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Green: Too early to tell much about this Irish squad (Sept. 15)

| Sunday, September 14, 2014

Irish sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell clings to Boilermakers senior running back Akeem Hunt  during Notre Dame’s 30-14 win Saturday in Indianapolis.Emily McConville | The Observer
Irish sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell clings to Boilermakers senior running back Akeem Hunt
during Notre Dame’s 30-14 win Saturday in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS — For the second time in three seasons, the Irish have started 3-0, and they’ve put up a combined 109 points through those first three contests.

It might be tempting to draw conclusions about this team, especially after its exciting run in 2012.

But the problem with that is, we still don’t know anything definitive about this year’s Notre Dame squad, and barring a crazy loss to Syracuse on Sept. 27, we still won’t know anything until after its game against Stanford on Oct. 4, its first real test of the season.

In these days of instant gratification, we want to know everything immediately, on-the-spot after it happens.

Unfortunately, the Irish schedule will make us be patient before we can make judgment calls about how the rest of the season will go.

The one definitive from the past three weeks is how good Everett Golson is and how improved he is from 2012.

Not that Golson was bad two years ago — after all, he quarterbacked the Irish to an undefeated regular season, with a little help from Tommy Rees. But he did make a lot of progress in his time away from South Bend, and that’s shown on the field so far.

Had Golson and Notre Dame put away Purdue as handily as most people thought, some other conclusions about how good this team really is might have been drawn after blowout wins over Rice and Michigan.

But the Boilermakers played the Irish like they had in the past two seasons — scrappy, “brawling,” as Irish junior defensive lineman Romeo Okwara said, and never quite going away until the very end.

Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston tries to break away from the Purdue defense.Michael Yu | The Observer
Irish sophomore running back Tarean Folston tries to break away from the Purdue defense.
Though Notre Dame closed the game with 20 unanswered points, Saturday’s matchup wasn’t over until the final whistle, based on how the Irish played in the first half and how Purdue was competing against them.

So we can’t draw any conclusions based on Irish struggles yesterday, because the Boilermakers — no matter how bad their record is — always show up against Notre Dame.

At the same time, we can’t draw any conclusions because the Irish faced serious adversity with an excess of players absent from the field at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

Take a look at the secondary. Sophomore safety Max Redfield was ejected in the first half on a targeting penalty. Graduate student safety Austin Collinsworth hasn’t made his debut after an MCL injury sidelined him shortly before the season kicked off. Junior safety Nicky Baratti left the game with a shoulder injury that Brian Kelly said will require season-ending surgery. Sophomore cornerback Cole Luke was taken out in the second half with a neck injury as a concussion precaution. Junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell still sits from practice and competition while the ongoing academic investigation continues.

That leaves the only “veteran” players in the secondary on Saturday night graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, senior cornerback Matthias Farley — who just made the switch to that position from safety — and junior safety Elijah Shumate — the player everyone ripped into after a few blown plays against Rice, but praised after a lockdown performance after Michigan.

That’s probably not how Brian Kelly imagined his depth chart before the season started.

But there are some positives from the first three games, which could turn out to have serious results down the road.

Though most of Notre Dame’s offense is young, it’s shown up to play in every game. Sophomores Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and Corey Robinson have all lived up to preseason expectations.

Okwara registered a career high in tackles against Purdue as he stepped up in place of injured freshman Andrew Trumbetti.

And still to everyone’s shock, the return game is as good as it’s ever been in the Kelly era, despite some struggles Saturday.

Then again, all these are hypotheses — they could turn into the factors that will make this a great season for Notre Dame, but nothing is set in stone right now.

Until the Irish face a real test, which will most likely come Oct. 4 against Stanford, it’s simply too soon to tell.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Mary Green

Current Assistant Managing Editor, former Sports Editor of The Observer | Follow Mary on Twitter: @maryegreen15

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