Tag: Robert Hughes

Darrin Walls

Pro Day highlights Rudolph, Williams and Walls

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We talked more about the NFL Draft last offseason when the Irish had Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate in the running for first round contention. But today a crop of Irish seniors worked out for NFL scouts, headlined by tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is fighting to be a first round draft pick as he rehabilitates from a hamstring surgery that robbed him of much of the season.

Rudolph was joined by teammates Armando Allen (also rehabbing hip injuries), Robert Hughes, Duval Kamara, Kerry Neal, Kyle Rudolph, Brian Smith, Chris Stewart, Darrin Walls and Ian Williams at Loftus today, where they went through nearly three hours of drills, sprints, interviews and prodding in anticipation of the upcoming NFL Draft.

If you’re looking for all the results, Tony Krausz at the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette has you covered. If you’re looking for a guy that impressed, look no further than cornerback Darrin Walls.

It was mildly surprising that Walls wasn’t invited to the Combine, and Walls confirmed that by putting up a 4.39 in the forty-yard dash as well as a 6.88 in the three-cone drill, times that would’ve had him in the lead pack at the combine.

All reports on Rudolph’s workout seem to be positive, with his 4.7-4.8 forty time not really hurting him, especially considering he’s recovering from hamstring surgery. (Rudolph is incapable of not impressing in sweatpants.)

Chris Stewart’s continued commitment to fitness should also be a surprise as he weighed in today at 317 pounds, a fraction of what he once weighed and down significantly from the 358-pounds he played at this year.

Armando Allen weighed in at slightly over 200-pounds and ran in the 4.5s, Ian Williams ran a 7.75 in the three-cone drill, and Brian Smith also helped his cause.

For more, check out the coverage from UND.com or hunt down one of the dozens of draftniks moving Irish players up and down their big boards.

Floyd and Smith named captains for 2011

Harrison Smith

Saturday’s Notre Dame Football Awards Show gave us plenty to discuss, but the headline was probably Brian Kelly naming Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith the captains of the 2011 Fighting Irish.

For Smith, that means his application for a fifth year has been accepted. For Floyd, it’s a permanent accolade after being named game captain more times than any other teammate last season. It’s an amazing leap for Harrison, who had been dogged by fans and coaches for his inconsistent play and arrested development thanks to continual position switches and misuse in Jon Tenuta’s 4-3 scheme.

If you’ve got a spare 100 minutes, head over to UND.com to watch the entire awards show, which included a tuxedo with a gold tie on Kelly and even fancy clip packages befitting of a red carpet extravaganza.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the awards given:

Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week: Cameron Roberson
Defensive Scout Team Player of the Week: Kendall Moore
Offensive Newcomer of the Year: Tyler Eifert
Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Prince Shembo
Special Teams Player of the Year: Bennett Jackson
Nick Pietrosante Award (Most Inspirational): Robert Hughes
Moose Krause Award (Lineman of the Year): Ian Williams
Guardian of the Year (Offensive Lineman of the Year): Zack Martin
Rockne Student Athlete Award: David Ruffer
Next Man In Award: Tommy Rees
Most Valuable Player: Michael Floyd

If you’re looking for a reason why the coaching staff isn’t too worried about losing Robert Hughes and Armando Allen, it could be Roberson, who has gotten nothing but positive reviews from the coaching staff. He’s a much more powerful back that Cierre Wood, and it’s likely he’ll immediately push for playing time, fighting Jonas Gray for the No. 2 spot.

The fact that Kendall Moore made such a nice splash on the practice field has to have people excited about adding another impact player in the middle of the defense. Last year, the Irish were in a very tough spot when Carlo Calabrese went down with an injury and by the end of the year, Manti Te’o was the one player on defense that was absolutely irreplaceable. Adding a guy like Moore to the middle will add some much needed depth behind Te’o and whoever wins the other inside position.

Eifert, Shembo, and Jackson are no-brainer choices. Eifert’s ascension to the starting job and his incredibly bright future are amazing when many of us wrote him off after a major back injury. Shembo’s 4.5 sacks were great production from the edge, especially considering coaches admitted he only knew a fraction of what was needed to play outside linebacker in the 3-4 system. Edge players like Ishaq Williams and Shembo should help ratchet up the pass rush opportunities next season. Jackson’s play on special teams was incredible. His first three plays on the football field ended with Jackson making tackles and he added explosive speed to the return game as well.

