Notre Dame Football: What We Really Learned from the Purdue Game
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I have had an epiphany.
For those of us that lack the vocabulary, innate will to understand, or the means to purchase a dictionary, epiphany means that while ND struggled against Purdue and my man-cave friends clamored for the heads of coaches and players alike, I had three beers, two shots of a fine Irish whiskey and a calming rush of football truthyism.
And what is that truthyism?
Surprisingly early in the season, we know a lot more about who we are, and why we are what we are.
More importantly, we know who we will soon be.
If you can handle the truth, read on.
Everett Golson Has Tools
Everett Golson’s second CFB test was not bad statistically…
68 percent passes completed, 289 yards, and one passing TD, with no picks and one fumble on a solid defensive play.
Damn efficient outing by a second time starter against a surprisingly stout Big Ten defense with two stud defensive tackles and a seasoned secondary behind them.
We saw a lot of what we hoped to see from an athletic QB.
And just what did those sober enough amongst us see?
Plays were extended, QB-designed runs; scrambles were an option—and sometimes worked (one of two TD’s); and despite 64 thousand drives starting inside the ND 20, EG moved the team consistently, and generally looked solid doing it.
Golson threw out of the pocket and on the run with decent accuracy and good pace.
For God sakes, for the first time since the 2010 season, a QB got a couple first downs in key situations without throwing the rock at the crowd and praying. I had completely forgotten what that looked like.
Complicated by a mason jar full of stolen moonshine, my mom was so confused by a Golson first down scamper she asked if that was still legal under the new-fangled rules.
Golson’s overall performance reminded me of my high school quarterbacking days, except faster, bigger, better arm, better looking, on a much bigger stage with better competition, and slightly more media coverage than the Linton-Stockton Miners got in 1977.
For those of us wanting to know more, EG showed he can make plays against a quality pressure defense.
Golson Is Not RG III - Yet
Golson is clearly not there yet. There were lots of times it looked like Golson was one game removed from high school.
Despite obvious talent that makes us drool, plays were painfully slow getting in and timeouts were burned like autumn leaves when you could burn leaves without the city dropping a huge fine on your leaf-burning activities.
Despite Kelly’s theoretically fast-paced offense, the pace throughout was so slow NBC started sneaking in commercial breaks between first and second down.
The offense never really pressed play, rarely was the defense caught in a switch—a 302 and a 310-pound stud opposing defensive linemen that were gassed as it was with the slower pace were not pissing themselves by the 3rd quarter like they are supposed to, so both were still getting sacks and generally raising hell in the fourth quarter.
EG showed the arm, accuracy, and the mobility we salivated for, while showing some of the hesitancy, indecision, and reluctance to pull the trigger that kept him on the scout team in 2011.
In his manic drive to limit turnovers, Kelly seems to have instilled a bit too much conservatism in his young signal-caller, which is the right thing for right now, but he'll have to be less restrictive if Golson is to be more of a weapon down the road.
And while EG can create time with his legs to allow his target to clear, he also held the ball way too long too often, missed seeing several open receivers, and focused on Eifert when in doubt to the point it was almost Michael Floyd-ish, circa 2011.
Golson displayed the arm we heard about much more than the bubble screens and flat passes against Navy revealed, and although he hit a few deeper throws, Everett was short on several deep balls that he had more than enough arm to hit in stride.
Half the five-ish sacks should have been heaved out of bounds and reasonable 3rd downs preserved.
He did lots of things that he would like to do over, but the good news is most of what he did wrong is just a matter of getting more practice and game time to get the system down.
With experience, he’ll be damn good. Probably not Dan Stockrahm-esque, but damn good.
He’s not there yet, but it’s there, and it will get better. We should all be excited about what he might do once he develops his considerable skills.
Tommy Rees Is the Back-Up We Need for Now
Last year, with a seasoned Tommy Rees, and Michael Floyd, T. J. Jones, and Tyler Eifert grabbing a gubillion balls each, ND threw for only 264 yards—of course, Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray also ground out a paltry 285 yards on the ground, so Purdue didn’t put up much of a fight no matter who had the rock in 2011.
