THEIR PERSONAL BESTS
Taking into account the opponent and/or game situation, below are the best individual offensive performances of 2015:
1. The Offensive Line (Stanford): Paved the way for 8.5 yards per carry, 18 yards per completion and more than 500 yards of total offense including the should’ve-been game-winning drive.
2. DeShone Kizer (Pittsburgh): Scored six touchdowns (five passing) and threw just seven incomplete passes – and against a solid defense/foe to boot.
3. Malik Zaire (Texas): 19 of 22 in excess of 300 yards with three touchdowns in his first home start. Granted Texas was a rudderless ship at the time but the Longhorns possess defensive talent nonetheless.
4. C.J. Prosise (Ga. Tech): A shade under 200 rushing yards with three touchdowns against the nation’s 14th-ranked team at the time. The win announced Notre Dame’s presence as a contender and Prosise’s name on the main stage.
5. Will Fuller (Virginia): Fuller murdered Texas, USC, and Pittsburgh as well but it was the speedster’s two long touchdown strikes, first 59 yards, then the thrilling game-winner from 39 yards out that kept Notre Dame’s goals within reach.
Ditto, with the defense, and with a focus on the more difficult challenges Brian VanGorder’s troops encountered (i.e., no Texas, Boston College or Wake Forest nominations included):
1. Jaylon Smith (Stanford): A career-high 15 tackles including six stuffs. Nine of Smith’s 15 stops were against Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffery.
2. Sheldon Day (Temple): Six tackles including five stuffs with a forced fumble, and the Irish needed every last one in a 24-20 road win.
3. Isaac Rochell (USC): Six tackles including 4.5 stuffs with a pass break-up and three quarterback hurries against the archrival Trojans.
4. Joe Schmidt (Ga. Tech): Posted a season-high 4.5 stuffs against the then-vaunted Rambling Wreck triple-option attack. Schmidt finished with 10 tackles and two QB pressures on the afternoon.
5. Sheldon Day (Navy): Nine tackles including five stuffs (two on third-down) as the Irish limited the Mid’s to 340 yards of total offense.
THANKS FOR THE GRUB
The best press box food of 2015:
1. Heinz Field (Pittsburgh): The noon kickoff yielded Prime Rib as the entrée (carving station included). I’m not sure I need to continue but fresh salad and a nacho bar were also present…
2. Lincoln Financial Field (Temple): Philly Cheesesteaks, of course. Also massive salty pretzels, though they cold.
3. Memorial Stadium (Clemson): Pulled Pork pre-game with hamburgers (and hot dogs) at halftime.
4. Stanford Stadium: Beef Sandwiches + Panera Soup and Chips. Wait, they also served beer post-game. Move ‘em up to #2.
5. Notre Dame Stadium: Popcorn, hot dogs, soups, salad, potato salad and post-game pizza. Like the comfort of an old shoe…
Speaking of old shoes: “Chicken” sandwiches were introduced at a sampling of Irish home games this season. Little do they know THE SAMPSON absconded with a sample of what is believed to be boiled chicken with grill marks painted on and had it sent out for testing to discern the true identity of the mystery meat.
6. Fenway Park (Boston College): The clam chowder was of course solid, but the pasta and chicken tenders were straight outta the Yasztremski era. Also they erroneously double-charged many of us, so if anyone from ND media relations is reading this, I’ll take my $12 in trade…
DON’T TRAVEL WITH O’MALLEY
Notable Travel Moments of 2014 and 2015. (Knock on wood – my flight to Phoenix is in 24 hours). I’ll start with the lone positive:
1. Sept. 26, 2014 (New Meadowlands vs. Syracuse): Tim Prister and I escaping Michiana Regional Airport minutes before all Midwest flights are grounded due to a fire at O’Hare. When we landed at a connection in Detroit, we wisely eschewed the nearby (massive) line for standby flights to Newark and found another Delta counter. As a result, the standby list – some 25 deep – showed these two names at the top: Prister, O’Malley.
Yep, miraculously only two stand-by customers got on and got out of dodge that afternoon…
2. Nov. 22, 2015 (Fenway vs. BC): Returning home from Boston to a car in O’Hare encased in ice and 8 inches of snow and using my shoe to hammer through the mixture to get to my trunk where in place of an ice scraper I found…a towel. New level cold hands ensued as I clawed my way into the car and pulled ice/snow from my wipers/windshield.
3. Oct. 17, 2014 (Tallahassee vs. FSU): Landing at 2 pm Friday after a ridiculously expensive South Bend-Miami-Tallahassee connection I bounded out of the tiny Tallahassee airport to meet friends for afternoon drinks at our hotel pool (Days Inn, $350 per night, 4 to a room) on FSU’s campus. 35 minutes into the 40-minute cab ride thru Friday game traffic I realized I uncharacteristically checked a bag…and it wasn’t next to me in said taxi.
4. Nov. 30, 2014 (Los Angeles vs. USC): After spending Sunday in Laguna Beach, I hit LAX for my 11 pm flight back to South Bend (props to the wife at home alone with kids regarding this far-more-friendly than usual itinerary). Well on Thanksgiving Sunday there happened to be a few other people in the tiny Southwest terminal also awaiting a ride home. As I settled in among the thousands of stranded at Gordon Biersch, I ordered a beer and salad to watch the Packers/Patriots game I was told by the bartender, “We’re out of beer.”
Me: “Well I don’t have to have (the particular beer ordered).”
Bartender: “No, we’re OUT OF BEER.”
Me: “You realize you’re a brewery, right?”
(They were also out of salad.)
5. January 1, 2016: Well, Pete and I are taking a red eye home post-game Friday on Spirit Airlines, so let’s go ahead and leave this space blank for obvious reasons.
OUT ON A LIMB
High-scoring, four-quarter battle, long TD drives by both offenses, red zone issues, blah, blah, blah. Those are the near-certainties for the forthcoming Fiesta Bowl battle between the Irish and Buckeyes. Below are 10 not-so-obvious predictions for Friday afternoon in the Desert:
1. Corey Robinson will score a touchdown
2. Devin Butler will be the victim of another dubious pass interference penalty
3. The team that falls behind by two scores in the first half will win the game
4. Ohio State will score on a trick play (wait, that might be obvious…)
5. Elijah Shumate will produce a statistically outstanding game
6. Joe Schmidt will play well
7. The Buckeyes will throw for three scores (QB J.T. Barrett has just 10 on the season)
8. DeShone Kizer will account for all but one of Notre Dame’s touchdowns
9. Jaylon Smith will be the best player on a field that includes the most aggregate 2016 (upcoming) and 2017 draft picks among all bowl matchups.
10. The trailing team’s failure to record a crucial late-game defensive stop will determine the outcome of a back-and-forth contest.
On to Fiesta Bowl game week and a final litmus test for the 2015 Irish…