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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Purdue

Oct 2, 2011, 6:15 PM EDT

Floyd Riddick

It’s tough to be too picky this afternoon, a day after the Irish manhandled Purdue 38-10. Sure, the Irish left some points on the board. But even Brian Kelly knows there was too much good to try and complain.

“We missed some opportunities,” Kelly said last night. “In close games, missing an easy field goal and not being able to score seven. I think we had a 76-yard drive and came up with no points. We’ve had a couple of those. Those concern me. But we played well today. I’m not going to sound like sour milk, but we have to put more points on the board when we have those opportunities.”

That quote encapsulates a pretty wonderful Saturday night for the Irish. It wasn’t perfect, but the Irish played stingy defense, moved the chains at will, and got a bunch of reserves playing time against a Big Ten team that had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame.

Let’s get after it:

THE GOOD

Here are some of the things you had to like when watching the Irish play on Saturday night:

* Cierre Wood — He’s on track to be the best Irish running back since Julius Jones. Wood is on pace to run for 1,400 yards this season, a number that would make plenty of Notre Dame fans happy. Even more importantly, if Wood does put up those kind of numbers, expect the Irish to be 9-2 when they head to Palo Alto for a very exciting Saturday night against Stanford.

* Manti Te’o — He only made 8 official tackles, but they were all solo stops. That’s pretty impressive. More importantly, he’s starting to make more plays behind the line of scrimmage, with his three tackles-for-loss, including one sack, all being impact plays. Te’o didn’t knock anybody’s head off, but he didn’t swing and miss either, a sign of progress for the Irish’s star linebacker.

* Overthrows — For everyone complaining about Tommy Rees and the under thrown ball, Tommy showed plenty of arm strength when he went vertical, overthrowing Floyd on a deep ball down the near sideline. It’s tough to say a quarterback’s inaccuracy is a good thing, but Rees missed his throws to the proper side of his receiver, progress for those who have been complaining about Rees’ supposed noodle-arm.

* Jonas Gray — He’s averaging 8.1 yards a carry. That’s quite a 1-2 punch right now, and Gray is looking so much more confident with the ball in space.

* The offensive line — A nice day at the office for the men up front. The Irish ran the ball for 7.2 yards per carry, against a pretty impressive defensive front. Rees had all day to throw the football, never being sacked.

“They’ve done a great job of protecting the quarterback, and it’s something that we take a lot of pride in,” Kelly said.

* Michael Floyd — The Irish’s senior wide receiver was a man on fire last night. On short passes, he was the aggressor, delivering the hits, instead of just getting tackled. Floyd reminded Ricardo Allen that he’s not quite ready for primetime, dominating the undersized but talented cornerback all evening. Floyd stretched the field, made plays in possession, and was the catalyst for the offense.

“Michael Floyd is just a guy that can’t be denied, whether you throw the ball 35 yards down the field or you throw it five,” Kelly said. “It’s just the individual Michael Floyd more than anything else making things happen after he catches the ball.”

Saturday night was Floyd’s 16th 100-yard game of his career, adding another Notre Dame record to the senior’s accomplishments.

* Charley Molnar & Brian Kelly — A week after Pitt took Floyd out of the game, Molnar and Kelly decided that wouldn’t happen again.

“The only guy that’s got to get touches outside the realm of the offense, in other words, that it doesn’t come to, is Michael Floyd,” Kelly said this afternoon.

About time. Back about a decade ago, when Randy Moss was at his most dominant, former Vikings head coach Mike Tice took a lot of heat for announcing “The Randy Ratio.” Basically — Tice said that regardless of what other defenses were going to do, Moss was going to touch the ball a dozen times.

I’m not comparing Floyd to Moss, but in many ways, Floyd is an easier player to get the football to, because he’s able to take a short possession throw and physically overpower players in the secondary. Playing within the confines of the offense is fine, but you’ve only got Michael Floyd for eight more games. Give the man the rock.

* No turnovers — There were mistakes: a poor Rees throw almost intercepted, a fumble by Floyd that he recovered, and a bad handoff between Rees and Gray. But the Irish managed to keep the ball to themselves this afternoon, a big step in the right direction, and something that’s going to be critical next Saturday.

* Dayne Crist — Some Irish fans were clamoring for a look at Andrew Hendrix, but I’m happy that Crist got in for the Irish’s final drive of the evening. On his only throw, Crist did a great time setting up the Purdue rush and then lobbed a nifty screen pass to freshman George Atkinson, who was just a shoestring tackle away from breaking a monster.

Everybody has all but decided that Crist is gone after this season, but I’m hoping Dayne gets another shot to make a contribution to this team. Bizarre as it seems, I felt better about Crist coming in as a reliever after seeing him play in garbage time.

THE BAD

* Red Zone Offense — Going 4 of 5 in the red zone is definitely an improvement, but the Irish weren’t sharp in Purdue’s red zone and didn’t have a very efficient evening when it got into the scoring zone.

Rees only completely 4 of 12 throws in the red zone, just missing long on more than a few attempts. The Irish ran 18 plays in the red zone, leaning heavier on the pass than the run in the early going, and struggled to run the ball, with plays of -1 and -5 in the first half when Wood had the ball, and six carries for only five yards.

It’s better for Rees to miss a throw than to try and shove it into a window that isn’t there, but if the Irish wonder why they only scored 38 points when they had 34 first downs and 550 yards of offense, here’s the reason.

* Ethan Johnson’s ankle — The senior defensive end is questionable for this Saturday after spraining his ankle in the first half and not returning.

“We’ll immobilize him for the next few days and then get him moving and see,” Kelly said today. “It’s one of those things where it’s such an individual case-by-case situation when it comes to ankles, so he’ll be immobilized. Last night he was in a boot. He’ll stay in that until probably midweek, and then we’ll start moving him and see what he looks like.”

As a 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior defensive end, Johnson is one of those key players along the defensive front that makes everyone else better because he allows them to be much fresher. Against an option team like Air Force, Johnson is a real luxury, because he can slide both inside and out and has experience playing against an option attack, something Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch will be seeing for the first time.

Kelly says there’s a chance Johnson plays Saturday, but I’m guessing they’ll keep him booted and rested with hopes of getting him back before USC comes to South Bend in three weeks.

* Kyle Brindza’s kickoffs — After spoiling the Irish with four touchbacks in the first four games, Brindza had one of his worst nights on a chilly evening in West Lafayette.

“We didn’t kick the ball off very well,” Kelly said. “Kicking the ball from where we are, we have to do better than averaging the 15-yard line when we kick the ball. That really puts your kickoff team in a compromising situation. So that starts with Kyle. He’s got to kick the ball better.”

As the weather cools down, it’ll be up to Brindza to still power through his kicks, especially with some dangerous opponents still on the schedule.

* Too many penalties — The Irish were flagged for eight penalties. That’s still too many mistakes, though the referees seemed to be happy dropping laundry for just about everything yesterday evening.

* Punt returns — Another game, another John Goodman game with negative yardage. It certainly isn’t all on Goodman, but he doesn’t seem to have the make-you-miss quality you want in a return specialist. Too often his first move is sideways. (Maybe the video staff can queue up some Tom Zbikowski returns to remind him what north and south look like.)

* David Ruffer’s field goal tries — Bad snaps, good snaps, whatever. Ruffer has only made 3 of his 7 field goal attempts. He’s too good of a kicker for those stats to continue, but he needs to get out of his funk.

THE UGLY

* Jordan Cowart’s broken hand — It was bad enough that Cowart struggled with snaps and got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a scrum. Cowart also suffered a hand injury during the melee.

“We have not been consistent at that position, and last night our long snapper broke his hand, so that put us in a situation with a backup in the game,” Kelly said, explaining why Braxston Cave was in on Ruffer’s final field goal attempt.

Kelly announced that the Irish have stabilized Cowart’s hand and he’ll try to battle through the injury. Cowart is the Irish’s only scholarship long snapper on the roster, though Cave has shown himself able on field goals. This is certainly a situation worth monitoring.

* Purdue’s defensive game plan — When asked why Theo Riddick had a quiet game, Kelly mentioned the Purdue game plan, which seemed awfully worried about No. 6 instead of No. 3.

“The configuration that we saw Purdue employ put Theo in a very difficult position to get a lot of touches,” Kelly said. “They played man-to-man on Theo with a nickel the whole game. I mean, press man with a quarter safety over the top, so it just opens up other things for us.”

The Purdue staff had two weeks to prepare for the Irish. In doing so, it’s pretty clear they noticed just how dangerous Michael Floyd is. Yet they seemed content with the one-on-one match-up between Floyd and Ricardo Allen, while employing help to stop Riddick, who still hasn’t gotten on track this season.

If that’s the case, the Boilermakers coaching staff outsmarted itself.

  1. joeschu - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:35 PM

    Keith, can you do an opinion/analysis piece on the QB situation? You continue to jump on the Crist bandwagon, and I just don’t see what long or short term benefits it has for the program. Short term, it sets the guy BK has chosen on edge. Long term, it ignores the eligibility realities of the QB’s on the roster. With no big names in this class, don’t you need to know what you have with Hendrix.

    The only thing I really understand is saving EG. Nothing else about this situation makes sense to me.

    • Keith Arnold - Oct 2, 2011 at 9:22 PM

      Already tried doing one of those, Joe.

      It turned into a 100+ comments of people complaining and bashing two QBs on the roster. No real interest in doing that again.

