(Not So) Initial Impressions – Notre Dame 31, #15 Michigan State 13

aaron lynch
Aaron Lynch showed why he was such a highly sought after recruit on Saturday was a pass rushing performance Notre Dame hasn't seen in a while. (Photo / IconSMI)

This weekend I had to catch the Irish using the NBC Notre Dame central app while at a wedding making any comments regarding the Irish and their performance a little difficult.  A day after making the long trip home I was able to catch the full game replay courtesy of NBCSports.com and have some impressions on Notre Dame’s first win of the season.

  • First off, NBC does a hell of a job with its video coverage.  The app was giving me crystal clear picture most of the time over just a 3G connection and the full game replay has looked great so hats off to NBC.
  • Aaron Lynch is a beast.  We all heard the hype coming in and in his first extended bit of of action he did not disappoint.  Lynch recorded 6 QB hurries – currently the most any Irish defender has all season – on top of his first career sack and forced fumble.  With some traditional offenses in store for the Irish look for the defensive staff to turn him loose – especially on passing downs.
  • Tommy Rees had a rough game.  He made some good throws, but missed a few big plays with bad passes and turned the ball over two more times this week.  Rees is still young and can improve here, but if he doesn’t improve his ball security as the season progresses, there will be another QB derby this spring and summer for the 2012 season.
  • That said, his touchdown pass to TJ Jones was a really nice throw.
  • Robert Blanton is moving himself up NFL draft boards with his stellar play.  Blanton was all over the field with 4 tackles for loss and the same sealing interception after John Goodman’s muffed punt (more on that later).   Blanton’s play has stood out even more given the struggles of Gary Gray early this season.
  • Harrison Smith has played well since his disastrous first game, but his safety mates have not been very impressive.  Zeke Motta wasn’t strong tackling in space again.  Jamoris Slaughter played better than he had and had a pick called back for a hold on Blanton though.  Notre Dame really needs to land an elite safety in this class.
  • Was surprised to see as much of Troy Niklas as we did but the staff must be really high on him for them to play him as extensively as they did with Prince Shembo away from the team while tending to a family medical emergency.
  • Louis Nix looked really good at NT with Sean Cwynar banged up.  Nix was a force in the middle of the Irish defensive line and should only get better with more snaps and better conditioning.  When Cywnar is back to 100% Notre Dame will be very, very strong at this position.
  • Run defense was excellent bottling up a team that loves to run the football.  In fact, run defense has been outstanding all three games this year outside of a few long runs by Denard Robinson last week.  Hopefully this is a sign that the defense will be ready for offenses like Air Force and Navy.
  • George Atkinson showed why he was a US Army All American with the first kickoff return for a touchdown for Notre Dame since the 2008 Hawaii Bowl.  Atkinson is dangerous in the open field and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Irish staff find a way to get him some touches on offense as the season progresses.  I still say Notre Dame needs to sign 2 running backs in this class so that Atkinson can move back to wide receiver full time next season.
  • The offensive line really controlled the line of scrimmage against Michigan State in the first half as the Irish ground game clicked.   In the second half the line and ground game fell off a bit however.
  • Would have liked to see more out of Theo Riddick after he bounced back from his poor opener with a big game last week against Michigan.   For this offense to really click, Notre Dame is going to have to get more production out of Riddick and TJ Jones.
  • Place kicking and kickoffs have been strong the last two weeks and the kick return unit was sparked by Atkinson this week, but the rest of the special teams units continue to be down right dreadful.  Ben Turk had one nice punt pinned at the 1 yard line, but for the most part he struggled again this week.
  • The punt return unit continues to not just be poor, but downright costly with another muffed punt – this time by John Goodman.  Kelly and Mike Elston need to hold open tryouts or something to find a punt returner that can successful field punts and make some plays from the position.  I would like to see freshman Cam McDaniel and junior Roby Toma get a look back there.
  • Punt coverage has been an adventure this year as well after being very strong last season.  Part of the problem has been the poor performance from Turk setting up big returns with low punts and poor hang time on his kicks.  Notre Dame needs to perform some triage here, but based on how bad the punting game has been its hard to imagine it will get corrected anytime soon.

We’ll have more throughout the week to catch up on recruiting and to preview this weekend’s game against Pitt.

