Chat transcript: Is Notre Dame at risk of another letdown against Navy?
SOUTH BEND — As he does each Tuesday during football season, Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino spent several hours answering reader questions in a live chat format. A lightly edited transcript appears below:
Mike Berardino: Good morning, chat people. Thanks for joining us. Looks likes we have a ton of questions in the queue already, so let's get started.
Alan from Whiteland, Ind.: Mike, there is no question that Notre Dame beating Clemson is the happiest I have been since Rachel got off the plane. My question is about Drew Pyne having several of his passes per game batted down at the line of scrimmage. What can the coaching staff and Pyne himself do to correct this issue? Thank you for answering my question.
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Mike Berardino: Hey Alan, good to hear from you and thanks for avoiding any direct references to poor Matthew Perry. As for Pyne and the batted-ball problem, even though he had two more the other night against Clemson's mammoth front, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees did a nice job of adding more designed rollouts for Pyne. I think it would be wise to use more of that going forward as Pyne has now had eight passes tipped or batted at the line, per Pro Football Focus. Six of those have come with a pocket that was considered clean.
Marcus Freeman brought up the issue himself when asked Monday about Pyne's progress: "I don't know how many games in a row that we continue to get a couple of balls batted. I hear coach Rees saying all the time, 'Step up (in the pocket). You have to find those open spaces.' You're not 6-4, but God is fair, we say. He's got some other gifts. He's got to be able to step into those open windows to deliver a ball."
Paul L: Drew Pyne is not a pocket passer. He is too small. The amount of batted passes proves that. Will Tommy Rees finally put in a sprint-out series passing package so that part of the offense can complement the running game.
Mike Berardino: Hi Paul, thanks for the question. Please see the answer above. I doubt this will be much of an issue again until the USC game, so it's possible, even likely, such tweaks will be made in practice over the next few weeks but not unveiled until the showdown at the Coliseum.
Ryan mars, Pa.: Mike, what did you think about the play of Benjamin Morrison on Saturday?
Mike Berardino: Mars Man! Thanks for checking in. The young man continues to show his resilience and maturity. I thought it was great that his family members came into the postgame interview room to watch his media session after the Clemson game. Morrison showed just the right mix of amazement and confidence. Three more games of this, and it will be hard to keep him off the freshman All-America team.
Pat H. Springfield, Ill.: According to my numerical roster, No. 38 is Davis Sherwood. I saw his number on several running plays. Is he used primarily as a blocker and how did he rate out?
Mike Berardino: Springfield Pat, thanks for your question. In this injury-marred season for Notre Dame tight ends (Kevin Bauman and Eli Raridon out for the year with ACL tears, Mitch Evans missing the first five games with a broken foot), Sherwood has been a regular contributor as an extra blocker. The former walk-on was placed on scholarship in August and has appeared in all nine games, whether on offense (65 total snaps) or on special teams (97 more). According to PFF.com, Raridon, Mayer and Evans are by far the highest-rated run blockers among ND tight ends, but Sherwood (6-3, 238 pounds) has had his moments for an offense that has struggled overall in short-yardage situations.
Ken - Pensacola, Fla.: Great win against Clemson...but now is there a chance that ND could be overlooking Navy?
Mike Berardino: Pensacola Ken, you raise a great point. Notre Dame has struggled this year to handle both major disappointment (Marshall loss after falling short at Ohio State) and major success (losing to Stanford after an emotional win over then No. 16 BYU). Freeman hit the right notes on Monday in explaining how he and the coaching staff intend to ward off a repeat letdown. The notion that Sunday's practice included "yelling and screaming" was one indication this week will be different.
Freeman on Monday: "That's why we are hard on them. Every little thing matters. We can't let what happened previously, a win or a loss, affect the way we coach. We have to make sure we remember those lessons, the way you feel after those losses, because those lessons that you learn, the intentionality of your work, has to be what happens after a win or a loss."
Irish Mike Altoona, Pa.: Who is Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in 2023?
Mike Berardino: Irish Mike, hello! It's my duty and my honor. I'm thinking it will be the one who can get the ball most consistently to the wideouts in a post-Mayer world. It's also entirely possible, if not likely, that the QB who takes the first snap in Dublin for Notre Dame next August isn't on the roster yet. That's just the way things are in the transfer portal era.
Jake Saratoga Springs: Hello, I get the sense the ND staff has come to grips as to how below average of a QB that Drew Pyne is. Do you believe they will go to the portal for a QB for 2023? Would you agree that all of this reflects more on BK’s inability to attract, keep and develop top notch talent at the most important position in all of sports? Saturday night was great but they’re not going to compete at the highest level without a major upgrade to the QB room!
Mike Berardino: Saratoga Jake, we just touched on this, but isn't it interesting that Brian Kelly is on his second straight season with a transfer QB (first Jack Coan, now Jayden Daniels) and it's looking like a sixth straight season with 10 or more wins for the coach everyone loves to mock. And I agree it's hard to see any program winning the national title again with a QB limited to nine completions in back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. (That's a throwback to Bob Griese and the '72-73 Dolphins.) For now, however, it seems to be working.
Paul L: If ND runs the table can they get a New Year's Six bowl game?
Mike Berardino: Hi Paul, seems possible. Let's see where the CFB Playoff Committee slots the Irish this evening (Tuesday). AP had ND at No. 20 — I voted them 18th — and the coaches poll put them at 25. Not much juice to be gained the next two weeks, but the chance for a second top-10 win (with a close loss on the road at Ohio State in the opener) could make the ND-USC outcome quite significant.
