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 Teams – B+
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.