Stanford provided Irish the blueprint for success


Early in Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, the Irish had a particularly painful Saturday. No, it wasn’t the demoralizing loss to Michigan, where Denard Robinson ran his way into the record books — and Notre Dame’s end zone with 27 seconds left — to beat the Irish 28-24.

It wasn’t necessarily the week after that either, when Mark Dantonio’s gutsy “Little Giants” fake field goal call controversially beat Notre Dame in overtime. While the play clock may or may not have expired, the game that sent Dantonio to the hospital with a minor heart attack was just another bump in a difficult early season road for Kelly.

But looking back at those early games in Kelly’s first season and the toughest loss might be the one Stanford handed Notre Dame at home. Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal coasted to a 37-14 victory, pushing the Irish to 1-3 on the season with a lopsided victory that wasn’t necessarily indicative of the game Notre Dame played.

Bob Diaco’s defense forced Andrew Luck to play the worst statistical game of his season, throwing two interceptions to the Irish. Michael Floyd had 110-yards receiving, leading the game. The Irish even entered the fourth quarter trailing just 19-6, before Jonas Gray was stuffed at midfield on a 4th and 1.

But after Stanford stopped the Irish things got ugly. An 11-play drive was capped off by a touchdown run from fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic. On Notre Dame’s next possession, Crist’s first throw found Marecic, who returned the interception for a touchdown. All of a sudden the Irish were down 34-6 and the gap between the two programs felt as gigantic as the four-touchdown deficit.

After the game, Kelly stated the obvious:

“Begin by tipping my hat to Stanford, Coach Harbaugh,” Kelly said. “Well-coached football team. They were well prepared. It’s a fine football team. They deserved to win today.”

But what wasn’t obvious at the time was the familiar blueprint Notre Dame has followed to success. Forced to gut and rebuild a broken Irish football program, Kelly and his staff followed a similar path to the one Stanford laid down under Harbaugh (and has continued with David Shaw), turning around a program that went 1-11 into one of the Pac-12’s best.


It feels like a long time ago, but Harbaugh’s first season in Palo Alto was only a measured success. Digging out of the 1-11 ditch Walt Harris left behind, Harbaugh won just four games, losing even to Notre Dame’s rag-tag 2007 outfit, a group that rallied late in the season to avoid the collar of being the worst Irish team ever.

But if there was a glimmer of hope for the Cardinal it was their shocking upset of No. 2 USC in early October, beating Pete Carroll’s Trojans 24-23, shocking the Coliseum crowd in a game that may go down as one of the biggest upsets in football history.

While that game is now remembered quite differently, the win didn’t really feel like a breakthrough but rather lightning in a bottle. The Cardinal lost five of their next six before closing the year with a tight victory over Cal.

Of course, Kelly’s first season looked lost almost from the start. Stanford’s decisive victory over Notre Dame had the Irish dropping three of their first four, hardly the debut for a new coach under scrutiny for the first time. But Kelly didn’t mince words after the game.

“There’s going to be a lot of 1-3 football teams across the country,” Kelly said. “Some are going to finish 1-11, some of going to be 8 or 9-3. It’s what you decide to do from here on out.”

The Irish won their next three games before losing ugly against both Navy and Tulsa, a bottoming out that felt like one of the darkest moments in the program’s history. But an unlikely thumping of No. 15 Utah gave Notre Dame hope for a bowl berth. Then a decisive win against Army — and the conquering of an option offense in Yankee Stadium — felt like a step forward.

But it was nothing compared to the victory in the Coliseum, snapping an eight-game losing streak that lasted three head coaches and seemingly a generation of Irish (and Trojan) fans. On a rain soaked night in Los Angeles, Notre Dame needed a little luck — an injured Matt Barkley and a crucial late drop by Ronald Johnson — but the win propelled the Irish into a bowl game blowout of Miami and had Notre Dame on its way.


Stanford didn’t become Stanford until Andrew Luck took the field. The redshirt freshman took over in Harbaugh’s third season on The Farm, delivering an 8-5 season that included consecutive wins against No. 7 Oregon and No. 11 USC, having many believing that the Cardinal had arrived.

Of course, it was Brian Kelly’s third season when a redshirt freshman named Everett Golson took over the Irish offense. It was the perfect marriage between head coach and quarterback that helped Notre Dame pull off an undefeated regular season and the chance to play for the national title.

