Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM FEBRUARY 2022 29 JACK COAN GAVE HIS ALL FOR NOTRE DAME ONE LAST TIME Maybe offensive coordinator Tommy Rees was right. Maybe Notre Dame ultimately received more than it ever could have imagined from graduate stu- dent quarterback Jack Coan. It might take some time to look past the sting of suffering a season-ending loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. But maybe — just maybe — folks who have Fighting Irish football under a micro- scope will realize Rees wouldn't have said that if he didn't actually mean it. OK, Rees also said Coan is a surefire bet to make an NFL roster. That remains to be seen and isn't a lock by any stretch given Coan's mobility concerns. But as for Coan potentially being underrated during his short time at Notre Dame? That's well within reason. The Irish nabbed Coan out of the trans- fer portal a year ago with visions of him doing exactly what he did at State Farm Stadium — setting new career highs in passing yards and touchdowns on a na- tional stage with the world watching Notre Dame trying to accomplish some- thing it hasn't done in nearly 30 years. That last part didn't come to frui- tion, but not snapping a 10-game string of losses in New Year's Six bowl games wasn't a result of Coan falling flat. He actually did the opposite. He came out firing. Coan finished with a Notre Dame bowl game record 509 passing yards and five touchdowns, four of which came in the first half. He became the second player in program history to throw for 500-plus yards in a single game, joining Joe Theismann (526 vs. USC in 1970). Oklahoma State adjusted on both sides of the ball and completed the largest comeback in school history as a result. That was a 17-year head coaching veteran, Mike Gundy, recording his 11th bowl win and getting the best of a first-time head coach, Marcus Freeman, in the process. It wasn't the Cowboys smothering Coan. The Notre Dame collapse was collective. "Jack played well, man," Freeman said. "He played really well. Obviously, there's a couple plays we wish we could take back, but we can't. So I'm proud as heck of Jack." One of those plays was a forced at- tempt to senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. into double coverage. The pass was picked off — rather easily — end- ing the Irish's most promising drive in a second half that didn't provide much promise otherwise. To say the least. "I just thought I was going to be able to backdoor the guy," Coan said. "Obviously, he read my eyes well and came back on it. At the end of the day, it's tough; and I should have probably worked outside and threw to somebody else, but that's football." It was only Coan's seventh interception of the season. He tossed 25 touchdown passes and threw for 3,150 yards. He didn't reach either of those figures at Wisconsin. It wasn't all to be lauded. There was a stretch of four games in a row with less than 200 passing yards. There were two games in that same stretch in which he was benched for two different quar- terbacks, sophomore Drew Pyne and freshman Tyler Buchner. But in the end, Coan started all 13 games for Notre Dame. The Irish won 11 games. They finished the regular season ranked No. 5 in the College Football Play- off rankings, one spot out of a chance to play for a national championship. Had Coan been better in Notre Dame's lone loss of the regular season versus Cin- cinnati, the Irish would have likely had that opportunity. They ended up in Ari- zona and lost their postseason game any- way, eradicating any thoughts of "what if" that would have naturally spawned with an Irish victory. Just remember — the loss wasn't for a lack of competence by Coan. He went out the way he came in four months ago at Florida State — with a whole lotta yards and touchdowns. For competitors like Coan, though, statistics are never enough. "At the end of the day, all I care about is winning and losing," Coan said. "I wish I could have done a little bit more to help the team." OKLAHOMA STATE TEMPO KEEPS IRISH DEFENSE OFF BALANCE Notre Dame's defense expected to see tempo from its Fiesta Bowl opponent. It's a centerpiece of Oklahoma State's offensive identity. The Cowboys average 75 plays per game and hit 82 or more five times in their first 13 games. Notre Dame's season-high is 75 plays, for comparison. The Cowboys thrive on organized chaos and preventing an opponent from substi- tuting as often as it would like. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman and his assistants harped on it during Decem- ber practices and film study. Notre Dame came into the game feeling equipped to handle a fast pace and the heavy workload it puts on defensive players. OKLAHOMA STATE GAME NOTES BY TYLER HORKA AND PATRICK ENGEL Coan set a Fiesta Bowl record with 509 passing yards and also threw five touchdown passes, but it was not enough for the Fighting Irish to come away with a victory. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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