(Due to the lack of media access to the team this week, and the Declan Sullivan tragedy, we’re cutting down the 12 pack to 6 items. We’ll be back next week with a full slate of fun facts, tidbits, and miscellaneous items.)
1. While the game will go on, the Irish will pay tribute to Declan Sullivan.
With the week’s tragedy overshadowing the football game, Notre Dame canceled both the Friday pep rally and the football luncheon, weekly staples during home games. Also canceled were Brian Kelly’s radio show, as well as any media availability between Wednesday and Saturday for Irish coaches and players.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick announced that the Irish will put a decal on their helmets to honor Declan and there will be a moment of silence. They’ll also dedicate this football game to Sullivan’s memory.
2. Notre Dame and Tulsa meet for the first time. The time they almost met is stuff of Tulsa legend.
While Saturday’s date in Notre Dame Stadium will mark the first time these two programs face off in football, “the game that could have been” is one almost for the ages.
According to Robert Ruttland’s 1952 book entitled “The Golden Hurricane: Fifty Years of Football at The University of Tulsa,” the Irish nearly came to Tulsa in 1916.
I’ll let the Tulsa Sports Information Department take it from here:
Ninety-four years later, The Golden Hurricane finally gets their shot at Notre Dame.
3. G.J. Kinne is a guy that should scare the Irish.
It’s only taken 19 games for junior G.J. Kinne to climb into the record books at Tulsa, with his 4,587 career passing yards the eighth most in the school’s history. Kinne is averaging 241 yards per game, and Brian Kelly compared him to a gunslinger who likes to wear Wranglers.
“Kinne, the quarterback, is -- he reminds me of Brett Favre out there,” Kelly said. “He’s got the number. He likes to obviously have the ball in his hands.”
Any questions on Kinne’s pedigree should’ve been answered by his original college choice, when the dual-threat quarterback signed with his home-state Texas Longhorns and head coach Mack Brown. The two-time Class 3-A offensive player of the year in Texas, who finished his career with 130 touchdowns (second in Texas high school history), transferred after a freshman season stuck behind Colt McCoy, John Chiles and Sherrod Harris.
Kinne’s father is a high school coach and a former teammate of Tulsa head coach Todd Graham, and Graham’s brother Brent worked as a defensive coordinator for Kinne’s father, making the transfer natural.
“We’re extremely excited to have a player of G.J.'s caliber,” Tulsa coach Todd Graham said then. “He has been a winner his whole life. For a player of his caliber to transfer to Tulsa speaks volumes about our program and where we’re are at this point. He had a lot of big-time scholarship offers out of high school.”
4. While Gus Malzahn is out at Tulsa, offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the next closest thing.
When Gus Malzahn was pulled from the Arkansas high-school ranks to coordinator then-Arkansas coach Houston Nutt’s Razorback offense, many thought it was a ploy to sign prep-star Mitch Mustain, Malzahn’s prized Springdale quarterback that agreed to join him in Fayetteville. When Malzahn’s no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense was tossed aside for a power running attack, Mustain transferred to USC and Malzahn took his talents to Tulsa, where he ran turned Todd Graham’s offense into one of the most potent in all of college football. When Auburn head coach Gene Chizik lured Malzahn away from Tulsa and back into the SEC, Graham looked back into the high school ranks and hired another successful high school coach, Chad Morris... who just so happened to befriend Malzahn seven years ago, when Malzahn took Arkansas high school football by storm.
“Gus and I have had an unbelievable relationship. I’m very thankful to him,” Morris said earlier this season.
Irish fans don’t have to think hard when trying to imagine what it’d be like if Notre Dame reached out for a succesful high school coach to run their program. For Tulsa’s sake, it looks like the gamble is working again.
5. The road doesn’t get any easier for Bob Diaco.
A week after his worst as a defensive coordinator, Bob Diaco welcomes Tulsa’s high-powered offensive attack into Notre Dame Stadium, short the heart of his defensive line and with a secondary that’s still struggling to get three safeties healthy.
Diaco has gone from pleasant surprise to overwhelmed bum in some fans mind, but if you’re looking for a test of how ready Diaco is to lead the Notre Dame defense, you’ll have four consecutive opponents that’ll push the Irish to the max:
- TULSA -- No. 8 in Total Offense.
- UTAH -- No. 3 in Scoring Offense.
- ARMY -- No. 8 in Rushing Offense (one place above Navy)
- USC -- No. 7 in Total Offense.
The health of the Irish secondary and Sean Cwynar’s ability to replace Ian Williams will likely decide if Notre Dame goes bowling or not this year, and if the Irish do, credit should go to Diaco for putting together a great final quarter of the season.
For those that want to, it’ll be easy to bury Diaco if the defense gives up a rash of points these next four weeks, but there isn’t a team in the country that faces a more diverse slate of offensive attacks.
6. It looks like a turn for the better for Notre Dame institution Jeff Jeffers.
Let’s end this column with some much-needed good news. This out of WNDU’s NewsCenter, where South Bend sports pillar Jeff Jeffers is reportedly making great progress after he suffered a stroke in late August, just days before he was set to cover his 36th Notre Dame football season.
“When I woke up one morning and they said, ‘You had a stroke’ and I’m like, am I going to die?” Jeff recounted to WNDU’s Maureen McFadden. “They say, ‘You’re not going to die, you’re in the hospital, you’re in the rehab unit and here’s what we’re going to do.’ And that was a month and a half ago and I’m fine,” says Jeff.
With the help of Jeff’s wife (and live-in nurse) Leslie, Jeff hopes to be back covering the Irish in no time.
“I should be back to work soon, how soon is soon is anybody’s guess, but I’ve received tremendous care with everybody with St. Joe Med and Rehab,” said Jeffers. “I’m on the mend and I hope the worst is passed.”
I had the pleasure to spend some time with Jeff in South Bend this summer as he emceed a few of the dinners for the Fantasy Football camp. There was nobody more welcoming to me, or optimistic that this coaching staff would be the one that brought the Fight back to the Fighting Irish.
It sure seems like Jeff’s practicing what he preaches as well, fighting back strong after a health scare that’d knock weaker men out. Here’s hoping that he keeps taking the fight to his stroke, and is back covering the Irish soon.