Hughes winning the Pietrosante Award is a fitting finish to a wonderful career for the senior. During Hughes’ freshman season, his 24-year-old brother Earl was murdered on Chicago’s West Side. While he certainly had a seesaw career, he ended it with a bang, carrying the Irish down the stretch, including the game-winning touchdown against USC and 27 tough carries against Miami in the bowl game. Hughes’ leadership was evident by the respect he earned from his teammates, who applauded loudly when he was given the game ball after the victory against the Trojans.

While Ian Williams being named defensive lineman of the year was expected, the fact that Zack Martin graded out as the most consistent lineman of the year was pretty astounding. Martin sat out last season, and was such an afterthought that his name was misspelled ‘Zach’ up until he was named the starting left tackle during spring ball. While many expected big things out of Trevor Robinson and Chris Stewart, they struggled on the interior of the line while Martin seemed to thrive at both left tackle and at right when Taylor Dever went down.

Having a 3.92 GPA and a perfect regular season kicking field goals should be good enough to win a scholarship, and Kelly confirmed it on Friday before naming Ruffer the student-athlete of the year. It’s amazing how far Ruffer has come this season. After the opening win against Purdue, Ruffer was made available to the press and I spent 10 minutes chatting with him because nobody else was talking with him. It was there I learned that he’d never kicked a field goal as long as the one he made against Purdue in his life because he’d never actually played any football before coming to ND. All that was well before Ruffer’s Lou Groza run, and the best statistical season of any Irish kicker.

Tommy Rees personified the Irish coaching staff’s philosophy of “Next Man In,” and his 4-0 stretch run and solid play against Tulsa made this spring’s quarterback competition interesting. While his raw skills probably rank near the bottom of the QB position, he’s got moxie and guts that defy his tenure at Notre Dame. Whether he has a long career as the Irish starting quarterback or ends up falling behind the other five quarterbacks on the roster, Rees should be remembered for some absolute heroics when the team needed it most.

The night’s final award went to Michael Floyd, who led the team in touchdowns, receptions and yards. While his performance this season left something to be desired by NFL scouts, it was clear that he was the sole engine that drove the Irish offense. Unlike the rest of the award winners, after Floyd won the MVP, both Kelly and his teammates asked for a speech, which Floyd reluctantly gave. It didn’t entail much more than a few nervous chuckles and a half-dozen thank yous, but it was a great moment for a football player that’ll lead the charge into 2011, a year that holds a lot of promise.

Five things we learned: Notre Dame vs. Miami

Michael Floyd

Irish fans have heard this story before. Two storied programs come into a bowl game with millions of eyes watching. One walks out a shell of its former self. The other, with sky-high expectations for next season after an impressive performance. Only this time, it’s Irish fans buzzing with excitement after their team took another proud football program to the wood shed, flipping a script almost 20 years in the making.

In a battle of two 7-5 teams, Notre Dame looked like the only team that wanted to play this afternoon, with the Irish scoring touchdowns on three of their first four possessions, taking a 27-3 lead into halftime before cruising to a 33-17 win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. Paced by junior wide receiver Michael Floyd’s six catches, 106 yards, and two first half touchdowns, an Irish victory was never really in doubt against a Hurricane’s team that was favored walking into the snow-covered El Paso stadium.

Here’s what we learned in Notre Dame’s 33-17 victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl, giving the Irish their first 8-5 season in school history.

1. If this is it for Michael Floyd, he certainly left us with something to talk about.

Receiving the Sun Bowl MVP trophy after the game, fans serenaded Floyd with “One More Year!” chants, a sentiment quickly taken up by the junior wide receivers teammates who joined in the shouting.

We’ve had our say (more than once) about Floyd’s NFL decision, but if he does decide to walk away from Notre Dame, he’ll do it as the school’s leader in touchdown receptions with 28, his two touchdown catches against Miami surpassing Jeff Samardzija’s 27. That’s 28 touchdowns in 28 games for the junior from St. Paul, Minnesota, who lost quite a bit of time during his three seasons thanks to a knee and collarbone injury.

