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Evaluating the Irish: Purdue Boilermakers

By · September 8th, 2010 · 0 Comments · 2,471 views
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Evaluating the Irish: Purdue Boilermakers

Turning a ship around is a long and arduous task. It takes time to get the vessel corrected. After Charlie Weis left the Notre Dame program, it had all the tools to head in the right direction, but the helm was turned the wrong way. Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s Athletic Director, was charged with the task of finding a new pilot for the program and he chose Brian Kelly.

Before the season started, there was much discussion about Kelly’s capabilities to get the Irish back on course. He had the resume to suggest that he might just be the man for the job, but some questioned the lack of prestige his previous jobs entailed or the type of offense that he employed. When the first game for Notre Dame drew closer and closer, the excitement of Irish fans was palpable. Would Kelly succeed? Would he fail like the three previous coaches before him? Could he end Notre Dame’s championship drought and, if so, how long would it take?

Now that Kelly’s debut against Purdue has come and gone, Notre Dame fans and foes have had a small glimpse to judge if the ship is starting to right itself. After collecting our thoughts, it seems evident that the program is starting to slowly turn back on course. And while it’s exciting to see the Irish start to perform up to their talent level, the name of the game for the first few weeks should be tempered excitement. As the staff here at Clashmore Mike pointed out, the immediate success of a coach does not necessarily correlate to the sustained success of that coach. So while Notre Dame’s game against Purdue was generally a positive debut, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Kelly’s overall tenure at Notre Dame will look as rosy.

Dayne Crist didn’t lose the game, but he didn’t win it either.

Dayne Crist’s inauguration as the new signal-caller for the Irish was a positive one. Dayne finished the game completing 19 of 26 passes for 205 yards and 1 touchdown to Tai-ler Jones. And while Crist didn’t have an interception, he had one pass that should have been picked off. Keith Arnold pointed out that, before the game, Brian Kelly told Crist, “…you don’t have to force it.” And even though Crist didn’t make many mental errors in terms of throwing the ball, Crist may have been a little too conservative as he purposefully overthrew Kyle Rudolph in the endzone because he feared he couldn’t squeeze the ball into Purdue’s tight redzone coverage—a pass he probably could have completed. Additionally, Crist only attempted to throw the ball a significant distance down the field  a couple of times, often opting instead for short-to-intermediate passes.

While I’d much rather have a quarterback that’s too conservative rather than a gunslinger who is too erratic, and while this is only Crist’s first game as the starting quarterback, there may be a time this season that Crist must move the ball through the air in large distances with the game on the line. And even though Crist may not need to emulate Jimmy Clausen and put the Irish offense on his shoulders many times this season, it’s nice to know that if he needs to, he has the tools to do it. And while Crist may have ability to sling the ball down the field, he didn’t show it against Purdue. But this factor shouldn’t detract from the fact that Crist had, by all accounts, a successful first outing as the starting quarterback.

You’re surprised at Notre Dame’s ground attack?

When most people heard about Kelly’s spread offense when he was hired, they envisioned an increased passing attack and a decrease in running production. At Clashmore Mike, we knew better. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise that Armando Allen and Cierre Wood averaged 5.2 and 8.3 yards-per-carry, respectively. But, people still seem to be surprised that a team that was so pass-heavy last season and couldn’t find a breakaway run to save their lives assembled a respectable ground attack only one season later. It’s been no secret that Cierre Wood and Armando Allen have the vision and speed capable of producing such an impressive running game, they’ve just never had the space or the scheme to do so—until now.

The only surprising thing about the Irish ground game against Purdue was that it only featured two of the squad’s running backs. Jonas Gray and Robert Hughes didn’t see any action this past Saturday and I’m hopeful that this won’t be a continuing trend. Sure Hughes and Gray are bigger backs and Kelly’s offense utilizes speedier, smaller backs, but given the fact that the Irish didn’t have any type of consistency in the redzone, it’s a little perplexing that Kelly didn’t put Robert Hughes in the game to punch the ball into the endzone. Hopefully in future games, if Dayne Crist follows the trend he set against Purdue and can’t seem to score with his feet, Brian Kelly will call on Robert Hughes or Jonas Gray to do it for him.

Fundamentals aren’t fun, but they get the job done.

One of the glaring inadequacies of the Weis-coached teams of the past was the lack of technique and fundamentals—namely tackling. So, when Brian Kelly was named the new head coach at Notre Dame, one of the biggest questions most Irish fans had heading into the spring and into the fall was if the technique and fundamentals would improve. Thankfully, one game into the season, the outlook looks positive. Manti Teo and Carlo Calabrese did an excellent job of stopping the run game of Purdue as well as covering the many slant routes that the Purdue wide receivers ran throughout the day. Both Teo and Calabrese tied with Gary Gray for the most tackles on the team with nine. Sure the tackling all afternoon wasn’t perfect, but compared to the Jon Tenuta-led defenses the past few seasons, it was a welcome sight to weary eyes.

There were times, however, that poor fundamentals kept the Irish offense from reaching full potential on Saturday. Poor ball protection by Cierre Wood on special teams kept the Irish offense from building momentum, even though they retained possession. Also, as the game wore on and it looked like the Irish would create an insurmountable deficit for the Boilermaker offense to overcome, a fumble by Michael Floyd kept the game closer than it should have been. The offense and defense didn’t commit any penalties, but it was sloppy ball protection by Floyd and Wood that kept the game close, caused the physical conditioning of the Irish defense to be strained, and allowed Purdue to stay in the game much too long. Does Notre Dame still lack the killer instinct that other schools have to slam their foot on the gas pedal, or are they shooting themselves in the foot?

One down, 11 to go.

All in all, Brian Kelly’s first game under the Golden Dome was a successful one. For as well as the Irish played, the game should have been a blowout and the Irish should have put the Boilermakers away in the 3rd quarter. However, the nagging presence of mental errors on both sides of the ball caused the game to be much closer than needed. As the Irish look forward to Michigan on Saturday, several issues need to be addressed and I’m sure that Kelly and his staff will do the work necessary to correct these problems.

The offense led by Brian Kelly and the defense led by Bob Diaco look very different than the team led by Weis and Tenuta. However, the biggest change that is most apparent to observers is not schematic, but in the attitude of the players. Gone are the days of the professional mentality of business and intensity, replaced instead with a mentality of community and camaraderie. Will this create more wins for the Irish in 2010? Only time will tell. But, if history is any indicator, the outlook seems bright.

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