of the Pittsburgh Panthers of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Irish jump to No. 4 in CFB Playoff rankings


If the regular season ended today, Notre Dame would be in the College Football Playoff. The Irish ranked No. 4 in the second released rankings, trailing Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State respectively.

Notre Dame’s strength of schedule continues to be an asset. Temple is ranked at 21st. Navy checks in at No. 20, both programs only loss coming to the Irish.

“If they win out, how is anybody going to get by Notre Dame?” Kirk Herbstreit said during the ESPN broadcast. “With Stanford sitting there at the end of the year, this is not necessarily great news for the Big 12.”

Notre Dame sits ahead of undefeated Iowa and Baylor, with the Hawkeyes making a huge leap to No. 5 after another less than impressive win over Indiana. Baylor has three straight ranked opponents coming up with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU before finishing the year with Texas. All part of the many cards yet to be played.

Committee chairman Jeff Long pointed to Notre Dame’s position at four being fairly safe, saying that the committee spent more time discussing No. 5 through No. 8 and less on the top four. That could obviously change in the weeks to come.

Notre Dame plays Wake Forest this weekend before heading to Boston to take on Boston College in Fenway Park. They finish the season with one of the season’s biggest games, a Top 10 matchup with Stanford in Palo Alto.


Kelly keeps focus on Wake Forest


Notre Dame may be zeroing in on what could be a play-in playoff game against Stanford in the season finale. But don’t expect anybody inside the Irish football program to be looking that far ahead. At least not if Brian Kelly has his say.

Notre Dame welcomes Wake Forest to South Bend on Saturday, an opponent familiar with the assignment after serving as the program’s piñata in a 38-point blowout in 2012 during a celebratory Senior Day. With the Demon Deacons sitting at 3-6 and nearly a four-touchdown underdog, a look-ahead opportunity stares the Irish in the face. But Kelly is doing everything he can to make sure his team isn’t stepping back to smell the roses, especially not with so much left to accomplish.

“We’re in the process, that’s what we talk about as coaches,” Kelly explained in his opening comments on Tuesday. “Right now in that process, it’s kind of like being on the treadmill where you just kind of just keep your eyes in front of you and you just keep moving forward. And moving forward to the next challenge in front of us, and that challenge is Wake Forest.”

Dave Clawson’s team is in Year Two of a rebuild that ripped the program down to the foundation and hopes to return bigger and stronger. And while the offense is still a bit of a mess, Clawson’s defense should challenge the Irish in both the run and passing game.

“Defensively, they’ve got some very good players. This is a very good defense, a top 40 defense in the country. I think they rank as high as in the 30s in a number of categories,” Kelly said, understandably pointing out the positives to one of the ACC’s youngest teams.

But more than anything that Wake Forest might do, this week feels like a battle with the team in the mirror. As the College Football Playoff looms and programs get into the meat of their schedule, the Irish face two teams that shouldn’t pose much of a problem to them. Yet winning those games in convincing fashion may be more important than ever. So after six years of coaching and program building, Kelly is confident that this team understands the type of effort and energy they need to bring all week, not just before kickoff on Saturday

“This group understands regardless of who the opponent is, it’s still going to come down to how they prepare this week,” Kelly said. “If they prepare the right way and take care of what they’ve done over the last nine weeks, then when whether they’re a two-point favorite or ten-point underdog, they stand a great chance at winning…

“The rest of that stuff, we haven’t focused on any of that during the year, so they don’t really know any of that.”

Jarron Jones could be ready for postseason play

North Carolina v Notre Dame

When Jarron Jones went down during fall camp, it looked like the senior nose guard’s season was over. But during his Tuesday press conference, head coach Brian Kelly revealed that Jones’ rehabilitation has him on track to potentially play during the postseason. That’d be a huge lift to an Irish defensive front that was supposed to be built around Jones and fellow senior Sheldon Day.

Kelly estimated that Jones was four to six weeks away from playing football, putting him on schedule to be available to practice with the Irish as they prepare for postseason play—whether that be a playoff game or bowl appearance. Right now, the senior is working to strengthen the area around his injured knee, focusing on rebuilding quad and hamstring muscles.

In place of Jones, Notre Dame has used sophomore Daniel Cage and freshman Jerry Tillery. The duo has combined to make 26 tackles, five TFLs, and a sack. Last season, Jones had 40 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks and was expected to be one of the Irish’s standouts in 2015. Jones sat out as a freshman, preserving his eligibility for 2016. That won’t be impacted if he takes the field this season.

Last week, Kelly quipped that he put Torii Hunter into the nickel role because he couldn’t make a trade. This week, Jones feels like a potential trade deadline move that could bolster a defense that could use a potential impact player up front.

Run-Pass balance critical piece of puzzle for Irish

Josh Adams, Lafayette Pitts

Brian Kelly has talked often about the importance of balancing the run game with the passing attack. And as we’ve seen this season when the offense is at its most efficient, it’s usually a lethal combination of big plays on the ground leading to vertical shots down field.

