No. 16 Notre Dame continues roll with Senior Day rout of Boston College

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — To say Notre Dame beat Boston College by 33 points Saturday does not do the blowout justice. Once the No. 16 Irish forgot about any Senior Day emotions and remembered the November roll they have been on, a 16-7 halftime lead ballooned to 33-7 in the third quarter before easing to a 40-7 final.

If Notre Dame (9-2) had finished its early drives with the same steadiness it found in that third quarter, it could have scored 50 or 60. At no point did the Eagles (5-6) slow down the Irish, and only once did they find offensive success, on a 39-yard pass to the one-yard line in the second quarter. Otherwise, only false starts, dropped passes and sloppy execution troubled Notre Dame.

“We were a little uneven early on and credit a little bit to Boston College,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “… I was happy with the offense (at halftime) and its ability to take a deep breath after being a bit uneven and starting to execute at the level that they’re capable of.

“Defensively, other than the explosive play, do not give up an explosive play. If they do not have an explosive play, they cannot beat us. They flat out can’t beat us.”

Kelly’s halftime logic was sound. Notre Dame had come within one yard of doubling the Eagles’ output, 253 to 127. It had 16 first downs to their seven, and gotten inside the Boston College 30-yard line a total of four times. While the Irish scored on each of those drives, three of them came via junior kicker Jonathan Doerer’s leg.

The third quarter began with another Doerer kick, but after that, senior quarterback Ian Book took over. He had already connected with senior receiver Chase Claypool for a touchdown. Next up was junior tight end Cole Kmet. Book added a score for fifth-year receiver Chris Finke in the fourth quarter. None of those touchdown catches were particularly impressive, but in Claypool’s and Finke’s last game in Notre Dame Stadium, they stood out as worthy Senior Day moments.

“Really today all I can think about is Chase’s slant touchdown and Chris’ scramble touchdown,” said sophomore receiver Braden Lenzy, more focused on discussing those than his own 61-yard touchdown run. “That makes me so happy. Then [senior walk-on receiver Aaron Shinaver] got on the field.

“When I think of the game, that’s super cool, to see all the seniors do what they love.”

The defensive seniors had their own moments to do what they love. Senior defensive ends Khalid Kareem and Ade Ogundeji each forced a fumble, Ogundeji finishing with three tackles for loss, including two sacks. (He has another year of eligibility; same with Book.) Fifth-year linebacker Asmar Bilal received the game ball after leading the Irish with eight tackles. Senior safety Alohi Gilman had seven tackles, including the first sack of his career. Perhaps the only misplay by the seniors Saturday was when the fumble forced by Ogundeji bounced off fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford’s arm. Considering it was the same elbow he dislocated earlier this season, it is hard to fault Crawford in the slightest, though he demonstrably did himself immediately afterward.

“When you look at those [seniors], you look at the way they started their college careers, a 4-8 season their freshman year, they battled back to, hopefully, three 10-win seasons,” junior linebacker Drew White said. “The seniors have done so much for this program.”

The final thing they did at Notre Dame was to hold one of the best rushing attacks in the country, featuring one of the best running backs in recent history in junior AJ Dillion, to only 128 yards on 43 carries, a 3.0 yards per attempt average. The Eagles gained a total of 191 yards.

Comparing that 191 to the Irish 501 better illustrates the magnitude of the blowout than a 40-7 scoreboard.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
The confidence at halftime belies how easily Notre Dame could have been in worse position. Without Doerer proving reliable this season — 12-of-14 this year — the 16-7 lead would have been much more tenuous.

“Jon Doerer was outstanding during that period of time when we were a little uneven where he kicked field goals and kept us ahead of would have been momentum swings,” Kelly said. “Those were big kicks for us.”

The Irish likely would have won regardless; the yardage differential and plus-two turnover margin suggest complete control of the game. But missed field goals leading to bound nerves could have produced a different mood in the decisive third quarter.

