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Notre Dame Football: How The Irish’s Opponents Fared in Week One

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We look at who performed well..and who fell on their face in college football’s opening weekend.

NCAA Football: William & Mary at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the weekend results of the opponents on the 2021 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football schedule:

FLORIDA STATE

The Seminoles play the Irish at 7:30 p.m. Eastern tonight at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee.

TOLEDO

The Toledo Rockets used the FCS-level Norfolk State Spartans as a tune up for their game against the Irish next week, prevailing 49-10 at the Glass Bowl Saturday.

The Rockets blocked and returned two punts for touchdowns during the blowout.

Sophomore Carter Bradley started at quarterback, completing 8-of-11 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. One of those passes was an 84-yard touchdown to receiver Devin Maddox.

Because the game became so lopsided early, redshirt freshman quarterback Dequan Finn actually played the same number of offensive snaps - 26 - as Bradley. Finn made the most of it, completing 4-of-5 passes for 38 yards and adding nine rushes for 82 yards and a touchdown. (The solo incompletion was a drop.)

Finn earned Pro Football Focus’ highest grade of the game — 93.8 — for his complete performance Saturday.

The Rockets offensive line yielded zero sacks.

On the defensive side, former Notre Dame linebacker Jonathan Jones led the Rockets with seven tackles (one for a loss). Jones earned PFF’s top grade for tackling, while redshirt freshman defensive end D’Andre Ragin earned PFF’s top overall defensive grade (80.9) and top grade for pass rush in this game. Sophomore defensive tackle Judge Culpepper was stout against the Spartans’ run. Senior cornerback Samuel Womack earned PFF’s top coverage grade for the game. He had the game’s sole interception.

PURDUE

Junior Jack Plummer threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns as the Purdue Boilermakers ousted the Oregon State Beavers, 30-21, at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Junior tight end Payne Durham caught seven passes for 120 yards and both of Plummer’s touchdowns to earn PFF’s top offensive grade for Purdue this game (81.4). Plummer was best throwing balls of medium depth (10-19 yards); he was 5 for 7 for 112 yards and a touchdown in that range, according to PFF.

Fifth-year tailback Zander Horvath rushed 21 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. PFF says 80 of Horvath’s yards were after contact, and he earned the service’s highest rushing grade (81.6) for the game.

Junior defensive end George Karlaftis was the great disruptor for the Boilermakers. He created eight pressures (two hits, six hurries) in addition to his four tackles, according to PFF. His 88.5 overall defensive grade was tops for the Boilermakers and second-best among all those who played in this game.

Junior linebacker/safety Jalen Graham earned PFF’s top coverage grade for Purdue, yielding just 17 yards (4 after catch) in the seven times he was picked on. He also had three pass breakups.

WISCONSIN

The Wisconsin Badgers’ problem Saturday wasn’t necessarily moving the ball, but actually converting red zone trips into points. The four lost opportunities were the difference maker, as the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Badgers, 16-10, at Camp Randall Stadium.

Quarterback Graham Mertz had a terrible performance, earning a eyebrow-raising 41.4 total offensive score from PFF. The sophomore struggled most under pressure, completing just 12-of-22 passes for 93 yards when the Nittany Lions blitzed, and 3-of-9 for 14 yards when the heat was in Mertz’s face. PFF says Mertz actually had four “turnover worthy” plays by their estimation, although ultimately he only threw two picks (both inside the 25).

While junior tailback Chez Mellusi had the best performance on the stat sheet - 31 rushes for 121 yards — fellow halfback Isaac Guerendo earned PFF’s highest score among Wisconsin rushers (75.3) for his 13 rushes of 56 yards on just 18 offensive run snaps. PFF said 39 of his yards came after contact and he forced five missed tackles.

Senior Danny Davis was the standout receiver for the Badgers. He caught eight balls for 99 yards (10 targets), alternating between the wide and slot lineups.

On defense, inside linebacker Jack Sanborn was PFF’s top graded Wisconsin player (81.4) for his five tackle, one sack, two tackle for loss performance. Other standouts included outside linebacker Noah Burks (top rushing defensive grade for Wisconsin), cornerback Faion Hicks (top tackling grade), and outside linebacker Nick Herbig (top defensive pressure grade), Sanborn was also best in coverage, yielding two receptions on three targets for -2 yards. Hicks finished last in coverage, allowing five receptions on nine targets for 57 yards, including a 42 yard play.

