After laying an egg in last week’s loss to Texas, there is plenty of room for improvement for Notre Dame this week. The 50-47 setback on national television exposed a lot of holes for the Fighting Irish that need to be quickly repaired.
Notre Dame plays its home opener against Nevada Saturday afternoon before hosting Michigan State next week. DeShone Kizer split time with Malik Zaire at quarterback last week, but Kizer will be the lone signal-caller this week.
That move will shore things up, but a handful of players need to make big strides from game one to game two. Here’s a look at a few of them:
The list starts with safety Drue Tranquill, who had probably the most confounding game of his career against the Longhorns. The junior had season-ending injuries to different knees in 2014 and 2015, so health was a concern entering 2016.
Tranquill’s problems looked far more mental than physical, though. He finished the game with a respectable five tackles (three solo), but tackles far from tell the story of Tranquill’s night.
As the most experienced safety on the Fighting Irish roster, Tranquill is not only expected to know where he needs to be, but also line up other members of the secondary and be a leader for the defense. He wasn’t able to do any of those things in a 3-3-5 defensive set that was customized to face the new Texas offense. Tranquill was eventually removed from the game in the second half after big passing plays by the Longhorns.
“We’ve got to make sure that he’s clearly understanding what we’re asking of him and making sure that we get that on game day,” head coach Brian Kelly said of Tranquill this week.
The Notre Dame line, specifically nose guards Daniel Cage and Jarron Jones, has to pick it up as well. Cage had the only tackle of the two last week.
Tackles don’t tell the whole story for nose guards, but Texas rushed for 237 yards, with big chunks of that number coming up the middle late in the game. The Longhorns also had five rushing touchdowns.
Jones missed all of last season with a knee injury and came into the season wanting to be capable of playing around 50 plays a game. He was able to muster only a third (roughly) of the 86 offensive plays run by Texas. He did have a crucial blocked extra point that Shaun Crawford returned for two points, but Jones has to be more stout up the middle.
Kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome also have room to improve this week. The kicking game often gets overlooked, but in a game that went to double overtime, each had glitches that figured into the outcome.
Newsome averaged 44.5 yards on 55 punts last year, but the junior had seven punts for an average of just 38.3 yards against the Longhorns. He shanked a punt of just 24 yards in the fourth quarter that helped Texas score its last touchdown in regulation.
Yoon was money as a freshman last year, booting 50 of 52 field goals, but he had a 36-yard attempt blocked late in the game that would have prevented overtime. Yoon had a shaky fall training camp according to Kelly. He needs to dramatically increase his performance as well.