Overreactions: Notre Dame’s Offense Looks Fundamentally Broken in Inexcusable Performance

In one of the most embarrassing losses in recent program history, Notre Dame’s playoff hopes were obliterated on Saturday night. The Irish offense continued to sputter along in a 33-20 loss to Louisville, leaving Notre Dame with too many questions and too little time to answer them. A once-promising season now looks perilously headed toward falling off the rails. While we overreact, it might be time for Marcus Freeman to act with his staff.

Notre Dame’s offense is broken as currently constructed

There is just nothing you can point to on offense for Notre Dame and say it’s going well after last night’s debacle. Nothing. Notre Dame was facing a defense that statistically was one of the worst in college football at allowing big plays, yet the Irish offense could not get anything going outside of a Jordan Faison touchdown until garbage time.

It’s easy to say that it’s playcalling – especially when the playcalling is as bad as last night – but the problems on offense are more profound than that right now. Gerad Parker’s offense is unimaginative and predictable. He spent the first month of the season trying to build an identity of a power running team, yet somehow Notre Dame is laughably bad at playaction passing. There’s no motion, no misdirection, nothing to scheme open players.

The problems exposed in the last three weeks cannot be fixed midseason, even with a bye week coming up after the USC game. These are foundational problems with the offense that Parker installed. Ironically, the offense is more predictable, stale, and less explosive right now with Sam Hartman at quarterback than it was last year with Drew Pyne.

It’s almost unfathomable how bad Notre Dame is on 3rd down

Notre Dame has been downright terrible on third and fourth and short the last three weeks. There were the two failed fourth downs against Ohio State. Last week, Notre Dame converted one fourth and short but was otherwise terrible on the night. They were 3 of 13 last night, including several third and short failures where Parker made mind-boggling playcalls.

Notre Dame should be able to convert a third and 1 against Louisville 90% of the time. Instead, the Cardinal defense blew up multiple third and ones on the night. Perhaps the worst example was early in the second half when Parker tried to get cut with a handoff to Chris Tyree that was blown up and resulted in a fumble.

A lot of the problems on offense can’t be fixed just with playcalling, but the third-down performance can be. Marcus Freeman must seriously consider taking away playcalling responsibilities from Parker and handing them over to QB coach Gino Guidugli.

The defense was put in bad spots all night

Louisville put up 330 yards of offense. Jack Plummer was 17 of 24 for just 145 yards. If you saw those numbers on Saturday morning, you’d have expected a Notre Dame win. Instead, the defense was put in bad spots all night long, and eventually, three straight weeks of making up for an incompetent offense finally caught up to them, and they gave way in the fourth quarter.

The defense was far from flawless, but it’s hard to be critical of them as a unit after all that has been asked of them the last three weeks while the offense has sputtered along. And next week, they get the unenviable task of trying to slow down Caleb Williams and the USC offense.

Freeman looked like a coach grasping at straws all night long

Freeman’s decision-making put the defense in bad spots throughout the night, starting with the end of the first half when he used a timeout following a sack of Hartman with the Irish facing a 3rd and 13. Then he decided to go for it on 4th and 11 from his own 35-yard line with the Irish down 11 and over 9:00 left in the game. That was after he decided to kick a 54-yard field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 4 while down 7.

For all of the growth we saw from Freeman earlier in the season, in the last two weeks, he’s looked more like the coach we saw on the sidelines last year against Stanford. Every shot of Freeman during the telecast was of Freeman standing alone, isolated on the sideline.

Hopefully, no loss for Freeman will ever be as bad as the Marshall loss last year, but this one ranks as the second worst of the Freeman era. It’s worse than the Stanford game because there were at least some reasons for the offense to be bad that night. There were absolutely no reasons for Notre Dame to look as bad as they did last night against Louisville.

Freeman is at an early crossroads as he stares another season that could get off the rails in the face following Saturday night’s embarrassing performance.

Jack Swarbrick deserves a fair share of the blame for last night

Notre Dame’s infamous decision to bring in Andy Ludwig, make a spectacle of it, and then ultimately decide NOT to pay for the buyout of his contract is looking more and more foolish by the week. Notre Dame knew it had a first-time head coach with a defensive background. Instead of opening up the checkbook to get the absolute best offensive coordinator they could for him, they went the cheap route like Notre Dame has done all too many times when it comes to assistant coaches over the years.

As much as we blasted Brian Kelly for his “resources” comments following his departure to Notre Dame, situations like the one Notre Dame finds itself in now are what Kelly was talking about. This was a situation where Notre Dame needed to overpay to get the proper structure around an inexperienced head coach. Instead, the Notre Dame staff has its most experienced assistant as the coordinator for the side of the ball with which Freeman has all of his experience.