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  1. Excluding the turnovers, I really like how this team is playing. If we only had 3 per game we’d likely be 3-0. It appears that the coaches have them playing tight, especially on punt reception. If your mind is thinking over and over “Don’t fumble” when that ball is coming down, you will likely fumble.

    I am also concerned that we haven’t seen anything from the backup receivers. Where’s Toma, Daniels, Smith, Farley etc.? I can’t recall any of them even being in on an offensive play, much less catch a pass.

    Floyd’s exit after this year leaves a huge offensive hole, (more than any non-QB that I can remember). We need to get guys on the field this year to start getting them ready.

  2. 12:00 noon kick off.
    Just like the old days.

    Lets hope the team is ready to play (just like the old days.)
    Pitt’s QB can run some, but is basiclly a pocket passer much like MSU’s QB was last week.

    Would really like to see us “Lynch” em, like we did lask week as well!

  3. Nice to finally get a “W” but in reality we looked more likely to lose this game then either of the first 2. Rees IS NOT THE ANSWER. Don’t be mesmerised by his record in reality if another QB was in there he may have won all the games Rees has and some of those he lost. I think the REAL Tommy Rees is the defined by his USC game. He throws 3 picks and USC receiver drops game winning TD and everybody anoints the kid as next Tom Brady. Forget the t/o’s he is responsible for and wins he has gotten and the final TD drive vs Michigan. Just look closely at bad throws that guys like Eifert/Floyd bail him out on with circus catches or vs soft coverage. If he picks up two first downs vs Michigan in final qtr last 5 minutes to keep ball control we win. Kid cannot throw on the run outside the pocket. Look at all the times he DOESN’T SEE wide open guys because he is lasered in on throwing into dbl/triple coverages to his receiver of choice. The QB we need must throw long to utilise the speed guys like Riddick/TJ/Floyd et al. He must be able to keep plays alive for 4-5 counts to allow receivers to get deep etc and this would then free up running game with less congestion in the 10-20 yd drop zones. Final Point BK needs to give up the play calling to someone else so he can concentrate on watching the game not having to keep thinking of what to do in next play. Second half of MSU game shows a very repetitive play calling system with little FLAIR (read that as constantly running sweeps to short side of field with backs without the speed to turn the corner. If you going to run a sweep then put Atkinson/Riddick/Bennet Jackson type kid in there to do it. Mix it up and lose current predictablilty.

  4. I thought I was going to pee my pants when Michigan State had the ball late after another TURNOVER! I think if this continues, I need to open up a pastry shop in the Huddle on ND campus and call it —yep–TURNOVERS!
    Green, blue and gold colored pastries too. AND –for 50 cents more there could be a toy sized player from ND on it ( You know like the toy Army guys we played with as boys)
    THANK GOD-the interception happened and we hung on to the freaking ball!
    This Irish team is MUCH more talented than what we are seeing. Can’t let this happen–we don’t put teams away when we could ( more turnovers, thank you ) hence leaving points on the field (from the turnovers) but —a win is a win–and would have gladly taken a td late-but 31 or 35 is better than their 13. Stupid play of the game? ND fumble when they should have just let it go–and Michigan State trying a “fake” going for the TD instead of another 3 points. ( sorry Sparty–that was last year-when the clock expired–no can do for two years in a row)
    Heres a thought—KILL Pittsburgh! ( now that they have left the Big East -run up the score -who the hell cares? but on the road in Pitt–not exactly easy–don’t play fumble ball Irish—-destroy them–damned if you do-damned if you don’t so—put them away—and take the crowd out of the game and get 50 points-God Knows about 50 points or so have been left on the field this season! GET ER DONE!)

  5. I agree that I’d like to see ND score more points. However, I have no problems with BK’s decision to play it safe after the Blanton INT. Imagine what we’d be saying if BK had been aggressive and TR throws a pick 6! If that would’ve happened, then all of a sudden we’re in a fight to the bitter end with Sparty and all the old ghosts would’ve returned to haunt the team, coaching staff, and fans. (Be honest — how many here didn’t get that “here we go again!” feeling in the pit of your stomachs when Goodman muffed the punt?) By playing it safe, ND forced MSU to use all its TOs, ran more clock, and added 3 more points to force the Spartans to score 2 TDs to win. That was the smart thing to do. Bottom line. Want ND to score more points? Score early and often. Until our luck turns for the better, then better to be safe than sorry.

