It was another win on a neutral field as Notre Dame remains undefeated in the Shamrock Series. This time the Irish dispatched Maryland with ease inside FedEx Field in Landover.
It was 38-7 heading into the fourth quarter when many backups got some playing time on defense, and Notre Dame cruised to a 24-point victory---covering the spread.
The Fighting Irish have now won three games in a row---including 7 of their last 8---and will return home next Saturday to host the 3-7 Boston College Eagles on Senior Day.
With this win over Maryland, the Irish have now moved up to #24 in the AP Poll.
Unit breakdowns after the jump.
Offensive Line: B+
I will disagree with the majority opinion here and say the offensive line played very well, but a bit below their typical dominant performance. It seemed to me that Maryland was really intent on getting pressure on Rees off the edges, and that really helped the line push forward up the middle and gash Maryland for yards on the ground.
Still, the line was purely dominant on all but two or three rushing plays. Even giving up three sacks, only one was a clear instance of the line getting beat up front. With Golic getting his first career start at center, the offensive line put in a very good effort.
Tight End: A-
Of course a lot of that has to do with Rudolph's inability to stay healthy throughout his career, but I really think Eifert has turned into an elite tight end. Rudy certainly wasn't a better blocker and Eifert adds a little bit more speed and explosiveness at this position.
With another 8 catches and a touchdown against Maryland, big Tyler Eifert now has 51 receptions, 589 yards, and 5 touchdowns on the season. His 589 receiving yards is third all-time for a single season in Notre Dame history, and just 46 yards away from moving into second place (ahead of John Carlson's 634 yards in 2007).
Eifert will need to average about 70 yards a game over the last three this year (about 10 yards above his current 2011 average) to break Ken MacAfee's 1977 school record.
Wide Receivers: B+
Whoa, a receiver not named Michael Floyd had a big game!?!?
Robby Toma everybody!
This offense is so much better when a second receiver can put up 7 catches and 73 yards like Toma did last night.
So why does Toma always seem to make an impact when he plays, while Jones and Riddick are invisible 95% of the time?
T'is a good question and one I don't have an answer for. Although I will say this: Toma has very good hands, is quick, and gets upfield in a hurry. In other words, Toma doesn't have the size and speed to be a great player, but he does exactly what you want out of someone who is limited.
It's a welcome reprieve from Riddick (who dances far too much---and might not even be that fast) and Jones (who doesn't seem to do much anything at a high level).*
*Based on my excitement for Jones upon his recruitment, I've been really disappointed with his performance so far through nearly two full years. Daniels, Greenberry, and Ferguson will see a lot of playing time next year---bank on it.
Elsewhere, Michael Floyd had another good game, snagging 9 balls for 90 yards and one score. He'd probably have close to 150 yards or more if some longer passes were in his vicinity and if he had caught both of his uncharacteristic drops.
Running Backs: A
I don't think I have to spend much time on these guys. 235 yards with three touchdowns will get it done every single time.
Statistically, this was a great game from Rees and perhaps the best of his career so far.
At the same time, those numbers (30 for 38, 296 yards, 2 TD with no turnovers) don't exactly match up with that we saw with our eyes.
Does Rees deserve credit for putting up those numbers and being smart with the ball?
Absolutely he does. But if we're truthful we may agree that it was also a pretty pedestrian performance given the opponent and the throws Rees completed.
Upwards of maybe 30 passes were within 10-12 yards and less from the line of scrimmage. Clearly you have to differentiate between 80% completion with nearly all short throws versus a more vertical passing game out of the spread like we see with the two Oklahoma teams.
Rees is becoming a poor man's Colt McCoy---but is that going to be good enough?
If we assume Rees improves his accuracy like McCoy did (73.6% his last two years) will the Notre Dame offense be able to improve in 2012 in a post-Floyd era without ever (likely) being an accurate down field passer or even a serviceable runner?
That's what I'm concerned about. I know Rees can complete a bunch of short passes and generally manage the game well. Heck, he's probably going to end up with 3,000 passing yards, a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, with a 65% and higher completion percentage---this is very good.
But can he improve his game to the point where he's able to hit tougher throws down field and carry the offense if the running game isn't great or the line isn't protecting him all the time?
I'll tell you what though, games against Stanford and (possibly) Florida State will be good tests to finish this season.
