Blocked Punts Fuel Irish Win

Isaiah Foskey blocked two punts in the first quarter to jumpstart Notre Dame on the way to a 44-21 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas. The Fighting Irish defense feasted on a pair of reserve quarterbacks for the Rebels, who missed injured starter Doug Brumfield. The hosts finished with four sacks among nine tackles for loss, and did not allow a single UNLV third down conversion in 12 tries. Offensively, Logan Diggs was the workhorse with 130 yards on 28 carries.

Notre Dame finally scored a touchdown on the opening drive of a game. Passes by Drew Pyne to Michael Mayer and Jaden Thomas set up a 12-yard burst by Audric Estime in fewer than three minutes. After a series of incomplete passes by the Rebels, the Irish again moved into scoring position. Blake Grupe kicked the first of his three field goals for a 10-0 lead.

UNLV got off the mat and fought back. Tailback Courtney Reese, who started in place of the injured Aidan Robbins, broke containment around left end and sped 74 yards to the Irish one yard line. The Rebels scored two plays later to cut the deficit to 10-7 just six minutes into the contest.

Each team suffered a dropped third down pass on their next series. Notre Dame’s Jon Sot successfully punted the ball away but Marshall Nichols was not so fortunate when he was called upon. Foskey ran untouched up the middle to smother the ball before Nichols could get his foot on it. Pyne hit Mayer two plays later for a 17-7 lead.

UNLV punter Marshall Nichols will have recurring nightmares of Isaiah Foskey

This same sequence repeated itself moments later. Another three and out for the Rebels, another crushing of Nichols by Foskey, and another Irish possession starting inside the red zone. Unfortunately, Mayer could not reel in Pyne’s pass at the goal line and Grupe was summoned for another three-pointer.

A sack by Foskey forced yet another punt that Brandon Joseph returned to the Rebel 32. Once again, the offense came up short but Grupe drilled a 46-yarder for a 23-7 lead. Remarkably, there were still two minutes remaining in the first period.

Notre Dame’s scoring binge cooled off in the second period. A fumble by Estime killed a promising drive and a pair of red zone incompletions on third and fourth down turned the ball over to the Rebels on the next Irish possession. The latter misfires were painful because Mayer had put Notre Dame in scoring position with a fantastic one-handed diving catch deep down the middle. His defender was flagged for pass interference on the play but Mayer was unfazed.

As UNLV’s quarterback tandem continued to flounder, the Irish attack regained traction. Tight end Mitchell Evans capped a 54-yard touchdown drive by lining up at quarterback under center and powering into the end zone for a 30-7 lead.

Irish cornerback Clarence Lewis forced a fumble two plays later and returned it near midfield. Notre Dame was poised to score again but Pyne’s third down pass in the red zone was tipped and intercepted. The half ended moments later. By my count, Notre Dame had left 20 points on the field during the first 30 minutes. Squandered opportunities ultimately didn’t affect the outcome of this game but is a chronic issue that has already cost the team a pair of wins.

The Irish started slowly after intermission. More pass incompletions by Pyne preceded a field goal attempt by Grupe that clanked off the upright. Reese followed immediately with another long burst of 47 yards to move into Notre Dame territory. Third string signal-caller Harrison Bailey willed his team into the end zone few plays later with a gutty display of hard running.

Notre Dame allowed its offensive line to take over the game as it moved into the fourth quarter. Diggs rewarded this strategy with tough runs of his own. Chris Tyree came in and finished the drive untouched with a seven yard score. The Irish now held a 37-14 advantage with 12 minutes remaining.

Bailey and Diggs each led their respective teams to an additional touchdown as the clock wound down. Notre Dame capped the scoring for the day when Braden Lenzy took a shovel pass from Pyne and outran the Rebels into the end zone.

The fast start and Foskey’s heroics papered over the mid-game doldrums as Notre Dame was never in any danger. Looking ahead, better opponents lie in wait for this team. Those offensive inconsistencies and defensive breakdowns must be corrected if the Irish are to have any hope of winning next Saturday or the week after.

