The Brian Kelly Era started off on the right foot with an 11 point victory over instate rival Purdue Saturday afternoon. Many positives can be taken away from the 2010 season opener, but it was also very evident that the Irish have a lot to work on this weekend.
We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball.
- First off, tackling was, for the most, much better than it was last year. The defensive backs especially were improved in their tackling and it made a huge difference. There were multiple instances where the defensive backs made stops to force 3rd and short situations instead of allowing first downs as they did more often than not a year ago.
- Gary Gray and Darrin Walls really stood out to me. They provided solid coverage and Walls specifically was more physical than he’s been in the past. I felt like Gray was the best corner on the team last year so it’s tough to call him the most improved player on defense, but he had a heck of a game. His deflection set up Ian Williams’ interception when Purdue was knocking at the door following Michael Floyd’s fumble. Walls also made a great play on his second quarter interception. Chuck Martin has done a pretty good job with the corners in a short time.
- Manti Te’o and Carlo Calabrese both had 9 tackles from the inside linebacker positions, but Te’o was actually the sloppiest tackler on the field for the Irish. He over pursued on a number of occasions and could have actually had quite a few more tackles than he ended up with. When Te’o did make contact, whatever he did went down quickly. He’ll need to be more consistent, however, as Notre Dame plays tougher teams.
- The front 3 got a nice push at times, but were pretty inconsistent. Ian Williams did a nice job collapsing the pocket at times, but outside of the first drive of the second half, the push just wasn’t there from the front 3 most of the time.
- I thought both safeties played pretty well.
- Lots of players got into the game for the defense – especially on the defensive line. Emeka Nwankwo, Hafis Williams, Tyler Stockton, and Sean Cwynar all played quite a bit throughout the game in relief of the starting front three.
- Notre Dame has major problems defending the perimeter which should be a big concern with Michigan and Denard Robinson coming to town next weekend. Look for Notre Dame to play a lot of nickel next week to get more speed on the field.
- I had bad flashbacks of Tate Forcier’s touchdown run when Marve took the option run into the end zone. That was really not a good call there from Diaco. Overall though, Diaco called a pretty good game and when he dialed up blitzes there were effective a good percentage of the time.
- Overall, a pretty solid effort from the defense – especially considering how the defense performed last year. Consistency could be an issue with this unit until the backups get more reps and experience because of how much the defense will be on the field each week.
Now, onto the offensive side of the ball.
- The offense had its moments, but was very inconsistent.
- Dayne Crist had a solid effort for his first career start, but he will have to throw the ball down field more next week if Notre Dame is going to have much success against Michigan. On the positive side, he completed a high percentage of his passes, limited his mistakes, and didn’t force the ball. On the negative side, he threw underneath too often and had trouble putting touch on his passes down the field. He had Floyd open for touchdowns twice in the 4th quarter but over threw him. He needs to just keep the ball in play there and let Floyd get it. Crist also had Rudolph open for a touchdown in the second, but air mailed it forcing Notre Dame to settle for field goals both times.
- The best part of Crist’s performance was he didn’t do anything wrong outside of the normal mistakes a first time starter makes. He played conservative and didn’t take many risks. As his confidence level rises, he’ll trust throwing the ball up to his receivers more and more.
- Really liked what I saw out of Cierre Wood. He just looked like he was running with an extra gear. He was a little cavalier with the ball at times – especially on his kick return – but it’s pretty clear that he has the skill to be special.
- Armando Allen ran hard and was solid, but I was expecting more out of him. He finished with 93 yards in 18 carries and had a nice 22 yard touchdown run, but he looked a tad slower than Wood.
- The offensive line is still a work in progress. Both new tackles – Zack Martin and Taylor Dever – struggled at times both with their assignments and their blocking when they did get their assignments right. It’s tough to start two tackles with such little experience so this much is to be expected. Both will benefit the most among the offensive line from film study.
- The interior offensive line was much more consistent and Braxston Cave was impressive in his first start.
- Would have liked to see more of Theo Riddick this week, but something tells me we’ll see more of him next weekend.
- Surprised we didn’t see any of Jonas Gray. He had a strong camp, but didn’t get on the field.
- The offense left a lot of points on the field today and did more to slow themselves down than Purdue did. The Floyd fumble inside the 5 really hurt because it would have put the Irish up 27-3. The safety given up was just a bad play by the offensive line. Martin and Rudolph double teamed a Purdue defender and Allen never had a chance. If Notre Dame can eliminate some of the mental mistakes next week the offense should look a lot better.
Now, for perhaps the most encouraging unit, special teams.
- Special teams was easily the most improved unit on the team.
- Kick coverage was excellent on both kicks and punts. Freshman Bennett Jackson made a name for himself today with his hustle and big plays on kick coverage.
- Great game by David Ruffer. 3 for 3 with a 46 yarder made a huge difference. All 3 of his kicks just looked smooth too.
- Only negative was a rather pedestrian 31.7 average from Ben Turk.
All and all this was a solid win, but showed that there are plenty of areas for Notre Dame to improve on. The Irish will get a tough test next week too with Michigan coming to town on the heels of a 30-10 win over UConn to start their season Saturday.