Tag: Tulsa


Five Things We Learned: Notre Dame vs. Tulsa


For those looking to bury Brian Kelly after nine games at Notre Dame, they were given the opportunity late in the fourth quarter. After calling a timeout with 42 seconds left, Kelly decided against putting the game on the leg of his field goal kicker David Ruffer, and instead bet on the arm of freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, who dropped back from the Tulsa 19 yard line and targeted wide receiver Michael Floyd, running down the sideline in one-on-one coverage.

Floyd had a step on the undersized defensive back, but Rees’ back foot throw kited into a strong wind, helping 5-foot-9 cornerback John Flanders come down with an unlikely interception, sealing Tulsa’s 28-27 victory on a somber Saturday afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium.

“We knew we had a one-on-one match up with Mike Floyd, and certainly wanted to give that an opportunity for success and score a touchdown there,” Kelly said after the game. “We took a timeout there to talk about it. But I think we all saw what happened.”

What happened was a heart-wrenching interception that put an ugly ending onto an otherwise great performance by Rees, who became the first Notre Dame freshman to throw four touchdown passes in a game. It also dropped Notre Dame to 4-5 on the season, putting the Irish in the difficult position of needing a win against either Utah or USC to have a chance to play in the postseason.

Let’s take a look at five things we learned during Notre Dame’s 28-27 loss to Tulsa.

1. The new goal for Notre Dame? Win two out of the next three.

Even before the tragic events of this week, Brian Kelly acknowledged that today’s game was one of the most important of his career. Needing two wins to clinch a bowl birth in the final four games, anybody could point to games against Tulsa and Army as must-have wins for the Irish.

But with the Irish losing today, they’ll now need to beat either Utah or USC, as well as an upstart Army team that’s 5-3 for the first time in over a decade.

“The most important thing still is for us to get to six wins,” Kelly said emphatically. “We’ve got to win two out of three now. That’s the number one goal, to win two out of three games minimally to get to six wins.”

The Irish will have a much needed weekend off before playing Utah, undefeated and ranked No. 8 team in the country. The Utes battle an upstart Air Force squad today and No. 4 TCU next Saturday, so they’ll be coming off two physical opponents before facing the Irish.

After that the Irish face another triple-option attack when Army joins Notre Dame for the first ever football game in the new Yankee Stadium, before finishing the season against rival USC, who likely will view the Irish as part one of their two-game postseason, against rivals Notre Dame and UCLA.

It’s an uphill road for the Irish, especially in light of their injury problems, but far from impossible.

2. Bob Diaco’s defense did their job.

After a wobbly first two series, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco slowed down a Tulsa attack that had great speed and a quarterback proficient at running the zone read.

Tulsa averaged just under 7.5 yards per play on their first two offensive possessions, but the Irish defense stood strong after that, holding Tulsa to only 272 total yards on 56 plays, below five yards a touch — impressive work considering Tulsa averaged 491 yards a game and 6.3 yards a play entering the game.

Diaco’s mixed a nice blend of pressure and zone coverage, sacking Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne five times, but ultimately the unit came up empty on Tulsa final offensive drive, when the Irish gave up a crucial 3rd and 26 in deep zone coverage.

Diaco and his defense took a lot of heat this week, but playing without starting nose tackle Ian Williams and insider linebacker Carlo Calabrese, the unit deserves a ton of credit for putting together a gritty performance, giving up only 13 of the 28 points the Golden Hurricanes scored.

3. Special Teams and the big play killed the Irish.

On a day where Notre Dame came up with a big fake punt that extended a drive and led to a Notre Dame touchdown, the Irish special teams killed them, with Tulsa’s two points on a critical returned extra-point attempt the swing in their one-point victory. David Ruffer’s only two misses on the season have come on blocked extra points, and the Irish offensive line gave up the block right off the center, with linebacker Curnelius Arnick scooping it up and returning it to for a touchdown.

