Notre Dame lost their first game of the season last Saturday against Clemson. Notre Dame got behind early and stayed behind, mostly because of turnovers. While the offense floundered in the wet weather, the special teams, for the most part, did not do too poorly. That said, there were some issues and missed opportunities. Let's get to it.
Might as well start with the worst part of the special teams unit on Saturday. The kickoff coverage unit had one of their worst games of the season on Saturday. Tyler Newsome had 4 kickoffs for 268 yards, an average of 62 yards per kick. He had 0 touchbacks. Because of that, Clemson had 4 opportunities at returns. Artavis Scott took all 4 returns for 128 yards, an average of 32 yards per return. Clemson's average starting field position off of kickoffs was the 35 yard line. That's not good. Scott's longest return went for 44 yards.
While Greer Martini missed this tackle, Notre Dame was ruined by the fact that outside contain was lost because Nicky Baratti, for some unknown reason, got completely sucked inside, losing outside contain, and allowing Scott to get outside. While I assume he thought Scott would try to go up the middle, there are lane assignments for that purpose. Baratti has to know that he has one giant responsibility on kickoff: do NOT lose outside contain.
Tyler Newsome had a better day at punter. While his 37.6 yard average on his 7 punts looks horrendous, in context it was not terrible. While everyone may remember, and only remember, his first shank, he dropped 4 of his 7 punts inside the 20, including 3 inside the 10 and 2 inside the 5. That is absolutely outstanding and certainly helped the Irish with field position and to get back into the game. Better yet, Clemson failed to return a single punt, with the only credited return going to Artavis Scott on a fumbled catch. Newsome's longest punt went for 53 yards and was absolutely outstanding.
Punts like this make me happy that we have him for the next 3 years.
ND Field Goal
Justin Yoon went perfect on XPs in this game and made his only field goal attempt, a 46 yarder...in a driving rainstorm...on the road...with windy conditions...as a true freshman.
Four years of this, ladies and gentlemen. Are you as excited as I am? I hope so.
ND Kick Return
While fumbles will tarnish ND's performance in this area, CJ Sanders filled in at kick returner for the first time this season and certainly took advantage of his opportunity. Notre Dame, as a team, had 4 returns for 100 yards, but CJ had 2 returns for 71, including a long return of 46 yards.
Another situation where outside contain was lost and completely screwed the kickoff team. Here, Clemson's outside contain took a horrendous angle and CJ took advantage of it, breaking this one outside. That said, Coach Kelly possibly did not trust CJ with holding onto the ball after his 2nd half fumble. CJ came out of the game at all return positions, with Amir Carlisle going back to kick returner and Will Fuller taking over as punt returner. It is possible that he may have tweaked something on this play, though, as he seemed to lose a head of steam after breaking this one outside, but I have seen no injury reports and welcome any input if you guys know more than I do.
ND Punt Return
Another area marred by fumbles, ND faces, on paper, a rather poor punter in Andy Teasdall on Saturday. Teasdall, in a driving rainstorm, proceeded to have arguably the best game of his career. He had 7 punts for 302 yards, an average of 43.1 yards per punt. He dropped 4 of his 7 punts inside the 20 and had a long of 54. That is absolutely outstanding, and the Irish were only able to do something on Teasdall's last punt, with Will Fuller taking his first punt return of the season. For as good as this return was, it could've been even better.
So the good with this return: This was, by far, the best blocking that ND's punt return unit has done all season. Almost every Clemson player was picked up, and only a couple shed their blocks. The bad, obviously, was that Will Fuller missed an obvious path to a touchdown. Had he run right, he would have only had to deal with two Clemson coverage players, with his lead blocker in front of him. Instead, Will ran into traffic, still managing to pick up 10 yards in the process. Ultimately, the decision did not matter, as ND was out of timeouts and ended up scoring on the drive anyways.
Additional Bro Notes
- I thought that Clemson would have seen an improvement in the kicking game with the return of Ammon Lakip from his cocaine/DUI suspension, and they certainly did. While the numbers did not necessarily see a jump on kickoffs (Lakip had only 1 touchback on 5 kicks), he forced a key fumble that, in turn, forced CJ Sanders from the game.
- Late in the game, Clemson's kicker, Greg Huegel, missed a 45 yard attempt from ND's 28 yard line. At the time, Clemson had 4th and 2. With very little disrespect intended towards the Clemson coaching staff, as they called a good game and coached their team to a win, in my opinion, this was the worst decision that they made all game. The wind and weather from that direction was incredibly poor, and the rain increased as the game went on, leaving Huegel with a horrible situation. Honestly, if it were me making the play call, and I had Watson as my QB, I would've gone for it. The odds of success, at that point, had to be very close.