5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame Struggles At Things They Used to Excel At Once Again

We've become acustomed to Notre Dame being a close-out team in recent years, but in 2021 so far, they've had to hold on for dear life

For the second week in a row, Notre Dame struggled against an inferior opponent that they should have been able to handle easily by struggling to do all the things they do so well over the last four seasons.  Fortunately, it didn’t cost the Irish too dearly as they escaped with another win, but Notre Dame has been playing with fire in the early part of the 2021 season, making these “5 things I didn’t like columns” a little too easy to write through two weeks.  

More big plays allowed

Notre Dame had given up four plays of 60 yards or more the last three seasons.  They have given up four plays of 60 yards or more in eight quarters of football in 2021. You don’t have to be an analytics guru to know that’s not good.  In fact, it’s a bit worse than not good.  It’s pretty bad.  We knew Notre Dame’s defense would be more susceptible to the big play in Marcus Freeman’s attacking defense, but I don’t think anyone ever thought it’d give up this many big plays this early. 

Outside of the big plays, the defense is doing a pretty good job for the most. For example, consider this stat from Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister. 

You can’t pick and choose which plays do and don’t count towards your stats, but it highlights just how much the big plays are dooming this defense. That also might give Notre Dame a glimmer of hope that the defense can turn things around quicker here than, say, with the offensive line. Of course, cleaning up the big plays is a lot easier said than done.  Some of it comes down to the personnel, some to the scheme itself. But, if the big plays keep happening at this rate, it could be time to sound the alarm.  

Marcus Freeman doesn’t have a ton of time to figure things out with Jeff Brohm’s offense at Purdue coming into town, but his track should give Notre Dame fans optimism that he’ll figure it out eventually.  The question is whether or not it will be too late for this season.   

Offensive Line struggles compound

The first, second, and third-biggest concern after two weeks is the offensive line. I wrote a lot over the summer and even last week that I expected the struggles from week one.  What I did NOT expect was for the line to play worse in week two against Toledo.  

Notre Dame couldn’t run the ball early until Tyler Buchner entered the game, and there was a threat of the quarterback keeping the ball. Buchner helped opened things up a bit between his legs and the element of surprise.  Toledo likely didn’t prepare much for a running quarterback after watching Jack Coan in the opener. 

Unlike the opener, Notre Dame also struggled in pass protection.  Coming out of the Florida State game, the silver lining on the offensive line was that at least the Irish protected Coan relatively well.  That wasn’t the case against Toledo yesterday.  Coan was sacked six times.  

In the process of struggling, Notre Dame lost its new starting left tackle, Michael Carmody, to a sprained ankle.  How long he’s out is unknown, but his replacement Tosh Baker played like a sophomore who hadn’t played before.  He struggled.  He got a little better as the game went on, but he was susceptible to giving up the corner. 

Where Notre Dame goes from here, especially if Carmody is out for a while, is anyone’s guess.  The idea of Jarrett Patterson at tackle was floated to Brian Kelly after the game, and he quickly dismissed it.  We talked about that idea on the last pod as the “nuclear option,” but now, Notre Dame is one play away from having to play their 5th tackle.  So, that option might be on the table eventually, even if it isn’t right now. 

Notre Dame’s OL struggles are limited to the revolving door of injured left tackles, though.  5th year senior Josh Lugg has struggled at right tackle.  Zeke Correll has struggled in his new position. Transfer Cain Madden hasn’t played like a 1st team All-American as the AP voted him in the summer.  

Lots of questions.  Not a lot of answers right now.  

Talking over Fr. Jenkins prayer 

There was a lot of complaining about the Peacock coverage throughout the game, but overall it didn’t bother me a whole lot.  I stream every game, so I am used to a delay in games.  The delay on Peacock was noticeably longer than other services I’ve used, but the quality was good on my end, so the only thing annoying about the delay was the live-tweeting that was going on by those at the game.  

The one part of the Peacock coverage that did bother, though, was the pre-game show broadcasting over Fr. Jenkins’s pre-game prayer and 9/11 comments.  Jenkins was easy to hear on the broadcast, so not only was it distracting, it was bad form.  Trying not to wear my “old guy hat” here, but that started the coverage off on a really bad foot.  

The pick-6 at the end of the half

Jack Coan wasn’t helped out too much throughout the game by his offensive line, but at the end of the first half, Coan had only himself to blame for the pick-6 that sent the Irish into the locker room trailing to Toledo.  

