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Notre Dame Fiesta Bowl Notebook: Oklahoma State 37, Irish 35

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Big day, bad day

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish lost the Fiesta Bowl to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 37-35, in a game that adds to the long list of disappointments in New Years Six games.

JACK COAN’S BIG BAD DAY

Jack Coan lit the desert on fire in the first half. In his final game with Notre Dame, Coan went into halftime with a remarkable stat line of 24-33 for 342 yards and 4 touchdowns while only being sacked once. In fact, Coan had a really clean pocket for most of the first half despite the Irish showing almost no threat of a running game.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

It was a much different game for Coan in the second half. Jack threw the ball 35 more times but only completed 14. A fair number of those passes were throw aways and bad passes (both overthrown and underthrown). It caught up to him at a critical time as the Irish were down 6 and driving in OSU territory, and Coan throws an interception to the Cowboy linebacker.

It was a huge statistical day for Jack. He set Fiesta Bowl records for passing yards (509) and passing touchdown (5) and had the second best yardage day in Irish history — but his 40% completion percentage in the 2nd half was pure misery.

NO BUCHNER

Notre Dame struggled mightily to run the ball in this game. 21 attempts for 42 yards regardless of how well the passing game is going is not a great indicator of a winning football program. Throughout the season, Notre Dame has inserted Tyler Buchner in at quarterback to give a spark to the offense — and specifically its running game.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

That didn’t happen in the Fiesta Bowl. Freeman said he and rees talked about it, but didn’t want to disrupt what Jack Coan was doing. In hindsight, maybe Jack Coan needed to be disrupted — at least the Irish offense did at least.

2ND HALF ALMOST NO PLAY

Before Notre Dame scored on that final drive in the second half, they had the ball 7 times in the final two quarters. The Irish ran 34 plays for a whopping 123 yards. They also turned the ball over twice, and had three 3 and outs — and a turnover on downs.

The offense looked almost incompetent, and even though there were some very questionable no-calls when it came to OSU and pass interference... the Irish got rocked by the Cowboys defense.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Normally, 28 points against an offense that that was never particularly dynamic should be just enough to get a win. That certainly wasn’t the case, but regardless of points, it was the the short do-nothing drives that helped keep the Irish defense out on the field as OSU mounted their 30 point attack.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Maybe there are a couple of elephants in the room after a game like that — but the big one for me is what wasn’t out on the field. This isn’t a criticism of their decisions, but Kyle Hamilton and Kyren Williams are almost certainly the difference in this game.

The many stigmas that are attached to Notre Dame in these types of games has to do with depth in the secondary. Can you imagine how bad this could have been if Cam hart was unable to play?

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

For all of the good play the safety room has given the Irish in the last half of the season, having no Kyle Hamilton to clean up on runs and to protect the sidelines on the deep ball finally ate the Irish up.

A DEFENSE NOT WORKING

Notre Dame’s leading tacklers in this game were Clarence Lewis (10) and J.D. Bertrand (9). What that single stat doesn’t tell you is that almost all of Lewis’s tackles came after a Cowboy reception against him, and Bertrand whiffed on about 5 plays around the line of scrimmage.

It didn’t help that Notre Dame continually blitzed Oklahoma State like Jon Tenuta got a hold of the headset. The blitzes put Lewis on an island during a game that he was really struggling in, and Bertrand was forced to make quick lateral moves of which he actually did NOT make quick lateral moves.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Oklahoma State at Notre Dame Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Mostly though, it was a defense that failed to make the proper adjustments — especially against the run. Perhaps even more than Notre Dame’s secondary breakdown against the pass, it was Spencer Sanders finding consistent daylight on scrambles to keep the chains moving. Sanders accounted for 125 of the 234 yards OSU gained on the ground.

THE DECISION

Perhaps as much as any decision in the game, Freeman’s choice to sit on the ball and go into the half up 28-14 will go down as a massive mistake by many fans out there. With 1:16 on the clock, OSU got the ball back down 28-7 — and quickly scored a TD. With 39 seconds remaining in the half, Freeman played it conservative instead of gunning for a field goal (or better) to end the half.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Cheryl Evans/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

As disappointing as it felt watching it live, I’m not convinced it was a bad decision. For me, it was more of a head-scratcher as many of us expected Freeman and the Irish to be more aggressive in this game. Was that decision indicative of other choices made throughout the game like no Buchner and other play calls left on the sheet? We will never know — but it’s hard to not think about the difference it could have made (or not allowing that TD to OSU to begin with).

MOVING FORWARD

There’s definitely more to say about this game, but a lot of it is going to need a rewatch which makes for a terrible couple of hours. Freeman said after the game that the “honeymoon is over,” and he may not understand how absolutely right he is about that. While the win here provides 8 months of feel good vibes for the fan base and PR stuff, a loss can be more powerful if done correctly.

I have no doubt about Freeman’s ability to motivate players, but all of the small things needed to guide the program from now until September is very unknown. I don’t think there are massive alarm bells here, but the benefit of the doubt has already melted away.