The clock clicked to zero and the players on the field began to jog into the locker room. It was halftime and Notre Dame was beating up on North Carolina. The score was 17-9 and by that alone, you couldn’t tell that the Irish were playing some of the best football I’d seen all season.
The Notre Dame defense held the North Carolina offense to three field goals and the Irish offense was moving the ball fairly well against a stout Tar Heel defense.
I was too comfortable.
I had come to expect such production out of such a young team for, as the previous two weeks indicated, the Irish were fairly explosive on offense.
However, I knew they had a tendency to implode and let a turnover or a mental error snowball into nearly costing them a couple of games. Which is why, when Charlie Weis was leaving the field he said to a reporter that they needed to come out in the second half and get an early score, I leaned over to my wife and said, “They’re going to have to protect the ball.”
Such prophetic words had never been spoken.
With that, the Irish came out in the second half and proceeded to neatly wrap the game and give the Tar Heels an early Christmas present. This single interaction between my wife and I is what personified entire afternoon for Notre Dame.
On Saturday, Notre Dame was their own worst enemy. When they had a big play on offense, they negated the play with a penalty or a turnover. When they stopped a run on defense, they allowed the Tar Heel wide receivers to reach the first down marker—one step forward, two steps back.
Sure North Carolina is a decent team, but the Irish had the ‘Heels on their heels (pun intended) going into the half.
What the Irish couldn’t do for Stanford one week earlier, they managed to do for North Carolina.
Receivers are Getting Separation
If there’s one thing that has been fairly constant throughout this entire season, it’s that the receivers are clearly the strength of this offense. They were arguably the second weakest part of the offense last season, second only to the offensive line.
However, with the emergence of young talent like Mike Floyd and Golden Tate, the entire corps has become very reliable. Additionally, they seem to be the one unit on offense that is committing the least amount of mental errors. Sure, some routes haven’t been run correctly, and that botched lateral by Mike Floyd at the end of regulation cost us the game, but they are one of the most consistent parts of the entire team.
Not only that, but the receivers are getting a decent amount of separation against their defenders. The only reason that Golden Tate is able to perform fade routes so well is his speed, and he uses it well to get separation from opposing cornerbacks.
Mike Floyd is one of the most nimble freshman receivers to come to Notre Dame that I have seen. . He reminds me of Maurice Stovall or Derek Mays, but with a bit more muscle.
He is a freshman and already, he is able to contort his body, stop and start quickly, or turn on a dime in order to catch the football. It’s amazing what these two will be able to do for this offense when Tate is a senior and Floyd is a junior.
Hello, Duval Kamara
Welcome back. I’m glad you decided to join your teammates on the field. Duval had 58 yards receiving on Saturday coming on five catches.
This is certainly very minor compared to the record-setting numbers he had as a freshman wide receiver last year, but considering that Kamara had only 45 total yards previous to Saturday’s game, it was nice to see Kamara making catches again and on a consistent basis.
Hopefully, this is a sign that he has instilled some sort of confidence in the coaching staff. It sure will be nice to have him back on the field along with Mike Floyd and Golden Tate.
The Safety Net of the Defense
The play of the safeties yesterday may have been the only bright spot to the entire Notre Dame defense on Saturday and through the season so far.
Both of Notre Dame’s safeties, David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy, are leading the defense in tackles, with Kyle McCarthy having three more tackles than David Bruton with 56.
They are both on track to break the century mark in tackles by the end of the season and they were both the only safety net that the defense had on Saturday-especially with the way the cornerbacks were playing.
Impact of the Kicking Game
It’s fairly safe to say that Brandon Walker did not fail anyone on Saturday, which is the first time he’s achieved this feat.
However, his performance throughout the season had a big impact on Saturday’s game.
Two weeks ago, I said that the performance of Brandon Walker would come back to haunt this team and potentially cause them to lose a game. Well, in instances like this, I hate to be right.
On fourth and seven from the Notre Carolina 27, Charlie Weis elected to go for a first down rather than attempt a field goal.
And who can blame him?
