Sometimes this column is tough to write and the “5 Things I Liked” column is pretty easy. It happens when Notre Dame wins rather easily and looks pretty good in the process. It happened this weekend.
There was a lot to like in Notre Dame’s season opening 48-17 win over Rice, but I had to look pretty closely for some things I didn’t like. That’s a nice problem to have from time to time.
1. Defensive coverage breakdowns
For the most part, the new Irish defense held strong in the season opener, but there were a couple of complete breakdowns in coverage that resulted in Rice touchdowns. In the first quarter Zack Wright was all by himself streaking to the end-zone for Rice’s first touchdown of the game when Elijah Shumate missed his assignment. Rice’s second touchdown was the result of another broken coverage – a 53 yard James Mayden bomb from Tyler Stehling this time Nicky Baratti was the culprit. Shumate was pressed into a larger role than he expected due to the last minute injury to Austin Collinsworth, but as a junior he can’t let that play happen.
We all knew these were bound to happen this year with a new and more aggressive defense under first year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder so this shouldn’t be a surprise to any one. Hopefully VanGroder and his defensive staff can use these breakdowns as a teaching moment for the young Notre Dame defense. With a mobile quarterback coming into town this weekend in Devin Gardner the Irish secondary will have to be much more disciplined in order for Notre Dame to come away victorious – especially since Collinsworth is expected out again this weekend.
2. Missed field goals within 40 yards
Kyle Brindza is going to go down as one of the best place kickers in Notre Dame history but he still inexplicably struggles from inside 40 yards at times. Throughout his career, Brindza has been amazingly accurate from long distance but at times misses very makable field goals. This was the case on Saturday when Brindza’s first attempt of the season, a 39 yarder, sailed very wide left.
Brindza rebounded on his next two kicks and was excellent on kick-offs but the misses inside 40 are still puzzling to me. Last year Brindza was just 2 of 4 on attempts from 30-39 yards and 4 of 7 on attempts from 40-49 yards. At the same time, he connected on 3 of 4 attempts from 50+ yards.
3. A slow start on offense
It’s hard to find issues with a 48-17 victory, but if there was one part of the offensive performance from Saturday that was concerning, it was the slow start of the offense. Notre Dame’s first two offensive drives of the season netted the Irish just 5 yards on 6 plays and featured two three and outs. From there the offense soared, but a slow start like that against a higher quality opponent could be much more costly down the stretch – say this weekend when Michigan comes to town.
As we saw on Saturday, the young defense is going to be prone to mistakes at times which is going to put more pressure on the Irish offense this year. As is, Notre Dame still scored 14 points in the first quarter thanks to the defense forcing some three and outs of their own so it’s hard to be too tough on the offense – especially since they ended up scoring 48 points.
4. Dropped touchdown passes
Another knock on an otherwise pretty stellar offensive performance on Saturday was the dropped touchdown pass by CJ Prosise in the 2nd quarter. Before Notre Dames pulled away from Rice at the end o the first half, the Irish had a golden opportunity to add to what was at the time a small lead. Everett Golson escaped pressure and delivered a bomb downfield to an open Prosise at the goal line. The ball hit the junior wide receiver right in the hands without him being able to haul it in. Notre Dame had to punt on the next play.
Prosise did redeem himself later in the second quarter by getting open downfield in the final seconds of the first half and hauling in another Golson bomb securely this time for a touchdown that increased the Irish lead to 28-10 at half-time. Considering he showed some inconsistent hands throughout camp, he will need to show improvement in this area to keep sharing time in the slot with Amir Carlisle who looked good at wide receiver after moving over from running back.
5. Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston not starting at running back
I know Cam McDaniel is a captain and is the most accomplished blocker among the Notre Dame running backs, but Folston and Bryant are too talented to not be starting. McDaniel played the first two series while Notre Dame failed to gain a first down. Now, the reason they didn’t get a first down wasn’t McDaniel, but at the same time, you need your playmakers on the field to score points.
Once Greg Bryant got in the game the Irish ground game came to life. Bryant ended up with 71 yards on 8 carries and his first career touchdown. He needs to be starting this weekend against Michigan and Notre Dame needs to run right at the Wolverines early and often.
This week’s list was tough to write since the Irish played pretty well on Saturday outside of the few defensive lapses. Hopefully this column is this tough to write each week this season.