The good, the bad, the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Florida State


Usually, Brian Kelly gives his team 24 hours to celebrate a win or get over a loss. That rule was likely tested — and you couldn’t blame him if it was slightly relaxed — after Saturday night’s 31-27 loss.

“We need to give our kids a break. They’ve been going since June,” Kelly said on Sunday. “Our first bye week we kept them here to stay on top of their academics. We’re going to give them a little time off.  But we’ll come back recharged, ready to go.”

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As both the Irish and their fandom begrudgingly put a controversial finish in the rearview mirror, let’s finally get around to the good, bad and ugly of the Florida State’s 31-27 victory over Notre Dame.



Tarean Folston. Notre Dame’s sophomore running back was the best ball carrier on the field Saturday night, looking equal parts elusive, powerful and explosive. He ran for 100 yards for the first time this season, getting 120 yards on 21 carries against a Seminoles front that was supposed to overpower Notre Dame’s offensive line.

Folston didn’t have one play go for negative yardage, and routinely maximized his opportunities. He was excellent on the cut back, showed great power, and with the one exception of a shoe-string tackle that took him down just short of the first down on a 4th-and-1, required a mob to take down.

This preseason, I tabbed Folston as the team’s best runner, and the one who had the best chance to turn into a featured back. He may have done that against the Seminoles.


Joe Schmidt. If Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were trying to kill Notre Dame fans playing the Joe Schmidt drinking game on Saturday night, they could’ve done it. Because every mention of “walk-on” or “Rudy” would’ve had you under the table and out cold by halftime.

The ESPN broadcast partners were likely getting a national audience up to speed on Schmidt’s impressive story, but it’s beyond overkill and takes away from the fact that he’s a really good football player that’s been a scholarship player for two seasons.

Schmidt led the Irish in tackles with nine, eight of those coming as solo stops. He also intercepted Jameis Winston, a critical play coming right on the heels of Notre Dame’s own turnover. The senior linebacker was a solid technician in the middle of the field. He was effective on blitzes (more early than late) and held his own in coverage.

Now Schmidt’s leadership off the field will be key as the Irish defense rallies after a disappointing second half against an excellent Florida State offense. With a matchup against Navy around the corner, there’s no time for looking back at missed opportunities.


The Offensive Line Play

After hearing all week that Notre Dame’s front five was likely doomed, Harry Hiestand’s offensive line went out and played their best football game of the season on Saturday. After Steve Elmer’s missed block created a negative play in the backfield on the game’s second play, the run game dominated — with Notre Dame running for 157 yards, with Folston going for 5.7 a carry.

While the Seminoles were able to create pressure on Everett Golson with blitz schemes and additional pressure, the line held at the point of attack and allowed Notre Dame to be two-dimensional offensively, a key to the ball game.

“I think we’re starting to gain some consistency on the offensive line,” Kelly said Sunday. “We made that big move on our first bye week. It’s a big move to make when you’re coming off a big win against Michigan, but one we needed to make. I think that’s starting to show itself.”


Jarron Jones. On Friday, I highlighted the matchup on the interior of the offensive line, with Jarron Jones getting the chance to faceoff against Seminoles center Ryan Hoefeld. Well Jones dominated at the point of attack — against Hoefeld and anybody else — as he made three tackles for loss and six total tackles.

With flags flying throughout the fourth quarter, Jones probably had three or four holds he could’ve drawn, joined by Sheldon Day as the Irish defensive tackles wreaked havoc all night in Tallahassee. For all the talk we heard about the Seminoles front, the Irish defensive line was the better unit on the field, and that’s led by Jones and Day.

The junior defensive tackles are playing football at a very high level right now.


Corey Robinson & Will Fuller. The sophomore duo played dynamic games, holding their own on a Saturday where all eyes were on Rashad Greene. Robinson’s two touchdowns and eight catches for 99 yards including an epic 4th-and-18 conversion, a world-class touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone, and almost a third touchdown that would’ve gone down in the history books.

Fuller showed an explosiveness that had him running away from Florida State defensive backs, something not many receivers — and certainly not Notre Dame players — can do. His touchdown on the quick screen showed those jets, and his ability to find another gear after making a catch on a quick throw was just another great development for the young receiver.


Everett Golson. With everybody worried about the Irish quarterback making mistakes, Golson went out and played a fearless football game. Yes, he was picked off in the first half (I’m unwilling to consider the last offensive play of the game a true interception) and struggled with a center exchange on an early 4th down attempt. But Golson was fantastic on Saturday night.

