Brady Quinn had the deer in the headlights look on his face for much of the first half. Jon Tenuta did a hell of a job confusing Quinn with some complicated blitz schemes. He brought pressure from everywhere and confused Quinn, a fourth year starter. He did not look like the Heisman front runner that he was heading into the game. The pressure clearly rattled him and even when he had time, he rushed his throws. He missed a number of open receivers including Jeff Samardzija twice for a touchdown.
Ok, now the good news. Despite a subpar game, Quinn regained his composure and led his team to a win. He first down run in the second quarter turned momentum and then he took it in from five yards out at the end of the half to get the Irish on the board. In the second half he managed the game well, used the clock, and was a little more accurate. Still, this is not really the type of opener you for out of a Heisman hopeful.
Darius Walker nearly topped 100 yards, finishing with 99 after running for just 22 yards in the first half. Walker was a workhorse back for the Irish in the second half, but fort as good as he played, he left a bunch of yards on the field. Walker was not hitting the hole very assertively last night. He was tentative at times and it cost him some yards. The one that is the most came in the 4th quarter on 2nd and 9 with the Irish driving. Walker took a draw and stutter stepped to daylight, then instead of just exploding through the hole he stutter stepped again into a Tech linebacker for a gain of just two. Maybe it’s not a big deal, but Walker could have easily chalked up another 20-30 yards if he just hit the hole hard.
Asaph Schwapp looked excellent in short yardage situations. He wasn’t used much, but he had the ball, he looked like a tank to tackle and should be a very valuable weapon in short yardage this year. I would have liked to see Weis get the ball in Munir Prince’s hands somehow as he was in for a number of plays but spent most of the them being split wide. Look for Prince to get the ball in his hands some next week.
Rhema McKnight came back from last year’s injury and catch 8 passes for 108, but could have easily added another 50 or so yards. McKnight dropped a sure first down inside the 10 that would have given the Irish a first and goal at the start of the fourth quarter and didn’t adjust too well to a ball Quinn hung up for him in the second half. Still, it was nice to see McKnight back and making some plays. Jeff Samardzija had to deal with a lot of attention from the Tech defense and still turned in an OK performance. The senior had six catches for 74 yards and was missed on a couple plays by Quinn. Samardzija also had a nice gain called back on the Irish’s first drive of the game.
Where were the other receivers though? David Grimes had one ball thrown his way all game and no other receivers did anything worth mentioning. This team is going to have to establish more than McKnight and Samardzija this year. Teams will keep blitzing them and if the Irish don’t have the receivers to spread them out, they will have some trouble scoring at times.
John Carlson came up with two huge third down conversions and played well in the receiving game in his first game as the starter. Carlson’s blocking however left a little to be desired. Marcus Freeman only had one pass thrown his way but it went for a first down.
In the first half, the veteran offensive line was dreadful – they simply could not pick up the Georgia Tech blitzes. Even when the Jackets weren’t blitzing, the line was getting beat by four man rushes. Quinn had no time to pass and the few times the Irish did run, there weren’t lanes. Freshman Sam Young had some rookie mistakes, but he held his own and played alright. He’s got a long way to go, but the talent is there.
Thankfully the second half was a different story. The line started picking up the blitz and gave Quinn time to pass. They opened up some lanes for Walker as the Irish started to pound the ball more and more. It was still a bit unsettling to see the Tech defense get through the Irish offensive line so easily in the first half. Even All American candidate Ryan Harris had trouble and was whistled for a leg whip and holding penalty which negated two big gains for the Irish.
Did the Irish defensive line show up in Atlanta? Victor Abiamiri was invisible and was handled by Mansfield Wrotto, a first time starter, all night. There was very little push up the middle in the first half as the Tech offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Reggie Ball had lots of time to throw throughout most of the game and Tashard Choice was 2 to 3 yards passed the line of scrimmage before getting hit on most of his runs. The line stiffened in the second half and stopped a few key third and shorts, but this line needs to play much better. It should be the strength of the defense, especially with the small linebackers the Irish have, but it was anything but a strength Saturday. The lone bright spot for me here was Morrice Richardson. The freshman was used on passing downs and he was QUICK off the line and got pressure on Ball to disrupt the timing of a screen in the third quarter.
