Notre Dame stumbles into week 3, the owners of a shocking 0-2 record under first-year head coach Marcus Freeman. The Irish, coming off a humbling loss to Marshall, look to right the ship this weekend against the Cal Golden Bears behind the right arm of new starting quarterback Drew Pyne after starter Tyler Buchner was lost for the season.
Let’s Forget About Last Week
We all had terrible weeks last week. Notre Dame lost to Marhsall. I predicted the Irish to beat Marshall 45 -13. Not good performances by anyone. The Irish defense played roughly how I thought they would (seven of Marhsall’s points are on the offense from a pick-6), but the Irish offense struggled worse than anyone could have expected.
Drew Pyne’s first career start
It seems like there is a large contingent of “fans” on Twitter who are not willing to even give Drew Pyne a chance to lead the offense before calling for true freshman Steven Angelli. Nevermind that Pyne came off the bench last year and sparked Notre Dame against Wisconsin when Jack Coan got hurt and against Cincinnati when Jack Coan was ineffective.
Look, I’m not saying Pyne is going to be the second coming of Joe Montana this weekend, but not only have I seen enough to think he could spark the Irish offense a bit this year, but I’m also not foolish enough to write off a kid whose never had a single week where he’s been prepared to be THE guy.
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So many Notre Dame fans are so caught up on what Drew Pyne isn’t that they’re ignoring what he is. Y , he’s not 6’5″ with a howitzer for an arm. He is, however, a former Under Armour All-American who had an offer from Alabama. He is a player the entire team respects and will rally behind. He is a guy who has shown he can make plays against good defenses and put Notre Dame in a position to win. Re ember, he was a dropped Kevin Austin pass at midfield away from possibly sparking a comeback against Cincy last year. As is, he stepped on the field down 17 and got Notre Dame to within three.
Give the kid a chance and let’s see what he’s got.
Green jerseys with gasp….. names on them
Notre Dame is wearing green jerseys for the Irish Wear Green week that will have the players’ names on them this week this week. Oh the horrors! Not e Dame tweeted out pictures of them yesterday, and I think they look pretty cool. May e they’d be even better with white numbers instead of blue, but I still dig them.
Manti Te’o and Tevon Coney in town
Two former great players – Manti Te’o and Tevon Coney – will be back in town and will hopefully have the opportunity to talk with the team. If here’s any former player who can speak to the lads about dealing with adversity, it’s Te’o after everything he went through. Not e Dame could use a little magic from their linebackers after a slow start too so hopefully something rubs off.
What Worries Me This Week
The offensive line
How could the line not worry anyone this week? The offensive line was supposed to be a strength;; instead, it’s been a liability for the Notre Dame offense. Tommy R es hasn’t helped the line with some of his playcalling and Buchner didn’t help it out much by not checking out of runs that were going into 8 or 9 in the box, but even when the numbers have been neutral, the line has struggled.
The OL struggled at the start of last year, too,, and figured it out, but that happened with some personnel changes. It doe n’t sound like any of those are on the table just yet. I expe t the line to improve this week, but it won’t get dominant overnight.
Getting impatient on offense
Cal’s defense is built around eliminating big plays and making you work to earn your points. For Notr Dame to put up the kind of points we’ve been waiting for them to put up, they’re going to need to have a few long, sustained drives. If Tommy Rees gets impatient, it will play right into Cal’s hands and we’ll see some drives stall that otherwise could have produced points.
My hope is that Rees is fine with Notre Dame just taking what Cal gives them, but given how much he and the Irish offense probably want to get a fast start, it will be very tempting to try and take some shots early even though it hasn’t been Notre Dame’s strength and stopping them has been Cal’s strength.
Not finishing strong
There’s a misconception that the defense is wearing out in 4th quarters and that’s why Notre Dame isn’t finishing. Marshall actually ran fewer plays than Notre Dame, but the defense still surrendered a long drive to end the game essentially. With as much as Notre Dame is rotating, the defense isn’t wearing down. If anything, they are rotating too much and playing too many players. Notre Dame needs to let their stars be stars in the 4th quarter.
What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week
Special teams after so-so week one
After a rough week one, Notre Dame’s special teams were strong in week two. The Irish had two nice kick returns and a good punt return, they blocked a punt, and Jon Sot had a hell of a day punting. This was a week after it looked like they had never formed a wedge on kick returns before. Brian Mason got that cleaned up quickly and special teams helped the Irish be in a position to win the game even though they fell short. I expect them to be strong again this weekend.
Notre Dame’s defense keeping the points low
Notre Dame faced Cal quarterback Jack Plummer last year when Plummer was with Purdue before he transferred to Cal. As the Boilermaker QB, with future NFL receiver David Bell, Plummer didn’t do much against the Irish and he won’t have a playmaker like Bell at his disposal tomorrow. Whether or not we see the defense start racking up negative plays this week, I don’t know, but I do feel reasonably confident that the defense isn’t going to allow a whole lot of points to the Bear offense.
Any green jersey curse
Not worried at all about 2002 Boston College style fumble-fest in green jerseys or any other kind of curse.
Players to Watch
- Drew Pyne – Because, obviously.
- Chris Tyree – It’s time to get Tyree the ball more. A lot more. He’s one of the best playmakers on offense and has been used sparingly. That has to change this week.
- Tobias Merriweather – Time to throw the frosh out there and see what he can do. Notre Dame needs help on the outside and it’s time to start building up his potential volume.
- Isaiah Foskey – He had a sack last week, but it’s been a disappoint start to the season. Notre Dame needs Foskey to get back on track for the defense to play to its potential.
- Braden Lenzy – The last two seasons Lenzy has been open downfield but hasn’t been able to connect with either Jack Coan or Tyler Buchner. He and Pyne have had some chemistry in limited action – maybe this is the week we finally see Lenzy flash his speed.
- Jarrett Patterson – He was demonstratively upset on the sidelines last week. Hopefully he can channel that frustration into helping the OL bounce back.
- The Linebackers, all of them – It’s been a slow start to the season for the entire group, now would be a great time for them to have a big outing as a unit.
Notre Dame enters the game as 10.5 point favorite (as of Friday afternoon) and while some might think that’s crazy given how the Irish looked last week, I think it’s actually a pretty solid line. Notre Dame can’t play as bad as they did last week because frankly, I don’t want to think that this team might actually be that bad. I don’t expect the 40+ point eruption I predicted last week, but I expect this team to play better and finally get Freeman his first career win.
Notre dame 27, Cal 16