5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame vs. Michigan ’18

Notre Dame had a near perfect start to their 2018 season this weekend.  They beat the #14 ranked Michigan Wolverines 24-17 in front of a raucous home crowd while hosting ESPN College Gameday on campus this weekend.  Part of the reason I called it a near perfect start is that for all of the good, there was also plenty on film for the Notre Dame coaching staff to work on.  This column is focusing on those areas.

Warning, if you have not read “5 Things I Liked” or know what this column is, the point of is NOT to just complain.  So please hold off on the comments or Twitter mentions for being too negative when Notre Dame had an amazing win.  I will be doing this point series every week. “5 Things I Liked” will be all of the positive – ie the pie in the sky look at the game.  This column, on the other hand, will look at what didn’t go right and what Notre Dame can improve on.

Again, before you @ me, this weekend’s game was an absolutely tremendous effort by the entire staff and roster.  A win like this weekend though also means that this team is capable of even bigger things. So let’s take a look at what Notre Dame can improve to reach the heights they are hoping to.

The Short Passing Game

This is still an area that Notre Dame struggled in.  Brandon Wimbush’s passes weren’t anywhere close to as bad as we saw in some practice videos so that was promising.  His timing and ball placement in the short game, however, is still just a bit off.  And in the short passing game that can mean the difference between a three yard gain and a 30 yard gain.

Chip Long and Brian Kelly did try a few new screens we haven’t seen them try to run much before and one nice gain on one ended up getting called back.  So give them some credit for trying to find some new ways to get the short game going.

Notre Dame will likely keep working on this because they have the weapons to make the short passing game very effective.  Jafar Armstrong for instance could be lethal on screens ala Theo Riddick in 2012.  Look for Notre Dame to keep working on this the next few weeks.

Notre Dame’s 2nd Half Offense

Notre Dame scored 21 points on their first four drives of the game but then scored just three points the rest of the game.  Once the Irish got the lead and it was clear the defense was getting the best of Michigan, Notre Dame went vanilla.  It worked of course so I get what Long and Kelly were trying to do.  All that said, it would have been nice to see Notre Dame be able to get some kind of offense going in the second half.

The Irish struggled for every inch in the second half.   After Brandon Wimbush’s 3rd quarter interception, it felt like Long and Kelly decided to stop airing it out at all.  That let Michigan focus on stopping the Notre Dame ground attack.

The struggles of the new look offensive line played played a role here too, but those struggles were expected.  Notre Dame was starting someone who never played before at left tackle against a top 5 NFL Draft pick.  We learned later that Robert Hainsey came out because of injury, not ineffectiveness, but a strong case could have been made for replacing him with Lugg even if he hand’t gotten hurt.

A lot of these issues will get worked on over the next few weeks, so nothing overly concerning here just yet.

Michigan’s Success with the Scramble Drill

The one area in which Shea Patterson started to get some momentum was when he had to scramble from the pocket and buy time.  When he escaped pressure in the second half, he found some open receivers.  With Notre Dame losing their starting nickel at the 11th hour when Shaun Crawford went down, the Irish had to reshuffle the secondary a bit. That showed on Saturday night.

The great news here is that this was really one of the only areas in which the Notre Dame defense showed any real signs of weakness.  With the lack of timing to regroup from the Crawford injury, we knew coming in that Notre Dame really just needed to “get by” this weekend and then use the next three weeks to figure out their best mix in the secondary.

That will probably mean Houston Griffith at the nickel and Nick Coleman at safety.  Trotting out a true frosh like Griffith who had missed time in camp in a primetime game against a top 15 foe though wasn’t the best environment to get him acclimated.  Look for Griffith to see more and more time at nickel the next few weeks.

Special Teams

This is the one of the five topics listed here that I would say was actually troubling.  Everything else can be chalked up to some reasonable explanations.  There aren’t many explanations for the early struggles on kickoffs that resulted in great field position for Michigan or for the kick return touchdown allowed by the Irish that allowed Michigan to even be in the game in the first place after the offense built a 21-3 lead. Brian Polian clearly has some work to do here.

