Notre Dame beat up on South Florida over the weekend to the tune of a 52-0 game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. Games like that are great for everything other than trying to write this weekly column, but that’s a great problem to have. Here are a difficult to come up with 5 things I didn’t like this week.
Notre Dame didn’t get enough work on the passing game
While Notre Dame’s rushing attack was as impressive as we’ve seen it be since 2017, the Irish passing attack was pretty much just “meh” on Saturday. Ian Book came out firing on the first drive and set up his first touchdown run of the day with a couple of chunk players through the air, but there still wasn’t much of any downfield threat this week even with Braden Lenzy back.
Now, some of this could have been by design from Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees. With a weak early schedule after a very limited off-season, it’s possible they wanted to focus on the run this week and might air it out more next week to work on the passing game, but through two games, the one glaring weakness of this team as of today is the passing game.
Ian Book was 12 of 19 for just 143 yards. Unlike week one, his passing totals weren’t inflated by a couple of long screens. That kind of performance is fine against South Florida, as evidenced by the 52-0 blowout, but Notre Dame will need its passing game to be much sharper by November to have any chance against Clemson.
Notre Dame’s wide receiver rotations
Notre Dame wide receivers only caught four passes (Lenzy 3-34, Javon McKinley 1-7) a week after they only caught seven. That’s not the direction you’d hope to see production from this group head week to week. Again, they weren’t needed to beat South Florida, but the wide receivers will most definitely be required to beat Clemson and North Carolina later in the year. Notre Dame also was dealing with the loss of Lawrence Keys on Saturday.
Last week, Brian Kelly announced that Kevin Austin could be close to returning to the practice field, which would transform this group overnight. Until then, however, Kelly and Tommy Rees need to find a way to get this group more involved in the game because better defenses aren’t going to let the Irish run the way they did Saturday. Pitt specifically is going to force Notre Dame to beat them over the top.
I thought we’d see more Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts, but Johnson only got onto the field in mop-up duty. The freshman didn’t do himself any favors by picking up a personal foul penalty in limited action, either.
It’s still early, and this group has not played a single snap with their ideal starting three on the field yet, but Notre Dame has to find a way to get more production out of its wide receivers for this team to reach its ceiling.
No Mike Tirico this week
Amazingly, I get many emails and comments from people all upset because of how much I’ve written about how terrible Doug Flutie was as a commentator, so in a game lacking things not to like, how about a little love for the announcers? And honestly, I didn’t think there was anyone not from Boston College who actually likes Flutie. Who knew?
Paul Bermister did a fine job filling in for Mike Tirico this weekend, but I did miss Tirico in the booth. By no means was Bermister bad. It’s just that Tirico is just that good. Luckily this was just a one week deal, and we’ll have Tirico back in the booth for Notre Dame’s next home game on October 10th against Florida State.
While we’re on the subject of announcers, I think Tony Dungy is doing a pretty good job so far. It’s clear he doesn’t know Notre Dame inside and out just yet, but that is expected. His perspective as a former player and coach has been a very welcomed addition to the broadcast.
A missed field goal inside 40 yards
In a 52-0 blowout, I have to scrap the bottom of the barrel, usually to find things I didn’t like. That’s what’s happening right here. We’ve become so accustomed to Jonathan Doerer being pretty much automatic since the start of the 2019 season that it was weird seeing him miss a 38-yard field goal. It was just his second miss from inside 40 yards in his career. He was 10 of 11 prior his lone miss inside 40 yards prior coming in Notre Dame’s narrow win over Virginia Tech last year.
Is this reason to be concerned with Doerer? No. He connected on a chip shot later in the game and should be just fine. He was 2 for 2 last week, and he connected on all six of his extra points on Saturday. Maybe his leg was just tired.
Not enough of Baby Gronk
Again, scraping the bottom of the barrel a bit for things I didn’t like, but after seeing Michael Mayer run through someone on his way to a first down, he had no business converting last week, I was hoping for some more from Baby Gronk this week. Mayer only had one catch for five yards on Saturday. He did have a great game as a blocker just like the entire tight end room.
We’re still waiting for Mayer to find the endzone and see if he lives up to the nickname when he scores and gives us a Gronk spike. We almost had that chance Saturday. Mayer was Book’s primary read on his first touchdown run but was covered up, and Book had to tuck and run it in. Hopefully, we find that out this weekend in North Carolina.