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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — North Carolina Tar Heels Week

Undefeated with a Catholic head coach, let’s see if that divine play can continue and get ND back to .500 purgatory or if Mack Brown’s squad will get the school’s 2nd/3rd ever win over ND this weekend and keep us all in hell!!!

*frantically combing hair and throwing on a quarter-zip to look somewhat presentable before sprinting to my desk*

I CANNOT believe I slept through all of my alarms this morning. I set 5 of them within a 10-minute span for this very reason. Sleepy Pat is an IDIOT.

Ugh, okay, I guess I’m ready to present (as ready as I’ll ever be). Let’s do this.

*presses “Join Call” button*

Good morning everybody! How was your weekend?

Oh nice, that’s fun! Yeah I did go to the game, it was a really good time — sorry I didn’t make it to your tailgate. Yeah the Library/Fischer lots are just a bit far from where we were, the football stadium. Oh nice, well sounds like a blast!

Alright, well I know a lot of you need to hop off a bit early today for that meeting with that potential international customer, so let’s dive right into this. If anyone joins late, we can catch them up as needed.

Alrighty, can everyone see my screen?

Okay great!

Well, after a week off last week for leadership to figure out some next steps with Project L.O.S.E. in support of our efforts here on Project W.I.N., it’s good to be back and to have a bit more positive results to talk through than we did the last few weeks.

As always, here’s the agenda for the meeting — pretty standard as far as these go.

And I doubt anyone needs a reminder at this point, so I’ll just flip past them, but here are the two explainer slides for your reference if you need to help explain this project to anyone else.

Okay cool, so let’s talk about last week’s results.

As you all know, we finally have a win to talk about today, so that’s a huge positive on its own! Yeah, it may have been touch-and-go there for a while, but I’ll take a hard-fought victory when we truly need one over a heartbreaking and soul-crushing third straight week of defeat, and I think you’d all agree.

So in terms of positives, I’d love to start with Drew Pyne’s performance, specifically after the first quarter. For the final 45 minutes of game action, our Little-Backup-Who-Could was 13-for-14 passing with 123 yards and 2 touchdowns, finding Chris Tyree for a 21-yard score in the 2nd quarter and Michael Mayer for a 6-yard touchdown in the 4th that would end up being the winning points for the Irish.

There’s no question that Pyne came out nervous and had some rough initial throws, engendering boos from some fans that I’d like to have some words with, considering they were booing a junior backup QB who never asked to carry the weight of an 0-2 program desperate for a win on his shoulders. Although no one came away from Saturday thinking Pyne was going to lead the Irish back to glory, he played some really solid, mistake-free football for the last 3 quarters of the game and that’s a great sign considering it was against a decent defense and considering there is a long season ahead.

Pyne was able to play a decent game in part because the offensive line was playing some better (although still not REALLY GOOD) football on Saturday. Pyne was sacked just twice, and some pressure was taken off him to make all the plays because the line paved the way for the Irish to run for 147 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Is that fantastic? Of course not. But Harry Hiestand’s crew performed well enough for Chris Tyree and Audric Estime to combine for 140 yards on 4.0 yards per carry, which is encouraging to see after very little success on the ground in the first two weeks.

NCAA Football: California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of Tyree and Estime, those two not only did some damage on the ground — Estime scored the Irish’s other touchdown via a 1-yard rushing TD in the middle of the 3rd quarter — but also through the air, as Tyree reeled in 5 catches for 44 yards and his 2nd quarter score, and Estime added 3 catches for 43 yards, including a 36-yard reception.

A lot of us have talked about how Tommy Rees needed to find more ways to get the best offensive players touches, and giving the ball to Tyree 22 times and to Estime 21 times is a huge step in the right direction there. Very heartening to see.

Defensively, we finally saw the defensive line come alive and make some more havoc-esque plays. Jacob Lacey was a menace on the afternoon, recording 5 tackles and 2 sacks from his defensive tackle spot and firing up the defense with his inspired play. Isaiah Foskey, Jayson Ademilola, and Justin Ademilola all chipped in in terms of rushing the passer as well, combining for 4 sacks between the 3 of them. That was a nice little rebound by that group, considering they’d been pretty quiet against Ohio State and Marshall.