Let’s review the answers to our pregame questions:

  • Can the Irish finally win a turnover battle this season? No. Notre Dame had two turnovers and UNLV had one. The blocked punts were sweet but technically don’t count as turnovers.
  • Will Notre Dame grant more playing time to its freshmen and sophomores? Not that I saw, unless an appearance by freshman quarterback Steve Angeli for one play where he didn’t touch the ball counts for anything.
  • Can the Irish defense get off the field on third down? You can’t get much better than 12 for 12, although the Rebels converted two of three attempts on fourth down.
  • Will Robbins or Estime be the dominant big tailback? Neither. Robbins (knee) couldn’t answer the bell and Estime was relegated to the doghouse after his fumble early in the second quarter. Diggs picked up the slack with his 130 yards while Reese paced the visitors with 142. Notre Dame outrushed UNLV by 223-146
  • Can Pyne locate open receivers and get the ball to them? Pyne had a couple of good throws in the first half and Mayer’s catch was a highlight. The last 40 minutes of the game were forgettable, though. He missed a lot of easy throws later including a sure touchdown to a wide open Tyree. Pyne finished a disappointing 14 of 28 for 205 yards despite great protection all day.
  • Which coaches will make the most successful in-game adjustments? UNLV finally figured out how to block for its punter but the damage had been done. Notre Dame eventually stopped hoping that Pyne would complete a second half pass and decided to run the ball to victory.
  • Can UNLV’s secondary add to its impressive total of interceptions? Yes. Cornerback Nohl Williams got one with an assist from a defensive lineman.
  • How many Peacock subscribers will cancel on Sunday? Most of us fell asleep during the second half but we’ll take care of that task when we wake up.

Notre Dame (4-3) rises above .500 again during this up and down season. It will be quite a feat if the Irish can remain there when the regular season is over.

45 thoughts on “Blocked Punts Fuel Irish Win

  1. Thank you for another great report. One possible quibble: the first “blocked punt” was, technically, a fumble, as the ball had not contacted the punter’s foot before it was stripped. That would make the turnover ratio 2:2.

  2. I didn’t see today’s game because I was celebrating my 90th birthday with my family. It was the expected win, but fraught with the mistakes that have been common this year. Since I live in Oklahoma City, I root for the Oklahoma Cowboys locally and they won a nailbiter from Texas today. Incredible game as they offenses totaled more 1,000 yards and OSU Cowboys held Texas to three points in the second half, as they pulled out a seven point win. Both teams played the way I wish the Irish would play but hats not going to happen this year. Let’s hope they can clean up their game and finish the season with a respectable won/loss record.

  3. I think we all finally saw, once and for all , why Tyler Buckner beat out Pyne this fall. As you point out this team is barely a .500 team let alone a pre-season top 10. I am tired of all the happy talk excuses and poor analogies that I read on blogs. Marcus Freeman inherited a top 10 program and has crashed and burned it. He had no business being promoted to head coach and Notre Dame’s leadership is clearly to blame. It will take years ( if ever) to rebuild a program with a new coach down the line and I am starting to believe that at my age I may have seen my last Irish championship (1988).

    • Irish in the South says:

      Let’s see how MF does with his own recruits coming in next year and in 2024. We are seeing a higher quality of players coming in. If we can land an elite QB, It will make all the difference.

    • Freeman burned this team? Are you out of your mind? Is Freeman responsible for the lack of a D1 QB, speed and skill at the WR positions, and our most talented underclassmen leaving for the NFL? Just keep in mind that that Lou Holtz started 5-6 in his first year. I don’t remember anyone calling for his head.

        • Lou inherited a lot of talent that had been misused. His first ND team played really well, was very alert, sharp. Games were close. It didn’t take long for that superb coach and very venerable man, with those players and his first recruits, to put it together and go forward for greatness.

      • Agree. Brian left the cupboard very lean with regard to QB, WR and DB. You can blame it on Marcus but that is fiction. Brian was always a dick and left fully-aware of the shortcomings he imposed on ND. Thank god he is gone and we have Marcus to clean up the mess.