The senior quarterback used his legs and his arm to nearly beat the Seminoles, doing everything his head coach asked of him with the offense heaped on his shoulders.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough. But Golson outplayed Jameis Winston, the defending Heisman Trophy winner, and likely would’ve pushed himself into the Heisman discussion if some yellow laundry wasn’t dropped on 4th-and-goal.


Brian Kelly. If there’s a way to coach a perfect game in a losing effort, Kelly did it. Notre Dame did everything it wanted to on Saturday night except win the football game, and their head coach put them in a perfect position to do that.

Walking into the defending champs house, Kelly called the perfect game. He was aggressive and fearless, taking chances on 4th down. He was creative, unveiling a few new plays and wrinkles that we haven’t seen in the five years he’s been on the Irish sideline. And his calm demeanor and confidence down the stretch even had Chris Fowler in amazement.

“How can Brian Kelly be as calm as he appears calling plays right now?” Fowler said on the game’s final drive.

Sunday, Kelly didn’t mince words, doubling-down on his assertion that the Irish didn’t run an illegal play on 4th-and-goal. But he also acknowledged that you need to control your own destiny when you’re in a situation like the Irish were late in the game.

“We’ve got to be able to control finishes. That means make a couple more plays,” Kelly said.

Ultimately, the Irish didn’t do that. Kelly’s young defense struggled to get the stops that they needed in the second half and the Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown was wiped off the board with an offensive pass interference call.

But after watching Irish teams of the past sometimes struggle with all eyes on them, it’s clear that in his fifth season, this football team is playing in the head coach’s image.


Quick Hits:

* How good was the Notre Dame defense in the first half on first and second down? The average 3rd down attempt for the Seminoles was 3rd-and-10.3.

* Sneaky good day by Kyle Brindza. While he overcooked one of his first kickoffs, knocking it out of bounds, he made both field goal attempts and booted a critical 52-yard punt in the third quarter to help flip the field.

* Another solid day at the office for Chris Brown. He lacks the explosiveness of Fuller and doesn’t break as many tackles as you’d want, but five catches for 38 yards for a No. 3 (or 4) receiver isn’t too shabby.

Same thing for C.J. Prosise. It’s hard to see how close he was to coming down with the rocket that Golson threw at him on 2nd-and-goal, but six for 59 and showing clear over-the-top speed is a nice fourth option.

* Almost a game-changer early in the game for the Irish special teams. Scott Booker‘s punt-block team had pressure and just missed blocking a first-quarter punt. Could’ve been a huge momentum swing.

* Maybe I’m the only one, but if there’s a silver-lining statistically in this game, it’s that Notre Dame lost after running the ball 35 times. That stat had been one that many fans clung to, mistakenly citing a correlation that running means winning, rather than understanding that it’s mostly the other way around.

* It’s only just begun: Of the 48 players that saw the field for Notre Dame on Saturday night, 27 of them are in their first or second-season of eligibility.



Struggles in the secondary. No, Notre Dame’s defense shouldn’t have been expected to continue shutting down Jameis Winston. He’s too good of a quarterback, playing with too talented of weapons. But in the second half, the lack of depth in the Irish secondary showed, with tough one-on-one matchups making for some quick and explosive completions for the Seminoles.

Without knowing the coverage schemes, it’s difficult to peg these struggles on one particular player. But I’m guessing that in film study today, there will be plenty of talk about alignment and leverage, with the inside throw conceded far too easily on quick timing throws, like the touchdown by Rashad Greene or other posts and slants thrown in the rhythm of the offense.

After focusing on Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield on Friday, neither made any game-changing plays, with receptions consistently falling between the linebackers and safeties. Sometimes, you just need to tip your cap to the offense, and Winston’s 15 of 16 in the second half certainly deserves that.


Quick Hitters:

* For as good as Golson played, two plays highlighted here aren’t his best work. On his first-half interception, Golson missed his read to Tarean Folston, who escaped from the slot and filled the hole where the Seminoles blitz came from. Throw the ball quickly and it’s a nice gain instead of a turnover.

And secondly, the downfield heave to Ben Koyack that resulted in Koyack earning an offensive pass interference call? Put that one in the stands, son.

* Tough (but probably correct) call on Cody Riggs on a 3rd-and-2, called for holding Rashad Greene on a ball that sailed over his head. Keep your hands on the inside and that’s a field goal attempt, not a new set of downs.

* Don’t let that fumble ruin the rest of your season, Amir Carlisle.

* Come on, Andrew Trumbetti. The freshman had a chance to be a hero, with the chance to step in front of a throw to the flat by Winston. But Trumbetti got stuck not going for the pick and not going for the tackle, allowing the Seminoles to escape for a critical third-down conversion when it easily could’ve gone the other way.

