By the Bye: Priorities for Notre Dame Football That Need Addressing

Problem areas emerge for Irish and require bye week attention.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter their bye week having gotten back to the .500 mark with two consecutive wins. Those victories have cooled off some of the criticism being directed at new head coach Marcus Freeman, even if the road ahead has some challenging contests for his team.

As always, the Irish squad is dotted with plenty of talent, with this unit still having an opportunity to reach double-digits in wins for the sixth consecutive season. However, for that to happen, Freeman and his staff need to work out some of the flaws that have surfaced during the first four games. Failing to do that could end up leaving Notre Dame with some less-than-desirable options when it comes to bowl games.

Below are some of the areas that the Irish need to work on during their time off:

Start From the Start

On the first play from scrimmage for Note Dame this season, Tyler Buchner connected with Lorenzo Styles on a 54-yard pass play. That led to an early 3-0 lead at Ohio State, offering a promising start to an upset bid that fell short. Yet, since that opening drive, the Irish have since been kept off the scoreboard during the opening quarter.

In addition, each of the last three games has seen the Irish trying to play catch-up with their opponent. Notre Dame found themselves down by a touchdown during those contests, while their offense struggled to simply move the chains. Establishing momentum from the outset would help tamp down this concern and lower the collective blood pressure of the Notre Dame faithful.

Big Play Drought

With regard to momentum on the defensive side of the ball, forcing a turnover is one key to making that happen. Unfortunately, the Irish haven’t gained a great deal of experience in that department this season, with their opponents only turning the ball over once. That came early in the third quarter of the win over North Carolina on Justin Ademilola’s fumble recovery.

The absence of any other turnovers during Notre Dame’s first 16 quarters of play glaringly stands out in comparison to the efforts of the opposition. Two fumbles and three interceptions have led to 20 points for Irish opponents, with the most devastating Notre Dame turnover being the pick-six that effectively sealed the game for Marshall.

Staying on the Run

Before the win over North Carolina, Notre Dame’s running game had largely struggled to make an impact. That inability to chew up the clock led to far too many three-and-out drives that kept the pressure on Irish defenders. Against the Tar Heels, the makings of a ground game emerged with Audric Estime and Chris Tyree, supplemented by the efforts of Logan Diggs.

Sustaining that part of the offense is a necessity as the potential for more perilous weather becomes more evident. Also, having multiple running weapons avoids having opponents focus on stopping the Notre Dame passing attack. Even though Drew Pyne doesn’t possess the running chops of Buchner, he has options in the backfield that can make a huge difference.

Secondary Stress

Despite the win at Chapel Hill, the Notre Dame secondary had mixed results in trying to stop North Carolina’s Drake Maye, who threw for 301 yards on the day. Maye managed to connect for the opening touchdown on fourth-and-goal, then connected in the third quarter on an 80-yard scoring toss in which the receiver simply blew past Clarence Lewis. Most embarrassingly, he threw a 64-yard scoring toss on fourth-and-21, thanks to Cam Hart’s blown coverage on the play.

In the opener at Ohio State, an early injury to the Buckeyes’ top receiver, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, was negated. That was due to the Irish’s struggles to contain another Buckeye wideout, Emeka Egbuka, who grabbed nine passes for 90 yards and one score. Finding a way to address these concerns is important, with pass-friendly schools like BYU, Clemson, and Southern Cal still remaining on the 2022 schedule.

Pyne-ing for More Options

After Note Dame’s first four games, three players have accounted for roughly 70 percent of the team’s receptions. Tight end Michael Mayer and running back Chris Tyree entered this season as important parts of the passing attack and have lived up to those expectations. Styles currently serves as the main deep threat for the Irish.

All three players will be important in the weeks ahead. However, what’s needed is for other players to emerge so that opponents are prevented from zeroing in on that trio. Among the players who need to deliver in this area is Braden Lenzy, who currently has just seven catches after seemingly breaking out last year with 32 grabs on the year.

