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Notre Dame football nothing special, but they’re still solid

Updated: October 22, 2013 10:53PM



Notre Dame isn’t in contention for the national title. Heck, the Irish aren’t even ranked in the top 25 in the first Bowl Championship Series standings.

Turnovers and an inability to stop big plays were costly in Notre Dame’s two losses. But if the game has been close late, the Irish have found a way to win.

Just past the midway point of the regular season, here’s a look at the 5-2 Irish:

Offense

Quarterback Tommy Rees threw three interceptions Sept. 28 against Oklahoma, but he has thrown five touchdown passes and only one
interception in two games since. Rees left the game Saturday against USC with a strained neck, but he was cleared to practice Tuesday.

Wide receiver TJ Jones and tight end Troy Niklas are dependable targets. The ground game has been inconsistent, but the line has pass-protected well.

Grade: C.

Defense

Notre Dame had a combined four sacks in its first five games, but it has had eight in its last two. Injuries have taken a toll, particularly at linebacker (Danny Spond during the preseason, Jarrett Grace during the season), but players such as freshman Jaylon Smith have stepped in nicely. Carlo Calabrese (48 tackles) and Dan Fox (41 tackles) are contributing at inside linebacker. Nose guard Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon
Tuitt are disruptive up front. Cornerback Bennett Jackson is second to Calabrese in tackles (42).

Grade: B.

Special teams

Kyle Brindza has handled the bulk of the kicking and punting
duties. He’s 8-for-11 on field goals and is averaging 40.4 yards on 28 punts.

Grade: B.

Coaching

Brian Kelly and his staff have navigated through the injuries, not to mention the offseason news of the loss of quarterback Everett Golson for a season. Four of Notre Dame’s five victories have been by seven points or fewer. The Irish have won shootouts (37-34 against Arizona State) and low-scoring games (14-10 against USC).

Grade: B.

Offensive MVP

Jones has had at least one touchdown reception in four consecutive games and leads Notre Dame in catches (37), receiving yards (527) and touchdown receptions (five).

Defensive MVP

After a slow start, Tuitt has been dominating. He leads the Irish in tackles for loss (6½) and sacks (five). He had two sacks against USC.

Prediction

Preseason: 10-2; updated: 9-3. Regular-season finale at Stanford still looms large.

Email: lpope@post-trib.com

Twitter: @lamondpope



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