Mid-week Notebook

A season-ending injury, bounce-back efforts from the team's top perimeter players, and balance in the passing game highlight our morning notebook.

Rough go for Ragone

He tore his ACL prior to his senior season in high school and again as a college sophomore. He's been sidelined in both of the last two August camps with heat exhaustion (2010) and a quadriceps injury. And now 5th-year senior tight end Mike Ragone's career is in jeopardy with another major knee injury.

"He is going to have ACL surgery; we have lost him for the year," Kelly said Tuesday of his best blocking tight end.. "I'm very disappointed for him. He has been a warrior, in a sense, for us. He's battled through a lot of injuries, he loves to play the game, he loves competition and we're really going to miss him. "He'll still be around our football team; he's going to help mentor some of our younger players. Alex Welch is cleared to practice and compete. Jake Golic (is as well)."

One of those Ragone will mentor is promising freshman Ben Koyack. The Oil City, Pennsylvania-prospect received his first collegiate action in Saturday's loss to the Wolverines.

"He's not afraid to stick his nose in there. In terms of assignment, he was assignment correct," Kelly said of Koyack, lamenting, "We had some other guys that needed to be attentive to their assignments.

"(Koyack's) a kid that's not rattled. I really love his demeanor. The first time we put him on the field he didn't have that look that look that sometimes you're concerned about."

Kelly noted that sophomore linebacker Danny Spond's hamstring injury isn't as severe as the staff initially believed. He is questionable for Saturday's contest. Spond is a starter on both the punt and kick coverage units.

Senior nose guard Sean Cwynar has also made progress in strengthening his broken hand and could be available vs. the Spartans.

Bounce-back, Take II

In Week One, Irish wideouts T.J. Jones and Theo Riddick combined for two turnovers, three dropped passes, and two more incompletions that could have been secured. Last week, both put a singular poor outing behind him with Jones catching a touchdown and Riddick snaring a pair including the go-ahead with 30 seconds remaining. The duo combined for nine receptions and 90 yards.

Next on the Irish roster's redemption list: 5th-year senior cornerback Gary Gray.

"He has to have a short memory at that position, and certainly college football, NFL football, you're going to have a day like that," said Kelly of Gray's unforeseen struggles in Ann Arbor.

"It's unfortunate that people look at that one position because it's not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on. There are a lot of situations. If we don't turn the ball over, Gary Gray's name is not even brought up."

Gray yielded three touchdown passes, a separate 77-yard gain, and was chief among several responsible for the back-breaking 64-yard catch-and-run that set up Saturday's winning score.

Kelly alluded to Riddick's efforts vs. the Wolverines as an example of the mental toughness of his roster.

"Look, if you measure it as to how your guys handle adversity, (if) we win that football game (vs. Michigan), the No. 1 story is Theo Riddick," he said. "It was palatable how disappointed he was in himself in his body language against South Florida, and he comes back and has a spectacular game, has a chance to win that game at the end.

"That's the resiliency of this group. That's why I like this team. Gary Gray is going to have a great game (vs. Michigan State)."

Floyd's Fellows

Consecutive games in which he's established a career-high or receptions. Consecutive contests in which he's eclipsed 150 yards receiving. And over the last six football quarters, senior wide receiver Michael Floyd has been the intended target of *31 Tommy Rees passes: 23 of those reached their intended target – but three others found the opponents' welcoming arms.

"The lion's share of his catches have been with Tommy, and they're on the same page," said Kelly of the Floyd/Rees connection. "Michael has been what we expected and more. He's been great in the locker room, he's been great around our teammates, he's a joy to coach, he's upbeat and positive about everything, and he's a great competitor. I'm just lucky that I get an opportunity to coach him.

And Rees is undoubtedly lucky he has Floyd on which to rely, but is the second-year signal-caller again targeting his All-America pass-catcher too often?

"It's an interesting question because I admonished (Rees) late in the game when he threw the ball to TJ (Jones) down the sideline when he had the same match-up (opposite with Floyd)," Kelly noted.

"Now, we got a (pass interference)…but I also liked the fact that now TJ knows that if he gets a match-up, Tommy Rees is going to throw (him) the ball, not just Michael Floyd. There's a dynamic there that's really positive."

Kelly was pleased with Rees' overall distribution vs. the Wolverines.

"If you look at the guys that caught key balls for us, Theo Riddick, Tyler Eifert, TJ Jones, and of course Michael Floyd, there's a lot to worry about there," he said. "And although there are some times where there's a tendency to look to (Floyd), he's a hard guy not to try to get the ball to. So there is a bit of a balance and a dynamic that I kind of like right now."

Of Rees' 12 career interceptions, six were intended for Floyd (Tulsa, Army, USC in 2010; USF and Michigan 2011); two for junior target Robby Toma (Tulsa and USC 2010); and one apiece for sophomore T.J. Jones (USF), junior Theo Riddick (last year vs. Michigan) and departed senior Duval Kamara (USC 2010). (The remaining pick, vs. Tulsa last fall, was tipped at the line and returned for a touchdown.)

Note: *The number was gleaned from game tape by Irisheyes.com; it's not an available official team statistic).

Young pups remained on the porch

Saturday night's defeat featured just one series for Cat linebacker Ishaq Williams. Likewise for Dog linebacker Troy Niklas. Neither of the team's ballyhooed freshmen defensive ends Aaron Lynch or Stephon Tuitt appeared.

Don't expect that trend to continue vs. the Spartans Saturday.

"I think obviously some of the concerns about playing a team that has option principles in it concerned us a little bit," said Kelly of Michigan and Denard Robinson. "But we've got to get (Lynch and Tuitt) on the field, there's no question. We're committed to getting them some more playing time and getting them on the field and helping us continue to build our defense."

Another reason for the limited substitutions as a hole was Notre Dame's ability to control the football. The Irish possessed the ball for more than 37 of the game's 60 minutes; the defense appeared for a mere 50 snaps (after 72 in the season-opener).

"We were at nickel quite a bit; they're not on nickel," said Kelly of a five defensive back defensive package. "We were up 24-7; we run a lot more nickel, so that applies a little bit more to it. We've got to continue to bring them along, and we'll obviously look at that this weekend."

The Irish nickel defensive line features a pair of senior outside linebackers aligned as defensive ends: Darius Fleming (left) and Steven Filer (right) with outside linebacker Prince Shembo (inside Fleming) and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (inside Filer) as the defensive tackle tandem: a four-man front with Manti Te'o and either Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, or (vs. USF) safety Austin Collinsworth aligned as the linebacker pair.


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