Miami opened the game in press coverage on Floyd with talented cornerback Brandon Harris, another junior mulling a departure to the NFL draft. That decision backfired, as Floyd beat the Hurricanes on both short and long patterns, showing a diversity in his game that didn’t exist in his first two seasons in South Bend.

There might still be questions about Floyd’s speed, but it’s hard to take those worries too seriously when you watch the 6-foot-3 receiver run past potential first round cornerbacks on his way to dominating a team that made the receiver their defensive priority.

We’ll find out soon enough what Floyd and fellow junior Kyle Rudolph are going to do, but if Floyd’s performance in the Sun Bowl was his swan song, Irish fans should be happy whether or not they get an encore.

2. Regardless of what the future holds for Tommy Rees, he saved Notre Dame’s season.

The baby-faced freshman quarterback who loves Glee may become the next great signal caller for the Irish or may go the way of former freshman starter Matt LoVecchio. Either way, he deserves a great deal of credit for stepping in at quarterback and helping the Irish finish their first season with four straight wins since 1992.

The season could’ve gone a lot differently for Rees, who had an ignominious start to his career even before he threw the game-ending interception against Tulsa in field goal range. But Rees showed moxie far greater than you’d expect in a true freshman, and the decision to forgo his high school basketball season and the second half of his senior year and enroll at Notre Dame early is one of the main reasons why Rees has put himself at the front of the line in the competition to be the quarterback of the future for the Irish.

Rees only completed a shade over 50 percent of his throws, but was efficient in his decisions, didn’t turn the ball over, and showed great poise in the face of a Miami pass rush that battered and bruised him. Rees consistently stepped up and made big throws, whether they were first half completions to Tyler Eifert, or game-icers to John Goodman and TJ Jones.

Before the game, Kelly said Rees had to play well for the Irish to win the football game. Throwing two touchdown passes against zero interceptions (and being a few finger tips away from two more touchdowns) certainly qualifies, especially against a team that had only given up seven passing touchdowns all year.

Only time will tell us Tommy Rees’ legacy at Notre Dame, but his impact on the 2010 season can’t be overstated.

3. Even without a 100-yard rusher, Hughes and Wood provided the ground game needed to win.

Sure, Notre Dame finishes the season without a 100-yard game from a running back this year. But both Robert Hughes and Cierre Wood provided the thunder and lightning needed to control the game clock and balance an offense that couldn’t just rely on a passing game.

While Brian Kelly isn’t one for the time of possession stat, he used Hughes and Wood to dominate the playclock, with the Irish winning the battle convincingly, holding onto the football for over 37 minutes to Miami’s 21. Hughes only averaged three yards a carry, but his 27 carries were a career high for the senior playing his last game in a Notre Dame uniform, and his bulldozing style wore down a Hurricanes defense that spent a lot of time on the field.

Hughes’ inside running provided a perfect counterbalance to Cierre Wood’s afternoon, where the sophomore broke multiple big plays and showed a great burst in the open field. After starting slowly, Wood finishes the season as the team’s leading rusher, besting Armando Allen’s total by eight yards and averaging a very respectable 4.9 yards per carry.

With Theo Riddick providing some Wildcat looks, the Irish ran the ball 47 times amongst the trio, for a very respectable 4.7 yards per carry.

4. Harrison Smith embodies Bob Diaco’s defense.

For Irish fans that kept Harrison Smith in their doghouse for much of the last two seasons, it had to border on the bizarre to see the senior safety turn into a ballhawk right before our very eyes this afternoon.

Smith led the team with six solo tackles and intercepted Miami quarterbacks three times in the first half, leading the charge for Bob Diaco’s defense as it finished the season with another dominating performance.

Smith’s development both on the field and as a leader (he leads all Irish defenders, being chosen game captain four times) embodies the development of Diaco’s entire defense, turning a misplaced misfit into a elite defensive player.

While we joked about it earlier in the week, Diaco’s fable about the scorpion and the frog is a telling parable for a defense that has been in need of a identity for the last five years. This unit has bought in completely to the ideals and philosophy Diaco constantly preaches, understanding that they truly are 1/11th of a unit, and must simply “master their musts.”

With Smith coming back for a fifth year, the Irish will have an anchor for their secondary. It may have taken a long time to get there, but Smith’s intellect on the field has finally matched the athleticism he’s flashed in his first three seasons in South Bend.

