Notre Dame survived for a 33-30 win over Michigan State to snap the Spartans six game winning streak inside Notre Dame Stadium, but lost star wide receiver Michael Floyd for the foreseeable future. For the second week in a row, the Irish defense was shredded but a not so unstoppable offense. Here are my initial impressions from Saturday’s win.
- Jimmy Clausen is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Clausen showed a lot of toughness on Saturday. After getting banged up in the second quarter, he sucked it up and led the Irish on a fourth quarter comeback despite having a noticeable limp. Clausen finished with another 300 yard passing day and added two more passing touchdowns (with a 3rd taken away by the officials) to give him 9 on the season. Clausen still hasn’t throw an interception even though MSU dropped an easy one on a play where Golden Tate cut off his route. Clausen is quietly putting his name into Heisman consideration.
- Losing Michael Floyd is devastating. Clausen did a good job moving the offense with Floyd out, but losing him is really going to change the dynamic of this offense. Not sure who will step up in Floyd’s absence, but this offense changes a lot without him. It’s tough for defenses to take away too great receivers. Golden Tate is going to see a lot more attention the next few weeks.
- Armando Allen is becoming a very good back. Allen went over 100 yards for the second consecutive week with 115 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown out of the wildcat. Allen showed some tough inside running again this week and is improving every week. New running backs coach Tony Alford is doing a hell of a job with Allen. One of these weeks, Allen is going to have a monster game. He broke out against Purdue last year and could be in line for a big game next week with Michael Floyd out. Allen also threw a touchdown out of the wildcat to Robby Parris.
- This offensive line might actually be nasty. I don’t like the unnecessary roughness penalty from Sam Young at the end of the game, but I love the toughness and nastiness that we are seeing out of the offensive line. Frank Verducci is getting the offensive line to play a lot harder and tougher than his predecessor was able to. There is still a lot of work to be done along the offensive before its dominant, but the improvement that Verducci’s been able to get out of the line is pretty remarkable. It will be nice to see what Verducci is able to do with the offensive line next year with a full year in his system and another off-season.
- Maybe I was wrong about the wildcat. After the first week I said I didn’t like the wildcat, but this week Notre Dame scored two touchdowns out of the formation so maybe I was a little premature in my judgment. I will say that I’m still not a fan of the timing in which Weis uses it though. In the second quarter Notre Dame was up 13-3 with the ball near midfield. The wildcat got stuffed on first down and after a penalty on second down the Irish drive stalled. With Notre Dame throwing the ball all over the field at that point I just didn’t see the point in messing with the offense’s rhythm.
- Kyle Rudolph is one of the best receiving tight ends in the country. Rudolph’s run blocking is still a work in progress, but he is one of the best receiving tight ends in the country and is developing a rather devastating stiff arm. With Michael Floyd likely missing a considerable amount of time, Rudolph is going to need to step up and be a bigger part of the offense. He set a career high with 95 receiving yards Saturday.
- Jonas Gray is still very suspect in pass protection. Gray has shown that he has a ton of potential running the football, but he whiffed on multiple Michigan State’s blitzes throughout the game and looks like a liability in pass protection right now. One reason to be a little optimistic here is Tony Alford. As we’ve seen with the improvements in Armando Allen, it looks like Alford can coach. Hopefully Alford can work with Gray on this and get him up to speed with his blocking because he looks like he’s a very talented back.
- Andrew Nuss is a pretty good guard. Andrew Nuss came in when Trevor Robinson went down for a little and played pretty good. He looks like he can be a player and will definitely challenge for a starting spot next season. It’s very nice to see Notre Dame working in the reserve offensive linemen like Nuss to build a little depth.
- Where was Shaquelle Evans? After see a lot of Evans down the stretch last week he was MIA this week. The wide receiver rotations have been a little odd the past couple weeks. It seems like Weis still hasn’t decided on a true #3 wide receiver yet with Robby Parris, Duval Kamara, Deion Walker, Shaquelle Evans, and John Goodman all getting work at some point or another in the first three games. Someone is going to have to step up with Floyd out now.
- The defensive line actually played OK. Michigan State only ran the ball for 105 yards and the defensive line actually played OK. Ethan Johnson started to emerge a little bit on the inside and Ian Williams played his best game of the season. The line did its job for the most – they occupied the Michigan State offensive line and got some penetration on running plays. They set up the linebackers with opportunities to make plays pretty often. Kapron Lewis-Moore made a great hustle play by forcing a fumble way down the field by running to the football. While the defensive performance in general was troubling, the defensive line actually showed some improvement this weekend.
- The linebackers did not play OK. While the defensive line took a baby step forward this week, the linebackers took another step backwards. The linebackers are still missing a ton of tackles and just aren’t getting to the opposing quarterbacks when they blitz. Toryan Smith had a couple nice games to start the season, but got run over at the goal line on Larry Caper’s third quarter touchdown run. Not sure where Notre Dame goes from here at linebacker. Manti Te’o played a little bit more this weekend, but didn’t standout much. It might be time to stop easing him into playing time and just let him play consistently so he gets into rhythm.
- Tenuta’s blitz schemes aren’t working. Notre Dame blitzed on almost every passing play but didn’t record a sack. Either the Notre Dame blitzes are too predictable or poorly designed. Considering Tenuta’s blitzes have worked everywhere else he’s been its surprising that this is even an issue right now. On Michigan State’s final drive Notre Dame finally started to get some good pressure on Cousins and the result was the game clinching interception from Kyle McCarthy.
- The defensive backs left a lot of plays on the field. Kyle McCarthy was great again and now has 3 picks in 3 games, but his fellow defensive backs left a lot of plays on the field. Darrin Walls could have (maybe should have) had two interceptions. Ray Herring dropped a pick that would have clinched the game earlier than McCarthy’s game winner did. Sergio Brown missed a bunch of tackles again this week. Once the defensive backs started playing more press coverage they started to make more plays. When they were giving Michigan State a large cushion in the first half, MSU was just playing pitch and catch.
- Darius Fleming, Ethan Johnson, and Ian Williams played better. I was pleasantly surprised with the play of each of these three players who had rough starts to their seasons. Ethan Johnson started to make an impact at DT this weekend. His play there is still a work in progress, but he had a nice game. Ian Williams had, by far, his best game since his freshman season too. Darius Fleming had two tackles for loss and played better down the stretch as well. He is still lining up at defensive end more often than not it seems, but he started to play better this weekend as well.
- Nick Tausch had a lot of leg on his 47 yard field goal. Tasuch missed an extra point and had a couple shaky kickoffs, but his 47 yarder had a lot of leg on it. It would have been good from another 5+ yards out. Granted, the attempt was from dead center, but it was still nice to see Tausch nail that kick. One thing that concerns me is that his approach seems to be a little slow and could lead to blocked kicks down the road. He is now 4 for 5 on the season and is 2 for 2 from 40+ yards. That’s not a bad start for a true freshman.
- Special teams were better despite the missed extra point. Taush had a couple iffy kickoffs but the Irish did a better job on coverage this weekend. The blocked extra point by Ethan Johnson turned out to be huge since it dramatically changed Michigan State’s play calling at the end of the game. Theo Riddick had a nice return on Michigan State’s first kick and Barry Gallup showed really nice vision on his lone return. Gallup sees the lanes very well.
- I’m glad to be done with the Big 10 officials. Without going too much into the official, I will be very happy to not see the Big 10 officials at all again this season.
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