        • Irish in the South says:

          Agree that BK was aware of the shortcomings, but to some extent, they are built into our system. There are certain elite players that we cannot recruit. They will not fit into our system. Marcus‘s goal is heavily focus his recruiting to get the very few elite players that meet the school’s standards. All of our coaches have been faced with the same issues.

          • And Freeman, to his credit, will not whine and cry about how disadvantaged he is, unlike some of his predecessors. He puts his head down and tries to get the job done. We can only hope that our first coach in decades willing to work hard at recruiting isn’t undone by NIL.

  4. Although it was not a perfect game by the Irish, I am still happy they won by 23 points!! Special Teams played awesome and it was really nice to see the o-line take control of the game in the 4th quarter!! Like I have said before, a ND win always makes my weekend much better! John, do you think ND would be 6-1 right now if TB was our starting QB? Go Irish beat Orange!!!!!!!!!

    • Joe, I’m not sure the team would be 5-1 with Buchner. The coaches believed he was better than Pyne but he still played most of the Marshall game and threw a pick-six that was costly. It’s obvoious, however, that Pyne’s significant physical limitations have been fully exposed. Future opponents can focus on Mayer and overplay the run without worrying that Pyne will beat them with his arm.

        • That’s true and a very good point. Young is also much more athletic than Pyne, though. He moves well and throws accurately on the run. The coaching he receives is better and he does not lock on to targets too long. When Pyne does this his throws are telegraphed and more susceptible to being batted down.

          • Agree with all–except the first set-up/read/ check-down isn’t based on athleticism, etc…more spreading the front so the QB has lanes and looks. The batted ball has no upside and major downside

          • An issue for Pyne is he stares down Mayer and doesn’t check down or look for anyone else quickly enough. Rees should call a few more plays for the wide receivers as primary targets so Pyne has to look at them. Rees probably doesn’t trust them to get open or catch a 50/50 ball though. Defenses have figured this out. I was hoping Merriweather could help but he barely knows where to line up.

          • Perhaps this is a rhetorical question, but why can’t Tom Rees see this if everyone else can? And if he can see that Pyne is locking in on Mayer all the time, then why hasn’t he done something about it rather than just accept it each week? If I’m an opponent’s defensive coordinator I’m licking my chops every time I see Drew Pyne drop straight back because I know where he wants to throw it and, if for some odd reason, Pyne does check down to another receiver, then there’s a very good chance he won’t adjust properly and make a good throw. I said the same thing you did at halftime….that ND should have had at least 50 points and put themselves in position to actually let backups play most of the second half.

          • I believe Rees can see from the booth that plays are there to be made. Until now he probably thought he could coach Pyne to go through his progressions faster and deliver the ball to an open man. You’re right in observing that Pyne has not done that yet. Pyne also doesn’t have the arm to throw a strike 20+ yards down the field. His ball does not get there fast enough and the DBs can recover. Even if a guy is wide open Pyne will miss him at least half the time.

            I’m sure Rees is as frustrated as we are but there is no one else ready to play. Part of it is Rees’ own recruiting and development failures while the rest of it falls on Brian Kelly. If Rees changes his approach now to accommodate Pyne’s weaknesses, he will be left with fewer play-calling choices and defenses will read and react accordingly. Rees is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, so he’s elected to continue to coach Pyne to do the right thing with the entire playbook. Whether that is wise is anyone’s guess but I don’t hold out much hope for the next two games.

        • As John mention, good point Digi. Therefore, maybe we need to see more plays where DP is rolling out to pass the ball instead of sitting in the pocket! Go ND beat the Orange!!!!

