Lessons Learned – Nevada at Notre Dame

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

Michael Floyd caught 4 passes for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns against Nevada. (Photo - Icon SMI)

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.

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  1. We all want to see that dominating line play that defined Holtz era teams. When they needed a score or run out the clock the o-line took over and grinded out first downs. You have to love the talent on offense that Charlie has put together; and yet, it’s success hinges on the o-line and protection. Hopefully we will see improvements each game. In my opinion, too much is made over the d-backs coverage. Please refresh my memory if incorrect, but Holtz’s defensive emphasis was, don’t give up the big play. His teams’ weakness, not unlike others, was usually the secondary. Hopefully, we will see the defense continue to improve as well. Beating Nevada was a good win against a weird offense that very easily will confuse a lot of teams this year. GO IRISH!

    1. i agree with nevadas quirky offense being the reason why the dbs were “not giving up the big play”. my concern is this, with the talent and hype that is our secondary, why 10-12 yard cushions???? according to everything written/said, our secondary is supposed to be one of the best in the country and they were playing against average wrs. our blitzing was supposed to cause the offense to hurry throws,etc. i believe it did this at times but our dbs were usually nowhere to be found when the ball was thrown. i just hope it was all due to the pistol so i have to eat these words later on.

  2. I just would really like to see the irish be able to go on the road against quality programs like michigan and usc and put on dominating nasty performances like i remember in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Under the great Lou Holtz there was no real trickery, Notre Dame was going to smash you in the mouth with dominating o-line play and a run game that picked up the 5 yards a carry. Combined with a vicious defense that had delivered snot bubbling hits on a weekly basis. When i see teams genuinely fear this team again i will have no doubts as to the future success of the program.

    With all of that being said i am very excited about how Notre Dame showed up to play this past weekend. You never can tell that first weekend if your opponent is that bad or if your just that good, lets all hope for the latter. I was encouraged by an improvement in the running game, i would like to see Riddick take the reins though, sometimes you can just look at a back and see that he has those intangible qualities that make him a threat every time he touches the ball, i saw that this weekend in him and i looked very hard for that in Armando for a long time but it just doesnt seem to have that “it” factor.

    Defensively, its gonna be a hard sell to any Notre Dame fan if Manti isnt out there alot this season, that guy has vision and a nasty streak that you have to love, especially when you see how infectious it will become with the other 10 guys out there with him. In the NFL they build defenses around players like that.
    As one of the others said maybe they were playing that “prevent” style 10-12 yards off the recievers defense, i just hope that doesnt carry into next weeks game. In my experiance as an armchair coach it only thing it seems to prevent is victories for my teams.
    Lets get after them early, often, and even when the game is “in the bag”.

    Cant wait till saturday and see this team improve each and every week!
    GO IRISH!!

  3. Good analysis, Frank.

    The team should be happy with getting this game out of the way in such a fine fashion, but in no way should they be satisfied that as whole unit, they have showed anything yet. That’s still 11 or 12 games away, and the only one that matters is the next one.

    A couple of things, I saw. Very obviously, this passing attack will create problems that will vex teams even if the Irish couldn’t run the ball. In a closer game, they passing attack would have been even scarier.

    However, the run game is still dissappointing and I’d like to see more. The blocking is improved as everyone noticed, but the timing of the back hitting the hole is not in sync. The QB has the ball for too long on too many handoffs. Get that back into the hole quicker so the defense can’t guess where the ball is going. And yes, the linemen need to know how to make the second, third, and fourth hit. Let’s keep hoping for a better overall run game against Michigan. Hopefully Aldridge is back. They need to use him more. Allen was good, but Gray and Riddick may end up being the goto backs. The running attack needs to get 2, 40 yard plus runs and about 250 yards per game.

    Defense looked decent. They are solid, but an unknown force against top talent. Michigan will tell us much more. Manti Teo is going to be a factor this coming Saturday. Hopefully the coaches move not just him, but a lot of guys in and out. There are not defensive stars yet, but this defense is two deep with starter potential among all the 2nd line backups. That will be key in close games late. A fresh defense may make that one stop, or an interception at a crucial time.

    So, I’m cautiously optimistic. Michigan looked good. Much better than last year’s team. We’ll see how good our O-line is on Saturday. The other questino will be how the defense handles Michigan offense. If we can get ahead and not let down, then the Irish had what it takes. But let Michigan back into the game, or let their offense play with rhythm and ND will have major problems.

    So we’ll see. This next game will tell a lot about our coach and our team.
    The Irish should win. Stay sharp ND!

  4. Oh and last but not least, the play of our secondary also worries me. I know it is only one game, but our secondary would have gotten burned if it wasn’t for all the missed throws from Nevada’s quarterback and all the dropped passes from their wide recievers and tight ends.

    1. imo the gameplan involved playing the corners like 10-12 yards off and playing zone so they could contain Kaepernick and leave everything in front of them to prevent the home run which i thought worked out well. plus its still just the first game, things are going to be a bit sloppy.

  5. I agree with your analysis Frank. After watching the first game, I am really worried about our tackling, run defense and rushing attack. Armondo Allen really looks slow to me. As a matter of fact, Armondo Allen looks to be just as slow as Darius Walker. Great screen guy, but no home run hitter. Also, what do you think about our defensive tackles? Would you rather see Ethan Johnson back at his natural position, defensive end? If you could give it to me, I would like your feedback. Thanks.

    1. the rushing attack was better, 187 yards and the avg dropped a lot because of the run only towards the end of the game, this was a nevada D that was 6th in the country last year in run defense, armando allen was shoestring tackled a lot it seemed to me, it seemed as if he would have taken it to the house a couple of times, and hes way faster than dwalk, tackling will be fine, tenuta will take care of that

      1. I agree Brett,
        I wouldn’t say things were sloppy on Defense. just a little conservative. And yes, that’s OK, this early. They are finding a rhythm on Defense too. If the coaches have them prepared, let’s see how they turn things up with a little more game pressure.

  6. Guys many lessons learned this week and hopefully we step it up and get the horses firing next week versus Michigan/MSU and continue the effort through out the year. What do you guys feel will happen with our recruiting maybe some guys come on board or you feel like its more of a wait and see thing?

  7. Gee Frank – a bit more optimistic than what you wrote 24 hours or so ago in the Enemy Report week 1 – good to see you see the same as others on this board. This is indeed a better team than last last thus far! Yes – improvements are needed but prior to this game being played most bought into what other blogs (ESPN) were saying about this being a closer game than it was. As long as ND keeps its ears open as most are not even talking about the Irish – the better things will be for ND. Dont get happy Irish – stay focused and in the mentality of show me! You got no reason to be happy – only to be anxious to get out there and prove it again – and again and again! GO IRISH!

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