Facing an overmatched opponent, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish managed to regain their winning ways on Saturday with a 44-21 home victory over the UNLV Rebels. The outcome was effectively decided by halftime, thanks in part to some outstanding work on special teams. Yet, the effort by the Irish was not without its flaws.
A balanced attack on offense helped Notre Dame to consistently move the ball, especially when it came to the running game. Three different Irish rushers reached the end zone, while Logan Diggs led all Notre Dame rushers with 130 yards. One fly in the ointment was another fumble by Audric Estime, his third miscue in the last four games.
Below are some of the major aspects of the game:
First Quarter Fireworks
The opening period in Notre Dame contests this season has generally been quiet, especially from the Irish side. That perception was shattered against UNLV when the two teams combined for 30 points in the first 15 minutes. Notre Dame put 23 points on the board, an early cushion that, combined with the lack of any real offense by UNLV, helped make for the easy victory.
The Irish got things going on their opening drive, moving 75 yards on six plays, with catches by Michael Mayer and Jayden Thomas covering 80 percent of that yardage. After their next drive stalled out, Blake Grupe kicked the first of two field goals for the quarter. Solid special teams also helped lead to 13 more points for the Irish.
Isaiah Foskey is usually better known for his ability to get to the quarterback, something he managed to do three times during this game. However, he also managed to block consecutive punts during the first quarter. That helped Notre Dame tack on 10 points in a span of fewer than two minutes of time on the clock.
The first of Foskey’s blocks came with at the 6:32 mark and gave the Irish the ball at the Rebels’ 20-yard-line. Needing just two plays, Drew Pyne connected with Michael Mayer on a scoring toss that followed an incompletion. Then, Foskey repeated his action and gave the Irish the ball that resulted in a three-and-out and a 27-yard field goal.
Solid Defense with Two Asterisks
For a good portion of the first half, the Notre Dame defense was able to shut down much of the passing strategy made by UNLV, That was due in part to the absence of Rebels’ regular starting quarterback, Doug Brumfield, who was still recovering from a concussion. His replacements, Cameron Friel and Harrison Bailey completed 17 of 33 passes but only accounted for 153 yards through the air.
Had it not been for two more big plays allowed by Irish defenders, the rushing numbers would have been equally weak for UNLV. Courtney Reese’s 142 yards on the ground were largely attained on those plays, the first of which was a 74-yard run in the first quarter that set up the Rebels’ first touchdown. On UNLV’s second series after intermission, Reese broke off a 47-yard scamper on the first play.
Notre Dame led 30-7 when halftime arrived but that margin might have been higher had their offense not stalled out in the Red Zone on multiple occasions. The aforementioned field goal off a punt block erased four potential points and was followed in their next drive by another field goal after they’d started the possession at the UNLV 32.
Before the first half ended, Notre Dame turned the ball over on downs at the Rebels’ seven-yard-line. After boosting their lead to 30-7, another opportunity lost came when Pyne was picked off in the Red Zone in the final minute before halftime. Even though none of these instances affected the game’s outcome, the Irish won’t have that luxury against more challenging opponents in the weeks ahead.
Third Down Shutdown
Stopping UNLV on the first two downs paid plenty of dividends for Notre Dame as the Rebels failed on all 12 of their third-down tries. That level of futility is in contrast to the Irish allowing Stanford to convert seven different third-down opportunities in that embarrassing upset.
This type of litmus test isn’t always a viable gauge when it comes to winning, especially when considering the caliber of Notre Dame’s opponent. However, in a season that’s already seen disappointment and is heading into a challenging period, numbers like this week’s goose egg will hopefully serve as motivation.
Entering their road matchup next Saturday against the Syracuse Orangemen, Notre Dame finds itself in the unusual position of having the worse of the two schools. Syracuse is 6-1, with their first defeat coming on Saturday against Clemson, the Irish’s Nov. 5th opponent. Actually playing in Syracuse is something of a rarity, considering that it’s happened only twice before. The last time came in the 2003 finale, during the second season of the brief Tyrone Willingham era and ended with a 38-12 Notre Dame loss. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1914, when the Irish won 20-0 under the leadership of Knute Rockne’s predecessor, Jesse Harper.
If kids are swayed by what school can create the most outrageous costumes, Oregon “wins” hands down.
An absolute drag cabaret.
Coming into the season the notredame reporters were concerned about Notredame’s defensive line being vulnerable to the run because they were undersized. This has proven out as they get gashed up the gut numerous times every game. Also, the linebackers have not played well in either run support and pass coverage in space. Despite that the defense has held teams down enough to win every game if you had a really good offense. I feel Notredame has to get a qb in here next year along with a new offensive coordinator. Not sold on Tommy as a recruiter or a coach. I wish to God I didn’t feel that way.
Great analysis. Spot on! Agree with you about Botelho. He’s a disrupter. Give him more snaps. And adjust an offensive scheme that suits the strengths or weaknesses of your quarterback. You said it all.
Two consecutive blocked punts and On side K recovery with your calves. Never saw those in one game ! First two passes by UNLV broken up! Don’t remember seeing that from ND either. Love that aggressive scheme. And, finally, a big turnover with Clarence Lewis’ forced fumble. Will need all of the above and more these next two weeks to compete.
Diggs got most of his yards on his own today.
Liked seeing more of S #26 Watts
and LB #10 Kollie. Utilizing the speed of Tyree and Merriweather and the aggressive presence and attitude of Botelho would add excitement. Last year’s third string QB and this season’s current starter has been inconsistent but the too many dropped passes sure don’t help. Blocked passes downfield from the pocket at the LOS will continue if he’s confined to staying there.
Second worst red zone defense in the nation ahead of only Rutgers.
Liufau’s best game despite some key misses.
Game balls to special team’s coach Mason, Foskey, Diggs, Bertrand, Cross, Gruppe, and of course, Bracy and Mayer, like usual, every week.
Missed the game. Sounds like ND special teams was finally quite special.
So anything really is possible.