        • UNLV not a rated team and using 2 sub QB’s. I can’t get excited over this win. when theystart playing powerhouses and win then there is a reason to celebrate. Let’s face it they haven’t had a good program since they left the independant for the acc. proof, played OSU and ran out of gas in the 3rd quarter. They have a few non rated teamsters play each year but the rest of the schedule is soft. As for HULA, this university makes money like crazy. Want proof, they traded in foreign securities, not sure if they still do, so to sign a contract with HULA and force lower income fans to pay for the
          “right” to watch certain games is a slap in the face to ND fans in that category. Now before you go any further I’ve been a fan since I was a kid watching games in 1959 with my father from Cincinnati Ohio. your biggest blunder was hiring Gary Faust from Moller Catholic in Cincinnati and using his high school play book. Our coach is a 1st year coach so I didn’t expect a team rated in the top 10. Is he good, Yes and more important he has the respect of the players. Tom Rese play calling has been questionable at times, but everyone has a subpar year. This team is 1 to 2 years away from being a contender and the should try to get back to being an independent. When they went undefeated and got blown out in the BCS, should of been a wake up call.

  5. Jvan,

    We’re looking at a 6-6 season and a trip to the Pinstripe Bowl to play Rutgets or Iowa…..

    What a terrible disappointment this season has been. It was still a two possession game in the fourth quarter.. Should have been over at halftime!

    Should have put up 60 points today…

    Still very little separation from the WR…

    I SEE very little to be excited about going forward!
    Please tell me I’m wrong…

    • It’s hard to predict measurable improvement over the next five games when we’ve seen so little of it lately against some really bad teams.

  6. The inept offense play calling and the lack of QB recruiting lays all in the hands of Rees. Why Freeman agreed to be HC with Rees as OC is beyond me and if Freeman wants to suceed at ND he should fire Rees immediately and begin the search for a top notch OC.

    David Shaw had the recipe to stymie ND and every team here on out must copy. Put 10 or 11 in the box, cover Meyer, and force Pyne to look for an open WR which he refuses to do. Rees is too stubborn to counteract or play the other QB and ND will be 5-7 to end the season.

  7. JS took the lazy way and the cowardly way out when he hired the player’s favorite, MF, without any HC experience.
    MF should be at Akron, UNLV or Northern Arizona learning how to be a HC. This is like taking a 3rd year medical student and making him chief of surgery at John Hopkins Hospital.
    This, of course, is not MF’s fault. He simply took advantage of an opportunity afforded him.

    However, as a result ND may ruin it’s program for years to come and destroy MF’s opportunity to ever obtain a HC job again.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Depends on how quickly MF advances as head coach. I did not see many coaching mistakes this game, just personnel weaknesses. Remember, Lou Holtz was 5 and 6 his first year as HC.

    • Self-awareness is a KEY skill that must be developed in order to achieve lasting success. Rees should NEVER have accepted a position at ND as a coach when he did; he needed a complete makeover in knowledge of CFB and the coaching thereof, at the foot of a master offensive tactician/system, for a number of years in order to flush out the dregs he was exposed to playing under Kelly. Instead, he came and compounded his problem, and now he has failed upward to a point true success is likely to always be beyond his grasp. Sad. Unfortunately, Swarbrick’s hiring of Freeman while saddling him with Rees as OC is threatening to do the same to MF’s career. If Rees is retained next year, MF’s career will be on a nearly irreversible downward path; he needs an experienced and successful OC of his own choosing (NOT Swarbrick’s), o/w he’s cooked within 3 years total.

  8. Timothy Miller says:

    In a game where we should have been consistently dominant, we weren’t. FGs instead of TDs. WRs still MIA. Dee giving up big plays. Pyne completing passes at 50% instead of 60%+. Play that way the next two weeks, we lose.

  9. This is a pretty bad UNLV team so this win isn’t much to get excited over. On passing plays Pyne seems to make up his mind before the snap that he’s throwing to Mayer even if he’s double covered. ND plays a little better or a little worse each week and you never know which team will show up.

    Freeman was hired to preserve the ND football culture that was supposedly “the best in college football”. If that’s the case then ND should be better than a mediocre 4-3. So far the highlight of the season is losing to tOSU by 11 points on the road. I sincerely hope Freeman eventually finds success but at the moment he’s learning on the job and costing games. I think ND is looking at a 6-6 season this year. I just hope Freeman doesn’t become Jimmy Lake 2.0 because it set Washington’s program back.

