Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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26 SEPT. 17, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. Line Problems Continue Marcus Freeman has expressed his desire to cre- ate an offensive and defensive line-driven program countless times since his hiring. Two games in, Notre Dame is far from that. And against Marshall, the Irish saw a Group of Five opponent come to their home venue and outplay them on both lines. As if Marshall adding a win to their $1.25 million paycheck for playing the game wasn't humbling enough. The Thundering Herd's 219 rushing yards on 50 attempts isn't eye-popping efficiency. Notre Dame allowing 163 yards on 31 carries to running back Khalan Laborn, though, is another disappointing outing for a front seven that should be a strength on paper. Marshall's offensive line generated con- sistent push. It moved Notre Dame's defensive line at will on a few possessions. There's too much raw talent and depth for Notre Dame's defensive line not to find itself, but its first two weeks have featured too many out-of- character moments. On the other side, Notre Dame's offensive line followed a bumpy opener at Ohio State with a mar- ginally better performance that still wasn't enough to produce a steady rushing attack. Through two games, the Irish have produced 206 rushing yards on 67 attempts, an average of 3.07 yards per carry. Remove sack yardage, and the yards per carry only climbs to 3.85. The 39 running back carries over two games have totaled 115 yards (2.95 yards per rush). 2. What Does Notre Dame Have On Offense? Notre Dame should have expected some bumps with an offense led by a first-time starting quarter- back, but not this much rockiness from its entire operation. It lacks proven wide receivers and consistent quarterback play. Sophomore signal-caller Tyler Buchner's decision-making and presence look like that of an inexperienced starter. It can't rely on a steady run game to take pressure off him. Where can Notre Dame go from here while it attempts to sort all that out in season? The Irish's touchdown drive that gave them a 15-12 lead revealed its best route: tight ends and Buchner's rushing ability. On that possession, Buchner's legs and tight end targets combined for 66 of the 75 yards and the 2-point conversion. Evidently, that's not enough to beat a Sun Belt Conference team, much less a top-five team like Ohio State. Even if Notre Dame can find something to supplement it enough to function, this offense likely won't look pretty or be a high-scoring unit with those two areas as the centerpiece. If the shoulder injury Buchner suffered at the end of the game forces him to miss time, it would take away one of the few sure things on offense right now: his legs. 3. Letdowns In Key Moments Even with shaky run defense, Notre Dame still allowed just 19 points to Marshall's offense. Three sacks and 8 tackles for loss is solid havoc play production. Breakdowns in key moments, though, negate much of the impact. In the opener, the Irish allowed a 95-yard touch- down drive in the fourth quarter. Against Marshall, the Irish surrendered an 11-play, 94-yard drive right after taking the lead. It featured a series of missed tackles and broken contain. Notre Dame has made enough stops on the aggregate, but not when they need one. Most disappointing? The lack of takeaways. Notre Dame has generated zero turnovers through two games. It hasn't forced a fumble. It has broken up just two passes. 4. Tyler Buchner This isn't breaking news or even something new, but Notre Dame simply needs Buchner to be bet- ter. His timing has to improve. He has to find his touch on more deep passes. He has to hit more of the hard throws — those far-hash, out-breaking routes that have eluded him so far this year. Buchner's processing must improve, too. On his fourth-quarter pick-six, he had junior tight end Michael Mayer open past the marker, but threw for a guarded Jayden Thomas instead. Marshall cornerback Steven Gilmore was on Thomas' hip and snagged the pass. Getting more out of Buchner isn't all on Buchner. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has to help him there, both during the week and in games. Rees' shift to a higher-tempo, quick-strike passing of- fense helped 2021 starter Jack Coan turn around. He has to find something that brings out Buchner's best while working around the inexperience, which wasn't a factor with Coan last year. 5. Wide Receivers Based on its play calls, Notre Dame sees gradu- ate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy as its best downfield option. He has frequently lined up on the boundary through two games after playing mostly field receiver in his career. Lenzy's speed is an asset on shot plays, as the beautiful route he ran on a would-be 73-yard touchdown before the half showed. He can beat defenders deep because few can run with him. But he's not the go-up-and-get-it, contested- catch weapon that boundary receivers Kevin Aus- tin Jr., Javon McKinley or Chase Claypool were before him. Those three were over 6-foot-2. Lenzy is sub-6-foot without the vertical leap, strength and midair body control of those three. There's a place for him in a good passing offense. His current role isn't that ideal place. But Notre Dame isn't exactly ripe with sure things and proven playmak- ers at receiver. FIVE THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL During an uneven start, the Fighting Irish offense's best weapon has been sophomore quarterback Tyler Buchner's rushing ability. Against Marshall, he led the team with 13 carries for 44 yards and 2 scores. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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