Heading into the matchup against Ohio State I had said nothing up to that point mattered anymore. I was impressed with what I had seen all around from this team. I thought that they were multi-dimensional and could hit you from any angle. I also thought their ability to adjust on the fly was superior (specifically offensively) to what we had grown accustomed to from this team recent memory. Well, nothing up to that point mattered and that ended up being one hundred percent accurate. It’s clear now a lot of the things we were seeing were strictly due to a talent disparity more so than anything else. While I certainly did believe that was a possibility, I didn’t think this team had as many issues as it does.
I know some people may want to point to three prime-time kickoffs in a row with a fourth on the way but I don’t want to hear that. L&N Stadium had a great atmosphere last night but it was nothing this team hasn’t dealt with before. That goes for Duke and Wallace-Wade as well. I can point to every aspect of this team and pick out at least one substantial issue. From a fan standpoint, it’s extremely depressing. After going to get Hartman and feeling there’s a roster full of talent, to see them look so flat and uninspirational is a real disappointment.
Is this your problem?
I am having a difficult time gauging just how much of a problem this defense is. I know there are issues because I don’t care how bad your offense is playing, 33 points against Louisville is just too much. That being said, their offense is playing badly. Bad enough for me to at least address it and give the defense at least some sort of credit. The turnovers put them into difficult situations last night. This team is also getting dominated in the field position battle which never makes things easy on a defense.
That does not mean this unit gets off scot-free. I’ll start with a simple but obvious one. They have to stop reaching/arm tackling, especially on the perimeter. Multiple times per game Notre Dame has an opportunity to make a play for a loss or a minimal gain and they fail to break down and make a tackle. Most of the time it’s on the outside and it allows close to a first down or more in most cases. I mean Cam Hart’s strip was a great play but that was the best arm tackle strip I’ve ever seen. Now I don’t know if this was just last night or if I just noticed it now since I was in person but there were times players didn’t look like they knew what was going on. I saw multiple times pre-snap, where a Notre Dame player looked confused about where he or someone else was. This may explain why even though for the most part this defense holds up, they find themselves getting beat on plays where guys are running wide open.
The underlying issue I have with this unit is it feels sort of bend but don’t break. The issue is it’s working more like a bend and hope the opponent misses a field goal or makes a mistake. Like I said up top, I don’t think defense is this team’s biggest issue but considering how good I thought they were, I think they’re below that tier.
Where to begin?
I honestly don’t know where to start with this offense. I’ll start with what I yelled the most about last night, the offensive line. This unit talked about the Joe Moore Award but we are still rotating personnel the week before USC. They were absolutely abysmal. There isn’t much more I can add to that. They can’t pass protect at all and it renders this entire offense useless. We also inexplicably can’t get three yards or less on 3rd down either. Teams don’t respect our play-action at all and they are loading the box and pinning their ears back. It’s a win-win, they don’t respect our receivers or o-line so they say “Okay, let’s force Hartman and the running backs to do it all on their own”. Which is impossible and leads to the point totals you’ve seen in the last three weeks.
I’d be lying to you if I said I knew exactly what they needed to fix. I’d be lying if I knew it was something they could fix. We can only point at what we see in the games because we aren’t at the practices and we don’t know the operation. I can say whatever that operation is, it needs to change. Something is not right and it falls squarely on coaching. It’s scary to say but this offense feels worse than last year. I don’t know how that is even possible but the fact that I can say that and it’s not wildly inaccurate is a problem.
It all starts at the top.
Full disclosure I am not calling for anyone’s job at this time in the upcoming statements. However, I am calling for improvement and for all of us who have worked a job. If you aren’t performing and you don’t improve eventually we know what happens. When Freeman was hired I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I thought he was the right hire and my only question was how much his inexperience would hurt them. Early last season I believe those fears were realized with Stanford and Marshall. But as the season went along I didn’t think it was as much of an issue. Last night confirmed that fear that began rising in the last few weeks. Marcus Freeman hasn’t improved since he was hired in my opinion.
Calling a timeout fifty-eight seconds before halftime, when you’re at 3rd and 13 blew my mind. They are lucky it didn’t actually change the outcome as Louisville missed the field goal. That decision in this kind of game, however, is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. That alone would’ve been an issue but it feels like every other drive we make a terrible decision regarding 4th down. Going for it, not going for it, kicking field goals when it has no benefit is something that has been an issue and was a massive issue last night. For the third week in a row, this team was outcoached pure and simple. What makes it even worse is you can make an argument you were more talented than all three of those teams you faced and only came out with one win.
I know people are saying Parker wasn’t Freeman’s hire and I know that Freeman isn’t running the offense. But it is his problem, and he needs to fix it. Like I said earlier I don’t know the operation they have in place but whatever it is, scrap it. My concern is, based on Freeman’s post-game comments he seems slightly perplexed and lost as to what the issues may be. Maybe once he looks into it more it’ll become clear to him but I’m not 100% confident at this time in that happening.