Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Notre Dame at the quarter pole
By Matt Fortuna
Notre Dame will not run the regular-season table for the second straight season. That much we know. That might be all we know, though, about a 3-1 team that has yet to answer many questions as it readies for Saturday's showdown with No. 15 Oklahoma. Here's what we make of the No. 22 Irish so far.
The play of QB Tommy Rees is a big reason why Notre Dame has started 3-1.
Best game: From the Irish's standpoint, Week 1's 28-6 win against Temple marked their most complete performance. Tommy Rees threw for 346 yards and three scores, Notre Dame tallied a season-best 188 rushing yards, TJ Jones hauled in 138 receiving yards and DaVaris Daniels notched his first two career touchdowns. Stephon Tuitt recorded a sack in what was the defense's most complete performance, too.
Best player: We'll go with Jones. The senior captain has a team-best 21 catches on the season. His 304 receiving yards are just one yard fewer than Daniels. The senior has two touchdowns on the year. And, despite some close calls and questionable decisions as a punt returner so far, Jones has tallied 43 yards on five returns. Notre Dame netted just 46 punt return yards all of last season.
Best performance: Daniels' second half against Purdue was the best individual effort we have seen from an Irish player this season. The redshirt sophomore recorded six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns over the final two frames to key a comeback win over Purdue. On back-to-back offensive plays in the fourth quarter, Daniels hauled in a nine-yard touchdown catch and an 82-yard score, stiff-arming Ricardo Allen much of the way on the second touchdown, which gave the Irish their first lead of the night. He finished the night with eight catches for 167 yards in the 31-24 win.
Best surprise: Rees has made much smarter decisions so far in his senior year, and he is a big reason the Irish have managed to pull off a 3-1 record so far, and not 1-3. No, he is not Everett Golson physically, and to expect him to do some of the things Golson did is unreasonable. But Rees has just two turnovers on the year, both in the loss against Michigan, and he has been sacked just three times. He's 12th nationally in passing yards, with 1,111, and he has completed 56 percent of his throws this year to go with eight touchdown passes. He has gotten next-to-zero support from his ground game, too. Not surprisingly, Rees has also been a first-class leader, as evidenced by his rallying of the team on the sideline and having everyone's full attention in the second half at Purdue. You just don't see many college teams respond to a quarterback like that, and that's a testament to Rees.
Biggest disappointment: The run game has been missing, but the defense was the unit that shouldered the heaviest expectations entering 2013. The line has often been negated, the linebackers clearly miss Manti Te'o and the secondary has missed a number of tackles on big plays that have led to touchdowns. Seven starters returned to a unit that finished second nationally in scoring D last year. While the Irish are coming off a strong game against Michigan State, it remains to be seen if they can even come close to following last year's act.