Saturday’s blowout victory over #12 Syracuse was an odd occurrence. Rarely can you blowout the #12 team in the country and still have it feel like it could have been even more lopsided. That is precisely what happened in Notre Dame’s 36-3 rout of the Orange. For as dominant as they were, the final score could have easily been even more one sided than it was. How freaking great is it to say that after the last few Novembers? With that said, let’s take a look at this week’s 5 things I didn’t like.
1. Notre Dame’s red zone offense
This is the easiest and most obvious one on the list. Notre Dame’s redzone was offense was maddeningly frustrating in the first half. The Irish took a 20-0 lead into halftime but it could have been much more than that had it not been for the Irish failing to finish off drives. After Jalen Elliott’s first quarter interception, the Irish had to settle for a short Justin Yoon field goal.
Notre Dame’s next drive ended with a short field goal as well after a 9 play, 83 yard drive stalled at the Syracuse 12 yard line. At that point Notre Dame had been dominating everywhere but on the scoreboard where the score read 13-0.
The most frustrating redzone trip, however, came in the 2nd quarter when Notre Dame got all the way down to the ‘Cuse one yard line and walked away empty handed. On 3rd and goal from the 3, Chris Finke took a hand off and lost his footing before reaching the endzone. On 4th and 1, Tommy Kraemer stepped on Ian Book‘s foot before the junior quarterback even took a step resulting in Book stumbling backwards and heaving the ball into the endzone resulting in a Syracuse INT.
Notre Dame later added another short field goal in the 3rd quarter instead of converting the opportunity into a touchdown. They made 7 trips into the redzone on Saturday that resulted in 30 out of a possible 49 points. That is leaving a lot of points on the field and that kind of production could be costly against a better team.
2. Lack of running game until the 4th quarter
It was pretty evident early on that Syracuse didn’t want to let Notre Dame run the ball so the Irish wisely went to the air. Even knowing that Syracuse was determined to take away the run though, it was still disappointing how ineffective the Notre Dame running game was until the end of the game when they padded their stats a bit.
Notre Dame’s 7 play, 80 yard touchdown drive in the 4th quarter was all running with Brandon Wimbush leading the offense. That pushed their total to 171 yards on the game for a respectable output. Without that drive, the Irish were held under 100 yards rushing on the day.
The rushing defense Notre Dame faces this coming weekend just surrendered 289 yards on 40 carries to UCLA’s Joshua Kelley so things should be easier next week. Notre Dame’s inability to establish the run this past weekend though doesn’t bode well for the post season where the run defenses will be better than what they faced against Syracuse.
3. More special teams issues this week
Notre Dame added a new special teams gaffe to their growing list of problems this year with multiple bad snaps on place kicking attempts. Holder Nolan Henry did a great job of salvaging a bad snap on a Justin Yoon field goal early on, but was unable to do the same on another bad snap on a PAT. Yoon ended up missing that one. Snapping has not been an issue up until this week so hopefully it is just an isolated incident. Considering all of the special teams problems this year though, it was alarming.
Notre Dame didn’t have a great day punting either as Tyler Newsome did not have one of his better games. He averaged just 37.8 yards per punt with one of four landing inside the 20. Newsome wasn’t really needed much this weekend, but again a performance like that doesn’t bode well for the post season where the Irish could easily find themselves in a game or games where they need to win the field position game.
4. Inconsistent holding penalties
One of Notre Dame’s redzone attempts that ended with a field goal temporarily looked like it would end with a Tony Jones Jr rushing touchdown. A hold was called on Brock Wright on the 3rd down run though and the Irish were unable to convert from further back. The call itself wasn’t terrible. It was holding. It is just the exact type of holding call that has not been called when it occurred to a Notre Dame defensive lineman all season.
On the very next drive by Syracuse, a Orange wide receiver made pretty much the same exact “block” Wright made to spring Moe Neal for a 10 yard gain. It went uncalled just like we’ve seen all year long when Notre Dame defensive linemen are held. Another time in the second quarter Jerry Tillery looked like he was headed for a sack but basically had a Syracuse lineman on his back. Again, no call.
The most egregious no-call, however, was a blatant hands to the face against Julian Okwara that happened right in front of an official. Doug Flutie of course made mention of it but laughed it off that it wasn’t called.
The call on Wright was legit so I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with, however, is when the calls aren’t made the same both ways.
5. Too many procedure penalties
Another area of self inflicted wounds for the Irish on Saturday were a number of false start penalties by the Irish offensive line. Four of them to be exact. Of the four, three were by Robert Hainsey. The sophomore tackle was clearly a little worried about dealing with the edge pressure from Syracuse given the talent on the other side of the ball, but three false starts in a single game will make for a not so fun film session inside the offensive line room for him this week.
One of those false starts came in the redzone right after Jalen Elliott’s interception set the Irish offense up at the Syracuse 10 yard line. Before Notre Dame even snapped the ball on that drive they were already moved back to the 15.
Hainsey’s 3rd false start cam on a 3rd and 2 at the end o the 3rd quarter. The penalty pushed Notre Dame back to 3rd and 7 and instead of a manageable attempt they faced a clear passing down. Syracuse sacked Book on the ensuing play.
This was just an isolated incident either but this was the worst example of it to this point in the season. Notre Dame has to clean those up because the level of defensive line talent they face is only going to improve in the postseason.