This year, Rees had the wrong beer at the wrong time and therefore was relegated to one series, 3-8 for 35 yards and a drive that resulted in the game-winning field goal.
Two of the incompletions were spikes to manage the clock, and one completion was just slightly after the play clock expired, which evidently was still owed to us by NCAA rules after the “Little Giants” MSU fiasco.
As a consequence, after damaging the drywall with my forehead for two years, I finally get why Kelly kept going back to the TR well, despite Tommy’s obvious limitations.
In one series, Tommy showed exactly what Tommy can and cannot do.
The things that EG doesn’t do yet, Tommy commands.
TR can get the team up to the line of scrimmage in less than a decade. Tommy can get the team into the right play without three timeouts, two board meetings, and an intervention.
Tommy can find and hit an open receiver as long as they are less than 25 yards away, and will throw before the break, if needed.
Rees has the patience and experience to wait for a receiver to clear as long as the play hasn’t broken down.
What Tommy can’t do?
If you’ve watched any Notre Dame football in the last two years, you should have the same list as I do, and it hasn’t changed one iota since 2010…
Rees will not extend plays or run faster than a recliner, cannot throw deep downfield or across the field with any degree of accuracy or authority, cannot move or throw on the move, will throw into coverage and pray when pressed and will fumble at least 50% of the times he is hit.
None of that changed in one drive against the Purdue Boilermakers.
Against Purdue, Rees did what he does and did it well. He picked up the pace and used a mix of intermediate passes to open receivers with little pressure on him that resulted in a late drive for three points and a big win for the Irish faithful.
Thank you, Tommy, you done good.
For those of you that have climbed back on the Rees bandwagon after one series, note that jumping back on that train has a major problem—while Tommy is good at what he does, he doesn’t have the physical tools to ever do any more.
What that means is that if you want Tommy back, you will have to concede all games to any top fifty defense that can cave the pocket, contain the run and drop eight in coverage, or create pressure off the edge.
Against Purdue, you saw downfield balls flutter, and no one should have to remind you what happens to Tommy when receivers can’t get separation and/or the pocket collapses.
While putting Tommy back in a starter’s role is just crazy talk, I am happy we have Tommy to tutor and back up Golson.
Frankly, until Golson gets a better handle on the time and game management part of college football, I like Kelly’s idea of letting Rees spell Golson as a change of pace.
Lots of teams are successful with two QB systems, and Kelly sure as hell knows from his Cincy –Pike/Collaros days that having two QB’s can be a very good thing if done properly, i.e. he doesn’t rob Golson of practice reps and the game experience he needs to develop.
I am very glad Tommy was able to redeem himself after some trying times, and I like the idea he will be there as an experienced back-up plan.
Make no mistake, Tommy Rees is and should be a back-up plan as Golson learns his trade.
After watching the stark contrast in styles and ability, I now see why Kelly showed almost irrational man-love for Rees and his limited upside for as long as he did: Kelly wants talent, but he needs somebody that can manage the game.
Golson can learn game management, Rees cannot learn talent, so Kelly has already announced EG is his starter for MSU and rightfully so.
Notre Dame Has Some Great Young Talent
My favorite play?
On one particularly crucial play, Golson juked two un-blocked, rampaging D-Lineman out of their Under Armour, rolled right, and threw on the run to hit a crossing route in stride for 25 yards.
Golson also threw a few decent deep balls out of the pocket, and extended a number of plays that turned into positive yardage or a first down.
He out-ran a defense to the edge and nipped the pylon for a TD.
While he has a lot to learn about getting the team into the right sets while it’s still light out, when he does he’ll be fun to watch.
And the others in Kelly’s Youth Corp?
TE Troy Niklas is a raging beast and will be a monster in two tight-end sets all year long.
DaVaris Daniels used size and decent speed with some soft hands to show he can be a decent cog in Kelly’s offense.
George Atkinson is really good and Davonte' Neal can catch and might be a weapon if and when he can ever get into space.
When these guys actually know what they're doing, they are going to give people fits.