Electric return man Damaris Johnson also returned a punt for a touchdown, bringing Tulsa back from a nine-point deficit, thanks to a low punt from Ben Turk, the lack of hang-time all that Johnson needed to weave his way through the Irish gunners.

And finally, the Irish were victimized by the big play, courtesy of linebacker Shawn Jackson, who caught a deflected Tommy Rees screen pass and closed the half with a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown, putting Tulsa back in the football game when it looked like the Irish were capable of marching down the field and extending the lead into double-digits. Some terrible luck for the Irish on a high-percentage play call that looked like a big gainer for Notre Dame, only to have the ball pin-ball its way into the arms of a Tulsa defender and pull the Hurricane within two points.

4. Tragedy for Dayne Crist turns into opportunity for Tommy Rees.

After starting the game slowly, Dayne Crist stepped up from Tulsa’s pressure rush and darted for the Notre Dame sideline, picking up the first down and then tight-roping along the sideline for a 29-yard gain. But Crist was hit high and hard, came down awkwardly on his left knee, and possibly ended his season with what’s been reported as a ruptured patellar tendon.

“It seems every medical report I get, it ends with, Done for the season,” Kelly said after the game. “The first report I got was a bruised knee, and then it was some with his patellar tendon. It’s a severe injury, I can tell you that, just seeing Dayne briefly.”

Heartbreaking news for Crist, who worked his way back quickly from a torn ACL suffered one year to the day last season in mop-up time against Washington State.

With Crist gone, Kelly turned to true freshman Tommy Rees, who was the lone bright spot in the Irish loss to Navy last week. And Rees responded right out of the gate, going 15 of his first 18 with three touchdown passes.

When asked to assess Rees’ play, Kelly was emphatic.

“Awesome. Are you kidding me? I couldn’t be more happy for the kid,” Kelly said. “True freshman goes out there, hasn’t played. He just competes.”

Still, Rees’ recording setting day with be remembered for his final throw, the back-breaking interception that sealed the game for Tulsa. Kelly walked through his thought process, putting the game in the hands of his freshman quarterback with the Irish in field goal range.

“Why not try to get Michael Floyd one-on-one against a 5-9 corner? We called a timeout and said, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. Second down, take a shot here. If we don’t like it, let’s throw the thing away.’ Tommy wanted to do all those things. Tommy is a gamer. He knows the deal. He’s the quarterback.”

Pressed on his thought process, Kelly defending the decision to try and throw for the win instead of relying on kicker David Ruffer to make a field goal in a tricky wind.

“This is how we play. We’re going to play aggressive,” Kelly said. “We’re going to play smart… I would make the call again and I would hope that the process of learning would have a different outcome.”

Rees finished the afternoon 33 for 54 with four touchdowns and three interceptions, cementing his role as the starting quarterback against Utah after the off-week and putting the 2011 quarterback position into murky water, something nobody thought would happen entering the season.

5. Football isn’t always fair.

There’s no way to put today’s loss in true context after what the Notre Dame community suffered through this week. While the loss of Declan Sullivan puts the football game in perspective, walking off the field after losing a game like this rings about as hollow as it possibly can for an Irish team that had so much on their plates this week.

“As a football coach, there’s been more difficult weeks relative to the game itself,” Kelly said. “But in terms of the tragedy that occurred, there’s never been a more difficult time in my life.”

On the football field, life won’t get any easier for the Irish. Brian Kelly revealed that the Irish will likely be without leading running back Armando Allen for the rest of the season.

“It’s not a good situation. He may have played his last down here at Notre Dame because of the injury,” Kelly said about Allen’s injured hip. “He wanted to dress and run through the tunnel in case it was his last time playing at Notre Dame.”

The loss of Allen just adds to the nightmare scenario for Kelly’s offense, and is a terrible way for the team’s most consistent offensive player to end his career. Allen walked onto campus tantalizing Irish fans with breakaway speed, but an ankle injury suffered during his senior year of high school seemed to limit Allen’s ability to break the explosive plays many thought he’d bring to South Bend.

