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Temple Game Review: Concern on Defense?

The tables were turned and Notre Dame comes out of its opener with a win but a bunch of questions on the defensive side of the ball.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't pretty, especially on defense. The offense however produced a sneaky good performance even if the scoreboard didn't necessarily show it. Without trying to overreact I'm going to ask a lot of questions about this defense after a so-so performance against Temple.

Play Call of the Game: Rees 2nd TD pass to Daniels

On the first series Rees threw a nice post route to Daniels and then followed that up with a nice flag route to Daniels again. Great play call to get Daniels involved early (his first 2 career touchdowns by the way) and Rees put the second one right on the money.

Aesthetically it wasn't the prettiest pass in the world but it's the kind of accurate 30+ yard pass that Rees needs to excel at for this offense to keep humming.

Armchair Quarterback

I would have liked to see some up-tempo. I know, I know don't give anything away to Michigan but can't we at least work on getting comfortable with using it as a weapon?

I think that's a huge part of using the tempo successfully...having your own players being comfortable with it. If it's going to be part of the 2013 gameplan---and it better be---I would have picked a few spots to work on it versus Temple.

Turning Point: Temple missing 4th down conversion to open 2nd half

It was really do or die for Temple at this point, and I totally agree with the decision to go for the touchdown. Notre Dame brought some nice pressure and Reilly flung the ball too far ahead of tight end Chris Coyer giving the Irish the ball deep in their own territory. Rees & Co. responded with a 7-play, 94 yard drive that effectively sealed the game at that point.

For as mediocre as the defense played on Saturday they only gave up 78 more yards to Temple over the rest of the game.

Surprising Stat: 8.75 Yards Per Offensive Play

I've seen a lot of comments on the "atrocious" offense (never change some of you ND fans) but this YPP figure was the 2nd highest of the Kelly era (just behind last year's 8.85 against Wake Forest) and the 3rd highest since 2007.

Sure there's something to be said for only scoring 28 points and not completely grinding down Temple in dominant fashion. Still, with Rees at the helm a figure of 8.75 yards-per-play with no turnovers is something to smile about---especially when many were so worried about a lack of a go-to guy on offense.

TV Call of the Game

"I want Johnny to know that those guys disrespected my course."

That was Mike Mayock late in the third quarter on some long-winded rant about the U.S. Open and Marion golf course. Only on NBC!

Unheralded Star: WR Chris Brown

I know 3 receptions isn't a huge deal but let's remember he only had 2 all of last year. His 33-yard grab was a thing of beauty and a good sign that Brown is going to be able to play tough and go up and get those 50/50 or back shoulder throws that Daniels and Jones excel at.

The offense really needs Brown to be a competent No. 3 receiver and I thought he took a big step forward (especially as a blocker) toward that goal.

Missed Opportunity: 3rd & 5 Incompletion to Daniels on 4th series

Rees put it where it need to be but Daniels came up a little lame tweaking his groin in the process. DaVaris had his man beat and it would have been his 3rd touchdown early in the game and given the Irish an even bigger stranglehold at 21-0 early in the 2nd quarter.

The game might have played out a little differently had Daniels played the following 3 quarters as well.

Bad Flag of the Game: Pass Interference on Bennett Jackson

Perfect coverage by Jackson---he pretty much doesn't even touch the receiver---and the referee throws a flag way after the play finished. It was a first down play after Temple had gained 15 yards to start their drive and moved the ball to mid-field. Luckily, the Owls would miss a field goal on the drive.

Rees Reaction

I'm not blown away, and probably never will be with Rees, but happy enough with his performance.

16 for 23 (69.5%), 346 yards, 3 touchdowns and not even one heinous throw or turnover. Sure it's Temple and the protection was nearly perfect all afternoon but the gameplan was pretty vanilla and he was playing most of the game without a top two receiver. Two thumbs up for Tommy in this game.

Red Zone Success: 50%

The Irish only entered Temple's 20-yard line twice on the afternoon. The first opportunity came on the 94-yard drive and ended with an Atkinson rushing touchdown. The last opportunity came at the end of the game after the Owls fumbled a punt return and the Irish ran out of the clock at Temple's 5-yard line.

A bit of an incomplete grade after one week. It would have been nice to see the 2nd team punch it in on that last possession though.

Special Teams Focus

Stop the presses but I'm not going to overreact to the special teams performance just yet. Notre Dame did block a PAT (Jarron Jones, I see you!), recovered a fumble on punt coverage, and looked okay in kick returns coverage besides a long-ish 39-yard return.

The lack of touch by Brindza on his first two punts was bad, but he did respond with a few nice boots later in the game. I was pretty worried about this position and I'll take that performance all things considered.

Field goal kicking is worrisome. However, there's nothing tougher in college football than kicking on Notre Dame Stadium's crappy field when there's been some rain. Tausch and Brindza are proven placekickers who should turn it around in the coming weeks.

I don't have much faith in Atkinson as a kick returner, but I do like the 23 yards gained in punt returns. WE'RE ON PACE FOR ALMOST 300 PUNT RETURN YARDS IS THIS REAL LIFE?

Trench Analysis

I don't think it was a great performance by the offensive line---a better rushing performance was needed I think---but the protection was outstanding on nearly every pass play. Outside of Lombard getting smoked early on there didn't appear to be any big mistakes.

