September 21, 2010
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - Week 3 (MSU)
How many ways can the Irish break your heart? Short and sweet this week since I can’t stand to do too much reviewing of this one.
Crist was great for most of the game, but he’s obviously still got some work to do. His throws on sprint outs, particularly to his left, are still a big work in progress. He’s also got some work to do on his reads and the velocity of his throws on the shorter, quick-drops (what Kelly likes to refer to as the “ball control throws”). But his touch, especially on longer throws, was greatly improved, even from the previous week. He’s going to need to carry the team for the next few weeks, and I think we can continue to expect big things from him in this offense.
Allen ran hard again, and was valuable as the safety outlet on several throws, breaking Darius Walker’s record for receptions as a RB even with a dislocated finger. Would have liked to see Kelly go to him a bit more often, especially in the 2nd half.
Welcome to the Irish offense Theo Riddick. I guess that’s what the coaches have been raving about. Floyd looked like his old self on the two TD catches and had a few other big ones throughout the course of the game. Rudolph was solid as usual.
The line, for the most part, played well, giving Crist adequate time to carve up the MSU secondary.
Missed opportunities reared their ugly heads early and often. The Irish could have gone to the locker room with a substantial advantage on the scoreboard but squandered some key scoring chances. They also failed to close out the game in the 4th quarter after the defense made some big stops.
The offense is showing measured improvements every week. The next step is acquiring a taste for the killer instinct.
Turnovers were huge again. Floyd fumbles in plus territory. Crist throws a bad interception after the Irish get the ball back almost in the red zone. Crist fumbles on 4th and 1. With the Irish facing quality opponents the next week, the offense must do a better job holding onto the ball.
Once again, the defense played better than the statistics might suggest. The Irish were stout against the run in the 1st half, and also late in the game. Brian Smith and Darius Fleming both made some big plays from the much-maligned OLB position at the end of regulation and in OT. The starting D-line was impressive again, and kudos to Ian Williams for becoming the disruptive force in the middle we all hoped he would be. The stat sheet might not show it, but Williams seems to have improved significantly from his freshman year to the present.
The corners also continue to play well, with Blanton causing the Cousins INT in the end zone and Gary Gray locking down his side of the field for much of the game.
The stats look ugly because once again the Irish were the victims of too many “explosive” plays, none more explosive than Baker’s 56 yard TD to start the 2nd half. Its become painfully obvious that the Irish are going to struggle mightily if Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta continue to play every down at the safety positions. ND should see the secondary improve somewhat this weekend if Jamoris Slaughter returns as expected. The inability to play any nickel on defense is trickling down to the other positions, forcing the already-struggling OLBs to take on greater roles in pass coverage.
Slaughter’s impending return allows Motta to move back into his more comfortable nickel role and should hopefully relieve some of the pressure from guys like Neal and Fleming who haven’t been anywhere near as productive as anticipated.
Te’o had another good game, making some huge stops behind the line of scrimmage and (with Calabrese) snuffing out the MSU run game between the tackles in the first half.
But on a huge 3rd and 11, Sparty ran a screen that Te’o identified immediately. Though he had the MSU back dead to rights, he couldn’t make the tackle, and Sparty made a key 1st down, eventually tying the game.
The kid’s a natural – he’s probably already the best inside LB the Irish have had since the Holtz era and he’s only a sophomore. But the missed tackles have to stop.
Ruffer was great on kickoffs again, regularly putting the ball into the end zone. He also hit a clutch FG in the overtime, extending his consecutive made streak. The coverage teams were also solid.
I gave him some praise last week, but Ben Turk has got to be more consistent with his punting. He’s done an admirable job pinning opponents inside the 20, but when the Irish have needed some great kicks out of him to change field position, he hasn’t done much.
Also, the Irish need to start getting some more out of their return teams, particularly on kickoffs. Cierre Wood looked very tentative on his returns this past week, leading to some criticism from Kelly in his Tuesday press conference.
I don’t think this one needs to be covered.
I guess the gameplan was OK – the Irish knew the Spartans were vulnerable through the air and ND was able to take advantage of this clear weakness. Diaco and the defensive staff did OK for chunks of the game, stuffing the MSU running game and forcing several key 3 and outs. The statistics might not bear it out, but I do think the defense as a whole is getting better.
Would have liked to see some more runs in the 2nd half with the lead. Its hard to give Kelly too much grief for the playcalling given the huge chunks the Irish were taking through the air. But the runs with Allen were working, and could have given the defense more of a breather on the sideline.
I’ve seen both sides of the argument on the 4th and 1 call and I still think punting was the right play given the circumstances. Of course, given that Ben Turk was having a less-than-spectacular night, and the lackluster play of the defense, I can understand the aggressive call. Kelly’s explanation (“I would have done it again – I thought we had a good play called”) smacked of Weis, which undoubtedly turned many people off.
They had the fake defended? Really? Why not just put a safety or two at the 1st down line if you have a sneaking suspicion a fake is coming?
Offense: THEO RIDDICK
If he continues to be this effective, the Irish offense is going to be incredibly explosive. Should be fun to watch him continue to develop.
Defense: GARY GRAY
He was pretty quiet, which must mean he had a great game. Good to see at least one of our much-heralded corners turning into a lockdown guy.
Special Teams: DAVID RUFFER
Great job on the kickoffs, the very definition of clutch in OT.
Incredibly tough matchup for the Irish coming up this week. Not many teams in the FBS have looked as dangerous as Stanford, and the Cardinal will bring an incredibly balanced attack to South Bend on Saturday. In fact, the next 3 weeks look rather ominous for the Irish, and a 1-5 start is certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Here’s hoping the offense continues to make strides and the return of Slaughter means a return to respectability on the defensive side of the ball.