Instead, Allen turned into a renaissance man, an all-around performer that ran for the tough yards between tackles as well as possessing receiving skills while excelling in the return game. When asked to transition to the spread running attack, Allen responded with an 514 yards rushing, just shy of five-yards a carry, and great all-around play. Though his career was marred with various injury setbacks during his junior and senior seasons, Allen will go down as one of the top total-yardage player in Notre Dame history.

IBG: Better late than never

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I missed out on the Irish Blog Gathering last week, and even though most Irish fans are still dragging, Subway Domer did too good of a job assembling this week’s questions to ignore them completely.

Here we go with this week’s edition, proposed Monday evening:

1. A young man of 12 arrives in the United States from the city of Moroni, on the island of Comoros. He has never seen the game of football before, but notices you watching a game. He seems to really like watching it with you and asks what team he should cheer for. You, of course, tell him Notre Dame in attempt to have more company for your misery. He asks, “why Notre Dame?” Without using any of Notre Dame football history prior to 1995 and without spewing off nonsense about academics (which has no real bearing on a football game); give him your best answer. His name is Tonokiuyt Paluifirtaginerto.

Tony (It’s Tony from now on):

Run and hide. That’s my first piece of advice. Run and hide when you see football being played on Saturday, because the game will eat you up and spit you out. But if that won’t stop you, and you want to be there when the ship finally turns around, cheer cheer for ol’ Notre Dame.

It’s been a tough 15 years to be sure, but when it turns, you can say you were one of the millions that were there all along, even if you just jumped on the bandwagon after leaving Comoros. (Relax, Tony. The bandwagon will be so filled with newbies nobody will notice if you’re Adidas hat still has the tag on it.)

Sure, Notre Dame hasn’t been great — heck, even better than good — in the last decade, but if you find yourself in South Bend on a crisp Autumn Saturday, wander from the Grotto to the Basilica, across the quads and into Notre Dame Stadium, you’ll end up just as demented as the rest of us.

2. If you are anything like me, you trolled around the Notre Dame message boards after the loss to Navy. We don’t need direct quotes, but what was the best line, subject heading, argument- whatever? Should Irish fans be banned from the Internet for at least a couple of days after the game, win or lose?

I would ban all Irish fans from the internet from thirty minutes before kickoff until just before Sunday Night Football starts the next evening. By then, most of the absolute insanity will be worn off, and you can either go deeper into the doldrums if your NFL team loses, or at least feel like the weekend was a wash if you’re squad wins.

There’s no more difficult thing to do than troll message boards after a Notre Dame loss, and the game against Navy was probably the worst it’s been since… well, last year.

Here’s my favorite argument — slightly changed to protect the poster who wrote it:

I’ve never coached a sport, but in past years I’ve been a music director, with both instrumentalists and singers. I have always felt, in that area, that as long as I paid attention to fundamentals, and then rehearsed intelligently, that I could get a group to sound much better than anyone would have expected. Why? Because of my direction. With faulty direction, they could give 110%, but it wouldn’t matter if cues were missed, cutoffs were not together, pronunciation was not uniform–it could easily be a 110% mess. In any group effort, proper direction is key.

This kind of liberal use of the transitive property always just kills me. I’ve got no problem with the ideas presented, but here’s a guy that admits to never coaching a sport in his life, who then equates directing a group of musicians singing notes or reading sheet music to coaching one of the most high-profile teams in all of sports.

I can’t say it enough: Just because you played high school football or coach your kids Pop Warner team doesn’t mean you have even the slightest concept of the expertise needed in today’s major football. Believe me — I’ve spent a lot of time studying playbooks and trying to at least learn the latest lingo, and these guys make me look like I’m coloring with crayons outside the lines.

There are a lot of intelligent people that root for Notre Dame. But a good rule of thumb: the transitive property might be sweet for geometry, but it doesn’t work in critiquing sports.

