5 Things I Didn’t Like in Notre Dame’s Win Over #18 Virginia

Whenever you beat a  top 20 team at home by 15 points and your defense sacks the opposing quarterback eight times and forces five turnovers, there is going to be a lot to like.  On the flip side, when your offense struggles to put drives together and relies on the defense forcing those turnovers to score points, there’s going to be plenty not to like as well.  As we do every week, we dive into those topics today.

I could talk about how it wasn’t ideal for Bryce Perkins to throw for over 200 yards in the first half, but the defense balled out so much in the second half, there won’t be any mention of anything the defense did that I might not have liked.  That second-half performance earned then a lot of leeway.

The offense on the hand? Well now, that is another story.

1. Ian Book’s pocket presence

A week after looking cool and calm in the pocket against an elite defense, on the road, in a hostile environment; Ian Book looked uncomfortable in the pocket at home against a lesser defense than the one he faced a week ago.  The prime example of this came in the third quarter with the Irish facing a third and six deep in their own territory.  Book had Chase Claypool running open on a crosser, but instead of firing it, he felt pressure that wasn’t there and ran from a clean pocket into a wall of defenders.

Even on Notre Dame’s first play of the game, it was clear Book wasn’t feeling comfortable.  He got flushed from the pocket, and as he ran towards the sideline, he ran out of bounds for a loss of five instead of throwing the ball away.

Greg already mentioned several times Book had guys open for big plays and either didn’t see them or couldn’t see them because he bailed from the pocket too early.  This wasn’t the first time this happened either.  Book left a lot of big plays on the field in Louisville also.

Brian Kelly, Chip Long, and Tommy Rees have their work cut out for them the next few weeks because so far this year, we’re not seeing a better quarterback than the one that took the field in Winston Salem a year ago.

2. Notre Dame’s poor execution of screen plays

Downfield plays weren’t the only significant gains Notre Dame failed to capitalize on either.  There were big plays to be had in the screen game all day long. Avery Davis, C’Bo Flemister, and Tony Jones each had screen plays called for them that were set up with and had convoys to block for them.  None of them ended up with the ball in their hands, however, for a variety of reasons.

While there were problems with each of the plays, the overall lack of execution on screens doesn’t make sense.  This is an offense that should excel at the screen play.  It has not been a big asset for this offense, though.

When Notre Dame finally gets Jafar Armstrong back, maybe this improves some since the plan for this year was to use Armstrong as a receiver a lot.  Until then, Notre Dame is leaving big plays on the field.

3. The continued struggles on 3rd down

Notre Dame started the game 5 for 5 on third down.  They ended the game 6 of 15.  So after converting their first five third downs of the game, the converted just one of their final nine.  In a vacuum that might not be too concerning, but it’s been a common theme this year on offense.  After four games, Notre Dame is statistically one of the worst teams in the country.

There’s been a variety of reasons for the third-down futility.  One is Book’s issues outlined above, but he also isn’t getting help all the time.  For the second week in a row, Chris Finke ran a 3rd down route short of the line to gain.  That’s not something you would expect from a 5th-year senior captain who hasn’t displayed those kinds of mental errors in the past.  At some point, Notre Dame might have to consider giving some of Finke’s reps to Lawrence Keys or Braden Lenzy when he is fully healthy.

Notre Dame has to improve on third down if they want to have a chance at finishing the season 11-1.  If they struggle on third down as they did against Virginia against Michigan or USC, they might not be lucky enough also to have 8.0 sacks and 5 turnovers those nights to bail them out.

4. All of the special teams blunders.

Notre Dame’s special teams units did not have a great day on Saturday.  There were breakdowns with each special teams unit throughout the game.

  • Poor coverage on kickoffs
  • A bad decision by Keys to return a kick he could have downed
  • The surprise onside kick by Virginia
  • A missed field
  • A muffed punt recovered by Virginia
  • A poor day punting

The onside kick by Virginia was excellent scouting, gutsy coaching, and flawless execution.  You have to tip your hat to the UVA staff there.  It’s hard not to be a little jealous with that one since we don’t see that level of special teams

All of that happened in one game.  That enough’s blunders to drive a special teams coach crazy if they occurred over a month, not a game.  Notre Dame has a dedicated special teams coach with Brian Polian having no other duties, but special teams problems still come back to haunt this team from time to time.

5. Pretty much everything related to NBC’s coverage other than Mike Tirico

At this point, it seems like NBC is purposely trying to annoy Notre Dame fans during telecasts.  We’ve already talked enough about Flutie.  We all know he’s terrible.  What I can’t handle is the damn skycam.  For the second home game in a row, fans at home couldn’t see where the ball was going at times because of that awful “innovation” from NBC.  It’ll be interesting to see if they ever admit failure here or if they keep doubling down.

