Upon second viewing, quarterback Everett Golson’s 2014 debut is just as impressive. The senior quarterback, playing his first game in 600 days, didn’t seem to miss a beat, leading Notre Dame with five total touchdowns on the way to a 48-17 victory over Rice.
With Golson behind center, the offense did everything a little bit better. The run game blossomed. The passing game became explosive. Those red zone woes? The Irish converted six of six, with four touchdowns.
Golson’s five total touchdowns capped off one of the week’s best performances. Let’s take a look at the rest of the team before turning the page to Michigan in this week’s good, bad and ugly.
Golson. We already said it. It just needed to be said again.
Looking at his 14 of 22 throwing performance, he probably deserved to have at least 55 more yards and a touchdown if C.J. Prosise didn’t do his best Featherstone impression from Necessary Roughness. Then again, Will Fuller didn’t help out when Golson put a perfect deep ball off his hands that Fuller didn’t squeeze right before.
My favorite throw of the afternoon: Golson rolling left with the pocket moving with him, and hitting Amir Carlisle on a deep flag, in stride over underneath coverage.
That was an NFL throw.
The run game. That’s the way Notre Dame should run the ball this season against an undermanned defensive front. Outside of Christian Covington (who managed just two tackles against Christian Lombard and the interior of the line), Rice wasn’t able to hang with the big boys up front, nor the backs who looked decisive and quick.
Cam McDaniel looked good in his eight carries. Tarean Folston looked as smooth as ever with 12 carries, leading the backs. But Greg Bryant showed the type of explosive burst that makes him tough to keep on the sideline (though mishaps on the goal line is the best way I can think of to keep him off the field).
Obviously, rolling through Rice for big yardage isn’t the same as doing it against Michigan and Greg Mattison. But it’s a great start for the ground game, with Golson also playing very effectively as a runner.
Field Position: Notre Dame dominated the field position battle, averaging over plus-10 in starting field position in each quarter. The Irish’s third quarter was pretty impressive, starting at the 47 and converting 4 of 5 third downs.
Joe Schmidt. Making his first start, Schmidt led the Irish with eight tackles, playing physical and looking active in both the run and pass game. Kelly said Schmidt graded out as the team’s best performer, though thought this was only the beginning for him.
“He was pretty good yesterday. He probably was our best player defensively,” Kelly said. “He’s got some things that he’s got to get better at. But I thought as a true first‑time starter, he was the best player for us.”
Sheldon Day. The defensive tackle finished second on the team with six tackles, a pretty productive day for the junior anchor of the defensive line. He had one TFL and came close to making a few more.
Brian VanGorder’s Run Defense. Credit to the front seven for holding up pretty well against Rice’s run game.
If you had told Notre Dame fans that a front playing Day, Jarron Jones, Justin Utupo, Isaac Rochell, Grant Blankenship, Andrew Trumbetti, Daniel Cage and Romeo Okwara would’ve given up 3.5 yards a carry and only one explosive play, they’d have taken it every day of the year.
The Return Game. Cody Riggs, Greg Bryant and Amir Carlisle did a great job being decisive. And credit to the punt return team for —what a concept– holding their blocks and letting their playmakers make plays.
(Don’t worry Cam, I’m going to forget that I noticed you blocking nobody on the return where Carlisle got stuffed short.)
The Red Zone Offense. Maybe Brian Kelly wasn’t kidding around about a mobile quarterback in tight quarters helping out. Six of six is nice, and four touchdowns is even better. (But another look at the tape will have the Irish feeling like they left one or two TDs out there.)
Matthias Farley. I may have already used it here, but Farley is the Tommy Rees of the Irish defense. Perfect? No. Makes mistakes? Oh, you’ve noticed?
But in one series, Farley basically turned the momentum of the football game completely around, making a tackle, collecting half a sack, and making a really athletic interception with next to no time left in the first half.
Then Golson and C.J. Prosise put the dagger in the Owls’ chest, turning a manageable game into a 28-10 halftime lead. The Irish scored 14 points in the final 153 seconds of the first half. Coffee is for closers, and there was Folgers waiting in the locker room.)
Playing a nickel back role that he’s only playing because of KeiVarae Russell’s suspension and Austin Collinsworth’s injury, Farley had the game’s biggest defensive series.
* He wasn’t overly noticed out there, but for a first game at outside linebacker James Onwualu did a nice job in space. And on the fake punt.
