Post Game 6-Pack: Notre Dame Squeezes the Orange

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame got back on the win column Saturday with a 50-33 victory over the Orange from Syracuse.  It wasn’t always pretty and the Irish were still sloppy in some areas, but after the loss to Duke, any win feels great.  The Irish now sit at 2-3 and for at least a week, Rome isn’t burning.

Related: Notre Dame v. Syracuse Highlights: Irish Win 50-33!

Here’s my post game 6-pack.

1. The defense was better but still a major work in progress. Notre Dame’s defense didn’t suddenly become the 1986 Bears by firing Brian Vangorder and installing an interim defensive coordinator on Sunday, but they did look better then they did a week ago.  They still missed some tackles and left some receivers open, but for the most part there weren’t the same blown coverages that were common the first four weeks of the year.

Amba Etta-Tawo did score on a 72 yard touchdown but that was more a result of a true freshman, Julian Love, just making a bad play on the ball.  Love won’t make that play again with more experience.  Speaking of the freshmen defensive backs, there were a few instances where their inexperience showed where more seasoned defenders could have had turnovers.  Donte Vaughn played a lot along with Love and Jalen Elliot and they look like they have some promise.

Jay Hayes was on the field a lot on Saturday as well and raised questions as to why he wasn’t on the field earlier.  Jonathan Bonner played more than normal and made some plays as well.

Most importantly, after a rough start, the defense settled in and gave up just six points in the second half.  Take away the seven points Syracuse scored after starting one drive at the ND 14 yard line and they played about as well as could have been expected considering how they were playing and how much change took place this week.

Notre Dame’s defense stopped taking steps backward on Saturday and nudged forward just a tiny bit.  Now, can they do the same next week and keep improving?  We’ll see.

2. Notre Dame’s offense is becoming very much hit or miss.  Notre Dame scored on three 50+ yard touchdown passes and a 50+ yard touchdown run.  What was missing, however, were long, sustained drives in which the Irish methodically marched down the field.  We saw this a bit last week too.

Notre Dame is having issues having sustained drives this year because of the offensive line has been uneven all season long.  The line was expected to be a strength but it’s not opening up running lanes for the Irish ground game.  At the same time, Notre Dame’s rushing attack has become almost exclusively horizontal with zone reads.  While Brian Kelly keeps working with the defense, the Mike’s (Sanford and Denbrock) need to brainstorm ways to take advantage of Notre Dame’s size in the middle of the line.

Red-zone play calling continues to be frustrating as well. With a 1st and goal from the 10 in the second quarter, Notre Dame called three straight runs to the perimeter that took them to the one.  Facing 4th and goal they called another perimeter run and got shut down.

3. Nyles Morgan played his best game in a Notre Dame uniform.

4. Special teams teams we’re really uneven… again.  It was interesting reading some Syracuse blogs after the game and seeing them say Notre Dame dominated special teams because I walked away from this one feeling differently about Notre Dame’s special teams.

On one hand CJ Sanders picked up his first return touchdown of the season and Jarron Jones blocked ANOTHER PAT that was returned for two points (side note: heck of a play by Luke on that to scoop and score without losing balance or getting caught). Chase Claypool made a heck of a play to down a punt at the Syracuse 1 yard line as well.

On the other hand though, Justin Yoon missed another field goal under 40 yards and the Notre Dame punt coverage units – outside of the Claypool play – were down right dreadful.  Notre Dame gave up a long return at the end of the first half that resulted in a short field for the ‘Cuse offense and then another one in the third that the Irish defense helped erase.

Yoon’s struggles might be the most concerning though.  The sophomore struggled in camp before reportedly getting his grove back, but he is now just 4 for 7 on the season.

5. Deshone Kizer can’t walk on water.  Read the message board here and you would think Deshone Kizer played a terrible game.  Quite the opposite really.  Kizer set a Notre Dame record for passing yards in a win with 471 (3rd most ever by a ND QB) with three touchdowns through the air and another on the ground.  He now has accounted for 20 touchdowns through five games this year.

Kizer wasn’t perfect.  That is probably the one legitimate grip a Notre Dame fan can have.   He threw a bad pick and missed a wide open Kevin Stepherson at one point for what should have been an easy touchdown.  He does seem to go into funks in second quarters this year too for some reason.  He’s been lights out in the first but then cold in second quarters before rallying back.

His second quarter miscues this week nearly cost the Irish though.  In the final minute of the first half Kizer had the Irish on the move with the chance to go up 20 heading into the half.  Instead, Kizer took a bad sack to knock the Irish out of field goal range. Then after that bad punt return set up an easy Syracuse score, Kizer threw a pick that nearly gave the Orange another three points.  Luckily they missed the field goal attempt.

