Notre Dame took down Purdue on Saturday and showed some signs of improvement while raising some concerns elsewhere along the way. The Irish weren’t perfect, but they did what they needed to do to remain perfect on the season heading their showdown with Wisconsin. Here are this week’s five things I liked.
Explosive plays from Kyren Williams
Notre Dame needed Kyren Williams to play like a dude on Saturday, and he did that. With the Notre Dame offense sputtering in the first half, the Irish called Williams number through the air on a 4th and 3 from the Purdue 39. Coan squeezed the ball through two defenders to Williams, who then raced the rest of the way into the endzone. Notre Dame needed someone to make a play to get on the scoreboard, and Williams delivered.
Looking to put the game away in the fourth quarter, Williams was heard telling the line that everyone knew they were going to run, so they should do it on this week’s ICON video. So run it, he did. The offensive line did an excellent job of getting an initial push and opening space for Williams, but he did the rest.
Notre Dame might have finally found something in the run game with their straight-ahead runs versus the vertical/outside runs that were a staple of the 2020 offense. Williams is the kind of running back that only needs a little space to deliver plays just like this one.
The Avery Davis Game
Speaking of big plays from the offense, on a day when Michael Mayer was silent, and Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy‘s most memorable plays were ones they didn’t make, Avery Davis stepped up. Davis recorded his first career 100+ yard outing with five catches for 120 aided by a 62-yard bomb from Jack Coan.
That route has been open for Avery Davis all season, but Coan hadn’t pulled the trigger until then. He should make that throw more often.
That wasn’t Davis’s only nice catch of the game, though. He worked the intermediate routes well throughout the game.
Davis has done everything Notre Dame’s asked him over the last five years, so seeing him have big games like this is great to see. However, I wouldn’t expect to see games like this from Mayer, Austin, and Lenzy often either – and certainly not all again at the same time.
Marcus Freeman’s defensive game plan
For the first two weeks of the season, it seemed almost like Notre Dame was playing the defense that Freeman ideally wanted to play versus maybe the defense they needed to given their opponent and personnel. Freeman used the dollar package (3-man front) a lot at Cincinnati, but without the likes of Marist Liufau and Jordan Botelho (who only played special teams versus Purdue), Notre Dame wasn’t effective in that look.
Against Purdue, Freeman shifted away from relying on the dollar package so much and mix in a more traditional dime alignment with six defensive backs, and the defense looked a lot better than it had the last two weeks.
Purdue couldn’t move the ball, almost at all, for long stretches against the Irish defense. Against Florida State and Toledo, the secondary had breakdowns that weren’t exposed that could have been problematic against David Bell and the Purdue offense. Those breakdowns weren’t there on Saturday, and other than a few plays here and there, there wasn’t anywhere for Purdue to push the ball.
It will be interesting to see what Freeman does next week against Wisconsin and their run-heavy attack.
Big stops from the Irish defense in the first half
While the offense was sputtering in the first half, the Irish relied on their defense to make some key stops. Two, in particular, were a lot of fun to watch. First, Kyle Hamilton came flying in from the defensive backfield to stuff a 4th and 1 in Notre Dame territory.
I’d say this was a textbook play by Hamilton, but it wasn’t because this wasn’t an ordinary play. Hamilton diagnoses the play immediately and then flies into the backfield to make a perfect form tackle. Not a lot of college safeties are making that play.
In the second quarter, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa blew up a 3rd and 1 for a loss of three years, with Notre Dame nursing a 10-3 lead before halftime. It was a huge stop at a critical moment for the Irish. It was also the kind of situation that Notre Dame struggled in over the first two games.
Notre Dame needed its defense to step up on Saturday, and they did.
Sitting at 3-0 with a lot of room to improve
Notre Dame is far from a perfect team right now, but who is perfect right now? Heading into the weekend, we all thought it was Alabama and everyone else, and then Florida gave the Tide all they could handle at the Swamp and nearly knocked them off. So this Notre Dame team has some pretty obvious flaws. What is not apparent yet, is whether or not those flaws will be fatal.
It would be much more ideal if the Irish had looked better over the last three weeks, but at the end of the day, the Irish are 3-0 for the sixth time under Brian Kelly. Of the previous five other occurrences, the Irish won at least ten games in four of those seasons. The lone outlier was the 2014 season that saw the Irish start 7-1 before limping to the finish line – quite literally.
Notre Dame’s offensive line might have found something it could be good at – that is a step forward from last week. The defense didn’t allow a single point in the fourth quarter. That’s a huge improvement from the previous two weeks. The offense missed entirely too many big plays that were there for the taking, but even that is at least somewhat encouraging since those plays are there.
Better execution, and this game would have been blowout city. There are no gaurantees that Notre Dame will start making the plays they are leaving on the field, but this offense can still be very good if they do.