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider Michael Caterina / USA TODAY NETWORK

That pass rush combined with some solid coverage from the secondary (3 PDs — 1 each — from Brandon Joseph, Clarence Lewis, and Cam Hart) to really limit Cal QB Jack Plummer’s production, as he threw for just 184 yards while completing only 16 of his 37 pass attempts. Meanwhile, the front seven did a good job in corralling the Golden Bears’ designed runs, as they held Cal to 3.6 yards per carry overall and limited talented freshman running back Jaydn Ott to 33 yards on 2.5 yards per carry.

Unfortunately, QB Jack Plummer did plenty of damage on the ground on scrambles during passing downs, running 6 times for 81 yards if you remove sacks from his game stats. The defensive ends did a poor job staying at home on the edge, the defensive tackles had lapses in gap coverage, and the linebackers often seemed slow or out of position as Plummer would slip into the second level with tons of green space around and in front of him.

If ND doesn’t get a handle on how to do better in this regard, they’re going to get absolutely gashed by some opposing QBs who can do this just as well as Plummer, if not much more effectively: Drake Maye, Jaren Hall, Garrett Shrader, D.J. Uiagalelei, Caleb Williams, etc.

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider Michael Caterina / USA TODAY NETWORK

Staying on the defensive side, another negative to note is J.D. Bertrand’s stupid targeting penalty, which will make him miss the 1st half of the UNC game. Although I do think there could be a silver lining there, as it may lead to at least some rotational reps for someone like Prince Kollie. This defense could use a slight upgrade in athleticism, even if just occasionally, so hopefully someone like Kollie can prove himself and earn some PT considering some of the struggles of Bertrand, Bo Bauer, etc.

Other negatives: the defense’s inability to just bat that Hail Mary pass down — resulting in a near-miracle catch by Cal — and just generally not being able to get stops when needed (although the offense didn’t help by failing to get any first downs that could have put the game away instead of giving the ball back to Cal for another shot at tying it up).

The offense had plenty of other warts still to note, as well. Drew Pyne’s first quarter — 4-for-9 passing for 27 yards and multiple gimme passes tossed into the ground — was a master class in looking incompetent, which led to the TV cameras catching Tommy Rees telling Pyne to “do your f*cking job!” over the phone.

I don’t have too much of a problem with that because I think Pyne needed a wake-up from his anxious mistake-prone play, but if I were Rees I would also be careful about going too purple-faced-BK on him. He’s all we’ve really got, considering Angeli has never run the full offense, and so patience and more support than criticism I think are key at times, to maintain his confidence. But Pyne also responded like a champ, so I imagine Tommy has a good idea of when he can push his buttons and when he needs to soften up.

Like I’ve mentioned, the offensive line also just didn’t look fantastic still. There were tons of mental mistakes, including false start penalties various times that essentially killed drives, and that just can’t happen with such a veteran group. Also, Notre Dame still only averaged 3.6 yards per carry on the day and Pyne was sacked twice, so there’s plenty of room for this group to get better. They were just finally adequate after two weeks of looking not great, so that was nice but not enough to make us feel great yet.

Syndication: Notre Dame Insider Michael Caterina / USA TODAY NETWORK

Finally, I want to mention 3rd down efficiency — the Irish were converting on an abysmal 27% of 3rd downs entering the game, and somehow they managed to underperform that average, obtaining 3 of 12 potential 1st downs on 3rd down.

That is bad any way you slice it, and so I think Rees and co. need to think through both how they can put themselves in more attainable 3rd down distances with their play-calling on 1st and 2nd downs, but then also how they can attack 3rd downs with some different and more frequently-successful plays than they’ve called. Easier said than done, but that has to improve for games against better opponents coming up.

Alrighty, before we quickly take a look at the scorecard, I just wanted to show you this quick comparison, as I think it’s important.

Last week, a fun news story that came out was that ND head coach Marcus Freeman had officially been baptized and received first communion in the Catholic Church, completing his transformation into the perfect person to be head coach of the Irish program. Lots of people joked about how Freeman was going to turn things around now that he’s Catholic, and sure enough, he picked up his first win.

So, to help support the idea that Catholic Freeman is gonna be a PROBLEM for opponents, let’s take a look at the improvement nearly across the board that the Holy Trinity has brought to Freeman’s team.

