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Nov 25, 2011

Guest Preview: Notre Dame @ Stanford

In this week's special Thanksgiving Guest Preview, Irish Creed writer IrishGirl10 breaks down the matchup between #6 Stanford and 
#22 Notre Dame:

IrishGirl10's Game Preview:

In the words of quarterback Tommy Rees, last Saturday’s win over the Eagles of Boston College “wasn't pretty, it wasn't at times the most successful offense we have had, obviously, but anytime you can get a win this late in November you'll take it.”  Considering I would like to forget everything that happened after that beautiful 80-yard opening drive, capped off with a 26-yard scoring rush by Jonas Gray, I will wholeheartedly agree with him and move on.  And thus, with the defeat of BC officially in the books, these Irish eyes will turn to the last game of the season and, undoubtedly, the toughest one yet: Stanford.

Going into Saturday, the Cardinal will hold a #6 BCS ranking and a 10-1 record – their only loss at the hands of Oregon.  Notre Dame is sitting at #22 and 8-3.  The Irish have played 3 ranked teams this year.  Though they pulled out a win over Michigan State (#14), they had devastating losses to Michigan (#15) and USC (BCS ineligible, but currently #10 by AP).   Arguably USC is the best team the Irish have faced this season, and they walked away with a loss.  Stanford, on the other hand, brought the Trojans to triple-overtime and managed to scrape out a win.   However, there is more to this upcoming face-off than rankings and records – let’s break it down:


For Stanford, this can be summed up in two words: Andrew Luck.  Back for another season after rumors of a move to the NFL, Luck dominates every field he steps onto – boasting 2,937 yards and 31 touchdowns thus far this year.  Although his Heisman candidacy has recently found itself on unsteady ground, there are many who believe he’s a shoe-in for the award; not to mention he’s already been flagged as the likely first overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft.  Luck may be known for his arm, but Stanford’s rushing attack is equally potent – bolstered by a strong offensive line featuring left tackle Jonathan Martin and right guard David DeCastro.  This all amounts to an offense that has scored at least 30 points in each game this year – topping out at 65.  Notre Dame’s offense, conversely, has struggled to find consistency (apart from its turnovers).  In terms of passing, quarterback Tommy Rees has some phenomenal options: Tyler Eifert, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick (in question due to a hamstring injury), Robby Toma, and, of course, Michael Floyd.  Lots of options, however, have often resulted in lots of interceptions – especially when the ball is forced to Michael Floyd, who is rarely, if ever, found in single coverage.  The running game, initially a victim of turnovers this season, has come to find steady success in the hands of Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood.  Unfortunately for the Irish, Gray is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL last week against Boston College, which effectively halves the rush options and shifts a greater share of the scoring burden onto a rocky pass game.

Advantage: Stanford.


Among the better offensive teams they’ve seen this season, the Stanford defense has given up an average of 40 points (ND’s offense averages 32).  They have also been known to struggle significantly against the pass - ranking #78 overall in yards allowed per game and tallying only 4 interceptions, both of which will come in handy should the Irish find themselves unable to fill the shoes of Jonas Gray.  Their star linebacker Shane Skov (Freshman All-American 2009) is out with an injury, leaving the Cardinal with lineman and 5th year senior Matthew Masifilio as the lone returning starter.  Overall, the Cardinal defense is nowhere near the level of its stellar offense.  In a stark contrast, the effort of the Irish defense has often directly carried its team to a win – especially when the offense has struggled to put points on the board.  They have allowed an average of only 20 points per game this season and in their last four games they’ve managed to keep three of their opponents under this mark.  They are in the top thirty for both scoring defense and total defense and have a total of 7 interceptions for 152 yards.  Led by Manti Te’o and team captain Harrison Smith, the Irish defense is not to be taken lightly.

Advantage: Notre Dame

With a BCS Berth, Pac-12 Championship, and potential Heisman Trophy on the line, Andrew Luck and the Cardinal won’t go down easy.  They are an elite team and on a level above any of the opponents the Irish have faced thus far.  In the past two seasons, however, the Irish have caused Luck to experience his lowest passer rating (119.7), been one of only two teams to force more than 1 interception, and held Luck to under 60% completion.  In sum, Saturday is going to be a battle determined by Cardinal offense and Irish defense.  With an inspired offensive performance and consistent defense, Notre Dame has the potential to squash Cardinal dreams and regain the respect and reputation it deserves as a program.

