(UHND.com) – The first game is in the books and the UHND recap and report card are both up so before we do some more specific articles I’m going to go over some random thoughts and interesting statistics from the Irish’s opener.
Time of Possession – Notre Dame held a significant edge in time of possession, holding onto the ball for 35:25 compared to 24:35 for Georgia Tech. On top of that, Notre Dame ran off 78 plays compared to Tech’s 52. This hasn’t been discussed much, but one of the ways to handle an aggressive defense is to pound them and tire them out. Notre Dame did this by running 26 more plays than Georgia Tech and holding onto the ball for almost 10 more minutes.
Holding onto the ball was also key for the defense in limiting Calvin Johnson from hurting them. Johnson couldn’t hurt the Irish defense if he wasn’t on the field and the Irish offense did a good job of keeping the Tech offense off the field in the second half
Travis Thomas is a good Linebacker – Thomas looked good on defense. He wasn’t great, but it was also Thomas’s first game action on defense since high school. Thomas showed very good closing speed. He got stood up a couple times and will have to deal with that more as the season progresses because he is a bit undersized, but he showed some real potential out there.
Travis Thomas is a better north/south runner than Walker – Darius Walker played great, but as a straight up north/south up the middle running back, Thomas is the better back. Walker definitely has the edge on draws and misdirection runs, but Thomas just hits the hole with much more authority and can pound it. Walker is more of a finesse runner who “dances” around a bit too much at times. That being said…
Darius Walker is a great fit in this offense – Walker might not be the best north/south runner as I mentioned above, but he is a great fit for this offense. He is great on draw plays and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. I would like to see him attack the holes a bit more at times because there was quite a bit of room out there in the second half that he didn’t fully utilize.
3rd Down Offense & Defense – The Irish defense held Georgia Tech to just two third down conversions on 10 attempts. Think back to the Ohio State game and how badly the Irish were burned on third down and this is encouraging. In the second half, Tech didn’t convert a single third down.
On the offensive side the ball the Irish were fairly effective on third down converting 7 of 16 attempts – not great numbers, but also not terrible. There were mainly two big third downs that were the difference. Third and 12 in the second quarter which Quinn converted with his scramble and then 3rd and 9 on the final drive when Quinn hit McKnight for the first down. Those two plays were two of the more important plays of the game.
Nickel Coverage – Notre Dame played a ton of nickel in the second half of the game. Weis talked a lot about how the coaches felt very comfortable with the defensive backs and it showed Saturday. This could also be because Mitchell Thomas and Anthony Vernaglia did not impress much at strong side linebacker. Neither did much of note and looked like the first time starters they are.
When the Irish were in nickel coverage both Darrin Walls and Terrail Lambert saw a lot of the reps. Walls got a lot of action in his first game and his playing time should only increase.
Tech Was Scared of Zbikowski – Georgia Tech was flat out avoiding Tommy Zbikowski early on in the punt game and I can’t say I blame them. Zbikowski is one of the best return men in the nation and I think we’ll see a lot more punters kicking away from him.
Youth Movement – A total of nine freshman played yesterday. Sam Young started at right tackle, Walls was the nickel corner, George West returned kicks, Morrice Richardson played defensive end on rush downs, Munir Prince was the backup tailback, and Richard Jackson, Jashaad Gaines, Sergio Brown, and Raeshon McNeil were on special teams.
Richardson impressed me with his quickness off the edge. The first time I noticed him in the game he exploded off the line and got to Ball quickly disrupting the timing of a screen pass. Prince was in quite a bit but didn’t get the ball in his hands which I hope won’t happen again next week. Young looked like a freshman at times, but also showed flashes of being a dominant tackle at others. He had a few false starts, but he also played well in the second half.
Geoff Price has a big league leg – Price looked like he’s got some real power in his leg. His 60+ yarder in the air was impressive. If Price can develop touch of his short punts like DJ Fitzpatrick had, the punting game will be a weapon for the Irish. Price is a first time starter, but he definitely seems more than capable as the punter.
John Carlson can catch… can he block? – John Carlson showed some great hands last night and looks like he can be a good weapon in the passing game, but at times he did not block too well. In the first half, Weis kept Carlson in to block and the senior did not have much success. Still, I really liked what I saw out of Carlson in the passing game and hope his role expands throughout the season. His blocking will definitely need to improve however as teams try to replicate the blitzing that Tech did Saturday night.
Way too many penalties – Its normal for there to be some penalties in the season opener, but nine penalties a game won’t get it done for the Irish this year. Some were killers, some were questionable, and then there was that holding on Rhema on the first drive. Hopefully some of these mental mistakes will be absent next week.