Don’t tell me you wouldn’t take it. Notre Dame, entering their first off week at 3-0. The offense, averaging a hearty 36.3 points a game. The defense, giving up just 10.3 points a game.
After the first quarter of the season, the Irish defense has managed to force nine turnovers, good for fifth in the country. At +8, they rank No. 1 in the country after three weeks. That says quite a bit about the rust quickly knocked off Everett Golson and the work of Brian VanGorder and the defensive staff.
All of that puts the Purdue game into context. Notre Dame didn’t sweat out their victory, but the 30-14 win was the sloppiest Saturday the Irish played all year. Both sides of the ball have plenty to work on.
With the Irish now ranked No. 9 in both the AP and Coaches Poll, Brian Kelly has an opportunity to get his team healthy during a week off before heading to the Meadowlands to take on Syracuse.
But before we tackle the bye week, let’s look at the good, bad and ugly from the Irish’s Shamrock Series victory over Darrell Hazell’s Purdue Boilermakers.
The Opening Drive. It didn’t look like the Irish were going to play sluggish football on Saturday night, with the opening drive jump-started by Amir Carlisle’s excellent kickoff return, going 47 yards to start the game.
After a nice run and screen pass reception by Tarean Folston, the Irish marched quickly for a touchdown. Carlisle added another catch, Golson was perfect, including a bullet to Will Fuller into bracket coverage for a touchdown.
Jump on the Irish all you want for playing slugging or sloppy. But they didn’t do it on the game’s opening drive.
The Defense. Looking at the box score, and watching a few drives between the first and second quarter, you’d have thought that the Irish defense played poorly. Sure, Purdue caught Notre Dame for some big plays. And no, Michigan still hasn’t scored against Brian VanGorder’s defense.
But while 14 points on the board in the first half doesn’t necessarily feel like a victory, consider seven were essentially gifted after Ben Koyack’s critical fumble in Notre Dame territory and even that touchdown was a circus catch that Cody Riggs did everything possible to stop (except stop it).
Without Andrew Trumbetti and losing Max Redfield early in the second quarter, the Irish suffered a rash of injuries that decimated their depth chart. But even playing Drue Tranquill at strong safety and flipping Elijah Shumate to free, the defense played a really impressive second half, forcing these six drives from Purdue’s offense:
No, it wasn’t a shutout. And while Purdue had some success early running in some power formations and throwing underneath, it was a pretty impressive performance for the Irish defense, especially considering they spent much of the first half on the wrong side of the field position battle.
Red Zone Offense: Another “perfect” night for the Irish, converting all four of their red zone drives for points. I hesitate to put this in the good category, just because the Irish failed to get in from the one-yard line, but converting opportunities to points is the name of the game and so far the Irish have done just that.
The Irish are 14 of 14 this year, one of 27 teams who have scored every time inside the 20. But Notre Dame ranks 41st in the country in converting those into touchdowns, still room to improve.
Romeo Okwara. With Trumbetti held out, Okwara had himself a heckuva game. He filled up the stat sheet, leading the team with a game-high 11 tackles, while sharing a sack and being credited with a forced fumble.
Okwara’s ability to take a ton of snaps and be productive was a huge help without a pretty thin defensive line, and should also be valuable learning reps for a guy still figuring out defensive end. But any time you more than double your personal best output is a good thing.
Corey Robinson & Will Fuller: The sophomore duo both registered touchdown catches, with Robinson earning the game ball for making a few difficult grabs, made all the more difficult for playing with essentially one hand.
Fuller kept his concentration, bringing down some difficult grabs and nearly connecting on another long ball. (He probably jumped a little bit early.) But while most are wondering how DaVaris Daniels would play or what’s going on with Chris Brown, this duo was always expected to be productive, and on Saturday we got our first true taste.
Drue Tranquill. And to think, Irish fans weren’t sure Notre Dame should even offer Tranquill a scholarship. The one-time Purdue commit and Indiana native played key minutes on the backend of the defense, filling in admirably on an every down basis at strong safety.
Kelly called Tranquill a “head coach’s offer,” unsure of where Tranquill would play at the college level on Signing Day. But whether or not he grows into a linebacker doesn’t really matter. He’s already showing himself to be a great football player and a key contributor.
Starting in place of Ishaq Williams at defensive end, sophomore Isaac Rochell is living up to the billing Kelly gave him during camp when he called him a beast.
Another Saturday, another game where Greg Bryant just flashes explosiveness. The Irish coaching staff takes this week to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. Bryant’s working. Now get him the ball more.
Young Kolin Hill gets on the field again and he splits a sack. That’s a pretty nice little pass rushing specialist.
Also it was very nice of Joe Schmidt to get heralded for his walk-on story. It was even better than he played good football and made a game-clinching interception.
Oh yeah. Notre Dame is 3-0 and ranked in the Top 10. And Stanford, USC, North Carolina, Florida State, Northwestern and Louisville all look weaker than they did on paper before the season.