3. Tulsa is a scary team after a loss to Navy. Before the Navy game- not so much. Give me your most dramatic nightmare scenario as well as your fairybook ending for this weeks game against the Golden Hurricane. Which one is closest to a possible reality?

I hid the fact that I was petrified of Navy last week pretty well, but I’ll be WAY more open about how scary Tulsa is, especially with the tragedy earlier in the week adding another layer of complexity to this game.

Nightmare: No Michael Floyd, same green offense struggling to throw the ball and Dayne Crist looks lost out there again as the defense gets cut up by both the passing and running of Tulsa, led by a breakout performance by G.J. Kinne.

Fairytale: A cathartic Saturday where Notre Dame comes together as a community and dedicates a Saturday to a great kid and family that loves the Fighting Irish, topped off by a convincing win.

Frankly, I’ve got no idea what’s going to be closer to reality, I just know I’ll be glued to the edge of my seat.

4. Most of these IBG’s have had a rather dark tone to them because of the season Notre Dame is having. If we would have beat Navy, we would be 5-3 and riding a 4 game winning streak. I had rather hoped to use that cheerfulness, and ask a few light-hearted questions. Seeing as how we lost, I think we need these more than ever. They’re not the wittiest questions, but you better answer them:

a) What college football team would you blog about if Notre Dame did not exist?

That’s an awesome question. Probably someone like Nebraska — a school with a really deep tradition and generations of fans that care about the Big Red. Backup: Maybe UCLA — it’d be great to write about a team that’s only 10 miles away, especially one that’s been on a rollercoaster like the one that’s permanently parked in Westwood.

b) Change Notre Dame’s colors. No blues, gold, or green please.

That’s ridiculous. Notre Dame has to have those colors — the only one you could consider getting rid of is blue. Green is mandatory because of the Irish. Gold helmets because of the Golden Dome. Replacing the blue with just about anything else would be really ugly.

c) Change one play in Notre Dame history. What was it, and how did it help?

That’s an easy one for me. Matt Leinart. 4th and 9. The pass is batted out of Dwayne Jarrett’s hands and Notre Dame shocks USC in 2005, as the Irish carry Charlie Weis off the field and the student body parades around campus with the goal posts.

One soon-to-be blogger who “hypothetically” joined financial fortunes with two of his best friends would’ve hit on a hypothetical moneyline parlay, living rent free for three hypothetical months, instead of drowning his sorrows at Finnegan’s.

d) Turn one loss into a win, and one win into a loss for one season. What season and what games are they?

I don’t know enough about the old days, but of games that I watched, I’d have loved to see Notre Dame knock off #1 Nebraska in 2000, the game where Nebraska fans tried to take over Notre Dame Stadium. That was one of the more ridiculous games I saw in person, with special teams returns from Julius Jones and Joey Getherall getting the Irish to overtime before Eric Crouch won it in overtime.

5. Tell me more about this Tulsa matchup. Tell me anything you like- but use at least one real stat.

I’ll shy away from math, and go with this feel-good note for Irish fans. Lovie Smith will be in attendance on Saturday, cheering for his alma mater Tulsa. It’s always good luck for opposing teams when Lovie Smith is in the stadium, right?

6. Phil Steele now has Notre Dame picked to play in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Pinstripe Bowl is in New York City and will be played in Yankee Stadium. Agree or disagree. Give me your bowl scenarios- if there are any.

I’d agree to just about any bowl game right about now. That means the Irish win at least two of the final four games, and possibly upset Utah or USC — two wins that would be absolutely huge for Brian Kelly’s squad.

BONUS: Please tell me that we can turn this season into a positive learning experience for 2011. How?

For fans: Changing systems and cultures isn’t an overnight switch, regardless of how well Year One went for the previous two regimes.Nobody is getting fired after one season, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the changes.

For the team: This season is already a positive learning experience. But the Irish must continue to develop Dayne Crist, an offensive line that’ll only need to replace Chris Stewart, and 2011 could potentially return both Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph, a very exciting proposition. Defensively, the Irish need to keep developing depth in the secondary, but the linebacking corp returns, as does a defensive front with everybody but Ian Williams.

