Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

October 2010 Archives

The injuries keep piling up for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame.

Quarterback Dayne Crist is out for the season after undergoing knee surgery Sunday. Starting running back Armando Allen also is out for the season with torn cartilage on both sides of his hip. Freshman Prince Shembo, a contributor mostly on special teams, suffered a concussion.

That leaves Notre Dame without three of its four most productive offensive players: Crist, Allen and tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is out for the season after surgery to repair a torn hamstring. Wide receiver Michael Floyd missed the Navy game with a pulled hamstring, but started against Tulsa on Saturday and had 11 receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist had surgery Sunday to repair a torn patellar tendon in his left knee and will miss the rest of the season, coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.

Freshman Tommy Rees of Lake Forest, who threw four touchdown passes in place of Crist against Tulsa, is Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The Irish are off this weekend and will play No. 8 Utah (8-0) on Nov. 13 at home. Junior Nate Montana will back up Rees. Kelly said one of two freshmen, Andrew Hendrix or Luke Massa, will be the No. 3 quarterback against Utah.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --  After a traumatic three days since the tragic death of 20-year-old junior Declan Sullivan in a video tower accident, it's a normal football Saturday at Notre Dame.

The Irish football team was warmly if not enthusiastically greeted by fans on its traditional walk from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to Notre Dame Stadium as coach Brian Kelly led his players and coaches through the gates to the stadium at 11:30 a.m. (Chicago time).

At the LaBar Practice Complex, the site of the accident, the fence that the hydraulic scissor lift tore through as the platform carrying Sullivan fell onto Courtney Lane in high winds on Wednesday has been repaired. Two hours before game time, a half-dozen bouquets of flowers were laid along the fence.

On the practice fields, which are open to the public prior to the game -- no alcohol allowed -- people were throwing around footballs, kicking footballs toward the goal posts and milling around on the fields where the football practices.

The Notre Dame and Tulsa players will have helmet-decals in the shape of a shamrock with Sullivan's initials on them. A moment of silence will be honored in Sullivan's memory, followed by a prayer from the field by Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins.

And then the game will begin. 
After issuing written statements expressing shock and sorrow Wednesday night, Notre Dame officials are expected to address details surrounding the tragic death of student Declan Sullivan on Thursday. Though it's not a sure thing.

Sullivan, a 20-year-old junior from north suburban Long Grove who graduated from Carmel High School in Mundelein, died Wednesday when the aerial work station he was using to videotape Notre Dame's football practice toppled in high winds onto a street surrounding the LaBar Practice Complex across from the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on the Notre Dame campus.

There will be a lot of questions -- many of them regarding Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's culpability in the accident. But only one question really matters: Why was Declan Sullivan up there?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --A tower used to videotape football practice at Notre Dame was toppled by high winds on Wednesday, injuring a camera operator.

The incident occurred near the end of football practice, around 5:10 p.m. (EDT) at the Labar practice facility on Notre Dame's campus. The tower, blew over across a fence and onto a street that surrounds the practice facility.

Notre Dame officials confirmed a person was in the tower at the time of the incident, but had no word on the condition of the victim.
Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, who missed last week's loss to Navy with a pulled hamstring, said his chances of playing Saturday against Tulsa are ''real high.''

Floyd practiced in full pads Monday and said he felt good. ''I think I did more than what the doctors wanted me to do, but my body felt good, so that's what I did.''

''I think he looked great,'' Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist said. ''There was nothing where I said, 'Oh no. That's not the same Mike.' I have a lot of confidence in him. We're just happy to have him back.''
Notre Dame's defensive breakdown in a 35-17 loss to Navy looked like a major red flag to veteran Irish football viewers -- exposing the inability of Brian Kelly's coaching staff to not only prepare adequately for an opponent with a well-defined offensive scheme, but adjust to fairly simple wrinkles that caused the Irish problems from the start.
 
You can't blame them after a similar experience against Stanford -- when Notre Dame not only seemed surprised by Stanford's strategy of rushing three defenders and dropping eight in to coverage, but also failed to respond to it.

Kelly, though, called the Navy breakdown ''an isolated incident'' and expects his defense to return to the form that helped the Irish beat Boston College, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan prior to facing Navy when the Irish face Tulsa on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame has put the dreaded Navy game in its rear-view mirror, but the residual impact of the Irish's most disappointing performance of the season will be felt for weeks.

As in 4-6 weeks -- that's how long Irish nosetackle Ian Williams, arguably the team's best defensive player this season, will be out after suffering a sprained knee ligament (MCL) against Navy on Saturday.

