Sunday, September 4, 2011
What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 1
By Matt Fortuna
QB Tommy Rees played well against South Florida in spite of harsh conditions.
1. The QB battle is back open: It lasted all spring, most of summer and through 19 preseason practices, but here we go again. Dayne Crist couldn't get the offense going following his opening drive, something Tommy Rees had little trouble doing in the second half. Rees' numbers (24 of 34, 296 yards) were impressive in harsh weather conditions and against a USF defense playing the pass the entire time he was in. During the summer and again Saturday, the rest of the offense has seemed to see little difference between which signal caller was running the offense. Still, a decision on Crist -- a senior who overcame two devastating knee injuries before winning the job -- will be interesting.
2. The red zone is a nightmare: There are reasons the Irish dropped a game despite outgaining the opposition by exactly a 2-to-1 margin (508 yards to 254). Five turnovers, for one. And, more specifically, three giveaways inside the USF 20 yard line. Jonas Gray fumbled at the goal line, resulting in a 96-yard Bulls touchdown, and Crist and Rees each tossed an interception inside the 10. Notre Dame has to capitalize when it gets scoring chances, a task that will be all the more difficult this Saturday as a guest inside the sport's biggest stadium.
3. Special teams must improve:Theo Riddick failed to impress on returns Saturday, fumbling a punt that USF recovered at the Irish 20 and struggling to handle several other returns. David Ruffer whiffed on his only field goal attempt, a 30-yarder late in the third quarter. Brian Kelly sounded like he was determined to keep Riddick in the return role, saying after the game: "I told him to get his butt back out there. If we're going to have the kind of playmakers we need at that position, we don't have a waiver wire, we can't trade for anybody."
4. Penalties need to be curtailed: The Irish committed eight penalties for 73 yards, including five gaffes on defense that resulted in 53 yards. Cornerback Gary Gray's fourth-quarter pass interference on third-and-goal from the Irish 6 proved the most costly, as USF scored a touchdown on its very next play to go up 23-7. The defense, impressive as it was, will need to shore up loose ends before Saturday, as Denard Robinson presents another huge challenge.