* Not the way to get noticed, Jacob Matuska. That 15-yard penalty on kickoff return isn’t the one you want to commit.

* Hey ACC officials. You’ve probably heard enough at this point, but since when does a head coach need to use a timeout to get an official measurement?



It’s still tough to get beyond the end of this football game. Even the fourth quarter, when flags started flying and the refs’ imprint on the game started to take shape. When you have a classic football game, let it be decided on the field, not by the guys in the stripes.

In the era of heart-stomping defeats, this loss certainly qualifies. But in the college football playoff era, it’s not the back-breaker it once was.

The ACC’s head of officiating released a video-statement to say (shockingly) that the call on the field was correct. That they didn’t mention the player who committed the violation, or focus on what that violation was, is fairly telling.



In the end, it doesn’t matter. Florida State won a close football game, one that was in doubt down to the final seconds of the game. Now Irish fans need to understand that the more games the Seminoles win, the better it is for the Irish. Then just hope that Notre Dame gets a chance to play them again in January.


Drew Pyne to transfer from Notre Dame; Tyler Buchner reportedly a bowl possibility


Notre Dame may start its third quarterback of the season in its bowl game after junior Drew Pyne announced he will transfer from the program on Friday. A graduate, Pyne has three seasons of eligibility remaining.

ESPN’s Pete Thamel first reported Pyne’s intention to transfer, with Pyne soon thereafter taking to Twitter to confirm as much.

“One of my proudest honors is to have been a student-athlete at the University of Notre Dame,” Pyne wrote. “… It’s time for me to take on a new challenge, and I will be entering the transfer portal.”

Pyne took over as the Irish starter after sophomore Tyler Buchner suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the second week of the season. Pyne went 8-2 as a starter, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

His final action at Notre Dame may have been Pyne’s best game of his career, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns at USC while completing 23 of 26 passes, the second-most accurate game in Irish history.

He appeared in two games in 2021, stepping in for Jack Coan when he struggled against Wisconsin and Cincinnati. Keeping Pyne to minimal appearances in 2021 was intentional, preserving a season of eligibility for him.

That eligibility will now be used elsewhere.

Without Pyne, Notre Dame will have freshman Steve Angeli and possibly Buchner available in the bowl game, a location and opponent to be announced on Sunday. Football Scoop’s John Brice reported Friday afternoon that Buchner will play in the bowl game, though perhaps that optimism should be measured throughout practice this month.

Regardless, the Irish are expected to pursue an incoming transfer quarterback this month. With names like Texas’ Hudson Card and Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong already in the transfer portal, Notre Dame will have a few options to chase.

That is why Pyne’s transfer makes sense, even if he spoke earnestly about the bowl game following that 38-27 loss in Los Angeles.

“I think we have a lot to play for,” he said. “We’re going to be in a bowl game, I want to send all the seniors out the right way. We have a lot to play for. We have another game, I’m going to prepare as hard as I can for that and finish the season off on a positive note.”

Reversing course from those words is understandable given they came minutes after a competitive game, and the last week has shown Pyne how quickly the quarterback transfer market will move.

In the game of musical chairs that is quarterbacks moving across the country, Pyne waiting until after the bowl game to transfer could serve only to leave him with fewer destinations as options. Not that Pyne may have been looking at Iowa, but the fact that one Power Five starting gig appears to have already been filled by Michigan transfer Cade McNamara presumably underscored the rapid nature of this process.

Understandably, Pyne needs to make the most of this opportunity, coming off a strong season as Notre Dame’s starter but knowing he is unlikely to start for the Irish in 2023. Depending on the level of transfer joining the Irish and Buchner’s health, it was distinctly possible Pyne would be Notre Dame’s third quarterback next year.

For someone who grew up as a Notre Dame fan, specifically a Brady Quinn fan, assuredly this decision was not an easy one for Pyne.

He had a lengthy and notable offer sheet coming out of high school, but Pyne at his best this season would not draw interest from the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU as he did three years ago. It may be more pertinent to point out he is a Connecticut native, so schools in the northeast could be most logical for his landing spot.

The Irish should also have quarterback commit Kenny Minchey in the pecking order this spring, expected to sign with Notre Dame on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success
Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback

Notre Dame adds a fourth receiver commit to recruiting class, helping a roster need


Notre Dame is addressing its most glaring roster deficiency with a numbers approach. The Irish had only five true scholarship receivers for much of this season, a number they will nearly match in next year’s freshman class alone after adding a fourth receiver commitment on Thursday. Consensus three-star receiver Kaleb Smith (Rick Reedy High School; Frisco, Texas) announced he will join Notre Dame’s class, and he should sign with the Irish on Dec. 21 when the early signing period begins.