* Nice job, slot receivers. Amir Carlisle looks pretty natural at wide receiver. Outside of his drop, C.J. Prosise is a pretty dangerous guy in space… especially at 220 pounds.
* Jarron Jones showed up in a good way.
* That didn’t look like a freshman making the big hit when Andrew Trumbetti came off the edge.
* Welcome to college football Malik Zaire. I liked everything about that run except for that high step.
* All the kids played. (Except Jhonny Williams and Jon Bonner). But what a great way to get the young guys some experience.
* Before all of you guys start complaining about Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts, note that Drue Tranquill and Greer Martini both played major minutes on defense. Both were three-star guys with less than impressive offer lists. Maybe defer to the coaching staff on talent evaluation.
Communication in the secondary. Rice’s two touchdowns came on blown coverage on the back end, first by Elijah Shumate and the second by Nicky Baratti, a rude awakening for a guy coming back after some bad luck with his shoulders.
With Austin Collinsworth going down on Thursday afternoon, some mishaps were to be expected. But here’s how Kelly recapped the issues on his Sunday teleconference, putting the onus on Max Redfield and Shumate to do a better job working together.
“We got into a very unique situation where we had 24 hours really to get them communicating more effectively,” Kelly said. “We gave up five explosive plays — four passes — three of them directly related to poor communication.”
When asked if Farley was the answer at safety, Kelly feels that Shumate is still the guy best suited for strong safety.
“We can get that corrected. Both those guys are the kind of skill players we want back there. We have to address that issue, which we will this week.”
Slow Starts. It might be nit-picky, but Notre Dame went three-and-out on its first two possessions, something that can’t happen against Michigan next weekend. On second inspection, it looked like a combination of missed blocks in the run game and a bit of hesitancy by Golson on a few passes.
(I also think after seeing McDaniel get the start on the first series, it should be shifted around with Folston and Bryant getting early snaps.)
The Drops. Come on now, C.J. Prosise. Don’t drop gift-wrapped touchdowns. (But nice job working back into the play after Golson broke into a scramble.)
Will Fuller also needs to catch that deep ball if he wants to continue putting up monster yards-per-catch numbers. Not to mention the drop by Ben Koyack. That’s a habit I had hoped Koyack shed when turning into a senior leader.
Diagnosing Route concepts. Hang with me here. When Notre Dame’s defense got burnt on a few passes, it was a product of not seeing the passing concept in time.
The first crossing route that Rice hit the Irish on, Notre Dame had freshman defensive end Andrew Trumbetti standing up in coverage. In his first collegiate game, I can’t truly blame the kid for not seeing a receiver dragging back across to him.
The Irish got lucky when an illegal formation penalty robbed the Owls of another big gainer on a similar concept. But cornerback Cole Luke and Shumate didn’t do a great job communicating on the wheel route that Luke Turner and Driphus Jackson hit on.
As a wise man named GI Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.” And against Doug Nussmeier and Michigan’s new offense, you can bet the Wolverines will try and bait the Irish secondary into making some mistakes.
* No breakfast balls, Kyle Brindza. This isn’t No. 1 on the Warren Course. Brindza snap-hooked his first field goal attempt left and put his first kickoff out of bounds before righting the ship.
* I’m not putting Jaylon Smith in the bad category, but statistically his three tackles were well below the floor I had set for his box score impact on the game. He was close to turning at least one of those three tackles into another TFL, and his head coach’s comments Sunday afternoon were interesting.
“He played with great effort. Had some mental mistakes. I think he’s still learning the position. But he plays with great effort and great enthusiasm,” Kelly said. “When it comes to Jaylon, he takes his work very seriously. I would expect that you’re going to see significant improvement from Jaylon from week one to week two.”
* Hey Special Teamers: On pooch punts, look up for the football, don’t just go to the returner pretending to fair catch the ball. Kyle Brindza got robbed on two punts that could’ve been downed inside the five yard line.
* Steve Elmer and Ronnie Stanley got beat with some speed moves — Elmer on the Owls’ sack of Golson and Stanley when defensive end Brian Nordstrom knifed inside of him. Nordstrom produced 1.5 TFLs.
An easy opening victory after months without football? Especially after watching dynasty-in-the-making programs like Florida State and Alabama sweat wins out?
Enjoy the Rice victory and get ready for Michigan week.