Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This Week's Edition of NDFB Brought to you by the Number 5

Notre Dame 41, Miami 3

You know what 5-0 feels like? 5-0 feels like lounging in the pool after a long day out in the sun. 5-0 feels like a warm fireplace and a mug of hot chocolate after an ice-crusted morning shoveling snow. 5-0 feels like glorious exhaustion, and the reward of being undefeated carries its own sweetness.

The entire week is the pursuit. The few spare hours after the clock hits 0:00 are the happiness.

And it's not a reckless happiness, either. It's not a carefree, lackadaisical, unexpected high. It's something the players have worked for. 

There are signs posted all over the Gug. AVOID THE NOISE.

"Don't get infected with success," Kelly has said, over and over. "Focus. [...] Whatever it takes to beat Stanford, that's what we have to do."

And they are focused. They are. Since the Purdue game, the defense has been playing at a level that's almost frightening. And ever since the Purdue game, we've been waiting for the offense to spark something bright enough to match the defense's success.

This week, we finally got there.

High Fives

"Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." -Abraham Lincoln

The 125th season of Notre Dame Football is off to a 5-0 start, after the Irish racked up 5 rushing touchdowns in a 41-3 victory over Miami led by the men wearing #5. Manti Te'o finished with 10 tackles and1 pass break-up as the leader on a defense that forced Miami to punt 5 times and kept its opponent out of the endzone for the third straight game. Everett Golson went 17-of-22 for186 yards with 51 additional yards on the ground, converting 5-of-11 third downs to lead an offense that erupted into 587 total yards.

As a result, ESPN College GameDay is headed to South Bend this weekend for the first time since 2005.

The Stable

Soooo you know how we had that great day of offense against Navy at the beginning of the season, and then our run game mysteriously disappeared for three weeks, until (much like Snuffleupagus) you began to wonder whether it had really been there at all? WELL HEY GUYS I THINK IT'S BACK AND I THINK IT'S REAL. Notre Dame's 376 yards on the ground are the most since the year 2000, and the second-most ever in school history. We had 2 backs who eclipsed 100 yards, and our 5 rushing touchdowns were scored by four different runners: Theo Riddick (21 total yds), Cierre Wood (2 TDs, 118 yds), George Atkinson III (127 yds), and Cam McDaniel (55 yds). McDaniel's whose 1-yd scoring run capped a completely gorgeous 8-minute drive during which he was given the ball on 12 consecutive plays.

But that wasn't even the greatest drive of the game. What about the 7-minute scoring drive in the 3rd quarter, during which we ran the ball on every single down? Or the 3-play drive at the end of the 3rd quarter, in which Atkinson broke away and ran 55 yds for a touchdown? It's no wonder the offensive line was awarded the game ball.

By the way, George Atkinson III (aka The Third, if you're me and you're weird) averaged 12.3 ypc during this game--the best mark since Reggie Brooks averaged 13.7 ypc against Purdue in 1992. One gets the impression that if you hand The Third the ball enough times, he's eventually going to burn your opponent with a huge run. He's got shifty feet, and by heavens, he's got the speed. He had a 32-yard run vs MSU and a 56-yard scamper vs. Navy. (Against Michigan and MSU he had 5 total touches combined. Clearly not enough touches.) We know from last season that he's a legitimate threat on kickoff returns, too--though due to the stellar play of our defense, he hasn't had many opportunities this season (not that I'm complaining, thankyouverymuch).

After three straight weeks of what seemed like a total sputter in the backfield, our run game has returned. We can assume that part of this has to do with Miami having the 118th-ranked defense in the FBS (though to be fair, this ranking came after we completely ran all over their faces like a herd of stampeding rhinoceroses). But part of it has to do with the adjustments the O-line has been making this season. They've transitioned from a gap-and-pull attack to a zone blocking scheme this year, and never mind if you don't even know what that means. The point is, it's been an adjustment for both the O-line and the running backs, and according to Coach Kelly, they spent a lot of time working on this during the bye week.

Clearly it paid off.

You know what the most exciting part about all of this is, though? We have three fantastic running backs rotating as starters on the depth chart (Riddick, Wood, Atkinson), and they ain't even all we got. After his 55-yard drive on Saturday, sophomore Cam McDaniel's practically begging to see more of the ball. According to Coach Kelly:

It's hard to get 'em all touches. We're struggling trying to get those three guys. Cam is one heck of a good running back. He runs it as effectively as any of those three.

But wait--there's more! Sophomore transfer Amir Carlisle from USC (aka A Man Who Saw The Light) is taking a medical redshirt this season, and will be back battling for a starting spot in the spring (though, to be fair, both Riddick and Wood will most likely have cleared out by then). I can't remember being this excited about this many Irish running backs

Five things we did NOT see in this game

Uno. Sacks. This is the first game in which the Irish defense has not recorded a sack so far this season. This seems unfortunate in particular for Stephon Tuitt, who is averaging 1.2 sacks per game, tied for seventh in the nation.

