Notre Dame escaped Tallahassee last night with a 41-38 overtime victory over Florida State. The Irish squandered an 18-point lead in the 4th quarter before sneaking out with the win. It wasn’t pretty at times, and while we got some answers to questions we had going in, we left the game with even more questions on the defense.
Marcus Freeman’s debut leaves more questions than answers
Let’s get the most obvious out of the way. The Notre Dame defense looked shaky to say the least, in Marcus Freeman’s coaching debut at Notre Dame. The Notre Dame defense was attacking early, and Florida State was only successful on a couple of big plays on breakdowns – precisely what we expected in a new defense that was thought to be more attacking than Clark Lea‘s.
We didn’t expect the Irish defense to struggle as much as they did once Florida State could adjust. While Lea might not have been as aggressive as some liked, he was a master at half-time adjustments. We got the reverse of that Sunday night in Tallahassee when Freeman kept utilizing a 3-man front while Florida State gladly took that look and gashed the Irish up the front to the tune of 264 yards. Florida State adjusted. Marcus Freeman kept doing the same thing. That is not ideal.
Some of this could be chalked up to the first game in a new defense – i.e. the breakdowns – but the lack of in-game adjustments and Florida State’s ability to erase an 18-point lead 4th quarter lead is concerning. Of course, there’s no reason to sound any alarms after one terrible quarter, but how Freeman responds will be interesting.
While there was a lot of bad from the defense in the 4th quarter, there was still some good from the defense. For three quarters, the Irish defense made life miserable for Jordan Travis with 5.0 sacks. Notre Dame also picked off three passes.
Just a reminder to folks, though. Remember how good VanGorder’s defense looked the first few weeks before being exposed? How this defense looked last night is not necessarily an indictment of how it will play the rest of the season.
Still, Marcus Freeman will find out fast this week that he’s not in Cincinnati anymore because he is going to take a lot of heat this week for that fourth quarter.
The ACC referees and replay booth were AWFUL
I’ll get this one out of the way, too, since it was apparent. The officials and replay booth were terrible. So here’s a quick rundown of some awful calls/reviews.
- After ruling a fumble on the field on the opening kickoff of the 3rd quarter, replay reversed the call on the field even though no angle (unless they had one we didn’t see) was totally conclusive. It looked like the runner’s knee was probably down, but no replay angle proved it, and the call should have stood.
- The referees made the calculated decision NOT to call roughing the punter because the game was close. There’s no other explanation. Jay Bramblett got helicopter spun around, but they called a 5-yard penalty. Brian Kelly was livid. He was justified.
- McKinzie Milton had a snap get away from him at the end of the game before the game-tying field goal. He recovered and threw the ball away. The only problem was, he was clearly inside the tackle box, and it should have been intentional grounding. No flag, because of course.
- In overtime, Mike Norvell challenged Milton’s fumble on 3rd down that would have forced a 50-yard field goal. I still don’t know how that got overturned since it was a fumble. And if it was an incomplete pass, it should have been intentional grounding b/c the ball hit the ground inches in front of him, nowhere near a wide receiver.
Brian Kelly was not happy with the officials in his post-game comments, and again, he was justified.
Notre Dame’s offensive line was understandably shaky
There were concerns with the Notre Dame offensive line coming into the game, which came to fruition. Notre Dame only ran the ball for 65 yards as a team, and Jack Coan was sacked 4 times. In addition, there were some expected procedure penalties by some of the new starters. Finally, compounding matters, freshman Blake Fisher was lost to a knee sprain forcing a Michael Carmody onto the field. Luckily it sounds like Fisher avoided a significant injury but still could miss some time.
We knew the Notre Dame offensive line would struggle some. Anyone who thought the line wouldn’t miss a beat after replacing four starters was fooling themselves. That said, the lack of any sort of rushing attack is a little concerning since there wasn’t any room for Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree to run. Williams did his best to make the most out of the little space he had, but there will need to be more room for him and Tyree to operate moving forward.
Jack Coan and Wide Receivers Flash
Jack Coan missed a couple of passes early that I’m sure he wished he could have back, but overall, Coan’s starting debut for Notre Dame went about as well as could be expected. He ended the game 26 of 35 for a Notre Dame season opener record 366 yards and 4 touchdowns with an interception on the hail mary at the end of regulation. His lack of mobility relative to Ian Book was evident, and the Florida State pass rush got to him at times, but again, Coan played as well as Notre Dame fans could have hoped for.
From a positive standpoint, Coan fired some passes off that we saw Ian Book be hesitant to make in the past, such as the touchdown pass to Joe Wilkins. Coan’s touchdown pass to Kevin Austin was also an absolute DIME. It made up for him underthrowing Austin on the flea-flicker on the second drive of the game.
Kevin Austin‘s debut as a starter delivered. He started slow but finished with four catches for 91 yards and the touchdown. Expect him to ramp up his production over the next few weeks after hardly playing any football in live games since his senior year of high school. Braden Lenzy had a couple of nice grabs and had the chance for a couple of deep bombs that Coan misfired on that the two will eventually connect on.
The one real disappointment for the passing game was the two critical drops by Michael Mayer. John McNulty will likely drill into Mayer’s head all week to stop looking upfield before he secures the catch because if Mayer, one of the best tight ends in college football, just makes those two catches, this game probably never goes to overtime.
Jonathan Doerer looks like he is BACK
Jonathan Doerer’s career has been a bit up and down. He struggled very early in his career before being automatic in 2019. Then he struggled with consistency again in 2020. But last night, Doerer looked like the kicker from 2019 again. First, he drilled a 49 yarder in the first half that split the uprights; then, he nailed the game-winner from 41 yards out in overtime to win the game.
If Notre Dame has the Jonathan Doerer from 2019 again, Tommy Rees will have many options near the redzone with what this passing game looks like. If Doerer is a near lock on attempts in the 40s, Rees can let Coan take more chances.
Kyle Hamilton played the role of Jaylon Smith circa 2015 last night
In 2015, Jaylon Smith played the role of eraser for some bad schemes under Brian VanGorder. Kyle Hamilton did the same last night with two interceptions – one of which was absolutely incredible – while forcing a third that ended up in Clarence Lewis’s hands.
Kyle Hamilton turned this game around with his two interceptions. Without those picks, this game could have gone off the rails for Notre Dame. Let’s talk about that second interception, though. It was absolutely incredible. There’s not another safety in college football who can make that INT. Hell, there might not be another safety in the NFL who could do it. He was on the other side of the field and came out of nowhere to pick it off. The look on Jordan Travis’s face was that of “Wait, what? How?” Me too, Travis. Me too.