The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from ND-FSU
Coan impressed, the defense did not in the season opener against the Seminoles
The Good: Jack Coan
If Notre Dame fans were at all worried about the quarterback situation following the departure of Ian Book, these concerns should be put to bed after just one week. Grad transfer Jack Coan came out hot, completing four passes on the opening drive. He capped it off with a 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Mayer, who was so open that it looked like the Florida State secondary forgot he was on the field. It was the third connection between Coan and Mayer on the opening drive, a promising sign for Irish fans. Mayer is widely regarded as one of the best tight ends in the country, so we should be seeing a lot of receptions from him this season.
After a few stalled possessions, Coan led a 10-play, 46-yard drive that culminated in a 48-yard field goal from Jonathan Doerer, another welcome sight for Irish fans. The drive chewed up over five-minutes of gametime and was a good response to the 14 straight points scored by the Seminoles. After a Kyle Hamilton interception, Coan engineered another scoring drive, this time finishing with a great catch by Joe Wilkins Jr. in the corner of the end zone.
The third quarter saw the Irish find the end zone three times, two of which were passing touchdowns by Coan. He dropped a dime over the shoulder of Kevin Austin (a throw Ian Book wouldn’t dream of making – sorry Ian) and found running back Kyren Williams in the flat for a score later in the quarter. Ultimately, Coan finished with 366 passing yards – the most by any Notre Dame quarterback in a season opener – and four passing touchdowns, tied for the most by any ND quarterback in a season opener. Not bad for a guy that hadn’t played football in almost a year.
But what was most remarkable to me as I watched the Irish squeak out a victory over the Seminoles was the poise Coan displayed in the pocket. After two years of watching Book put his head down and scramble when his first read was not open, it was a welcome sight to see Coan stand tall in the pocket and survey the field. He completed 26 of 35 pass attempts – good for a 74.3% completion percentage – an incredibly efficient performance in a game that saw the running game do very little.
The Good: Kyle Hamilton
If you didn’t believe Todd McShay’s projection of Hamilton being picked fifth in the upcoming NFL Draft before this game, you should now. Hamilton was all over the field in the Irish win, recording two interceptions and six tackles. The second interception, however, is what has scouts drooling over the 6’4”, 220-pound safety. Hamilton came from the far hash, covering an incredible distance before making a diving interception and managing to get a foot down inbounds.
Hamilton had one interception all of last season and is already predicted to be a top 10 pick, so imagine if he keeps this pace up. It would take a special season for Hamilton to break the Notre Dame records for interceptions in a season and in a career, but if he keeps up the blazing pace he set in Sunday’s win, anything is possible. The current record for interceptions in a season (10) was set by Mike Townsend in 1972, and the record for interceptions in a career (17) was set by Luther Bradley in 1973 and 1975-77. One game into his junior season, Hamilton has two interceptions on the year and seven for his career.
The Good: Jonathan Doerer
Doerer shut up all of his haters – including me – in the season-opening win. Not only did he record the game-winning 41-yard field goal in overtime, but he also nailed a 48-yarder in the second quarter. After a shaky season a year ago, it is massive for the team and for Doerer’s confidence to make two long kicks in a game of this magnitude. I am very happy for the senior who made just 65% (15 of 23) of his kicks in the 2020-21 season. Let’s hope he stays accurate for the duration of the 2021-22 campaign.
The Bad: Running Game
A year after averaging over 211 rushing yards per game and five yards per attempt, Notre Dame rushed for just 65 yards against Florida State. Chris Tyree did record a rushing touchdown in the third quarter, but other than that the running game was virtually a non-factor on Sunday. This cannot be the case for the Irish going forward. Coan played very well, but he cannot be depended on to throw for 350 yards per game. Notre Dame is a team built behind a strong offensive line and they have an elite backfield tandem in Williams and Tyree, and they must utilize it. If Notre Dame becomes one-dimensional, they will wither against a schedule that is sure to be tougher than most think, especially in light of this past weekend’s results. Kyren was a preseason sleeper pick for Heisman, and he is a talent that Notre Dame must utilize if they hope to get back to the College Football Playoff. This is not completely on the backs, as the line did struggle to create holes and protect Coan at times. Freshman left tackle Blake Fisher emerged from the locker room in a knee brace and street clothes for the second half, but a major injury seems to be avoided, a huge break for the Irish going forward. Michael Carmody played quite well in Fisher’s place, another encouraging sign for the O-line.
The Ugly: Defense
The defense gave up 38 points? To Florida State? Seriously? It was a tough way to start the Marcus Freeman era for the Notre Dame defense on Sunday, as the results on the field differed wildly from the expectations. The most noticeable shortcoming of the defense was tackling. Time and time again, the defense got penetration into the Seminole backfield and bounced off runners. It was incredibly difficult to watch, and I am sure that the defense will be doing plenty of tackling drills this week.
Any game in which Notre Dame scores 38 points should be a victory. It is as simple as that. I am also slightly perplexed as how it got to this point on Sunday. Notre Dame gave up just 14 points in the first half while running a 4-3 defense but proceeded to switch to a 3-4 alignment in the second half in which they gave up 24 points. The Irish had a dominant defensive first half aside from a few chunk plays, but they were exposed by the Florida State running game – and later McKenzie Milton – in a dismal second half. Toledo is a great opponent to sort out these issues against, but beyond that Freeman and this defense better figure it out soon.
The Ugly: Strength of Schedule
Perhaps the worst aspect of the weekend was the hit to Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. Two of the Irish’s top 12 opponents – one of which was in the top 10 – lost in week one. No. 10 North Carolina and former Heisman contender Sam Howell laid an egg at Virginia Tech, managing just two scores in a 17-10 loss. If possible, No. 12 Wisconsin’s offense looked even worse as they lost their home opener to No. 19 Penn State by a score of 16-10 in a classic Big Ten matchup that appeared as if neither team wanted to win. Wisconsin fell to No.18 and North Carolina all the way to No. 24 in this week’s AP Poll, a trend that can only hurt Notre Dame as these matchups approach later in the season.