*clicks “Join Call” button*
Hey everybody! Sorry I’m late, I got stuck on the ramps that lead up to the 400-level at Soldier Field on Saturday and only just now got all the way down them — traffic, amiright?!?
*silence, with some polite smiling from the couple people brave enough to be on camera for this call*
Aaaanyway, I hope you all had a nice weekend — and for any Badgers fans on the call, my apologies! Haha yeah that was mostly meant for you Chuck!
Ha! Yeah, very good point. I love that you can always find the positive, it WAS a beautiful Saturday to watch a game at Soldier Field.
Okay well let’s go ahead and jump into the deck, we have a lot to cover and I know some of you need to jump at 9:30 for that other call. Can everyone see my screen?
Oh, my bad — okay now are we all good?
Well, it’s Cincinnati week! Another important week in this project, but really the same agenda as always:
There’s a little extra to cover in both the Team Members of the Week and the Competitor Overview sections, so I’ll be sure to send this deck out afterward in case you want to reference later — lots of good info here!
Like last week, I think we’re good on what W.I.N. is — so we can flip through these without anything to cover.
Okay great, so let’s take a look at last week’s results.
Similar to two weeks ago, it was another strong week and we appear to be trending upward still — however, we definitely aren’t where we need to be yet in a few key metrics.
Still, lots of positives to call out here. Chris Tyree brought back the first kick return for the Irish since 2016 when CJ Sanders housed one against Army, and his speed was on full display as he spent about 10 seconds completely flipping the momentum of the game.
Looked like he had a damn cheetah taped to his back.
Meanwhile, Marcus Freeman’s defense looks like they’ve finally started to find their groove. Yeah, Graham Mertz and the Wisconsin passing offense are pretty bad, but the Badgers still came into this game with a good offensive line and a productive rushing attack, and Freeman’s squad simply smothered them, allowing just 2.8 yards per carry on the day.
Add in the turnovers — Cam Hart asserting himself as a fantastic cornerback and Jack Kiser and Drew White just stomping on the Badgers’ throats with their back-to-back pick-sixes, and BOY was it a fun defensive effort to watch.
The pass rush only landed a sack once (a good one, Jayson Ademilola’s sack-fumble), but the front seven still got some good pressure and was obviously key in stuffing the run. ND held Wisconsin to 1-of-14 on 3rd down conversions, continuing a nice little stretch they began against Purdue.
In the last 25 third downs defended by Notre Dame’s defense, the Irish have allowed two conversions.— Pete Sampson (@PeteSampson_) September 25, 2021
There’s a chance Marcus Freeman just needed a few games under his belt to finally “arrive,” which is excellent timing considering the game in front of them this coming Saturday.
#NotreDame Football continues to surge in the national defensive rankings. Irish are in the top 25 in takeaways (2nd), sacks (14th), pass-eff. defense (19th) and third-down defense (25th).— Eric Hansen (@EHansenNDI) September 26, 2021
On offense, the line continued to disappoint in every way. Wisconsin got 6 sacks — the Irish are now 3rd-to-last in the country in sacks allowed per game — and a huge forced fumble, and all of those can be attributed to the line (save for one sack that was more so Coan just falling down?). Furthermore, the Irish o-line certainly can’t get any credit for run-blocking on a day when the Irish finished with 3 rushing yards.
However, I DO want to say that I and the group of fans around me absolutely loved tracking rushing yards throughout the game and cheering when the Irish would push back into the positive, only to soon fall back into the negative. Helluvan accomplishment to finish above 0, you guys!*
*Pat Rick Note: also, shout-out to the guys in front of me, who had a hilarious bit about one of the guys ordering the soft drink Squirt from the concession stand — it was so stupid and yet made me chuckle every time. Loved that by the end of the game we were on high-fiving terms.
Kevin Austin had himself a fantastic response-game after Purdue week, finishing with 6 catches for 76 yards and the offense’s only two touchdowns. And Drew Pyne was brilliant in the second half when he had to step in for Jack Coan (who didn’t have a great day throwing the ball himself, going 15-for-29 prior to his injury).
