This weekend I had to catch the Irish using the NBC Notre Dame central app while at a wedding making any comments regarding the Irish and their performance a little difficult. A day after making the long trip home I was able to catch the full game replay courtesy of NBCSports.com and have some impressions on Notre Dame’s first win of the season.
- First off, NBC does a hell of a job with its video coverage. The app was giving me crystal clear picture most of the time over just a 3G connection and the full game replay has looked great so hats off to NBC.
- Aaron Lynch is a beast. We all heard the hype coming in and in his first extended bit of of action he did not disappoint. Lynch recorded 6 QB hurries – currently the most any Irish defender has all season – on top of his first career sack and forced fumble. With some traditional offenses in store for the Irish look for the defensive staff to turn him loose – especially on passing downs.
- Tommy Rees had a rough game. He made some good throws, but missed a few big plays with bad passes and turned the ball over two more times this week. Rees is still young and can improve here, but if he doesn’t improve his ball security as the season progresses, there will be another QB derby this spring and summer for the 2012 season.
- That said, his touchdown pass to TJ Jones was a really nice throw.
- Robert Blanton is moving himself up NFL draft boards with his stellar play. Blanton was all over the field with 4 tackles for loss and the same sealing interception after John Goodman’s muffed punt (more on that later). Blanton’s play has stood out even more given the struggles of Gary Gray early this season.
- Harrison Smith has played well since his disastrous first game, but his safety mates have not been very impressive. Zeke Motta wasn’t strong tackling in space again. Jamoris Slaughter played better than he had and had a pick called back for a hold on Blanton though. Notre Dame really needs to land an elite safety in this class.
- Was surprised to see as much of Troy Niklas as we did but the staff must be really high on him for them to play him as extensively as they did with Prince Shembo away from the team while tending to a family medical emergency.
- Louis Nix looked really good at NT with Sean Cwynar banged up. Nix was a force in the middle of the Irish defensive line and should only get better with more snaps and better conditioning. When Cywnar is back to 100% Notre Dame will be very, very strong at this position.
- Run defense was excellent bottling up a team that loves to run the football. In fact, run defense has been outstanding all three games this year outside of a few long runs by Denard Robinson last week. Hopefully this is a sign that the defense will be ready for offenses like Air Force and Navy.
- George Atkinson showed why he was a US Army All American with the first kickoff return for a touchdown for Notre Dame since the 2008 Hawaii Bowl. Atkinson is dangerous in the open field and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Irish staff find a way to get him some touches on offense as the season progresses. I still say Notre Dame needs to sign 2 running backs in this class so that Atkinson can move back to wide receiver full time next season.
- The offensive line really controlled the line of scrimmage against Michigan State in the first half as the Irish ground game clicked. In the second half the line and ground game fell off a bit however.
- Would have liked to see more out of Theo Riddick after he bounced back from his poor opener with a big game last week against Michigan. For this offense to really click, Notre Dame is going to have to get more production out of Riddick and TJ Jones.
- Place kicking and kickoffs have been strong the last two weeks and the kick return unit was sparked by Atkinson this week, but the rest of the special teams units continue to be down right dreadful. Ben Turk had one nice punt pinned at the 1 yard line, but for the most part he struggled again this week.
- The punt return unit continues to not just be poor, but downright costly with another muffed punt – this time by John Goodman. Kelly and Mike Elston need to hold open tryouts or something to find a punt returner that can successful field punts and make some plays from the position. I would like to see freshman Cam McDaniel and junior Roby Toma get a look back there.
- Punt coverage has been an adventure this year as well after being very strong last season. Part of the problem has been the poor performance from Turk setting up big returns with low punts and poor hang time on his kicks. Notre Dame needs to perform some triage here, but based on how bad the punting game has been its hard to imagine it will get corrected anytime soon.
We’ll have more throughout the week to catch up on recruiting and to preview this weekend’s game against Pitt.