In a game like this, Notre Dame should have been the team recording the pick-6s, not throwing them. Instead, Coan locked onto his receiver and telegraphed the pass for one of the easier pick-6s you’ll see.  If Coan is going to hold off Tyler Buchner, those are the kind of plays he can’t make.  You start Coan because of his experience and leadership and expect plays like that to be few and far between. 

Just a brutal play at one of the worst times to make.

Another fourth-quarter surrendering a lot of points 

Last week the defense gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter in letting Florida State tie the game and force overtime.  This week, the defense only gave up 13 points, but those 13 points came after Notre Dame finally found a spark on offense.  

After Chris Tyree’s 55-yard touchdown catch and run from Buchner, the defense gave up a 6-play, 89-yard touchdown drive. Then, after Kyren Williams’s fumble on the ensuing drive, the defense gave up another touchdown on a 7-play, 73-yard drive. 

The defense got the stop it needed when it mattered the most, but for the last three years, Notre Dame has been a team that could close out games and shut down opponents in the 4th quarter. However, two weeks in a row, the Irish coughed up 4th quarter leads by being unable to put together close-out drives and allowing opposing offenses to march up and down the field.  If this trend continues, Notre Dame is not only going to lose some games. They’ll lose games they should have won.

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  1. I have followed ND football for 75 years — on radio, TV, and a few games in person. Please, could we lay off complaining about the announcers? What petty comments we have had to endure over the years because the color man wasn’t rah-rah for the Irish. Remember, the fans of the opponents are watching the game, also. Pat Haden and Doug Flutie both received too much negative comments, and it wasn’t deserved. Turn off the sound, if you dislike the announcers, but eliminate the pettiness. ND fans should be above this infantile attitude.

  2. Oh, and I should add for the most part the Peacock coverage was fine. Reminded me mostly of a regular NBC broadcast. The only thing I didn’t care for was some delay in returning to the game. At times the coverage came back on with a play already in progress (don’t know if that was what Frank is talking about with the delays in coverage). That was a bit of a PITA at times. But otherwise it seemed fine to me.

    And no Flutie. I can’t say I’m sad to see him gone, LOL. It’s fine to try to be impartial. But when it’s pretty clear you’re rooting for the other team, not cool.

  3. This was supposed to be a nice relaxing game where ND jumped out to a big lead and were able to work on things that they had trouble with the first week. Not that Toledo is a bad team, but come on, it’s Toledo. One thing we’ve heard about is ND continues to get at least above average recruits. They shouldn’t have struggled in this game.

    I am growing concerned about Freeman. Now I’m not ready to start chanting fire Freeman by any means. But we’ve heard how Freeman is supposed to be the next elite DC and I am starting to wonder if maybe that was a bit premature. ND’s defense was supposed to be a strength this season. A good coach makes adjustments to his schemes based on the players he has and can make in game adjustments. That’s what made Lea such a great DC. They were able to make significant half-time adjustments if necessary. Freeman has a defensive system he likes to use (like all coaches), but he doesn’t have all the pieces in place for that system yet. I think he needs to be flexible and adaptable considering the players he currently has and what the prior defensive schemes were. You don’t just keep trying to slam a square peg in a round hole and hope it eventually goes in. I’ve been impressed with his recruiting prowess, but I think he needs to show more adaptability with his schemes until he starts getting more of his own recruits in place.

    I also have to laugh a bit when I hear some fans talk about the next elite QB at ND. How quickly forget the long line of “elite” QBs that were supposed to lead ND to the promised land that fizzled out. It’s actually bizarre how QB’s fare under BK. On the one hand we’ve had QB’s break school records over….yet when it counts the most, when it’s against an Alabama or a Clemson type team or a playoff game when it’s all on the line they just fail to deliver. I have to give BK credit on how he manages that out of his QB’s. Break school records but then continue to fail to deliver in the ‘big’ games, sometimes spectacularly.

    But the list of QB’s under BK that were supposed to be either perfect for BK’s system, or supposed to be the elite QB that would win NC’s that have either fizzled out or just can’t deliver is long. It started really with Golson, the first hyped up QB under BK. Remember Zaire? Or Kizer (who was one of our better QBs but even he couldn’t deliver in the biggest games)? Book was the best of the bunch on paper, but he still struggled in the elite games.

    So yeah, I laugh a bit when I hear fans talk about the next QB finally being ‘the one,’ this time about Buchner. Yeah, I’ve heard that song before over the last 11 years. Many, many times.

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