Notre Dame football: Smith adjusts to college

South Bend Tribune


For a team that tossed together some bewildering defensive stretches early in Saturday night’s matchup with host Purdue, Notre Dame could take some encouragement from its freshman up-and-comer on defense.

Outside linebacker Jaylon Smith continues to execute in his time-share opportunity at drop linebacker with junior Ben Councell, but not all of what he does best shows up on the stat sheet.

Smith’s tackle total perhaps suffers because at times his coverage is so good that opposing quarterbacks tend to move on in their progressions and find someone else. He also was one of the few Irish defenders early on Saturday night to get a good rush on Purdue quarterback Rob Henry.

“He doesn’t look out of place,” Matt Millhouse, Smith’s defensive coordinator at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers said earlier this week of the former five-star prospect. “I think he’s doing what they’re asking him to do. He’s splitting time with Ben Councell, and I think that’s probably a good thing at this point that everything’s not on his shoulders.”

Bishop Luers, which won four straight state titles with Smith as a four-year starter, is off to the first 0-4 start in school history without him.

“We miss his leadership along with everything else,” Millhouse said. “He was a great leader for us, and not just in his senior year. As a freshman, he came in with a focus you hardly see with a kid his age. As he got older, he got even better at it, but it was always a strength. He just has a real intense focus about him.

“I think the biggest transition for him at Notre Dame has been just being away from everything and everyone familiar. He’s in a new atmosphere, meeting new people. It wasn’t anything football-related or in the classroom. There’s nothing he can’t handle there. He’s just trying to learn every day.”

Millhouse said Smith’s growth will accelerate once he puts more weight on his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame to better match up with tight ends and offensive tackles when the occasion calls for it.

What he doesn’t see, though, is a move to inside linebacker, a possible need next season when fifth-year senior starters Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese exhaust their eligibility.

Smith played middle linebacker for a couple of games in Bishop Luers’ state title run last season when the team’s starter was out with a concussion. He watched game tapes of Irish All-America linebacker Manti Te’o to help with the temporary move.

“I don’t think that would be the right move for him at Notre Dame,” Millhouse said. “I think he could do it, but you’d set him back another half year. I think he could be a pretty good inside linebacker, but I think he could be great right where he is. He could provide so much more on the edge.

“His ability to rush the passer and play coverage gives him such a high ceiling at that position. He’s got everything you’d want at the drop position, so why would you move him?

Personnel notes

lþSenior linebacker Kendall Moore and junior safety Eilar Hardy, two defensive backups and key special teams players, were left of the Irish travel roster because of a violation of team rules per Notre Dame spokesman Michael Bertsch.

lþThe same 14 freshmen who made the travel roster for Michigan were at Purdue. Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire was among them, but did not play. In fact, Zaire, who wasn’t available in the first two games of the season while recovering from mononucleosis, was not in uniform Saturday night.

lþNotre Dame’s leading receiver, senior TJ Jones, has 30 career starts but zero this season. The Irish starting receivers at Purdue were DaVaris Daniels and Daniel Smith. The Irish had two tight ends in the starting lineup — Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack.

Eminem aftermath

Maybe ABC/ESPN should interview rapper Eminem/Marshall Mathers every week, given that the bizarre halftime exchange during the between play-by-play man Brent Musburger drew 2.5 million views online.

The interview, which spilled into the third quarter, took place during last week’s 41-30 Notre Dame loss at Michigan, televised by ESPN.

Lost perhaps in the strangeness was the promotional tie-in that Eminem’s track “Bezerk” will be the theme song for Saturday Night Football on ABC for the balance of the season, beginning with Saturday night’s Notre Dame-Purdue game.

Musburger did an interview about the interview, published on the ESPN website earlier this week, in which he revealed Eminem asked for and received an autograph from the 74-year-old Musburger. Musburger did not reciprocate the gesture, but said talking to the rapper wasn’t as painful as it might have looked.

“There are, I’m sure, those who were scratching their head saying, ‘Why is there this guy on a football game?’ — along with the millions who were saying ‘That’s the best rapper in the world.’ I don’t feel the interview was out of place and personally enjoyed it.”

Musburger’s wife, Arlene, had the line of the day. “She looked up at me,” Musburger related, “and said, ‘Brent, at least you didn’t call him beautiful.’”

How big?

Whether Notre Dame is a rivalry or not, it is big business in West Lafayette, Ind.

Per Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star, the Irish have visited Purdue 33 times since the series became annual in 1946. On 32 of those occasions, the Irish have attracted Purdue’s largest home crowd of the season.


lþNFL scouts from six teams were credentialed for the game: Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins.

lþIrish offensive coordinator Chuck Martin spent his Friday night taking in wide receiver recruit Justin Brent’s High School game.

Brent, who plays running back for Speedway High, rushed for 192 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 90 yards for another score in a 41-20 loss to fourth-ranked (Class 2-A) Indianapolis Ritter.

The Irish coaches and players stayed in Indianapolis Friday night and worked out Saturday morning at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees (11) looks to pass during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in West Lafayette, Ind. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER