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Knee-Jerk Reactions: Fiesta Bowl

By Jamison Cook | January 02
Knee-Jerk Reactions: Fiesta Bowl
Oklahoma State's Tay Martin makes a catch in front of Notre Dame's Clarence Lewis - Picture Credit: Getty Images

How I feel 24 hours later

Notre Dame lost yet another Bowl Championship Series/New Year’s Six yesterday, blowing a 28-7 lead en route to a 37-35 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Irish looked like two completely different teams between the first and second halves, and they ultimately could not finish off a quality opponent in a big game that they were in prime position to win. Sound familiar?

Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme for the Irish over the last 20 years, as they are now 0-8 in BCS/NY6 bowl games. This one seemed different at first, as when the Irish found themselves up 28-7 with just over a minute left in the first half, it was there largest lead ever in a BCS/NY6 game. That being said, Notre Dame came up short once again, providing more material for the media to discredit everything the program has accomplished in recent years. It was a tough one to swallow, and here’s a look at my immediate reactions from the loss.

What happened to the defense?

The Notre Dame defense had proven themselves to be a formidable force over the last month of the season, giving up a combined 23 points in their last four regular season games. Marcus Freeman’s defensive scheme became extremely effective, forcing a bunch of turnovers and making opposing quarterbacks consistently uncomfortable.

That same defense didn’t show up yesterday, and the touchdown they gave up in 37 seconds just before half was indicative of just how fragile this unit was going to be in the second half. Oklahoma State QB Spencer Sanders set a Fiesta Bowl record with 496 total yards, and he threw four touchdowns with no interceptions after throwing four picks in his last game against Baylor. The Irish made Sanders look like an All-American all afternoon. They also let OSU WR Tay Martin have a field day, as Notre Dame CB Clarence Lewis allowed him 10 catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns.

Only Isaiah Foskey is excused on the defensive side of the ball, as the defensive lineman recorded the only sack for the Irish and forced a Sanders fumble that gave Notre Dame a glimmer of hope. But the offense couldn’t record a first down, which leads me to my next question.

What happened to the offense in the second half? And goodbye Jack Coan

QB Jack Coan and the offense looked like they were going to put up 50 in the first half, but came out flat in the second half, barely got the ball into Oklahoma State territory, and only scored one touchdown in garbage time. I will give credit to the Oklahoma State defense, they made the necessary halftime adjustments to change the game. On the flip side, Notre Dame and Coan didn’t do anything different after the break, and the offense’s inability to adapt cost them the game in embarrassing fashion.

Coan is one of the biggest enigmas I have ever seen in college football. In the first half, he looked like the quarterback Notre Dame needed all season and someone who could potentially have a backup role at the next level. In the second half he looked like a high school quarterback who shouldn’t have any college offers. He consistently missed open receivers and made poor decisions throwing into double- and triple-coverage. The interception Coan threw on one of the few second half drives that saw ND make it to the red zone was one of the worst reads I have ever seen. Coan set a Fiesta Bowl record with 509 passing yards, and he added five touchdowns, but I wouldn’t say he played particularly well. How crazy is that? He couldn’t get it done when it mattered. I am looking forward to next season with someone else under center.

How big was the gap between Kyren and Tyree/Diggs/Estime?

I understand that Kyren Williams is the Franchise and that he is one of the best Notre Dame running backs in recent memory. He became only the fifth running back in Irish history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But what I didn’t quite realize was just how much better Kyren is than the other options in our backfield. RBs Chris Tyree, Logan Diggs, and Audric Estime combined for just 46 yards in the loss, and while they were not just ineffective, but they barely saw reps during the game. Diggs got nine carries, Tyree got six, and Estime only had one, and it was evident that the coaching staff did not trust the backups to put together a consistent run game.

This lack of both usage and effectiveness leads me to believe that Kyren is just that much better than these three, and we really missed him yesterday. I can only hope that this gap closes between now and next season, otherwise Buchner will be doing way too much running.

Why didn’t Buchner get a single snap?

Speaking of the freshman QB, where was he yesterday? After getting a few snaps consistently each game throughout most of the season, Buchner didn’t appear on the field at all yesterday, something I was honestly shocked by as the offense sputtered to a halt in the second half. As Coan struggled to find open guys and the run game was nonexistent, I thought we would see Buchner to give the defense a different look and force them to respect the run a little bit. Hindsight might be 20-20, but I think Buchner could have provided a much-needed offensive spark in the second half. It should be his time next year, but I would have loved to see him have the opportunity to make a difference yesterday.

Ohio State up next

When the dust settles on this season, the Irish will see Freeman’s alma mater – Ohio State – next up on the schedule. Despite the bitter taste this season will leave in the mouths of Notre Dame fans, the next game is a huge one for Freeman and the program going forward. Not only would a win be huge for our CFP hopes next season, but it could be a leg up in the many recruiting battles we seem to find ourselves in against Ohio State. The Irish will be up against an elite Ohio State offense led by likely Heisman-hopeful CJ Stroud, and the Shoe will be a tough place to play. Freeman has an entire offseason to get his team ready for this game, and one positive to come out of the end of this season is that he is almost certain to do a better job of getting his team up for big games than BK ever did.

Thanks for sticking with us throughout this rollercoaster ride of a season Irish fans. Go Irish!