Notre Dame won ugly against Toledo, coming from behind to win a 32-29 game, but the key is the Irish got the victory. The defense was better but there are still holes to fix. Here are my takeaways from the win.
1. Tackling Improved - The sign of a well coached team is the ability to quickly make improvements, and the Notre Dame defensive staff did that in many areas against Toledo. Those improvements came during a short week and during a week in which the defense had to make many changes due to injury.
One area where the defense was abysmal in the opener was missed tackles, something that happened way, way too much in the win over Florida State. Against Toledo that dramatically improved from both a fundamental and execution standpoint.
This came against a Toledo offense that has some shifty weapons and one of the better backs on the schedule, so that is a positive sign that the defense will need to continue to build on.
2. Defense Was Very Disruptive - Notre Dame was very active on defense and created a number of disruptive plays. Disruptives are tackles for loss, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and broken up passes. Against Toledo the Irish defense racked up 11 tackles for loss, five sacks, broke up five passes and forced a fumble.
Notre Dame had a player with a pass break up on all three levels of the defense and it had at least two players with a tackle for loss up front and in the secondary. A concern is that JD Bertrand - the defensive player of the game - was the only linebacker to record a tackle for loss, but Bo Bauer did have an impressive break up on a third-down pass rush.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa's strip of Toledo quarterback Carter Bradley in the fourth quarter was the biggest disruptive of the game and secured the Irish victory.
3. Big Plays Are Still A Problem - Notre Dame held Toledo to just 353 yards of offense, which is 141 yards below its 2020 season average. That's certainly good news, but the bad news is that Notre Dame allowed plays of 66 and 67 yards in the game, and those two big plays led to 10 points.
Notre Dame has now allowed four plays of at least 60 yards in the first two games. If you take away the two big plays the Irish numbers against Toledo would have been outstanding and the game never would have been close, despite the struggles from the offensive line.
The same was true in the opener against Florida State, when Notre Dame allow two scoring plays over 60 yards. Technique mistakes were the primary factors in both plays. KJ Wallace took a poor angle on a wheel route that led to the 66-yard pass play, and poor block destruction by linebacker Drew White and safety Houston Griffith combined with a poor tackling angle by Kyle Hamilton to lead to the 67-yard run that led to Toledo taking a fourth quarter lead.
Those types of mistakes happened last week as well and must get cleaned up in a hurry, because the schedule isn't getting any easier moving forward.
4. Run D Improved But More Work Is Needed - Toledo has average over 200 rushing yards per game in three of its last four seasons, and the Rockets racked up 205 yards on the ground in the opener against Norfolk State. The 67-yard run by Bryant Koback accounted for almost half of Toledo's yards.
If you remove sacks the Rockets rushed for 157 yards. On the 25 other non-sack carries the Rockets racked up just 90 yards on the ground, which is just 3.6 yards per carry. It's not great yet, but it's good and much better than what we saw from the run defense in the opener against Florida State.
The disruptive nature of the line was a big factor, and the Toledo backs were often getting met by penetrating defenders just after getting the ball and found very little room to run. If Notre Dame can continue to clean up its tackling and be more assignment correct, and hopefully get better play from the Mike linebacker position, the run defense will see another needed jump in coming games.
5. Fourth Quarter Woes Continue - In each of its first two games the Notre Dame defense has surrendered a fourth quarter score that has either tied the game (Florida State) or given the opposition a lead. In both games the Irish defense had chances in regulation to put a team away but instead allowed a score.
The Rockets and Seminoles scored 31 combined fourth quarter points in the first two games, a number that must see dramatic improvement, and see it in a hurry.
Credit to the defense for holding Florida State to a field goal late in the fourth quarter last week, and for coming up with a big stop in overtime, and for forcing a late fumble to ice the game against Toledo. But they need to start making more fourth quarter stops because the game gets on the line.
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