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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Notre Dame 32 Toledo 29

September 11, 2021

Bad offensive line play. Bad streams. Bad vibes all around with Notre Dame haters literally signing up for Peacock subscriptions just to see the Irish lose to Toledo. Except Notre Dame wins these games now.

I don’t know how they do it because for the second straight week they tried to give the game away. But somehow after about 25 years of losing these types of games in painful ways, Brian Kelly’s teams win these tight games now where everything looks set up for them to lose.

This game really had it all.

An easy first drive touchdown for the offense. Multiple big plays given up by the defense. A Kyle Hamilton interception taken off the board. A pick six that went the other way to give Toledo the lead. A true freshman quarterback igniting a spark into the offense. A blown lead with less than two minutes to go. A dislocated finger popped back in followed by a touchdown. A trick play for two points that went bust before it ended up with a boom. Dan Cortese.

I really don’t know what to expect from this Notre Dame team going forward. It’s clearly a flawed group that needs some time to get better, but they might not have the time to do so and have a lot of ground to make up now that they’re down to their third string left tackle.

They’re gritty. They have some front line players. There are signs that they can play defense at a very high level. That’s what Notre Dame is going to have to lean on while they get the rest figured out.

It’s two games in and it already feels like a long season. It would feel a lot longer if they didn’t clutch up and win these first two games.

- Is there a quarterback controversy? Probably, even with Jack Coan stepping up in a huge way on that final drive.

Putting that pick six to the side, the main issue isn’t Coan. The big problem is what the offense is when he is in the game. They can’t run the ball with him. He’s zero threat as a runner and the defense doesn’t have to account for him. With how the offensive line is currently constructed and how they’ve played so far, that’s a huge issue for the running game.

Taking out sacks, the offense ran for 169 yards and 5.1 yards per carry. That’s not bad, but 68 of those came from Tyler Buchner and another 43 came from Kyren Williams during the drive that Buchner came into the game.

They are a specific offense with Coan right now. They are a different offense with Buchner. Maybe they will continue to play both, but something needs to be figured out.

- Coan missed some reads, but I’m not going to blame a guy for seeing ghosts when he wasn’t being protected well when Michael Carmody was in the game and then it got worse when Tosh Baker had to replace him.

Baker played better as the game went along, but his mistakes were glaring. He seems to have the same issue he had in the spring where he is worried about getting beat inside and ends up short setting. That gives the defensive end a way too easy path around the corner. It’s going to be a situation where Jeff Quinn and the staff might have to contemplate moving Jarrett Patterson to left tackle and then shuffling things from there.

They can’t have that level of play at left tackle and on the line as a whole if they expect to keep winning games.

- This game is a loss without the playmakers making plays on offense.

Kevin Austin and Michael Mayer on the final drive did what Notre Dame needed them to do. Kyren Williams had that bad fumble, but he also made plays that helped swing the game for the Irish. Chris Tyree catches a well-designed play by Tommy Rees and turns a big play into a house call.

If they can get the line figured out, the potential is there for this to be a great offense. That’s a pretty big “if” at the moment.

- The defense was much better today.

27.0% Havoc Rate is outstanding. They started off stingy in the red zone. They came out playing great in the second half. When they were in 3 down (Dollar), they were significantly better when it looked like they should probably scrap it completely.

And yet those two big plays loom large. A 66-yard reception on the first drive and a 67-yard run right after Notre Dame had taken back the lead stuck out like a sore thumb on what could have been considered a strong performance without them.

This game was a step in the right direction, but they can’t keep letting that happen.

- Two weeks in and Notre Dame is still searching for some answers. I don’t know if they found it in Buchner at quarterback right now, but it’s difficult to argue with the results when he was in the game.

I think there are some critical personnel decisions the coaching staff will have to make in the next couple of weeks. I also feel it’s important to remind everyone that Texas A&M was favored by 17 and is currently squeaking by Colorado. Oregon was missing two impact players on defense and managed to beat Ohio State on the road.

There’s a lot of stuff that has looked funky early in this college football season. Is this going to be the kind of weird thing we’re going to talk about five weeks from now while Notre Dame figures things out and Toledo ends up dominating the MAC? I don’t know, but if I asked anyone who saw Notre Dame the first few games of 2018 there would have been no one who predicted they would make the College Football Playoff. 

I know one thing: I won’t be surprised if things still look weird with this team next week against Purdue. Buckle your seatbelts.

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