Notre Dame Football: 5 Things the Fighting Irish Learned from Last Year

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2012

Notre Dame Football: 5 Things the Fighting Irish Learned from Last Year

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    Now that we've had a little over two months to reflect on Notre Dame's 2011 season, it's time to take a look at the five core things that Brian Kelly and Co. learned from last year.

    2011 got off to a rocky start, with the Irish stumbling out of the gates to an 0-2 record, mostly due to a total of 10 turnovers against South Florida and Michigan.

    The Irish went 8-3 in their final 11 games, culminating with a loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

    Let's take a look at what the Irish learned from a second consecutive 8-5 season.

5. The Irish Will Sorely Miss Michael Floyd

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    What would Notre Dame's offense have done in 2011 without Michael Floyd? Even thinking about life without Floyd horrifies me.

    The 6'3", 224-pound Floyd had one of the best seasons by a wide receiver in school history last season, hauling in 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Those figures indicate that the Irish offense was heavily dependent on Floyd's production, leading many to wonder whether or not the offense will regress without Floyd.

    For example, during games in which the offense struggled, Floyd didn't post big numbers, as he did when the offense was flowing smoothly.

    The challenge for Notre Dame's coaching staff will be to fill Floyd's shoes, a task that is much easier said than done.

4. The Irish Can Run the Football

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    Brian Kelly's version of the spread offense is centered around the pass, but the third-year head coach showed his willingness to emphasize the running game.

    Notre Dame's two main running backs in 2011, Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood, each enjoyed productive seasons.

    Wood eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on the season, accumulating 1,102 yards on 217 carries. Gray nearly reached 1,000 before he suffered a season-ending tear to his ACL.

    If the Irish can continue this trend, it will open things up in the passing game, and allow offensive coordinator Chuck Martin to get creative.

3. Rush Defense Is Crucial

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    In Notre Dame's most impressive victory of 201—a 31-13 conquest of Michigan State—the Irish defense shut down the Spartans' vaunted rushing attack.

    It was a huge upset for Notre Dame, and wouldn't have been possible without the stout play of the front seven.

    However, in Notre Dame's four regular season losses, the Irish allowed their opponents at least 114 rushing yards.

    For Notre Dame to elevate itself into the BCS conversation, the rush defense must be consistent through the course of the 12-game regular season.

2. Tommy Rees Isn't the Answer at Quarterback

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    Tommy Rees has been the subject of large amounts of criticism, as well as the butt end of many jokes. Rees doesn't deserve all that, but his play on the field has shown he is not Notre Dame's long-term quarterback. 

    The starting quarterback in 12 of 13 games for Notre Dame, Rees failed to show signs improvement as the season wore on.

    Against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Rees made the same kinds of mistakes as he did in a week two loss at Michigan.

    That disturbing trend, along with his physical limitations, have all but guaranteed that Rees will be supplanted as the starter at one point or another.

    Look for Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson to eventually push Rees off the thrown.

1. Turnovers Are Killers

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    Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.

    The Irish struggled mightily with ball security all season, finishing in the basement of the FBS in turnover margin.

    The season's first two losses can certainly be directly attributed to turnovers. It is difficult to win a football game after turning the ball over five times.

    Simply put, Notre Dame must avoid having a similar disastrous season as it pertains to securing the football. Expect for the Irish to finish 2012 in the upper half of the FBS in turnover margin.