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Random Thoughts on a Season Lost

Written by Phil Kowalis|Writer|X/Twitter: @PhilKowalisIT

Photo by The Irish Tribune

When Sam Hartman made his announcement that he was transferring to the University of Notre Dame for his final season of eligibility, fans across Irish nation thought the Irish had acquired the piece needed to reach the promised land and finally end the 35-year drought since Notre Dame's last national title in 1988.

Irish fans envisioned Hartman leading a high-powered Irish offense that would rack up video game-type offensive numbers, and paired with a defense that was loaded with returning talent, would leave opponents in their wake on the way to an unbeaten season and College Football Playoff appearance.

Ten games into this once so promising season, Notre Dame enters their final bye week on the schedule with a disappointing 7-3 record. Not only have the dreams of ending the national title drought been dashed, but any hopes for a consolation trip to a New Years 6 Bowl have also ended up on the scrap heap after the Irish suffered a puzzling 31-23 loss to the Clemson Tigers.

As Notre Dame uses the bye week to lick their wounds and prepare for the final two games of what has turned into a disappointing season, I thought this would be a good time to give some thoughts on what has turned into a season lost.

Sam Hartman is the system quarterback that he had hoped to prove he wasn't.

In transferring to Notre Dame, Hartman hoped to prove that he was not just another quarterback who owed his success to gimmicky offensive system he played in. Hartman hoped that spending a season in Notre Dame's more pro-style offense would prove to NFL GM's that he was not a product of the slow mesh offensive system utilized by Wake Forest where Hartman had thrown for 12,967 yards and 110 touchdowns in his previous five seasons.

Despite getting off to a hot start to his Notre Dame career, Hartman has looked more uncomfortable in the Notre Dame offensive system as the season has progressed and has struggled to match the success he had as a Deamon Deacon.

With two games remaining in the season, Hartman has thrown for only 2,272 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, falling well short of his totals of 3,701 yards and 38 touchdowns in his final season at Wake Forest.

Hartman hoped to improve his NFL draft stock by transferring to Notre Dame, but it may very well turn out that his draft stock has been hurt by the move instead.

Concern about the interior of the offensive line has become all too real.

Coming into the season, Notre Dame's offensive line was touted as being the strength of the offense and was seen as being a contender to win the Joe Moore award as the best offensive line in the country. The Irish line was anchored by NFL prospects at both tackle positions in Blake Fisher and Joe Alt, but the ultimate success of the unit would depend on the development of the unproven interior of the line in particular the play of the Irish guards, Pat Coogan and Rocco Spindler.

Coogan and Spindler played well over the first four weeks of the season and held their own in the matchup against Ohio State, but the interior of the line was exposed in the loss to the Louisville Cardinals and the line has struggled to recapture their early season success which has greatly limited the success of the Irish offense.

Tobias Merriweather has failed to live up to the preseason hype of his WR1 potential.

All the news coming out of Notre Dame's preseason fall camp was that wide receiver Tobias Merriweather was primed to have a breakout season and be a clear cut WR1 for the Irish this season.

Merriweather has failed to live up to those preseason accolades, as the sophomore wide receiver has struggled from the start of the season and has only 11 catches for 224 yards and one touchdown on the season.

There has been speculation of Merriweather entering the transfer portal at the end of the season, but if that proves to be untrue the 2024 season is shaping up to be a make or break one for Merriweather's career in South Bend.

Irish offense has never found their true identity in the 2023 season.

Despite head coach Marcus Freeman repeatedly saying that Notre Dame would be a run first team, the Irish have struggled to live up to Freeman's claim this season.

The Irish have a stable of talented running backs and would seem to be more than capable of living up to the run first approach, but at times this season the Irish have abandoned the running game completely.

An example of this is the loss to Clemson, when Audric Estime only had three carries in the second half despite the Irish only trailing by one score for most of the half.

The struggles of the offensive line and the fact that opposing defenses game plan to take the running game away are contributing factors to the Irish offense struggling to find its identity, but at times it appears that the Irish forget that the running game is what the offense should be built around.

Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is public enemy number one, but does he deserve all the criticism he is receiving?

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker is on the hot seat as the Notre Dame offense has continued to struggle over the past five weeks, but does Parker deserve to have all the blame placed on him? In my opinion, he doesn't.

Parker's play calling has not been great, and it appears that he has forgotten that a play action pass is a great call against an opposing defense that has loaded the box in an attempt to stop the run. Or that it wouldn't hurt to throw on first down to at least make the defense respect the idea of the pass, or maybe running a toss sweep or a simple off tackle run instead of just continuing to ram the ball between the guards into the heart of the defense would help take some of the anger of Irish nation off of him.

Fans need to realize that Parker is also calling the plays when the offense has performed well.

The difference between the offense performing well and struggling to some extent comes down to the execution of the players on the field, neither Parker nor anyone else on the Irish staff is spending countless hours breaking down game tape and developing game plans that they know will fail, so it's okay to place 70 to 80 percent of the blame on Parker, he is not deserving of all the blame for the struggle of the Irish offense.

Should a three-loss season really be seen as a failure for the 2023 Irish?

In my opinion, no. Many Irish fans will disagree with my opinion, as they saw the addition of Hartman as the final piece to the championship puzzle, but in reality, filling the hole at the quarterback position was only fixing one of many different areas of need.

While the Irish defense may be championship caliber, the Irish offense still needs improvement along the offensive line, and the wide receiver room still needs added talent and another year of growth.

A 10-win season is still a possibility and would be a good step forward in year two of the Freeman era.

Those are some of my thoughts on the Irish season to this point feel free to comment on my thoughts or add thoughts of your own in the comment section below, until next time Go Irish.


Nov 13, 2023

Excellent commentary. I disagree that this season was a success because the offense played so poorly (if we play that poorly against Stanford we will get beat) in the three losses. However the Duke win was a gift, three great plays in the last 1 1-/2 minutes. Hartman's regression can be attributed to our offensive line being vastly over rated, and the lack of imagination and the pursuit and demand of excellence by the OC The offensive meltdown is the responsibility of the OC and his boss, MF. Going after another transfer portal QB, in my opinion, will be a mistake. What promising recruit will want to come if we keep bringing in a one year rent a QB? …

Nov 15, 2023
Replying to

All the hype and expectations were manufactured once again by wins over teams that should not even be on the field with ND. You can change all the coordinators and pieces that you want but until the culture of consistently winning against quality opponents comes along nothing will change. The last 5 head coaches have produced nothing except teams that regress as the season goes along and consistent losses against quality teams.

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