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Coan Takes on Former Team in the Windy City

By Michael Cannon |

The 12th ranked Fighting Irish were able to continue their winning ways this past Saturday as they took down the drum-less Purdue Boilermakers with a final score of 27-13 to move on to 3-0 on the […]

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First Quarter Report Card

By Michael Bicknell |

With Notre Dame’s first three games in the books this season, it’s time to examine how the various Irish units have performed to date. The good news: Notre Dame is still undefeated, and there is plenty of room for improvement. The bad news: there is PLENTY of room for improvement. The Irish will need to hit the books (or in this case, the practice field) hard over the next few weeks, as they await some of their biggest tests of the year.

Rushing Offense: D-

The Irish rank a lowly 115th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing offense on the year, with 105.7 ypg. For comparison’s sake, ND averaged double that total – 211.1 ypg – on the ground last season. Heisman hopeful Kyren Williams has a pedestrian 46 carries for 211 yards (4.6 yards/carry) and 2 TD’s on the year, while Chris Tyree has an abysmal 25 carries for 72 yards (2.9 yards/carry). The offensive line has been terrifyingly awful. They have failed to gain any push up front, which is especially worrisome when you consider the quality of opponents through their first three games. The Irish O-Line was dealt a blow when it lost LT Blake Fisher for up to 8 weeks right off the bat, but the unit as a whole has failed to perform up to the program standard, while its depth has been nonexistent. Kyren Williams has been hit behind the line on 67.6% of his carries, which leads the FBS. To their credit, the Irish coaching staff has brilliantly implemented Tyler Buchner into the weekly gameplan to keep opposing defenses on their toes for a split second longer.  Buchner has chipped in 10 rushes for 92 yards, allowing OC Tommy Rees to dive deeper into his read-option side of the playbook. The optimist in me says there is nowhere to go but up for this unit.

Passing Offense: B

Notre Dame ranks 22nd in passing offense in the FBS with 302 ypg through the first three games. Jack Coan has been mostly impressive on the year so far. He’s completed 62.6% of his passes and thrown for 828 yards to go along with 8 TD passes and 2 INT’s (with one of those INT’s coming off of a Hail Mary heave). Coan is utilizing all of his weapons this year, having distributed the ball to Michael Mayer, Kevin Austin, Avery Davis, and both of the running backs with great frequency. The offensive line has rightfully earned their fair share of “swiss cheese” barbs so far, as they have now allowed 15 sacks through the first three games. Their 5.0 sacks allowed per game ranks 126th – almost dead last – in the FBS. Tyler Buchner has also seen reps at QB, but has almost exclusively been utilized as a running threat in his snaps. Buchner’s presence in the backfield neutralizes the ability of opposing defenses to pin their ears back and launch into the pocket against a weak Irish O-Line.

Rushing Defense: B-

The Irish rank 73rd in rushing defense in the FBS, having allowed 145.7 ypg on the ground. This grade would have almost certainly been a C or lower if not for the most recent performance against Purdue. The Irish were gouged by FSU’s rushing attack in the second half of their season opener when they utilized their infamous three-man front with no chance of contain. The Irish also allowed four 60-plus yard plays through their first two games, which is more than the three they allowed in the previous four combined seasons! Most recently, however, the Irish defense stepped up to limit the Boilermakers to 57 total rush yards and 2.3 yards/carry. JD Bertrand has shined at Will LB by leading the Irish with 34 tackles and 4 TFL on the year – not too bad for a guy who did not know he would be starting until a week before the season started.

Passing Defense: B

Notre Dame ranks 82nd on the year in passing yards allowed, as they are currently surrendering 232.7 ypg through the air. However, the Irish defense has disrupted opposing offenses in numerous ways through DC Marcus Freeman’s high-risk, high-reward scheme. Notre Dame has 13 sacks on the year, good for an average of 4.33 sacks/game, which ranks them 6th in the FBS. Isaiah Foskey paces the Irish with 3.5 sacks on the year, while Justin Ademilola and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa each have 2.5 sacks. ND also ranks 10th in the FBS with 5 INT’s, including three by preseason All-American Kyle Hamilton. Cornerbacks Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart – big question marks heading into the season – have both held their own thus far. Nevertheless, after a shaky start at FSU, the Irish appear to be settling into Marcus Freeman’s scheme. 