  6. The one thing I like about Coach Kelly is that he plays freshmen and is not afraid to put anyone on the field for that matter.

      1. At the very least one of those 3rd and 1’s vs. Michigan should of featured a play action pass to the tight end.

  7. I would move Riddick back to running back, move Tony Alford back to running backs coach, play press coverage, put Dion Walker in at reciever, find a cornerback that looks for the ball in the air, hire a qb coach, etc.

  8. I love the win last week, and this week I want more.

    ND vs Pitt

    Some interesting numbers.

    University of Maine QB numbers against Pitt (week #2)
    27 of 45 for 334 yards, 3 TD’s and 0 INT.
    Maine’s running back had 10 carries for 18 yards or an average of 1.8 yards per carry
    This same running back had 2 catches for 26 yards or a 13.0 average per catch.
    Other Receiving numbers:
    1) 7 catches for 148 yards. Average per reception- 21.1
    2) 3 catches for 36 yards. Average per reception- 12.0
    3) 5 catches for 54 yards. Average per reception- 10.8

    University of Iowa QB numbers against Pitt (week #3)
    31 of 48 for 399 yards with 3 TD’s and 1 INT.
    Receiving numbers:
    1) 10 catches for 129 yards. Average yards per reception – 12.9
    2) 8 catches for 112 yards. Average yards per reception- 14.0
    3) 4 catches for 76 yards. Average yards per reception- 19.0
    4) 2 catches for 42 yards. Average yards per reception- 21.0
    5) 2 catches for 25 yards. Average yards per reception- 12.5

    Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

    What caught my eye was the number of receivers over the last two games that had double digit averages per catch.
    While I haven’t seen Pitt play, I would assume (based on the numbers above) that their pass defense plays extremely soft,
    or, they have numerous breakdowns in coverage, or, they are slow and tackle poorly. Or, all of the above.

  9. I love the direction that ND is going with recruiting. Big versatile line man and team speed. I’m not sure where these kids get their 40 times, but the Irish have at least four commits with 4.4 speed. That puts them in SEC territory!

  10. Teo,

    Turnovers kill a team. I don’t care about total yardage. We outgained South Florida and still lost. It isn’t about how many yards you gain it is about TD’s. I still see him making the same mistakes he made 2 games ago. He needs to show better decision making, if not he should be pulled. I would rather have a QB with less completion percentage and less turnovers. Turnovers kill a team and it needs to stop. The sloppyness with the football is excecptable. Atkinson fumbled on a kick off return and Goodman fumbled. Ball security is a mess with this team. The entire offense should have to walk around carrying a football.

    1. Agreed, MIch St. outgained us last week but nobody cares because we won. Cam Newton has thrown for a billion yards already but they haven’t won any games. Who cares about stats and lets stop talking about how we should have won the first two games. We didn’t, it’s over. We are 1-2 and that’s it.

    2. We have to re-litigate whether any other quarterback would have won the first three games?

      The first three games are over. Rees is the quarterback. I agree that we have had too many turnovers. But it’s across the board — from punt returns to wide receivers to quarterbacks to running backs. This whole team needs to hold on to the ball better.

      That said, a win against Michigan State, last year’s Big Ten champs, is a good win. Now it’s on to Pitt and let’s win there.

  11. teo, when Tommy drops the ball, even if his left tackle whiffs and he is sacked and drops the ball that is his turnover. Fumbles and picks combined, he has 14 in the 14 full halves he has played.

  12. I really don’t want to say this but, if Tommy continues turning the ball over two – three times in a game it’s time to yank him and try Crist again before we jump to a neophyte play book QB.

    Anything beyond Tommy and Dayne will be an immediate concession building for next year! Not good!

    Unfortunely, all these issues should have been resolved in spring practice for the benefit of the 1st team. I have never witnessed, any QB derby of any kind benefit the team in anyway all the way back to Ara. After spring practice if you don’t know who your QB is; your now definately STEALING 50% of irreplaceable rep’s for your starter with the 1st team.

    Indecisiveness by the Head Coach definately translates to sloppy team play!

