Week one is in the books. While all of us here at HLS will start diving in to some deeper analysis of the game, for now, I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts and takeaways from the tilt against Temple.
So without further ado, here are four pleasant surprises and four areas of concern from last Saturday’s game.
Four Pleasant Surprises
1) Tommy Rees Has Improved
And not just his stat line either.
Oh sure, he had a career day going 16-23 for 346 yards, 3 TDs, and, most importantly 0 INTs, but that isn’t the whole story.
Tommy consistently put his passes in perfect locations, hitting receivers in stride and right on the numbers. His two TD passes to DaVaris Daniels were simply things of beauty and he should have had three perfect TD passes to him, but Daniels unfortunately came up lame.
Now, Rees did have a couple of passes that were bad, but not everyone can be perfect nor do I think any of us were really expecting perfection from Rees.
His passes looked strong, his deep balls looked great, and I really think we got more out of him than we all expected.
2) The Backfield Is Stacked
Once Amir Carlisle broke into the open field on his first carry, you just knew the new running backs were going to be fun to watch.
All five backs saw carries with Cam McDaniel shouldering most of the work. Cam, George Atkinson III, Carlisle, and Greg Bryant all had rushing averages better than 4 yards/carry and all the backs combined for 193 yards total.
Speaking of Greg Bryant, that does not look like an 18 year old kid out on the field. That is a full grown man that looks like he could probably truck anything that gets in his way.
Kelly mentioned that all the backs would continue to see varying workloads. I am almost wondering if he held back a bit during Temple, especially with the younger and possibly more talented backs, in order to keep some surprises for Michigan.
Either way, I’m all for some serious running of the damn ball this season.
3) The Quick Start
The first two scoring drives for the Irish were things of beauty. When was the last time that we saw Notre Dame put 14 points on the board within a few minutes — much less at the start of the game?
Even better was that the Irish did this after starting the game with a rather bone-headed illegal substitution penalty on their first huddle. We are all used to seeing brain-farts like that kill drives before they even start, but this time around the Irish made sure that penalty was quickly forgotten.
More of this please.
4) Actual Attempts at a Punt Return
Yes, it was ugly (and we will get to that later), but T.J. Jones wanted to make damn sure he got some positive return yardage. As long as he holds on to the ball, I’m all for him going crazy to try and make something happen. Tom Zbikowski treated the punt return game with similar reckless abandon and he managed to find the endzone because of it.
There is still loads of room for improvement, but I’m glad the fair catch parade is over.
Four Areas of Concern
1) The Play of the Front Seven Wasn’t Up to Par
This was probably the most disappointing thing from the game. I expected so much from the front seven against Temple and was left scratching my head wondering what happened.
I’ll definitely have to do a full rewatch of the game again for a deeper analysis of what happened, but my first reaction during the game was that our linebackers were not doing a great job of filing in the gaps.
In particular, Louis Nix III would consistently command a double team and have no one filling in the gaps behind him. On far too many plays, Nix would have to turn around and chase the play down, often times being the closest one to the play.
I love Big Lou, but I don’t want to see our NT trying to be a MLB.
I really hope this was just a blip in the radar because I really fear what it could mean for the rest of the season.
2) DaVaris Daniels’ Injury
While Kelly said that Daniels could have played through his injury, I am still concerned that it will keep him from being 100%.
Daniels separated himself from the pack as a true playmaker, especially on deep routes. I don’t want to see that fall to the way side because of a nagging injury.
Here’s hoping I’m worrying too much on this.
3) Failing to Dominate a Lesser Team
The quick start was amazing. I thought the Irish would put up 40 by halftime. Instead, the Irish sputtered for most of the game.
Temple was simply outmatched and the score didn’t reflect that.
I’m not panicking about this, but when the talent is clearly that different, I want to see the Irish crush a team as if they were Oregon playing an FCS school.
4) Pretty Much Everything on Special Teams
Yes, the attempts at actually trying to return punts was nice, but beyond that…yeah, this was all ugly.
There were missed field goals, horrible punts, and even T.J. decided to field a punt inside the 10 and attempted a return.
If the Irish continue such awful performances it will end up leading to a painful loss. The two ingredients for an opponent to pull a surprise upset is for them to capitalize on mistakes. These come in the form of costly turnovers or from lapses on special teams.
Even with their struggles, ND should still have one of the best defenses in the nation; however, even the best defense can’t do much if the opposing team scores on a punt return or a punter hands away great field position.
I really want to have a season in which I don’t complain about our special teams the majority of the time…please make this happen.