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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — 13th Data Point Week

Let’s review that rough USC game and then turn our sights toward...ourselves? A weekend of just enjoying football? What?

*presses “Join Call” button while daydreaming about Thanksgiving dinner*

*startled back to reality by the sound of other people’s voices suddenly blaring through the speakers whose volume was set to max over the weekend for some reason*

What the — errr — good morning everybody! How was everyone’s Thanksgiving? Hopefully you all ate some fantastic food and got a little bit of relaxation prior to us hitting this home stretch of the year, what with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team’s regular season now officially complete!

Yep, I definitely did — I think I gained a few too many pounds, but don’t regret it for a second. I’m a sucker for mashed potatoes and stuffing, you guys!

Alright, I think we’re still missing a few stragglers here...ope, there he is. Hi Brendan, how’s it going? Good to see ya, hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Okay, and then we are still waiting on Amy and Sean — oh, what’s that, Erica? Sorry, you broke up there as you said something. Ohhh, Amy and Sean are both still on PTO? Got it, must be nice!!!

Well then, y’all, I guess we can jump into it. Considering the short week last week and the relative “bye” this week, we don’t have THAT much to get through today, but we might as well get moving and then hopefully I can give us all some time back. Sound good?

Cool cool cool, then can everyone see my screen?


Welp, I think, per usual, it’s safe for me to skip the agenda, as it’s the same as always...

And we don’t need to cover these next two either, so let me just flip ahead...

*hums out loud to fill the awkward silence as the Powerpoint slowly advances, freezing a bit as it goes*

...aaaaaaand awesome, so let’s talk about this past week’s results! Plenty to be said here, as you can all imagine after the 38-27 loss the Irish suffered in LA.

Unfortunately, that game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score makes it look. Yes, of course, the Irish were very much in it at multiple key points during the game, and if it weren’t for some specific and ill-timed mistakes, the game could have gone very differently. But, let’s be honest with ourselves here — the Irish got smacked around and really had no answer for what the USC Trojans were able to do offensively, and honestly they got pushed around by USC’s mediocre defense as well (if you couldn’t tell, we’re going to handle the negatives of last weekend first, to just get them out of our system and move on).

Let’s start with the obvious side of the ball — the Notre Dame defense attempting to stop one of — if not THE — best offenses in the country. Al Golden’s squad was without two of its three best cornerbacks in TaRiq Bracy and Cam Hart, who were both injured and unable to suit up for this one. To no one’s surprise, that inhibited the Irish’s ability to slow down Caleb Williams and the Trojans passing game, as Williams completed 18 of 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown on the evening.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Those aren’t WILD numbers for someone like Williams, but the 82% completion rate shows just how easy it was for him to find open receivers (even if he had to make the impossible look easy at times to avoid a sack, buy time, and find those wide open receivers). He consistently picked on true freshman Jaden Mickey — who had to play a lot more than usual due to Bracy and Hart being out — but really no one in the secondary other than an infrequently-challenged Benjamin Morrison did much of anything to stop Williams and the USC receivers.

The pass defense, though, really wasn’t the biggest problem for Golden’s group. Instead, it was the run defense’s lack of resistance and the Irish’s inability to wrap up both Williams and USC running back Austin Jones that led to the Trojans’ Joe Moore Award semifinalist line paving the way for 204 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns (3 from Williams) on 5.2 yards per carry.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line either seemed to get manhandled in the middle or to lose contain constantly on the edge, and the linebackers and defensive backs looked downright silly at times with how many missed tackles and poor angles they managed. Jones finished with 154 yards on 6.2 yards per carry, which was certainly not what most of us expected in terms of one of the biggest ways USC managed to drive down the field time and again on Saturday night.

Between their running game’s effectiveness and Williams’ ability to out-maneuver Irish pass rushers, USC ended up converting 8/12 3rd downs and were 1/1 on 4th down, owning Time Of Possession by roughly 11 minutes.

All of the above was also helped by USC’s ability to get away with murder in terms of the holding their offensive line was doing to create opportunities for Williams, Jones, etc. — the final stats won’t show it since the refs made a bunch of garbage-time penalty calls once the game was no longer in doubt, but the fact that one of the most penalized P5 teams in the country managed to basically skate by without any penalties until late in the game tells you everything you need to know, well before you even look at a replay of the game and watch ND defenders get held on several critical plays and “Heisman moments” for Williams.