Dos. Our opponent scoring a touchdown. The Irish have the 2nd-ranked scoring defense in the nation (right behind Alabama), and have not allowed a touchdown for the past thirteen quarters of football. Further, The Irish are the only team in the nation to have not allowed a rushing score this year. Going back to 2011, Notre Dame has not allowed a rushing TD in seven straight games (30 quarters), the longest streak by an Irish team since the 1976-77 seasons.

Tres. Turnovers. For the first time this season, neither the Irish nor their opponent turned the ball over during the game. GLORY BE.

Cuatro. Our opponent scoring first. True, this was due mostly to Miami's receivers dropping the ball after completely burning our secondary twice during Miami's first drive of the game--but nevertheless, the statistic holds true. You can bet other teams have taken notice of what Miami was able to do during that first drive; but you can bet, too, that teams will take an equal note of what Notre Dame's defense was able to do for the rest of the game. With a little help from Miami's mistakes and penalties, the Irish were able to adjust to game speed and do what they've been doing all season. Notre Dame is the only team in the nation that has yet to trail. It's also the first time a Notre Dame team has not trailed in any of its first five games since 1947.

Cinco. Golson getting the jitters. I don't know if it was because of the neutral site, the bye week, the O-line, his increasing comfort level with the playbook, or just the fact that he was able to get a few midterms behind him, but Golson looked a LOT more comfortable on the field this week than he has for any games played thus far in Notre Dame Stadium. However well Golson played last week, the fact remains that Tommy Rees is the only Irish quarterback this season to lead a touchdown drive inside Notre Dame Stadium. In Coach Kelly's words:

You're always concerned when you have a younger quarterback that he's going to be able to pick up a lot of things that a team like Stanford likes to do defensively.

They're an aggressive defense, they bring a lot of looks. But I will say this: He did a lot of things in the second half that he had not done all year. He recognized pressure, did not run out of the pocket, stayed in there and delivered some balls on time. If that continues to show itself, he's going to be very, very difficult to defend because he's got that confidence level and a strong arm that he can deliver the ball.

We must assume Golson is the starter going into the matchup against #17 Stanford--but we must also wonder if he will display the nerves he seemed to get his first couple games playing under the watchful gaze of Touchdown Jesus. Let's hope SuperGolson shows up for this game, because we're gonna need a lot of things to beat Stanford, but jitters ain't one.

Five Favorite Random Things To Come Out of Irish Football This Season
1. Chocolate News (
2. Trick Shot Monday (
3. Notre Dame Walk-Ons  Twitter feed (@WOPUnation)
4. Prince Shembo's bike seat (which apparently now has its own Twitter feed?!
5. Robby Toma deciding that the most important thing he could mention in prime time on national television was TJ Jones's pair of red skinny jeans

Five Things We Could Do Without for the Rest of the Season
1. Mark May
2. Irish turnovers
3. Injuries
4. Anyone using the word "relevant" in a context remotely related to football
5. Unspecified violations of team rules

Five Things That Would Be Totally Freaking Awesome To See This Season
1. George Atkinson III running a kickoff back for a touchdown (against USC)
2. Stephon Tuitt breaking Justin Tuck's single-season sack record (against USC)
3. Manti Te'o getting a pick-six (against USC)
4. Tyler EIfert hauling in the game-winning TD (in a BCS Bowl)
5. Manti Te'o winning the Heisman (srsly though. That WOULD be awesome.)

Manti 4 Hei5man

Okay, first things first--in case you weren't aware, you can cast one vote EVERY DAY for Manti Te'o at the Nissan Heisman website: 

Nissan gets to cast one official vote in the Heisman ballot at the end of the season, based on the winner of the fan vote. Geno Smith, quarterback of the 5th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers, is the clear favorite at this point in the season (and probably will continue to be for the rest of the season, unless something goes terribly wrong), but Manti has a surprisingly strong showing, considering the last defensive player to win the trophy was, um...pretty much no one ever.

According to the official Heisman website, the Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to "an individual designated as the most outstanding college football player in the United States." Really, though,the trophy has been awarded almost exclusively to running backs and quarterbacks since its inception in 1935. Of the 76 total winners, 38 have been RBs and 30 have been QB's (keeping in mind that Archie Griffin won it twice). That's a whopping 89% of all total winners. Of the remaining Heisman recipients, 3 are designated as Fullbacks, making the true QB/RB win percentage closer to 94%.

Only five players have ever managed to win the trophy playing a position other than QB or back. Two of these were Wide Receivers--Notre Dame's Tim Brown (1987) and Michigan's Desmond Howard (1991). Another two were designated as "Ends"--Yale's Larry Kelley (1936) and ND's Leon Hart (1949), both of whom played on both sides of the ball. (I think we can envision "end" being something akin to Tight End on offense, and probably something similar to back or corner on defense.) The lone defensive winner in Heisman history is Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson (1997), who also starred as a punt returner and saw time as a wide receiver on offense.

