Last week the Irish went to 3-0 in a game marked by some bad, some good and some beautiful.
Let’s start with the BAD, and get that out of the way.
First a near two-hour weather delay at the end of the first quarter. No one’s fault, but It was excruciating from a spectator’s standpoint and it couldn’t be easy from a player/coach standpoint either, especially if you are the road team. Players need fuel during such long breaks, and extra food is not something you typically pack on such a trip. It was confirmed that the Irish had to scrounge for sustenance during the break by sending managers out to concession stands. Can you say chips and hot dogs? More on that later.
Next item: penalties! ND committed 10 of ‘em, the most penalties in a game in the Marcus Freeman era. It kept drives going for the Wolfpack and definitely slowed ND’s offensive roll a few times. In fact, through two games ND had previously committed just 5 total penalties. The Irish doubled that number in just one game. That is sloppy, and bad. Clean it up Irish!
Another bad, and Sam Hartman I’m looking at you: BALL SECURITY! Two fumbles by Sam, one was lost and put the Irish into a precarious situation. Hartman is amazing, he keeps plays alive and his eyes up field even while under threat of imminent bodily injury. He also has a habit of holding the football in one hand extended from his body. I get it, that is part of his game, but there has to be a way to make that football a bit more secure! Any fumble in the wors of the great Frank Leahy is a mortal sin, and that’s BAD.
And now the GOOD.
Okay we just ripped on him a bit but credit where credit is due. Sam Hartman had another Heisman Trophy candidate day. 15-24, 286 yards, 4 TDs, he also had a 16-yard scramble for a first down. His ability to operate the 2-minute drill as now displayed at the end of 2nd half in each of this year’s games has been incomparable. 9 plays 80 yards, 1:42, touchdown! against Navy, 6 plays 80 yards, 38 seconds touchdown! against Tennessee St and three plays 78 yards in 36 seconds, touchdown against NC State. That’s GOOD.
The defense Saturday kept Brennan Armstrong at bay all day long. 10 quarterback hurries, 8 passes defended, three interceptions. Armstrong, feared for his running ability, finished with 12 carries for 26 yards and he completed less than half of his passes. It’s hard to single out just one defender so let’s name a few: Thomas Harper, seven tackles and two passes defended, and Xavier Watts, Ramon Henderson and Ben Morrison each with a pick. Lots of playmakers on this defense, that’s GOOD.
For the third straight week the Irish showed great balance on offense. 286 passing, 170 on the ground. On the season, 582 yards and 7 TDs on the ground, 875 yards and 12 TDs on the ground. Pick your poison defensive coordinators because that’s GOOD.
And props to the kicking game. Spencer Shrader set an all-time ND record with a 54-yard field goal in the first quarter, it would have been good from 60 out. Bryce McFerson repeatedly flipped the field by averaging over 50 yards on 6 punts. Those guys are weapons, they will be responsible for winning games this year. Having such weapons in the arsenal is GOOD.
Last year at this point Marcus Freeman was 1-3 as a head coach. Barely. Since then this Freeman and his staff have gone 12-2. Against a veteran North Carolina State coaching staff Marcus Freeman and ND’s staff pushed all the right buttons. And Freeman is showing an ability to keep his team motivated and on an even keel. That’s GOOD.
And finally the beautiful.
The score, was 3-0, the game had been a bare-knuckled brawl to that point when just at the start of second quarter, the weather caused a near two-hour delay. During the break Audric Estime ate a hot dog. And on the first play back he took the handoff. Showing strength, change of direction and speed, Estime went 80 yards to the endzone, The game narrative changed. That was BEAUTIFUL!
In the third quarter after NC State had pulled within a score at 17-10, from 40 yards out Hartman found tight end Holden Staes 10 yards down field on the sideline. Staes hauled the throw in and did the rest. Showing impressive strength and balance he fought off a hit that would have knocked any mere mortal out of bounds and then he galloped the rest of the way to the endzone and the Irish were up 14 points. That play was beautiful.
Most important of all, the Irish are now 3-0. That is the best you can be keeping all possibilities alive for the 2023 Irish.
And that is a BEAUTIFUL thing.