Games like Saturday’s 42-26 win over Florida State are perfect for this column. There’s a lot of good in them to like, and there’s plenty of material to fill up a column of things I didn’t like. Notre Dame won comfortably, but not overly convincingly over n inferior opponent. They did some things really well, and they did some things not so well. Here are the five things I think they didn’t so so well.
Florida State’s ability to move the football
During the game, I tweeted that I thought Saturday was the worst we’ve seen a Clark Lea defense perform, and that wasn’t just the IPA’s talking. The Seminoles offense isn’t very good, and they were on their third starting quarterback of the season already. That is usually a recipe for a defensive beating from Clark Lea’s unit.
The three-week layoff, the missed practice time, and the limited player availability certainly impacted the defense more than the offense. However, it was still surprising to see FSU rack up over 400 yards of offense.
On Monday, Brian Kelly said that what we saw Saturday isn’t the kind of defense they expect to see, and I agree. Clark Lea has proven to be one of the best young defensive coordinators in the country over the last few seasons. I suspect we’ll see a return to normal this weekend, but with a mobile quarterback in town again this weekend, Notre Dame has to play a lot better of the game will be closer than most expect.
Single coverage on Tamorrion Terry’s long touchdown
While the defensive performance as a whole was concerning, one play, in particular, stood out. Lea had single coverage with no safety help for Shaun Crawford on Tamorrion Terry’s 48-yard touchdown on 3rd and 4 that briefly gave the Seminoles the lead.
Shaun Crawford is great, but why do you have a guy who you had moved to safety earlier this year in one on one coverage against a 6’4” speedy wide receiver who was the only real deep threat Florida State had? The outbreak ravaged the secondary, apparently which limited practice time for many of its members, but that would make even all the more reason to give Crawford help over the top.
Terry had nine catches for 146 yards. Only one other Florida State player had more than one catch in the game. Florida State’s one chance in this game was mistakes by Notre Dame, and big chunk plays like that. It was no surprise then that the score was 17-14 after Terry’s touchdown before the Irish pulled away.
Notre Dame’s punt return unit
Speaking of turnovers, what in the heck has happened to Notre Dame’s punt return team? The Irish lost their reliable return man in Chris Finke this year, but sheeeesh, that unit was a nightmare on Saturday night. Lawrence Keys muffed one punt that set up Florida State for an easy score, and he collided with Ramon Henderson on another that nearly resulted in another turnover.
At the time of Keys miscue, the Irish held a 14-3 lead and had marched down the field on their previous two drives. If he fields that cleanly, there’s a good chance Notre Dame does the same there, goes up 21-3 and takes away Florida State’s will. Instead, the Seminoles got a short field and cashed it in for a touchdown.
Brian Polian has a lot to shore up in a short period of time right now. Notre Dame turned to walk-on Matt Salerno to only fair catch later punts and has Kevin Austin on the depth chart as a possibility this week.
On a positive, it looks like a matter of time before Chris Tyree pops a kick return for a touchdown. On a negative though, it looks like each punt return is an effort right now.
Only three snaps for Kevin Austin
We knew that Kevin Austin wasn’t going to get a starting nod and rack up a ton of targets in his first game back, but after Brian Kelly said he could get 15-20 snaps against the Seminoles, it was disappointing only to see Austin on the field for the three snaps. Notre Dame did make it a point to dial up Austin’s number on a deep pass on one of those snaps, but he ended the game with just that one target and no catches.
Brian Kelly is notorious for easing players back in like this when they are coming off an injury, but I still thought we’d see Austin play more than he did. Seeing the deep ball called for him was nice, and hopefully, we see more of them in the future.
Kelly hinted that Javon McKinley’s rise up was part of why Austin was so limited, but it seems more likely that Kelly and the training staff wanted to see how Austin responded to the real reps before increasing his workload. Hopefully, that happens this weekend.
Only seven 2nd-half points
It was enjoyable watching Notre Dame gash the Seminoles for over 350 yards on the ground and rip off long run after long run, but it would have been even more fun to see the Irish score more than seven points in the 2nd-half. After scoring 35 my half time, I expect the Irish to hang a 50 burger on the Seminoles. Instead, the scoring stopped for Notre Dame after their first drive of the second half.
Notre Dame did a lot of good things on Saturday offensively, don’t get me wrong. Still, for this team to take the next step, they need to start putting away these teams and not letting off the gas.
It was mildly concerning seeing Jonathan Doerer miss another field goal on Notre Dame’s second drive of the second half as well. Doerer is now 3 of 5 on the season after hitting 85% of his field-goal attempts a year ago.
Hopefully, like the defense, the offense just needed a week to get its feet back under itself, and we see a full 60 minutes this weekend.