Te'o's final game at Notre Dame sets tone in Alabama onslaught


Te'o's final game at Notre Dame sets tone in Alabama onslaught

As Manti Te'o goes, so go the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Throughout 2012, that wasn't a problem. After all, Te'o won seven major awards and finished with the most Heisman Trophy votes of any solely defensive player in history it makes sense to follow suit. It's a good call. Undefeated good. BCS No. 1 ranking good.

That Manti Te'o wasn't on the field Monday night in South Florida.

Even Manti Te'o wasn't sure what player was on the field.

Te'o's final game of his college career was the most important. It might also have been his worst. The Irish followed Te'o's suit and lost 42-14 to an Alabama team that dominated the Fighting Irish from the opening kickoff.

Notre Dame coaches let it slip in the seemingly never-ending buildup to Monday's game that Te'o had only missed two tackles all season. By the time Alabama was up 14-0, Te'o had missed two critical tackles.

By the end of the first half, the total was four. The unofficial number at the end of the game was seven.

What happened to the once-invincible Te'o? He was a step behind all game, and at times, he looked weak.

Before Monday's game, Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco proclaimed that Te'o was practicing harder, despite his extensive travel schedule that jet-settted him around the nation for awards ceremonies.

Was he too distracted? Was he burned out? It doesn't matter. Te'o was manhandled by any and all Alabama blockers, and while it's impossible to say if Te'o's performance was induced by Alabama's manhandling offensive line or if it just appeared easier for Te'o to be manhandled because of his poor play, either way, the result was the same, and it was obvious from the first series of the game.

Before the game, fans in the stands of Sun Life Stadium had chanted "Manti Te'o" for over an hour. As Eddie Lacy ran over Notre Dame's superman for the game's first touchdown, the chants stopped. Reality set in, and the Irish were issued a wake up call.

Postgame, Notre Dame players all said that after Alabama took the first possession of the game 80 yards to the endzone without much resistance, they knew they had to make a stop.

Again, when the Tide rolled into the end zone on their second drive, the Irish had to step up their game.

By the time the score was 28-0, hope had been lost. The Irish were playing for pride, the National Championship had already been decided.

"Life goes on," Te'o said. "I had a lot of opportunities to make some plays and I didn't. But I played as hard as I could, and yeah, there were some plays that I could have done better on."

Te'o will shift his focus to April's NFL Draft. On Sunday afternoon, Te'o was considered a mid-first-round prospect by analysts and yahoos. Monday's game will assure that status will be questioned.

Te'o had composed perspective after the game and insisted that he'll use Monday's underwhelming performance as fuel to improve himself.

"That's all you can use it for," Te'o said. "What are you going to take form this? Are you going to sulk, and sit back? Or are you going to do something about it?"

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick tells ESPN Brian Kelly will be back in 2017

Brian Kelly's job at Notre Dame apparently is not in jeopardy despite the team's 2-5 start to the 2016 season. 

Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN.com that Kelly "will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year."

Kelly has come under fire for his perceived penchant for criticizing players before himself as well as his behavior on the sidelines as Notre Dame's chances of becoming bowl eligible have slipped this season. The seventh-year Irish coach, though, was praised for his relationship with his team by Swarbrick, who told ESPN it's "probably as strong as any that I've seen with him at Notre Dame." Multiple players said after Notre Dame's loss to Stanford last weekend that they didn't believe Kelly had lost the team

Kelly and Notre Dame agreed to a six-year contract extension in January that runs through the 2021 season. 

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

Notre Dame grades: Highs and lows on special teams

With Notre Dame in its bye week, we’re grading each unit on the 2-5 Irish. We’ve covered the coaching staff, offense and defense, so today we’re closing out the midterm report card with special teams. 

Placekicking: C

Justin Yoon already has more misses (three) on nine kicks than he had last year (two) on 17 attempts. A blocked attempt at Texas and a miss against Duke hurt in three-point losses, though his grade gets boosted a bit given he managed to connect on a field goal at N.C. State, which looked akin to kicking a bag of wet rags from a puddle (full credit to long snapper Scott Daly and holder Montgomery VanGorder, too, for successfully getting the ball down for Yoon in those awful conditions). 

Punting: C

It’s been a boom-or-bust season for Tyler Newsome, who’s blasted some bombs, like a 69-yarder at N.C. State, but also has had a few shanks, like his 24-yarder that gave Texas the ball at its own 32-yard line before the Longhorns drove to briefly take the lead in the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s season-opening loss in Austin. Newsome ranks 29th in FBS with an average of 43.69 yards per punt, though this unit’s grade is dinged thanks to allowing that blocked punt/touchdown at N.C. State that wound up being the difference in Hurricane Matthew. 

Kick/punt returns: B+

C.J. Sanders remains an explosive returning weapon, taking a kick back 93 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse and nothing 40- and 24-yard punt returns in Notre Dame’s first two games of the season. A few points are taken off the grade here for a Michigan State punt bouncing off Miles Boykin’s calf and being recovered by the Spartans, which sparked their 36-point surge in mid-September. 

Kick/punt coverage: D+

Yoon has done a good job kicking directionally on kickoffs — he deftly placed a pair of kicks into the back corner of the end zone against Stanford, which would’ve been huge had Christian McCaffrey played — which is probably the biggest positive here. Shaun Wilson's 96-yard kickoff return took the shine off Notre Dame’s 14-0 early lead against Duke and helped propel the Blue Devils to a 38-35 win; on punt returns, the Irish rank 122nd in FBS, allowing 15.77 yards per return. 

Jarron Jones: A+

Jones gets his own grade here for his unique and, quite frankly, incredible knack for blocking kicks. The graduate student blocked a pair of PAT attempts against Texas and Syracuse that were each returned for two-point scores, with the one against Texas tying the game at 37. Jones has six blocked field goals/PATs in his career, earning himself a special distinction here in the special teams category.