“We are only getting better” by Exclusive Guest Blogger Matt Roberts
All right Irish Fans, I’m back! Figured I’d take a week off and get over the 4th quarter meltdown in Ann Arbor! Just think if we didn’t rank 120 of 120 in turnovers in the country, we’d be sitting at 3-0 and ranked near the top 10 in the country. As it stands we are 1-2 and fighting an uphill battle. It is what it is. Let’s talk about the MSU game!
This defense is phenomenal, and we are only getting better. I haven’t seen an overall defense as good as this one at ND since the late 80’s. Minus a couple of weak links and serious depth issues in the secondary, we should be a top 5 defense nationally by the end of the year. The one thing that has concerned me, quite frankly since last year, is Gary Gray. The guy is as athletic as they come, is ALMOST in position on every play (except for that horrible play at the end of the Michigan game) and has the experience to not get rattled. What he doesn’t have is the innate ability to get his head around and locate the ball in the air. It really is the only glaring weakness I see on this side of the ball. I’m hopeful that this is correctable, but I’m not hopeful honestly. If he had it, he’d have displayed it by now! One thing is for certain, the guy can hit! He is great in space and can lay some wood after the catch!
What is extremely encouraging is the play of our freshman class. It sucks to need to play freshman, I’d love to be able to say our upperclassman were strong and deep enough to handle it so we can build some true depth. But it’s really hard to keep some of these guys off the field! Aaron Lynch is truly a beast. I know the Spring Game is what it is, and I don’t give much weight to it, but MSU has a solid (though young) offensive line, and he ran though them all day. What a first step. I’m not sure what happened to Prince Shembo, but I think the performance of Troy Niklas was commendable, and he will be a stud by next year. Tuitt looked good as well. Our d-line depth and rotation is just downright awesome. Louis Nix is already a stud and he will be a force for years. With Harrison Smith, Ethan Johnson and Manti Teo on the field we have leadership and consistent play at all levels. It’s just fun to watch. To be able to dominate the lines against a very solid MSU running game (29 yards rushing) is just sick!!!!
As far as our offense is concerned, what can you say about Michael Floyd?!? He ONLY caught 6 balls all day, but he is always a deep threat and blocks as good as any receiver I’ve ever seen in the Blue & Gold. TJ Jones is now a legitimate deep threat, and having Floyd & Eifert on the field only accentuates that. I’d still like to see more consistency out of Theo Riddick. I really thought he’d have some serious all purpose yards by this point in the season, but he’s is just not full speed yet. Our offensive line is as good as I’ve seen since the 05-06 years with Brady Quinn. Minus the missed assignment by Nick Martin that caused the sack and subsequent fumble, I think we held our own against a massive and athletic opponent. We still need some help on short yardage downs (why can’t we just buy a yard?), or better play calling in these situations. I was excited to see us bounce the ball out more and throw some short yardage slants that worked wonders in the first half. I think with the added blitz packages and adjustments made at half, along with a more conservative play calling, our rushing yards were anemic late in the game. I’m not ready to blast Tommy Rees yet (it is his 6th start!), but some of the decisions he makes have me puzzled. The first interception was 5 yards from being a TD instead. Eifort was running down the middle wide open and had a chance to break it to the house! I do like his demeanor and poise in the pocket, but checking into a between the tackle run as often as we did in the 2nd half is just not good.
As far as special teams, our punting is horrible, our kick coverage is worse! I’m not in practice, but Turk MUST be a stud, because I cannot see anything positive in game time. He did have one kickass punt that was downed on the 1 yd line, so I’m not crucifying him quite yet. Brindza is the best kickoff kicker we’ve had since Hentrich, and he has started all of 3 games. We are set there for 4 years! Ruffer is consistent as can be as well. Nice to not having to worry about 2 of the 3 phases. Now considering our return game, did we finally find our kickoff return crew??? Between Austin Collinsworth and Bennett Jackson, I thought we had a pretty dynamic duo, add in true freshman GA III and we now have a threat to take it the length on every kick! Now to find a consistent punt returned. Mr. Consistency John Goodman nearly cost us all of our momentum and possibly the game, but our defense stepped up and bailed us out. We really need someone with his hands that possesses breakaway speed. Now don’t get me wrong, our blocking downfield is not conducive to a long return, so we have work to do there as well.
On a side note, the halftime show was amazing. After the MSU “Band” finished butchering Madonna, Beyonce and (really???) Lady Gaga… the Greatest Marching Band in the land played a couple of more conservative pieces followed up by God Bless the USA while forming an outline of the United States. It included vocals from on the band members all while displaying a US flag. Gave me goose bumps. But what was really special was when the ND Band lined up and introduced the MSU Band to join in on a rendition of Amazing Grace. They played this exact configuration 10 years ago in the first game played after the 9/11 tragedy and it was awesome. The place was as quiet as can be during the performance and erupted upon completion. It was really something to see.
As far as recruiting, we had a couple of commits on the sidelines, and as we all know, it’s harder to keep them committed than to get others to join. One big name was Ronald Darby and I hope he sticks it out. We could really use speed like that in our secondary. We also gained our first 2013 commitment, which is a great sign. William Mahone was in attendance as well, and we could really use a couple of great RBs for this class. They picked an excellent weekend to be here!
Well, that’s it for me! Let’s hope for a repeat performance next week! GO IRISH!
Article by Matt Roberts