Saturday was the perfect example of that. DeShone Kizer was able to find Will Fuller twice for 40+ yard touchdown passes—and had a chance for more, with Kizer and Fuller nearly connecting twice more.  And while we’ve quoted Kelly ad nauseam on the subject, sometimes hearing from the opposition adds clarity to a point of emphasis.

In his postgame comments, Pat Narduzzi sounded like a coach who didn’t have a winning option. And it wasn’t necessarily because Fuller was too much to handle, but rather that Notre Dame’s ability to beat you multiple ways put Pitt’s defense in the type of conflict they couldn’t scheme their way out from.

Here’s Narduzzi when asked about Fuller’s big plays and why his defense wasn’t able to stop them.

“When you can’t stop the run, he’s going to throw a post on you. So we can go back there and help him and play Cover 3 and keep everybody back. And then they’re just going to run the ball down your throat,” Narduzzi said. “And then you’re just going to say, ‘Hey, did you ever think about putting some other guys up in the box?’

“They only let us play with 11. I’d like to have 12 out there. But when you’re not stopping the run, you’re going to take a little bit away from that. They’ve got some monsters out there. The tailback was good—both of them. The quarterback is a great player, DeShone. And then they’ve got Will Fuller out there. So pick your poison.”

As we look forward, Notre Dame will face three defenses that should test the Irish’s ability to stay balanced.  (And as we look at the contenders for the CFBPlayoff, the non-Big 12 slate of teams will do the same thing.)

But flying below the radar is Wake Forest. While the Demon Deacons have a tough time offensively, they’re playing good defense—stingier than you’d expect for a three-win team with just one conference win. After all, it was the Deacs than won a ridiculous 3-0 duel when they faced off with Boston College, a run defense that stands statistically in front of everybody else in the country.

C.J. Prosise‘s injury is still coming into focus, leaving Notre Dame’s running game temporarily on the young shoulders of Josh Adams. That a large burden for Adams, especially when the running attack is so vital to the overall scheme.

But thanks to a consistent performance by the offensive line and an efficient day in the red zone, Notre Dame unlocked some of the potential that had been trapped beneath the explosive plays and prolific yardage totals. As the Irish continue to prove their worth to the playoff committee, the offensive evolution could be coming at a perfect time.

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

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

On a Saturday where we saw multiple Playoff contenders drop by the wayside, Notre Dame’s ability to handle their business was a welcome relief. Courtesy of DeShone Kizer‘s poise and a nice effort by both the offense and defense, the Irish managed to cruise to an easy victory, even while only putting up 437 offensive yards, their lowest output in a victory this season.

Notre Dame lost offensive engine C.J. Prosise, but rolled on behind freshman Josh Adams. And Irish receiver Will Fuller reminded opposing teams why trying to cover him with one man is a bad idea, Pat Narduzzi’s calculus failing a simple logic test.

With Senior Day next Saturday and the Irish big favorites against a young Wake Forest team, let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly from Notre Dame’s 42-30 win over Pittsburgh.


Josh Adams. Perhaps Adams will be the player who allows Irish fans to finally take a deep breath and wait until a recruit gets to campus before evaluating him. (Just kidding. I know he won’t be.) Remember, it was Adams who was one of the “head-shaking” offers of Brian Kelly’s coaching staff, a three-star running back with just an average offer list who was also coming off of an ACL tear.

Yet Adams has been what the Irish staff thought he could be—a big, powerful, fast and instinctive runner who has quickly picked up the system and provided a much-needed backup to C.J. Prosise.

We saw that on Saturday, with Adams gashing Pitt’s defense for 147 yards on just 20 carries. He scored on a quick flip from Kizer, and he ran for tough yards on inside looks, something the Irish haven’t been all that successful doing.

Kelly has commented that Adams might just be scratching the surface. That’s a tantalizing prospect, considering he’s averaging a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry.

However quickly Prosise returns to the field, expect Adams to have earned his way into the rotation. He can take some of the load off Prosise’s back, especially as the senior works to get healthy through some nagging injuries.

“I think he proved to everybody that he’s capable against a very good defense in Pittsburgh of getting deserved carries, earned carries. He earned that opportunity in this game,” Kelly said of Adams. “I think he can lessen the load for C.J. and provide us with another option in there, as well. I would agree that he earned that this weekend.”


DeShone Kizer. Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback had a statistical day that was among the best in Irish football history. His six total touchdowns match an all-time record. His five touchdown passes and zero interceptions push his completion percentage up to 66 percent and his TD:INT ratio to 16 scores against just six takeaways. And his mastery of the offense looks more and more complete, capable of doing whatever he wanted on Saturday against a pretty good defense.

After the game, Kizer talked about how happy he was with the offense’s execution, especially the offensive line going against pressure specialist Pat Narduzzi.

“It was unbelievable. They executed our game plan all the way through,” Kizer said. “We knew that Narduzzi had some tricks he was going to throw at us, but we predicted them pretty well. The offensive line did a really good job executing.”

