Notre Dame ‘dominates’ Wolfpack 35-14

17 Comments

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The Irish 35-14 victory over No. 14 North Carolina State was maybe five minutes old, if that. Junior running back Josh Adams — he of the burgeoning Heisman campaign bearing his uniform number, “33 Trucking” — was asked to describe No. 9 Notre Dame’s mindset.

Adams offered one word to all inside the stadium.

“Dominating.”

It certainly fit Saturday, just as much as it did last week.

This might start to sound familiar, perhaps even repetitive, though still welcome to Irish fans.

For the second consecutive week, the Irish welcomed a top-15 opponent to Notre Dame Stadium. For the second consecutive week, they did not turn over the ball, they wore down the opposing defense, and they never allowed the offense to find a rhythm.

“We don’t talk about winning,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward. “Winning is not even part of our vocabulary. We didn’t talk about winning any games this year.

“It’s about the mindset that we’ve created to dominate our opponent. Winning is not even part of the equation with this group.”

As much as a 35-point afternoon against one of the nation’s toughest defensive fronts deserves notice, the Notre Dame defense’s ability to shut down the Wolfpack attack possibly warrants even more. North Carolina State scored only one offensive touchdown, the other coming on a punt block recovered in the end zone. Adjusting for sacks, it rushed for 56 yards on 23 carries, a mere 2.4 yards per carry, and gained all of 263 total yards.

“It’s got to be one of our best performances in some time defensively,” Kelly said. “… A lot of respect for North Carolina State. That’s a good football team, but our team was up to the task today.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Coming out of halftime trailing 21-14, the Wolfpack received the opening kickoff and commenced marching down the field. A nine-yard Ryan Finley completion followed a 12-yard run by senior Jaylen Samuels. Two plays later the senior Finley connected with sophomore receiver Kelvin Harmon for 20 yards to cross into Irish territory. Six plays and 38 yards brought up a 3rd-and-10.

North Carolina State opted for strategy and a hard count. The hope was to draw Notre Dame offsides and take a shot downfield. Worst-case scenario, the Wolfpack would cut the third-and-long to third-and-five.

“We had a hard count called, with no play called,” North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said. “Just something that a lot of spread teams do. If they jump, we snap it, roll out, take a shot.”

Senior center Garrett Bradbury thought the Irish jumped. Perhaps junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery moved, but he stayed shy of the neutral zone, meaning he was not offsides. Bradbury thought otherwise, snapped the ball, and the Wolfpack line stayed in its pre-snap pose, trying to emphasize the presumed penalty. No flag was thrown.

“I can’t criticize the officials unless you want to pay the fine for me,” Doeren said. “I can’t. I’d love to tell you what I thought, but I’m not going to do that.”

Thinking he had a free play, Finley threw a 15-yard pass toward Harmon. At this point, that theoretical worst-case scenario should be revised to something much more drastic. Notre Dame sophomore cornerback Julian Love jumped the route and, thanks to a convoy from sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes and senior linebacker Nyles Morgan, proceeded 69 yards for a touchdown.

Love admitted he wondered if the Irish had jumped offsides, but he still played to the whistle, especially when the opposing quarterback has yet to throw an interception this season and the chance to snap that streak was suddenly presented.

“It was definitely on my mind, all of our minds,” Love said. “But we weren’t going to do anything extra. We were going to play our game and play how we’ve been training.”

Playing that game gave Notre Dame a 14-point lead when North Carolina State thought it had set up a free shot toward the end zone.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
Following Love’s touchdown, Samuels returned the ensuing kickoff to the Irish 42-yard line. A quick score would put the Wolfpack right back into the game with the majority of the second half remaining. Again, Finley led a methodical drive. This time, a near-turnover did it in.

On a 2nd-and-9 from the 14-yard line, a snap caught Finley off guard. Samuels picked it up and looped around a few defenders to avoid a 10- or 15-yard loss, but the play still cost eight yards. Finley then completed a bubble screen for 16, bringing up a fourth-and-one.

Down two touchdowns, Doeren opted to go for it. Irish freshman defensive tackle Myron Tagovaioloa-Amosa beat his block at the point of attack and junior linebacker Te’von Coney used that aid to bring down Samuels for a loss of one and a change of possession.

