Finding Some Positives from the Opener

michael floyd usf full
Michael Floyd showed why he is being mentioned as a first round draft pick next April with a dominating performance on Saturday. (Photo / IconSMI)

It’s been about 36 hours since Notre Dame’s season opener ended with a thud and while the loss still stings it’s time to move on and start looking towards where the Irish go from here.  With that in mind, here are several positive performances and bright spots in an otherwise disappointing display from the Irish to start the season.

Michael Floyd. The brightest spot on offense had to be the dominating performance Floyd turned in despite facing double teams.  Floyd set a career high with 12 catches and ended up passing Jeff Samardzija as the all time leader in receptions at Notre Dame in the process.  He also added to his record total of receiving touchdowns with another pair of scores.  Like the rest of the Irish offense though, Floyd got off to a slow start before erupting in the second half.  Tommy Rees looked for Floyd early and often and the senior wide receiver responded by getting open despite the double teams.  What I liked most about his performance though was how he was pleading for the football in the 4th quarter when it mattered most – Notre Dame needed more of that attitude from other players throughout the game.

Cierre Wood. Until the score started to get out of hand and Notre Dame was able to run the football, I loved the offense we were seeing (minus the turnovers obviously) that was featuring a heavy dose of running the football with Wood.  The junior back showed that his off-season workouts paid off by finishing his runs strong and running with toughness.  He recorded his first career 100 yard performance with 104 yards on 21 carries despite Notre Dame largely abandoning the running game in the second half.  If Wood can keep running like he did Saturday all season, the Notre Dame ground game should be just fine.  Like Floyd, the brightest part of his performance came in his attitude.  When asked about his performance after the game, Wood, who had the best game of his career, told reports that it was a bad day because the Irish lost.  Notre Dame needs more of that attitude as well.

Tommy Rees. This one is rather obvious, but Rees performance despite some mistakes was pretty darn good.  Whenever you can rack up almost 300 yards passing in a half of football – even if you are one dimensional – against a legit BCS conference opponent its impressive.  Rees still takes some chances and makes some questionable decisions such as his interception on the first play after the second weather delay, but it is pretty obvious that Rees should be under center next week in the Big House.

Kapron Lewis Moore. The defense was solid on Saturday holding USF to just over 250 yards of offense and Lewis-Moore was one of the more impressive performers for the Irish defense.  Lewis-Moore had 1.5 tackles for loss to lead the Irish and was tied for second on the team with 8 total tackles.

Tyler Eifert. Eifert had just 1 catch for 4 yards in the first half with Crist under center.  In the second half with Rees in control of the offense he recorded 5 more for an additional 89 yards including a 37 yarder on third and 10 which set up Floyd’s first touchdown with Notre Dame still stuck at 0 on the scoreboard.  Eifert displayed his speed on the 37 yarder and showed why he is considered one of the nation’s elite tight ends.  If Notre Dame is going to be more efficient on offense this week, Eifert has to be a larger part of the game plan early on.

Robert Blanton. Blanton had perhaps the best defensive play of the game when he blew up a South Florida bubble screen for a loss of  3 yards on 2and and 7 on the drive right after Notre Dame scored its first touchdown.  South Florida had successful run a number of bubble screens up to that point, but Blanton sniffed it out and blew it up.  Overall, he was the most solid performer in the secondary in the opener with good coverage and sound tackling.

Louis Nix. We have heard a lot about Nix throughout the off-season and on Saturday we saw why.  Nix was disruptive when he was on the field and ended up picking up 7 tackles – that’s a lot for an interior defensive lineman in this defense.

The offensive line. The OL might have been the most disciplined unit on the field for Notre Dame on Saturday.  No procedure penalties.  No holding penalties.  More than solid pass protection and running lanes for the running backs.  After the up and downs along the OL over the last few years their performance on Saturday was a big positive and reason for some optimism that this offense can be pretty good if the other units eliminate the mental errors and mistakes.

