Tackling: The Irish tackled extremely well for three quarters of the game on Saturday. In fact, I was often left wondering which team I was watching as I haven't seen the Irish tackle that well in many, many years. The Irish defense did wear down a bit from being on the field most of the game, and their tackling suffered, but this defensive unit played sound, fundamental football.
Pass Protection: Yes, it was San Diego State, but zero sacks is a great improvement. Also, I can't remember too many times when Jimmy Clausen was pressured, either. Even at the end of the game when it was obvious the Irish abandoned the running game. The O-line did an outstanding job of protecting Clausen, and seemed to have a nice cohesion about them. We didn't see the obvious blown assignments in pass blocking that we were used to seeing last fall.
Golden Opportunity: For Notre Dame to be a good football team they're going to need some playmakers to step up. Sophomore receiver Golden Tate has shown flashes of being a true playmaker. At 5-11, 190-pounds, he's not the biggest guy on the field, but he appears to have excellent ball skills and seems to make the spectacular plays seem easy. Tate has to be on the field because he changes the game for Notre Dame when he is.
Reaching Potential: Expectations have been sky-high for sophomore Jimmy Clausen since his enrollment in Notre Dame. Clausen has shown a toughness on the field, and some leadership ability. He has moments in games where he looks every bit the part of a future Heisman candidate, and he's had moments where he looks like a walk-on. Saturday's game was by far his best, however, with a three touchdown performance. He wasn't harassed in the pocket as he was so many times last season. The key will be if he can play like that when he does face some pressure. The jury is still out on Clausen, but he certainly was impressive on Saturday, and one could easily see what all the hype was about when given time to do his job.
Coverage: I think back to three years ago and the many, many big plays Notre Dame surrendered in the passing game each and every week. It seemed as if the Irish would never be able to field a respectable defensive secondary. Now the Irish are sure tacklers, and they make plays on the football. I'm not sure you'll find a better safety tandem in the country than David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy, and both players will only get better. Notre Dame also has four corners they feel comfortable putting out on the field. This unit did an excellent job in coverage, and they have some quality depth as well. Corwin Brown has really done a nice job with this unit in his first year of coaching the D-backs.
Some daylight: While the stats aren't that impressive, Irish halfbacks did see some daylight on Saturday while running the football. To be a good rushing team I think you need to average north of 150 yards rushing per game—the Irish ended with 105. The 3.1 yards per rush average wasn't that impressive, but there were times where Irish backs had very large holes to burst through. I saw some definite improvement in the running game, but they didn't stick with it, which made it hard to run later in the game. The good news is that there were much larger running lanes for Irish backs than we've seen in the past.
Budding stars: Every good team has star players. The 2007 football team didn't have any that really stood out other than Trevor Laws. Golden Tate, Jimmy Clausen, Brian Smith, David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy appear to be players that will definitely stand out if others do their job as well. Players like Kerry Neal, Michael Floyd, Robert Hughes, Armando Allen, Sergio Brown, Sam Young and Eric Olsen also appear to be players that have potential to really be difference-makers this season. I'm sure others will emerge as well. The good news is this team is starting to develop. Unfortunately, it's not at the speed many Irish fans would like, but it does appear to be happening.
Playing aggressive: While the Irish ended with only one sack on the day, they did generate a lot of pressure on San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley. They forced the young QB into a lot of errant throws, and that kept him off balance a lot of the game. More importantly, I like the tone playing this type of defense sets. It's a fun defense to play in. It allows for true athleticism to come out. It allows the Irish to use some athletic advantages they may have over lesser teams. It also creates a mentality that should impact the whole football team. It's been awhile since the Irish played inspired and emotional football. I think playing this type of defense will impact the emotional state of the entire team, which I believe is much-needed. The Irish won't beat many teams if they can't match the intensity of their opponent. This is something I think they lacked last season, and I believe playing this style of defense will help in that regard.
The Schedule: This has been talked about numerous times, but after two weeks of evidence, it appears obvious that the Irish won't be facing too many teams ranked in the top 25 this season. Each team on the schedule appears to have flaws (minus USC), and Notre Dame should be able to compete with all of them (minus USC). Notre Dame also should have as much, if not more, talent than most of the teams on their schedule. Now it's just a matter of execution—something they didn't do well on Saturday.
Problems are fixable: I think this is the single-most important factor in all of this. Unlike last season, all the problems that Notre Dame showed on Saturday are fixable. If receivers catch the football and run the correct routes, the Irish continue drives and score touchdowns. If the running backs hold onto the football, the Irish continue drives and score touchdowns. If the snapper and holder get it together, the Irish kick field goals. If the Irish aren't called offside on a punt, a drive ends and San Diego State doesn't score. Change these things in the game and the game is the blowout many expected, and they're easily fixable.
I think the last point is the most important. All of Notre Dame's problems on Saturday are fixable. It can be debated as to if they should be fixed by now, but all teams turn the ball over in the first game. All teams have dumb penalties the first time out. If we continue to see the same problems, then maybe there's something to worry about.
The good news is Saturday is another day for the Irish to play. They'll have a game under their belt, and they'll have the opportunity to play better. The good is everything listed above, and that's a lot of good news that some might be overlooking.