For fans (again): Don’t start drinking the Kool-Aid for 2011 until after the 2010 season ends.

Floyd expects to be ready

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Lost in the tragedy of the last few days, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd expects to play Saturday against Tulsa.

“I think my chances are real high Saturday,” Floyd said Wednesday. “I just don’t think my hamstring was strong all of the way to where I wanted it to be last week, so I kind of took it easy.”

Last weekend Floyd was a game-time decision, but never touched the field in Notre Dame’s 35-17 loss against Navy, after sitting out the entire week of practice.

Floyd hit the field this Tuesday and participated for most of practice.

“Yesterday was my first practice since I messed up my hamstring,” Floyd said. “The only thing that kind of held me back was just my stamina.”

Floyd’s eagerness to get back on the field was certainly appreciated by quarterback Dayne Crist.

“He’s the best receiver in the country,” Crist said.”Having a guy like that out there making plays is a huge help. Having his presence as a leader, helping the other guys and really bringing those guys along is huge for our offense.”

Tragedy makes football hard to discuss

Notre Dame Accident

In the hours before yesterday’s accident, I had been preparing a column on Bob Diaco’s defensive struggles against Navy. Pulling stats from old Navy games and quotes from archived videos, I drew comparisons between Diaco’s failed gameplan against Ken Niumatalolo’s option attack to the plan Missouri put together during last year’s Texas Bowl, a game even more lopsidedly won by Navy, against a defense far more stout than the Irish’s.

The column went in the scrap heap yesterday when news of Declan Sullivan’s death came flooding into my inbox. I’ve never met Declan, only knew the type of kid that he was, but that hasn’t stopped me, or just about anyone that follows Notre Dame football, from mourning his loss.

Today, the University will hold a press conference at 2pm EST to discuss the tragedy, with vice president for public affairs and communication Jan Botz, University president Rev. John Jenkins, and athletic director Jack Swarbrick speaking. They’ll likely give some of the heartbreaking details of yesterday’s tower collapse, which will hardly mute the pain much of campus is feeling.

While I certainly won’t stop covering this story as it develops, I’m going to continue on with the regular football programming that you find here daily. I’ll try to continue writing with the same tone and mediocre wit that you’re used to, but if things are a little bit more subdued, you’ll obviously know the reason.

Barring something incredibly unexpected, football will be played Saturday, and the Irish will spend the rest of the week preparing for a game Brian Kelly called “the biggest game I’ve coached in.”

Just a quick message to let everyone know there’ll still be plenty of football here, but we certainly won’t forget Declan Sullivan.

And in that corner… The Tulsa Golden Hurricane


With Irish fans still smarting after last week’s loss to Navy, the team and coaches have turned the page to Tulsa, who play Notre Dame for the first time in the program’s history this Saturday. The Golden Hurricane bring in a high-octane offense that’s coming off a bye week and a dominating homecoming performance against Tulane.

With Tulsa knowledge difficult to come by, I turned to the source — the Collegian, the student-run newspaper at Tulsa. Sophomore staff writer John Lepine was kind enough to fill me in on uber-short notice and get us ready for what we can expect out of the Golden Hurricane this weekend.

Inside the Irish: This is Notre Dame’s first meeting with Tulsa, who has secretly put together some scary offensive football teams under head coach Todd Graham. This year’s edition has been putting up points in a hurry. What can we expect Saturday?

John Lepine: If there is one characteristic that has defined TU’s gameplay this past month, it is explosive offense from the first tick of the clock. Tulsa has scored on its first drive in the past four games, and getting that initial momentum and confidence has been making a big difference in the team’s cohesion and success. The players realize what a monumental victory this would be, and they’ll be playing to win. Playmakers like Charles Clay (senior, Halfback) and Damaris Johnson (junior, Wide Receiver) will especially be taking this game seriously, as both of them are close to breaking records. Clay is just two touchdowns from tying the school’s all-purpose TD record, and Johnson needs only 80 more kick return yards to claim the title of most career kick yards in the C-USA.

