The first quarter of the season is complete and with this week being the first bye week of the season, now would be as good a time as ever to look back at the first three games of the season to see just where the Irish stand. Record wise nobody is complaining with the Irish being 3-0 with wins over Rice, Michigan, and Purdue and the outlook of the entire season looking much brighter than it did a few weeks ago. Even with the academic investigation not complete and dragging into the season, the Irish have been able to plug and play players to fill in the holes and have so far done a pretty good job of it. Lets take a look at some interesting statistics from the first three weeks and also give out grades for each position group for the first quarter of the season
Stats and Notes:
- Notre Dame has scored at least 30 points in their first three games of the season, the first time that has happened since Brian Kelly arrived at Notre Dame
- Through three games Notre Dame is converting 47% of its third downs while holding their opponents to a 37% conversion rate.
- Notre Dame has been in the red zone fourteen times so far this season. The Irish are 14/14 in those trips in scoring with ten touchdowns and four field goals.
- The Irish have intercepted six passes by through three games. Those six interceptions were intercepted by six different players
- Notre Dame has scored 13 touchdowns in their first three games while only allowing opponents into the end zone four times.
- Notre Dame has won each of its first three games by at least 16 points. The last time an Irish team did that was in 1987
- Notre Dame ranks 4th nationally in scoring defense allowing only 10.3 points per game.
There is really not a more impressive way for Everett Golson to start of the season. After sitting out the entire 2013 season, Golson has quickly put himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation. After the first three games, Golson is 62 of 96 passing for 780 yards, seven touchdowns and ZERO interceptions or fumbles. Notre Dame ranks 51st nationally in Passing offense averaging 260 yards per game. Even with a receiving corps full of new faces, Golson has had pretty good chemistry with his receivers and has looked very crisp and comfortable in the pocket. Irish fans can only hope that Golson keeps up this performance because if he plays at this level, the wins will keep piling up. Grade: A
The running game has been a bit underwhelming in the first quarter of the season. After a strong performance against Rice, Notre Dame had two lackluster performances running the football against Michigan and Purdue. The Irish are currently ranked 70th nationally averaging a very average 158 yards per game. Greg Bryant leads the team in rushing with 119 yards while Tarean Folston is a close second with 110 yards. Those types of numbers are what we were hoping these guys to have in one game, not three games. With the amount of talent in the Irish backfield it is vital to get the running game going in order to keep defenses off balance to open up the passing game for Everett Golson. Grade: C
With Davaris Daniels still being held out as the academic investigation continues, Will Fuller has been the breakout star in the Irish receiving corps early on this season. While he has had some drops early on, he leads the team with 19 receptions for 225 yards and three touchdowns. He has really shown the speed that we all expected. Amir Carlise and CJ Prosice have been very effective in the slot and are adding even more speedy weapons to Golson’s arsenal. Torii Hunter will return to the lineup next week against Syracuse to make his Notre Dame debut which should add another weapon to the offense. Chris Brown has been disappointing thus far, being very inconsistent and really not playing to the level that many thought he would. There have been some miscues in terms of communication with the receivers in terms of routes and play calls as well as a couple drops. That is going to need to get cleaned up quickly. Grade: B-
If there was one part of the offense that has not looked impressive through the first three weeks it would be the offensive line. There have been some major issues in both run and pass blocking that are real concerns for the Irish. The offensive line along with not really opening running lanes to allow the running game going, they have also given up six sacks in the first three games. At times the offensive line has had real trouble maintaining blocks in the passing game, especially against Purdue. Brian Kelly said following the win over Purdue that he was going to talk to the coaching staff about possibly moving some players to different positions along the line. After the first three games performance that is a pretty good idea. Grade: C-
So far this season the defensive line has really been Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. They looked not bad against Rice, played a fantastic game against Michigan, but then look to take a step back after a fairly lackluster performance against Purdue. The line had a hard time getting any pressure on the Purdue quarterback this past weekend and that is not a good sign with much tougher opponents looming on the schedule. Sheldon Day however has played very well so far this season and is really looking like he is turning into a dominant force on defense. Jarron Jones has also shown some flashes of brilliance which is a reason for some optimism. We saw that the defensive line can play very well in Brian VanGorders scheme in the Michigan game. Now we have to see if they can get back to that level and stay there. Grade: B-
Let me go ahead and get this out of the way. Jaylon Smith is a beast and is without a doubt the best player on defense. Other than Jaylon Smith the linebackers have had a pretty season so far. Joe Schmidt is playing far better than people expected him too and he looks nothing like a former walk on. VanGorder has shown he is not afraid to mix up the blitz packages and bring linebackers from all areas of the field to get pressure on the quarterback. While we have not seen much of Ben Council, expect that to change once Stanford comes to town in a few weeks as Brian Kelly will bring him in to help against the physical offense of the Cardinal. Jared Grace is still out with an injury however he is getting closer and closer to playing time. He will not play against Syracuse but I don’t think its out of the realm of possibly he could return for Stanford. The group hasn’t been super flashy early on but they have not made many mistakes either. Oh yea and Jaylon Smith is a beast. Grade: B+
In my opinion even without KeiVarae Russell playing right now, the secondary is the strength of the Irish defense at this point in the season and I believe it will stay that way all year long. The Irish have already intercepted six passes through three games and the entire unit is really thriving in VanGorder’s scheme. Mathias Farley, a player that after a lackluster performance last year, has really thrived and is playing his best football in his new nickel corner position. Both Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are doing more than enough in coverage at the corner positions. Redfield and Shumate have played really well at the safety positions and Austin Collinsworth should return to the lineup soon after missing the first three games with a strained MCL. The only issue with the secondary that worries me going forward is depth. Going on the assumption that Russell will not return this season (I dont know that is the case I am just assuming) and Nikki Barrati being out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury, Notre Dame can not afford any more injuries. Grade A-
In years past this is normally where I would be talking about how the special teams is a mess yet again and trying to figure out what to do due to fix it. However that is not the case this season. Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant has finally provided and successful punt return unit and Amir Carlise has looked good on kickoffs as well. Kyle Brindza is a valuable weapon in all facets of the kicking game especially on kickoffs. Forcing your opponent to start on the 25 without a chance at a return is always good and is a big part of Notre Dame’s success. Grade: A-