Like in Palo Alto, Golson unseated a veteran. Tommy Rees moved into a crucial backup role. Tavita Pritchard spent more time with a baseball cap on than a helmet.

Both coaches had excellent players bridging the gap until they found their quarterbacks. For Harbaugh it was Toby Gerhart, who nearly won the Heisman in Luck’s first season. For Kelly, it was Michael Floyd, the school’s all-time leading receiver. But while Irish fans might remember it differently, neither coach truly set sail without their quarterback.


Nobody is going to confuse Palo Alto and South Bend. And while the two academic institutions have very different personalities, Stanford and Notre Dame share more similarities than differences.

Just look at the two rosters. With both programs recruiting from the same talent pools, the Irish and Cardinal staff run into each other quite frequently on the national recruiting trail.

On the Cardinal roster, many thought Alex Carter would be playing for the Irish. His father Tom played for Lou Holtz before being taken in the first round by the Washington Redskins. Quarterback Kevin Hogan wanted to play for Notre Dame but the offer came too late. Defensive end Blake Lueders was committed to Notre Dame before the coaching change. We’ll see the fifth-year senior on the edge of the Stanford defense on Saturday.

Winning has enhanced the football profile of the Cardinal. And both Harbaugh and David Shaw have upped the recruiting profile of one of the West Coast’s most dominant football programs, with Stanford winning its share of head-to-head battles with Notre Dame not just on the field, but on the recruiting trail.

Notre Dame wanted Noor Davis, a linebacker with national offers. The Irish desperately tried to land blue-chip cornerback Wayne Lyons. Blue-chip freshman cornerback Terrence Alexander was a Signing Day defeat that still stings. And just about the entire starting offensive line for the Cardinal had offers to Notre Dame, including All-American candidate Andrus Peat. Pass rusher extraordinaire Peter Kalambayi would look pretty good coming off the edge for Brian VanGorder, a recruit Kelly mentioned on Tuesday.

Of course, Notre Dame still wins more recruiting battles with Stanford than they lose, flipping a handful of Cardinal verbal commitments since Kelly came to town like Doug Randolph, TJ Jones and Tate Nichols. Slot receiver Amir Carlisle will go up against a program he once committed to play for, providing the Irish will a playmaker who could factor greatly into Saturday’s contest.

While the Irish defense will continue to evolve under VanGorder, the Irish’s defensive philosophy during Kelly’s first four seasons looked mighty similar to that of Stanford’s. The Irish coaching staff was chasing big, physical edge players, same as the Cardinal. They were looking for rugged 3-4 linebackers to play on the inside. A few weeks ago, former linebacker Danny Spond probably said it best:

“Any time you’re recruited by Stanford, you’re probably going to be recruited to Notre Dame and vice versa.”


Perhaps what makes Saturday’s game the most important of the weekend is the fact that Stanford and Notre Dame are two programs that can proudly wave the flag for football programs doing things right. While ESPN camps out at Mississippi State in preparation for the SEC showdown with Texas A&M, this intersectional rivalry lives in almost a different world.

That’s not to say that these programs aren’t immune to their own problems. But as Notre Dame’s five players remain out for their fifth game of the season after suspected academic improprieties, it’s worth pointing out that the next multi-game academic suspension in the SEC might be the first.

Yet even as these programs seem to play under different rules, both Shaw and Kelly have lifted their teams into the upper echelon of college football, both programs legit contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That they’re pairing that excellence on the field with an academic reputation few universities can touch is an achievement that’s criminally under-discussed.

That’s a big reason why the annual matchup between the two programs is being fiercely guarded by both schools. Even amidst nine-game conference schedules and ACC affiliations, neither university has plans of giving this game up.

But Saturday, all niceties will be over. Both programs face a must-win game on Saturday afternoon. For Notre Dame and Kelly, the Irish need to reassert their position in a rivalry where the Cardinal have won four of the last five.

To do it, they’ll need to follow a familiar blueprint.


Looking back at ND’s big 2012 win over Stanford for clues to Saturday

Te'o Victory Stanford

As we slowly unravel the many plot lines that’ll likely collide on Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium, I took to the time machine and rewatched the Irish’s 20-13 victory over Stanford.

With No. 7 Notre Dame outlasting the No. 17 Cardinal on a rainy Saturday in South Bend, the instant classic revealed a few things I found surprising.