      • bernhtp - Oct 2, 2011 at 10:29 PM

        There’s no point in hitting that topic again unless/until another QB gets meaningful minutes.

    • nudeman - Oct 3, 2011 at 11:47 AM

      QB Situation has generated more discussion here than the grassy knoll in the Warren Commission report.

      Here’s the status:

      Rees:
      Kelly’s “MAN”. Fortified his status with great game against Purdue. It will take an injury or a 12 INT game for him to be moved out now. Think of him as Michael Corleone/Al Pacino; both came out of nowhere to run the whole show.

      Crist:
      The sympathetic figure. He’s Sonny Corleone/James Caan, who never achieved what was expected. Like Sonny, has the outward appearance of everything you want: Arm, size, mobility,and just LOOKS like your QB (or “Don”). In Sonny’s case his temper was his downfall; as for Dayne, no one is quite sure.

      Hendrix:
      He’s Tom Hagen/Robert Duval. Talented, good looking and smart. But both Hagen and Hendrix suffer from things totally out of their control. In Hagen’s case it was his lineage (an Irish guy is not going to run a Sicilian crime family); in Hendrix’s case, not his fault that his timing was terrible. Chances would be better if he was a year older or younger. Or if everyone in front of him gets hurt (or in Hagen’s case, if everyone gets killed).

      Golson:
      I guess that leaves Fredo, though that seems terribly wrong. Perhaps this is where the Godfather metaphor goes astray. If Fredo wasn’t named Corleone, he’d have been running a deli into bankruptcy on the lower east side. On the other hand, great things are expected of Golson. He’s Kelly’s prototypical spread QB, has a great arm, fast, etc etc. Fans are DYING to see him play. No one was dying to see Fredo run the Family. Then Fredo died.

      Oh well …

      • Keith Arnold - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:03 PM

        You didn’t like my current TV females version earlier?

        I was kind of proud of that one… now you’ve gotta throw in The Godfather and make me look soft.

      • nudeman - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:04 PM

        Keith
        I missed that. Feel free to re-post. Would love to see it.

      • notredamegrad - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:20 PM

        And nudeman, you missed Mulvey just like Keith did – the guy gets no respect!

      • pjm79nd - Oct 5, 2011 at 9:54 AM

        Don’t you think Dayne is more like Fredo? “I’m the older brother, I’m smart, I can run things. I got passed over”

        Because that’s the way Pop (Brian Kelly) wanted it.

        Carlo Calabrese must love these comparisons!

      • nudeman - Oct 5, 2011 at 11:07 AM

        Good point. Fredo fits Dayne.
        And that opens up Sonny for Golson.

  2. notredamegrad - Oct 2, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    Keith, thank you for your summary – this is absolutely great! I love everything you say here. Really captures the game well. Enjoying the victory. Go Irish!

    (Joeschu: Keith is not a jumper-onto-the-Crist-bandwagon, just offering a realistic and positive response to an encouraging sight last night: when given the opportunity, Crist got off the bench and did work – he did exactly what you want your no. 2 QB to do. Coach Kelly: “I asked Dayne what he wanted to do. He said he wanted to go in there. I have a lot of respect for Dayne. I’m not going to throw him in there in meaningless kinds of situations, but he wanted to get in the game, so it’s always going to be his first shot.”)

  3. smurphdoggy29 - Oct 2, 2011 at 10:03 PM

    Keith,

    Excellent work as usual.

    Saw a lot of good at Purdue, pretty much what was expected in terms of production, last night and hope the
    continuity continues. Kudos to Rees for continuous improvement, though it was nice to see Dayne get in. Looking forward to the evolution of the team.

    One thing to monitor is Tuitt, hope it is just a blip, and not an impending maelstrom.

    Also, I think Coach Diaco has been looking forward somewhat to Air Force, in as much as he wouldn’t admit it he is definitely looking to show he can do his homework and be prepared for the diverse offensive look the Falcons will deliver.

    Strap them helmets on tight and lace your cleats boys, the Falcons are going to push the envelope.

