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New Year's Six? Mending Offensive Struggles Mandatory on Bye Week

Written By: Phil Kowalis|Writer|Twitter: @PhilKowalis IT

Photo By: SI.com


Notre Dame enters a much-needed bye week with a 6-2 record after capping a string of four straight top 25 matchups with a dominating 48-20 win over archrival and previously 10th ranked Southern Cal. The number one priority for Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Gerad Parker during the bye week must be to find a way to revive what has suddenly been a struggling Irish offense.


When quarterback Sam Hartman announced his decision to transfer to the University of Notre Dame for his final season of eligibility, Irish fans envisioned a high-powered offense that would put up video game type numbers in racking up yards and points, and Hartman was seen as the missing piece needed to lead the Irish to a college football playoff appearance -and quite possibly end Notre Dame's 35-year national title drought. Through the first four games of the season everything seemed to be going just as Irish fans had dreamed they would, as the Irish raced off to a 4-0 start averaging 46 points and 508.7 yards of total offense per game over the first four contests. The offensive prosperity would not last however as beginning with a 17-14 loss to Ohio State the Irish offense has been stuck in neutral.

Over the past four games the Notre Dame offense has averaged just 25.7 points and 320 total yards of offense.


While the win over the Trojans snapped a string of three straight games in which the Irish scored 21 points or less, it did not signal the end of the offensive struggles for the Irish as Notre Dame posted a season low in total yards as the Irish could only manage 251 yards of offense against a USC defense that entered the game allowing an average of 421 yards per game, 31 of Notre Dame's 48 points came as a result of USC turnovers and the Irish Special teams added a touch down of their own on a 99-yard kickoff return. The Notre Dame offense only scored 10 points on the six drives that started in their own territory, and three of the six drives resulted in the Irish offense going three and out. The other drive lasted just four plays and gained 16 total yards. Let's take a look at some possible reasons the Irish offense has fallen on hard times and some possible solutions to get the offense back on track.


Photo By: On3

Offensive Coordinator Gerad Parker's Play Calling


Through the first four games, Gerad Parker was praised by Irish fans as being an offensive genius as the offense got off to a fast start. Since the offense has struggled the past four games, those same fans are now wanting to put Parker on the first flight out of town.

In all honesty, Parker's play calling has been predictable and has shown a lack of creativity at times during the recent offensive downturn. One really cannot fault Parker for his run first approach, as the team's strength is its stable of running backs led by Audric Estime and true Freshman Jeremiyah Love. The problem with Parker's play calling is that it seems as if he has fallen in love with the between the guards running that was so successful at the start of the season. As opposing defenses have adjusted to Parker's game plan and loaded the box with eight or nine defenders to stop the interior running game, Parker has shown an unwillingness to adjust his play calling philosophy, continuing to run the ball into the strength of the defense and only passing when necessary. Opposing teams are basically daring the Irish to beat them with the pass and Parker seems very reluctant to do so. Common sense should tell Parker that he needs to implement the passing game to stretch the defense and pull defenders out of the box to open up the running game. The idea of calling play action passes on early downs to take advantage of the loaded box the Irish continue to run into seems like an unknown concept to the Irish offensive coordinator. The use of early down pass calls and the use of play action passes and an occasional deep shot would at least make the opposing defenses acknowledge the fact the Irish possibly have a passing attack to worry about and open some lanes for the running game. Parker seems unwilling to play to Hartman's strength which would be to set in the pocket and sling the ball around the yard. My next point may be part of Parker's reluctance to turn Hartman loose in the pass game.


Photo By: On3

Injuries and Ineffective Play from Notre Dame's Wide Receivers


Injuries to Jayden Thomas, Jaden Greathouse and Deion Colzie have severely limited the contribution made by Irish wide receivers in the passing game. Thomas and Greathouse, who were Notre Dame's leading receivers at the position in the early portion of the season, both missed the game against Duke due to injury and have been ineffective since their return as neither Thomas nor Greathouse have recorded a catch since their return to action. The injuries to Thomas, Greathouse and Colzie have led to Rico Flores Jr. seeing an increase in playing time. While Flores Jr. has shown flashes of potential, he has suffered from inconsistency and has had problems with dropping passes.

The ineffectiveness of Tobias Merriweather is another factor impacting the production of the passing game. Merriweather, who was seen as being WR1 in preseason camp, has failed to live up to those expectations and has not made much of an impact to this point in the season.

Getting Thomas and Greathouse back healthy and returning to their early season form and finding a way to get any contribution from Merriweather will be key to seeing the offensive production increase.


Inconsistent Play from the Interior of the Offensive Line


Coming into the season, the concern about the Irish offensive line revolved around the guard position, as Joe Alt and Blake Fisher were known commodities at the tackle position.

Before the season opener against Navy, Pat Coogan and Rocco Spindler were named as starters and the duo played well in the early part of the season. The play of both Coogan and Spindler has declined as the Irish have faced better defensive fronts, and the duo were exposed and abused in the loss at Louisville. The Irish began rotating linemen in the Louisville game and continued against USC. Finding an effective duo at the guard position to go along with center Zeke Correll will be a must for the Notre Dame offense to return to the form of the early season.


Summary


The toughest part of the 2023 schedule is in the rearview mirror, and while the hopes of a CFP birth and possible national title have been dashed the possibility of winning out and finishing the season with a 10-2 record and a potential place in a NY6 bowl remain a possibility. The ability of Marcus Freeman and his coaching staff to find answers to the questions above and the ability to get the offense back to its early season form will be necessary for the Irish to reach that goal.

2 Comments


Guest
Oct 23, 2023

Great article. I believe the points made were right on the money.

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Judy Shuller
Judy Shuller
Oct 20, 2023

This is the best article yet -- completely on point. GO IRISH!!!☘️☘️

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