Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 11, 2021

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

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 30 of 55 SEPT. 11, 2021 31 J ack Coan lit the arrow and let it fly. Then he pulled another from the quiver; let it rip, too. Caught. Caught. Seriously? Notre Dame's offense can do this? Is this confident grenadier who previously played in a system known for its lack of a downfield attack and was deemed a game manager really con- necting on shot play after shot play? Coan, the graduate transfer quarter- back from Wisconsin making his first start at Notre Dame, launched passes downfield at will Sunday night. With each completed one, he answered those questions with a resounding "yes." In this venue known for its pregame thrust of a flame-tipped spear, Coan's ablaze arrows stood out. Notre Dame sure seems to have a deep passing attack, an element it lacked a year ago and one it needs to take its offense a step closer to elite. Notre Dame has a quarterback who not only can complete downfield throws, but also seeks them out. It has an offensive coordinator who's willing to call them with frequency. And Sept. 5, in Notre Dame's 2021 opener, that downfield aggressiveness shined in a game that looked like a romp, turned sour and ended with a narrow es- cape amid a backdrop of nervous laughter. Kicker Jonathan Doerer and a timely defensive stop may have ultimately de- livered a 41-38 overtime defeat of Florida State, but the Irish's ability to lean on their passing attack and stretch the field is as encouraging a development as any other that revealed itself at Doak Camp- bell Stadium. It's an apparent answer, or at least the start of one, to one of the off- season's most important questions. "Before the game, Coach Rees talked about being in attack mode and tak- ing the shots when they present them- selves," Coan said. "That's a big part of playing quarterback." Notre Dame headed back to South Bend still a work in progress, with a running game it needs to unlock and a defense that surprisingly wilted and could not hold an 18-point third-quarter lead. Though Notre Dame led most of the game, it feels like the Irish filched a victory from Florida State. Non-execution moments defined the final quarter. Overall, they resembled the team in transition they are. Coan, though, looked comfortable in Notre Dame's structure and in sync with his receivers. In his first game, it appeared he wanted to be the reason Notre Dame created explosive plays, not just an auxil- iary piece. Notre Dame offensive coordi- nator Tommy Rees didn't get in the way. "We called the plays accordingly," Kelly said. "He had the opportunities to push the ball down the field." Coan was a perfect 4 of 4 on Notre Dame's first drive, which ended with a 41-yard touchdown throw to sophomore tight end Michael Mayer on a busted coverage. That was just a warm-up toss. On third-and-four late in the second quarter, Coan lofted a pass to senior wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. down the side- line. A risky time for a shot, he admitted. But he trusted Wilkins to make the deci- sion a wise one. Wilkins snatched it from a defender in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown. It gave the Irish a 17-14 lead they took into halftime. Coan wasn't done there. After Florida State went ahead 20-17 on its first pos- session of the second half, he unfurled a swift response. On the first play of the ensuing drive, he heaved a pass to senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. for a 29- yard gain. He saw one-on-one coverage and went after it. Three plays later, Coan noticed Aus- tin in single coverage again on the far side. He fired another throw his way, dropping it on Austin's outside shoulder a step before he crossed the goal line. Bang. Bang. Notre Dame went from trailing to leading in four plays and covered 75 yards in 1:44. "He had a one-on-one opportunity, and I always trust Kevin to get over the top on that," Coan said. All told, Coan completed 26 of 35 passes for 366 yards with four touchdowns and an interception he threw on a Hail Mary. No Notre Dame quarterback has ever thrown for more yards in an opener. No, Coan didn't set Florida State's sec- ondary ablaze from wire to wire. He was not flawless. He fired too wide of Mayer on a second-and-four out route in the fourth quarter. He took four sacks, his limited escapability revealing itself. Head coach Brian Kelly said he misread a cover- age on one second-half incompletion. At the same time, Coan had little help from a largely absent rushing attack and a pair of third-down drops by Mayer. The latter drop, if caught, would have put Notre Dame inside Florida State's 40- yard line and set up a game-winning field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. Film sessions this week will show room for growth. For Coan. For everyone. Notre Dame learned plenty about it- self in its first game, and not all of it good. There are concerns, namely on the offensive line and in the second- ary outside of omnipresent junior safety Kyle Hamilton. If those are season-long bugaboos, it's hard to see Notre Dame getting where it wants to go. Those same goals are still in view, though, because quarterback and the vertical passing game just might be strengths. ✦ ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Jack Coan became the first Notre Dame quar- terback since Jimmy Clausen in 2009 to pass for 300 or more yards and four touchdowns in a game. PHOTO BY ELLIOT P. FINEBLOOM/COURTESY FSU PHOTO Airing It Out

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - Sept. 11, 2021