Kick-off coverage. In a game filled with terrible special teams play from Notre Dame, the lone bright spot was the kick-off coverage units.  Bennett Jackson picked up where he left off last year in leading the Irish kick coverage unit.  South Florida averaged 22 yards per return on three kick-offs (when taking the onside return out of consideration) with Bennett Jackson making two of the stops with the help of freshman Troy Niklas on one of them.   Jackson was the special teams player of the year in 2010 and could be headed in that direction again this year – especially if the other special teams units continue to be as underwhelming as they were Saturday.

Early offensive game plan. I’ve touched on this already, but the early offensive game plan featuring a heavy dose of the running game was very good to see.  Kelly was really trying to establish the run game early and it was very effective until turnovers forced the Irish to become one dimensional.  Rees didn’t have the luxury of the running game since he entered the game down 16 so it will be interesting to see how he does with a competent run game behind him.  Michigan’s defensive front seven is not very big and the Notre Dame offensive line should be able to open things up for Wood and Jonas Gray again this weekend.

Third Down Defense. South Florida was just 2 of 14 on third downs on Saturday.  That kind of defensive production is going to earn a win almost every Saturday.  Of course, when an offense turns the ball over five times you are going to lose almost every Saturday so the defensive performance was negated by Notre Dame’s turnover woes.  If Notre Dame can continue to get that kind of third down defense the rest of the year though, the Irish will be in good shape.  Getting off the field on third down has long been a problem for Notre Dame until the end of last season and in that department it looks like the Irish picked up right where they left off.

As you can see, despite some of the ugliness – the turnovers, penalties, dropped passes, fumbles, etc – there were still some positives from Saturday’s loss and if Notre Dame can clean up the mental mistakes and build on these positives, a very good season is still very possible.

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  1. Clearly 5 turn overs killed the Irish on Saturday. That is really most of the problem. The other significant issue is mental toughness on the part of the non-Floyd receivers. If that improves this week, we should handle Michigan. Kelly better put the entire team in a “Us against the World” mode. That mindset usually creates focus and makes your team oblivious to everyrthing but execution. Stop the turn overs, and get the receivers heads into each play and the rest will be white noise. Redzone turn overs truly kill and must be avoided with all criticality. Having a team score 7 points when you’ve driven to their 1 yard line just cannot happen.

    The defense essentially allowed one sustained drive and 7 points. If the offense just holds on to the ball and puts up at least 20 points with no turn overs, then we win the rest of our games, ( well maybe not Stanford ). The point is control the clock and avoid turn overs, even if you aren’t scoring 50 points and this defense should take you home.

    Let’s do hope there is better disruption against the Michigan offense this week.

    It ain’t over yet.

    Oh, and to comment on Kelly’s yelling…..perfect!! It’s obvious he knows that these kids need to focus on what to do, rather than get star struck about where they are. Especially in the Notre Dame microscope, these players need to be reminded to prove it.

    1. C-Dog

      My main concern is Rees inexperience agianst the Michigan defense.
      I know that sounds funny looking at how bad that unit was last year.
      But we do know their new defensive coordinator. He was our DC for a time a few years back, and he was a good one.
      He is pretty good at getting teams in second and third and long, then bringing pressure from all over, as well as mixing up his coverages.
      I do like the “Us against the World” reference.
      Gray should have been stronger with the ball at the goalline last week, but in all fairness, two USF players were holding him up while the third guy came in and stripped the ball. Why didn’t any other ND offensive players have this kid’s back?
      Somebody, anybody, should have been in there keeping the saftey from just running up and stripping the ball.
      Allowing three on one is not how you play team football.

      1. Shazamrock,
        I agree. Gray should have had some help and all around it was just poor luck. However, it’s those little things that make good luck. I know you and I are on the same page with this.

        Rees could be spared the 3 and long situations if we dial up a running game that can keep Michigan guessing. Mix up the slashing spread stuff with a little inside power. Our O-line is back on track and can handle it.

        And yeah, Greg Mattison is a great coach and a really good person.

        I wonder if we can afford a 4-4 defense to force Michigan to pass.

        Is Calabrese still confused on pass coverage?

