Sorry for the delay in this week’s 5 things I didn’t like – I may have under estimated how much running a 5k, 10k, and half marathon all within about 24 hours was going to take out of me and have been using the last couple of nights to catch up on some sleep. Here is our final take on the BYU game before moving on to Oklahoma with a look at the key matchups with the Sooners coming later today.
Notre Dame made five trips into the red-zone against BYU but scored only three times. The two instances in which the Irish were kept off the the scoreboard were the result of missed field goals – more on that in a bit – but even if those field goals were made, Notre Dame still would have only scored touchdowns on two of five trips into the red-zone.
With Tommy Rees at quarterback, his limitations are prominently on display inside the 20. Defenses have been dropping 8 into coverage with Rees under center for over a year now and when they do that near the red-zone, there just isn’t anywhere to go with the football through the air. Notre Dame did try a few runs once they got close to the goal line, but for the most part they were stuffed.
Notre Dame has to be better when they are inside the 20 this weekend for them to have any chance against a very talented Oklahoma team. If the Irish score touchdowns 40% or less when they reach the red-zone, there is a good chance we won’t be talking about the undefeated Fighting Irish come Monday.
Penalties at the worst times
This one is becoming a persistent issue with procedure penalties on the offensive line at inopportune times on a weekly basis. Moreover, these penalties have come at the worst times – when Notre Dame is either marching down the field or have just reached the red-zone. Facing a 3rd and 4 from the BYU 18 on the very first drive of the game, Mike Golic was whistled for a false start. Notre Dame gets pushed back, fails to convert the 3rd and 9, and then missed the field. This has to get cleaned up in a hurry – especially with Notre Dame heading into a hostile environment this weekend in Norman.
On top of the procedure penalties, Notre Dame gave BYU three first downs because of personal fouls. Troy Niklas mixed it up with a BYU defender after the whistle to push Notre Dame back inside its own 20 after Theo Riddick converted a 3rd and 1. Notre Dame punted three plays later. Louis NIx grabbed a hold of Riley Nelson’s face mask on a 3rd and 16 right after Notre Dame took the lead in the 4th. These kind of plays need to be drastically reduced, if not eliminated.
I was going to say the kicking units specifically here since Kyle Brindza missed two very makable field goals and Ben Turk kicked his final punt well out of the endzone when Notre Dame needed to pin BYU deep, but special teams in general were very poor this week. Hopefully Brindza just had an off week because he has been kicking extremely well this season and Notre Dame won’t be able to afford missed field goals from 40 yards or less this weekend. Turk on the other hand has been up and down all season. He’s had his moments where he’s looked great and then turned around and kicked a 35 yarder.
The return units were a problem again this week with the Irish getting almost zero benefit from their return units. With George Atkinson III and Davonte Neal handling the return duties, there is no reason for the Irish to not be getting positive plays out of both units.
Lack of a passing game
Tommy Rees started off 6 for 7 passing the ball on Saturday in the first quarter and then went on to complete just one pass over the final three quarters. BYU didn’t do anything exotic to slow down the Rees led Irish offense – they dropped 8 into coverage and forced Rees to beat them by staying in the pocket and waiting for someone to get open. The problem with that for Notre Dame is that Rees’s strength is reading a defense pre-snap, finding the holes in the coverage, and putting the ball there. When the opposing defense isn’t in man coverage and just drops a bunch of defenders in coverage, Rees can’t utilize that strength. Compounding matters is Rees lack of arm strength which prevents him from firing the ball into small windows.
With Everett Golson in at quarterback, opposing defenses need to respect his running abilities as well as his arm which will allow him to fire off a throw that Rees can’t necessarily make. So, while Golson has his own limitations, he tends to be treated to more open wide receivers when he has time to pass. I expect Oklahoma to attack Golson this weekend to try and force some mistakes. Hopefully, a little of Rees’s skill at reading the defense pre-snap has rubbed off on Golson since we last saw him against Stanford.
Uninspired, flat play across the board
Brian Kelly insisted at half-time that the Irish were not flat on Saturday, but that is exactly what they were. Notre Dame nearly fell into a classic trap game after the emotional win over Stanford and with Oklahoma on the horizon. BYU just looked hungrier and more interested in playing early in the game. Some Irish players definitely came out to play – see Theo Riddick and Manti Te’o – but for the most part, the team just didn’t have the same edge we’ve seen throughout the season.
A showdown with a top 10 opponent on the road, in prime time, with a perfect season still intact should help the team refocus in a hurry. It’s tough to avoid these type of performances – even Lou Holtz coached teams had their fair share of let down games – see Stanford ’92, Boston College ’93, etc. Usually they come after big wins though so in an odd way, it’s a good problem to have from that perspective since it means Notre Dame just won a big game.
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