Outside the Irish Huddle: Notre Dame vs. Nevada
The Nevada Wolf Pack took the field on Saturday afternoon with an explosive Pistol offense invented by their Hall-of-Fame coach Chris Ault, but left South Bend feeling as if they were left with a BB gun offense.
After a 35-0 victory over Nevada, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish got their 2009 season off to a tremendous start. The Irish scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and never looked back.
The victory for Notre Dame raises expectations for a team looking to assert themselves as BCS contenders and prove themselves as one of the elite programs in college football. Certainly there were many positives to take away from such a convincing victory, but there were also some problems that need to be addressed before the Irish head to Ann Arbor next Saturday.
Obviously, the offense looked impressive and executed as if it was not the first game of the season. Jimmy Clausen’s 15 for 18, 315 yard, 4 touchdown performance was as good of a start as anyone could have asked from the team captain who now leads the nation in passer rating.
The receivers looked polished as Michael Floyd and Golden Tate proved they deserve to be considered as the best duo in the country. Tate finished with only 3 catches for 59 yards, but also blocked well and grabbed the attention of the Nevada defense. Floyd on the other hand, put together one of the best performances from a receiver in school history with 4 catches for 189 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The running game showed some improvement from last season and the offensive line showed some promise as well. Armando Allen looks like he’s become stronger and led the way with 78 yards on 15 carries to go along with a touchdown. The team as a whole gained 192 yards on the ground, outgaining one of the nation’s strongest running games in 2008.
The pass protection for Irish quarterbacks was excellent all day long and Nevada was unable to record a sack all day long. Another positive was that the offensive line looked very mobile and strong on the numerous screen passes that were dialed up by Charlie Weis.
On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame deserves credit for shutting out one of the stronger offenses in the nation. The Irish defense continually harassed Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick blitzing 37 out of the first 50 Wolf Pack snaps.
The Irish limited Nevada to only 184 yards on the ground, well below their 2008 average, and denied the Wolf Pack the opportunity to establish a consistent passing attack. Safeties Harrison Smith and Kyle McCarthy played well combining for 15 tackles and McCarthy also intercepted a ball as well.
Linebackers Brian Smith and Toryan Smith led the way with very strong games including a combined eight tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks.
The special teams play was limited as Notre Dame did not attempt a field goal throughout the entire game, but freshman kicker Nick Tausch looked steady in his extra points and kickoffs. As usual, the Irish kickoff coverage was smothering and dominant.
There are a few negatives to dwell upon for Notre Dame. Although they kept Nevada off the scoreboard, the Wolf Pack could have easily put up 20 points having missed a field goal, fumbled at the five yard line, and failed to convert a fourth down deep in Irish territory.
Even though the heavy Irish blitzing attack harassed Kaepernick all day long, Notre Dame continually over pursued into the Wolf Pack backfield as running back Taua gashed through the defensive line for big gains. Taua averaged 6.3 yards per carry and was able to net over 100 yards on the ground as the sole bright spot for Nevada.
Another thing the defense must work on is wrapping up tacklers, especially in the backfield. When the Irish were able to surround Kaepernick, the elusive quarterback was able to sneak away and turn losses into decent gains. The Irish will want to make sure they tackle better in the continuing weeks.
On offense, Clausen and company pretty much had their way the entire contest, although the offensive line still seems to lack the big push up front. Still, the Irish racked up a lot of yards on the ground but only ended up averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
This was a very strong opening week win for Notre Dame and a very good warm up for the Michigan Wolverine spread option attack. I would have liked the Irish to stretch the field a bit more, particularly with Rudolph, but I get the sense Weis was playing it rather conservative.
Out of Notre Dame’s first 40 snaps on offense, 22 came in either I-formation or in a two tight end set. Clearly, Weis wanted to establish a power running game right from the get-go and wanted to see what Allen, Gray, and Riddick could prove.
Probably the most inspiring part of this victory by the Irish was that they came out to play from the opening kickoff and that we saw numerous backups contribute effectively throughout the entire game.
With many backups in by the fourth quarter, it would have been nice if the play calling didn’t go into a shell in typical Weis fashion. Hopefully, in the coming weeks we will see more than just a series of running plays when the Irish take large leads into the second half.
1. Jimmy Clausen
This was a no-brainer as Clausen put together his second straight near perfect game.
2. Michael Floyd
Despite only four catches, Floyd put up the eighth most yards in Notre Dame history and is proving himself to be one of the best receivers in the country. Most of all, Floyd showed top-end speed that looks downright scary given his size and strength.
Brian Smith was the most active Irish defender and looks like he could be the number one linebacker on the team once again. On numerous plays he was in the in the Nevada backfield wreaking havoc and forcing Kaepernick into mistakes.
Te’o only saw limited action, but looked every bit the number one defensive recruit in the nation. He had three huge hits, including two tackles and seems as if he is so much stronger and faster than anyone else on the field. It wouldn’t surprise me if Te’o is starting soon.
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