Biggest Surprises for Notre Dame Through Week 3
No two seasons are the same.
That's the lesson Notre Dame has learned during the first three weeks of the season, which have ended with the Irish sitting with a 2-1 record and national ranking of 22 in the latest AP Poll.
Through those first three weeks, a collection of surprises—both positive and negative—have coalesced before Irish eyes.
The Irish's 31-24 victory, at Purdue Saturday evening, provided an overarching snapshot of those surprises.
DaVaris Daniels Has Become the Irish's Go-to Receiver
Entering the 2013 season, Daniels didn't have a single career touchdown reception.
Three weeks later, the Vernon Hills, Ill., native has four.
Daniels' explosive play began during a season-opening 28-6 victory against Temple, in which he corralled a pair of 32-yard scoring receptions from senior quarterback Tommy Rees.
While the 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver didn't find the end zone against Michigan, his four touchdown receptions lead the team in the category. Daniels' 17 receptions rank second on the team, just behind TJ Jones' 19 catches.
Prior to the season, Daniels was expected to be a consistent contributor in the passing game, but the level of explosiveness he has played at has been a pleasant surprise for the Irish.
The Defense Has Regressed from Last Season
Notre Dame's 2013 defense has taken more than a few steps back from where it was a season ago.
That should be worrisome for Irish fans, as the unit returned eight starters from last season's defense who largely carried the team to the BCS National Championship Game.
Through three games, the Irish defense has allowed 60 points, compared to the 30 points it yielded during the first three contests of last season.
Particularly horrific has been the Irish secondary, which allowed a combined seven touchdown passes to Michigan and Purdue.
If those issues in the back-end of the defense aren't solved quickly, points will continue to stack up against the Irish.
Amir Carlisle Has Been the Answer at Running Back
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly persisted throughout the preseason that George Atkinson III would be the Irish's lead running back in the rotation.
Atkinson III has been anything but a feature back.
Instead, Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer, has been Notre Dame's most consistent running back to date. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound speedster leads the team in both carries (30) and rushing yards (148).
While Kelly will continue to employ a committee approach at the position, expect to see Carlisle continue to receive a significant portion of the carries.
Stephon Tuitt Has Been Underwhelming
Expectations for Tuitt—a 6-foot-6, 322-pound mammoth defensive end—were voluminous in nature prior to the season, with the Monroe, Ga., native garnering preseason All-America honors and loads of 2014 NFL draft speculation.
But Tuitt has failed to live up to that hype, thus far, through the 2013 season.
In three games, Tuitt has posted just four tackles, including one sack—not exactly encouraging figures from a player deemed to be a first-round talent.
The common theme surrounding his underwhelming start has been the nearly 20 pounds he packed on while rehabbing from sports hernia surgery over the course of the summer, though Kelly has maintained that Tuitt's conditioning is not an issue.
Andrew Hendrix's Limited Role at Quarterback
With Tommy Rees leading the way for the Irish offense, mobility at the quarterback position continues to be damning hindrance.
The early speculation was that Hendrix would briefly spell Rees to provide the threat of the run at quarterback, though Hendrix has earned just five snaps to date—five passing attempts and one nine-yard completion.
The senior quarterback seemingly has never been in Kelly's good graces during his four years on campus, and his limited playing time and role within the offense are clear indicators of that.
And now that freshman quarterback Malik Zaire has been cleared to play after suffering from mononucleosis, Hendrix's odds of seeing increased playing time are all but shot.