5. Don’t look now, but the 2011 season could be a special one for the Irish.

Notre Dame fans will have the next nine months to get overly excited about 2011, but the pieces are in place for the Irish to be BCS contenders next season. If Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph decide to return, the Irish will have their leading quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end back on offense, with four of five lineman returning to protect them. They’ll return both defensive ends, three of four starting linebackers, and three of four starting defensive backs as well. That’s a lot of continuity as the Irish head into year two of the Kelly era.

Kelly made comments during Sun Bowl interviews that he’s confident that he can manufacture the offense needed to win football games, and he’s shown that he’s been able to do that since Rees took control of the team. With his sights set squarely on defensive talent, the Irish finally have a coach that not only understands that the Irish need an elite defense to win BCS games, but is willing to put an emphasis on it during recruiting.

There will never be a coach at Notre Dame that admits publicly he’s in the midst of a rebuilding year, but the 2010 season was exactly that for Notre Dame. Replacing three of five starters on the offensive line, an All-American caliber quarterback and the Biletnikoff-winning wide receiver all but gutted an offense that also had to learn a completely new philosophy and scheme (with a first-time starting quarterback recovering from major knee surgery). The challenges were just as significant on the defensive side of the ball, where a beleaguered unit needed to relearn just about everything it had been taught in order to get back to playing just mediocre defense.

Kelly certainly didn’t pass every test he faced this season, and a few decisions he made cost the Irish dearly. But he’s instilled a confidence and optimism in both the team and the fanbase that’s been absent for a long time.

“I was confident that when I took the job here at the University of Notre Dame, I would bring the program back,” Kelly said last week. “Now I know we will. Stay tuned. It’ll be a fun ride.”

After the program hit a low not seen even during these last 15 seasons, the Irish picked themselves up from the ground, dusted themselves off, and won the final four games of the season, dispatching programs like Utah, USC, and Miami along the way. That was something just about all of us didn’t see coming.

246 days until the Irish take on South Florida in Notre Dame Stadium. All of ND Nation awaits…



Pregame Twelve Pack: Sun Bowl edition


We get teary-eyed just thinking that this could be the last of these monsters for nine months. But before we crack a cold one to celebrate (ice pack for my hands, that is), here are twelve fun facts, tidbits, leftovers and miscellaneous musings as the Irish prepare to play Miami at the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

1. The Irish defense will have a chance to prove it truly is ‘B.I.A.’

At first, there were chuckles among fans when they heard the Irish defense took to barking ‘B.I.A’ — Best In America — when they frenetically ran around the practice field. What an optimistic goal, many thought, without ever considering it could actually become (even close) to true.

Maybe it wasn’t all that far from the truth it turns out. Sure, the Irish defense only clocks in as a Top 40(ish) defense, but Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune points out a few very impressive trends when you look at Notre Dame’s defense in the season’s final month.

Projected over an entire season ND’s November numbers would place it as the nation’s No. 4 rushing defense (93.3 yards per game), No. 6 in third-down defense (31.3 percent conversions), No. 2 in first downs allowed (12 per game), No. 2 in total defense (233.3 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring defense (7.3 points a game).

And passing defense? The Irish haven’t allowed a 200-yard passing performance since Oct. 16 against Western Michigan and didn’t allow a passing TD after Halloween. The only rushing TD they’ve yielded since the Oct. 23 Navy meltdown came on a four-play, two-yard drive by USC.

Statistically speaking, Miami is the fifth best offense the Irish will face, behind Tulsa (#5), Michigan (#6), Stanford (#14), and USC (#27). If Diaco’s troops can hold strong, there might be some truth to the BIAs we hear come spring practice.

2. Regardless of the defense, the Irish need some offense out of Tommy Rees.

Any full blown quarterback controversy was effective cooled in the Coliseum, where Tommy Rees played like a true freshman in hostile territory, making some bad decisions with the football in the second half before driving the Irish down the field for a much-needed victory.

But if the Irish are going to win tomorrow, they’ll need Rees to limit the mistakes he made when the Trojans dropped seven men into coverage. Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar talked about the post-USC Rees, and what the coaching staff did to prepare him for the Sun Bowl.

“He did struggle a little bit, some of that was due to the big arena we played in and the talented defense we went against,” Molnar said. “Really what we did at the beginning was just get Tommy’s confidence back, and went back to basics, did things he really felt comfortable with. And then we slowly but surely installed the game plan as the week went on. He’s had really a good 12 days of practice so far.”

