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Penalties provide blemish in Notre Dame’s blowout win

| Saturday, November 17, 2018

Taking on No. 12 Syracuse at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, No. 3 Notre Dame delivered an absolute smackdown, shutting out the Orange (8-3, 5-2 ACC) until the final seconds when a field goal finally put them on the board. However, that dominance was not without its stains, most notably, the season-high seven penalties the Irish surrendered for 55 yards, third to only the matchups against Vanderbilt and Stanford when the Irish gave up 63 and 67 yards on errors, respectively.

Although he was generally pleased with the offensive performance put on display by the Irish in the 36-3 win, Irish head coach Brian Kelly commented postgame on areas of improvement that could be made to match the defensive unit’s execution.

“Offensively, we moved the ball. It was a really good plan offensively as well. I was really pleased with the structure and what we wanted to do and how we went about it, but not as clean as we would like,” Kelly said. “Penalties, stalling in the red zone, but 36 points late in November against the No. 12 ranked team in the country. You know, you are who you are this late in the year.”

Ann Curtis | The Observer
Irish junior quarterback Ian Book stiff arms a defender during Notre Dame’s 36-3 win over Syracuse at Yankee Stadium.

Three penalties in the opening quarter set the tone for the primary struggle the Irish would continue to face. On back-to-back possessions, sophomore offensive lineman Robert Hainsey was called for false starting. The Irish were able to recover from the first penalty, thanks to a shifty catch by sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr. who added on a few yards on the ground to gain the first down. However, the second penalty on Hainsey proved significant for that drive as the Irish were unable to convert on third down. Both plays ultimately resulted in field goals by senior kicker Justin Yoon.

The next drive brought more of the same breakdown of discipline, when rather than celebrating a Jones touchdown, the Irish were forced to once again bring out Yoon when sophomore tight end Brock Wright was called for holding on the Jones carry.

Early in the second quarter, sitting just outside of the red zone, junior offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg false started. Fortunately for the Irish, this five-yard penalty had few immediate consequences, as junior quarterback Ian Book completed an 18-yard pass to senior wide receiver Miles Boykin, who picked up the first down and keep the Irish drive alive.

Later in the afternoon, Hainsey picked up his third false start of the game on the final drive of the third quarter. The final two penalties came in the fourth quarter, with the Irish having nearly solidified their win. A broken up pass by junior cornerback Julian Love was overridden by a flag against junior defensive lineman Khalid Kareem for roughing the passer, marking the lone penalty against the Notre Dame defense. On the next drive, junior offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer added to the penalty count when he was called for holding.

Although it’s difficult to properly determine the significance of these penalties in such a lopsided games, Kelly and his players are aware of the importance of paying close attention to details and avoiding unnecessary penalties, especially as the stakes continue to rise.

“You know, I’d really have to look at the film, but I know there were a lot of stupid penalties, errors that we made today that slowed drives down for us,” graduate student offensive lineman Sam Mustipher said. “When we beat ourselves, the defense doesn’t have to do much, and I think there were a few cases of that today.”

With the large majority of these penalties coming at the hands of the offense, Mustipher understands the need to address this issue as a collective group.

“I think it’s more individual, but we’ll never allow someone to take the blame for that ever,” Mustipher said. “It’s just getting back to basics. That’s kinda what I told the guys I was like ‘If you can’t block them, let us know, but I believe in you guys enough where I think you can block anybody.’ It’s really just focusing and trusting their technique. Going back to basics.”

With one game standing between them and a hopeful college football playoff bid, the Irish will be in for a challenge as they head to the Coliseum to take on USC. Although the Trojans (5-6, 4-5 Pac 12) are still fighting to even earn a ticket to the post season, they’re sure to enter Saturday’s game with purpose; preventing sloppy play and unnecessary penalties will likely be at the forefront for Kelly and his players this week.

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