“I thought we would get the first and score a touchdown,” Doeren said. “That was a big play against us. It’s like a turnover.”

Notre Dame’s offense managed only nine yards in a three-and-out, but the Irish defense’s stop in its own red zone halted the last North Carolina State threat of the day.

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
Most NFL receivers, not to mention ballerinas, would be envious of the body control displayed by fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe on an 11-yard reception in the second quarter. For being a speedster, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson showed an equally-impressive toe-tap a play later on an 11-yard touchdown reception to give Notre Dame the 21-14 lead it would carry into halftime.

In finding Smythe, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — who finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-19 passing — worked through his progressions, past Stepherson and past junior Equanimeous St. Brown. He stayed patient, not taking off to try to run for the needed six yards on third down. Finally, he spotted Smythe approaching the sideline.

“I was extremely confident when I caught the ball,” Smythe said. “There’s always that little seed of doubt when they bring the review, but luckily I looked up at the video board and was assured.”

Stepherson made it two review-necessary snags in two plays with his leaping touchdown grab, though that necessitated little such reading of coverage from Wimbush.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
His long touchdown runs receive the most hype — and are the impetus behind the “long haul” theme of the burgeoning “33 Trucking” campaign for the Heisman Trophy — but Adams does much more than that. He finished with 202 yards and a touchdown, a notable 77-yard touchdown.

On his other 26 carries, Adams wore down the Wolfpack defense. In mentioning him here, equal acknowledgement needs to be paid to his offensive line, which knows the demoralizing effect it can have on the opposition.

“We take a ton of pride in that,” senior left guard and captain Quenton Nelson said. “We take pride in the 10-yard runs and the five-yard runs. Sometimes we’re even on our guys and it doesn’t break for a 70-yard run, but we just keep pounding play after play and it eventually opens up and happens after wearing their defense out.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame rushed for 318 yards. If accounting for sacks, that figure rises to 325 yards on 52 attempts.

The previous seven Wolfpack opponents averaged 30 rushing attempts per game, preferring not to repeatedly run into a wall. The most yards gained on the ground were the 133 by FCS-level Furman in a 49-16 loss.

“We approach each and every week preparing to dominate our next opponent, whoever that may be,” Adams said. “They’re going to bring the house, so we have to prepare likewise.

“Each and every guy on the team did a great job of bringing that mindset on Monday and carrying it throughout and, of course, to the game. … We just tried to play all four quarters and bring that mindset to dominate.”

Dominate they did, and it started on the ground.

QUOTE AND CHUCKLE OF THE EVENING
As Adams delivered his first mention of “dominating” on the field in a post-game interview with Notre Dame reporter Mike Monaco, a head popped up on the video board between Adams and Monaco. With a big smile on his face, there was Love, Saturday’s defensive star.

Fitting, considering Love apparently likes to watch Adams on the video board.

“He’s electrifying,” Love said. “It’s fun to watch him. I can’t look away from the when he’s on the field. [Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght] is yelling at me to pay attention to the board, and I’m just like, come on coach, that’s Josh.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
10:05 — North Carolina State touchdown. Germaine Pratt punt block recovery. Carson Wise PAT good. North Carolina State 7, Notre Dame 0.
9:36 — Notre Dame touchdown. Durham Smythe 25-yard reception from Brandon Wimbush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, North Carolina State 7. (2 plays, 60 yards, 0:29)

Second Quarter
14:48 — North Carolina State touchdown. Harmon 15-yard reception from Ryan Finley. Wise PAT good. North Carolina State 14, Notre Dame 7. (7 plays, 71 yards, 2:46)
9:37 — Notre Dame touchdown. Wimbush three-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 14, North Carolina State 14. (14 plays, 72 yards, 5:11)
5:30 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kevin Stepherson 11-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, North Carolina State 14. (8 plays, 60 yards, 2:18)

Third Quarter
12:05 — Notre Dame touchdown. Julian Love 69-yard interception return. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 28, North Carolina State 14.
4:11 — Notre Dame touchdown. Josh Adams 77-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 35, North Carolina State 14. (2 plays, 77 yards, 0:16)
[protected-iframe id="4322d87b3e2eb4d11caa19723fa3b36c-15933026-22035394" info="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" class="twitter-follow-button"]

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024

0 Comments

Maybe Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey will be anomalies, but if they are precedent-setters, then Notre Dame may have snagged another unheralded but promising cornerback with the Saturday afternoon commitment of consensus three-star Leonard Moore (Round Rock High School; Texas).