    It doesn’t seem that Rees crafts plays for speedsters like Lenzy and Tyree. With speed like that you want those guys to make plays in space and put the defense on its heels but it doesn’t seem to be in ND’s playbook.

  10. As i said last week, Pyne has no upside.The season has been a huge disappointment, so why are we not playing another QB? I just don’t get it. Watched the 1st half of the Clemson v Syracuse game yesterday. I think we are going to get destroyed by both teams. Hope I’m wrong.

    • UNLV is not a pretty bad team, they are an awful team, one that, ND (as i agree with John, ND left 20 pts on the field in the 1st half) should have been up on 43-7 at the break.

      From there, MF, would have had plenty of options open to get the players who will be here next year valuable PT. This season’s priority should be developing those young players. BTW, Stanford’s McKee is significantly better than any currently rostered ND QB. That’s big problem that has to be fixed in recruiting.

  11. As a former coach, it is sad to see the same mistakes this far into the season. To me it is obvious Freeman’s staff is not a good teaching staff. Good coaches correct these errors. Head coaches see that they do. Never thought this team would finish with six wins, but I believe that is the best we will do.I
    A sad state of affairs.

  12. Even with a big win we left so many points on the field. the red zone offense is pathetic as it has been under Rees and Kelly forever. Nothing personal against the QB–he is doing his best but he is not a top 50 or top 75 QB in D I football. I was shocked that when he went out for a few plays that they didn’t leave he freshman Angelli in for a series. I would have been nice to see wha we had there and whether it would be worth considering a change. As it was with Kelly, Rees does nothing to develop the younger talent. Equally alarming on the other side of the ball is the consistent ability for teams to get chunk plays and long drives at critical times. I didn’t see much improvement over the past week besides fewer penalties and a chef more filed goals. A dismal prognosis

  13. Which Texas or Texas-to-be QB transfers to Notre Dame, Quinn Ewers (one bad game does not “overrated” make) or Arch Manning? Opportunity knocks. It’s about time for a great one in South Bend.

  14. Gotta get a qb in the portal and replace the offensive coordinator or we will see this again next year. Nothing changed under Kelly with regard to the lack of developmt at qb. So far nothing changes under Rees either. 6-6 looks like our ceiling. Sigh.

  15. 1970s Lyons Hall Guy says:

    John: I have a question. I was in Section 7 again yesterday and I noticed Pyne constantly looking to the sidelines after the initial set by him. I saw a post by another that focused on Puyne initiating the look but I am wondering if it is cause by Coach Rees, who seems to want to change the call to confuse the defense, as I have noticed it vs Stanford and Byu and some even with Buchner at Marshall. Do you think this is caused solely by Pyne (wantng to confirm the play) or is solely caused by Rees (wanting to show how wonderful his offensive skill set is)? I believ UNLV ran the same defensive looks the entire game. Regardless of who it is causing it, it seems to my to be upsetting to our linemen as they come tot he line with Play 1 in mind and then have to go to play N, every time. When I played RG for Lyons Hall in interhall, it would have caused my to lose my focus. Thank you in advance.

    • The “sideline scan” as it has been called, is orchestrated by Tom Rees. He calls the play and then watches the defense as they line up to defend it. Based on their formation he decides whether to relay an alternate play to Pyne (via communication from the booth to the sideline) or confirm the original play. That’s why Pyne is looking to the sideline for a signal as the play clock is winding down and his linemen are swearing under their breath.

      None of this prevents the defense from shifting out of its original alignment before the snap.

      • Not only is it confusing and probably demoralizing, it kills rhythm and momentum to be looking to the sidelines each down. These athletes have been good at football since they were five or six or seven and know the game very well or they wouldn’t be on scholarship at Notre Dame. Let them play instead of being held up in order to justify the OC’s gig.

  16. 6-6 this year, maybe 7-5 if we can beat 1 of the 3 – Syracuse, Clemson or USC, which I don’t see.

    DON’T go to a bowl game, instead sit in front of the TV and watch a few games and stew over them, and then go work out.

    We’ll be fine, but this is going to take a few years.