Notre Dame opened the 2009 season with a bang on Saturday by recording their first shut out in seven years in a 35-0 win over the Nevada Wolf Pack. Here’s my initial impressions from Notre Dame’s most impressive season opener since 2005′s win in Pittsburgh.
We’re going to try and make our post game coverage a little more structured each week – at least for the games we can’t attend in person. That said, the first post we’ll be making after each game is a list of initial impressions from the game. It’ll be a bulleted list which is made up of my notes I take during the game.
- Jimmy Clausen had about as good a first game as I can remember a Notre Dame quarterback having in a long time. He completed 15 of 18 passes for 315 yards and 4 touchdowns. What really impressed me though was that two of his touchdowns came on third downs – the 19 yarder to Kyle Rudolph and the 24 yarder to Michael Floyd.
- Michael Floyd. WOW. That might have been the most dominant 4 catch game any receiver has ever had in Notre Dame history. He ended up with 4 catches for 189 yards with touchdowns of 24, 70, and 88 yards. Floyd flashed some top end speed I didn’t think he had on both of the long touchdowns.
- The offensive line was better, but still wasn’t getting a great push in the running game and struggled when Notre Dame ran any toss plays. The line did do a good job protecting Clausen though and looked good blocking on screen plays.
- I think we only saw a glimpse of what Kyle Rudolph is going to be able to add to this offense. When Clausen goes back and looks at the game tape, he is going to see that he left even more yards on the field by not seeing Rudolph open across the middle.
- Armando Allen ran hard, but still looks to be one tackle away from breaking a long run most of the time. Hopefully he’ll start breaking that one tackle at some point this season.
- Both Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick looked really good running the ball. Both looked to be stronger runners than Allen and did a better job of running through arm tackles. Gray particularly looked really good and could end up pushing Allen throughout the season.
- Wasn’t a fan of the plays from the wildcat formation. The offense was moving the ball at will before going into the wildcat. To borrow a line from Donovan McNabb, the wildcat seemed to throw off our rhythm on offense a bit. If the goal was just to give opponents something else to plan for, fine.
- Somehow Golden Tate managed nearly 20 yards per catch and was completely overshadowed.
- Loved seeing Crist get some real playing time with a couple pass plays. Would have liked to see him lead a scoring drive, but it was nice to see him in the game none the less.
- Not a single off-sides or delay of game penalty and just two holding calls (one of which – Bobby Burger’s – was complete BS). That’s very encouraging considering this was the first game of the year.
- Would have liked to see Notre Dame use Ragone in the passing game a bit to show other teams that they need to account for both tight ends in the passing game. Of course, Weis might have wanted to keep Ragone on the shelf in the passing game so they won’t be prepared for it.
- Didn’t mind Notre Dame going for it on 4th and 1 from the 40. Clausen had Rudolph wide open coming across the middle but tossed up the jump ball to Tate – one of the few mistakes he made today.
- Speaking of Clausen, I was impressed with his sideline demeanor and leadership. He was interacting with the defense and walking up and down the sidelines like Brady Quinn used to be. Pat Hayden said Clausen had a completely different demeanor during their meeting this week and it showed on the sidelines.
- It was nice to see Deion Walker get his first career catch – a 15 yarder from Crist.
- The interior run defense is a big concern at this point. Nevada ripped off a lot of runs on first down going right at the defensive. I think part of the reason for their success was Notre Dame’s scheme. The Irish went small on the defensive line on early downs throughout the game with Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming as the defensive ends. Nevada took advantage of this and ran right at the ends. When Notre Dame went big up front in obvious running downs, they held strong and stuffed Nevada.
- Was impressed with the play of Toryan Smith. He was definitely playing with a chip on his shoulder after everyone wrote him off as a starter as Manti Mania set in.
- Speaking of Manti Te’o. WOW. The kid is legit. He only played a little bit, but when he was in there his presence was felt. He showed that he is already one of the biggest hitters on the defense. He looked big and fast when he was in the game and played with a lot of intensity. The crowd went nuts every time he made a hit – he’s going to be a big time playmaker for this defense.
- Brian Smith might not be a captain, but he is clearly the leader of the defense on the field. He had a great game, but still over pursued a couple of plays that ended up being big runs.
- Was disappointed how wide open the Nevada receivers were most of the day. Had their wide receiver held onto the ball throughout the game, the Wolf Pack probably would have not been kept off the scoreboard.
- Quarterbacks who are not as big and fast as Colin Kapernick are going to get eaten alive by this defense at times. Kaepernick did an excellent job avoiding the pass rush all game long. Notre Dame was in his face all day long, but he avoided at least 4 or 5 sacks by moving around the pocket and breaking tackles.
- Kyle McCarthy doesn’t deliver big hits, but he just doesn’t miss tackles – ever. He also had a great pick. Overall, a nice game for the fifth year senior captain.
- Notre Dame got lucky with the fumble on the option run near the goal. A clean pitch and catch and Nevada had an easy touchdown – there wasn’t anyone on the outside to pick of the running back.
- Like what I saw out of Hafis Williams in his limited action. He got a nice push from inside. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot of him against the power running teams like Michigan State, Boston College, Navy, etc.
- Gary Gray was the best tackler among the corners including delivering a big hit in the second half.
- Overall the defense was inconsistent. Nevada ripped off a bunch of nice plays, but it seemed the defense rose to the occasion on every third down – Nevada was just 2 for 11 on third down.
Special Teams Notes
- Theo Riddick looked good on his only kick return attempt. If there’s a seem, he looks like he has the speed to explode through it.
- Nick Tausch’s kick-offs were all petty good. Like Weis said, he got good hang time which allowed the coverage unit to get down and bottle up the Nevada return game. He looked pretty good on extra points too – his kicks were right down the middle for the most part.
- Eric Maust didn’t have a great day punting. I wouldn’t be surprised if Turk ended up over taking him at some point this season.
- John Goodman looked good in his only punt return. He took the last punt of the game 21 yards and nearly broke it for a touchdown.