There was much angst among the Notre Dame fanbase Sunday night and into Monday after the Irish nearly totally squandered an 18-point lead on the road to Florida State before winning in overtime. It’s understandable, too, for a program that has shown itself to be among the nation’s elite the last few years. But, if screaming and yelling and fake outrage over the game is your kind of content, this ain’t the column for you. Nevertheless, one does not have to look hard for things to like in Notre Dame’s first game of the season.
I thought about just having one giant section in this week’s 5 Things I liked for Jack Coan and the Notre Dame passing game, but that would have been lazy. Coan was excellent in his starting debut with 366 yards and 4 touchdowns, along with the throwaway INT on the hail mary at the end of regulation. You know that by now, though. Suffice to say; I am an even bigger fan of Coan now that I was heading into the season. And I was pretty high on Coan, to begin with.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the good from Notre Dame’s opener. And if you’re still reading, even if you are looking for someone to scream and yell about Sunday being unacceptable, I’ll have the 5 things I didn’t like column up tonight too.
The 4th and 1 on the first drive
I loved the play call on the 4th and 1 on Notre Dame’s first drive of the game to get the scoring started. First off, I loved the call to even go for it at the 41 yard line in plus territory. Not all coaches would have gone for it there, on the road, in a night game. Brian Kelly showed faith in his offense, though, and they rewarded him for it.
Excellent play design here to send Mayer down the field when everyone on the Florida State defense was focused on short routes. If Mayer isn’t left uncovered, Kevin Austin was wide open for an easy conversion too. Great play call from Tommy Rees, who took a lot of unnecessary criticism on forums and Twitter despite calling a pretty good game (minus one very bad call).
Notre Dame ran the ball in these situations 99% of the time last year, but this ain’t the same offense anymore. Getting Mayer that wide open in this situation conjured up memories of Alize Mack slipping behind the Stanford defense in 2018 for an uncovered touchdown.
Kevin Austin’s juke move
Everyone is rightfully talking about Coan hitting Kevin Austin for the 37-yard touchdown, but we need to talk about his later reception that helped set up Notre Dame’s next touchdown.
This play should have been a 6-yard gain on 1st and 15. Instead, the defensive back has the angle on Austin and has him dead to rights. Then Austin puts on the breaks and jukes him out of his shoes. No word on whether or not the DB suffered any serious damage to his ankles on this one.
Austin hauled in 4 passes for 91 yards and the touchdown, but he could have done even more. It seemed to take Coan a little while to start looking Austin’s way. Some of that could have been an effort to target Mayer early given the struggles of the offensive line, but by the end of the game, Coan seemed to realize, “Oh wait a minute, this dude is good.”
Also, remember, this was Kevin Austin’s first game at 100% since 2018. That’s a long gap no matter how much practice time he’s had this summer. As he ramps up more and more, he is going to be a PROBLEM for opposing defenses.
Kyle Hamilton’s ridiculous interception
I also didn’t want to include this just because you all have seen it 100 times by now, and if you haven’t, what are you even doing? If I didn’t include this play, though, I ran the risk of Greg quitting the pod and writing. So, let’s talk about just how ridiculous this was again.
I am pretty sure there is not another safety in all of college football who can make that play. There might not be one in the NFL right now that can make that play. The amount of ground he covers here is insane. And he does it without it looking like it was all that hard. Madness.
Lost of how ridiculous the play was, is how huge it was. If Hamilton misses this pick – or at least doesn’t deflect it – it’s a touchdown. But, unfortunately, Justin Ademilola gets stuck in coverage, and unsurprisingly, a defensive end can’t keep up with a running back that far down the field.
Hopefully, Kyle Hamilton is not asked to be an eraser for this defense the same way Jaylon Smith was in 2015. He proved on Sunday night that he could mask some mistakes elsewhere, but if the rest of the defenders and scheme catch up and he’s just allowed to roam around and do stuff like this, he’ll have a potentially historic season.
The return of ‘good Jonathan Doerer”
One of the biggest positives in Sunday’s win was the return of automatic Jonathan Doerer. Last year Doerer had moments where he was really good and moments where he was far from it. On Sunday, he was very good. He nailed a 49-yarder with ease and then hit the game-winner from 41 yards out even after Mike Norvell tried to ice him. Apparently, Norvell is only able to ice his own kicker, though.
I can’t overstand enough how important it is to have Doerer back to being close to automatic under 50 yards again. It just opens up the playbook so much for Tommy Rees once the Irish get into field goal range. It also allows Notre Dame to be conservative in situations where only a field goal is needed. If Doerer was shaky, Notre Dame probably doesn’t just run three times in overtime, and bank on a Doerer make there.
The screen to Kyren Williams
The screen to Kyren Williams in the 3rd quarter did not get talked about enough since the defensive collapse in the fourth followed shortly after, but in retrospect, this play basically saved the game for Notre Dame. With the Irish up just four at the time, they faced a 3rd and 17 deep in their own territory. Then they converted with a perfectly executed screen. One of the few perfect “executions” of the night. Hiiiiiiiii yooooo.
This was not only a great call but it was run to perfection. Look at how the offensive line slows down the rush just enough without allowing for a complete jailbreak and then provides Williams with a caravan down the field. And check out Zeke Correll motoring down the field looking for someone to block. He’s engaging defenders nearly 40 yards downfield!
The Notre Dame offensive line struggled, as expected, throughout much of the game, but this was one of their finer moments. With a smaller, faster offensive line this year, plays like this could also become more bread and butter for the Irish offense. When you have a massive, lumbering line, you bludgeon people, as they did a year ago. When you’re a little smaller and quicker, you run plays like this.
If Notre Dame had not converted here, Florida State gets the ball back with a little momentum in pretty good field position. But, instead, Notre Dame scores another touchdown a few plays later.