I still say Kizer is playing like a kid who think he has to be perfect and has to win a game by himself.  He alluded to as much last week when he said he took the fun out of being the quarterback of Notre Dame.  Kizer took a step forward Saturday but like the rest of the Irish, he is still a work in progress.  And that’s OK.

6. Notre Dame’s running game is still a work in progress.   Speaking of works in progress, the Notre Dame ground attack had another tough going this week against a pretty weak run defense.  Notre Dame continually ran their horizontal stretch plays against an undersized, fast defense.  As annoying as Brock Huard was on Saturday, he was right the harp on Notre Dame continually running plays that fed into the strength of the defense.

What is also becoming very alarming is the lack of broken tackles.  Josh Adams rarely went down on first contact last year, but he just isn’t running through the same arm tackles he did a year ago.  Facing a 3rd and goal in the second quarter, Adams had what looked like a touchdown if he could just shake an arm tackle from a Syracuse safety.  He couldn’t.

If Notre Dame really wants to salvage this season, the ground game has to get going at some point.  The numbers looked OK yesterday thanks in large part to Dexter Williams’s highlight reel worthy 59 yard touchdown run and some late runs once the game was essentially over, but when Notre Dame tried to run early, they struggled to do so.

Parting Shots

  • Where was Chase Claypool again this week?  Notre Dame had 10 players who had a catch against ‘Cuse.  Claypool wasn’t one of them.
  • I still don’t agree that Devin Studstill should have been ejected for targeting.  I was fine with the flag but targeting?  Nope.  He was already getting ready to make the tackle when a quarterback decided to slide down on a designed running play.
  • Nice to see Miles Boykin play more this week though.  Still want to see him deployed at the goal line.  I’d rather see one fade call to a 6’5′ wide receiver instead of a four straight stretch runs inside the 10.
  • Hats off to the freshman defensive backs for holding their own against a complex offense.  They had ups and downs but at times there were four frosh defensive backs on the field at the same time.
  • Hats off to Greg Hudson too for doing a pretty good job in just a week’s time.  Hudson has seven more games to make his case to remove the interim tag from his title, but he didn’t do anything this week to take himself out of consideration.
  • So much for the return of Purple Face Kelly that certain media folks were predicting and making some unnecessary noise over.
  • This week’s brew selection was limited.  Marathon training had me log a 17 mile run before the game so I wasn’t fully ready for beer during the game, but I did manage to have a couple Yuengling Octoberfests.  They were meh.

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  1. They must be the guys making huge sports bets of how many ejections there will be in a game. That’s the only thing I can think of at this point 🙂

  2. The Stanford hit by UCLA DB was beyond egregious (just like Hunter’s) – it was classic. And if you believe in that kind of thing, it was perfect. And that Stanford kid went right to the dressing room.

    The BYU linebacker was trying to do everything right – you could see that clearly! He was a bit awkward, but I have no idea what the refs were looking at. No idea. And then they punish him for doing what he’s been coached to do (using his shoulder pads?) This, and other things, are confusing the young kids who will be playing this game in the future.


    You know, I’m a high school teacher (supposedly retired) and there were always some parents who would not let their sons play the game. But nowadays – there are more than ever! Many more.

    The kind of review you propose is spot on. But these guys in the review booths? Who in hell are they, anyway?

    Bruce GC

  3. Bruce,

    I’m with you on player protection and refs leaning on that side. There are certainly more dangerous plays where that is needed. I don’t feel this is one of those plays unless it is a completely obvious late spear. Losing a starter for an entire game can be detrimental to a team which in Studsill’s case here was completely unfair in my opinion. I haven’t seen those that you are calling out in those other games but the worst I have ever seen is Stephon Tuitt against Pittsburgh. That was a running back running a sweep. How is targeting even possible on a tackle of a RB? They hit heads ALL the time.

  4. Chris J,
    I myself would not have flagged that kid for what he did. But I’d rather have refs err on the side of caution than let stuff go.
    Now, it’s easy for me to say – the game is a lot faster in real life than it looks on TV. So you are probably right in your comment.
    But as little as I played organized grade school ball, I’m telling you, my coaches were intolerant of an “unnecessary roughness” call – we did not have targeting- or a late hit, or a “spearing call.”

    As long as it is not outright counterproductive, like the call against the BYU linebacker in the Utah game, I’m going to support the refs.

    By the way – I like the solution you propose.

    Bruce GC

  5. Bruce,

    I’m not sure if you are referring to the Studsill hit in your last statements but if you are, I’m sorry but you are wrong, just as the refs were for throwing him out.

    What QBs in college actually slide anymore? Their QB was running right at Studsill as if he were going to try and run through him and then he ends up sliding. Studsill is taking form just as this is happening, lowering his shoulder to drive through what would be the QBs mid-section. The QB slides and now his helmet is at Studsill’s shoulder height. BS in that scenario that it is targeting.

