at it. This was truly his first one. And I think he’s going to be better for it.”

Jaylon Smith. Another tip of the cap to Smith, whose 14 tackles were a career-high and the most since Te’o roamed the sidelines. The sophomore linebacker continued his ascent Saturday afternoon, seemingly everywhere during Notre Dame’s victory.

After the game, Smith showed the type of maturity and poise that has you wondering what planet produced the Fort Wayne product.

“Coach Kelly says it all the time. It’s not about rising to the occasion. We sink to the level of our preparation,” Smith said. “And we prepared so great this week. We all knew going into the week, Stanford week, it’s going to be physical. They are going to try to hit you in the mouth and we just had to match that intensity and penetration was key.”

Ben Koyack. If there’s an offensive player that deserved a big play like this, it’s the senior tight end. After being stuck in one of the toughest battles on the field as a blocker, Koyack played hero when his flag route flooded behind cornerback Wayne Lyons.

“It was huge. It was huge,” Kelly said after the game. “We were struggling with some of his blocking assignments. He’s so central and critical to what we’re doing in our read zone option stuff.”

That Koyack struggled with some blocks against Stanford shouldn’t be surprising. Go back to the 2012 game and you’ll spot Troy Niklas getting used as a turnstile against the Cardinal’s fierce edge players.

But getting a big play out of Koyack could be the springboard to his season. After talking about how it felt like the pass heading his way was in the air for an hour, Koyack sounded like a veteran player just thankful for the moment.

Corey Robinson let us known how his teammates felt.

“It feels like a movie. When Ben caught that last one in the end zone, I didn’t know what to do,” Robinson said. “I was so excited. I am so happy for Ben and happy for our team.”


Quick Hits: 

* After Notre Dame’s go ahead score, Kyle Brindza hit a clutch kickoff for a touchback over Ty Montgomery’s head. That was the equivalent of a 300-yard drive on the 18th tee that splits the fairway. Big time kick for Brindza, who also drilled a clutch field goal after Hunter Smith decided to try some gloves out.

* Notre Dame got the Big Plays they needed this week, manufacturing the type of offense that doesn’t usually exist against Stanford. The Irish had five plays of 20-yards or more. Going into the game, Stanford had only given up four.

* Welcome to the party, Chris Brown. After wondering if all the praise Brown received this spring was coaching propaganda, it was the junior receiver who emerged in the first half, catching the football confidently as his four catches, 60-yards and first touchdown of the year were critical.

* In just his second game, Torii Hunter Jr. is emerging as a clutch player. The big-time catch he made on Notre Dame’s sidelines after getting an interference call was a huge play.



The Drops. Having gone through and counted the drops, the exact total is probably four for Notre Dame. But there were a few more that should’ve been caught, especially in a game where every yard counts.

Of course, to not mention that it was monsoon-like conditions and freezing cold outside isn’t necessarily fair. And after struggling to get my hands to type in the press box, I’m not sure that catching the football was that easier, either.  But on a big stage where every yard was tough sledding, this young receiving corps needs to do a better job.

 The Red Zone. The Irish only scored on half their red zone opportunities, converting two touchdowns but getting nothing out of two other drives. Those difficulties have pushed the Irish from the top of the statistical charts when they started 14 for 14 to a rather ordinary No. 46.

Converting points will be critical when the Irish head to Tallahassee. So getting back in the swing of things next week against North Carolina will be important, especially after some shaky work on field goals and some bad decision-making by the quarterback.

The Field Goal game. This isn’t all on holder Hunter Smith, whose name is known now for all the wrong reasons. But the combination of some struggles pacing the snap by Scott Daly and the decision not to wear gloves was a puzzling one.

Here’s a fun tidbit for those that want to bag on Notre Dame and the kicking game for a lack of preparation. During Thursday practice, the Irish staff had team managers dumping water on the football and the ground as the Irish kicking game worked on snapping, fielding, placing and kicking field goals.

The unit was flawless.

