After seeing his role in the offense diminished over the course of the season and being suspended from the Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III has made the decision to leave the Irish in hopes of getting a job in the NFL.
Atkinson is the third Notre Dame underclassmen to announce his decision to leave the program with a year of eligibility remaining. He joins defensive standouts Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt, although the two defensive players have much better odds of being picked early in the upcoming NFL Draft. Atkinson likely would have benefitted by returning to the Irish in 2014 after rushing for 555 yards and three touchdowns. He only had one game this season with over 75 rushing yards. Atkinson was suspended from Notre Dame’s Pinstripe Bowl appearance against Rutgers for a violation of team rules. It had been reported he was texting family during a team meal.
“He look at as an opportunity,” Atkinson’s father, former Oakland Raiders great George Atkinson Jr., said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Associated Press. ”We did our due diligence and decided to roll the dice with it.”
Notre Dame’s running game should be in decent shape in 2014 without Atkinson returning. Junior Cam McDaniel led the team in rushing this season with 704 yards. Tarean Folston should also be a significant contributor to the offense in 2014.
Tommy Rees passed for 319 yards in his final game for Notre Dame, but it was the leg of kicker Kyle Brindza who helped Notre Dame put away Rutgers in a 29-16 victory in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The Irish defense was tested at times by Rutgers but managed to come up with the big stops and forced three turnovers (not including an interception on the final play of the game) to capture a win in Yankee Stadium.
Just hours before kickoff the Irish suspended running back George Atkinson III for a violation of team rules. Tarean Folston got the start for the Irish anyway and led Notre Dame with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown. Cam McDaniel also contributed with 73 yards as Notre Dame found a rhythm on the ground in the second half to pull away from Rutgers, who ends the season with a 6-7 record. The real player of the game for Notre Dame was place kicker Brindza, who successfully kicked five of his six field goal attempts.
Both programs will now enter an offseason centered around changes for the program. Rutgers is off to join the Big Ten while Notre Dame will remain independent in football but begin a new scheduling agreement with the ACC. The Irish will also have some shoes to fill on the coaching staff and on the defensive line.
Notre Dame’s 2014 outlook could be a bit more promising after taking a step back from the national stage in 2013. Quarterback Everett Golson will give the offense a spark if he returns in good shape starting this spring. Golson’s absence from the team this season due to academic suspension threw a curveball at the Irish heading in to the year, but Notre Dame has some jobs to fill before even thinking about what the roster will look like. Notre Dame must replace both coordinators this offseason after both were hired away to serve as head coaches elsewhere. The defense will also lose some key players with Louis Nix III on his way to the NFL and Stephon Tuitt potentially joining him.
Rutgers will now begin to make the transition in to the Big Ten. Rutgers will join Maryland as new members of the conference next summer and begin competing in the Big Ten’s new eastern division along with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. Rutgers will have their work cut out for them in their debut in the new conference. Rutgers will make their Big Ten debut at home against Penn State and will also host Michigan and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights will also visit Ohio State and Michigan State.
Notre Dame drove right down field on USC on the game’s opening possession, but the Irish were unable to punch the football in from the goal line on fourth down when Cam McDaniel was stuffed for a loss of three yards. Despite leaving points on the scoreboard, Notre Dame took a lead in to halftime against the Trojans, leading 14-10.
After USC’s defense stood tall, the Trojans offense went to work. USC put together a 96-yard touchdown drive, capping it off with a one-yard touchdown run by running back Silas Redd. Redd reached halftime with 91 rushing yards n 14 carries. Notre Dame would tie it up on the final play of the first quarter when Tommy Rees completed a seven-yard pass for a touchdown to Troy Niklas. Rees again struck gold with a touchdown strike to TJ Jones late in the first half. That second touchdown pass gave Notre Dame a 14-10 lead before halftime.
While this game may not have any sort of national impact, with both teams unranked and playing in the shadows of some other notable games around the country at the same time, the pageantry that goes along with this rivalry game is still something special to watch for the nostalgic fan. The game is also pretty important for both teams to determine which way the rest of the season could unfold.
The game was probably all but official when Arizona State decided to allow a Notre Dame punt to roll down to the one-yard line rather than field a fair catch, but Dan Fox‘s interception returned for a touchdown slammed the door shut on the Sun Devils. The pick-six gave Notre Dame a 37-27 lead and victory in the latest edition of the Shamrock Series for the Irish.
This was a far cry from the same Arizona State team we witnessed last weekend destroying USC, turning over the football three times and not being able to take advantage of a night that saw Notre Dame fail to pick up a third-down conversion. The Sun Devils only managed 44 rushing yards while Notre Dame put together 146 yards on the ground. Cam McDaniel was the leading rusher in the game with 82 yards for Notre Dame.
As usual, this game focused on the passing game. Tommy Rees threw three touchdowns and passed for 279 yards despite not being particularly accurate for most of the night. As usual, he had his streaks. Rees was intercepted once while completing 17 of 38 pass attempts. His counterpart for Arizona State, Taylor Kelly, completed 33 of 47 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns, but was intercepted twice. The second was the one to Fox for the late touchdown.
So, what’s next for the Fighting Irish? USC, of course. The rival Trojans will have had a week off to adjust to the changes going on in the program following the firing of Lane Kiffin last weekend. Expect USC to come out with a fresh attitude and approach to the game after making a change on the coaching staff and having time to prepare. The depth concerns on USC’s defense could be exposed by Notre Dame, but USC right now is a bit of a mystery heading in to next week.
Arizona State jumps back in to Pac 12 play with a home game against Colorado next week. Colorado was blown out at home by Oregon. The loss to Notre Dame ultimately does not mean too much as far as Arizona State’s season is concerned. For Arizona state it is all about making a run in the Pac 12. However, we have seen now that Arizona State is quite the streaky team depending on the environment, so it looks as though they are sitting behind UCLA in the Pac 12 South. Arizona State also took a loss a couple of weeks ago at Stanford.