  13. I would just like to get this story out there since it was missed by both the officials, TV crew, and many people on the field so no one knows about it unless they were paying
    attention at the MSU game. In the fourth quarter, with 4:37 left on the clock, Michigan State was faced with a 4th and 17, forcing them to punt. However, the play clock had hit 0 a good 5 seconds before the ball was snapped. The MSU coaching staff was indecisive, causing the offense to stay on the field until there was 10-15 seconds left on the
    play clock, at which time the punt team headed out. The final player on the punt team, who headed out late, was running onto the field and got lined up with 1 second left on the play clock. If you go to 3:00 in the attached video link, you can see the punter, Mike Sadler, urgently gesturing for the center to snap the ball because he sees that the play clock had expired. After the play clock had been expired for 3 seconds and there was no flag, you can hear a massive uproar from the student section yelling at the officials that the clock had expired. The ball ended up getting snapped a good 5 seconds after the clock expired and the officials did not notice, the Notre Dame players and coaches did not notice, the TV crew did not notice or show the play clock on the screen, and it resulted in a turnover off of the muffed punt by John Goodman. This is a huge, obvious error that resulted in a big play, but NO ONE is talking about it since the TV crew also missed it.


    1. The incompetence of officals in college football is unbelievable. Wasn’t the play clock at 0:00 on the fake field goal last year too? I usually try to dismiss the idea that officials are out to get ND, but plays like this make you wonder. Shouldn’t one official just be staring at the play clock?

      1. I agree NovaNation and thank you Joe for reporting that. I think that officals and the NCAA are out to get Notre Dame. I truely believe it! Plays like the one Joe mentioned and the Mich St. fake field goal from last year deepen my belief.

      2. In the lead up to the ND / MSU game, of course ESPN and NBC showed the highlights of last year’s fake field goal at MSU. But it was quite curious that they never showed A CRUCIAL AND VITAL POINT, that the play in fact was illegal and should have been whistled dead. The ball was snapped almost a full second after the clock was at 0:00. And it’s never mentioned.

      3. Also in relation to officials “incompetence” how about the holder on the Fake FG with his knee on the ground when he catches the snap. That means that the ball is dead the moment he caught it. If he throws it for a TD how does and entire stadium not see his knee on the ground? Wake up UND coaching staff.

      4. D-Train, I think you should do a little research before going off on the coaching staff.

        The reason is because of Rule 4-1-3(b, exception). This rule creates the exception to the ball being declared dead when a player’s knee is down touching the ground. The exception applies only to the holder when an offensive player kicks or simulates kicking the ball for a place kick (Field Goal). By rule the ball may be advanced, kicked or passed.

  14. Forgot a couple of things. Someone said that Rees threw for 199 yds v. MSU. He didn’t. He threw for 161. Also, against Michigan, the last drive was not 90 yards. It was 61. It started on the ND 39.

  15. I still have concerns about Rees. Seeing the pass to Jones live, I thought it was an amazing throw; however, on replay, it wasn’t as good as I thought. It was a very good catch (caught on his left hip) of an underthrown ball. Had the DB turned his head (we know about that) it’s knocked down at best and intercepted at worst. He also had a couple of others that were thrown into crowds where he was lucky they weren’t INT’s. Then, there was the hanging in the air, wounded duck lob that Floyd had to stop and out jump coverage to catch. When Rees let go of the ball, Floyd had 2 steps on the DB’s and was pulling away. With a properly thrown ball, that was a TD, but Rees doesn’t have the arm to make the throw. Finally, while happy about the last drive against Michigan, I can’t read too much greatness into a pass interference call, a 12 yard pass, an 5 yard pass, and incomplete pass and the final pass to a WIDE open, nodefender near him Theo Riddick. Rees didn’t do anything wrong on the drive, but it wasn’t the reincarnation of Joe Montana either. For me, the two INT’s and the fumble are more telling.

  16. I think as the season goes on we are going to see good defenses have no trouble with ND’s offense. They are just to limited with Rees. 18 completions, 6 to Floyd, 3 to TJ, 2 to Eifert, 1 to Riddick and 6 to C. Wood. The 6 completions to Wood netted 5 yds. After the TD to Jones in the beginning of the third Mich St was daring ND to throw it and they really couldn’t. Alls you have to do is put a safety over top of Floyd and it pretty much shuts the offense down.

