5 Things I Didn’t Like from Notre Dame v. Rice

Sometimes this column is tough to write and the “5 Things I Liked” column is pretty easy.  It happens when Notre Dame wins rather easily and looks pretty good in the process.  It happened this weekend.

There was a lot to like in Notre Dame’s season opening 48-17 win over Rice, but I had to look pretty closely for some things I didn’t like.  That’s a nice problem to have from time to time.

1. Defensive coverage breakdowns

For the most part, the new Irish defense held strong in the season opener, but there were a couple of complete breakdowns in coverage that resulted in Rice touchdowns.  In the first quarter Zack Wright was all by himself streaking to the end-zone for Rice’s first touchdown of the game when Elijah Shumate missed his assignment.  Rice’s second touchdown was the result of another broken coverage – a 53 yard James Mayden bomb from Tyler Stehling this time Nicky Baratti was the culprit.  Shumate was pressed into a larger role than he expected due to the last minute injury to Austin Collinsworth, but as a junior he can’t let that play happen.

We all knew these were bound to happen this year with a new and more aggressive defense under first year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder so this shouldn’t be a surprise to any one.  Hopefully VanGroder and his defensive staff can use these breakdowns as a teaching moment for the young Notre Dame defense.  With a mobile quarterback coming into town this weekend in Devin Gardner the Irish secondary will have to be much more disciplined in order for Notre Dame to come away victorious – especially since Collinsworth is expected out again this weekend.

2. Missed field goals within 40 yards

Kyle Brindza is going to go down as one of the best place kickers in Notre Dame history but he still inexplicably struggles from inside 40 yards at times.  Throughout his career, Brindza has been amazingly accurate from long distance but at times misses very makable field goals.   This was the case on Saturday when Brindza’s first attempt of the season, a 39 yarder, sailed very wide left.

Brindza rebounded on his next two kicks and was excellent on kick-offs but the misses inside 40 are still puzzling to me.  Last year Brindza was just 2 of 4 on attempts from 30-39 yards and 4 of 7 on attempts from 40-49 yards.  At the same time, he connected on 3 of 4 attempts from 50+ yards.

3. A slow start on offense

It’s hard to find issues with a 48-17 victory, but if there was one part of the offensive performance from Saturday that was concerning, it was the slow start of the offense.  Notre Dame’s first two offensive drives of the season netted the Irish just 5 yards on 6 plays and featured two three and outs.  From there the offense soared, but a slow start like that against a higher quality opponent could be much more costly down the stretch – say this weekend when Michigan comes to town.

As we saw on Saturday, the young defense is going to be prone to mistakes at times which is going to put more pressure on the Irish offense this year. As is, Notre Dame still scored 14 points in the first quarter thanks to the defense forcing some three and outs of their own so it’s hard to be too tough on the offense – especially since they ended up scoring 48 points.

4. Dropped touchdown passes

Another knock on an otherwise pretty stellar offensive performance on Saturday was the dropped touchdown pass by CJ Prosise in the 2nd quarter.   Before Notre Dames pulled away from Rice at the end o the first half, the Irish had a golden opportunity to add to what was at the time a small lead.  Everett Golson escaped pressure and delivered a bomb downfield to an open Prosise at the goal line.  The ball hit the junior wide receiver right in the hands without him being able to haul it in.   Notre Dame had to punt on the next play.

Prosise did redeem himself later in the second quarter by getting open downfield in the final seconds of the first half and hauling in another Golson bomb securely this time for a touchdown that increased the Irish lead to 28-10 at half-time.  Considering he showed some inconsistent hands throughout camp, he will need to show improvement in this area to keep sharing time in the slot with Amir Carlisle who looked good at wide receiver after moving over from running back.

5. Greg Bryant or Tarean Folston not starting at running back

I know Cam McDaniel is a captain and is the most accomplished blocker among the Notre Dame running backs, but Folston and Bryant are too talented to not be starting.  McDaniel played the first two series while Notre Dame failed to gain a first down.  Now, the reason they didn’t get a first down wasn’t McDaniel, but at the same time, you need your playmakers on the field to score points.

Once Greg Bryant got in the game the Irish ground game came to life.  Bryant ended up with 71 yards on 8 carries and his first career touchdown.  He needs to be starting this weekend against Michigan and Notre Dame needs to run right at the Wolverines early and often.

This week’s list was tough to write since the Irish played pretty well on Saturday outside of the few defensive lapses.  Hopefully this column is this tough to write each week this season.

