Going into last night, there were quite a few different outcomes I was fully prepared to talk about and give my opinion on. I must admit I feel like I have nothing to talk about regarding this game even after a few hours of letting it soak in. The energy to sift through everything that happened is going to be very difficult to muster but, I am going to try. The difficulty with trying to break down this game is that it seemed like so many things went wrong, but when you look back it feels like nothing happened. Almost like the game never happened at all or it was some distant dream despite being played just last night. On top of that this team’s performance varies wildly from snap to snap, drive to drive, quarter to quarter, and game to game. So it is hard to truly get a feel for who this team is or wants to be. Even though the offense had made a lot of strides since the beginning of the season, we knew coming in that they had yet to have a lot of success early. And the defense while mostly performing strongly so far this year, still had yet to remedy the meltdowns that kept them away from being a great unit. There is no love here for Brian Kelly, but this is what I think some people forgot when he left. These wild variations in team performance against lower-tier opponents were a thing of the past. As fans, we must come to that realization and make sure we remind ourselves there may be some growing pains for a bit until things get fully figured out. So you will not hear me suggest Freeman isn’t the guy or a mistake was made in his hire. Do other adjustments need to be made that may or may not include firing other coaches? Yes, but we are going to try to stay away from knee-jerk reactions to a rough loss.
I feel like whenever I talk about the defense my mind instantly directs towards the same sentence “All in all they were fine.” It is maddeningly frustrating that I cannot seem to think of any other way to explain this unit. On the surface overall I think we look awful, but by the end of the game, their ppg allowed hasn’t been too concerning. For instance, thinking back to last night’s defense all that comes to my mind is a million missed tackles. If you asked me purely based on what I remembered from the plays themselves, I’d say this defense gave up 28-plus points. They didn’t though, they held the Cardinal to their lowest point total this season by almost a touchdown (6 points). The issue is those missed tackles, breakdowns in coverage, and other mental lapses if remedied, would allow this team to be at an elite level. They are giving up 19.7 ppg right now, and I do not doubt that number would be closer to 10 if the execution were up to standards on those few plays. Injuries have slowly but surely started to pile up so we can give them a little bit of slack in that department, a silver lining with that would be getting some of these talented young players some experience. I have concerns about the defense but nothing I see is detrimental or cause for long-term concern, yet.
The offense on the other hand may be leaning a bit further on the concern scale. They have benefited from me not writing immediately after the game though. I have pushed back on the fire Tommy Reese train, stating I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction to things we have not experienced as a fan base in quite a few years. Last night I started to think that I may have to throw my hands up. There is no way you can score 14 points against Stanford and not have people ask about your job, not at Notre Dame. It’s completely inexcusable, right? Take a step back real fast, I said after last week’s game Pyne had an X-factor that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. However, I also said that I know the limitations we have with him under center. In the previous 2 games for some reason, the opponent hasn’t taken the best TE in the country as seriously as I probably would have. Pyne’s biggest issues are his height and lack of a full progression unless given a full minute in the pocket. This causes him to have to stare down Michael Mayer, or if given enough time, sit in the pocket until someone slides into a space in the defense and it’s easy to pitch and catch. So if you were a defense and you see a QB with these limitations (oh and also you notice the refs are not going call a PI if their mom’s life depended on it) what are you going to do? We are going to be aggressive in coverage on every ball that comes our way, and he is not going to get the ball to #87. That is was Stanford did that BYU and UNC failed to do. This lulled us into a bit of a comfort zone with Pyne, but I know I was not the only one who thought we could not continue with this exact formula. I told the guy I was watching the game with (NFL guy, hadn’t watched much of, if any ND) before the first drive, we are gonna get to 3rd and 8-10 and then Mayer is going to run a 7-10 yd out or in and he is gonna throw it every time. It is so predictable and eventually, you will run into a crew that is going to allow receivers to be mugged without calling almost a single PI, it’s a guarantee. Combine all of that and it is recipe for disaster, especially with a backup QB who is not an exceptional athlete. So, let’s go back to the one in charge and someone whose name will be on many Notre Dame fans’ tongues this week. Shockingly my concern with him is not in the play call department. Outside of the 2nd and long runs, there were more plays that I yelled “nice play call” rather than “what was that?”. My issues come with the lack of development with our QBs. I do not expect Pyne to come out and be Tom Brady or anything, he’s our backup and we all have to remember that. But you have to think he would know by now you cannot stare down Mayer all game, or where the freaking first down marker is on your last chance 4th down. It’s his (and others previously) lack of development that brings me pause with Reese. It also seems to me that lack of development is the last issue that is to be fixed from the Kelly regime, something Reese’s whole career centers around. Just saying.
Yes, the officiating was horrendous, and it is the closest I’ve come in quite some time to putting a loss on the refs. I truly considered a whole paragraph of venting about it because it was very bad. But being able to put my frustrations about the defense and offense on paper proved to be therapeutic for me. I feel similar to the way I felt after the Marshall game. Extremely disappointed, but in the realization that things are different than they have been since ‘16 and before that ‘09. We are going to go through feelings regarding this program good and bad that we have not experienced in quite some time. The only difference between how I feel now and how I felt a month ago, my confidence in Tommy is starting to shake a bit. He still has to work with a backup QB for the rest of the season though, so I say we put down the pitchforks and torches for now. Don’t put them away, just put them down for the time being.