It took a while, but the Irish are finally back in the national polls, checking in at No. 24 in the AP rankings and No. 25 in the coaches poll. It’s nothing that’ll get anybody too excited, but the Irish are one of only four three-loss teams ranked, joining Florida State, Baylor and West Virginia (who is only ranked in the coaches poll.)
As we clean up what’s left of the Irish’s 45-21 victory over Maryland, let’s run through the good, bad and ugly of the Irish’s triumph in Washington, D.C.
Where to begin? Let’s run some bullet-points:
* We talked about Robby Toma quite a bit last night. But Tommy Rees‘ first throw to Toma was a pretty one, with the 26-yard gainer going right up the seam. Toma led the team singing the fight song last night after the game, the reward for his seven catches and nice evening stepping in for Theo Riddick.
* Come to think of it, just about everything on that first drive of the game was a good thing. The pacing, Jonas Gray‘s running, and the efficiency. That said, if Jonas wants to take a shot at George Gipp‘s rushing record, he’s going to have to stop getting tackled on the half yard-line.
* Tommy Rees’ deep ball to Michael Floyd. It sounds silly, but Rees’ throw to the end zone, a ball Floyd adjusted to and caught easily around one-on-one coverage, was something Irish fans got used to seeing with Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn, but a skill that’s coming along for Rees.
“We’re still not where we want to be on the vertical throws,” Kelly said. “We’re better. He threw one of his best throws to Michael in the end zone where he actually had some air to it where Mike could go up and get the ball on the double move touchdown.”
Kelly talked about the emphasis they’ve put on Rees in practice, working on the long game for a quarterback that’s shown plenty of proficiency in throwing the shorter routes. He’s still missing on too many deep shots to Floyd, part of why Michael’s yards-per-catch are lower than they should be. If the Irish want to continue to evolve as an offense, they’ll need to take advantage of their star receiver’s long game, with only three games left in Floyd’s career.
* The Irish’s first half defense. How’s this for a start? Five possessions, five punts for Maryland, who only got something going on their sixth possession, aided by a so-so unnecessary roughness call on Robert Blanton.
* Counters and Draws. It was a very nice day on the ground for the Irish, especially on the counters and draws. Cierre Wood had two nice gainers in the first half, and Jonas Gray’s 3rd and 17 conversion helped turn the first series of the second half into a touchdown.
* Tyler Eifert took a big hit early in the game, with the Maryland defender doing all he could to tell Eifert about it. But the junior tight end shrugged it off, and when he had a chance to get physical took advantage, running out of Shaquan Virgil‘s tackle before running over defensive back Eric Franklin for the first down.
* Cierre Wood might not have gotten the 100-yard game he was chasing. But his block on Maryland’s Trenton Hughes was the highlight of the game, a massive crack-back that sprung Eifert around the corner for a long touchdown. Expect to see that play on a few highlight reels for the next ten months.
* Lo Wood‘s first career interception. They likely won’t come that easily the rest of his career, but congrats to the sophomore for cashing in when he had the chance.
* The Washington Post‘s Eric Prisbell‘s game prediction. The Terps beat writer all but pegged the score, missing by one point for each team.
It’s tough to take too many shots at the Irish, especially when any advances the Terrapins started making were after the game was well out of reach, but here goes.
* TJ Jones, you can do better than that blocking. The only big hits laid on Michael Floyd this season have been when Jones has fanned on a block. The sophomore struggled on Saturday night with the mental part of his game, with a drop and missed block to go against his two catches and 19 yards.
Jones is going to be looked to step up big next season, with Floyd and possibly John Goodman clearing out of the depth chart. Can Jones be the proverbial “next man in” and turn into a featured receiver? He hasn’t shown it yet this year.
* Robert Blanton was called for two major penalties, a 15-yarder personal foul that I mentioned above that came on the Terps first scoring drive and a pass interference call that was another so-so call.
If Blanton plays his worst games in Irish blowout victories that’s fine, but the senior needs to be playing his best football heading into Palo Alto.
* I’ve got a feeling that the back-up defense that gave up Ronnie Tyler‘s 4th and 3 catch for 15 yards after having him stuffed in the backfield is hearing about it in the film room. While the Irish defense has played at a pretty high level this year with the exception of one quarter, there is a pretty clear drop when the reserves come in, something Kelly and his coaches are working hard on in recruiting.
The Irish will need to replace Ethan Johnson at end, positions where the Irish should feel good with Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt ready. The Irish should feel confident about finding a replacement for Darius Fleming as well, with Ishaq Williams and Prince Shembo solid fits as well. The staff is hopeful that they won’t have to worry about finding Manti Te’o‘s replacement until this time next year, but Kendall Moore looked physical and explosive filling in.
The real worry is on the back-end of the defense, where Blanton, Gary Gray and Harrison Smith will need to be replaced. There are only two cornerbacks with any experience on the defense, and Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson — who played wide receiver last year — are far from ready.
* The TechFit jerseys seem to be a great next step in the evolution of the Irish jerseys. Next step for equipment manager Ryan Grooms? Getting TechFit technology for their undershirts. Just ask Cierre Wood.
I know, I know… You all want me to say the helmets. I’m not biting.
* Randy Edsall‘s locker room. Things aren’t so happy in College Park, where the transition to Randy Edsall took another step in the wrong direction. With only two wins on the season, there’s less and less talk about rebuilding, and more talk about transferring.
From the Washington Post:
In recent weeks, there have been indications that some underclassmen will strongly consider transferring after the season, people in and around the program said on condition of anonymity. Ferrara has a message for them: good riddance.
“They won’t be a part of what good is going to happen here,” Ferrara said. “Simple as that. They don’t want to be here, then see you later. Honestly, I don’t feel any sadness toward that.”
Regardless of whether they are standouts or walk-ons?
“I don’t care if they are a starter or the worst person on the team,” Ferrara said. “I am agreeing with Edsall. I want the best people here who want to play and want to be here. We don’t need cancers on the team.”
This goes well beyond a Twitter uprising. Edsall, who has implemented strict team rules that include no hats or earrings in the team’s facility has a lot of work ahead of him.