Last week, head coach Brian Kelly admitted that the offense was “in flux” and simply doing anything it can to win football games. For the Irish to beat the Hurricanes, they’ll need Rees to do more than just limit turnovers.

“Tommy has to be part of the equation,” Kelly said. “We can’t go in there and say things like, well, he just has to distribute or he just has to manage the game. Tommy has to play well. and if we’re to win this football game, he has to use the experience he had as a starter and go play the game the way he’s capable of.”

3. With one quarterback injured, Hurricanes will ride Jacory Harris.

Miami interim head coach Jeff Stoutland had been playing coy with his choice at quarterback, repping both freshman Stephen Morris and junior Jacory Harris until Morris injured his ankle earlier in the week during practice in El Paso. While Morris’ ankle is “way better than we thought he would be,” according to Stoutland, he announced this afternoon that Harris will get the start.

According to Bob Diaco, the Irish won’t change their strategy depending on what quarterback plays, but if they’re looking for a blueprint on how to shutdown Harris, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster gave it to them last year. (Courtesy of EDSBS)

So what did they do? Play soft coverage and hope Harris made some mistakes? Revamp the offense to catch Miami’s speedy defense off guard? No. Foster and Beamer basically said f— it, we’re going after Miami. That early fumble by Jacory Harris that set up the Hokies’ first touchdown? Well they did what I said they wouldn’t be able to: Foster dialed up a hide-the-children, all-out, man-to-man blitz with no free safety with the cornerback, Dorian Porch, coming off the short side of the field. (Miami was in a three receiver set with a tight-end backside. Foster put two guys to this backside: one played the tight-end in man coverage and the other, Porch, just blitzed, and of course Harris never saw him.)

This sounds like a Jon Tenuta-approved recipe for defense, but Diaco’s been far more disciplined with his use of blitzers. Still, expect to see Robert Blanton, who has shown a great knack for coming off the edge, to hear his number called quite a few times.

4. The Irish secondary will have its opportunities to make plays.

Regardless of what quarterback starts, the Irish secondary should have plenty of opportunities to make plays. Now that we know it’s Harris, he’s shown a propensity to make some very bad decisions against good passing defenses, which Notre Dame certainly qualifies as.

In Harris’ three games against Top 30 passing defenses, he’s completed only 53 percent of his throws for 6.6 yards an attempt, throwing seven touchdowns, but eight interceptions.

On the season, the Irish are giving up only 6.2 yards an attempt, good for 19th in the country, only nine touchdown passes, which is 4th in the country, so if the Hurricanes throw the ball, Chuck Martin’s boys better be ready.

“We won’t do anything outside of our working system,” Diaco said when asked about taking advantage of interception-prone quarterbacks. “We’ll operate within our framework as far as how we call defense and how our players play structurally inside of it. As the game unfolds, then we’ll see where it goes.”

5. The Sun Bowl brings in two teams in opposite directions.

On paper, many see this match-up favoring the Hurricanes. But a look at the state of each program shows that these two teams are trending in very opposite directions.

The Irish are playing for their first four-game winning streak since the 2006 season that saw Notre Dame rip off eight straight wins. They’ve done it behind a resurgent rushing attack and elite defense.

Miami enters having lost three of their final five games, including ugly losses to Virginia and South Florida, the finale all but costing Randy Shannon his job. More uniquely, the Hurricanes will be playing a football game that their head coach won’t have anything to do with, as Al Golden is merely observing the Hurricanes while he gets started recruiting, the only lame-duck/new incumbant coaching situation of the bowl season.

6. The Brian Castello, king of the Red Hats, get another moment in the sun.

It turns out those triumphant final snaps walk-on quarterback Brian Castello took in the Irish’s final home win over Utah were only the beginning. Now he’s got a guest spot at the South Bend Tribune, running the “Red Hat Diaries.” (Not to be confused with the shoes…)

In his three different entries, Castello has talked about the opening night talent show, which featured an original piano score by freshman linebacker Danny Spond, the difficulties of picking properly at the Hyundai Gift Suite, where Castello scored a 22-inch flat screen, and going through weapons simulations at Fort Bliss, where Castello lit up 21 targets with a military assault weapon.