Special TeamsB+

Kicker Jonathan Doerer owns a solid 5-7 (71%) FG mark on the year, including a long of 48 to go along with a 41-yard game winner against FSU in the season opener. Punter Jay Bramblett has been used more often than the coaches would prefer this year, punting 16 times through the first three games for an average of 42.6 yards/punt (on par with his 2020 average). Although Bramblett has pinned opposing offenses deep within their own territory on a couple of occasions, the coaching staff is hoping to see Bramblett take that next step and boost that net average up a couple of ticks. As for kick and punt returns, I believe fans would love to see Brian Polian turn both Chris Tyree and Kyren Williams loose moving forward. Tyree has only returned one kick for 19 yards this season; Williams has returned three punts for 34 yards (11.3 yards/return). There is certainly merit to resetting the offense and playing things safe, but the Irish have two dynamic playmakers that are currently handcuffed by an ineffective offensive line. There would be a decent ROI by seeing what Williams and Tyree can do in an open field.

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Is the Sky Falling? Toledo Recap + Purdue Preview

By Michael Cannon |

Too close for comfort seems to be the theme for the start of the 2021 Notre Dame football season.  The Irish squeaked out another victory this past Saturday against Toledo in a 32-29 game and I don’t even know where to begin with the breakdown of this year’s team.  After two consecutive weeks of less than stellar performances, my confidence for the rest of the schedule has significantly diminished.  Am I counting the Irish out already?  No, but there will need to be some major (and I mean major) improvements that take place in the next few weeks for me to get any sort of comfortability back.

On both sides of the ball, the Notre Dame team that we have seen on the field seems to be lacking any sort of fire.  The defense is giving up points and big plays and the offense seems to go in spurts – looking unstoppable for a drive and then going into a lull for multiple drives, and even quarters, in a row.  My overall lack of comfort stems from the lack of comfort on display by the Irish players on the field.  Now, it’s not all gloom and doom as the Irish are still 2-0 and ranked in the top 25, but they did fall from their eighth place ranking to number 12 in the most recent AP poll and rightfully so; they are not playing like a top ten caliber team at the moment.

Defensively, my concern is the number of big plays that have already been given up.  In the two games that have been played during this 2021 campaign, the Irish defense has already let up four plays of 60+ yards.  In the entire time of Clark Lea’s Defensive Coordinator tenure with the Irish, Notre Dame only gave up three.  In addition to these big plays, Notre Dame has also given up a combined 31 points in the fourth quarter this season, a number that is not sustainable as the level of competition increases as the season goes on.  If we take a look at the bigger picture, the Cincinnati defense under Marcus Freeman was nothing special in his first year there and drastically improved in years two and three.  Is there a learning curve?  Is the defense overly complex?  Is the right personnel being used?  These are all questions that deserve answers and unfortunately, I do not have them now.  Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly did speak to simplifying the defensive schemes in his Monday press conference, but it is clear that some adjustments need to be made.  Fortunately, the Irish defense is consists of some big-time playmakers and overall great athletes and I do have the confidence that these types of lackluster performances will be turned around.  On the other side of the ball however, I am a bit less optimistic.

After marching down the field and putting seven points on the board during Notre Dame’s first drive against the Rockets, the Irish then went the next seven possessions with not a single other point and the play of the Irish offensive line – well, I don’t even have words to describe how poor that has looked.  Toledo was able to record six sacks in Saturday’s contest and has dropped the Irish to dead last in sacks allowed among Power 5 teams.  Yes, dead last.  With Notre Dame being considered “Offensive Line University”, this type of play is not only bad compared to Notre Dame standards, but simply bad in general.  I know that injuries have plagued the offensive line unit, but with the amount of talent and high-star recruits that are in the program, the drop off in performance should not be this significant.  It hurts to say, but through two games (apart from Jarrett Patterson), this looks to be Notre Dame’s worst offensive line since the mid-2000s.  Due to this lack of performance by the offensive line, Irish quarterback Jack Coan has had minimal time to throw the ball and does not have the running ability to escape the collapsing pocket.  When Coan is given the necessary time to make a play, his throws have been impressive, and he looks to have built up a good deal of trust with the Notre Dame receivers and tight ends.

To go along with that, Irish running back Kyren Williams has been hit behind the line of scrimmage on two thirds of his rushing attempts this season – again, the highest by any Power 5 back through the first two games.  Williams and Tyree might be the best one-two combination of running backs in the country and the unacceptably poor performance of the offensive line has significantly diminished their output.  We were able to get more than just a glimpse at Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner on Saturday, coming into the Toledo game for 19 snaps.  Buchner’s ability to get outside of the pocket and extend plays with his legs proved to be effective but cannot and should not be looked at as a band-aid to fix the woes.  Buchner did finish the game with 78 yards through the air and one touchdown while tacking on another 68 yards on the ground while Coan completed 21 of his 33 pass attempts for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

Looking ahead to the upcoming matchup against the Boilermakers of Purdue, Notre Dame’s 25 game home winning streak is on the line, and I think that this game will set the tone, whether good or bad, for how the rest of Notre Dame’s season will play out.  Under head coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers are also coming in 2-0 to Saturday’s matchup, coming off a 49-0 win over Connecticut last Saturday.  At the beginning of the year, I did not have much reason for this game to be a concern, but with the way the Irish have been performing, Saturday’s matchup carries a lot more weight than many of us would have expected.