Following his fumble that I mentioned above (not his fault, got blindsided by a rusher off the edge), Pyne led a really nice little scoring drive that culminated in his 16-yard touchdown pass to Austin with less than 10 minutes to play, putting the Irish up two scores. The oft-forgotten sophomore finished 6-of-8 for 81 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Other nice performances were turned in by Michael Mayer and Avery Davis (combined for 11 receptions and 116 yards), JD Bertrand (8 tackles, 1 QB hurry), the Ademilola brothers (9 combined tackles, Jayson had a sack-fumble and 2 TFL), and Jay Bramblett (had a 72-yard punt!!!).
Jay Bramblett recorded a career-long 72-yard punt in the second quarter.— Notre Dame Football PR Team (@NDFootballPR) September 25, 2021
It is the longest punt by an Irish player since Hunter Smith had a 79-yard punt against Arizona State in 1998.
I’ve mentioned some of the negatives — Coan’s accuracy, the offensive line’s performance in every facet of the game — but also need to call out offensive production in general (ND had 50+ more yards via returns on the day than they had on offense), ball security (Bellyman had another fumble on top of the one Pyne lost — luckily his was recovered by the Irish), and playing an unclean game (11 penalties for 93 yards on the day for the Irish).
Okay, so moving right along — here’s the latest scorecard...
We covered some of this on the previous slide, but I wanna give a big shout-out to Marcus for crossing a big deliverable off the list in fixing the defense — he’s been working diligently on that one for weeks now.
Furthermore, major kudos to Chris, Cam, and Kevin for taking care of their action items, and especially to Tommy, who identified a previously unexpected risk in needing Drew Pyne to be ready to go, and made sure he got that done so that Saturday was possible. Well done, Thomas.
Meanwhile, there are some items still in the red that we need to start actively addressing for fear of derailing this whole project, so Jeff if you could please figure out your offensive line ASAP, that would be ideal. I know you’ve also had to work on setting the record for most LTs played in one season, but maybe let’s focus more on fixing the line’s issues ASAP — it’s definitely part of this season’s critical path.
Jack and Drew, you haven’t yet even considered tackling your task of NOT stepping on a ranked opponent’s throat at the end of the game. Maybe we will discuss with leadership and see what they want to do this week on that — I think they’re starting to come around on the games not having to be close, so perhaps their guidance there will change and that will be the direction we actively choose to go with every week?
Finally, Soldier Field gets a big red circle for the action item of designing an efficient way for people to get up to and down from their seating level — one or two sets of congested ramps with people walking slower than how zombies walk in The Walking Dead is not ideal for 60,000 people to use all at once.
Alrighty, now it’s time to turn to some accolades — it’s Team Members of the Week!
I doubt any of the above are a surprise for y’all. Chris and his return really changed everything and energized an entire team/program/fan base. Cam had his best game to-date and proved he was not only a good cover guy but a bit of a ball-hawk, and of course Kevin was literally all of the offense’s scoring today. Drew not only performed well but was willing to pick up work that wasn’t originally his at a moment’s notice, and that’s the type of effort and dedication and go-getter-ness that we reward at this company.
Congrats you guys, your Chipotle digital gift cards are officially in your inboxes!
Also, we have an extra award this week...
As you might expect, we had to give some special recognition to Jack and Drew, whose back-to-back pick-sixes were electric and did an excellent job just absolutely running up the score on that hapless Badgers offense. It was beautiful and savage and for that I’d like to give them this award that we named after the bad guys’ philosophy in Karate Kid.
Okey dokey, now let’s look ahead to this coming week. First, here’s an overview of the latest “it” opponent, the Cincinnati Bearcats.
I’ll let you study all the data here on your own time, but just want to point out that Cincy has never defeated the Cincinnati YMCA in football, and the school’s famous alumni include the inventors of Easy-Bake Oven and Preparation H, the “naked cowboy” in Times Square, the first commissioner of Major League Baseball (whose name is the amazing moniker of Kenesaw Mountain Landis), and of course, the greatest and most fun/electric basketball player of all-time, Lance “No Pants” Stephenson.
Any questions on this slide? Okay great, let’s keep moving.
Diving a bit deeper on our competitor here...
You miiiiight already know this, but for the most of you who don’t — Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman actually was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati in his past job. Even more amazingly, head coach Brian Kelly ALSO held his last job at Cincinnati — really interesting and new facts for you, right? So this game has a bit of juice there in terms of the Irish taking two of the most talented coaches to come through that staff in the past 12 years.
