Week two taught us a lot about the 2009 Fighting Irish and despite what most people might think – it wasn’t all bad. The 38-34 loss to Michigan stung and is very disheartening since it was a game Notre Dame could have easily won. But, there were still plenty of good things we learned about this team.
This Team Will Fight – In the past couple of years this team would have folded early in this game. Notre Dame trailed by 11 or more points twice in this game (14-3 and 31-20) and twice fought back and took the lead. That’s something this team wouldn’t have done. Actually, the offense wasn’t efficient enough to making coming back from 11 points in the fourth quarter possible. This is a very good sign that this team still very much believes in their coaches and won’t give up.
We Found a Running Game – Notre Dame ran the ball pretty well against Michigan with Armando Allen toting the rock 21 times for 139 yards and a touchdown. Allen also had some tough between the tackles runs. That’s something we hadn’t seen a lot of out of Allen. He broke his career long run of 21 yards with a 24 yarder on the first offensive drive of the game. The backup running back position looks a little shakier than it looked last week though. Jonas Gray wasn’t a factor and his third quarter fumble was a major momentum swing.
Floyd and Tate Are Going to Dominate All Season – Michael Floyd simply owned Michigan’s Boubacar Cissoko all game long with Cissoko’s best defensive plays being errant throws from Clausen. Tate could have had a monster game, but displayed some very uncharacteristic shaky hands. Over the last two years I’ve commented many times that Tate might have the best hands of any wide receiver to pass through Notre Dame, but Tate twice dropped sure touchdowns – one of which would have been a 70 yarder.
This Offense Could Be Prolific – Notre Dame will end this season with one of the best offenses in the country. With Floyd and Tate, opposing defenses will have to pick their position. Notre Dame actually left a lot of points on the field Saturday and still managed to put up 34 points. The only defense left on the schedule that should be able to slow this offense down is USC.
Mobile Quarterbacks Give the Notre Dame Defense Fits – The Washington game is starting to look tougher and tougher with Jake Locker under center for the Huskies. Tate Foricer made the Notre Dame defense look pretty bad at times with his ability to avoid tackles, move in the pocket, and make plays down field.
Tenuta Needs to adjust for Spread Teams – The defensive game plan on Saturday was very ineffective. The blitz came off the edge most of the time with little pressure up the middle allowing for Foricer to step up in the pocket and extend plays without anyone spying him in the middle of the field. This game plan allowed Forcier to feast on Notre Dame’s aggressiveness. Tenuta is going to have to make some major adjustments to his defensive gameplans for any teams using a spread offense moving forward because the blueprint for tearing up this defense has been delivered by Michigan.
Tackling is Still a Big Issue – For the second week in a row, tackling was very shaky for Notre Dame. The Irish defense missed several tackles and couldn’t wrap up effectively all game. Brandon Minor was getting a couple extra yards on most of his carries because the defense wasn’t finishing it’s tackle. Notre Dame needs to spend a lot of time in practice this week on tackling. The defensive has been undisciplined the past two weeks and Michigan was able to make Notre Dame pay.
Notre Dame is Very Susceptible to the Run – Michigan was able to run on Notre Dame when they wanted to just as Nevada was able to last week. I think a lot of this may have had to do with the defensive alignment Notre Dame was using to defend Nevada and Michigan. Notre Dame went small on the defensive line the past two weeks and both opponents attacked Notre Dame on the ground. With a bigger, power running team in Michigan State coming in this weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ethan Johnson was playing more defensive end with either Hafis Williams or Sean Cwynar starting on the inside next to Ian Williams.
Weis Still Out-thinks Himself Sometimes – Weis has shown some very good play calling in the first two weeks. He’s also shown some maddening play calling in the past two weeks. The QB draw with Clausen is a prime example. Notre Dame was moving the ball at will and he called a draw with for a quarterback not known for his speed. I still think passing on 2nd and 10 on the final drive wasn’t a bad idea, but think the play call wasn’t smart. I would have liked to see a play action pass to Kyle Rudolph or a safer pass. Weis said Sunday that the play called for a short pass if the corner gave a cushion or a long pass if the corner pressed. Still, Clausen should have had a safe dump off option there so that the clock would have continued to tick. During the third quarter Weis tried to get a little too cute with his play calling as well. Notre Dame was burning Michigan down the field yet the Irish didn’t work the ball deep to Floyd much in the third even though Michigan couldn’t cover him.
Tony Alford and Frank Verducci Were Great Hires – Both of the new offensive coaches look to have done a great job in reshaping the Notre Dame running game. The offense hasn’t gotten a great test from a great run defense yet, but the early returns from these two hires are looking really good. Armando Allen is running harder and tougher than we’ve seen and the line is getting a good push and is playing tougher than we’ve seen in a while. Rome wasn’t built in a day though and there’s still a lot of work to do before the running game is ready to do some damage against defenses like USC’s, but it’s still encouraging to see the semblance of running game.
Notre Dame Can Run a Good Screen – The screen play was a staple of the Weis offenses in 2005 and 2006. In 2007 and 2008 screens were rarely executed well and were often painful to watch. The screen looks like it is going to be a weapon for the Irish again though with several very nice screen plays run by Notre Dame Saturday. The nicest being Tate’s long touchdown that was ruled a touchdown and then inexplicably overturned even though the sideline camera showed that Allen’s foot never went out of bounds. That play was the nicest looking screen Notre Dame has run since Darius Walkers long touchdown in the 2005 Pitt game.
Barry Gallup is a Good Returnman – A lot of people groaned when Weis put Barry Gallup back on the kick return team with Theo Riddick, but the seldom used senior responded with two very nice returns. After his performance Saturday he might have earned himself some more playing time on the return team.