Notre Dame outshot Denver. They had more ground balls. They won more faceoffs.
But they didn't score more goals.
Erik Adamson scored 6 goals and the Pioneers' goalie-duo of Ryan LaPlante and Jamie Faus combined for 17 saves as Denver beat the Irish, 10-7 at the Pacific Coast Shootout in California.
Denver's gameplan stymied the Irish. They protected the possessions that they had, killing clock and dominating the time-of-possession despite Irish faceoff man Liam O'Connor winning 71% of his faceoffs (15-21).
The Irish midfield had no answer for Adamson, a California native, who consistently saw high-percentage opportunities all game. He benefitted from the lack of immediate slides by the Irish defense, who focused on stopping the Denver attack unit.
The Irish offense attempted to make it a game, with attackman John Scioscia scoring a hat trick and Matt Kavanagh creating opportunities for the Irish offense.
But they ran into a brick wall that was the Denver goalie tandem of Ryan LaPlante and Jamie Faus. LaPlante, coming off a solid performance in a loss to Penn, got the start and made the most of it. The Irish struggled to get the ball past him, and he would finish the first half with 10 saves and only allowing 4 goals.
The second half saw little relief for the Irish. Jamie Faus entered the cage for Denver and made 7 saves and only allowing 3 goals.
The loss drops the Irish to 2-2, with an upcoming St. Patrick's Day weekend matchup against Virginia on the horizon.
This was Denver's first win over the Irish since 2008, where they beat the Irish in Chicago at another neutral site game.
I wrote in my preview that I believed the Irish would win. Alas, I was incorrect. Let's take a look at why I was wrong by taking apart my prediction point-by-point:
- Move off-ball, as Denver's defense can be easily exposed by the Irish's offense. Fully expect Matt Kavanagh to have a great outing.
This is where, as a lacrosse fan, you really appreciate how good a coach Bill Tierney is. He did the most basic thing that a coach can do: he watched film and applied it. Denver's defensive gameplan looked a lot like Penn State's. The Pioneers eliminated Notre Dame's off-ball movement by settling into a zone at points and smothering Kavanagh. The gameplan actually was one of the reasons why Scioscia had such a strong outing. Kavanagh was still able to make plays, but went pointless for the first time all season. The Irish again had to deal with a zone defense, and struggled at that.
- Denver's longpoles have a clear tendency to commit penalties so Notre Dame's man-up unit will have to step up and perform because they will likely be call on 3-4 times this game.
The Irish man-up unit was actually called on 5 times, and scored 3 of them. That is actually not a bad percentage and was a good outing by the man-up unit. Denver is a penalty-prone team and if you are playing them, you have to take advantage of the opportunities given to you.
- Have O'Connor win 60-65% of his faceoffs and maintain possession.
Half of this happened. O'Connor again showed that he is one of the elite faceoff specialists in the nation with a 71% success rate. It could've been higher in fact, but he was whistled (incorrectly, in my opinion) for two violations in the second quarter. One was definitely not a violation and I am unsure of the other. Regardless, O'Connor put the Irish in position to win.
Where the Irish fell apart was on maintaining possession. The Irish relied too heavily on low-percentage shots from the outside, which were easily saved by LaPlante and Faus, and committed 12 turnovers. In a game where you have limited possessions because your opponent is killing the clock, 12 turnovers is too many.
- It will be key for Notre Dame's middies to stop the Denver middies from getting clear feeds to the attackmen.
Yea...this didn't happen. Adamson was getting feeds right and left from the Denver offense. Two of his goals came from Denver's standout attackman, Wesley Berg. I will give the Irish defense credit in that they held every other Denver middie scoreless, but allowing Adamson to go off was brutal for the Irish's chances.
Denver maximized their possessions. They controlled the time of possession and forced the Irish midfield to dictate the offense. One of Notre Dame's weaknesses is their midfield defense because of the sheer amount of new players at the position. While Marlatt had a solid game, Perkovic was inconsistent (especially on defense), and players like Corrigan and Cotter simply didn't create any opportunities.
I can't state enough how much the Irish have struggled against hybrid defenses. Denver's "black" coverage on Kavanagh and their shifts into zone really confused the Irish.
I haven't mentioned anything yet about the Notre Dame goalie, but I felt that Doss played ok, not great. He let some bad goals in but still made 8 saves. A lot of the goals against him were off feeds and Adamson creating space for himself. He didn't get rattled and kept the Irish in the game with some of his saves. However, he didn't have the performance that LaPlante and Faus did, which eventually made the difference.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss doesn't particularly hurt the Irish. Denver has, and will have a strong RPI at the end of the year and have a chance at winning the Big East, despite their faults. The Irish's win over UNC matters more at this point in the season and can serve as a benchmark for the program, especially with an upcoming conference game this week.
The Irish will face Virginia on March 16th in South Bend.