1. (Written at Halftime) Cincinnati 17 ND 0, oh my! Three turnovers and a missed opportunity. ND came out quick, utilized Kyren Williams and Michael Mayer on their first drive and then down on the 6 yard line, Jack Coan threw an interception, ouch, HUGE missed opportunity. At least it did not result in Cincinnati points, but after the teams exchanged punts on the next 5 possessions, Tyler Buchner was hit trying to deliver a ball upfield and on their first possession of the 2nd quarter Cincy was in business at the ND 8. Three plays later Desmond Ridder delivered a 1 yard pass to Tre Taylor and Cincy led 7-0. Tyree performed a mistake encore by next fumbling the ensuing kickoff! Ohhhhh Chris Tyree that is a Mortal sin… and Cincy started another short field drive at the ND 17. The ND Defense under stress most of the 1st half, managed to hold Cincinnati to a 23 yd FG. But the score was 10-0 at the 10:26 mark of the 2nd. ND was inconsistent running the ball and it’s offense under Jack Coan produced nothing the rest of the half but Desmond Ridder, who is really good (I know brilliant statement) ended the half by taking Cincy 80 yards in 5 plays to make it 17-0 at half. ND kicks off to Cincy to open the second half.
So, here is what I think: The defense can’t do it all. ND needs to force some mistakes, not make any more of their own and it may well be Pyne time. If not, the home winning streak and playoff dreams for 2021 are over.
Observation on my Halftime Observation Yep, nailed it. But are playoff hopes really gone? Well, almost certainly but what happens to an 11-1 ND team? If that is what this team rallies to (and the schedule does become more manageable now) ND will be be on at least the fringe of the post season conversation.
2. “Notre Dame beat Notre Dame today” with apologies to Desmond Ridder, who is a outstanding player (see #6 below), a 144 day receiving by Tyler Pierce and overall sparkling performance by the Bearcat team, LB and Captain Drew White nailed it during his postgame with that simple statement. So I repeat it, “Notre Dame beat Notre Dame today.” Two interceptions, a fumbled kickoff and a missed extra point (Jon Doerer had hit 127 straight!!!) and Notre Dame just couldn’t get out of their own way. The defense gave up just two touchdown drives in this game and held the yardage down to a manageable level, but turnovers where deadly. Cincinnati tried to help out by coughing one up in the second half and missing two makeable field goals, but ND got into a mistake induced hole by halftime, and never could stop playing catch up.
3. The Offensive line showed signs of life, sort of. ND gave up 2 sacks in the game and managed to gain 84 yards on the ground. Progress, compared to a 6 sack, 3 net yard performance a week ago against Wisconsin. I thought early on that it would be just a matter of time before Kyren Williams broke one, he was very close a couple of times. But then the game got icky when the Irish had to start playing catch up.
On the day the offensive line was a revolving door as Brian Kelly searched for the best combination. In all 10 lineman saw action and that didn’t include Tosh Baker, a late scratch at left tackle. Baker becomes the 3rd left tackle to miss games for the Irish this year. Remember the great movie The Blind Side? Of course you do. Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw feel good true story about Michael Oher beating the odds to make it to the NFL as a LEFT TACKLE. Left tackle is kind of an big deal, and it’s not just Hollywood that thinks so, but I would never be so dumb as to ever disagree with anything Sandra Bullock said. Despite being down to their 4th LT, the ND offensive line showed signs of slight improvement.
4. Notre Dame Runs the Rest of the Table? A colleague of mine who I greatly respect by the name of Tim Prister (he really is America’s Foremost Authority) turned to me late in the game when the losing die was cast and said, “Notre Dame will win the rest of their games, this clinches that”. Hmmmmmm……Tim I don’t know. The schedule does get more manageable, that’s for certain, but this team has problems. In fact that is what my 97 year old father said to me Saturday night when I told him what Tim said. “Win the rest of their games?”, my sage father who remembers the 1935 win over Ohio State said with a dismissive laugh, “Phillip, this team has got problems.”
5. Ride the Pyne Post game Brian Kelly acknowledged what has now become obvious. Playing three QB’s is not a recipe for sustained success, in fact I suspect he would agree that regularly playing TWO quarterbacks is not a very good idea. “Clearly we can’t continue down this road of who’s the flavor of the week here,” said Kelly of his quarterbacks situation after the game.
It really isn’t that difficult to calculate what needs to happen at this point. ND’s offensive line is not going to suddenly start pass protecting well, certainly not well enough to protect the one dimensional Coan. Tyler Buchner is just not ready to run the full offense and is one dimensional in the opposite direction of Coan, and other teams know it. So, one man is left standing. Drew Pyne, has now provided a spark in two straight games, he exudes leadership, throws well on the run and can escape the pocket. The RPO game becomes a legitimate option with Pyne at the controls. He gives the Irish the best chance to deal with a weak offensive line.
Yep, it’s Pyne Time!
6. Desmond Ridder, is good. The two most impressive things about dual threat Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder as I studied him in preparation for the game were this: 1. He is in his 4th year as a starter, making him the most experienced quarterback in all of big time College football and 2. In those 4 years as a starter, Cincinnati is 34-6. Very much an Ian Book Like combination. But think Ian Book with a bigger arm and size. Ridder is 6-4, 215, and Saturday he showed downfield ability a couple of times including a 44 yarder , a 36 yarder and a couple of 27 yard efforts.
In his career Ridder has thrown for 7950 yards and 66 TDs and has run for another 1912 yards and 25 touchdowns. Against the Irish he threw 2 TD passes and for 297 yards. He also ran one in. Most impressive I thought, was that he delivered big TD drives at key times including a five play 80 yarder at the end of the first half and an eight play 80 yard drive to answer ND pulling within 8 points in the 4th quarter. Ridder has Sunday skills, and Cincinnati opponents will be happy to see him graduate.
On to Blacksburg Fighting Irish fans, and the dawn of the Drew Pyne era.