With Sam Hartman already in the fold for Notre Dame, it should not have been hard to lure a great offensive coordinator to Notre Dame. Instead, Notre Dame went the cheap route, and they are paying the price for it.

Props to Spencer Shrader for being the lone bright spot

Kicker Spencer Shrader took a ton of criticism for how he started this season, but he was perhaps the lone bright spot in an otherwise ugly game on Saturday. Shrader was 2 for 2 on the night, with both kicks coming from 50+ yards.

Six games into his first season with Notre Dame, Shrader is already tied for the program record of 50+ yard field goals at four. He became the first kicker in school history to have more than one 50+ yard field goal in the same game. And he tied his own record for the longest field goal in program history with a 54-yarder.

Shrader is now 7 of 12 on the season and 4 of 6 from 50+ yards specifically. None of his misses have been short – most have been pretty far off when missing. Both of his 50+ yarders last night were dead center. If that continues, Shrader will be kicking on Sundays.

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  1. I feel like the administration wants to deemphasize football. As an older alum, this is disappointed. When I attended ND, we won a NC. I think Swarbrick and B of T. would rather see us play in the ivy league.
    Perhaps the next AD will be better; at least surpass the mediocrity of JS.

    Go ND! Win another NC – someday!

    1. Absolutely not… The offense struggled under Rees as an OC… Same type of stuff. They would play up to competition one week and play down the next. ND for one reason or another has really struggled to be consistent with their offense. It doesn’t matter who the head coach is, the OC, or the QB. Only thing it has been consistent at is being inconsistent.

  2. 5 turnovers should always result in a Loss. Last night was no different. Teams have film on ND now with Hartman at QB. They know how to disrupt this offense. As bad as they looked last night if they don’t turn the ball over they probably win.

    1. They dont even need film this o-line is awful, the only reason u rotate the o-line is because nobody has earned the job. 7 weeeks in.

  3. Put away all sharp objects before ND “fans” slit your wrists.
    Football is emotional as well as physical and ND was flat after their seventh straight undefeated opponent. It matters more when you play a team as much as who you play and ND was out of gas and barely running on empty. To quote trumpster Holtz, if your depth is your strength you don’t have enough elite starters to be elite. Other than Shrader, RB Love, J. D. @ LB, and CB Hart, no one else showed up, including the coaching staff. I agree with most comments so far, and I’m glad Big Daddy Swarbucks is again signaled out as an ongoing part of the problem. The more money they get, the less interest they appear to spend it on staff. Big donors: take note ! Affecting their cash intake is what it’ll take to bring in proven quality assistants. ND Admin is content with 9 win seasons ( maybe 8 Ws this season) so recognizing that would greatly alleviate your frustration and temper your expectations. Freeman isn’t going anywhere so if that doesn’t satisfy you then you ought to go elsewhere.
    Plan B is your ticket out. Fare ye well. Get a life, elsewhere for your own sake. At ND, like everywhere else: “Follow the money!” You often get what you pay for. And it’s a tough place to learn on the job with fans whose expectations seldom match the reality of ND football the past 30 years. With recruiting up I’m looking forward to Freeman overcoming, despite the Division 2 mindset of the money brokers in charge. It’s not like it’s as bad as war in the Middle East.

    1. Did the coaching staff not know the schedule?
      Did the players not get a copy in advance?
      Champions always wear Big Boy pants.

  4. BTW, as for what Brian Kelly knows about ND’s “resources”, and his assessemnt that he had to leave ND to get the talent he needs to compete for national chamiponships (….which, incidentally, he no longer is this year).

    Logan Diggs is one of LSU’s two very best players. No debate.
    “ND Transfer Logan Diggs”, as the TV bobbleheads can’t stop calling him.

    1. Also, during the Kelly regime at ND, when ND fell behind by two scores,
      they ended up 0-21, so Freeman has 20 more blowout losses to go to catch up with Brian.

      1. Fun moment: On the 2nd defensive play of the game for LSU, “Preparation Purp” had to call TO…. 12 players on the field. Announcers never did catch it….but I did.

        Hell, maybe I can be an assistant coach at ND!

  5. ND’s WRs are going to get Sam Hartman killed, after the beating he takes waiting for SOMEone to get open, or maybe unemployed because he made the mistake of coming to ND.

    Look at the interception on ND’s first possession……ND receiver didn’t create any separation, didn’t even bother to fight for the ball. He just let it happen and looked lost.
    Now go to the L’ville possession immediately after ND scored a TD in Q2: Look at the incompletion on a MUCH worse deep ball, thrown a bit short by Plummer, with the ND defender in fantastic position to get it. The Card receiver fought to break it up, and made a fantastic play.

