Long-time respected Irish Eyes poster FunkDoctorSpock wins the insightful post of the weekend award for this beauty he posted on Sunday after watching many games.
"This season is about us more than it is about the other teams on the schedule," Funky said.
I believe he hit the nail on the head. The Irish have to stop beating themselves in order to beat a team on their schedule. The Irish have to find some much needed confidence, even cockiness, to beat some of the teams on their schedule. Notre Dame needs to start playing like Notre Dame again, and it all starts with a winning attitude. We won't know if they have that attitude until they actually play a game.
Having said all of that, I do think we did get some insight into what we might expect from some of Notre Dame's opponents by watching them on Saturday.
The Bad News
After watching USC on Saturday, I'm not sure the Irish, or anyone for that matter, can beat USC other than probably USC. The Trojans are loaded with talent on offense, and the scary thing is that most of these players haven't reached their true potential yet. As the season rolls on, I only expect them to get better on offense. Still, the Trojans racked up 558 total yards on a quality opponent, and averaged over 5 yards per carry. Their first-year starting quarterback also threw three touchdowns and completed 74 percent of his passes.
As good as the offense was, the Trojan defense dominated an overmatched Virginia offense holding the Cavaliers to just seven points and 187 total yards. The Trojans looked outstanding on both sides of the football—a bad sign for anyone facing them.
While the Trojans appeared to be the elite team after one game, many of Notre Dame's opponents showed some weaknesses early in the season. However, it's easy to pick apart a team when you haven't seen your team actually play a game. The Irish will certainly have their share of warts as well.
Obviously San Diego State's loss to Cal Poly sure isn't going to impress a lot of Irish fans, but the Aztecs did put up some offense on Saturday. First-year starting quarterback Ryan Lindley did throw for over 350 yards and three touchdowns on the night. However, he did throw two interceptions, and the team as a whole had five turnovers. You won't win many games with five turnovers.
More troubling for the Aztecs was the 263 yards they allowed Poly to rush for in the game. The Irish should be able to pound this defense next week with their bigger, stronger players, and some talented running backs.
I watched the Michigan game, and I'm not certain why so many Irish fans are confident going into this game, especially since ND has yet to play a game.
Michigan clearly struggled on offense. The Wolverines gained just 203 yards total and only 36 yards on the ground. But, it was their first game, and I did see a lot of athleticism on offense. The real question for Michigan now is one of leadership on offense. Who is going to step up on such a young offensive team? I don't think Michigan will solve all their problems in two weeks, but I do think they'll improve on offense. Can they find something that will work? Can they find a quarterback to play with more confidence? We'll have to wait and see.
What concerns me about Michigan, and has for awhile, is their defense. Yes, the Wolverines did give up 300 yards of offense in the first half, but they shut down Utah in the second half for just 48 total yards and 3 total points.
Yes, I'm aware Utah played conservative in the second half. Yes, I'm aware Utah shot themselves in the foot many times in the second half. However, the Michigan defense seemed to come alive in the second half, and looked a lot like the good defense ND fans saw early in 2007. The same defense that held last year's ND team to 80 yards total and -6 yards rushing.
What also concerns me about that game is that Michigan's strength (rush defense) matches up perfectly with what many people feel is ND's strength on offense (running the ball). If the Irish are forced to throw the football, can they make the plays needed against this good pass-rushing defense?
If the Irish beat Michigan, and I'd say there's a fair chance that could happen, they'll then travel to East Lansing, Mich. for their first road game against Michigan State. What did we learn from Michigan State on Saturday?
Surprisingly, MSU usually is a great rushing team, but they averaged only 2.6 yards per carry and 81 total yards against the Cal defense. To give you an idea, Cal allowed 164 yards per game rushing last year, but that was last year. What was interesting to me is that Michigan State appeared to be somewhat suspect at offensive line. That would be a good sign for the Irish if true.
Brian Hoyer struggled throwing the ball for the Spartans, completing just 20-of-48 for 321 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. What seemed obvious was that Hoyer got rattled under pressure in watching the game. However, the Irish haven't been a great pass-rushing defense in recent times.
