Initial Impressions – Notre Dame 35, Nevada 0

Notre Dame opened up the 2009 season with an impressive 35-0 win over Nevada – the first shut down for Notre Dame since 2002.

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.

Offense Notes

  • 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.

Defense Notes

  • 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.

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  1. I didn’t think our secondary was giving Nevada’s receiver’s cushion because of lack of ability. I think Tenuta had them playing off and giving cushion because Nevada would go for the long balls. But the defense up front rarely let them air it out, so the secondary had a relatively “easy” day.

    It’s hard not to get excited and be very hopeful after such an amazing performance by our boys. But I’m going temper that excitement with the reality that we have alot of games ahead of us, with next week’s game at the BIG HOUSE! Never an easy task to win there.

    But to be sure, it’s hard to imagine a better start to the season or a better way to “set the tempo”. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen ND give an almost “flawless” performance.

    If Navy just could have pulled it out against OSU, it would have been a PERFECT weekend! GO IRISH!

  2. Nevada was the perfect team to open the season agianst. Playing agianst the “pistol” offence should help agianst Michigan and their spread. But there is certianly some work to do. That kid Robinson(shoe laces)at QB looked real quick and elusive. Michigan has a better O-Line, better recievers, and a overall better defence Than Nevada.
    On the flip side we still have Shaq Evans,& Cierre Wood who are waiting in the wings and have yet to see the field. Also, Robert Hughs only saw the field late in the game in clean up duty.
    Throw out the records, rankings, and anything else. When these two teams get together it’s normally a slug fest. Lets keep the pedal to the metal.

  3. How can you malign the play of the rush defense and then say you were impressed with the play of Toryan Smith? That makes no sense. The only thing that Nevada’s offense did well (inside running), Toryan Smith was personally responsible for. He is routinely slow to the point of attack, whether filling gaps or blitzing, and fundamentally lacks the speed it takes to play at a high level. He should be playing for Nevada, not starting for ND against them. It’s only a matter of time (hopefully one week) before Te’o moves into the weakside spot and Brian Smith slides over to the mike. If not, I don’t want to think about how the superior athletes running the spread at Michigan will expose Toryan Smith even further.

  4. Faithful fan – so you were disappointed in the O-line run game? Which game did you watch? At the end of the 3rd quater the Irish were averaging 10.4 yards a carry! The O line was much improved – they also gave Jimmy a ton of time to throw which he certainly took advantage of! Give me a break – the coaches they got in the off season are definitely making a big difference here.

  5. I saw a vastly improved and motivated defense – Tenuta calling plays is a huge difference. The D is light years ahead verses last year. 10-15 yard runs are going to come from Nevada as they typically have a very balanced attack although surprizing they ran more with I think caught the Irish off guard but ND made adjustments which they rarely did last year. Contrary to Frank saying ND got lucky on the option fumble from Nevada at the goalline – a replay shows clearly McCarthy spun the QB a bit which resulted in a bad pitch which resulted in the fumble. …its a game of inches…

    What did not make me happy was another missed opportunity by Weis not giving Crist anything to run in 8 minutes. The one pass Crist did have looked good especially w/ him standing tall in the pocket with heat coming. Very empressive. At that point however yes you are ahead but you use this time and you continue to coach and test and develop your players with real plays in front of a national audience. If I am Weis I tell the team its no longer 35-0 – its 14-7, there 3 minutes remaining, we’re down and we need a touchdown. Use these opportunities to improve and prepare the team when it is their time to play. If CLausen gets hurt and Crist is in you sure as hell aint gonna call in a draw play on 3rd and 7 so why have him practice that in a real game? It makes no sense to me as you are NOT running up the score – you are demanding that your team executes until the end of the game. That is something I have seen and continue to see from coach Weis which does not bode well with really developing a fundamentally strong disciplined team. All in all however – better that I expected and I did expect a big win. Great game – GO IRISH!

  6. Great job ND!!

    Here are the areas that concern a true fan like me over the next 5 weeks.

    – Joe McKnight- Do we have the run defense to stop U$C?

    – Michigan State–Running Backs– We haven’t been able to stop them running the ball for years.

    – Can we finally beat Boston College? They dominate us every time in 2 areas. Defensive and Offensive line. Verducci will have these guys working 5x harder after they look at the film. Especially the 2nd team..they were really pushed around by Nevada.

    Let’s get after Michigan in the BIG HOUSE!!

    Go Irish!!

  7. I was disappointed in the OL on the run game. I noticed several times that they didn’t even try for a forward push. I noticed that the first step was backwards. That is my only area for concern after this game. Everything else I think will work itself out this week in practice. Like Lou always says, the biggest improvement in a team is between the first and second game.

  8. I hope we can all agree that Nevada could have – and indeed should have – scored on at least three occasions where they just handed the ball over – the turnovers in the red zone, the missed field goal etc. This easily could have been a 35-21 game….

    Primary concern is that ND will rely too much on the big play pass downfield when the running game gets shut down. Also, Clausen still has lead feet scrambling from the pocket. Did anyone else see that? I just don’t believe that ND could pull off the same thing against ‘SC.

    Run defense must improve.

    1. Tiki, at least in part I cannot agree with you. Turnovers are part of football, and are often created by the defense(though not always). Perhaps ND did have something to do with that. Had Nevada scored on those occasions you mention, the score would have been 35-24. In reality, that would have been much closer to many of the scores predicted by the many bloggers who ventured into that territory. Regardless of why something happened, it did and our Irish looked good for a first game effort. We have a wealth of potential in our running game, so it is somewhat difficult seeing it shut down by every opponent.

