Welcome to another new weekly column we’ll be doing here at UHND – Lesson Learned. Each Monday following a game we’ll take one last look at what we learned about the Irish from the most recent game.
Michael Floyd can’t be covered one on one
Floyd didn’t get anywhere near the amount of attention that his fellow sophomore receivers in the SEC – AJ Green and Julio Jones – got in the preseason, but he will be getting plenty of attention now after his 4 catch, 189 yard, 3 touchdown performance on Saturday. Floyd’s yards after the catch were the most important aspect of his performance since it’s something we didn’t see a whole lot of outside his touchdown against Washington off the wide receiver screen a year ago. He flashed better top end speed than we’ve seen as well by out running the entire Nevada defense on his 70 yard touchdown in the second quarter. If Floyd is covered one on one from this point out he should be considered open.
Neither can Kyle Rudolph or Golden Tate
While Floyd stole the show on Saturday, both Golden Tate and Kyle Rudolph showed that they can’t be covered one on one either. On Notre Dame’s first touchdown, Rudolph was blanketed by a Nevada defender but used his size to go up and get the ball. Rudolph also got open down the seam but was over thrown by Clausen on what could have been another long touchdown pass for the Irish. Opposing defenses are going to have to give linebackers safety help in covering Rudolph or he’ll tear them apart. Tate didn’t have huge numbers, but showed his trademark hands on a 30 yard pass from Clausen where he barely got his foot in bounds. Notre Dame’s trio of Floyd, Tate, and Rudolph are going to make the Irish passing game one of the best and toughest to defend in the country.
Both lines are improved, but still a work in progress
The offensive line gave Clausen plenty of time to pass all game long and created some running lanes for Notre Dame running backs, but still had plenty of room for improvement. While the line got a nice initial push on running downs, the next step for the line will be to start getting to the second level of defenders to spring Irish backs for the kind of long runs that have been hard to come by for the Notre dame offense over the last few years. The line did do a great job neutralizing Nevada’s speed rushing defensive ends and kept them from making their presence felt.
Defensively, the line held up great on passing downs and created the kind of blitzing lanes that weren’t there often last year, but when Nevada ran right at the Irish ends, they gashed them for big gains throughout the game. Notre Dame went small at defensive end through much of the game with Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming both playing at the same time on a lot of downs. The Irish will likely use the smaller, quicker defensive line against Michigan this week to prevent long runs off the perimeter. I expect to see Notre Dame go bigger against run first teams like Michigan State and Boston College though.
Charlie Weis is at his best calling plays
Weis kept the Nevada defense off balance all game long with a great mix of run and pass plays. Weis loves to run the same plays out of different formations to keep opposing defenses guessing and he did that on Saturday. Weis’s play calling also kept the Nevada pass rush at bay with a mix of draws and screens. Weis even used a fake reverse that was designed to go deep, but was sniffed out well. This was a play that Notre Dame used a lot in 2005 and 2006 but hadn’t used much the past few seasons because it requires a lot of pass protection. Weis didn’t get too “cute” with his play calling either and for the most part kept things pretty vanilla. I expect to see ore crossing patterns and multiple receiver sets next week against Michigan.
Manti Te’o can hit and cover some ground
Te’o didn’t play a lot, but whenever he was in the game, his presence was felt. On a 3rd and 15 in the second quarter Te’o flashed his speed when Colin Kapernick took off but was caught from behind by Te’o. In the fourth quarter, he delivered a couple of big hits that got the crowd pumped up. Te’o also played with a lot of emotion and showed why he was the top defensive recruit last year. With a faster opponent this week in Michigan, I think we’ll see more of Te’o and don’t think we’ll be disappointed in the least.
Notre Dame is loaded at running back
Armando Allen ran harder and tougher than we’ve seen in the past and both Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick looked more than capable of handling the rock as well. Gray in particularly looked very good running on the perimeter and nearly took an outside run in for a touchdown from the 20. Robert Hughes was actually the fourth running back inserted into the game with Riddick coming in as the third back. Riddick also returned the lone Nevada kick and looks like he’ll get plenty of playing time this year.
The James Aldrdige experiment at fullback worked
Aldrdige didn’t touch the ball a lot, but his presence at fullback was definitely felt. He blocked well and had to be accounted for by the Nevada defense. Unfortunately he was injured in the fourth quarter and his status for this weekend is very much up in the air at this point. Weis said on Sunday that he has a plan B if Aldrdige is unable to go but said that he won’t reveal what that plan is until he knows with certainty what Aldridge’s status is.
The pass rush is improved
The one thing I really took away from the defensive performance on Saturday is that the Notre Dame pass rush is really improved and will make life miserable on quarterbacks who aren’t as big and fast as Kaepernick. Notre Dame missed out on four or five sack opportunities because Kaepernick was able to use his size to shake off tacklers. The defensive line did a good job creating pass rushing lanes for Notre Dame linebackers to come in untouched. Jon Tenuta also disguised his blitzes well enough that Notre Dame had rushers coming in off the edge untouched on a number of occasions as well. Notre Dame blitzed a lot last year, but wasn’t effective most of the time they did. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.