Notre Dame eager for opportunity to face Stanford defense
Alex Carson | Friday, October 14, 2016
Through five games, Notre Dame’s offensive statistics were some of the best in the nation. Last Saturday’s game at North Carolina State, though, told a different story — though the Irish (2-4) can thank Hurricane Matthew for that one. Saying the unit is happy to be back in South Bend this weekend may just be one of the year’s biggest understatements.
“I’ve never been more excited to be in South Bend, I can tell you that,” Irish junior quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “Hurricane Matthew has gone past, and we’re thankful up here.”
In Kizer’s eyes, though, the Irish can still find some takeaways from the 10-3 loss in the adverse weather conditions.
“Obviously it wasn’t ideal for us with the weather, and it was difficult to execute our jobs across the board, but to play against an N.C. State team who has a very strong front line that they had and very sound defense, the things that we can take away are some of the pre-snap looks that we had,” Kizer said. “ … It was nice to see us go out and execute before the ball’s thrown in some of our routes and things like that. We had a lot of premier looks to get the ball out there, but unfortunately with the wet ball that we had it was hard to execute those looks.”
While the Irish pass game has been productive most of the year, Notre Dame has struggled on third downs and ranks 111th in the nation with just a 33.3 percent success rate. Irish head coach Brian Kelly blamed a lack of first-down execution for the third-down struggles early this week, and senior offensive lineman and captain Mike McGlinchey said more success on first, and subsequently third, down will come if the Irish can better attack the mental side of the game.
“I think it is a mindset, and it’s a mindset about execution,” McGlinchey said. “And that’s all really offense comes down to is executing your job. Because if you have all 11 guys executing their job, that means somebody’s going down the field or somebody’s getting the right block.
“ … I think it just comes down to a mindset of, ‘Yes, I’m going to get my job done, and I’m going to execute to the best of my ability on each and every play.’ And as soon as we can do that as consistently as we want to do that, I think we’ll be a lot better off.”
In each of Notre Dame’s four losses this year, the Irish offense has had a chance to tie or take the lead in the final few minutes. But in each of those games, the unit hasn’t come up with that final, signature drive to seize the moment.
Senior receiver and captain Torii Hunter Jr. said the Irish just need to play at their “highest level” down the stretch in crunch time.
“Across the board, coaches, players, we’ve just all got to be on our P’s and Q’s and just perform at a high level at the end of the game, and we’ve just got to make it happen,” Hunter said. “I think that’s probably the biggest difference.”
Consistency throughout a full 60 minutes is also an issue the Irish have identified heading into the Stanford matchup — Hunter noted Notre Dame needs to “stand on the gas and continue to put points on the board” when it jumps out to an early lead, while Kizer identified it as a key issue leading to the team’s 2-4 mark.
“We need to be a team that goes out, starts strong, maintains that same strong start throughout the whole game and then finish as strong as we started,” Kizer said. “We go out and we show great spurts. We have athletes all over the field. We have a great offensive line. We’re completely sound across the board and very skilled.
“But with that, we haven’t done a good job of going out and keeping our pedal to the floor the whole game. We hit lapses, and that’s the truth. That’s the reality of how this season has started and those lapses have come back and ended up with four losses.”