Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer working to eliminate drops from his game
SOUTH BEND — Michael Mayer sweats a lot.
So much so that the Notre Dame tight end noticed his gloves getting wet and slippery during the hottest preseason practices in South Bend. Because he knew it would be hot and humid in Tallahassee, Fla., for Sunday’s season opener against Florida State, Mayer decided he would ditch the gloves.
Mayer went through a couple practices last week without gloves and felt comfortable playing without them Sunday.
“The last two practices I didn’t do any gloves,” Mayer said, “and it was working out pretty well for me.”
Everything went according to plan early in the first quarter. The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Mayer caught all three passes thrown his way on the very first Notre Dame drive including a 41-yard touchdown. After Mayer failed to convert a third-and-2 with a one-yard reception, Coan came right back to him on fourth-and-1.
Florida State’s refusal to cover Mayer made Coan’s decision a bit easier on the touchdown.
“I knew as soon as the play started, it was a broken coverage,” Mayer said. “I turned my head and Jack already had the ball in the air. I knew it was going to be a touchdown.”
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The first drive was a good indicator of how the night would go for Mayer in his sophomore debut. He played every offensive snap and finished with career highs in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (120). His 120 receiving yards as a tight end ranks fifth all-time in program history and is the most for a Notre Dame tight end since Kyle Rudolph’s 164 against Michigan in 2010.
But Mayer’s performance was slightly diminished by a pair of dropped passes. The first came on Notre Dame’s third drive of the game. On a third-and-7, Mayer dropped what would have been a first-down pass from Coan.
After the drop, Mayer opted to wear gloves again. But it wasn’t a foolproof solution.
Mayer’s second drop came with Notre Dame attempting to get into field goal range in the final seconds of regulation in a game tied at 38. Coan hit Mayer right on the money at Florida State’s 37-yard line with seven seconds left, but Mayer dropped the pass as he tried to gain extra yards.
Fortunately for Mayer, the Irish were able to escape with a 41-38 victory in overtime when kicker Jonathan Doerer hit a 41-yard field goal. Identifying the mistakes that led to the drops became a film room priority for Mayer after the game. Given that he had one drop without gloves and one drop with gloves, he can’t fault his equipment.
“I knew what I did wrong,” Mayer said. “I’m hoping it’s never going to happen again. I’ve been working on it. The first game of the season I was pretty eager. What I was doing was turning my head, running up field before I actually caught the ball.”
♦ Who: No. 8 Notre Dame (1-0) vs. Toledo (1-0)
♦ Kickoff: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT
♦ Where: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend
♦ TV: Peacock (Streaming)
♦ Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5)
♦ Line: Notre Dame by 16 1/2
Mayer was able to mentally move on from his first drop and record four more catches before his next drop. Eliminating those drops all together remains the goal, but the ability to process a drop and not let it create doubt is important for Mayer.
“I’m going to make mistakes,” Mayer said. “I’m human. A big thing for me is I’m pretty hard on myself. One drop or two, I can’t let it affect my whole game. I can’t let it affect the next play.”
Coan didn’t let either drop impact his confidence in throwing to Mayer either. He targeted Mayer 13 times against Florida State. The four incomplete passes were a result of two drops by Mayer and two missed throws by Coan.
“He’s our guy,” Coan said. “He’s one of the best tight ends in the country, if not the best tight end. He does his thing. I trust him with everything no matter if he drops one or makes a mistake. You know he’s going to respond. He’s an absolute gamer.”
The two clearly established a connection since Coan arrived as a graduate transfer from Wisconsin in February.
“We built a ton of chemistry through the summer and 18 days of camp,” Mayer said. “Through the chemistry that we built, we built a lot of trust with each other. That trust is going to take us through the entire season. We’re going to keep having games like this.”
Mayer showed he can perform well in front of a hostile crowd for the first time in his Notre Dame career. Even all the noise head coach Brian Kelly piped into practice last week couldn’t quite replicate the atmosphere of Doak Campbell Stadium with 68,316 fans in attendance.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going in,” Mayer said. “I never played in front of that many people before. It was an awesome atmosphere. I definitely fed off of it, and it was a really fun game.”
The atmosphere won’t be the same Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium against Toledo (2:30 p.m. EDT on Peacock Premium). But it will be the first time Mayer will play in front of a home crowd with anything close to capacity after attendance was limited last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perhaps Mayer will give Irish fans a few things to cheer about against the Rockets (1-0). Toledo’s linebackers and safeties should be the ones sweating this week.
“I’m expecting some rowdy fans,” Mayer said. “I’m expecting a packed stadium. I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be nice to not have 80,000 people yelling in your ear on third-and-3.”
Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.