The Utes are the 139th different opponent in Notre Dame football history and will look to be the third visitor in as many seasons to win its first trip to South Bend. (UConn 2009 and Tulsa 2010). Prior to the Huskies' upset win in '09, no first-time visitor to Notre Dame Stadium had emerged with a victory since Bobby Bowden's Florida State Seminoles in 1981.
Below is a closer look at Saturday's Senior Day matchup…by the numbers.
1 – National rank of the Utes punt return squad, a group averaging a stunning 20.76 per return with *three touchdowns. Aptly named wide receiver Shaky Smithson has delivered the bulk of the damage, compiling an astounding 570 yards on 25 returns with two touchdowns including a long of 78 yards. Smithson has totaled more than 110 punt return yards in four separate contests this season: 5-128 vs. UNLV; 4-140 vs. New Mexico; 5-145 vs. Iowa State; and 4-111 vs. Wyoming.
(*The Utes' third punt return touchdown was the result of a blocked punt vs. San Jose State.)
Prior to the October 31 loss to Tulsa, a game in which Golden Hurricane's return man Damaris Johnson scored on a 59-yard punt return, Notre Dame's punt coverage unit ranked first nationally, allowing just three total punt return yards vs. eight opponents.
Utah has proven dangerous in the kick return game as well with JuCo transfer Reggie Dunn adding a 100-yard KR touchdown for the Utes in a backup role to Smithson, who's averaged nearly 24 yards per kick return through nine games.
2 – Total rushing touchdowns this season by Notre Dame players who will appear in Saturday's contest. Injured QB Dayne Crist leads the Irish with four rushing scores while injured tailback Armando Allen and current starter Cierre Wood have both run for two touchdowns apiece this season. Conversely, Utah has rushed for 23 touchdowns this season while allowing just seven to its nine opponents.
3 – Michael Floyd's rank among the program's all-time greats in career touchdown receptions (24) and career 100-yard games (12) entering Saturday's contest. Floyd needs three touchdowns to tie Jeff Samardzija's record of 27 receiving scores, and one 100-yard game to tie Tom Gatewood (1969-71) for second on that exclusive list. Golden Tate set the program record with 15 100-yard games before exiting for the NFL Draft as a true junior after last season.
With 11 receptions Saturday, Floyd could also move past Gatewood and Tate (157 apiece) on the program's career receptions list. Floyd caught a career-high 11 passes in Notre Dame's last outing vs. Tulsa. He's the only player in program history to catch 10 or more passes in three different contests.
4 – Sacks allowed by the Utah offensive line this season; only Marshall (2), Stanford (3) and Boise State (3) have allowed fewer than has the Utes experienced front wall. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly attributes the team's success up front to the quality of the Utes' personnel and coaching, but also to the offense's tendency for quick-developing passing plays, something Kelly has tried to implement in his first season at the helm in South Bend:
"They are getting rid of the football," Kelly said of Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn. "It's play action pass. It's a quick game if you do bring a lot of pressure, their quick … at getting the ball out. Schematically (they) do a lot of things that we do; they are doing them better right now."
Notre Dame has allowed 17 sacks for 100 total lost yards. Utah has incurred just 27 lost yards due to sacks through nine games.
5 – Games this season in which the Notre Dame defense has registered at least four sacks (As note above, Utah has surrendered four sacks this season). The Irish have collected 24 sacks from nine different players. Junior OLB Darius Fleming leads the way with 5.5 QB takedowns while classmate and defensive end Ethan Johnson is on his heels for the team honor with 5 through 9 games. Bob Diaco's Irish defense is on pace for 32 sacks (in 12 regular season games), a number that would rank 7th in program history (sacks became an official NCAA statistic in 1982).
6 – Total November wins by the Irish since and including the 2006 football season. Charlie Weis' 2005 squad finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak, one that included a 4-0 effort in November to secure a BCS berth. Since, the Irish are 6-11 in the season's final month while suffering from diminishing returns: Notre Dame won three of four in November 2006; two of four in 2007; one of five in 2008 and zero of four contests played in November 2009.
The Notre Dame program finished November undefeated on just two occasions in the last decade (2000 and 2005) and just five times (1992, 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2005) over the last 20 seasons.
7 – Wins by Utah vs. BCS foes in 8 opportunities since the start of the 2008 season.
Alabama, California, Iowa State, Louisville, Michigan, Oregon State, and Pittsburgh have all fallen victim to the Mountain West power with only Oregon (2009) nipping Utah for a 31-24 defeat in Eugene.
Notre Dame has defeated just 12 of 26 BCS foes the program has faced over that same span.
8 – Irish players to score a touchdown through the season's first nine contests: Michael Floyd (8); Dayne Crist (4); Cierre Wood (4); Tai-ler Jones (3); Kyle Rudolph (3); Theo Riddick (3); Armando Allen (2) and Tyler Eifert (1). Of the eight, only Floyd, Wood and Eifert are a lock to play Saturday, though the freshman Jones is expected to start despite a lingering hamstring injury. Crist, Rudolph and Allen are out for the season. Riddick is out for at least two more games due to a high ankle sprain suffered vs. Pittsburgh in Week Six.
