5 Things I Didn’t Like; Notre Dame Offense Sputters vs. Louisville

Notre Dame beat Louisville on Saturday and ended up moving up to #3 in the AP Poll in the process, but the performance sure didn’t leave Irish fans with too much optimism for later this season. The Irish struggled against a Louisville squad that has disappointed in Scott Satterfield’s second season. It wasn’t all bad, but overall it wasn’t very good either. Here are this week’s five things I didn’t like.

Red zone offense

Notre Dame made four meaningful trips into the redzone (their fifth came on the game’s final drive when Notre Dame killed the clock). Those four trips resulted in one touchdown, two field goals, and one ill-advised fake field that failed spectacularly. Four trips inside the opponents 20, 13 points against a team giving up almost 40 points a game. That won’t get it done next week, let alone next month.

Early on, Ian Book looked like he had Michael Mayer for a walk-in touchdown on one of the field goal drives, but Book couldn’t drop the ball in where it needed to be. There was some wild wind on Saturday, but it wasn’t an incredibly long throw either.

Another redzone trip nearly resulted in a touchdown, but Book was just a tad too late in getting the ball out, and it carried Kevin Austin out of bounds. Notre Dame faked a field goal on the next play and got zero points (more on that play later).

Notre Dame started big receivers who aren’t known for their speed on Saturday, yet when they got to the redzone, they couldn’t take advantage of their size. If they can’t score in the redzone against Louisville, what will happen against Pitt or Clemson?

Notre Dame’s wide receiver decisions

Speaking of the starting trio at receiver for Notre Dame, the Irish simply aren’t starting their most talented receivers. Part of it could be health-related, but it’s painfully apparent that the trio of Javon McKinley, Bennett Skowronek, and Avery Davis won’t get it done against better defenses. The group, as a whole, is just not fast enough.

Notre Dame tried to force the ball to Javon McKinley early, and unlike last week, he wasn’t able to come down with 50/50 balls and struggled as the featured wide receiver. McKinley is an excellent blocker in the run game, and there is a role for him in this offense, but it’s not that of a true WR1. His drop on the two-point conversion attempt in the third was a reminder of that.

Brian Kelly later said that Braden Lenzy was slowed with a soft tissue injury, but that doesn’t explain the lack of usage of Kevin Austin. He saw more reps than he did against Florida State but still wasn’t featured. Lawrence Keys was announced as not available prior to kick-off due to concussion protocol.

With Keys and Lenzy either unavailable or slowed, why not give Jordan Johnson or Xavier Watts some looks? It’s beyond frustrating at this pint to see freshman wide receivers all over the country have an impact everywhere except Notre Dame. It’s time for Brian Kelly to get over his philosophy of barely playing freshmen wide receivers and get the young kids on the field in instances like Saturday.

I did like how Notre Dame used Avery Davis early on, and if Davis were out there with Lenzy and Austin or Johnson and Austin flanking him (if Lenzy is injured), I’d love either trio. Pitt will challenge Notre Dame to beat them deep, and if they start McKinley and Skowronek on the outside again this weekend, it could be another frustrating afternoon.

Lack of involvement of tight ends in the passing game

Almost equally as frustrating as the wide receiver utilization on Saturday was the lack of usage of the tight ends. Remember Tommy Tremble? Dude is a dynamic receiver who should have terrorized a defense like Louisville. He had one catch for four yards. Likewise, Louisville had no answer for Michael Mayer, but he had one catch for 12 yards.

Tommy Rees is doing some great things with the tight ends in the Notre Dame running game this year, but he is wasting a lot of talent at the position by not featuring either more prominently in the passing game.

Through four games this year, Tremble leads Notre Dame with ten catches, but he has just 114 yards on the season (McKinley leads in yards with 121).

I didn’t mind Rees trying to get the passing game going – even with the wind – because the Irish passing game has been beyond sluggish this year, but they are not doing the passing game any favors by leaving some dynamic weapons on the sidelines.

The fake field goal

Facing a 4th and 9 at the end of the half, Brian Kelly and Brian Polian thought it was a good time to call a fake field goal that required holder Jay Bramblett to run for 9 yards to get the first down. It ended horribly with Bramblett getting a couple of yards and Louisville getting the momentum.

