Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Things To Learn: Notre Dame’s ‘fixes’ of a fast start and some defensive havoc against UNLV on Saturday

Mike Golic and Jessica Smetana join the ND on NBC podcast to recap the shocking home loss to Stanford and assess the Marcus Freeman era after a rocky start.

Following the 2008 financial crisis, “Saturday Night Live” frequently deployed Kenan Thompson in a “Weekend Update” sketch as a financial expert named Oscar Rogers. Rogers had a comprehensive plan to fix the world economy.

“Fix it.”

If need be, Rogers could go in depth on his plan.

“Take it one step at a time. Identify the problem, fix it. Identify another problem, fix it. Repeat as necessary until it’s all fixed.”

Notre Dame’s offense might follow that approach this weekend when it faces UNLV exclusively on Peacock at 2:30 ET on Saturday. All past episodes of “Saturday Night Live” can also be streamed on Peacock, including the 2008-09 season that included hosts such as Michael Phelps, Anna Faris and John Malkovich.

This is not simply tongue-in-cheek synergy disguised as complex football analysis. The over-arching and obviously comically simple approach from Rogers is not terribly far off from how Irish head coach Marcus Freeman viewed last week’s 16-14 loss to Stanford.

“It’s been a long 48 hours of trying to really figure out what the heck happened on Saturday, and why we didn’t execute the way we have been previously and what we have to do to fix it,” Freeman said Monday.

He said “fix” four times on Monday, three of them followed by “it.”

“The messaging is, let’s fix the mistakes,” was Freeman’s fourth f-word usage. “Don’t make this be a lack of confidence in who we are and how good we can be. Let’s make this about what are the true issues of what happened on Saturday.”

Notre Dame’s postgame win expectancy following that loss was a lofty 77.1 percent, a reflection of the Irish squandering two scoring opportunities and going oh-for-five on fumble recoveries. Those were the true issues of what happened on Saturday.

Notre Dame’s first steps to restoring its own confidence will come in the red zone and via defensive havoc, the two consistent Irish failures this year.

There has been talk this week of Notre Dame’s inability to start fast this season, trailing after the first quarter in four games and mired in a scoreless tie at that point in the other two. This has particularly stood out because offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had excelled in that regard last season. Eight of his 13 opening drives last season resulted in quality possessions, creating 31 points on five scores. (Quality possession: Either a score or a first down inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.)

“There’s no doubt, I have to call it better, period,” Rees said Tuesday. “I have to get [junior quarterback Drew Pyne] into a rhythm, feel the game, give them confidence right off the bat. If we can do that — we’ve had that a little bit in like the second quarter — you get into a rhythm and you start feeling it. You get into that to start the second half the last couple weeks and kind of feel that.”

Clearly, if the Irish have just six first-quarter points this season, it is not a new problem. Only two games have opened with a Notre Dame quality possession, producing those two field goals. This space anticipated the Irish fixing that shortcoming two weeks ago in Las Vegas — Things To Learn: Notre Dame needs to find a fast start for a change of pace vs BYU — and it somewhat did, notching one of those field goals. But in an opening-script sense, a field goal is not a problem fixed. Those 10-20 plays should produce trips to the end zone, not through the uprights.

Identify the problem, fix it.

UNLV (4-3) should provide that salve. Both San José State and Air Force scored on their first possessions and on four of their five first-half possessions against the Rebels in the last two weeks. If the Irish cannot build that confidence on Saturday, it may be a lost cause.

Continuing with past predictions that could now prove belatedly accurate, Notre Dame should finally trot out freshman quarterback Steve Angeli this week Things To Learn: Stanford gives Notre Dame its first chance to test freshman QB Steve Angeli — a gift of UNLV’s offensive struggles as much as its defensive woes.

The Rebels will be without their best quarterback, Doug Brumfield, and running back, Aidan Robbins. Their offense has stalled in the last two weeks without Brumfield, despite Cam Friel’s best efforts. If ever there is a chance for the Irish defense to wreak some havoc, it should be on Saturday. (What’s a good Peacock reference for chaos. Hmmm. “The Office” dinner party comes to mind. There is certainly havoc in that miserably-anxious episode.)

Part of Notre Dame’s offensive struggles — not the impetus, not even close, but part — has been the lack of delightful opportunities created by the defense. The Irish have forced just two turnovers this season, not giving the offense the short fields that can build momentum and rhythm.

“We’ve got to deflect some balls, bat some balls, get some interceptions, and we’ve got to help our team out,” defensive coordinator Al Golden said Tuesday. “It’s not good enough to just stop them. We’ve got to create some field position, help special teams, help the offense or make an explosive play ourselves.”

In football, these things often come in bunches. Manufacturing a few turnovers against UNLV may be the inexplicable key to causing a few next week at ranked Syracuse. The Rebels present that chance simply because they are such a dismal threat; Golden can take more risks, even the safety blitzes that have backfired a couple times already this season.

Identify another problem, fix it.

Fix it

Notre Dame needs to repeat as necessary until all things are fixed as quickly as possible, given a trip to Syracuse and a visit from Clemson await in the next two weeks. The Irish of last week would stand no chance against either orange-clad unbeaten ACC team, though one will no longer be unbeaten after this week.

The No. 5 Tigers are 14-point favorites against the No. 14 Orange (12 ET; ABC), and while Clemson should obviously win and probably will cover that spread, a competitive afternoon from Syracuse will only embolden Dino Babers’ squad when it hosts Notre Dame in a week.

There are few chances to “Fix it” left on the Irish schedule. Boston College’s visit for Senior Day should provide another, but waiting until the season’s penultimate moment to score early and often or to make an opposing quarterback’s life miserable is no way to spend a coach’s first year in charge.

Freeman should not have to wonder “what the heck happened” after this weekend, and if he does, a Sunday headline may read “It’s A Disaster.”

tweet to @d_farmer