Defensive Line: A-
Another strong performance by the line, limiting Maryland's running backs to 96 yards on 28 carries. The pass rush was generally pretty solid but there were no sacks and they allowed the Terp quarterbacks to break contain on a handful of plays (68 yards on 11 carries---these runs by the QB will kill your stat line).
What you have to like about this group is that they were physical and didn't give many holes to run through. There's still a lack of big time playmaking ability like we've hoped for, but they are the rock upon which this defense leans every game.
There are a lot of young players who have received different amounts of hype on this team, and Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt, and Louis Nix are the guys who are living up to it on a game-to-game and play-to-play basis.
When Te'o is fighting through an ankle injury and has a very quiet night (4 tackles) this unit is usually not going to get a very good grade.
Some positives: These players fill gaps pretty well and can stop the run. When Te'o is healthy we know what he can do, and for the most part Darius Fleming has been very good at the Cat position.
Outside of that, this group needs a lot of work.
Every single team can complete passes in front of the linebackers and usually make one of the 'backers miss in the open field (that is if they don't take a horrible angle to begin with). And if an opponent wants, just run behind the linebackers and you'll complete passes all day long.
To be sure, this group has been a big disappointment, especially with Te'o and his injury problems.
Speaking of which, why not sit Te'o out against Boston College?
Kelly has said in the past that Kendall Moore (4 tackles and 1 for loss against Maryland) is the backup to Te'o and doesn't play the other middle linebacker position. If Moore isn't going to see anytime in front of Fox & Calabrese (which I think is a mistake), then why not see what he can do against a poor BC team and rest up Te'o?
Sign me up for trying out some new things with the linebackers and giving Moore and Spond a lot more playing time.
This was a pretty good game from the secondary, but they were helped out by some drops and general poor play from Maryland's quarterbacks.
The pick six from Lo Wood boosts the grade, but Blanton's penalties also lower it.
One positive was that this was one of the few games where there weren't any major mistakes from the safety position---I'm looking at you Zeke Motta.
Special Teams: A-
Can I still give an A for a grade if the team still can't return punts?
Why yes I can!
Not much to speak of on kick coverage on either side of the ball, but Ruffer nailed his longest career field goal and Turk launched his longest career punt as well.
Very well done on special teams against Maryland.
When you dominate an opponent there isn't much to discuss afterwards. There are two heated debates left to talk about however.
There a ton of different angles you can take when talking about Hendrix and the quarterback situation.
Here's what I think---Kelly never had much of a plan for Hendrix and with Rees taking over for Crist at halftime in the first game, the "plan" now is take try and keep everyone happy.
This is what happens when there are 3 or more quarterbacks seeing the field in one season.
Truth is, I don't think Hendrix needs to play in the change-of-pace package, but he most definitely has to play when there is a comfortable lead for the Irish. And if you're going to make Hendrix the Tim Tebow guy out there, use it more often, regardless of what the score is, and don't be afraid to throw the ball either.
Notre Dame has won very comfortably in four out of ten games this year, and Hendrix has thrown a total of 5 passes and ran the ball 9 times. That is not much development.
Does it mean Kelly views Rees' development as paramount---and as a result that he's very likely to start next year---or is this a coach mishandling what is admittedly a very difficult quarterback situation?
On the uniforms...
Nice effort, but poor execution almost from head to toe.
I didn't think the helmets were that bad, but that
black green facemask really threw the design off.
I still don't like this version of the green jerseys---too much damn gold.^ Using white numbers would go a long way to letting that green shine and not suffocating the whole design with gold here, there, and everywhere.
^I liked the "Irish" and the leprechaun on the long undershirts---but flesh colored, really? Green, black, or even white would have been a much better choice.
Interestingly, the metallic gold pants came back for this game. Will they return for the rest of the season?
As I've said for a while now, the Fighting Irish under Brian Kelly are a very sloppy and schizophrenic dressed football club. This is why the NFL has uniform rules, because if you leave these decisions up to the players (as Kelly seems to be doing) you get a lot of awkward and dissimilar looks within your own team.
The green shamrock didn't match the facemask, and neither matched the green jersey. The gold pants and jersey numbers matched, but neither matched the helmet. And with such a dark overall uniform look (aided by those "might as well be black" facemasks) they decided to go with the white cleats worn during the UTL Michigan game.
When you put that all together and then have some players wearing white spats and tape, others wearing black spats and tape, and some wearing high socks, while others pushing their socks down---you get a team that doesn't look like a team.
Anyway, watch this week's Irish Connection as we get ready for Boston College next weekend.