The easiest time to find things to not like in a game is after a team wins a hard fought, ugly game over a quality opponent. You still feel good enough about the win, but at the same time realize there is a lot of room for improvement and that is exactly the scenario we find ourselves in this week in the wake of Notre Dame’s overtime win over Stanford.
There was definitely a lot to like in the thrilling win, but at the same time, there was plenty of things that caused Irish fans to pull out there hair even though the end result was a win that snapped a 3-game winning streak for Stanford over the Irish that vaulted Notre Dame into the top 5 of the first BCS standings of the season.
Play calling with the offense backed up
There were so many things to not like about the play that resulted in Stanford’s only touchdown of the game. Poor blocking, a lack of a sense of the pass rush by Golson, the fumble itself, but in my opinion the worst part about that play was the actual play call itself. With Notre Dame backed up and struggling to move the ball through the air, why were the Irish passing in that situation to being with?
Notre Dame’s defense had been playing well up to that point so why risk a negative play at all if the defense was playing well and you have the lead? Kelly and Chuck Martin have run the ball more than in the past at times this year, but that was one call that really backfired on them by resulting in the first touchdown scored on Notre Dame since the fourth quarter of the second week of the season.
Ball security from Everett Golson
Everett Golson took a big step forward against Miami, but that progressed stalled some against Stanford due to three lost fumbles – the aforementioned fumble in the end-zone, a botched handoff, and a third lost fumble at the end of a great run after being forced from the pocket. All three fumbles were extremely costly for the Irish and had Notre Dame not prevailed in overtime, all one would have needed to do to figure out why Notre Dame was no longer undefeated would have been to look at these three plays.
Golson’s fumble in the end-zone directly led to points for Stanford since they recovered it for a touchdown while the other two came with the Notre Dame offense moving the ball. Golson has shown flashes at times this year – he even showed some flashes on Saturday despite the miscues – but he’s also shown signs of being a first year starter who didn’t play at all last year as well.
The worst part of Golson’s fumbles on Saturday are that they could prevent Kelly and Martin from calling designed runs for Golson – a component of his game that is slowly starting to be a very potent weapon when the play ends with Notre Dame still in possession of the ball. Those runs by Golson have also seemed to help settle him into games making them even more important for the success of the Irish offense.
Too many false start penalties
When playing at home in front of your own fans, you just can’t have as many false start penalties as Notre Dame had last weekend. Notre Dame ended up with five false starts – all on the offensive line against Stanford. With road contests coming up this season in Norman asked Oklahoma and in Los Angeles against USC, Notre Dame is going to have to clean this up or it could back to bite them. Luckily for the Irish on Saturday, none of the false starts prevented Notre Dame from eventually gaining a first down on the same set of downs, but that might not be the case in the future with that many procedure penalties.
Lack of any return game
At this point, it is fair to question what type of priority is placed on the return games by the Irish coaching staff because it has been a year and a half since there has been any semblance of a punt return game. There was a lot of excitement regarding the punt return unit when Davonte Neal won the job in fall camp, but so far this yea the speedy freshman has not been able to stretch his legs on returns because there hasn’t been anywhere for him to go. Neal is too dangerous a returnman for him not to have broken a decent return or two already this year – especially considering how well the Irish defense has played in terms of forcing punts.
Blitz pick up by the Irish tight ends
It was a rough day for Notre Dame tight ends in the blocking department. Stanford has some great pass rushers off the edge and they had their way with the Irish tight ends most of the day. This is going to be an area to watch the rest of the season since the depth behind Tyler Eifert is as inexperienced as it is after Notre Dame lost Alex Welch for the season in training camp. At times this year Troy Niklas has showed promise as a blocker such as two weeks ago against Miami, but Saturday he and Ben Koyack definitely experienced some growing pains. Hopefully the Irish coaching staff uses Saturday’s game tape as a teaching point because the Irish tight ends likely won’t face a set of edge rushers better than what they saw against Stanford for the rest of the season.