Things To Learn: Notre Dame seeks third straight unbeaten season at home, a testament to the seniors

Ian Book Clemson
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Notre Dame has not finished a regular season at home since 1993, fittingly also the last season the Irish beat the No. 1 team in the country. Even that second stanza of Lou Holtz’s tenure (21-2-1 in 1992-93) could not achieve what Notre Dame might this weekend. To find a stretch where the Irish went unbeaten at home across three consecutive seasons, one must go back to Holtz’s peak, winning 19 straight home games from the beginning of 1987 into the first month of 1990.

No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0, 8-0 ACC) has already smashed the longevity of that streak, looking for its 24th straight home win, but tying the bow on a third year of South Bend perfection remains the Irish focus this weekend against Syracuse (2:30 ET; NBC). That did not change with the unexpectedly-abrupt end to the scheduled season courtesy of the ACC canceling their Dec. 12 trip to Wake Forest, sealing Notre Dame’s spot in the conference title game on Dec. 19 in Charlotte.

“The announcement as to being part of the championship game doesn’t really change how we prepare for our performance on Saturday,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “It’s still important for our football team because it’s so many things going on.

“Number one, the chance to win all of your games at home for a third consecutive season, to send our seniors out on a winning note has always been important here at Notre Dame, regardless of the season. And certainly solidifying your résumé going into the College Football Playoffs.”

No excess disrespect to the Orange, but no margin of victory against this paltry opponent will bolster the Irish résumé. Any multi-possession win will suffice, and with a 33.5-point spread favoring Notre Dame, Syracuse would have to outperform it by three possessions to begin to corrupt the optics. Of course, it did just that against Clemson in October … and lost by 26.

But finishing the season unbeaten at home has been a staple of this four-year Irish resurgence, across which they have gone 24-1 at Notre Dame Stadium. In the order of team goals, it usually ranks behind an early-season victory against a specific opponent (Michigan, 2018) and ahead of winning the national championship. This year added a conference championship to the latter half of that agenda, and the specific opponent was also the primary threat to the home slate, but rest assured, Kelly has harped on running the table in South Bend since the summer.

And when it comes to the home finale, that want narrows to essentially defending the seniors’ honor.

“You always want to stay undefeated at home, so that’s a big deal to us,” junior tight end Cole Kmet said after last year’s 40-7 win against Boston College, which turned out to be his final home game, as well. “Obviously winning on Senior Day was icing on the cake for it.”

For these fifth-year players, in particular, the Irish want to hand them one final happy moment at Notre Dame Stadium. Not only will the post-game ceremonies with family be a bit stilted if the Irish do not wallop Syracuse, but those seven players — Ian Book, Liam Eichenberg, Tommy Kraemer, Javon McKinley, Daelin Hayes, Ade Ogundeji and Shaun Crawford, the last of these actually a sixth-year player — have been around since before this 42-6 resurgence, soon to be 43-6.

They did not play in the 2016 debacle, but they all felt it. As much as anyone can suffer through a college football season, they did. Since then, they have done as much as anybody, including their classmates who left after that win against the Eagles, to right that wrong.

With a win against Syracuse this weekend, Ian Book will finish his career as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback unbeaten at home, 16-0. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A two-time captain, Book has gone 15-0 at home as the starting quarterback. Kraemer has moved positions and started for four seasons. Eichenberg bided his time to become the next in a long line of starring left tackles, wrapping up his third season as a starter. McKinley overcame injury and incident to shockingly become Notre Dame’s most reliable receiver.

Hayes took injury and turned it into an opportunity to lead the Irish in ways few players ever think to. Ogundeji developed from middling recruit to pass-rush menace. Crawford, well, words do not come close to encapsulating his six-year journey.

Current senior linebacker Drew White praised last year’s seniors, and his words still ring true for those seven, and to a lesser degree for his own class.

“When you look at these teammates, you look at the way they started their college careers, 4-8 season their freshmen year, they battled back to hopefully three 10-win seasons,” White said last November. “The seniors have done so much for this program, whether it is on or off the field. Showing me, showing the younger classes what it’s like to be a Notre Dame student-athlete. They really propelled this program to an ascending place that’s exciting.”