Another key note: Cincinnati’s QB Desmond Ridder is an absolute stud, and is easily the most talented QB the Irish have faced this season. There are some other good ones on the schedule coming up (Sam Howell, Kedon Slovis, Braxton Burmeister), but you could even argue Ridder is the best QB that Notre Dame will face all season. Pressuring him and taking him off his A-game will be crucial for the Irish to shut down the Bearcats offense — along with containing RB Jerome Ford and Ridder (a very good runner as well) the same way they’ve been able to shut down the Purdue and Wisconsin running games in the last two weeks.
On the other side of things, Cincy also boasts a very good defense (one developed/coached-up by Freeman before this season) that includes All-American caliber guys like CB Ahmad Gardner and DE Myjai Sanders. They’re especially strong against the pass, so Irish fans should definitely be wary of those guys considering what the Irish do and don’t do well. However, maybe there’s an opportunity for a bit of a rushing attack too, considering Cincy has shown that’s more their weakness this year.
Also, I just really quick want to walk you guys through what a “Bearcat” is, because I honestly thought it wasn’t a real animal until about a day ago. This was more so what I thought it was and how I thought the idea was born...
However, upon some basic Wikipedia research, I discovered we’re talking about a real, and pretty exotic, animal!
So, here’s what I could pull together on bearcats — a little “fast facts” sheet to help you quickly learn about them and what their deal is.
Okay, finally, let’s quickly run through the latest list of What’s Important Now. Some is the same as before, but really here’s what we want to focus on heading into this one and considering last week’s results.
It’s time for the Notre Dame offensive line to take a big step forward. Yeah, I know, they’re still trying to make 3rd/4th string left tackles work, and the guards continue to look pitiful at times. But the Bearcats are 108th in the country in sacks and 66th in run defense, so clearly there’s an opportunity for all these former blue-chip OL to toss their massive frames around more effectively in order to occasionally open some running lanes and to mostly keep the Irish QB — whether it’s Coan or whoever else — on his feet and with plenty of time to find all those talented receivers.
And no, I’m not expecting some sort of dominant performance from them or a sudden, complete turnaround — but besides Myjai Sanders, there’s not one Bearcats defensive lineman who should even come close to having a big game this Saturday. It’s time for the ND o-line to step up their game, even if just a notch or two — it could go a long way.
Defensively, there’s really not much different the Irish should be doing after their performance against Wisconsin. However, I will say that there were times where Badgers receivers were open and Graham Mertz just stunk too much to get the ball to them, so with Desmond Ridder coming to town this week, the Irish DBs need to do a bit better in terms of staying with guys, and the Irish pass rush needs to get more than just one sack, despite the more mobile QB they’re facing. However, otherwise, as long as the Irish keep taking advantage of the opportunities they create and keep forcing turnovers, they’re in a great groove entering this match-up.
My only other note is for Jack Coan to try to actually complete one or two of these deep balls he keeps missing on, and to continue spreading the ball around. The Bearcats have an All-American in Ahmad Gardner out there, but he can’t cover everyone, and his teammates aren’t nearly as good as him. If Coan can keep Cincy guessing by continuing to get Austin, Mayer, Davis, and others all involved early and often, the Irish should be able to move the ball.
And, if he can just once lead Braden Lenzy or not overthrow Kevin Austin, Irish fans could be treated to some huge plays through the air that break things wide open. As we all know — it certainly doesn’t have to be close, you guys.
Okay, with all that said, I believe we only have about a minute left. Does anyone have any quick questions?
Okay, well if anything comes up, please feel free to email or ping me — happy to answer them.
Anyway, I’ll of course send out the link to this deck right after we’re done, and implore you all to focus on what’s important now so that we don’t suffer any catastrophic failures against AAC teams at home. Yeah, I know “catastrophic” is a wild overreaction to a hypothetical loss to the #7 team in the country, but let’s just not do that anyway, okay? We’d never hear the end of it.
Okay. Well great, thanks y’all for joining and I hope you have a great week!
*Clicks “End Call” button*
I wonder if they could tell I was still stuck on the Soldier Field ramps and just using a virtual background that whole time...oh well, I did the best I could in the circumstances! Now I just gotta figure out how to make this crowd move faster...