Yikes. What an ugly way to start a season that 24 hours ago appeared to have so much potential. Notre Dame stumbled out of the starting block today with one of the sloppiest performances we’ve seen (outside the 2007 season) in a long time.
I’ll have more on this game – especially at the quarterback position where I was dead wrong all summer apparently – but for now, here are some notes broken out by offense, defense, and special teams.
- It became crystal clear that the offense moves the ball better with Tommy Rees than Dayne Crist. Crist looked sharp on the first drive, but after that he was just off. He started the game 6 of 8 but finished just 7 of 15 including one horrible and costly interception.
- For as good as Rees looked at times in the second half, he still forced a couple throws and needs to protect the ball better. The pick coming out of the second weather break just can’t be made. He had Eifert one on one with a small corner on a wheel route down the sideline, but still forced the ball into double coverage to Floyd.
- Rees also needs to keep the ball in the field of play and let Floyd go up and get it. His pass on the 2-point conversion was just a bad pass. He is very accurate and has good touch so he’ll improve over time on that throw.
- Overall the offense moved the ball up and down the field but couldn’t score points. Notre Dame had over 500 yards of offense, but its first three trips into the redzone all resulted in turnovers.
- Way, way too many dropped passes. Some of the drops could have been avoided with some improved accuracy or a little more touch from Crist, but at the same time, if a receiver gets both hands on the ball, he’s got to come down with it.
- My apologies for apparently jinxing Theo Riddick with all my talk of a breakout season. Riddick had a lot of chances to make plays in the passing game, but just couldn’t come down with catches he has to make. He’s got 11 games left to make up for today so not all is lost. Tony Alford is going to need to do a great coaching job with Riddick this week to get his head right as NBC showed him on the sideline several times looking distraught.
- Note – it is entirely too early to give up on Riddick at WR. He showed more than a little promise at the position last year and was in a position to make plays today as well – he just didn’t come down with them.
- TJ Jones had a couple key drops as well – none bigger than his dropped touchdown in the second quarter. Jones didn’t seem to like the throw too much but it hit him in the check. He simply has to make that catch. Jones also had a pass hit him in the head/shoulder inside the 5 yard line which resulted in one of the 5 Notre Dame turnovers just because he ddin’t look for the ball.
- On the interception that hit Jones in the head, while Kelly was laying into him, Rees tried to take the blame and protect his wide receiver. In a game with not much to like, that was one thing I did like to see.
- Cierre Wood was a major bright spot. He looked fast, elusive, and much more powerful than a year ago. He topped 100 yards for the first time in his career and that was with Notre Dame abandoning the run in the second half while playing catchup.
- Notre Dame doesn’t have a short yardage back right now. If I am Brian Kelly I try a couple linebackers out at tailback for short yardage this week because they don’t have a big back capable of moving a pile on a 3rd and 1. I noticed both Steve Filer and Carlo Calabrese in the game early as a lead blocker – it might not hurt to give one of them some carries in practice this week.
- Jonas Gray continues to have ball security issues. His fumble on the first drive set the tone for the game. It’s a shame too because some of Gray’s later runs looked pretty good. At this point though, how much can Kelly rely on him? It might not be too long before we see Cam McDaniel and/or George Atkinson.
- Michael Floyd was a beast in the second half. Even with USF double teaming him, he found ways to get open. He ended up with a career high 12 receptions and scored two touchdowns to add to his school record for receiving touchdowns. He also moved past Jeff Samardzija into first place in the all-time receptions list.
- Tyler Eifert had a pretty good game as well and showed why he is on the Mackey Award watch list. Eifert is a matchup problem for almost any defense and it looks like he is going to be a favorite target for Tommy Rees. If Eifet holds on to the one drop he had from Crist in the second quarter, there wouldn’t have been anything to really critique from his performance.
- The offensive line played pretty well. Both Rees and Crist had time to pass most of the time and there were lanes for the running backs to run through while the Irish were still running the football.
- Overall, this was a solid performance from the defense, but when Notre Dame needed a big stop in the 4th quarter, they let USF march down the field for a 14 play drive that ate up over 5 minutes of the clock and ended with a touchdown that pushed the USF lead to 16.
- Defensive line played pretty well, but didn’t get too much pressure on BJ Daniels.
- Didn’t like any of the delay safety blitzes at all. By the time Harrison Smith got to the line of scrimmage that ball was already long gone.
- Speaking of Smith, he didn’t have a very good game. He looked more like the 2009 version of Harrison Smith – not the end of the 2010 season version. Not only did he rack up back to back personal fouls at one point, he also tried to deliver a huge hit on a pass he could have easily picked off if he kept his head up and went for the ball instead of the hit.
- The one unit that scared me a little on the defense was the secondary. Saw a number of bad angles taken and a whole lot of really loose coverage on key plays.
- Despite some of the struggles, the defense only gave up one offensive touchdown despite the offense turning the ball over 5 times.
- Notre Dame failed to seal the edge on a number of zone read runs by Daniels. With Michigan and Denard Robinson on the schedule next week, that is very concerning.
- Louis Nix looked very solid on the reps he got and played hard until the very end blowing up a running play on South Florida’s last drive.
- In a game full of huge mistakes and mental errors, one of the biggest that isn’t being discussed much is Ethan Johnson’s personal foul in the 4th quarter. That penalty allowed USF to run off two extra plays and an extra minute and a half of game time.
- Mike Elston is going to be a busy man this week because special teams were down right dreadful most of the game.
- Ben Turk shanked his firs two punts before rebounding a little later in the game. Still, he punted five times and had a long of just 41 yards.
- Theo Riddick never looked comfortable fielding punts out there today. He muffed one punt and nearly muffed another two.
- David Ruffer’s miss was really a killer. Had he connected there, Notre Dame is within 6 points and still has the momentum. That miss really took a lot of wind out of Notre Dame’s sail and got USF fired up.
- One bright spot here was kick coverage. The coverage unit, led by Bennett Jackson, looked very strong. Kick return unit, however, still looks like a work in progress.