September 06, 2010
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 1 (Purdue)
Brian Kelly’s debut wasn’t the prettiest spectacle, but a win over a Big Ten opponent breaking in new schemes on both side of the ball should give the Irish players and the coaching staff some much-needed confidence going into the big matchup with Michigan in Week 2.
Kelly and Molnar seemed to try to keep things simple and under control for Dayne Crist and the California native responded with an effective 19-26 for 205 yards and 1 TD. Crist held onto the ball too long on some key plays and may have checked down a bit more than Kelly liked, but not too bad for a first start.
The running backs played well and Cierre Wood showed just how explosive he can be in the spread offense. Allen was solid as usual and the backs picked up just over 6 yards a carry to helping to grind the Purdue defense down. Great effort from the backfield and it looks like Kelly should be able to rely on the run to help kickstart the offense and run the clock down at the end of games.
Not much heard from the WRs – Floyd made a few great plays but wasn’t targeted often. He may have had his best blocking day as an ND WR. TJ Jones certainly looks like he belongs and Kyle Rudolph was a great safety option for Crist on several occasions, picking up some big 1st downs.
The OL opened some good holes in the running game and was able to neutralize Ryan Kerrigan at times. Dever and Martin looked comfortable in the tackle spots and Braxston Cave had some really nice moments in the run game. Certainly room for improvement, but its not far-fetched to suggest that this line could be a great one towards the end of the year.
Irish fans had some uncomfortable flashbacks to the Weis Era when the offense was forced to settle for FGs in the red zone on several occasions. Chalk that up (hopefully) to 1st game issues. Kelly’s teams do have a reputation for being very solid in the red zone, so look for this to continue improving over the course of the season.
Good to see Kelly and Molnar get Crist involved in the running game, but he still looks very tentative. ACL injuries are obviously very serious, so its possible that Crist may have lost as step as a result of the injury, but on Saturday, he sure didn’t look like an effective “running” QB.
This is getting pretty nit-picky, but Theo Riddick still has quite a bit of work to do to become a big-time college WR. Sounds like he’s picked up the position quickly, so I expect he’ll develop well in the coming weeks. But I’m not sure we can count on him for big production for some time.
I almost feel dirty calling out the best player on the team, but Mike Floyd can’t be fumbling that ball inside the red zone. A TD there (likely) puts the game out of reach and we might be singing a much different tune right now had he held onto the ball. I feel for him, because he’s got to be a bit frustrated with the lack of touches and looking to make a big play whenever he gets his hands on the ball. I look for Floyd to have a BIG week against the Wolverines next week.
The most important development (by far) was the significant improvement in tackling. Sure there were a few missed tackles here and there, but we didn’t see the disastrous multiple misses that plagued the Irish defense in the last few years. The Irish had trouble generating significant pressure on the elusive Robert Marve, but the DL did make some big plays, including a few sacks and the INT by Ian Williams. If this unit can stay healthy, they’ll have a big year.
Carlo Calabrese had a nice debut and looked very stout in run defense. The OLB were generally able to take away the edge and Manti Te’o continually sniffed out the often-dangerous WR screen.
The safeties were pretty quiet – a welcome change from the past few years. The CBs were outstanding in run support, particularly Gary Gray. Walls had a big INT and although there were some shaky moments on long downfield passes, Purdue wasn’t able to hit on any big plays the entire game.
While it was good to see the coaches rotate linemen in and out, the 2nd string was a clear step down from the starters. Hopefully the experience will allow guys like Hafis Williams and Sean Cwynar to become solid contributors down the line.
Still significantly worried about the run defense, particularly with Michigan coming to town. There weren’t any huge runs (apart from the Marve TD run), and Purdue only averaged 3.2 yards/rush, but I still don’t get the sense that the Irish will be stout against the run this year. I don’t know if it was the situation (playing with a 2-score lead in the 2nd half), but there also seemed to be a bend-don’t-break aspect to the defense, particularly in the secondary. The CBs played off some of the receivers, seemingly willing to give up regular 6-8 yards passes on the outside. Kelly and Chuck Martin might be a bit hesitant to play too aggressive with the corners, given the reservations about the safety play, but here’s hoping we start seeing a bit more aggression going forward.
