Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Irish Can't Weather Bulls' Storm on Opening Weekend

If you analyzed Notre Dame's season opening game against the South Florida Bulls looking solely at the stats column you might come to the conclusion that the Irish came on top.

Notre Dame exactly doubled South Florida's yardage output (508 to 254), earned more first downs (27 to 20) and had nearly even time of possession (28:54 to 31:06).

But then your eyes glaze over the two most telling stats of the game: penalties (8 for 73 yards compared to 9 for 43 yards) and turnovers (5 to 0). Seeing these it is easy to understand why Irish fans were left heartbroken by the opening 23-20 loss after such high hopes entering the 2011 season.

After taking the opening drive the length of the field over a four minute span, Jonas Gray was stripped of the ball and the consequential fumble was returned 96 yards for a TD by South Florida's Kayvon Webster.

From there the rest of the first half was nothing much to write home about as Notre Dame failed to get on the scoreboard in the first half.

Due in large part to the inability to score points, Brian Kelly decided to pull starting Sr. QB Dayne Crist, who had been described by Kelly as having the tools to "start 13 games" for the Irish this season, in favor of So. QB Tommy Rees.

If you recall, Rees famously replaced Crist at the end of last season and led the Irish to a 4-0 record as a starter.

In other similar fashion to last season, Rees mustered a comeback but could not bring the Irish all the way back against the Bulls (he replaced Crist against Tulsa at home in 2010 - a game the Irish lost 28-27).

Yesterday, Kelly announced that Rees had passed Crist on the depth chart and earned a start against Michigan. It is not a big surprise when you compare Rees' stats against Crist's. In the first half, Crist went 7 of 15 for 85 yards. In the second half, Rees went 24 of 34 for 296 yards. What a difference a half makes.

And for many Irish fans, they wish the game had been halved for other reasons. Thanks to a severe storm cell that rolled through officials were forced to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium twice, sending total time of game into unparalleled heights at 5 hours and 59 minutes.

All in all, there are not too many positives to glean from Saturday's performance. Theo Riddick proved ineffective and costly to the Irish in the punt return game (muffed a kick that was recovered by South Florida and struggled on short field returns, Ben Turk could not put any height or distance on the ball punting, David Ruffer missed his only FG attempt and penalties cost the Irish touchdowns and field position.

On the bright side, Sr. WR Michael Floyd eclipsed former star Jeff Samarzdija's record (179) for career receptions. Needing only 8 to pass "The Shark's" mark Floyd snagged 12 to put his total at 183. Additionally, Jr. RB Cierre Wood also had a career day with 104 yards rushing.

Defensively, Notre Dame held the Bulls to only one offensive touchdown and held them to 2 of 14 for 3rd down conversions.

Looking ahead the Irish have to move past their disappointment and quickly correct mistakes before a historic bout with Michigan this Saturday at 8pm EST in The Big House that will see both teams don throwbacks in homage of Michigan's first ever home night game.

If history has any sense of repeating itself here's hoping Rees can replicate his performances last year as a starter subbing for Crist.

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