Speaking of Williams, let me just say that obviously the kid is massively talented and if/when he wins Heisman, I’d say it will be pretty warranted since Hendon Hooker tore his ACL a couple weeks back and C.J. Stroud didn’t play so hot against Michigan. Williams looks like he could be a Mahomes-esque QB and so I of course understand all the hype he gets, all the media attention and fawning, etc.

But with that said, a huge negative of the ABC broadcast was just how obsessed with Williams that Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were, to the point where they seemed unable to do their jobs objectively or even describe what was happening on the field even remotely correctly. I know a lot of ND fans already didn’t like those guys, but I’ve actually typically enjoyed both Fowler and Herbstreit — I think they’re both pretty good at what they do. But that was just a horrible display of broadcasting, made all the more horrible by how much they made every single Caleb Williams play into a “Heisman moment.” And I don’t blame Williams for that — I have no personal issue with him doing the Heisman pose or celebrating with his teammates or anything — but the media using yet another ND game to make a Heisman pitch for an opponent, especially a USC player, is just ROUGH to watch and it was a massive negative for the game.

Okay, now let’s talk about the offense. Just like USC was weirdly strong running the ball, the Notre Dame offense decided that it would refuse to run the ball effectively at all, and instead become a pass-heavy offense in the season finale, leading to some honestly wild end-of-game stats like this one from our good friend Greg:

We’ll cover the ND passing game in the positives section, as weird as that sounds. But let’s quickly talk about the rushing attack that never even remotely got traction. The Irish ran for just 90 yards in total, averaging 3.5 yards per carry on the evening. The o-line wasn’t getting a great push, but the offense also just failed to run the ball as much as they should have. That might partially be due to the defense allowing Caleb Williams to put the Irish in an early hole, but also it just seems wrong in any game that Audric Estime could receive only 6 carries and only 8 touches in total during a huge rivalry game against an opposing defense that has been BAD against the run all year.

Logan Diggs didn’t exactly get a massive number of attempts either, but he did have double the carries of Estime, but managed just 34 yards (2.8 YPC) as he largely just didn’t have a ton of running room to work with, with the ND offensive line being bullied a bit by the Trojans defensive front, especially in the first half. The play-calling on some of the runs was a little baffling as well, including a 3rd down run to Diggs that went parallel to the line of scrimmage, a 4th down Mitch-a-palooza QB sneak when the team needed roughly 1.5 yards to convert (and thus did not manage to get what they needed), and several times where motion or a fake jet sweep from a receiver came awfully close to interfering with Pyne and the running back, and one time when it actually did and Pyne ended up fumbling deep into a drive that was looking like it was going to change all the momentum of the game.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Add in Drew Pyne’s interception in the 4th quarter on the final drive where ND still had a realistic chance to come back, and it was just an offensive performance full of out-of-character struggles, the worst-timed turnovers possible, and just not enough firepower to keep up with what Williams and the Trojans were throwing at the Irish on their side of things.

Finally, shout out to Lincoln Riley and his staff for finding a truly genius way to avoid having Brian Mason’s unit block any of their punts — they simply refused to do a real punt, instead having Williams pooch-punt from a normal formation. This worked extremely well, with Williams punting twice for 84 total yards, including a 58-yard punt and one punt downed inside the 20 (hats off to Herbstreit for mentioning on that punt that Brandon Joseph isn’t a punt returner, which might be a bit of an inaccurate statement considering he IS ND’s starting punt returner and has been all season).

Alrighty, with all the above noted, let’s try to find the positives in this game, as there were still some bright spots for sure. Per usual, Michael Mayer was an absolute stud, reeling in 8 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on the night, putting him at 180 receptions for 2,099 yards and 18 touchdowns in his 3-year Irish career.

We don’t know if Mayer will want to play in a somewhat meaningless bowl game or if he will opt out to prepare/preserve himself for the NFL Draft, but I think we can all agree that he has been an absolute legend at his position and has been everything you could possibly ask for from an ND player, both in terms of talent/dominance/hard work on the field as well as how he represents the university and leads his teammates off of it. You rule, Michael, and we can’t wait to see what you can do at the next level.

Mayer wasn’t the only receiver to have a nice game, though, with sophomore WR Deion Colzie making his presence known in a big way, catching 3 passes for 75 yards and a beautiful touchdown grab at a very high degree of difficulty.

Colzie has battled injuries so far in his young career and some of us had probably started to write him off way too early, so it’s super fun to see him healthy and making big plays on a big stage. With what he flashed, he could very well be one of the best receivers on next year’s team and a hugely important target for whoever is running the show under center.

