There are five things I am thankful for when it comes to Notre Dame football as the Fighting Irish get ready for their regular season-ending matchup against Stanford.
1. I’m thankful for Jack Kiser. Kiser was in a battle for the starting rover position with Isaiah Pryor and Paul Moala. (Moala suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against Florida State). Kiser beat them out for the job and he hasn’t disappointed. Kiser has returned two interceptions for touchdowns, he has a forced fumble and registered 36 tackles. He’s been a steady presence on what has turned out to be a dominating, disruptive defense. He has great instincts, which he showed last week when he picked off a screen pass and ran it back for a touchdown after Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates was hit by Isaiah Foskey. It's a great story about a kid coming from a small town in Indiana, Royal Center, and making it.
2. I’m thankful for Brian Kelly, his press conferences, and his ability to put up with silly questions. Kelly is a complete coach on and off the field. He was thrown a painful, uncomfortable question about which assistant he was most grateful for with the condition that he could only pick one. That’s like asking a mother with multiple children who her favorite child is. I personally would’ve squirmed out of it any way I could. To his credit, Kelly grimaced and said Brian Polian because he saves him a lot of headaches. Special teams are hard to coach because the amount of detail needed to be successful can be overwhelming. Just glad that one is over.
3. I’m thankful I get to watch Kyren Williams play at least two more games, assuming he stays healthy. I idolized Walter Payton. He’s the greatest running back I’ve ever seen play in person. Williams isn’t Payton, no one is, but Williams reminds me of him. There is a certain artistry about the way Williams runs. It was like that with Payton. He never seemed to get hit hard. Or at least Payton made it seem like he wasn’t getting hit hard. Williams has tremendous balance and this instinctive ability to keep a play alive even when the situation is dire. See his 91-yard touchdown run against North Carolina. He’s also a good blocker and an excellent pass catcher. He throws a mean stiff arm, which was one of Payton's greatest attributes. Some NFL team will get a very good player next year.
4. I’m thankful for getting to sit at a round table and listen to nose tackle Kurt Hinish hold court twice this year. It’s hard to be spontaneous and real when there are a dozen people milling around with tape recorders, hoping for something spontaneous and real and interesting. Hinish always delivered. Among other things, Hinish told us last week that he wouldn’t get the flu “because I drank from the hose when I was a kid. I don’t get sick." He told us he had one acting class in the spring for his graduate work and when it was done, “I just fished and hung out. That it was really it.” He’s one-of-a-kind. There was more but you get the point. He’s refreshing and real and fun.
5. I’m thankful for the contours of this Notre Dame season, which has been wildly entertaining. It was impossible to know if the Irish were really a good team after the first six games. Everything just seemed off. The quarterback situation was unsettled, the offensive line play was a mess and the defense was up-and-down. It was like someone flipped a light switch that started with the USC game. Quarterback Jack Coan found his game when the team went up-tempo, the offensive line played better when Joe Alt was moved to left tackle and Andrew Kristofic took over at left guard and the defense became consistently disruptive. Is it fool’s gold because the quality of the schedule hasn’t been good in the second half? Perhaps, but the Irish played some mediocre teams like Toledo and Florida State in the first half of the season and they were lucky to win. It's quite possible they could be really good.
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