CINCINNATI

After one week, it appears It’s Desmond Ridder’s world — and we’re all living in it.

The senior quarterback was 20-for-25 for 295 yards and four touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bearcats routed the Miami-Ohio Redhawks, 49-14, at Nippert Stadium.

Ridder earned PFF’s top offensive grade among all players in this game (87.4). While the senior signal caller did most of his damage in short yardage (0-9 yards), he made two “big time throws” that yielded a cumulative 128 yards and a touchdown.

While junior Jerome Ford had the flashiest rushing statistics — 12 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown — PFF said it was his backup, Charles McClelland who distinguished himself the most in his limited, eight snap appearance. The junior rushed four times for 36 yards — 33 of them earned after contact — to earn a 73.1 run grade from the service.

PFF graders were also impressed with another backup, sophomore Jadon Thompson, who earned the highest score among Bearcats receivers (80.2). Thompson caught all four passes throwing in his direction for 79 yards, including a 34-yard strike from Ridder than he extended to 47 by scampering after the catch.

On the defensive side, the standouts were defensive tackle Jowon Briggs (87.0 grade on 32 snaps); inside linebacker Darrian Beavers (82.5 grade on 61 snaps) and defensive end Malik Vann (81.6 grade on 39 snaps). Briggs was also stoutest against the run, while inside linebacker Deshawn Pace was the best graded tackler and Beavers best getting to the quarterback (2 hits, 1 hurry, 1 sack, 3 tackles for loss).

Ahmad Gardner — who you may know better as “Sauce” — had his area on lockdown, yielding just one catch for one yard in the only two times the Redhawks dared throw in his direction. He scored PFF’s highest coverage grade for the Bearcats (80.4).

VIRGINIA TECH

The Virginia Tech Hokies weren’t flashy, but did exactly what needed to be done to upset the 10th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, 17-10, at Lane Stadium.

Redshirt junior Braxton Burmeister was 12-for-19 for 169 yards and one interception. He also had two touchdowns — one rushing and one throwing — and added 42 yards on the ground on nine attempts.

The Hokies defense harassed Sam Howell all evening long, sacking him six times amid 15 total pressures. Sophomore defensive lineman Norell Pollard earned PFF’s highest grade for the Hokies defense (77.3) after registering one hit, one hurry, one batted ball and two tackles in just 36 defensive snaps. Junior cornerback Jermaine Waller set the tone in the secondary, limiting Tar Heels receivers to just two catches for 36 yards the four times the ball was thrown in his direction. Waller also picked off Sam Howell while the Tar Heels were trying for their first score in the third quarter.

USC

The USC Trojans started slowly, but managed to pull away from San Jose Spartans only in the final stanza to lock in a 30-7 victory at home.

Calen Bullock, the first freshman to start in the USC secondary since Su’a Cravens in 2013, was PFF’s top rated Trojans defensive player (79.6). He led the team with eight tackles, and shut down two of the four pass attempts thrown his direction. (The other two yielded just two yards, according to PFF.)

The Trojans also received strong performances from defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu (3 tackles, 2 hurries) and cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart (3 tackles, 2 pass breakups, yielded just one reception for 8 yards in five targets).

USC was paced on the offensive side by quarterback Kedon Slovis (PFF’s highest graded Trojan offensive player at 80.3), halfback Keaontay Ingram (15 carries, 86 yards) and wide receiver Drake London (17 targets, 12 receptions, 137 yards, just one drop).

NORTH CAROLINA

As mentioned above, the Tar Heels laid a turd in Blacksburg, falling to the unranked Hokies, 17-10.

Let’s focus on the positive first: Left tackle Joshua Ezedu, right tackle Jordan Tucker and right guard Marcus McKethan played well. Ezedu was the only one of the trio to allow a hurry, hit or sack (it was a hurry). according to PFF, and his run blocking grade was exceptionally good (86.2).

The Hokies exploited left guard Asim Richards, who allowed both of the sacks of Howell. Richards and center Quiron Johnson struggled specifically in the pass blocking game, although their PFF grades for run blocking weren’t much better.

Slot receiver Josh Downs was Howell’s favorite target, with the quarterback throwing in his direction 11 times. Downs caught eight balls for 123 yards and one touchdown, with 77 of those yards being gained after the catch.