The other wideouts added a few nice plays as well, with Lorenzo Styles Jr. making 4 catches for 34 yards, Jayden Thomas getting 2 receptions for 23, and Braden Lenzy making one very nice diving 25-yard catch at a moment when the Irish really needed it. If this program is going to take the next step in the next few years, it will need guys like these or their younger teammates to step up and keep making big plays through the air.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Notre Dame at USC Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I think Estime, Diggs, and Chris Tyree all ran hard when they got the ball, despite the lack of great opportunities to do much more. Estime especially was quite effective when he DID get the ball, albeit in very limited fashion.

The biggest shout-out and positive for the offense, though, goes to QB Drew Pyne. Yeah, he made a couple costly turnovers in some critical moments when you just couldn’t turn it over and expect to win the game, but he was otherwise ON FIRE in this one, turning in his best career performance in easily the biggest game he’s ever started. He began the contest 15-for-15 passing and finished 23-for-26 for the game (which is absurd for any QB playing against a top-10 team, but especially for this one to do that). He tossed 3 touchdowns, amassed 318 passing yards, and made several throws that were just ridiculously perfect and would never have been completed if he were even a little bit off in any direction.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Pyne is, without a doubt, a backup-level QB for Notre Dame. We knew that after he lost the QB derby to Tyler Buchner, we knew it after several horrific performances throughout this season, and we still know it now. The Irish cannot enter 2023 with Pyne as the potential QB1.

But the fact he’s been in this position all season isn’t his fault, and we HAVE TO recognize, right now, just how great Pyne’s attitude, leadership, perseverance, and toughness have been in taking over an 0-2 team that just lost to MARSHALL and helping steer them to an 8-2 record as starter, including wins over several ranked teams. He hasn’t been perfect by any means, but he’s done everything you could reasonably ask him to as the interim starter, and it was so fun to see him go out with a fantastic overall performance throwing the football.

I tweeted this on Saturday morning, completely joking and knowing in my heart that Caleb Williams would put up wild passing numbers in comparison to Pyne:

Instead, Pyne was the best passer on the day. Yes, Williams showed in several other ways why he’s likely the Heisman, but Pyne was more productive through the air than the best QB in the country, which was pretty freaking cool to see for a kid who’s taken a ton of criticism and only responded by doing the absolute best job he could as the interim starter at quarterback.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The other thing I want to quickly mention about the offense is that they were 5-for-7 on 3rd down conversions, which was nice to see, even against a USC defense not exactly known for stopping teams on 3rd down.

Defensively, I truly don’t think there were many positives to discuss, but Isaiah Foskey, just like Michael Mayer, deserves a shout-out for playing a really nice final regular season — and maybe final overall — game of his career. Foskey finished the game with 5 tackles (4 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss (including 1.5 sacks), and a remarkable forced fumble where he ran down Addison — potentially the best wideout in the country, mind you — from behind and punched the ball out to potentially flip all the momentum back to ND.

Unfortunately, his teammates failed to corral the fumble, USC recovered, and the drive continued on. But it was just an incredible effort and determination to make the play, and this team is going to MISS Isaiah Foskey next season. He was really the only guy who looked great on defense last night for ND.

I do think Xavier Watts (tied for the team lead in tackles with 9, 1 PD) and Jayson Ademilola (5 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2 TFL) deserve some praise for turning in some solid games, but really that’s about it from that side of the ball.

Final little positive to note: Brian Kelly, in all his “glory,” actually, legitimately did what I was VERY MUCH JOKING ABOUT a couple weeks ago...

It’s extremely sour grapes over here in my household, but I am, indeed, laughing uproariously.

Okay, let’s quickly cover the scorecard slide for this week and keep moving.

Some red on some key tasks, which is definitely disappointing and something to improve on as we now prepare for a bowl game, but hats off to the crew for all the green here too — we may not have had the overall result we wanted, but some real and awesome accomplishments were earned by some great Irish players!

Now, let’s hand out some recognition — even in a loss, it’s important to celebrate the little successes!

Okay, so first off...

We’d like to recognize Caleb Williams for being anointed the Chosen One by ESPN and ABC the very minute things started to go south for C.J. Stroud against Michigan. Williams is obviously a super talented player, but he must truly be special for a TV broadcast team to so unabashedly root for one guy while really not even pretending to remain “unbiased.”

Congrats Caleb!!!!

Okay, now for the real Team Members of the Week...

