By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
The Irish took a a page out of last week’s script and aggressively took a 7-0 lead on the game’s first drive. Then the road to 2-0 got a little strange. Here are some thoughts from my notebook.
1. The Irish have a promising Quarterback situation, but it won’t be easy. Problems with getting good run blocking out of the offensive line brought on by injuries at left tackle and overall inexperience have left the Irish looking for a running game. When Tyler Buchner was inserted into the game at the 11:34 mark of the second quarter, the Irish were nursing a 7-6 lead and the offense had fumbled away one and stagnated on two other straight drives. Buchner then provided the spark the Irish needed with his legs, and the Irish went 96 yards in 5 plays. the freshman QB gained 36 of those yards by himself. For the rest of the game Buchner and Coan rotated, at times within the same series. After struggling much of the time midgame, Coan got his groove back with the TD drive in the last minute that gave the Irish the final lead. ND looks like they need to play both Coan and Buchner. There is a cliché that refers to the difficulty of playing two Quarterbacks that says, “If you have two starting Quarterbacks, you really have none.” It would seem that in 2016, Brian Kelly learned that hard lesson when he had 1 and 1A in Deshone Kizer and Malik Zaire. So, just how a two QB strategy might be implemented, is way above my pay grade. Good luck, Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees.
2. Injuries have left the Irish in trouble on the offensive line. First it was Blake Fisher who went down and is out until late October with a knee injury, but early in the game Saturday, Fisher’s back up Michael Carmondy went out with an ankle sprain (no word yet on how long he will be out). So the Irish are down to 3rd stringer Tosh Baker at left tackle. Left tackle is arguably the most important line position on the field, and the Irish were not running the ball well or protecting particularly well to begin with. Answers? Maybe Josh Lugg flips over from right tackle, or maybe freshman Joe Alt, who the Irish are very high on gets a shot, or maybe the other four starters, Correll, Patterson, Maddon and Lugg pick up the slack. The bottom line however is that through 2 games the Irish are averaging 2.7 yards per carry and Jack Coan has been sacked 10 times. The Irish need offensive line solutions and they need them fast.
3.The Irish Offense is Loaded with weapons. Michael Mayer: weapon, Kyren Williams: weapon, Chris Tyree: weapon. Jonathan Doerer: is back to being a weapon. Now add Kevin Austin to the list, and Avery Davis also showed some spark yesterday. Now about that offensive line….
4. JD Bertrand can play When linebacker Marist Laifau suffered a season ending injury in the preseason, I shed a bit of a tear because I knew what I had been hearing about how good Liafau had been playing. The only glimmer of hope that I felt was that I had also been hearing good things about Junior, JD Bertrand. Through two games Bertrand has in fact been outstanding. He leads the Irish with 23 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Add in a sack and a fumble recovery and you get the picture. The defense is of course having a problem with giving up big plays that negate otherwise outstanding play, but Bertrand is not that problem.
5. The Irish can’t catch a break on reviewed calls. It happened against Florida State, on two fumble recoveries by the Irish-one of which was returned for a touchdown and it happened in the first quarter against Toledo on Kyle Hamilton’s interception near the goal line. All these calls were close but the standard to overturn a call made on the field is indisputable visual evidence. I did not see anything that approached indisputable evidence on the replays, but the calls were all overturned against the Irish anyway and at critical game junctures. Sometime I would love to be in a referee’s head as he is staring into that video screen reviewing a call.
6. ND showed grit by coming from behind in the closing moments, and the crowd helped. The Irish were assisted by a really loud but far from capacity crowd. Announced attendance was 62,009, the capacity of ND stadium is 77,622, you do the math. But Toledo obviously struggled to communicate on the field due to the decibel level, and that resulted in penalties. In all Toledo was flagged 11 times. Credit the ND student body with an assist.
Brian Kelly and his staff have their work cut out for them this week as they prepare for a confident, 2-0 Purdue squad who will come into South Bend as underdogs.
So are the 2021 Irish going to be a great football team? I doubt it. Is it going to be a lot of fun watching them? And can they win double digit games and go to a nice bowl game in a sunny place? You bet, and yes. My advice for Irish fans is to enjoy being 2-0. But buckle up, because this season looks like it is going to be a bumpy ride.