Sometimes, football can be boring.
Sometimes, boring is a good thing.
In the case of Notre Dame's Special Teams unit against Temple, things were relatively boring. Both teams made all their field goals and extra points. Both pinned punts inside the 20. Neither unit made any glaring mistakes that affected the outcome of the game. And that can be a good thing. The more routine the units can get, the better we can rely on Special Teams to carry water when necessary.
In the case of the Irish against Temple, there are a couple things that I want to break down. Yes, again, Newsome booted a kickoff out of bounds but it didn't result in points, as Temple immediately went 3 and out. Yes, Newsome had a couple control issues on punts and distance wasn't ideal and one punt was returned, but it only resulted in a 13 yard return for the Owls and still kept them close to the 20 (the 22 yard line to be exact). We'll look at those.
We'll also look at ND's kickoff coverage unit, which had a great game, never surrendering field position past the 25 and we'll briefly discuss Justin Yoon's Heisman-caliber play.
Let's dig in!
This might've been one of ND's greater games in the kickoff department. With the obvious exception of Newsome's OOB boot, the Irish had two touchbacks and two returns that resulted in Temple field position at their own 18 and 24 yard lines.
To start with, let's take a look at the kick that pinned Temple at their own 18:
So...where do I start? Um. Great job by our guys of staying in their lanes right?!
Honestly, I think this might be the worst kickoff coverage job by any opponent the Irish have faced this year. Temple was completely ill-prepared for a Kickoff Left. You had 2 Temple lead blockers against 3 Irish rushers at the front (oh, by the way, no wedge in sight). You also had, for some strange reason, Temple double-teaming ND kickoff men at the second level.
At the point of attack, Temple does a decent job of sealing the edge, but when #82 has a chance to pick which of 3 Irish players to block, he goes with the "Bold Strategy Cotton" move of blocking no one. In all, a disciplined job by the Irish of not overpursuing the play and making a quick tackle.
As for the Newsome kick OOB, here is the GIF:
Looks like he just hooked it again. Understandable because all signs pointed to the Irish kicking left again. Just came across it too much.
ND Kick Return
Temple kicked off 5 times with 2 of them going for touchbacks. That meant that Sanders got to return a few of them. As with any kickoff, my benchmark (which may differ from Punter Bro) is that if you can return the ball to the 25 or better, then it was a good decision. In Sanders' case, ND's starting field position on each return was the 26, 22 (backed to the 12 on a holding call) and the 20. In all, not a really good night for the return team.
Let's take a quick look why:
The Yellow Circle of Disappointment is highlighting Chase Hounshell, who did not have a great game against Temple in the ST department. Normally, he is a reliable edge blocker but in this case, he releases WAY too early, allowing his man to wrap up Sanders. In addition, Hounshell was flagged for the holding penalty on a later kickoff.
It's funny that I identify this play because it was ND's longest return of the night, but I do so to highlight multiple issues that I could see out of the gate. Let's say that Chase seals his block. Once Sanders gets through, there are zero ND players blocking downfield. It's almost as if they were trying to open a little gate for C.J. and that was it. Once he got through the wedge, he would've had two Temple coverage guys in his face. Not a great attempt here. Theres also the funky angle that shows that the ball MIGHT have gone OOB, though I can't say that with certainty.
ND Field Goals
I'm just gonna recycle this one:
Yoon made his lone field goal of the night, a chip shot 23 yarder and was 3-3 on Extra Points. Yoon for Heisman! (just kidding. sort of.)
Temple only returned one of Newsome's 4 punts. Of the other three, one went for 27 yards (barf), one went for 32 yards (but fair caught at the 14 so yay inside 20!) and one for 35 yards. The lone return was a punt that went 41 yards and returned for 13 for a net of 28. Also Barf.
So Newsome had some struggles in the punting game, a topic that came up this week at Kelly's press conference. Let's see if we can identify what is going on with Tyler.
Here is a sequence of Newsome's four punts, where I've taken out the coverage result:
I'm straight up guessing here, but it seems like his rhythm is off. He is shuffling his feet on at least two of the punts and drops the ball on another. One is a simple one step drop because he is clearly playing the punt block (correctly too). Side fedora tip to our wall blockers on the punt, who took an absolute beating from the Temple rushers but kept Newsome upright and the ball in the air.
As for the return:
Newsome outkicks his coverage just a little bit and Butler is pushed inside and jammed enough to allow for a return, which is made worse because Butler overcorrects and misses the tackle. Temple's PR caught it at the 9 and Butler made contact at the 15. Play should've been stopped there but for the simple miscue.
ND Punt Return
Temple punted the ball 5 times in Saturday's game, with Sanders returning 3 of them for a total of 18 yards (long of 7). One was downed inside the 20 and one (Temple's first punt) went out of bounds. The numbers appear to show that the Irish weren't too solid in the return game, but stats aren't everything. It appears after looking at the tape that the Irish's lack of a solid punt return was intentional.
Observe ND's formation on Temple's first punt:
The Irish are literally in their base defense. There is no way that Sanders is going to get a decent return out of this when it's clear that ND is playing the fake.
In addition, Temple used the rugby-style punt twice to decent effect. One of the rugby punts was downed at the ND 15 and the other could have easily been downed inside the 10 but for a heady play by Sanders.
So you can see that the ball is bouncing towards the Temple Punt team but Sanders recognizes this and sacrifices himself to get better field position. I'm a little critical of Sanders playing this while standing on the 6 and not the 10 and the 14 yard line isn't ideal but it is better than it could have been. I give him a fedora tip here.
If I had to give the Irish a letter grade for this game, it'd be a solid B. The miscues in the punting game didn't negatively affect the outcome of the game but they were concerning. While Temple did score points, none of them were directly due to the Special Teams unit. The Irish didn't give up any big returns and their coverage teams were rather solid. Field Goals continue to be a bright spot for the unit. If the punting game can step up and Newsome can figure it out, we might not have these conversations again. However, with the Irish set to play their next game at Heinz Field, we'll see how they fare as the Steelers' stadium has never been Special Teams friendly.