Notre Dame Football Mailbag: Can Defense Shine, Offense Wake Up against Heels?

Unfortunately, I did not get to record a preview pod this week, even though I got some questions on Twitter for said pod. A work happy hour was the culprit as I came home from work ready for bed, not for a podcast. Since I had the questions, I asked on Twitter this morning if people would prefer a short pod that answered the questions or a mailbag post. The mailbag post option won the poll, and here we are.

Our first question came from loyal podcast listener Oscar who poses questions for almost every pod.

  1. After last week, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to see Tommy Rees call for Drew Pyne to start bombing it out, but I think we’ll see Pyne connect on at least one pass of ~30 air yards against North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Notre Dame can’t just work exclusively with targets less than five yards from the line of scrimmage again this weekend.
  2. Unfortunately, I think it’ll be the number of times that Maye escapes the pocket, but I expect both to happen quite a bit. Notre Dame’s contain hasn’t been great this season and tackling, while better last week, still isn’t what you’d expect it to be. Notre Dame let a much less athletic quarterback in Jack Plummer escape time and time again last week.
  3. All of them. All of the drinks. But seriously, that is a very nuanced question. What beverages are we talking about? Some solid IPAs? Double IPAs? Bourbon on the rocks? Light beers? The appropriate amount is just enough to realize you’ve had a few but not so many that you forgot you were at work. It’s a challenge as old as time that many of us have failed in the past.

I don’t think we’ll see Notre Dame be super aggressive because they know they can’t win a shoot out with UNC and need to keep the points down similar to what we saw against Ohio State in week one. However, Notre Dame will also be able to generate pressure with their defensive line without getting too crazy with blitzes, which should allow them to create havoc plays without taking too many chances.

Offensively, I think the offense will look better than it did last week. Cal’s defense is pretty solid, and North Carolina’s is pretty weak. I don’t think Notre Dame will suddenly score 40+ points tomorrow, but they’ll look better than what we saw for most of the Cal game. As we saw in the second half of the Cal game, Notre Dame should be able to run the ball, and Drew Pyne should look more comfortable in his second career start.

I don’t recall Mills being tabbed as a breakout player last summer. He didn’t have a clear path to regular playing in 2021 with Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa at SDE while Mills was still an interior DL a year ago. Mills played 270 total snaps last year and is already at 109 this year. That projects out to 470 over the course of 13 games.

Mills’ pass rush grades are down this year, and he hasn’t played at the level most of us, myself included, felt he would, but Isaiah Foskey, a potential 1st round pick in next spring’s NFL Draft didn’t look like himself over the first two weeks either before breaking out last week. So, it’s still too early to make too many sweeping judgments. His pass rush grade from PFF falling from 72.0 to 61.1 after moving into a role that should highlight his pass rushing isn’t ideal though.

Hopefully, more time at his new full-time position helps, and we see the disruptive pass rusher we thought we’d see this season.

6

For the over to hit, Notre Dame would need 7 sacks. That is a lot of sacks. This year, Notre Dame only had ten sacks combined in the first three games. North Carolina opponents only have six total sacks this season. So, I think I’ll take the under on this one since I don’t think Notre Dame will blitz a lot while trying to keep points down and keeping everything in front of them.

I think I’d take good 1st and 3rd quarters because Notre Dame can rely on its defense to make stops with the lead. I’d also like to see Notre Dame finally come out to a fast start on offense.

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