While there was a lot of good to come out of Notre Dame’s 32-29 victory over Virginia Tech over the weekend, there was also a lot left for the Irish coaching staff to clean up over the bye week. Notre Dame faced an offense that had not had a whole lot of success for most of the year and allowed them to score 29 points and make critical conversions that nearly cost them the game. Luckily it didn’t and most of what we saw that was concerning are areas we’ve seen the Irish perform better recently.
Too many killer third downs allowed because of lack of contain
Earlier this season, Notre Dame was giving up third downs at an alarming rate. Then they went on an absolute tear over the previous three weeks before facing Virginia Tech. Purdue was 4 of 16, Wisconsin 1 of 14, and Cincinnati 2 of 11. That’s elite defensive production from Marcus Freeman’s unit.
That changed against Virginia Tech, though, with the Hokies converting 8 of 17, including what looked like a back-breaker in the 4th quarter. Virginia Tech QB Braxton Burmeister, playing a bum throwing shoulder, converted a 3rd and 15 with a 19-yard touchdown run because there was no containing him when Isaiah Foskey flushed him from the pocket. After clearing the initial rush, it was like the rest of the Notre Dame defense all had their backs turned on a quarterback who would have a hard time throwing.
It was a return to the third-down struggles from weeks one and two for the Irish defense. What made it shocking is the Irish defense shut down a much better offense the week before on third down so well. Desmond Ridder might not be a top NFL Draft pick, but he’s a much better quarterback than Burmeister. The Bearcat offense is also much better than Tech’s.
The process of getting to a potential solution at quarterback
While it’s great that Notre Dame might finally have some direction at quarterback – and the offensive line – it’s fair not to be thrilled about the process that it took to get here. It’s not ideal to be at week seven, on a bye week, and still trying to finalize your quarterback position when injuries haven’t been a significant problem.
Brian Kelly said point-blank last week that Notre Dame needed to pick a quarterback and settle on one without going to the flavor of the week. That lasted all of three drives. Tyler Buchner came into the game on the fourth drive for the Irish and might not have left had he not gotten hurt.
It’s great that it seems like Notre Dame might just be on to something with spreading teams out and running tempo with Jack Coan when he is in. But why did that take so long? You can’t just run tempo all game long with a significant investment into it all year long, so I’m not suggesting they should just let Coan run tempo all game long, but they could have used it more strategically up until now.
Again, it’s great that maybe the Irish are finally on to something at quarterback coming out of this game, but it’s fair to not be thrilled with the process of getting here.
Allowing the field goal at the end of the first half
A few weeks back on the podcast, I went on a mini-rant about how it just felt like the defense kept playing great defense for long stretches only to let up right as the offense came alive. The defense did an excellent job of eliminating those killer drives for a little while until allowing Cincinnati to score the game-sealing touchdown after they had cut the lead to four in the fourth quarter.
Against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame again spotted their opponent 10 points, but this time the offense came alive in the first quarter, and they took a 14-10 lead with 0:35 left. That should have meant a four-point lead and all of the momentum heading into halftime. Instead, the Irish defense gave up back-to-back long completions and then saw Virginia Tech connect on a 52-yard field goal. Drives like that just can’t happen against mediocre offenses.
We’ve seen the good and the bad in the Marcus Freeman defense in the first half of the season. The good is starting to outnumber the bad, but lapses like that drive at the end of the first half could easily cost Notre Dame a game in the second half.
I’ve written about this already, but the ACC officials are just brutal. The targeting on Mitchell Evans, the lack of any penalty when Kevin Austin nearly got his helmet pulled off on the two-point conversion, the roughing the passer on Kyle Hamilton for a clean hit on Burmeister, the phantom clipping on Andrew Kristofic, the sheer lack of holding calls all season long. ACC officials are just bad at their jobs.
The phantom clipping on Kristofic might have been the worst of the bunch. It knocked Notre Dame out of field goal range and put Notre Dame behind the sticks, which led to an interception.
The officials also let Virginia Tech hit both Logan Diggs and Kyren Williams on separate occasions after clearly being in the white and out of bounds. Williams had his head pushed into the turf on the 3rd down before Doerer’s kick. Call it both ways, ACC.
Coverage from The ACC Network
I didn’t mind the Peacock coverage all that much a few weeks ago outside of the whole pre-game show talking over Fr. Jenkins prayer thing, but overall it was fine minus the lag. I was not a fan of the ACCN coverage, though, from start to finish. The post-game show was the worst, though.
After the game ended, my wife (an A&M alum) and I let the ACCN on our TV because she was watching the Texas A&M – Alabama game on her laptop without the sound, and like good paranoid fans, we couldn’t mess with that juju. Unfortunately, that meant I heard the audio of the ACCN post-game show and big yikes. The broadcast crew didn’t know the names of the Notre Dame players. They thought Justin Yoon was still the kicker and had to ask the name of Tyler Buchner at one point. Did they just watch the game at all?
It was particularly interesting when Notre Dame alum Jordan Cornette started questioning whether or not the targeting penalty on Dax Hollifield was legit in the immediate aftermath of the game. That was fun.