We saw a frustrating end to a 13 game regular season winning streak, as the Irish fell 41-30. During that streak we had grown comfortable relying on a defense which was always stout and had yielded as much as 20 points in regulation only to Pitt. Otherwise the defense shouldered the burden and asked only enough of the offense to win.
That confidence and reliance ended along with the win streak. Notre Dame never led in the game.
The Irish defense yielded 41 points, 460 yards, seven scores and an excruciating fourth quarter drive.
In the next four weeks, we will learn:
- (1) Was this a fluke?
- (2) How much weaker is the 2013 defense is than the 2012 defense?
- (3) How much will be asked of the offense?
- (4) Can the offense, in 2013 return the favor the D granted in 2012a and rescue the defense to ensure victory?
With 9 minutes gone, the Irish combined a trio of mistakes on one horrific play:
- (1) Assignments were garbled as two defenders fled to a non-threatening tight end, while the best receiver was allowed to run free, unimpeded, in the secondary.
- (2) Bennett Jackson, captain and senior,. missed a tackle.
- (3) In a scene that would have been comedic had it not happened to our Irish, four defenders channeled the Three Stooges and crashed into each other then into a forlorn heap, allowing the receiver to run unimpeded into the end zone for a 10-0 Irish deficit.
The offense had some moments but could not fully capitalize on the advantage the Irish had on the offensive line and on precious red zone opportunities. But the offense is closer to fruition, a conclusion for which we will provide some evidence below.
Defeat stings, but in both 2011 and 2012 the Irish improved mightily after the first two weeks.
The coaches know what must be done. If the Irish can match the improvement rate of 2011 and 2012 for the rest of the schedule, we will not feel as nauseous as we do today.
There is one other difference from 2012. In practice, the defense is not working against a quarterback with outstanding mobility, as they did against Golson. Thus on Saturday, the opposing QB seems strangely fast. The next three weeks provide an opportunity to improve.
When we face ASU’s Todd Kelly in Arlington, we will face a quarterback more experienced, more accurate and more ominous than Connor Reilly or Devin Gardner.
We will rate the units by the BCS Bowl level, New Year’s Day Bowl level, Bowl level grading system after next Saturday. 2 games is not enough.
But here are some preliminary notes:
Defensive Line – probably the best front three in America. Nix and Tuitt are first rounders unless they play or act their way out of it.
Sheldon Day is a rising star. The concern: the non-arrival of Vanderdoes, the injury to Hounshell in Spring and the Fall injury to Springman put a lot of pressure on Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell to bring their level of play up. Rochell and Jones played little in Ann Arbor, but then again, Lynch and Tuitt did not play in 2011. They will be in the crucible for the next few weeks.
Our second string DL, even factoring in the part time work of improving Ishaq Williams as a DE in the 3-4 is not at the level of the top programs.
Linebackers -remarkable experience with Fox, Calabrese and Shembo. They are battle tested.
There is not another combination of personnel, coaching and opportunistic quarterbacking that will test them until we play ASU in the Shamrock Series. Jaylon Smith grows before our eyes and Councell is acceptable as a backup.
Grace is solid when he gets to the ball carrier, yet unvarnished in finding his way there.
The linebackers held up, but for some containment issues, in Ann Arbor. They were competent when blitzing.
Cornerbacks -Well, Gallon had a record day. They must be able to play man without committing penalties. Elliott and Cooks have work to do.
But depth here can be stronger than last year.
Safeties – Farley tackles better than he covers receivers, and that may be a permanent condition. Shumate must adjust to the different angles and requirements of the position.
Eilar Hardy picked up a number of snaps in Ann Arbors and Redfield will get some time the next few weeks.
Overall on defense, Diaco has them blitzing more and playing man more than a year ago and they are still adjusting.
This can be a strong defense by mid-October, but everyone, coaches and players, must reboot.
Wide Receivers – player development at its best. Neither TJ Jones, nor Davaris Daniels, nor Chris Brown is the player the were last September, in a good, very good way. The kids behind them will begin impacting the rotation in October.
But we are close to being able to put the kind of pressure on secondaries that our DL did on offensive lines last year.
Tight ends – How many tight ends in America are better than Troy Niklas? But Koyack and Welch must contribute.
Quarterback – Is he a mobile quarterback in the modern definition? No.
Is he hyper-accurate? No
Does he have a howitzer arm? No.
But Tommy is wise, experienced, can call the right play, identify the right receiver, and Rees is still more careful with the ball, at least outside of the red zone.
