Notre Dame Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Purdue Game

Matt SmithCorrespondent IIISeptember 9, 2012

Notre Dame Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Purdue Game

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    Before moving on to Notre Dame's first true road game of the season on Saturday against Michigan State, let's take one final look back at how the No. 20 Fighting Irish got to 2-0.

    The 20-17 win over Purdue was a true team effort. It took two quarterbacks, a third-team defensive lineman and overcoming the loss of All-American Tyler Eifert, but the Irish survived on a Kyle Brindza field goal with seven seconds left.

    We've graded each of Notre Dame's 22 starters and provided a brief analysis on their performances.

Quarterback

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    Everett Golson: B

    It wasn't a complete game for Golson, but there were many positives to take away from his performance. He avoided turnovers up until a fumble on his final snap of the game, and turned multiple plays going nowhere into large gains. The fumble could have been deadly, however. Once Tyler Eifert and DaVaris Daniels left the game, Golson did little.

Running Back

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    Theo Riddick: B-

    The numbers weren't exactly pretty compared to the season opener against Navy, but Riddick was able to pick up some key first downs late in the game with the Irish clinging to a 17-10 lead. Riddick also picked up 11 key yards to set up Kyle Brindza's game-winning field goal.

    He wasn't given much help, but overall it was a disappointing day for the senior with only 53 yards on the ground. 

Wide Receivers

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    TJ Jones: B

    Jones only managed 20 yards, but he made a nice sliding catch for a short touchdown to give the Irish a 14-7 lead in the third quarter. He also had a nice eight-yard run on a reverse.

    Tyler Eifert will always be the primary target, but it would be nice if Jones could manage more than 20 yards.

    Robby Toma: B+

    Toma turned in a typical Toma game, with four catches for 33 yards and a six-yard run on a reverse play. The signature play was a 20-yard gain on a critical third down that moved Notre Dame into field goal position on its final drive.

    The Hawaii native continues to have a knack for making a play when the Irish need it.

Tight Ends

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    Tyler Eifert: A-

    Purdue had no answer for Eifert on Saturday, at least until the senior left the game with a head injury in the third quarter. Eifert would have gone over 100 yards had he finished the game, but settled for 98 on four catches, an average of almost 25 yards per grab.  

    Eifert made a very good cornerback in Josh Johnson look mediocre.

    Troy Niklas: B

    Niklas got the start with the Irish in a two-tight end set with Eifert split out wide. He was targeted only twice, one of those a key 30-yard reception on third down on a drive that ultimately culminated in a touchdown. He did allow a sack on what appeared to be a missed assignment.  

    Niklas is still grasping his new position, but should develop into a valuable blocker and pass-catcher.

Offensive Line

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    Zach Martin/Christian Lombard: C-

    Notre Dame's two offensive tackles had an easier assignments than their teammates on the inside but still turned in a disappointing effort. Martin, a team captain, was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty, while Lombard was beaten on a sack that led to a missed field goal.

    Both were penalized for false starts in the second half.

    Chris Watt/Braxston Cave/Mike Golic Jr.: C+

    The Irish interior linemen certainly lost the battle against Purdue's Bruce Gaston and Kawann Short, but most teams will suffer that fate against the Boilermakers' pair of elite defensive tackles. Cave was beaten badly in the first quarter by Short for a sack, and Short again dropped Golson in the fourth quarter after blowing by Golic Jr.

    This unit, dominant a week ago, showed it has plenty of room for improvement.

Defensive Line

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    Kapron Lewis-Moore: Incomplete

    The fifth-year senior's day ended early with a leg injury in the first quarter. The injury does not appear serious, but his prognosis for the game at Michigan State is still uncertain.

    Louis Nix: A-

    "Irish Chocolate" had a pair of sacks and four tackles in a dominant performance to help Notre Dame overcome a relatively ineffective day from its offense. He was unblockable at times and routinely stuffed Purdue's inside rushing attack.

    Stephon Tuitt: A

    The physical freak turned in his best performance as a member of the Irish on Saturday. He matched Nix's two sacks and also added a pair of tackles for loss. No unit has been more characteristic of championship-caliber teams than the defensive line. The Irish showed again that this is the team's strongest unit.

Linebackers

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    Prince Shembo: A-

    The Irish's starting Cat linebacker played with his hand in the ground for much of the day and was able to generate pressure off the edge. He finished with five tackles and a pair of quarterback hurries. Shembo has finally found his ideal position in Notre Dame's defense.

    Carlo Calabrese: B-

    The senior's lack of pass coverage skills reared its ugly head again late in the game on Saturday when he was beaten on a route that allowed Purdue to tie the game at 17-17. He was again strong against the run, however, registering seven tackles.

    Manti Te'o: B+

    The leader of the defense led the team with 10 tackles, helping the Irish front seven control the line of scrimmage. He had an uncharacteristic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a special teams play which pinned the Irish inside their own 10-yard line. He did not force any turnovers, but that has never been his specialty.

    Dan Fox: B-

    Fox was a surprise starter at Dog linebacker thanks to his strong pass coverage skills, but he appeared to struggle for much of the day in his new role. There were no major mistakes, but Notre Dame could use a bit more production at such a critical position.

Defensive Backs

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    Bennett Jackson: B+

    Although he failed to get down immediately after his game-clinching interception, his second of two on the day, Jackson showed he can be a valid No. 1 cornerback on Saturday. The Boilermakers lack a game-breaking receiver, however, so there is still plenty to prove.

    KeiVarae Russell: B-

    Russell certainly had some true freshman moments, but played well on a key red-zone stand that held Purdue to a field goal late in the third quarter. He also combined with Louis Nix for a key sack in the fourth quarter.

    Jamoris Slaughter: Incomplete

    Like Kapron Lewis-Moore, Slaughter's day ended early with a shoulder injury. He had three tackles in his short day of work. His absence was notable, but wasn't overly costly.

    Zeke Motta: B-

    Motta isn't a ball hawk at the back end of the defense, but he did display his tackling prowess on Saturday with nine, four coming on run plays. Motta was late with help on Purdue's game-tying touchdown but helped the Irish avoid allowing any long pass completions.