(Photo courtesy of UHND.com)
It wasn’t the best of times, nor the worst of times for Notre Dame on Saturday.
Fig Thing Fighting Irish, led by a career outing by quarterback Tommy Rees, soundly defeated but could not completely dismantle the Temple Owls. Rees did exactly what head coach Brian Kelly was hoping for: 346 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers. He managed the game the way a senior should and made the big plays that a BCS-hopeful team needs him to make. Rees fit the pre-season bill, staying poised and in control while having fun in what must have been a more stressful game than the Irish had planned on.
The stable of Irish running backs should also leave us encouraged. There’s probably no true home run threat in the backfield, but Amir Carlisle, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel are good. No…they’re better than good. And that’s not even including the two freshmen who are just as talented (if not more so) waiting to get more carries. Will they end up on the SportsCenter Top Ten? Probably not; but I’m ready to guarantee that we won’t say their lack of talent cost Notre Dame a victory.
Davaris Daniels caught two early touchdowns before leaving for what at the moment is still an undisclosed injury, but he and TJ Jones (career high 138 yards) appear to have taken the next step at wide receiver. This is the one aspect of this team that truly lacked last season and needed to be fixed for the Irish to contend for another title. For Daniels and Jones, along with Chris Brown, it looks like at the very least we’ll see tangible improvement. The question will be if they can continue to give Rees legit downfield options against better competition as the season progresses.
Life After Manti
The defense did what they should do…for most of the game. The second quarter got a little rough as Temple found some momentum and picked apart the Irish with some slants and quick outs. These are pass plays that are extremely hard to defend and I don’t mind seeing it happen, but when you get the offense into third down situations with at least five yards to go, you have to tighten up. Notre Dame failed this part of the test and allowed the Owls to stay close.
In the second half the defense buckled down and took all life away from Temple. Notre Dame had scored on a big catch-and-run by Troy Niklas to get a halftime lead of 21-6, and that’s all it would take. The Irish did a great job of getting third down stops when they needed them and never let the Owls get back into the game emotionally. It reminded me more of the shutdown defense we grew accustomed to seeing last year, but I’d still like to see the defensive backs be a bit more aggressive and play tighter coverage as they face better talent on the offensive side of the ball.
What’s Next For the Irish?
Notre Dame travels northeast to face their not-so-traditional rival in Ann Arbor. Michigan opened up with an impressive victory but there were plenty of reasons for Wolverine fans to show concern as well. Quarterback Devin Gardner looked extremely pedestrian with 162 yards passing (1 TD) and 52 yards rushing (2 TD), but with two interceptions against a bad Central Michigan defense. Also, second string running back Drake Johnson tore his ACL early in the game and has been ruled out for the rest of the season.
Personally, I don’t think either team showed much of their hands in week one, staying reserved and taking care of business. ESPN’s GameDay crew will be in Ann Arbor for Saturday night’s showdown, and this one shouldn’t disappoint.
Week One Stress Test
I saw a lot of Notre Dame fans inching closer to the cliff this weekend. I know it wasn’t the huge blowout that it probably should have been, and I know the Irish were lucky the that Temple field goal and PAT units were downright terrible. That said, the team showed composure and never panicked. Was Saturday stressful for Notre Dame and its fans? Yes. But…
“Stressful” might have been the word of choice for most players and fans on a day that saw FCS teams upsetting their senior circuit brethren throughout the afternoon and night. Even a lot of the top teams that won had some issues. Florida looked exceptionally pedestrian against Toledo; Ohio State’s defense looked soft against a bad Buffalo squad; Texas A&M’s defense obviously doesn’t get Johnny Manziel money for their autographs; Nebraska fans are still using defibrillators after squeaking by Wyoming.
What’s the lesson? Be thankful — it could have been a LOT worse, Irish.