On defense, safety Trey Morrison was stout against the Hokies’ rush, although his coverage grade was underwhelming. No Tar Heels defensive back was thrown at more than three times, however. Ja’Qurious Conley, who intercepted Burmeister, unsurprisingly received the highest coverage grade.

NAVY

The situation in Annapolis appears as bleak as it has been in the immediate past, as the Navy Midshipmen were thumped by the Marshall Thundering Herd, 49-7.

Marshall stretched the field with its 363 yards passing, and then scored six times on rushing touchdowns — none greater than 10 yards. Navy, meanwhile, racked up 337 yards rushing — but could not move the ball quick enough to chip away at what became a 21-0 Marshall halftime lead.

Backup quarterback Xavier Arline earned PFF’s top offensive grade for Navy (73.7) after a 2-of-3 passing, 16-for-76 and 1 touchdown rushing day. Sophomore Tai Lavatai got the start, but played just 11 more snaps than Arline. Junior Maasai Maynor also saw limited action behind center.

Right tackle Kip Frankland stood out, allowing zero pressures in 21 Midshipmen dropbacks. James Harris II, who rotated with Isaac Ruoss at fullback, rushed 11 times for 80 yards; PFF said 48 of those came after initial contact and he made two Thundering Herd defensemen miss.

Senior cornerback Michael McMorris played well on defense, racking up six tackles (including one sack), forcing two fumbles and not allowing a reception (on two targets). He did miss two tackles.

VIRGINIA

The Virginia Cavaliers cruised to an easy victory Saturday over the William & Mary Tribe, 43-0, at Scott Stadium.

Any discussion of standouts has to start with junior quarterback Brennan Armstrong. He was 21-for-33 for 339 yards and two touchdowns. (He also rushed for two additional scores) PFF says he tossed two “big time throws” — here was one of them:

When the Tribe brought blitz, Armstrong responded. PFF says he was 7-for-9 for 126 yards and two touchdowns in those situations, although his numbers dropped when the Tribe defense actually got in his face. Left tackle Ryan Nelson, left guard Joe Bissinger and LT/RT Bobby Haskins did their jobs, however, yielding zero Tribe pressures. (Right guard Chris Glaser yielded half of the Tribe’s four total pressures.)

Cavaliers safeties Antonio Clary and Joey Blount stymied the Tribe offense, racking up 11 tackles and three total pressures between the two of them. Clary’s receiver responsibilities caught both their targets, but for just seven yards. Blount allowed just four yards in the one time the Tribe threw his way, PFF said.

GEORGIA TECH

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets lost their quarterback, rallied, and then lost their game against the Northern Illinois Huskies in the most gutting way: a converted two point conversion with 38 seconds left.

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims suffered an arm injury after 24 offensive snaps, opening the door for redshirt freshman Jordan Yates’ respectable 12-for-18, 135 yard one touchdown passing performance. Yates mostly kept his attempts short (between 0-9 yards), although he nailed two “big time throws” of more than 20 air yards according to PFF.

The starting offensive line — right tackle Nick Pendley, center Mikey Minihan, right guard Ryan Johnson, left guard Kenny Cooper, and left tackle Devin Cochran — allowed nine total pressures, with Johnson being responsible for five of those. Pendley was PFF’s top Tech offensive lineman for the game, with a 75.9 overall grade.

Middle linebacker Charlie Thomas had an outstanding game, with seven tackles and giving up just nine yards on two receptions in his coverage area. His 90.9 grade for the game was among the ACC’s best.

STANFORD

The Stanford Cardinal seemingly forgot its offense on the plane to Jerry World, but thankfully few were there to see the underwhelming performance from Jack West and Tanner McKee. Twenty-eight thousand trekked to the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys to see Kansas State Wildcats handle the Cardinal, 24-7.

McKee didn’t start, but played more snaps than his senior rival West. The sophomore finished 15-of-18 for 118 yards and a late touchdown to avoid the Cardinal’s first shutout in 15 years. The majority of McKee’s throws were behind or near the line of scrimmage, although I’m sure he’d want this deeper try back.

Despite a shaky job against rush concepts, PFF named cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly their top Cardinal defensive player. There was only one completed pass in his direction — and it was the Wildcats inadvertently throwing a pick to him. Kelly also added two tackles.