Rank and File: Part II

The conclusion of our Rank and File column offers a few September awards and personnel thoughts heading into October.

Click here for Part I

Awards Section

Some defined the opening month; others merely caught my eye:

Coaching Move of the Month: Besides Mark Dantonio's fake field goal? Jim Harbaugh's Drop 8 coverage scheme admittedly caught the Irish head man off guard in a frustrating Game Four.

Block of the Month: Pulling right tackle Taylor Dever pancaked All-America candidate Greg Jones in the hole, clearing a 3rd Quarter path for an 11-yard gain and a first down by Armando Allen in East Lansing.

Block of the Month (non-lineman): Freshman Tai-ler Jones absolutely LIT UP Michigan safety Cameron Gordon on a goal line crack back block at the tail end of a Dayne Crist touchdown run, but the Irish were called for holding, negating the play.

Hit of the Month: Te'o vs. Cardinal running back Usua Amanam, albeit after a 9-yard gain. Te'o fought off two blocks at the line, hustled downfield and unloaded on his fellow sophomore on the Stanford sideline.

Top Frosh through four: Tai-ler Jones and Bennett Jackson (kick coverage) have stood out while Austin Collinsworth and Lo Wood have begun to make plays in kick coverage as well. Wood was victimized by a marginal call on a key punt return opportunity late vs. Michigan State. Jones needs to be involved early each week to keep his confidence intact.

Top Soph's through four: Besides Manti Te'o, of course. Zack Martin has fared well at left tackle. Carlo Calabrese has stood out in run support as a first-year contributor. Calabrese's best effort came in Week One vs. Purdue. Theo Riddick's career-game in East Lansing suggests coach Kelly's move of the former running back to the slot could pay dividends down the line.

It's All Relative (Players trending the right way after rough starts): Other than Te'o: Junior cornerback Robert Blanton; junior wide receiver John Goodman; sophomore slot receiver Theo Riddick; junior wide receiver Michael Floyd; junior guard Trevor Robinson; junior safety Jamoris Slaughter; senior safety Harrison Smith.

Crucial injury situations to monitor: Kyle Rudolph (hamstring); Armando Allen (knee, hand, general wear-and-tear); Jamoris Slaughter (ankle sprains don't disappear); Dayne Crist (head, knee, too many hits…the Irish can't afford to lose him, but they have to turn him loose in order to finish above .500)

Encouraging Quote of the Month: "We're in the first quarter of our season – the first chapter of the book. I think it's a little frustrating to read right now but I'd stick with the book…I think it's going to be a pretty good read." – Brian Kelly, September 21

Discouraging Quote of the Month: "To be able to go into another stadium, into a hostile environment, I mean, nothing makes you feel quite like a man like that does, you know?" – Jim Harbaugh, September 25.
Note: No, we don't know what that feels like, or at least don't remember…

In-Your-Face Quote of the Month: "Really fired up about our kick coverage. Guys were running and hitting and playing. That was really important in the field position game today." – Jim Harbaugh, September 25, after already mentioning former Irish special teams coach Brian Polian earlier in his preamble.

It's a Wrap

Final impressions of the opening month and a few thoughts heading into October:

Rudolph has been stopped short of the marker twice on crucial third downs; that's either inexcusable execution or a poorly designed play by the man in the visor. Regardless, it's a high school mistake…Riddick is improving, but he currently has totaled three times as many dropped passes as touchdown receptions…I said it at the time and its proved detrimentally true: Purdue has the worst rushing attack the Irish defense will face until Week Seven…I'm not sure Purdue 2010 will end up better than Nevada 2009…Michigan State was the one that got away, not Michigan: Denard Robinson deserved that win as much as any single player I've seen in South Bend… He gave up an easy sack vs. a 3-man rush vs. Stanford, but RT Taylor Dever continues to play at a higher level than did last year's four-year starter at the position…Zack Martin has a bright future; I can live with the occasional successful bull rush against him in this, his redshirt-freshman year…Martin excels sealing the outside on draw plays…

The Irish will need T.J. Jones or John Goodman to come through vs. BC, Pittsburgh, Navy, Utah and USC to ensure victory; either that or some semblance of a running game…Senior wide receiver Duval Kamara hasn't been targeted for a pass since Drive No. 2 of Game No. 1…Michael Floyd is about to explode – and he's going to return for his senior season or risk a late 3rd Round selection in April…What happened to Cierre Wood? Why can't Steve Filer help – or join the conversation – at outside linebacker? Will Chris Watt begin to spell Chris Stewart? The 5th-year senior might benefit from a rotation or occasional break…Trevor Robinson played better vs. Stanford than he did vs. Purdue or Michigan…I thought Darius Fleming would be the team's second-best defender at this point, but he's 1 for 4 through 4 games (though he wasn't bad Saturday)…Brian Smith has made a few nice plays, but touchdowns seem to follow him on a weekly basis…The Irish really missed a healthy Jamoris Slaughter in the opening month…

Three reasons Notre Dame is 1-3: 12 touchdowns in 28 red zone trips (one TD was meaningless); a 3.8 yards-per-carry average; and yes, a 10-minute differential in time of possession…I'm shocked that Robert Hughes' first carry came in a garbage time blowout loss…Jonas Gray could have used Bobby Burger as a lead blocker on 4th and 1 vs. Stanford Saturday…Rudolph won't find the 1st Round if his blocking doesn't improve; if both Rudolph and Floyd return, the Irish offense will take off in 2011…Ethan Johnson and Kapron Lewis-Moore need to play better in Month #2, but they were hardly the problem…The Irish linebackers consistently struggle to re-route tight ends and slot receivers; a key element in the team's coverage schemes…Speaking of which: Will the Irish again feature a true nickel defense in my lifetime? My kingdom for a third cornerback on 3rd and long…

The Irish still miss too many makeable tackles in space…Te'o is the most improved player on the team since the end of last season…Harrison Smith will prove to be a solid safety over his next 20-22 games through 2011; I have a feeling he grades out much better by the staff than from the fans…Would Riddick help at running back? I think we know the answer to that, but the die has been cast, at least for 2010…I have a feeling T.J. Jones' home/road split will look something like this: 23 receptions in South Bend/5 elsewhere (Freshmen tend to struggle in places such as East Lansing, Chestnut Hill and of course, The Coliseum). By the way, Jones was open a lot in Game Four…

Floyd could not have had a slower start and he currently leads, or is tied for the team lead in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The biggest surprise? A long reception of 37 yards for the pre-season All-American...If Brian Kelly is worried about Dayne Crist's health on a one-yard sneak, can they prepare Nate Montana for the situation? Montana would then need 2-3 snaps per game to remain consistent/ready…Will the Irish continue to sell-out at home if they're 2-4 or 1-5?

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