The victory against Temple was a great way to start the 2013 season, and while the Irish played very well, there are some things they need to figure out before facing off against Michigan next weekend.
The Offense:Overall the Irish looked pretty good, but they were far from stellar.
George Atkinson between the tackles: Through spring practice and fall camp, there was a lot of talk about Atkinson being able to lower his pad level and run hard between the tackles. I mentioned in my Temple preview that this was something to look for, and it didn’t happen. George just isn’t that type of back. For him to be effective up the middle, he would be better suited to get carries off counters and draws that will open up more room. It looks like his instincts as a sprinter take over after first contact, causing him to be far too upright in the middle of the field. If he can’t prove he can run hard up the middle, look for freshmen Greg Bryant to get an opportunity to provide that for the Irish.
Targeting Troy Nicklas: Nicklas had a great touchdown reception from Rees, but that was about it from Nicklas. It looked like he was targeted one other time, but a terrible pass even made that questionable. Notre Dame has become known for their tight end play and Nicklas at 6-7, 270lbs should be able to carry on that tradition; but two targets in an entire game will not make that happen. Nicklas will be a great safety valve for Tommy when he’s under pressure, providing a huge target. The offense was just 5-13 in 3rd down conversions and Nicklas should have played a bigger role in those conversions.
The Defense: The defense played well and like last season, bent but didn’t break. While the Irish were obviously holding back and not showing their hand before a huge game next weekend, there were a few things I hope change before they face-off against the Wolverines.
Defensive Intensity: Clearly, Bob Diaco had a very conservative defensive game plan, but there seemed to be a lack of intensity from the defense. Dare I say the absence of Te’o as an emotional leader? It’s too early to tell, but it’s more than likely the product of a conservative game plan and looking ahead to the Michigan game. The Irish shouldn’t have given up 134 yards on the ground, playing soft or not.
Play-Action Defense: The Irish got killed on play-action against Temple and seemed undisciplined. This is a concern going into next weekend. Michigan is a run first team with Devin Gardener, and will use that to catch the Irish sleeping. Along with the lack of discipline and Smith (a true freshmen) at Outside Linebacker, the Irish could be in trouble if their play recognition doesn’t get better quickly. The Temple offense was not one that should have presented much of a challenge here.
Again, the first game of the year against a team that likely didn’t need much game planning shouldn’t cause anyone to jump to conclusions about this team. There was a lot that Irish didn’t show, and for good reason. Regardless of who there are playing, Atkinson needs to decide if he can run up the middle, Nicklas needs more touches, the defensive intensity needs to increase and the play recognition has to improve. Michigan will show us whether these are valid concerns or just a little rust from the off season.