    What do you teach your players there at the college level where almost every QB runs now and typically does not slide but tries to gain more yardage? Do you say to him, “if it’s a QB running right at you, make sure you hold up because he might slide?” So say the DB applies that and then the QB decides to run right over him because he is just standing there in a non-tackling position. Now the DB gets run over and the QB gets more yards.

    A solution to this exact scenario would be during the review to determine if the QB slides late and the tackler is already in his motion to make the tackle, then it is NOT targeting.

  6. By the way, I used to work with an ND grad who had been a manager for Devine and Faust (when we were at Munster HS together, I a teacher, and he a physical therapist). He has led a three decade campaign in this area against concussions.

    One of our guys made a bad play by making contact with a hook sliding QB. I’d have been thrown out of a grade school game (by my own coach) for that. Thankfully, the QB wasn’t even near being hurt in this case.

    A second guy “did an Atkinson” with his forearm (Atkinson forearmed Swann in some pro game and put him out). Again, thankfully the guy was not hurt. Our man was just a little OOC, that’s all. He came in too high.

    It should not be whether the guy is hurt, nor whether it was intentional.

    But how could that classic targeting in the UCLA/Stanford game not get called?
    And how could the linebacker in BYU/Utah State get penalized for targeting? He wasn’t even close to a target play!

    As I said earlier, the refs in this country need to get their act together collectively.

    As for our guys, they made bad plays – sorry, you are out. You obviously were not trying to hurt, or even intimidate anyone. But that’s not the standard. OK calls by the refs.

    Bruce GC

  7. They are running a single back O most of the time. It would be awesome to have a power series for the run with two RB’s…hopefully next season…add it as another “look” to the several we already have.

    I think “poppin the pads in practice” must have been written by a former player. Nicely put.

    Nice game, too! If the roof doesn’t fall in Saturday at NC State, USAF Irish might end up being exactly right. Lord Almighty, I sure hope so!

    See you Saturday
    Bruce GC

  8. I would like to see Kizer under center and a power formation and run between the takles..straight at them and move somebody back asswards..! maybe they just cant, but never see them try..Dont think it is coach H calling any plays and or asked for advice to be honest..but don’t see any typical power running what so ever from Kelly down in the red zone..and that is basic football for the most part..I don’t think they practice it..? o well I guess that’s summin most ND folks have known for awhile now..? I just want to see it executed, its shows strength and toughness..

  9. Kizer is a great talent, but his offense needs to manufacture six TDs every single game. Otherwise ND loses. He needs to go into every game knowing the opposition will score at least 35 points. His stats are very impressive, but he also needs to be judged by wins and losses. That SU game should have been over by halftime. Moving the ball will not get any easier than last Saturday. After the first quarter, the defense more than did their part.

  10. I agree with all the sentiments regarding the O-Line. It’s supposed to be the most talented and have the most depth of any of the units. So much so that they switched Jerry Tiller to the D-Line to give that unit some much needed talent and depth. Yet the play has been very inconsistent. McGlinchey’s best position is at RT not LT. Would like to see Alex Bars at LT. Harry Hiestand is an excellent recruiter. Now he needs to be as good a developer of talent.

  11. With all the focus on the defense-understandably, and deservedly so -#2 and #6 above- revolve around an extremely underperforming o-line. Admitingly, ND is trying to fill big holes left by graduation, and position changes. I hope it is a developmental problem that will right itself with more time playing together. However, there simply seems to be little push or physicality at the point of attack by them.

  12. Regarding the game, just happy for a win. Sad, though, that a game against the Orange this year would be in doubt.

    I kept an eye on the defense like most. I’m a reasonable guy and our defense was such an abomination under BVG, I really didn’t expect a miracle turnaround in a few days. Still a lot of work to do. One positive I did take away was they did make some adjustments in the 2nd half, which is something they never did under BVG.

    Every game this year will probably be a nail biter though. With the players they have that is really unacceptable. In any event, the next job is to beat NC State.

  13. I agree Mike. I questioned if the play went to the standard of targeting. Listening to the annoying Brick Huard would make it that it was so evident. Hey, that hit on Hunter weeks back sure look liked a targeting example but not called, with the damn concussion resulting also. The D is still in question but the disappointing factor is the OL play, which is hamstringing the run game. They are not getting the job done even though the hype was the OL would be the strength this season. Bring on the wolf pack.

  14. I’m getting annoyed at how ND seems to be targeted with targeting. The refs never seem to miss this when the ND player is the hitter and they seem to bend over backwards to apply the ejection penalty ( Tuitt and now Studstill). Yet they aren’t quite as vigilant when the ND player is the hitter (Hunter Jr). Even though the penalty is harsh, I think it’s necessary to protect the safety of the kids on the field. But in order to protect ALL the kids on the field, it needs to be applied equally.

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