What We Saw: Notre Dame Struggles Throwing Against Louisville

We are going to start this week by skipping through the “a win is a win” stuff. Winning is better than losing, obviously, it’s Monday now so it’s been almost 48 hours of digesting how we feel about the game. Let’s move on to the particulars.

The general sense I get from fans across various platforms is that of frustration. Winning a game 12-7 against an inferior opponent doesn’t light the fire of our emotions. But, lets be clear about what we are unhappy about.

We are not unhappy with the defense. Giving up seven points to any team, let alone the 12 ranked offense in SP+, is a significant accomplishment. Whatever Louisville is, they are a team with weapons, and they’ve been hurting teams all season, even if they haven’t been winning games. If you told me Notre Dame was only going to score 12 points, I’d assume they were defeated. So, great job by the defense.

We are not unhappy with the running game, a phase of the team where removing sacks and kneel downs from the rushing total gives the Irish 268 on the day, and a grinding eight minute drive to end the game That’s a good performance, under any circumstances against a Power 5 opponent.

So what are we unhappy about? We’re unhappy about the passing game. And the reason we are unhappy with the passing game is because it was not serious on Saturday. That was not a serious performance. It doesn’t take a great scheme or play call adjustments to execute the basics of the game, especially when you’re a top five team with playoff aspirations.

My advice is this: play better. We don’t need an advanced stat breakdown or a revitalization of the playbook to complete five yard outs and slants. Hit the crossing route while under pressure. Hit the tight end on the deep drag. Catch the balls that hit you in the hands. Play the best players at the position. It’s an entire operation problem and they need to just figure it out. It’s a big boy program now, so make the plays that reflect that.

No Aggressiveness In The Passing Game

Notre Dame wasn’t very aggressive in the passing game because they didn’t have the players to do so. Lenzy was out with some kind of soft tissue injury, Lawrence Keys was unavailable due to a concussion, and Kevin Austin wasn’t targeted in an aggressive way. Whatever Javon McKinley, Ben Skowronek, and Avery Davis are, they haven’t consistently been used as down field, get over the top of the defense threats. There are opportunities with the tight ends, but they didn’t use them to stretch the defense either, save for a couple mid range throws to Michael Mayer.

This is a facet of the game that I just need to stop talking about. It’s obvious this is a weakness on the team, for various reasons, and it needs to get fixed. (I’m saying “need” here a little loosely. Technically they don’t need it, but it’s 2020, throwing the ball downfield is helpful. After all, you wouldn’t build a basketball team that didn’t have a three point threat right?)

The Rush Defense Is Back

Louisville gave Notre Dame big problems in the run game last season, and that was without superior runner Malik Cunningham in at quarterback. With the way the Irish looked defending the run against Florida State against their running QB, last weeks matchups looked particularly daunting. Notre Dame was having none of it. The Cardinals finished with 23 carries for 96 yards and last seasons 1,500 yard rusher Javian Hawkins 15 for 51.

Notre Dame did it without a great performance from any one player, it was a true team effort with the defensive line and linebackers all contributing to make life difficult for a potent offense. And with the threat of the run not as big a factor as anticipated, the vertical passing game from Scott Satterfield’s troops never materialized. A very nice bounce back after a sluggish performance the week before.

Doerer Didn’t Miss His Kicks!

In my What To Watch For piece I said I didn’t want Doerer to miss any more kicks. Well, asked and answered. Doerer wasn’t challenged from distance, both kicks were under 40 yards, but on a windy day anything can happen. (He also apparently had a rough warm up, according to Mike Tirico.) It’s nice to know Doerer can shake off a poor warm up and perform when they count, and it’s good that he got to see the ball sail cleanly through the uprights. Hopefully that continues into next week.

Special Teams Near Disaster

So Brian Kelly tried some sneakiness to end the first half with a fake field goal attempt on 4th and nine that did not work out, as Jay Bramblett ran for 7 1/2. I don’t want to be results oriented in that just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it was a bad idea. I don’t love not taking the points there, just because it puts you up two scores and you know you are kicking them the ball to start the second half. And then Notre Dame ended up chasing those points later after the Ian Book touchdown when they went for two up five and did not get it. If you kick the field goal to go up nine, even after Louisville scores, the Book touchdown plus extra point puts you up nine again. Didn’t love that decision, but I like being aggressive I guess.

The onside kick was a near disaster in that the team was saved by the quick thinking of Jack Lamb to dive after the ball and force the Louisville player to either block him prior to the 10 yards (which is illegal) or to give him space to recover it. The Louisville player chose the illegal version and they got caught with a penalty. Beyond Lamb though, Notre Dame was unprepared and caught off guard. Not a great look from a team who gave up a surprise onside kick last season against Virginia in a similar situation.

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  1. My gawd.
    Imagine of the passengers of the Titanic were all petrified before they even boarded the ship….yet they still got on, fully expecting that they’d have serious trouble getting across the ocean, perhaps even die.

    Anyway…enjoy the game.
    I guess.

  2. If Keys is healthy I would like to see what he can do in the return game. If he messes up again or is unproductive put someone else back there with speed. Also Lenzy and Austin have to emerge and soon. I dont understand why Kellh wont give Johnson and watts a chance. Let’s face it guys Notredame not going to beat Clemson with Skoronski, McKinley, Wilkens playing . Probably wont beat them no matter what but give yourself a chance. Also need to throw more to Tremble, Mayer Brock Eright along with getting Tyree involved in the passing game. Finally, I wish Kelly would at least consider Clarke if Book plays poorly against Pitt. What do you have to lose.

    1. Pete- I agree with most of what you posted, but what does ND have to lose, you asked.
      Going on the road in four of your next five games, with Clemson at home in the middle of all that, ND, abandoning Book’s three years of starting experience and his proven mobility as a QB who makes yards after a breakdown in blocking, or when his receivers are covered, who has won every game against inferior talent, are what you have to lose. If he keeps that up this year, they’ll win at least 10. Calling Book a game manager as some do diminishes his value. He’s not elite like the top QBs in college, but his mobility to make a big play with his legs often provides enough O’ with NDs elite D’ to win 10 (or more). He does miss open receivers at times, both in seeing them and in completing the pass, but he also rarely throws INTs. I hoped his downfield passing was going to be better, but minus a Claypool game breaker, (maybe Austin will emerge as close to that, or their top recruit WR Frosh Johnson, who, after his penalty in game 1 has disappeared as did K. Williams last year after his dropped pass in game 1 last year – that does happen at ND under Kelly) or a healthier Lenzy, but that doesn’t appear to be too regularly happening. With most if not all of the OL in their last year, this was to be the year they get back to the CFP. A loss next week to Pitt because of poor O’ passing might change his status, but the total number of wins this year will be best realized, in my opinion, and more importantly, as Kelly and Rees see it, with Ian Book as QB. I’m hoping he saves his best games this season when ND most needs it.

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