By now White (likely back in 2021), four-year starting right tackle and two-time captain Robert Hainsey, and the defensive tackle pair of Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa all deserve hefty credit, as well, for propelling the Irish toward their fourth straight 10-win season.

That type of veteran leadership always eventually shows itself, and it is most crucial this late in the year. Notre Dame has not played a regular-season game in December since 2003, a loss at Syracuse of all places, but the lessons of November naturally apply to this month.

“November is hard,” White said last year. “Any college football player would tell you that. It’s the end of the season. It’s the end of the semester. You have school work, your body is hurting, mentally you are worn down. What has really gotten us through this is the captains have taken charge, brought people in at practice, telling us we have to keep fighting.

“Great teams win in November.”

Javon McKinley Clemson
After a tumultuous career, Irish fifth-year receiver Javon McKinley has made the absolute most of his final chance, catching 30 passes for 549 yards, leading Notre Dame in both categories. (Photo by Matt Cashore-Pool/Getty Images)

Add on top of all that a mere pandemic leading to increased isolation from the rest of campus all semester, a regular season lasting two weeks longer than classes and all the stressors we are all unfortunately familiar with in 2020, and “November is hard” can understandably become “December is harder,” aside from this weekend’s opponent.

In that one respect, Kelly has found a silver lining to the challenges of the pandemic. Despite his relaxed-as-a-yogi demeanor the last few seasons, Kelly remains every bit the control freak as the other 129 head coaches across the country. It is innate to every football coach.

The pandemic allowed for that idiosyncrasy to flex a bit initially and with time, even relax, intentionally or not. Kelly had to lean on his roster to behave vigilantly in a way he would not normally be able to, and as the Irish have returned clean set of tests after clean set of tests in recent weeks, he has been able to trust his roster is as committed to this cause as their coaches. That commitment yields dividends in discipline in more football-specific aspects, too.

After all, these are college students. They are not usually spending every waking moment thinking about football, it would not be healthy, but when any waking moment’s lapse can induce a positive test, now they are.

“They are confronted with the biggest distraction,” Kelly said. “You can get COVID and miss considerable playing time if you are not maintaining excellent habits. You have to be on top of that 24/7. I don’t get the luxury to control 24/7 in most instances, as much as we would like to. We get them for a short period of time.

“But because of the climate we’re in, they have to avoid these distractions that can cause them to potentially lose playing time, so they’re building strong habits that you’re seeing play out on the football field.”

It does not take a logical leap to assume that diligence began with the upperclassmen, knowing this was their last chance at a national championship. The fifth-years carried this program from a national laughingstock to beating a dynasty. The seniors have been a part of nothing but 10-win seasons.

To be more accurate, they will be able to claim a fourth 10-win season when they see their families after Notre Dame does away with Syracuse. The Senior Day festivities have to wait until postgame during a pandemic, but that only gives the win preceding them a chance to add more jubilance to a season otherwise void of excessive fanfare.

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    Friday at 4: Notre Dame’s QB room creates a friendly trust that has been crucial to Pyne’s success

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    LAS VEGAS — No one would fault Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner if there was some friction to their relationship. The two Notre Dame quarterbacks spent the better part of a year competing against each other to be the new Irish starting quarterback. Some competitive animosity would be human nature.

    Instead, the two give each other a hard time about a shared guilty pleasure. Pyne insists Buchner get his rehab work done before practice because he trusts the sophomore’s reads on the junior’s passing mechanics and wants that feedback every day, especially as Pyne readies to face the first ranked team of his starting career, against No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas on Saturday (7:30 ET; NBC). They have continued a trend of thorough tightness in Tommy Rees’ quarterback room.

    Start with that shared guilty pleasure. Asked this week on the ND on NBC Podcast what his allowed luxury is, Pyne initially tried to feign innocence.

    “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t think of anything right now.”

    And then an acknowledging pause struck Pyne. His eventual admission gradually slid from a rarity to a frequency, and he dragged the injured Buchner down with him.

    “Tyler and I have a little bit of a sweets problem,” Pyne said. “Not a problem. But once a day probably, twice or something, if we see a small piece of candy, we’ll have it.”

