Monday, October 1, 2012
Notre Dame: Looking back and forward
By Matt Fortuna
The first month of the season is in the books. Let's revisit some of it, and look at what October could bring us.
1. Notre Dame is 4-0. This is a big deal. The Irish have not had a 4-0 start since 2002. They have beaten three of the Big Ten's better teams (sly word choice there, eh?) and have put themselves in a good position to make a run at a BCS game.
2. The defense has been phenomenal. We knew the defense would be good. But this good? No. 3 scoring defense in the country (9 points per game) good? With an early-season Heisman contender at linebacker and a pass-rusher as lethal as any in the country? Check out this stat unearthed yesterday by media relations director John Heisler: Notre Dame is now the only FBS football team in the country that has never trailed in a game so far in 2012.
3. The turnover margin. Want the biggest reason the Irish are undefeated? Look no further than their plus-2.25 turnover margin, third in the nation. The defense has forced 13 turnovers in four games, one shy of its season total from 2011. And more importantly, the offense has protected the ball, giving it away just four times this season. (It had five turnovers in each of its first two games last season.)
1. The quarterback situation is unsettled. Everett Golson has shown flashes of potential here and there, and he was a terrific game manager in both of the Irish's road contests. But he looked overwhelmed by the stage against Michigan, and Tommy Rees came in to save the day for the second time. The Irish are winning, so there's not much room to complain, but there is plenty of room for improvement from the quarterback of the future, regardless of how well Rees plays when he is in.
2. Little help from receiving unit. Defenses have wisely focused on Tyler Eifert, leaving the best tight end in America with just one catch over the past two games. No one has stepped up to make the plays with Eifert covered, leaving much room for the passing game as a whole. DaVaris Daniels, who left one game with an ankle sprain and barely played in another, leads the team with 159 receiving yards on the season.
3. Injury bug. The secondary will eventually be tested. Losing a fifth-year senior such as Jamoris Slaughter makes that eventual test all the more difficult. Make no mistake, the three starting newcomers, particularly Bennett Jackson, have done everything the Irish could have hoped for so far. Zeke Motta has emerged as a leader. But Slaughter's versatility is a big loss, and Notre Dame can't just rely on its front seven to be so dominant in every game this season.
Top storylines in October
1. Can the Irish run the table? Hey, they've done it so far. And it's easy for many to look ahead and think of a possible 7-0 Notre Dame team entering Norman, Okla., on Oct. 27. The daunting schedule looks far less daunting, and the Irish have every reason so far to feel that they can win every game. But they also have enough shortcomings that have kept them from running away in games they should win easily, so there is little margin for error against every October opponent.
2. Will the offense come through when needed? Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin made the point that the offense has delivered when called upon so far: against Purdue and against Michigan. But if the defense doesn't play at the same insanely high level it has so far, will the offense be consistent enough for four quarters to pick everyone up? Eventually the Irish will be tested to win a game with their offense, not in spite of it, and development there over the next month is crucial.
3. Quarterback situation. Check back next month, though I don't think this section will change.