The TSX Files: Late week Notre Dame Update

Offensive positives, defensive positives ... and concerns going into Saturday.

INSIDE SLANT

Notre Dame's defense made a strong opening statement in a 23-12 home victory over Purdue, prompting new coach Brian Kelly to puff out his chest a bit.
"You mean the slow defense?" he said after the game.
"Everybody on ESPN, television, FOX, everybody has talked about a slow defense. We really want our guys to play fast and I thought they played fast today. I thought they were aggressive."
He added: "We can get better."
That's mostly what a coach always says, but he's right. For as fast as he thought the Irish played against Purdue, they will have to be a step faster against the Wolverines.
Purdue quarterback Robert Marve could do some running, but Michigan has a bigger threat and more direct play-calls for its quarterback, sophomore Denard Robinson. In his first career start last week, Robinson torched UConn for 197 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. He also passed for 186 yards and a touchdown.
"He's going to be the focal point of the running game," Kelly said.
Kelly thought his defenders could have tackled better against Purdue, and, for sure, the defense had a couple of hiccups against the Boilermakers. The Irish allowed a pair of 15-play drives.
If the Irish don't tackle better against Robinson, Michigan might have a lot of quick scoring drives. Kelly said he had a couple of ideas on how to mimic Robinson for the scout team, but conceded, "You know, I don't know that you ever can prepare for Denard Robinson at the same speed that he plays."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday he's inclined to stick with the blue-and-gold tradition of Notre Dame's home jerseys, but "we're considering the green jerseys for our Army game." The teams play Nov. 20 in a neutral-site game at Yankees Stadium.
--Notre Dame has won four of its past five home games against Michigan, including a 35-17 decision in 2008.
--Notre Dame's Brian Kelly and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez have met on the field before. In 2007, Rodriguez's West Virginia team beat Kelly's Cincinnati team 28-23.
-- SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 21-15-1 (last meeting, 2009, 38-34 Michigan).

-- SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Coach Brian Kelly has gotten a lot of notice for the rapid pace of his no-huddle offense, although he says that he isn't necessarily committed to playing exactly how he did at Cincinnati, which was last in the nation in time of possession in 2009 (25:46). Notre Dame had the ball for only 24:55 against Purdue, which also was a factor of the defense not being able to get off the field on a couple of occasions. The Irish didn't play at a crazy-fast pace as new starting QB Dayne Crist didn't force things while running backs Armando Allen and Cierre Wood found space in the new spread offense. WR Michael Floyd and TE Kyle Rudolph are one of the top pass-catching duos in the country.

-- SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: One of the positives from last week's opener against Purdue was that Notre Dame gave up only one play of more than 20 yards (that being a 23-yard touchdown). "Certainly," coach Brian Kelly said, "one of our goals defensively is to minimize big plays." This might end up being a bend-but-don't-break kind of defense. Kelly calls it "containing the football, gap integrity, great tackling." Notre Dame's 3-4 defense held Purdue to 322 yards last week. Three players each had nine tackles: CB Gary Gray, ILB Carlo Calabrese and ILB Manti Te'o.

-- QUOTE TO NOTE: "They blitzed almost every down last year and that created some huge holes that we were able to take advantage of. They did not blitz as much (Saturday), and so the holes were smaller. They had good personnel. At times we blocked them and manufactured some offense, but the biggest difference was the amount of blitzes they used to use." -- Purdue coach Danny Hope, in the South Bend Tribune, comparing this Notre Dame defense to last season's.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

-- THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 11 -- It's a huge game for two of college football's greatest programs, each of which missed the postseason in 2009. There's more on the line for the Wolverines, who are in their third season under coach Rich Rodriguez and need to show a proper grasp of his read-option offense because fans and the administration lose all patience. In a show of how these programs have struggled recently, this is the third time in the past four years than neither team is ranked at the time of the game.

-- KEYS TO THE GAME: Based on last week, it's hard to know if Notre Dame is comfortable enough on offense right now to get into a shootout with Michigan. The Irish could load up the box to stop QB Denard Robinson's run game, but that could be playing with fire in the passing game, and the Irish don't want to give up the big play. They will be multiple up front (as they were last week with three- and four-man lines) and show Robinson different looks, but Notre Dame will be hoping to contain him without doing much blitzing.

-- PLAYERS TO WATCH:
---- WR Michael Floyd -- The star junior, who had a costly fumble near the Purdue goal line last week, will be looking to pick up where he left off against Michigan last season. He had seven catches for 131 yards vs. the Wolverines last year.
---- RB Cierre Wood -- He looks to be a nice tag-team partner for Armando Allen, last week gaining 58 yards on seven carries and also catching two passes. His emergence prompted the move of Theo Riddick to wideout, where the team needed help.
---- LB Manti Te'o -- He did tie for the team lead with nine tackles last week but "swung and missed" on three other would-be tackles against Purdue, according to coach Brian Kelly. Look for Te'o to learn from that and be more in control vs. Michigan. Good news for the Irish is that Te'o and Carlo Calabrese, both sophomores, could be anchors at middle linebacker for the next two or three years.

-- ROSTER REPORT:
----LB Prince Shembo and LB Darius Fleming each suffered from cramping during the opener against Purdue, but both were fine early in the week.
----Notre Dame used six true freshmen last week: WR T.J. Jones, LB Danny Spond, DB Lo Wood, WR Austin Collinsworth, LB Prince Shembo and WR Bennett Jackson.


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