    Perhaps that is trivial but think back to the quarterback competition that divided the Notre Dame locker room and played a significant role in the 2016 faceplant under Brian Kelly. Neither Malik Ziare nor DeShone Kizer would have ever offered something so playful about the other.

    “He and I know that there’s nothing that can get between us that can impact the team in a negative way,” Pyne said back in early August when Buchner was named Notre Dame’s starter. “… Tyler and I are really good friends, we’re best friends. We watch film together, we hang out together, we play golf together.”

    Go back a year and both learned from Jack Coan how to approach the job professionally, each citing Coan’s dedication to sleep in 2021 as something they were trying to mirror in 2022’s preseason. Go back a year before that and Pyne still regularly cites Ian Book drawing inspiration from Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor’s mountains of self-confidence. Book was one of the first people to reach out to Pyne with encouragement when he took over for Buchner after the latter sprained his shoulder and ended his season against Marshall.

    And go back to Book’s time stepping in for Brandon Wimbush a month into the 2018 season. Wimbush handled the situation so well, no one blinked when it leaked before the College Football Playoff that he intended to transfer away from Notre Dame after the season.

    Credit should go to Rees. He may get — and deserve some of — plenty of criticism for his play calling. He may be partly at fault for the Irish lacking any receivers in the junior or senior classes on the current roster. But Rees’ delicate handling of the quarterback room amid three touch-and-go situations in six seasons has helped Notre Dame avoid a 2016 repeat.

    Trace that back to Rees’ time as a freshman in 2010, working under offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, who would cede the position to Mike Sanford Jr., who lasted just the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

    “When I got here, Dayne Crist put his arm around me,” Rees said in August. “He was tremendous as a young quarterback, as a mentor, as a friend. We used to joke he was an older brother to me when I was here.

    Andrew Hendrix and I, I was in his wedding. We were extremely close. We came in together and are still close to this day. I was supported by guys all around me that really were good, and then when I had the opportunity with Everett (Golson), I wanted to give back the same way that the older guys did it for me.”

    The culture of Rees’ quarterback room has turned each quarterback competition into fertile ground for a trusting friendship.

    Pyne pointed out, only he and Buchner know what it was like to go through that competition this spring and summer. They studied each other more than anyone else did, because they had more at stake, even more than the coaching staff.

    Buchner is beginning to get in some workouts after shoulder surgery, and Pyne actively insists they not overlap with practice.

    “I want him behind me telling me what’s going on in the defense,” Pyne said this week. “I want him to see things and come to me.

    “The other thing great about him is he tells me technique-wise what I need to do because he’s seen me throw so many times, he’s seen how I’m looking with my eyes, he knows what kind of player I am. He does that to help me, tells me stuff like that every single day. I’m very thankful to still have him, and he’s in great spirits and helps the whole team.”

    At some point, Rees and the Irish will need to toe this quarterback competition again. There will be plenty of wonder if one will transfer for more playing time, as is both common in college football nowadays and the appropriate move for passers who have shown their abilities on such a big stage. Pyne will have a diploma and three seasons of eligibility remaining after this year. Buchner will have three seasons, as well, though he’ll be at least a year from that diploma.

    That is then, though. For now, any Pyne and Notre Dame success, including against BYU, can trace some credit back to Buchner, standing behind his friend on each practice snap and critiquing Pyne’s form, as only a friend can do.

    If he does not do it in practice, he’ll do it as they sneak some sweets around the football facilities.

    Things To Learn: Notre Dame needs to find a fast start for a change of pace vs BYU

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    LAS VEGAS — “We’re going to get there and be very strategic on what we do,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said Monday referencing the Irish trip to Sin City to face No. 16 BYU (7:30 ET; NBC). And he wasn’t referring to always splitting on aces and eights. But let’s be clear, always split on aces and eights.

    He was referring to Notre Dame skipping the Strip and heading straight to Allegiant Stadium for a brief visit today before an early bed check.

    But he may as well have been discussing how the Irish need to start Saturday night. In perhaps an unexpected twist, Freeman has stopped preaching about Notre Dame’s finish to games even though the Irish blew second-half leads in his first three games as head coach. While the Irish clearly did not know how to finish, focusing on that failure overlooked the bigger picture.