The Irish started two new linebackers Saturday and it showed. The combination of Mitchell Thomas and Anthony Vernaglia was anything but encouraging. The two split time at strong side linebacker and neither did much to impress. Thomas looked like his feet were stuck in cement on a Reggie Ball third scramble as he flew past the senior linebacker. I did like what I saw out of Travis Thomas. He is easily the fastest linebacker and made a few nice plays. I still don’t think Maurice Crum is a middle linebacker. Crum got swallowed up on a number of running plays. For Crum to be an effective middle linebacker the defensive line will need to help him out more because of his size. Crum did look good when he was sent in on the blitz. He has really good timing and is very good at waiting to rush in when he has a clear lane.
The Notre Dame secondary played better than most people thought they would. Calvin Johnson had his way in the first half with five catches for 95 yards, but they weren’t getting beat long. Darrin Walls drew Johnson one on one in the second quarter and lost a jump ball situation, but the freshman had decent position and made the tackle. Ambrose Wooden missed a couple tackles, most notably on a run and catch on Johnson in the second quarter. Mike Richardson still looked out of place at times as a fifth year senior and I don’t think it will be long before Walls is starting opposite Wooden. Walls played a lot more than I thought he would and played fairly well. He got manhandled at times in the running game, but as a cover corner, he’s got the talent to play a lot.
The safeties played excellent. CHinedum N’dukwe was the deep help on a particular pass to Calvin Johnson in the first quarter and absolutely LIT up the All American. He broke up the pass and we didn’t see Johnson going over the middle the rest of the game. Tommy Zbikowski looked possessed in the second half. Anything he hit when down and went down hard which is more than I can say about some others in the secondary. Overall, I was impressed by the play of the safeties. Next week will be a different challenge all together when the Irish face a team that has a second and third receiver, but so far so good.
I’ll start off with the good stuff here. Kick return team looks outstanding. George West will return at least one kickoff for a touchdown this season. He is quick and looked excellent as did David Grimes would used some nifty moves to make a big return. Zbikowski as always looked great on punt returns. He didn’t have much to work with as Tech kicked away from him, but he just doesn’t go down on the first tackle.
Geoff Price has a hell of a leg. His punts were long and high and bailed the Irish out in the first half. He punted five times for an average of 50.4 yard including a 61 yarder. Price has a big league leg, but will need to work on his pin pointing punting. Still, I’m not worried here.
I am however worried about the place kicking. Actually worried might not even describe it. Carl Goia missed two very makeable field goals. I realize it was first game as the starter but he needs to convert on those kicks. Those two misses made the game more competitive than it needed to be. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ryan Burkhart kicking field goals soon.
Jon Tenuta had Weis’s number early on. Tenuta had the Irish offense completely confused and gave them a lot more trouble than I ever thought he would. Weis however adjusted at half time and Tenuta could not match Weis’s adjustments. The Irish began picking up the blitz a lot better. Straight up however, I’ll give the edge to Tenuta whose defense held the Irish to just 14 points, their lowest under Weis.
Weis however clearly outcoached Chan Gailey. Gailey got conservative and it cost the Yellow Jackets. Trailing by four and facing a fourth and one near middle field in the fourth quarter, Gailey decided to punt instead of going for it. To win the game Tech was going to need to take some chances there and a first down at that juncture would have given Tech all the momentum and sent that crowd into a frenzy. It was also clear that Tech was going conservative in the second quarter when they ran two straight runs inside the 15 yards line instead of throwing a jump ball for their 6’5” wide receiver. They played for the field goal instead of the touchdown and it cost them.
Overall, I really expected Weis to have the offense much more prepared for the Tech defense. He made the proper adjustments, but the Irish still only scored 14 points which is a lot less than I thought they would. Hats off to Rick Minter and the defensive coaches for taking Johnson out of the game in the second half and holding the Yellow Jackets to under 300 yards.