But that’s the difference between practice and the moment in front of 80,000 fans. Credit to Daly, Smith and Brindza for getting the clutch 45-yarder down and converted, with Brindza’s make tying him with John Carney for Notre Dame’s school record 51st field goal.

Quick Hitters: The secondary played a great game, but the huge catch they gave up on 3rd and long that set up Stanford’s go-ahead touchdown just can’t happen. Not a great job by Elijah Shumate or Matthias Farley finding the football, though credit Kevin Hogan for a nice throw.

Film will tell us that another interception was left on the board on a puzzling throw Hogan made to the post that was nearly picked by Max Redfield.

* The Irish offense should be killing itself for its struggles in the middle of the field. There seemed to be a brick wall that Stanford put up around midfield that extended to their 30-yard line, and the Irish just struggled to move the football in key situations that would’ve set them up to score points.

Stanford has the nation’s longest streak of holding teams under 30 points. The Irish struggles converting in the middle of the field kept them from getting close.



The Weather. As a native Minnesotan who has played some football games in terrible conditions, that had to be a Top 5 weather game in my lifetime. No, it wasn’t the coldest day around. But the combination of fierce wind, sheets of rain and sub-40 degree temperature made even tailgating a challenge. It certainly played a factor in the football game, too.

Winning Ugly. Brian Kelly probably said it best, when he addressed his team.


On Sunday, Kelly said that the Irish got out of the game relatively injury free, a great update considering the physical toll that comes with playing Stanford. That should have the Irish feeling good heading into North Carolina, a game that counts every bit as much as the one the following week.

Survive and Advance. 

Sportscenter probably said it best:

Notre Dame picks up first ’16 commit in OL Tommy Kraemer


In the middle of a busy football weekend, Notre Dame began its 2016 recruiting class with a key building block. Blue-chip offensive line recruit Tommy Kraemer pledged his commitment to the Irish, the first member of the junior class to commit to Notre Dame.

Kraemer is a Cincinnati product from Elder, the same program that brought Kyle Rudolph to South Bend. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder chose Notre Dame over Ohio State and Michigan. He’s currently the No. 20 overall prospect in Rivals100 for the 2016 class, the No. 3 offensive line prospect in the nation.

The junior tackle was just one of many key recruits on campus this weekend, including West Coast prospects Frank Buncom and Equanimeous St. Brown, as well as current Penn State commit, quarterback Brandon Wimbush. While early reports are coming back understandably positive even with yesterdays miserable weather, Kraemer was ready to end his recruitment almost two years before he’ll take his first snap for Notre Dame.

Kraemer made the news official on Saturday from Notre Dame Stadium, tweeting out the following message.

With academic probe complete, Notre Dame releases statement, but not fate of players

Rev. John Jenkins,Jack Swarbrick

With Notre Dame’s academic investigation closed and the Honor Code committee meetings completed as of Friday, the fate of football players DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams will be determined sometime next week.

But for those expecting some gigantic statement out of the university, it’s not happening.

On Sunday afternoon, Paul J. Browne,  the university’s vice president for public affairs and communications, released a carefully parsed statement that will likely serve as the last official word from the university about the academic investigation and Honor Code process that’s had more attention on it in the past two months than ever before.

The statement is packed full, and has largely been misinterpreted this Sunday morning. So let’s go through a few key points before laying out the statement in full.


The players are being withheld from competition because of the investigation of NCAA violations, with the threat of vacating wins the major remaining issue. 

Notre Dame’s 5-0 start wouldn’t be worth much if Brian Kelly and the university found out players that took the field were ineligible to compete. That’s ultimately why the five student-athletes have been withheld from football activities, and why Notre Dame continues to acknowledge that NCAA sanctions, if necessary, will be voluntarily imposed and reported to the NCAA.

That the university will vacate wins isn’t an assumption that’s fair to make. Looking back at two recent, high profile academic investigations that involved the NCAA, North Carolina and Florida State are the best guide. The Tar Heels vacating all 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 football seasons after improper benefits and academic misconduct was discovered. The academic misconduct involved a now fired department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro, and his department manager, who presided over independent study classes in the AFAM Department.

