I hate writing this column after games like this. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so late this week, but I do try to do it after every game, so here we are. It was hard to find many positives in a game like Notre Dame’s loss to Marshall over the weekend, but if you squint really hard and look for them, there were some positives. Here
Jon Sot’s Punting
The first two punts of Jon Sot’s Notre Dame career raised a lot of eyebrows. Then, in a close game, on the road in Columbus, Sot shanked the first two attempts of his Notre Dame career. Since then, Sot has sadly been one of the most potent offensive weapons for the Irish by booking punts and pinning opponents inside their own 20.
On Saturday, Sot was 3 for 4 on pinning Marshall inside their 20 though he was aided by Notre Dame punting twice inside plus territory. Still, Sot could have boomed those into the endzone, but he pinned them deep instead. Two weeks in a row, Sot pinning the opponent at their own 5-yard line late in games only for the defense to allow 95-yard scoring drives in critical junctures. That’s not on Sot, though. He did his job well in both cases.
On the game, Sot averaged 42.9 yards a punt with a long of 61 and three inside the 20. On the season, he’s averaging 44.9 yards a kick, with 6 of his 12 kicks landing inside the 20 without a single touchback. He also has three kicks of over 50 yards.
Yes, it’s beyond depressing that the first positive from the game is the punter.
Tariq Bracy’s Continued Resurgence
Defensively, one of the few bright spots on Saturday was the continued resurgence of Tariq Bracy. A week after turning in one of the better performances of his Notre Dame career, Bracy was more than solid once again.
Bracy had 4 tackles, including one for loss, and was solid in coverage all day. After a very rough 2020 season, Bracy has quietly turned into one of the better cornerbacks for the Irish in recent years.
Howard Cross’s Hustle on the Interior DL
Another one of the few bright spots on defense was the play of interior lineman Howard Cross. In a game in which the entire defensive line struggled against an inferior opponent, Cross played his best game. He led all Notre Dame defenders with 11 tackles, including 0.5 for loss. This a week after he recorded the only sack for the Irish against Ohio State.
Notre Dame’s defensive line was supposed to be a strength of the team this year, but that has not happened through two games. Instead, the line was the least impressive unit in an otherwise pretty impressive defensive performance against the Buckeyes. Against Marshall, the defensive line was largely manhandled by the Thundering Herd offensive line. Cross, though, played hard from start to finish.
Both return units bounce back
Against Ohio State, both the kick and punt return units looked like they could be liabilities. Ohio State blew up whatever wedge Notre Dame attempted to deploy all night long, forcing the Irish to start several drives inside their own 20. That’s not great, folks.
Marcus Freeman said on Thursday of last week, they spent a lot of time working on fixing that. It was evident on Saturday with Notre Dame having two solid kick returns – a 27-yarder by Lorenzo Styles and a 32-yarder by Chris Tyree.
Punt returns were nonexistent against Ohio State, with Brandon Joesph fair catching every punt that came his way despite having room for a return a couple of times. Against Marshall, Joseph only returned one of five punts, but it went for 15 yards.
If you’re really looking for silver linings, both return units are signs of the staff being able to address problems from week to week. Of course, fixing the lines could be a more daunting task to resolve, but for all the concerns suddenly with this staff, an example of them correcting something between games is a big positive.
Play design on Kevin Bauman’s 18-yard reception
I had to really struggle to find some positives on offense, but the one that stood out to me was Kevin Bauman’s 18-yard reception that nearly went for a touchdown in the second half. It’s not that it went for 18 yards or that Bauman almost scored on it that I liked it, either. The design of the play is what I liked the most.
I don’t know what Tommy Rees is attempting to do offensively since it seems like he’s calling straight dropbacks for his athletic quarterback, which is more comfortable running than throwing at the moment. This play, however, was a great design that schemed open Bauman and created a very easy throw for Buchner.
With the news of Buchner being lost for the season on Monday, Rees will need to continue to use more creative plays like this one to help manufacture offense instead of relying on Drew Pyne to just drop back and fire away at out routes to the boundary like we saw too much of on Saturday.