Tight End U For Two

Junior tight end Ben Koyack ranked among the team's most improved offensive players on film from Game Four to Game Five. In Game Six, he added a career first, and likely not his last.

Game week conversation posited that junior tight end Ben Koyack played his best game in an Irish uniform during Notre Dame's 35-21 home loss to Oklahoma. Koyack, a natural pass-catcher that struggled intermittently (and mightily) as an in-line blocking tight end during his career, put forth an outstanding effort against the Sooners.

"It was his best game, period," said head coach Brian Kelly in agreement of the question. "As an in-line blocker, he was aggressive at the point of attack. He finished his blocks. There is so much more for him. He's a terrific pass-catcher. We'd just like to see it on a consistent basis."

"Still, Koyack was without a catch on the season through five games entering Saturday night's contest in Cowboys Stadium.

"I'm frustrated. We're both frustrated," Kelly said. "We just want him to go, let it go. It's just one of those things, I hope we see the next step. He saw himself on film have some success, as a guy that can get in there and get after people. He really, really struggled in some other games earlier in the year -- Michigan State he missed some really key blocks. He committed himself and played so much better against Oklahoma.

"I hope we see that continue, and I really think he's got so much more to offer in the pass game. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see that."

Koyack registered his first catch of the season on his first target of the season (and just the second time he's seen a pass come his way since Week Two of 2012), scoring his first career touchdown in the process, a 19-yard catch-and-run to put the Irish ahead 7-6. His pay dirt production became notable later when junior teammate Troy Niklas snagged a score as well, leaping above his defender for a 21-yard touchdown.

For the first time since 2006, Notre Dame received two touchdowns from its tight end position. (Remarkably, neither Kyle Rudolph nor Tyler Eifert thereafter scored twice in a game.) No two Irish tight ends had combined for two scores since then-starter John Carlson and his backup Marcus Freeman did the same vs. Air Force on November 18, 2006.

With four touchdowns, 14 receptions (on 20 targets) and 250 receiving yards, Niklas has emerged as quarterback Tommy Rees' third receiving threat. Considering the two tight end formation has proven to be Notre Dame's most reliable offensive package to date, it's incumbent upon Koyack that he make weekly contributions in the passing game the norm rather than the exception.

Rolls Right off Rees' Back

Kelly was asked post-game if Rees would be able to "silence some of his critics" following a 279-yard, three touchdown, one interception effort.

"No. No. They will still be there," he noted matter-of-factly.

They'll never go away for the embattled Rees who too often sprinkles in a bit of his former self into otherwise quality outings. It was Rees' costly interception, returned for a 27-yard touchdown, that served as the final step in an Arizona State comeback that drew the Sun Devils within four, 24-20, when the Irish defense had taken control of the game midway through the second half.

Rees has thrown an interception touchdown in consecutive games and has tossed a combined five picks in Notre Dame's two losses; just one in its four wins.

The senior leader was asked post-game how he's able to let the "heat" he gets from the fans roll off his back.

"I don't even know what you're talking about?" Rees joked. "No, I'm just kidding. Being a quarterback at Notre Dame, it's one of those things that you kind of sign up for. But for me, I rely on my teammates first, coaches, family, the people that I care about, and I care what they think.

"For me, it's just staying focused and staying within the people that matter."

Rees' performance doubtless matters, as much or more than any teammate going forward.

"To get back on track heading into a bye week, the halfway point of the season, it was kind of a game we understood the importance of," Rees noted. "We had a great week of preparation."

And now a week to retool and energize for a stretch run, a BCS Bowl bid still in play.

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