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
When Kareem knocked the ball away from Boston College junior quarterback Dennis Grosel — praised in recent weeks for avoiding costly mistakes, that was Grosel’s second fumble of the day and he would add an interception — White did not have to work hard to recover it. It set up Notre Dame at the Eagles’ 40-yard line.

With only a 19-7 lead, the Irish had not yet put the outcome beyond doubt, but the ensuing drive showed how smoothly things would be moving forward, and should have been all along. Five of the six plays gained at least six yards, the only one failing to do so an incompletion. Somehow Boston College forgot to cover Kmet, making Book’s touchdown toss not only obvious but easy.

“We were just converting,” Kmet said. “Converting third downs, making more plays, keeping drives going. That was a big deal, making big plays when we needed to.”

PLAY OF THE GAME
Lenzy saw Finke return a punt to the 39-yard line and he had a feeling what the first offensive play call would be. To hear him say it, he looked at offensive coordinator Chip Long and he was sure: The ball would be coming to him.

It did, and as he came around the edge, Lenzy’s eyes opened wide as a pair of Eagles defenders misplayed their assignments. The path ahead of him was so open Lenzy compared it to a parted Red Sea. Neither pulling tight end needed to even bother with a block. Lenzy was gone.

Well, close to gone.

Boston College junior safety Brandon Sebastian managed to track down the former track star as he reached the goal line. He might have forced a fumble if not for the Notre Dame Stadium crowd.

“I was running, I was kind of tired,” Lenzy said. “I heard the crowd going, ‘Ooooooooh.’ Then I just held the ball tighter. Right when they did that, I felt him and then I fell into the end zone, so it worked out.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Only Clemson has held the Eagles to fewer rushing yards than the Irish did Saturday. Excluding that game, Boston College entered Notre Dame Stadium averaging 321 rushing yards per game.

Then came 128 against the Irish.

The last time Dillon rushed for as few as 56 yards was last season against Clemson’s NFL-caliber defensive line. Before that? The sixth game of his collegiate career back in 2017.

“You’ve got guys that are accountable, that trust what we’re doing, that do their job,” Kelly said. “They have done it in a fashion that has allowed us to now in back-to-back weeks shut down the No. 1 ranked rush offense and the No. 5, I think, ranked rush offense.”

QUOTE OF THE GAME
“I’m going to recruit him. I want him back.” — Kelly on Book.

Book diplomatically said, “We’ll see,” when asked if he will return for a fifth season in 2020. That was the appropriate answer, considering there are two games left, draft evaluations to receive, and broken promises lead to spurned irrational fan bases.

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
11:11 — Notre Dame field goal. Jonathan Doerer 47 yards. Notre Dame 3, Boston College 0. (9 plays, 50 yards, 3:49)

Second Quarter
14:52 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 29 yards. Notre Dame 6, Boston College 0. (12 plays, 61 yards, 4:45)
7:56 — Boston College touchdown. Dennis Grosel 1-yard rush. Aaron Boumerhi PAT good. Boston College 7, Notre Dame 6. (16 plays, 84 yards, 6:52)
2:48 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chase Claypool 6-yard pass from Ian Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 13, Boston College 7. (15 plays, 75 yards, 5:08)
0:01 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 45 yards. Notre Dame 16, Boston College 7. (7 plays, 56 yards, 1:17)

Third Quarter
7:03 — Notre Dame field goal. Doerer 37 yards. Notre Dame 19, Boston College 7. (7 plays, 27 yards, 1:58)
3:44 — Notre Dame touchdown. Cole Kmet 11-yard pass from Book. Notre Dame 26, Boston College 7. (6 plays, 40 yards, 1:56)
1:44 — Notre Dame touchdown. Braden Lenzy 61-yard rush. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 33, Boston College 7. (1 play, 61 yards, 0:11)

Fourth Quarter
11:31 — Notre Dame touchdown. Chris Finke 6-yard pass from Book. Doerer PAT good. Notre Dame 40, Boston College 7. (3 plays, 12 yards, 0:38)

Lengthy Texas cornerback joins Notre Dame class of 2024

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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
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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

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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

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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.