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Notre Dame Football: Grading the Fighting Irish's Game vs. Maryland

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 13, 2011

Notre Dame Football: Grading the Fighting Irish's Game vs. Maryland

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    In the third annual "Shamrock Series" game, Notre Dame throttled Maryland 45-21. The contest was never truly in question.

    The team played well in all three phases of the game, something that has been rare for the Irish this season. Also, the team played a turnover-free game, giving the fans a big sigh of relief.

    The win vaulted Notre Dame to No. 25 in the coaches' poll, the first time Brian Kelly and Co. have been ranked since the preseason.

    In the following slides, we'll be handing out report card grades for Notre Dame's victory over the Terrapins.

    Follow along!

Quarterbacks

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    Grade: A-

     

    Tommy Rees was extraordinarily efficient against a weak Maryland pass defense, completing 30 of 38 pass attempts for 296 yards and two touchdowns.

    Despite those outstanding figures, the greatest stat of all is the zero in the turnover column. Now it's time for the young quarterback to become consistent in that area.

    Rees did struggle with one aspect of his game, though, and that was with the accuracy of his throws, especially the deep ball.

    It's unlikely that we'll see improvement in that department this season, but work in the offseason may just do the trick.

Running Backs

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    Grade: A

     

    Jonas Gray deserves a huge round of applause. The senior running back rushed for a career-high 136 yards on 21 carries, along with two scores.

    Gray made it look easy from the start, slicing and dicing his way through a depleted and injury-riddled Maryland defense.

    Also getting in on the action was Gray's counterpart, Cierre Wood. The redshirt sophomore nearly eclipsed the 100-yard mark, carrying the ball 18 times for 99 yards and one touchdown.

    If you haven't noticed already, Jonas Gray has become Notre Dame's main running back, with Cierre Wood being the change-of-pace guy.

    The two deserve some recognition as, possibly, the best running back duo in the nation.

Receivers

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    Grade: B

     

    Notre Dame's receiving unit is lucky to receive a "B" after the way it played on Saturday night against Maryland.

    Michael Floyd had an uncharacteristic two dropped passes on the night, shocking, considering he rarely even drops a pass in practice.

    Another area of weakness I noticed was the amount of missed blocks by receivers, especially on bubble screens. There were two or three attempted bubble screens that were blown up in the backfield because of missed blocks.

    There is some good to be reported, though.

    Hawaiian native Robby Toma had an outstanding game in place of the injured Theo Riddick. The junior had seven receptions for 73 yards in the slot position.

    Reliable tight end Tyler Eifert built upon his glamorous season, hauling in nine receptions for 83 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown.

Offensive Line

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    Grade: B-

     

    The Irish offensive line yielded three sacks on the night after not allowing a single sack since September 24 against Pittsburgh.

    Yet, the line did an excellent job in run blocking, allowing for Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood to combine for 235 rushing yards.

    One area of concern on the line heading into the game was the absence of center Braxston Cave. That concern was eradicated quickly, as Mike Golic, Jr. was effective in replacement.

Defensive Line

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    Grade: A-

     

    The Irish defensive line was without starting defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, who is out for the season with an MCL tear. However, the unit played well despite Lewis-Moore's absence.

    Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix, Aaron Lynch and Ethan Johnson combined to make life hard on the Maryland rushing attack.

    Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's four-man front, which has been a common scheme in recent weeks, was effective with Darius Fleming dropping down into the three-point stance as an end.

    Thankfully there aren't any injuries to report, although Aaron Lynch continues to favor his ankle at times.

Linebackers

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    Grade: B+

     

    The linebacking crew had a relatively quiet game on Saturday night against the Terrapins, although that might not be a bad thing.

    In recent weeks, the unit has been criticized for being weak against the pass, a trend that, unfortunately, continued this week.

    The unit's other issue of poor tackling was, for the most part, nonexistent, as missed tackles were few and far between.

    Manti Te'o was slowed by an ankle injury that has been bothering him for the better part of two months.

Secondary

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    Grade: A

     

    Let's start off by giving reserve cornerback Lo Wood a shout-out for recording his first career interception, which he returned 57 yards for a touchdown.

    The rest of the secondary also played well, limiting Maryland starting quarterback Danny O'Brien to 132 yards through the air.

    The unit did an excellent job of taking away the deep routes by allowing the underneath throws from O'Brien. It was an all-around great game for the Irish defensive backs.

    In injury news, Robert Blanton was pulled late in the game with what Notre Dame termed called a "stinger."

Special Teams

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    Grade: A-

     

    Punter Ben Turk had a great night, punting the ball three times, two of which landed inside the 20-yard line. He also had a career-long 58-yard punt in the first half.

    David Ruffer converted his lone field goal attempt of the game, from a career-long 52 yards out.

    On kickoffs, freshman Kyle Brindza had some trouble getting the ball inside the 20, which didn't help Notre Dame in the field position battle.

Coaching

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    Grade: A

     

    Brian Kelly and his staff had their squad more than prepared for Saturday night's game against Maryland. Kelly wanted to push the tempo, and his offense did just that for 60 minutes.

    All three phases of the game played well, making for quite an easy victory over the clearly outmatched Terrapins.

    The numbers look great, as does the margin of victory, but the most significant aspect of the game was the avoidance of turnovers. There's no doubt that each of Notre Dame's three losses this season can be attributed to turnovers.

    Now it's all about consistency. Can the Irish do it against Boston College, Stanford and whichever team they'll play in a bowl game?

    Only time will tell.

Intangibles

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    Grade: A

     

    From the start there was no question who the better team was at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland.

    Notre Dame came out and threw the first punch, scoring easily on its first possession. After taking that 7-0 lead, the team put Maryland in a choke hold by taking a 24-7 lead into halftime.

    Brian Kelly's squad walked away with a resounding 45-21 victory that catapulted Notre Dame into the Top 25 for the first time since the pre-season polls were first released.

    The question heading forward is whether or not this team can continue to do the small things during the week that are necessary to win on Saturdays.

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