It’s back. A hand-picked dozen points of interest, statistical and otherwise, pertaining to both sides of Notre Dame's 12 regular season matchups this fall.
Saturday marks the first meeting between Notre Dame and the University of South Florida, a football program that joined the FBS in 2000 and began operations in 1997. The Bulls are the fourth consecutive first-time visitor to Notre Dame Stadium, with Western Michigan, Tulsa, and Utah previously making trips to South Bend for the final three home games of 2010.
1 – Former Irish transfer on the South Florida roster: 2010 early enrollee Spencer Boyd never suited up for Brian Kelly’s Irish, transferring following the spring sessions. He’ll compete as a redshirt-freshman cornerback this season for Skip Holtz’s Bulls.
2 – Active Irish players that have rushed for a touchdown in their college careers: Dayne Crist (4) and Cierre Wood (3) have combined for all seven of the team’s total rushing scores entering 2011. Notre Dame as a team hasn’t finished with at least 20 rushing scores in a season since Darius Walker led the 2005 Fighting Irish to 21 touchdowns on the ground in Charlie Weis’ first season. No Irish team has totaled more than 14 since. The 2010 Irish tied a modern-era program-low with just 11 rushing scores.
3 – Losses suffered by the Irish in home season-openers over the last 30 seasons (Notre Dame is 15-3 in home season-openers in that span). The most recent defeat was easily the most troubling, a 33-3 hammering at the hands of Georgia Tech in 2007. The loss was the first of five straight to start the season en route to a 3-9 final mark.
Prior to the eye-opening loss vs. the Rambling Wreck, Notre Dame had not lost opening the season at home since unranked and 27-point underdog Northwestern traveled 95 miles east to South Bend to shock the college football world, beating the 9th-ranked Irish, 18-17. The Wildcats finished the regular season 10-1 and represented the Big 10 in the Rose Bowl while Notre Dame rebounded, finishing 9-2 and earning an Orange Bowl bid.
The only other season-opening home loss of the last three decades occurred in Lou Holtz’s first game when the unranked Irish nearly upset No. 3 Michigan, 24-23. The Irish never punted in the defeat, totaling 455 yards of offense through myriad formations and sets. Notre Dame played well enough that day to move into the Top 20 despite the 0-1 start.
4 – Season-opener touchdowns scored by senior wide receiver Michael Floyd. The Irish star’s first career catch, a 30-yard fade route touchdown, occurred in his first game, a 2008 season-opening win over San Diego State. Floyd added three more touchdowns in the ’09 opener vs. Nevada, part of an historic outing that included 189 receiving yards and a program-record 47.3 yards-per-reception. Floyd failed to score last season in an opening win over Purdue, but did manage five receptions for a game-high 82 yards.
5 – Wins without a defeat for Brian Kelly’s 2010 Irish when his squad out-rushed the opponent. Notre Dame has won 27 consecutive contests dating back to the season-opener of 2005 (Charlie Weis’ first game) when out-rushing its foe. Kelly and the Irish were 3-5 last fall when out-rushed; Weis’ teams finished 13-27 under the same circumstances.
6 – Fumbles lost by South Florida’s offense last season despite a disproportionately-high 21 fumbles overall. Only seven teams lost fewer fumbles than did the Bulls last fall. Notre Dame lost eight fumbles while putting the pigskin on the turf on 18 occasions; the Irish have lost 28 fumbles over the last three seasons.
7 – Interceptions by 5th-year Irish safety Harrison Smith last season. The number is tied for the sixth-highest in program history and most recently shared with first team All-America selection Shane Walton from the 2002 squad. Smith, who did not intercept a pass in his first 29 games for the Irish, has since thieved seven over the team’s last nine contests including four in his most recent five quarters of football.
8 – Rushing touchdowns allowed by South Florida in 13 games last season. Only three teams: West Virginia (3), Boston College (6), and Alabama (7) yielded fewer than did the Bulls stingy front wall.
9.75 – Points per game allowed by the Irish defense over the team’s season-ending four-game winning streak. Notre Dame had previously yielded 24.8 ppg. to its first nine opponents in 2010.
10 – Times Notre Dame has been ranked by the Associated Press Poll entering a season since the end of 1993 – the last year in which the school attained a No. 1 ranking. Brian Kelly’s 16th-ranked 2011 Irish join Holtz’s final three teams (1994-95-96) as well as Bob Davie’s first three teams (1997-98-99), Tyrone Willingham’s second squad (2003); and Charlie Weis’ second Irish team (2006) as the only Notre Dame teams to appear in the pre-season poll since. Of the previous nine, only four, the 1995-96; ‘98’ and ’06 squads concluded the season ranked in the A.P. Top 25.
11 – Touchdown passes by then-redshirt-sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels last fall. The Bulls dual-threat added five rushing touchdowns but was far more dangerous as a first-year starter in 2009, tossing 14 TD passes with an additional nine rushing scores. Daniels’ two-year starting totals include 39 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 3,754 passing yards and 1,033 yards gained on the ground.
12 – Linebacker Manti Te’o’s national standing among tackle leaders in 2010. Te’o totaled 10.23 stops per contest over the 13-game slate; only four BCS conference linebackers recorded more on a weekly basis: BC’s Luke Kuechly (the national leader with 14.08), Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan (11.08), Nebraska’s Lavonte David (10.86), and Iowa State’s Jake Knott (10.83). Each of the quintet returns for 2011.
On the Horizon
A look at Irish players who could reasonably accomplish statistical milestones Saturday vs. the Bulls.
Michael Floyd: Enters the contest 54 yards shy of tying Jeff Samardzija (2003-06) for second-place on the program’s career receiving yardage list. Floyd needs 169 yards to break Golden Tate’s program record of 2,707 receiving yards. Tate (2007-09) reached his total in 37 games (22 starts). Saturday will be Floyd’s 31st game and 30th career start. (2,604 of Tate’s yards were accrued in a two-season, 25-game span of 2008-09.)
Likewise, Floyd’s ninth reception will vault him past Samardzija’s program record of 179 career grabs.
Ethan Johnson: With his next (full) sack, the senior defensive end will move into 10th place ahead of the late Wally Kleine (1983-86) on the program’s career sack list. Justin Tuck (2002-04) holds the program record with 24.5 sacks in 36 career games. Saturday’s contest vs. USF will Mark Johnson’s 39th game played as a member of the Irish.
A shade behind Johnson is classmate Darius Fleming with 11.5 sacks including a team-high six in 2010.
Harrison Smith: With 18 career pass breakups, Smith’s next will tie Thomas O’Leary (1965-67) for eighth on the program’s all-time list. Ralph Stepaniak (1969-71) and former teammate Darrin Walls (2006-10) are next in Smith’s sites with 20 apiece. Program legend Todd Lyght (1987-1990) ranks fifth with 20.5.
In Search Of… Senior Jonas Gray has yet to score a touchdown for the Irish. Gray will serve as the team’s backup running back Saturday. Junior wide receiver Robby Toma and 5th-year senior Mike Ragone have also yet to find the end zone during their collegiate careers. Both are expected to serve in key backup roles vs. the Bulls.