So basically, having Manti Te'o in the Heisman conversation at all is kind of extraordinary. Other defensive players have been in the conversation in the past, of course, but in the end the voters tend to overwhelmingly favor dynamic offensive players who play for top-ranked teams. Since the year 2000, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. Only Mark Ingram (RB, 2009) managed to break the streak.

This year will likely be no different. But I am going to log into the Nissan website and cast my vote for Manti every day, anyway, because A) you could ask for no better representative of hard work, integrity, family, football, intercollegiate athletics,  the state of Hawaii, the University of Notre Dame, the United States of America, the human race, etc. etc., than Manti Te'o, and also B) I don't care who wins the trophy as long as Te'o beats out Matt Barkley in the fan voting.


Also, while I was poking around the Heisman website investigating past winners, I came across these little nuggets regarding the sculpting of the trophy, which I'd never heard before:
It was designed by New York sculptor Frank Eliscu. [...] Eliscu used his friend Ed Smith, a starter on the New York University Football team, as the player model for his initial creations.

A design was tentatively approved and Jim Crowley, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and football coach of Fordham University at the time, consented to look over the clay model at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham. The prototype was set up on the field and Crowley had his players take various positions to illustrate the football sidestep. Sculptor Eliscu bent the arms and legs of his model to match the action.

The final inspection of the cast was made after a dinner at the McAlpin Hotel on November 16, 1935, attended by Coach Elmer Layden and the entire Notre Dame football team (they had just played a memorable 6-6 tie with Army before 78,114 fans). The members of the Fighting Irish squad were impressed by the animation and fidelity of Eliscu's model. The 1935 Notre Dame team thus put its seal of approval on this new trophy.

Now it was ready for its final stage, bronze casting, after being refined by a diversity of intercollegiate contributions: the live model from New York University, the Fordham team which brought reality to the prototype, the men from Notre Dame who endorsed it, and two of the "Four Horseman" (Layden and Crowley) who gave it their personal blessing. The trophy was, indeed, an almost classic sculpture, an artistic as well as athletic triumph.

Therefore, it seems only fitting that Notre Dame has the most Heisman Trophy winners to date.

Taking on the Cardinal

Saturday's game is the 27th matchup between Notre Dame and Stanford. The Irish lead the series 17-9, but (in case you somehow don't recall) Stanford has won the last 3. The Cardinal definitely aren't as formidable as they've been the last few seasons, but you can bet that their loss to Washington will have little bearing on how well-prepared this team is to play the Irish. Except for a possible handful of fifth-years, none of the players on this team have ever lost to Notre Dame. Which means they're probably not as scared of us as they should be.

True, we're ranked 10 spots higher than Stanford in the polls, but this is a team that knocked off (then-ridiculously overranked) #2 USC, so I can't imagine they'll be overly intimidated by our top-10 ranking. I do imagine, however that they'll come in and play very tough football. No way we're gonna be racking up 367 yards on these guys. Tough to imagine us keeping them out of the endzone all four quarters, either. But oh man, if we do--what a freaking statement.

Kelly's taking Stanford wicked serious, and you can bet he's doing his best not to let the focus slip at ALL.

A lot of things stand out about this football team. First, they're a well coached team in all phases, offense, defense, and special teams. They're a physical football team. [...]  Their defense is an outstanding group. They're difficult to run the football on, and it's hard to get the ball down field because their cornerbacks are under constant pressure and that was the case for us last year.

We will have to get better as a football team this week. We will have to improve on our performance against Miami if we want to beat Stanford, and our players understand that the plan we have laid out for them this week is to get better. It's fundamentals, it's technique, it's assignments, it's all of those things. [...]We're talking about 18 to 21 year olds that are easily distracted, so the charge is to keep them focused on what they need to do to get better as a football player. I've worked this plan for a number of years. I've had great success with it. If they choose to continue to follow it they're going to continue to have success. It's the trust element of staying focused on what we can handle and what we need to handle and we will be fine.

It's always nice to hear the coach say these things. It's even better when you've got raw physical evidence that it's working and the players are totally buying in. Not that Stanford's a team anybody would be overlooking, anyway, but you get what I mean.

Also, below is a quote I felt compelled to pull out of the press conference in its entirety, because it touches on a big issue that A) an appalling number of schools don't seem to care very much about--SHAME ON THEM, and B) people keep trying to use as an excuse for why Notre Dame hasn't won a national championship in 24 years:

Q. The NCAA spends a lot of money marketing the concept of student athletes and extolling their virtues and all that. Stanford was in the national championship picture last year, you guys are unbeaten in the top 10 this year, how significant is it for the sport of college football is it that two premiere academic institutions in the country are so successful on the football field as well for the cynics out there that it can't be done in the class and on the field both.
COACH Brian Kelly: I would hope you would write a story about it because I feel that strongly with your statement that it doesn't get enough attention. You have two outstanding academic institutions that are ranked so high in terms of graduation rates and I think there is a report on "U.S. World and News Report" in terms of the top institutions as well as on the football field. I know that's one of the reasons why I came to Notre Dame. I wanted to make sure that everybody knew that you could do it in the classroom and you can certainly do it on the football field.


And, of course:


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