The Notre Dame Fighting Irish had a lot to prove on Saturday against the Syracuse Orange. Before the season began, this game looked like one of those, "everything to lose, nothing to gain’’ kind of games- but sitting at 1-3, and having just fired the defensive coordinator... the stakes were much higher.
How would Notre Dame respond? Who would step up? Was there anyway this team could have some genuine passion, or would it be more lip service and going through the motions? A lot of questions were answered, but many more still remain. Here’s what we can take away from the victory:
Special teams are certainly “special.”
If you would have told me that Notre Dame returned a kickoff for touchdown and returned a blocked PAT for 2 points- that alone would lead me to believe that the special teams unit had a great day.
While the standout plays of Jarron Jones, CJ Sanders, and Cole Luke were a thing of beauty, the poor kickoff coverage (and tackling) that allowed a big return that put Syracuse back in the game in the first half- along with the missed Justin Yoon field goals were absolutely wretched.
With a wacky season already well underway, Notre Dame needs to be able to hang its hat on something other than the native son of Toledo. With just a few tweaks, and some better tackling, that something could be on special teams.
If you don't know what that hashtag means, I don't know what to do with you.
This isn't going to be a lecture on Notre Dame’s running game, rather, it’s a plea for more Dexter Willimas in our life. Senior running back Tarean Folston stood on the sideline the entire game with his helmet in his hand (banged up) so it was Dexter Williams and Josh Adams for the rotation.
Perhaps I am way off base here, but Willimas just looks better than Adams when he runs the ball. It seems to me that Adams is more effective as the secondary option in the tandem- just as he was last year with CJ Prosise. Whether that's all true or not, Sexy Dexy needs the rock more.
Game plan successs
Notre Dame was in serious trouble this week. The VanGorder saga put a major toll on the Irish and it was quite possible that the entire team could have packed it in for this game.
They chose to fight, and they chose to have more passion in their play. You could see it on both sides of the ball in their play and their demeanor after a play. Credit to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff for handling this situation about as well as one might hope. A coordinator position has a ton of responsibilities, and it appears that Kelly was able to get that organized with Greg Hudson, and there was a noticeable difference on the field for the better.
It wasn't great the entire time, and one should have ever expected that. It was a step in the right direction, and at 2-3 with seven games remaining, we can only hope to see further progress.