This week we were also treated to a rather contrarian Terry McAuley who seemingly decided against being objective as the “rules expert” and just took the opposite view of what happened a few times.  Case in point came in the first quarter when he indicated that while technically Virginia was lined up offsides, a warning was probably in order, not a flag.  I’m sorry, what?

A little later, McAuley was back at it arguing that Julian Okwara‘s first strip-sack shouldn’t have been a fumble because Bryce Perkins forward progress had been stopped.  When pressure by Mike Tirico about Perskin being a mobile quarterback who escapes tackles regularly, Terry didn’t budge.

I know I said we’ve talked in the past about how bad Flutie is but did anyone else catch him talking about Bob Davie’s return to Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago at the end of the game?  Doug, you covered the game.  Bob Davie was not there.

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  1. Oh how I miss Tom Hammond. Just hearing his voice initiated a Pavlovian response for me, associated with ND Football. Ah, the good old days.

  2. It’s kind of funny Frank mentions the coaching staff working with Book to make improvements. Does anyone really thing that’s going to happen? I know he’s hoping, and so am I frankly, but I’ve lost faith in BK’s ability to develop QB’s after so many failed.

    I honestly think this is the offense we are going to have to live with this season. If it hasn’t improved by game 4, it’s not going to happen. This is the Book we will mostly see going forward, and they will continue to struggle on 3rd down, esp. against good defenses.

    It is sad that you almost look forward to away games just so you don’t have to watch the games on NBC. And Macauley? What kind of rules expert is he? A warning??? Seriously??? Is he confusing this with baseball where an umpire may give a warning to a pitcher for hitting a hitter or something? Football doesn’t give warnings. It throws flags and assigns penalties. When has anyone ever seen a ref tell a player(s) “hey, you were offsides there, I’ll let it go this time but don’t do it again, ok”. OMG.

    I’m not sure if NBC ever hopes to get in on other major college football action…but keep doing what you’re doing and it’s never going to happen. I’ve never seen a ‘home’ TV crew go so far out of its way to be biased against their own team. Now I don’t need to see them rooting for ND–but some balance would be nice.

    1. I can’t complain too much about what B. Kelly has done with the program. Before him we would struggle to have winning seasons. Now we are winning 10+ games a year. However, his QB development is piss poor. Crist, Rees, Golson, Zaire, Wimbush, now Book. Book was good last year. Should be great this year. Not the case. Extremely disappointing.

      As for the telecast, Macauley is a clown. NBC should never have this clown on again. I think NBC should be a little biased towards Notre Dame. 60-40, 70-30. But Flutie and Clown are biased the other way.

      The screen plays just show how uncomfortable Book really is. The first two were rushed by Book. He doesn’t seem settled. Either he is over thinking, or just uncomfortable. Either way, I agree this is how he is going to be the rest of the season.

      1. Tommy Rees is the QB coach, The man could throw a great back shoulder pass but I questioned the hire when it was announced. My one question about the qb situation is, Top programs like Bama, Okalahoma, Clemson, all seem to have seemless transitions with the qbs, what is ND doing differently?.

      2. The problem I have with BK is I think we’ve hit our ceiling with him. Yes, he is an improvement over the D/D/W years. And those years did a lot of real damage to the ND football program I think that probably took a few years to overcome. We were mired in mediocrity since Holtz left and fixing that was going to be more than an overnight proposition.

        But I think we’re well past that now. It seems we are now stuck in place. An above average program that is still well short of the elite status we need to be if we want to win NC’s. Defensively–we might be approaching that. Our defense is a force to reckon with, they gave Georgia all they can handle a large part of the game. And they show an ability to make in game adjustments.

        But offense is a persistent problem. We get so far and then stop, or even regress sometimes. Time and time again the offense has some Achilles’ heel that they never overcome. This year it’s a jumpy QB and poor 3rd down conversions—and I have no faith that’s going to get fixed this year. It’s something we see year in and out under BK, that is some offensive problem that never seems to get fixed. This year it’s something that’s going to keep us from getting to the playoffs, or if we are lucky enough to get there from winning that game.

        And I don’t think the PTBs at ND really care. As long as they win most of their games, the money keeps coming in and they are ‘in the conversation’ I think the PTBs are satisfied. They’ll say they want NC’s, but I don’t think that’s a priority these days.

      1. At ND, Kelly has not developed one QB, and has completely destroyed some.
        Zach Collaros is why Kelly is at ND, and it was a complete fluke that Tony Pike’s injuries allowed Collaros to get on the field at Cincy.

        Kelly is a lucky fraud.

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