They’re entertaining reads and give you a great idea of what bowl week is actually like for players that both hit the field and roam the sidelines.

7. Darrin Walls, Notre Dame will miss you.

It’s the final start for cornerback Darrin Walls, who walks away from Notre Dame on a high note after a up-and-down career. Walls came to South Bend one of the top defensive back recruits in the country and went toe-to-toe with All-American Calvin Johnson as a true freshman. But Walls played unspectacular football on a miserable 2007 team, spent the 2008 season away from the team due to personal reasons and played just average in 2009, managing only one interception.

But Walls’ senior season has been a different story, and Bob Diaco had high praise for his graduating cornerback.

“Darrin is a benchmark for professionalism,” Diaco said. “He is someone you can point to on any given day to say this is how you come to work, this is how you come to meetings, this is how you look when you’re on campus, this is how you conduct your business. He’s clean cut, he looks good, he wears nice clothes. I don’t know whether he has the approach that any given day he might meet someone that can change his life, so he better be ready for it. But that’s how he operates and conducts his business. He’s going to be very successful in whatever he does.”

Walls is the only member of the secondary out of eligibility, but he’ll leave big shoes to fill both on and off the field.

8. Ian Williams, Notre Dame will miss you, too.

After injuring his knee against Navy, Ian Williams will be back on the field for the final game of his career against his home state Hurricanes, a school that didn’t think Williams was worthy of a scholarship offer.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Williams said. “I’ll be glad to be back and the team is very excited. I’m 100 percent right now. I feel great.”

With Williams back in the fold, it gives the Irish an interesting dilemma — incorporating their best defensive lineman into a unit that’s played their best football without him. It doesn’t sound like a problem Bob Diaco seems to worried about.

“There’s no disruption of chemistry,” Diaco said. “The players know exactly where everyone fits all the time. That’s our core belief. That’s how we operate. We communicate clearly every day with the players as it relates to where they stand. The vision is clear, so there’s no backdoor, behind-the-scene conversation. As it relates to Ian, there’s no loss of chemistry. We’re excited he’s back. he’s got an opportunity to play in his last college game. He was able to grind it out and work hard to get himself back on position to be healthy enough to contribute.”

Williams comes back at a perfect time, as the Irish defense will be facing another stiff rushing offense, with Miami the seventh Top 30 rushing offense the Irish will face this year.

9. Notre Dame fans will get their first look at Seantrel Henderson.

Once the apple of every Notre Dame fans eye, the Irish will finally see gargantuan freshman right tackle Seantrel Henderson on the field.

While Henderson initially considered Notre Dame during the high-stakes recruiting process, many Irish fans thought they’d get their first look at the 6-8, 360-pound freshman against USC, where Henderson initially pledged his commitment. But after the NCAA hit USC with major sanctions, Henderson decided to take his talents to South Beach too, where he’s started nine games for the Hurricanes, even though he joined the team late in preseason drills.

Called Miami’s “Great Wall of China” by quarterback Jacory Harris, Henderson has spent the week talking with fellow Cretin-Derham Hall graduate Michael Floyd, who counseled Henderson during the hectic recruiting process.

The Irish will send Kapron Lewis-Moore, Ian Williams and Darius Fleming against Henderson, who bookends with senior left tackle Orlando Franklin to form a formidable duo.

10. Both Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph have received their NFL grades.

And that’s about all we really know about that.

“There are so many different factors that go into making that decision,” Kelly said, as if he read the 1200 words I wrote about Floyd’s decision yesterday. “All I can tell you is, as the head football coach, I’d love to have them both back. We’ll be able to get clearer information as to what their status is in the next week or so.”

Last year, both Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate made the announcement that they’d be forgoing their senior season on December 7th, which was incredible early, considering the Irish weren’t playing in a bowl game. That early decision, coupled with the fact that neither went to the NFL Advisory Board, is a good example of not doing your homework, which is something that both Floyd and Rudolph hopefully are doing.

Floyd and Rudolph leaving early is one of the necessary evils that come along with recruiting elite prospects to your football program and I know most of us would take a multimillion dollar job offer after our junior year, especially if we were on track to still get our diplomas. That said, leaving early for a late second round contract isn’t the optimal use of early entry.

