In the words of Rocky Balboa in the sixth Rocky movie, the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. That’s what this column is about each week. Even in victory, there are things of concern from each game, and this week’s win was no exception. Based on the reaction of some, you’d think Notre Dame lost to Florida State. Luckily the Irish escaped with the win in OT and have some time to address a typical laundry list of concerns from their opener.
Marcus Freeman staying in the 3-man front
In the aftermath of Notre Dame’s fourth-quarter collapse in Tallahassee, there seemed to be a bit of a turning on the idea of Notre Dame ever using a 3-man front in Marcus Freeman’s new defense since Florida State had success on it. The problem, however, wasn’t the front itself. It was the fact that Freeman kept Notre Dame in it while Florida State decided they would just run right into it with success. Freeman didn’t adjust until overtime when Notre Dame was back in a 4-man front.
The 3-man front worked when it was mixed in with the 4-man fronts we’re used to seeing. For example, on Florida State’s first play from scrimmage, Notre Dame came out in a 3-man front, and Cam Hart came up and blew up a short pass for a loss of 5 yards.
The problem didn’t come until later when Florida State started attacking the 3-man front without an answer from the Irish. As a result, the attacking defense that we saw for the first three quarters turned passive and a feeling of helplessness set in briefly.
Marcus Freeman didn’t forget how to coach overnight, and he will have better days as the DC at Notre Dame, but that 4th quarter was not one of his finest moments. Brian Kelly said in the post-game that Freeman learned a lot about his personnel and what he can/can’t do with some players, so expect there to be some tweaks to the rotations this weekend. Don’t expect the 3-man front to go away entirely, though – and it shouldn’t.
The three big, pivotal calls in the game all went against Notre Dame even though all of them seemed like they clearly should go in Notre Dame’s.
- The fumble on the 2nd half kickoff. I am still waiting on a review angle that shows, conclusively, it was not a fumble. And with the ruling on the field a fumble, there’s no way that should have been overturned.
- The running into the kicker. I don’t care what the “rules expert” on ABC tried to say on Sunday night. That’s not an accurate interpretation of the rules, and that was a textbook roughing the kicker.
- The “fumble” in OT. I’m still not sure in what world that’s a fumble. Certainly not this one.
That was not all that was bad in the game, though. How about the missed face mask penalty on Joe Wilkins’s touchdown grab? As Wilkins was securing the ball, he had his helmet ripped off. On Chris Tyree’s touchdown run, Michael Carmody had hands all over his face forcing his helmet off too. And does anyone really think there wasn’t a single holding penalty all night on Florida State’s shaky offensive line?
I will do my best to keep the officials out of the 5 things I didn’t like this season, but the refs were so bad on Sunday, I couldn’t help it this week.
The 3rd and 5 QB sneak call with Coan
I liked the game that Tommy Rees called, for the most part. However, there was one really, really bad call from him, where he just tried to get a little too cute with his call. Facing a 3rd and 5 from the Florida State 28 in the 3rd quarter, Rees called a designed quarterback run for Jack Coan. Unfortunately, it resulted in a loss of one.
For as good as Coan was on Sunday night, and he was pretty damn good, his limitations as a runner were on full display. He’s not Ian Book back there. So why call a run with him there when he was slinging the ball around pretty well already? It was an “ah, no one will see this coming” type call. The only problem was, Florida State stuffed it out.
Other than that call, I liked the game from Rees.
Drops from Michael Mayer
It’s tough to include the guy who led the team with nine catches for 120 yards and touchdown here, but Michael Mayer’s two drops were brutal. The first one came early in the game; when Notre Dame had a chance to build a big enough lead, that would have taken the crowd completely out of the game. Then, on Notre Dame’s second drive of the game, he dropped a near perfectly placed pass from Coan by trying to turn upfield before securing the ball.
On Notre Dame’s last drive of regulation, Mayer did it again. This time the drop was even more costly because it cost the Irish a chance at a game-winning field in regulation.
Mayer will catch both of those 9 times out of 10 moving forward, so dropping two like that in the same game should be a very rare occurrence for the potential All-American. If he catches either of those, this game probably never gets to overtime.
Notre Dame’s inability to run the ball to close out the game
I expected Notre Dame’s offensive line to struggle a bit in their first game playing together. Everyone should have. I did not expect them to have as much of an issue run blocking, though. If anything, I thought Coan might not have enough time to get comfortable at times, but the run blocking would be OK. The reverse happened since Florida State dared Notre Dame to beat them through the air. Luckily Jack Coan was up to the task.
When it came time to try and run out the clock in the 4th quarter, Notre Dame couldn’t do that; that is something we’re not used to seeing from the Irish in recent years. Some of the struggles can be chalked up to the first game of a new offensive line grouping that lost one of their starters – Blake Fisher – in the first half. Struggling upfront with a lot of change is not something unique to Notre Dame. Clemson netted just 2 rushing yards as a team against Georgia, for instance.
The line will have to get better for this team to raise its ceiling, though. The ceiling of the team we saw Sunday night is not that of a playoff team. The good news is the ceiling of that team is not the ceiling of the team we’ll see this Saturday or next Saturday. If the line gets better week to week, this offense could be very dangerous now that we’ve seen Jack Coan light it up through the air. More games with 65 total rushing yards and the inability to run the ball in the fourth quarter will cost the Irish a game or two.