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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — Virginia Tech Week

Unfortunately, there’s another game this Saturday. Let’s review last weekend and look ahead to this next one, because we hate ourselves!!!

Wow I have way too much to get done, both today AND this week. I really don’t want to waste my time with this dumb weekly call right now.

Okay, well hopefully this will be a quicker one and we can all get some time back...but probably not. Woof.

*clicks “Join Call” button*


How are you all doing today? Have a nice weekend?

Yeah, mine was fun — I went to dinner with some friends Friday and then, unfortunately, attended the Notre Dame game on Saturday. Yeah, they lost — they were playing Cincinnati, who was ranked like #7 in the country so it was a pretty big game.

Yeah, it rained on the tailgating portion of the day, not the game though — mhmm and I actually brought my girlfriend — it was her first ND game ever — yeah she’s a Michigan alum, so I think she still had a great time and was more worried about my sadness than anything haha. I’ve gotten used to losses like that, though — so I’ll survive!

Anyway, it looks like we’ve got just about everyone. I’ll go ahead and share the deck.

Can you all see my screen?

Awesome, love it.

Okay, so here’s the agenda, same as always!

And I don’t need to cover these, they should be pretty clear to you all at this point, right? Okay then, perfect.

Alrighty, so let’s cover last week’s results.

Honestly, not a ton of positives from a game where Notre Dame trailed 17-0 at halftime, but guys like Braden Lenzy and Michael Mayer showed up to play, which was fun to see especially for Lenzy, who’d really been quiet/disappointing so far this season (not all his fault, but still). His 4 catches for 61 yards — including the 32-yarder that pulled ND within a score with 8 minutes to play — were huge.

Mayer was his same consistently great self, reeling in 8 passes for 93 yards and managing to be the security blanket that salvaged multiple drives for the Irish when success via the passing game was getting difficult to come by.

And the — what? Oh, you can’t see that next slide? My bad, I forgot to hit next — here you go, can everyone see it now?


Okay, so besides Lenzy and Mayer showing out, the other offensive performance to mention is Drew Pyne, who wasn’t given a chance until the second half, after the Irish were shut-out in the first with Jack Coan and Tyler Buchner under center.

Pyne’s numbers don’t exactly look magical (especially going 9-for-22 passing), but his 143 yards, 1 TD, and 10 rushing yards (which actually include a really nice 11-yard rush) were the spark the ND offense needed. Any and all positive momentum and production on that side of the ball really came from Pyne, aside from that very first drive of the game, where Coan marched the team into the red zone and then tossed an INT.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, there weren’t a ton of individual standout performances, but the group as a whole really played another good game, especially considering how consistently the offense and special teams put them behind the proverbial 8-ball with field position after turnovers. Isaiah Foskey was more or less un-blockable for a stretch in the second half, including when he connected on a sack-fumble that led to a nice little Drew White return and an eventual Notre Dame touchdown.

On the negative side, there’s certainly a lot more to discuss. The offensive line had a couple okay moments but once again didn’t accomplish much — the Irish managed 3 yards per carry on 84 total rushing yards, and meanwhile ND QBs were sacked twice and hurried 4 times, and Irish ball carriers were tackled for a loss on 7 occasions. It looked like there was a little more Andrew Kristofic and Joe Alt action this week, but neither of them exactly looked fantastic either — the line continues to be a major reason this offense cannot go.

On top of that, though, we need to criticize Tommy Rees and BK. Their decision to stick with Coan and Buchner for the entire first half was frustrating, and even more so was substituting Buchner in on Pyne’s first drive, which was looking great until Buchner’s insertion for a 0-yard run killed all the momentum. The play-calling from Rees continued to seem a bit uncreative and unimaginative, as he knows at this point what he has on his offense and yet has not found a good way to get Bellyman and Tyree more involved or to better protect the QB. Tommy Rees is not having a very impressive season.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of individuals with rough days, Coan and Buchner obviously were less than effective, and Tyree’s muffed kickoff was absolutely back-breaking. Kevin Austin’s issues with catching the ball also continued, including a key drop in the second half that the Irish absolutely needed him to bring in.

Lastly, the defense — who held up well most of the game — was clearly gassed down the stretch and couldn’t get the necessary stops to keep it a one-score game late in the 4th. Guys like Clarence Lewis, JD Bertrand, and even Kyle Hamilton all got burnt pretty badly on one big play or another down the stretch, which was tough to see.

