In the aftermath of Saturday’s disastrous performance against Clemson, Notre Dame finds itself trying to build momentum for its final two contests. Barring any other catastrophes, those should be victories and send the Irish to another lower-profile bowl game.
Yet, the frustration of falling short last Saturday continues to linger, with a growing portion of that animus is pointing toward the offense. That unit’s flaws had been overshadowed for the most part by the team’s strong defense in recent weeks but were costly against Clemson.
Below are some of the major issues with the Irish offense:
During the first six games this season, Hartman’s veteran leadership was a valuable component of the early success. He completed 96 of 145 passes (66 percent) for 1,458 yards, with 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in those games. In the Duke thriller, his fourth-down run for a first down kept the game-winning drive going.
Since then, Hartman has connected on 58 percent (66 of 113) of his pass attempts for 814 yards. That’s slightly less on average but the most glaring numbers appear when noting that he’s tossed four touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Last Saturday, Clemson managed to return one of his throws for a touchdown.
Hartman assumed his leadership role after Saturday’s loss by accepting the blame for his performance, though it’s unfair to lay all of the offensive woes on him. Despite completing only 43 percent of his passes and throwing for just 146 yards, his legs once again came in handy on a 26-yard third-quarter scoring run, That made it a one-possession game with 21 minutes left.
Some of the panic-based screeds after the loss indicated that Hartman needed to be benched in place of next year’s presumed starter, Steve Angeli. During his brief appearances in the latter stages of blowouts, Angeli has looked impressive. Yet, inserting him now behind center likely won’t change the multiple issues that continue to afflict the offense.
Play Calling Flaws
Like Hartman, first-year offensive coordinator Gerad Parker enjoyed an early honeymoon with the fan base as the Irish outscored their first four opponents, 184-47. Stronger opponents inevitably made moving the ball more difficult. However, some of Parker’s decisions in the past six games have left plenty of fans scratching their heads.
Most recently, Notre Dame’s first drive last Saturday started off strong with Audric Estime collecting 48 yards on the ground, showing off his leaping ability in the process. Yet, instead of using his battering ram approach toward running to move forward, Parker instead chose to go with other options. The end result was only a field goal that provided the early lead.
In their next two opportunities, the Irish went three-and-out both times, despite starting the first drive with an eight-yard run from Estime. On the following series, Notre Dame reached the Clemson Red Zone yet only ended up with another field goal after a 3rd-and three situation resulted in a failed pass attempt to Gi-Bran Payne.
All of those woes came against an injury-plagued defense that had three starters out. Such efforts have led to rumors about Parker, specifically a demotion pertaining to his play-calling duties. That’s supposed to serve as a precursor to his dismissal after the season. Whether or not that actually happens is a question that won’t be answered until the Irish take the field again.
Offensive Line Challenges
This unit was forced to use third-string center Ashton Craig on Saturday after Zeke Correll left with a concussion and Andrew Kristofic was forced out with an ankle injury. On the day, the Irish line gave up only two sacks, which has been their average in that department over the past five games.
Overall for the season, the line has given up 14 sacks, which places them 29th among all other FBS schools. That’s not bad but the breakdown shows that where the sacks have taken place makes all the difference in the world. Of those 14, all but one came on the road before unforgiving road crowds that feed and hope to even foster miscues.
In the early portion of the season, the line had major issues when it came to getting flagged for false starts. That was magnified most prominently in the challenging Duke victory but has improved to a certain extent. Yet, simply getting the job done in such unfriendly environments seems to remain something of a puzzle.
Notre Dame has one remaining road game at Stanford, along with wherever they end up in the bowl universe. The level of intensity for those clashes likely won’t match the Irish’s previous road trips, but it’s clear that addressing this concern is something that should be on Marcus Freeman’s mind.
To be fair, Notre Dame’s talented corps of receivers has been plagued with injuries all season. Mitchell Evans’ absence on Saturday was a glaring one and he won’t return until next year but the issues listed above can’t wait. How well they’re addressed may determine if the Irish suffer the agony of defeat again.