Just win baby, that’s the quote the Irish players and coaches were saying to themselves over and over as they went to bed last night. Notre Dame played the role of heartbreaker this week but in no way did it feel good. This is a game that probably has a lot of us recalibrating the expectations we had set for this team coming into the season. There’s a lot to look at and some of it is quite concerning. So what was bad? What was worse? And how much should we too be telling ourselves “Just win baby”?
You can only do so much.
Since 99.99% of this game was absolutely unbearable to watch, let us start with the positives. The defense as a whole had a good day. There were moments as the game drug along where they had some troubles. I would argue when the offense has as bad of a day as they did, eventually you’re going to give up some plays. Especially when their quarterback is as much of a mobile threat as Riley Leonard is. Not only was the Irish offense not scoring, they weren’t giving the defense much of any breathers.
While I don’t love giving up 323 yds to a middling Duke offense, 88 yards of those yards were from the 18 rush attempts from Leonard. I can live with that being that was really the only spark their offense was able to find all night. When your offense keeps you on the field as much as the Irish offense did, it doesn’t surprise me that Leonard was able to find some space. When the moment came, this defense stood tall. 3rd and 4 from the Notre Dame 33 and they brought them down for a two-yard loss. While things may not always go to plan throughout a game, those are the kinds of moments you need to be able to depend on a unit. A big confidence booster after the final drive mishaps last week.
This Notre Dame offense has some things that need fixing. Considering how unpleasant they were to watch that may be the understatement of the century. Adjustments are the first thing I notice or lack thereof. This is funny because of the praise I had for their ability to adjust on the fly in the first four games of the season. I don’t have a good reason as to why they are failing at it now but it’s painfully obvious. For the last two weeks once the opposing defense can hold the Irish for 2 or more drives, they have proven very little ability to stop that trend.
The Blue Devils were crashing inside and winning. They were telling Notre Dame we want you to keep trying to run it up the middle. I’m not saying we need to go deep or anything but spread the ball out. Get runners in motion and on the outside. Heck, do anything except what has been proven not to work since the first drive of the game. I don’t know why Parker has been so bullish on his play calling as of late but it’s been killing this Notre Dame offense.
In my opinion, the absences of Thomas and Greathouse put a lot of pressure on this offense. Receivers were having trouble getting open downfield and the offensive line was unable to hold in most cases. The O-line had an atrocious game, especially by their standards. But if your receivers aren’t able to get into some open space in time, it leads to some of those sacks. Even if they aren’t all coverage sacks. The problem is you knew about these injuries and that leads to my biggest issue, the gameplan. By the time the season wraps up, we may look back at this Duke (and Ohio State’s for that matter) defense and say that was a pretty good unit. But if I’m being honest I think it’s more of Notre Dame failings. Last week I didn’t like them trying to grind OSU out from very start to finish. Now this week, you had recievers down and decided to turn to your run game. When that failed you had no other plan, except to pray that Mitchell Evans was able to get even somewhat open downfield somewhere.
Like I said I could be wrong. Ohio State and Duke could’ve been solid defenses and injuries at the receiver position could’ve made this a one-hand tied behind your back sort of thing. Regardless injuries will happen, and things won’t usually go to plan. You need to make sure you have some sort of idea of what you’ll do to actually handle it going forward.
Every season Notre Dame seems to have a game like this. A game where everything can only be described as annoyingly dumb. What you hope is, you survive to fight another day and that is what the Irish did. That’s not to say I’m not concerned with some of the things I saw today. I am, and if they continue Notre Dame could realistically drop one or two more games. The only thing I didn’t touch on was the abomination that is ACC refereeing. The problem is I could rant for five hours on the subject and it would do none of us any good. The primetime road trip continues down to my neck of the woods. I’ll be at L&N Stadium next Saturday if anyone else will be making the trip. Looking forward to seeing the Irish away and in primetime for the first time.