From the sounds of it, we’ll find out soon enough whether or not Rudolph or Floyd will be playing for the Irish in 2011.

11. The Irish offense will have Theo Riddick back at full strength.

If you’re looking for a quarterbacks best friend, Theo Riddick should qualify. And for the first time since Tommy Rees took the reins of the offense, he’ll have Riddick in the slot at full strength, who Brian Kelly plans to utilize.

“You’ll see a much more expanded role for him in this game,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t been part of our game plan for over two months. He’ll be an integral part of what we do.”

The Irish offense lost a huge component when Riddick went down with a severe ankle sprain against Western Michigan, and while the Irish bulked up their running game to counter his loss, Riddick’s return could also help the ground game, both by quick handoffs to the speedy slotman and by spreading the Miami defenses splits.

12. Robert Hughes, this Sun Bowl could be for you.

Earlier in the week, offensive coordinator Charley Molnar gave an insight into why it took running back Robert Hughes so long to get consistent carries this year.

“As we went through spring ball and summer camp, he ran like he was a 172-pounder,” Molnar said, more than hinting at a problem that’s plagued the senior running back.

Somewhere in the middle of the year, the light switch flipped on, as Hughes took his garbage time carries against Western Michigan and reminded both the fanbase and the coaching staff that the senior anvil was a weapon worth using down the stretch.

“I wanted to play,” Hughes said. “That was the tipping point.”

Coupled with the loss of starter Armando Allen, Hughes emerged as the ‘boom’ in the Irish offense, nowhere more evident than in the Irish’s game-winning drive against USC, where Hughes trucked his way through a Trojan defense that was gasping for air.

Kelly made it clear that both Hughes and Riddick will have “expanded roles” in the Sun Bowl, meaning that if the Irish are going to establish the running game needed to help Tommy Rees, they’ll do it behind the power running of Hughes, playing his final game in a Notre Dame uniform.

Robert Hughes’ career comes full circle


It’s appropriate that it was Robert Hughes that plowed through Trojan defenders on his way to the game-winning touchdown in the Coliseum for the Irish last Saturday. The touchdown brought a great deal of symmetry to the career of the Chicago native, who bowled his way into the collective thoughts of Notre Dame fans at the beginning of his career, seemed to get lost in the shuffle during the middle, and made a triumphant return to close out the season.

Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times had a great article on what makes Hughes different than your average college athlete, and how he kept positive and stayed a team leader throughout the times when things weren’t going his way.

When Brian Kelly replaced Charlie Weis as head coach after last year, the 5-11, 245-pound Hughes was the odd man out in Kelly’s spread offense. He had just 15 touches through the first nine games, most of them in mop-up situations. And his team was 4-5.

He had a lot to mope about. Instead, he always seems like the happiest guy leaving the practice field. Why?

“I think it all depends on who you are and what your goals and aspirations are in life,” said Hughes, who rushed for 1,780 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Hubbard High School in 2006. “My goals go way beyond the football field. You have to be a man about the situation. And being 4-5 doesn’t mean it’s the worst thing. There are a lot of things that can go bad. You continue to right.”

Hughes’ goals beyond football?

“Just to be a great father one day … be a great man in general,” he said…

Regardless of how that turns out, Hughes said he has no regrets about his time at Notre Dame.

“It changes you as a man,” he said. “You learn different things. You get a top-notch education. You meet friends you’ll have for the rest of your life.”

Even if he was in this situation two years ago, he said he would not have transferred.

Why not?

“Because I love Notre Dame,” he said.

It’s easy for people to forget, but Hughes won one of the more emotional battles the Irish have seen in recent years when he put up a 100 yard game after learning that his older brother was shot and killed during his freshman season. It was an emotional lift for Hughes and the team at the end of the dreadful 2007 season.

The Sun-Times also points out a pretty astonishing quote about Hughes’ playing time. In the 10 games where Hughes had 10 carries or more in his career, the Irish are 9-1 in those games and Hughes averages 5.1 yards per carry. You can argue the merits of the teams Hughes put those numbers up against, but it’s great evidence that even though Hughes didn’t get as much playing time as he probably hoped, he capitalized on the opportunities given to him.

It’ll be interesting if Hughes finds life in football after Notre Dame, but one thing that’s fairly certain is that wherever Hughes ends up after his time in South Bend is over, he’ll be doing great things.