This past Saturday’s primetime matchup against the Tarheels marked Notre Dame’s seventh win of the season with a 44-34 final score and demonstrated two key takeaways in my opinion: first, the Irish defense will need to significantly improve on their tackling if Notre Dame wants to finish the season with only one loss; and second, the Irish offense is starting to find a rhythm.
Offensively, we are still seeing the mix of Coan and Buchner at quarterback, each coming in with what seems to be their own specific packages. Coan for much of the game with a dash of Buchner in red zone situations. Coan finished the game completing 16 of 24 passing attempts for 213 yards and one touchdown through the air, while Buchner added an additional two completions for 17 air yards and another passing touchdown. Buchner’s usage now seems to be a bit more planned, giving him goal line and short yardage situations rather than simply throwing him into the lineup when things weren’t clicking offensively. What may have been the most surprising was Coan’s 31-yard touchdown run – who said he wasn’t a mobile quarterback? Speaking of mobility on the ground, Kyren Williams continues to impress putting up 199 rushing yards with an incredible 91-yard touchdown run breaking tackles, switching directions, and stiff-arming a Tarheel defender into next week. Williams may be one of, if not the, most exciting running back of the Kelly era and his performance last week lived up to the hype. It is encouraging to see the continued uptick in production from freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. who hauled in three catches for 74 total yards. He will undoubtedly be an exciting athlete to see develop throughout his years in the Irish program.
Defensively, Isaiah Foskey led the way again with seven total tackles but only a half sack – a number that I was expecting to be quite a bit higher with the way North Carolina’s offensive line had been playing throughout the first half of their season. Junior safety DJ Brown came up with his second interception on the year, but Tarheels quarterback Sam Howell proved to be a nuisance to be able to get to the ground. Howell totaled 341 yards through the air and another 91 yards on the ground, giving credibility to his pre-season Heisman talk, but the Irish defense definitely showed some vulnerabilities in coverage breakdowns, missed tackles, and poor pursuit to the ball – all things that can (and should) be addressed for the home stretch of this 2021 football season.
After back-to-back night games at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish welcome in the Navy Midshipmen for a 3:30pm kickoff this upcoming Saturday. Navy enters the contest with a 2-6 record, running the dreaded triple-option offense – something that gave Cincinnati a great deal of trouble just two weeks ago. The Midshipmen are expected to be led by sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai, senior full back/running back Isaac Ruoss, and senior wide receiver Mychal Cooper. With the triple offense that the Midshipmen run however, Cooper has only totaled eight receptions through their first eight games, as most of the yardage comes on the ground. Lavatai and Ruoss have combined to put up 710 rushing yards and four touchdowns so far, but the Midshipmen offense is only averaging just over 18 points per game. On the contrary, Navy’s defense is allowing 30 points per game.
As is the case in any matchup against the Naval Academy, points and possessions are generally at a premium as Navy’s ground attack drains the clock. For the Irish to get to this 30+ points per game average that the Midshipmen defense is giving up, each possession will be critical to getting points on the board – touchdowns more so than field goals. With the combination of limited time of possession and the athletes that Notre Dame has at the wide receiver position, I expect Coan to continue to find success through the air. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees’ play calling has showed improvements week-to-week and I will be very interested to see how he draws up the counterattack needed to keep Notre Dame’s winning way going. As mentioned earlier, I think the Irish passing attack will see continued success this week and at the end of the day, Notre Dame has the more talented athletes. Let the play makers make plays. Defensively, I am not expecting many (if any) sacks simply due to Navy’s run-heavy offense. The Irish defense, in part due to the high number of injuries, seems to be starting to wear down – players showing fatigue, missing assignments, and having more struggles bringing players to the ground. This is expected to be another physical game and as long as the Irish defense can keep points off the board, I fully expect Notre Dame to come out with another victory. It’s time for the defense to regain their focus and discipline and the offense to build on its past performances. Notre Dame is currently sitting as a three-touchdown favorite (which seems like quite a bit). I am predicting the Irish to win 35-17 and move on to 8-1 on the year.
Go Irish. Beat Midshipmen.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Florida State: 3-5 overall, lost to Clemson 30-20
Toledo: 4-5 overall, lost to Eastern Michigan 52-49
Purdue: 5-3 overall, beat Nebraska 28-23
Wisconsin: 5-3 overall, beat Iowa 27-7
Cincinnati: 8-0 overall, beat Tulane 31-12
Virginia Tech: 4-4 overall, beat Georgia Tech 26-17
USC: 4-4 overall, beat Arizona 41-34
North Carolina: 4-4 overall, lost to Notre Dame 44-34
Navy: 2-6 overall, beat Tulsa 20-17
Virginia: 6-3 overall, coming off bye week
Georgia Tech: 3-5 overall, lost to Virginia Tech 26-17
Stanford: 3-5 overall, lost to Washington 20-13