The Bubba Screen

by John Walters

Mostly Stanford-Notre Dame Edition

Observations from Stanford 16, Notre Dame 14….

1. Give the Cardinal credit. Every once in awhile Stanford enters Notre Dame Stadium (1990, 1992, 2022) and, despite inferior talent, clearly plays with more focus and more resolve and earns the “W.” David Shaw’s 1-4 squad (its only win versus Colgate) stopped the Irish cold on its first offensive series, then marched down field for its only touchdown of the game and this seemed to all happen before the crowd had stopped singing along to “Here Come The Irish.” Notre Dame, which entered on a three-game win streak and should have been playing downhill from the opening kickoff, entered flat-footed. That’s on the coaching staff and the senior leadership.

2. Notre Dame targeted 6’4″ true freshman wide receiver Tobias Merriweather in the end zone twice, batting .500 on the effort. Merriweather’s 41-yard TD catch was the longest touchdown scoring play of the season for the Irish by a full 11 yards and also his first career catch. In the sixth game of the season. NBC’s Jason Garrett noted afterwards that when the Peacock crew visited campus in August that Merriweather’s physical prowess and talent “jumped off the page” at him. So how come he’d never really mentioned this before as the Irish offense struggled to stretch the field? Even if Merriweather only comprehends 33% of the playbook (and I have no idea how much he comprehends) and needs work in run blocking, you need to put him on the field to keep the safeties honest. Before Merriweather’s score, 11 of Notre Dame’s 17 touchdowns had come from 10 yards in or closer. And the Irish still do not have a defensive score or a special teams score this year. Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees need to put Merriweather on the field more if for no other reason, during a 3-3 season, than to keep the Seattle native happy and stem any thoughts of the transfer portal.

3. The Irish are last, 131st among 131 teams, in interceptions this season, with one. That pick belongs, I believe, to Tariq Bracy on the opening play of the BYU game. The pick did not result in an Irish score. I don’t have a good explanation for this. Transfer safety Brandon Joseph has been an All-American candidate in the past and Bracy has experience. Benjamin Morrison is starting at corner as a true frosh, but he has played competently. Still, last is last.

4. The absence of an effective run game is an enigma. As Garrett noted, the Irish O-line outweighed Stanford’s defensive front by at least 50 pounds per man. Starters Jarrett Patterson, Blake Fisher and Joe Alt all have “NFL” stamped on their futures. While no one in the three-headed backfield (Audric Estime, Logan Diggs, Chris Tyree) is anywhere near Kyren Williams in talent, they each should be able to outgain Casey Filkins. ND retrieved its guru offensive line coach, Harry Hiestand, from the Chicago Bears, and it has talent up front. Why it cannot rely on its rushing attack remains a mystery.

5. On its first fourth down play of the night, Tommy Rees used a play that he’d seen BYU execute to perfection the previous Saturday. You take a wide receiver and put him in motion toward the center of the field, then synchronize the snap and the wideout’s reversal of motion so that he is headed back to the sideline as the defensive back in man coverage struggles to recover. BYU scored its first TD on this play in Las Vegas. The Irish merely converted a first down. The Irish would try the play again later in the game but wideout Lorenzo Styles dropped the pass. It was a little odd that neither Garrett nor Jac Collinsworth acknowledged that this was the same exact play the Cougars had run one week earlier. I’d never seen the Irish use it before then.

6. The called-back touchdown in the first quarter was due to a flag on tight end Mitchell Evans for being an “ineligible receiver downfield,” but the penalty was not his fault. It was the fault of running back Chris Tyree, who was split out wide left but failed to line up a full one yard off the ball. While Garrett acknowledged this, NBC’s cameras twice cut away to Evans, No. 88, on the sidelines after the play. The flag was not his fault. Garrett and Collinsworth knew this, which is probably why neither picked up on the visual cue.

7. The fourth-and-goal inside handoff to sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas was a curious call. To our memory, that’s Thomas’ first career rushing attempt. Sure, if it works, the element of surprise is in your favor. But when it doesn’t, and this is at least the second time in as many games the Irish have come up short on 4th-and-goal, the call invites questions. The fact that the Irish felt they needed to get cute versus the Cardinal is disturbing.

8. Let’s not blame Drew Pyne. Or at least not all that much. He was thrust into a job that literally is over his head (probably why most of his passes are directed outside the hash marks) but he has performed ably the past three games. On Saturday Pyne had three good rushes that won’t make anyone forget Ian Book, but they kept the defense honest and one worked on a third-and-long. It would be nice if Pyne did not lock on to Michael Mayer so often and for so long before he passes, but he’s been, at the very least, adequate. The 3-3 record is not his fault.

