Overreactions: Notre Dame Ends “Pre-Season” Portion of ’23 Schedule With Another Blowout

Notre Dame dispatched Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon without much resistance after some uneasiness in the first quarter. The Irish rolled to a 56-3 victory with their starting quarterback sitting on the bench the entire second half. Still, given the level of the opponent, it’s tough to take away too much definitively from the laugher since the Irish did exactly what you’d expect any top-25 team to do to an FCS opponent, so we’ll look a little bigger picture in this week’s overreactions.

What are we even doing with targeting?

I have no idea what is and is not targeting now. And neither do officials on the field or officials in the replay booth – at least the ones from the ACC, anyway. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, considering ACC Officials are among the worst in the game. How the hit on Devyn Ford was not even reviewed for targeting is inexcusable when the NCAA tells us they changed the clock rules this year for player safety reasons to cut down on the number of plays.

The blatant helmet-to-helmet hit on Devyn Ford’s kickoff return not only knocked him out of the game with an apparent concussion but also caused him to fumble the ball. Ford was already being wrapped up before the helmet-to-helmet blow. It’s the exact type of hit that has some officials lobbying to eliminate kickoffs altogether.

That play not being reviewed for targeting is one of the worst examples of a missed targeting I’ve ever seen. Then consider that Antonio Carter got thrown out of the game for what replay officials deemed targeting on a hit in which he made contact with his helmet on someone’s shoulder, and I really have no clue what is and isn’t targeting. So helmet-to-shoulder contact is targeting, but helmet-to-helmet that knocks someone out of the game, isn’t? Sure. The ACC Officials and replay booth are the worst. Special shoutout to NBC for glancing over the helmet to helmet and brushing it off as “oh, the fans thought maybe this should be targeting,” and then moving on. What are we even doing here?

It’s tough to say what this Notre Dame defense is

Notre Dame’s defense has already racked up a few impressive superlatives. They’ve given up six total points through two games – the least they’ve given up to start a season since 1996. It’s the first time since 1975 they’ve held both opponents to start the season out of the endzone. They’ve given up just 110 yards passing all season thus far.

And yet, even with those numbers, it’s tough to say what this defense will be capable of against better offenses, given how bad both opponents have been. There are some positive signs for sure, but you also probably would have liked to see Notre Dame look a little more dominant defensively against an FCS opponent. The Irish defense notched 1.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss on the afternoon. Those are solid numbers, but against a team like Tennessee State, you’d think that would be higher.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see the defense allow a total of six points over the first two games. I’m just not sure what we really have with this defense yet. NC State did not look great in their opener, but they will be a much tougher test for the Irish defense this weekend.

We got a glimpse of the best of Sam Hartman

Notre Dame has not asked Hartman to do much over the first two games. He attempted just 17 passes on Saturday afternoon a week after attempting 23 against Navy for 40 on the season. He attempted more passes than that in five individual games last year for Wake Forest. Given the level of competition, Notre Dame hasn’t needed Hartman to take over a game or do a lot.

However, Notre Dame’s last touchdown drive of the first half gave us a glimpse of just how much better the Irish are at quarterback this season than they’ve been in a long time. Hartman and the Irish offense got the ball back with 58 seconds left and one timeout. Hartman connected with Holden Staes for a touchdown with 15 seconds to spare, and the Irish didn’t even use a timeout. That’s impressive, no matter the level of competition.

Through two games, Hartman has completed 82.5% of his passes for 445 yards with 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Those are modest numbers in today’s college game, but doing all of that on just 40 attempts is pretty damn impressive. We’ve only just begun to see what Hartman can do in this offense.

The Irish stable is great, but losing Dylan Edwards still hurts

Notre Dame’s running backs had another good day at the office on Saturday. Audric Estime ran for 116 yards (8/9 ypc) and a score, and Jeremiyah Love had 46 (9.2 ypc) and a score. Gi’Bran Payne and Jadarian Price both added long touchdown receptions from backup Steve Angeli, combing for 98 yards on four receptions. Undoubtedly, the future is bright at the running back position for Notre Dame.

All that said, it was tough watching the TCU-Colorado game before the kickoff of Notre Dame and Tennessee State and not thinking about the Irish losing Dylan Edwards to the Buffalos. In Edwards’ first game, Edwards caught 5 passes for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns (including the game-winner). He added another 24 yards on the ground with a fourth touchdown. It was a ridiculous performance for anyone, let alone a true freshman in their first career game.

Notre Dame is going to be absolutely fine. Hell, they’ll be better than fine at running back with who they have and who they have committed for the class of 2024. Jeremiyah Love had his own 36-yard touchdown on the day and would have more if he was featured as much as Edwards was at Colorado. That doesn’t mean that the Irish wouldn’t have also been able to use someone as electric as Edwards proved to be already.

The demise of the Notre Dame tight ends was greatly exaggerated

There was some angst last week that Notre Dame didn’t complete a single pass to tight ends in week 0. Personally, I looked at it as a positive, given the overreliance on the position last season. Still, some were concerned that it meant Notre Dame had no capable replacement for Michael Mayer on the roster. Those concerns should be put to bed after both Mitchell Evans and Holden Staes were heard from loud and clear on Saturday.

