Nevada vs. Notre Dame: Game Grades, Analysis for Irish
After last week's defensive failures, we were looking for marked improvements from the Notre Dame defense. While we weren't blown totally away, the improvements were easily good enough to please most Irish fans.
Was Notre Dame's performance good enough to beat Nevada? Easily. What this performance good enough to beat teams like Michigan State, Stanford, Miami and USC? Only time will tell.
But today, we're not grading the Irish for games that haven't yet been played; today's report card is for today's performance against the Wolf Pack. This time, the Irish can proudly post this report card on the refrigerator.
After last week's offensive DeShone Kizer was rewarded by Brian Kelly by being named the full-time starting quarterback. Kizer showed why Kelly has confidence in him, going 15-of-18 for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Sure, there was the one badly underthrown ball that was picked off, but Kizer is currently rocking a seven-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio, so it's way too early to be concerned about that.
Malik Zaire even got into the game in the second half, and added 49 yards on four-of-nine passing.
But after wowing Irish fans last week, Equanimeous St. Brown added another impressive day to his young career with six receptions for 85 yards. It probably safe to say that the expectations for St. Brown are rising quickly—and for good reason. He could really develop into a special player for Notre Dame.
Pass Offense grade: B+
Josh Adams was his usual self again this week against Nevada, racking up an impressive 10.6 yards per carry on 10 rushes for 106 yards. While he was held out of the end zone today, he gave Notre Dame some great bursts on the ground, which set up the rest of his offensive teammates late in the first half.
Dexter Williams also impressed with 59 yards on eight carries, mostly late in the game.
The offensive line had no major issues opening up some fairly sizable holes in the line, overpowering the Nevada defensive front for most of the afternoon. While Nevada won't be the biggest defensive front the Irish see this month, the continues prowess and power of the O-line raises the hopes of the Irish hanging with teams like Michigan State and Stanford.
Run Offense grade: A-
This is where we needed to see improvement.
Last week, we weren't very kind to the pass defense. Then again, the pass defense wasn't very kind to Irish fans, giving up big play after big play over the top.
This week was a little different. Nevada managed 201 passing yards, but the Irish's passing defense kept the aerial game out of the end zone. We still saw a few deep balls that resulted in big completions for the Wolf Pack, notably a 68-yard grab by Andrew Calis and a 44-yarder by Wyatt Demps, but the underneath passing was defended much better this week.
Again, we're still unsure about Notre Dame's ability to stop offenses like it will see next week, but for now, we saw some strides in the passing game. So naturally, we're going to see a massive improvement over last week's "D-" grade.
As a side note, very sadly, Shaun Crawford, in his much-anticipated return to action in South Bend after suffering a torn ACL during 2015 fall camp, tore his Achilles tendon, likely ending his season. In a clearly emotional blow to the Irish, Crawford is likely looking at another year of surgery followed by rehab to get back on the field.
We wish him nothing but the best, and hope to see him running out of that tunnel in 2017.
Pass Defense grade: B-
Last week, we needed a signature from a parent or guardian on the Notre Dame run defense's report card. There was little question that the Irish's inability to defend the run was Notre Dame's undoing in Austin.
Now Nevada isn't as big, powerful or talented as the Texas Longhorns, but they still can run the ball with an impressive amount of talent. So how did the boys up front do after an embarrassing outing last week?
Leaps and bounds better. Notre Dame held Nevada to less than 100 yards (barely, with 99), and the Wolf Pack were able to find the end zone just once—and that was late in the game against defensive reserves.
James Butler, the do-it-all back for Nevada, was held to just 2.9 yards-per-carry on his 17 attempts. Beyond his 50 yards, no other rusher had more than 23 (Jaxson Kincaide on two late-game carries).
Certainly an improvement, and all of the sudden, beating a team like Michigan State doesn't seem like an impossible task (especially given the fact that MSU struggled mightily with FCS Furman last week). Perhaps even more important, today's successes for the Irish front seven provide some solid foundations to build upon moving forward.
Run Defense grade: B+
Without a hint of exaggeration, we're ready to say that C.J. Sanders is one of, if not the most electric returners in the nation.
Sanders' lone kick return went for 37 yards, and his one punt return went for 24 yards. After that, Nevada learned its lesson and stopped kicking to him.
Tyler Newsome averaged 44.8 yards on his five punts, after struggling a bit last week.
Really the only hitch in the special teams' portion of the game was shanked PAT from Justin Yoon in the second quarter. He finished one-for-one on field goals and four-of-five on PATs.
Special Teams grade: B+
Last week, we really tore into defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. In his third year, this was supposed to be a breakout season for the Irish's defense. Instead, it was the defense that was filleted in Austin, to the tune of 50 points.
Irish fans started to grumble, and rightfully so. After today's performance, it's clear that the coaches knew what needed to happen to start the process of moving forward.
The gameplan was well executed, and the plan itself was perfect for the opponent of the day.
Brian Kelly's offensive play-calling improved in our minds, too, taking a few more risks than his at times strangely conservative self did last week.
Needless to say, we were impressed—at least a lot more so than we were last week.
Coaching grade: B
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Featured Columnist and Notre Dame Live Correspondent David Luther on Twitter @davidrluther.