There have been many weird and wild Notre Dame games over the year, but last night’s victory in Blacksburg ranks right up there with the strangest of the bunch. Jack Coan started the game, struggled, got benched, then came off the bench in the 4th to lead the Irish to a come-from-behind victory. With the win, the Irish improved to a 5-1 on the season, heading into a much-needed bye week.
Jack Coan earned another spot in Notre Dame lore Saturday night
What a rollercoaster for Jack Coan, Notre Dame fans, and the Irish staff. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. It was abundantly clear that Coan needed to be pulled in the first half. The offense wasn’t moving and hadn’t really moved with Coan since week one. We can say that objectively before heaping all the praise on him I am about to.
For as bad as Coan looked in the first quarter, he looked equally as impressive in the fourth when he came in and saved the day. That was the second time this year that Coan led the Irish on a game-winning drive in the final minute of a game. In both instances, he etched his name in Notre Dame lore. Against Toledo, it was because of needing his finger to be popped back in place. Last night, it was because he was benched for performance reasons, only to come back out and lead Notre Dame to 11 points in the final five minutes to sneak out of Blacksburg with a victory.
Even with his heroics, Brian Kelly wasn’t ready to rename Coan the starter, and in all likelihood, we see Buchner get the nod against USC in two weeks, but no Notre Dame fan should have anything negative to say about Jack Coan. Ever. Under different circumstances, Coan might be lighting it up for the Irish this year. While he’s not, he is doing absolutely everything that is asked of him, he’s a phenomenal teammate, and he doesn’t let anything bring him down. He’s a Notre Dame kid through and through.
Tyler Buchner showed the great, and not so great, he brings right now
Last night was a rollercoaster all around, but specifically for freshman Tyler Buchner. The freshman showed us all the promise he brings along with all of the inexperience he has as well. His bomb to Kevin Austin was pretty. His running was efficient and timely. His interceptions were almost deadly. And that doesn’t even take into account the pick-six that Virginia Tech dropped.
Buchner, right now, looks like an uber talent youngster who just hasn’t played a lot of football. Missing his senior year was really costly, even though he was on campus for the spring. So he’s going to be seeing things for the first time, every time he is on the field for a little still.
We did, however, see enough to know that Buchner probably should be getting first-team reps and starting the rest of the season, assuming he is healthy, which are this point we don’t know. For what’s it’s worth, Buchner had his helmet on him at the end of the game. That is generally a sign that he wasn’t injured badly, or they’d have taken his helmet. Now, we all thought Drew Pyne should have been in that position after last week, so who knows at this point.
Best running we’ve seen from Notre Dame all season
I think it’s time to roll with Buchner and just take the lumps that come with a freshman quarterback because Buchner’s legs opened up the Irish rushing attack. After last year, 180 rushing yards doesn’t seem like cause for celebration, but this year it is. The previous high water mark for the season was 132 against Toledo. The next highest? 120 yards versus Purdue. Yesterday was just the third time this season the Irish eclipsed 100+ yards on the ground.
With Buchner in the game, the threat of the quarterback running opened things up a lot. So too, did adding some bulk to the interior of the line with Andrew Kristofic playing a lot in place of Zeke Correll. Kristofic has roughly 20 lbs on Correll. Joe Alt started at left tackle as well and has about 15 lbs on Michael Carmody.
Last night’s ground attack won’t be confused with last year’s by any means, but it was a step in the right direction. Eventually, the Irish became one-dimensional with Buchner in the game, but part of that is also the limited package he had. Again, assuming he is healthy, that package should continue to grow.
ACC referees are terrible
I promised y’all I would try to limit the referee talk in these posts, but the ACC referees are just unconsciously bad at this point. For example, Virginia Tech didn’t get flagged for holding all night even though at one point Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa was literally tackled from behind on what would have otherwise been a sack.
I still can’t believe that Mitchell Evans was ejected for targeting simply for being too tall. You can argue whether or not it was a blindside block considering Evans hit him square in the chest, but in no world was that targeting. Evans is 6’7,” and there’s nothing he can do in that scenario other than being shorter. Terrible by review from the ACC crew, but we should assume as much from them this season.
Then there is the two-point conversion. Virginia Tech fans are all upset because they felt Josh Lugg should have been flagged for holding on the play. Ironic considering how much holding the Hokies were allowed to get away with all night. But on the very same play, the SBT’s Robert Franklin snapped this pic.
I have no idea what everyone saw on tv but this catch by Kevin Austin Jr. for the game-tying 2-point conversion was insane from my angle. #NDvsVT— Robert Franklin (@TheRobFranklin) October 10, 2021
My photo gallery still being updated: https://t.co/elgdP0pJX6 pic.twitter.com/HKvK1MDsM5
I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure you’re not allowed to have your entire hand inside the receiver’s helmet to break up a pass. Probably just some good, clean, tough defense from Virginia Tech, though, right?
Youngsters stepped up and made big plays
At one point last night, Notre Dame had in true freshmen at QB (Buchner), LT (Alt), TE (Evans), and RB (Logan Diggs). While far from ideal to have that many true freshmen out there, they held their own. Diggs, playing because of a turf toe injury to Chris Tyree, got his first action of his career and looked every bit as smooth as he did in the practice clips from the summer.
It will be fascinating to see how the staff sorts out Alt and Blake Fisher when Fisher ultimately returns, but that’s a great problem to have. The Irish have what appears to be a pair of super talented bookends for the offensive line. Hats off to Jeff Quinn for having another true freshman LT ready to play and for the recruiting job of getting them both in the same class.
Marcus Freeman struggled with adjustments again
For all the good that ultimately came out of this game, one of the biggest things that Notre Dame has to address over the bye week is the lack of adjustments on the defensive side of the ball. We Notre Dame fans got spoiled to having Clark Lea the last three years in this department. Lea was a master at adjustments, and we knew week in and week out that opposing offenses probably weren’t going to score much after half-time. But, unfortunately, that is not happening so far under Freeman.
Last night the Irish struggled with contain, as they have all season, and never adjusted. The 3rd and 15 conversion for a touchdown by Virginia Tech was borderline inexcusable since everyone knew that Braxston Burmeister’s shoulder was dinged up, and he was going to look to run.
In the six games we’ve seen from Freeman, it’s becoming more and more apparent that when his game plan for the week works, it really works. Unfortunately, when his game plan doesn’t quite work, he’s been unable to adjust on the fly. Part of that could still be learning his personnel, but at this point, Freeman’s defenses should be getting better, not worse. Virginia Tech scored 21 points against Richmond. They scored 29 on the Irish (23 if you subtract the pick 6).
Isaiah Foskey is an animal, but…
Isaiah Foskey continued to cause havoc for the Notre Dame defensive line and picked up another sack on Saturday night. He now has 6.0 on the season. The problem is that Foskey is generating a lot of outside pressure and forcing opposing quarterbacks to roll out where the Irish are not containing. Burmeister eventually just ran to the opposite side of Foskey in the second half, including on his touchdown run on 3rd and 15.
Notre Dame needs to make adjustments to continue capitalizing on Foskey’s pass-rushing while not contributing to another area where the Irish are weak. Part of that could be Foskey working in some more spin moves instead of just relying on his speed rush. Every time he flies by a tackle and forces the QB outside the pocket, it’s opening things up on the ground.
File this under a good problem to have, but still one the Irish defensive staff needs to tinker with.