      2. C-Dog,

        A good running game is a QB’s best friend. Especially a young QB.

        I was able to watch some of the Michigan vs Western Mich. game last week and I’ll tell you this, that defense that Rees will face this Saturday night is a complete turn around from the mess that we saw Michigan put on the field last year.

        4-4 defense? Denard Robinson reminds me a lot of Ricky Dobbs, the former option QB from Navy.
        I think it’s been fairly well proven that a 5 man line was needed to even start to slow down Dobbs.

        Calabrese is good against the run but just not quick enough to cover Tight Ends or running backs. That match up favors Michigan.

        Any thoughts on Kelly’s sideline yelling?
        I don’t see anything wrong with it, nor do I think he crossed the line, but alot here are upset about it.

  2. Indeed a ton to be positive about. Bottomline the Irish dominated the game on both sides of the ball. Throwout 2-3 turnovers and the stupid personal fouls and we win. We beat ourselves and that is the thing that disappoints the most! I thought this team would be focused more under BK but it seems obvious – they are not immune to allowing those ghosts from seasons past to come creeping back in again. Work is still needed in that area but overall based on the play on both sides of the ball ND dominated. Rees had 300 yrs total offense in 1 half. I wanted Crist pulled in the 2nd qtr but that obviously didnt happen which may have cost us the win. Holding South Florida to 250 total offensive yards was also the best preformance from the Irish D based on last years stats too! If I am Michigan – I am concerned – very concerned and if the Irish give us an effort on Saturday night it could be a new start to the season all over. GO IRISH!

  3. After excessive spitting since Saturday to get that crappy taste out of my mouth upon conclusion of the game, there are indeed positives from it. I agree, Rees should start because he appears more ready to assume performing the job by using all the tangibles and intangibles to manage a game. Can you imagine though if we had a ready to play dual threat QB who can run like a “jack rabbit” & throw like a “missile”, has Cierre Wood in the same backfield, and Mike Floyd to throw too, can you imagine just how much the ND offense would get the opponent’s defense in reactive mode versus being proactive. I tell ya, it sends shivers up my spine. The defense played pretty well overall (given the offense didn’t do them a lot of favors), O line played extremely, Wood’s running in the 1st half, and Rees’s 2nd half performance. I hope ND sticks it to Michigan in their home, but, they may have changed their offensive scheme, Denard Robinson will need to be contained. I haven’t forgotten last year what he did. I’m so tired of other teams having their “best” day when it’s playing ND. My grandfather played for Rockne so I hope he can stop turning over in his grave after last Saturday’s performance. GGGOOOOOOOOOO IRISSSSSHHHHHHHHHH!

  4. Amen to all of the above. It was clear even in the light of the almost incredible number of errors that Notre Dame was the much better team. With some offensive leadership, thank you, Tommy Reese, this team can be exceptional. Let us all hope they take out their frustrations on the Wolverines and Spartans.

  5. Same with me. I’ve tried to work myself into a snit about this game and can’t. I realize that ND isn’t going to have 5 TO’s every game and 8 stupid penalties. Any BCS team playing another BCS team would lose with those two stats. USF is good. And ND dominated statistically. Things are definitely pointing up in South Bend.

  6. I like the fact that there were some positives pointed out. I feel better about this team than I did last year after their win over Purdue. This team didn’t quit and fought the entire game. I will admit this, I was a huge Crist fan and thought Tommy was a horrible athelete. I was wrong, the kid has put on weight, and has ice water in his veins. He should get the start. I feel bad about Dayne, he is a good person, but it’s about winning and Reese gives ND the best chance.

  7. I agree with this article, there were several things to be excited about this weekend that can be built upon. This is not like 2008 when they were blown out by Georgia Tech. That team did not have a clue, but this team just needs to clean up the mistakes.

    ND will have a good if not great year, but we still need to keep in mind that this is 1st game of year 2. I expect a much better performance at the Big House this weekend.

  8. Is there any chance at all that if Floyd continues to avg what he did in Game 1 for the rest of the season that he could be a Heisman contender even with the team losing 1 or more?

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