Sometimes you don’t have to play a perfect game to get the job done, and that was certainly evident last week in South Bend. But Notre Dame is 2-0 for the first time since 2008, and that’s the most important thing, the only thing that Brian Kelly and co. care about.
That being said, we have learned a lot about our team in the first two weeks, specifically, that we have many areas that we need to improve on. As such, here are five quick and relatively minor “fixes” that I would like to see starting with the game down in East Lansing.
Problem: Questionable Cornerback Play
Quick Fix: Move Jamoris Slaughter
This was a problem we all saw coming, especially once Lo Wood went down for the year with an Achilles tendon rupture. Bennett Jackson appears to be a service starter on one side of the defense, but the young KeiVarae Russell has already become a target for opposing QBs. Brian Kelly cross-trained Jamoris Slaughter at both safety and cornerback this off-season, but during camp said that his experiment at CB had officially ended. However, with older players available at safety like Zeke Motta and Dan McCarthy, in addition to young players such as Matthias Farley and Nicky Baratti stepping up, now might be the time to move Slaughter in order to cover up our defense’s biggest flaw.
Problem: Offensive Balance
Quick Fix: Take a few chances deep downfield
Notre Dame’s offensive strength this season is going to be running the ball, there’s no doubt about it. But the defensive blueprint on how to slow down the Irish offensively has already been thrown out there by Purdue: stack eight in the box and dare the young Everett Golson to throw the football.
Notre Dame needs to find a way to back off the opposing team’s front seven…err, eight…and throwing a few deep balls would work wonders for opening the running game back up. Kelly has always been more about quick strikes and getting the ball out quickly, deep throws have never been a huge key to his offenses. But we know that Everett has a cannon for an arm, so it may be time to showcase what he can really do.
Problem: Goal-Line Attack
Quick Fix: Don’t Get Fancy
This may seem like a slightly surprising “problem” due to our solid redzone efficiency so far, but to me those stats don’t tell it all. While we are good inside the 20 in general, once we get within 5 yards of the endzone, we struggle to figure out exactly what we want to do. But it should be easy: stick to your guns and don’t get fancy. Either throw the jump ball up to Tyler Eifert, or pound the rock inside.
In one series last week, Brian Kelly dialed up three straight QB runs on the goal line versus Purdue. Which makes zero sense, regardless of how athletic Golson is. Kelly spent all season convincing people (and rightfully so) that Everett is not a running quarterback, but rather a slinger with mobility. Kelly needs to play to Everett’s strengths rather than force an identity on him that isn’t natural. Additionally, Everett isn’t the biggest guy, so protecting from a few extra hits wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Problem: Too many RBs, too few touches
Quick Fix: Keep two on the field
Last week it “looks” like we achieved some offensive balance, considering we ran the ball 36 times and threw it 39. However, when you take away some non-designed runs such as QB scrambles and sacks, suddenly you see (you also saw this if you watched the game with your eyes open) that we had no commitment to the running game, and we actually had something like a 47-28 pass to run ratio.. Hell, George Atkinson III, fresh off a 99 yards, 9 carry performance, was given just one touch.
Now Cierre Wood enters back into the mix, and we have to find a way to get three studs the ball on the ground? Looks like we are going to have to use two backs on the field at the same time quite frequently. I’d imagine that due to his receiving versatility, Theo Riddick will be on the field the most, complimented by either Cierre or GAIII. This also allows Brian Kelly to get creative when calling misdirections, fake hand-offs, etc.
Problem: QB Controversy
Quick Fix: Embrace the 2-QB system
Look, I know that nobody in the world likes two quarterback systems (even though somebody may have predicted this coming). But they can be utilized effectively when two quarterbacks have such radically different dimensions that they provide to the offense…which is exactly the case for Notre Dame right now. Going to two quarterbacks makes sense when it comes to managing egos, it makes opponents have to prepare for even more things to be thrown at them, and it allows Kelly to ride the “hot hand” each week. Play well, and you’ll get to run the show.
Everett is undoubtedly the starter, but we saw last week that Tommy Rees has a role for this team, and it is going to be much more than a “closer” role as Kelly dubbed it. That’s just not the way you handle quarterbacks consistently. To lean on Tommy in big situations to alleviate some pressure on EG (say, a night game, on the road, vs a top-10 team) would be the smart thing to do.