I said before the game that I expected Notre Dame to score more than 40 points on the San Diego State University Aztecs, and that they shouldn't allow more than 7 points defense. The defense played pretty much played up to my expectations, but the offense still has some work to do if this team hopes to beat the Michigan Wolverines next week. Here are my quick thoughts on the game.
1. Surprise player of the game? Easily Sergio Brown was the biggest surprise to me. Playing as the fifth defensive back, #31 made plays all over the field. Great in coverage, good tackler, awesome special teams player. No doubt we'll see a lot of Sergio as the season unfolds. His play all the more important after losing Darrin Walls for the year. Game ball on D goes to S. Brown.
2. We almost lost #5 and #33 this game. Thank goodness they returned to the field. On the goal-line fumble play by Robert Hughes, it looked to me like his ankle really got mangled, and I didn't expect him to be back. Armando Allen got rocked on his fumble, and I wasn't sure he would get up at all. Two close calls. Whew!
3. Where was James Aldridge? After Sergio Brown, Aldridge's absence from the box score was the biggest surprise.
4. Duval Kamara needs to get his head right. One of Jimmy Clausen's two interceptions was all on #18, as the ball bounced right off his chest and into the air for the INT. The second interception was clearly a mix-up between Clausen and Kamara, but #18 looked awful on the play, never turning around to look for the ball. Given the play of the youth behind him (Golden Tate and Michael Floyd), Kamara is in serious jeopardy of moving way down the depth chart. Did Robby Parris play?
5. Golden Tate has obviously been working hard in the off-season. Not only is he fast, but he surprised with great hands, making clutch catches in tight spots. Excellent footwork along the sideline as well. Great to see this speedster emerging as a real weapon on offense. Game ball on offense goes to G. Tate.
6. Maurice Crum is obviously an important player for the Irish on defense as he is the wily veteran helping "quarterback" the defense. But he's probably the least talented linebacker on the field for the Irish. He had back-to-back penalties at one point today. One was a Travis-Thomas-brain-dead late hit on the SDSU QB, the other was a defensive holding (or was it pass interference?) committed because he was out of position and getting beaten by a receiver crossing the middle.
7. I liked the defense. If they had gotten just a little help from the offense, we'd be writing about how dominant they were. Although they didn't get many sacks, they were very disruptive in the pass rush, tipping balls and hurrying the San Diego State quarterback. The linebackers were very active in stopping the run, rushing the passer and dropping into pass coverage. We've got to work on defending that shovel pass. Overall, tackling was much improved from last year. We'll be fine on defense if the "O" can control the ball a little bit and keep the field position reasonable.
8. The running game certainly featured the left side of the line. Are we saving Chris Stewart and Sam Young as a "surprise" for Michigan? It seemed that Stewart and Young were dominating their guys when we went to that side, but we kept running left. I especially didn't care for the "stretch" play to the left side, which got blown up more than it worked.
9. Jimmy Clausen looked good at QB. Not "great", but solid. He was helped enormously by an O-line that for the most part gave him a reasonable chance to throw the football. He had a few "plus" throws, and a few "minus" ones. One big "minus" was when he missed a wide open Golden Tate in the back corner of the end zone after both made nice adjustments on the play. The announcers on the game said Weis told Tate that he ran a bad route on the play, but to me JC had him wide open and threw a bad ball.
10. Special teams was a mixed bag. The kick-off and punt coverage teams looked good. Kick returns were very good. Place-kicking was awful. Again.
11. One of the biggest things I was looking for this year was whether Armando Allen could run through first contact and keep going. He was huge in that department today, most spectacularly on his big kick return.
12. Part of me wants to be bitter about the margin of victory. But we lost a fumble at the goal line when Robert Hughes' knee was probably down. We threw an INT into the end-zone on a clear mix-up play. We botched what should have been two made field goals. That's twenty points we left on the field. Obviously you can't turn the ball over and give up those scoring chances. But today's somewhat disappointing offensive production is a far cry from the way we lost games last year, with our quarterbacks being tossed around the backfield like rag dolls.
Baby steps. I'm sure I'll have more tonight or tomorrow once I digest the game stats.