Shaking off the jitters and receiving a great road test in the first game of the season, the number nine Notre Dame football team was able to escape with a 41-38 overtime victory over Florida State on Sunday night. The game answered a good deal of questions that I had going into it but left me with more questions that need addressing as the season goes on.
On the offensive side of the ball, Irish fans got to get their first glimpse at graduate transfer quarterback Jack Coan. Coan finished the night completing 26 of his 35 passing attempts for 366 yards and four touchdowns – one of, if not the best, debut games for a Notre Dame quarterback. Coan’s poise and ability to remain calm while under pressure is something that should not be overlooked. Although he does not have the mobility that we have seen from previous Irish QBs, Coan’s trust in his receiving corps was on full display. Tight End Michael Mayer lead all receivers with nine catches for 120 yards and one touchdown. Mayer could have tacked on another two catches that seemed to get away from him as he took his eyes off the ball and was caught looking up field prior to reeling it in. Those two could have very easily given Coan close to 400 passing yards in his debut, but nonetheless, the Irish were still able to come out victorious. Kevin Austin added four catches for 91 yards and one touchdown while Kyren Williams and Joe Wilkins tacked on receiving touchdowns of their own. On the ground, the Irish rushing attack was not very effective, adding on only 73 yards on the ground, not accounting for Coan’s negative three rushing yards.
Florida State’s gameplan was clearly focused on shutting down the Irish ground attack and making Coan beat them with his arm. Although effective, it was not enough to keep the Irish out of the win column. As previously mentioned, Coan seems to have developed a good deal of rapport and confidence in the rather unproven receiving group, which was a pleasant sight to see, but the ground game cannot be MIA for the remainder of the season. The Irish were not able to put any points on the board in the fourth quarter and the Seminole faithful that were present at Doak Campbell Stadium clearly played a role in Florida State’s charge back to tie the game in regulation. I was far from impressed with the play of the Irish offensive line who seemed to be playing catch up to stay in front of the Seminole defenders. Florida State’s “want” seemed to be greater than that shown by the Irish and I will be very interested to see how Notre Dame responds in the upcoming games. Notre Dame’s kicker Jonathan Doerer was Sunday night’s hero, knocking in a game winning field goal in overtime to seal the Irish victory. Doerer finished the night two for two with his long coming from 48 yards out.
Defensively, the new scheme under Notre Dame’s first year Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman showed to be very aggressive but did cost the Irish some large chunk plays. Notre Dame gave up 18 points in the fourth quarter alone and were stunned with multiple 60+ yard plays from the Seminoles, something that was seen very scarcely under previous defensive coordinator, Clark Lea. I would like to give a special shoutout to Irish safety Kyle Hamilton who looked to be a “cheat code” on the defensive side of the ball – coming up with two interceptions and two solo tackles. Hamilton’s big play ability and instincts to erase significant plays with his centerfield-like coverage was on full display and undoubtedly kept the Irish in the ballgame.
Two players to note for injury purposes as well are freshman starting left tackle Blake Fisher and junior linebacker Paul Moala. Fisher was taken out of Sunday night’s game with an apparent knee injury that head coach Brian Kelly later addressed as a strain with no structural or ligament damage – a very good piece of news for Irish fans. Moala was seen limping off the field in a walking boot and has been reported to have torn his achilles, likely sidelining him for the remainder of the season. As this was the first contest of the year, I am fully confident that the Irish coaching staff and players will address the issues that were present and should come out looking crisp and ready to attach on Saturday. With the less than stellar performance this past weekend, escaping with a road victory and receiving a major test right out of the gate should only strengthen this team and prepare them for the remainder of the year. It may not have been pretty but keeping a 0 in the loss column is the overall goal of the season. The Irish accomplished this first step and will welcome the Rockets from Toledo to South Bend this upcoming Saturday for the first full capacity game in Notre Dame stadium in over a year.