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  1. I sure do miss watching GA3 falling down or tripping over someone when running through the same size holes GB and TF were gashing on Saturday.

  2. Step back and take a deep breath. It is a luxury to be nit picking about the typical first game. As you know the biggest jump in player improvement is between the first and second game. Lets see what we have to talk about (hopefully more nit picking) next wk.

    You want to be concerned be that about an aggressive defense (I like) executed by inexperienced players.

  3. I think the reason that Cam started was more for Everett than whose a more talented back. Cam is a veteran who does not fumble and is a better pass blocker than the other 2 and much better at recognizing the blitz. So to make sure EG got off to a good start Brian started Cam thats all. Now why the other 2 did not get more carries is another story.

  4. I had no issue with Cam starting the game. I had major issues with him finishing it however. Bryant CLEARLY had the “hot hand” as BK puts it, yet he goes to Cam at the end. It’s possible BK would have gone to TF or GB had the game not been a blow out, but I would have loved to have seen Bryant get his 100 yards. He earned that playing time at at the end. If Cam is truly the starter, then he shouldn’t be in there during mop up time anyway. That made no sense.

  5. What about the horrendous outside blocking by Steve Elmer, the missed tackles and disappointing lackluster play of Jaylon Smith???


  6. I came away from this game with a lot of good observations. The most important being team speed. I’ve watched nearly every ND game since 1995 and cannot remember this much speed all over the field. Is it SEC speed? Yes . . . it just isn’t littered all over the field like upper echelon SEC teams.

    But it isn’t that far off either. Loved the speed of Fuller, Riggs, Bryant, and Smith.

    1. Left out Carlisle who is a blur in the slot. Folston who is 10.8 100m guy. And the fastest offense player C. Brown caught only 2 passes. Prosise (VA indoor 55m champ) is a blazer and not to mention the fastest player on the team is probably Josh Atkinson and I’m not sure he played at all yesterday. Its SEC speed and yea, its all over. The issue is the coaches USING it.

      1. Don’t forget that Toulmin (aka fastest white boy in Louisiana) was no where to be seen either.

  7. The first few plays, of the first game, of a new season, at home, on new turf, in front of a packed stadium full of family and friends…

    Younger players tend to be a bit overhyped in that situation.

    Give me an older, more experienced player, who helps get the team started off on the right foot.

    Call it dependability, or good coaching, or both, but I agree with it.

  8. First Cam isn’t just dependable he is explosive. He’s made cuts and moves to get extra yards several times. He’s gotten a few oooh and ahhs on some impressive runs. Are they as pretty as Folston’s? No. Are they as electric as Bryant’s? No. That’s fine, they don’t have to be. That being said, this notion that he’s more dependable than Folston and Bryant is based on what? Do we know their actual grades on blocking? I’m not saying McDaniel ISNT the better blocker but is calling him the dependable one more of needing to call him something? They’re all the same size 5-9, 5-10 205 so its not that he provides more size or power as a blocker. Cam is a good football player. He’s an 11.7 100m guy and not the 10.8 100m guy Folston is. If they’re even in everything else, that’s going to be the difference in one guy starting over the other. The potential to score. This team needs to score TDs. A 50yd run is good. But if its followed by a 42yd field goal, the no its not. Or a missed FG is even worse. A 75yd TD is leaves no doubt. Not worried about getting those last 25yds or making the FG. IF everything else is even. You go with that.

  9. Bill, fair point, but he was seaming Koyack and is now permitted to
    throw between the hashes, as he did to Robinson. I think Denbrock and Kelly kept some of their powder dry, specifically the passing game to the
    running backs. Can you just visualize Bryant being kept in to block with four receivers running downfield, then releasing late, circling,
    and getting a short safety valve in space?

    The fulcrum of your question is whether or not Golson will only throw deep
    or can he throw short or intermediate when he scrambles. Bill, I have a vague recollection of him doing that in 2012. But I personally love what he does there, because his vision is so strong, and he will find the open man.

    As far as your self-evaluation of killjoy, I think it is vital, with a beer in one hand celebrating victory, to identify the chickens that may come home to roost. Usually, throughout a season, all your sins become revealed.

    1. Saw the game in person but have not seen the replay. Think that Rice wanted to take away the first read feeling perhaps that would make him running the next option. Was really impressed that he kept trying to go downfield. Expect that no one else will try that unless they blitz people and rush wide to keep him in the pocket.

      Thought he only threw two bad passes. One too short that almost got intercepted and one deep to the EZ that might have been an intentional overthrow but still was to a double covered receiver.