''It's an injury that some come back quicker than others,'' coach Brian Kelly said. ''We'll be able to get a better feel for it probably next week after we get it to calm down and go from there.''
As debut seasons for Brian Kelly go, his first year at Notre Dame is trending more similar to Central Michigan (4-7 in 2004) than Cincinnati (10-3 in 2007).

One difference is at quarterback. At Central Michigan he had an inexperienced quarterback learning the spread offense for the first time in Kent Smith. At Cincinnati he had Ben Mauck, a transfer from Wake Forest who not only played in 21 games and started 11 in college, but also had been a prolific spread-offense quarterback in high school.

But at both stops -- and at Grand Valley State as well -- Kelly's teams improved significantly as he added more players into the program who suit his offensive and defensive philosophies. Kelly is flexible enough to work around the talent he has -- he recently indicated he would have molded his offense to fit Jimmy Clausen's skills rather than the other way around had Clausen not left for the NFL last year. But at Notre Dame he's trying to fit a lot of square pegs into round holes. It really showed against Navy.

When Notre Dame lost to Navy at home last year, it was the beginning of the end for Charlie Weis. The Irish lost their final three games after Navy to finish 6-6 and Weis was fired.

''Last year you lost to Navy and you lost the rest. That means this football team fell apart,'' coach Brian Kelly said when asked about addressing his players' psyche after its third loss to Navy in four years.

''We're not going to let this team come apart. I just talked to them from my heart -- here's what I see. Here's what happened. Here's what's going to ave to happen as we move forward.''
Asked if Saturday's 35-17 loss to Navy changed his thoughts on what this team can accomplish in 2010, Brian Kelly paused. It seemed like he was trying to figure out if he should say what every other coach would say, or say what he really thinks.

He did both.

''I believe if our kids continue to work and stay together we have a chance to win every game we play, he said. ''But we could lose every game we play, too. We have no margin [for error].''

And then his penchant for candor seemed to get the best of him. Dayne Crist getting stopped for no gain on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line on Notre Dame's first possession really bugged him.

''If you can't punch it in to start the game from the one-foot line with the big guys we've got up front and a 230-pound quarterback, that says something right there.''

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Brian Kelly eschewed the standard general comments and immediately opened his post-game press conference for questions as soon as he stepped to the podium after Notre Dame's 35-17 loss to Navy on Saturday at New Meadowlands Stadium.

''Fire away,'' he said.

A very apt choice of words after the most discouraging loss of Kelly's first season as Notre Dame's head coach. The Irish were so clearly outplayed and outcoached by Navy that Kelly is almost certain to be on the receiving end of more criticism this week than in the previous seven weeks combined.

Brian Kelly's aggressive nature as a football coach is a big reason why he is where he is today. But there are times when it's gotten the better of him.

At Grand Valley State in 2001, Kelly had an undefeated team, ranked No. 2 in Division II and  averaging 58 points a game.

In a first-round playoff game  against Bloomsburg, the Lakers were leading 28-14 in the final 30 seconds of the first half. But it wasn't enough. Any time Kelly had the ball it was a time to attack.

''It goes back to being a go-go-go offense -- in your face,'' said former Grand Valley State quarterback Curt Anes, who had thrown 48 touchdowns and only three interceptions in the regular season.

''We were up big on this team. And we had never won a playoff game in the history of the school. There's [20] or so seconds left in the half and it's third-and-one on our own 45.  ''He says, 'You know what? We're going to get that first down and go for another touchdown.'''

Anes got the first down, but paid a price.

''I completely dislocated my knee,'' he said. ''Tore up everything.''
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Wide receiver Michael Floyd sat out Wednesday's practice with a hamstring pull but said he's playing Saturday against Navy at the Meadowlands.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had said Floyd's status for Navy would be game-time decision. But Floyd already has made up his mind.

''I'll tell you right now I'm going to play,'' Floyd said. ''I don't know how much I'm going to play. But we'll see.''
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Wide receiver Michael Floyd sat out Wednesday's practice with a hamstring pull but said he's playing Saturday against Navy at the Meadowlands.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had said Floyd's status for Navy would be game-time decision. But Floyd already has made up his mind.

''I'll tell you right now I'm going to play,'' Floyd said. ''I don't know how much I'm going to play. But we'll see.''
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Is it the player or the system that makes the difference in Brian Kelly's offense?