The Purdue offense is lead by Junior quarterback Jack Plummer, who has completed nearly 74% of his throws this year, averaging just over nine yards per reception.  With the Boilermakers’ lead back and Mishawaka, IN. native, Zander Horvath, suffering a broken leg against UCONN, Purdue’s offense can be expected to be pass-heavy for this upcoming contest.  Two Boilermakers to keep an eye on in the pass game are both Juniors, wide receiver David Bell and tight end Payne Durham (great name, by the way).  Bell and Durham combined for 10 catches, 175 yards, and four of Purdue’s seven touchdowns last week.

On the defensive side of the ball for the Boilermakers, All-American Junior defensive end George Karlaftis is going to be a handful for the Irish offensive line.  Looking back to the 2019 season, the last full year of football for the Big 10 teams, Karlaftis finished the year with 54 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and one interception.  Karlaftis participated in Notre Dame football camps while in high school and walked away without an offer from the Irish, giving him a chip on the shoulder that he will be looking to prove during the upcoming matchup.  The good news for Irish fans is that this Purdue defense only has one sack throughout their first two games of the 2021 season, but as mentioned in the beginning of this article, Notre Dame’s offensive line will really need to step up their play.

For the Irish offense, I am hoping to see more creative ways to keep tight end Michael Mayer involved.  Toledo played bracket coverage on Mayer for most last week’s game, putting a damper on his overall production.  I would really love to see some improvements in the Irish running game as well, but unfortunately that ties directly into the offensive line play as well.  If Notre Dame can keep a cleaner pocket for Coan (or Buchner) and not allow defenders in the backfield to immediately shut down the run game, I do think the Irish will have success.  Unfortunately, my confidence levels are not too high at the moment.  I expect a much better performance by the Irish defense as Isaiah Foskey, JD Bertrand, and Kyle Hamilton have been making their impact felt.  The Irish are currently one touchdown favorites going into Saturday’s game, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about this line.  If adjustments have been made by the Notre Dame coaching staff throughout this past week, I could very well see the Irish winning rather comfortably – by 10 to 14 points; but if we see the same or similar performances as what was shown in the first two matchups, there is no doubt in my mind that the home winning streak could come to an end.  I don’t want to be a “downer” when it comes to Notre Dame football as I have been a lifelong fan, but the product that we have seen on the field has been subpar to say the least.  I’m going to pick with my heart and not my head for a prediction and say that the Irish will move on to 3-0 on the season with a 31-24 victory, but man does that feel dicey.  Let’s hope for some drastic turnaround, getting the Irish back on track and ready for the daunting next five games following Purdue.  Don’t forget – if you are going to attend the game on Saturday, it’s a GREEN OUT!

Go Irish.  Beat Boilermakers.

A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Florida State: 0-2 overall, lost to Jacksonville State 20-17

Toledo: 1-1 overall, lost to Notre Dame 32-29

Purdue: 2-0 overall, beat Connecticut 49-0

Wisconsin: 1-1 overall, beat Eastern Michigan 34-7, currently ranked #18

Cincinnati: 2-0 overall, beat Murray State 42-7, currently ranked #8

Virginia Tech: 2-0 overall, beat Middle Tennessee 35-14, currently ranked #15

USC: 1-1 overall, lost to Stanford 42-28, fired their head coach

North Carolina: 1-1 overall, beat Georgia State 59-17, currently ranked #21

Navy: 0-2 overall, lost to Air Force 23-3

Virginia: 2-0 overall, beat Illinois 42-14

Georgia Tech: 1-1 overall, beat Kennesaw State 45-17

Stanford: 1-1 overall, beat USC 42-28     

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Welcome Home – Football Returns to South Bend

By Michael Cannon |

For the first time since the end of the 2019 season, a full capacity crowd will be present at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday as the eighth ranked Irish take on the Toledo Rockets.  Toledo comes in 1-0 with a win last week against the Norfolk State Spartans in a 49-10 contest.  After a very physical battle against the Seminoles, the Irish will look to turn the national perception around and show their true amount of talent against this MAC opponent.

