Another week, another hard fought victory for the Irish. There were a lot of positives last Saturday night against the Wolverines, just as there has been all season long. Irish fans witnessed the exorcism of the evil that Denard Robinson has cast over Notre Dame the prior three years by a defensive group that some might claim was possessed itself. The strong effort on the defensive side of the ball for Notre Dame started at kick-off and ended when the clock hit zero. The front seven applied pressure all evening long, and in turn caused the Michigan offense to hurry and never find a true balance or chemistry. The Irish defense forced 6 turnovers and for the second week in a row, kept their opponent out of the end zone.
Thatâs not to say that everything was in rhythm for Notre Dame Saturday, as they struggled on the offensive side of the ball themselves. Both Theo Riddick and Cierra Wood struggled as they ran for a collective 91 yards, and Everett Golson threw two interceptions and struggled with consistency all first half before being replaced by back-up QB Tommy Rees. Although the Irish won 13-6, the score could have been much worse for Wolverine fans if the Irish offense had been more successful. Irish fans had their own set of problems, and worry what might have happened if Michigan did not have 6 total turnovers.
Now the Irish have a bye-week in which to get healthy and work on some problem areas before the next 4 games that include (3-1) Miami, #8 Stanford, (2-2)BYU, and a trip to Norman to face #16 Oklahoma. All four of these games will present certain problems for the Irish in their own way, but what will help alleviate some of the issues of the upcoming schedule is the Irish focusing on and fixing some of their own problems.
CONSISTENCY AT QB
Most Irish fans understand that when you have a 1st year starter at the most important position on the team, there will be growing pains and a strong learning curve. While the young Irish quarterback has shown flashes of brilliance, he has struggled with smart fundamental decisions. Coach Kelly officially named Golson the starter for Miami, with Rees providing support again in case of trouble. Kelly and staff need to make sure that the confidence level of their young QB has not dwindled, and he understands his role. Golson has provided some awesome moments this year for Irish fans, but any future success the team may see will heavily rely of his continued growth as an athlete and a man.
The offensive line was supposed to be a point a strength and consistency in 2012 and while it has had its moments the bad outweighs the good here. Over the two weeks before Miami, Offensive line Coach Harry Hiestand needs to find a way to get more production out of them, and at a higher level. The health of the Line isnât helping the Irish as they have had to shuffle a couple people around, and the weak passing game is not a friend either. Michigan routinely stacked the box and other teams will also if the Irish do not find a way to get this group going.
The Secondary is one area that while young and inexperienced, has shown the most consistent growth from game to game. Miami’s quarterback Stephon Morris may not have as much national pub as Landry Jones or Matt Barkley, that doesn’t mean he can’t hurt the Irish through the air as the Georgia Tech secondary can attest to. This group needs to dedicate hours on game film and continue to work on good technique and play recognition. They have no room for errors and cannot afford to take any days off before the game next Saturday night in Soldier Field. It isnât out of the question that this group which was once thought of as a weekly liability, may end up being a true strength by seasonâs end.
KICKOFF RETURNS/PUNT RETURNS
The Irish rank a very average 65th on kick-off return avg. and a very concerning 101st in punt returns avg. Some will say itâs the blocking scheme the Irish are using, others will lay the blame on the youth of the group. At this point, it doesnât really matter. What does matter though is the Irish finding a way to make this a strength. They have speed and athleticism at the return position in the form of George Atkinson and Davonte Neal, but each have struggled to make much of an impact at their respective positions. The team that calls Soldier Field home in the NFL in which the Irish next game is being held, the Chicago Bears, can tell anyone and everyone all about what an impact special teams can have. Hopefully this will be a strong point of emphasis over the bye-week as it can have such an impact on field position for a young Irish offense still trying to find its way.
The Irish coaching staff will not be able to fix everything over the two week span, and most intelligent fans do not expect them to do so. What fans are hoping to see is the continued growth of a young group, and the commitment to having a top-caliber team in all phases of the game. Saturday nightâs game against Miami will be another nationally televised game for the Irish, and another chance for them to continue shedding the stigma of mediocrity.