Here are my first impressions of the game without going back to watch it. If the Eagles win tomorrow I think I’ll have the heart to go back and watch it again. If they don’t, I just don’t think I’ll be able to watch it again. Anyway, here are my thoughts.
- Overall, I was impressed with the improvement of the offensive line, but it’s still a work in progress to say the least. They weren’t blow off the line like the last three weeks, but there were still too many mental errors, missed blocks, and poor technique for this offense to be successful.
- John Sullivan is the most experienced OL, but he made as many mistakes as the young guys out there today. The biggest, in my opinion, was not keeping his block on the failed Robert Hughes 4th and 1 in the third quarter. Sully had a linebacker on that play, but he couldn’t keep him engaged and the LB slid off and was in on the tackle.
- Robert Hughes and James Aldridge are both going to be big time backs. Aldridge gained 104 yards on 18 carries and Hughes added 33 on 6 six. Mind you, they both did this without any semblance of a passing game. Had the Irish passing game been able to move the ball, Aldridge could have had a much bigger day. Give these two backs a better line and a passing game to keep defenses honest and they will be able to pound the ball down opposing defenses’ throats.
- While Aldridge’s 43 yard second quarter run was the play of the day (and longer than any run Darius Walker ever had at ND), his most impressive run to me was a five yard gain in the second quarter. On second and 10, he got the ball and was hit in the backfield, yet broke it, then carried a Michigan State defender five yards for a five yard gain when he should have lost a yard or two. When was the last time a Notre Dame running back did that?
- As for Hughes, when was the last time a Notre Dame running back pushed a pile like he did on his second quarter touchdown? the future is bright for both of these backs.
- I don’t think Notre Dame will have a successful passing game with George West and David Grimes as the only two receivers going out for most of the passes. First off, the line needs to improve to the point where Weis can send out three and four receiver sets. Secondly, West and Grimes are just getting eaten alive by opposing defenses when they are the only receivers going out. This isn’t a knock on them, as both are talented. The problem is they are essentially the same receiver and in the two wide receivers sets, ND needs to get some of the bigger receiver out there who can use their size to get position on defenders.
- Clausen is holding onto the ball to long – this much is obvious. What isn’t obvious is if he has anywhere to go with the ball. Weis kept extra protectors in most of the day to give Clausen time and as a result there weren’t any receiver running open.
- I really don’t know why Weis likes to give the ball to Schwapp in sort yardage situations as he has consistently not been able to pick up those tough yards. He isn’t a very gifted runner and right now Luke Schmidt might be better suited for those plays.
- John Carlson’s skills are not being utilized right now because he is needed in pass protection too much. Weis needs to find a way to get Carlson more involved early. If Weis needs a tight end to stay in, Yeatmen should be in the game as he is the stronger blocker.
- Tackling was a little better this week, but there is still a lot of sloppy tackling going on out. One positive was that I noticed a lot less of the defenders trying to strip the ball before wrapping him. Caulcrick simply ran over too many Notre Dame defenders though. He’s a load to handle, but he made too many one yard gains into five yarders by dragging defenders.
- Michigan State put up 31 points, but when you consider that they started 50% of their drives in Notre Dame territory it could have been worse.
- Third down defense was good all day outside of that first drive in the second half when MSU converted a 3rd and 9 and then a 3rd and 17. Without those two conversions, the Spartans completed just 4 of 13 – numbers any defensive coordinator could live with. The problem is those two third and long conversions took all of the wind out of Notre Dame’s sails and the drive ended with a touchdown giving MSU a 10 point lead.
- Give me 11 Pat Kuntz’s to fill out a defense any day. The kid keeps surprising me every week and was one of the lone bright spots again this week.
- Ditto Trevor Laws.
- Kerry Neal and Brian Smith are going to be VERY good linebackers in this defense. Both are already the best pass rushers and run stuffers among the OLB and if they can get the coverages down, there is no reason they won’t be starting as early as the end of the season.
- Two plays really stand out for Smith to me. The first was a screen pass in the second quarter where it looked like MSU had a huge gain, but he shed the block, got a hand on the receiver, and forced him inside where he was stopped short of the first down. It wasn’t a huge play, but it was the kind of play that really impressed me coming from a freshman. The other was another random passing play in the second quarter where he got knocked down but he kept fighting and crawling on the ground after the QB. He didn’t get a sack or even knock the QB down, but it was a play where he showed the kind of hustle that the defense has been lacking.
- As for Neal, he’s going to be an absolute terror of a pass rusher coming off the edge.
- I don’t know what happened to Ambrose Wooden, but he’s had more penalties and blown coverages than positive plays this year.
- Bruton made a heck of a play on his INT, but he still has a way to go with his support in the run game. Still, after seeing the angle he took on Penn State’s 57 yard pass two weeks ago, it was nice seeing him take the proper angle and come down with the pick.
- Raeshon McNeil needs to be on the field more.
- Derrell Hand looked OK considering this was his first game action.
- Overall, special teams were atrosious – coverage units were pretty bad, the punting game was terrible, and despite some serious speed in the return games, the Irish were unable to get any returns set up.
- What has happened to Geoff Price? He shanked two punts very badly and then dropped a snap which set up MSU with terrific field position. Last year Price gave Notre Dame the edge in the field position game more often than not and was a weapon for the Irish. This year he’s been inconsistent and has regressed.
- The return to start the second half was a major momentum killer. The crowd was just waiting to go nuts again and then the return unit let MSU start the second half in Notre Dame territory.
- For this team to have any chance at salvaging this season, the special teams are going to have to be MUCH, MUCH better than they were today.