Outside the Irish Huddle: Notre Dame Cruises Past Western Michigan

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Outside the Irish Huddle: Notre Dame Cruises Past Western Michigan
Play on playa.

Seven weeks into the 2010 schedule and Notre Dame finally played their first truly weak opponent. Up until this past weekend the Fighting Irish and LSU were the only FBS teams to play BCS conference opponents in the first six games of this season.

The Tigers struggled with McNeese State for a while this weekend while the same could be said for Notre Dame against Western Michigan.

Yes, it was a sloppy first half for the Irish but they came out and made some adjustments in the second half and put the game away with plenty of time to see the backups in action.

Let’s go Outside the Irish Huddle and take a closer look at this game.

Adidas TECHFIT

Notre Dame wore their new Adidas TECHFIT jerseys for the first time this season and I thought they looked pretty sharp. The blue seemed a little darker which should elicit some complaining, but I liked that the numbers were smaller.

The jerseys were obviously tighter and removed the silly look the quarterbacks had been wearing with their shoulder pads sticking out, although they are cut very strangely near the armpits.

There was a point in the game where a defender got a hold of Armando Allen’s jersey and NBC announcer Tom Hammond commented that players weren’t supposed to be able to get a hold of the new uniform. The difference is in the past the defender probably swings Allen to the ground, but this time the jersey snapped out of his fingers and the ball carrier continued up field.

So maybe these new jerseys do work.

Beautiful Football Weather

I don’t think you could have asked for a better afternoon for football in South Bend as I am sure the campus was beyond gorgeous the entire weekend.

We had a very lively discussion on Friday about the stadium atmosphere and if any changes should be made. The sellout streak did indeed continue and the turf seemed to hold up well except for a couple of slips in key moments.

If anyone was at the game please let us know how the crowd performed this weekend. Those prime time yellow seats at the 50 yard line were pretty empty for most of the fourth quarter!

Stay Classy Western Michigan

After the game Western head coach Bill Cubit had very kind words to say for the Notre Dame football team, community and campus. He remarked at how amazing their tour of campus was and how in awe most of his team was at the entire experience.

Cubit also heaped high praise on some of the Irish players, especially for their mixture of talent and size. He reiterated that if Notre Dame wanted to play his team again they would be more than welcome to come back.

You can bet that many Irish fans will be rooting for Western Michigan the rest of the way while they fight it out in the MAC conference.

And now to this week’s free flowing discussion…

That’s More Like it Mr. Floyd

Saturday was Michael Floyd’s first truly dominant game of the season as he finished with nine receptions for 157 yards and three touchdowns.

Sure it was against Western Michigan, but the team needed Floyd to step up and be THE guy in the absence of Kyle Rudolph who is out for the season with a hamstring injury. More importantly, it appears that Floyd is becoming more comfortable in the new spread system and gaining that swagger and confidence back that we are so accustomed to seeing.

I especially liked the agility and presence of mind to spin off his defender on the first play from scrimmage while taking it to the house on an 80-yard touchdown. That is the kind of big play ability that Floyd needs to bring to the table every week.

I would hope that he does stop cutting back against the grain in the hope of breaking a longer run and just fights forward more often. He’d probably have 30 or 40 more receiving yards this season if he did.

Rush Defense

Don’t look now, but Notre Dame’s rushing defense is quickly moving up in the national rankings following another strong effort against Western Michigan by holding the Broncos to just 37 yards and 1.4 yards per attempt.

Before the season started I said the rush defense would be the strength of this defense and this prediction is looking fairly correct right now. Ian Williams continues being a beast at nose tackle and the defensive ends, while not particularly great edge rushers, are filling their gaps in the run and playing physical up front.

Also, the middle linebackers continue to play strong and it appears the outside linebackers are containing the edge a little bit better and not allowing the big gashes of yards that was so familiar in the years past.

The running game will face a big test next week against Navy’s vaunted triple option attack.

Dr. Dayne & Mr. Crist

Before the game color commentator Mike Mayock was saying how Dayne Crist has yet to put together a game where he played consistently well for four full quarters. You could probably say the same thing about the whole team as well.

So once again Crist had his moments of really strong play, but also some stretches of very mediocre to poor decision making and throws.

Overall, I think Crist has done a really fantastic job taking over in the shadow of Jimmy Clausen and understanding a new offense. We all need to realize it could be so much worse out there.

But I do think we’ll probably have to get used to the uneven performances from Crist, at least until next year.

Maybe he’ll put together a big game against Navy, Tulsa or Army, but I doubt we’ll see the consistency of never having bad quarters, bad drives (and in some games, bad throws) that we experienced with 2009 Clausen.

Backup Runners

It was a great job out there by the back up runners filling in for a gimpy Armando Allen who only saw limited action in the first half.

Redshirt freshman Cierre Wood had his best game of his young career with 94 rushing yards (8.5 YPC), 145 total yards, plus a beautiful 39-yard touchdown run (the longest rushing TD run in years at Notre Dame).

