Well, I guess it was only a matter of time until one of these columns became tough to write. Notre Dame was living on the edge this year, and on Saturday, they finally fell off succumbing to their litany of mistakes and allowing Cincinnati to act like they owned the place. Still, even in brutal losses like yesterday, there are always some positives to pull from. That’s why this column exists, even if it is tough to cobble together after a game like that.
Maybe Notre Dame has found its QB for 2021 in Drew Pyne
If the silver lining in losing a game to a group 5 school like Cincinnati – regardless of their ranking – that you paid $1.25M to be anything but a challenging game originally is that Notre Dame settles in on Drew Pyne at quarterback for the rest of the season, at least that is something. At this point, it just doesn’t seem like Notre Dame has any other choice.
Jack Coan completed over 60% of his passes, but his 14 completions went for just 114 yards. Drew Pyne only completed 9 of 22 attempts, but those 9 completions gained 143 yards. Pyne was also not helped out by his receivers in the second half with some brutal drops – most notably one by Kevin Austin that took all of the air out of the Notre Dame fans that didn’t sell their tickets to Cincinnati fans.
There is also an undeniable spark for this offense with Pyne in the game versus Coan. We saw it last week in Chicago and saw it again yesterday. Jack Coan is not a bad quarterback, but he is, unfortunately, proving to be a bad fit with this offensive line. After all the sacks, he appears to not be comfortable in the pocket any longer as well. Coan is bailing on plays and dumping the ball off at the slightest presence of pressure – sometimes even when there is no pressure.
Pyne might not be the long-term answer for Notre Dame at quarterback, but at this point, he might be the only answer the Irish have to have any sort of chance of finding consistency on offense this year.
Isaiah Foskey & Cam Hart continued to emerge as big-time players
We talked on our post-game pod – and I wrote already about the defense playing well enough for the Irish to win yesterday. Of course, they were far from perfect, and you’d expect a defense that wants to be elite to shut down at least one of the touchdown drives at the end of the halves, but at the end of the day, the defense basically gave up 14 points that weren’t fueled by Notre Dame turnovers.
A few Notre Dame players from yesterday’s performance won’t have fun in film review this week – namely JD Bertrand and Clarence Lewis. However, Isaiah Foskey and Cam Hart probably won’t have much explaining to do because they both played great again.
Foskey made the big time sack that forced Notre Dame’s only turnover of the game and was the initial spark that even kept Notre Dame in the game. At the time, the Irish trailed 17-0, with Cincinnati knocking on the door at the Irish 24. Foskey closed it temporarily, at least. He was a problem for Cincinnati all game. Unfortunately, not too many of his defensive linemates were this week.
Cam Hart followed up his big game against Wisconsin with another outstanding performance and nearly came up with another pick at the goal line. Hart had great recognition on the play, jumped the route, and was a bit off from picking it. Based on how well he’s playing those routes, expect future opponents to test him with some double moves, but for yesterday, Hart was lights out again. Notre Dame has at least one big-time corner on the roster with Hart.
Braden Lenzy’s touchdown
Overall, the Notre Dame wide receivers had a rough day on Saturday, but I thought Braden Lenzy played pretty well. He led the Irish receivers with 61 yards on four catches and his fourth quarter touchdown was the kind of contested catch that we hadn’t seen him make previously.
PYNE TO BRADEN LENZY AND ND IS RIGHT BACK IN THIS, ND trails 17-13 pic.twitter.com/Oyx8IOOjU5— Mismatch Philadelphia (@MismatchPhilly) October 2, 2021
Some are down on Lenzy because of his drop a few weeks ago, but the inconsistency at quarterback hasn’t helped him. Yes, he had the brutal drop against Purdue, but he’s also been open on go routes all season but been underthrown on almost every attempt.
Given his speed, I still can’t figure out why we haven’t seen more of Lenzy on jet sweeps or end arounds. Notre Dame has issues at both tackle positions, but with Lenzy and Tyree’s speed, there has to be a way to manufacture opportunities for them with motion and misdirection.
Hopefully, Lenzy builds on this performance for the rest of the season.
Bonus: Tip of the cap to Lorenzo Styles for his huge third-down conversion late in the game. He is the kind of receiver that should thrive with a QB like Pyne that is getting the ball out quickly.
Pass protection was relatively solid
For as bad as the offensive line has been this year, the pass protection in the second half was relatively solid. It’s a low bar to clear at this point, but Drew Pyne had time for the most part. Pyne also took advantage of that time by hanging in the pocket and extending plays – something Coan couldn’t do.
Joe Alt ended up playing a lot of left tackle, but part of that likely stems from Michael Carmody still not being 100%. He didn’t look full strength but did try to give it a go with Tosh Baker out this week. While the tackle position is clearly a mess at the moment, having injuries now to three of the top four tackles is just not something almost any program can plan for.
There are still some issues on the interior of the line in protection, and if Brian Kelly and his staff are considering personnel changes, they might need to consider some on the inside of the line as well. For example, Cain Madden probably would have excelled for Notre Dame surrounded by linemates like Aaron Banks, Liam Eichenberg, and Robert Hainsey, where he could have been the road grader on the unit. This year, though, Madden is having issues in pass protection.
Michael Mayer trying to gut it out
On the one hand, I was yelling at my TV, “get him out of the game,” while watching Michael Mayer limp down the field at the end of the game But, on the other, I loved seeing a kid like Mayer trying to gut it out even though he was obviously hurt because it showed just how much it means to him.
And how about Mayer converting that 3rd down on Notre Dame’s final drive while clearly hobbled. That’s how good Mayer is. Brian Kelly said after the game that Mayer has been bothered by the groin injury for a little while now but has been playing through it. Even not at 100%, Mayer hauled in 8 passes for 93 yards on the day – both team highs.
Pyne and Mayer have a great connection already. If Notre Dame makes the switch and Mayer can play this week, he should have another big game.