Freshmen Focus

The ball was high in the air and coming in Armando Allen's direction. It had been over a year since the Notre Dame freshman played in a football game, and in his first play back, he was going to have the opportunity to do something. He caught the opening kickoff at the four-yard line, and showed some burst the team had been lacking in previous years on a 25-yard return.

Allen missed his senior season at Hialeah-Miami Lakes because of a broken fibula. The last time he touched a football and it meant something, was his junior year.

"It was a good experience because I missed out on my senior year of high school," Allen said. The return was originally ruled a fumble, but instant replay overturned the call. "Just getting back on the field is like overwhelming in front of 80,000 something fans. I was like wow I can't believe it. I felt like I was back at home just being on the field."

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Allen has been a big part of Notre Dame's game plans this season. He looked impressive in the opener, carry the ball three times for 25 yards, with a long of 11. On the year, he is the Irish's second-leading rusher with 73 yards on 23 carries. He made his first career start against Penn State, and started the following week against Michigan.

Everyone involved inside the program has raved about Allen's speed. The speed of the game is still an adjustment for Allen.

"I would say the different defenses," Allen said. "The different blitzes and the variety of blitzes defenses show, is tremendously different than high school where one or two people were blitzing, but in college maybe three or four, you never know what to expect."

Allen also wasn't expecting to get hit as hard as he did against Michigan. On a first quarter carry, he fumbled when the wind was knocked out of him by linebacker Chris Graham. Allen was on the ground for a few moments.

"I would say that's the hardest I've ever been hit," Allen stated. "That was kind of my welcome to college football moment."

***Golden Tate is still looking for his first career reception. The freshman receiver thought he had it against Penn State.

The 5-foot-11, 188-pound Tate was locked in one-on-one coverage downfield, and classmate Jimmy Clausen threw the ball his way. Tate made a leaping catch for by the biggest play of the day, but a flag called it back.

"I was disappointed for like three and a half seconds, but I was like I have a chance to go in and show what I had, so I was excited," Tate said.

Tate, who gets a few reps per game at receiver, is getting a chance to show what he has as the Irish's top kick returner. He has returned 10 kicks for 249 yards, including a long of 40 yards. A couple times he has come close to breaking a big one.

"It appears when I'm in the game, when I'm running, it seems like I have daylight but it closes up so quick because everybody is so fast on the field and athletic," Tate explained. "But for the most part, the kick return team has been doing a good job blocking, and I'm very satisfied where we're going.

Tate said he tries not to think right before the kickoff.

"That's when I mess up the most," he stated. "I try to make sure I catch the ball one. And one thing I need to work on is hitting the hole full speed or running full speed because I tend to tippy toe every now and then, so I've been trying to work on that. Just read the blocks."

***Freshman linebacker Brian Smith ran onto the field for his first career snap against Michigan. Staring him down on the other side of the line of scrimmage was All-American tackle Jake Long.

"I saw big No. 77 coming at me, so I was like here we go, it's time to show the world what I'm about," Smith said.

"I tried to beat him up field, but it was a quick three-step pass. Kerry (Neal) knocked the ball down."

When Smith and Neal were recruited, they were told they'd have an opportunity to get on the field early. They've done just that, and they're making plays. Both let their presence be known against Michigan State last Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Smith had three tackles, chipping in on one for loss, and the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Neal had two stops including his first career sack.

"It's crazy," Smith said. "I looked around and I got the feeling of how I used to sit in the stands and watch the game. Especially last Saturday. It was a perfect day outside. I think it was during the TV timeout, I was taking a knee ready to go off the edge in dime personnel, and that's what I've been waiting for my entire life."

Neal credited his snap to film study.

"I watched tape, me and (graduate assistant) Patrick Graham and the other outside linebackers, we watched tape, and watched the tackle weaknesses," Neal said. "We saw he was getting beat a couple times and that he was kind of slow off the ball and I knew I could beat him with a speed rush. I just hit him with speed.

"I should've stripped the ball. I didn't think it was perfect because coach got on me and told me I should've stripped the quarterback."

Smith and Neal saw their game reps go up against Michigan State. They are getting more comfortable in the defense, and with the college game in general.

"A lot of that is due to (defensive coordinator Corwin) Brown's coaching," Smith said. "He puts us in positions where we don't have to think. We can just react. So when we're out on the field we're just reacting. It makes the game that much easier and that much more fun to play."

Smith has recorded five stops this season, and Neal has three tackles, two tipped passes, and two quarterback hurries. Top Stories