Tyler Eifert stepped in for preseason All-America tight end Kyle Rudolph and had four receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown Saturday. Against Western Michigan.

Maybe the opponent has something to do with it, too. Regardless, that's as productive as Rudolph had been as a receiver in five of the previous six games.

A better test will be this weekend against Navy. But the player to watch is freshman receiver TJ Jones, who will start in the slot position in place of Theo Riddick.
Notre Dame could be without its two leading receivers against Navy on Saturday at New Meadowlands Stadium.

Theo Riddick is definitely out with a severely sprained ankle and could be out for an extended period. Michael Floyd will not practice this week because of a Grade I hamstring pull and will be a game-time decision, coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd has a Grade 1 hamstring pull and fellow receiver Theo Riddick was in a walking boot Sunday and will undergo an MRI after x-rays on his injured ankle were ''clean,'' Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Sunday.

The Irish play Navy at the Meadowlands on Saturday.

Floyd apparently suffered the injury in practice last Wednesday. He had nine receptions for 157 yards and three touchdowns in Notre Dame's 44-20 victory over Western Michigan in South Bend. He was schedule to go for further testing on the injured hamstring Sunday.

Notre Dame defense is playing with fire

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It's a good sign for Notre Dame that when Brian Kelly cracks the whip at halftime, his defense responds. That he had to do it against Western Michigan is not such a good sign.

IfIf there was a flaw in the Irish's 44-20 victory over the Broncos on Saturday in South Bend, it's that this defense had to be poked and prodded, cajoled and scolded and read the riot act if necessary to play up to its potential. The idea on defense is to play with emotion. It helps if it's instinctive. When you need a shot of Brian Kelly twice a game, eventually it'll catch up to you. 

Notre Dame defense playing with fire

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It's a good sign for Notre Dame that when Brian Kelly cracks the whip at halftime, his defense responds. That he had to do it against Western Michigan is not such a good sign.

If there was a flaw in the Irish's 44-20 victory over the Broncos on Saturday in South Bend, it's that this defense had to be poked and prodded, cajoled and scolded and read the riot act if necessary to play up to its potential. The idea on defense is to play with emotion. It helps if it's instinctive. When you need a shot of Brian Kelly twice a game, eventually it'll catch up to you.

Breaking News: Notre Dame 44, Western Michigan 20

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Dayne Crist threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd on the first play from scrimmage, but Notre Dame needed an inspired defensive effort in the third quarter, Cierre Wood's 39-yard touchdown run and Crist's two-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd to pull away for a 44-20 victory over stubborn Western Michigan on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Crist was 18-of-28 for 255 yards and three touchdowns, Floyd had nine receptions for 157 yards and three touchdowns and wide receiver John Goodman threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Floyd on a reverse for Notre Dame (4-3), which won its third consecutive game after a 1-3 start. The Irish play Navy next week in the Meadowlands, then face Tulsa in South Bend on Oct. 30.


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It looks like Brian Kelly got his point across.

Notre Dame's defense allowed Western Michigan 212 yards in the first half, including 80 in a 10-play touchdown drive that got the Broncos within 27-17 with 15 seconds in the first half. But the Irish defense responded with two dominant three-and-outs and the offense scored touchdowns off both of them to take a 41-17 lead in the third quarter.

After Tevin Drake was stopped for a one-yard gain on first down, Kerry Neal and Ethan Johnson combined to sack Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder for an eight-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, a 20-yard punt gave Notre Dame the ball on its 44.

It took the Irish only two plays to score. Cierre Wood gained five yards on first down, then broke outside on second down and went down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown and a 34-17 lead.

On the ensuing possession, a pass to Drake lost one yard on first down, Carder threw incomplete, then scrambled for seven yards to force another punt. Notre Dame drove for another touchdown, with Dayne Crist throwing a 2-yard scoring pass to Michael Floyd on fourth-and-goal to give the Irish a 41-17 lead.

It was Floyd's third touchdown catch of the game.

Halftime report: Notre Dame 27, Western Michigan 17

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame scored four touchdowns in taking a 27-17 halftime lead over Western Michigan on Saturday. But it's doubtful coach Brian Kelly is spending much time congratulating the Irish's quick-strike offense in the Notre Dame lockerroom.

Judging by his halftime interview with NBC, it's a good bet he's lambasting his defense, which had three takeaways in the half, but also showed little backbone in allowing three long scoring drives -- two of them for touchdowns.

