The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel opened up his mailbag and tackled a variety of questions, the first being “what is the biggest issue that you see with Notre Dame?” We all would have different answers to this question, but Mandel had two (subscription required). Find out below what they were and if they make sense.
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Entering the season with no quarterback with starting experience
Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) reacts to a flag during the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.
Notre Dame Vs California
Prior to this year, the Irish have been spoiled with veteran leadership at the most important position in football and potentially all of sports. Mandel sees the fact that Notre Dame entered the season with two candidates that had no starting experience, which many of us thought they could overcome, as the first issue. He explained that “even when past Irish QBs were struggling, they could still usually rely on a strong running game,” which Mandel notes is not the same group it has been previously as well, noting just 3.3 yards-per-carry.
Sep 17, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Drew Pyne (10) signals before the snap in the first quarter against the California Bearsat Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Completely agree with this point. There is a laundry list of transfer quarterback that could have stepped into South Bend and took over the reigns of the offense. The biggest name being Caleb Williams, who the Irish kicked the tires on, but not going after other names like Jaxson Dart, JT Daniels, or Jayden Daniels has turned out to be a massive mistake. We are all sure Marcus Freeman would like to have this one back, especially how the season has played out so far.
Tommy Rees staying on the staff as offensive coordinator
Image courtesy of Notre Dame athletics
When Freeman was elevated to head coach, the question was if Rees was heading South with Brian Kelly. Rees opted to stay home and now many are questioning if that was the right move, Mandel in that camp has he has “never understood the reverence for him (Rees) as an offensive coordinator.” Mandel cites his offenses being ranked 34th and 41st which he sees as “not exactly offensive savant material.” Another point that was made was Rees’ age clashing with Freeman’s and that having the 30-year-old Rees and 36-year-old Freeman teaming up “may not have been the world’s greatest idea.”
Apr 23, 2022; Notre Dame, Indiana, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees talks to quarterback Drew Pyne (10) during warmups before the Blue-Gold Game at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately, I have to agree with Mandel in this assessment as well. Even though Rees might not be “old,” he has experience as a quarterback coach and a few years under his belt as an offensive coordinator. Should Rees be in this role for Notre Dame right now, that answer is in the play so far this year. That is a big no (114th in total offense if you are wondering). There is so much more Rees could do as a play-caller, he’s regressed each year he’s been in the role. As for quarterback development, these are his two hand-picked players, in Drew Pyne and Tyler Buchner. Neither has progress much since arriving on campus, especially throwing the ball. The jury is still out on Steve Angeli and it’s over a year away from when 5-star CJ Carr could sign with the Irish. This is the harsh reality of the situation right now.
Can this be fixed?
Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game Iagainst Marshall n South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. Marshall defeated Notre Dame 26-21. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
You would have to think the quarterback issue will stay an issue until earliest this off-season. As for the running game, we could very well see an adjustment in scheme and production as the season goes on. The Rees issue is a completely different story. Does Freeman ride with the man he trusted to run his offense or does he make a change in the off-season? (I highly doubt that an in-season change is made but you never know.) That’s the million-dollar question at the moment. You would hate for Carr to rethink his decision if Rees were to move on, but what if Freeman hires a co-offensive coordinator? There is potential that could work, Rees could move from the box to the field and have more hands on game-day duties instead of play-calling. Who knows that Freeman is thinking but we can’t rule out anything at the moment.