There was a lot to like in Notre Dame’s first game of the 2020 season like the fact that there was even a game. Programs like Michigan still don’t know if they will even have a season so we Irish fans should be grateful right now. Still, it was far from a perfect performance by the Irish so there was also plenty of material for this week’s five things I didn’t like column as well. Here they are.
Not using Jordan Johnson when the wide receiving corps was banged up
Notre Dame’s wide receiving corps was banged up this week, and they clearly missed Braden Lenzy as a deep threat. That is why I couldn’t understand why Notre Dame didn’t give Jordan Johnson some reps when the offense needed a jump. Fellow freshman Xavier Watts could have potentially filled that role as well.
Freshmen wide receivers have historically not done a whole lot during the Brian Kelly era. Still, with Johnson and Watts, Notre Dame has a pair of frosh who are more suited to play early than previous Notre Dame freshmen receivers. The group Notre Dame started might be great in the run game, but Duke didn’t respect the Notre Dame passing game enough with the trio that was on the field.
Johnson is a potential game-changer, and Notre Dame needs to see exactly what they have in him now to figure out if he is the kind of player who can potentially help later in the year when the schedule gets more challenging. Hopefully, we see him more this weekend against South Florida because even with a fully healthy wide receiver room, Johnson is the kind of player Notre Dame will need to beat a team like Clemson in November.
Clock management at the end of the first half
As it was happening, I couldn’t believe it. After stopping Duke on 3rd down with just under two minutes remaining, Notre Dame didn’t call time out even though they had three left. The clock just kept ticking, and the timeouts were just sitting there, waiting to be used.
By the time Notre Dame finally got the ball back after the Duke punt, they had the ball on their own 16 with just 1:05 left Duke’s 3rd down play ended with 1:55 on the clock. The Irish could have had the ball with 40 more seconds if they used the time out.
As it turns out, those 40 seconds would have been pretty handy. Notre Dame kicked a field goal with just 0:04 left on the clock with… wait for it… an unused timeout left on the board.
Days later, I still can’t figure out why Brian Kelly didn’t use a time out there.
Missed opportunities on offense
It was the first game of the year, and this team didn’t have a spring practice for all intents and purposes, so we should have expected the rust that we saw. That said, Ian Book and the Notre Dame offense left a lot of opportunities on the field
On Notre Dame’s second drive of the game, Book hit Tremble with a less than perfect pass, but a pass that hit Tremble in the hands nonetheless on third down that should have been a long catch and run. Instead, the ball hit the turf, and Notre Dame had to punt.
Notre Dame got a couple of nice gains out of its screen game, including a 75-yard pickup by Kyren Williams and a near touchdown by Jafar Armstrong. They could have had even more at the start of the second half. Notre Dame had a perfect screen to start the second half, but Book couldn’t connect with Williams again.
Notre Dame’s biggest miss of the day, though was a gimme 82-yard touchdown that Book didn’t see. In the second quarter, Book dropped back to pass while Lawrence Keys emerged out of a bunch formation without any Duke defender picking him up. It was a jailbreak. No one was within 5 yards of Keys as he broke for the endzone. Book never saw him.
Both of those last two plays could have been touchdowns if Book connects. Williams had a convoy of blockers with just two Duke defenders anywhere near the play. Keys could have walked. Against Duke, Notre Dame can miss those and overcome them. That won’t be the case in November.
Kyle Hamilton getting injured, even if it’s minor
It looked scary. After Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah forced a fumble in the third quarter as Duke was driving a bit, Kyle Hamilton got rolled up on, and it didn’t look good. Hamilton went down in the kind of way someone goes down when they have a significant injury. He limped off the field on his own but never returned.
Later we learned that Hamilton just suffered a lower ankle sprain and could have even returned. Brian Kelly said earlier today that Hamilton could even play this weekend when South Florida visits South Bend.
Hamilton is so essential to the Notre Dame defense for the Irish to have a chance at the Playoffs though that I don’t want to have the kind of thoughts I had while Hamilton laid on the turf again this year.
A red-zone turnover
For a brief moment, I had South Florida 2011 flashbacks. Notre Dame struggled to start the game, thunderstorms were in the forecast, and the Irish weren’t putting up many points. Then they turned the ball over in the redzone with just a one-point lead.
One play after Williams ripped off that 75-yard screen play, Book dropped back and tried to force a pass to Tommy Tremble, and it got picked off in the endzone.
A 5th-year senior, third-year starting quarterback can’t make that mistake at the goal line. Notre Dame has entirely too many weapons on offense for Book to have to force the ball to anyone down at the goal line. He’s gotta protect the football there. Especially with Notre Dame having an absolute weapon like Jonathan Doerer at placekicker, there is no need to take unnecessary chances down there.