Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

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

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6 NOV. 4, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME BY TYLER HORKA M arcus Freeman had an entire week to diagnose what went wrong with the Notre Dame offense in the middle third of the season. But in those nine days since he last spoke to the media, the Fighting Irish's head coach did not move off the buzz- word he frequently turned to in the midst of Notre Dame's offensive num- bers significantly dwindling from one set of four games to the next. "It's the execution," he said. "It's the execution." What does that mean, exactly? He isn't calling out anyone by name. He's casting a wide net over a set of problems created by multiple parties. That's intentional. As much as outsiders might want to pin the plight of the Notre Dame offense on one man — offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, perhaps — the reality is getting back to where the Irish of- fense was in August and September isn't a one-man fix. A singular solution does not exist. "There is not just one common theme in the last three or four games where this is the reason," Freeman said. "Each game has its own different story that we have to continue to attack." Notre Dame couldn't commit to the run in a 17-14 loss to Ohio State. The Irish's 27 rushing attempts against the Buckeyes amounted to the fewest they've had in one game all year. Notre Dame gained two first downs via rush- ing plays, which was also a season low. Against Duke and Louisville, it was the inability to move the chains on third down. The Irish converted 6 of 28 third- down tries. There was also the dumb- founding rotation of offensive linemen in the loss to the Cardinals. That, as much as anything, was an indicator of just how lost the Irish offense was. The time had come to kick the tires on anything, even as outlandish as offensive line rotation, that might kick-start the entire operation. It didn't work. Notre Dame lost, 33-20. The Irish had a season-low offensive output of 251 yards in a 48-20 win over USC. That was in part to only running 49 offensive plays. An average of 5.1 yards per play was a slight increase from a season-low of 4.5 a week prior against the Cards. On that night, slightly better was all Notre Dame needed. The defense isn't going to force 5 turnovers in every game, though. It's not always going to score a touchdown, and Jadarian Price isn't going to return a kickoff for a TD in every game, ei- ther. So, when the Irish offense has to be better in the home stretch, can it be? Freeman and Parker spent the bye week scheming up ways to definitively answer that with a firm "yes." "We have to be better against really good people," Parker said. "It's what everyone here wants. It's what you want. It's what my wife wants. How do you do that?" Wait for it … what for it … "We have to execute better," Parker said. "So, starting last week, we kind of got back to the brass tacks about under- standing why we're doing what we're do- ing, how to execute it better so we can and how to finish drives and put points on the board that everybody wants to see." Parker identified some formations (that he wouldn't share) and run/pass splits he was not satisfied with during bye week self-scouting sessions. One specific area Parker wants Notre Dame to be better in is getting skill players in space without having to lean on the of- fensive line to protect for too long. Passing plays shouldn't solely depend on protection. Parker should be able to scheme guys open, especially when teams are loading the box to defend Notre Dame's running game and dar- ing Sam Hartman to throw the ball over their heads in a way he hasn't been able to — at least not as prolifi- cally as advertised when he first arrived in South Bend from Wake Forest. "It's a prideful thing, and we still have to get the ball downhill, but at the same time we can't ask our guys to do something in the num- ber counts that aren't fair," Parker said. That's played into poor execution. How is junior tailback Audric Estimé supposed to plunge forward for a good gain if he's being met by multiple guys wearing the wrong jerseys immediately upon taking the ball from Hartman? "The next step as we grow is we have to make sure we can attack you on the edges because as much as we want to be a tough, physical offense — we want to beat you up and be a run-first offense because I think it's critical to who we are and how we can control time of possession and ball secu- rity — but moving forward we have to be able to put guys in space and find ways to find explosives," Parker said. Put like that, execution equates to a more pronounced passing game. Makes sense. Notre Dame has been deficient in that department since the Central Michigan game Sept. 16. There are three games left to rectify that. ✦ UNDER THE DOME ALL ABOUT EXECUTION Notre Dame coaches remain adamant the offense can quickly improve Coordinator Gerad Parker's offense did not reach 400 yards during its stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents from Sept. 23 to Oct. 14 after gaining at least 444 in each of its first four contests. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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