Utah has enjoyed touchdown contributions from 16 players this season, 10 of which have posted multiple scores including running back and team touchdown leader Eddie Wide (11).
9 – Consecutive losses by the Irish when deemed underdogs by the Las Vegas bookmakers. The streak includes 2010 losses at home vs. Stanford and at Michigan State; 2009 losses at Stanford, at Pittsburgh, and vs. USC; and 2008 losses at USC, at Boston College, at North Carolina and at Michigan State. Notre Dame's last technical win as an underdog was a 35-17 victory over Michigan in South Bend, a game in which the Wolverines were deemed a one-point favorite.
On a related note, Utah has won 27 consecutive games when deemed the game's favorite; its last loss occurring in September 2007 when the Utes, favored by 7 points entering the contest, dropped a 27-0 decision to UNLV.
The number 9 marks another winning streak for the Salt Lake City crew: Utah has emerged victorious in nine consecutive bowl appearances, tied for the second longest streak in college football history (Florida State won 11 straight Bowl Games from 1985-1996.)
10 – Games over the last calendar year (14 matchups) in which Utah has scored at least 28 points and won the contest. Utah has lost just three times over that span (twice to a Top 5 TCU squad). Notre Dame has lost eight consecutive games in which its opponent totaled 28 or more points dating back to a 37-30 overtime win vs. Washington in early October 2009.
11 – Consecutive losses by the Irish to teams ranked among the nation's Top 25. The streak dates back to a 41-24 win over No. 18 Penn State on September 9, 2006. Since, the Irish have lost to No. 11 Michigan, No. 3 USC, and No. 4 LSU in 2006; No. 14 Penn State, No. 4 Boston College, and No. 13 USC in 2007; No. 22 North Carolina and No. 5 USC in 2008; No. 6 USC and No. 8 Pittsburgh in 2009; and No. 9 Stanford in 2010.
The average margin of defeat for the Irish in those 11 contests is exactly 20 points, though four of the 11 losses to ranked teams were by 7 or fewer points over that span.
12 – Senior Day wins by the Notre Dame program over the last 16 seasons. The span begins after the program lost its most recent No. 1 national ranking on Senior Day, 1993. Two of Notre Dame's four losses in that span occurred over the last two years with an overtime loss to Connecticut last year and an upset at the hands of then 2-8 Syracuse in 2008. The Irish also lost Senior Day games in 1999 (31-29 vs. No. 25 Boston College) and a wild 41-38 last second defeat vs. Pittsburgh in 2004.
Bonus Stat: 100 – Total tackles compiled by sophomore Irish linebacker, Butkus Semi-Finalist, and Bednarik Award Semi-Finalist Manti Te'o through nine games. Te'o is on pace to finish with 133 regular season tackles which would be the highest number at the program since Tony Furjanic registered 147 for Gerry Faust's final team in 1985. The previous high since Furjanic's '85 season was recorded by junior inside linebacker Demetrius Dubose, who totaled 127 tackles Lou Holtz and the 10-3 Irish.
On the HorizonIrish players that could reasonably accomplish statistical milestones Saturday vs. the Utes:
Armando Allen: Concluded his Irish career in 5th place among all running backs on the program's receiving yardage list.
- Joseph Heap 1137 (1951-54)
- Bob Gladieux 947 (1966-68)
- Jim Morse 902 (1954-56)
- Darius Walker 816 (2004-06)
- Armando Allen Jr. 809 (2007-2010)
Allen moved past Rocket Ismail (1988-1990) into 5th place on the program's all-purpose yardage list earlier this season. The senior will finish his career behind only Julius Jones (5,462), Autry Denson (5,327), Allen Pinkett (5,259) and Tim Brown (5,024) on the all-time list. Allen amassed 4,250 all-purpose yards thanks to the early portion of his career in which he totaled 1,360 kick and punt return yards. Allen finished with 2,078 career rushing yards, just 197 away from 10th place on the program's career rushing list.
David Ruffer:Has connected on 18 consecutive field goals and all 18 attempts in his career. Ruffer is 13 for 13 this season and needs two more successful attempts to break teammate Nick Tausch's record of 14 consecutive field goals in a single season.
Michael Floyd: Has caught 147 passes in 24 career games. Floyd enters Saturday's contest 10 receptions short of tying Tom Gatewood and Golden Tate (2007-09) for third on the programs list and 32 short of Jeff Samardzija's program record 179 grabs from 2003-2006.
Floyd currently ranks third on the program's touchdown receptions chart is just three shy of surpassing Tate (26) and tying Samardzija (27) for the program record.
Likewise, Floyd needs just 42 receiving yards to pass Rhema McKnight (2,227) and Tom Gatewood (2,283) and move into 5th place on the program's career receiving yardage list. Next on Floyd's radar at No. 4: Tim Brown, with 2,493 receiving yards.
Ethan Johnson: With his next (full) sack, the junior defensive end will move into 10th place ahead of the late Wally Kleine (1983-86) on the program's career sack list. Justin Tuck (2002-04) holds the program record with 24.5 sacks in 36 career games. Saturday's contest vs. Utah will mark Johnson's 35th game played as a member of the Irish.