Excellent play from special teams helped Notre Dame capture a win against UNLV last weekend and avoid a losing streak. Senior defensive linemen Isaiah Foskey was a major contributor, as his two blocked punts resulted in 10 points for the Irish. Foskey’s feat also made him the first-ever Irish player to block two punts in a single game. This game-altering performance by special teams won praise from head coach Marcus Freeman.
“We were able to get two, and those are game changers,” Freeman said post-UNLV. “Those are momentum shifts, to be able to capitalize off them and get points. It’s huge. And last week, we didn’t. That’s part of making sure that we’re able to execute. Those are huge.”
After an extensive search, Freeman tabbed Brian Mason as special teams coach for Notre Dame in January. Since his arrival, Mason has had a positive impact on all phases of special teams. Freeman commended his ability to create and execute a game plan.
“Coach [Mason] has done a great job with all of our phases of special teams,” Freeman said. “Every week we’ve been an aggressive punt block unit, and we’ve gotten two before this game. Every week we feel like we can take advantage of a punt team, and Coach Mason does a great job of executing the game plan.”
Execution is the name of the game for Mason, who holds his group to a high standard to maximize efficiency. Mason emphasizes extra time spent at practice and intentional gatherings in the film room as ways of gaining a competitive edge.
“We have to spend extra time with those guys every week, usually after practice or with extra film study,” Mason said. “We need to try to figure out what’s an indicator for where the ball is going to be snapped, where it’s going to be punted.”
Fall break helped give the special teams crew more time to prepare for an impressive UNLV performance. Mason emphasized that their preperation has been an ongoing effort, with the team catching on over time before creating some massive shifts against UNLV.
“It’s not really a whole lot different than what we’ve done in other games,” Mason said. “We’ve done a really good job in a lot of punt block games. This was the time where we had a better understanding of the what and the why of some kinds of things UNLV was able to do and take advantage of it.”
Despite the success, Mason hoped to see more out of two graduate students: punter Jon Sot and kicker Blake Grupe.
“I think they both have done a great job, but there’s certainly week-to-week things they can improve on,” Mason said. “This past game, though, neither one of those guys graded a winning performance from me. We missed the last field goal, that’s certainly something we need to execute better. Sot mis-hit his second punt, and they know those things. We certainly have a really high elite standard that we are trying to pursue to be consistent.”
Mason pointed to several components he hopes to improve on as the back half of the season progresses. Striving for consistency, Mason emphasizes the importance of a “ high elite standard.”
“As a whole, we need to be more fundamentally sound,” Mason said. “Getting return side leverage, making our blocks, timing up everything with the back wedge has just been the one area we need to improve on the most.”
Special teams will certainly play an important role in the Irish’s on-the-road matchup against the Syracuse Orange this weekend. There is little room for error, and the Irish certainly must execute in all three aspects of the game in order to come out with the win.