The other special teams area that was concerning was the punting of Tyler Newsome.  He had a couple of absolute beauties including one that pinned Michigan inside the 5 and his last that was a booming punt that pushed Michigan back.  At the same time, Newsome had a couple duds including sending one out through the back o the endzone when trying to pin Michigan deep.  Newsome has the talent and the leg, but he’s got some kinks to work out.

No Rally Towels for the “Green Out”

For all of the marketing and pleading for the crowd to wear green – which was actually a pretty resounding success – it was disappointing that Notre Dame didn’t hand out any rally towels, pom-poms or anything of the like to the crowd to add to the green.  I have a few rally towels from past Notre Dame games before where there wasn’t a coordinated effort to get the crowd to wear a specific color so the lack of that this weekend didn’t make much sense to me.  If you are going to ask fans to buy new gear and market a line of gear for the event splurge a little to pay back the fans who already spent $175-185 (face value) for their tickets.

If one of the top five things that went wrong was the lack of rally towels, you know it was a pretty damn good weekend.

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  1. Hey Frank quit being so negative you sound like a hater so be nice…..just kidding! As far as Wimbush goes I truly believe, as many other people do, that he has reached his ceiling. I do not feel that anymore training/practicing or whatever will bring him around to a better position then where he’s at right now.I know you’ll probably say that practice makes perfect but they have been working with him for quite sometime now and he has only shown a small amount of improvement in his passing acumen.

  2. Superronnin, Actually, Michigan sucked because they were not ready for the game. It’s ironic that some of our fans call Kelly a “fraud” who “never wins the big games”…really guys??? Who was the fraud who lost a big game on Saturday, September 1, 2018, just as he ALWAYS does? The only “luck” we needed is this: We have BK as a head coach instead of the great “elite” JH. That’s the real difference between winning and losing, isn’t it?

    BGC ’77 ’82

    1. Lea’s players won that game. And perhaps it isn’t justified to give overwhelming credit to Lea for that. But is even more clear that, on the defensive side of the ball, Kelly deserves none of it.

      Kelly is a fraud.

  3. Agree with almost everything here except the Newsome part. He had a pretty good game outside of the first punt. The last punt he was instructed to kick the ball as far as he could as quickly as he good.

  4. Agree with all these areas. This year I’m definitely looking at ND with a more skeptical eye. Unlike some, I’ll be rooting for ND to crush every game. But I won’t be prematurely jumping on any ‘we’ve arrived’ bandwagons until the season is over.

    A win over Michigan anytime is great. And ND had great control in the first half, save for the first half kickoff return that Michigan had. But the 2nd half was an exercise in frustration for the ND offense. They just couldn’t seem to get anything going. At the end the offense couldn’t even stay on the field long enough to ice the game. We had to hope the defense had the goods to keep Michigan from tying it, which thankfully they did. But that could be an issue down the line if they don’t address it. I know Frank said the offense went vanilla. But it also seemed to me that Michigan’s defense made some adjustments at the halftime and ND didn’t seem to have an answer for that. That will need some work.

    Special teams needs some work. Interestingly that wasn’t an area that got much media attention, at least that I saw. But it was an area that was troublesome in areas last year and it’s disappointing that still seems to be the case. Special teams is an area that can make the difference in a close game.

    But, they beat a ranked team, and in general pretty convincingly. Michigan made it uncomfortable at the end, but then, no one was really expecting a blow out. I was glad to see ND, even when they had struggles in certain areas, didn’t give into panic. At the end of the day they took care of business.

    And I found it amusing that everyone was talking about Michigan’s ‘vaunted’ defense and virtually ignoring ND’s. Wasn’t it ironic that it was ND’s defense that won the game?

    P.S….Am I the only one that was annoyed by the NBC crew? Esp. when Michigan returned the kickoff return for a TD. They almost seemed gleeful, ‘Michigan’s right back in it’ and so forth. I don’t know, maybe I’m being overly critical. But they are a ND network. I don’t expect them to ‘root’ for ND, that’s not really their job, but it seems like they almost root for the other team. It’s pretty bad when they make ESPN look fair and balanced by comparison.