  10. Anyone else concerned with Everett’s reliance on the deep ball? I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but at times it did seem like EG was holding the ball for a while, letting the play break down, and just chucking it deep. My point being, that’s something that can be defended against fairly easily. That said, he did seem to do a great job of throwing the ball away at times and not forcing the issue.

    I just had a thought though that against a more talented D, it might not be as easy to just out throw the coverage.

    1. His throws to Carlisle are the ones that I appreciate. The corner route for 20+ and that seem route for 20+. He finds the mid-range guy just fine. It is week 1 and 600 days since he seen any competition.

    2. I would take issue with the phrase “reliance on the deep ball”. The deep receivers were open, and he got them the ball, repeatedly. If the deep receiver is open, you throw it. 2 TDs were left on the table and they were both deep balls. His throws over the middle, in traffic, threading the needle, mid-range, were just as impressive.

  11. There is much more to being “named” a starter than just athletic ability.

    I fully agree with Cam being the starter.

    That’s because Cam brings experience, doesn’t fumble, jump off sides, miss his block, drop passes, or turn the wrong way on a play.

    He is dependable… which is a great way to start a game, and finish a game.

    I’ve seen too many games start off on the wrong foot and then just go from bad to worst.

    There are a lot worst things than going 3 and out and having to punt on the first series.

    In the end, Cam had 8 carries for 40 yards and a solid 5 yards per carry average.
    Bryant: 8 carries for 71 yards 8.9 yards per carry average & 1 TD.
    Folston: 12 carries for 71 yards, 5.9 yards per carry average

    That’s pretty well balanced.

    In my opinion, The real delema lies with the QB’s.
    While Golson was outstanding with his running, scrambling, passing, scoring, and not forcing the ball, Zaire with his 2 carries for 58 yards was electrifing.

    He has way too much talent not to be used in some way, in each and every game.

    1. Exactly. Cam is a great short-yardage back. He rarely makes a mistake. Everyone wants to watch the thoroughbreds like Bryant with explosive open field speed. They are to be fawned over. But the McDaniels of the world are the workhorses, helping to win games 3-6 yards at a time. You need both.

      Boy is it good to have a QB again.

      1. Agreed. And character counts, especially at ND. Cam needs to continue to get minutes to speak that message to a world that is losing sight of it.

  12. I do like the rotation of running backs that ND is employing right now. McDaniel, Bryant, and Folston will be fresh when they enter the game. Also hungry to perform at a high level because of the competition. I think ND will have games this season where in the 2nd half, they will ride the hotter back. Folston and Bryant have a very promising future. Lets hope they stay healthy.

    I hope during the season ND establishes another TE into the offense. Koyack should have a great season. Durham Smythe, Mike Heuerman, and Tyler Luatua have NFL level potential. Having an extra weapon on the field makes all the sense to me.

  13. I don’t understand why BK is so loyal to Cam. He knows the other two RBs are superior in athletic ability. Also looking forward to BK utilizing Corey Robinson more against UM especially in red zone. Throw it up and let him go get it.

    1. Seems everybody is commenting on the fact that Cam is starting. Kelly was faced with starting a back in Bryant who never played a down or starting a back like Folston who might have to be demoted. I think Kelly started a fifth year senior who may take being demoted easier than Folston who played well last year. I think Bryant or Folston will end up starting. Kelly may want the starter to earn it. I think a good move by the coach. Cam has shown himself to be a very good back.

  14. Outside the first two series, Notre Dame looked pretty good. E.G. did a tremendous job passing and also running. The receivers did a great job on holding onto the ball and the running backs also did a good job. The defense does have to improve on pass coverage. Other than the two pass td.s the defense did a fairly good job. Next week will be a different story. Both units will have to play their a game.


  15. The part about the slow start for the offense is silly. 1st quarter of the first game with a qb who hasn’t seen a game in 600 days, remade OL, loss of top twos was, loss of high quality TE, etc.

    Not sure what you expected.

  16. All fair points, Frank. Really AGREE about GB and/or TF starting in place of CM. We haven’t seen backs like these since Jerome Bettis, Reggie Brooks or throw in Lee Bectin. No slam to Cam, but, those 2 are above him in talent.

    Hope to see the wolverweiners go down.

    Go Irish

    1. I agree that GB and TF are a great pair of backs, but Lee Becton? He ran through the giant holes Aaron Taylor and Tim Ruddy opened for him. I would compare them to Julius jones or Ryan grant if we are going back through the years.

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