It’s clear that the bar has been raised for Kizer. That performance felt more expected than anything else, especially with all segments of the offense operating at maximum efficiency.

Sunday, Kelly acknowledged Kizer’s ascent, with Saturday his best game grade of the season.

“I graded him out very, very high. I would probably say right now that he did some things in this game that he hasn’t done all year,” Kelly said. “I think that probably is because he’s gaining so much more confidence and seeing some things that he feels really comfortable with that has allowed him to now elevate his game to the level that it is right now. I would probably agree that it was his best performance this year.”


Tyler Newsome. Let’s give Notre Dame’s punter some credit! A week after kicking the ball poorly against Temple, Newsome got back to the basics and launched the football against Pitt, another special teams unit that’s been very disruptive this season in terms of blocks.

Newsome helped flip the field twhen the Irish offense sputtered for a time in the first half, and averaged 51.8 yards per kick with three punts over 50 yards.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Kelly said after the game.


Torii Hunter Jr. Hunter chipped in with three catches and scored his second touchdown of the season on Saturday. But more importantly, he unveiled the defense’s newest plan to find consistency in the nickel alignment, with the junior receiver moonlighting as a coverman.

Kelly revealed on Saturday that Hunter had been working at the position for three weeks. On Sunday, he talked a little bit more about the thought process of putting Hunter, there, a part-time player with the ability to take on a bit more workload.

“Torii Hunter shares reps offensively, so we felt like he was a great fit to do some work on defense,” Kelly said.


Romeo Okwara. It’s time to acknowledge Notre Dame’s senior defensive end. His sneaky contributions to the pass rush are getting less sneaky by the day, with two more sacks this weekend.

Okwara is up to six sacks on the season, a number not many expected anybody to get to this year. And now that Brian VanGorder feels some comfort giving Hunter reps in coverage maybe Okwara won’t have to drop into the flat anymore.


Will Fuller. How pleased was Notre Dame’s weapon with his performance, a game that pushed him up the record books, passing a few guys named Samardzija and Tate?

“It’s just another day at the office. I’m doing what I have to do,” Fuller said. “When the ball is in the air, it is my ball and it is my job to go get it.”

Three more touchdowns for Notre Dame’s assassin, a guy only too happy to face one-on-one coverage.



Garbage Time. This team has turned garbage time into a disaster zone. Consider the Irish’s performance against Georgia Tech, allowing the Yellow Jackets to make it interesting. Saturday wasn’t quite as bad, but it sure got interesting after the Irish secondary forgot about Tyler Boyd and Brandon Wimbush gave the Panthers’ defense a free six points.

Put this in the category of champagne problems, but it’s worth pointing out that these things can matter. When the playoff committee goes back and looks at the wins over Georgia Tech and Pitt, they might not be reminded that both games were lopsided until the Irish decided to drive the car like Toonces the Cat.

It’s great getting depth some experience, but not if it’s going to turn into a white-knuckle affair.


Jekyll & Hyde Defense. It’s only fair to praise Brian VanGorder’s unit when they do something good after I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out the bad. In the first half, the Irish managed to get off the field after Pitt made some progress, even stiffening in the red zone.

That was particularly impressive considering the Irish were playing without safety Elijah Shumate and still able to hold the usually accurate Nate Peterman to a 3 for 18 first half.

But the second half was a different story. The Panthers scored three touchdowns on their four second half drives, mixing in one three-and-out with 77, 76, and 75 yard touchdown drives—three long touchdown drives for a team that hasn’t been able to do that all year.

As feared, Tyler Boyd broke Pitt’s yardage record on a big play. The good news? It didn’t matter.

“We had a blown coverage and then we were sloppy with the football. If you take those two mistakes away, I thought it was as good as we’ve played in some time,” said Kelly.

It didn’t matter this weekend—and likely won’t until a trip to Palo Alto. But with the look of a contender, it’s up to the defense to hold up its end of the bargain, especially when the competition stiffens.


C.J. Prosise’s injury. The good news appears to be Prosise will be fine, with the running back going through concussion protocol as a precaution while he recovers from an “upper body” injury, a very NHL-like classification for what is likely just maximum soreness after a big collision with the ground.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Kelly and the offensive staff holds Prosise out against Wake Forest, if only as a precaution. But the Irish don’t really have the depth to deal with this type of injury, with Adams only now emerging and fellow freshman Dexter Williams still figuring things out.

Walk-on Josh Anderson is an option as well, but this offense needs Prosise—a talented game-breaker who can do so many things as a back and receiver that he demands opponents’ attention. With a pitch count much higher than anybody expected, this is an injury that needs monitoring.



Nothing. Notre Dame is used to returning home after a game in the wee hours of the morning. Saturday? They were home for dinner.

Sure, you can pick at a win like this—missed tackles, blocks and opportunities. But the red zone offense was elite. The pass defense limited Pitt to just 12 of 32 passing and didn’t give up points or maximum yardage on either of the Panthers’ trick play attempts.

The Irish are 8-1 as they head home for Senior Day. In the middle of a trying season, every answer seems to be coming up Irish.