    “All of a sudden you sit here and you talk about finishing, finishing, finishing, but you go back and evaluate and there are plays in the first quarter that we weren’t executing the way we were supposed to,” Freeman said. “That’s where me as the leader said, ‘Hold on, take all the emphasis off of finishing and really look at every play of the game.’”

    Your psyche may want to focus on your net losses when you get up from the blackjack table, but the third hand after you sat down was just as important as the last. (Don’t change your bet amounts throughout a sitdown at a table. Keep those wagers consistent.)

    Notre Dame’s fourth-quarter collapses at Ohio State and against Marshall overshadowed the Irish mistakes early on, but there were Irish mistakes early on.

    Against the Cougars, those first-half missteps should be more avoidable than usual. Maybe it has been a lack of focus as BYU looked ahead to this game, maybe it was disrespect for two inferior opponents in Wyoming and Utah State, maybe it was a coincidence. But it cannot be argued that the Cougars led the Cowboys only 14-10 at halftime two weeks ago and were tied with the Aggies at 17 last week. Despite beating UConn to open the season, Utah State should be universally disparaged as one of the worst teams in the country. Keeping up with BYU bode only poorly for the Cougars.

    And then BYU outscored the Aggies 21-3 through the first 29 minutes of the second half. (Okay, that’s a lie. It was really 28 minutes and 51 seconds, but rounding up to 29 minutes there was as unaggressive as not splitting 10s. Really, why ruin a delightful hand?)

    If once is an incident, twice is a coincidence and three times a pattern, then the Cougars have a pattern of starting slowly, reaching halftime at Oregon trailing 21-7 (as part of a 41-20 loss), three weeks in a row BYU has come out of the gates slowly. No thought of looking past the Ducks can be offered for that; there was no disrespect to a top-25 team.

    The Cougars’ weakness meshes well with Notre Dame’s new emphasis.

    “It’s not about finishing. It’s about finishing on every play,” Freeman said. “You have to make sure you execute on play one, no matter if you’re up or down, as you do in the fourth quarter.”

    (No matter if you’re up or down, stick to basic blackjack strategy.)

    This is more than simple coach-speak. Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had shown adeptness with the opening scripts in the past. Eight of Notre Dame’s 13 opening drives last season resulted in quality possessions. (Quality possession: Either a score or a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.) Those created 31 points on five scores, a missed field goal, a turnover on downs and a costly interception inside the red zone against Cincinnati.

    This year, only one opening Irish possession has resulted in a quality possession, a field goal in the season opener. But before the idle week, Notre Dame responded to its opening three-and-out with 10 consecutive quality possessions. To be clear, the Irish had only 11 genuine possessions in that 45-32 win. (“Genuine” ignores the final possession running out the clock.)

    There is no rationale blackjack equivalent to that kind of hot streak. Heaters don’t last that long. Because when relying on cards dealt randomly, there is no force paving the way like Notre Dame’s offensive line, and there is no open highway like the Tar Heels’ defense.

    “That’s what our identity has to be,” Freeman said. “We have to be able to run the ball. It’s not always going to be explosive, 10-15 yard gains, but if you’re able to move the ball with consistency and stay on track and stay in rhythm, it opens up everything in your offensive pass game.

    “It’s great to see. It’s a testament to our offensive line. It starts with them. … Our offensive line continues to get better and better and better, which is really helping our run game.”

    If there is any one thing to learn from this rendition of the Shamrock Series, it is if the Irish success running the ball two weeks ago was more because of North Carolina’s problems or because of Notre Dame’s development. In this unnecessary and forced analogy put into usage solely because how often does a writer have an excuse to so broadly discuss blackjack, the escalation facing the Irish is the equivalent of testing your counting abilities on an eight-deck shoe at Circa after working only with two-deck shoes in Treasure Island.

    That may go badly. BYU has given up plenty of rushing yards this season, but it is leaps and bounds better than North Carolina. Count those decks wrong and you will be dissuaded from ever counting cards again.

    In both cases, that should not be the takeaway. The takeaway should be returning to fundamentals, playing each hand smartly, finding holes in a good defense even if there are not as many available as there were against Gene Chizik’s unit.