At Florida State, Bobby Bowden was forced to vacate 12 victories from 2006 and 2007, part of the penalty after academic fraud was discovered to have involved 61 student-athletes. The scandal also forced the men’s basketball team, the baseball team, the women’s basketball team and a national championship in men’s track and field to be vacated. Scholarships were stripped from 10 Seminoles teams. According to the New York Times, that fraud included not just students and student-athletes, but a learning specialist, an academic advisor and a tutor who took tests and wrote papers.


From what’s already been publicly stated, Notre Dame’s situation doesn’t include misconduct from any employees involved in academic support. 

This should be a very important part of any NCAA ruling and could be what keeps this from being an issue that demands vacating victories. While the North Carolina and Florida State situations involved members of the faculty or academic support systems at the university, Notre Dame’s does not.

From what we’ve heard from university president Rev. John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick, the investigation’s findings don’t implicate anybody in that realm, but rather focus on the behavior of one paid student employee of the athletic department. Multiple sources have told me that this person served as a student athletic trainer for the football team.

Here’s what Jenkins told faculty in mid-September, according to an Observer Report:

[Jenkins] said the athletic department’s compliance office became aware of “a potentially problematic situation involving a current student athlete as well as a student who served for a brief time as a paid student employee of the athletic department, although that position had no role in academic tutoring or advising of student athletes.”

“I want to underscore that the current investigation has not revealed any misconduct or knowledge of impropriety by regular, full-time staff,” he said. “However, given the student’s brief status as a paid employee, there was the possibility of what the NCAA considers an ‘excess benefit’ given to the student athlete by a representative of the institution.”

Again, nothing has been decided yet, nor announced. But there’s quite a difference between what is alleged to have happened at Notre Dame and what happened at Florida State and North Carolina.


Because of some complexities this case wasn’t treated like a standard Honor Code violation. 

Browne’s statement spoke repeatedly about the complexities of this case. Those complexities involved a full investigation from the Office of the General Counsel, as well as the NCAA involvement already discussed.

But Browne mentions the added complexity of “multiple disciplines,” potentially meaning that the suspected Honor Code violations took place in a variety of schools, for instance the business college as well as the college of Arts and Letters.

That crossover — as well as the review of extensive exhibits compiled during the legal dig — forced a more comprehensive process. According to Browne’s statement, that included witness interviews, a faculty reporter to review voluminous materials and comprehensive honesty committees.


In the closest thing we’ll see to an acknowledgement, the university statement acknowledges their timeline and the five football players stuck in limbo. 

Late last week, the Observer, Notre Dame’s student newspaper, released an Op-Ed that called for clear Honor Code, taking to task the university’s administration for their handling of the current investigation.

These well-written paragraphs strike to the heart of the issue for students and members of the Notre Dame community.

The one constant since the investigation was announced has been that no one really knows much about the proceedings. Sure, head football coach Brian Kelly addresses it every week in his press conferences, and Jenkins made reference to it in his address to the University’s faculty last month.

But we have about as much insight into the Honor Code process as we did before the players were withheld, and our efforts to learn more about it have proved largely fruitless.

We’ve been directed to a webpage listing the members of the University Code of Honor Committee, which has not been updated for this academic year. We’ve looked at a Code of Honor Handbook that dates back to 2011 and may no longer be in use. Requests to learn more about the Honor Code process have been denied, despite a clause in Handbook that states, “Each member of the committee may be approached for consultation or advice about the Code of Honor by any member of the Notre Dame community.” Hugh Page, associate provost, dean of the First Year of Studies and Honor Code Committee co-chair, declined to comment on requests for an updated committee roster or for clarification of the text of the Code.

The Honor Code itself is one way in which the University upholds its values. The University could use this opportunity to show how the Honor Code does its job, but it instead seems intent on keeping everything except the players’ identities under close wraps.

And that, to us, raises another academic issue — a lack of transparency on a campus that should be open to creating dialogue. The players themselves seem to not know how the hearings process works. And we, their peers, have no way to know if the process is operating along the parameters the Honor Code outlines. We understand why certain specific details on the case should be kept confidential to protect those involved – but we also think that total opacity on any question involving the Honor Code creates an unhealthy, unproductive climate for students.