Wood reminds me a lot of former Irish running back Julius Jones, although not as much of a power runner but with more Barry Sanders type of elusiveness. The future is definitely bright with this kid.

Senior Robert Hughes came in and played really well totaling 63 yards on eight carries, including his own Cierre Wood impression where he performed multiple spin moves like a whirling dervish on his way to an impressive 30 yard gain. Plus, Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit said Hughes was rather scary because he was bigger than most of the Bronco linebackers, so that’s always fun.

First Half Running

Even though the running stats finished up half way decent considering the Irish were playing against a MAC team (149 yards, 4.4 YPC), the first half was atrocious.

Notre Dame ran six, count them SIX running plays in the first half and ended up with -4 yards after a couple sacks and a kneel down to end the half were factored in.

It was nice to see the running game take off after half, but it doesn’t really give me or any other fans a lot of confidence that this team is going to be able to run the ball very well against the Utah’s and USC’s of the world when it looked as poor as it did against Western Michigan.

A lot of this is the play calling as Cierre Wood aptly remarked when asked by a reporter why the running game looked so poor in the first half: “We didn’t run the ball enough.”

Exactly.

This was the kind of game in which I would have liked to see the Irish running on first and second down on almost every single drive.

I know Brian Kelly really wants to develop Crist as much as he can and I know that the passing game is of more importance in this offense, but Armando Allen and Robert Hughes are gone next year and there has to be more emphasis on developing Cierre Wood and making Jonas Gray more comfortable whenever he gets fully healthy.

The way I look at it, the passing offense is already pretty darn good anyway. It’s not great by any means but we’re one of the better passing teams in the country with three new linemen, a handful of new starters and an inexperienced quarterback.

It just feels like we’re sacrificing a really solid development of the running game to make the passing game just a little bit better heading into next year. I continue to scratch my head on that one.

Eifert Fills In

Redshirt freshman tight end Tyler Eifert had a quality afternoon after earning his first career start in the absence of the injured Rudolph.

Eifert hauled in four balls for 72 yards, including a much too easy 39-yard touchdown reception. He also blocked pretty well too.

I’m siding with the crowd that says we won’t see a whole lot of drop-off in production from the tight end position for the rest of the year, mostly because Rudolph was really struggling after the Michigan game and Eifert is really, really talented.

Other Notes from Saturday

*John Goodman didn’t catch a pass, but did complete a 39-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd. Goodman took a reverse and fired an awkward and low bullet to a wide open Floyd, who then grabbed it and found his way across the goal line. How many more passes do you think Goodman will complete in his career?

*Both backup quarterbacks saw action in the fourth quarter. Nate Montana saw the most action, delivering a nice boot leg completion and running some slow developing quarterback keepers on the ground. Tommy Rees came in and handed the ball off a couple times, so there wasn’t a whole lot of developing from these two on Saturday.

*Dayne Crist scored on another beautifully designed option read, leaving all of the defenders chasing the running back. It seems like we’re ever-so-slowly inching closer to the time when this is a legitimate dangerous aspect of the Notre Dame offense.

*Notre Dame won the time of possession for the first time this season by a mere 1:10, mostly due to a fourth quarter of nearly all running plays.

*David Ruffer’s missed PAT was the first miss of any kind in his career at Notre Dame. His consecutive field goals record is still alive after nailing a 33-yard attempt on Saturday.

*Theo Riddick had a very quiet day (one catch for 11 yards) and left the game early with an ankle sprain. It does not appear to be too serious of an injury.

*Gary Gray continues to play well, finishing the day with eight tackles, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.

*Ethan Johnson had his best game of the year with five tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, pass break up and 1.5 sacks.

Final Thoughts

I was a little discouraged with the play in the first half, mostly because of the running game and mediocre pass defense, but I didn’t feel like it was that bad of a half overall. It wasn’t anything to be happy about, but it didn’t elicit the “sky is falling” comments that I saw from across the Notre Dame community at halftime.

Ouch.

What was good to see were the halftime adjustments, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Instead of bringing a lot of pressure, the Irish dropped more bodies back into coverage and that left Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder with very few options and zero ability to make plays.

It is a big positive to take away that the defense basically shut down the Bronco defense in the second half until the back ups came in and let Western Michigan move the ball a little bit.

Overall, I was satisfied with what I saw.

Dayne Crist could have played better, but he got Floyd involved nicely and I loved the quarterback keeper on the touchdown play. Crist could have thrown the ball to Ragone that was picked off a little better, but that is still a ball that should be caught anyway.

I was very happy with the play of Cierre Wood and that Robert Hughes came in and ran really hard too. The offensive line continues to play pretty well and should be a pretty solid unit by years end.

In the end, this victory is what it is. Notre Dame took care of business and turned up the heat in the third quarter when it needed to put an inferior opponent away. It’s all part of the learning process as far as I’m concerned.

It’s good to be back over .500 again too.

It’s time to sink Navy this weekend.

Go Irish!

 

From the FanTake blog: One Foot Down

 

Follow on Twitter: @OneFootDown

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