Saturday’s 20-17 win over Purdue left most Notre Dame fans unsure of just how good this year’s squad is, but even with the inconsistency we saw, there were still plenty of things to like from the Irish victory.
1. Everett Golson taking shots downfield
Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson took another step in the right direction on Saturday with an efficient day. Golson ended up 21 of 31 for 289 yards with one touchdown. He had two more sure touchdowns he left on the field when he over shot Troy Niklas on the first quarter after holding onto the ball too long and getting level as he threw and then underthrew Davaris Daniels after Daniels was behind the defense by 15 yards. Daniels ended up hauling in the pass for 41 yards, but it was a sure touchdown if he throws it on line.
The key for Golson on Saturday was that he started to take chances downfield. Golson still left some throws on the field and held onto the ball too long at times which allowed Purdue to recover in time to close some windows on him, but he took more chances than a week ago and at times threw the ball up and let his receivers make plays. Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen made their careers at Notre Dame by trusting their receivers to make plays and Golson took a step in that direction on Saturday. He still has a lot to learn and there are going to be more growing pains, but this week was another step in the right direction for the young quarterback.
Oh, and Brian Kelly said immediately following the game that Golson is still his quarterback even though Tommy Rees came off the bench to lead the final drive after Golson’s hand got banged up on his 4th quarter fumble.
2. Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix
Both Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix were absolute monsters on the defensive line for Notre Dame on Saturday. Nix was a disruptive force throughout the game collapsing pockets and batting balls down at the line. Saturday was easily Nix’s best game since arriving at Notre Dame and showed just how good he can be. Nix had 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks to go along with 2 pass break-ups at the line of scrimmage. Nix is going to be a heck of a NT in this defense and Saturday was a shining example of that.
Tuitt meanwhile was equally disruptive wracking up another 2 sacks this week giving him 4 already this season after just two games. Purdue couldn’t keep Tuitt out of the backfield on Saturday and the sophomore lineman showed his immense strength by collecting one of his sacks while getting blocked and just reaching out and grabbing Robert Marve.
3. Roby Toma and Davaris Daniels
Notre Dame needs some wide receivers to step up and both Davaris Daniels and Roby Toma both stepped up with some big plays throughout the course of the game. Daniels has shown great hands so far this season and has all of the looks of a potential #1 wide receiver in this offense. He’s big, strong, and showed some open field moves along with those good hands. Daniels had an easy touchdown in the 3rd quarter had Golson not under thrown him so much. He went down with an injury later that drive, but it apparently is nothing serious.
Toma meanwhile just makes plays whenever he is on the field. He just needs to get the ball more. With Tyler Eifert and Daniels on the side lines, Toma was the one who came up with a 21 yard reception to set up the game winning field goal.
4. Prince Shembo rushing the passer
It might not have shown up in the stat sheet, but Prince Shembo had a great game. Shembo’s pressure resulted in one of Tuitt’s sacks as well as several other forced throws and that pressure came because Shembo was very disciplined and took some great angles. On Tuitt’s sack, Shembo could have run right at Marve, but instead he remained disciplined, took a great angle and forced Marve back into Tuitt’s pressure. Tuitt then cleaned up nicely.
Shembo could be pushed by Ishaq Williams for some playing time this year, but he had a great game on Saturday even if it only showed up as 5 tackles. In fact, his 5 tackle performance had more of an impact on the game than the 7 tackles that Carlo Calabrese collected.
5. Improved play from the young defensive backs
All of the young defensive backs looked much better this week than they did a week ago in terms of coverage. There weren’t instances of Purdue receivers streaking downfield with no one covering them as we saw against Navy. Kei’Varae Russell and Elijah Shumate especially showed some much better coverage skills this week and in the process they displayed the promise that earned them playing time over some older defensive backs on the roster.
Now, the tackling from the defensive backs still leaves a lot to be desired, but we’ll get to that when I post my list of things I didn’t like from the Purdue game, but coverage wise Notre Dame definitely looks better here than they did a week ago. There are still going to be times when the defensive backs look their age, but on Saturday it was clear that the talent is there.