For the past two months, the university has repeatedly turned down requests for comments and directed people to the school’s website (they do in today’s statement as well), a document that the Observer rightly points out hasn’t been updated since 2011 (though on Sunday afternoon, the Observer’s editor-in-chief Ann Marie Jakubowski notes that the document was updated this weekend).

But after a relatively tone-deaf approach to this situation for the past two months, Browne’s statement includes the following olive branch.

“The process is time-consuming because it is thorough, as it must be to ensure integrity and fairness. Having said that, we recognize it can be difficult for students, regardless of culpability, who are subject to such reviews, especially when public scrutiny becomes so magnified for those who are student-athletes. We are working to resolve these situations as quickly as possible.”

That the apology comes after such a thorough takedown by the voice of the student body is no surprise. Also, as the Chicago Tribune’s Chris Hine notes, a Board of Trustees meeting took place this weekend. Hine tweeted that multiple sources told him that “trustees were not thrilled with timeline of investigation.”


What happens now? 

As the statement reads, unless Notre Dame reports something to the NCAA, life will go forward without any official statement from the school. That’s largely because of FERPA privacy laws, making it next to impossible to discuss the private disciplinary matters of the school.

So that once again leaves Notre Dame’s football coach to be the unofficial spokesman for the administration. In all likelihood, we’ll find out who gets to play and who doesn’t during Brian Kelly’s Tuesday press conference, when the media will ask him, or when one of the five football players takes to Twitter or other social media microphones to announce their collective fate.

When asked Sunday during his weekly teleconference what he plans to do as he now considers how to reintegrate as many as five players back onto the football team, Kelly hasn’t had the luxury of giving it much thought.

“I’m probably going to have to spend some time today thinking about it because I really have not given it much thought,” Kelly acknowledged on Sunday. “I do have to begin to think about reintegrating, and obviously I’m sure a decision is going to be made. I probably won’t reintegrate until I get a decision on each guy, and hopefully that will come soon. Once that decision’s made on each one of them, we’re going to have to have a plan on reintegrating all of the players or those players that I can.”

Thankfully, we’re almost done with this process.



Statement from Paul J. Browne, vice president for public affairs and communications at the University of Notre Dame:

On August 15 the Office of General Counsel of the University of Notre Dame notified the NCAA that because of potential ineligibility issues, the University was withholding from football participation certain student-athletes as part of an inquiry into possible academic dishonesty involving several other students as well. The NCAA was also informed that upon the start of the academic year later in the month, appropriate University committees would meet to develop review processes consistent with the Undergraduate Academic Code of Honor.

Often, an academic honesty review involves one student and one academic department. Due to the complexity of cases involving multiple disciplines, Comprehensive Honesty Committees were impaneled to review memoranda and extensive exhibits compiled in connection with the General Counsel’s initial inquiry, interview witnesses and the subjects of the hearings, and potentially impose sanctions subject to appeal. A faculty reporter was also appointed to review voluminous material collected during the General Counsel’s investigation to identify cases for the Comprehensive Committees’ review.

Hearings for those withheld from football were completed on Friday.  Decisions will be communicated individually to affected student-athletes and other students alike, as deliberations on each case conclude. As with other student academic records, the results of the review are confidential, and the University will not disclose them, although affected students may if they so choose. If it is determined that student-athletes would have been ineligible during past competition, Notre Dame will voluntarily impose appropriate sanctions, report our findings to the NCAA, and await its independent review.

The principal purpose of the Honor Code process (see http://honorcode.nd.edu/) is to educate our students as to the importance of academic integrity.  The process is time-consuming because it is thorough, as it must be to ensure integrity and fairness.  Having said that, we recognize it can be difficult for students, regardless of culpability, who are subject to such reviews, especially when public scrutiny becomes so magnified for those who are student-athletes. We are working to resolve these situations as quickly as possible.

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14

Stanford v Notre Dame

Anatomy of a soul-crushing defeat: Back-breaking turnovers. Missed scoring opportunities. Wasted performances.

