Notre Dame overcome turnovers and spotty play to earn a 32-29 victory over Toledo. Despite early season struggles the Irish have also had some impressive moments, which has led to the 2-0 start. Here are my key takeaways from the Irish offense during the win over Toledo.
1. Offensive Line Is A Huge Problem - There is no way around it, and I'll talk about it more this week, but the offensive line is a huge problem right now for Notre Dame. Not only has Notre Dame already lost two left tackles, the rest of the line has been pretty bad as well.
Notre Dame got no movement in the run game against Toledo, a MAC opponent. The Irish also failed to protect the quarterback, giving up six sacks in the game. Notre Dame has already allowed 10 sacks in just two games.
Even worse is that fact that many of those sacks have come against four-man pressures, which made it easier for Florida State and Toledo to keep more players in coverage.
The "this is a young line" excuse that Brian Kelly gave is flat out wrong, as Notre Dame has a 6th year senior, a 5th year senior, a senior with two years of starting experience under his belt and a junior in the starting lineup. But the execution mistakes that have run so rampant are somewhat understandable considering the fact this line has not played together all that much.
Those mistakes aren't actually what bothered me, that I could live with, much like I am with the defense. The concern is more about what Toledo flat out whip the Notre Dame line up front. Toledo came off the ball harder, played with more fire and pushed the Notre Dame line around far, far too often, and this was a small Toledo line.
Yesterday's offensive line performance was flat out embarrassing, no matter how much Kelly tries to say the opposite.
2. Pass Game Has Great Potential - Despite giving up 10 sacks and many more pressures the last two games, the Notre Dame pass game has averaged 341.5 passing yards per game so far after racking up 317 yards against the Rockets. With all the issues up front the offense still averaged an impressive 8.8 yards per attempt and completed 66.7% of its throws.
Despite being rattled by the pressures, quarterback Jack Coan still managed to pass for 239 yards and a score and freshman Tyler Buchner completed all three of his pass attempts for 78 yards despite not completing a pass beyond 10 yards past the line.
Both quarterbacks made big plays, and Coan was clutch on the final drive of the game. Notre Dame is also loaded with talented pass catchers. Not many teams around the country have the kind of pass game weapons at wide receiver, tight end and running back that Notre Dame possesses.
It is essential that the line start playing better. Imagine what this offense, which is averaging 36.5 points per game, 440.0 total yards per game and 341.5 passing yards per game could do with an offensive line that was simply average.
3. Turnovers Prove Costly - Notre Dame did a good job protecting the ball in the opener, but that was not the case against Toledo. Not only did Notre Dame turn it over three times, the turnovers proved incredibly costly, leading to 17 points.
Notre Dame's first turnover - a strip sack on a cornerback blitz - gave Toledo the ball near midfield and led to a field goal. The second turnover was a poor decision by Coan that ended with a Toledo defender running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.
The third - a fumble by Kyren Williams - turned a potential game-icing drive into a Notre Dame deficit after the Rockets followed that up with a go-ahead touchdown drive. Mistakes like this simply cannot happen, and when you consider the three turnovers and the poor OL performance it's actually impressive that Notre Dame was able to win the game.
4. Red Zone Offense Remains Perfect - Red zone woes plagued the Notre Dame defense throughout the 2020 season, but through two games the Irish are perfect in the red zone. Not just perfect in that they are getting points, Notre Dame has turned all four of its red zone trips into touchdowns so far this season.
Notre Dame had two more chances against Toledo and both ended with touchdowns. Notre Dame's first and last touchdowns were red zone scores, and the combination of Coan and tight end Michael Mayer were a major factor in the red zone success against the Rockets.
5. Rookies Get Their Feet Wet - Notre Dame's freshman class on offense was outstanding and was the best part of the 2021 class. Blake Fisher got his chance to play in the opener, and against the Rockets standouts Buchner, Deion Colzie and Lorenzo Styles all got their chance to play and all three made plays.
Colzie and Styles both made their first career catches and Buchner was outstanding off the bench. Hopefully for the Irish this is the first of many chances to shine for those three standouts this season.
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