Notre Dame had to come from behind to beat Toledo by a 32-29 score. It wasn't pretty but the Irish once again got the job done. Here's my final takeaways from the Irish win.
1. Should there be a quarterback controversy brewing? Nah, probably not yet.
But Tyler Buchner put Jack Coan on notice after a poor first half. Coan threw an unforgivable first half pass that was intended for Michael Mayer. He telegraphed it, and it resulted in a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown by Chris McDonald. Coan looked like the square peg that wasn’t fitting in Brian Kelly’s offense for a good part of three quarters. He also fumbled the football on a sack, which led to points. Remember what Kelly said in the fall camp about Coan? He was a drop back passer who made good decisions but hadn’t completely adjusted to the complexities of Notre Dame’s offense. Coan was supposed to make up for that with his accurate arm and his game management. If those things aren’t working, Coan’s value diminishes to nonstarter status. Coan made up for the bad first half with the game winning drive, hitting Mayer for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 left that gave the Irish a victory.
2. Speaking of Buchner, it was telling that Kelly had him in the game, not Coan, in the next to the last offensive drive for Notre Dame when it was winning 24-22. The Irish were about to run out the clock when Kyren Williams fumbled the ball at the 27 with 3:26 left. That led to Toledo’s last touchdown. Buchner led Notre Dame to two scoring drives, he didn’t turn the ball over, he rushed for 68 yards on seven carries and he was 3-3 passing for 78 yards with a touchdown pass. His quarterback rating was over triple that of Coan’s. Buchner was at 428.4 and Coan was at 138.4. Aside from the last drive, it was not a good day for Coan. Tell me then: Why shouldn’t Buchner start? It’s a possibility at some point this season that he will start. Just not now.
3. I don’t like two-quarterback systems but Kelly’s best option at this point is to keep starting Coan but playing Buchner more and more. He’s the better athlete and he’s better equipped to run this offense particularly with a leaky offensive line. Notre Dame’s line play wasn’t good, giving up six sacks. All of them were against Coan. Coan didn’t have much time but he doesn’t help himself when the walls start to cave in on him. There is very little pocket movement or stepping up or away to avoid the rush. Coan also doesn’t help the running game as much as Buchner. Defenses have to respect Buchner’s speed. It’s one more element they have to defend. Coan is a decent runner but he’s not inclined to scramble for yards. He’d rather make a play with his arm. All that said, Coan is still more experienced and he’s proven over the course of a season he can win big games. Stick with him for now.
4. The defensive problems are fixable. Kelly talks about his defense being in transition because of a culture shift with new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. I’d rather hear him say that they need to stop those chunky plays. Another 67-yard run and 66-yard pass led to 10 points. The defense is closer to being fixed than the offensive line, though. Toledo scored a TD on an interception and there was a questionable pass interference call that kept alive their final scoring drive.
5. The problems with the offensive line are more of a challenge. With left tackle Blake Fisher gone for most of the season and with his backup Michael Carmody out with an ankle sprain, the Irish are using third string Tosh Baker at tackle. The line looked shaky last week when it was intact. The key to this season will be to trying to get that line from below average to good. It might not be possible.
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