  5. It was a first game guys. The “O” line will be fine…this was the first time they have played together…and against a good front seven. The offense is usually a little behind the defense at the beginning of the year. If you were there, you definitely got the feeling that we could turn it on again, like in quarter 1, if we felt like it.

    On the other hand, when you have “Special” Ed kids who won’t stay in their lanes (we learned to do that in 6th grade, didn’t we?)…you are definitely “prepping” to lose a game later in the year. Get your “Special” heads out of your “Special” arses and stop “rolling your own” here please. DO YOUR JOBS.

    BGC ’77 ’82

      1. Starting to come aboard, just like Noah’s ark. Well, think it’s a little late fer ya. You made your bed long ago, now Lay in it.

      2. Actually, it was nothing like 1988, David. In 1988 we barely won the Michigan game after a day full of lead changes.Their field goal kicker missed at the end for a Michigan win… or we would have lost to Michigan in ’88…we nearly did lose. Three days ago we ripped them a new one in a game WE NEVER EVEN TRAILED IN…WE LED FROM SERIES ONE UNTIL THE FINAL WHISTLE…JACKASS.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      3. Hey dopey dave that SIMPLISTIC VELOSITY and willie taggart looked great last nite just as you predicted!! You said in practice they were running 90 plays a game WOW!! Maybe they should go faster and get 4pts next week!! Relax, Patience, Lots of time. WHAT A DOPE!!

  6. The facts speak for them self. If Michigan had been lucky in their last drive they could have scored a TD, gone for 2 and won the game. Michigan has a good passing QB so to let it get that close was poor coaching. The play calls in 2H were too conservative. The short passing game needs work, BW was lucky not to be intercepted at least 2x more. BW’s accuracy needs to improve to give receivers a more frequent chance to catch on the run , and to avoid receivers getting nailed. A much as Kelly talks about designing the O strategy around BW that will fail where BW can’t run unless he masters the short pass else uses Book. Special team kick coverage tackling continues being terrible, as were first kick offs. ND was lucky to catch Michigan on a bad & unlucky day.

    1. Michigan was lucky, they were lucky our 2nd half TD was called back!! THEY were lucky we didn’t have YOON kick off the whole game or they wouldn’t have returned the short kick for a TD!! They were lucky they managed to score 1 TD with that great passing game!! They were lucky to keep their streak alive of not winning a road game against a ranked opponent since 2006!! THANK GOD FOR THE LUCK OF THE IRISH!!!!

    2. I notice that Michigan has a “bad and unlucky” day EVERY TIME THEY PLAY ND, OHIO STATE or MICHIGAN STATE. At what point does “bad luck” finally become known a piss poor coaching job, pure and simple?

      BGC ’77 ’82

  7. We beat UM so everyone is happy. I am still not convinced BW has improved on his passing.

    His incredible athleticism as a runner makes us all ignore or downplay his obvious problem with accuracy.

    Am I complaining? No. But I am worried.

  8. I dont understand why everyone is saying they played it safe in the 2nd half. I rewatched the game and they threw the ball almost just as much as the first half. Aside from the penalty on Boykins TD pass there were a lot of dropped balls by receivers.

  9. I dont understamd why everyone is sayimg they played it safe in the 2nd half. I rewatched the game and they threw the ball almost just as much as the first half. Aside from the penalty on Boykins TD pass there were a lot of dropped balls by receivers.

  10. All five points are fair, Frank.
    And in the spirit of the column, I also am not complaining- but here’s what I noticed that I didn’t like.
    I understand wanting to run the clock with a 21-10 lead.
    But too often, ND ran their first two downs with ample time on the play clock when they snapped the ball.
    Then, third and long, they passed, mostly incomplete (2 for 7 in the second half), which stopped the clock!
    And you won’t score much against an elite D’ when they know you’re going to run the ball on first and second downs.
    Wimbush running for 22 on third and 18, and then, escaping an unblocked rusher to hit the pass to Claypool resulted in the only 3 points in the second half.

    Can’t stand playing ‘not to lose’- fortunately,something Lea and the D’ never fell into.
    The Michigan RB said after the game it “felt like ND was blitzing every play”.
    Pressure D’ and aggressive O’ play calling is what is needed.
    Like David said, “When you have the enemy on the ground, you step on their throat.”
    I hope to see more of that as the season progresses and the coaching staff feels more confident in Wimbush.

