Since simply winning has not slaked the thirst of Irish fans, I am happy to play the role of Mr. Glass Half-Full in order to prevent ND Nation from becoming Jonestown, Part II. So, without further adieu, here are your optimistic thoughts:
- JIMMY STAYED CLEAN: Yes, I recognize that this was a banged-up defense (and a pretty awful one even when healthy), but keeping Clausen upright all afternoon, after the horrors visited upon him last year, has to be considered a step forward for the O-Line.
- THE RECEIVERS ARE SOLID: With Golden Tate, Michael Floyd and David Grimes all stepping up, it hardly mattered that Duval Kamara had an AWFUL day. Also, bear in mind, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Will Yeatman had exactly two catches. They will certainly get more chances as the season progresses (more on that later).
- THE RUNNING GAME WILL BE FINE: Though the Irish offense did not stick to the "pound it" script we were promised, there were flashes of promise from the backfield. Armando Allen has clearly become a stronger and more complete back since last year. He is still quick and fluid as a runner, with the added ability to shed tacklers. If he stays healthy, he will pay huge dividends. Add in to the mix, the power of Hughes, the hybrid that is James Aldridge (more on him later as well), and the monster-in-waiting that is Jonas Gray and this is a group that's going to give teams fits. In order to be able to conduct a successful running offense, you must be able to commit to it. Unfortunately, against San Diego State, stupid mistakes prevented Notre Dame from being able to do that. Rest assured, before the season is out, we will be speaking fondly of the Irish ability to wear down opponents with their running game.
- THE DEFENSE IS GOING TO BE VERY GOOD: While I admit, I would have liked to have seen Ryan Lindley on his back a bit more, the defense did do a fairly good job of pressuring him. Moreover, the defense backs (who were consistently in single coverage), did a great job of shutting down YAC. Keep in mind, this was the first time this defense has played Tenuta's blitz-happy attack in live action - they're only going to get better as they get more comfortable with the schemes.
- NOTRE DAME BECAME A TEAM: Through the first three quarters yesterday, Notre Dame's offense was, at best, erratic. They never seemed to be in synch, there were stupid mental mistakes and they were unable to take advantage of the considerable talent gap that existed between them and SDSU. Then, after David Bruton recovered Brandon Sullivan's fumble, the switch seemed to click 'on'. The offense was able to roll, impose their will and get points. For their part, the defense was also reinvigorated and shut down the Aztecs the rest of the way. Simply put, this was not the same team that played the first three quarters. I have seen this type of thing before. A team survives a near-catastrophe and becomes much better for the experience (think the 2004 Red Sox going down 3-0 to the Yankees and then storming back to take the AL pennant and the World Series). Put it in writing, the rest of this season, the Irish will be the team you saw in the fourth quarter. That may not be enough to beat every team on their schedule, but it will be enough to beat most.
- MICHIGAN WILL SEE MORE: Per my earlier comments re: the tight ends and James Aldridge, Notre Dame clearly did not tip its hand and offer up the full compliment of offensive threats it possesses this week. I believe this was largely by design. Given San Diego States struggles, I would suggest that Charlie and the offensive coaches felt as though they could get by without unleashing the full arsenal. With Michigan coming to town next week, they were no doubt conscious of what looks and personnel they showed. Consider that, as mentioned previously, Aldridge didn't play at all and the tight ends were an insignificant part of the offense. Beyond that, after his touchdown catch, Michael Floyd didn't see another ball thrown his way and, in spite of their early success running towards Sam Young and Chris Stewart, most of the later runs were towards Eric Olsen and Mike Turkovich. If I had to bet, I'd lay good money the Wolverines are going to see a lot of things from the Irish that SDSU did not.
- WE'RE NOT ALONE: In the first two weeks of this new season, Notre Dame has not been the only team to struggle against an opponent that, on paper, they should have easily vanquished. Virginia Tech, Pitt, Ohio State, Michigan, West Virginia and a host of others have either lost and/or struggled in games against competition that was deemed inferior to them prior to the game. Part of this is parity, part of this is looking past a team and part of this is the famed "on any given day" phenomena. While it's certainly disconcerting to fans, it's part of the game and, at some point, it happens to everyone (talk to USC about its home loss to Stanford last year).
There, do you feel better now?