The Mental Mistakes. Good thing the Irish aren’t wearing those uniforms again, because that wasn’t a team that I recognized. With presnap penalties, lining up offsides by both offensive and defensive players, Kelly didn’t hold his tongue after the game when asked about it.
“Crazy penalties. An off‑side penalty because you can’t take the time to look at the official’s foot, you know, to line up. Are you kidding me? Things like that. So they were little aggravating penalties for me more than anything else. A taunting penalty, which was uncalled for. You know, Max’s penalty. He’s trying to hold up in that situation. I know he was not trying to target anybody. We understand the rule. We understand the interpretation of the rule. We’re not arguing with it. But he was trying to hold up the quarterback, slid quickly, and those things happen. So there’s four of the seven penalties right there.
“Two of them are knucklehead penalties, and one of them was an aggressive penalty, and the other one we’ll take care of that one internally.”
Good luck with that one, Elijah Shumate.
The Offensive Line Play. On second viewing, it was hardly just Steve Elmer who struggled. The interior of the Irish offensive line played poorly as well, not getting much of a push or getting to the second level on their blocking assignments. That turns the next week into one where Kelly and Harry Hiestand need to do some thinking.
“We are going to have a pretty in‑depth conversation. It will probably evolve around the five guys that played, plus Christian Lombard, and whether we have the five in the right position,” Kelly said, all but acknowledging Elmer’s struggles at right tackle. “We’re not going to entertain ‑‑ maybe one other player, McGlinchey would be involved in that conversation. But quite frankly, we’ve got to find a little bit more push inside, and that’s what we’re going to try to come up with. So we’re in the process right now of kind of sorting that out ourselves.”
Reading between the lines, that means no redshirt coming off for talented freshman Quenton Nelson. But it does put guards Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty on notice, with Elmer’s ability to slide in likely determined by how ready McGlinchey is to play and how healthy the Irish can get Lombard during the off week.
Amir Carlisle’s Knee. It doesn’t sound as serious as it could be, but the fact that Amir Carlisle got hurt against Purdue — a year after that game was his ultimate undoing — is a bum deal. One week after playing the best game of his career and after opening the evening with a big kickoff return, Carlisle tweaked his knee and didn’t return in the second half.
“Amir Carlisle is having an MRI on his knee. He’s got some laxity in there,” Kelly said. “We don’t believe it’s the severity of Austin Collinsworth, which was I think about four weeks. So we’re hopeful that the MRI turns out well and that we’ll have him back for Syracuse… Met with the doctors today and they had their hands on him. They felt pretty confident that this is not a severe knee injury.”
If that’s the case, consider it a bullet dodged for the Irish and Carlisle.
*Already hit on it yesterday, but you can’t fumble that football Ben Koyack.
*Catching the ball is great. But the short passing game can’t work as well as it should if the wide receivers don’t block. Without James Onwualu to play that physical role, there isn’t a lot of size or want-to out on the edges right now.
Missing that block on a 3rd-and-2 quick throw just doesn’t cut it.
* After a few weeks of impressive tackling, there were quite a few missed tackles. They seemed to be cleaned up at halftime, but still — that’s how you give up chain-moving plays on underneath throws.
* Hey Cody Riggs: Make sure you catch those punts in the air. Or get out of the way. Or take it on the big hop. You’re not a short stop, you’re a punt returner. (And maybe you shouldn’t be anymore with the injuries and suspensions at cornerback.)
* It’s time for the Honor Code committee to get their work done and decide what happens to these five kids. Provost Tom Burish was in Indianapolis on Friday for the Shamrock Series Fan Fest. Now he should get together with his deans and Honor committee and make a decision.
* Tough penalty on Max Redfield. By the letter of the law, that’s the rule. But Danny Etling sure needs to understand that the idea of sliding is to get down, not go to two knees and keep your body up. That’s a recipe for getting killed.
* Somebody look at the construction of the third-down throw down in the red zone, where Golson rolled right. It looked like a one-receiver route with Chris Brown the only option. Let’s try the recycling bin with that one. Tommy Rees’ red zone end zone throw to Brown last year was intercepted. This one almost was, too.
It was an ugly win. Get over it. USC gave up over 400 yards on the ground. Better to win ugly than lose ugly.
But this section is reserved for the tough-luck injury to safety Nicky Baratti. On his first snap after relieving Max Redfield, Baratti went to chase down a Purdue ball carrier and barely extended his arm when his surgically repaired shoulder gave out. What a terrible break for a kid that’s done nothing but work hard during his three seasons in South Bend.
This is the kind of re-injury that could end a career. If that’s the case, it’s a hard luck few years at Notre Dame for Baratti, who made a critical interception as a freshman against Michigan and looked like a front-runner for a starting job, but just couldn’t seem to stay healthy after that.
Here’s hoping things work out, but more importantly, injuries like that are the reason you pick Notre Dame for college.