TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 26:  ESPN College GameDay announcer Lee Corso dons an FSU headress as co-announcers (l to r) Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit comment during the NCAA football game between Notre Dame and Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 26, 2002 in Tallahassee, Florida.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Florida State Seminoles 34-24.  (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)

College GameDay heading to Clemson vs. Notre Dame


Notre Dame’s trip to Clemson will have ESPN’s College GameDay in attendance.

The popular traveling studio caravan will be in South Carolina, ready to take in the sights and sounds of campus as the two programs—both ranked among the top 12 teams in the country—will face off for the first time since 1977.

Saturday’s primetime affair will be the first game for Clemson since they played September 17th, a half-month layoff between a Thursday night at Louisville and welcoming the Irish to Death Valley. Last the Tigers took the field, it was their defense that held strong against the Cardinals, edging out a 20-17 win. Notre Dame’s defense looked suspect against UMass, but it’s offense put up near historic offensive numbers in the 62-27 win.

Plenty more this week on the big game, but as GameDay’s arrival suggests, this weekend is a big one.

Five things we learned: Notre Dame 62, UMass 27

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish breaks away from Kassan Messiah #3 of the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

On paper, Notre Dame did everything you’d expect on Saturday afternoon. The Irish’s dominant 62-27 victory looked every bit the lopsided win you would’ve expected from a 30-point favorite, with Notre Dame running for 457 yards and scoring 62 points, the first time over 60 since Lou Holtz pasted Rutgers in 1996.

So while most scoffed when Brian Kelly did his best to tell everyone this Tuesday that Notre Dame couldn’t afford to look past the Minutemen, the Irish head coach was also telling the truth.

The Minutemen delivered. At least for the game’s first 25 minutes.

Late in the second quarter, UMass was outgaining the Irish. They had 261 yards of offense and were averaging 9.0 yards a play, thanks to a 56-yard pass and an 83-yard touchdown run. They led the turnover battle and also scored touchdowns in both their red zone appearances.

Yet they were still down a point.

From there, the Irish pulled away, capitalizing on a great series of events on special teams. Tyler Newsome pinned UMass inside their one-yard-line. CJ Sanders followed some great blocking and scored Notre Dame’s first punt return touchdown since Golden Tate. And after the Irish put up seven points on the first series after halftime, the route was on. And when the onslaught stopped, the Irish put together a 34-point run that turned Saturday afternoon into a track meet.

Notre Dame accomplished all of their goals this afternoon, setting up an undefeated showdown next weekend in Death Valley as the Irish travel to Clemson.

Let’s find out what else we learned.


Notre Dame’s depth is overwhelming. 

Brian Kelly made quite a statement this preseason when he was asked how his 2015 team matched up with the 2012 team that played for a national championship. Kelly said this team was deeper and more athletic than the team that went 12-1. And we saw that on display this afternoon.

In the 62-27 victory, Notre Dame showcased the bottom-half of their roster, a group of players who may be short on experience but are very heavy on athleticism and talent. The Irish offense had its way with UMass from the start, with DeShone Kizer, C.J. Prosise and Will Fuller doing what you’d expect. But when the reserves started getting snaps, the dominance kept coming.

We got a look at Notre Dame’s bright future on Saturday afternoon. And while some fans may have turned the channel during garbage time, Kelly knew how important it was to see young players like Brandon Wimbush and Dexter Williams get opportunities.

Wimbush showcased his rocket arm on a deep ball to Will Fuller. (First called a 50-yard completion before replay overturned the call.) Williams showed a nice burst on the first touchdown run of his career, a 14-yard run that was the highlight of a seven-carry afternoon. Josh Adams went over 100 yards, a 70-yard touchdown the latest highlight for the freshman.

Defensively, Brian VanGorder’s backups got an opportunity to play all of the fourth quarter. Linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan ate up tackles almost immediately, collecting 15 combined. Te’von Coney played big minutes as well, while young cornerbacks Nick Coleman and Nick Watkins mixed into the secondary.

Getting those snaps is crucial in a game like this. And it also allowed the Irish to make progress even with the back-ups in, showcasing the impressive talent that Kelly and his staff have stockpiled as the program continues to build.


