Notre Dame Report Card at the Bye

Notre Dame is 4-0 for the first time in ten years on the strength of a team effort in all phases of the game. Veteran players such as Manti Te’o and Theo Riddick continue to be catalysts; players such as Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, and Bennett Jackson are taking their game to the next level, and young players Elijah Shumate, Sheldon Day, and KeiVarae Russell among others are making an instant impact. However, how have the Irish played in each individual facet of the game?


Coming into the season there were plenty of questions surrounding the Irish offense, from how would Everett Golson play, to how would the offense replace Michael Floyd, and can turnovers be cut down on. Everett Golson has had ups and downs so far this season completing 56% of his passes for 641 yards and three touchdowns; however, he also has turned the ball over on four occasions and has been pulled in favor of Tommy Rees on two instances. Overall the Irish quarterbacks have done what they’ve been asked which is to manage the game and limit turnovers in order to aid the defense.

The Irish are averaging 211 yards per game passing and the team’s leading receiver is DaVaris Daniels with 159 yards receiving. A close second is all-American tight end Tyler Eifert with 158 yards. Eifert only has one reception in the last two weeks as defenses eliminate him from the game in an effort to make someone else make plays. The other Irish receivers such as TJ Jones and Robby Toma need to make more plays to free up space for Eifert, also the Irish must stretch the field with freshman like Chris Brown and Davonte’ Neal.

Finally the strength of the Irish offense was supposed to be its offensive line and running backs. Apart from the domination of Navy the Irish have struggled to establish the run. The Irish have 561 yards rushing this season, on 3.8 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns, but without the Navy stats the team has only run for 268 yards and three touchdowns on 2.7 yards per carry. Those totals are not good enough to maintain a winning form over time. The Irish’s three headed monster of Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, and George Atkinson III, will need to produce explosive runs on a more frequent basis in order for the Irish to be successful. Furthermore the Irish offensive line needs to improve inside so that the Irish backs can run in between the tackles and avoid being forced into a one dimensional passing offense.

Overall Grade: C+/B-


The Notre Dame defense has been without a doubt the strength of the team, and is announcing itself as one of the best defenses in the nation outside of the top end of the SEC. Led by Butkus award candidate Manti Te’o the Irish front seven has been going gangbusters so far this season. The Irish already have 22 tackles for loss and are well on their way to crushing their total of 25 sacks last season with 14 through four games. They are also creating turnovers at a torrid pace with eight interceptions, already equaling last season’s total, and five fumble recoveries, just one shy of last season’s total of six.

The Notre Dame defense has been extremely stout against the run allowing opponents only 3.3 yards per carry and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. The front seven’s strong play against the run has allowed them to help an inexperienced secondary in pass-coverage by making the opposing offense one-dimensional and limiting one-on-one matchups for the Irish’s raw corners.

With Jamoris Slaughter’s season ending injury, Zeke Motta has been forced to take a leadership role in the secondary and has responded well with 26 tackles, second only to Te’o, and is often responsible for putting the Irish cornerbacks in the right position. Due to the tutelage of Motta and the coaching staff Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, Elijah Shumate, and the rest of the Irish corners are making visible strides every game, and will need to continue to get better with elite passing offenses Oklahoma and USC on the schedule.

Overall Grade: A

Special Teams

With two of the Irish’s four games being decided by seven points or less and the offense sputtering versus Michigan State special teams have been key to controlling field position, which has been of paramount importance to the team’s victories. Punter Ben Turk has played strongly this season averaging just under 41 yards per punt, with seven punts inside the 20. Turk has also seldom shanked punts to leave the Irish defense in a bad position, a tendency of his in the past.

Sophomore Kyle Brindza has solidified his job as the starting kicker, connecting on 6-7 field goal attempts this season with a long of 47 yards. Brindza has also been solid on kickoffs with ten touchbacks on 23 kicks.

Return sensation George Atkinson III has yet to repeat his stellar form from last season averaging 23 yards per return with a long of 32 yards. New punt returner DaVonte’ Neal has yet to make waves in the return game but he has been an improvement over the debacle at the position last season, as he has yet to lose a fumble and has the ability to make plays instead of constantly calling for a fair catch.

Overall Grade: B

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  1. Nice article Pierce first time I have seen your writing but look forward to more in future. Letter grades for various assessments will always provide opportunity for fans to disagree. What stands out to me in the season to date is the following: If Kelly doesn’t let EG run when pass plays break down the kid will be back on the bench having attempted to play with one hand tied behind his back. I am sure Kelly has “demanded” that he not run as a QUICK option if primary reads look shut down. Kelly always seems to give up on the running game too soon. What running offense I have seen to date with exception of Navy seems to be more about “controlling the clock and limiting possibility a young QB turning the ball over. Secondary will it appears be tested only by one QUALITY QB for the season and that is Barclay. BYU/STanford/Oklahoma etc do not seem to have the POTENT passing attacks we may have thought pre-season. In fact Miami and BCU may have the better passers after Barclay. If Kelly does not start believing in EG’s ability and turn the kid loose then you might as well pencil in Turnover for Stanford game and their goes the season. I do not care what he did vs Purdue and Michigan kid will never be a top level QB and you will never beat top 10 teams with a guy as physically ltd as he is. If Irish are to beat teams that can put 30 pts + on the board it will never happen with TR at the controls. If you want proof of that just cast your minds back to the Pittsburgh game last year. We should have put 40 pts on the board and won that game by 30+ Irish fans better start lighting candles for a Big performance by EG at Soldiers Field or we will be looking at TR back in charge vs Stanford and you can bid farewell to season 2012.