Okay, so I know I mentioned earlier that it was my girlfriend Katie’s first time attending a Notre Dame game. Yes, she’s a proud Michigan alum (we’ve worked through what all that means for the relationship...looks like we will be able to overcome it), but even still, I wanted to make sure some of her thoughts from the bleachers made their way into our analysis of last week — as well as the input of the middle-aged Cincy fan next to me, whom I now see as my best friend in the entire world and likely the best man at my future wedding.

So, here’s the overview of what they both were saying throughout the game:

Katie was mostly focused on how the gold helmets were so impressive that they made Cincy’s red helmets look small and insignificant, which is some key analysis you won’t be getting from the NBC crew anytime soon. She also noted that the red Cincy section contrasting with the “green-out” gave the game some Christmas vibes, and also observed that the fans in the stadium seemed to really like the soft pretzels from the concession stand. We later confirmed the pretzel with cheese was delicious, using it as third quarter fuel to keep our spirits alive before the Irish began their comeback.

Meanwhile, the Cincinnati fans next to me were as pleasant as possible, and I want to especially shout out the 60-65-year-old guy immediately to my right, who bonded himself to me for life by following the below steps to let me know he needed to get up and pass by me in our row:

  1. Slap MY knee
  2. Say something to the effect of “Time to take a leak!” or “Time for a pee break!”
  3. Chuckle briefly
  4. Get up (somewhat using my knee to do so, making me think the knee slap was partially a ploy to use me as support)
  5. Shuffle past me and Katie on his way down the stairs and to the bathroom

He and the guy next to him (who I think may have been his son) proceeded to provide some very enjoyable commentary throughout the game, including pointing out Zeke Correll various times (unclear why), telling me they know someone who knows Drew Pyne and they think he’s very good (but hope he isn’t good today!), and the middle-aged guy turning to me with about 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter and just saying “I’m too fucking old for this.”

Those guys ruled, and honestly I want to give a shout-out to the Cincinnati fans as a whole. They showed up in numbers, and were LOUD the entire game. Louder than Irish fans, no doubt — especially because ND fans had very little to cheer for for more than half of the game. But the Bearcats fans were super nice, super fun, and brought the noise. They earned that victory, from a fan perspective.

Okay, so moving right along — here’s the latest scorecard...

As you can see, a lot more red this week than we saw last week. We’re not looking good in the “give ND fans something to cheer for” action item, and are way behind on knowing when to insert Tyler Buchner vs. when to ride with the QB who’s getting things done on his own. Furthermore, the offensive line is now extremely delayed in learning how to be competent, and basic things like catching the ball and kicking extra points are suddenly becoming issues for guys like Kevin Austin, Chris Tyree, and Jonathan Doerer.

On the positive side, Drew Pyne knocked his action item of providing a spark for the offense out of the park, and Lenzy, Mayer, and Foskey all completed their key milestones (with some help from Pyne and Drew White, of course).

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Finally, we’re yellow on getting young talent some time out there, as we saw Lorenzo Styles Jr. make a big third-down catch and Deion Colzie was out there, although never got the ball thrown his way. More of that could be a nice way to keep the offense fresh and unpredictable for the rest of the season, along with developing some key skill guys who will need to be contributors next year.

Alrighty, now it’s time to turn to some accolades — it’s Team Members of the Week!

None of these should be a surprise — Braden and Michael were the main source of offense last week, and Drew was the leader they needed to start making it a game again. Isaiah’s ability to get to the passer was MASSIVE and the turnover he forced was instrumental in one of the Irish’s two touchdowns. Congrats to all 4 of these guys, and expect Chipotle gift cards in your inboxes after this call!

Also, we have an extra recognition slide this week...

The Notre Dame defense as a whole didn’t have a ton of individual, statistical performances that stood out, but as a unit they kept the Irish in this game and did a valiant job with the hand they were dealt by the offensive and special teams units’ turnovers.

They weren’t perfect on Saturday, but hats off to them for being good enough to give the offense a shot down the stretch.

Okay, with all that said, let’s turn our focus to this week. Here’s a nice overview of our competitor, the Virginia Tech Hokies!