Moore also holds scholarship offers from Oregon, TCU and Vanderbilt, to name a few. In total, he has offers from six schools in the Pac-12, three in the Big 12, two in the SEC and one in the ACC, an intriguing widespread array from someone not yet lighting recruiting rankings on fire.

At 6-foot-2, Moore should have the length to become a physical cornerback, one perhaps more in the mold of current Notre Dame fifth-year cornerback Cam Hart than the rising sophomore Morrison.

Moore’s highlight reel starts with a few interceptions, naturally, and a punt return. Pass breakups are not necessarily the most enthralling of film. But then he sheds a block to force a fumble and soon defends a back-shoulder throw with ease. Moore is clearly a playmaker, particularly given no level of Texas football should be scoffed at. He intercepted three passes, forced two fumbles and broke up four passes in 2022 as a junior.

He readily anticipates routes and when needed funnels his man as the defensive design demands.

Moore runs track, as well, with decent 200-meter times in the low 23-second range.

The eighth commitment in the class of 2024, Moore is the second defensive back, joining consensus three-star cornerback Karson Hobbs (Archbishop Moeller; Cincinnati). While team recruiting rankings are thoroughly premature more than 10 months before anyone can officially sign, thoroughness demands mentioning that Notre Dame’s class is currently ranked No. 2 in the country behind only Georgia with 10 commitments.

RELATED READING: An early look at Notre Dame’s seven commits in the class of 2024, including QB CJ Carr

A cursory look at the depth chart suggests Moore could have an avenue to early playing time in South Bend. Hart likely will move on to the NFL after the 2023 season, a shoulder injury tipping the scales toward returning this offseason. Aside from him, the only cornerbacks with experience on the Irish roster are Morrison and Mickey and rising senior Clarence Lewis. Any of the four young cornerbacks that do make an impression in 2023 will effectively be on equal footing with Moore.

Reports: Tommy Rees heads to Alabama after 10 total years at Notre Dame

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 23 Notre Dame Spring Game
Getty Images
19 Comments

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Tommy Rees will leave Notre Dame to do just that, heading to be the offensive coordinator at Alabama, according to reports Friday afternoon. Nick Saban and the Tide denied Rees a national championship as a player in 2012 and a title game appearance as an offensive coordinator in 2020.

The South Bend Tribune‘s Mike Berardino first reported Rees’s decision, coming a day after reports initially surfaced that Rees was Alabama’s preferred choice for the gig, and he had flown to Tuscaloosa to consider the position.

Those unbeaten regular seasons, along with one in 2018 as the Irish quarterbacks coach, were the high points of Rees’ total of a decade with the Notre Dame football program. Like his former head coach, he will now head to the SEC chasing a higher peak.

Of course, Rees spurned Brian Kelly’s invite to join him at LSU last winter, instead memorably telling the Irish offensive players, “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” setting the tone for the first week of Marcus Freeman‘s tenure as Notre dame head coach.

RELATED READING: Tommy Rees turns down Brian Kelly’s LSU overture and will remain at Notre Dame
Jack Swarbrick, Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees brought stability to Notre Dame long before and obviously after Brian Kelly sowed chaos

Alabama made an offer Rees could not refuse, even if a year ago he said, “I love this place (Notre Dame). I believe that we can win a national championship here, and I’m committed to doing everything we can to get to that point.”

Going to Tuscaloosa does not render those words empty. Rees is going to work for the greatest college football coach in history in a role that has repeatedly springboarded coaches to better opportunities. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, his offensive coordinators have gone on to be, in chronological order, the assistant head coach at Texas (Major Applewhite), head coach at Colorado State (Jim McElwain), offensive coordinator at Michigan (Doug Nussmeier), head coach at Florida Atlantic (Lane Kiffin), head coach at Texas (Steve Sarkisian) and offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots (Bill O’Brien).

Thus, Rees is bettering both his chances at a national title in the short term and his presumed path to whatever gig he wants next in the long term.