Since he became a Catholic, Freeman’s team has a better winning percentage, scoring offense, rushing offense, yards per carry, rushing attempts, turnovers, time of possession, scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, yards per carry allowed, yards per attempt allowed, sacks, and 3rd down efficiency allowed. Plus, a lot of the decreased in metrics came in the passing offense, and you could argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as better teams who are leading more often will run more and pass less. That’s a good sign too, in my humble opinion.

So, let’s all pray a few rosaries in thanks that Marcus has made such a great choice in his personal life in order to help save the program — well done Marcus!!!

Okay, let’s quickly scan the scorecard for this week.

As you can see, we’ve had some red action items turn to yellow, such as the offensive line’s current task of getting better than bad and Tommy getting his offense to perform a bit better, and there’s a solid amount of green now thanks to Drew, the defensive line, etc.

The defense still has some red items to take care of, so please let me know how I can help support you all there. We really need to get a turnover defensively at some point, even if it nearly happened numerous times last week if not for Bertrand’s penalty, an easily-overturned call on a fumble, etc.

Alrighty, let’s quickly honor our Team Members of the Week!!!

Big-time shout-outs are in store for Chris, Jacob, Drew, Audric, Isaiah, Jayson, Justin, Jon, and Blake, as they all chipped in some great work this week and really drove the team to this victory. Congrats to you all, thank you for being such dedicated members of the company and for living our project values, and be sure to check your inboxes for a Chipotle e-gift card after this meeting!

Really quick now, I want to just run through my personal notes from the weekend via my live journal slide.

I’ll get through this quick since I know we are low on time. The quick-hitters are:

  • Manti Te’o, as most of you know, was back on campus to be honored at the game. Before the game, he gave a short and electric speech where he was just tossing out gems in terms of inspirational quotes, including the likes of “It’s gonna be an all-ager rager”; “If you wanna go fast, go alone; if you wanna go far, go together”; and “Remember that language, boys. Stay fluent in it.”
  • Marcus Freeman briefly spoke after Manti did, and was wearing a sharp dark green blazer. Not surprised to be able to say that he’s handsome in a green blazer too, guys
  • I managed to find a couple of my Chicago Sport & Social rec league kickball teammates on Library Quad during the Manti/Marcus speeches, so shout-out to the best in the business (at having fun, drinking beer, and sporting amazing themed attire...not so much at winning kickball games)
  • Meeting up with my brother and his friends at a tailgate introduced me to the fact that their party playlists appear to be largely built out of music from MY era and thus they’re amazing — complete with plenty of Pitbull songs, as one would expect for any good party playlist. I also got some free Little Caesar’s at that tailgate, so shout-out to the Notre Dame Club of San Antonio for putting it on — I definitely needed the sustenance before heading into the game to sit in the sun for 4 hours
  • There was a guy near me in the stadium wearing a jersey that said “Freeman” and had the number 22. That is a really weird choice and I cannot get over why you’d order that. He never played here!!!
  • It was awesome they honored Manti at the game and you could tell he was moved by the LOUD ovation he got both times he was shown/mentioned
  • The student section got a good wave going late in the game, and Cal fans failed the vibe check by not participating and nearly killing it. Hate that, try having some fun you losers
  • I was shocked to see how many people left early in a game that was close throughout and had multiple scares near the end as Cal had various possessions with the chance to tie, including a Hail Mary that almost worked. I counted 7 people near me in my row who left BEFORE CAL’s 2ND-TO-LAST POSSESSION and many more left before their final drive and the Hail Mary. It’s no wonder Notre Dame Stadium isn’t considered a tough place to play...
  • I don’t think they played the creepy little girl voice techno song once, which was FANTASTIC to experience. But I still don’t think they’re playing the right songs to hype people up for 3rd and 4th downs, and they need to mix it up more instead of the same thing every single time. A nice first step forward, but we’re far away from elite piped-in music right now

I do, however, enjoy watching the captions they put on the little screens on the side, and especially enjoyed this one and felt compelled to capture it on camera:

Okay, let’s flip the page now and look ahead to this Saturday. The Irish will hit the road toward Chapel Hill, where they’ll take on the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium. So what should you know about UNC, at a high level?

