I said the last two weeks, it’s been a while since I have had such a tough time reading who the Notre Dame football team truly is. Normally by this time of the season, we have a general idea of who the team is and how they are going to come out and perform week to week. I was nowhere close to that kind of thought process with this team. That was until the clock hit all zeros in the Carrier Dome on Saturday. For better or for worse I feel I am finally starting to get a grasp of what to expect out of this team. I’m not going to make the same mistake I did after the last time we beat the #16 team in the nation. I know this Syracuse team is no world-beater, while I did put them on my list of the hardest games heading into the season. From where my expectations are for Notre Dame, I’d argue we could and should beat this team by much more. That’s been the common thread through each game this year. Marcus Freeman described it pretty well when we said that they were a good team who didn’t always play like it. It may seem oversimplified but I think it’s true. I think there are some really big bright spots on this team that are overshadowed by a lack of execution and mistakes. I think there may be some evidence that may be improving. Yesterday was a step, how big? We will see.
My Dad played special teams and he was my head coach in grade school. Needless to say, I was much more of a fan of that unit than almost anyone my age usually was. I’m a huge fan of that aspect of the game of football and I believe it is much more important than most give it credit for. There is no reason I should start anywhere else other than the undeniable brightest spot on this team. Honestly, it was gross negligence for me not to mention them after last week’s two blocked punts. The only reason I didn’t was that both of those blocks happened at the end of the stadium I was in. I got a great view of both of them, and while I did give credit to them for getting them. I chalked it up more to UNLV’s terrible blocking because they almost got to more than just those two. I did not realize how bad of an issue we had under old Brian, but the new Brian has got this squad rolling. We knew that chances would be Mason would be an improvement over Polian, but I did not expect this. I would argue without this unit this team could have a losing record. The special teams have worked as the spark to a team that has lacked it on an individual level. The only thing I’ve been left wanting is for them to take back a kick. The fact they haven’t done that and I’m still raving about the unit speaks volumes. There isn’t much more I can add to outline how much of a benefit they’ve been to this team. That’s the thing about special teams, having success is hard but it’s straightforward. If you can achieve it though, it can be massive.
The defense while not perfect checked just about every box I could have asked them to. From the first play of the game (literally) they answered the call. Even when Del Rio - Wilson came in and was able to give the Syracuse offense a spark/change of pace, they stood their ground. Cross put that Bear paw up there and forced the turnover that would ultimately prove to be a dagger. While I have been critical at times this year I feel this unit all in all has done its job. Against Ohio St. And Marshall, they failed to stand up when the game was on the line and I’d argue that one of those losses may be in the win column had they been able to come up with a stop. Since those first two games they have stood up when needed, and while yesterday was the first game where they started making moves in the turnover column. They have done their job every week since Marshall. Unfortunately, our offense has done the D no favors. When you combine the lack of turnovers/big plays, and then a loss to Stanford (Not on the defense in my opinion). It’s easy to see how we could have been overcritical regarding the unit. I’d argue they are the reason this team is closer to fulfilling who they want to be than I think most realize.
I’ve come to dread talking about the Notre Dame offense each week. It’d almost be better if they were just absolute garbage because at least there would be interest in seeing just how bad they could be each week. What we’ve got this season is an offense that seems to have the right idea. At times they can do what they want and at others the exact opposite. The RBs once again were the shining stars. But I wasn’t too surprised as that part of this offense was the only reason I picked an Irish win. While I hate to put so much on one person. The fluctuations in performance coincide with the quarterback’s success and therein lies the issue. Pyne can make the plays necessary to win, but he also can completely whiff on those chances as well. This is what happens when you have a backup under the center. Notre Dame’s QB recruiting has been middling and when you lose your starter for the season with the kind of recruiting we’ve had at that position (the most important position on the field). There is no way you are going to be where you want to be as a unit.
In the end, I left yesterday happy. They pulled out a win against a top-20 team on the road in a loud environment. They overcame Syracuse’s comeback bid and closed out the game convincingly. I also feel I have finally landed on who I think this team is. This defense is going to give us a chance every single week. There are a few situations where I would see Notre Dame getting blown out. The question going to be on the offense and if they can just get 1 more point than we allowed our opponent. I think on certain weeks that will be more than easy, and on others not so much. I don’t think Pyne is going to have enough consistency for us to know what we will get each week and that is something we are just going to have to get used to until next year. Unfortunately, sometimes your backup was a backup for a reason.