  17. Kind of surprised that Frank didn’t mention our defensive lineman being in a stand up position on passing downs.
    (I guess he only has so much room to work with.)
    That’s not a look you see from the Irish defense. It was strange and a bit concerning at first, but you can’t argue with the results.
    Great to see that the coaches saw a weakness in the MSU offensive line and found ways to exploit it.

  18. I suggest that we don’t even try to return punts (kidding)…but I think that would have been a great idea with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter with a 15 point lead. I was screaming at the TV to play a normal defense on 4th down and not even worry about fielding the punt. Who cares if it got downed inside the 20, 10, or even the 5. We would have had the ball. Anyway, it was a great win. We ALL needed it. Hopfully it’s a confidence booster for our team. Can’t wait for saturday because I will be in attendance. GO IRISH!!!!

  19. Turk is the epitome of a choke artist. Booms punts in practice and then gets shankitis in the game. To be honest, with his punting, I would rather just go for it every 4th down. LOL. Sad thing is, our punt return team is just as bad. New plan, we go for it every fourth and run a full on 11 man punt block on each opponent punt. The Punt game/punt return game is killing us…so let’s just abstain from participating in that part of the game.

    Of course I’m joking…..sort of.

    1. He SUCKS. ND football should be running ads all over campus for a walk-on punter. That’s where we got Ruffer. Anyone but Turk.

  20. I a just glad to see that Ben Turk’s net punting average went up to 25 since the punt that was downed at the 2 yard line.

    Not having a punter who can help us flip the field is going to kill us. Ben Turk needs to go……are you telling me that Brindza can’t punt? I have seen the videos and have seen him punting the ball 50 yards plus.

    If we stick with Rees, and we should, we are going to have the occassional stinker drive…..we need a good punter.

    FYI….not many QB’s hold on to the ball when getting nailed from the blindside. Hence why left tackles make a boat of load of money in the NFL.

  21. I think it is important to note – BK and staff had a good game in regards to play calling. At no point, especially the second half, did they risk their hefty advantage on dangerous plays. All around, one of their better games.

    1. I felt they should have at least run the ball 3x before trying the fieldgoal late. I felt like the kneel down by rees was a bit soft

      1. We should have gone for a TD. Damn, give us ND fans something to cheer about! Stop playing it easy, ND.

  22. Hopefully, there will be improvement in all 3 areas against Pitt. I think there is good opportunity for the offense to make continued waves against Pitt (since I live in Iowa, I’ve heard nothing but how porous the Pitt defense is as reported in the local/state media regarding what Iowa did to them in the 4th qtr last week). It’s too bad that we don’t have a ready QB who is a more of a fit for this offense but it looks as if Rees will be it unless he continues to not manage keeping the ball out of the hands of our opponents. I can’t wait to see how the D performs on Saturday. Go Irish!

    1. The interception from Rees was a bad pass. As far as the fumble goes how about a little blocking from the O-line. After the 2 miscues he played a good game and the pass to TJ Jones was a thing of beauty. It’s amazing how many fans want to discredit Rees because he doesn’t fit the QB mold yet all he does is win games. It wasn’t his fault that the defense let up 28 4th quarter points against Michigan or he would be undefeated as a starter

      1. The O-line blocking on the play wasn’t ideal and I like T. Rees more than most, but he locked onto his receiver and never moved his head to the side of the rush and got drilled as a result. If he was moving his head around, he could have at least protected the ball, taken the sack and moved on without another turnover.

        As for the Michigan game, the defense gave up big plays no doubt, but statistically speaking, turnovers lose football games. There isn’t much to discuss, the data pretty conclusive on the subject. Red zone TA are actually even worse and ours are typically this variety.

      2. Rees didn’t lose the Michigan game outright, but 2 picks and a fumble, that still makes me cringe, didn’t help out the D. The kid is decent in my book but I’d still like to see Dayne get some snaps to get his confidence level up. the kid has too much upside to ride the bench his last year.

      3. Rees actually won the Michigan game but the defense let up in the prevent defense.

        Imagine a sophomore quarterback, in his, what? fifth career start, taking the team ninety yards in 45 seconds to take the go ahead touchdown in front of 116,000 screaming Michigan fans. He won that game — until the defense rolled over.