Here are the key points to know — feel free to read this all in more detail offline and circle back with me if you have any questions:

1. UNC’s mascot is Rameses, a ram, and the real live version has some GONADS

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Virginia at North Carolina Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2. UNC’s record against Notre Dame is 1-20, which is hilarious. UNC has technically won twice, but their 2008 win was vacated, so their only victory in the serious officially came in 1960 when they beat Notre Dame 12-7

3. UNC is 0-7 all-time against Yale, which is A LOT of games to have played against a non-FBS program to not have any wins over them. They also have never beaten Transylvania, but it’s hard to blame them, because vampires

4. Key UNC alumni include Hollywood actor Rick Fox, a sizable chunk of the main Community cast, a guy that They Might Be Giants wrote a song about, someone named Peaches Golding, Moonlight Graham, multiple former/recent conference commissioners, the inventor of Pepsi-Cola, and someone named Art Weiner

Okay, moving right along, let’s now gaze upon the glory that is UNC’s list of top names, as it somehow trumps Cal’s impossibly good list from last week.

Look at that top 12. Insane talent across the board. Storm Duck, of course, is perfect. But then you also have Diego Pounds, Major Byrd, Deems May, and British Brooks??? And guys named Power and Lejond and Jahvaree Ritzie and Ja’Qurious are extremely justifiably ranked outside the top 5???

I can’t express enough how much I love this roster. I think Mack Brown may actually use “Great Name” as a key criterion when recruiting. There’s no other explanation. Hot damn.

Okay, so what should we actually know about this UNC team and what they do/don’t do well?

You’re never going to believe this considering what we’ve seen from the Tar Heels over the last few years, but this UNC team has a super dangerous offense and a super bad defense.

Their defense, to start, is 119th in scoring, 123rd in total defense, 112th in passing defense, 118th in yards per attempt allowed, 111th in rushing defense, 108th in yards per carry allowed, 118th in yards per play allowed, and 126th in pass efficiency defense. To remind you, there are only 131 teams in the FBS. So this Tar Heel defense, through games against Florida A&M, Appalachian State, and Georgia State, is legitimately one of the worst defenses in the country — they’re ranked 83rd in SP+.

With that said, Mack Brown has helped boost UNC’s recruiting since he came back for his second stint at the school, and thus there is some solid individual talent amongst that dumpster fire on the defensive side of the ball. LB Cedric Gray leads the team in tackles at 33 (good enough to be tied for 7th in the nation) and also has a pass defended and an interception on the year. He’s joined in the linebacking group by Power Echols (26 tackles, 1 sack) and Noah Taylor, who has 10 tackles on the year and 2.5 sacks, which makes him tied for 30th in the nation in the early going of this season.

NCAA Football: Georgia St. at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive line, guys like Kevin Hester Jr. (12 tackles), Desmond Evans (12 tackles), and Kaimon Rucker (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) lead the way. And then in the secondary, it’s a group that collectively hasn’t been stellar but has plenty of talent, speed, and athleticism, led by former 5-star DB Tony Grimes, who has 9 tackles, 3 passes defended (T-29th in the nation), and a forced fumble on the year.

Other key names in the back of the defense include Giovanni Biggers (16 tackles), our boy Storm Duck (14 tackles, 2 passes defended, 1 interception), Cam’Ron Kelly (14 tackles), and DeAndre Boykins (12 tackles, 1 pass defended, 1 fumble recovery).

For how bad their defense has been, North Carolina’s offense has been the exact opposite. QB Drake Maye is the big driver there, as the talented redshirt freshman has made Tar Heel fans somewhat forget about Sam Howell, considering through 3 games he’s thrown for 930 yards, completed 74% of his passes, and tossed 11 touchdowns while only slinging 1 interception. He’s 15th in the country in passing yards, 11th in pass yards per game, 6th in completion percentage, tied for 1st in touchdown passes, 8th in passer rating, and 22nd in yards per attempt. He’s also run for 146 yards and a touchdown on 5.6 yards per carry, meaning he could be a serious threat to scramble for big gains if the Irish defense doesn’t play with discipline.

Maye has some very good skill talent to get the ball to as well — RB1 Omarion Hampton has run for 228 yards and 5 touchdowns so far this season while averaging 6 yards per carry, and backup Caleb Hood has shown some home run ability already in averaging 9.8 yards per attempt, including a 71-yarder he rattled off earlier this season. The Heels average 6 yards per carry as a team, which is tied for 9th-best in the country.

