I was born just before the start of the Davie era. From my earliest memories up through high school, there were some pretty rough moments. Willingham year’s being my first memories, being there in person for the Air Force blowout in ‘07 (after losing to Navy), and early Kelly letdowns (Navy, Tulsa, USF) all stand out to me. Yesterday’s loss to Marshall will unfortunately be one of those games that stick out in a similar fashion. The anger and disappointment from fans is understandable. There is nothing you can point to in this game as something to build on or be proud of. There is a lot that needs to be examined from this coaching staff, and a lot these players are going to need to put in, to salvage this season. With all of that being said, I don’t think this loss is as shocking as we may think.
I’m going to start with the most obvious issue. This offensive line, similar to the start of last season is the biggest liability on this team. It may look slightly different because Buchner unlike Coan is mobile, but they are struggling in almost the same way they did last year. In the run game, they seem completely unable to win the line of scrimmage. No matter which back is in they are getting hit as soon as they are handed the ball on almost every play. In the passing game, they are slightly better but still unable to consistently hold a pocket for Buchner. The Ohio St. performance we explained away due to their athleticism and Jim Knowles’ defense. Turns out that defense may be more similar to last season than we thought. Everyone thought with last year’s experience and the addition of Harry Hiestand to the coaching staff, that this line would be one of the biggest strengths of this team. I was part of that group and man was I wrong. I’m not saying this unit cannot succeed but, I am saying that I think we forgot that a lot of the success that came later in the season last year came against weak defensive line units.
I think coaches are important. I think people who say players play not coaches don’t understand how the game of football works. The coaches have their part and it is very important. It’s why they get paid the amount of money they do. One thing they cannot do however is execute (Unless you’re Brian Kelly after FSU). That is something that only the players can go out and do, and it’s something this team is not doing. Whether or not we realize it, Tyler Buchner is still very young, he is still going to make mistakes. The thing is everyone around him needs to step up. As stated before the offensive line is not cutting it. Those issues directly affect the QB and RBs, which in turn affects the WRs. But when given the chance our receivers haven’t executed. Multiple times on Saturday a ball hit an Irish receiver in the hands and it ended up on the turf. Those drops are lost opportunities to swing the momentum, turn a game around, and open up a playbook. It just seems like nobody is capable of stepping up and being a leader offensively. The defense is not completely immune from this either. Two weeks in a row this defense allowed a 90+ yd touchdown drive when they needed a stop, and other than Brandon Joseph (big fan) the leaders on that side of the ball seem to disappear. Across the board, on both sides of the ball, this team has talent, that is not the issue. The execution is just not there plain and simple.
42 consecutive wins against non-ranked opponents are nothing to sneeze at. That’s a long time to go as a program beating the teams you should beat. It is not something that anyone involved with this program has had to experience in a while. Brian Kelly’s teams could never close the gap with the top-tier teams, and at times came out flat against similarly skilled opponents. Even at times, they would allow a lesser skilled team to stick around, but for 42 games they took care of business. Yesterday that changed, and for the first time in a long time it wasn’t “that was close” it was “what happened?”. Yes, it was frustrating to never truly climb the mountain but, one thing Kelly did succeed in (post-2016) was keeping us from feeling what it’s like to fall to the bottom. I believe that Freeman is the guy. I believe his approach is a way to win a championship at Notre Dame, that’s not my concern. I just think that we have to get used to the fact we have a new coach and he has a new job. There is going to be an ironing-out period and we are only in week 2. In regards to Tommy Reese, I do have some concerns. I’m not calling for his job or anything yet but, the lack of execution I think is partially a byproduct of the lack of development offensively. As well as the difficulty they seem to have playcalling for the players they have.
I am not trying to come off as the calm and collected guy who thinks there’s nothing to worry about. As I pointed out this is one of the worst losses I’ve ever had to watch. There are a lot of things that are gonna need to be worked on to turn this thing around this year. What I do want to say is that this team has glaring issues that we miscalculated or missed all together. Any of them separate would be an issue but add them together and combine that with coming out nonchalant against a motivated Marshall squad and you get what happened yesterday. Notre Dame was not the only team to get bit by the Sunbelt Venom yesterday. I fully expect improvement but it will not happen if the proper work isn’t put in. We will have to see how this team responds. That’s the true test.
However, if you happen to take a look at NFL scores later today and you notice the Indianapolis Colts lost their 9th straight season opener. Somebody may need to check in on me. My demeanor my have changed slightly.