Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 9, 2021

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

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26 OCT. 9, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. The Move To Drew Pyne Notre Dame has a quarterback conundrum to sort out. Sophomore Drew Pyne came in for graduate student Jack Coan to start the second half, and this time the switch had the feeling of a poten- tially elongated chance as opposed to a short-term injury fill-in. Pyne completed 9 of 22 passes for 143 yards with a touchdown. He wasn't perfect and appeared to be out of sync with his receivers on a few throws. But he was responsible for five of Notre Dame's seven completions of 15-plus yards, including a 32-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy in the fourth quarter. Pyne led both of the Irish's touchdown drives. He extended plays and created yards when none were available, a skill Coan doesn't have and one that can help a shaky offensive line. He looked comfortable, and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees didn't have to slash pages from his play sheet with him in the game. Notre Dame's offense isn't functional, but it functioned best with Pyne in the game. It will be intriguing to learn how head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees process that re- ality and what direction they take with an offense that had teetered on the brink of a dud game like Saturday's for three weeks. 2. A First-Half Hole Perhaps the game has a different script if Pyne played all of it. But he had two quarters. Notre Dame's offense spun its wheels before putting him in. Once again, the Irish couldn't run the ball. Their receivers struggled to consistently separate against a skilled Cincinnati secondary. Those were problems no matter which quarterback played. Notre Dame went away from its run game early in the win over Wisconsin Sept. 25 when it saw the run was a low-upside proposition. But the Irish stubbornly stuck with it into the second half against Cincinnati, even as it continued to sputter. Running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree had 18 combined carries for 65 yards. Nearly every drive for two-plus quarters felt pre- dictable: A first down run for little gain followed by second-and-long and an obvious passing situation. Coan didn't play poorly, but there wasn't much to be had downfield and his inability to extend plays kept the offense stuck. He completed 63.6 percent of his passes (14 of 22), but averaged just 5.2 yards per attempt. The offensive failings weren't primarily his fault, but he's not adding enough when the vertical passing game isn't avail- able. His first-quarter interception on the goal line also wasted what was a successful opening drive. Even the package of plays for freshman quarter- back Tyler Buchner didn't help. His two drives in the first half totaled minus-four yards on six plays. He threw an interception deep in his own territory when he was hit on a throw. Nothing was working. Notre Dame needed a switch to get back in this game. It also needed to see more of Pyne to determine if he can be the rudder for an offense that needs one. 3. Big Plays Return None of Cincinnati's first six drives was longer than 18 yards. The Bearcats had just three drives of more than 45 yards. And yet, they controlled the game and never trailed. Notre Dame's defense wasn't dominant or even great, but on the whole it played well enough to win. A pair of turnovers set up Cincinnati inside Notre Dame's 25-yard line. The Irish had three red- zone stops that forced field goal attempts, two of which were missed. Chunk gains were more common, though, and Notre Dame allowed them at critical times. Cincin- nati needed just 68 seconds to mount a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half. The Bearcats sliced through the Irish defense in six plays that covered 75 yards after Pyne's touchdown pass to Lenzy cut their lead to 17-13 with 8:20 left. Notre Dame allowed six passing plays of 20 or more yards and 6.2 yards per play. 4. Limited Disruption Notre Dame's defense can live with some big plays — and maybe even as many as it allowed today — if it can also cause havoc. It has generated pressure all season and bottled up opposing run games the last two weeks. Not so much against Cincinnati. The Irish produced one tackle for loss until junior defensive end Isaiah Foskey's third-quarter strip sack. They had four tackles for loss in total, tied for their fewest of the season, and one sack. Their 12.9 percent havoc rate was their lowest of the year. 5. Wide Receivers Go Quiet Senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. saw plenty of Cincinnati All-American cornerback Ahmad Gardner, a projected first-round NFL pick, as ex- pected. Notre Dame needed him to win a few plays against Gardner or find ways to match him up on other defenders. Neither happened often enough. Austin had one catch for 17 yards and was targeted just twice. He had an opening for a big gain in the fourth quarter on a scramble drill, but dropped Pyne's pass. Lenzy had four catches for 61 yards and the touchdown. All other Irish receivers combined for six catches. Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer was quiet after a four-catch, 32-yard opening drive. He didn't catch pass No. 5 until the third quarter. He finished with a team-high eight catches for 93 yards, and 52 of those yards came after the catch. ✦ FIVE THOUGHTS FROM NOTRE DAME'S LOSS TO CINCINNATI BY PATRICK ENGEL Senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. had one catch on just two targets in Notre Dame's loss to Cincinnati. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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