Congrats are in order for Michael, Drew, Isaiah, Deion, and some minor congrats for Audric, Logan, Xavier, and Jayson — you all chipped in some nice little performances/moments and the Irish would have lost by a heckuva lot more without your efforts!

Please check your inboxes after this call and you should have a California Pizza Kitchen gift card waiting for you.

Well, now is the time where we would normally turn toward this week’s opponent, but as you know, the Irish will be sitting at home eating cheeseburgers once again while they watch all those chumps who are beholden to conferences battle it out for conference titles.

So, there’s really no competitor to give any overview for, and thus I’m going to do something fun and show you a quick overview of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish squad from the vantage point of one of my competitor scouting sections. Should be fun to make fun of ourselves a little bit and get to know this 8-4 squad a bit better before bowl season!

Let’s do this, starting with an overview...

You guys probably know a lot of this, and can read the rest in your spare time today, but just want to note a few things:

1. Marcus is so handsome

2. I love that Indianapolis Light Artillery went undefeated against the greatest college football program of all-time. I am less enthused about Tulsa, UConn, and Marshall making the same list, though, since their wins over ND came in the last 15 years. Woof.

3. I didn’t want to list the typical “fun” alumni like Regis Philbin since we all know about him, but felt compelled to dig up some other fun alumni here, including someone who works for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., someone who invented 250 new species of nematodes, a mobster, a clown, some fun actors (including Austin Swift, who I didn’t know was an actor), the guy who invented the teleprompter, everyone’s favorite fictional mini-horse, and of course, an actor named Brian Kelly who was known for his role in the TV series Flipper.

Okay, now let’s take a shot at ranking all the great name talent on this ND team. There may not be a C’Bo Flemister anymore, but there are still a handful of gems to enjoy.

My personal favorites: Prince Kollie, Nana Osafo-Mensah, Junior Tuihalamaka, Skip Velotta, Jon Sot, and of course, Michael “Milk” Vinson — included because of his phenomenal nickname.

So if we were to dive deeper and look at some Key Competitive Insights for these bad boys, what should we know??

I’ll be honest, I kind of mailed it in on this slide, but was really just scrambling to get all this done before the meeting. So, to sum up 4 things you already definitely know about our Irish: they have a great tight end, an All-American defensive end, they have had a really nice year running the football (ignoring 11/26), and they were stupendous this year at blocking punts. Fun stuff!!

Y’all, it’s now time to close this out by covering What’s Important Now for this project team as we close the book on the regular season and look forward to December/January and then the off-season to follow.

You can read the above detail yourself, but here are the key highlights:

1. ND needs to close out recruiting for the 2023 class STRONG and then build on that with a fantastic 2024 class. Not a bad start on Sunday.

2. The Irish need to focus on winning their bowl game to get Freeman his first bowl victory, rebuild momentum for the off-season and next year after that USC drubbing, and hopefully also get some PT to some young guys against a decent opponent in order to get them some experience heading into a season where they will be called upon to perform much more often.

3. Freeman and Rees need to go out and land a significant QB transfer who’s a proven and successful starter at the FBS level, preferably Power 5. It also wouldn’t hurt to get a pass rusher, maybe another WR, and potentially a couple other ready-made starters/contributors for next season.

NCAA Football: Florida State at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

4. Marcus needs to sort out the staff — this might not mean firing anyone or anything, but there were some massive failures at times this season by the coaches and Freeman needs to get everyone on the same page and moving the right direction so that we don’t see any Marshall/Stanford games again and so the Irish can keep getting better instead of stagnating.

5. It’s important for us as ND fans to just enjoy a weekend where we don’t need to stress out about the performance of our team. Enjoy a wild and fun weekend of conference title games in the wackiest sport on earth, and let’s go Purdue and Utah!!!!

6. As for the CFP, it’s time for all of us to hop on the Hypno Toad bandwagon, folks. Of all the CFP contenders, they’re easily the weirdest and most fun and will be clear underdogs against just about anyone else in the Top 4. Hopefully they can take care of business on Saturday and then shock some punks in the Playoff.

Alrighty, that’s it for this week’s call, you guys. Any questions?

Perfect, then I will go ahead and send the deck out to you all right after this, per usual, and hope you all have a nice week and a relaxing/fun upcoming weekend!!

*clicks “End Call” button*

I wonder if I can convince my mom to mail me whatever Thanksgiving leftovers they still have, that was a mistake not to demand a bag full of food for me to munch on during work today...