The tight ends stole the show on Notre Dame’s touchdown drive before the half. Evans hauled in three of his four catches on the day, including grabs of 18, 18, and 13 yards. He ended the day with 61 yards on 4 receptions. Holden Staes only had one catch on the day, but it was impactful. He capped off the impressive Notre Dame touchdown drive to end the half with a four-yard touchdown grab from Hartman. If Notre Dame gets that kind of production out of the tight end position moving forward, this offense will be just fine – especially with the output coming from the wide receivers that just wasn’t there last season.

Notre Dame did what it needed to do; now we wait

The Irish did precisely what you want a great team to do over a span of games like this – they dominated. Outsourcing your opponents 98-6 over two weeks is ridiculous. That said, I can’t recall Notre Dame playing two opponents this bad in back-to-back weeks in my time covering Notre Dame football, so I don’t think we can take too much away from either of these games regarding expectations for the year.

I’d say my expectations are still exactly where they were in July for this team, but we’ll start to know more this week. Is the defense improved, or were both offenses they faced just that bad? Tough to say right now. I think you can say that the offense will score points, but we knew that when Sam Hartman transferred to Notre Dame in January already.

We don’t know yet if Spencer Shrader will be a capable replacement for Blake Grupe, who was just named the starting kicker for the New Orleans Saints. He’s hit all his extra points but missed his only field goal attempt. We finally saw Bryce McFerson punt this week, but his first punt was boomed into the endzone. Special teams blocked a field goal but gave up a long kickoff return. So there’s a bit of a mixed bag on special teams, too.

Things certainly could have gone a lot worse over these last two weeks, don’t get me wrong. Navy could have gashed the defense as they have in the past. They could have let Tennessee State have some life after the Ford “fumble” but rose to the occasion instead. NC State doesn’t look all that tough, and Central Michigan should be another warmup. The Irish need to get more work done in those contests to be ready for the challenge the Buckeyes pose at the end of the month.

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  1. I saw a recent article where Kelly was interviewed and of course it was the same old crap, Notredame’s priorities don’t align with national championship football, they didn’t provide me training table,food room resources,etc. Here at Lsu it’s all about championships. No, Brian, you didn’t win big at Notredame because you were a lazy recruiter rather be on a golf course, you hired mediocre assistant coaches who couldn’t recruit or coach, you made things worse by not getting rid of them. I hope Florida State drills him tonight. Go Noles.

    1. Someday, maybe more people here will start to realize what a fucking waste of money and time that fraud was. From Day 1.

      But for now, Kelly is still praised as “the guy who saved ND football” Urrrrppppp……
      (…then spent the next decade being an constant embarrassment, ending with a final, class act of leaving ND as if it was an Alcorn State, and he had keyed the dean’s car and plugged all the toilets.)

    2. So the natural follow up question to Kelly by this, ahem, journalist, should have went something like this. If LSU is dedicated to championships (and he implies Notre Dame’s admin isn;t), how could it be possible for Notre Dame to have beaten them in the somewhat recent bowl games (15 season and 17 season)? Kelly with a classic cop out. I’d fall out of my chair if he ever took responsibility.

      1. Now that Sanders is this seasons “It Girl”, last year’s title-holder Kelly will start being scrutinized.
        It’s already started. And it won’t be difficult, or take long, to re-evaluate his ADD inspired myth.

        If Kelly was smart, he’d report a positive Covid test before the Alabama game. Short of resigning, he can’t avoid getting blamed for that beatdown any other way.

  2. I believe the horrendous targeting call almost over shadowed the game. For a college player, who only has 12 games a season, has to miss the rest of the game and in some cases half of the next game, is a terrible punishment. The ejection addition to the penalty needs to be eliminated, especially as Frank stated, these damn referees don’t even enforce the penalty evenly.

    1. Spicy, it reminded me immediately to the same type of hit in Austin, Texas in a road opener. Same results: our receiver was unconscious, ball dropped, TD waived off, football career over…no review!

      BGC 77 82

  3. Dylan Edwards is one of the dozens of kids enamored with a Don KIng-wannabe sleazeball snake oil huckster.
    And the media is complicit in Prime-washing the utterly repulsive way he and the university treated the former players at Colorado.

    But college football is already swirling around in the toilet now.
    Watching a human plunger jam it down the pipe a bit quicker doesn’t matter…..but everyone will still pretend to be disgusted when they find out there’s shit all over the plunger.

  4. Penalty-free football is a marvelous thing to watch. That won’t continue in loud hostile stadiums, but for now surreal.

    Showing up ready in the first quarter….let alone against overmatched competition at all ?! Not going to sleep with after building a double-digit lead ?! Having the ball in the hands of more than just 4 or 5 players !?
    Who are these guys???

    Having a real QB has expanded the ND offensive playbook from fortune cookie to at least a brochure.
    40-second scoring drive just before the half….Must See TV.
    Getting gametime reps for non-starters…is that allowed?

    Hey, Merriweather, you’re missing a great party out there! Maybe next week…?

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