Notre Dame has struggled mightily on offense for much of the 2021 season, but if the Irish are going to go on the road and beat Virginia Tech that unit will have to play better. The areas where improvement are needed are obvious, Whether or not those improvements happen will determine success tonight against the Hokies.
We should know very early on if the offense has made the necessary changes and improvements to finally start showing its potential. Here is what I'll be looking for early in this contest to see if the offense is ready to get going.
1. Are we going to see anything different? - One thing we cannot see early in this game is more of the same. More force feeding the run game, long developing routes, the quarterback always in one place, no tempo and the offense struggling on first and second down.
Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees needs to mix things up, do more to protect the line, attack the perimeter more, get his backs more involved in touching the ball in the pass game and not blocking, getting his dynamic players the ball in different ways and keeping Virginia Tech off balance.
If we see more of the same but hoping it is better this week the offense will likely struggle, but if we see Rees get creativity and make the necessary adjustments we could see the offense break out.
2. Will the Notre Dame offensive line please stand up - This is the University of Notre Dame, this is O-Line U! There is a standard for line play and through five games the line - and its coach - has not come close to that standard. They aren't even in the same universe of that standard. It's been embarrassing really, and it's cost the offense dearly.
Here's the thing though, if the line ever figures it out and gets on track this offense is going to explode. Will this be the game? We'll see. Early in the game we need to see the line being physical at the point of attack, we need to see the linemen moving their feet, we need to see assignment correctness and we need to see guys staying engaged.
If they don't do that the offense will once again sputter, but if they figure it out and start to look like a well-coached unit Notre Dame will break out offensively in impressive fashion.
3. Which Jack Coan will we see - Points one and two will play a huge role in point number three, and that is what Jack Coan is going to show up tonight. Will it be the aggressive, accurate, gun slinging guy that shredded Florida State, torched Purdue in the second half and made huge throws on a game-winning drive against Toledo?
Or, will we see the Jack Coan that is feeling the rush, missing open receivers, rushing his reads and failing to get the offense rolling?
We'll know early on by his body language, willingness to keep his eyes downfield, his post-snap decision making and willingness to go through reads and his ability to get the ball where it needs to go. If he does that Notre Dame will pick Virginia Tech apart and score. If not the offense will stall out.
4. Are the wide receivers able to get rolling - The wide receivers have been a Jekyll and Hyde group of players all season. At times Kevin Austin has looked outstanding, and other times he has disappeared and hurt the offense. Braden Lenzy has shown the speed to get open but not always the playmaking ability to make tough grabs, although he stepped up late against Cincinnati.
Avery Davis has been steady and hopefully we get a chance to see the freshmen (Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie) step up, but if Notre Dame is going to reach its full potential as an offense it needs Austin and Lenzy to be at their best. Part of that is on Rees finally doing things to get Lenzy the ball in different ways - like we saw in 2019 - and to make sure Austin gets into an early groove. Part of it is on them to step up and take advantage of those chances.
5. Bring back the big plays - All those points culminate to something the offense desperately needs, especially early in the game, and that is the ability to get back to being a big play offense. If the offense can get big plays, especially early in the game, it gets the talented Hokie defense on its heels, shuts up the crowd and gives the offense a much-needed boost in confidence.
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