  4. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 2, 2011 at 10:38 PM

    Nice analysis Keith and great job with the live blog last night. Just a couple of things to rant about. Vegas had the over/under for total scoring at 48. How do they know that? It always amazes me how accurate they are. With regard to scoring, I’d love to see the Irish blow out a clearly inferior opponent the way some other teams do (see Michigan 58-0 over your Gophers for example). With the early pick by Gray quickly turned into a score last night, I thought I was going to get my wish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with a solid performance all the way around and a 4 TD margin of victory, just want to see one of those blowout scores for once. I suppose this was a function of the missed FG’s and Rees’ overthrows on a couple of passes, which you pointed out. I can’t seem to remember ND really blowing somebody out in my lifetime….all the memorable games are usually nail biters won by a couple of points.
    Also, I was very surprised we saw Crist and not Hendrix last night. First, the coaching staff has to figure out what they have with Hendrix and mop up time is a good place to start as far as real game action is concerned. Secondly, I felt that putting Crist in could have possibly blown up on BK. What if Dayne had gone in and played really well? This would have only stoked the QB controversy further. I suppose that in clean up duty, BK could keep it real vanilla for Crist and not give him that chance to perform. I just have to think that Crist is already exploring his options for his remaining year of eligibility. Hendrix just has to be really puzzled as to what’s up for him now.
    Our D last night continued to be dominant and our running game was awesome. When I saw Cierre running so crisply from the outset, I just had a feeling he was in for an amazing night and he did almost get his 200 yd game. Jonas also ran really well and the offensive performances by Cierre, Jonas and Tommy almost made me not care so much about the troubling special teams play. All in all, a nice win and a good building block for the team going forward because there are certainly stiffer challenges on the horizon. I wish we could have played Purdue first instead of USF……we might be 5-0 right now.

    • kevvy1231 - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:38 PM

      Notre Dame doesn’t blow teams out because they don’t play many easy teams. If they were playing FCS teams, you would see those sorts of blowouts. Crist was only going to get one series no matter what…I don’t think there was much of a chance that he’d end up going in with vanilla playcalling. The last straight-up blowout that I can recall was probably 2003 @ Stanford, when Notre Dame won 57-7 (which I believe was the last time ND cracked 50 points).

  5. andy44teg - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:33 AM

    Jerseyshore..You CAN’T be too young to remember back in Holtz’s final year (’96) we blew out Pitt and Rutgers in back to back games by like 60-6 and 62-0. But, you’re right. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a game like that. Where you can just sit back and relax, ( for the final quarter, anyways) and not bite your fingernails down to the nub. That was a fun one. Now…moving along…Can we PLEASE stop the triple option this year??!! I can’t take another loss to a service academy (God bless ‘em, anyhow).
    GO IRISH !! BEAT AIR FORCE!!

    • xavty - Oct 3, 2011 at 1:35 PM

      I was born in 91 and have been going to ND games for as long as I can remember maybe 6 or 7? But I don’t remember any huge blowouts unfortunately. I would love to be able to see one of those, especially in person.

    • kevvy1231 - Oct 3, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      I was at the 1996 Rutgers game…62-0 and I believe it set a (Notre Dame) record for the amount of individual Notre Dame players to score a touchdown in a single game. I saw the broadcast on an old tape my parents had laying around and during the broadcast, they were interviewing Ron Powlus’s parents about whether or not he would come back for his senior season…they were somehow totally unaware that Bob Davie was announced as the official successor, but if I recall, it was decided that day or around then anyway. Still thought it was a bit odd that they were the last to know. But anyway, that 62-0 win might be the most insane win in the modern era. I remember after a while me and my friends were working on getting a wave going…then one going the other way. Man, I was a badass in 8th grade.

  6. nudeman - Oct 3, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    Well then Mulvey (whoever he is) is Andy Garcia, Godfather III.
    So bad, they’re just not even in the conversation and better off forgotten.

    If you don’t like Andy Garcia as a doppleganger, he could be Moe Green, Tesio, Sollozzo or Carlo Rizzi.
    Or if you’d prefer an ND QB metaphor, maybe he’s Matt Lovecchio, Blair Kiel or Carlyle Holladay

  7. fredshaheen - Oct 3, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    “On the road we’re somebody else’s guests – and we play in a way that they’re not going to forget we visited them.”

    Knute Rockne

  8. 10of14 - Oct 3, 2011 at 8:21 PM

    The fear with AF this week is pass defense….yep, you heard that right. If the Irish had the DB talent and confidence in them to go man/man on most downs, they can destroy this team. Put everyone (8) in the box and dare them to throw is a way to stop the wishbone/option, but we don’t have that talent for man/man coverage. I say the heck with it, load them up, seven up front and dare them.

  9. jerseyshorendfan1 - Oct 3, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    andy….you’re right. I guess I just forgot those games. The sad thing there is that if the game against RU was in NJ, I was there! If its the game I’m thinking of, it was in November and bitterly cold. I had 4 tickets but it was so cold, nobody wanted to go. I ended up going with a buddy of mine and I had 2 spare tickets that I was going to give away, for free (and not scalp) but only if I could find some deserving Irish fans. I had gotten the tickets for free from a friend and colleague who was a Rutgers alum who couldn’t attend the game. To make a long story short, I ended up getting hassled by RU campus cops and NJ State Police who were undercover and looking for scalpers. Several people had approached me but I guess they thought the tickets were bogus because I didn’t want any money. I tried to explain to the cops that I was giving them away and fortunately, they tracked down somebody who had approached me and he corroborated my story. No good deed goes unpunished. I remember my near-arrest much better than the outcome of the game.

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