Senior TJ Jones, Notre Dame’s top returning receiver in 2013, hopes to cap his college career with an outstanding final campaign. His body of work to this point is pretty impressive despite operating quietly next to big names such as Michael Floyd and tight end Tyler Eifert. Here are some highlights from his 38 games (30 starts) heading into 2013:
• In his Fighting Irish debut against Purdue in the 2010 season opener, the freshman caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown, becoming just the second true freshman to register a receiving touchdown (the first was Michael Floyd) in school history. He caught a 53-yard scoring pass the next week in a home loss to Michigan, making him the first true freshman in Irish annals to catch a touchdown pass in each of his first two contests.
• The end result — a 35-17 loss to Navy at the New Meadowlands on Oct. 24, 2010 — was something everyone associated with ND football would like to forget, but it was a memorable game for Jones, who snagged five balls for a season-high 53 yards and a TD. He’d add five more catches for 31 yards in another unthinkable loss to Tulsa in South Bend the following week.
• Following a 26-yard touchdown catch from Tommy Rees that put the Irish up 28-10 against No. 15 Michigan State, Jones was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty as a result of a seemingly innocent hand gesture. But he helped Notre Dame snap an 0-2 start and start some much needed momentum as a sophomore in 2011.
• Perhaps seizing an opportunity to take out some frustration, Notre Dame went for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter at Purdue two weeks later and Rees hit Jones on a six-yard screen pass that set up another score. Jones added a touchdown against the Boilermakers for his third and final one of the year.
• Jones caught his first touchdown pass from quarterback Everett Golson against Purdue in Notre Dame’s home opener in 2012. The three-yard connection put the Irish up 14-7 in a win that came down to a field goal at the end.
• With four catches for 59 yards, Jones was a reliable target in Notre Dame’s 20-3 upset at No. 10-ranked Michigan State, which propelled the Fighting Irish to a 3-0 start and a No. 11 national ranking.
• Jones’ seven-yard reaching TD catch in overtime at home against Stanford on Oct. 13, 2012, set up one of the most exciting finishes in Notre Dame Stadium history. After three straight losses to the Cardinal, the seventh-ranked Irish came up with four straight stops inside the 5-yard line for a 20-13 win.
• A 31-yard catch late in the third quarter helped set up Notre Dame’s winning touchdown to survive a home scrap with BYU the next week.
• No. 4 Notre Dame found itself down 20-6 against visiting Pittsburgh on Nov. 3, 2012, but Golson’s 11-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Jones chipped away at the deficit. It required three overtimes, but Notre Dame’s perfect season remained intact.
• Jones registered a career-high 97 yards (and a touchdown) on six receptions in a 38-0 win over Wake Forest to set the stage for a regular-season finale at USC for a chance to play in the BCS National Championship.
• Finishing with four catches for 69 yards in Los Angeles, Jones was a first-down machine in the top-ranked Irish’s 22-13 victory over Southern California.
• When there were few offensive highlights for Notre Dame against Alabama in the BCS National Championship game, Jones turned in a career-best seven receptions for 90 yards in the 42-14 loss.
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