Chat transcript: Talking BYU, Tommy Rees, Audric Estime and more Notre Dame football
John from Scottsdale, Ariz.: I enjoy your chat and thank you for doing it. Are we being to hard on Tommy Rees given the offense healthy number limitations he has had to work with? Was there any team in the country thinner at the RB (2 healthy) and WR (5 healthy) positions going into the season than ND? Is there any relationship between the slow start to the year offensively and coaches maybe practicing those positions less intensely to keep the limited numbers healthy going into the season? Brian Kelly did not leave the cupboard empty but he did leave the offense skill positions extremely thin (with the exception of TE). I’m interested in your perspective on this.
Mike Berardino: Scottsdale John, welcome and thanks. Tommy Rees is a convenient target for Irish fans due to multiple factors, not the least of which is they remember the travails of his playing career just a decade or so ago at Notre Dame. You raise valid points, and might I add Rees had to go from the comfort zone of uber-experienced winners like Ian Book (30-5 as a starter) and Jack Coan (23-8 at ND and Wisconsin) to the completely untested duo of Tyler Buchner (35 career pass attempts before this season) and Drew Pyne (33).
That doesn't mean close observers must give Rees a complete pass; that would be a dereliction of our duty, not to mention boring. It was good to see Pyne find Michael Mayer more frequently in the win at UNC, and the run-pass balance on first down has improved markedly. Yet, the Irish have still been outscored 14-3 in the opening period this year and the opening series has reached the end zone just twice in the past 15 games (at Stanford and vs. Oklahoma State in the bowl game). Coming off the only bye week on this year's schedule, it will be vital to start fast on Saturday against BYU.
Ryan, Mars, Pa.: Mike what do you think about the play of Audric Estime this season? He has looked pretty good.
Mike Berardino: My Favorite Martian, how are you? By all measures, Audric Estime is having the breakout season I teased via Instagram back during training camp. No doubt he'd like to have that goal-line fumble back from last time out, but when you're averaging 4.9 yards per carry with four touchdowns in a three-man timeshare arrangement, what's not to like?
It does surprise me that Estime's yards after contact haven't been a bigger storyline so far. Per PFF-College, his 14 missed tackles forced (MTF) and 3.11-yard average rush after contact leave him well down the list nationally. Those are modest figures for a 228-pound punisher who just puts his head down and goes. Eighty-four running backs have more MTF than Estime, with Texas' Bijan Robinson (6-foot, 220) leading the way with 40. Chris Tyree (2.51 avg yards after contact) and Logan Diggs (1.95) have forced four missed tackles apiece.
Steven from Athens Ga.: Money Mike!!! Thanks for the chats. With BYU being a spread-and-shred style offense, tackling and pass rush will be crucial this week. How does ND stack up against BYU across the line? And with my dude Bertrand out again in the first half, will this change any defensive looks?
Mike Berardino: 40-Watt Steve, what's up? Tough break for Captain Bertrand that Notre Dame's appeal of his Sept. 24 targeting penalty was denied, meaning last year's leading tackler (by a mile) must sit out the first half for a second straight game.
Bertrand played just 11 defensive snaps at UNC, but he did pressure freshman QB Drake Maye into a fumble that gave the ND defense its first takeaway of the season. How fitting was that after Bertrand's ill-advised targeting penalty vs. Cal wiped out a pick for Clarence Lewis the week before? Per PFF-College, the linebacker snaps vs. UNC went overwhelmingly to Marist Liufau (56) and Jack Kiser (55). With the complexity and finesse of a BYU attack led by QB Jaren Hall, I'd imagine we'll see a similar look in Vegas.
Good news came Monday when Marcus Freeman said safeties DJ Brown (hamstring) and Ramon Henderson (right ankle) had been cleared for practice. As for tackling, PFF-College has Notre Dame 19th in the country in tackling efficiency. BYU is 48th. BYU has given up just seven sacks, and Hall has thrown 10 touchdown passes and made 144 pass attempts since his only pick of the year late in the season opener at South Florida. He won't panic.
Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Mike, have you seen or heard anything about the progress, or lack thereof, regarding offensive guard Rocco Spindler? I was convinced he was on the same trajectory as Blake Fisher when they both came to Notre Dame, however, that does not appear to be the case. Thank you for answering my question.
Mike Berardino: Hey Alan, nice hearing from you as always. I wouldn't worry too much about Spindler and his progress at this point. Quite simply, he's a redshirt freshman stuck behind two of the more experienced interior linemen (Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg) in the country.
Spindler has been out there for a total of 16 snaps this year on special teams (all on FG/PAT), with half of those coming last time out at UNC. We don't get to watch practice during the regular season, but I have to believe Spindler, currently listed as a third-string left guard, still figures prominently in this O-line's future in 2023 and beyond.
Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Mike, because of injuries and missing a season due to Covid-19 lockouts, Tyler Buchner has played very little football in the last five years. In your opinion, with Drew Pyne getting a full season of starting experience and other quarterbacks being recruited, will Buchner ever start again for Notre Dame? Thank you for answering my question.
Mike Berardino: Good follow-up, Alan. I guess we can allow it. As mentioned last week in this space, Buchner has started just 15 games over the past five seasons (2018-22) — 13 of those came in his breakout junior season at The Bishop's School. That said, I wouldn't write him off just yet. So much can happen in the course of one player's college career, especially when you're the Notre Dame quarterback. No one knows that better than Buchner's new game-day neighbor in the Irish coaches' box: Tommy Rees.
Thanks for the questions, everyone. That's a wrap for this week. See you again right back here next Tuesday to talk about Shamrock Series Ep. 11 and winners and losers from the Holy War in Sin City.
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.