Notre Dame won their first game of the season on Saturday, giving head coach Marcus Freeman the first win of his head coaching career. The win was far from a perfect outing for the Irish, but unlike the first two weeks, there was at least a little more to like from the performance. Funny how winning does that.
Jacob Lacey’s emergence
I’ll talk about the defensive line as a whole in a little, but I am starting with Jacob Lacey, who notched two sacks in the game in just 25 snaps a week after he played just 11 in the loss to Marshall. PFF graded Lacey out at 65.2, which is actually a bit lower than his 70.3 against Cal, but that was influenced by a missed tackle that brought his overall grade down.
Lacey has made plays for Notre Dame in big spots over the last two years but hasn’t found regular playing time. Even this year, Lacey played 29 snaps against Ohio State before registering just 11 last week and then 25 yesterday.
Audric Estime’s development as a pass blocker
Audric Estime had the best game of his career offensively, but the play that stood out the most to me was his block on Michael Mayer’s go-ahead touchdown.
Don’t let that blitz pickup by Audric Estime go unnoticed on Mayer’s TD because that linebacker came up Main St. completely untouched pic.twitter.com/gf4qj5TQ9B— Justin Frommer (@JustinbFrommer) September 18, 2022
Pass protection is one of the most challenging things for young running backs to pick up, so seeing Estime, a sophomore, improve quickly is encouraging. We all took for granted just how ridiculously good Kyren Williams was in this department the last two seasons, but if Estime can continue to make blocks like this, he’ll keep earning playing time. PFF had Estime at just 46.5 for pass blocking, but after whiffing a few times early in the season, Estime showed improvement.
He wasn’t bad with the ball in his hands, either. Estime ran the ball 18 times for 76 yards and added 43 yards in the air on three catches. His 33-yard 4th quarter reception might have gone for six if he could have kept his feet under him.
6.0 sacks from the Notre Dame defensive line
Notre Dame’s defensive line didn’t play very well in the first two weeks. They were OK against Ohio State but couldn’t generate any sort of rush against Marshall. That was not the case on Saturday against Cal. In addition to Lacey’s 2.0 sacks, the rest of the defensive line added another four – 1.5 each from Isaiah Foskey and Jayson Ademilola and another from Justin Ademilola.
Foskey graded out at 62.7 last week and 88.0 this week. It was the first time this season we saw Foskey play like a potential first-round pick this season. His day could have been even better if he didn’t miss a first-half sack where he had Cal QB Jack Plummer dead to rights but missed.
If Notre Dame’s defensive line plays like they did yesterday for the rest of the season, Notre Dame will continue to keep the opposition’s points down.
Getting Chris Tyree the ball a lot more
Chris Tyree had 12 total touches in the first two weeks of the season combined. Against Cal, Tyree touched the ball 22 times on offense alone. He ran 17 times for 64 yards and caught 5 passes for 44 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown reception in the first half. It was Notre Dame OC Tommy Rees’s finest play call of the day.
Tyree’s lack of touches the first two weeks – especially against Marshall – was puzzling. Tyree is one of Notre Dame’s best playmakers, but he can’t make plays without the ball in his hands. If Notre Dame keeps getting Tyree the ball, he will break one sooner rather than later. It’s what he’s done over the last two years when given the opportunity.
Improvement from the Notre Dame offensive line
Tyree and Estime got something going on the ground because the offensive line played better than they did in week two. The bar was pretty low, mind you, but all you can ask right now is for the line to continue to get better each week, and that’s what they did on Saturday.
For the second straight week, Joe Alt was Notre Dame’s highest-graded offensive player regardless of position. In addition, Jarrett Patterson was Notre Dame’s second highest ranked player in his second game back from injury and looked much more comfortable against Cal than he did against Marshall.
If Notre Dame can get Blake Fisher going next, the line has a chance to start playing like the line we all thought they would be in the preseason. Fisher has struggled over the first three games this season and was one of Notre Dame’s lowest graded offensive players in the win over Cal.
BONUS: Notre Dame green jerseys
I know there was a lot of chatter on Twitter and the boards about the green jerseys Notre Dame wore because some don’t like the blue numbers, but I liked them and wouldn’t be opposed to the Irish wearing them again. Some questions about whether Notre Dame should wear them the rest of the season ala ‘1977 when the Irish wore green against USC and didn’t take them off at home the rest of the season. That seems highly unlikely, but count me as a fan of this green jersey uniform combo.