That decision had broader ramifications later. By giving up the three points there, Notre Dame was forced to go for two points later in the game after their lone touchdown run. When it also failed, the Irish were up just 12-7 instead of 16-7. The optics of a 16-7 victory wouldn’t have been much better, but it would have meant a two-possession lead throughout the fourth quarter.

It has not been a good year for special teams so far, with the punt return unit relegated to a fair catch factory again and then Saturday’s antics. I still think Chris Tyree pops a touchdown on a kickoff sooner or later, but overall it’s been a rough year on special teams.

Lack of sacks and turnovers

We’ll give the offense a slight reprieve even though that was one of the worst offensive performances we’ve seen from Notre Dame in a long time and mover over to the defense. The Irish defense did not play poorly by any means. Holding an explosive Louisville offense to just 219 yards was pretty impressive and was one of the Kelly era’s better performances in that regard.

The one troubling aspect from the Notre Dame defense was 0 sacks and 0 turnovers. The Irish had 8 TFL on the day, but the pass rush didn’t get home, and they didn’t force a single turnover. That’s been a theme this year too. Shaun Crawford had the only interception of the season at the end of the Florida State game.

Notre Dame’s defense held Louisville to just seven points, so it didn’t matter on Saturday, but the lack of turnovers is a troubling theme so far this year.

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  1. Oh. A failed fake field goal?! I guess I missed another Kelly brainfart highlight.
    Damn. I was busy watching entertaining, well.coached, big boy football.

    But……now #3 in the country…wow, right?

  2. I have been a ND fan since I was a teenager. What I have seen ever since Brian Kelly became the head coach is nothing short of a disaster. What he has done since he came to ND is hold back the most talented players and force them to play under his rules. What is the sense of recruiting top talent if you are not willing to let them use it on the field? Another thing that he has failed at is his ability to have the rest of the team play up to their potential. When you need a yard to get a first down you should be able to get it with the best O line in college football. But they are not consistent enough. I run a recording of the game and see it time and time again “They are getting beat off the snap by the defensive players and getting penetration to disrupt the play “. You never would have seen that under a Lou H. team. At this point I am totally frustrated expecting to see them play up too their potential instead of their offense come out flat. Thank God for the defense, to hold a team with Louisville’s potential to score points to 219 total yards offense is really quite a feat. However they are not going to be able to hold up to the # 1 team in the country. They need speed at the WR position and someone to get the ball out there to those receivers. Look at the G vs A game this past weekend and tell me speed didn’t play a factor in the outcome of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a ND fan and always will be, but something has to change within the program and I think it’s the head coach. Go Irish.

  3. Tremble was wide open at the top of the screen when Book scrambled for the TD. Would have loved to see Book throw to him and have him run over the DB to get in the end zone.

  4. I’ve been saying all along Tremble needs to go to receiver. He supposedly runs a 4.5 and with his size, he is basically like a Claypool. He is obviously just as physical as Claypool and from what I’ve seen he has pretty good hands. I think you transition him out there now. His receiving skills are being wasted at TE.

    Daelin Hayes might be one of the biggest busts for a 5 star recruit coming out. He has done nothing at ND and we have wasted 5 years on him. Glad he got the big hit but my goodness he’s been non existent.

    And Book…bad…

    1. I agree. Lenzy, johnson Austin Tremble Mayer need to be starters and on the field all the time skoronski, McKinley, Wikens back ups.I like Avery Davis in the slot. Need to see more of Keys as a punt retutner. If he cant cut it try someone else.Also tight ends need to be targeted a lot more especially in the sieam down the middle of the field. Finally I would like to see Brandon Clarke get some meaningful snaps for both his own expeirence and to see if Notredame can stretch the field and open up the passing game. I know Kelly will never do this but if Notredame loses to Pitt or Clemson more likely going to happen and Book plays poorly I would start Clatke against Boston College and let him play out the rest of the season to see what you may have for next year. Plus if you lose to Clemson you are not going to the playoffs anyway. Also as the old saying goes you coach next years team this year. Notredame will never win these big games and national championships until they recruit and develop a Heisman trophy level qb. Look at Georgia they have recruited the last 5 years right there with Alabama, Clemson Ohio State . But they refused to play Justin Fields and now they come up short.

      1. Good points, Pete.

        And you’re right about Fields. If he stayed at GA, they would have been even better contenders the last two years.

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