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.
Notre Dame offense is way way way too stagnant and static pre snap.— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 8, 2023
Very little help to players go win/get open
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.