Notre Dame earned a 27-13 victory over Purdue on Saturday and the Irish certainly showed some improvement in many areas in the win. There is also still plenty of work needed, but if you are Notre Dame being 3-0 with work needed isn't a bad place to be at all.
Here are my key takeaways of the performance from the Notre Dame offense in yesterday's win.
1. This offense has a lot of weapons, which makes it dangerous - Notre Dame's best offensive player (Michael Mayer) was held to just one catch for five yards, the best wide receiver failed to catch a pass despite being targeted nine times (Kevin Austin), the most explosive receiver dropped multiple passes as well, including what would have been a 39-yard touchdown pass (Braden Lenzy) and the team's most explosive player was limited to 29 rushing yards on 11 carries (Chris Tyree).
For most teams that would be a debilitating lack of production, but that's what makes this offense so potentially dangerous. Shut down Mayer and get fortunate enough to have Austin and Lenzy shut themselves down and you still get beat. Those issues allowed Avery Davis to step up and have a dominant performance and running back Kyren Williams bounced back from a rough finish to the Toledo victory with two huge game-changing plays in the win.
Purdue tried to single cover Davis and they simply weren't good enough to stop him. Williams was mostly kept in check, but on the two plays he had daylight he took advantage, made Purdue defenders miss and hit home runs. The first gave the Irish an early lead they wouldn't relinquish and the second put the game away.
Notre Dame isn't going to beat the best teams on the schedule with Mayer, Austin and Lenzy all giving almost nothing from a production standpoint, but the fact they were able to beat Purdue by two touchdowns with that happenings shows how good this offense can be. If only they could put it all together.
2. Jack Coan responds to adversity very, very well - Quarterback Jack Coan clearly had his worst performance in a Notre Dame uniform yesterday, but once again when it was needed most he made big plays. Coan had some rough patches in the win over Toledo as well, but when the game was on the line he led the Irish down the field for a game-winning touchdown.
Yesterday, Coan went an abysmal 9-22 for 86 passing yards in the first two quarters. Yes, he had some drops, but Coan also missed two potential huge plays with overthrows late in the second quarter. Coan was clearly off his game mentally and mechanically in the first two quarters.
So what does Coan do in response to such a poor performance in the first half? Same thing he did last week, he took it stride, made adjustments and bounced back to make huge plays. On the first drive of the second quarter Coan threw a beautiful post strike to Davis for a 62-yard touchdown to give the Irish a double-digit lead.
He went 6-9 in the second half for 137 yards, and you could add an easy 70 yards and two more completions to that mark had his receivers not dropped two of his best throws of the day in the third and fourth quarter. I really like how well Coan handles adversity and the poise he shows.
3. The offensive line took baby steps forward - There is still A LOT the offensive line has to clean up, and if you look at yesterday's performance and hold it up to the standard of what a Notre Dame offensive line should look like it was still very much a sub-standard performance and nowhere close to that of what a Top 10 team should be fielding up front, especially at Notre Dame.
But it was a step in the right direction.
Notre Dame's big boys battled yesterday, something they didn't really do in the first two games. They leaned on Purdue, they fought hard against Purdue, they came off the ball with a bit more force and they finished off blocks better than they had in the first two games.
In the second half the Irish were clearly starting to get a bit more movement on Purdue, something we did not see in the first two games. There is much to fix and still miles and miles of road in front of this unit, but for at least one game the unit showed some heart and took a step in the right direction.
4. Purdue showed the blueprint for defending ND's outside receivers - The number of teams that have cornerbacks that can run with Austin and Lenzy can probably be counted on one hand. Purdue knew they couldn't run with them so they didn't try to do that.
What Purdue saw is what I saw on film and what Irish Breakdown talked about after the first two games, the wide receivers don't really get off the line well against press and downfield re-routes. The "beat the press" repertoire for Notre Dame's receivers is very limited, which has been a criticism of mine for going on five seasons, and it has cost them this season, none more than yesterday.
Purdue beat Austin up and he didn't really have an answer for them. He couldn't get the separation he got in the first two games and it appeared that physicality got in his head, as Austin had three bad drops in the game. A player with his size and strength should not get pushed around the way he did yesterday, and the fact is he clearly hasn't been given the arsenal needed to win off the line.
Lenzy doesn't have Austin's size or strength but he had the same issue. When Purdue played off him he simply ran by them, and when he gets clean releases he can run by anyone, but Purdue was grabby with him and physical with him and he wasn't quite as effective as he was in previous weeks. His issues weren't nearly as bad as Austin's, but they were still noticeable.
This has to be something the Irish coaches see, and hopefully now that it impacted the offense's success - or lack thereof - maybe now they will actually require that something be done about it.
5. Third-down remains a struggle - Notre Dame was a brilliant third-down offense in 2020 but the red zone was a mess. The Irish have scored on all six of their red zone attempts this season, although they were twice held to field goals in the red zone on Saturday. Third-down, however, has been a season-long struggle, and yesterday was the worst performance yet.
Notre Dame was not good on third-down against Florida State but had a quality third-down performance against Toledo. Against Purdue, however, the offense converted just four of its 17 third-down attempts, which was good for just a 23.5% success rate, its worst performance since the 2019 season.
The last two times Notre Dame had a similar third-down performance in the regular season it lost those games, so the offense clearly made enough big plays to overcome that lack of success, but the majority of the opponents Notre Dame faces over the next six weeks are better than Purdue.
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