As Marcus Freeman said after the game - “We have to continue to get better and let the outcome take care of itself”. It may come off as cliche or coach speak, but I think that was the exact mindset that was needed coming into Saturday and something that needs to continue to be a point of focus if they want to build on the success from the last two weeks. Anybody who could see the issues that this Tar Heels defense had understood the opportunity the Irish offense had to find their identity and to make a statement. On top of that, playing the media darling North Carolina Tar Heels on ESPN at 3:30 was the perfect chance to answer the critics. In reality, my only frustration comes from once again having a game against UNC look much closer than it truly was. Anyone who watched this game knows it was at least a 52-26 route if it weren’t for some extremely sloppy and lazy play down the stretch. If you take that portion away, this team checked almost every box they could have today.
The offense was about as well-balanced as you could hope for. 576 total yds, 287 on the ground and 289 through the air. As I mentioned prior, there were a lot of clues coming into this game that Notre Dame could have success against this defense. The problem is we had yet to see this unit come together for a complete game, even when they had their starting quarterback. They did that yesterday, and for the first time in a while, I had almost no complaints coming out of a game offensively for a Notre Dame team. The offensive line did what we expected them to do all year, Pyne was calm, composed, and more than capable of steering the ship, the backs got downhill and the receivers made plays even when ball placement wasn’t necessarily perfect. I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but in comparison to the previous three weeks, this offense looked perfect. I said in my previous columns that I thought the combination of play calls and execution was the reason for this unit’s struggles. Yesterday they seemed to put that all together. There are much better defenses in the country and even on this schedule. I by no means think this offense is going to put up these sorts of numbers every game going forward. But this is where the focus on improvement and letting the results take care of themselves comes in. If this team can take what they learned yesterday and continue to build on it, we could be surprised by how far they’ve come by the season’s end.
Shockingly the defense was the big issue I had coming out of this game. Even more oddly my concerns were mostly isolated to the very beginning and very end of the game. Opening the game by allowing a 12-play 76 yd touchdown drive is, let’s say less than ideal. As far as they were concerned the offense had proven absolutely nothing to this point. There was no reason to be banking on your offense to be able to win in a back-and-forth offensive battle. This team so far had been led by the defense, and they came out flat and allowed this offense to drive it right down the field and score. Not only that, in crunch time, when they had a chance to put the game away completely they failed again. This was not the first time this defense has had this issue this year. They’ve largely done their part, but when allowed to make a stand and put their stamp on a game they fail. They allow teams to stay in the game or in Marshall’s case win it. It’s extremely frustrating because it mostly seems to be laziness. Some of the play calls have been questionable in these scenarios, I understand that but I really sense a lack of urgency at times and it only takes one play. Cough cough, even a 4th and 21.
The biggest thing we can take away from Saturday is that it is a long season. Teams grow and change. Multiple top 25 teams lost or struggled yesterday. Yes, the Marshall loss was bad. But hear me out, what if things aren’t as bad as we thought? I know, I know, I’m crazy. If you think about it though the struggles Notre Dame has experienced so far are not exclusive to them. Plenty of teams are struggling and adjusting each week. The key is to continue that grow. The best teams at the end of the year are the ones that continued to improve from where they were in the first few weeks. Yesterday’s performance gives this team a blueprint heading into the bye week. Then they will have the perfect test in what will hopefully still be a ranked BYU team. As a fanbase, I hope we can all use this week to take a collective breath. Things did not start well but there is a lot of season left. It is going by fast so let’s enjoy it. I think the future looks bright but regardless I’m going to sit back and enjoy the ride.