Brainstorming Irish-appropriate versions of UNLV's Turnover Slot Machine

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Oct 8, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) runs the ball against Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Rylie Mills (99) during the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

SOUTH BEND — UNLV’s acclaimed Turnover Slot Machine won’t be making the trip to Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday. The Rebels don’t take their sideline gimmick on the road.

Perhaps, however, the takeaway-starved Irish defense should roll out a version of its own to get things moving.

“Maybe you’ll get a leprechaun hat,” defensive end Rylie Mills said recently. “I would say that or like a gold pot and you put a quarter in it. Or you put the ball in there. Put the whole thing.”

Halfway through the regular season, Notre Dame ranks dead last among 131 FBS teams with just two forced turnovers: Justin Ademilola’s fumble recovery on Sept. 24 at North Carolina and TaRiq Bracy’s game-opening interception on Oct. 8 against BYU in Las Vegas.

Liberty leads FBS teams with 18 takeaways. UNLV is tied for 24th with 12.

Junior rover Jack Kiser seconded Mills’ idea even before hearing about it.

“I’m not big into all of that,” Kiser said, “but if you wanted to go down that path, maybe like a pot of gold or a golden leprechaun hat. That might be cool, the Irish and everything.”

Notre Dame Fighting Irish cornerback TaRiq Bracy (28) makes an interception and is tackled by BYU Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Tyler Tate)

Kiser is the point man for this week’s Cleats for a Cause, an Under Armour-backed initiative where every Irish player will wear custom-painted cleats against UNLV to spotlight one of four local charities: Cultivate Food Rescue, Center for the Homeless, Boys & Girls Club of St. Joseph County and the YMCA of Greater Michiana.

The game-day cleats will later be auctioned off with all proceeds going to benefit those four organizations.

So why not a special leprechaun hat for defenders that force turnovers?

“You could really get into it, like some teams have,” Kiser said. “You could have a good time with it.”

The key, Kiser said, would be to keep things “fun but respectful.”

It’s also interesting to note that two of Notre Dame’s three wins thus far have come while wearing alternate jerseys: green against Cal and white with gold trim for the Shamrock Series game against BYU.

“I saw the slot machine; that was unique,” Kiser said. “Did the turnover chain (at Miami) get retired? That’s the original, right?”

Chat transcript:Chat transcript: Where does Notre Dame football go from here?

Indeed, Hurricanes coach Mario Cristobal put an end to the turnover chain after five seasons upon his arrival from Oregon, land of endless uniform variations. With even the Irish getting funky with their uniforms and cleats, perhaps a turnover gimmick on their sideline isn’t so farfetched.

“Who knows,” Kiser said. “The way college football’s landscape has been changing, probably? But hey, we still have the gold helmets.”

Coach Bo Bauer

Even on crutches after suffering a season-ending knee injury, Bo Bauer made an impact on Irish special teams.

The fifth-year senior and team captain spent extra time with reserve linebacker Prince Kollie and even predicted the sophomore would block a punt on Saturday. In the first quarter, on Stanford’s first punt of the night, Bauer’s prediction came true.

Notre Dame linebacker Bo Bauer, a Cathedral Prep graduate, reacts during an NCAA football game on Monday, Sept. 2 , 2019, in Louisville.

“It’s a huge loss,” special teams coordinator Brian Mason said after Tuesday’s practice. “You can see on film, he is clearly communicating and doing things, putting people in the right situations. That’s somebody that was really a warrior for us.”

Nearly 60 percent of Bauer’s 173 total snaps through five games had been on special teams. Despite playing through multiple injuries, including a shoulder problem, Bauer was determined not to miss a single play on special teams all year.

“Invaluable leader,” Mason said. “I’ll forever love him for that. It’s an example I can forever use.”

Jordan Botelho shines on special teams

While Mason stressed that no one player could fill Bauer’s void, Jordan Botelho’s strong showing against the Cardinal was highly encouraging.

The junior edge rusher from Hawaii made the tackle on both kickoff returns after nearly blocking a punt against BYU. Botelho, a backup for now on punt and kickoff return, was the name Mason mentioned to coach Marcus Freeman when discussing who could succeed Bauer.

“He’s done an unbelievable job on punt and kickoff (coverage),” Mason said of Botelho. “Really physical player. He’s someone that could be like Bo in the future, be that leader. He has that really special skillset, for sure.”

Nana and his no-no

For a moment Saturday, it appeared junior defensive lineman Nana Osafo-Mensah had given the Irish a much-needed spark with a 17-yard touchdown return on the first play of the second quarter.

Instead, replay clearly showed Tanner McKee’s incomplete shovel pass had bounced up off the ground before Osafo-Mensah grabbed it and ran.

Notre Dame defensive lineman Nana Osafo-Mensah (31) and Notre Dame defensive back Clarence Lewis (6) celebrate during the Notre Dame vs. Stanford NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

“That was just instinct,” Osafo-Mensah said. “The amount of times we’ve done turnover drills, I just knew if the ball was on the ground, you could scoop and score, so go get it.”

Was he trying to sell the play to the zebras?

“I definitely didn’t realize what happened until after the play was over,” he said. “And I’m like, ‘I really have the football right now.’ Honestly, I never ran with a football in my life. It was a cool feeling.”

The Fort Worth, Texas product played a career-high 46 defensive snaps against Stanford. That was nearly 50 percent more than his previous record, and he responded with three tackles, a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.