The 2012 Irish, coming off an 8-5 season marked by sloppy play in the way of turnovers and penalties that led to several disappointing losses, face tough challenges in Kelly’s 3rd year. The Irish scored on 57% of the drives when they had no negative plays (35/61) but only 23% of the drives when a negative play occurred (21/91). A key to success for the 2012 Irish will be eliminating mistakes on Offense and creating turnovers on Defense.
The 2011 Irish finished ranked 35th in Total Offense (40th Passing, 55th Rushing), 110th in Turnovers Lost (29) and 87th in Penalty Yards/Game (59). Not counting Tommy Rees, who isn’t expected to start, there are 7 returning starters. (Wood, Jones, Riddick, Eifert, Martin, Watt, Cave)
Michael Floyd – 100 rec, 1147 yds, 9 TD – Michael Floyd was arguably the greatest receiver in Notre Dame history. He will be missed not only in his production in the passing game but also his blocking ability. A big question mark for the 2012 Irish is how do we replace the production of MF, some have argued that in a “Ewing Theory’ sort of way that with less dependence on one receiver the cumulative results of a balanced attack will make the offense better. I expect to see Eifert split out more and balanced production at the receiver position from John Goodman, TJ Jones, Theo Riddick, Robby Toma, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith and a trio of dynamic freshman: Chris Brown, Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson.
Jonas Gray – 791 yds, 12 TD, 6.9 avg. – Jonas Gray was the thunder to Cierre Wood’s lightning in 2011. We do not appear to have a similar back on the roster to replace Gray’s rushing style, but we do however have several talented backs that should emerge to replace Gray’s production. Expect George Atkinson III, Theo Riddick and Amir Carlisle to carry the load when Cierre Wood is not in the game.
Trevor Robinson, Taylor Dever, Brad Carrico, Jordan Prestwood – Despite replacing 2 starters and losing 2 sophomores that were expected to provide depth, the OL is expected to be a strength for the 2012 Irish. There is plenty of talent across the line, but depth is a concern.
With the expectation of Everett Golson as the starting QB, the 2012 Irish offense will look much different than the 2011 Irish offense. Golson adds a strong arm and an escapability component to the offense that didn’t exist with Tommy Rees at the helm. Turnovers, drive killing negative plays and penalties plagued the 2011 Irish offense. I think that a combination of less negatives with a more balanced attack and focus on the run game will make the Irish a top 25 offense in 2012.
The 2011 Irish finished ranked 24th in scoring defense but ranked nearly last in turnovers gained. Not counting Dan Fox, who I don’t expect to start, the Irish return 7 starters (Tuitt, Nix, KLM, Teo, Shembo, Motta, Slaughter)
Harrison Smith, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Lo Wood (Achilles), Austin Collinsworth (Shoulder) – Combined 243 Tackles, 5 Interceptions and 3 Fumble Recoveries. – Replacing the experience we are losing in the defensive backfield is the biggest question mark by far on defense. To add insult to injury, two players projected to contribute have suffered season ending injuries. Projected CBs: Bennett Jackson, Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Keivarie Russel, Elijah Shumate. Having 2 sophomores and 2 freshman in the top 5 is never ideal. I think there is a lot of raw talent at the CB position but the lack of experience is certainly a major concern. Projected Safeties: Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, Dan McCarthy, Chris Badger, Eilar Hardy, Matthias Farley, CJ Prosise. The situation at safety is not nearly as dire as cornerback, hopefully solid play at the safety positions will take some pressure off of our inexperienced CBs.
Aaron Lynch – 33 Tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks – I think that most Irish fans would agree that Aaron Lynch was one of the top young players they looked forward to watching develop, unfortunately Aaron decided to take his talents to south beach. We will certainly miss his unique talent for rushing the passer, but rumors are that he was not the most popular person among the other players. Fortunately, Defensive Line is possibly the most talented position grouping with Kapron Lewis-Moore, Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams, Chase Hounshell and Sheldon Day.
When I look at the front seven, I am really optimistic about the defense for 2012. However, my optimism fades significantly when I look at the experience in the secondary particularly at Cornerback which is such a key position on defense. [Pause to take a sip of Kool-Aid] With help from the front seven in pressuring the opposing quarterbacks, the young talent in the secondary will be enough to overcome the lack of experience and the Irish will again field a top 25 scoring defense. Ohhh Yeahhh!
The punt return team performance can only go up. We have dynamic athletes and should be able to excel at returning punts, but whether it has been John Goodman or Theo Riddick back there, our blocking has not allowed for a return. The optimist in me says that in the 2nd year of the Kelly system with a lot of problems to fix elsewhere, punt return just wasn’t a priority. Whatever the issues are, they need to get fixed ASAP.
As a freshman, George Atkinson III, ranked 19th in the country in average yardage and ran 2 back for TDs. If he can duplicate this performance in 2012 we’ll be doing well.
Hopefully Ben Turk doesn’t get a lot of work this year. He averaged 40.3 yds per punt in 2011 and really seemed to come on towards the end of the year.
With the graduation of David Ruffer, Nick Tausch who made 14/17 his freshman year will take over the kicking duties.
Check back in Friday, as Walter reviews the 2012 schedule.