What two words would I use to describe the game against Stanford? Absolutely pathetic. How does a mostly veteran-led team have trouble getting up and ready for a night game at home? This Notre Dame team came out flat, played lackadaisically, and left me with even more questions than before. I honestly don’t remember the last time that I was this disappointed in a Notre Dame football team and let me tell you what, Saturday night was one of the worst on-field performances that I have ever seen at Notre Dame Stadium.
If you know me, you know that I have been a Tommy Rees supporter for quite some time, but after what I saw against Stanford, I’m not sure that I can continue down that road. The offensive game plan made absolutely zero sense. There were no plays that were building on each other. Playmakers continue to be put in situations that don’t allow them to succeed. Stanford is one of the worst defensive teams in college football and Notre Dame only put 14 points on the board. And got goose-egged in the first half! That is downright embarrassing. How does the offense not know the scripted plays that are meant to get them into a rhythm to start the game? A false start on the literal first play from scrimmage during a home game? The Irish offense can’t put up more total yards than a team that entered the matchup with a 1-4 record whose only win was against Colgate? Not to mention that that was Stanford’s first win against an FBS opponent since October of last year. Outside of Michael Mayer’s five receptions, the next leading wide receiver only caught two passes…but hey, it’s about time that Tobias Merriweather got involved, right? That may have been the only offensive bright spot. It’s pretty crazy what happens when your 6 foot 4 inch, bigger and faster wide receiver is actually put in the game and allowed to make a play. Where has that been for the first half of the season? And someone please explain why Merriweather wasn’t on the field during the last drive of the game where the Irish needed a first down to keep their hopes alive. Pitiful. The offense was not put in any position to have a chance at success and that falls squarely on Rees’s shoulders. There is no excuse for a 14-point output against Stanford…at home.
So, after all of that offensive negativity, you might be saying “ok, well it’s not like the defense did any better, where’s their criticism?” Sure, you’re right, the defense still didn’t play a great game, but they did hold Stanford to 16 points, no? The Cardinal only had 97 rushing yards and their leading running back was only averaging 2.8 yards per carry. 288 passing yards given up by the Irish defense isn’t great, but it’s definitely manageable. Again, not a stellar performance by any means but how much more can you ask out for out of a defense? You mean to tell me that for Notre Dame to have any chance at winning a football game, the Irish defense has to hold the opponent to 10 points or less because Tommy Rees can’t scheme up an offense that’s remotely capable of putting points on the board? I’m no longer sure what success looks like for this year’s Notre Dame team. I don’t know if they are going to finish the year 9-3 or 3-9; it’s crazy the difference in those two outcomes and the fact that both feel almost as likely to happen. I appreciate Marcus Freeman’s demeanor in his press conferences – taking accountability, not throwing anyone under the bus – but I really hope that behind the scenes, there is a fire lit under everyone involved with this program, from the coaching staff all the way down to the walk-ons and practice squad players. Major changes are needed, and everyone needs to be held accountable for another inexcusable loss this season. I am not calling for anyone’s jobs (yet), and we, as Notre Dame fans, need to understand that Coach Freeman is learning how to fly as he’s building this airplane, but I certainly did not expect the learning curve to be this steep.
Looking ahead, Notre Dame plays another home game this week against the UNLV Rebels and the Irish opened up as 24-point favorites. Coming in with a 4-3 record, the Rebels are led by head coach Marcus Arroyo who took over the program following the 2019 season and has a 6-19 record in this current position, with four of those six wins coming this season. This 2022 squad is scoring an average of 29 points per game; however, the defense is giving up nearly 28 points per game. After starting 2-0 with things looking up, the Rebels have been outscored 82-14 in their last two games leading into this Saturday’s matchup against Notre Dame. Injuries have plagued UNLV after losing their starting quarterback, two starting wide receivers, one offensive and one defensive lineman, and their starting running back for various reasons through the first seven games this year. This should be an easy win for the Irish, but then again that was what was supposed to happen against Stanford as well. Coach Freeman is only 1-2 as a head coach when the Irish are double digit favorites and will look to get that record back to .500 this weekend.
As I am obviously not a football coach by any means, I no longer know what to think or predict going into these games. What does Notre Dame need to do to win this week? Pretty much the exact opposite of what they did against Stanford – get off to a fast start, find a way to get to the endzone, not make a 1-4 football team look like a playoff contender, and on and on and on. The Irish will certainly need to take advantage of the injury-riddled areas of this Rebels team and realize (for at least the second week in a row) that they have the better athletes at almost every position on the football field. If, for some reason, the Notre Dame offensive line cannot get a push and set the running backs up for success, there’s nothing wrong with looking to the pass game. Michael Mayer is a phenomenal tight end but every defense that the Irish will face also knows that. Don’t be afraid to get the receivers involved too – as long as they are being put in situations to succeed: Lorenzo Styles in the slot, Braden Lenzy getting vertical down the field, Tobias Merriweather and Jayden Thomas using their size to haul in some jump balls. There are way too many offensive weapons for this team to only be averaging 23.7 points per game – that’s not enough to win you any matchups against big time opponents.
The way that the Irish come out on Saturday will be very telling about the character of this team and coaching staff. Playing with a sense of urgency and fire will show me that, although any major bowl game is off the table, this team is still playing for their sense of pride. Until I see it happen, and happen consistently, I cannot pick the Irish to score more than 28 points – and even that number seems to be pushing it right now. The Irish defense has played well enough that this team could be 5-1 right now, but the offense is severely lacking behind. Because of both sides of play being where they are, I don’t think that the Rebels will put up any outlandish offensive numbers leading to a 27-17 Notre Dame victory. Go Irish. Beat Rebels.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Ohio State: 6-0, currently ranked #2, coming off bye week
Marshall: 3-3 overall, lost to Louisiana 23-13
California: 3-3 overall, lost to Colorado 20-13
North Carolina: 6-1 overall, currently ranked #22, beat Duke 38-35
BYU: 4-3 overall, lost to Arkansas 52-35
Stanford: 2-4 overall, beat Notre Dame 16-14
UNLV: 4-3 overall, lost to Air Force 42-7
Syracuse: 6-0 overall, currently ranked #14, beat NC State 24-9
Clemson: 7-0 overall, currently ranked #5, beat Florida State 34-28
Navy: 2-4 overall, lost to SMU 40-34
Boston College: 2-4 overall, coming off bye week
USC: 6-1 overall, currently ranked #12, lost to Utah 43-42