    The sacks were mostly coverage sacks…because these receivers aren’t getting open.
    Hartman could have gone to almost anywhere for better playcalling and receiver talent than this. And after all the years of having good talent there, but no one to get the ball to them, I’m as shocked as he must be.

  6. ND will never win another National Championship. There, I said it. Face it. For several reasons. As Frank pointed out, they flat out refuse to put out money for quality assistants. The best programs have good assistant coaches.

    Also, I’ve said before, the true powers that be at ND are perfectly happy with the way things are at ND. A NC would be nice I’m sure, as it would add to their coffers, but it’s not a priority. As long as ND is in the conversation and the money continues to pour in, they’re happy campers. They’ll say NCs matter, but I think we all know that’s BS. Money is what matters.
    And the face of CFB has changed dramatically, for better or worse. In many ways it’s become an NFL development league. And for them money talks as well. For ND to compete they’d likely have to fundamentally change who they are. Join a conference full time, and make academics secondary to football success.
    If this team couldn’t get it done, with the caliber of QB we have and a pretty good defense. It’s not going to ever happen. It’s time we faced that. I’ve been waiting for maybe next year since Weis was fired. Next year is never coming.

  7. The O-line looked legitimate early in the year. So is the fact that school is in session part of the problem? They’ve regressed in execution. Top that with the scheme issue and the offense
    Is not getting the line play needed.
    There’s enough beef and strength to simply push a pile with a RB tucked behind. Never saw that.
    But last night the line seemed to be outmaneuvered meaning slow on their feet.

    I always wonder what other teams get away with in terms of penalties versus ND which seems not to be allowed much if anything.

    Other than Marist’s ticky tack penalty, the Irish just didn’t perform on either line.

  8. The Louisville game will result in Alt, Hartman, and Estime dropping in the draft and a loss of millions of dollars. I reckon that wasn’t motivation enough against Louisville.

    1. Moron. They won’t drop. They are what they are and made a mistake going to Notre Dame which hasn’t values Championships in 30 years.
      Hartman must be wanting to smack himself

  9. Freeman and his bumbling staff are the worst leadership group to ever command the ND sidelines. Freeman blew the Ohio State game with two terrible 4 down decisions in the first half followed up by playing ten men for the last two plays, which he actually defended. Then he went into the locker room and told the kids to own it. They haven’t been the same since. The Duke game was the sloppiest game I’ve seen an Irish team play in my 40 years of watching, and the 4th down decision with just under ten minutes in the 4th was by far the worst coaching decision I’ve EVER seen. He effectively surrendered the game and perhaps his coaching future. He’s abysmal. USC is going to blow our doors off. What an absolute shame. ND is a loose buoy of a football program, floating out at sea with no direction.

  10. I thought the O line was bad against Duke….seeing Joe Alt get put on his ass by Louisville takes the cake. Parker and Freeman are in over their heads. USC game will be another train wreck….hey the players love Marcus though….

    1. I almost feel bad for Freeman. His strength was defense. ND really needed to hire a good OC. That’s what he needed. And Swarbick failed to get it done. ND administration did Freeman no favors by going cheap

      1. You should feel bad for Hartman. Embarassed, actually.
        He could have gone anywhere…but naively chose a shitshow.

    2. Right on. The players like him! I don’t think they all liked Lou Holtz but they respected him and played their guts out. It helped he knew what he was doing. Not Freeman. He looks lost and just hopes for the best but doesnt coach for it. There’s a reason no one wants to be near him now. Failure by association.

  11. I agree. Parker was very good as a tight ends coach but Notredame went cheap and wouldn’t pay to bring in an experienced offensive coordinator. The game last night sickened me as a 67 year old man that grew up with watching Ara,Lou and Dan Devine win 4 national championships and finish number 2 4 other times. Not sure much is going to change in the future with Notredames stance on nil, the transfer portal high academics etc. I don’t know maybe I need to find other things to do on Saturdays in the fall.

    1. So true Pete, this is only going to get worse not better! The constant hiring of below average asst coaches only leads to bad teams & embarrasing results! JOE RUDOLPHS o-line is a disgrace only thing worse is PARKERS offense 1,2,3 kick! KELLY was very unlikeable but surronded himself with outstanding asst coaches, the ones that stayed all left abruptly replaced by below avg coaches!! And thats what were seeing a below average team in all facets of the game!! EXCEPTION IS THE KICKER, WHO RIGHT NOW IS OUR MVP! GO FIGURE.

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