If the game plan was for Everett Golson to just not turnover the football, the game plan basically failed. 

After just watching Notre Dame’s quarterback cough the ball up multiple times against Syracuse, seeing Golson do the same thing against Stanford was an unpleasant reminder. Golson fumbled four times against Stanford, and the three lost fumbles cost the Irish dearly.

Golson gave Stanford their only touchdown on the day, an end zone strip sack by Ben Gardner that led to Chase Thomas scoring. He also turned a great scramble along the sideline into a devastating turnover deep in the opponents’ territory, almost a carbon copy of the opening drive against the Orange.

On Saturday, Golson is going to be a critical part of the running game. But he’s going to have to be smarter with the football and how he protects it, especially with the Cardinal likely coming after the football every time he’s carrying it.


It wasn’t just Golson who was sloppy. 

Looking back at the box score, I’m shocked at the nine penalties the Irish committed, many self-inflicted mistakes. Notre Dame committed nine penalties for 70 yards, starting things off with a false start/snap infraction on the offense’s very first snap. Chris Watt and Mike Golic got in on the act, too, the Irish offensive line responsible for a ton of presnap mistakes.

Stephon Tuitt took a roughing the passer penalty on a third and five that kept a Stanford drive alive. Elijah Shumate made an illegal block on a punt return that backed the Irish to their ten-yard line, putting the Cardinal in a place where they were able to force an endzone fumble.

Again, one week after playing relatively sloppy football and making some uncharacteristic errors, it’ll be important for the Irish to clean things up and not beat themselves.


Expect to see a much faster Notre Dame team. 

If you miss the natural grass in Notre Dame Stadium, go back and watch some highlights from home games during the 2012 season. It looks like the Irish are running on a slip-n-slide, and the rainy conditions that Saturday all but eliminated any explosive plays.

Brian Kelly was candid earlier in the week when he said that the Irish couldn’t expect to drive down the field with modest gains. They’re going to need to create some big plays down the field, and on the new FieldTurf they should be able to play much quicker.

Of course, the same thing goes for Stanford and their talented secondary. But after transitioning to a system on both sides of the ball that utilizes the Irish’s speed and athleticism, a weather forecast that could be just as nasty as the last time the Cardinal visited will at least not have a big effect on the playing surface.


The Irish found a way to establish the running game. 

Notre Dame hasn’t gotten out to the quickest start with the running game this season. That brought about a chance along the interior of the offensive line, with Matt Hegarty swapping spots with center Nick Martin, and Steve Elmer and right guard Christian Lombard doing the same thing.

But the Irish ground game wasn’t clicking on all cylinders going into the Syracuse game in 2012 either, and the Irish managed to put together a pretty fine performance, all things considered. Kelly committed to the ground game, running both Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick a dozen times. Golson led the team in carries with 15, able to break the game’s longest run with a 23-yarder.

That the Irish could gain 150 yards on the ground was a surprise for most, especially when you consider that number was dragged down from 200, mostly by sack yardage for Golson. The duo of Wood and Riddick ran for 111 yards on 24 carries, a very respectable day at the office.

If Notre Dame is able to put that type of effort together on Saturday it’ll mean very good things for the Irish offense.


David Shaw hasn’t forgotten the overtime stop. But the Irish were in position to win the game in regulation, too. 

Shaw was asked about the fourth-down stop in overtime earlier this week, saying that he’s moved on, but also put it aside along with other tough to swallow, controversial calls like the Tom Brady tuck rule call that went against the Raiders when Shaw was on staff in Oakland.

But the game wouldn’t have gotten to overtime if it weren’t for the Irish getting stopped just short of the goal line in the game’s final seconds.

With three and a half minutes remaining, Golson was driving the Irish when he took a nasty hit at midfield on a helmet-to-helmet shot. The penalty moved the ball to Stanford’s 35-yard line, but forced Golson from the game (and the next one against BYU), bringing Tommy Rees in from the sideline.

On 2nd and 15, Rees hit Tyler Eifert on a square in route, bringing up a critical third down. With the clock down under 90 seconds, Rees spotted Eifert in single coverage on the outside. He threw the fade and cornerback Terrence Brown was flagged for interference.

That gave the Irish a first down at Stanford’s 13-yard line with just over a minute to go. Notre Dame ran Wood off the left side. Then Riddick bounced free of some tacklers and set the Irish up with a 3rd and 2 at the 5-yard line.

