Notre Dame’s last trip to Ann Arbor ended ugly for the Irish, but despite an overall lackluster performance there were a few bright spots. We’ll get into the negatives in the 5 Things I didn’t like tomorrow – if I can whittle down my list to just 5 things. For now though, here are some of the things that I did like from Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss to Michigan.
The running of Amir Carlisle
Amir Carlisle is really starting to look like the dangerous weapon everyone thought he would be if he could stay healthy. Carlisle had the most carries among all of the Notre Dame running backs on Saturday and based on the play of some of the other backs, that should continue unless one of the freshmen can unseat Carlisle at this point. Given his injury past, the staff might be a little hesitant to give Carlisle too much of the workload, but two games into the season he is running harder than anyone else and has shown much, much better hands in the passing game than George Atkinson.
Carlisle gained 64 yards on 12 carries for a 5.3 yards per carry average and added a couple catches for 9 yards. I don’t think any Notre Dame would be upset to see Carlisle increase that carry total to at least 20 this weekend against Purdue.
The development of Troy Niklas
Last week Troy Niklas had a highlight reel play with a 66 yard touchdown against Temple. This past weekend, Niklas had a much better all around effort in the receiving and blocking department. Niklas caught 6 passes for 76 yards including a 20 yard 3rd quarter touchdown from Tommy Rees. Niklas was a reliable security blanket for Rees and if anything, should be getting his number called more time as he is showing that he has what it takes to continue Notre Dame’s tradition of great tight end play.
Niklas already has two touchdowns this season after the first two games. Last year Eifert,
Jaylon Smith & Ishaq Williams
He is learning on the job, but Jaylon Smith is showing why he was such a highly rated recruit. After picking up just one tackle in his collegiate debut, Smith had five against Michigan and made a couple of plays were his athleticism really stood out. He still has a ways to go, but it is hard not to be excited about the future of #9 on defense.
It was tough to find much to like from the defensive performance but Smith’s play and the first career sack of Ishaq Williams’s career were nice to see on Saturday night. Williams looked good rushing the passer last week and Saturday night he got the only sack of Devin Gardner. It’s taken him much longer to get here than many thought it would but as a junior Williams is starting to make his presence felt.
Improved special teams
In week one special teams looked like a train wreck. Notre Dame missed two field goals including a knuckle ball of a kick from a very makable distance and the punting game killed Notre Dame in the field position game. Saturday night, however, the special teams were one of the bright spots.
Kyle Brindza resumed control of the Notre Dame place kicking duties and was 3 for 3 including two makes from 40 or more yards out. He also averaged 40 yards on his two punts and didn’t boom any out of the endzzone while trying to pouch punt as he did a week ago against Temple. Brian Kelly keeps reiterating that he will be careful with Brindza’s volume of work, but it certainly looks like he is the best place kicker on this team by far.
In the return game, George Atkinson had a 50 yard kick return and TJ Jones had an 18 yard punt return. On the season Jones is averaged over 10 yards a return with 41 punt return yards on 4 attempts. Last season Notre Dame totaled 46 punt return yards as a team over the course of 13 games. Jones looks like he is on the verge of breaking a big return and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he did so this weekend.
The overall depth at wide receiver
While I would love to see Notre Dame run the football more – especially with freshmen running backs Greg Braynt and Tarean Folston – the depth at wide receiver is great to see. TJ Jones was a gamer on Saturday night almost notching another 100 yard performance despite getting banged up early on. Jones ended the game with 94 yards on 9 catches and picked up his first touchdown of the season.
DaVaris Daniels had another good game too with 63 yards on 6 catches and Chris Brown added three of his own for 28 yards. Daniels is averaging 66 yards an outing two games into the season and is showing the consistency that he did not display a year ago.