He leaves Notre Dame after three seasons as the Irish offensive coordinator, which came after three years as the quarterbacks coach. The Irish have ranked No. 41, No. 19 and No. 30 in scoring offense the last three seasons, peaking with 35.2 points per game in 2021, the second-highest total in Brian Kelly’s tenure.

But perhaps Rees’s finest moment as a Notre Dame assistant came when he finessed a mid-season quarterback switch to Ian Book from Brandon Wimbush despite the Irish remaining unbeaten throughout 2018. In some respects, Rees threaded a similar needle in 2021, incorporating Wisconsin graduate transfer Jack Coan, then-freshman Tyler Buchner and spot-reliever Drew Pyne; each quarterback could be credited as responsible for at least one win as the Irish made a Playoff push.

Then this past season, Rees responded to Buchner’s shoulder sprain that cost him 10 games by working with Pyne to piecemeal an offense.

From December of 2021:

Rees has considered leaving his alma mater before, reportedly interviewing to be Miami’s offensive coordinator in recent years, not to mention weighing Kelly’s offer from LSU 14 months ago, as well as a previous brief dalliance with Alabama a few years ago.

After leading Notre Dame’s offense in one way or another for 10 of the last 13 years, Rees has finally opted to do so elsewhere. It just so happens to be as part of the team that twice turned back the Irish and now faces Kelly every fall.

Opportunities abound for Tommy Rees, earned recognition after a decade at Notre Dame

Clemson v Notre Dame
Getty Images
3 Comments

A lot of people go to college for seven years. For Tommy Rees, it has been 10 years at Notre Dame, so to speak.

Whether or not Rees leaves his alma mater this week, as multiple Thursday reports indicated Rees is the frontrunner to be Alabama’s next offensive coordinator, there is no bad choice in front of him. Either Rees returns as the Irish offensive coordinator for a fourth season, continues his pursuit of winning a national championship at Notre Dame after three postseason trips already in his career, or he learns under the best college football coach in history in a position that has springboarded coaches to greener pastures for about a decade now.

Irish fans may spend most of their falls criticizing Rees’s play calls, but he is clearly someone well-respected in the coaching community. Seen as a future coach when he was a player and then navigating multiple delicate quarterback situations at Notre Dame, this is not the first time Nick Saban has chased Rees. He reportedly did so following the 2019 season, when Rees had not even spent a day as an offensive coordinator.

Instead, Rees took over that gig in South Bend, losing to Alabama in the 2020 College Football Playoff, albeit a more competitive showing than when Rees and the Irish fell to the Tide in the 2012 title game. Miami sought Rees in recent years, and whispers of vague NFL interest have popped up more offseasons than not.

If most of those people who go to college for seven years are called doctors, then Rees has put together a doctorate-level intellect evidenced by who wants to hire him. Alabama publicly sending a branded plane to South Bend to ferry Rees for a visit on Thursday underscored that reputation.

Set aside the forced references to “Tommy Boy” — though the similarities do go past the first name and to a Catholic university in the Midwest — and realize Rees will leave Notre Dame at some point, probably sooner than later.

Maybe he joins Saban this weekend. Alabama needs to navigate a first-year starter at quarterback next year in a conference that quickly seemed to catch up to the Tide last season, with both LSU and Tennessee staking claims as competitors with Georgia already clearly out in front and Mississippi in the mix. Competing with former Irish head coach Brian Kelly every year would make for juicy headlines, but what speaks louder to Rees’s credit is that this is the time Saban wants to snag him, when Alabama’s footing may be less secure than at any point since the ‘00s.

Maybe Rees returns to Notre Dame, teams with Wake Forest graduate transfer quarterback Sam Hartman to ready for three top-10 matchups in 2023, and gets the Irish into the College Football Playoff for a third time in six years with the only constant quite literally being Rees.

Oh, and both scenarios should come with plenty of money.

Rees has no bad choice in front of him. That is a credit to him, even if fans would rather lampoon him than step back and acknowledge the intricacies of playcalling.

If he heads to Alabama, the annual matchups with LSU will become delightful fodder from afar. His Notre Dame legacy will include “Call duo until you can’t speak,” his emphatic play call when he left the coaches’ booth early as the Irish upset Clemson this past November, and “I’m [bleepin’] staying,” Rees’s declaration to the offensive players last December amid a week of tumult.