Fightin' Irish seniors must rise above
 in their last regular season game.

TheNDleprechaun's Score Prediction:  

While Andrew Luck is undoubtedly the best all-around player the Fightin' Irish will have faced thus far, it will take more than one player to beat the Boys in Blue & Gold.  If the beasts along Diaco's defensive front can control the line of scrimmage and shut down the Cardinal running game, then we just may have a chance to throw Luck off his game with a fierce pass rush on 3rd and long situations.  Fittingly, the contest should come down to whether our three leaders (Smith, Te'o, Floyd) can rise above the rest in what will probably be the last regular season game any of them ever play for Notre Dame.  If Smith and Te'o can neutralize Luck, and Floyd can take control of the game every time he steps on the field similar to the way Golden Tate did last time Notre Dame played at Stanford, we just may be able to keep Kelly unbeaten in the month of November.

In the end, Luck's Cardinal falls prey to the Luck of the Irish: 34-30.

Hopefully the Leprechaun can pump out 34 handstand pushups this year.

Nov 20, 2011

Senior Night Pictures

It may not have been pretty, and it may have cost us our plow-horse, but a win is a win.  Especially in November.  Especially on Senior Night.  With the win, Kelly's Irish now hold a 6-0 record in November over his first two campaigns.  Before Kelly?  The old Irish won only 6 times over the previous 4 years, including a 1-8 finish during his predecessor's regime.

Saturday night wasn't about statistics, though.  It was about the seniors on the field and in the stands.  Spirits were high across campus both before and after the game, and the players enjoyed a well-fought contest.  I tried to capture some of that atmosphere through photos I took on the field and in the stands.  Enjoy:

Nov 17, 2011

Senior Night Scrimmage vs. Backup College

The 24th ranked Fightin' Irish will scrimmage their backups on Saturday evening in front of over 80,000 fans.  To the dismay of all those who would rather watch one of the several exciting real games taking place this weekend, the scrimmage will also be broadcast nationally on NBC.

All kidding aside, this rivalry Big Brother vs. Little Brother contest is significant not only because it presents the Fighting Irish with an opportunity to head into their showdown against the mighty Trees of Stanford while riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, but it will also be the last time several of the boys in Blue in Gold suit up for a game in Notre Dame Stadium.

Due to the lopsided nature of the upcoming matchup, we find it unnecessary to waste your time with needless analysis.  Instead, we ask that all Fightin' Irish fans arrive at the game early enough to stand and cheer for all of the seniors who will be running out of that hallowed tunnel one last time.  We also ask that you remain standing and cheering throughout the game in order to send the seniors off in true Fightin' Irish fashion as they put on a show in what will be their final act within the House that Rock built.

Breaking News:  Unconfirmed rumors coming from @TheNDleprechaun via Twitter: "Could tomorrow really be the last game ever played on real grass in Notre Dame Stadium?!  "

This may never happen again, as Saturday could be the last time Notre Dame
 ever plays on real grass in the house that Rock built

Nov 14, 2011

ND takes DC

Notre Dame took over Washington D.C. both on and off the field during a weekend that featured a pep rally at the National Mall, a marching band concert on Capitol Hill, and a 45-21 win at FedEx Field that landed the Fightin' Irish back in the Top 25.

Prior to the game, Kelly stressed the need to start strong and display the mental edge that his program has been developing through the thick and thin of a season that has been eventful to say the least.  The Boys in Blue and Gold did just that, as Rees showed signs of finally coming into his own by calmly distributing the ball to the arsenal of lethal weapons at his disposal without succumbing to the "self-inflicted wounds" that have plagued much of his season.  

Throughout the game, Kelly's offense showed just how dangerous it can be when run with speed and efficiency.  As the second half wore on, it became more and more evident that Maryland just couldn't keep up.  If we maintain that tempo over the course of our final three games, there isn't a defense in the nation (besides maybe Alabama or LSU) that will be able to shut us down.