    “Sometimes it takes failures to really evaluate how you’re leading,” Freeman said Thursday. “It shouldn’t take that, but for me, after the Marshall game, I said hold on, let’s really look at how I am as a leader, where I can improve. …

    “One of those parts was hold on, let’s stop worrying about finishing. That’s more outcome driven. ‘Let’s finish this game, we’re up in the fourth, finish the game.’ Let’s really evaluate every single play and make sure we’re executing.”

    The final score matters most, just like the chips in your hand when you get up from the table. But Notre Dame needs to focus on the early hands in Las Vegas to better position itself for late in the game. That has been missing this season, and after two weeks of focusing on it, there is little excuse left for the Irish to drag their feet early at Allegiant Stadium.

    How to watch Notre Dame vs BYU tomorrow and the Irish all season; TV, Peacock info for 2022

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    The 11th rendition of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series will feature the Irish against the No. 16 BYU Cougars on Saturday, October 8, at Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders. Live coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock. See below for additional information and how to watch/stream the Notre Dame vs BYU game.

    Notre Dame has never lost in the Shamrock Series, its not-quite-annual trip to a neutral site. The university hosts the game and makes an event of the weekend, and the football program has delivered each and every time, be it against a ranked Arizona State in Dallas or against No. 18 Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago.

    The Irish (2-2) are now not only coming off an idle week, but are also just two weeks removed from beating North Carolina 45-32. Notre Dame set season highs in points, rushing yards (287), total yards (576), and first downs (35). Junior quarterback Drew Pyne finished with a career-best 24-for-34 for 289 yards and three touchdowns. After an ugly start to the season, Notre Dame’s offensive line allowed just one sack, which enabled running backs Audric Estimé and Chris Tyree to have their best performances of the season. Estimé finished with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Tyree added 80 rushing yards and a touchdown and RB Logan Diggs ran for 50 yards. Head coach Marcus Freeman credited the victory to the offensive line’s performance.

    “I think it’s a testament to our offensive line,” Freeman said. “It starts with them. I don’t care what running back you have back there, if your offensive line isn’t executing, blocking, to the way it has to, nobody’s gonna be able to run the ball. Our offensive line continues to get better and better and better, which is really helping out our run game.”

    The BYU Cougars (4-1) are coming off a 38-26 victory over Utah State last Thursday night. Led by quarterback Jaren Hall, who has thrown 142 straight passes without an interception, BYU is making gradual progress toward a possible New Year’s Six bowl in its last season as a football independent before joining the Big 12.

     According to Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake, Hall is an exemplary leader both on and off the field.

    “He is a perfect example of what it means to be a BYU football player,” Sitake said.
    The quarterback position at BYU always gets a lot of public attention, and Jaren does a tremendous job handling both that spotlight on him from outside the program and the important role he plays within our program as a leader on our team. But he really settled into his role.”

    How to watch Notre Dame vs BYU:

    • Where: Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas
    • When: Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET
    • Live Stream: NBC and Peacock

    2022 Notre Dame Football Schedule:

    • Notre Dame at Ohio State – Saturday, Sept. 3  – 7:30 PM on ABC
    • Notre Dame vs. Marshall – Saturday, Sept. 10 –  2:30 PM on NBC
    • Notre Dame vs. California – Saturday, Sept. 17 – 2:30 PM on NBC
    • Notre Dame at North Carolina – Saturday, Sept. 24 – TBD
    • Notre Dame vs. BYU (Las Vegas, NV) – Saturday, Oct. 8  – 7:30 PM on NBC
    • Notre Dame vs. Stanford – Saturday, Oct. 15 – 7:30 PM on NBC
    • Notre Dame vs. UNLV – Saturday, Oct. 22 – 2:30 PM on Peacock
    • Notre Dame at Syracuse – Saturday, Oct. 29 – TBD
    • Notre Dame vs. Clemson – Saturday, Nov. 5 – 7:30 PM  on NBC
    • Notre Dame vs. Navy (Baltimore, MD) – Saturday, Nov. 12 -12:00 PM on  ABC/ESPN
    • Notre Dame vs. Boston College – Saturday, Nov. 19 – 2:30 PM on NBC
    • Notre Dame at USC – Saturday, Nov. 26 – TBD

    How to watch Notre Dame Football on Peacock:
    Become a monthly or annual subscriber to Peacock Premium to watch all of our Premium sports, including Notre Dame football. Once you’re signed up, you can find LIVE coverage in the Browse section of the Peacock app and on PeacockTV.com

    Please note that selection of a Premium plan will result in a charge which will recur on a monthly or annual basis, depending on your plan. You can cancel your Premium plan at any time in your Account.