The Irish’s first half defense leaves quite a few unanswered questions heading into Clemson. 

Yes, Brian Kelly told us that UMass would challenge Notre Dame’s defense in the first half. But did anybody really believe him?

That the Irish were on pace to give up over 500 yards of offense to the Minutemen has to have people a little worried as Notre Dame prepares to take on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And the early holes in the Irish defense will likely have Brian VanGorder at the greaseboard all night looking for a fix.

Led by Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe, the UMass offense has some talent. And Mark Whipple’s use of unbalanced fronts and heavy-doses of screens and draws kept the Irish off-balance before they settled down in the second half.

At 22-21, most Irish fans were grumbling. But if you’re looking for a silver lining, it’s the recover the Irish made after halftime.

In the third quarter, UMass had the ball four times. They gained a total of 51 yards, punting twice, then turning the ball over to Notre Dame twice, once on downs the other time courtesy of a Matthias Farley tip and Cole Luke interception.

That’s a much-needed step forward after a slow start. But 21 early points and two game-changing big plays allowed are cause for concern with one of the toughest challenges of the season awaiting the Irish next Saturday.


Notre Dame’s special teams—that’s right, the special teams—triggered this victory.

Time to once again tip the cap to Scott Booker and the Irish special teams. It was Notre Dame’s third unit that played a huge role in breaking this game open, something we don’t always say. And it all started with punter Tyler Newsome.

Newsome had a monster day this afternoon, not exactly something you equate with winning. But the first-year punter averaged 52.4 yards a kick, good for the single-game record in school history.

While two of those five punts ended up in the end zone, it was the one that Devin Butler pinned inside the one-yard line that triggered Notre Dame’s explosion. The Irish defense got a three-and-out from UMass and then excellent blocking on the punt return, setting up CJ Sanders with open real estate in front of him. The freshman did the rest, zig-zagging his way through the Minutemen, following his blocks into the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown.

We’ve gotten used to Notre Dame’s excellent kick coverage, with the Irish once again doing a good job on punts and kickoffs. Add to it Jarrett Grace and Greer Martini sniffing out a fake punt by the Minutemen and even Justin Yoon’s missed extra point (the hold didn’t look perfect) can’t sour a great day by the special teams.


Notre Dame has established its offensive identity with a power running game. 

Notre Dame ran for 457 yards on Saturday, the most since 1996, when Lou Holtz was still running the option. And the Irish ground game was consistently dominant, there from the opening minutes of the afternoon.

C.J. Prosise ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns, then took the afternoon off after 15 carries. Josh Adams went for 133, his 70-yard score pushing him past Prosise as he averaged 10.2 yards a carry. Dexter Williams was the low man on the totem pole, and he averaged 6.9 a touch, showing great explosiveness and good vision running behind a dominant offensive line.

Each played a key part in Notre Dame’s offensive attack, something Kelly wanted to see as they put together this week’s game plan.

“I think we had made that decision that even last week, that we probably redlined C.J. a little bit, and we had to really get Josh involved early, which we did, and then it was nice to see him run well,” Kelly said. “And then Dexter obviously is a very gifted player, and we saw that today. He’s got great speed. He’s just still learning, but I think we all saw today what kind of athletic ability he has.”

On the day, the Irish averaged nine yards a carry against the Minutemen. Take away the 20-yard team loss when Sam Mustipher rocketed a snap over Brandon Wimbush’s shoulder and that average would’ve been 9.5.

Heading into the toughest road contest on the schedule, the Irish ground game seems to be hitting on all cylinders. That was reflected in Notre Dame’s improvement on third down, converting 8 of 13. It’s also a credit to an offensive line that bullied and pushed around UMass from the opening snap. Again, Clemson is a different beast, and the rebuilt Tiger defense looked impressive against Louisville.

But getting all three backs significant carries—and just as importantly, success—was crucial. So was allowing Prosise some time to rest. Because come next weekend, the Irish are going to ask Prosise to carry the load. And you can bet he and the offensive line will be up for the challenge.


Getting Brandon Wimbush experience this afternoon was critical. But DeShone Kizer will determine whether or not Notre Dame can run this pre-bye week gauntlet undefeated. 