I won’t read this off line-by-line, but just please note a couple things here:

  1. Head Coach Justin Fuente played for the Oklahoma Wranglers in the Arena Football League
  2. VaTech’s notable alumni include the first person to serve as the Jacksonville Jaguars mascot, a guy convicted for the Watergate burglaries, and the person Jake Gyllenhaal plays in the lovely movie about a high school kid who loves rockets, October Sky
  3. Virginia Tech has never won a national title, getting closest when Michael Vick led the Hokies to a runner-up finish. They do have 11 conference titles, though, and are hoping for a 12th this season considering Clemson is DOWN
  4. They’ve never beaten Virginia Medical College or the Quantico Marines in football. HOW EMBARRASSING

Okay, now diving a bit deeper on our competitor here and looking at some specifics about this team...

The Hokies have a solid QB in Braxton Burmeister. He may not be a Desmond Ridder or a Sam Howell or a Kedon Slovis, but Burmeister is a productive, talented QB who can absolutely make you pay if you give him the time to do so. He’s thrown for 746 yards on the season at a 61% completion clip, and has 5 TD to just 1 pick. He’s also somewhat mobile, with 140 rushing yards and a rushing TD to his name this season.

The Hokie offense overall, though, is not something to be feared. They’re 100th in scoring, 112th in total offense, 105th in yards per play — put plainly, they shouldn’t be able to move the ball very well against Marcus Freeman’s defense. If they do, that’s a huge concern, folks.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, though, they can play some good football. The Hokies are good in a lot of categories (#45 in total defense, #43 in yards per play allowed), but really good when it comes to pass defense (#35 in total pass defense, #26 in yards allowed per pass attempt), rushing the passer (#14 in sacks per game), and forcing turnovers (#16 in forced fumbles, #21 in interceptions). So, considering the Irish’s inability to run the ball effectively or protect the QB, as well as their reliance on the pass — this isn’t an ideal matchup for Tommy Rees’s offense.

Finally, Virginia Tech rose to prominence under legendary coach Frank Beamer by playing “Beamer Ball,” always having a strong focus on special teams and making big plays there to shift momentum. This team certainly has some of that magic to them, considering they’re #2 in the country in average kick return yardage and #20 in average punt return yardage (including one punt return for a TD), but the Hokies are not so great in the kicking department. They’re dead last in FG% (partially due to a very low 3 field goal attempts, of which they’ve only made 1) and #53 in punting average. Just something to note — the Hokies are dangerous returning the Irish’s kicks, but likely won’t be flipping the field or hitting any clutch, impressive field goals anytime soon.

Okay, finally, let’s review What’s Important Now for the Irish heading into this tough road game immediately following a disappointing home loss in the biggest game of the season.

It’s by no means the biggest issue plaguing this Notre Dame team, but it’s one of the most fixable — the Irish need to start Drew Pyne at QB and stick with him, as he gives them the best chance to succeed at the position. Occasionally using Buchner to run the ball is okay, but by no means should that ever be mid-Pyne drive or come without the occasional threat that Buchner might throw.

Furthermore, it’s time to mix in the young guys even more, especially guys like Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie. I’m not advocating for benching the starters or anything, but these young guys are weapons and can help keep people fresh and bring different looks that keep the defense from knowing what’s coming.

Syndication: The Enquirer Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Rees HAS to get more creative considering his unit’s limitations — in terms of personnel, in terms of blocking schemes, and in terms of pass vs. run. I think, especially against a Virginia Tech team much better against the pass than the run, that he needs to find a way to run the ball more with Bellyman and Chris Tyree. It’s gotta be a little different than the runs that aren’t working with this offensive line, but if just to keep the offense two-dimensional and give those talented guys opportunities to make plays, I think it’s worth it. Would some more misdirection and more two-back sets help? Some jet sweeps to The Jet? Or even if you want to use the pass instead, maybe more screens or wheel routes to them out of the backfield on first or second down?

Finally, this Irish team has NOT been super disciplined of late, and the little mistakes are starting to add up. Dropped passes, dropped kickoffs, missed extra points, false starts...clean that garbage up, and it doesn’t completely move the needle, but it certainly helps. Stop shooting yourselves in the foot, Irish.

Okay, that’s what we’ve got here for this week. Any questions?

I figured. Okay, welp, I’ll send the deck out afterward, and please reach out to me with any questions. Otherwise, have a great week, and let’s try to get back on track on Saturday, eh?

Thanks, talk to you all later!!!

*Clicks “End Call” button*

This is gonna be a long, miserable week. Woof.