The Irish looked like they had put together the perfect recipe for a painful loss through 57 rain-soaked, wind-swept minutes in Notre Dame Stadium. But Everett Golson and the Irish offense rallied for a game-winning touchdown drive, helping the Irish pull off a wild 17-14 victory over Stanford Saturday afternoon.

RELATED: Watch a full replay of Notre Dame’s win

On a 4th down and 11 with the ballgame in the balance, Golson rolled to his left, spotting a wide-open Ben Koyack in the corner of the end zone.

“It felt like the whole thing happened in slow motion,” Golson said after the game. “I distinctly remember just looking at my first read and kind of rolling out and it was like real slow and I’m like, ‘Okay, he’s open, why are you not throwing it to him?'”

Golson did, and Koyack planted his feet just inside the chalk, cleanly catching the pass before getting knocked to the turf. It was another epic chapter in a Notre Dame-Stanford rivalry that continues to grow.

Combined with a dominant performance by Brian VanGorder’s defense, Notre Dame moves to 5-0, clearly positioned to do some damage in a College Football Playoff hunt that veered dramatically the first week of October.

Let’s take a look at the five things we learned in the Irish’s 17-14 victory over Stanford.

There was nobody left to bail Everett Golson out of trouble. So the quarterback seized the moment and did it himself. 

If Golson didn’t find Koyack in the corner of the end zone, it would’ve been the Irish quarterback wearing the goat horns. Golson was hassled and harassed all Saturday, completing just 20 of 43 throws for 241 yards, throwing for two touchdowns but gift-wrapping Stanford’s first score with a killer fumble and taking points off the board with a terrible decision on his interception to Jordan Richards.

But Golson battled his way back, seizing control of the Irish offense and putting together a game-winning drive for the ages.

“You know, he’s a winner,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “I don’t know what his numbers are, but he’s 15-1 as a starter. I don’t know how many games he lost in high school but he didn’t lose many in high school either. So the kid’s a winner and he keeps competing and he keeps playing.”

That winning mindset helped Golson late in the game, seizing control of the moment when it mattered most.

“I mean I love moments like that. I really do,” Golson said after the game. “I think I see it more as an opportunity rather than pressure. It was a great opportunity for us to really just showcase what we have.”

Golson pulled off the game-winning drive without the help of a key backup quarterback, like he had in 2012. He also did it against a defense that had pummeled the Irish offensive line with pressures and blitzes, capably picked up on the games final drive when they weren’t earlier.

Clutch plays by a clutch player. And Notre Dame is 5-0 because of it.

Notre Dame’s defense outplayed the No. 1 defense in the country. 

Calling any defense the best in the country when half of their games were played against UC Davis and Army is a little silly. But Stanford’s defense lived up to its reputation, as its veteran front seven gave the Irish fits all evening. But Notre Dame’s defense played even better, with Brian VanGorder’s unit dialing up blitzes and schemes that held Stanford to some historically low numbers.

The Cardinal were held below 100 yards rushing for the first time since September 2012. They averaged just 3.0 yards per play, their lowest tally since 2006, when Walt Harris went 1-11. Notre Dame held Ty Montgomery to just 12 yards on four catches. He gained just 14 yards on five carries.

After the game, David Shaw tipped his cap to VanGorder.

“I think they’ve got an outstanding defensive coordinator. He mixes it up,” Shaw said. “Our quarterback got hit a lot today. Give them a lot of credit for their scheme… I think accounting for the guys they lost, they did outstanding on the defensive side, and their guys played hard. They played fast. And you can tell they’re very well coached because they’re running full speed where they’re supposed to be.”

In a game where Notre Dame needed to establish a running game, the Irish managed to put one together against Stanford. 

It was certainly tough sledding in the trenches. And on a Saturday where it was extremely difficult to throw the football, Notre Dame’s offense managed to keep Stanford’s defense honest with a running game.