  9. Frank, I like your format…bulleted comments as they are easy to read and short. Most of the comments are positive, but perhaps there are those who need to remember this waS game #1. We have improvements to make, and I believe the coaching staff will see that.


  10. Frank,

    I’m surprised that you were surprised with Mike Floyd’s top end speed. I don’t know what his 40 time is, but we have seen that kind of display before-I’m thinking specifically against Stanford last year when he toasted that Pac-10 100 meter champ/cornerback on go routes. I was more impressed with his concentration (Jimmy really under threw that 88 yarder), and how strong and big he looks.

    I’m not being biased, ND has to have the best starting receiving combo in the nation.

    1. I agree ND has the best starting WR duo in the country. Floyd isn’t none as a burner though and he definitely showed some jets on Saturday I don’t think we’ve seen before. I recall the Stanford game, but on those plays he exploded off the line and created separation – that as much to do with the DB’s technique as Floyd’s speed.

      Saturday though, Floyd got in the open field and flat out out-ran a couple of Nevada defenders on the 70 yarder – that surprised me. If Floyd has that kind of top speed, he’s going to be virtually uncoverable by most of the defenses we face this year.

      1. Frank,
        You are, no doubt, correct when you say best WR duo in college football. But here’s the kicker. You may have to change “DUO” to “Trio” sometime in the near future. Shaq Evans is said to have Golden Tate like speed and hands like Floyd. I don’t remember seeing him in the game on Saturday. Maybe they are saving him for this week agianst Michigan.

  11. I agree with most of the article, interior run defense didn’t look good, and the rushing offense weak – too many third and 1 and 2 that weren’t even close to being oicked up. I am not a fan of Allen – just hasn’t shown he is a number 1 running back yet. Overall good start – work still need to be done the next two games will tell a lot- Yes get Rudolph into the game more – he will ne open – Gray looks more like the top back to me

    1. Gary can’t pick up the blitz well.. I do believe on one of the TD throws to Floyd if it wasn’t for Allen. Jimmy would of been sacked..

      I hated Durius Walker. He had one gear, SLOOOOW, but he pick up the blitz well for Quinn.

  12. Good break down. I agree with what your saying about the defense, but I gotta give them a little more credit. They allowed 0 points, even though a bit of luck was involved.

  13. Sorry that is IMPROVEMENT not Improvemnet.
    Sorry Irish Fans! It’s late and we have been celebrating with
    Guiness and lots of it!! LOL

  14. 35-0 is a great way to start.
    A shut out is nice to see as well.
    Tikitonga is absolutley correct in saying that
    the players CANNOT get a false sense of superiority and stay humble and
    HUNGRY. If ND STAYS focused they can win most –if not more than that.
    Outside of extra points today, I wonder about the kicking team ( as in field goals down the line when we need them)
    Michigan is Next in their house –and I have heard that it is the
    Official day of “rededication” to the Big House.
    Whether that is true or not, Rodriguez is arrogant, headstrong ,and hungry because he is definitely on the hot seat. Who wants it more next week?
    That is who will win it. Fans and players—Focus on one at a time —
    and pray and hope for improvemnet each and every time!

  15. Great way to start the season, but…

    1. ND’s run defense was terrible; Nevada would rip off 15 yard gains at will it seemed, then Nevada would shoot itself in the foot.

    2. I just don’t think ND will be able to pull this off against Michigan State, USC, BC and others. Clausen still needs to check off other receivers before zeroing in on his primary receiver. I saw him do it once with the TD to Rudolph.

    3. Armando Allen just doesn’t look strong or have breakaway speed. Arm tackles still trip him up. A USC defense would shut him down.

    I just hope the players don’t get this false sense of superiority and stay humble and hungry.

    1. Armando Allen average 4.8 a carry against a decent run defense.. He was a shoe tackle away from breaking free on a few of those runs..

    2. You are right on the money for each of the points that you made, tikitonga. My only addition would be to praise Armando Allen for his steadiness and control protecting the ball. He is a smart player and his heart is in the right place.

      While it was satisfying to see ND win so convincingly, true adversity has yet to hit the Irish. There are many demons that the Irish have yet to expel, and the greatest threat to their success is losing the focus, desire, and intensity it takes to be the best each week. When they hit the wall on the field and the pressure mounts up against them on the field, that’s when we’ll truly discover the face of this team and the greatest indication of progress from last season.

      1. On Allen protecting the football. That was actually one thing I was a little disappointed with. There was a run in the first quarter where he got 8 or 9 yards where he didn’t move the ball to his outside arm and ended up loosing the ball – albeit out of bounds.

    3. Stop talkin about Armando Allen he is a strong,tough runner and does have breakaway speed. During the game he was breaking tackles and it’s not him, the offensive line just has to play better. I played with him when I was in high school.
      Overall the Irish played good now it’s time for Michigan.

  16. It was great to see our Irish win the opener. We have had a couple tough years as devoted fans. Jimmy, Floyd, Rudolph looked really good. An area that is still concerning is running between the tackles. When we play teams with pass defense and strong outside linebackers, they will force us to run. It still doesn’t feel like we can push the line and open up holes for running backs.

    Theo Riddick is going to play this year. He is faster than Allen and quicker than Hughes, Gray. Also, I was impressed that he is the only Freshman to say he was at ND to win a National Championship.

  17. Really couldn’t have asked for anything more. Great game, Great day with the family and friends and a W. Amen and good night. I think all of our hardship over the past 2 years is about to pay off huge. Go Irish!!!!!!

  18. Good win for the Irish…there is some oppotunity for improvment. I wish they would of thrown the ball to Shaq and Goodie- wanted to see how they would of done. Also, I expected more out of our talented DB’s…

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