To look at the box score of this game, one would think that this Irish team played an average game. 356 yards of total offense with only 130 yards gained on the ground. That is hardly anything to get very excited about. 5 total field goals with 3 coming from inside the red zone. 0 touchdowns. 11 penalties are also another stat that won't please Coach Willingham.
Are we buying fools gold here? Michigan will have a much better defense. So will many of the teams they face this year. I have to give Maryland and the Fridge credit. His team played very hard and very physical. If they can get their offense going, they will be a good team this year.
So why is everyone so optimistic? Does anyone think that the first play of the game was a gift to all ND fans? I saw that first pass and I started laughing. I think that was a message to the teams that Notre Dame is going to face. It's a message to his players and a message to Notre Dame fans. That simple pass was a message that things are going to be different at Notre Dame during the Ty era.
I think if you would ask Ty if he thought that Carlyle Holiday would play as well as he did, the answer would be an emphatic yes. I doubt he actually believed he would play this well but it would certainly be a yes because that is what a coach does. He builds confidence in his players and mentally prepares them for the game. To act surprised would mean he doesn't have faith in his player. I wonder what the answer would have been last year?
There are a lot of things to be positive about with this team. Ty sent that message with the first series attempting to kick a 56-yard field goal. That message slipped past me in my wonderment why he wouldn't just pooch the punt and let his defense play. Are we so brainwashed that we didn't recognize the message? Ty wanted to tell his kicker he believed in him and tell this team their goal is to score points. The focus isn't to do your best to keep the other team from scoring points. A lesson they and I quickly learned.
When Coach Willingham was hired, many felt that he was making a mistake bringing his defensive coordinator Kent Baer with him. Anyone feel that way now? I must give Coach Davie some credit as well because he recruited this defense. The difference is this team is playing sky high at a very early stage in the season. There didn't appear to be any confusion. They played with reckless abandon and with confidence. They have a tremendous amount of pride and that is obvious in their effort to shut out Maryland. They wanted that shut out and Shane Walton stepped up and made the play. Look for this to be the difference in the defense this year. You will see more players stepping up to make the play.
To be fair, Maryland was struggling with a new offensive line and two new quarterbacks. They missed their star tailback in Perry as well. I was very impressed with the way the Notre Dame defense played however. They must find a way to get more pass rush but this defense as a unit is outstanding. If Coach Baer actually slept last night, he did it with a bigger smile on his face that we had on our faces.
Want some more good news? You have to be THRILLED with our linebacker coach Bob Simmons. Mike Goolsby became a player last night. He finally reached the hype and lofty expectations placed on him. Brandon Hoyte had a fantastic game as well. You cannot discount the job he has done with Brandon. Brandon went from being a backup with limited potential playing time for this game to being counted on to replace arguably the best player they have on defense in a few short days. To have Brandon play as well as he did says a lot about Brandon and about coach Simmons.
Want even more good news? Anyone think Trent Walters was a good hire? With limited numbers and confidences shattered, he has turned this unit into the strength of this team. I wish everyone made it practice to see this guy teach. He is a teacher and his teaching has improved this secondary. People will give a lot of credit to Vontez Duff and Shane Walton but two other players had fantastic games as well in Gerome Sapp and Glenn Earl. It was great to see both back healthy and they made some fantastic plays out there.
The defensive line looked pretty good as well. Greg Mattison has them stuffing the run and penetrating into the backfield. The next step is to get to the quarterback. Many probably didn't notice but Justin Tuck and Jerome Collins played a lot during the second half. Both were lining up at defensive end and gaining valuable experience.
On offense, there is also a lot to be excited about. The play of Carlyle Holiday has to be the brightest. The difference between Carlyle from this year to the last is "Night and Day." The big factor is zero turnovers. To go through a first game without a single turnover is impressive. North Carolina had nine yesterday. Arnaz Battle showed the promise he has possessed for 4 years. This staff surely saw that and Arnaz will be getting the ball more often in the future.
Jeff Faine is a nasty and mean player. If he can continue this effort, he will make a lot of post season all-American teams. The interior of the offensive line appears that they can move people. It doesn't appear they can move them far enough. I think this offensive line will come together with more playing time.
Want some more smart coaching? When I was Notre Dame, I told everyone that Notre Dame was throwing the football a great deal in two-a-days. Think that paid off? I haven't seen this offensive line pass block that well in a long time. There were missed assignments and breakdowns but overall, the pass blocked well. They also inserted quite a few reserves into the game giving them valuable playing experience. This staff knows they can run block given more reps. To make the offense go, they are going to have to throw the ball and throw it well so the time spent was well worth it.
The running backs held onto the football. There wasn't a lot of room to run until the end of the game but they held onto the football in a very physical game. The tight ends also caught the ball well. I saw Godsey, Palmer and Clark in there. Notre Dame played every scholarship wide receiver as well. This valuable playing experience will help them in the future.
Lastly, special teams were special. Both Nick and Joey did an outstanding job and the returns and coverage was excellent for the most part. Nick and Joey will be a factor in more games to come so it's a blessing to have both that they can count on.
Is it time to come out of the bunker? I think it's too early to tell but after what I saw last night, this team plays hard, disciplined football. They have an excellent game plan and they are executing that game plan at a very high level. Can we expect the same against Purdue? I fully expect that and I am positive Tyrone expects that. Winning is an attitude and Ty and has staff have given this team plenty of that.