  11. I didn’t feel that the playcalling in the second half was as terrible as some commenters appear to feel. The defense was stopping them quite effectively, and we had a substantial lead, so running out the clock with a lot of running plays seemed to make sense to me. Once Michigan got within a score with two minutes left, they made Harbaugh spend all his timeouts, gave him the ball, and invited him to score. They wouldn’t have done that in 2015.

  12. ND up 14 points. Michigan has no offensive touchdowns. Wimbush runs out of bounds on 2nd down and we throw the ball on 3rd down incomplete (almost picked off) to stop the clock again? Game should never have been close.

      1. 7 point game with two minutes to go and Michigan had the ball is not close? You must not remember the 20 plus point lead Kelly blew at Michigan a few of years ago.

      2. Jeff…JH could have Michigan UP by a touchdown, with possession, and STILL find a way for Michigan to lose to a rival…ANY RIVAL…EVERY RIVAL!!! The thought that JH would somehow preside over a last minute TD and two point conversion to beat a rival FLIES IN THE FACE OF EVERYTHING HE HAS DONE AT MICHIGAN!!! EVERYTHING!!! Wake up dude! Encounter reality.

        BGC ’77 ’82

      3. No – no towel for me! The money flowed the other way…$250 contribution, $95 tickets, $30 parking and $7 double screwdrivers. CSC stands for “cash strictly cash”, doesn’t it?

        BGC ’77 ’82

      4. Sorry Jeff…the comment below was meant for Jimmy, not you…my mistake.

        BGC ’77 ’82

  13. Always hold my breath when Irish kick off. Kick coverage has been awful the past several seasons. Agree with David on passing out a game towel to the fans. Forget about any freebies.

  14. “Chip Long and Brian Kelly did try a few new screens we haven’t seen them try to run much before and one nice gain on one ended up getting called back. So give them some credit for trying to find some new ways to get the short game going.”

    Wimbush, B. if like myself, many a full moon ago, might be inclined to utilize, if available, computer simulated defense – offense programming. (game speed) IT WORKS

  15. It was reported before the game that Yoon “nailed” a 62-yard field goal in practice. A kick-off that distance and elevation goes deep into the end zone. So why wait for three disastrous kick-offs against Michigan before calling on Yoon? A critical and easily avoidable mistake that nearly cost Notre Dame the game.

  16. The offensive line was amazing in the first half play calling and not adjusting to MU’s half time changes killed them second half! I feel play calling in second half was terrible! Special teams are a joke! They have been for a long time, we have the athletes the plan is horrible. Trying to pin a team down at the 10-20 by high hang time kickoffs is hard against any team mich less MU! Kick it through the end zone!

  17. Special teams are going to kill us.We continue to have problems, and I do not understand why they are not fixed. Also, when is the last time we blocked a punt or a field goal? Kind of makes me wonder if we need a new special teams coach. Polian just is not getting it done.

  18. When you have the enemy on the ground, you step on their throat. ND simply cannot do it. Ever, to anyone.

    Unfortunately, Wimbush is still little more than an elusive running back. Defenses can dare him to throw and dial in on him running. He took some good shots from Michigan and kept bouncing up. It’s a long season.

    As far as handing out free rags….why would they do that when there’s still $10 left in fans’ pockets for the taking? That’s what today’s ND football is all about.

  19. Didn’t like that Notre Dame couldn’t put Michigan away when they had the chance. Disappointing to see Michigan get the ball back with two minutes on the clock and an opportunity to tie the game. That would have been devastating had Michigan been able to capitalize on that opportunity. Special Teams and Oline need some work.

    1. Hard to find fault this week, but this is favorite column for the likes of those negative types. Not to critique but, rather make suggestion. I like Alize Mack physicality and as long as He performs His blocking assignments, He can stay on the field. If you want to throw him a pass have Him plant 5 yards out.

      1. His physicality. His athleticism. His short memory, ability to regroup and to make plays. All the vapid TV jargonisms that make him…. a difference maker.

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