If he stays in South Bend, the next matchup with anyone in the SEC, most likely a 2023 bowl game, will drip with an on-field chance at validation. That legacy will include spurning college football’s best not once, but twice.

For a quarterback who lost his starting job at Notre Dame not once (2011 preseason), but twice (2012 preseason), some pride has been earned. Saban’s stamp of approval carries all the weight needed in college football to assure someone of their professional standing.

It may have taken a decade, but Rees can now know he belongs with the best, no matter what decision he makes this weekend.

The lull of National Signing Day underscores need to move the early signing period

Getty Images
45 Comments

The early-morning chaos of today’s National Signing Day did not disappear with the implementation of the December “early” signing period in the 2018 recruiting cycle. It just moved six weeks earlier.

In 2014, waking up at 6:45 a.m. ET to be logged on and publishing at 7 a.m. led to noticing one expected recruit had not yet signed with Notre Dame by 8 a.m. Pointing that out and reminding the world Michigan State was making a late push led to an Irish media relations staffer reaching out to quietly say something to the extent of, “Just letting the young man have his moment at school.”

In 2017, less than two weeks after taking over this gig, waking up at 3 a.m. CT to churn through 2,000 words before signings could begin becoming official eventually led to napping through Brian Kelly’s Signing Day press conference.

Nothing changed 10 months later. That December, the afternoon of Dec. 22, the Friday before Christmas, was spent waiting for receiver Braden Lenzy to officially choose Notre Dame over Oregon. Sitting at your parents’ kitchen table not helping your niece make a gingerbread house because recruiting-obsessed fans harassed a player through two de-commitments is not a strong way to conjure up holiday spirit.

Coaches across the country advocated for the earlier signing period, claiming it would allow high-school seniors to make their collegiate decisions official earlier on in their senior years, particularly when the prospects had already made up their minds on where to play football at the next level. That was all optics, if even that.

These high schoolers now make their decision official just six weeks earlier. In the preps football calendar, those six weeks are meaningless. Both the December signing period and today, the traditional National Signing Day, come well after the high-school seasons have ended.

The truth was, coaches across the country did not want to tend to their solid commitments over Christmas and New Year’s, particularly not amid bowl prep. It was self-serving at best and short-sighted at worst.

First of all, when the December signing period became reality in 2017, one-time transfers were not yet allowed without losing eligibility the following season. Secondly, no one predicted the early signing period would lead to the coaching carousel beginning earlier and earlier in the season. September firings used to be the result of only off-field scandals, not outright expected from half a dozen programs each fall. Athletic directors now want that headstart on hiring a new coach so he can have time before the December signing period commences.

Exhibit A: Notre Dame may have ended up with Marcus Freeman as its head coach after Brian Kelly’s abrupt departure following the 2021 season, but if the primary signing date had not been lingering just a few weeks away, Kelly likely would not have jumped to LSU before the College Football Playoff field was set, and Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick would have taken more time in choosing his next head coach, more than the 48 hours he used last December. After all, Swarbrick took 10 days in hiring Kelly in 2009.

Lastly, with a 12-team Playoff coming in 2025, December will become only more hectic.

Those head coaches who wanted a little less stress over the holidays will then have to deal with, in chronological order:

— Keeping their own jobs.
— Securing their recruiting classes in the days immediately preceding Christmas.
— Preparing their teams for bowl games.
— Preparing their teams for up to four games if in the Playoff.
— Re-recruiting any players considering entering the transfer portal before the winter window closes.
— Winning a bowl game.
— Retaining their coaching staffs.
— Oh, and celebrate the holidays with their families, as was their want when they hollered for the early signing period.

Most of those tasks are immutable and inherent to the sport.

But one can move. It already has once.

The logic is too clear. Nothing was gained in moving up the primary signing date by six weeks. And sanity was lost.

This is, of course, a sport that prefers to ignore logic, but usually that is charming. A mustard bottle on the field is quirky; lacking a worthwhile voice of authority is stubbornly stupid.

So the early signing period may not move as soon as it should (now), but it will move. There are no anti-trust worries tied to it, fortunately.

And aside from the logic, cramming more content into December costs the media, too. Spreading out that context through the vacuum of mid-January to mid-March will be much appreciated.