After an Irish timeout, Notre Dame came out in a two tight end set with DaVaris Daniels wide in single coverage. But even with ten men in the box, the Irish tried running it off the left side, getting nothing and eventually settling for a Kyle Brindza game-tying field goal.

It ended up working out just fine for the Irish in the end. But the decision to go conservative with a chance to win the game in regulation could’ve been one to regret.


What a classic overtime. 

Stanford won the toss in overtime, choosing to go on defense while the Irish asked to play in front of the student section. But overtime couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Notre Dame, with Rees taking a sack on 1st and 10 from the 25. Trent Murphy abused Troy Niklas to put Notre Dame in a 2nd and 17 hole.

A great sideline grab by DaVaris Daniels dug the Irish partially out of their hole. And then on 3rd and 8, Rees threw a perfect looping pass to Theo Riddick out of the backfield as Stanford’s blitz came after him, setting up the Irish with a crucial first down.

“They had someone coming in unblocked, and Theo was one-on-one,” Rees recalled, remembering that it was No. 44, Chase Thomas, locked man-to-man on Riddick. “Theo wasn’t looking yet, but we always worked on back shoulder throws. High and away from the defender. So I just anticipated the spot he’d be and gave it enough loft for him to react.”

The next snap, Rees threw a slant route outside to TJ Jones, who reached back as he slid to the ground and caught the touchdown.

Stanford started poorly in overtime as well, with Dan Fox snuffing out a screen pass on first down. But the Cardinal moved quickly from there, with back-to-back big gainers by Josh Nunes and Stephan Taylor, giving Stanford a 1st and Goal from the Irish 4-yard line.

Of course, we all know how it goes from there. But after very nearly scoring on 2nd down, Taylor was kept out of the end zone on third and fourth down. After a long replay review, the call on the field stood, creating a madhouse on the field.

 “We were just telling each other we need to get this stop,” Louis Nix said after the game. “It was a big momentum swing and I knew that if we got it, we would win the game, and that’s all we were thinking about that last play. The defense had to win it all, so we put it on our backs and got it done.”

And in that corner… The Stanford Cardinal

Notre Dame v Stanford

As the calendar turns to October, the heart of the football season arrives. The next month will likely determine the fate of the Irish, kicking off with Saturday’s matchup against Stanford.

No stranger to David Shaw and the Cardinal, the Irish know they are in for their biggest challenge of the season. Stanford’s defense will test Everett Golson and the Irish offense, requiring a near perfect Saturday for the Irish to advance undefeated.

As we did in the spring, we connected with Stanford Daily Executive Editor Joseph Beyda. Joey took the time to answer a few of my questions about the Cardinal four games into the season. In addition to writing for the school paper, Joey co-authored the book “Rags to Roses,” and also covered the Cardinal’s women’s soccer national title for the New York Times. He’s a senior majoring in electrical engineering.

Hope you enjoy.


The Cardinal are 3-1 and ranked 14th in the country. While they’ve coasted to easy victories over UC Davis and Army, they pulled out a tight victory over Washington and lost a close game to USC. With one-third of the season behind, is this team better or worse than you imagined?

How about this: The Cardinal actually look a bit better than expected, but at the same time, they have severely underperformed through four games on offense. That’s the contradiction Stanford fans have been wrestling with so far this season, and it’s the only reason why the team didn’t blow out USC and Washington.

Let me explain. To begin with, there have certainly been some positives for the Cardinal offense. Star receiver Ty Montgomery’s role has expanded past the passing game and kickoff returns, as he now fields punts, serves as Stanford’s primary Wildcat back and has even taken some read-option handoffs from Kevin Hogan.

The tight end position, which accounted for just 10 catches last year (down from 93 in 2012), has already doubled its production with 20 receptions so far, bringing back an intermediate passing game that is crucial for Hogan’s success. And even without a true power back in the Toby Gerhart-Stepfan Taylor-Tyler Gaffney mold, Remound Wright and Kelsey Young (Stanford’s two primary options) are both above five yards per carry.

But the offense’s inconsistency has been maddening, especially against USC and Washington. The loss to the Trojans was particularly incomprehensible: Stanford got to the USC 32-yard line on each and every drive – that’s nine times – and finished with just 10 points. Let that sink in for a second. It all came down to a mix of incredibly inopportune penalties, turnovers deep in Trojans territory, bad blocking by the offensive line and missed field goals, and three weeks later the Cardinal nearly beat itself again against Washington with more of the same.