After the win, Kelly congratulated his team on the way they converted a tough week of practice into production on the field, adding: "... we're starting to get into that area of winning football games week after week, so the point I'm making to you is this: Don't change what you're doing.  Prepare during the week and make Saturdays easy..."  If Fightin' Irish fans can put impatience aside just long enough to read between the lines of such statements and take a look at where this team and this program is headed, they should be able to discern the light-years that separate our current regime from the last.  Needless to say, I like the charted course we're on, I'm confident in Kelly as our navigator, and I'm excited for the road ahead...

...The next stop on that road brings us back home as the seniors get a chance to go out in style by beating up on our little brother school.  Following that final tune-up game, they hit the westward trail to on a mission to chop down the no-longer-unbeaten trees.  Last stop?  It looks like we'll be popping bottles with Mickey and his gang on New Year's Eve as we celebrate a victory in the Champ Sports Bowl.

Nov 11, 2011

Shamrock Series: Washington D.C.

"You know what the difference is between you and me?  
I make this look good."

The Fightin’ Irish might want to borrow Wil Smith’s classic line from "Men in Black" when they take the field against Maryland in Washington D.C. this Saturday.  Both teams will be wearing alternate versions of their standard uniforms, with Notre Dame rocking the two colors that all Leprechauns love (Green and Gold), and Maryland featuring the look of their unique state flag split down the center in an ensemble that Harvey Two-Face would be proud to call his own. 

These Terps are wearing the same jersey...

Since Maryland lacks any significant sense of football tradition, no one really cares about the ridiculous changes they continue to implement with their uniforms each week. At Notre Dame, on the other hand, so-called “purists” and “traditionalists” of the less-than-enlightened sort tend to exclaim that the end is near every time a single stitch appears contrary to their liking.  What these naysayers fail to understand, however, is that shamrocks and holographic helmets do not equate to the end of all tradition. Rather, these uniforms provide a fresh way to celebrate the highly successful “Home Away From Home” games each year while staying true to the FIghtin’ Irish brand.  Plus, when viewed in their entirety, these Emerald Green and 24K Gold beauties purvey a sense of badass Fightin’ Irish swagger that should prove to be really really ridiculously good-looking under the lights in FedEx Field. If it’s true that the way you look impacts the way you feel, which in turn impacts the way you play, then the FIghtin’ Irish are going to be really really ridiculously good in all respects on Saturday night. 

Putting all bias aside, it's clear to see that Adidas and Notre Dame have outdone UnderArmour and Maryland in this one.  You should expect a similar outcome on the scoreboard at the end of the game as well.  Here's why:

Defensive Analysis:

Maryland’s offense has enjoyed spurts of success this season by catching defenses off-guard as they utilize a dual-quarterback system. They have shown a lack of consistency against well-prepared opponents, however, and I trust the Notre Dame coaching staff has made sure to take the element of surprise out of the equation, especially considering the talented scout team quarterbacks at their disposal during practice. The Fightin' Irish defense may be pretty banged up, but Ethan’s return will provide the veteran leadership that has been lacking along the line. One area of weakness that may be a cause of concern is the lack of depth along a Fightin’ Irish secondary that will be forced to line up against multiple WR sets early and often.  Even so, this should give Jamoris plenty of opportunities to continue his ball-hawk ways from the nickel position.  If I was a betting man, I would put some money on another INT for #26. Finally, Manti will continue to assert his presence as the anchor of Diaco’s defense despite being hobbled by an ankle injury.

Offensive Analysis:

Year one of the Randy Edsall era has been less than smooth for the 2-7 T(w)erps of Maryland. Much of this can be attributed to his defense (or lack thereof). It's more than fair to say that they have done little if anything to stop the run this year, serving up huge helpings of yardage to far less physical offensive lines blocking for far less talented running backs (reference: Backup College). They can’t tackle, they can’t shed blocks, and when they stack the box to stop the run they can’t seem to cover wide receivers (which presents a problem when faced with the likes of Mike). This will be a great game for Mike Golic Jr. to get his feet wet in his first career start by doing what offensive linemen love most: run-blocking all day long. I’ve been itching to see the special edition “Swagger” gloves that allegedly have Golden palms with a shamrock printed across them. Luckily, I shouldn’t have to wait too long for Cierre Wood to flash them into the camera in signature style after his first trip to the endzone. 

