Beyond the Boxscore: Notre Dame Survives Self-Inflicted Wounds to Avoid Upset

Notre Dame looked sluggish throughout Saturday's contest and self-inflicted wounds nearly led to an upset to a MAC team

Jack Coan‘s dramatic 75-yard drive in the final two minutes helped the Notre Dame Fighting Irish escape with a 32-29 home win over a determined Toledo Rockets squad. Coan connected with Michael Mayer for the winning score, completing a 26-second drive and Kyren Williams tacked on an important two-point conversion off a pass from Avery Davis.

Whether from overconfidence as double-digit favorites or simply coming out flat, the Irish looked sluggish throughout the game and came close to losing to a MAC team for the first time ever. The two teams combined for 31 fourth-quarter points, with the Rockets taking their last lead of the game with 1:35 on a 26-yard run by quarterback Dequan Finn.

Below are some of the key facets connected to the Notre Dame win:

Early Concerns

Despite holding a 7-6 advantage early in the second quarter, Notre Dame’s uneven play likely etched some concern on the faces of their fans. The Irish romped down the field on the opening drive of the game but then were quickly burned on a 66-yard Toledo pass play that helped set up the first of Toledo’s two opening quarter field goals.

On Notre Dame’s second series, Jack Coan was sacked and fumbled the ball away. That was followed by a pair of quick Toledo completions that put the ball on the Irish 19 before they once again settled for a field goal. While the Rockets’ next two series went nowhere, they were able to pin Notre Dame deep in their own territory.

Costly Self-Inflicted Wounds

Notre Dame seemed to be ready to take control of the game after Kyren Williams broke off a 45-yard scoring run to give the Irish a 14-6 lead, but continued mistakes kept that from taking place. After a quick three-and-out by Toledo, the Irish reached their own 40 and decided to go four it on fourth down, a bid that failed.

The Rockets took over and in a 10-play drive that was extended by a third-down holding penalty on Notre Dame, they tacked on another field goal. That sliced the Toledo deficit to five with just over a minute left before halftime, with the Rockets heading to the locker room holding the lead after Coan tossed a pick-six on the second play of the ensuing series. A Williams fumble in the fourth quarter led to Toledo’s late score and set the stage for Coan’s heroics.

Quarterback Controversy in the Making?

Though Coan delivered in the clutch, true freshman Tyler Buchner was inserted into the game and showed that he might end up taking over Coan’s spot in the lineup. He completed all three of his passes for 78 yards, including a 55-yard scoring toss to Chris Tyree. He also showed off some fleet footwork, running the ball seven times for 68 yards.

Buchner’s efforts weren’t a total surprise since he was in contention to start behind center when training camp began. His performance was impressive enough that some Irish fans may be seeking a change. Still, Coan’s debut last Sunday and his ability to deliver when it counted may hold off such talk for the time being.

O-Line Woes Continue

Entering this season, the Notre Dame offensive line was going to take time to gel. However, after two games, it’s clear that establishing the needed chemistry will remain a work in progress after this unit allowed six sacks on the afternoon. That makes 10 in the two games and needs to be addressed before the Irish start playing more formidable opponents down the road. Blake Fisher’s injury has forced a new insertion into the lineup, though Coan’s mobility issues may end up serving as a reason to shift to Buchner.

Late Drama Once More

For the second straight week, Notre Dame kept fans on the edge of their seats before delivering a victory. Last week, the Irish watched an 18-point lead disappear and nearly lead to defeat against Florida State. On Saturday, they needed a late drive to emerge with a three-point win over Toledo. The Irish entered the game ranked in the Top Ten, a status that very well may drop after this sketchy effort. Taking care of business early is something that Brian Kelly has to instill in his team or any hopes of a playoff bid this season will fall by the wayside.

Next Up for Notre Dame

The Notre Dame football schedule next Saturday will see a renewal of what had been a longstanding in-state matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers. The two schools first met back in 1896 and had played every year from 1946 to 2014 before conference scheduling issues put the series on hiatus. Purdue enters the game with a 2-0 mark after routing Connecticut on the road on Saturday.

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