Sure, Walker had been perfect for the day, but nothing in the previous five games had told him that Walker would be a reliable choice. Had Charlie Weis elected to kick a field goal and had Brandon Walker made the field goal, it would have pulled the game within three points for the Irish, who would have been driving for a field goal rather than a touchdown at the end of the game.
As it was, the Irish attempted the conversion and failed. Nobody could blame Coach Weis for his decision, but the lack of a kicking game pigeon-holed Charlie Weis into making that decision.
Had Brandon Walker been even 50 percent on field goals for the season, Coach Weis’ decision might have been different and the outcome of the game might have been different as well.
Still Making Mental Errors
Notre Dame out-gained the Tar Heels by a difference of 150 yards. They committed three fewer penalties for 22 fewer yards. They also turned the ball over a total of five times (including conversion on downs), which was five more than the Tar Heels had.
Usually, if a team does not win the turnover battle, they do not win the game and this proved to be true for the Fighting Irish on Saturday.
After going two games without committing a single turnover, the Irish walked into Chapel Hill, NC and commit five turnovers, with four coming in the second half. You cannot expect to turn the ball over five times and still win the game.
Part of my frustration with this is that the two games where the Irish committed most of our turnovers were when they were not in Notre Dame Stadium. People say that we can’t expect this team to win on the road, in a hostile environment and it’s true if this team can’t make smart decisions in a hostile environment.
Poor decisions by the quarterback, not protecting the ball, and incorrect route-running by the wide receivers-all of these play into the offensive woes for the Irish on the road.
It’s time to rectify these problems.
It’s a 60 Minute Game
For the second week in a row, the Irish had a comfortable lead going into halftime, both by score and success on both sides of the ball.
And for the second week in a row, they blew it.
This team and their coaches are not coaching and playing to win the game in the second half, they are coaching and playing to not lose the game in the second half.
It’s not working.
That’s the difference in this team. They come out in the second half and put on the cruise control instead of slamming on the throttle. Something has to change because this team cannot expect to win anymore games if they want to take it easy for the second half of the football game.
The Strength of our Team is Now Our Weakness
If there was one thing we as fans knew about this team coming into this season: the Irish secondary could have been one of the best in the nation.
Then, Darrin Walls left the school for the semester and was replaced by a very capable duo of backups in Gary Gray and Raeshon McNeil.
Why then, after Mike Anello knocked out Brandon Tate on a clean hit in the first half and didn’t have him to worry about, did the secondary still have trouble shutting down Hakeem Nicks?
Why in the third quarter, when North Carolina was facing a third and 18 did Sexton complete a pass to Hakeem Nicks for 19 yards and a first down?
Could it be that our secondary isn’t as good as we originally thought? During Saturday’s game, the Irish safeties were playing 15 yards off the line of scrimmage to try to prevent the big passing plays, but the cornerbacks were giving the North Carolina receivers 10 yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage.
It’s either an issue of discrepancy between the coaching philosophies of Jon Tenuta and Corwin Brown, or the cornerbacks aren’t as good as everyone, including me, originally thought.
Right now, they are the weakness of our defense that is full of questions and is currently struggling to shut down opposing offenses.
The winner of this game should have been Notre Dame, but it will be recorded in the history books as a victory by North Carolina.
But North Carolina did not win the game on Saturday, Notre Dame lost the game.
A mixture of mental errors and lackadaisical emotions made up the bullet that was fired into the toe of the Fighting Irish at the beginning of the second half. One must imagine how much longer this adolescent team will continue to play like one as the Irish head into a bye week with the Washington Huskies and Tyrone Willingham approaching rapidly.
What stings is not that the Irish lost this game, but that they must head into a bye week with a horribly discouraging defeat to dwell on and the option to allow this defeat to affect their performance in Washington on the 25th.
If Charlie Weis is half of the coach he thinks he is, he won’t let this happen.
Players of the Game
Golden Tate: 5 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD
Mike Floyd: 6 receptions, 93 yards, 1 TD
David Bruton: 8 tackles
Brandon Walker: 1 field goal, 1 attempt