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Where Did It Go Wrong? Irish Implode Against Louisville

Written by Mike Stacey|Writer|Twitter(X): @MikeStaceyIT IG: @mikestaceyit

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune


If you are like me, your jaw may still be ajar accompanied by a glazed look on your face as you try to come to grasps with what you witnessed Saturday night at Louisville. From play calling to player performance, it felt like a bad joke watching the Irish attempt to win a football game against yet another ranked opponent under the bright lights. From the start, it was apparent Louisville was fired up and ready to go to play this game, and Notre Dame was not. I kept waiting for it to get better, for the Irish to wake up, for the play calling to improve, for the Irish to assume dominance, none of the above ever occurred. Instead, head scratching play after head scratching play ensued and the Irish ended up getting flat out dominated against a team that was clearly better Saturday night even though it shouldn't have been on paper. So what does this mean moving forward? First, let's break down some of the most egregious moments from Saturday night to try to help make sense of where it went wrong.


Play Calling:


When Gerad Parker was hired as the OC it felt like a major miss for the Irish staff who seemed to have had Andy Ludwig all locked up before something happened... (Save that discussion for another day) However, I was pleasantly surprised with how the Irish offense started off their season and felt like Parker was doing a good job. That was until the past 3 weeks when the Irish offense has sputtered and only put up 20, 21, and 14 points in their last 3 games against quality opponents. The same old story Notre Dame fans have grown accustomed to in big games as of late. This game, however, was the worst of them all in my opinion due to the odd play calling and horrendous execution. To start the game, the Irish were letting Sam Hartman pass the ball down the field. A start that I happily welcomed and hoped would spark Sam and the offense. Then, on a 1st and 10, Hartman threw a jump ball to Rico Flores that was intercepted, the first play call that had me scratching my head as Flores seemed to be the only option on this play. Another issue, was the outside backer who came in untouched on a blitz. Overall, horrendous play call, recognition and execution. Later in the half, the Irish had an absurd call on 3rd and 1 at Ville's 45, of all places. Rather than give the ball to your monster RB, twice if need be to move the sticks, the Irish tried to get cute with a misdirection end around which results in a terrible exchange and fumble for a turnover. Sadly, as terrible of a decision as this was, it may not have been the worst of the game. In the 4th quarter with the Irish down by 11 and facing 4th and 11 at their own 35, Marcus Freeman made a Madden video game decision and decided to have his offense, who couldn't convert on short yardage scenarios let alone 4th and long, try to go for it. The word "panic" comes to mind when I think of the best way to describe this decision. At this point, your defense is the best thing you have going. Punt the ball away, tell your defense to go make a play, and the game is still within your grasp. Instead, the Irish come up short and essentially hand the game over to Louisville. AWFUL! These are just some of the highlights, but there was plenty of bad play calling to go around in this one.


Coaching

A team that gets worse as the season goes on is a tell-tale sign of poor coaching, and that is exactly what we have been seeing recently with this team. Almost every position group on the offensive side of the ball is getting worse instead of better, with the exception of the tight ends and the running backs. The play of the wide receivers is borderline criminal. Last night the receivers accounted for 102 yards and one TD with the only TD and 48 of those yards coming from a walk-on playing for the first time this year! That is flat out disgraceful. I understand some of these players have been battling injuries, but there is no excuse for the type of performance, or lack there of, we are seeing. Whether it's lack of effort, lack of ability to get out of their breaks/ get open, this comes down to coaching and Coach Stuckey is doing a great disservice at this time. He needs to coach up these players and needs to do it fast if there is any hope of this team salvaging the season.

The next group that has been on a steady decline is the offensive line. My goodness, Saturday night looked like a completely different unit than what we saw at the beginning of the year, and in their defense, at times it was. The Irish decided to give some of the back up players more reps in this game, and that proved to be the wrong decision. Not only did the starters not seem to be fresher due to this experiment, they also seemed to be more disjointed and off as a unit. The chemistry was not there, and the unit was absolutely dismantled by a D-line that the Irish should have had a considerable advantage over. Whatever coach Rudolph is doing in practice, he should reconsider, because this unit is having the biggest drop off of any on the team. Once hoping for a Joe Moore award, now this unit needs to hope they can simply withstand the defense in any given game. An atrocity that needs to be fixed immediately given the talent at hand.

Lastly, PENALTIES. This team has been unbelievably undisciplined. The Irish currently rank 105th in the country in penalties, and although they cut back on the number of penalties on Saturday, (3) they could not have picked worse times to get them. In the 2nd quarter on 3rd and 1 at their own 43, Blake Fisher got flagged for a false start. The next play Love rushed for 3 yards and the Irish elected to punt. Fortunately Louisville jumped offsides on the punt and the Irish caught a break. (Which they turned into a lost fumble a few plays later) Then in the 3rd quarter following a TD that put Ville up 7, Hartman completed a beautiful ball to Evans that took the Irish all the way down to the Louisville 34 yard line. However, Fisher was yet again flagged, only this time for a face mask that turned a 30 yard gain into a 15 yard loss. The Irish would then settle for a field goal later in the drive. The final blow came in the 4th quarter on a pivotal drive with the Irish down 4. The Cardinals decided to go for it on 4th and 9 at midfield and the Irish defense came up with a big stop, or so we thought, until we saw the dreaded yellow flag. This time, Marist Liufau got flagged for a face mask away from the play. An absolute gut punch that gave Ville the first when ND should have been taking over with good field position. Ville then went on to convert that drive into a touchdown and all but put the game away.


Energy


This can also be under coaching, but the players need to be accountable as well. I understand it can't be easy to get up for these big night games week after week, especially during midterms, but the effort still needs to be better. The Irish continue to come out flat, unfocused, and with little fire in these big games. At this time, the Irish need someone in the locker room to step up, and hold these players accountable. But who? Right now, this is a team that looks lost and uninspired. They look like a team that is praying for a bye week, however, they have one more major test before that week comes. So what is it going to be? Are they going to lay another egg this Saturday and chalk it up to "it was too hard"? Or will someone light a fire under this unit and get them to give the effort worthy of this type of game, in this type of stadium, for this type of university.


The Irish are facing some serious adversity right now, and the great teams come out stronger in these situations, while the weak ones completely fall apart. This is the biggest challenge to date for Marcus Freeman as a head coach. He has a lot of questions to answer and little time to do it. If the Irish lose again this Saturday it could derail this season. However, if they win it can give them some much needed momentum into the bye week. It's time to find out what Marcus Freeman can do. Will the Irish crumble under the circumstances? Or will this last week galvanize them and reignite this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section!



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