Repeat after me…”a win is a WIN!”
But of course there is a lot to say about it. Pre game we wrote about “5 Things to Watch and 5 Predictions”. Here is that article in hindsight.
1. The Marcus Freeman debut. Actually the FIP prediction was not that far off. The Irish gave multiple looks-to a fault. Why ND went to and then stayed in a 3 man front in the second half when the Seminole run game was rolling is anybody’s guess. If this is a harbinger of future half time adjustments (a skill Clark Lea excelled at), call me concerned. The Seminoles finished the night with 264 yards rushing! That is a BIG number. Brian Kelly postgame explained that the three man fronts were necessary to combat McKenzie Milton’s accurate passing capability. But that is only a partial explanation. In fact McKenzie did not enter the game until the 9:02 mark of the 4th quarter, by that time the Seminoles had bashed the 3 man front for more than 20 minutes of clock time.
As for the known Freeman approach which I call, “high risk, high reward”. The Irish in fact were “rewarded” with 3 interceptions and 5 sacks, but the risk side served up at least two home run plays for the Seminoles: Jashaun Corbin’s 89 yard TD run around an over pursing defense in the 1st quarter and the Ja’Khi Douglas 60 yard TD catch over man to man coverage by Houston Griffin in the 3rd quarter. Unfortunately, it is a style of defense that can and will continue to lead to that feeling you get while riding a rollercoaster.
Finally on this topic, the Irish have to tackle better. This is a situation we have seen before, particularly in game one. It will get better.
2. The Dillan Gibbons story. This really is the story of the Notre Dame offensive line and how they would perform, after having lost so much experience. Gibbons was counted on to be one of those guys that would provide some experience on a line that lost four starters, but he transferred to FSU after spring ball. Gibbons got some good PR on the ABC broadcast for his heartwarming and exemplary efforts to get 18 year old ND fan Timothy Donovan who suffers from several severe medical afflictions, to the game. A great story that gives hope that NIL money in College athletics can do some good for the world. Unfortunately for Gibbons, he suffered an injury in the second half and had to leave the game, no word this morning on his status.
So how did the newly minted ND line perform? Well, freshman Blake Fisher got hurt-(apparently not seriously, “knee strain” Brian Kelly reported post game), the Irish gave up 4 sacks, and only managed 65 yards rushing. Last year against the Seminoles, the Irish ran for 353 yards and gave up -0- sacks. Simply put, the offensive line did not play very well. It will, as we have promised take some time to develop chemistry.
3. Jack Coan fulfills his dream, yes he did. The kid who grew up a Notre Dame fan, was 26-35 for 366 yards and 4 TDs. He is not mobile, especially when compared to Ian Book, but he is clearly more decisive than Book. He underthrew a couple that could have gone for big plays, Michael Myer is a beast and a security blanket for Coan, but he dropped two passes at critical junctures of the game. But now I’m being picky. That 37 yarder to Kevin Austin in the 3rd quarter was a thing of beauty. Other than Jonathan Doerer’s winning FG, it arguably was the best moment of the game, Jack Coan is going to be fun to watch this year.
Speaking of Doerer-it is good to see him back on track. After a subpar second half of last season, last night he was perfect, and when he is good, he is a weapon.
And, oh, did I mention Kevin Austin? Well, I guess he isn’t just a unicorn after all! The oft injured, trait challenged bundle of potential had 4 catches for 91 yards and the aforementioned TD. So, Kevin Austin is a living breathing football player after all!
4. Florida State has a a QB “problem”. Jordan Travis was a hand full as he slipped out of the grasp of ND defenders all night. His passing skills looked improved from last year, but not much. 9-19 130 yards and 2 TDs…and 3 interceptions. The interceptions came as no surprise to FIP. But he kept his team in the game and but for his helmet coming off late and being forced by rule to the sideline, he would have finished.
So that brought on McKenzie Milton, he of the miracle recovery from a devastating knee injury in 2018 (It was a miracle you know, as we were told by the ABC broadcast team ad nauseum). Milton played well and Mike Norvell made the call to leave him on the field after the mandatory one play out for Travis. Milton finished 5-7 for 48 yards, and led the Seminoles to 10 points and a tie ballgame. He is not a scrambler but his is a more accurate passer than Jordan by a mile. He also is not fully healthy, that was the word out of Tallahasse all week. More evidence of his situation surfaced when he was seen adjusting his bulky knee brace in between series and employing some massage to his marvel of medical science knee.
Mike Norvell will earn his pay figuring out how to best to deploy his two quarterbacks, I don’t think Milton can go full time, but he may have earned as much time as he can handle.
5. The Louisville effect strikes again. In 2019 in front of a raucous crowd at Louisville to open the season the Irish took a quick 7-0 lead but then gave up 14 points before rallying to take a one score lead at halftime. Sound familiar? In the second half two years ago, the Irish put Louisville away. Last night the game was once again following that script and then a funny thing happened, just when it looked like the Irish had put the game away, the defense collapsed. In the 4th quarter they surrendered 18 points.
Over the last 4 seasons, 4th quarter leads have meant money in the win bank for the Irish, and after last night, they still do, but whew….that was close.
Post game Brian Kelly promised improvement, “We know we got work to do, but I like this team. We will get better and will make a lot of improvement in week two.”
As I have learned from covering College football for over 25 years, winning is hard, really hard. I’ve seen the process from the inside out for many years, and I never take any victory for granted. So 1-0 should sound good to anyone who cheers for the Irish, after all the goal is to win and advance. In week one the Irish checked that important box.
Time to turn our attention to Toledo.