Robert Rosanelli, Phoenix, Ariz.: I saw a part of the ND stadium scene before and during the Clemson game in youtube....and it looked like some light show on steroids. What is your opinion of all that jazz? For me, a 1974 alum, it is a distraction at best.
Mike Berardino: Hi Robert. Thanks for the question. I don't know. When in Rome? Try lowering the brightness of your screen and adjusting the volume. At least those on hand are warned in advance with the sort of serious disclaimer typically associated with motion rides at amusement parks. I guess we won't even get into the scene that followed when the game ended. To each his own.
Mike from N.C.: Recently, Drew Pyne appears to be edgy/uncomfortable when he drops back to pass after seemingly falling into a good confident rhythm earlier. Is it just that with the success of the running game he’s not getting enough reps…or do you think it goes deeper than that?
Mike Berardino: Carolina Mike, if you're talking about "happy feet," I'm not seeing that yet. Bouncing on his toes as he waits, waits, waits for someone to get separation downfield has become more of a thing as the protection has improved. I do think Pyne likes to improvise, so if there's any restlessness to his body language in the pocket on slow-developing plays, that might be the reason. More rollouts that lead to easy, underneath throws could help as well.
All four of Pyne's interceptions have come with a clean pocket, per PFF.com. So have all nine of the dropped passes that he's put on target. Make those catches, and Pyne's completion % in 151 dropbacks (142 attempts) with a clean pocket goes from 64.8 to 71.1.
Frank from Royse City, Texas: Do you feel ND will try to pass more against Navy?
Mike Berardino: Texas Frank, thanks for stopping by. Clemson came in 11th in the country in rushing defense, allowing 2.98 yards per carry. How did that work out? Navy is even stingier against the run: 13th nationally in yards per carry allowed (3.18) and seventh in total rushing yards allowed (88.0 per game). Meanwhile, the Midshipmen have a porous secondary: T-124 in passing yards per attempt (8.8). Even with that disparity, I'd imagine we'll see Notre Dame seek to impose its will on the ground.
David Hudson: With all the deserved praise for both Freeman and Rees, don't overlook the OL coach. Is this possibly the best OL game that he has coached at ND?
Mike Berardino: Hi David, you're right. That Clemson performance was a complete dismantling once the Tigers' vaunted front seven started to wilt. Consider that an early birthday present to Harry Hiestand, who turns 64 on Nov. 19 (Senior Day vs. BC). Hiestand has picked up right where he left off in 2017 after building Notre Dame's last Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line. Had Jarrett Patterson been healthy for the opener at Ohio State, who knows where this season could have gone. As it stands, this has been one of the more impressive in-season turnarounds in recent memory. Notre Dame has climbed to 28th among FBS teams in rushing yards per game (195) and its per-carry average of 4.53 isn't far behind (49th).
Harry, Auburndale, Fla: Best feeling since 1988. Could you comment on the following. Despite the rushing yardage, the entire margin of victory was provided by the defense. Biggest problem with Navy will be avoiding the chop blocks and staying healthy for the remainder of the season. I think the Irish can run the table since USC seems to have a very porous defense.
Mike Berardino: Harry From T-Mac Country, thanks for the visit. You raise a fair point in that Saturday's final breakdown could look this way: ND offense 14, Clemson 14, ND defense 7 (plus shared credit on the first pick that set up a 14-yard TD drive), ND special teams 7. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
As for the cut (or below-the-waist) blocks, Freeman noted the NCAA rule has changed to limit potential danger: "You can only cut at the line of scrimmage now with those interior linemen. We're not really working on that at the second and third level like you used to in the past."
Steven from Athens Ga.: I read somewhere it was a huge recruiting weekend for ND. Obviously beating a top 5 team is amazing, can this win help land some elite recruits?
Mike Berardino: Forty-Watt! Welcome back. You're right. I posted videos with Freeman's comments on the recruiting aspect before and after Saturday's win, and it's hard to imagine any scenario where that evening wasn't a recruiting plus. From start to finish, it was like one big infomercial for "Marcus Freeman and the Notre Dame Football Experience." And yes, super safety Peyton Bowen (Denton, Texas) was in attendance. He showed up in a photo with fellow nonbinding commitments Christian Gray and Adon Shuler, giving Irish fans a visual of their planned future in the secondary. The early signing period opens in six weeks.
musicman4u2c: Wouldn't you spread the defense out if you threw to your wideouts more often?
Mike Berardino: Only if it results in a reception here and there, but I hear you.
Sean, Portland Ore.: I'm sure there's a lot of excitement about Saturday nights game and rightfully so! Success hopefully breeds more success right? How much recruiting momentum will this create for the Irish? I saw a lot of commits reaching back out to Keon Keeley to rejoin the class after the game. Maybe I am remembering this wrong, but the last time there was such a significant amount of momentum it was derailed by the academic "scandal" and the Manti catfishing incident. I hope the team can keep it up and keep recruiting going.
Mike Berardino: Portland Sean, 54 wins and two national semifinal appearances in Brian Kelly's last five seasons at Notre Dame would suggest otherwise, but the last post-Clemson field-rushing took place under COVID-19 crowd restrictions. So there's that. As for Keeley, his high school buddy Tre Reader is still on the team as a walk-on linebacker. No better connection than that to keep the lines of communication open. For all the reports about Ohio State making a "strong push" for Keeley back in October, it's interesting that he remains uncommitted. The 5-star edge rusher last tweeted on Aug. 17, when he respectfully backed away from his long-stated intention to sign with Notre Dame. For the ND recruiting machine, that silence could be golden.
OK, everybody, that's a wrap. Appreciate all the questions. See you right back here next Tuesday morning to talk about what happened in Baltimore and what could happen on Senior Day against Boston College.
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.