Particularly the Broncos' 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by quarterback Alex Carder's three-yard run on a draw with 15 seconds left in the half that made it 27-17. The Irish had all the momentum after Dayne Crist made the most of a late first-half drive that looked like it was going nowhere and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Eifert that gave the Irish a 27-10 lead with 2:19 to play.


There are times when Brian Kelly says things or does things or sings things to appease the Notre Dame faithful. He's well-aware of how ''special'' Notre Dame thinks it is.

But player personnel is his turf. He's not going to gush over a player he feels doesn't deserve the praise. He'll yell at quarterback Dayne Crist on the sideline on national television if he feels that's the best way to get the message across. And he's not going to shed too many tears over losing Kyle Rudolph if he thinks he can win without him.

Notre Dame has a leader in Dayne Crist

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I think history will show that Brian Kelly made the most of it when he retrofitted Dayne Crist for his spread offense at Notre Dame. They'll have success together -- maybe even a 10-win season in 2011 -- but both will reach greater heights on their own after that. 

But even though Crist is not a perfect fit for Kelly's offense, he's still a perfect fit for Notre Dame, and I think Kelly gains a healthier appreciation for that every day. Here's Crist's response when he was asked if he thinks he'll ever play with his teammate and close friend Kyle Rudolph again at Notre Dame, a reference to Rudolph possibly leaving early for the NFL: 
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- One day after losing tight end Kyle Rudolph to a season-ending injury, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is wrestling with another injured player who doesn't want to leave the lineup. 

Running back Armando Allen, the Irish's leading rusher, sat out practice Wednesday with a hip flexor. With sophomore Cierre Wood picking up steam and senior Robert Hughes needing carries, it would seem to be a no-brainer to sit Allen against Western Michigan on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Then again, maybe not. 
Kyle Rudolph said he had no regrets about trying to play through a ''nagging'' hamstring. 

They never do. 

You don't have to be a doctor to know that playing through a hamstring injury is a risky proposition -- a bigger risk for Usain Bolt than Kyle Rudolph, but still a risk. The hamstring is so integral to any movement of the legs -- like walking, for instance -- that once it's ''tweaked'' or strained it can only get worse unless it's allowed to heal completely. 

Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph will miss the rest of the season with a hamstring injury, coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.

Rudolph, an All-America candidate, suffered the injury in Saturday's 23-16 victory over Pittsburgh. He originally suffered a hamstring injury early in preseason practice and tried to play through it. He had 28 catches for 328 yards and three touchdowns in six games, including a 95-yard touchdown catch against Michigan.

Kelly said the injury, where tendons ''came off the bone'' will require surgery. Tyler Eifert, Mike Ragone and Jake Golic will replace Rudolph in the lineup.

''Certainly you lose one of the best tight ends in the country, that's a loss,'' Kelly said. ''One player is not going to stop what we do. Next-man-in philosophy -- Eifert, Ragone, Golic, tose guys are going to step up and play at a high level. We think they can. We have a lot of confidence in them.''


Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly disputed two calls late in the Irish's game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, but one in particular goes to the heart of the spread offense -- receiver Theo Riddick was called for a pick when he went across the middle, nullifying a 33-yard touchdown pass from Dayne Crist to Michael Floyd that would have given Notre Dame a 30-17 lead with less than six minutes to play.

''I just disagree fundamentally with the call,'' Kelly said. ''I've watched it a number of times. I'll have a conversation with our supervisor of referees. I've been running that play fo a long time and never had it called, because we run it the right way. That's a conversation we'll have to have and straighten out.''

The other call was an incomplete pass on Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, who spiked the ball in the end zone without a penalty.

I normally would offer 10 observations after Notre Dame's 23-17 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday in South Bend. But most of what Brian Kelly says is better than anything I can write. So here are Kelly's top 10 post-game quotes:

1. ''It's not a beauty contest yet for us.''

The implication, of course, is that he expects some day that it will be a beauty contest. Kelly has won games by scores of 77-12, 70-3, 59-3 and 62-13. Last year, Cincinnati averaged 44.4 points in five nationally televised games under Kelly (47, 34, 47, 49 and 45). Being happy to beat Boston College and Pitt by one point can't last too long.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thrives on preparation. In six years at Central Michigan and Cincinnati he was 10-2 with more than a week to prepare. He's won his last four openers 23-12, 47-15, 40-7 and 59-3 (and nearly upset Boston College and quarterback Matt Ryan with Central Michigan in 2006, losing 31-24).

And it works the other way, too. Twice already this season Kelly has mentioned bad film on an opponent being a factor in preparation. When Stanford surprised the Irish by rushing three defenders and dropping eight in coverage, the Irish had no response. It was something they had not seen on film.