Smith was committed to Texas Tech for more than nine months before he backed off that pledge in early November. Marcus Freeman does not welcome official visitors who are committed to other programs, so if Smith wanted to take an official visit to South Bend to watch Notre Dame play Clemson, he needed to open up his recruitment.

The Irish 35-13 win against the then-No. 4 Tigers assuredly helped tip the scales away from his homestate Texas Tech.

Otherwise, Smith has hardly been recruited by anyone. The only other Power Five program to chase him was Baylor when current Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was there.

Listed at only 6-foot and 168 pounds, it is easy to pencil in Smith as a slot receiver, but he is also willing to go up in the air to get the ball. His highlight footage features him repeatedly and astonishingly open.

His size, or lack thereof, will make Smith unique among the quartet of incoming signees. By snagging four receivers in this class, the Irish are proactively fixing an undeniable roster problem. In last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame had only four receivers available. Through most of this season, in part due to injuries to Avery Davis and Joe Wilkins, the Irish had a total of six receivers available, including former walk-on Matt Salerno.

While Braden Lenzy will not return for the Irish in 2023, current sophomores Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles should all come back, along with current freshman Tobias Merriweather. With these four commitments, a position group of eight may allow Notre Dame to have a genuine two-deep.

If signing four receivers in a class and seven in two years seems like an unsustainable influx, keep in mind two things. First of all, the Irish desperately need to find receiver depth. Lenzy was famously and admittedly exhausted at the end of that Fiesta Bowl faceplant 11 months ago. One more injury this season would have further crippled Notre Dame’s passing game in 2022. Secondly, the one-time transfer allowance will make departures from the program both more common and more alluring to the players. Natural attrition will occur.

RELATED READING: A third four-star receiver commitment, Jaden Greathouse, elevates Notre Dame’s class of 2023 from good to Great
Four-star receiver Rico Flores Jr.’s commitment gives Notre Dame some receiver hope for 2023
Four-star Texas receiver Braylon James gives Notre Dame needed offensive piece in class of 2023

CB Cam Hart out for Notre Dame’s bowl game, but will return in 2023

Notre Dame v North Carolina
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Perhaps earlier than expected, Notre Dame has already received good news this offseason. Senior cornerback Cam Hart will return for a fifth year in South Bend, though he will not put on pads for the Irish in any bowl game, he announced Tuesday evening.

“Due to a shoulder injury that I sustained during the Boston College Game [sic], I could not participate in our final regular season game and will not be able to participate in this year’s bowl game,” Hart wrote on Twitter. “Consequently, I believe my time here isn’t necessarily complete. Choosing to attend the University of Nore Dame has been the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life.

“In light of that, I’ve decided to return for a fifth season and look forward to taking the field with my brothers in 2023!”

Hart’s 2023 return should give the Irish four returning cornerbacks with starting experience, only fifth-year nickel back Tariq Bracy a notable departure from this year’s cornerbacks group.

Note: The use of “should” is not meant to imply anything about other possibilities. The conditional verb is chosen as recognition of the constantly changing rosters in college football in 2022.

Hart took part in Notre Dame’s Senior Day festivities before facing Boston College, which suggested he was at least considering jumping to the NFL. This quick announcement indicates the injury ruled out that thought process, though the injury had plagued him at points earlier in the season.

A shoulder injury first flared up for Hart this year in the spring of 2022, costing him spring practices. A concern had previously cost him some of 2019, as he adapted from playing receiver in high school. He nonetheless played in 11 games in 2022, starting 10 and making 25 tackles with three for loss and breaking up four passes.

His passes defensed fell from nine in 2021, along with two interceptions, in part because opposing quarterbacks were less enticed to test the increasingly-experienced cornerback. His 6-foot-2 ½ length made Hart something just short of a shutdown cornerback.

With current freshman Benjamin Morrison surging to close this season and classmate Jaden Mickey stepping in for Hart at USC, Notre Dame should enjoy a plethora of tested cornerbacks in 2023. (Current junior Clarence Lewis is the aforementioned fourth.)

In many respects, this will allow the Irish defense to begin the 2023 season with the same calm it had in 2022, when Hart, Lewis and Bracy provided experienced pass defense.

“You have three older veteran corners that can really play at any moment, which makes you feel good,” head coach Marcus Freeman said in August. “Those three guys can play those two corner spots and I don’t feel there will be a drop off with any of them.”

