The Irish beat the Yellow Jackets this weekend in an absolutely fantastic overall effort. The special teams units, as a whole, had a fairly difficult day. It appeared to me from the broadcast that the wind inside the stadium was rather significant. If any of the commentariat were at the game, I would love to hear what the conditions were like there. As for the gameplay, let's get to it.
Tyler Newsome again handled all of the kickoffs for the Irish, booting 6 of them for 377 yards, an average of 62.8 yards per kick, and 3 touchbacks. Going back to the weather situation in the stadium, I really think the wind had an effect. All three of Newsome's kickoffs from the north endzone to the south endzone went for touchbacks, deep into the endzone. Of the three that were south to north, they landed at the 5, 8, and goal line.
Of Newsome's three kicks that were returned, Jamal Golden returned two of them for 19 and 20 yards respectively, and Marcus Marshall returned the third for 21 yards. As I noted in my Preview, Georgia Tech's return men on kickoffs have not only had little work (only three returns coming into this game, all by Golden), but also that their average was rather low.
As for the success of their returns, here was the best return of the day for GT, by Marshall.
As you can see from this return, there is really nothing special that GT did to get a 21 yard return. Rather, they missed multiple blocks and ND's kickoff unit was able to effectively funnel Marshall to the sidelines. While I would like to see more touchbacks, I recognize the wind may have been a factor in this game, and limiting GT to a 20 yard return average is outstanding.
Of his three games thus far, Saturday's matchup against Georgia Tech was not Tyler Newsome's best outing. Tyler had 5 punts for 198 yards, an average of 39.6 yards per punt. Two of his punts landed inside the 20. Georgia Tech's return men had a field day with Newsome's punts. Jamal Golden returned three of Newsome's punts for 43 yards, an average of 18.3 yards per return. Those returns dropped Newsome's net punt average to 31.0 yards, a career low through three games.
As for Golden's longest return--18 yards--let's take a look:
Not to make this a "Hey, look at all the penalties that went uncalled," I think it was at least worth pointing out that some of the uncalled clips contributed to the long return. The real problem was this long return was basically a math formula; Out-kick + couple uncalled clips + blocker = long return. The gunner up top, when taken out, created a blocker an a lane. Notre Dame, smartly, funneled Golden to the sidelines, where he had no room to move. While the return went for 18 yards, it could have been much worse.
[Note: As pointed out to me in the comments, these are not clips, but rather likely blocks in the back. Regardless, this does not change my opinion on this return, as there were multiple failures by the punt team that contributed to this long return, the lack of penalty calls included. Even if the calls had been made, Newsome still out-kicked the coverage team here. Since this was south-to-north, I assume the wind was also a factor here.]
ND Field Goal
Justin Yoon missed the first extra point of his career but was a perfect 1-1 on field goals, nailing a 29 yarder. Now, if you do rewatch the broadcast, you will see replays of Yoon missing kicks in pregame. Personally, I don't think those were intentional. I think he was trying to kick for the upright. On a personal note, when I kicked in kicking camps, one of the training exercises we would do would be to try to aim for the upright to test accuracy. That said, NBC used a selective grouping of clips, so I am not entirely sure if he was aiming for the upright on purpose or missing from screwups.
As for the missed extra point, here it was:
Watching the replay, it looks like Justin had his hips and shoulders flared to the right. It's also possible he planted too close to the ball, but it is hard to tell. Fact of the matter is this was Justin's first ever extra point miss, and he will likely learn from this going forward. The kid, in my opinion, does have ice in his veins. Even after boinking his first off the upright and missing his second, he went out and nailed a 29 yarder. On the year, he's missed only 3 kicks--a field goal each vs. Texas and UVA, and the extra point here. If you would have asked me if our true freshman kicker would be 4-6 on field goals and 10-11 through three games, I would...well, in all honesty, I would have said yes, I would have predicted that, but I would guess many would not. Personally, at this point, I don't see anything to worry about.
ND Kick Return
The kick return team did not have much work in this game because of the offensive domination, however the kick return was not exactly proficient. Amir Carlisle only had one return for 16 yards. Let's take a look:
Welp. I'd point out individual failures here but it appeared to be a team effort. For those saying we should put CJ Sanders back there, I would point to this and say it makes no difference if you had Amir Carlisle or Rocket Ismail back there; it doesn't matter unless people block. Hopefully they can wipe off the rust from this game and take advantage this weekend against UMass.
ND Punt Return
I stated in the Preview, in my opinion, for ND to have had a shot in this game, he would have needed to have 3+ punts. Welp, Ryan Rodwell, GT's punter, had 7 punts on the day for a 40.4 yard average. On returns, CJ Sanders had another decent day as the punt returner, taking two returns for 7 yards and a long of 6. His 6 yard return likely would have been longer but for his decision to run backwards. Let's take a look:
This is an example of two things. First, it's an example of how CJ is a great returner because he could make something out of nothing. Second, it's an example of how CJ thinks he's still in high school and can run around everyone. Here, you can see at the freeze frame, at that point in the return, CJ had a 12 yard return. Additionally, at the second frame, you can see that had CJ run to the back of his blockers instead of trying to pull the high school "run around everyone" move, he may have actually gotten further. He had practically no blocking on this play, and I give him an A for making a great return out of an absolutely abhorrent punt, so my criticism is mostly an OCD-level outlook of how it could have been better.
EXTRA: Onsides Kick Return
Personally, I'm not happy about this section because for as good as ND did in assignment defense, they were pretty poor in assignment special teams. GT scored near the en of the game and proceeded to kick and recover an onsides kick. This was inexcusable and you can see why below:
On review of the film, it looks like the front line did their job, but the recoverers were too hesitant to get the ball. Additionally, ND was far too hesitant to get the ball, period. GT was all over this one.
Additional Bro Notes:
- I said in the Preview that GT's special teams, overall, was unimpressive. That included their kicker, Harrison Butker, who had 0 attempts this season until this game. I also noted that he had a rather pedestrian 64.7% career average, and it sure showed in this game. He missed both of his attempts, from 30 and 43 yards.