Maye’s great passing numbers so far mean he’s got a number of solid targets to throw to, led by WRs Josh Downs and Kobe Paysour. Paysour has led the team in receiving so far this season with 14 catches for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Downs has been relatively quiet for him, reeling in 9 passes for 78 yards and 2 scores. Last season Downs put up 101 receptions for 1,335 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Maye really distributes the ball to a number of guys, as other receivers who’ve contributed include TEs Kamari Morales (8 catches, 135 yards, 2 touchdowns), Bryson Nesbit (9 catches, 116 yards, 2 touchdowns), and John Copenhaver (4 catches, 108 yards), as well as wideouts Gavin Blackwell (8 catches, 109 yards, 1 touchdown) and J.J. Jones (7 catches, 100 yards, 1 touchdown), and RB D.J. Jones (8 catches for 71 yards and a touchdown).

As a group, offensive coordinator Phil Longo’s squad is ranked 11th in the nation in SP+, 4th in scoring (51.3 ppg), 5th in total offense (547 ypg), 8th in yards per play (7.6 YPP), tied for 20th in passing offense (310 ypg), and tied for 13th in rushing yards per game (237 ypg). Of course, it’s early in the year and the only real team UNC has played is Appalachian State, who’s not exactly a defensive stalwart. But the numbers so far have still been staggering for the Tar Heels, and so Al Golden’s defense will certainly have their work cut out for them, especially because it’s not a given that the ND offense will take as much advantage as they should of the bad UNC defense they’ll see.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, UNC is also ranked 1st in the country in SP+ for special teams. I don’t really know what that means at this point in the season, but something to note and to watch to see if it shows itself at all, considering Brian Mason’s group has been not too shabby as well.

Okay, let’s tie this all up in a neat little bow and get down to it: What’s Important Now for the Irish heading to Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon?

I’ll let you read through these yourselves, but want to just hit the highlights really fast before we hang up:

1. UNC’s defense is bad. ND showed some life running the ball last weekend. Time to do that up even more and not only physically impose their will on the Tar Heels, but also keep the ball out of Drake Maye’s hands as much as possible, in a somewhat similar but hopefully more successful fashion than we saw ND nearly pull off against Ohio State and C.J. Stroud.

2. Once the run game is established and UNC has to start selling out more to stop it, let Pyne take some shots downfield. Some play-action or just a few well-timed deep balls could maybe, finally, actually connect, or at the very least keep UNC guessing a bit. But if we want Pyne and the receivers to be able to threaten other teams with this at any point this season, this would be a good time against a bad defense to start trying to establish that credibility.

3. On defense, Al Golden and co. need to bring the heat at Maye. If he has time, he WILL pick apart the Irish secondary, even with them playing decently so far this season. Maye is good enough to do that if he has the time.

NCAA Football: Marshall at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

4. On top of that, forcing Maye to make all the plays (while under pressure) will be key as well — and that means shutting down the UNC running game similar to how the Irish mostly did so against Cal. However, UNC’s rushing attack is definitely more potent than the Golden Bears’, and Maye will certainly be able to do what Jack Plummer was able to do with his legs last week, so ND will need to buckle down even more, play with discipline and confidence, and tackle well so as to not let UNC’s offense do whatever it wants and control this game.

5. Stop getting false start penalties and committing other mental mistakes. Do better, you’re veterans for the most part.

6. Keep getting the best playmakers and athletes involved. Tyree, Mayer, Estime, and Styles need to be what the offense revolves around, but maybe also get the young playmakers some real chances to contribute — Tobias Merriweather, Eli Raridon, etc.

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Similarly, on defense I think there’s opportunity for some young linebackers to see some time, especially with Bertrand suspended for the first half.

Give Prince Kollie and maybe even Junior Tuihalamaka or Jaylen Sneed some snaps alongside a couple veterans and see if they can’t do some cool things with all that speed and talent they’ve definitely got.

Alright y’all, that’s all I have for today. Does anyone have any questions or concerns?

I’ll take your silence as a “no” there — well thanks to everyone for joining, and I’ll be sending this deck out immediately after the call for you to reference at your leisure.

Hope you all have a great week, and as always, Go Irish, Beat Tar Heels!

*clicks “End Call” button*

Is it lunch time yet? Woof.