Notre Dame finally got off to a fast start on Saturday in their 44-21 win over UNLV, but it wasn’t due to the offense, but instead their defense and special teams. Despite the 23-point win, the Irish continued to squander opportunities on offense and be plagued by several issues that have limited this team all season long.
Brian Mason is Notre Dame’s best assistant coach
I don’t think any Notre Dame assistant is even a close second to Mason right now in terms of the impact they are having on the field for Notre Dame. After years of mediocre special teams under Brian Polian, Notre Dame fans are seeing how special teams can actually be a weapon for a team in the first year under Brian Mason. Notre Dame blocked two more punts on Saturday, giving them four on the season. That’s just insane.
The two blocked punts completely turned the game even though the Irish offense failed to take advantage of them fully. Notre Dame needed to start fast, and they did because of their special teams and defense.
All phases of special teams are clicking right now, with the only blip on Saturday being a missed 42-yard field goal from Blake Grupe that bounced off the upright. Jon Sot was his usual ridiculous self. The punt return unit was solid. And kick coverage was pretty good once again.
If this is what Mason can do in just one off-season, it will be fun to see how he can build on this moving forward.
If Notre Dame’s two other coordinators have had the same impact on their units this year, the Irish are, at worst, 6-1 instead of 4-3.
Isaiah Foskey has entered the chat
Isaiah Foskey had a slow start to the season relative to his expectations, but he was a force on Saturday. Foskey notched 3 sacks and the 2 blocked punts, all by the end of the first quarter. He was a one-man wrecking crew out there for the first time this season. For the Irish to have any chance at pulling off upsets at Syracuse or USC or at home against Clemson, Notre Dame needs the Foskey we saw on Saturday to make a few more appearances. He’s up to six on the season.
Notre Dame needs much, much more out of the quarterback position, and Tommy Rees isn’t helping Drew Pyne
Drew Pyne didn’t have a very good day throwing the football. Without a late pop pass, which is a glorified run, he completed less than 50% of his passes. He threw one pick but should have had another on the first drive of the game that was way off target. He missed several wide-open touchdowns – one a piece to Braden Lenzy, Lorenzo Styles, and Chris Tyree. Those misses are throws that the QB1 at Notre Dame simply can’t miss.
Pyne still locks onto Mayer and forces the ball to him far too much. It’s easy to understand why since Mayer is such a beast, but part of Notre Dame’s red zone issues and troubles on third down stem from Pyne looking for 87 and only 87 in those situations. foskeu
All that said, Tommy Rees isn’t necessarily helping Pyne out. Pyne is a much better passer off of play action than he is on straight dropbacks, but for the third season in a row, Rees has some sort of severe aversion to calling play action.
On play action Drew Pyne was 4-5 for 71 yards, 14.2 yards per attempt, 118.8 passer rating.— Greg Flammang (@greg2126) October 23, 2022
Straight drop backs he was 10-23 for 134 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 73.5 passer rating.
I don't get it.
Calling 23 straight dropbacks to 5 play actions for a quarterback like Drew Pyne is borderline playcalling malpractice.
Rees also keeps calling third-down plays that keep Pyne in the pocket with throws to the edges, where are prime candidates to be knocked down at the line for a quarterback under 6’. Rees keeps dialing them up, though.
Notre Dame needs a lot more out of the quarterback position, but they need a lot more out of their offensive coordinator as well.
Rees also needs to do a much better job getting Chris Tyree the ball
Rees did dial up a nice play call for Chris Tyree that should have been an easy touchdown, but Drew Pyne airmailed the pass, and it was nowhere near a wide-open Tyree in the endzone. Outside of that, however, Rees isn’t getting Tyree the ball in space and letting him make plays in the open field nearly as much as he could.
Tyree didn’t have a single catch for the second week in a row. For as much two-back offense as the Irish play and for how often Tyree lines up as a receiver, I just don’t get it. Throwing a bubble out to Tyree seems like a no-brainer, given some of the limitations on the offense.
Redzone offense AND defense are not up to standard
Notre Dame has not stopped a single opponent drive that has reached the redzone from ending in points in 2022 after another game in which the opponent had its way once they got inside the 20. UNLV was 3 for 3 with 3 touchdowns in the redzone yesterday. That just can’t happen against a team like UNLV which was playing with a backup quarterback.
The Irish had one drive stopped with what should have been a sack on 4th down, but couldn’t wrap up and then missed multiple other tackle attempts before allowing a conversion. Tackling has been an issue for this team all season long, and it was once again against UNLV.
Giving up touchdowns in the redzone has been the norm for the Irish in 2022, though. After Saturday, the defense has surrendered a touchdown an alarming 82% of the time an opponent reaches the redzone.
On the other side of the ball, Notre Dame made eight trips into the redzone but only scored on 6 of them with 5 touchdowns and a field goal. Notre Dame has to do a better job of capitalizing once in the redzone. The Irish are now scoring on just 81% of their drives that reach the redzone and scoring touchdowns on just 65% of those drives.
Notre Dame was 88% in the redzone last year but in line with this year’s poor touchdown percentage at 66%. The one constant there is playcalling.
Defensively, Notre Dame held opponents to a 79% success rate in the redzone but allowed touchdowns on just 38% of the RZ drives.
Audric Estime’s fumbles continue to plague him
If Audric Estime can get his bout of fumbilitis under control, he can be a dominant running back for Notre Dame. The problem is, he now has three lost fumbles in the last four games after another fumble against UNLV. After this one, he didn’t get a single carry for the rest of the game.
Estime was off to a good start, too with a 12-yard touchdown run to start the game. With two other quality backs, though, you’ll find yourself on the sidelines if you fumble this much. A lot of young backs have ball security problems early in their careers, so there is still a lot of time for Estime to get it all sorted, but until he does, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the staff limit his carries.
Logan Diggs answers the bell in a big way
With the staff seemingly hesitant to give Estime any more carries yesterday, Logan Diggs was the immediate beneficiary. Diggs carried the ball a career-high 28 times for 130 yards but didn’t score a touchdown in a game in which the Irish put up 44. That seems almost cruel, considering how well Diggs played and how much of a workhorse he was for Notre Dame.
Diggs looks like Notre Dame’s best all-around running back right now – at least until Estime improves his ball security. Look for Diggs to continue to get the most carry of the three for the next few weeks at least.
Merriweather’s snap count continues to rise
He didn’t record any highlight reel catches – or even a single catch – this week, but Tobias Merriweather’s snap count reached a season-high 23 on Saturday. Despite the zero in the reception column, it’s significant to see his snap count continue to rise since it singles the staff has more and more faith in him. It should continue to rise for the rest of the season.