Sunday, September 07, 2008

Notre Dame 21, San Diego State 13

Quarterback: Jimmy Clausen is still only a sophomore, and one whose development was stunted last year by injury and lack of protection. Early in the game, Clausen looked more like a backyard quarterback than a college quarterback, locking in on one receiver and directing him into space while himself scrambling farther and farther back. But when it counted, Clausen stepped up and figured things out. The quarterback had completed only 50 percent of his passes at halftime. But due to a solid second half performance, Clausen finished with a completion rate just under 62 percent (21 of 34). Clausen did have two interceptions. But the first bounced off of Duval Kamara's shoulder pads and the second off of his fingertips. Clausen deserves most of the blame for the latter, but not the former.

Running Back: Armando Allen and Robert Hughes each had over 50 yards rushing and about a 3.5 yards per carry average. That's nice against a tough defense, but not against a poor rushing defense with three linemen out. Maybe the Aztecs were just flooding the box and forcing Clausen to beat them. Hughes and Allen each had three catches, Hughes for 32 yards and Allen for 18. James Aldridge did not see the field in this one. According to Coach Weis, the offense wasn't on the field enough in the first half for Aldridge to get his reps, and in the second half the Irish went into their hurry-up offense, which does not include Aldridge. That could be an indicator of things to come for the running back rotation.

Receiver: Golden Tate has added at least three new patterns to his repertoire - the comeback, the slant, and the "scramble around while Jimmy Clausen does the same." While Tate didn't have much success with that last route, he did do well with the first two. Filling in for a cramped and struggling Duval Kamara, Tate became the offensive star for the Irish, picking up 93 yards and a touchdown on six catches. Tate caught the ball in space, in traffic, you name it. Kamara didn't fare nearly as well, dropping more passes than he caught (one). David Grimes added five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. Interestingly enough, it was the 5'10" Grimes, not the 6'5" Kamara, 6'3" Michael Floyd, or even the 6'2" Robby Parris who was called on to catch a fade pass in the end zone late in the game. Floyd did start his Irish career off with a bang, catching a 22-yard touchdown for the first score of the season. Parris, meanwhile, didn't see the field in this game.

Tight End: Kyle Rudolph caught a pass for five yards in his Notre Dame debut. Will Yeatman, primarily used as the blocking tight end, added a catch for four yards. With the lack of depth at tight end, the passing game is turning its attention to the backs and receivers.

Offensive Line: Jimmy Clausen was never sacked, but it took a few ill-advised Houdini acts for that to happen. And against a poor rushing defense, the Irish were only able to gain 122 yards, 3.1 per carry.

Defensive Line: The defensive line combined for three tackles in this one, and that's only if you count John Ryan as a defensive end instead of an outside linebacker, as he's listed on the depth chart. Ryan, Ethan Johnson, and Morrice Richardson had one tackle each, and Ryan had a mitt on two passes - one that went to Kerry Neal as an interception. Johnson was making his Notre Dame debut. Hopefully the poor output by this unit was due to the fact that San Diego State didn't run the ball much.

Linebacker: Let's hope that John Tenuta was playing his cards close to his chest in preparation for the upcoming Michigan game. The much-anticipated blitzing schemes accounted for only four quarterback hits (QBH) and one sack, recorded by an untouched Maurice Crum. Crum also had six tackles, while Brian Smith contributed four tackles and a QBH from his new inside position. Harrison Smith and Kerry Neal each had three tackles, while Neal added a QBH and an interception. Darius Fleming debuted with a single tackle. Also, mild kudos to the coaching staff for making the halftime adjustment to actually cover the Aztecs running back out of the backfield on pass plays.

Safety: If you count Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown - who played a majority of the game as the nickel back - as safeties, the unit recorded 33 of the team's 56 tackles. Kyle McCarthy flew under the radar in this game, recording 14 tackles, twice as much as the next Notre Dame defender - David Bruton with seven. Bruton also had a pass breakup and the key forced fumble and recovery. Sergio Brown may have played his way into another start with six tackles, one for a loss, two pass breakups, and a quarterback hit.

Cornerback: San Diego State passed for 274 yards, and that number would have been well over 300 if it wasn't for a number of drops. Notre Dame played a maddeningly soft zone to start the game, and while their man coverage wasn't spectacular later in the game, it was an improvement. Terrail Lambert had six tackles and two pass breakups. Raeshon McNeil, somewhat surprisingly, had one pass breakup but no tackles.

Kicker: Brandon Walker missed a 47-yard field goal wide right, but on a positive note he had more than enough distance on it. A second field goal attempt was thwarted by a botched hold. Ryan Burkhart averaged 60.5 yards per kickoff, giving the Aztecs returner an average start of the 9.5 yard line. But some of those kicks were intentionally short directional line drives meant to prevent long returns.

Punter: Eric Maust may not win any awards, but he had a decent day. Maust averaged 39.8 yards per punt with a long of 50 yards.

Kick Returner: Armando Allen had two returns for 46 yards, with a long of 29. Golden Tate had one 28-yard return.

Punt Returner: Armando Allen had two punt returns, one of 13 yards and one of 22. The second one had a few nice cutbacks, but not every team will be beat by those kinds of tricks.

Special Teams: Mike Anello was playing with a new number (37), but the same heart. Anello was almost always the first man down the field on kicks and punts, and as often as his name was called, it's amazing that he only had two tackles on the day.