Notre Dame kicks off its 2021 home slate today when it takes on the Toledo Rockets. This is a game Notre Dame should win and win relatively handily, but the Rockets will still present the Irish with a tougher test than you might think. Notre Dame is going to have to earn this victory.
Like the rest of college football after week one, Brian Kelly’s squad certainly has plenty to improve on, and that’s a big part of what I’m looking for in this game. Improve areas where you struggled and continue areas where you performed well in the opener.
Here is what I am looking for today to see that Notre Dame is doing that, beginning with the offense.
1. Stay aggressive and keep spreading the ball around - After struggling to run the ball against Florida State I have two concerns about the offense against Toledo. The first is that Notre Dame goes away from what worked last week, which was being aggressive (mainly with the pass) and spreading the ball around. I don't want to see Notre Dame overreact and run a bunch of 12 and 13 personnel and try and ground-and-pound the rockets.
Sure, that could work in this game, but it's not going to be who this team is this season. Well, at least it shouldn't be this season. Yes, Notre Dame needs to get its run game going, and I'll get to that, but they have to build the ground game out from the personnel and looks that are going to help them be an elite offense this season.
So I want to see Notre Dame continue to spread the field with its personnel, continue to get the ball down the field, continue to take shots, continue to build the pass offense. In fact, there are areas where the pass game needs to evolve, like throwing over the middle, getting the slots a bit more involved, using more levels concepts and spreading the ball around just a bit more.
2. Be physical up front - Notre Dame needs to run the ball way, way better than it did against Florida State, and getting that part of the game rolling today will be important. That success, however, can't come from Notre Dame going big too much or going away from what works best from a personnel and pass game standpoint. The improvements in the run game need to come because the offensive line plays a lot better.
We did not see this line playing with the physicality needed to be a successful ground attack. Look, its just game two with a new-look offensive line and the Irish already lost one of those starts with Blake Fisher now out. There are going to be assignment mistakes, and to a degree I understand that happening, and we'll see some of that today. Jeff Quinn's lines normally struggle with defenses that throw a lot of twists and movement at them, which is what we'll see from Toledo today.
Yes, I'd love to see them better prepared to handle those movements, but the biggest thing that we need to see today is the offensive line playing physical football. There's no experience excuse to not be physical, there's no "first game together" or the "second game together" excuse for not being physical. The line needs to come off hard, dictate the action of the game and push the undersized Toledo defense around.
3. Go deeper - No, I'm not talking about taking more deep shots, I'm talking about going deeper with the rotation. Getting Logan Diggs back at running back gives the backfield another weapon, and I'd like to see him get used today in a way that allows Tommy Rees to use Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree in different ways in the pass game.
Notre Dame should have already focused on getting the freshmen receivers (Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie) ready to play this season, but that's even more of a need now that Lawrence Keys III has left the team and Xavier Watts has moved to defense. There's no excuse not to get them into the game against Toledo, and I'm not talking about getting them in once you have a big lead. It's time to force the issue with the two talented freshmen, something Notre Dame has not wanted to do much of since Del Alexander arrived.
Don't be surprised if we see a little bit of Tyler Buchner in today's game, and perhaps not just after the Irish already have a big lead. This is the week to work on that kind of thing.
4. Finish - Notre Dame got into Florida State territory on each of its first four drives of the game but came away with just seven points. That's what served as Notre Dame's downfall in the ACC title game against Clemson last season and it was why the Irish were unable to put Florida State away.
Notre Dame needs to move the ball better early in the game, but when they get into Toledo territory they need points. More to the point, they need touchdowns, and if the Irish can finish off drives early in the game they'll bury Toledo.
I'd also like to see the offensive line finish much better in the run game, which ties back into point number two.
Irish Breakdown Content
Become a premium Irish Breakdown member, which grants you access to all of our premium content, our premium message board and gets you a FREE subscription to Sports Illustrated! Click on the link below for more
Be sure to stay locked into Irish Breakdown all the time!
Join the Irish Breakdown community!
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown YouTube channel
Subscribe to the Irish Breakdown podcast on iTunes
Follow me on Twitter: @CoachD178
Follow me on Parler: @BryanDriskell
Like and follow Irish Breakdown on Facebook