5 Things I Didn’t Like: Notre Dame Offense Outscored by Defense, Special Teams

The Fighting Irish offense sputtered for most of the game before the special teams and defense blew the game open in the 4th quarter

Amid the madness that was the fourth quarter of Notre Dame’s blowout win over Wisconsin, the Irish played three relatively frustrating quarters of football in large part to an offense that couldn’t get started. The all-or-nothing approach from the previous weeks was more nothing than all until the defense and special teams erupted. Luckily for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame, the Irish get to go back to the lab this week to tinker some more following another win because there is still a lot of work left for the undefeated Fighting Irish.

Here are this week’s five things I didn’t like with a complete reprieve for the Notre Dame defense.

Redzone play calling from Tommy Rees in the first half

In the early going of Notre Dame’s win over Wisconsin, the Irish were moving the ball down the field well on their second drive – all through the air. Jack Coan hit a 20 yard to Avery Davis down the seem after taking a sack to start the drive. He connected on third-down conversions to Kevin Austin and Michael Mayer. He threw a pretty back-shoulder pass to Joe Wilkins. And he connected with Braden Lenzy on a 16-yarder. He was spreading it around and in a rhythm.

That rhythm evaporated in the redzone when Rees decided to call back-to-back runs after the Mayer third-down conversion gave the Irish a first and goal at the 10. On first down, Notre Dame brought in Joe Alt to create an unbalanced line look, then ran away from it. Kyren Williams lost three. On second down, Rees ran it into the teeth of the Wisconsin line. Chris Tyree lost another yard.

Notre Dame passed the ball down the field only to go away from it when they got to the redzone. It was a classic situation of trying to outsmart everyone else and only outsmarting yourself for Rees. His playcalling was better when the Irish reached the redzone with Drew Pyne in the game in the fourth, but Notre Dame can’t waste those kinds of opportunities now that the calendar is about to turn to October.

Too many sacks… again

Notre Dame entered the game as one of the worst in the country at allowing sacks and actually got worse after allowing six sacks to Wisconsin. For a fourth straight week, the sacks were for a variety of reasons. There were breakdowns in protections and mental errors from the line, but Jack Coan also took more sacks that he just can’t take.

Of the six sacks allowed, at least two were on the quarterback. Numerous times this year, Coan has tried to bail out of pockets that were still holding only to roll into the pass rush. It happened again on Saturday.

Not all of them were on Coan, though. The line did more than their fair share to give up sacks. Cain Madden had a rough day in protection, and Tosh Baker got beat badly on the sack that caused the Drew Pyne fumble.

Notre Dame is running out of time to solve its pass protection woes. They have now given up 21 sacks in four games. That’s a season’s worth of sacks in four games.

More missed deep shots to Braden Lenzy

Braden Lenzy has gotten behind every single defense Notre Dame has faced this year and has nothing to show for it. Last week, Lenzy had only himself to blame by dropping an easy touchdown in the endzone, but on Saturday, Coan just couldn’t get him the ball on three separate attempts.

Coan and Lenzy have not been able to connect on any of the deep shots Rees has dialed up, but the plays are there. All three of the attempts to Lenzy were late or underthrown. At this point, maybe Rees and Kelly should just dare Coan to overthrow Lenzy at this point.

Lack of involvement of the RBs in the passing game

I left the running game off the list here because, with this offensive line and Wisconsin’s defense, I didn’t expect the Irish to have any sort of sustained success running the ball. Instead, I expected Rees to get Williams and Tyree involved in the passing, though like he had over the last few weeks. The duo had 21 combined catches in the first three games but combined for just one catch for 6 yards.

The screen game generated some big plays for Notre Dame over the first three weeks, but we didn’t see it incorporated much into the game plan against Wisconsin. Rees needs to be more creative in getting the ball in Williams and Tyree’s hands without a running game to lean on.

Part of the reason for Williams’s lack of involvement is that he had to stay in the backfield regularly to help pass protection. And help he did. Williams is going to have a highlight reel of just his blocks by the end of the year.

Notre Dame’s 3rd Quarter Offense

Notre Dame entered the second half with a 10-3 lead having to kick off to Wisconsin to start the half. The Irish defense did what it needed to do – getting the ball back for the Irish offense after just five plays and 13 yards from Wisconsin. The offense needed to capitalize there and create some sort of cushion. They didn’t.

Notre Dame’s third-quarter possessions resulted in the following:

  • 3 plays, -1 yard – PUNT
  • 3 plays, -4 yards, PUNT
  • 6 plays, 40 yards, PUNT
  • 1 play, -13 yards, FUMBLE LOST

Before Wisconsin’s 3rd quarter touchdown, the Notre Dame defense had virtually dominated the Badgers offense all game. Still, Notre Dame was in a tie game at the time because the offense couldn’t put drives together. Then they found themselves trailing in the 4th because the offense turned it over and set Wisconsin up with a short field. The defense did a great job in holding Wisconsin to three at that point.

Chris Tyree’s kick return changed the entire course of the game because if Notre Dame hadn’t have taken the lead there, the Badgers would have been content just running the ball and making Notre Dame win it on offense. Instead, Tyree scored the touchdown, and then the defense recorded the first of four fourth-quarter turnovers because Wisconsin had to go back to the air.

We’ve seen glimpses from this offense, but through four games, they just haven’t been able to put it all together yet. The defense is starting to. The special teams are starting to as well. If the offense ever comes around, this could be another special season. The defense and special teams will not always be able to bail out the offense the way they did on Saturday, though.

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  1. How was Karen Williams letting almost every single punt bounce instead of catching it in the air? Those punts were easily catchable and he lets them bounce. Talk about giving up way more yards to the other team than necessary. Polian is such a bad ST coach it’s unreal. It looks like letting the ball bounce is by design and not just Williams being an idiot. But who knows. Either way this should be in the top 5 dislikes imo.

  2. We will need a QB who can add some running to our offense if we are to beat
    Cincinnati. We cannot win against them with a one dimensional offense.
    Neither can anyone else.

    BGC 77. 82

  3. Coan is a liability at QB. He has a good arm, and he does make good decisions with regard to ball protection, but given a little bit of pressure he ducks his head and runs into a sack instead of throwing it away, running away, or making a play. He trips over his own feet and ducks into sacks while the pocket holds. These are drive killers and sometimes takes out of FG range. It is painful to watch. All the blame seems to be stuck on the O-line, but it would seem harder if good pass protection means you not only have to stay in front of your guy but also allow no push.

    His only TD in this game was an underthrown circus catch by Austin he battled through. He regularly underthrows and misses long shots downfield and is barely a 50% passer. Including Austin bailing him out, he led 9 drives for only 10 points, 5 of which were 3 & out.

    But for Pyne coming in and stellar 4th quarter defense, we lose that game. Against Toledo, but for Buchner’s only drive (a TD), we lose that game. He had a great game against FL St, but after 4 weeks, they look just terrible and lost (more convincingly) to a FCS school. It’s time to let Buchner or Pyne earn more snaps.

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