The Irish officially ran for 129 yards on 32 carries, a more that respectable four yards a carry. Notre Dame got the big-chunk runs they needed from C.J. Prosise and Everett Golson. But they earned their keep in the trenches, with Cam McDaniel gaining 41 tough yards on 15 carries, the best looking 2.7 yards per touch you’ll ever see.

“If you just abandon the running game, they’re going to drop eight. They’re going to double out. You’ve got no chance,” Kelly said after the game. “So we have to keep their backers in the box. We had to have a semblance, and I thought we did a pretty good job of being patient and hanging in there.”

While some Irish fans still wanted to see more of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, it was the captain McDaniel who earned Kelly’s trust. And his ability to pinball loose in the trenches a few times and move the chains was key.

Just like in 2012 when Theo Riddick earned more carries while Cierre Wood was better statistically, Kelly showed once again that he values dependability over game-breaking ability, especially in a tight battle.

Stanford built a name on out-toughing their opponents. Jaylon Smith and the Irish defense won that battle on Saturday. 

Let’s take a minute to appreciate the game Jaylon Smith played. Notre Dame’s star linebacker made 14 tackles, seven unassisted. He notched a sack, one of his 2.5 tackles-for-loss. And he flew from sideline to sideline, playing the type of game you’d expect from a star in the making.

Smith may have paced the Irish defense, but he certainly wasn’t alone in his excellence. Notre Dame’s seven TFLs came from a variety of defenders. Sheldon Day continued his dominance in the trenches. Cody Riggs had six stops to go along with excellent coverage on Ty Montgomery for most of the night. Cole Luke played the best game of his career, adding a forced fumble to his two interceptions.

And Joe Schmidt, still tagged with the scrappy walk-on title hanging on him, had seven tackles, holding up just fine at the point of attack. Kelly talked about the all-out effort from his defense, holding the Irish in the game when the offense spent much of the day stuck in neutral.

“We’re getting great play from the front seven,” Kelly said. “Joe Schmidt, Jaylon, James Onwualu. I think if you look at the front seven, I think that’s where you start. And then we’re getting aggressive cornerback play. Two interceptions from Cole Luke. We’re playing without KeiVarae Russell who arguably was our best corner. We’re doing it with guys that are just stepping up and being aggressive on the outside.”

Asked if he was surprised that his defense — even after replacing NFL talents like Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Prince Shembo, Dan Fox and Bennett Jackson — was able to go toe-to-toe with Stanford and win, Kelly didn’t blink.

“We’ve developed our program. We should be here in five years,” Kelly said. “This is where you evaluate your program in five years where year one we got knocked around. I mean, physically. And so this is where you should be going into year five of your program.”


After another memorable win against Stanford, it’s pretty easy to start seeing the stars align. 

Notre Dame’s big victory couldn’t have come at a better time. With Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all going down, the Irish vaulted into a likely top-five spot by simply surviving. And while there’s certainly work to be done, Notre Dame’s in line to play a mid-October game in Tallahassee with some of the biggest stakes we’ve seen in recent years.

Of course, the pitfalls are there. But for as ugly as parts of Saturday’s 17-14 win looked, a deeper dig shows more promise than you might suspect. Notre Dame’s running game is getting better, with the rearranged offensive line playing better after a tough start. Chris Brown emerged as a viable receiving weapon, taking the pressure off of Will Fuller.

Defensively, shutting down Stanford is another datapoint that clears out any suspicious of smoke and mirrors. And with some resolution coming next week for Notre Dame’s five suspended players, getting any of that group back — especially projected starters DaVaris Daniels, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams — can only help.

After the game, sophomore Cole Luke talked about an attitude that’s taking over this young football team, allowing Luke and the rest of this young group to play really impressive football.

“One thing that was stressed to me before the game is that you have to have no fear,” Luke said. “It does not matter what receiver you are going against or what offense… When the lights come on and you are on the field, it does not really matter. You just have to make plays and play ball.”

With Stanford in the rearview mirror and North Carolina the next challenge ahead, don’t expect the Irish coaching staff to let this team look too far ahead. But it’s starting to feel a lot like 2012 again, in another season that seemingly came out of nowhere.