Playmaker Michael Mayer holds trust, value from team in season opener
Emily DeFazio | Monday, September 6, 2021
From the moment his cleats touched the field in Tallahassee, Michael Mayer defined himself as an invaluable asset for Notre Dame. Though a couple of incomplete passes proved painful for Irish fans — causing “fifteen extra minutes of heart failure,” as our very own Aidan Thomas experienced — the contributions outweighed the struggles in this one. In the words of quarterback Jack Coan himself: “he’s our guy.”
Mayer is a reassuring presence for his teammates. The rather large shift from the 2020 to the 2021 offensive makeup needs this kind of constant on the field to be the link between the two. When the running back option fails, Coan’s eyes immediately search for #87, just as Ian Book’s did the year before.
“He does his thing, and I trust him with everything no matter if he drops one or makes a mistake,” Coan said. “He’s gonna respond, and he’s an absolute gamer.”
The first drive of the game culminated in a touchdown from the tight end, and if this is any indication as to how he will perform throughout the season, the Irish have the assurance of a few miraculous plays on his account. The passing game, then, proved to be the best approach for Coan. In the first quarter alone, Coan’s three separate passes to Mayer yielded a 25, 41, and seven-yard gain, respectively.
74 yards in one quarter is as good an indicator as any that a strategy is working.
On both of the scoring drives of the first half, Mayer’s ability to evade the FSU defense and create this option became instrumental for Notre Dame to get a shot at a touchdown. He may not always be the one soaring into the end zone, but he’s often one of the main reasons why they’re there to begin with, covering the large stretches of the field with a kind of reliability not many can match.
Mayer’s effect on the game is also not limited to when he is in direct possession of the ball. Aside from the blocks that cleared the path for teammates like Chris Tyree to take advantage of, Coan began passing more in the second half after the success with Mayer in the first, and three out of five touchdowns were off of longer throws, not runs.
“I think whenever you make plays, it helps settle you down and get you in a rhythm,” Coan said. Mayer was key in making this happen.
Players like Kevin Austin were utilized to make the big passing plays that were vital to the win as opposed to trying to pummel the way down the field with the running backs. Kyren Williams is a key piece of the offense, but sometimes the pieces don’t fit in the larger puzzle that is the game. Head coach Brian Kelly remarked after the game that the improvement of the running game will be a main focus this week because of this.
“We’ve gotta run the ball better,” Kelly said. “We’re not here to throw the ball all over the yard and not have a solid running game too.”
Compare the 366 passing yards to the mere 65 rushing yards for Notre Dame, and you cannot dispute Kelly’s intent heading into week two; with the running game only garnering 15% of the gains, it needs to be fine-tuned. Until then, for a team whose running game is lacking, the pressure and importance fall all the more on the receivers, meaning Mayer’s value in the receiving game only increases.
When the nail-biting set in at the end of the fourth quarter, Mayer was the move. He was the one getting the first look with 33 seconds of regular time left. The leap over the Seminole defenders only added some flair to the level of gameplay he was performing at. Even though the next pass was incomplete, he was still the primary option, because his teammates know that they can count on him.
“He’s one of the best tight ends in the country, if not the best tight end,” Coan said, reaffirming his trust in his teammate.
Ultimately, Mayer totaled 120 yards for the night, accounting for nearly one-third of the team’s receiving yards (32.8%). For someone to dominate one of the key facets of the offense shows that they are a talent that should not — and a lot of the time cannot — go unnoticed.