Wow - that was impressive. I have watched a lot of ND season openers and that may have been the best I can remember. Sure, it wasn't beating a ranked team or winning in dramatic fashion, but it was going out and absolutely dominating a solid team that will be playing in a bowl game this year. More importantly, in back-to-back games, dating to last year's Hawaii Bowl, the Irish finally look as though they are playing up to their enormous potential. So, without further adieu, a few random and disconnected observations from the game:
- Jimmy looked fantastic yet again. In his last two games, he has two more touchdown passes than incompletions (9 to 7). Let that sink in for a second. There's still plenty of season left to play, but I hope that what Clausen is doing will begin to silence his critics. The kid deserves some serious respect.
- On each of his four catches, Michael Floyd showed why he was such a highly-recruited player. He managed to use his size, speed, strength and soft hands to blow the game wide open. I'm not sure I've ever seen an Irish receiver have a game like Floyd did.
- With all the focus on Floyd, it's easy to overlook Golden Tate, Kyle Rudolph and the rest of the receivers, all of whom played very well. For me, the best part is, ND was able to win big by showing only a little of what it's capable of bringing to bear. There is so much depth for defensive coordinators to worry about, I wouldn't be surprised if each week someone new is stepping up in a big way.
- I hated the Wildcat. Yes, it's something for other teams to consider in their game-planning, but it was not well-executed and served as a bit of a momentum drain.
- The offensive line looked much, much better. Against a good run defense (6th nationally in 2008), the Irish managed 178 yards on the ground. That's 90 more than teams averaged against the Wolfpack last year. They also provided outstanding protection against a pass rush that was 11th nationally in sacks last year. On top of all that is what they didn't do...no false starts and no stupid holding penalties. While they're an experienced group, there was some position shifting that took place in the offseason. To perform this well in their new roles the first game out is a very good sign.
- Speaking of the running game, this may have been the first time we've had a chance to appreciate the depth the Irish have in the backfield. In all, five backs got carries and all did well. Among the rushing leaders, Allen looked good, but I thought Gray looked better. It's going to be tough for Weis to not give him more and more carries as the season progresses. Riddick looked surprisingly good, but he really needs to stop trying to leap over people before he gets himself hurt (full disclosure, the first time he did it, I thought it was great).
- Overall, nice gameplan for Charlie. He took what the defense was giving and didn't really try to force anything or get too fancy.
- This team is nothing if not a streak breaker. In December, they ended the program's nine-game, 15-year bowl losing streak which included the first kickoff return TD since 2002 (and first in a bowl game since 1973). This season, they open things up with Notre Dame's first shutout in seven seasons.
- While I am definitely concerned with the way the Irish defended the run - giving up over 150 yards on the ground and over 5 ypc - I can't help wondering if a big part of that wasn't The Pistol. As I mentioned in the IBG this week, it's an offense Notre Dame has never faced before, so it would be natural for them to struggle in defending it; particularly when it's run as expertly it is by Nevada. No, the Irish don't get a pass on this, but I'm not sure I'm as freaked out yet as some other ND fans.
- The pass rush was awesome. It seems as though the team has finally "gotten" Tenuta's system and the right players are in place to make it work. Kaepernick was harassed all day and, were he not as mobile as he is, would have been sacked a bunch more.
- In spite of being touted as one of the best defensive backfields in the country, I thought the secondary left a lot to be desired. Nevada does not have a particularly good group of receivers, but they managed to get open with regularity and, if they had been better able to hang on to the ball, this would have been a more competitive game.
- Manti Te'o was great. That young man has quite a motor and who didn't love watching him apply the "Te'o KO" to a few ball carriers. I can't imagine he doesn't see the field a ton this year.
- While the depth on offense is obvious, the defense is no slouch either. In spite of wholesale substitution in the latter portion of the game, ND's defense continued to be intense and very solid throughout. Great to see.
So, I was right that ND would win and I was nearly right on the points they'd score (I said 38), but I was way off on the type of contest it would turn out to be (I thought ND would win, 38-31). Each game, there are going to be things fans can criticize, but it's hard not to really love what the Irish did against Nevada. They managed to carry the momentum they gained against Hawaii into this season and start it off already in midseason form. What I think we witnessed on Saturday was the great benefit that has been gained from the last two years. Despite still being a relatively young team, it is one that has is very experienced and, as a result, knows how to pick up where it left off. As always, each week will be a unique challenge but, after watching the way things have started off, I feel very confident in what this team can and will do this year.