ITI: The past few years, Notre Dame’s defense has made a habit of giving up career days to opponents. Who is the guy that’s going to potentially haunt the Irish this Saturday?

JL: There are a couple of good candidates for this on Tulsa’s squad. Sophomore Curnelius Arnick and true freshman Marco Nelson both have great stats and will be the twin anchors of the TU line in years to come, but Tanner Antle (senior, Linebacker) has a chance to really make a great game for himself. He’s 6’4”, 228 lbs, and has made 55 tackles already this year. With two sacks, six tackles for loss, and three quarterback hurries so far in the season, he has proven to be one of the key players for putting pressure on the opposing quarterback, which is one area that the defense has to emphasize in this game. If Tulsa is going to win this match, they cannot let Dayne Crist get comfortable, and Tanner Antle has the size and skill to harass him all game long.

ITI: The flip side of that coin is the Golden Hurricane defense. They’re giving up yards by the bushel through the air, but have a tough run defense. Is the passing defense that bad, or are teams shying away from running the ball?

JL: Well, the statistics don’t lie on this one—every opponent the Hurricane has faced this year has averaged more yards per passing attempt than yards per rush.  At the same time, I think it would be easy to underestimate the strength Tulsa’s passing defense on the basis of its two most recent losses. TU gave up 574 passing yards to OSU, but the Weeden/Blackmon duo has overwhelmed better teams than Tulsa this year. And though SMU was a lot more effective in its passing game against Tulsa than in its rushing offense, I think that speaks more to the quality of Kyle Padron as a quarterback than the weakness of TU’s defense. So the Hurricane may have a stronger defense on the ground than in the air, but several of the teams TU has played have specialized in passing instead of running, and that changes the way those statistics should be interpreted.

ITI: A lot of coaches say they circle the Notre Dame game on their schedule, but how important is a game in Notre Dame Stadium for Tulsa?

JL: After this game, the Hurricane hosts three conference opponents and heads south to play Houston. Houston beat SMU last week, but lost to Rice the week before, which lost to SMU in early October. The C-USA West Division title is still very much in play, and Tulsa does not want to lose sight of that in face of this game. On the other hand, playing a team as prestigious and storied as Notre Dame is an exciting opportunity for TU.  “This game is special, there’s no question,” says Coach Todd Graham. Beating the Fighting Irish “would be something that these kids will be telling their grandkids about.”

ITI: What’s the recipe for beating Notre Dame?

JL: What really doomed Tulsa in the OSU game was a lack of early productivity. TU scored 28 points, but three quarters of those were in the last 20 minutes of the game; OSU was too far ahead for Tulsa to catch up. Keeping pace with Notre Dame from the outset, both by pressuring their quarterback and cracking through their defense, is going to be critical in this game. The Tulsa players cannot let the crowd or the big-game nerves get to them.  But if the score at halftime stays more or less balanced, then there’s a chance for G.J. Kinne and that versatile TU offense to get to work.

ITI: What do you see happening this Saturday?

JL: If Tulsa had faced Notre Dame early in the season, the Fighting Irish would likely have gotten the win without too much trouble. But Tulsa is coming off a bye week and a big homecoming blowout, so the energy level is high for this game. The Hurricane has built up a lot of confidence, losing only one of its last five games, and that one by just three points. The four most recent wins were all by more than 25 points. This contest will still be an uphill battle for TU, absolutely, but Notre Dame looks a little vulnerable with a lackluster record of 4-4, and the Tulsa squad has good positioning to try for an upset.  Whether or not the Cinderella story has a happy ending is anyone’s guess.


John Lepine is sophomore Economics major at the University of Tulsa, and a staff writer for the Collegian, the student-run campus newspaper. He writes about politics, music, literature, and much more at http://www.ptbruiser.tumblr.com.