9. The Irish attempted another end around to Braden Lenzy and again it went for lost yardage. When will they learn?

10. At this stage in their respective careers, we shouldn’t be hearing “Prince Kollie” more than we do “Isaiah Foskey.” But that’s been the case the past two weeks. Foskey has all the physical gifts of a first-day NFL draft pick and he’s played well this season. But he has not been as disruptive as a Thursday night selection should be.

11. Notre Dame’s top three efforts (of six) thus far have been on the road and against superior competition than the teams they faced in South Bend: Ohio State, North Carolina and BYU, all of whom are or have been ranked. The Irish are 2-1 against that trio and the Buckeyes, whom the Irish led in Columbus for long stretches, are No. 2 in the nation. Clearly something is amiss in terms of the preparation for home games versus road games (and I know BYU was not a true road game, but you get it). If Notre Dame plays in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus as it has away from South Bend, the Irish are 5-1 right now. Their absence of energy for all three home games is a concern, but as I’ve written before, I think the 30 or so hours leading up to kickoff for a Notre Dame player are an unnecessary slog through pomp and tradition, a vestigial Hail Mary (pun intended) pass to the past. I’d curtail most of it if I were the athletic director, from the mandatory pep rally on Friday afternoons to the mandatory mass on Saturdays (How many of these players are even Catholic?).

12. In terms of Marcus Freeman, patience. Lou Holtz was 5-6 his first season (albeit playing well versus a murderous schedule) and Brian Kelly was 4-5 after two months. Ty Willingham started out 8-0 and Charlie Weis was signing a bazillion dollar extension after a home loss to a Pac-12 school on October 15th (all the same elements as last Saturday). As a longtime CFB observer, Freeman’s preternatural calm, almost zen-like demeanor, is almost worrisome. Sure, Twitter can’t mock him for having a purple face, but there’s also the wonder as to whether he instills enough healthy fear in his own players. Who knows? And does it matter? I’m not sure. What is known is that the Irish have far more talent than all three teams they’ve hosted this season, and they’re 1-2 in those games. They get UNLV this week and the spread is 24.5 points. Not sure if they cover, but if for any reason they lose, or if they are trailing for a significant portion, then the Freemans would do well to not plant any saplings in their yard. Though I doubt much planting is done in late October in South Bend.

The B.S. Wonders…

… After the first half Alabama played, only down four points, did anyone really believe Tennessee would hold them off? I did not. Props to the Vols, who could disrupt all of college football’s hierarchy if they finish 13-0. That would mean Georgia did not advance to the SEC Championship Game and that Alabama had at least two losses. Would open the door for a fresh face (UCLA? Mississippi? TCU?) in the college football playoff. It’s probably too much to hope that another orange team, Syracuse, upsets Clemson (yes, also orange)… Still, if Jahmyr Gibbs catches that flare out pass on third down, Bama probably wins. As outstanding as Tennessee played (Jaylen Hyatt, have yourself a day with five TD receptions), it still came down to a Bama miscue… The fate of Oklahoma State’s and USC’s undefeated seasons came down to either overtime or a last-second two-point conversion. Much like how Alabama let one late play (and that’s before we talk about Tennessee’s two completions in the final :25) upend their season… Michigan and Ohio State have yet to play a nervous game yet. And they most likely will not before November… perhaps against one another… Is 6-1 Illinois the most unlikely pleasant surprise in the Power 5 this season?… How good was Peyton Manning on College GameDay? The world needs more Mannings, and the good news is that we appear to be getting them… Did you see Please Don’t Destroy’s “Wellness” video on SNL? Good stuff…

… The second-year trio, all NYU alums, do have a little bit of nepotism working in their favor. Martin Herlihy (the bespectacled one, I believe) is the son of former SNL head writer Tim Herlihy. John Higgins is the son of former SNL writer and Jimmy Fallon announcer Steve Higgins.

One thought on “The Bubba Screen

  1. Good stuff, John. I believe the pep rallies are no more (finally). Those things lost their charm many years ago. Marcus brought back the pre-game mass, after apparently becoming a Catholic himself. I reckon it’s here to stay for a while. I think team captains could/should have their finger on the pulse of the gameday routine, and perhaps they can offer input on what needs to change. I expected an 8-4 season but now would be elated by one at this point. Damn, do they miss Kyren Williams.

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