Score Prediction:

Fightin’ Irish: 41

Fightin’ Turtles: 13

Offensive Game Ball: 

Cierre Wood – The shiftier of our two prize ponies will make Maryland defenders miss time after time as he gallops his way to well over 100 yards against a team that had trouble making tackles all season.

Defensive Game Ball: 

Jamoris Slaughter – The ball-hawk / X-factor of our nickel defense will see ample playing time against an offense that uses multiple WR sets regularly. Unfortunately for Maryland, this will only present him with more opportunities to make big plays. Pick 6 anyone?

Do you think this Terp wears matching socks to class?

Nov 7, 2011

Irish to Invade Nation's Capitol

The Band of the Fightin' Irish will perform on the U.S. Capitol Lawn and Notre Dame Football will go GREEN on Saturday.

Notre Dame will be rocking an interesting look in what has been dubbed the
"Shamrock Series" against Maryland in Washington D.C. on Saturday

Before the Fightin' Irish took on the Demon Deacons in Winston Salem last Saturday, Coach Kelly delivered a pregame speech that described the season as a "journey" that every player and every coach must go through together in order to reach the level of championship-caliber football that is expected at Notre Dame.  After the hard-fought victory, one that the casual observer would have reason to call "ugly," Kelly congratulated his team on its "gritty, tough performance."  

While most fans would have rather witnessed a blowout victory than a 60 minute grind-fest, winning that type of game will prove to be valuable for our team down the road.  The total domination of Navy brought confidence back to our Boys in Blue and Gold, but thie far-from-sexy win over Wake may have taught them much more valuable lessons about maintaining a consistent approach after falling behind, and finishing strong once in the lead.  

Each time the players took the field against Wake, they rallied around the phrase "Count on me."  With two easy Ws coming up against Maryland and Backup College, we should all be tipping out hats to the Deacs for reminding our players how essential it is that they count on each other no matter how any particular game plays out.  

Speaking of Maryland, the Fightin' Irish will be invading our nation's capital for their third annual "Home away from Home" game, this time against the Terrapins at Fed Ex Field.  Prior to Saturday night's game, the Fightin' Irish Faithful will get a chance to show their support along with guest speakers Joe Theismann and Reggie Brooks as the Pep Rally on Friday night will be held at the National Mall.  On Saturday, Unviersity President Fr. John Jenkins will celebrate mass at 10:00am in St, Matthew's Cathedral, followed by a performance featuring the entire Band of the Fighting Irish on the U.S. Capitol Lawn at 12:00pm.  All of these events are free and open to the public, so go celebrate "God, Country, Notre Dame" if you are in the area.

Finally, the Fightin' Irish will take on the Terrapins in a battle of unconventional uniforms at 7:30pm.  After recently revealing our new Golden disco ball helmets with green face masks and shamrock accents, I wouldn't be surprised if we take the field in some sort of funky take on "throwbacks" that feature much more of my favorite color than usual.  Not to be outdone in terms of ridiculous attire, I'm sure that Maryland will come out with their latest Ninja-Turtle look while also incorporating their state flag in the least fashionable way possible per usual.  Regardless, it will be interesting to see what both sides come up with.  Oh yeah... they're going to play football too...

In all seriousness, this game should provide a nice confidence boost and an overall enjoyable experience for Kelly's banged up squad.  Hopefully it leaves them feeling refreshed prior to their final tune-up game against our little brother school from New England on Senior Night.  All in all, Saturday will bring us one step closer to the West Coast, where we hope to capture some Luck and harvest some timber over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Official Press Release Explaining New Changes to Uniforms:
This marks the first in a series of uniform features that will be utilized for Notre Dame's Shamrock Series contests. After the 2011 game at FedExField, the Shamrock Series in 2012 moves to Soldier Field in Chicago for a game against Miami. In 2013 the Shamrock Series matchup against Arizona State will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Irish will showcase uniform variations in their annual Shamrock Series games but otherwise will wear their standard uniforms the rest of the season. 

(For the record, I am 100% behind such efforts to inject new elements into the Notre Dame Football experience as long as they stay in line with our traditions of excellence, class, and honoring our rich heritage.  I look forward to the continuation of the "Shamrock Series" as well as alternate uniforms used specifically for those games, while keeping the traditional look intact for the remainder of each season).