The coaching buzzword here is that Stanford needs to “execute” better, and for all the close games the Cardinal has played over the last two seasons, that label seems to fit this team the best. For 80 yards of the football field, Stanford’s offense has looked worthy of a top-five team, and the talent is certainly there. But we all know it’s those last 20 yards that count.


The defense doesn’t seem to have lost a step with Derek Mason and a lot of talent departing. Looking over the stats there are a lot of familiar names and a few new ones, too. Is first-year defensive coordinator Lance Anderson doing anything differently? What has been the most impressive part of the nation’s No. 1 defense?

I told you in May that Stanford’s rebuilt front seven wouldn’t miss a beat. Well, here you go.

But in all honestly, I didn’t expect the Cardinal to be better defensively this year than it was last year, after the loss of Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Ed Reynolds and others. Stanford ranks first in the country in a few notable categories: total defense (198 yards per game), scoring defense (6.5 points per game) and passing defense (74 yards per game). That includes showdowns with both USC’s dynamic hurry-up and Chris Petersen at Washington.

Anderson hasn’t changed much, which is part of what makes this front seven so impressive. The guys who had been waiting in the wings have stepped up, so Stanford can just keep doing what it had done in the past – only better. Outside linebacker Kevin Anderson, who backed up Trent Murphy last year, has made some big stops this season, and his backup, sophomore Peter Kalambayi, actually leads the team in sacks (five) and tackles for loss (four). Stanford has also successfully rotated four or five inside linebackers despite the loss of two fifth-year seniors.

If there’s any big shift for the Cardinal defense, it’s coming from new secondary coach Duane Akina, the longtime Texas DBs guru who essentially replaced Mason’s expertise on the staff. He had a line from fall camp that hinted at the changes that were in the works, joking to his players, “It’s hard when you’ve taken French, and we’re trying to teach you Chinese.” So far, the DBs have been pretty fluent.


The offense doesn’t seem to be hitting on all cylinders just yet, failing to break 200 yards rushing this season. How has the rebuilt offensive line performed? Are the Cardinal getting the explosive plays they wanted from the passing game? Any surprises or disappointments thus far?

The two biggest factors for Stanford this season were always going to be the offensive line and quarterback Kevin Hogan. The line – made up of five juniors, four of them first-time starters, all from Stanford’s historic 2012 O-line recruiting class – started off slowly and had some of the more devastating hiccups (red zone penalties, poor protection, etc.) against USC. But the unit has gotten better in each of its last two games since then, and you really couldn’t complain about their performance against Washington, which had led the nation in sacks (19 in its first four games) before recording just one against Stanford.

Hogan has been another story. Head coach David Shaw has been saying since Hogan’s redshirt freshman season, when he took over as starter, that the dynamic quarterback just had to cut down on the five or so bad plays he had every game. Two years later, the issue hasn’t changed. Against Washington, Hogan stared down a blanketed Montgomery before throwing a predictable pick and also lost a fumble later in the game. His throws are often high and late, squandering yards after catch and nullifying what would be easy completions. Surrounded by a receiver corps that could be the best in the country, Hogan is often the weakest link in the Cardinal passing game.

Granted, Hogan does a lot of things well: he manages the Cardinal offense pretty effectively, completes a high percentage of his passes (despite the perceived inaccuracy) and won Saturday’s game at Washington with his feet. But he still plays like a freshman at times, and that’s been a disappointment.

You’re right that the gaudy numbers haven’t been there, both when it comes to rushing yardage and big plays downfield. If Stanford can eliminate the mental mistakes and sustain its drives better, that should fix itself.


David Shaw had to answer some tough questions after red zone woes all but cost Stanford the game against USC. Widely viewed as one of the elite coaches in college football, is his stubbornness in short-yardage situations is becoming part of his narrative yet?

Blaming David Shaw has become a bit of knee-jerk reaction for fans after a Cardinal loss. He’s taken the heat for everything: setting up a potential game-winning field goal in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, running too little against Utah (which had a great front seven) last season and taking the ball out of a struggling Hogan’s hands against Michigan State (which had a great secondary) in the 2014 Rose Bowl. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a Shaw defender, but the flak that he takes is usually inconsistent and surface-level.

