Notre Dame improved to 7-1 on the season last night behind its best offensive performance of the season. The Irish racked up over 500 yards but also surrendered over 500 as the defense struggled without star safety Kyle Hamilton on the backend erasing mistakes upfront. Eventually, the Irish put the Tar Heels away for a 44-34 victory, but the victory left questions of how the Irish can play defense without Hamilton largely unanswered.
Kyren Williams continues to be a cheat code
I mean, at this point, what else can you say about Kyren Williams other than he is ridiculously freaking good. So enjoy the next five games with him Notre Dame fans, because in all likelihood, he will be on an NFL roster next fall (as he should be). It’s a shame that a late tackle for loss took him below 200 yards and robbed him of his first 200-yard outing, but he still has time left this season to notch one.
His 91-yard touchdown run is simply one of the best runs in Notre Dame football history. We will be talking about that run like we talk about Reggie Brooks’s “unconscious” run versus Michigan, Ray Zellars bulldozing run versus Purdue, Dexter’s 97 yarder versus Virginia Tech, etc.
After a slow start, Williams now has 707 yards and should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the second season in a row. Williams might have challenged the single-season rushing record if not for those early season OL struggles.
Notre Dame clearly missed Kyle Hamilton
This goes without saying, but Notre Dame missed their eraser. BADLY. Kyle Hamilton makes up for a lot of deficiencies because of how good he is. Without him, a few plays turned into touchdowns that otherwise would have just been solid gains or incomplete passes. For instance, Hamilton almost certainly doesn’t get fooled on the fake wide receiver screen that turned into a walk-in touchdown.
It seems highly unlikely that we’d see him back next week against Navy, considering he has a knee injury, but if he isn’t back for the UVA game, that game looks very dicey after the Cavaliers put up 49 points on BYU.
Props to Hamilton for being fully engaged, charting plays with an earpiece in on the sidelines. If the whole NFL thing doesn’t work out (spoiler: it will), he likes ready for a GA gig.
Notre Dame made Sam Howell look way too good
Full credit to Sam Howell for playing one hell of a game, but at the same time, Notre Dame’s defense made him look way too good out there last night. According to PFF, Howell forced 8 missed tackles and had nearly all of his rushing yards AFTER contact.
PFF has Howell down for 8 missed tackles forced and 87 yards after contact. He had 91 yards total. They just couldn’t handle him and he really played a phenomenal football game.— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) October 31, 2021
That’s not good, folks. Tackling was a significant problem last night, and with Navy’s offense coming to town next week and the Irish traveling to Charlottesville in two weeks, that has to get cleaned up, or the Irish could drop one of those contests.
We haven’t seen Notre Dame tackle this badly since week one at Florida State, and this one was even worse than that one. Brian Kelly mentioned tackling a few times during his post-game presser and having to correct it. How they do that this late in the season, however, is another question.
Need more Tyler Buchner in the redzone
Notre Dame is largely handling the two-quarterback system pretty well, but I still think we should see more Tyler Buchner in the redzone. Notre Dame’s first touchdown was as easy as it was because of the running threat Buchner brings onto the field.
Notre Dame could have put this game far out of reach had they scored touchdowns instead of field goals on their final two drives. Buchner could have helped inside the five on both drives.
That said, Jack Coan is settling in to this new style of offense well and looking more and more comfortable. It will be interesting to see if he gets more confidence in the pocket and starts making throws he wasn’t making earlier this year. Also, huge tip of the cap to Coan for his 21-yard touchdown run. No one saw that coming.
Lorenzo Styles is going to be a problem
Freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles paced the Irish in receiving yards for the second week in a row, and he nearly had even more. He ended the game with 74 yards on three catches but could have had about 60 more if he and Jack Coan connected on a shot play where Styles was well behind the Tar Heel defense. Unfortunately, Coan underthrew the ball, and then Styles dropped it despite it hitting him square in the hands. Those are plays he will make in the future.
The most exciting aspect of Styles’s game right now is the threat he is to take short passes for big gains every time he touches the ball. Now, imagine Buchner and Styles working together on RPOs.
Freshmen are straight balling
Styles wasn’t the only freshman making plays. Joe Alt started again and was largely unnoticeable – an excellent compliment for an OT. Logan Diggs was RB2 with Chris Tyree, still not 100%, and unavailable to fill the role. Diggs noticed 11 carries on the night. Deion Colzie played a bunch, as well as the injuries, mount at receiver. Tyler Buchner is looking more and more comfortable at quarterback. Think towards next year and how all of this experience will benefit the Irish offense.
And so too is Bo Bauer
For the second week in a row, Bo Bauer made a hell of a play in coverage. Last week he had the interception and near touchdown return. This week, he made a huge third-down stop while covering a wheel route. Bauer was stride for stride in coverage and used his hands perfectly to break up the pass on a perfect throw.
Good on DJ Brown notching his 2nd career INT
DJ Brown took a rough angle on Ty Chandler’s 53-yard touchdown, or that play might have been stopped short of the goal line. He responded with his second career INT later in the game, though. Brown’s interception came at the perfect time, right after Notre Dame took a two-possession lead. The game would have been over earlier if the Irish offense could have just punched the ball in following the pick.
Exhausting wins are a lot better than exhausting losses
This team is taking years off of all of our lives. Each week is close and back and forth from start to finish, it seems. It would be nice for there to be a comfortable win at some point, but winning close is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. It wasn’t that long ago that Notre Dame struggled in games like this. The Irish win these games now.
The Irish are 7-1 with a real shot at 11-1 and a New Year’s 6 bowl game. The next two weeks will most likely be their biggest tests given the challenges both offenses pose to the Irish defense, but the path is there for 11-1.