Yesterday we took a look at 5 things I liked from Notre Dame’s season opening victory over Temple, today we flip the script and look at some of the negatives from their performance that they will need to work on this week in preparation for Michigan.
1. Lack of push, concentration from the defensive line
It’s amazing how fast we Notre Dame fans have become greedy when it comes to the performance of the defensive line, but by now I expect dominance from the Notre Dame defensive line unless they are playing an elite offensive line like Stanford. Against a team like Temple, even with a vanilla game plan and lack of blitzing, I expected to see the Irish d-line dominant from start to finish. That didn’t happen.
The line played better int he second half, but it was actually quite alarming how much of a push the Temple offensive line was getting in the first half – even when they weren’t double teaming Nix and Tuitt. Tuitt ended up getting a big sack in the first half but that was the only sack the defense recorded on the day after they had 33 in 2012.
Throw in a couple false starts from Louis Nix and Saturday was not one of the finer performances from the defensive line in the last couple years. Again though, this is also a sign of how far the Notre Dame defense has come – anything short of dominance is surprising.
2. Lack of dominance from the offensive line
While the defensive line was a bit lack luster, the offensive line was not much better despite facing an inferior foe. Pass protection was pretty good as Tommy Rees was only sacked once, but I was hoping to see the line come out and dominant in the second half. Instead, Notre Dame only added one additional score in the second half.
First time starter Ronnie Stanley held his own, but it looks like Christian Lombard may need a little time to get used to playing inside at guard again. At one point, Lombard completely whiffed off the snap and Temple blew up a play because of it. The line still has time to gel, but they are going to need to get better in a hurry with Michigan on tap this weekend.
3. Both kicking units were a train wreck
The place kicking and punting games were probably the most alarming of any of the things listed here. Nick Tausch kicked a straight up knuckleball on his first field goal attempt of the season. Kyle Brindza got the next chance and while his kick had plenty of height and distance, he pushed his kick wide left. Place kicking was pretty solid last year, but on Saturday it was a nightmare. Notre Dame can’t leave 6 points on the field like that again the next few weekends.
In his first stint as the punter, Brindza was not much better than he was at place kicking. Brindza could not come close to pinning Temple inside the 20 instead booming a couple of punts through the end-zone.
The competition at both positions figures to continue this week in practice because right now Notre Dame does not have a clear #1 kicker or punter.
4. The play of the inside linebackers in the first half
We knew it was going to be tough to replace Manti Te’o in the middle of the defense this year and that was abundantly clear on Saturday – specifically in the first half. The trio of Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, and Jarrett Grace are manning the two inside positions and while they all had impressive tackle totals, those stats were not indicative of how they played.
The inside linebackers looked slow to react and padded their tackle totals with a bunch of tackles well beyond the line of scrimmage – similarly to how a few defenders had nice stat lines in the BCS Championship game. Notre Dame is going to have to get better play from the inside linebackers or athletic offenses are going to eat up yards on this defense.
5. The complete lack of contain from the defense
This last one is a direct result of #’s 1 and 4. Connor Reilly made the first start of his career and the Notre Dame defense did not make him pay the price for facing a tough defense on the road. Reilly continually avoided pressure and found wide open spaces to the tune of 65 yards on 12 carries. On several occasions Reilly extended drives with his legs when he was pressured.
Notre Dame is going to be facing a mobile quarterback again this weekend in Devin Gardner. Gardner ran for 52 yards on 7 carries in Michigan’s season opening win over Central Michigan this weekend. If Notre Dame doesn’t spy Garnder or play better contain defense, Gardner will more than replicate what Reilly was able to do on Saturday.