In case you didn’t know heading into today, Brandon Wimbush is an exciting player. He’s got the arm strength to overthrow Will Fuller on a go-route and the speed to nearly run for 100 yards, coming up eight yards shy on just four carries.

Wimbush showcased why his future is tantalizingly bright on Saturday. He officially completed three of five passes, yet two throws that didn’t count—the replay overturn on the Fuller deep ball and the flag erasing Equanimeous St. Brown‘s touchdown—give you a better idea of his playmaking ability.

But equally clear is the fate of this team will be decided by DeShone Kizer. The sophomore didn’t play perfect in his second start, but he kept taking positive strides on Saturday afternoon, putting together a solid day at the office completing 15 of 22 for two touchdowns.

Kizer did throw another interception, a slight underthrow on a deep post to Fuller, who had one-on-one coverage until a safety came over late. (Kelly put that on Fuller, a grab the All-American understandably should make). Kizer also showed some shaky accuracy, skipping a few curl routes at receivers’ feet, throws that should be easy completions.

But you can also see the game slowing down for Kizer. Sure, part of that was UMass’s defense. But the rest is Kizer understanding what a defense is showing him, and the cerebral first-year player is taking advantage.

“One thing about him is that if you do a good job of showing him something, he’s going to pick it up,” Kelly said. “If you remind him about it, he can self-correct. Some can’t. Some need more film. Some need more repetition. He’s not that kind of guy.”

So while Wimbush showed some flashes of talent, Kizer will be asked to lead this team to victory. And while he wasn’t given much of a challenge on Saturday, he’ll be pushed to the max next weekend.


Where to watch: Notre Dame vs. UMass

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 11:  Members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish run onto the field before a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Notre Dame Stadium on October 11, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

It’s 70 and sunny in South Bend, a perfect afternoon for football in Notre Dame Stadium. But if you’re unable to be there, or can’t park in front of the television this afternoon, we’ve got you covered.

NBC’s coverage of Notre Dame vs. UMass starts at 3:00 p.m. ET, with a half-hour pregame show on NBCSN. The broadcast starts at 3:30 on NBC.


You can also watch the game on the NBC Sports Live Extra app, which continues put up record-setting numbers for minutes streamed. You’ll get an HD feed, bonus camera, DVR capabilities and the game will be archived for future viewing as well.

We’ll be back after the game with our customary Five Things, but consider this your reminder that even if you’re out and about today, you can still watch the Irish.

Mailbag: Schedule re-rack, stadium construction, recruiting and the Pope

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 4: Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers drops back to pass during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Memorial Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

Part one of a two-part mailbag. Thanks for the good questions, sorry to those I missed or skipped out on.

(For those asking me about knee injuries: I’m not a doctor. Don’t even play one on the internet. But BK has been asked about injuries a bunch. He’s had every injury evaluated, both by doctors inside the program and out. Bad luck is bad luck—and ND isn’t alone, it just feels like it.)


dmacirish: After seeing three weeks of football is there an adjustment to the “toughest games on the schedule” rankings? Has Clemson, Stanford, or USC fallen and the likes of Temple risen?

That’s a good question. And I’m not ready to totally reshuffle the deck, but I do think that Stanford, USC and to a lesser extent Clemson look a little more beatable than they did this summer.

You are correct on Temple, especially after watching them whip Penn State. But remember, UMass had Temple BEAT until they had an extra point returned for two points, allowing Temple to kick a game-winning field goal. (The message: Look out for UMass!)

To me, this season hinges on the next four weeks. Get out of Saturday healthy, find a way to win in Death Valley (the new toughest game on the schedule), conquer the option once more and hope to take serious revenge against USC for last year’s pasting. (The Trojans could also be in full self-destruction mode by then, too.)

Then regroup over the off week and get ready to do something special.


monco20: Keith – There has been repeated comments this week that the stadium is becoming “louder”. Is this due to younger crowd, more alcohol, better sound system or the or the construction? If it is due to the new buildings will it become louder when the construction is complete and the video board is installed – does this help us or hurt us?

Brian Kelly certainly seems to think it’s louder inside Notre Dame Stadium. And while I saw the debate in the comments about whether it was louder in the 70s, 80s and 90s, it’s tough to argue with people about nostalgic memories that also measure acoustic levels. (Plus the pressbox is like watching a game in a fishbowl, so no clue from someone who watches from a media seat.)

