Notre Dame’s first trip to Winston-Salem ended with a win in an up and down performance that showed once again that the 2011 Fighting Irish are still very much a work in progress. Here are some initial thoughts from the game.
- Tommy Rees didn’t have a very strong performance. He was not very accurate and ended up throwing another two interceptions to give him 10 on the season. After going back to back games without a turnover against Purdue and Air Force, Rees has thrown four picks the past three weeks. Both interceptions last night game at a time when Notre Dame was in a position to put some distance between them and Wake too.
- The Irish offense just isn’t quite there yet. Notre Dame had a chance to put this game away in the second half, but the offense couldn’t sustain much drives and put more points on the board.
- Hats off to Mike Golic Jr who saw his first extended playing time after Braxston Cave went down with an injury. With his dad on the sidelines, the younger Golic flattened a Wake lineman on his first play to open up a huge hole for Jonas Gray. Golic more than held his own in Cave’s absence.
- Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood turned in good games and could have done even more damage if they received some more carries. Would have liked to see Notre Dame run the football right at Wake more than they did.
- For the most part, Wake did a really good job taking Michael Floyd out of the game other than his 16 yard touchdown catch. Kelly needs to find a way to get the ball in his hands more early in games.
- Would have liked to see Theo Riddick involved more in the game plan. Notre Dame had been using him more in recent weeks, but it seemed like he was an afterthought this week.
- Would have also liked to see more, make that some, of Andrew Hendrix. After a very strong performance against Air Force, he has been MIA the last three weeks.
- Despite Kelly’s insistence at the end of last night’s presser that the passing game is fine, it really wasn’t last night. Notre Dame still hasn’t had a receiver establish themselves as the clear #2 wide receiver and when secondaries take Floyd out of the game, the passing game stalls.
- Not enough can be said about the play of the offensive line over the course of the season The line was dominant again last night and didn’t allow a sack once a gain. On the season Notre Dame has surrendered just 5 sacks. After years of inconsistent offensive line play, just think about that for a minute.
- Still trying to figure out how the replay officials overturned the Gray touchdown run in the third quarter. I’ve yet to see an angle that shows he was down before the ball crossed the plane of the end zone.
- After a really rough start, the defense settled in and held Wake in check for the last three quarters of the game.
- Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuiit showed why they came to Notre Dame with so much hype last night. Both played a ton due to the injuries along the line and both made huge plays down the stretch. These two have the looks of players that are on load from the NFL.
- What made Lynch’s performance even more impressive was the fact that he was banged up a couple of times, but fought through it and kept making plays.
- I love watching Robert Blanton play in the run game. He might be the best tackling cornerback for Notre Dame in a long, long time. He was all over the field last night and showed why he may be the most missed player on defense next year.
- I am already worried about the secondary for next year. Losing Blanton is going to be a huge loss for Notre Dame and no one in the secondary did much to impress again this weekend. Both safety and corner are going to be areas of concern. Notre Dame has to keep all of its current secondary commitments and hopefully gain at least one more impact defensive back – one or two could easily challenge for a starting role next season.
- Linebacker play was rough again this week. Te’o is playing through injuries and it is clearly impacting his effectiveness. Fleming had a strong performance, but other than him, none of the linebackers did too much and were liabilities in the passing game.
- Loved seeing the Irish defense cause a turnover of its own right after the Irish offense turned it over in their own territory. Darius Fleming forced the fumble to cap off a really strong game.
- Did I mention how much fun it is to watch Robert Blanton play and how much Notre Dame will miss him in 2012?
- Austin Collinsworth might be getting the championship belt given to the special teams player of the year this season because he is turning a season just as impressive as Bennett Jackson’s 2010 campaign. Collinsworth got a lot of attention in the return game with Wake Forest trying to avoid George Atkinson and he responded with a couple great returns. Collinsworth was also a beast on kick coverage.
- Speaking of Atkinson, he didn’t get much a chance to make an impact with Wake avoiding him, but even on the one return he did make, you just had the impression he was about to break it. He is going to be A LOT of fun to watch over the next few years. Can’t wait to see Kelly get him more involved in the offense.
- Not sure if Kyle Brindza’s kickoffs are coming up short by design, but after showing a big leg early in the season, his kicks have been landing around the 10 yard the last few weeks.
- Another game with no punt return yards for Notre Dame. It’s almost unfathomable that a team could go nine weeks and only total three yards on punt returns for the entire season.