Nov 5, 2011

Anchors Aweigh for Fightin' Irish

After a short lived panic attack late last week leading up to the game against our historic rival, rumors of mutiny quickly turned out to be nothing that a little smash-mouth football couldn't fix.  In fact, the controversial comments made by Kelly and the even more controversial reactions made by several players may have provided exactly what this team needed to turn the corner.  It presented an opportunity for the players and coaches to sit down and clear the air that has tasted sour to some all season long.  With that behind them, they can cut the proverbial anchor loose and focus on winning football games.

Last Week's Win over Navy may have allowed the Fightin' Irish
 to Finally Cut the Anchor Loose

Speaking of focus, Kelly's teams have accumulated a 6-2 record on the road while playing without all the distractions that accompany football weekends at Notre Dame, compared to a 7-6 record at home.  Take that stat for what you will, but the only two games Kelly has lost away from Notre Dame Stadium were to MSU last year (they ended up with 11 wins) and the Skunkbears this year (in a game we literally gave away).  This bodes well for the remainder of the regular season, which includes games on the road at Wake Forest and Maryland prior to senior night at home against Backup College and the season finale at Stanford.  

While Wake and Maryland have both been dangerous at times this season, we drastically outmatch them.  In true fashion, a horrible BC squad poses no threat.  With a 4 game winning streak at our backs, we will have a real chance to take advantage of our newfound confidence and renewed focus in order to chop down the trees on Thanksgiving weekend.  Not convinced?  Let me remind you that Kelly's teams have not been beaten in the month of November for 3 years.  Luckily for us, Thanksgiving weekend falls in the month of November again this year.

And now to the game at hand, an interesting matchup against a traditionally basketball-centered Baptist school that has recently shown glimmers of potential on the football field.  Wake LB and leader of the Demon Deacon (which is a lame attempt at something as badass as the Fighting Irish, if you ask me) defense Nikita Whitlock had this to say about his first time playing against Notre Dame: "We're little Wake Forest... but don't expect us not to come out and try to punch them in their mouth.  That's what we do."  

There's no way we lose to a school
that such ugly "mascots" call home.

I like the fire of those fightin' words, and I'm expecting a well played game out of Wake.  That still doesn't change the fact that we should be able to dominate if we continue to emphasize our dangerous running attack as we did against Navy.  In his press conference following that steamrolling performance featuring 7 rushing TDs, Kelly admitted that he "put more of an emphasis on the run game in [the red zone], and I think that is the direction we want to keep moving."  I hope he stays true to those words so we can share in the joy of watching a consistently tough team that represents "...a brand of football that [Kelly is] starting to see."

Tonight's Score Prediction:

Fightin' Irish: 38
Demon Deacons: 20

Offensive MVP:  Jonas - The senior back will continue to play like he has something to prove.  Look for him to break a long TD to keep his scoring streak alive.

Jonas playing smash-mouth football against Navy

Defensive MVP: Manti - I've been waiting patiently for the leader of our defense to get his hands on a loose ball with running space ahead of him. Will this be the week?

Get this man the football!

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule

2012 Notre Dame Football Schedule
DateOpponent / EventLocationTime / Result
09/01/12vs. Navy Dublin, IrelandW, 50-10
09/08/12vs. PurdontNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-17
09/15/12at SpartyEast Lansing, Mich.W, 20-3
09/22/12vs. SkunkbearsNotre Dame, Ind.W, 13-6
Shamrock Series
10/06/12vs. Da UChicago, Ill.W, 41-3
10/13/12vs. TreesNotre Dame, Ind.W, 20-13 (OT)
10/20/12vs. BYU Notre Dame, Ind.W, 17-14
10/27/12at Oklahoma Norman, Okla.W, 30-13
11/03/12vs. Pittsburgh Notre Dame, Ind.W, 29-26 (3OT)
11/10/12at Backup College Chestnut Hill, Mass.W, 21-6
11/17/12vs. Fake Worest Notre Dame, Ind.W, 38-0
11/24/12at U$C Los Angeles, Calif.W, 22-13
1/7/13vs. AlabamaBCS CHAMPIONSHIP
(Miami, Florida)
L, :(