In light of last week’s game against San Diego State, I was pretty weary about watching Notre Dame this Saturday. It’s not that I didn’t think that the Irish would perform badly, but that there were so many unknown aspects about both the Irish and Michigan that could make this game a pleasant surprise or a hellish nightmare for Irish fans.
Luckily for Irish fans, it was a surprise indeed.
Many things can be said about the game. ESPN and many other major newspapers are saying that it wasn’t as big of a blowout as the score indicated. They think that Michigan gift-wrapped six turnovers to the Irish, which the Irish capitalized on.
First off, Michigan gift-wrapped two turnovers, the Irish created the other four. Furthermore, it takes a decent team to capitalize on turnovers. The Irish team from last year wouldn’t have capitalized on the turnovers like this team did on Saturday. This is a sign that the team is progressing fairly well.
Now, onto the suggestions.
1. Ball Hawking
It’s one thing to tackle well (more on that later), but it’s another to hawk the ball—to fiercely go after it.
Four of the turnovers created on Saturday were a result of the defense and special teams players not only going after the ball carrier, but also after the ball by trying to strip or punch the ball.
If the offense or defense can’t compete with other teams later on their schedule, winning the turnover battle is a big way to close the talent or scheme gap between them. Usually, a team that wins the turnover battle wins the game.
Continuing to promote the concept of taking the ball away from an opposing offense can only help this team’s situation as the schedule continues.
2. Pass Protection
The offensive line didn’t give up a sack for the second week in a row. This is against a team who set up camp in Notre Dame’s backfield last year. This was also against the strongest defense that the Irish will face until they play USC at the end of the season.
What’s even more remarkable is that Notre Dame accomplished this with true freshman, Trevor Robinson, starting for the questionable Chris Stewart on Saturday. It’s more than likely that Stewart will be back next week, but at least we know that there’s a capable backup behind him.
Not giving up any sacks is a huge confidence booster for this offensive line and will help instill a “swagger” in their playing style.
There were several opportunities for the Wolverines to sack Jimmy Clausen on Saturday, but he’s starting to throw the ball away when he can’t find an open receiver and that only helps their offensive situations during the game.
3. Special Teams
Saturday produced two fumbles for the Irish during kickoffs. A decent Special Teams unit may capitalize on one of the fumbles, but the Irish capitalized on both.
On the first, the Irish held the returnee to six yards after he recovered his own fumble on the two-yard line. The second time the Irish recovered the fumble.
With the help of cult hero Mike Anello, the Irish were able to aggressively run the table on Special Teams once again. This is good because they will need this aspect of their game against Michigan State next week.
I don’t know if it’s the elusiveness of Sam McGuffie or Notre Dame’s inability to wrap him up, but I was severely frustrated at Notre Dame’s defense on Saturday.
McGuffie was able to wrack up 131 yards on the field and another 47 through the air for a touchdown.
I think that the secondary is doing a great job of one-on-one tackling and stopping any ball carrier from gaining yards after a catch, but the defensive line and linebackers are having a hard time with wrapping up.
If this problem doesn’t get fixed soon, it could lead to many valuable yards and touchdowns that are given away in the future.
2. Jimmy Clausen
In last week’s review, I stated that Jimmy Clausen was a big positive to the game. While that’s true and that Jimmy threw for two touchdowns on Saturday, he also threw for two interceptions.
Because Jimmy’s talent and ability to read defenses is improving, much more will be expected of him. While I’m not expecting him to be the next Brady Quinn just yet, I am expecting him to eliminate big mental errors.
He is on pace to throw for 30 touchdowns, but he’s also on pace to throw 24 interceptions and just over 2,300 yards on the season.
If he doesn’t eliminate mental errors, it will be a long year for him—especially when people start to lock down on Golden Tate and he won’t be able to get many yards after catching the ball.
3. Wide Receivers
You can just go ahead and eliminate Golden Tate from anything that I will be saying in this section.
The three leading receivers from last year (Robby Parris, David Grimes, and Duval Kamara) have not shown up in either game the Irish have played so far.
Kamara had a touchdown reception against Michigan, but it was his only catch of the game. Grimes also had a catch against Michigan for an three yards. I’m not sure if the receiver’s production is a result of the play calling or if it’s their inability to separate themselves from the opposing secondary.
Mike Floyd is playing fairly well for a freshman, but we can’t expect him to make any significant impact on the team this year—it’s simply unfair.
If the Irish want to be productive in any game in the future, especially against tougher opponents, the experienced receivers will need to start increasing their impact on the team.
An average of 192 yards through the air per game is just simply unacceptable for the caliber of quarterback and the type of receivers we have.
4. Quarterback Pressure
I understand that the main object of Jon Tenuta’s influence on Corwin Brown’s defensive scheme is to allow the linebackers and safeties to make most of the plays in the backfield.
However, the whole idea of the defense hinges on the fact that the defensive line will be able to plug the running lanes through the middle and put pressure on the opposing quarterback.
I’m not expecting the defensive line to have a gigantic number of tackles at the end of the season, but I am expecting them to shut down the middle of the line so our linebackers and safeties can make the plays.
Right now, they aren’t getting it done and the only reason the defense is as stout as it is, is because the linebackers and safeties are doing a magnificent job at making plays and creating turnovers.
This was the type of game I expected this team to play in the second week. I certainly didn’t expect the team to create as many turnovers as it did, which is always a pleasant surprise.
The Irish have excelled at many aspects of their game—probably much further than their experience would allow them to—but they are also lacking in some aspects that should be almost fundamental at this point in their careers.
However, one thing is certain—the Irish need to play much better fundamentally if they have a hope of trying to contain Javon Ringer and the rest of the Michigan State offense next weekend.
The Irish should be underdogs going into the game, but hopefully the team can start to turn around some of the silly mistakes they have been making and will start to be more productive on offense.
If the defense can rectify their tackling problem and continue to create turnovers, and the offense can begin to produce the type of big plays that they are capable of producing, this will be a team that could do great things, starting with Michigan State next weekend.
Players of The Game
Offense – Golden Tate: four receptions, 127 yards, one TD.
Robert Hughes: 19 rush, 79 yards (4.2 avg.), twoTD
Defense – David Bruton: 15 tackles (10 solo, 1.5 TFL), one fumble, one int.
Brian Smith: six tackles, two fumble (one fumble for TD)
Special Teams - Mike Anello: three tackles, one fumble recovery