Notre Dame Football: Special Teams Continue to Show Importance for Irish

Jonathan Doerer #39 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Jonathan Doerer #39 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

In both of its first two games of the season, Notre Dame football has used sound special teams to its advantage on its way to a 2-0 start.

Early in the 2020 season, special teams have reared their ugly head across college football. Georgia Tech has had four kicks blocked, Iowa State gave up multiple special teams touchdowns to Louisiana, and USF caught a punt for a touchdown and 0 yard return. Fortunately, special teams woes have not affected the Notre Dame football team.

Often ignored by fans, commentators, and even some coaches, special teams are just as important as the offense or the defense. Yes, they’re on the field for less time than the other units, but the chance for an explosive play or momentum swing is much higher than on offense or defense. That’s how Virginia Tech found so much success playing “Beamer Ball,” or why the New York Giants hired a special teams coordinator as their newest head coach.

Notre Dame, unlike so many in college football, have benefited greatly from their special teams play this season, which has helped them win their games against Duke and USF.

In the game against Duke, Notre Dame started slow. It could have been early season rust, a strange lack of energy, Duke’s gameplan, or several other factors that caused this. Then the Irish had a key play on special teams — a fake punt early in the second quarter — which shifted momentum and got the ball rolling for Notre Dame.

It was the first drive Notre Dame had gained a first down all afternoon, but stalled out deep in Irish field position. That didn’t stop Brian Kelly and Brian Polian to draw up a fake punt, where Jay Bramblett rolled left and cut up field for a first down. That led to a touchdown that sparked the offense going forward.

Special teams became a huge topic of conversation during the game against USF, as well, though it was just as much a criticism of USF as it was complimentary of USF. The first hint that special teams would play a factor on Saturday was when USF quickly changed from punt formation to a quasi-shotgun formation to go for it in Notre Dame territory. It didn’t work.

Along with that, the Bulls didn’t seem to know how to long snap all day long. Before the half it came back to bite USF hard. They threw a punt to the back of the endzone, and as their punter scrambled to just get a kick off, he was drilled by Jordan Botelho. The ball only made it back to about the 20 yard line, giving Ian Book and company a short field to score on.

Again, now in the third quarter, USF sent another snap over their punter’s head. Again, it was Botelho who was their to make life uncomfortable for USF. He blocked the punt, before scooping up the spinning ball for a touchdown off the blocked punt. By this time, the game was already decided, but you can imagine if it was a close game.

Next. Brian Kelly got his revenge against South Florida. dark

Now, Notre Dame didn’t need all the help on special teams to beat USF. They probably didn’t need it to beat Duke either. However, it’s still nice to have it. Going forward, as Notre Dame takes on more challenging opponents, special teams will continue to be one of the most important aspects of Notre Dame’s team. They could be the difference between winning and losing a one possession game, and it’s good to know the Irish can trust them.