Whenever the Irish saddle up to play the Boilermakers, I usually look forward to a game of little excitement. Even though Purdue is a team that likes to dink and dunk the ball down the field, they usually end up playing a vanilla type of game with the Irish.
It’s not like when Notre Dame faces USC or Michigan, where you can expect a certain level of excitement and emotion from the players and the fans—let’s call it Moose Tracks or Spumoni.
To my delight, however, Saturday’s game was anything but vanilla for the Fighting Irish.
This past Saturday was a welcome sight for Notre Dame fans across the nation. For the first time since 2006, the Irish football team played a complete game of football from wire-to-wire.
Notre Dame soundly handled a Purdue team that took a talented Oregon team to overtime, and for the first time in a long time, the victory for the Irish was a team effort, from offense to defense to special teams.
1. Game Planning
So far this season, whenever Charlie Weis has had a press conference, you could count on one question always being asked: “Charlie, do you think that your team has found their offensive identity yet?”
Notre Dame fans’ hearts were content when we heard Coach Weis at the beginning of the year express his intent to play “smashmouth” football. However, through the first three games of the season, the Irish have been able to do anything but pound the football at their opponents.
This week, it seems that the coaches capitalized on that reality. They spread out the offense and had several multiple wide receiver sets in which the running back was able to run around the field. This in turn opened up the passing game for Mike Floyd, Golden Tate, and David Grimes.
For the second half of this game, it seemed like the Irish could move the ball with consistency, which is always a pleasure to see.
2. Play Calling
For the first time this season, I think that Mike Haywood and the rest of the coaching staff did a decent job at calling the offensive plays for an entire game. This past Saturday, Notre Dame ran almost as many running plays as passing plays. This, in turn, led to big plays on offense.
As anyone knows, you can’t be effective with the running game if you aren’t effective with the passing game—and you can’t be effective with the passing game if you aren’t effective with the running game. For the first time this season, it seemed like the offensive staff finally realized this and tried to even out the plays.
I’m fully confident that this is why Notre Dame was able to pass the ball effectively and why Armando Allen racked up 134 yards on the ground.
3. The Offensive Line
Following the lead of the rest of the team, this was the first game of the season where the offensive line was as decent with run protection as they were with pass protection. The offensive line also did fairly well with the absence of Will Yeatman. Trevor Robinson filled in nicely at times, as did the other tight ends, to fill the void left by Yeatman.
Additionally, Kyle Rudolph had some decent blocks on Saturday, clearing the way with Sam Young and Chris Stewart for Armando Allen to put on a show during the third quarter.
It has been an all-around team effort to keep Jimmy Clausen off his back, and so far, they are performing very well. Let’s hope they keep it up.
4. The Entire Defense
The Notre Dame defense did an extraordinary job with the Purdue offense. They were harassing Curtis Painter all game. No, they did not record a sack on Painter, but they did pressure him all game.
The way that Purdue’s offense is set up, it’s almost impossible to keep their quarterback from putting up some big numbers. However, the Irish secondary did a good job of not giving up many big passing plays, and the Irish defensive line and linebackers did a good job of keeping Kory Sheets to 87 yards on the ground.
It was a team defensive effort with no player really standing out as the true leader. David Bruton, Pat Kuntz, and Maurice Crum all finished with six tackles, and Kyle McCarthy and Robert Blanton each recorded five tackles, with Blanton adding a spectacular interception.
1. Kicking Game
I really don’t want to keep beating a dead horse here, but it was very evident this Saturday how bad Notre Dame’s kicking game really is. Ryan Burkhart had one good kickoff, and the rest of the kicks were falling somewhere between the 5- and 15-yard line. Additionally, Brandon Walker is doing a very poor job of kicking field goals.
This past week, Charlie Weis had a kicking competition in practice between Brandon Walker and Ryan Burkhart to see who was better with field goals. Apparently Brandon Walker did far better than Burkhart did. I’m not sure what the deal is with these two guys, but this will come back to haunt them sometime this year.
I expect Charlie Weis to aggressively recruit at least one blue-chip kicker this year. What’s not to like? He can come to Notre Dame and play immediately. It’s not like he will have much competition.
2. Quarterback Pressure
Notre Dame did a decent job of keeping Curtis Painter under pressure this past weekend. At times, he looked flustered and had to quickly get rid of the ball before being tackled. However, Notre Dame still has not seen this defense record one sack. Usually, they get to the opposing quarterback and then are unable to run him down to tackle him.
I am fairly pleased with the Irish defense as a whole, but I’d love to see their defensive line and linebackers record some sacks—starting with Stanford.
3. Anemic Beginnings
For the second straight week, the Fighting Irish looked fairly flat coming out of the gate, not scoring a touchdown until the second quarter and not scoring an offensive touchdown until there were five minutes left before the half.
Notre Dame had a spectacular start to their game against Michigan, and I’m sure we all had high hopes that they would continue to start every game in the same fashion. In the four games played so far, Notre Dame has scored first only once. This was, of course, against Michigan.
It’s imperative, as the season progresses, that the offense gets points on the board first and makes the opposition play catch-up throughout the game.
Overall, this was a much improved team from the one we saw against Michigan State. In fact, I wonder how the team would have fared against Michigan State had they played this well.
However, people who were expected to make a big impact on this team (i.e. Duval Kamara, Robert Hughes) have yet to make their presence known.
This is only overshadowed by the fact that this team is littered with young players like Mike Floyd, Robert Blanton, and Ethan Johnson who are already making a very big impact on this team and are picking up the slack for some of the upperclassmen.
Additionally, there are young players like Kyle Rudolph and Trevor Robinson who are starting to develop and grasp the different schemes of this team.
Let’s hope that the progression of this team can continue at its current rate and the Irish can play another 60-minute game as they host the Stanford Cardinal next weekend. I will be in South Bend to see the game firsthand.
South Bend, here I come.
Players of the Game
Offense: Jimmy Clausen: 20/35, 275 yards, three TDs
Armando Allen: 17 rushes, 134 yards, one TD, 7.9 average
Defense: Robert Blanton: 5 tackles, one interception for TD
Special Teams: Armando Allen: 86 return yards, three attempts, 28.6 average