Notre Dame did some good things in their win over Purdue over the weekend, but the Irish still didn’t quite look like a top-10 against a middling Big Ten program that went 2-6 a year ago. We already covered a lot of the positives from the contest, but there was plenty of things for Brian Kelly and his staff to be concerned with as well.
All the missed shot plays
Notre Dame missed more big plays in a single game than I can remember in a while-which is kind of remarkable since they also hit on three long touchdowns in the same game. Kyren Williams had touchdowns of 39 and 51 yards, and Avery Davis had a 62-yarder. The game will be remembered for the missed big plays as much as those three, though.
Before half-time, Jack Coan had Kevin Austin behind the Purdue defense for an easy, walk-in touchdown if he connected. Instead, he overshot Austin by a good 10 yards. Even an underthrow there results in a 40 or 50 yard gain. On an earlier drive, Coan threw two shots towards the endzone to Austin that sailed out of bounds without giving Austin a chance to haul them in. For his part, Austin had a few drops on potential nice gains as well. So it wasn’t a banner day for the combo.
Braden Lenzy dropped the easiest touchdown of his career, seemingly losing the ball in the sun. Coan placed the ball perfectly in his reach from about 40 yards out, but the ball hit Lenzy’s had, then facemask, then the ground.
Tommy Rees dialed up some shot plays that were there to be had. Unfortunately, Notre Dame didn’t make them. The Irish scored 27 and 343 yards of offense, but they could have had 50 points and over 500 yards if they just made the “easy” ones that Purdue gave up.
The problem was a bit emblematic of the offense as a whole in 2021 so far – it’s very all or nothing given the struggles on the offensive line. However, Notre Dame has to get better at stringing together some drives to survive the upcoming stretch of games.
Notre Dame made just two trips into the redzone against Purdue and failed to convert either into touchdowns. Two measly trips into the redzone against Purdue is not ideal, to begin with. However, failing to convert either into touchdowns is worse yet.
This goes back to the point above of Notre Dame’s offense being too reliant on big plays to score points. Once they got to the redzone, they couldn’t punch it in. On the season, Notre Dame has made just six trips into the redzone while their opponents have reached it 12 times. The Irish have scored points in all six attempts, but two trips to the redzone a game is not a recipe for success over the next five weeks.
Interestingly enough, though, while Notre Dame opponents have twice as many trips into the redzone, Notre Dame has scored three more total touchdowns – 12 vs. 9 – than their opponents in 2021. In addition, the Irish defense is holding opponents to a 42% touchdown rate once they get to the redzone.
We’ll round out the things not to like on offense with the pass protection for the Irish. While the offensive line did make some strides in run blocking and appeared to have found something they could hang their hat on on the ground, pass protection was an adventure again. Purdue does have a pretty good defensive line and one of the better pass rushers in the country, but protection was still far from ideal.
Tosh Baker got the tough assignment of making his first career start against George Karlaftis. He looked kind of like you would expect a sophomore making his first start against an All-American to look. But, to Baker’s credit, he battled throughout the game and did play better as the game progressed. He even looked better than he did a week ago, which was admittingly a low bar.
Struggles for a first-time starter are expected and understandable, though. Josh Lugg, a 5th-year senior, also struggled when he faced Karlaftis at times. Now, many tackles will struggle with Karlafits, but with a struggling line, you hope your 5th year senior holds up a little better than he did.
Notre Dame kept in extra tight ends and blockers throughout the game to slow Purdue down but still surrendered 4.0 sacks. Notre Dame has now allowed 19 sacks through three games. In 2019, the Irish line allowed 19.0 sacks the entire season. Jack Coan is no Ian Book in the pocket, so more sacks are expected, but if Notre Dame continues to allow sacks at this rate, the Irish will leave October with a record they aren’t happy with.
Purdue getting a free time out in the 4th quarter
It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it was ridiculous for Purdue to essentially get a free time out in a two-score game following an instant replay. The clock should have started after the review since Purdue got their timeout back following the successful review. The NBC booth mentioned it, and Brian Kelly was visibly – and understandably – upset about it on the sidelines. Again, it didn’t matter since Notre Dame won by 14, but come on.
Another TD allowed right after opening a 2 score lead
For the most part, the defense played really well on Saturday. They limited the big plays, kept David Bell in check, created some turnovers, and didn’t let Purdue do almost anything for long stretches. If there is one nit-pick of the defense on Saturday, though, it was that they allowed Purdue to score immediately following Notre Dame finally taking a two-score lead.
In a vacuum, it wouldn’t be the biggest deal, but it’s now a pattern over the last three games. Against Florida State, right after taking an 18 point lead, the defense allowed a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, and two-point conversion to cut the lead back to 10. Against Toledo, after taking an 8-point lead in the 4th, the defense let Toledo march 89 yards on six plays for a touchdown.
This week, after Coan connected with Avery Davis for that 62-yard touchdown in the third quarter, the defense immediately gave up a 6-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Again, the defense played well on Saturday – much more efficient than the offense – but this pattern is one Marcus Freeman and the Irish need to stop to take their next step. Against their first three opponents, it didn’t bite them in the butt, but against Wisconsin and Cincinnati, it could.