From Snow Bowl to SurgeonHis collegiate career thus far truncated by injuries, junior Kyle Rudolph has nonetheless etched his mark in the school's lore as one of the most clutch tight ends in program history.
A game-winner vs. Purdue last season followed by what should have been another with under a minute to play seven days later vs. Washington (the Irish won in overtime). A 95-yard go-ahead late vs. Michigan this season…Kyle Rudolph makes plays.
This week, possibly tomorrow, Rudolph begins the long road back to recovery with surgery to repair his avulsed hamstring.
"It looks like this week, Friday, and Dr. Ratigan will be doing the surgery," Brian Kelly explained to the media after Wednesday's practice. "(Rudolph) will stay within the sports medicine program here at Notre Dame."
Dr. Ratigan is better known to long-time Irish fans as Brian Ratigan, the 1992 graduate referenced in this IrishEyes column last season and perhaps best remembered for a diving fumble recovery in the thrilling Snow Bowl victory over Penn State.
"I really like both of them. Eifert and Ragone are a great tandem and compliment," he offered of the pair that has played sparingly due to injury this season. "I think they'll fill in and do a really good job. I'm not concerned about that position."
Eifert has one career catch – a hard-nosed beauty over the middle vs. Michigan – and one career start (Stanford) while Ragone has battled injuries and inconsistency throughout his career though the senior from Cherry Hill, New Jersey started seven games last season for Charlie Weis' two-tight end heavy unit.
"I started last year. This is not my first time being on the field. He went down last year I was the guy. We've been down the same road. I've been out for two seasons. Its just playing football, nothing different.
"It's a big thing because Kyle's a great person on and off the field and we communicate and help each other a lot. But the transition is no different because we work so hard and with all the time we put in together (in practice), my transition won't be that difficult."
On the mendArmando Allen was seen milling about post practice in sweat pants last night. Not a major concern according to the head coach.
"He's got a hip flexor so we're going to be cautious with him," he said of the oft-injured senior. "We think we can be (strong) with Cierre (Wood) and (Robert) Hughes, and Jonas (Gray) is going to be back this week. We've had six rugged, physical games. We're going to be cautious going into this weekend with Armando."
Gray has been cleared to play after missing the last two games with a knee injury suffered late vs. Stanford. As for Allen, it might be tough to convince the hard-nosed competitor to sit out one of his final three home games.
"He's going to dress and he's going to want to play, so I guess we'll have to see what it looks like on Saturday," Kelly added. "He's already told me ‘I have to play'…I didn't know the history but he hasn't got to seven games in a season so he wants to (play) but we have to be careful with him."
Two positions charged with paving holes for Allen also remain in flux.
"He's a little better, he's still not anchored the way I want on pass rush," Kelly said of senior right tackle Taylor Dever who missed last week's contest (a game-time decision) vs. Pittsburgh. "He looks good in everything but that's not a situation where I'm ready to make a decision. He was better today than yesterday but I'm going to have to see a little more (Thursday)."
Dever was replaced on the right side by redshirt-freshman left tackle Zack Martin, who started the season's first five games on QB Dayne Crist's blind side. As a result, senior Matt Romine won the starting left tackle spot last Saturday, but he remains in competition with classmate Andrew Nuss for this week's nod.
"They're both competing all week again. You have to understand Nuss hadn't had much (experience) at left tackle," Kelly said of the versatile veteran who played mostly guard before last spring's debut at right tackle. "He's picking it up really quickly so we're fortunate we have enough guys we have confidence in."
(Not) Gone Fishin'As referenced yesterday, Kelly has a recent history with Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit, most recently a pair of meetings in the 2006 season. The first gave Kelly's Central Michigan Chippewas the MAC title; the second, just eight weeks later, afforded Kelly's new team an International Bowl win over the same WMU program and head man.
Does Kelly look fondly upon that November that clinched the MAC Western Division for the Chippewas?
"I guess it was that it helped solidify us winning a championship, so yeah, that was a huge game but I never looked at it as it vaulted my career to XYZ," Kelly offered of the 31-7 win. "I remember it being cold and rainy on Wednesday – those are the things in coaching (you remember) – you forget a lot of things…" he mused.
Kelly's unique reminiscence was apparently on point as the A.P. game story noted, "The game was played in a continual rain and 15-mph wind, with a game-time temperature of 37 degrees."
Kelly's additional observation from that week of preparation concerned the always ready unit produced by this week's opposing coach, Bill Cubit. The two were reportedly in line for the soon-to-be-vacant Michigan State job heading into the contest.
One reporter noted that Kelly and Cubit did not appear to resemble "fishing buddies" entering the contest.
"We're still not fishing buddies. I know what you meant…" Kelly said. "We've always respected each other as coaches in our profession. We have different personalities and probably likes and dislikes, but I would always seek him out in opportunities because I respect him as a football coach."
After defeating WMU for the MAC West, Kelly took over the vacancy in Cincinnati as then-Bearcats head coach Mark Dantonio bolted for East Lansing.
One month later, Kelly and a skeleton coaching crew led the Bearcats to a 27-24 International Bowl win against, you guessed it, Western Michigan.
Kelly was asked why his BCS Bearcats struggled to a field goal victory while the supposedly "lesser talented" Chippewas hammered the same Western Michigan team two months earlier.
"We only had two weeks to prepare at Cincinnati for the bowl game and I had four coaches. It's hard to say we were prepared for that game," Kelly said. "I came in and had about 10 days to prepare. We were more familiar with what we were going to get with Central Michigan kids who knew (the offense)."
Pressed as to the teams' comparative talent level, Kelly offered, "It's a wash. They both had their strengths and weaknesses. We had a better quarterback at the time at Central Michigan," (freshman future record-setting MAC star Dan Lefevour).