I will say this: The new architecture is going to go a long way towards keeping noise inside the stadium (just like Michigan’s remodel did). And it seems like Kelly can already tell.

That’s always a good thing for the home crowd, especially when the fans start to understand they’re a weapon to deploy for the defense.


jerseyshorendfan1: Project who will be MVP at the end of this season?

Right now, my candidates are:

  1. Will Fuller
  2. Jaylon Smith
  3. C.J. Prosise
  4. Joe Schmidt

If Kizer can keep the offense on the tracks, Fuller could put up ridiculous numbers, shattering the single-season touchdown record. Then again, Prosise is on pace to out-run Vagas Ferguson’s single-season record, too. Smith isn’t too far behind, but he’ll still have to make some game-changing plays a la Manti Te’o in 2012 to beat out one of the most dangerous men in college football.


ndlv: Keith, I know that you don’t put a lot of weight into star rankings of recruits, but right now the class is somewhat small (13) and is rated relatively low by all of the services . Are BK and the staff really finding a bunch of hidden gems in this class, or is it a subpar year? Do you think more and more wins will draw in blue chip commitments this year or will it end up as a down year in recruiting?

ohiondfan: Talk about recruiting and talent evaluation/development. I was going through the last 10 years or so of ND recruiting data. It seems that BK is getting more out of 3-star kids than Weis did out of 5-star kids. 

Seems like BK is a top tier talent evaluator and developer. Is that his rep nationally? Do recruits see how well he does at getting players in the right position and bringing them along to be all they can be?

Last year’s recruiting class wasn’t expected to get into the low-20s, especially when people examined the 85-man roster. But the Irish went to 24, pushing their roster limits to land players they thought were talented. So this class likely isn’t going to push past the high-teens, though I’m sure the staff will find a way to make things work.

We saw already this spring and summer how difficult it is to stay above 85 players (even when Kelly seemed deadset on getting to that number). But between academics, competition to get on the field and the fact that Notre Dame has had a transfer every offseason for over 30-seasons running, it is what it is.

This recruiting class is probably a little behind where things have been in previous years. That comes with replacing three full time coaches and swapping out recruiting coordinators. But if ND keeps winning, it’s only going to help the recruiting class.

To get to Ohio’s comment, I’m not sure Weis can be blamed for a 5-star QB not turning out. (Look at the list of Rivals’ 5-star QBs. Lotta swings and misses in there.) But I think Kelly has a national reputation for finding good players below the radar. Will Fuller, C.J. Prosise, Greer Martini… I could go on and on. That comes with coaching at smaller schools, but it also comes with having the confidence in your own evaluation, not following the herd.

In general, I trust college football coaches who evaluate and breakdown tape more than I trust guys like me looking at YouTube highlights and going to summer camps. That’s not a slam on the industry, a business that’s getting better and better from an evaluation perspective. But it’s just the truth.


mtflsmitty: You have two 50-yardline seats to the ND/USC game on October 17th. Your dear mother expects you’ll be taking her. But Pope Francis calls and asks for your other ticket. Who do you take to the game and why?

Smitty, tell the Pope to get up in the luxury box. My mom gets the seat. I’ll worry about the eternal consequences later.





3-0: Assessing the Irish at the quarter-turn (Part II)

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 06:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates a tackle for a loss against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 6, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Michigan 31-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Part two. For more, see part one for a write-up on the offense


After one of the most difficult stretches of defensive football in Notre Dame history, season two of the Brian VanGorder era felt like a reboot. Forgotten were the impressive, early-season successes the Irish had, with VanGorder’s swarming, multiple defense confusing and befuddling opponents. Burned into the brains of all were the injury-ravaged, everything-is-broken units that gave up points by the bushel and struggled to do anything but make opposing offenses look like world-beaters.

At full strength, VanGorder’s defense looked every bit as talented as Bob Diaco’s best. But at it’s worst? It brought us back to the end of the Weis era. In the offseason, two major areas of concern were addressed: Defending the option and slowing down up-tempo attacked. Early returns and that work have been promising.

