His Irish/Bearcats prevailed in 22 of them, including a 2-2 mark this season, but Kelly is just 7-6 overall at ND vs. 15-3 in touchdown-spread games during his three seasons with the Bearcats.
Better in Pads than in Shorts: I don't think senior cornerback Robert Blanton will test particularly well at the NFL Draft Combine or in a personal workout on campus, but Blanton's physical play, nose for the ball, and knowledge of his craft will serve him well as a defensive back during what could be an extended stay in The League. He could serve a variety of hybrid roles in the right defensive backfield (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and the New York Jets immediately come to mind)…
Six Personnel-Related Items that Surprised: I'd have balked at each had you offered the following scenarios in early August:
1.) Defensive Newcomer of the Year Award winner Dan Fox starting 12 games at Will Linebacker
2.) Tight ends Ben Koyack, Mike Ragone, and Alex Welch combining for three receptions
3.) Only 20 sacks as a team heading into the bowl game
4.) A decade-best 25 rushing touchdowns for the team
5.) 13 turnovers created by the Irish vs. 26 against
6.) And of course, the fact that I'd pen a magazine story comparing Jonas Gray's senior year to that of all-time great one-year wonder, Reggie Brooks. Gray is one of the best senior success stories in my three decades around Notre Dame sports.
Disturbing Fact of the Day: Of Notre Dame's 45 offensive touchdowns, 26 came courtesy the defenses of Purdue, Air Force, Navy, and Maryland…
Perplexing Fact of the Day: Notre Dame's defense allowed five relevant second half touchdowns in 11 games this season – one each vs. USF, Pittsburgh, USC, BC, and Stanford. The four scored by Michigan in the remaining contest remain a mystery – a season-derailing mystery, to boot…
(Reiterated) Encouraging Fact of the Day: Brian Kelly hasn't lost two straight games to end a season in his 20-year career as a head coach. Former coaches Gerry Faust, Lou Holtz, Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis all did so in either their first or second season at Notre Dame. Prior to Faust, Dan Devine lost his final two games in his last year at the helm.
First Five Bowl Thoughts There's plenty to dissect before kickoff, but I consider the quintet below among the most important storylines for the 29th:
- Notre Dame's two most important and vulnerable offensive players in the Champs Sports Bowl will combine to begin (nearly) every snap: Center Mike Golic, Jr., and QB Tommy Rees
- Safety Jamoris Slaughter may not start at outside linebacker/Nickel, but he'll end up there due to FSU's perimeter weapons. The Irish can't often play four linebackers in a base defense vs. the speedy Seminoles.
- Assuming Rees remains upright, I don't foresee more than three series for his classmate, Andrew Hendrix: two in the first half and one in the second. I'd be fine with zero series for Hendrix outside the Seminoles 15-yard line if he takes every snap for the Irish in close as a true goal line package quarterback.
- Notre Dame did not sack Matt Barkley or Andrew Luck, and managed just one vs. Denard Robinson (Dan Fox on a blitz) – losing each contest. The Irish front seven has to both pressure and finish the drill vs. Seminoles QB E.J. Manuel as have other Florida State foes this fall: the FSU offensive line allowed 36 sacks of their signal-callers in 12 games.
- The Irish were impeccably prepared for last year's Sun Bowl vs. Miami – from the kickoff coverage unit to the quarterback to the disciplined effort of the secondary. I consider that every time I think my game prediction will favor Florida State.