Hendrix is better than before. Our coaches are smart enough and know Tommy well enough that they do not ask him to do what he cannot. That is not trivial.
Offensive Line – a far cry from a year ago. To be honest not yet at the level of that “Thing” Alabama put on the field as an OL last year, but we have started the climb. Sure, Ronnie Stanley got played by Frank Clarke on the first third down of the game, but Harry won’t let that happen again.
Any injury would hurt, but we have the beginnings of functional depth, and our line depth should improve for at least through 2015.
Running backs – Carlisle is a gamer; Atkinson is at a tipping point. If he can not catch the ball coming out of the backfield he will not play, despite his improved running skills. McDaniel is solid. Bryant and Folston are not the first two running backs in college football history or Notre Dame history to be brought along slowly. They will see a lot of action in the next few games. They’ll be ready by October.
This offense is not far away. The rise of Bryant and Folston will help. Rees needs to improve his accuracy with the running backs and on the sidelines and fades.
But this offense will be a force by mid-October.
Way-too-early ranking of our opponents (overall strength, not the difficulty of our game with them)
(1) Stanford – a consistent settled team, as shown by two BCS wins and an OT loss to Gundy’s Cowpokes in between. Huge and tough defensively. More adept at grinding it out than explosiveness on offense, but they generally score enough given their defense.
No fall off with Shaw, SO FAR! Year three (cf. Larry Coker, Bill Stewart) is when it will happen, or not at all.
They are much, much stronger in both trenches than Michigan.
(2) Michigan – It is not assured that Ohio State will be the big Ten champion.
(3) Oklahoma – while they have yet to demonstrate that they can play physically OU has the best set of receivers we’ll face outside of USC, and some speed on defense. Still don’t play defense as they did early in Stoops reign.
(4) Arizona State – you can dislike Todd Graham, but don’t underestimate him, and this is the blend of coach, quarterback and receivers who can probe our underbelly at linebackers and in the secondary. They strike fast and all over the field. Kelly is BY FAR the best quarterback we will face in the first six games.
5) Michigan State – consistent. It is arguable that they are the third best program in the Big X. Wisconsin’s better, you aver? Really? Then how did Michigan State compile a 5-3 record against the Badgers in the last decade? This is a great annual litmus test for Notre Dame.
(6) USC – most NFL players of any roster we’ll face, but coaching matters. Enjoy this. Pat Haden made a GREAT decision on his new basketball coach, and he will make an alum-worthy, Rhodes Scholar-worthy football hire. You heard it here first. The defense still plays hard, but the offense produced 193 yards against Washington State. Really, Lane?
(7) BYU – helped cement (shoe) the legacy of Mack Brown who should retire the “I always do less with more (talent, money, pay) Award” Cougs got 550 on the ground against the Longhorns of Scott Appleton and Tommy Nobis. Hill can run, but he cannot pass.
(8) Pitt-don’t be misled by the margin of loss to FSU. FSU is in the conversation for the best non-SEC BCS team. In the conversation. Pitt should fare well against the bottom third of the ACC.
(9) AFA – typical academy, which benefits because a career in Air is more attractive than one in the Navy or a lifetime career as an infantry grunt.
(10) Temple – Matt Rhule may be a little more like Al Golden than like Steve Addazio.
(11) Navy – our beloved rival, but they are decades and levels away from Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino.
(12) Purdue – The school that broke Leahy’s winning streak and won three in a row over Ara has fallen on hard times. More below.
WHAT WILL WE SEE AGAINST PURDUE?
(1) The effects of demographics on football. The Boilers made their bones recruiting in Chicago’s Public and Catholic Leagues and Da Region.
Those mines have been stripped. Indiana has little quality football, and when it does guys like Zach Martin, Nick Martin, Tyler Eifert, Tony Springmann, Sheldon Day, Gunner Kiel, John Turner and Jaylon Smith head to South Bend. Draw a circle with a radius of 150 miles around West Lafayette and see how may prospects you find.
(2) It’s a let down spot, deny it or not. It’s human nature.
(3) A quarterback, Rob Henry who, at a minimum, is the most experienced of the first three we face.
(4) A coach, Darrell Hazell, who built soundly at Kent State, and he will, if given the chance, improve the Boilers over the next several years.
(5) The importance of the unsung heroes on the offensive line. But this is not the 2012 offensive line. Elmer may get his first significant action, and he will be very important over the next three years.
(6) Zaire, it’s this week or not this year.
(7) Bryant and Folston. Kelly and Martin will want to see what they have.
(8) Time to start another winning streak.