Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 11, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 55 SEPT. 11, 2021 23 Brian Kelly wouldn't grade Notre Dame very well for its nail-biting, season- opening victory over Florida State. That much was made clear mere moments after graduate student kicker Jonathan Doerer's kick sailed through the uprights at Doak Campbell Stadium to seal Notre Dame's 41-38 overtime victory. Kelly issued this comment to ESPN's Katie George in an on-field postgame interview: "I'm in favor of execution. Maybe our entire team needs to be ex- ecuted after tonight." Kelly was alluding to late USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach John McKay's infamous quote. McKay was asked about his team's execution after a loss. McKay quipped, "I'm in favor of it." Kelly told local reporters he was clearly joking and not being serious in the slightest when he made his similar remark. As for Notre Dame's on-field execution, however, it surely could have been better in spite of the win. Here's how Kelly's team graded out in the 2021 season opener. NOTRE DAME PASSING OFFENSE: A- It wasn't perfect. Graduate student quarterback Jack Coan couldn't connect with his intended target on third down several times. He only completed passes to three different wide receivers. But in the end, he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns — and that's why Notre Dame eventually won the game. Without Coan's aerial assault, Florida State wouldn't have had to fight back from down three scores to start the fourth quarter. Maybe the Seminoles have a chance to even win outright. Coan simply didn't allow that to happen. He made plays — big-time scoring plays. His touchdown passes to senior wide receivers Joe Wilkins Jr. and Kevin Austin Jr. were exactly what Notre Dame wanted to see from him. He's clearly capable of pushing the ball downfield even when the rest of the offense isn't at its best. NOTRE DAME RUSHING OFFENSE: F That's not what it was supposed to look like. Period. Junior running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Kyren Williams ran for 42 yards on 2.3 yards per carry. Sophomore Chris Tyree had a serviceable game with 31 yards and a touchdown on 4.4 yards per carry, but the Irish ran for 65 yards on 1.9 yards per carry as a team. When Williams and Tyree get the ball 25 times on the ground and only come away with 73 yards to show for it, that's a problem. Coan was credited with nine attempts for minus-3 yards; he was sacked four times for a loss of 16 yards. Williams finished second on the team in receptions and receiving yards with six and 83, respectively. He scored a touchdown through the air as well. On a night he couldn't get going in the ground game, he at least made a healthy impact in the passing game. NOTRE DAME PASSING DEFENSE: A The Notre Dame defense picked off Florida State starting quarterback Jordan Travis three times. Junior safety Kyle Hamilton had two of them while sopho- more cornerback Clarence Lewis had the other. Travis never looked comfortable throwing the ball. That was in large part due to the Notre Dame pass rush that easily broke through the Florida State offensive line on most passing plays. Travis completed less than 50 percent of his passes while fighting the Fighting Irish pass rushers off. UCF graduate transfer McKenzie Milton, meanwhile, entered the game and completed 5 of 7 attempts, one of which went for 22 yards on his first snap of the game. If Notre Dame shut Milton down and did not allow him to orchestrate two drives that totaled 10 points, then this would have been an A+ and the game would have ended in regulation. Alas, the execution was just a tad too unsatisfactory. But only a tad. NOTRE DAME RUSHING DEFENSE: F Florida State was credited with 48 rushes and still averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Those weren't banner numbers for first-year defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. The Irish missed many assignments and tackles in the running game. There was no better example than on Florida State redshirt sophomore running back Jashaun Corbin's 89-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Senior safety DJ Brown could have wrapped Corbin up for a minimal gain, but Corbin broke right through him and ended up in the end zone. While the missed tackles were certainly something for Freeman to address moving forward, a Florida State offensive line that was incredibly porous in pass protection somehow managed to move the Notre Dame defensive line and create big holes in the running game. Florida State's backs were three to five yards up field on many rushes in the second half before someone on a golden helmet initially got to them. NOTRE DAME COACHING: C+ Could have been better, could have been worse. Notre Dame's five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the game was a thing of beauty. The Irish identified its best playmaker in the passing game in sophomore tight end Michael Mayer and went to him for three completions, including the 41-yard touchdown. Then things stalled in a big way. Notre Dame seemed to lose its rhythm offen- sively. The Irish started 0 of 5 on third down and finished 6 of 17. Defensively, the missed assignments and missed tackles at least somewhat fall on coaching. Florida State obviously wasn't going to lay down in front of home fans when entering the fourth quarter down 38-20, but it's not unreasonable to think the message on the Notre Dame sideline could have been a little more clear: don't let up. The Irish let up a tad in the fourth, and Florida State took advantage — and nearly took the game away in the process. REPORT CARD BY TYLER HORKA A year after torching the Seminoles for 185 rushing yards, junior running back Kyren Williams was limited to just 42 yards on 18 carries in Notre Dame's 41-38 overtime win. PHOTO BY BOB MYERS

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