Take 5: Five Biggest Concerns For Notre Dame In The Season's Second Half

Five things I’m unsure about going into the second half of the season
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Five things I’m unsure about going into the second half of the season

1. Whether Brian Kelly will be able to solve the quarterback issues that Notre Dame has had. I believe much of these problems were self-inflicted. Jack Coan has been great at times but his performance overall isn’t consistent enough for him to be the runaway starter. Kelly has done everything possible not to play backup Drew Pyne, going so far as to say he wasn’t impressive enough during practice the week before Cincinnati to win the starting job. This after Pyne was the quarterback that led them to scoring drives in a 24-13 loss to the Bearcats. 

He said before the Virginia Tech game that a quarterback who was experienced would factor into his decision on who would start. So, he started Coan. Apparently, that experience factor was bagged when he brought freshman Tyler Buchner off the bench after just three series, and not Pyne. It’s obvious. Kelly wants Coan to be the starter. He’s got to own it going forward because the team struggles to run the ball and get first half points with Coan in there.

2. Whether we should call this defense dominant. The Irish rank 57th in total defense, tied for 52nd in fourth down conversion percentages and 80th in passing yards allowed. They are tied for third in interceptions with 10 and they have five fumble recoveries. It’s definitely a disruptive defense but it’s prone to giving up big plays. Some of the second half teams, like USC, North Carolina and Virginia, are capable of putting up lots of points. The Irish can’t play like they did against Virginia Tech, which had three long scoring drives.

3. Whether the running game will get significantly better. See my initial take. It’s going to be tough to run the ball given the sample size of how the running game has performed if Coan is the starter. Example: Notre Dame rushed for 11 yards on 12 carries in the first quarter against Virginia Tech with Coan playing. They rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries with Ty Buchner playing. They also run the ball better with Pyne playing. Kelly needs to figure out a way to make the running game better with Coan in the game. This brings me to an important point. All other things relatively equal, ND’s offense should favor a mobile quarterback over a drop back quarterback every, single time. Which is why it's a mystery to many of us that Coan is favored over Pyne.

4. Whether Notre Dame will intercept 10 more passes. The Irish are on pace to pick off 20 passes after the first half of the season. That’s tied for third in the county with Oregon State but it’s not close to the 16 that Iowa has intercepted. The Irish secondary has turned out to be a real strength for the defense.

5. Whether the offensive line will really get better. I’m hedging here because I wrote that it couldn’t possibly be worse in the second half of the season. It also could stay the same. Pass protection, if it’s measured by the number of sacks per game, has improved. There was only one sack in the Virginia Tech game and two in the Cincinnati game. It’s possible that Coan, who has taken the majority of sacks, has learned to avoid the sacks. The running game will improve if Coan doesn’t play for sure. It’s possible that it could improve with Coan playing if the coaches make adjustments. If the team runs the ball more effectively in the second half, the line will be perceived as better. I contend that Kelly has put the offensive line in a bad position to succeed by insisting on using Coan as the starter.

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