On Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. As part of my annual tradition, I watched Rudy. I know—in my previous article, I bashed people who watch Rudy and then make predictions on the new football season. Let’s just say I was trying to gear myself up for a new year of football laced with optimism. Plus, I’ve already made my season PREDICTIONS.
Finally, Saturday morning rolled around. Like little Ralphie who couldn’t wait to see if Santa brought him his Red Ryder BB Gun, I didn’t sleep as long as I usually do on the weekends. I was excited for a new season as I put on my usual Saturday garb of greens and golds.
But wait! I just remembered! I have to go to a wedding that starts the exact same time as the football game! Curses!
Needless to say, I didn’t see the first quarter of the football game—but I don’t think I missed too much.
This week is the first installment of my weekly articles that will run all season entitled “Suggestions for Charlie Weis.” These articles will point out the positive things that happened during the previous game, and things that the team still needs to work on. So without further ado...
1. Jimmy Clausen
Finally! It seems that Clausen’s elbow has healed to almost 100 percent, and he’s starting to make the throws that he was highly touted for. Clausen also made significantly fewer mental errors. This can only improve as the season, and his career, progress.
Clausen also did a decent job of recognizing defensive packages and adjusting the plays at the line of scrimmage accordingly. He still needs to work on his pocket presence, but that will come with experience.
2. Special Teams Coverage
It’s great to see that the trip to see Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech did some good for Charlie Weis and Brian Pollian. Notre Dame’s special teams coverage was decent yesterday, and their usual gunners, Mike Anello and David Bruton, picked up where they left off last year. Also, Sergio Brown’s punt block was a nice surprise.
3. Defensive Blitzing
You can definitely tell that Jon Tenuta has had some input on this year’s defensive scheme. While the Irish didn’t touch the SDSU quarterback much yesterday, they did succeed in getting pressure on the quarterback. Additionally, Ian Williams had some great plays breaking up some passes.
Usually, if you blitz the quarterback a lot, it leaves your secondary out on an island with one-on-one coverage, but our secondary did a nice job giving up only a couple of big plays.
4. Pass Protection
Notre Dame gave up 58 sacks last year. That number was a combination of the porous offensive line and their running backs' inability to pick up the blitz. On Saturday, however, Jimmy Clausen was not sacked once. There was some pressure by SDSU’s faster defensive line, but the offensive line did a decent job protecting Clausen. It’s nice to see some sort of progression with this unit from last year.
1. Run Blocking
Even though Notre Dame’s offensive line did a decent job with pass protection, they failed pretty miserably with run protection. There were several times when their running backs were lying on the ground behind the line of scrimmage and the offensive linemen were standing around looking at them.
You can’t play smashmouth football and “ram the football down their throats” if your offensive line can’t block the defensive line and pick up some blitzes along the way.
2. Play Calling
Notre Dame’s play calling was very predictable most of the day. I hope this is a result of Mike Haywood’s first experience with calling the plays for the whole game and not because the offensive personnel could only handle a basic set of plays mentally.
I was expecting Notre Dame to commit to one style of play during Saturday’s game—running—and leaving the passing game for Michigan. Of course, that hinged on the fact that the run blocking was supposed to be somewhat better.
I was amazed how ineffective the run game was and how effective the passing game was. I’m not sure if it was a product of the play calling or...
3. Mental Errors (Execution)
Saturday’s game was littered with mental errors on both sides of the ball for the Irish: two interceptions, one fumble, one botched field goal snap, one missed field goal, and one incomplete pass that could have easily been a touchdown.
All of these errors, more or less, could have theoretically given the Irish 27 more points (three touchdowns and two field goals). Add that to their score, and they “could” have beaten SDSU by a score of 48-13, which is the score most of us were expecting.
Mental errors also played factored into the reason why they abandoned the running game somewhat and switched to the two-minute offense several times throughout the game.
4. Special Teams Kicking
Why is it that Notre Dame can’t seem to find a kicker who kicks the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs? While watching the game, I kept saying to myself, “That’s a decent kick” when Ryan Burkhart was kicking the ball to the opposing 10-yard line. That’s not a decent kick. Those are valuable yards that we are just handing to the other team for free—and that goes double for Eric Maust.
The only thing that is saving the kicking game is the quick and ferocious tackling by Mike Anello and David Bruton.
This was a very peculiar week. The Irish were expected to mop the floor with the Aztecs, and instead they made a multitude of mental errors and barely scraped by with a W. The only thing that is not advantageous to starting the season off with a weaker opponent is that you can’t get a very accurate depiction of your team.
There were some positives to the game, but will they continue to be strengths as the season winds towards that inevitable end? There were also some negatives in the game, but will these weaknesses continue to become a chink in the Irish’s armor as they start to play progressively stronger opponents?
One thing is certain, however: The Irish are a better team than last year. We’ll just have to wait to see how much better they really are.
Players of the Game
Offense: Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate
Defense: David Bruton, Kyle McCarthy
Special Teams: Sergio Brown, Mike Anello