There’s wasn’t a whole lot not to like in Notre Dame’s win over #10 Michigan State Saturday night, but there were a few areas in which Notre Dame will need to improve in a hurry in order to keep their winning ways going.
3rd Down Conversion on Offense
The one glaring negative coming out of an otherwise promising performance was the production, or lack there of, of the offense when it came to 3rd downs. Notre Dame converted on just one of 14 attempts on third down – a conversion rate that normally does not end in a comfortable victory. After having great success on third downs in his first two starts, Everett Golson struggled converting them this week. This is normal for a young quarterback, but after the success Golson saw in weeks one and two, it was a bit disappointing to see such futility on third downs this week.
In order for this team to reach its full potential, the offense has to execute better on third down and the coaching staff needs to do a better job of putting the offense in a position to succeed. Now, play calling wasn’t necessarily poor on third downs, but for whatever reason, Michigan State had Notre Dame’s number when it came time to keep drives moving. For Notre Dame to make it to the October 27th showdown with Oklahoma unscathed in the loss column, that improvement will have to happen in a hurry.
Too Few Touches for Cierre Wood
Cierre Wood was back on the field for Notre Dame fresh off of his two game suspension and it seemed clear that the staff was working him back into the flow slowly. What was also clear, however, was that even if he was a bit rusty, he was still the best running back on the Irish squad Saturday night. No other back had the same kind of burst as Wood and as a result he was on the field the most in the 4th quarter. The question I have is why wasn’t that the case for the first three quarters?
No other Irish back, at this time, has Wood’s combination of size, speed, and vision. George Atkinson III has the potential to reach Wood’s level by the time he is finished at Notre Dame, but he just isn’t quite there yet and Theo Riddick lacks the burst and vision Wood possesses. Hopefully Wood sees more action this week against Michigan. If he does, I suspect he could be in for a big, big game.
Playing Time for Chris Brown,Justin Ferguson, and Davonte Neal
Earlier in the week Brian Kelly mentioned that Chris Brown needed to play more. Well, we saw him break free downfield early on only to have Golson over shoot him by a little bit and then we didn’t see him again. I loved seeing Kelly get him on the field for a deep play early because this offense is in need of a deep threat to keep defenses honest, but for all the hype we heard over the summer, Brown has zero catches three games into the season.
We also heard a good bit of talk about Justin Ferguson in the pre-season and other than some light action against Navy, we haven’t seen much action for him either. Davonte Neal has been the primary punt returner, but he didn’t have his number called on offense this week either. The last two weeks Neal had a few plays drawn up for him, but this week he wasn’t heard from on offense.
Notre Dame’s offense is still a work in progress and is in need of a playmaker or two to step up. I’ve loved what I’ve seen out of TJ Jones and Roby Toma so far this season and John Goodman’s only two catches have been the biggest two catches of the season, but Notre Dame needs a playmaker to emerge. Each of the three freshmen receivers have the potential to be big play guys. Getting one of them ready to be that big play guy sooner rather than later could end up being the difference between this being a good year and a great year.
Injury to Jamoris Slaughter
The loss of Jamoris Slaughter for the season is a devastating blow to a secondary that was already without starters Lo Wood and Austin Collinsworth. Without Slaughter, the Irish will be starting a third converted offensive player in Matthias Farley who while very talented is still a bit raw as he learns the safety position.
A week after suffering a number of less severe injuries against Purdue, Slaughter was the only injury of note this week, but it was a major one for a Notre Dame defense that has been playing as good as we’ve seen a Notre Dame defense play in a long time. The Irish have been very resilient in the secondary with the youngsters really stepping up and playing well, but what they lose with Slaughter sidelined in terms of production and leadership is going to be very difficult to overcome with some truly elite quarterbacks on the upcoming schedule.
The Disappearing Act of Tyler Eifert
I know Michigan State wanted to take Tyler Eiferty out of the ball game, but I am pretty sure Purdue wanted to as well and yet Kelly and Chuck Martin were still able to find ways to get the ball in big #80′s hands against the Boilermakers. Eifert is one of the best tight ends in the country, but he did not have his number called very often on Saturday. Kelly and Martin have to do a better job of finding ways to get Eifert open if Notre Dame is going to improve to 4-0 this weekend.