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.