Against Texas, we saw very quickly what happened when the Longhorns tried to move quickly. Against Georgia Tech, VanGorder all but conquered Paul Johnson’s attack, likely giving a template to Yellow Jacket opponents everywhere and leading to optimism for the upcoming tilt against Navy.

One quarter into the season, it hasn’t been all good (the trip to Charlottesville was disappointing), but the stats look more than respectable. The defense is giving up 17.3 points a game, a number that surely would love much better had Georgia Tech not scored 14 points in the game’s final 90 seconds. And even with some shoddy play against Virginia, the Irish are on the brink of a Top 30 unit, especially impressive considering there hasn’t been a cupcake on the schedule to get fat against.

Let’s take a look at each position group and evaluate where this defense currently sits.



Led by the dynamic presence of Sheldon Day and Isaac Rochell, the Irish front four has relied on the strength and disruptive nature of this duo to lead the way. At nose guard, Daniel Cage and Jerry Tillery have been very good, with Tillery more than holding his own against Georgia Tech’s triple-option, an insane result considering he’s a true freshmen in the trenches.

Defensive end play is still sorting itself out. Romeo Okwara has started three times opposite Rochell, notching a sack among his six tackles. Andrew Trumbetti is still waiting to get started. Add to that Day’s fast start really hasn’t fully shown up on the stat sheet, with three TFLs far more indicative than his six total tackles. Six quarterback hurries show that Day’s been a step or two away from another handful of big plays.

Depth is a concern, especially if Brian Kelly and VanGorder are trying to redshirt Jay Hayes and Grant Blankenship. But if this group can stay healthy—and continue to hold its own at the point of attack—this team will get what it needs from the front.

Overall: When the Irish are only giving up 3.8 yards per carry, and have already played Georgia Tech, that says all you need about the run defense. Next step? Generating more disruption in the passing game. On the whole, this group is doing great things. But the margin for error without Jarron Jones is still slim.



ProFootballFocus says Jaylon Smith is college football’s best linebacker. Next to him, Joe Schmidt is playing great football. Swap in and out pieces like James Onwualu and Greer Martini, and there’s a reason why Nyles Morgan and Jarrett Grace haven’t been able to find the field.

Holding their own in a physical matchup with Georgia Tech was an impressive feat. And with top-flight athleticism and the ability to chase things down east and west, this position group really has dispelled any myths that the Irish are short elite athletes.

Nothing but positives so far.

Overall: Versatile (big with Martini, quick with Onwualu). Disruptive. Aggressive. It’s hard to find a better start by a linebacking corps than the early season this group has put together.

There’s little room for anything to go wrong, especially with either Smith or Schmidt. But as long as that duo is on the field, the Irish defense will be in the game.



If there’s been a disappointment this season, it’s been the early performance of Notre Dame’s secondary. And really, this is confined to one Saturday at the office (the dangers of evaluating a team after three games) in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Cavaliers’ passing attack found a way to pick apart the Irish secondary. That wasn’t a result many people saw coming, though you could also put some of that on the pass rush.

Still, there are some areas for concern. Max Redfield started strong against Texas, but wasn’t able to deal with a broken thumb against Virginia. He tackled terribly and lost the aggression he showed against the Longhorns. Communication at the safety position might also have been a problem, as the Irish back-four got caught on a trick play that just about everybody in the stadium likely saw coming. But this group rallied and played great football against Georgia Tech, all but unnoticed in the passing game while safeties Elijah Shumate, Drue Tranquill and Matthias Farley tackled extremely well.

Without Tranquill, this group loses some versatility. And if Redfield isn’t able to rebound, this position gets thin in a hurry. So Todd Lyght has more work to do, especially as the Irish reconfigure their nickel and dime packages.

Overall: The slow start is understandable, considering Russell’s absence last season and one poor game. But safety play is still a worry, and asking the Irish to cover while the pass rush finds its way to the quarterback is something to monitor.

Funny enough, if the UMass game is a litmus test for any position group, it’ll be the secondary. The Irish will face one of the MAC’s best QB-WR tandems in Blake Frohnapfel and Tajae Sharpe. A quick passing game should be expected.

Stern tests are ahead before the Irish reach bye week. Heading to Clemson and then taking on USC should let us know if the Virginia game was a blip in the radar or a sign of things to come.