  2. Fellow ND fans:

    Go to ESPN and check out the box score of the Miami-NC St. game. Make your own conclusions.

    As for me, this upcoming game looks very much like a battle of Miami’s strength (offense) vs. ND’s strength (defense), on the on hand, and/or Miami’ s weakness (defense) vs. ND’s weakness (offense). Which teams’ strength prevails, and which teams’ weakness can be limited, will win.

    1. Hey SteelFanRob,

      What about OSU only winning by one over MSU today? Do you think our buddy ‘Billy Buckeye Badness’ will show up and heckle us some more over the Urban Renewal Program?

      Here come the Irish!

      1. JC,

        “Billy Buckeye” left once we called him out on his BS about OSU and ND being comparable in terms of their academics and grad rates for football players. Once we showed him up (with facts!) for the liar and braggart he is, he left us quietly with his tail between his legs.

        I’m concerned that Miami is on a role on O. I think this is right now the best O. we’ve played all season. Our D needs to come out and once again dominate to buy time for our O to do something.

        I would really love to crush the U!

  3. Pierce,

    Excellent diagnostic assessment and well written. The grading system is indeed subjective and therefore invites friendly debate.

    It is very difficult yet to assess the full impact of the ‘freshman invasion’ on this team. The development of or the underdevelopment of the starting freshman will be more accurately realized towards the end of the season.

    Due to this major factor, I would have to go with an “I” for incomplete with only 4 games under our belt. Once we have 10 games to evaluate, I think we will then see a clear picture of where we are headed. And yes, game by game indications to date are definately headed in the right direction over last year. I do not want to be hypercritical at this point. I am pretty darn happy at this juncture! Especially with an early by-week also.

    Here come the Irish!

  4. One thing I’d like to note: The elite passing attack of OU is a myth. OU has a really good short to intermediate passing game. Landry Jones is by no means an elite quarterback, and that receiving core is definitely not elite either. Not saying that they’re awful, but this isn’t Sam Bradford’s OU. ND will get pressure on that quarterback, Landry Jones will turn the ball over. I’m not saying ND will walk all over OU. I’m saying that at this point, they’re just another tough team on the schedule.

    1. The offense has been terrible. Cierre Wood is not involved in the game plan at all. CW is an elite running back and should be getting the bulk of the carries. I like Riddick but i would prefer him in the slot. Leads me to believe that CW is still in Kellys Doghouse for whatever team rule he broke prior to the start of the season. I expect to see more of Wood as the season progresses. As for the QB situation im on the fence. I like EG but he seems a little overwhelmed and i question his ability to run the football. He doesnt seem to be as fast and elusive as advertised. Wouldnt be surprised if Rees takes the starting job away from him. Good thing the DEFENSE is playing so well or we could easily be 1-3.

  5. I disagree with the offenses score. I think they should get a D. The line needs to step it up and why isn’t Cierra Wood in the game more. I like Riddick but Cierra is able to make big plays. The QB position has been a C at best. If the offense doesn’t step up there will be some losses in the next four games.

    1. I disagree with that. The offense hasn’t been that bad. Last year was ‘D’ Material with great production combined with turnovers. This year The Offense hasn’t had the crippling turnovers in the red zone.

      Production hasn’t been great, but it’s been good enough. I definitely got the feeling in the Michigan game that ND was trying to play smart and suffocate the opposing team. I felt the same way about the MSU game. I don’t want to gripe about the lack of points, because… well, it’s working.

      1. Bill,
        I agree the offense is better than last year, but last year was an F. I just want to seeit put together more than one TD drive a game. Against Michigan State and Michigan they had short fields. They need tk sustain an 80 yd TD drive to give the D a breather and not just in the third quarter. I need to see more consistency in the offense. I need to see more control of the line of scrimmage, not lineman getting blown in the backfield.

  6. I’m curious Pierce, what would you define as an A+ grade for defense? 0 points allowed through 4 games? Negative rushing total for the opposition? Notre Dame’s defense has done something not seen since the 1970’s. They are in the top 10 in every major defensive category. This is especially important since Top 20 teams are sprinkling in glorified high school teams to start the season. It’s called stat-padding. Yes, Navy sucks. But it is better and more talented than the likes of Florida Atlantic, Savannah State, etc.

    I agree with your rating of the offense, although I’d lean more towards a solid “C” grade. Outside of the Navy game, it has been highly average and vanilla.

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