Notre Dame's loss to USF this past weekend was as tough to watch as any I can remember. The Irish made mistake after mistake. In the first half, the team looked deflated after Jonas Gray's fumble was returned 96 yards for a touchdown on the Irish's first drive of the game.
In the second half the team played semi-inspired, but at that point the Irish would have had to play perfectly the rest of the way in order to win. Although the team put up 20 second-half points, Tommy Rees' two interceptions (only one was his fault) and David Ruffer's 30-yard chip-shot field-goal miss put the game just out of reach.
I don't want to dwell over every mistake, and there were many more than the few I listed above. So now it is time to look ahead. How can the Irish move forward and redeem their season?
Cierre Wood was one of the bright spots to come out of Saturday's loss. Wood rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 attempts, almost all of which came in the first half because the Irish abandoned the run after falling behind early.
Notre Dame's offensive line opened up holes for Wood to run through as well, giving fans a sign that the running game will be a productive part of the Irish's offensive attack in games to come (although they gave up two sacks, the line protected the quarterback well, too).
Wood has become an all-around back. He has the speed and quickness needed in order to be a breakaway runner, he was taking defenders head on for extra yardage, he has great hands as a receiver out of the backfield and is very sufficient in pass protection.
If Notre Dame can manage to get ahead or keep the score close, they will be able to control the clock by taking advantage of Wood's extraordinary talent.
It took all of one game for my prediction about Tommy Rees not getting to start at Notre Dame unless Dayne Crist got injured to get spoiled.
I didn't contemplate that Crist could have played so poorly that he would have been pulled in the second half of the very first game. But in Crist's defense, after the first drive the whole team looked bad. Whether it was dropped passes, turnovers or just stupid mistakes, Crist wasn't the only one who was off his game.
But when Rees came in the dynamics of the game shifted dramatically. The sophomore was cool and collected throwing for just shy of 300 yards in the second half. Rees had two interceptions but one was T.J. Jones' fault, who wasn't even looking for the ball when it hit off of his helmet. The other was a bad throw into coverage after the second lengthy lightning delay towards the end of the game, but Rees came right back and led the team on another touchdown drive.
It has been decided that Rees will be the starter in Week 2 at Michigan. After seeing Rees make a few great throws and Crist struggle to put together a drive, it was a move that needed to be made.
Rees now looks to be the player that can lead the Irish offense most efficiently, and while I have not completely given up on Crist, after his performance Saturday, Rees deserves a shot under the lights at the "Big House."
Michael Floyd played above and beyond what was expected of him on Saturday. The senior had 12 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
It would have been nice to have seen Floyd use his athleticism to jump up and get the onside kick at the end of the game, but with under 20 seconds left it would have taken more than one miracle for the Irish to have gotten a victory.
Even with Floyd's amazing performance on Saturday, he could have easily put up better numbers. Floyd caught a few longer passes, but neither quarterback really let the ball fly. Anytime Floyd is in single coverage the ball should go deep so he can fight it out for a jump ball. It is hard to say Floyd was under-utilized with the day he had, but he certainly could have seen a few more passes his way.
Whoever is under center for the Irish, if they can simply throw the ball in Floyd's direction, he will put up some staggering numbers this season.
Although they were able to hold USF to field goals in the first half, the Irish defense didn't have a perfect game. Coaches and players alike were slow to adjust to USF's game plan of throwing bubble screens, handoffs and using the option run. But after the Irish quit focusing on stopping a big play and pressed the USF receivers in the second half, the defense played very well (other than a few stupid penalties).
The team didn't get any turnovers, but they held USF to just 128 passing yards and 126 rushing yards (on 30 passing and 42 rushing attempts).
And more importantly, in the clutch, after Rees threw his second interception with under four minutes left, the Irish defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back.
It was also promising to see the defensive freshmen used in important packages, including a few crucial 3rd-down situations.
The schedule doesn't get any easier, but the defense showed signs that they could return to the form they were in late last season.
While I'm not exactly sure how much impact Brian Kelly's sideline tirade had on quelling the storm of turnovers and penalties, the coach will certainly make a point in practice to spend extra time on instilling discipline and cutting down on mistakes.
It was really turnovers that brought the Irish down; nothing against USF's hard-fought victory, but the Irish shot themselves in the foot time and time again.
With three turnovers in the red zone and a punt return fumbled inside the 20-yard line, it isn't unreasonable to assume that the team will fix some of the mistakes it made and make a concerted effort to keep the ball safe.