Notre Dame’s Young Defense Played Well
As for the defense, starting corner Lo Wood went down before the season started, 5th year senior Jamoris Slaughter went down in the second quarter with a bum shoulder, and safety Zeke Motta is in his third year of proving he can hit but is a coverage nightmare.
DBs Farley, Shumate, and Russell’s last games before this season were on high school football fields.
Purdue has four QB’s that have started college football games, two of which have started full seasons, with a decent receiving corps all protected by a solid O-Line that has been through the Big Ten wars two or three times apiece.
37 passes went up, 19 got caught, and Purdue walked away with less than 200 yards passing and only 5.4 yards per catch against a secondary that is younger than most of my clothing.
Yes, we showed we are young and we made mistakes…but we also made plays.
College plays by college athletes.
Shumate screws up, Shumate makes a nice play on a slant to stop a drive. Russell looks like he’s auditioning for a ballet, two plays later Russell looks like a shutdown corner. Next series, Farley looks like he can’t tackle a bunny, then Farley tackles a bunny in space short of a first down.
First year corner Bennett Jackson had two interceptions and a fair day against a lot of balls, a bad day against a couple others.
His Lordship, Louis Nix the Third and building-sized Stephon Tuitt simply ate up a fairly seasoned Big Ten line all day long, and LB Ishaq Williams is starting to use the size and speed that makes him special.
There were others that chipped in and helped out, as Notre Dame’s last two recruiting classes saw lots of action and displayed lots of potential that will only get better with experience.
The O-Line Has Lots of Work to Do
Purdue has a quality Big Ten D-Line with two juniors, two seniors, and an average of almost 300 pounds of hulking meat per man, compared to Navy’s 260 pounds per Middy of feisty but lean beef.
No offense to the post-Navy game posters that bragged we would run past and over any and all opposition, but evidently due to some strange scheduling quirk, we don’t play an academy every week.
The O-Line did some less-than-spectacular work against Purdue, giving up five sacks and leaving Golson to run for his life most of the afternoon.
If Tommy Rees had been the QB, there would have been 85 sacks, at least.
Even more alarming, Notre Dame netted only 52 yards rushing as Purdue put lots of people in the box and Notre Dame was unable to push anybody out of it.
Our best lineman, LT Zack Martin, had several brain-fart penalties and deserved more than was called.
OG Mike Golic, Jr. was a big drop-off in talent and ability when center Braxston Cave got hurt last year, and is missing assignments and getting physically overwhelmed at guard when faced with tougher competition again this year.
Heistrand’s boys made lots of mistakes that Purdue stomped on and ran through—mistakes that need to be corrected fast if we’re to have any chance at stopping MSU’s nasty-ass front seven.
While this line is big, talented, and athletic enough, they aren’t on the same page yet and need to get there fast.
Hopefully they will, or next week in East Lansing could be real ugly, like ass-end of a diseased goat ugly.
Sorry about the visual.
This Team Is a Work in Progress
Unlike last year, when we started the year as a mostly veteran squad, this team has a heavy dose of diapers on both sides of the ball with a few solid veterans tossed in here and there.
Kelly also has sprinkled in a fair number of new position coaches that are still getting used to each other and the kids.
What that means is we will look disorganized at times, we will make stupid-ass mistakes at others, but we will also learn how to use our talent and we will grow into a better team every week.
While the result against Navy was similar to 2011’s, an argument could be made that this team is not nearly as impressive as the ND squad that manhandled these same Boilermakers 38-10 in West Lafayette last year.
Don’t believe it.
The 2011 Purdue team was ravaged by injuries early in the year, had an entirely new secondary, and finished strong heading into 2012.
We just played a 2012 Boilermaker team that returned 15 starters and should finish in the upper half of its division, and we did it with a brand-spanking new secondary and a QB that had one whole college game on another continent under his belt.
Yes, we will take some big lumps this year at times, but these kids can play and will only get better as 2012 unfolds.
Next week in East Lansing will be as tough a test as we’ll have all year, and one that will tell us how much our young kids have grown in two weeks of college football.
It should be fun.
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