Notre Dame’s season started with a disappointing and unexpected loss in Austin last night in front of a Darrell K Royal Stadium crowd record of 102,000+. Despite the loss, not all is lost for Notre Dame in 2016. We learned a lot about the Irish the four quarters and two overtimes of heart stopping football we were treated to on Sunday night.
Here are my 6 key takeaways from the 50-47 2OT loss in this week’s post game 6-pack.
1. Deshone Kizer has to be the starting QB at this point
This should be a no-brainer after that performance but so far there hasn’t been any announcement from Brian Kelly on the quarterback situation. Kizer vastly outplayed Malik Zaire and has me eating a whole lot of crow right about now. I always said Kizer was talented and the better pro prospect, but I never thought he would outplay Zaire that badly, but he did and he deserves to start. Moreover, the team deserves Kizer to be the starting quarterback.
Zaire looked more like a freshman than Beuchelle did in his first game back from hi 2015 injury. Kelly gave both a chance and Kizer made play after play. Scrap the two-headed monster QB approach, have a small package of some goal-line runs for Zaire and get this offense scoring 40+ a game. I hear sub-packages near the goal-line for running quarterbacks work these days. Kizer’s six touchdowns performance will go down as one of the best performances from a ND quarterback in a loss and back up some of the hype that was surrounding him heading into the season.
2. Josh Adams needs more carries
Tarean Folston is a better inside and short yardage back than Josh Adams. He’s shiftier and has better vision than Adams, but Adams has the home run potential and big play ability this offense needs. Folston broke free of the defense on Notre Dame’s first drive but got drug down from behind (albeit on a horse collar). If Adams get in the clear like that, he gone’s, baby. Gone. Adams ended up only carrying the ball 11 times to Folston’s 18 and while Folston averaged a yard more per carry thanks to that 54 yarder. Outside of that one carry, Folston averaged just 2.0 yards a carry.
Notre Dame’s strength on offense lies with its offensive line. Both backs should get 15 carries at least next week against Nevada.
3. Why on earth did Brian Vangorder keep using a 3-man front?
Notre Dame surprisingly came out in a 3-man front to stop the uptempo, fast paced Texas offense. Texas responded by running the ball at will against Notre Dame. When Notre Dame adjusted and went back to its base 4-man front on defense, the Irish started to get stops. With the game on the line in the 4th quarter, however, the Irish went back to a 3-man front and Texas marched down the field to score a late go-ahead touchdown.
The 4-man front had been working all second half, why go back to the look that Texas was having its way with early on? A whole lot went wrong for Notre Dame on defense from blown assignments to missed tackles, but a lot went wrong in this one from a game-planning and strategy perspective as well. This was not Brian Vangorder’s best moment as a defensive coordinator – and that is saying something given some of the defensive performances we’ve seen over the years.
4. What happened to Tyler Newsome?
Newsome had a great first season as a starter in 2015 for the Irish, but last night the junior punter was not the same punter we saw a year ago. In 2015 Newsome averaged 44.5 yards a punt – a Notre Dame record (minimum 50 punts). Last night he averaged just 38.3 yards a kick and shanked a 24 yarder at one of the worst possible moments.
With Notre Dame finally back in the lead 35-31, Newsome shanked a kick 24 yards giving Texas solid field position when it looked like the Irish could pin them deep. Kicking from his own 44, Newsome’s boot could have backed Texas up against the end-zone. Instead they started at their own 32.
Newsome’s last punt of the game wasn’t his best kick either. In a tie game with just under two minutes remaining, Newsome hit one 38 yards giving Texas the ball at the 33 yard line. With a suspect defense, Notre Dame will need Newsome back on his game in a hurry.
5. Notre Dame has to rely on freshmen in the secondary
Brian Kelly made personnel changes at halftime after the Texas offense kept getting behind the Irish defense. Kelly sat junior Drue Tranquill in favor of freshman Devin Studstill. When Avery Sebastian got knocked out of the game he inserted another freshman, Jalen Elliot. Tranquill and Sebastian were over-matched in this game as neither are known for their speed and neither could keep up with the speed of the Texas offense.
Starting two true freshmen safeties can be a recipe for disaster, but it looks like Notre Dame might need to rely on a couple of frosh moving forward. Where’s a schematic advantage when you really need one.
6. Notre Dame can still make a playoff run
It may sounds crazy or overly optimistic/irrational to still be talking playoffs, but even with the loss this weekend, Notre Dame can make a run at the playoffs if they win out. Ohio State showed us two years and Oklahoma showed us last year that an early season “bad” loss can be overcome if you are playing great football at the end of the year. Ohio State lost at home to a bad Virginia Tech team in 2014 and Oklahoma lost to the same Texas team that Notre Dame had beat 38-3 just a year ago. Both made the playoffs.
Of course, a lot outside of Notre Dame’s control will have to happen for them to still have any shot at the playoffs on top of a lot happening that they can control. For Notre Dame to make a run, the Irish will obviously need to win out, but in addition, they’ll need Texas to win more games than they did a year ago so this won’t be deemed a “bad” loss and they’ll need a team like Miami, NC State, or Virginia Tech to be better than advertised to help build their resumé.
Yesterday’s loss gives Notre Dame zero margin for error, however, and even at 11-1, there’s a chance the Irish could be left out of the mix given the schedule Notre Dame faces this year. None of Notre Dame’s three marquee opponents – USC, Stanford, and Michigan State – looked overly strong this weekend
- Yes, it was a targeting penalty. We all know that by now.
- Equanimeous St Brown looked great in his starting debut. He needs some more work, but the future for St. Brown is about as bright as his helmet.
- Disappointed in the play of the interior Notre Dame DL. No tackles for loss for any Irish DT/NT.
- Asmar Bilal is going to be needed against spread offenses. Love Greer Martini but he’s built for Navy, Army, Michigan State, and Stanford on this year’s schedule. Need to see more of Bilal next week.
- Stepherson didn’t look ready to play such a prominent role. Need to find him a niche in this offense ala Golden Tate ’07 and have Boykin ready on the outside if Hunter misses next week.
- The slogan in Austin is “Keep it Weid Austin” and it was indeed weird in Austin the last few days.
- Heard not very great things about Lonestar beer from some locals before heading to Austin, but enjoyed a few of them this weekend.
- No one said there would be this many shots after a 6-pack. Pass the water.