    What devices does Peacock support?
    You can enjoy Peacock on a variety of devices. View a list of supported devices here.

    Notre Dame senior defensive tackle Jacob Lacey ends season, to enter the transfer portal; secondary injury updates

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    Notre Dame lost some defensive line depth during its idle week when senior tackle Jacob Lacey chose to end his Irish career, confirmed by head coach Marcus Freeman on Thursday. Lacey will enter the transfer portal after the season when the portal window opens, but to preserve a year of eligibility, he has ended his season now.

    “Lacey was a great player,” Freeman said. “Lacey did a lot of great things for us, but it’s a deep position. He made a decision that ultimately he felt was best for him and we respect it. We love Jacob, and the best thing about it is he leaves with a degree in his hand.”

    Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver glossing over his 11 games in 2020, Lacey has two seasons of eligibility remaining and will be immediately eligible wherever he ends up in 2023. He ends this season with five tackles, all made against Cal, including two sacks. He finishes his career with 35 tackles in 37 games with 6.5 for loss including 2.5 sacks.

    To some degree, defensive line depth made Lacey’s job that day easier but also made his season prognosis more dubious.

    “It’s the greatest feeling ever, just knowing we probably have 11, 12 guys that can run out there and be as good, if not better, than the guy that was just in front of them, depends who’s hot that day,” Lacey said following Notre Dame’s first win of the season. “It’s fun to see the way we all execute no matter who’s on the field.”

    That just will not be Lacey moving forward.

    Fifth-year Jayson Ademilola and senior Howard Cross have led that charge from the interior this season, with Cross second on the team with 23 tackles. Harvard graduate transfer Chris Smith made three tackles against Ohio State, part of his five on the season, and his name was the first one Freeman mentioned on who will play more without Lacey around.

    “It’s just a position that’s extremely deep,” Freeman said. “The defensive tackle position right now is one of the deepest positions we have on our team. Chris Smith will play a little bit more. (Sophomore) Gabe Rubio will play a little bit more. (Sophomore) Jason Onye has moved from scout team to getting reps with the defense.”

    But Notre Dame also does not always need two defensive tackles, instead relying on a three-man front, not to mention ends Isaiah Foskey and Rylie Mills both have the size to play on the inside on clear passing downs.

    A consensus four-star prospect in the class of 2019, Lacey was Notre Dame’s first commit of the class, pledging in July of 2017. The Kentucky native chose the Irish over finalists Clemson, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State and Tennessee.

    While he played in 11 games during the pandemic season of 2020, he was fighting a balky shoulder the whole time, and he struggled a bit with coronavirus in the preseason. By playing in 11 of 12 games, Lacey camouflaged how much those items hampered him.

    “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t very frustrated going through that year, battling through that injury,” Lacey said in November. “I’m glad I didn’t just stop playing. I’ve definitely grown a tremendous amount from that. It allowed me to drop weight and focus on gaining muscle, things I needed to do from the beginning, just really rehabbing, focused on things I should have done before coming to college.”

    RELATED READING: Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter

    SAFETY DEPTH
    Freeman expects both fifth-year safety DJ Brown (hamstring) and junior safety Ramon Henderson (ankle) to be active on Saturday against No. 16 BYU in Las Vegas (7:30 ET; NBC) after being hampered two weeks ago at North Carolina.

    Freshman specialist Bryce McFerson has also finally overcome a groin strain that has bothered him since the week before the opener, but walk-on Zac Yoakam has so ably handled kickoff duties, that Notre Dame is going to let McFerson focus on improving his punting. He will not usurp Harvard transfer Jon Sot there, by any means, so it distinctly sounds like McFerson may preserve a year of eligibility this season.