I’m gonna be tough on the star player again. I’m guessing if you asked Manti Te’o what he thought about his day on Saturday, he’d tell you that he was a bit frustrated with some of the tackles he missed. Mayock noted that there were a few occasions where Te’o couldn’t clean up a tackle, but did enough to slow someone down so that another defensive player could come up and finish off the tackle. I wouldn’t want to ever suggest that a player “slow down,” but it almost seems that Te’o is trying to play “too” fast. I’m thinking this might be the last name Te’o makes an appearance in this section.
Lots of good to take away here – David Ruffer converted all 3 of his FG attempts and should give Irish fans quite a bit of confidence when it comes to the kicking game. He also managed to put most of his kickoffs fairly deep.
The Irish had a big advantage in the field position game thanks to some solid returns by Armando Allen and Cierre Wood, and some nice plays on coverage by Bennett Jackson and Zeke Motta. Really nice to see the special teams look consistently competent.
Just a few nits – the penalty on Turk’s first punt attempt resulted in a change of field position from inside the Purdue 10 to outside the 25. There was also a bad holding penalty on a punt return that didn’t significantly affect the outcome of the drive. Hopefully just a little sloppiness to open the season.
Just because I have to say something here – Cierre Wood’s fumble on the kickoff following Marve’s TD was almost a back-breaker. Had Purdue recovered, the momentum stays with the Boilers and who knows what would have happened. Fortunately, Zeke Motta was following Wood down the sideline and made a really nice play to recover the fumble. Hold onto the ball young fella.
As noted above, Molnar and Kelly did a really nice job keeping things simple for Crist. He had open safety valves and didn’t have to force too many balls into coverage.
Diaco must have been somewhat frustrated by the constant roll-outs of Marve, but didn’t let it rattle him. The Irish were able to produce fairly consistent pressure and didn’t give up any big plays. Nice debut.
The most important thing for me was that final scoring drive in the 4th quarter. After getting the ball with 8:30 left in the game, only up one score, ND was able to chew more than 4 minutes off the clock, finishing with a FG that basically put the game out of reach. Following the game at a wedding on Blackberry, I felt surprised to turn to my wife after the FG and say “its over.” Just a year ago, I would have remained on pins and needles, expecting the worst to happen in the 4th quarter. On Saturday, the Irish were clearly better-conditioned and were finally able to stick the dagger in Purdue’s back when they had the chance. A comforting feeling to say the least.
We all knew this was coming, but the playcalling in the red zone was a bit frustrating. Too many QB sneaks, a few too many passes. I certainly don’t expect the full house backfield once the Irish get into scoring position, but I would have preferred to see ND simply line up and stuff the ball down Purdue’s throat.
As I said above, Kelly has a reputation for consistent success in the red zone, so here’s hoping for some more production even if some of us diehards are shaking our heads over 5-wide throws inside the 10-yard line.
Perhaps this isn’t on the coaching staff, but the play the led to the safety was downright nauseating. It certainly appeared that there might have been some communication issues on the offensive line, but a slow developing run didn’t seem like the best choice there.
Offense – ARMANDO ALLEN
This could have gone to any one of a number of guys. Rudolph did a nice job in the passing game, catching some big balls for 1st downs. Wood was explosive in limited time and Dever did an admirable job on Kerrigan. But Allen was once again his solid self, grinding out yards and showing a nice burst, particularly on his TD run. He should be poised for a big, big year out of the spread.
Defense – GARY GRAY
Just a stud in run support. He and Walls did a great job setting the edge and taking away big plays down the sideline in the run game. Gray wasn’t tested much downfield and seems to have cemented his status as the best corner on the team.
Special Teams – ZEKE MOTTA
This could certainly go to Ruffer or to Bennett Jackson, but Motta was solid in coverage and made the key fumble recovery on Cierre Wood’s return.
Off their impressive victory over UCONN in the Big House, Michigan will provide a significant test for the Irish defense. ND should have some more success on offense with a very thin Michigan secondary, but here’s hoping the Irish won’t have to get into a shootout.