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  1. Is anyone else scared Freeman and Rees will get too “comfortable” with Pyne and we will have another Ian Book on our hands who can beat all the bad teams but never win or even compete in the big games? Pyne does not have the talent to win a NC. But it appears he is the best QB on the roster. I just hope we don’t bring in big QB talent and have this happen all over again and waste another three years.

  2. Wow. A rare article that everyone is right-on…great writing by Brad and solid, realistic matching recommendations by David, Damian, MTA! CCB and Jeff also on the mark about other stuff.

    Nothing to add, it has all been said. What happened to the good old raucus UHND?

    Pass a little better deep, quick opening running plays, and more skilled depth by recruiting and getting freshmen in earlier. Sounds right, and complete, though I can think of several reasons ND might play fewer frosh than most schools. I’ll not enumerate them here
    I hope David accepts my revised and grammatically improved use of “enumerate”: He’s so hard to please sometimes, right?
    Very well done Brad et al.

    BGC 77 82

  3. All good points. ND has been taking some steps so far to make improvements. It’s still way too early to say if Freeman has the makings of a great HC. He says the right things and he seems to be making some adjustments. He obviously has a good rapport with his players, which is important at the college level. But there’s still a lot of work to do.

    The expectations were high coming into this season. Perhaps, in fairness, too high considering that we have a new HC and basically new starting QB’s, and some staff turnover. Rees had a few rough outings as OC but he seems to be settling in now. One thing I will always appreciate him for is that he basically gave BK the old one finger salute when he asked him to join him, LOL. Al Golden on defense? Well, some good, some bad there. We’ll see what adjustments he makes.

    I’m certainly not ready to bag anyone yet (and I haven’t really seen any serious calls to fire anyone at this point). I figure you have to give everyone at least a season to get things in shape. If there’s improvement through the season then that’s a promising sign.

    My hopes are higher than they were since the 2016 debacle. But I’m not drinking any more Kool Aid. I want to see ND start winning the big games first.

    1. Rees had FAR fewer of the natural physical gifts of any ND QB.
      But he managed to win 23 games as a starter, and remains one of ND all-time leaders in QB productivity.
      Any time he made any kind of mistake, he got his ass publicly chewed by a fat purple gnome.

      So him finally losing it and yelling at Pyne one time ? Doesn’t even come close to what Rees took every week, never sulked, and ‘did his job’. Pyne absolutely deserved it, needed a proverbial kick in the ass, and says he appreciated it.

      Last game, Rees discovered the RB. Excellent. Now design some faster developing, more creative running plays. Then just watch Pyne’s passing improve.

  4. ND needs to recruit and develop elite skill position players. They have failed to recruit, develop, and maintain any kind of quality depth at the QB, RB, and WR positions for 15 plus years now. Unless that changes under Freeman ND has no chance at winning a natty.

  5. ND was not winning the NC, or even make the playoff this year.
    The 5 ranking was a transparent, cruel hoax.
    Rookie head coach, a grab bag staff, totally inexperienced QBs….. c’mon, folks. Sober up.

    Freeman needs to learn his job this year…that’s the priority.
    And he has to be SEEN to be learning it. Fast. If he’s going to keep recruiting successfully.

    A decent bowl game…that’s an achievable goal.

  6. Tobias Merriweather should be playing and catching TD passes.
    This is inexcusable for an offense that looked like crap thru the 1st three games and benefited by playing a horrible defense in the 4th.

    1. Don’t you think the coaching staff knows who should or shouldn’t be playing? There with these kids all camp and every week, all week. What basis for personnel changes would you, or any fan have over that

  7. One turnover through four games is inadequate.
    Containing another mobile talented young QB will be essential.
    Slow starts are consistently predictable. I agree that addressing those are critical.
    Also, I see so many teams using their Frosh WRs, some as go-to options.
    ND has one, supposedly an elite recruit. To date, he’s not been thrown a pass.
    All I’ve read since his arrival is how good he looked in practice.
    Whether Claypool, Boykin, McKinley, or others, ND has a history of shelving their young receivers.
    BYU will put numbers in the box if needed to deny NDs rushing.
    Showing a threat to throw deep might be necessary.

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