I am really taking some liberties with the name of this column this week, but hey, sometimes life has a way of getting in the way of hobbies. Still, Notre Dame’s win over BYU on Saturday night warranted the late posting since it was a huge win early in the Freeman era at Notre Dame. The Irish looked dominant at times and more like the team we thought the Irish would have than perhaps at any point since the first half of the Ohio State game.
Notre Dame is back in control of its season for now
Winning this game was huge for Notre Dame and Marcus Freeman. A loss would have given the Irish a losing record as they stared a stretch of seven straight games that features two matchups with top-5 opponents. It wouldn’t have been good, folks. Instead, Notre Dame got the win and back over .500 with a real chance to head into the Clemson game on November 4 with a likely top-15 ranking. Syracuse looks like the only threat to that happening as the Orange are currently 5-0, but we’ll learn if the Orange are for real or not after they play NC State and Clemson in the next two weeks.
Michael Mayer is the best tight end in college football
At this point, this isn’t even an overreaction. Mayer is really, really good at football. BYU knew Notre Dame wanted to get him the ball and still couldn’t stop it. He was targetted 15 times and hauled in 11 of them for 118 yards and two touchdowns. No other tight end in college football has caught 11 passes in a single game this year.
Even when BYU had Mayer covered, he still caught passes because he’s simply a monster. He broke Tyler Eifert’s record for career catches by a tight end at Notre Dame, and his two touchdowns put him one behind Dave Casper for the most touchdowns by a tight end in Notre Dame history. Oh, and he extended his streak of games with a catch to 29, which also happens to be the same number of games total he’s played in.
Catch # 🔟 for @MMayer1001 is another Irish touchdown#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/kQXqEJdFur— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) October 9, 2022
Jayden Thomas has entered the chat
Notre Dame needed another wide receiver to emerge at some point other than Lorenzo Styles, and Jayden Thomas may just be that guy. So while we were all fixated on whether or not Tobias Merriweather would get some snaps or if Braden Lenzy would finally get a deep bomb, Thomas hauled in three passes for 74 yards, including this ridiculous touchdown.
GO GET IT @jgpt333#SCTOP10 x #GoIrish pic.twitter.com/W4aaG1HUMP— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) October 9, 2022
Thomas had three career catches for 32 yards before Saturday night. But it might not just be a one-game anomaly, either. Thomas started to develop a connection with Pyne against North Carolina with two critical third-down conversions in Notre Dame’s win over the Tar Heels two weeks ago. He built on that with a big performance Saturday night. If he keeps building on this one, well, then Notre Dame’s passing might not have to target Michael Mayer 15 times a week.
Jon Sot, the best punter in college football
It might not be an overreaction to say Jon Sot is the best punter in college football, either. It kind of baffles me that Sot is the same punter who shanked the first two punts of his Notre Dame career in Columbus on Labor Day weekend. Since those kicks, his leg has been a weapon. He was only needed twice on Saturday night, but he averaged 56.5 yards a kick with a long of 59 and one punt inside the 20.
Sot is averaging 46.6 yards a kick this season after averaging just 38.9 at Harvard last year and 40.4 the year before. Hopefully, Notre Dame only needs him twice or less – he only punted once at UNC – a game the rest of the season.
Notre Dame lines made plays when needed
There were some not-so-fun moments in the second half, but with the game on the line, both of Notre Dame’s lines took control. With BYU driving and facing a fourth and 1 in a one-possession game, the defensive line stuffed BYU and gave the ball back to the offense. Jayson Ademilola got a lot of the credit, but Nana Osafo Mensah did a lot of the dirty work on the play to make the stuff possible.
Once Notre Dame got the ball back, the offensive line took over and paved the way for Notre Dame to run out the clock.
Marcus Freeman spoke all summer about wanting Notre Dame to be an offensive and defensive line-driven program. On Saturday night, we saw Notre Dame be just that. It wasn’t a perfect night for either group, but with the game on the line, they closed it out.
The defense still has too many lapses
Notre Dame’s defense is tough to judge at this point this year. It’s gone stretches where it’s been stingy as hell. Take the first half of Saturday night. BYU’s high-powered offense couldn’t do anything. Jarren Hall was 3 of 11 for 9 yards. Ohio State was held in check for three quarters. North Carolina couldn’t move the ball for most of the game. But in all of those games, the defense ends up having a lapse that opens things up.
It happened against BYU too. First, it was the bomb from Hall to Kody Epps for a 53-yard touchdown. Then, Jaden Mickey blew the assignment, and Houston Griffith was helpless in trying to provide any sort of resistance. That got the Cougars back in. A drive later, Notre Dame had BYU in a 3rd and 17 that the Cougars essentially surrendered with a draw. And BYU converted it before scoring a few plays later to cut the lead to five.
Because the defense isn’t taking the ball away from the opposing offense, the lapses stand out because you can only keep good offenses in check for so long without the big negative play. Notre Dame won’t face a great offense again for a while, so they have time to figure some things out.
Drew Pyne was more than solid again
Drew Pyne completed 78% of his passes and threw three touchdowns for the second week in a row, giving him eight touchdown passes in his three starts. His average yards per completion improved for the third week in a row as well. He’s gone from 6.5 to 8.5 to 9.4 over the last three weeks, easing some concerns over the lack of vertical threat in the passing game.
Pyne was 3 of 4 on passes 20+ yards downfield for 73 yards. On medium-range targets, he was 4 of 5 for 84 yards. Pyne was 1 of 3 on targets 20+ yards downfield in the previous two games combined. He was 4 of 11 on medium targets. In short, he’s no longer living off passes to the line scrimmage or beyond.
Notre Dame could have won by a lot more
Winning by eight as a four-point favorite over a ranked team is good, but Notre Dame could have run away with this one had it not been for a bunch of miscues.
- Clarence Lewis had what looked like a pick-6 bounce off his fingertips
- Chris Tyree had what looked like a 50+ yard touchdown in front of him, but he ran before he secured the catch, and the pass fell incomplete
- The blown assignment on the Epps touchdown gave BYU life
- Notre Dame failed to convert a 4th and 1 inside the 10 on a play where Audric Estime could have picked it up if he dove over the top inside of lowering his head and running right into the BYU front
- Notre Dame scored 13 points on four trips into the red zone
This could have been a 17-20 point win for the Irish if they had just made the plays that were there to be made.
The positive in this is that Notre Dame won despite all of those miscues. A month ago that would have seemed unfathomable in the wake of the loss to Marshall.
Ditto on all you reported.
One immediate possible overreaction from me.
re: chunk plays yielded . . .
– Why are the veteran LBs playing worse this year than last year? Maybe too much reading and analyzing and not enough playing downhill and filling gaps. This isn’t the NFL, Coach Golden. Simplify. Too often they look confused and hesitant.
Vangorder did the same thing. Let the athletes be athletes