It was a frustrating performance for the defensive linemen, and I'm sure they feel the same way too. You have to give Temple quarterback Connor Reilly a lot of credit because he got himself out of a lot of trouble and got rid of the ball just in time on innumerable plays. His sneaky good performance in this game really bothered the defense as a whole and especially the defensive line. For example, the Irish officially put up 9 quarterback hurries and in reality it was probably over 12. That's a really solid number but only 1 sacks and 2 tackles for loss is not what we expected from this line.

Freshmen Update

Ten (!!!) true freshmen saw action on Saturday.

RB Greg Bryant

RB Tarean Folston

WR Corey Robinson

WR Will Fuller

WR James Onwualu

DE Isaac Rochell

OLB Jaylon Smith

CB Cole Luke

CB Devin Butler

S Max Redfield

If my eyes were correct I believe Butler, Onwualu and Redfield were restricted to just special teams---and all three picked up one tackle a piece. Obviously, Bryant and Folston came in late and played well. Robinson and Fuller played early and the latter was pretty surprising.

Rochell picked up 3 tackles in some decent playing time. Jaylon played okay but struggled at times and I think Luke really struggled most of the snaps he played.

Hit of the Game

Atkinson nearly got decapitated again on his first carry of the game. It was a nice run up the middle and he shook off an initial tackle but he spun around and took a really big shot by a Temple linebacker.

Final Thoughts

All five running backs got carries so it's tough to judge them all on such a small sample size. Carlisle's first 45-yard run was great but he finished the rest of the game with just 3.8 yards per carry on 6 more touches. Atkinson had a 14-yard run and then just 2.8 yards per carry on an additional 7 more rushes. McDaniel probably had the best day overall, and the most consistent with 65 yards on a team-high 12 carries, although even he got stuffed at the line a few times. The freshmen looked pretty good in their small audition, too.

194 yards on 34 carries (5.7 per rush) by the running backs was okay. Credit to Temple who filled gaps well and seems to have improved in their front seven play. I think everyone would have liked at least another 50 yards on the ground.

Speaking of Temple, they might be only the 4th worst team on the schedule after what we saw over the weekend. I think the Owls might be able to beat Purdue.

The four bodies across the defensive front I'd grade from best to worst: Tuitt, Shembo, Nix, and Day. The biggest issue is that none of these players had a big day. Tuitt did have a sack and a couple quarterback hurries and seeing as how we thought he might be out of shape I thought he was the best of the group. Shembo had a quiet game but made a nice play early and was at least in the quarterback's face a bunch of times. Nix had perhaps his worst career game complete with 3 penalties and just 1 tackle while strangely struggling against some double teams. We're not used to seeing Nix struggle, even when tag-teamed by the opponent. Worst of all, I thought Day was largely invisible for the entire game. We'll need Day to have an impact moving forward.

It was a weird game for the secondary, mostly because so many of passes targeted the linebackers. Farley finished with 3 tackles but neither Collinsworth or Shumate recorded a tackle. Bennett Jackson notched 4 tackles but Russell didn't record a tackle.

The depth used from the beginning of the game was pretty shocking for Kelly's standards. Schwenke, Jones, Rochell, Grace, Wood, Luke, and Shumate all played early and often on defense. We saw three backs in the rotation, plus 6 receivers in the first half too.

How strange was just 1 targeted pass to a tight end? That seemed like a part of the game Kelly was deliberately hiding from Michigan. Did we even see Welch or Koyack in more than a handful of plays? On one of the running plays Temple blew up Notre Dame had Daniel Smith as an H-back blocking behind the line. What's up with that?

I'm kind of surprised that Kelly punted 3 times inside Temple territory---especially a 4th & 5 from the Owls 37-yard line right after Daniels hurt his groin.

My three issues with the defense after watching one game:

Weak Down the Middle

I wouldn't break down into hysterics about the loss of Te'o but it's clear things are going to be different without Te'o patrolling the middle. The portion of the field behind the line, stretching out to the hash marks on each side, and through the seams up to the safeties was ripe for the picking. I'd feel a lot better if Grace had made a big jump during the off-season and Shumate was quickly becoming a young star but it looks as though their progressions aren't going to be as swift as we once believed. To be blunt, I think a lineup of Fox, Calabrese, Farley, and Collinsworth is very average and a clear step down from the rest of the defense.

Not Great at Blitzing

Which is what happens when you're a program that hasn't blitzed much for three years and you don't have any bodies that are comfortable and experienced in getting the job done. To be sure, I was happy with some of the blitzes---and Reilly really did a good job escaping pressure or getting rid of the ball just in time---but if this is going to be a more aggressive defense there are going to have to be a few players who can make plays when getting into the backfield.

Still Slow at Certain Positions

Piggy-backing off my initial concern above the lack of speed in the middle of the field is worrisome. The middle linebackers and safeties have very average speed plus the supposed dominant defensive line lacks the speedy edge rusher to chase down the quarterback. This was one of those games where it felt like the defense was too big and heavy. Temple only gained 55 yards on 16 carries from their running backs yet they still picked up 25 first downs.

It's Michigan week now.