On Saturday, I sat with my brother, cursing at the television. I could not understand, for the life of me, why a team who showed so much promise against San Diego State and Michigan, a team that had some unexpected players starting to make game-changing plays, could lose so poorly to Michigan State.
It wasn’t that the Irish lost by a big margin (they didn’t) or that they looked like amateurs trying to compete with the Spartans (they didn’t), but that it seems that this team is not yet over committing stupid mental mistakes.
It was a sad day for Irish fans across the nation who had so much confidence in Notre Dame going into the game and yet, like much of 2007 are down in the gutters emotionally going into Purdue. Let’s hope that the team won’t dwell on this loss as much as Irish fans and haters alike.
1. Young Talent: One positive note to the game was to see how much young talent this team is stocked with. It almost pains me to keep talking about the future when the team is barely scraping by right now, but the future does look bright for Notre Dame Football.
Golden Tate, Mike Floyd, Gary Gray, Brian Smith, and Ian Williams are freshmen or sophomores who are contributing to this team right now in a big way. With these players continuing to progress, the future does look bright for Notre Dame football. Not just in 2009, but the future of this season will look brighter as these players continue to hone their skills on the football field.
2. Defense: Contrary to popular opinion, the defense did not play very badly on Saturday. Sure, Ringer had over 200 yards rushing, but it took him nearly 40 touches to get there. And, he was averaging under four yards a carry going into the fourth quarter, which is when he broke for 63 yards on one rush, which was a result of over-pursuit by the defense.
The play calling and style of defense that Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta are implementing into this program is working. We’re not reaping the benefits in terms of sacks, but we are reaping the benefits in that the defense is starting to dictate how opposing offenses play the game. And that is always a good thing.
3. Pass Blocking: All right, the Notre Dame offensive line isn’t unstoppable. They gave up three sacks on Saturday. But, three sacks in three games is a remarkable improvement from a team who gave up 58 last season. They are continuing to protect Jimmy Clausen, who needs to get over his ailment of “happy feet” in the pocket.
But, this isn’t just an achievement of the offensive line. Jimmy Clausen deserves some credit for making smarter plays behind the line of scrimmage. Additionally, the running backs are doing a remarkable job of picking up corner and linebacker blitzes. Across the board, the entire offense is doing a better job. Let’s hope it continues to progress at this pace.
1. Rushing (Run Blocking): Since Charlie Weis has arrived at Notre Dame, he has continued to bring in top talent at the running back position. While we might not see Jonas Gray in the backfield this season, there are three other running backs who were highly touted as some of the best in the nation when they arrived at Notre Dame.
Additionally, Weis has continued to recruit a decent amount of offensive lineman since he arrived at Notre Dame. Why, then, can they not run the ball effectively, even against a team who is lining up to stop the run?
I realize that it was Michigan State’s intent to stop the run and make Clausen beat them through the air, but this was pathetic. There were countless times that a running back would run up to the line of scrimmage, look at a hole on his right and a hole on his left and then run straight ahead into the back of an offensive lineman.
I’ve never seen such timid running in all my life. Something needs to be quickly done about this. Notre Dame cannot afford to be a one-dimensional team.
2. Play Calling: I mentioned this in my point above, but it also deserves to be covered here. Notre Dame completely abandoned the run in the second half. In the whole second half, the Irish ran the ball a total of four times.
I understand that they were behind and needed to catch up quickly, but completely abandoning the run will get you nearly nowhere with the passing game. You need one to have the other and in the second half, the Irish became predictable.
Brady, Jeff, Maurice, and Rhema were good at slinging the ball down the field for a whole quarter or a half. Jimmy, Golden, Mike, and Robby are not there yet.
3. Tackling: This is the second week in a row that the Irish have had trouble with bringing down the opposing ball carrier. I’m not sure who wracked up more yards after they were hit, Javon Ringer or Sam McGuffie. This is something that needs to be corrected immediately.
As Notre Dame progresses in their schedule, people like Jake Locker or Joe McKnight will wreak havoc on this defense if they can’t wrap them up on first contact. Most of Javon Ringer’s yards on Saturday came after he was hit. That’s simply unacceptable.
4. Kicking Game: Why is it that Weis, in all of his infinite recruiting wisdom, cannot manage to recruit a serviceable place kicker? DJ Fitzpatrick was the last decent kicker that this team had.
Something needs to be done about this aspect of the offense. If it’s mechanics, they need to be fixed. If it’s nerves, than Charlie needs to come up with a better way to simulate game-time kicking than hanging whether or not the team runs sprints at the end of practice on the kicker’s shoulders.
If this team cannot correct this problem then, mark my words, the team will lose at least another game because of the kicker’s inability to kick the ball between the uprights.
All in all, this wasn’t that bad of a game for the Irish and they didn’t play as badly as anyone, including me, makes it sound. There are some glaring holes in their abilities but there are also some very bright spots to this team.
However, this team is not good enough to commit three turnovers (two interceptions, and a fumble) and miss two field goals and still win the game. They were close to winning the game, but they are not there yet. Purdue will present this team with a whole new set of challenges.
The Irish secondary will get tested by Curtis Painter all day. But, if some of these problems aren’t at least partially fixed this week, there will be another close game in store for the Irish, and possibly a loss at the hands of the Boilermakers.
Players of The Game
Offense: Golden Tate – 5 catches, 83 yards receiving, 24 yards rushing
Mike Floyd – 7 catches, 86 yards receiving, 1 touchdown
Defense: Brian Smith – 10 tackles, 1 fumble
David Bruton – 10 tackles
Special Teams: Armando Allen – 170 return yards