My thoughts on Notre Dame's offensive changes, the need for the offense to start carrying the team a bit more and Brian Kelly turns 60.
1. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly sounds like a coach who just figured out a difficult puzzle when talking about quarterback Jack Coan’s excellent performance against USC. It was all about playing an up-tempo offense with quick drops, quick reads and quick throws. Coan was as good from start to finish as he’s been all season in a game, completing 20 of 28 passes for 189 yards with a touchdown in a 31-16 victory. The exuberance is a little head-scratching to me. If this was the key to unlocking Coan, why did it take six games to figure out? Also, that wasn’t the first time that Coan had run the hurry-up early in games. Furthermore, teams will adjust to it going forward. It’s good to be happy but the success also has to do with an offensive line that is better after some adjustments and a USC defense that was soft.
2. Freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner got the proper amount of work against the Trojans in the proper circumstances. Buchner was 2 of 2 passing for 24 yards and rushed for 11 yards on three carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run. In games against Toledo, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, Buchner came in with the team trailing. Predictably, the results were mixed. He did well against Toledo, finishing 3 for 3 passing for 78 yards and running for 67 yards, but he threw an interception against Cincinnati and he threw two against Virginia Tech. Buchner did, however, pass for a touchdown and ran for one against the Hokies. Buchner had three plays in the first half and two in the second against the Trojans. This is what Notre Dame likely envisioned with Coan and Buchner when the season started. To come in during low-pressure situations with specific plays that work for his skill set. Ironically, had Buchner not thrown two picks against the Hokies and had Coan not bailed out the Irish on the last drive, the quarterback dynamic would’ve likely been different in the second half of the season.
3. Notre Dame needs to get offensive in its last five games. The USC victory was a combination of both sides contributing. The eight-play, 86-yard drive in the fourth quarter by the Irish that put the game out of reach was how good teams respond when necessary. USC had just scored its second straight touchdown to cut the lead to 24-16 before ND’s final drive. Thirty-nine of the 86 yards came on the ground. Another 30 yards were courtesy of USC penalties. Without Kyle Hamilton indefinitely, the Irish will need to keep its groove against high-powered offenses like North Carolina and Virginia. Georgia Tech can put up points as well.
4. Virginia, North Carolina, Stanford, Georgia Tech and Navy. That’s the order of difficulty of the remaining schedule for the Irish. Virginia is on the road, and they’re the best team left. North Carolina has an NFL-caliber quarterback in Sam Howell. The Tar Heels are coming off a bye, which means Notre Dame will have to decipher their new looks. The Trojans played a foreign front against the Irish, using a 3-5-3 which Kelly said required a “lot of identification.” Stanford will be a tough game because it’s on the road and after Thanksgiving, and the Cardinals have beat both USC and Oregon this year.
5. Finally, Brian Kelly turned 60 on Monday. Amazingly, he’s the only Notre Dame coach to make it to 60. Lou Holtz was 59 when he had enough. Dan Devine was 55 and Ara Parseghian was 50 when he stepped away. Kelly said when he started he didn’t expect to make it to 60. He’s been resilient and resourceful, reinventing himself after the 2016 season, which was a disaster. I’d say a lot of people didn’t think he’d make it this long. Shows you that no one really knows.
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