The story of the Rockets this year revolves around Covid, and not in the sense that their team has been plagued by this illness.  Instead, the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA has allowed for the Rockets to return 20 of their 22 starters from last year, including all 11 defenders and all five of their offensive linemen.  This Rockets team is filled with veteran experience who will be ready for the challenge against the Irish.  Under head coach Jason Candle, the Rockets have gone a combined 37-21 since 2016 finishing the abbreviated 2020 season with a 4-2 record.  Toledo’s only two losses last year came by a combined six points and the Rockets offense was cooking last weekend, putting up a very balanced scoring attack – including 14 points in each of their first three quarters and seven in the fourth quarter. 

The Rockets offense seems to be built around the run game and was able to put up a total of 441 yards of total offense against Norfolk State.  Freshman quarterback DeQuan Finn completed four of five passing attempts and added another nine carries for 82 yards while Sophomore quarterback Carter Bradley completed eight of eleven passing attempts for 183 yards through the air.  Bradley did spend most of the time at the helm of the Rocket’s offense this past week and will likely be who the Irish prepare for the most at the quarterback position.  Toledo’s lead back, Bryant Koback is a junior who accounted for 52 rushing yards and two of the Rocket’s touchdowns last week.  Koback and the Rocket’s rushing game is nothing that should be overlooked; there is a chance that they could be a top five ground game that the Irish face this season. 

Against the Seminoles, the Irish defense looked very aggressive, causing a good deal of havoc, but will need to remain disciplined in coverage to not allow any gashing from the Rockets offensive attack.  Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaiah Foskey was asked in a mid-week press conference about the Irish defensive mentality coming into this week’s game when Foskey responded, “we’re ready to dominate every game.”  Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly added to this saying that he expects Toledo to “play fast, free, and physical” in the upcoming matchup.  Something for the fans to look out for as well came from “Inside The Garage”, a podcast co-hosted by Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, where some sort of new audio/visual effects will be present inside the stadium when the Irish defense is on the field for third downs. 

Offensively, Notre Dame was able to put up 41 points against Florida State last week, which at first glance, seems like a dominating performance.  Upon a closer look, the Irish offense could have put up a lot more and will look to clean up some of the offensive mistakes that were present last week.  Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer spoke to how the Irish offense has built a lot of trust and chemistry throughout the off-season as well.  Is Notre Dame a more talented team than their opponent this week?  In short, yes, but for the offense to have more success, I believe that they will need to put together some more long and sustained scoring drives, rather than relying on the single big plays to put points on the board.  I still have quite a few questions revolving around Notre Dame’s offensive line which will need to be a key factor in establishing an effective and respectable run game.  Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are two of the best backs in the country and need to find more success on the ground than what was present against the Seminoles.  Unfortunate news surrounding the Irish offensive line is the injury sustained by Blake Fisher on Sunday night.  Fisher was not listed on the two-deep depth chart for the upcoming matchup against the Rockets and rumors have begun to swirl about the time that could be missed, but nothing has been confirmed as of the time of writing this article.   The Irish offense in general needs to (and should) get off to a faster start, making the Rockets climb out of a whole early in the game.  If this can be done, I have full confidence that the Irish will be 2-0 come Saturday night.

Notre Dame has opened up as a 16.5 point favorite and with an expected full capacity crowd rooting them on, I think the Irish should cover this spread.  If you have the ability to be at the game, my simple request to you is to be loud and show the Irish players the support they need after not playing in front of a full crowd in over a year.  With all that being said, I think both the Irish offense and defense will come out with a fire lit under them and take care of business with a rather dominant 42-17 victory.  Go Irish.  Beat Rockets.

A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:

Florida State: 0-1 overall, lost to Notre Dame in OT

Toledo: 1-0 overall, beat Norfolk State 49-10

Purdue: 1-0 overall, beat Oregon State 30-21

Wisconsin: 0-1 overall, lost to Penn State 16-10, currently ranked #18

Cincinnati: 1-0 overall, beat Miami (OH) 49-14, currently ranked #7

Virginia Tech: 1-0 overall, beat North Carolina 17-10, currently ranked #19

USC: 1-0 overall, beat San Jose State 30-7, currently ranked #14

North Carolina: 0-1 overall, lost to Virginia Tech 17-10, currently ranked #24

Navy: 0-1 overall, lost to Marshall 49-7

Virginia: 1-0 overall, beat William & Mary 43-0

Georgia Tech: 0-1 overall, lost to Northern Illinois 22-21

Stanford: 0-1 overall, lost to Kansas State 24-7   

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