But Kelly is never better than when he gets a bead on his opponent, which is something to keep in mind when Notre Dame (2-3) takes on Pittsburgh (2-2) today at Notre Dame Stadium.
It's not easy learning Brian Kelly's spread offense on the fly. But Dayne Crist is getting there.

After five games, Crist ranks 59th among NCAA Division I quarterbacks with a 129.93 passer efficiency rating. He's completed 113-of-194 passes for 1,358 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. For the record, Michigan's Denard Robinson is fourth (179.97), Michigan State's Kirk Cousins is 13th (164.82) and Stanford's Andrew Luck is 21st (157.54).

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, who previous quarterbacks under Kelly swear by, gave Crist a C-plus for his early season performance, which sounds about right compared to previous quarterbacks in Kelly's offense. 

''The last game [against Boston College] he showed the most understanding [of the offense] of all the games he's played,'' Molnar said. ''Would he like to take some throws back and some decisions back? Sure, he would. But he's definitely made improvement from the first game to the fifth.''

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- It could have been better. But it could have been worse

Notre Dame stunned Boston College with three touchdowns in the first quarter before the Eagles made a game of it before halftime. But Notre Dame running back Armando Allen capped a 14-play, 76-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown in the third quarter and the Irish defense pitched a shutout in the second half for a 31-13 victory Saturday night before 44,500 at Alumni Stadium.

Dayne Crist threw touchdown passes to Kyle Rudolph and Theo Riddick and scored on a seven-yard run as Notre Dame (2-3) ended a three-game losing streak. Freshman Prince Shembo had a sack and  Robert Blanton and Harrison Smith had interceptions in the second half.

Crist was 24-of-44 for 203 yards. Allen rushed for 90 yards on 19 carries.



CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Notre Dame cooled off after a hot start against Boston College, but avoided a total collapse in the second quarter and held a 24-13 lead at halftime.

Quarterback Dayne Crist scored on a seven-yard run and threw touchdown passes of tw0 yard to Kyle Rudolph and 20 yards to Theo Riddick for a 21-0 lead with 2:19 left in the first quarter. At that point the Irish had outgained the Eagles 173-1 and freshman quarterback Chase Rettig was 1-for-6 for minus-1 yard passing.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Notre Dame put it all together on its opening drive against Boston College on Saturday night, covering 92 yards on five plays from the opening kickoff for a touchdown and 7-0 lead just 1:48 into the game.

After freshman Bennett Jackson returned the opening kickoff 42 yards to midfield, quarterback Dayne Crist drove Notre Dame downfield like a machine. Armando Allen gained five yards on first down. Crist avoided a big pass rush and completed an eight-yard pass to tight end John Goodman.
Boston College on the opening coin toss prior to tonight' game against Notre Dame, but deferred its choice of kicking or receiving until the second half. Notre Dame chose to receive and will get the opening kickoff.


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- True freshman Chase Rettig will start at quarterback for Boston College against Notre Dame on Saturday night, it was announced about 90 minutes prior to kickoff.
  
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani insisted all week that he had not decided whther Rettig or sophomore Mike Marscovetra would replace 26-year-old sophomore Dave Shinskie, who was benched after the Eagles lost to Virginia Tech 19-0 last week. The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that Rettig, a highly rated prospect, was getting 80 percent of the snaps and would start.

Boston College also announced that starting defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey was suspended for the game for an unspecified  violation of a team rule. 

Ramsey, a 6-3, 295-pound junior, had 10 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a half-sack in Boston College's first three games. He will be replaced by 6-3, 309-pound senior Damik Scafe.


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- True freshman Chase Rettig will start at quarterback for Boston College against Notre Dame on Saturday night, it was announced about 90 minutes prior to kickoff.
  
Boston College coach Frank Spaziani insisted all week that he had not decided whther Rettig or sophomore Mike Marscovetra would replace 26-year-old sophomore Dave Shinskie, who was benched after the Eagles lost to Virginia Tech 19-0 last week. The Boston Globe reported on Wednesday that Rettig, a highly rated prospect, was getting 80 percent of the snaps and would start.

Boston College also announced that starting defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey was suspended for the game for an unspecified  violation of a team rule. 

Ramsey, a 6-3, 295-pound junior, had 10 tackles, one tackle-for-loss and a half-sack in Boston College's first three games. He will be replaced by 6-3, 309-pound senior Damik Scafe.


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