        Many who criticize everything that Rees does are arguing that Dayne or Hendrix need the job.

        That said, Tommy needs to play a better game against Pitt. The interception was a forced pass into coverage.

        But the sack/fumble was on the offensive line.

      4. Teo,

        I disagree, the interceptions and the handling of the ball is killing this team. He needs to stop being a turnover machine. If he doesn’t take care of the football he needs to go. Your job as a QB is to distribute the football to teh playmakers. If you don’t take care of it and throw picks all the time, you need to be benched. Plus this offense is missing a the running QB, which takes out 1/4 of the playbook. I like Tommy’s attitude when he screws up, but he needs to take better care of the ball and if he doesn’t he needs to go. The first TD, which changed the momentum of the game doesn’t happen if Reese doesn’t throw a dumb pick at mid field. He did the same thing in the Michigan State game. Learn from your mistakes. I don’t want to hear he is a Sophmore, he is a starting QB period.

      5. Think about this, Rees has turned over the ball one time for each of the 14 full halves of football he as played. No way your gonna be over .500 if you don’t fix that. In addition, if you can’t stretch the field it will hurt your running game.

      6. Rees has 14 turnovers? No. He doesn’t carry the football. He’s put it on the ground a couple of times, for sure, but others have as well.

        The big thing about Rees is he completes passes — relatively simple passes that lead to good yardage. We all saw Crist struggle to do that. Perhaps one of the younger scrambling quarterbacks can handle the ball better. But I think Rees can continue to move this team. We’re still averaging about 430 yards per game, despite playing three decent teams (who are undefeated, except for Michigan State, which we beat last week).

        We absolutely need better ball control and I think we’ll get that. But given that we put up some points on Michigan State, the nation’s 4th toughest total defense (3rd in passing defense) so far, Rees is the way to go for now.

        That said, he absolutely has to improve. We should have won all three games — and by a large margin — if we had taken care of the ball. That flocking return at the end of the game — WTF?

        It’s going to be a tough slog, but I think we will get through it well.

      7. the problem with rees is not only does he make a lot of turnovers its when he makes them. he makes them in scoring position after he has led the team on long drives. he moves the team really well, better than crist, but he has to stop killing scoring opportunities. he didn’t do that againist michigan state and they won.

  23. Well, compared to the first two games this was definately a vast improvement; instead of finding a way to lose BK and the team found a way to win ugly!

    I will say BK needs to stop talking about the “little details” and insure REAL detailed execution translates on game day! Further, we don’t need another QB derby in the middle of the season. Hopefully, Tommy will improve.

    We definately have serious talent, but if the sloppy execution doesn’t disappear we will fade fast. The talent suggests a 10-2 season, the execution to date suggests a 7-5 season. Hope the latter is not true!

    1. JC you are exactly right. It is Very Frustrating watching this team knowing the tremendous talent they have, yet play so sloppy. The thought is in the back of my mind that this team may not be sold on Kelly yet. Especially after some of the stupid comments he has made about players.There doesn’t seem to be a lot of respect for him from the players. I’m not saying they’re throwing it, I’m just thinking I don’t think they feel very well coached by Kelly.

      1. FRANK,
        I think that is a HUGE PROJECTION on your part. They felt well enough coached to win the last game.

    2. Exactly right JC. Although the final score didn’t show it, that game could have very easily been yet another loss / blown game. Thankfully our defense was able to stop MSU from converting our 3 more turnovers to points. Good improvement in some key areas, little improvement in others.

  24. Been very disappointed there hasn’t bee more of an attempt to get the ball in Riddick’s hands by way of some bubble screens, WR Screens or jet sweeps.

    Similarly, Atkinson has game breaking speed it should get integrated in some way. With that said, though, I didn’t think he had the hip movement needed for a spread back. He’s fast, but his running style reminded me more of an I Back. I’d still rather see him move to FS, but if WR is his best decision, that works. I don’t see him as a RB long-term.

    I know Ishaq looked clueless on Blanton’s interception return, but it was pretty impressive to see a 6’5″ OLB basically jogging down the field at a pace faster than Blanton.

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