The good news is that MSU appears to have some issues on offense. Their defense also surrendered 467 yards, including 203 on the ground, despite looking pretty athletic. Cal actually made a number of mistakes that MSU took advantage of, which made the game closer than it probably should've been. They'll get better, but they showed some weaknesses the Irish might be able to take advantage of.
Stanford picked up their first win in surprising fashion by beating a usually solid Oregon State team, 36-28. The Cardinal won the game despite being out-gained by their opponent by nearly 200 yards in offense. Michigan State's three turnovers compared to Stanford's none was the difference in the game.
The surprising stat is the 210 rushing yards Stanford logged despite finishing ranked No. 102 in rushing offense last season. The Cardinal defense also only allowed 86 yards on the ground in Thursday's game. More importantly, Stanford played with a lot of enthusiasm in the game, and I doubt that changes in the near future. I also suspect they'll be very excited to play the Irish after their disappointing loss to ND in the last game of the season last year.
Pitt lost a heartbreaker on Saturday but it was a classic example of a team beating themselves. Pitt lost the game due to four turnovers compared to Bowling Green's one. Pitt looked good early, taking the 14-0 lead, but then self-destructed. The Panther's offensive line looks suspect, and only logged 129 rushing yards despite having two very talented running backs. They also surrendered four sacks on the day.
The Panther defense looks athletic, but didn't make the plays despite holding Bowling Green to just 64 yards rushing. When you look at the box score, you have to wonder how Pitt lost this game. A lack of focus is the only explanation.
The Washington Huskies? Well, most of you watched it. The Huskies played a great second quarter, but that was about it on Saturday.
The Huskies averaged just 2.2 yards per carry on the ground. The Husky defense allowed the Ducks to average 5.8 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns, as well as 256 yards on the ground. Oregon lost their starting quarterback in the game, but they still managed to log 240 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Is Washington really this bad? Nobody knows, but they do usually play teams tougher at home, and the Irish do have to travel to Seattle. Regardless, there appears to be a few weaknesses in this Husky team.
Boston College was kind of a surprise under their new quarterback, Chris Crane. The Eagles came out running the football, and somewhat puzzling, showed flashes of a spread offense under their new signal-caller. The results were lukewarm. BC did rush for an impressive 230 yards against Kent State, but only managed 21 total points on a team that allowed 30 points per game last season, and most of those teams were not near the caliber of BC. Crane was solid throwing the football, but only threw for 106 yards on the day.
The strength of the BC team is their defense, and they didn't disappoint on Saturday. BC held Kent State to just 260 yards on the day and zero points, but it was Kent State.
BC showed what many thought we'd see—a good defense and a struggling offense. However, the Eagles have time to work on their offensive game before they play the Irish later in the season.
The North Carolina Tar Heels struggled a bit with their first opponent, McNeese State. Yes, they play in a lower division, but this team also finished 11-1 last season, so this team was no pushover. They showed it on Saturday.
The Cowboys hung 391 yards on NC and 27 points. The Tar Heels did average an impressive 5.6 yards per carry on Saturday, and their defense held McNeese State to just 3.3 yards per carry. Big plays were the difference in this game as NC had an 82-yard punt return and a 57-yard TD pass to defeat the Cowboys. Former Irish recruit Greg Little averaged just 2.6 yards on 14 carries.
Shun White burst onto the college football scene on Saturday amassing an impressive 343 yards, 18.3 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns for %%MATCH_19%%. What does it mean? I don't know. Navy dominated Towson, 41-13, and accumulated 558 yards on offense, but it was Towson. What any of this means, I don't know. We won't know how good Navy is until they play someone. Towson was not a "someone."
After the first week of college football we really know nothing more about Notre Dame. We do have more information on the opposition, but it's only one game, the first game, and hardly a definitive stamp on those that the Irish will play in the future.
If the Irish improve as much as many anticipate, they'll have a chance to win a lot of games this season. Now it's a matter of "if" they have improved. We'll know a little bit more on that next Saturday.