There are a few key decisions left on Notre Dame’s defense — most notably, defensive end Justin Ademilola and safety Brandon Joseph could return in 2023 — but most of them may come after any Irish bowl game. Hart’s choice was presumably expedited by his apparent exclusion from the bowl game due to this injury.

2020: 8 games; 3 tackles, 2 passes defended.
2021: 13 games, 10 starts; 42 tackles with four for loss, 9 passes defended and two interceptions.
2022: 11 games, 10 starts; 25 tackles with three for loss, 4 passes defended.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s offensive shortcomings again highlighted by an explosive counterpart

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There are two ways to look at USC’s 38-27 win against Notre Dame on Saturday, and they both tie back to the Trojans’ being the best Irish measuring stick.

USC beat Notre Dame in a way that underscores how short-handed the Irish always were this season. When Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams began to cement his status as the Heisman frontrunner with a performance that will be long remembered, Notre Dame had no way to consistently counter him.

“We didn’t stop them,” Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said simply enough.

Without the offensive skill position players needed to match Williams’ explosive play for explosive play, Notre Dame needed its defense to play perfectly, clearly an unfair ask against a Lincoln Riley offense.

“USC is a great team,” Irish quarterback Drew Pyne said. “That was a really good team we played out there. They’re going to go on and do great things for the rest of their season. Caleb Williams is a great player.”

If the Irish had not had junior tight end Michael Mayer — eight catches on nine targets for 98 yards and two touchdowns — they may not have been able to stay in even vague distance of the Trojans. Three heaves to Deion Colzie gained 75 yards and three first downs, but each felt like Pyne was hoping more than anything else.

Notre Dame still made it a game, but the discrepancy in offensive playmakers stood out in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

And while both programs will undergo some turnover — most notably Mayer for the Irish; receiver Jordan Addison and running back Austin Jones will both likely be at the next level next year, among Trojans’ contributors this weekend — Notre Dame will need to close that gap to compete with USC next season.

The variance of a schedule may keep the Irish from too staunchly improving on their 8-4 record this year, but a certainty is that Williams will be ready to dazzle again in South Bend on Oct. 14, 2023.

Notre Dame right now does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with such a dynamic attack. As soon as the Irish gifted the Trojans chances to take a lead, their running game was mitigated and Notre Dame’s best hopes were reduced to Mayer and those heaves to Colzie.

Williams can dance his way through any defense, perhaps shy of Georgia’s. Even if the Irish secondary had been fully healthy, Williams’ rhythmic scrambles still would have broken down the defense. If Utah helms him in this weekend, it may be as much due to a USC letdown as it is to any Utes’ scheme. His stardom is an extreme, but this is college football in 2022, again aside from Georgia.

Many will instinctively point to Pyne’s shortcomings, ignoring how well he played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He made two mistakes, yes, but one of them (the cross-body interception) came as Notre Dame was more and more desperate and the other (the fumbled exchange) was in part a result of the Irish abandoning their ground game as they fell further behind.

Pyne finished 23-of-26 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. Every version of breaking down those stats yields praise for Pyne. A reality of a loss and a reality when the opposing quarterback broke through as a national star, no time was spent in postgame press conferences discussing Pyne’s efficient night.

But it was, regardless.

His final incompletion, the interception from Notre Dame’s own red zone, also overshadowed the second-most accurate day in Irish passing history, but it was an understandable mistake. Notre Dame was trailing by two scores with only five minutes remaining. Wasting a play on a throwaway was low on Pyne’s priority list.

If Pyne had established more of a season-long rapport with Colzie, maybe he sees him down the left sideline as highlighted by Kirk Herbstreit on the broadcast. If Braden Lenzy is a bit less worn down by a season-long receiver shortage, maybe he is able to charge into Pyne’s ill-advised pass rather than try to settle in for a low catch. If … maybe, if … maybe.

Only twice this season has USC managed as few as 31 genuine points — discounting the short-field touchdown in the final three minutes courtesy of Pyne’s pick, though not all that necessary given the Trojans fell short of 40 points just twice in their first 11 games. Oregon State and Washington State had the luxuries of facing Williams before he had reached the peak of his powers with this new, transfer-obtained complement of receivers.

The Irish defense did its part against USC. Notre Dame’s offense just could not match the star of the season.

Williams will star again next year. The Irish defense will most likely still be stout. Those truths this season will carry over. Notre Dame then has to wonder only if its offense can develop and/or find more playmakers, a known need this entire season and now the pressing concern entering the offseason, a need emphasized by the Trojans’ offense, the foe that should again define 2023.