SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Five morning-after reflections on Notre Dame's 35-21 loss to Oklahoma.
1. Brian Kelly was quick to abandon a run game that was clicking on all cylinders…
After the game, Kelly spoke about being down 35-21 in the fourth quarter.
"We're down 14 points, and I've got to go five wide receivers against a really good defense that matches up well against teams that do that. This defense was built to do the thing that's we were doing down 14 points. That's what I didn't want to. I wanted to be in two tight ends and I wanted to run the football, and I wanted to run play action and I wanted to be able to control the game that way."
With 8:03 left in the 4th quarter, and the Irish down 35-21 starting to drive from their own 20-yard line, Kelly opted to throw on downs one, two and three out of an empty backfield. The results: incomplete to Troy Niklas, incomplete (batted down by Oklahoma), a false start penalty, and incomplete to TJ Jones. Zero yards were gained, 18 ticks go off the clock, and Notre Dame
is forced to punt and defend an Oklahoma offense that's having no trouble picking up first downs.
The question I pose: Down just two scores with eight minutes to go isn't enough time to run the ball? Or more specifically, hand off to Atkinson who's having one of the best games of his career and already has 172 all-purpose yards on the day? In fact, the last time Atkinson rushed on Saturday was with 12:20 still left on the clock.
2. It's 14-7, momentum is up for grabs, and there's five minutes left in the first half.
Oklahoma converted 5-of-14 third downs on the day, which is respectable for the Irish defense, especially in an area where they've struggled some this season. But, a deadly blow came on third and seven with less than five to go in the first half when Oklahoma picked up the first down on a Blake Bell
12-yard run to Notre Dame's 41-yard line. From there, the Sooners completed passes of six yards, seven yards and 26 yards for the score. Personnel for the Irish on those three pass plays included inside linebackers Dan Fox
and Carlo Calabrese
. As O'Malley pointed out at half, it was odd the Irish didn't decide to go nickel or dime on those plays. It would seem as if there's little use for four linebackers on the field when the Sooners are driving to beat the clock with one thing in mind – reach territory where it's possible to put points on the board.
3. Corey Robinson and Tarean Folston can afford to see the field more.
Against Michigan State last week, freshman wide receiver Corey Robinson had three catches for 54 yards, and on the season he's got four for 64. Yesterday, Robinson didn't catch a pass and the one time (off the top of my head) that he was targeted, he caught a pass down the sideline, though he got called for offensive pass interference.
Robinson has big-play ability. He may not be as experienced as TJ Jones or even DaVaris Daniels, but when he's proved himself in practice (the ones the media were allowed to watch, at least), and flashed signs of promise in games, he should at least frequent the field more often, if nothing but as a decoy or an option in third and long situations.
Freshman running back Tarean Folston had two rush attempts for 43 yards, including a 36-yard sprint down the sideline that set up the Irish for a score. Folston always manages positive yardage, and he complements Atkinson well -- though not as fast as GAIII, Folston is instinctive and goes at defenders in order to burst by them with a second gear quickness.
Kelly talked about attempts yesterday to diversify the offense after the game. Robinson and Folston not only do that, but they are big-play threats.
4. More of Andrew is a good thing.
Note I didn't say less of Tommy. Andrew Hendrix
provided an extra dimension for the Irish yesterday, especially on 2nd and 3rd and short. He's a big body that gives the Irish offense something else to work with.
In his post-game comments, Kelly said,
"You know, we're just trying to diversify the offense a little bit, trying to add some more looks. He's got some work to do. We've got to continue to work with him, but I think it gives us some things that the defense has to defend as well with him in there."
5. Sack the quarterback?
Notre Dame registered zero sacks yesterday. Granted, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell excels at beating pressure and making plays outside of the pocket, but if the secondary is going to catch a break (both on the field, in the film room and from the media), the front seven has got to generate more pressure. Whether it comes from Tuitt or someone else, there needs to be more disruption in the backfield.