Perhaps the biggest outlash came after the USC loss this season, since Shaw takes over play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren in the red zone, where Stanford struggled so heavily against the Trojans. Even though Shaw took much of the blame on himself after the loss, the criticism isn’t entirely merited. My great friend and colleague George Chen broke down every Cardinal drive and did a great job highlighting the execution issues that were more prevalent. You can’t blame a head coach for chop blocks and bad snaps.


Stanford’s secondary looks like a really talented group of veterans. Notre Dame’s young receiving corps is very skilled. Is this the biggest matchup you see for Saturday afternoon?

It’s definitely up there. Remember, USC’s young-but-skilled receiving corps only came up with 135 yards against the Cardinal. Step one for Stanford is to control Notre Dame the same way.

This week, though, the Cardinal are probably looking inward more than anything. Even the defense took a few drive-extending penalties at Washington. Stanford needs its best, least sloppy game of the season to win on Saturday.


Vegas has this game as a coin-flip. How do you see things shaking out?

Vegas probably has it right. If Stanford can clean up its game, this could be a breakout performance for the Cardinal, but it’s hard to predict whether that will happen any time soon.

Kelly: Irish need to play their best to beat Stanford

Notre Dame v Stanford

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media today to discuss Saturday’s showdown with Stanford. And a week after surviving a five-turnover game against Syracuse, Kelly made it pretty clear that he knew that type of effort wasn’t going to cut it.

“They know that they are going to have to be at their very, very best to beat Stanford,” Kelly said.

To that point, there’s good personnel news that’ll allow the Irish to improve. Slot receiver Amir Carlisle, who sat out against Syracuse after he suffered a knee injury against Purdue, was back atop the depth chart. A week after Kelly called Carlisle’s return just questionable, he expressed healthy optimism that the senior would be ready to answer the bell against a program where he was once a verbal commitment.

“I think we are all very surprised where he is today,” Kelly said. “I’m going to put him in team. I’m going to put him in seven‑on‑seven and I’ll probably give him 50 percent of the reps that I would normally give him and then I’ll have a good sense after today where we are with him.”

Also returning to the depth chart is senior captain Austin Collinsworth, who is listed as Elijah Shumate’s backup at strong safety. Last week, Kelly said Collinsworth was set to play limited snaps, though after the game he acknowledged he was an emergency option only. This week, he’ll likely contribute against a talented Stanford receiving corps.

“Austin, is so much further along,” Kelly said. “I would expect that he would help us this weekend.”

If there’s one major talking point that came up over and over (besides questions about Kelly’s concussion protocol after seeing Brady Hoke’s controversial treatment of Wolverines’ quarterback Shane Morris), it was Stanford’s stout defense. Through four games, it’s the number one defense in the country by a number of statistical measures.

The Cardinal are No. 1 in scoring defense. They are No. 1 in total defense. They are No. 1 in passing defense. And they are doing it with new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who was promoted after Derek Mason took the Vanderbilt job, and was on Harbaugh’s original staff in 2007.

Kelly talked about his program’s respect for the Cardinal and head coach David Shaw, who has continued to build from a blueprint started by Jim Harbaugh (more on this later in the week).

“I think we all know a lot about Stanford and Coach Shaw and the consistency that they have played at the national level,” Kelly said. “We have a great deal of respect for their football team, their program, their coaching staff, their players. It’s a veteran football team.”

The game within the game will likely match up Notre Dame’s receivers with a tough Stanford secondary. The Cardinal held USC’s passing attack to just 135 yards, so putting Carlisle, Corey Robinson and Will Fuller to work against veteran cornerbacks Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons is a battle Notre Dame needs to find a way to win.

Kelly talked about the growing confidence among the receivers, especially with Chris Brown getting his first consistent production last weekend.

“I think it’s a group that is gaining confidence along the way. They are making some plays, and I think as you make plays, I’ve always felt that that’s how you gain confidence,” Kelly said. “I think Chris Brown made some plays and you could see he gained some confidence curing the game.

“Certainly Will Fuller is gaining confidence each and every week. You know, so I just think it’s a matter of those guys continuing to make plays. I thought that they blocked well opponent the perimeter, which is another important part of the development of our wide receiving core.

“So we are four games into it. You know, a third of the way, and I think that they have made pretty good progress.”