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Notre Dame Football: Three things we learned against Virginia Tech

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Just a few thoughts plucked from a massive cauldron

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won what was maybe one of the craziest games of the Brian Kelly era, when they took down the Virginia Tech Hokies with a late field goal from Jonathan Doerer. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that we could examine over a hundred different storylines from this game, but here are three that we can talk about today.

Brian Kelly is wild, and I’m here for it

I don’t care about your personal opinion of Brian Kelly, and you probably shouldn’t care about mine either — but BK is has my heart. According to every single one of us, Notre Dame and Kelly made the wrong choice with Jack Coan as the starter in this game. Coan proved us right by being terrible to start the game, but instead of Drew Pyne coming off of the bench, it was Tyler Buchner.

By some sort of crazy twist of fate, Jack Coan was called upon once again after the 2nd interception and an ankle that fell upon Buchner. Coan then turned around and played damn near perfectly to put Notre Dame in position to kick a winning field goal after first taking over while down eight points with 3:55 left in the game.

Notre Dame v Virginia Tech Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Post game Brian Kelly was snarky, passive-aggressive, in shock — but most importantly — triumphant. One of Brian Kelly’s greatest assets as a coach is being able to find ways to win football games, and he has found a whole bunch of them in some of the strangest ways possible. Everything about Kelly looked wild, and I loved it. It’s absolutely maddening, but this is what the first half of the season has been — wild.

There is a real youth movement happening right before our eyes

The sheer amount of true freshman that saw action on Saturday night can’t be talked about enough, and there are two reasons why:

  • Notre Dame’s depth chart was absolutely gutted before and during the game. At the very top of that list was tight end Michael Mayer — who has been Notre Dame’s most consistent weapon on offense this year. The freshmen were needed, and without their steady contributions, Notre Dame likely takes an L against the Hokies.
  • I was told that Brian Kelly never plays freshmen....

At one point on Saturday night, the Irish offense had five true freshmen out on the field at the same time. Seven true freshmen saw meaningful snaps on offense, and one of them (Joe Alt) was playing in large part because another true freshman starter being out for an injury (Blake Fisher).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Not only are the freshmen a big part of Notre Dame’s game plan on the field right now, but without question it helps the recruiting pitch moving forward.

My faith in the defense is shook

The Notre Dame defense built up quite a bit of trust equity over the last several years. It was steady and sound. It didn’t abruptly change games, which was neither good or bad — it just kept scoring low over the course of the season.

Marcus Freeman’s defense is much different. While the sack, turnover, and havoc rates have gone way up — so has opponent scoring, which is the only real stat that matters. Ever since that first game against Florida State, we’ve noticed glaring issues.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Against the Hokies we saw the defense reach back to that FSU game and revert to poor tackling, and massive issues on 3rd down. Are the Irish being too aggressive? I want to say “yes” as an answer, but being aggressive is what this defense was supposed to be. I certainly don’t like Kyle Hamilton being playcalled out of the action with either a blitz that doesn’t get home or putting him up against a receiver one on one, but that’s just a couple of the headscratchers.

There are plenty of really good players on this side of the ball, and maybe it really is just a matter of time that it comes all together to consistently dominate (Wisconsin was fun but Mertz helped). Until that time comes, I can’t trust the unit as much as I would like.