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Instant Reaction | Notre Dame 27 Duke 13

September 12, 2020
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It wasn’t pretty and there’s no point in trying to put lipstick on a pig, but winning ugly is still winning. And winning ugly with some exciting individual performances should make that game more palatable for Notre Dame fans.

There were plenty of those that I’ll get to, but let’s get the ugliness out of the way first.

The Irish were outgained 6.0 to 0.7 yards per play in the first quarter. They weren’t gap sound on some early runs on defense and the tackling was sloppy. That was expected, though. Rarely are things not sloppy in those areas in the first game of the year.

The start on offense was beyond that.

Three straight 3-and-outs. A veteran offensive line didn’t come out strong and Notre Dame’s veteran quarterback looked like a rookie on more than a few plays. They didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until less than a minute left in the half.

Despite all of that, Notre Dame somehow grinded its way to 6.2 YPP on offense (7.2 YPP in the final three quarters). They did that while still leaving plenty of yards and points on the field. Throw in the defense only allowing 88 yards in the second half (3.52 YPP) and the special teams carrying the team early and the bigger picture looks a lot sunnier than the weather in South Bend right now.

Ugly? Definitely. Promising? Yeah, it was that too.

It’s something to build on and from how the team finished today, I think we’ll see it as a launching point for the rest of the season.

- The job Brian Polian’s special teams did has to be discussed first because what they did led the way.

We saw Isaiah Pryor and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah go down and make big plays in coverage. They only allowed two returns for 41 yards to a dangerous returner.

Jay Bramblett pinned Duke three times and had some monster early punts that set the tone. Then he one-upped it by running for a first down on a fake punt when the team needed a spark in the worst way.

Hats off to Polian on the call and the execution of it by the players. This was similar to Isaiah Foskey’s punt block in the Stanford game where it swung the momentum and that play happened because of great scouting by the Notre Dame staff. This was similar great scouting that allowed for that fake to be successful.

The special teams were special today (I’m sorry, I’ll show myself out).

- It also has to be said that this Duke team is far better than the one Notre Dame beat last year.

David Cutcliffe came up with a good game plan with plenty of bootlegs to try and get his quarterback away from the rush. Their quarterback, Chase Brice, was light years better than anyone they had last season. He put the ball in good spots to give his receivers a chance to make plays after the catch and they did. That’s what led to points for Duke.

Defensively they did some different things with how they attacked up front and it helped mess up the running game early. And if you read the scouting report on ISD earlier this week, you’d know that they have some future NFL players on that defense.

Duke is going to be better this year and played like it. In the end they were overmatched, but they won’t be in other games in the ACC this season.

- That one pick play that Duke got away with on a 3rd down really helped them a lot early and Brice was very accurate hitting some slants over the middle.

He only threw for 64 yards in the second half (5.3 yards per attempt) and they couldn’t handle the Notre Dame pass rush on straight drop backs later on. Isaiah Foskey made a massive impact in this game, but there were plenty of pressures to go around.

Left tackle Chase Holman really struggled.

The defense ended up with a 20.8% Havoc Rate, included three straight negative plays that pretty much put the game away in the fourth quarter.

It was JOK running down a swing pass in the open field followed by Foskey massacring Duke’s right tackle before a tackle for loss.

They didn’t play perfect, but the potential of the defense is exciting. There is a lot to like there.

- Not much to like on that Kyle Hamilton injury, but the good news is that Brian Kelly said it was only an ankle sprain. Who knows how long that means he is out for, but it’s not a season-ending injury as it looked like it could have been at the time.

- My apologies for taking this long to write about Kyren Williams. I won’t let it happen again.

Actually, he won’t let it happen again if he plays like this. He finished with 205 total yards and showed just about everything in his game. He showed toughness and balance as an inside runner. He showed good vision and instincts. He turned negative plays into positive ones by making defenders miss.

It was everything anyone would want to see and more.

It’s pretty obvious why he’s RB1 after that game.

- It was nice to see some flash from the freshman players like Chris Tyree and Michael Mayer.

Other than the one missed blitz pickup, Tyree acquitted himself well in pass protection and did show that burst a couple of times when he had a crease.

Woo, Mayer is going to be something else during his Notre Dame career. That run after the catch to convert on 3rd down is just the tip of the iceberg for him.

- The lack of production by the receiver position is definitely concerning. Losing Ben Skowronek, who had blocked well before hurting his hamstring, doesn’t help. But he was never going to be a dynamic player even if he was available.

They need more from the position.

Joe Wilkins showed why we have buzzed about him in practices the last couple of years and he can certainly contribute. It was nice to see Avery Davis make a big catch on a 50/50 ball for a touchdown.

That’s not enough, though. They need much more and before Kevin Austin gets back.

Whatever the story is with Braden Lenzy, they’re going to need him this season so hopefully it’s not a long term issue.

- Ian Book averaged 10.2 yards per attempt in the first half, which seems borderline insane given how he looked on certain plays. He got the big yards from the Williams tunnel screen that went for 75 so the numbers are misleading.

I’ll see more when I watch it back, but the accuracy on little plays like a screen where Williams had a free path to another big play sticks out. The touch, or lack thereof, and accuracy on some throws was not ideal. The feel in the pocket where he was back pedalling away from pressure when he had opportunities to step up showed up again. He also failed to recognize a play where he could throw it away and took a three yard loss by running out of bounds, something he did too much in 2019.

There are some plays where you could say Notre Dame receivers were not open, but I wanted to see him throw with more anticipation. Maybe the route combinations could have been better, but at the same time, he missed some open shots for big plays when players did run free.

It felt a lot like some games last season where it seemed like Book left a lot of meat on the bone. He made some really good throws. He made some bad ones too.

I think everyone hopes to see more consistency from him going forward.

- I’ll dive into this more when looking back on the game, but I thought Tommy Rees did a pretty nice job of designing some things like the Jafar Armstrong screen and that Mayer play on 3rd down. Overall my immediate grade as a play-caller would be a B, but we’ll see how that changes.

The one concerning thing for me is how Notre Dame performed on first down in this game. Outside of that 75-yard screen play, the Irish ran 32 plays on first down at only 4.6 YPP. They ran for 3.8 yards per carry on first down.

How much of that is on Rees and the calls? How much of that is the execution by the quarterback or the rest of the players?

I’ll have a better answer after re-watching tomorrow, but they need to have more success on first down going forward.

- Isn’t it fantastic to have football back?

I won’t take it for granted. Football is fun even when it’s ugly. I loved today and already can’t wait for next week.

 
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